Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Yoga Capital Of The World

Tearing ourselves away from beautiful Manali and the guesthouse we so loved we booked seats on the local bus for Rishikesh (via Shimla). Of all the places in India we've visited so far, Shimla is definitely the most British, with mock tudor buildings left behind by the British Raj and a total traffic ban in the main mall (total heaven) leaving behind a touch of (Indian) England.

After a quick one day stop another mammouth bus journey has taken us to Rishikesh.... the Yoga capital of the world! Even the Beatles came here to meditate (and write some songs). Rishikesh is set beautifully around the holy Ganges and is located quite near it's source, so it's possible to swim off the small sandy beaches. Being at the end of our journey, we're being extremely lazy and have taken part in no activities other than eating, reading and sleeping in a bid to be slightly with

it for our return to normality.

The last stop is back to the crazyness and heat (42C!) that is Delhi..... has anyone got an ice cream?

The Real India Part 4 - Public Gayness

Given the strict religious practices that the average Indian person will obide by it was a bit of a shock to see men walking around large cities hand in hand, and often with arms fully around each other in a similar way couples do back home. After reading that it is in fact illegal to be openly gay in Inida we have come to the conclusion that general hand holding amongst men is typical all over Inida and has no homosexual overtones whatsoever.

Unfortunatley (and totally bizarrely) it's frowned upon for a man and woman to show any affection in public.... including general hand holding, India is definitely a mans world!

The Real India Part 3 - Horn OK Please!

From the moment you leave Delhi International airport to be accosted by taxi drivers you can hear the crazyness of the traffic even before you get near the road. The main highway from Delhi airport is your standard 3 lane motorway type of affair with the main exception that there are anywhere between 5 and 8 lanes of traffic all jammed into a tiny horizontal space. Cycle rickshaws, taxi's, auto rickshaws, pedestrians, motor bikes, busses, suicidal bicyclists, trucks, and of course the lengendary holy cows occupy every square inch of tarmac (and indeed most of the muddy hard shoulder). And they love their horns.

Man do they love their horns. In fact, printed on the back of the majority of rickshaws, trucks and busses is a huge sign that reads 'HORN OK PLEASE!', which of course is rigourously obeyed by everyone (even the suicidal bicyclists). In fact the only thing that is'nt making a racket on the road is the holy cow who just tends to hang out, usually on the busier sections of the road, idly chewing the cud whilst a freighter truck blasts a musical horn just 1m away.... the cow does'nt even blink, let alone move.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Week In Manali

After another nightmare 12 hour bus ride where the seats are spaced perfectly for the optimum position of discomfort we arrived in the Himalayan town of Manali in Northern India. Nestled in a large valley full of tiny villages and apple orchards we found ourselves a beautiful guest house away from the road set in the middle of an orchard.

For the past week we've been living the easy life, sitting out on the balcony (see photo bleow) reading, eating and generally taking in the scenery while apple blossom rains down in the spring breeze.... paradise. The Apple View Guesthouse is a pretty simple affair, but he owner and people we have met are so nice it would be possible to stay a month or more (many people do just this!). We are pretty much coming to the end of our Inidan adventure and it's becoming every more difficult to travel around and see the sights as we did in the beginning, it's all too easy to find a quiet place to relax and chill out before facing the opposite culture shock of returning to Europe.
With just one more destination (Rishikesh) to travel to before returning to Delhi we are difinitley loooking forward to returning to the civilised world.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Return To The Melting Pot

After dragging ourselves away from the relative seclusion of the Nepaese Himalaya, we fought our way through the busy Inida/Nepal border post and embarked upon another mammouth 35 hour journey through the melting pot that is India. It seems that the re-adjustment has been even more difficult then when we first arrived in Delhi.

Arriving in the busy city of Amritsar in the North of india in the middle of the middle of the night, all seemed quite peaceful until the onslaught of traffic noise, beeping horns, barking dogs and people shouting into their mobile phones in ear piercing Hindi. There has been a total explosion of mobile phones here with a shop on every corner and every other person having one in their hip pocket. Unfortunatley, nobody seems to have told them how to use them properly. Instead of holding it to their ear like normal people, Indians tend to hold it in front of them and shout at the top of their voices to be heard by the person at the other end (who has to hold the phone away from the ear in case of being deafened).

After a few hours sleep we made our way to the Golden Temple, where basic rooms and even food is totally free! The only price you pay is having to step over the hundreds of people outside the door who are sleeping literally everywhere in the temple grounds. The temple itself is pretty sunning, with a colonnade running around a holy lake with an impressive temple sitting in the middle (which is reputed to have over 650kg of solid gold throughout).

We have since made a quick escape from the crazyness of a large Indian city to the relative peace and quiet of Dharamsala and nearby McLoud Ganj in the foothills of the Indian Himalaya. McLoud Ganj is the home of many Tibetan people in excile, including the Dalai Lama himself. It's very chilled out here by Indian standards, I think we'll stay a few days to recouperate.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Hills Are Alive

The Nepali Himalaya is a truely magical place, a short trip from Pokara took us once again into the heart and soul of the Nepali hill communities. It's truely amazing how the country folk live in tiny villages nestled into the side of gigantic mountains with no road and often steep climbs of between 1000 and 3000 vertical metres to the nearest road. The only possibility of farming the inhospitable landscape is to cut horizontal concetinas into the side of the mountains where simple vegtables and barley are planted and harvested.

Walking through the Himalaya is like being transported into a fairy tale land where mist hangs low over magical mountin views and dreamlike bamboo flute music drifts across the mountain air from nearby villages.

In sharp contrast it's difficult to see the big picture of the terrible goverment structure they have in place. There are constant problems often resulting in numerous killings between opposing political parties, all made far worse by the king who is trying to wrest power for himself. It's a constant struggle for the Nepali people who are amonst the poorest in the world and are just desperate for a strong uncorrupt democracy that seems impossible to come by. Hopefully one day, after the king has departed maybe, the country will finally be united and peace will return.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rapid Riding

After lazing around Pokhara for a few days and feeding ourselves up on the fantastic restaruants we decided to spice things up with a bit of white water rafting. What better way is there to appreciate the Nepali countryside than hurtling down the local rivers at break neck speed? (at least it seems that fast when you're hanging on for dear life).

The 3 day, 2 night trip started out with around 20 people from various places all over the world sat around chatting on the banks of the river about how much we did'nt know about white water rafting. The safety breifing basically consisted of showing us the life jackets and teaching us some basic commands (such as go forward!), which turned out to be a tad difficult to understand with a heavy Nepali accent in one ear and water in the other.
After passing the initial rapids, which just happened to the the biggest and fastest of the whole trip, everything else was a breeze. Camping out on remote beaches to the distant sound of wooden flute music drifing in from nearby villages was awesome.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Annapurna Circuit Trek

Ah Nepal.... the country of the mighty Himalaya. After quickly discovering that there ar'nt a great amout of places to visit that are accessable by road we decided to get off the beaten track and into the majestic mountains..... by foot.

The Annapurna circuit trek is a 16 - 20 day hike through some of the highest peaks in the world incorporating a 5400m high peak called the Thorong La. Coming from India with just shorts, t-shirts, flip flops we've been frantically running around the masses of trekking shops in Kathmandu and Pokara (the only 2 main towns in Nepal) trying to transform ourselves into alpine mountaineers.

With the bare minimum of gear (around 12 kilos between us) we took a local bus to a remote town at the end of the road and prepared to set off for one of the best and most remote parts of the world to go trekking.

The trail climbs steadily through local villages along a rocky path shared by man and beast. Constant donkey caravans guide the way and superhuman porters who carry up to 80 kilos uphill for around 70km resting on a strap that ties around the forehead are dotted along the path.

After 5 days of climbing we arrived in the snow to the slightly larger village of Manang where it's advised to rest for 2 days to acclimatise to the altitude. Unfortunatly, it was'nt the altitude that was the problem. After 3 days and half a metre of snow we began to realise why there wer'nt a great amount of people on the trek..... we were unable to go on as the pass was totally blocked by snow.

Turning back was a pretty hard decision, but to wait out the snow melt would have meant sitting around for perhaps a week in the middle of nowhere. With a quick decent of 3 days, walking for 9 or 10 hours each day we are finally back in civilization with many blisters and sore muscles....... Still, one hell of an achievement for both of us and one of the best things i've ever done in my life.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Road To Kathmandu

Phew! It's been a while but every time i've tryed to post a new blog the dodgy Indian power supply has thwarted me. We have finally made it to Nepal after a mammouth journey from the south of Inida which took more than 80 hours in total on train and bus.

The Indian rail system is pretty efficient (maybe becuase it was built by the British?), and the overnight trains are pretty comfortable in AC (air conditioned) class. With calls of 'chai', 'chaiaaaa', 'coldrink' and even 'chocolate' every 5 mintues we did'nt go hungry or thirsty.

Arring in Mumbai (old Bombay, see top left) was like being transported into the future a few years with it's western shops, cafe's and colonial architecture. A quick stop of only 2 nights was more than enough to take in a Bollywood flick (Euklavia!!!!) and recover from the long journey.

Another 30 hour overnight train, this time in a compartment with 4 other (mostly annoying) Inidan people. It can be difficult to sleep with plastic bags rustling, people snoring, farting, snorting and hacking!

Varanasi is reputed to be the oldest city in the world and it's certainly an incredible place. The Ganges river flows around a bend which provides the setting for the old city which is lined from one end to the other with bathing ghats. The city is a crazy mixture of sadus (holy men), suicidal buffalo, cycle rickshaws and tourists. Hindu's from all over India flock to Varanasi to worship, bathe in the holy (and extremely polluted) Ganges and strangely enough..... die. Bodies are publicly cremated on a 24 hour basis all year round on the banks of the Ganges and the ashes are washed away downstream. Hindus that if you die in Varanasi you will achieve 'moksha' (the end of the cycle of reincarnation), and to be cremated on the ghats is very auspicious.

Yet another mammouth bus journey of more than 20 hours took us north over the border to Kathmandu. In the week since we've been here we've already been effected by 2 strikes and have been pelted with water balloons containing dye as part of the 'Holi' festival. We love it.