A Travellerspoint blog

Kathmandu, Nepal

One week isn't enough!

all seasons in one day 24 °C

Up until this point traveling on buses, albeit for 10 hours at a time, has been fairly painless. Varanasi to Nepal was not such an experience. The first leg of 11 hours to the Nepalese border was made worse for me due to a cold I'd contracted somehow and so I sat cooped up in a small hot bus with aches and a slight fever. Luckily I was on a tourist bus and so my apprehensions about being four to a seat with rare toilet stops was alleviated somewhat seeing as the tourist fare extends a better service. By the time we reached the border I was feeling pretty bad. We had to then battle through crowds of rickshaw's offering to take us 2 minutes up the road to immigration and battle through a load of touts lying about various 'necessary' detours we should make before having to find our own way to the border. Our bus driver couldn't really speak English and left us all totally confused as to where we needed to go. We made it to the other side eventually (see half-arsed photo's when they go up) and made our way passed various nice accommodations to find the hotel our group had paid for in the price of our bus ticket (Hotel Munmar). We found it. This is now real backpacking as opposed to blog 2 & 3's glorious hotels. Our 'hotel' was hidden behind some rubble, we were shown to our room through a garage, or 'restaurant' as they called it, up 2 flights of stairs that were crumbling in a way that would make my dad (chartered surveyor) reel in shock, to the end of a corridor where the wall just disappeared. Our room was surrounded by 'outside'. Hilarious! The room itself was...er... spacious and the less said about the adjourning bathroom the better, but at least we had one eh! Thanks to feeling under the weather I got some sleep regardless of what can only be described as a fist full of fun going on outside with the staff talking loudly all night. And also the dog fights. And random generator noise. Oh and mosquito's buzzing in my ears. 5:00am sharp... Wakey Wakey! Time for leg 2 to Kathmandu.

After a hearty breakfast of soggy toast (one slice butter, one slice jam) and unfinished coffee we climbed aboard a public bus where tourists have the pleasure of paying extra for luggage. It makes sense, there are no rickshaws here so the stealing of money has to occur somehow. This bus had a lot less leg room but Mark, the resourceful wonder, managed to bank us the best seats on there. As a particularly small person I felt guilty, for about 5 minutes. The journey was slow and windy around the mountains of the Kathmandu Valley, but the scenery was beautiful, the weather was cooler and it felt really good to be in a new country.

We finally got to Kathmandu. Thinking the cramped conditions were over Mark and I then for some inexplicable reason decided to share a small taxi with 5 other people to the central area called Thamel for a further 20 minutes. Good grief my tiny legs ached, not sure how the leggier people of this world cope with travel. Well done you. And THANK GOODNESS we'd pre-booked a hotel as hunting for shelter donning back pack after said journey would have been horrendous. Nepal is much cheaper than India and Hotel Blue Horizon was great value for money. It was nice to stay somewhere affordable that boasts Wi Fi and a generator for the daily power cuts, especially as Mark fell ill and it rained a few nights so we could chill in doors without having to find electricity in a far off restaurant.

Our second day was spent looking around Thamel which is the main area for tourists. It therefore has it's good and bad points. There are so many out door trekking shops and people pushing services on you because many people come here to reach Everest Base Camp. There are also many shops selling curly shoes and excitingly coloured bangles. On the flip side there is lots to do on our door step and we have frequented many a roof top bar for nights of live music. In addition there are actual supermarkets. Sainsbury's they are not, but they do provide a pleasing selection of cheap toiletries and 10p crisps. Base camp is something I will do in time but not something I can achieve right now with my current budget and time frame of 7 days. So instead of the 17 day trek we decided, without question, that we would take a flight around Everest the next morning.

We woke at 5am (still not used to it) to catch our 6:30 flight. After 5 minutes in the air we were above the clouds and we could see the Himalayas peeping through them. Amazing. We followed the mountain profile on a map we were given and the stewardess was constantly walking through the 20 seater plane telling passengers what we were looking at. She then approached us individually to ask if we wanted to go into the cockpit for a better look. Hell yes. I'd just made my way there when the pilot turned to me and pointed out two peaks in the distance: the one on the left being Mount Everest. Clouds were rolling off the top of Everest and to think people have actually climbed that high is astounding. I wanna go! I don't think my less than proficient indoor climbing experience covers it though. I took a photo or 12 and went back to my seat very happy that I'd made the effort to get up that morning. This was easily the highlight of this whole trip so far after Hotel Munmar.

We spent the rest of the week looking around the old city and venturing to nearby townships by bus. The public bus system here is cheap and easy to use and it's not unusual to see groups of people sitting in the roof rack or in deed the odd goat. I managed to stick to sitting in doors. I visited villages with panoramic views of Kathmandu Valley but unfortunately the only time the Himalaya's are visible is in October when the mists clear.

After only a week here I've seen and done quite a bit and there's still reason to come back and do even more. Aside from the obvious draw of the Himalaya's, the tourist facing people of Kathmandu are more peaceful and friendly compared with the Indians I've met, the price of everything is cheaper, there are an abundance of out door activities to do and you can get a steak and wine dinner without feeling like a Hari Krishna might start chanting in your general direction.

One thing the Nepalese don't do so well is transport. The first paragraph is now redundant. I am about to embark on a 24 hour bus ride on bumpy roads from Kathmandu to India. I am going to do this with the very real prospect that I may have to return to Kathmandu to get a re-entry stamp from the Indian consulate as a friend said last night that we may need one and I can't get there in the short space of time I have today before I leave because it's the weekend. Every traveler has different information about the conditions of the multiple entry visa. We had it confirmed that we could visit Nepal for a few days without problem from an official in Varanasi but now we have received conflicting information. The official in Varanasi wasn't particularly helpful and didn't explain much to us other than say 'we're fine'. So I may be back to Nepal. We shall see.

Posted by LauraT 00:31 Archived in Nepal Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


sunny 30 °C

The next place on our list was the holy city of Varanasi on the river Ganges. Varanasi is a city of; spectacular river views, open air cremation, autorickshaw drivers who routinely take you half way to your destination before asking for more money, where hotel management at check out will debate whether you owe for an extra piece of room service butter with 3 diferent staff for 20 minutes before accepting you can have it for free, where bike rickshaws crash you into mopeds to avoid pot holes and where there are holy festivals every day. It's a place of great interest and was better than I hoped it would be.

Along the river are a number of 'ghat's', basically stairways leading into water, some of which are used as burning ghats where bodies are openly cremated on pyres. Whilst we were there we saw this up close; close enough to make out a skull, a shin bone/foot and we also heard one account of a local stray stealing a rather grey looking hand from a pyre. Apologies if any body is eating this over lunch. It's not a gruesome as it sounds though as the bodies are given a religious procession through the town draped in expensive cloth and The Ganges is a very expensive place for a body to be burned because, according to religion, once the body is in The Ganges the cycle of reincarnation ends and the soul is at peace. That's a great selling point the government have harnessed there in the name of superstition, not that I know much about it and call me cynical. Interestingly, babies, pregnant women, holy men, lepers and victims of cobra bites don't get cremated and are simply floated off into the river. During our sunrise boat ride our guide took us to the island to show us a flakey torso and a body floating on the river wrapped in cloth. That is as gruesome as it sounds.

So that's enough about death. There are also many holy temples along the riverside and the main ghat had a daily display of worship; Friday's being the most spectacular where holy performers on platforms danced in synchronisation chiming bells and holding candles. There was also a number of Derren Brown type holy people who, once surrounded by worshippers, danced until they 'passed out' in holy euphoria and then all the spectators would fight over who could touch him before he magically revived himself by throwing himself in the Ganges. Ergh. When you consider the sheer amount of dead bodies, sewerage and rubbish that goes in there it actually is some kind of miracle that people don't grow extra limbs and turn a radioactive shade of green so maybe I'm wrong and there is a holy force at work. Mmm.

We arrived the day before my birthday and Mark had booked us into a lovely hotel on the Ganges where we were one of the few people staying there lucky enough to have a balcony and view of the river (can't see death from the balcony so it's all good). I seem to have only stayed in nice hotel's this past week which is odd for backpacking but I'm not complaining. On my actual birthday we met up with some people we'd met on the over night train to Varanasi and decided to have a night out to celebrate my 29th. Varanasi is a maze of small cobbled passageways and it's easy to get lost. We discovered this when trying to find their hostel for drinks. Obviously the rickshaw dropped us off in the wrong place and so after about a half hour walk around a tiny maze of open sewers, nick-nack shops and having to practically leap frog any cows roaming the streets, we found Shanti Guest House and my birthday celebrations took place. The night finished sitting by a burning ghat with my new friends in a weird parallel of celebrating life and death. Not sure I'll ever have a birthday like that again.

We stayed here for 5 days in total and have now decided to head to Nepal and see Everest.

Posted by LauraT 07:57 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Jaipur, Delhi and The Taj Mahal.

sunny -50 °C

India has an unrivaled mass of various shops full of many many strange and unusual gifts. The range of utter crap is astounding. So with the prospect of birthday shopping ahead of me for Marks 25th (cough) and the assumption that Mark didn't need any Aladdin shoes, wooden elephants or excitingly coloured bangles meant that I was at a complete loss as to what would make a nice present. Then on a particularly sweaty, bumpy ten hour bus journey from Udaipur to Jaipur a light bulb appeared over my weary head and I decided that my present to Mark would be a few nights in a top notch hotel. When residing in rooms with hard beds on noisy roads with no air con, with trickles of water that fall out of the wall posing as showers and mosquito's personally directed through your window all night by the expressionless staff, a top notch hotel is a little piece of heaven. We checked in and were treated to sheer luxury for 3 nights. Food was rubbish.

So we had arrived in Jaipur. We spent the first two days by the pool, watching Star Movies (see first blog) and celebrating Mark's birthday in traditional western style: the pub. In fact we didn't really bother with any sightseeing in Jaipur as we've come to the conclusion that if you've seen one temple you've seen 'em all really and it's far too hot out there after all. We met up with a good crowd on Mark's birthday, one of which is a producer of Rajsthani music (don't you know) so we turned the studio into a mini gathering. One touristy thing we were lucky enough to see the day before we left Jaipur was a procession of elephants, dancers, camels, musicians and emaciated limping (but colourfully decorated) horses and the tourists were treated to VIP seating on a balcony above the procession. A nice way to spend the evening before heading to Delhi.

I have heard many horror stories about Delhi. Both travellers and Indians advise against going there but we persisted anyway seeing as it is the capital and it was on our way to the Taj Mahal. Even the faithful Lonely Planet guide book says that the accommodation will be shabby, try and avoid a fair amount of places, don't trust the rickshaw drivers, beware of the Fagin's and Artful Dodger's that lurk in every dark corner. And there are quite a few dark corners. However; the rickshaw drivers were helpful, our hotel room was clean and comfortable, we were spontaneously HELPED with directions once in New Dehli train station (forewarned as Scam Central), the beggars were few and far between and we found another McDonalds. I'm not proud of myself. We were only there for one day and spent the time in Old Delhi, I'd like to say looking at temples and old buildings but Mark and I went shopping for a new digital camera. We took a photo of a red temple thingy at the end of a main road so that counts I think.

We left for the much anticipated Taj Mahal in Agra very early the next day as we only had one full day before getting the train out of there that night. Agra's rickshaw operation is what Delhi's should have been: scandalous. We initially went to the Government Prepaid Counter in the station and happily agreed a fixed price with one driver through the policemen handing out the receipts. We then off loaded our heavy bags into his boiling hot stuffy rickshaw as he went into the usual sales pitch. That's expected but we don't want to go anywhere else; Mark is feeling ill and I'm really not up for the chat that always starts with "which country you from?" (and various answers have included Jamaica, Japan and Iceland). He realised he won't get any more money out of us and so pretends his rickshaw is broken and we were begrudgingly moved to another rickshaw. The second rickshaw is just as ridiculous and wouldn't take us anywhere unless we agree to pay more, even though the point of a prepaid counter is that there is no further negotiation. So Mark then marched back over to the police for assistance but they completely ignored us until we finally demanded a refund. The police tried to give us back half of what we paid in the first place and when Mark demanded they pay us back the full price they then discreetly folded the notes in such a way that they could snap back half of the money whilst we were handing over the receipt. Rickshaw's here make a living from the extra money they get from scamming tourists and sometimes, even though they're only asking for pennies, it gets to a point where you bite back. Luckily Mark didn't fall for any of it and we're 80p up. What will we spend it on.

This slightly detracts from the Taj Mahal. The first time we saw it was when we got to a roof top restaurant for breakfast and it's very weird seeing it in real life after you've seen the image so much in the media. We had an afternoon by the building itself taking lots of photos and having lots of people taking photos of us. It's a weird trend across parts of Asia that families, individuals, group of friends and kids come up to Westerners and have their photo's taken with you. If you're not careful you start pretending you're famous and hours pass as queues form. I'm actually not that bad really but it could easily escalate to massive proportions.

Again I digress. Taj Mahal: big impressive symmetric building from the outside, not much going on inside, it was built by an important bloke when his girlfriend/wife died as a dedication to her memory and as a big slap in the face to all the poor people who live in squalor around it. See photos. (For Taj Mahal, not squalor).

We then spent the early evening in another roof top restaurant whilst the sun set over the Taj Mahal and that's a fond memory I will have for a long long time to come. Tune in next time for The River Ganges, open air crematoriums, my birthday and more bl**dy rickshaws.

Posted by LauraT 00:53 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udiapur (Rajasthan)

sunny -32 °C
View India/Bangladesh on LauraT's travel map.

Leaving Mumbai with the prospect of a 17 hour train journey, starting at 11pm, didn't fill me with any expectations of happiness, fun and all round good times but I figured I'd make sure I had plenty of supplies to keep hunger and thirst at bay and I'm currently reading Charlie Brookers 'Dawn of the Dumb' so the hours should fly by lost in bitter witticisms of social commentary on a full belly. However. Our last night was spent in a bar with an Indian friend who accidentally made us late for the train and dropped us at the wrong side of the train station and so a half marathon with my back pack wearing inappropriate shoes ensued. There was no time for supplies and so my dinner and only source of liquid was an orange. Still, a good way to end Mumbai was to spend it with our friend who had really looked after us whilst we were here and we got our train so, who cares?

Luckily that was the worst bit of the journey. I managed to get a good night's sleep because the key to long train journeys here is an inflatable head cushion, a blindfold, some ear plugs/iPod and then basically Roberts your mother's brother. Being 2 inches shy of midget status helps too, as you kind of have to make room for your bags on the same ledge. I woke to a pretty empty train and lots of people coming through selling water, nuts, er... pieces of metal and shoe insoles, and "chai chai chai chai chai chai chai". Tea is very popular. Not sure how I managed to get eaten alive by mosquito's on a moving train under a fan either but there we go, they always find me somehow.

Mark and I next arrived in Rajasthan, first port of call Jodhpur. This place is amazing. People wear the most colourful clothes; I saw old men sporting neon orange turbans, the women wore bright pinks, blues, yellows... well you get the picture. Even the cows looked better. The town itself is surrounded by a castle wall and there's a fort on the hill with spectacular views of the town and of a distant palace. All the buildings are painted blue (apparently to keep away mozzies as they don't like blue - if only I'd known last night eh) and there are lots of tiny streets and small roads to wander through which we did; there was also random dancing in the street which Mark needed little coercion participating in and became a Bollywood shaped local hero as people jostled to shake his hand once the music stopped. In addition to the energetic street life, our guest house had a roof top cafe so the sunset was really amazing. You wouldn't need more than 2 days here really but it made for a really good pit stop.

We journeyed further north to Jaisalmer looking to join a Camel trekking excursion in the sand dunes somewhere near the Pakistan boarder. We found a place to stay called Hotel Swastika which is appropriately named after the Muslim peace sign and not a celebration of a genocidal antisemitic nut job. Needless to say we didn't stumble across any Israeli's in there. Sods Law also dictated that anyone we spoke to in this town was German and I felt an overwhelming urge to avoid any chat relating to which hotel we were staying at. This was luckily a success.

We wandered around Jaisalmer town getting lost in the abundance of silver, leather and nick-nack shops minding our own business when upon reaching a market square a dog catcher violently ensnared a stray dog and this in turn upset all the animals in the area. I think they all stick up for each other or something. A big black bull with big horns (possibly a normal sized black cow with female sized horns, but for the purposes of drama lets go with the bull) decided to go a bit mad and charged about for a bit. Everyone jumped onto higher ground until the animal calmed down. So that was fun.

The following morning after a quick trip to Dr Bhang (who runs a legal 'Bhang' shop in these parts as recommended by The Lonely Planet guide book) to pick up some herbal additions to our desert trip we set off by jeep to meet the camels. Getting on a camel is easy, steering a camel is easy, trotting on a camel is easy, sitting on a camel for 3 days is not. Aside from this slight discomfort it was a great little trip spent with the Desert People who set themselves apart from Indians and it actually felt as though we were somewhere in the Middle East. The trip was not without hiccups, the most notable occurred when our guide lost one of the camels when letting them roam free at lunch and then went to find them without telling us: Mark and I were left in the middle of the desert for four hours not really knowing what was going on. At least we had a few games of 'guess what number I'm thinking of' to keep us busy.

We are now south east of Jaisalmer in Udiapur, after a very rocky 15 hour bus ride, and this place is renowned for it's historical architecture (stay with me) and, more interestingly, some of the palaces here provided the film setting for James Bond 'Octopussy'. They love this fact so much at our more aptly named guest house that they show it at 7:30pm every night. There seems to be a few temples and palaces to wander around which we will do more of tomorrow before we head to Jaipur in time for Marks birthday on 16th.

Posted by LauraT 03:55 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Goa, Hampi and Mumbai.

sunny -32 °C
View India/Bangladesh on LauraT's travel map.

I think I'd been traveling for 2 days door to door when I finally arrived in Goa (decided to immediately head south once arriving in Mumbai Airport) so it was safe to say I was fairly tired. Having been to Goa before, I knew I needed to fight my way through the hoards of touts and taxis waiting outside Goa's military style airport and make my way over to the Government approved taxi counter so as not to be over charged..... all of 1.50. Its amazing how you feel completely screwed over when having to shell out an extra 200 Rupees should you mistakenly get a ruthlessly conniving (i.e. just trying to make a living) taxi driver. So off I went to grab myself a bargain whilst I was still awake.

After a non eventful taxi journey, and by non eventful I really mean speeding around mountain roads overtaking around corners in a motorized tin can (mum and dad its FINE I promise), I arrive on Palolem Beach in South Goa and after an unexpected second wind I head straight to the beach for a Masala Chai and the sunset. Mark arrives a day early (hurray!) and we spend the evening having drinks on the beach.

Goa kind of follows that pattern really. Mark's traveling friends that he met in the South were also at Palolem, so we had quite a sociable time in and around the various beach bars.

We then decided to venture 8 hours eastwards to Hampi on a surprisingly clean, comfortable and easy train ride. We'd heard all about the temples here, the waterfalls and reservoirs for swimming. Hampi is a genuinely unique looking place and to sum up in a particularly weird way: Hampi looks like a giant has been to a giant garden centre and bought a giant bag of giant paving pebbles and dumped them all over the landscape. Not seen anything like it before.

We found a guest cottage to stay in and decided mopeds were the best way to get about (mum and dad its FINE I promise) and went to explore. We soon found the waterfalls after an hour of confused fun battling through long grass (snakes anyone?) and hopping over boulders in the wrong direction. Turns out those 50 rupee guides waiting at the entrance may have been a good investment (but that's a saving of 70p so OBVIOUSLY we'll get ourselves there). There was a nice cold pool for a much needed swim and not many people seemed to be there so it was fairly peaceful.

We also visited the reservoir in search of fun to be had in the water rapids leading into it, but again nothing is simple and we managed to over shoot the entrance by 2km and go off road for 45 minutes before we found it. I think I could qualify for a Supercross competition now and I'm sure Mark would have agreed with me if he wasn't so far out in front. After a quick dip and the realisation that the rapids were just trickles of opposing currents of water we decided to call it a day and headed home, only after spotting a sign saying 'beware of crocodiles' (mum and dad....). I'm sure that was just a devious lie to stop travelers swimming in there.

Hampi was a cool place; it had some chilled out home stays, picturesque moonlit views of temples over the river at night time (obviously) and a good balance of a chilled atmosphere with potential for meeting lots of other travelers over a beer. It also had dead rodents in guest cottages which Mark is only just beginning to talk about again having accidentally slept with one stuffed in between the mattress and his sheet. Ergh.

Leaving the Hampi tale on a good note there then.

From Hampi we got an over night bus back to North Goa and stayed on a beach called Anjuna. This is renowned for Hippies and flea markets although I didn't see any of that as I was confined to a 6x5 concrete cell shaped room having contracted what can only be described as dis-sentry to the power of 10. Still it had to happen at some point. I am now back on food and celebrated the fact last night with a big fat steak and chips (eating cow in India... bloody fantastic).

So now I've been in Mumbai for 4 days. At first, having travelled for 12 hours on a train, having consumed no water or food for 3 days and walking around a suffocating city with covered legs and shoulders with no warning about where the next whiff of human disease would come from, its fair to say I wasn't in my happy place. So of course we booked into an air conditioned business hotel with 'clean' written in big letters all over it and I retired to the room pretty sharpish to watch 'Star movies'; a choice of pretty much any of the cheesiest 80's films you can think of. Heaven.

However the last 2 days I've been back on my flip flopped feet and have really warmed to the place. I've been on a boat ride to an island of Hindu caves, I've been to Ocean Drive to see the sky line of Mumbai, I've looked massively out of place going to the Four Seasons Hotel sky top bar to see a fantastic view of the city, I've been to MacDonalds at least 4 times for some good honest home cooked food and last night we went out with some local's and a friend we know from back home and were driven around and shown the Indian side of Mumbai, away from the tourist areas. Not bad for 2 days. It's a bustling city with every type of person imaginable. It's friendly, intimidating, hot, big, unusual, Western, Indian, helpful and confusing. Tonight we leave for The North.

Posted by LauraT 02:17 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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