India · 28 Days · 328 Moments · March 2016

Discovering India

16 April 2016

Finally. We arrived in Delhi, just a few minutes down the road from our first hotel! We checked in and said good bye to Ringo (apparently we have a different driver taking us to the airport #nervous) As we got into our room, a random plumber came barging in "TWO MINUTE". He then fiddled about in the bathroom attaching a new butt hose (not quite sure what else to call it) before storming back out again. Random. Showers all round and Jb found the football to watch. Chill time.
Ok so sorry if this makes you unwell. After hours of driving with the windows down in one of the most polluted places on the planet, this is what a baby wipe looks like after you cool yourself down with one. This is off my arms and neck. Disgusting!!
Feelin hot hot hot. Every window is open and it feels like when you open the oven to have a peak and the hot air hits you... Constantly. Some how Ringo is in a denim shirt?!
JBs got his Australian outfit on to take the heat. He looks native.
It's hot and windy. These are the least amount of clothes I can get away with without motorbikes crashing! Talking of which, we saw a lady fall off the back of one - I knew we would eventually. Thankfully I think they were only going maybe 20km/hr. But she wasn't wearing a helmet and rolled across the road. Madness!
It might only say 31 degrees now... But it's not even 10am yet. Today we drive to Delhi, without air conditioning and there's a high of 43 forecast today. Today is certainly a grit and bear it kind of day!

15 April 2016

And so there we are, a Diet Coke and a sweet lassi to watch the sun go down in Pushka. And now we're one very hot drive away from Delhi and around 36 hours from flying back to the UK!
And to finish off our mostly chilled out day we bought some last minute tat (including a plastic sparkly Ganesh for the Campervan, obviously) and watched the sunset. Sadly no g&ts or kingfishers as the place is too holy for alcohol. But otherwise a brilliant spot to watch the sun go down. Look out for bloke (plonker) in silly hat, it's a random kiwi who we keep seeing. He gave us a lecture on how to haggle and we watched him execute his terrible haggling technique in a shop. He's basically Murray from flight of the conchords. There's always one.
I have pretty much had it with religion but we hadn't visited a Sikh temple yet. This one was nice and also very friendly. I put my scarf on my head as it said to cover your head. A little man scuttled over "sir, you too". So Jon attached this cloth (looks like a hairy biker). I liked that we both had to cover up not just ladies. Nobody asked for money but there was a collection box. Of course we put some rupees in. Nobody harassed us and it was peacefully quiet.
No day here would be complete without some sort of money swindling activity. We had wandered down to the lake to have a look at its holiness (no photo). We were approached by two chaps who handed us rose petals to throw into the water. Before we know it we've been marched to the water's edge (separately) and made to repeat random words that sounded made up and were unpronounceable. Then the moment I predicted came, I was asked how many thousands of rupees I will give to complete my blessing. Argument ensues as I found Jon and then we stormed off telling them what they're doing is the opposite of holy. Pretty sure they were crooks and if they're legit - I'm sorry but Hinduism is corrupt. Classic India 😂
Like a comedy we actually got "got" twice today. We've become quite hardened to the beggars and the kids shouting "rupees rupees rupees" at us. But it is quite challenging working out who just genuinely wants to say hello and who wants us to give them money. Two ladies came to say hi, looking sad when I ignored them they held out their hand "just wanting to say hello friend". Hook line and sinker. She grabbed my hand and started doodling a terrible henna tattoo on it - Jb the same with other woman. Trying to pull away she held it hard "no! This is luck for your family." After finally breaking free they then shouted 200 rupees at us and followed us around whilst we told them to leave us alone. We later saw them pulling the same trick with other westerners. Jon rubbed his off but it still stained - "bloody hell it looks like a f-ing six legged turtle, for fs sake!" I had to laugh. Mines not much better...!
With a touch of sadness and a pinch of relief, today is our last "actual" day in India. Tomorrow we spend 9 hours driving to Delhi for our flight on Sunday morning. To be perfectly honest, we're exhausted. The way of life here, the heat and the travelling takes it out of you. So today our plan was to wander around, take in the scenes and generally just chill as much as possible. Here's a few snaps of Pushka's Main Street.

14 April 2016

We dined at this fantastic family run restaurant. We could sit and watch our meal being cooked on the open fire (reassuring). Other highlights were watching the grandmother wash her teeth in the basin and the pet Cat prancing about the worktops! 😂
On our way to dinner we past this commotion - this is a wedding. The man on the horse is the groom. He had a full brass band leading him down the streets of Pushka.
With just two days left we embarked on "operation pack". We had always planned to buy lots in India (it's the land of fantastic tat) and as a result we had to buy an extra bag to take it all home in. Even the bag is cool. As you can see, it was quite an operation!!! And to think we've posted three boxes home too...!
We arrived in the small town of Pushka around lunch time. Pushka is a religious town surrounding a small square lake - believed to be holy. Gandhi's ashes were scattered here. For India standards, it's very quiet and peaceful with lots of places to chill. As a result it has become the base camp for many yoga retreaters and dreadlocked travellers. In fact, out of anywhere in the whole of India this is place we've seen the most westerners. Most come here for a few weeks, some for months and some have even stayed for years and opened businesses. For lunch we went to a wonderful cafe that we would have laughed at before. All vegetarian and super foods - absolutely delicious and so needed after the millions of chapatis consumed over the past weeks. We wandered the bizarre and marvelled at all the wonderful things for sale. Another opportunity to buy some extra prezzies. We were so chilled we didn't even take photos.

13 April 2016

Another funky roof top restaurant tonight with a view of the fort. A cheeky kingfisher to wash it down. Ah, smug mode.
Jodhpur markets tempted us again and I bought two saris and one beaded scarf off the ladies selling on the street. I won't be wearing the saris but will use the fabric - 5m x 1m I bought both saris for around £2.70 and the scarf for £1.60. Crazy cheap.
More poodling and looking about!
We walked the blue streets, mostly residential now so very quiet and peaceful. The bright colours are spectacular ! Jon wore blue shorts for the occasion.
Reunited we took some snaps of the blue city. Originally it was the houses of holy men that were blue but now anyone can have a blue house. The paint works as an insect repellent too.
In keeping with "tradition" (aka sexual discrimination) Jon and I had to walk separate paths along here. Something to do with the temple at the end. So I took pictures up the top!
The courtyards and haveli screens were designed so ladies of the court could view the goings on without being seen. All with the reasoning that they were being protected. It's funny how no one thought it would be a much better idea to just stop men from being rapey perverts - what a modern thought?! The whole "honour" tradition is littered with contradiction. We heard a "tragic" love story where a prince fell in love with a princess from another city. He visited her every night but his two wives started getting suspicious (yes, two wives). The princess's sister wanted to see the man that captured her sister's heart so dressed as a man to pretend to be a guard. However they both fell asleep before the prince arrived. On arrival the prince saw his love asleep with another man. With that he stormed off and refused to see her again. With that the princess killed herself. I mean wtf talk about serious double standards! What a cheating nob. That part of the story everybody seems ok with?!
These exquisitely decorated rooms were once the private quarters for the maharajas. Apparently they had dancers entertain them long into the night - a fact that I took as having a seriously sordid underlying meaning (but I would wouldnt I). The room with the small pictures on has British influence - some of the ladies painted are British. Apparently somewhat of a fascination. Not much has changed.
I'm either tight or very stubborn. After the debacle with the cameras I wasn't going to buy a "camera ticket" after all that. Instead I opted to use the iPhone in stealth mode. Here is the entrance to the fort, a sharp corner and pointy things on the gates to prevent elephants from breaking through. Clever. We listened to another audio guide - same bloke talking on all of them around India I think! I did chuckle as the next in line Maharaja (who I guess is in his 30s currently) spoke on the audio guide with a perfect Etonian accent. He sounds like a right toff. Bet he goes to Mahikis and orders bottles of grey goose for his crew and hordes of Burberry clad women from Sloan square.
Here's a common scene - security guard telling us off for taking a picture without a "camera ticket" despite us not being inside the museum yet. This is because we are foreign. Before we did go into the museum section Jon went to the loo. As I waited a friendly Indian girl asked for a picture. Her male companion spend ages faffing with his phone before he could take it. In this time, no exaggeration, I had around 30-40 people gathered around in a large group poised with their camera phones. Chaos ensued as babies were handed over and children posed for various photos with me. Some babies cried hysterically at the sight of me 😂 freaky woman with blue eyes. But guess what, security weren't interested one bit! Gotta love a cheeky bit of corruption, sigh!
Next stop was to go up into the fort. It has a museum section that's paid for and the rest you can wander about in but that didn't stop the security guards throwing out a couple of lies that we had to have tickets everywhere.
I enjoyed the indo spelling here 😊
We were followed about by a bloke with a huge moustache (lots around these parts) playing this flute. We gave him a tip mainly because I wanted to snap the tash.
A good rest in the shade with some water sorted us out. The place is clean and peaceful. The marble is very beautiful too. Lots of maharaja's graves including the one that died in the 1950s in a plane crash - his 4 year old son was crowned King and is still (although a powerless title) maharaja today.
This morning we took a walk up through the winding streets to Jaswant Thada - a maharaja memorial place. Walking in the morning is a bit unpleasant as the open sewers are much more in flow as everyone wakes up for the morning. Jodhpur also seems to have an abundance of stray dogs here with gammy legs and eyes. The walk took us up stairs and hills which combined with the temperature already up in the mid-30s made for grumpy declarations from both us. We also couldn't find the entrance which meant India is no good and we should just go home. That not being an option we paid our entrance fees and had a look around.

12 April 2016

Quite an extraordinary day, having woke at dawn in the middle of the desert we finish the day on a top of a funky roof top restaurant in the glow of the mighty Jodhpur Fort. I have to say, we are both excited to be going 'home' on Sunday but it doesn't take away from the incredible experiences we are collecting up and still to collect!
I'm proud to say Jon had read about and found this boutique shop - the Sambhali trust shop. The charity works to empower disadvantaged Rajasthani women and girls teaching them a skill and to provide them with an education. Rajasthan is one of the worst places in the world to be a women due to strength of traditions. In 2011 literacy rates were 81% male and only 53% female (which has risen from just 18% in 1961). The shop sells handmade toys, gifts and clothes - all beautiful items. You could see the pride in the work done here. The lovely lady working there (pictured) is Sanju, she started off learning to sew and eventually worked her way into running the shop. She beamed from ear to ear as we asked her about the charity - her pride in the work they're doing is admirable. Shopping in here, without need to bargain down a stupid price, for beautiful things made for an excellent cause was so easy for us! Let's hope that we've helped a tiny bit towards India's long road to equality.
We arrived in Jodhpur mid afternoon in the baking hot sun. The drive was a sweltering six hours and it appears the air conditioning has stopped working. All timed beautifully with rising temperatures - it's getting in the low 40s now. We checked into our hotel and Ringo eagerly took us to a spice shop. It was actually quite good and we got a few things. After, we went for a wander around the bizarre and market place. Lots of amazing things for sale and we didn't get too harassed. Of course we also had to try the local Lassi. Tasty!
Back at camp we were cooked breakfast and sipped chai tea. What a fantastic experience! Whilst waiting for our driver to appear (we don't think he's quite grown out of the teenage-I-hate-mornings thing yet) we went for a stroll around the local village. A couple of school children, no older than 8, walked along. I smiled and said hello. The girls came straight over, tugged at my bracelet speaking Hindi and then said "or Rupees". I shrugged them off. Next, a little boy, probably 6, bee lines to me points and my watch "Rupees". He then tries to unbuckle my watch. We decided to go back to camp at that point. My heart sank. These kids have learnt from day dot that white people are there to give you cash or things. A far cry from the happy waving and smiling children we saw in Africa. They may also have hoped for a treat but they never asked for it or tried to take it.
We bumped along, sure not to fall off! This is what the dark picture last night looks like in the light!
We sat and watched the sun rise over the desert, painting the sand gold once again. We then once again clambered onto the trailer for our camel to tow us back to camp.
The night was amazing. As we slept we could hear the clanking bells of the grazing goats and camels around the desert. Sometimes the howl and bark of the stray dog packs. Thankfully not one bug appeared. In the middle of the night the stairs shone brightly in the sky, our million star hotel for the night! We woke at dawn as light started to draw in.

11 April 2016

We had been given the option of either staying in the campsite or sleeping out in the desert under the stars. I mean a total no brainer. We were loaded onto a trailer and towed by camel for about 20 minutes into the desert. There we set up our beds out in the open. What... You can't see the camel? Yeh I couldn't either!
Back at the camp we were entertained with Rajasthani folk music and dancing. I was invited to dance with two other guests. Why not I say! Jb said I was best amateur. However it wasn't hard to be and he would say that! There was one sad moment however. There was an Indian family (tourists) present with a Down Syndrome daughter. The dancer put out her hand to ask the daughter to dance. She smiled excitedly and was about to stand when her father suddenly made it quite clear this wasn't going to happen. Mum looked at him as if to say "I think it's ok" but Dad firmly shook his head and said no. I can only imagine the reason was that he didn't want others to judge his daughter's disability. I wish he had let her dance. This world can be ever so cruel.
We watched the sun go down before getting back on the camels to ride back to camp.
We reached the top of a dune as our spot for wag bib the sunset. As we arrived a man materialised from a bush enthusiastically taking our pictures for us. I sighed as I knew he wanted a tip. However miraculously he had some cold beer so luckily we could just buy one of those each instead.
What fun!
Riding into the sunset
Being in the desert we couldn't pass up the opportunity to ride a camel into the dunes. These two chaps did a fabulous job of carrying us for over an hour.
After a good shopping session we enjoyed a relaxing meal on this roof top restaurant.
Scenes from Jaisalmer living.
Aside from the magnificent fort, Jaisalmer has a beautiful collection of Havelis - or attractive mansions! We spent a great few hours wandering the streets and admiring them.
Views of the fort from below. The sandcastle dominating the landscape. Interestingly enough, the sand castle is collapsing. A lot of conservation work is taking place as the foundations have been comprised by water. Until the 1960s it was just the royal family living here but now the fort is full of hotels, shops and restaurants so the fort can't take the strain. You can see the damp at the bottom of the fort walls.
After a day of sitting in a car it was certainly due to be a day of seeing stuff. In fact, we have come to realise that the itinerary booked for us is totally unrealistic and involves an insane amount of driving. So we've cut out one stop and spending longer over the next few days in the cities. This morning we went up into the fort nice and early. We wandered the quiet streets and then explored the palace. A "no photo" place. Some fascinating stories, including hearing that the current maharaja's mother married into the family at age 13 in the 1950s. Madness! The views from the fort are amazing and the desert like surroundings give this place a real middle eastern feel about it.
We woke up to this spectacular view of Jaisalmer fort looking like a sand castle in the sun! We had a slight morbid start to the day. Not sure how but a chipmunk came flying past us as we were walking up to the castle. It landed splat on the ground next to us, squirmed and then died. We guess a bird dropped it. So disturbing! A gentle man in a turban who had just waved happily to us stood up and ran over in horror. We both mourned for little Mr C Munk 😢

10 April 2016

We arrived in Jaisalmer - an ancient city in a remote part of Rajasthan, only 100km from the Pakistani border. Jon was in a slight grump because he was tired and hungry. We decided to venture out for a bite to eat. Jaisalmer was surprisingly very quiet for India and the roads were dark and dimly lit which made it a little scary. We found a nice enough restaurant and had a nice enough meal. On walking back to the hotel we decided to avoid the very dark alley way that had a dog eating another dog (seriously!). It also featured these pigs with very over protective mother snorting loudly at us. The big horned cows didn't look at us too kindly either!
The journey was long, over 12 hours in total. And the roads in the last 200km were terrible. It seems that nobody could finish fixing one piece of road without starting on the next. So a bit of off roading and some very dusty moments. There are so many lorries and many dodgy over takes. A few near misses. When darkness fell the roads were terrifying. Everyone is out for themselves, each vehicle driving with full beam headlights - blinding each other as they go. Short sighted in many senses of the word!
Along the route we've been overtaking these ridiculous over loaded vehicles. Apparently they're full of animal feed. I said they look like they're wearing large turbans!
Tonnes of camels on the road but this one looks a little worse for wear...
One of the more entertaining vans we've seen! Jb commented "big melons in that"
And we're off. The journey is going to take all day. The car wouldn't start when we left so that was a cracking sign!
Here's Jb at breakfast - we leave Jaipur today and have a long drive today to Jaisalmer. Last night we spoke to a young guy about lots of things but mainly about how lucky we were to be able to marry for love. He said he was very jealous at our freedoms. Everyone forgets how lucky we all are to have such choice and freedom.

9 April 2016

Ringo picked us up and dropped us off at a restaurant. We snapped the Albert Hall on the way. Another pretty building!
We finished the afternoon off with some more shopping and got a few bits. Jon had his serious figurative haggle hat on and drove some hard bargains. Even if that meant walking off then coming back some time later...! All the shops pretty much look like this. This guy loved being in the photo. I've noticed the sexism more in Jaipur than other places. It's always "hello sir" and I'm ignored. Apart from shopping. In one shop I was looking at some bags whilst Jon haggled over some items. Negotiating failing Jb says to me "Al do you want any of those things, if not we'll go", before I could answer the slimy shop keeper snarls "the women, she buy, she buy". And with that I put down the thing I was looking at, declared we were leaving and stormed out. Another shop said my trousers (which FYI I purchased in a boutique shop in Henley) were bad quality compared to his - I mean wtf kind of sales tactic is that? Jon left that one saying "you've insult us". Fun and games!!!!
Beautiful views from the top.
These schools boys wanted a photo and argued with security. The security guard ended up taking the photo when he was satisfied we didn't mind!
Around the corner we visited the grand Hawa Mahal. The building was built so the ladies of the court could observe the processions and the streets without being seen.
The city palace was another beautiful site to visit. We got audio guides this time so we could listen to the story. The palace gradually opened as a museum in the past 20-30years. The Royal family are still resident in a private wing. However, you can tell this is their way to make money as the tour guides you into set up stalls and museum shops! Regardless, it was a fascinating if not biased, tour.
On the way back into the city we stopped at the water palace. All closed down now but apparently being resorted. A stunning building to see though.
Such irony. Maybe they should add an asterisk "*unless the person is a tourist police officer" 😂
We wandered back down the hill - amazing views.
This one could have come in handy back in the scout camp days. Some serious cocoa making could take place in this bad boy!
On the way out we found the old tunnel system which is pretty cool!
A security guard seemed adamant he was going to show us the way to the top... We were walking that way anyway. When we were up he offered / insisted to take our photos and engaged us in a bizarre photo shoot. He was crouching on the floor and everything. We kind of figured he was vying for a tip. He hung around for a while and then said "tip"? "It's not allowed" I said (taste of their own medicine!). And he seemed to agree with me and slunk away.
Bit of a where's wally moment!
Simply stunning
This was cool. This is the old system for lifting water up from the lake. Quite clever really!
Not sure if this is disrespectful... Did it anyway.
Me demonstrating the proper position for using an ancient latrine.
Stunning architecture!
First stop today is the incredible Amber Fort. One of the benefits of the Maharaja and Royal Family being in existence is that all of the Royal buildings are largely still in excellent condition. The fort here is far more impressive than the others we have seen. And is huge! The other bonus was we walked in without the need for random items being taken off us or security being idiots. Makes a lovely change! I won't bore with the details of Amber fort - it looks cool and if you really want more info Wikipedia does it for you 👍🏿
Our hotel is rather funky and all decorated traditionally. I forgot to get a photo of the outside so I'll google one! The walls also have loads of Maharaja hay-day photos, including one with Prince Charles. We get the impression the British empire worked well for the Jaipur Maharaja. It was only in independent India did their Royal status become merely ceremonial.

8 April 2016

We didn't get round to as much shopping as we thought we might but got a few things. We walked to a recommended spot for dinner and were then picked up by Ringo outside one of the city gates - all illuminated pink! Beautiful.
The parade had several "marching" bands who were having a fab time of it!!
We were given coins on with the image of their God as a good luck token.
A smiling little girl in one of the floats dressed in wedding clothes - presumably a dress up thing and not for a real purpose!
"Hello?! Hello?! I can't hear you. I'm on a float looking holy in the parade, I'll call you back. Ok send it on a Facebook message"
The crowds and performers all seemed excited to see us taking an interest. Many wanted to pose and many shouted "take my photo!!!". The kids especially were excitable and dancing away. It's 90% men though. Whilst women are on the sidelines, the crazy excitable celebrations are usually the privilege of the men and boys.
The colourful floats were weird and wonderful. Of course we didn't understand most of what they represent but we could admire the creativity (a few were simply built on top of a normal car 😂)
Shopping plans came to a bit of a stop when we heard loud music coming down the road! A precession of floats lead by a decorated elephant and its posy of spangled camels and horses danced past us. We learnt this was the festival of "Gangaur". A Hindu festival celebrated by certain castes - it's only one day (and doesn't effect shops being open for the record!).
This afternoon's plan is to wander the streets and do a spot of shopping. Jaipur is famous for its textiles so we've been saving ourselves to buy things here! The streets were planned out in the 18th century by the Maharaja so everything feels a little more ordered (for India!). The whole town is painted pink and is quite beautiful. Amazingly, they still have a royal family here and a Maharaja. Although with next to no power - they're just ceremonial.
We got Ringo to drop us off in town and we visited the basic but charming Ganesh restaurant. This unassuming establishment is sat on the city wall tucked away behind the shops. The food was delicious and we watched the chef cook the Roti in the tandoor oven - fascinating!
Jaipur friend asked us all about our itinerary. I was thankful my husband is mr organised and has literally written us one. Friend then started showing all suspicious signs starting with "you know if you don't like your hotel I know a better one". Then a blatant lie. He told us a Hindu festival (that we know is later in the year, because we have educations) was on and everything would be closed for 9 days. "It's probably best if I take you on a factory tour out of the city". I turned to Jon "it's time to nip this in the bud". Jb doesn't need much encouragement but Mr Jaipur Friend got the full JB rant package. I couldn't possibly remember what he said but it pretty much sent Mr friend packing with his tail between his legs. Still, it's annoying that despite prebooking everything this STILL happened! I think Ringo got the message though. No more random friends touting for guide business.
We eventually rolled into Jaipur just over an hour late. Now to find our driver who will be driving us around until we leave India next Sunday. Immediately as we disembark the train we're approached by numerous taxi drivers touting for business. One chap followed us for sometime thinking my "we have a driver" reply was a lie. He didn't notice our driver find us and carried on asking me random questions "have you been to Birmingham, I have a cousin there" etc etc. He pretty much followed us to the car before saying "so do you think your driver will show up?". "Yes, he's stood next to you", and with that he huffed, turned on his heel and marched back into the station. Soz... Not everyone lies! Our driver seems very sweet, his name is Ringo. However he introduced us to his "friend" from Jaipur who's coming along in the car for a bit. In India, you're immediately suspicious.
And here he is reading his kindle waiting to arrive in Jaipur. Our train seems to be running late. Probably an hour late - who knows! There are no announcements.
For some reason the train door was wide open as I wandered to the toilet - I didn't fall out though. Here's the sleeping guard and a shot of the corridor.
For those interested, here is the train toilet. You can see the ground rushing past you through the hole in the ground. You hold onto the pole for dear life. Months ago I'd panic at this sort of toilet but it's amusing how quickly you get used to it. On the plus side, being open it doesn't smell!
Morning time! Not too bad a sleep. Some people did get on and sleep opposite us for some time of the journey and had a loud phone call early this morning. Otherwise they were fine neighbours. We got a reasonable amount of sleep in and only got disturbed by coughing fits and random shouting a few times. This morning the bloke in the bunk opposite proudly let off the most outrageously loud fart. Nobody seemed phased but me and Jon got the giggles. He's done it a few times since and has even lifted a cheek. It seems culturally very acceptable to hoot away!! We had a packet of waffles for breakfast...

7 April 2016

Our last Indian train and it's the longest yet. Getting on at 6.15 pm we're due into Jaipur at 12.05pm tomorrow afternoon. This is our set up. Not too bad. We had a man with a large gun come round with a piece of paper that basically said we could easily be drugged and stolen from. We had to sign to say we read it. I tied all bags to seats and slept with the passports. Paranoid now!
To finish our time in Varansi we found a quiet spot to look out at the river. This cow decided to walk and stand directly in our way again! Someone came and sat to chat to Jon. He's collecting foreign notes and wondered if we had any British notes for his collection. Sorry son we're not fools. Oh and he asked Jon if he wanted drugs. I think the beard is potentially giving off the "I'm a stoner" vibe. After hearing we don't do drugs, "why not take some to trade?" Really though?!!
Some gamblers outside the temples on the banks of the holy Ganges river. Hope they all have the gods good luck...
These cows were bathing to cool down in the heat. So to recap the holy Ganges river is used for... washing yourself washing your teeth washing your clothes Fishing Submerging dead bodies before cremation Depositing cremation ash washing cows and other livestock Hmmm....
As we walked down to the river we had three funeral parties pass us in the narrow street. They hold the bodies on stretchers decorated with flowers. Most are completely covered but we saw one body with the head revealed. That was a bit disturbing. A lot of the families in the procession were visibly mourning - it's quite moving. You can stand nearby and watch the fires even though people tell you you can't (then lead you to a viewing balcony and charge money for it). Despite us quietly observing a custom, people still see this as an opportunity to sell. One guy started by asking us to donate to a charity of poor destitute people waiting to die above the funeral fires. After we politely declined he offered us weed then opium "full power, nine hour". Unbelievable! Jon said "we're catching a train now", he replied "don't worry, they don't check. No problem". You have to laugh.
Back in town we tried more local cuisine and had some very tasty lunch We've seen Lassi for sale everywhere but have been too chicken to try it. Our lonely planet guide said that "Blue lassi" was THE place for lassi in India so we gave it a go. It's basically flavoured buttermilk. It tastes like a buttery thin yoghurt - we had a mango one and a chocolate with banana one. They were really rather good! The place is another hippy haunt and lots of backpackers playing it cool. But we all know they just have the same book as us. 😂
Holy cow! Literally. We had a great morning exploring the temple on the local university campus. It's much less crowded than the real deal in the old town and the crowd is pretty relaxed.
On the way back another funeral was taking place, it never stops.
We paddled back and took in the views once again. The sun high and beating down on us.
Just about awake now!
It creates a little bit of a contrast with the main cremation ghat which has blackened over time.
The colours here are beautiful and a sight to behold.
A small boy (who rode over to us in a polystyrene hand made boat) was insistent we buy another lotus flower candle for more good luck. Still, quite nice.
Washing clothes and laying them out to dry.
Lots of loin clothed men. Many willies have been seen. The women bath fully clothed for modesty - literally ridiculous.
More amazing street art
One of my favourite photos. These boys are at a religious school and are taking part in early morning yoga. The leader was calling the moves over a tannoy and counting them in to hold bridge for 10 seconds! Great form.
Unbelievably the funerals are taking place at this time of day just meters from people bathing in these waters. We later learned (and saw) that before cremation the body is dipped into the Ganges. The ash also ends up in there. When you consider people wash their bodies, their clothes and their teeth (!) in the same water it does make the stomach churn.
Everywhere we looked people were praying and washing.
We haven't seen much wildlife in India so I was so pleased to see these beautiful Indian Kingfishers - must be because we've been drinking their namesake beer!
Bleary eyed we were awake at 5am to see the sunrise by boat along the Ganges. Magical with singing and prayer calling along the river. You can see why the Hindus find this place so holy.

6 April 2016

Our lonely planet book raved about this awesome roof top restaurant called the Brown Bread Bakery. It appears to be a backpackers / yoga travellers haunt. Everyone is dressed in mute-coloured, soft cotton floaty items. A few dreadlocks or braids and a few having a fag. Not sure we were cool enough to join but we ordered none the less. The food was amazing. We were also able to nab a couple of Kingfisher beers - not on the menu due to licensing laws (too holy in these parts for beer).
After our boat trip we watched one of the Hindu shows at the side of the river. There's lots of bell ringing, singing, wafting of incense and clapping. I mean this gave the Church of England happy clappy clan some serious run for their money. We spotted a few European blokes in baggy trousers and flip flops joining in - midlife crisis in full swing, happily clapping away. One, complete with bindi on the forehead, whipped out his iPad mini take some snaps. A great experience to watch.
We lit a lotus flower candle which supposedly brings good luck. There were quite a few on the river so it looked really magical.
An incredible evening.
This evening we took a boat from our hotel along the route we walked this morning. We travelled as the sun set behind the buildings.
We climbed the steps (ghat) into the old town to have a look around. The narrow streets are also a labyrinth here and we weaved our way for some time before coming out at the "main road". We found an amazing restaurant which served delicious curries which I declared the best food yet. True story. We then went back to our hotel to get into our room and for a short siesta.
A quick cup of coffee in this old hotel and use of their clean loo.
One of the most interesting / weird features of Varanasi is the funerals on the banks of the Ganges. They burn the bodies in big bonfires in the open. There are two prominent places they do it here, the wood piled high.
Happy goats.
We continued our walk and this is what we saw.
One of the tricks is to shake Jon's hand and then start massaging it. "It's free don't worry". Clearly isn't. He managed to wiggle away! We sat in the shade for a bit to consult the book. Out of all people we were accosted by a smug German bloke from Hamburg. He came to talk at us and give us worldly advice on travelling. After ten minutes of him taking at us about how amazing his trip to India has been (and him mentioning numerous times this is his 10th trip to India) we managed to get on.
This is a holy man but I have to say, he did look like a character from Monty Python's holy grail 😂
I admired this painted scene of Varanasi on this wall. I heard a little voice saying "that was me". A cute little man was sitting painting by the river bank. He invited us to look through the collection whilst he continued to paint. On enquiring the cost we bought 3 a5 paintings from him for about a quid each. Much better than a standard tatty souvenir!
It's an artist's paradise and the street art along here is beautiful. Varanasi also attracts a lot of yoga buffs. In fact most of the western "tourists" are dreadlocked canvas bag wearing types. Everyone's feeling a bit spiritual...
Varanasi is an incredible place. It's been a place of holy worship for hundreds of years and Hindus come here in their thousands in a pilgrimage. Here they bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges river. We walked along the bank to take in the scene. There are temples, people meditating, washing, fishing, painting etc all along here. It's fiercely hot but thankfully not as humid.
Our journey to the hotel was eventful. We had prepared ourselves for Varanasi to be as crazy as Agra. The roads were similar in places, unmade and full of livestock. On our way we witnessed something that was inevitable to witness at some point - a car crash. In front of us a mini bus and a 4x4 crashed into each other causing the 4x4 to panic, swerve and drive into a motorcyclist. He rolled up the bonnet and the car crashed into a market stall with an all mighty bang. We were the tuktuk just behind. I screamed and our tuktuk driver quickly drove around the incident so we couldn't see. People were running to help and as we passed I could see the motorcyclist crying out in pain - which means he wasn't dead. It's mad he want wearing a helmet though. Still slightly shell shocked we arrived at "Holy Ganges View" hotel and had breakfast on the roof.
It was surprising when we woke up to be told our stop was in ten minutes. Jb panicked. It's amazing how quickly 10 hours goes when your unconscious! We were met with a barrage of people wanting business. One tuktuk driver said he could do us a deal if our friend also used his company. What friend? He points down the platform towards a European bloke (backpacker we think). He seemed surprised when we said we have never seen the guy before and don't know him. Because you know, we ought to know every white person in the world. It's interesting being on the "other side" of casual racism!

5 April 2016

The night trains are quite good. We opted for the air conditioned class which is one below first (first was fully booked). We got to sleep quite quickly and only really woke up a few times in the night.
Typically, our train was almost two hours late. So we sat at Kolkata station. The stations are always stare central and we had quite a crowd. More selfies. Some stopped to look over Jons shoulder to see what he was writing. One guy complimented him on his hand writing. Should have gone to spec savers...!
We nipped back to the mansion for a shower and to collect our things. We're off to Varanasi tonight on a night train. This is the start of the tour we booked whilst in Delhi. So from now on we have all of our travel and accommodation booked - which should mean a stress free time. Who am I kidding? This is India!
The grand Victoria memorial is an incredible site to see. Completed 20 years after her death, the building is a lasting reminder to Kolkata of its imperial importance. It's surprisingly beautifully maintained and the museum inside (no photo inside) had a surprisingly objective take on imperial rule. Kolkata has the longest connection with Britain with the east India company arriving here in the 1600s. The museum praised all of the enlightenment and wealth that reached India through British rule - as well regretting the blood shed and corruption that inevitably came at that time. I didn't agree with the museums take that democracy was an Indian idea - that was happening everywhere. It's not as simple as "overthrowing the British". It was an establishment thing. We were at it too. Anyway, great afternoon but sweaty. It's around 38-40 degrees. 90% humidity. Yuk.
A walk to the Victoria memorial saw us popping by Kolkatas own St Pauls cathedral. Again, no photography inside, but what I found interesting was the memorial plaques to British men and women who were killed in the Indian Mutiny in 1856. The number of plaques dedicated to the men and their families who faced the horror and betrayal is indicative of the effort the British put in to shaping the uprising as an act of terrorism. The Indian mutiny is referred to in Indian history as the "first war of independence".
As it's our last day in Kolkata we thought we'd do some cultural bits. First off was the eccentric Marble Palace. This mid 19th century building was built as a home for a wealthy Indian merchant who clearly did exceptionally well during imperial rule. It's still a private home but with a permit from the tourist board you can visit. The house is incredible. It feels like the moment independence arrived the building stopped and is frozen in time. Slowly fading. Brilliant colours have faded and precious metals have dulled. We were taken around the house by security who pointed at things stating the obvious. We took our time to look around. It's packed full of gems but also tat. Many statues of Queen Vic and paintings of worth. Obviously it was "no photo" so I googled some for here!
The marble palace also has its own "zoo", India's first ever apparently. I'd be confident in saying they haven't attempted to improve it since it opened in the mid 1800s. It was heartbreaking. Rusty metal cages with concrete floors. Lots of caged birds and loads of these giant squirrels. The worst though was three monkeys. Three different species in small concrete based cages in a row. As we approached the monkeys came to the side of the cage baring their teeth and screaming. You don't need a zoology degree to work out the animals are in distress and are being essentially tortured. I could have cried it was that sad. Having seen the big families of monkeys in Borneo swinging from tree to tree you can't see this as anything but a prison. We've also seen monkeys on leads dragged through the streets to be used for tourism. When declining a photo I've told the keeper it's disgusting and cruel. They choose to ignore of course.

4 April 2016

Another fab recommendation was the furlon hotel. A 1970s retro haunt, many celebrities are said to have stayed here including Patrick Swazey. The owner was an eccentric woman who named herself the duchess of Calcutta. She was a keen Royal and there are many pics of Kate and Will around. She died in 2014 in her 90s. It would have been rude to have not had a beer to take in the atmosphere. We ended the evening at a indo-Chinese bbq restaurant eating delicious crispy chilli chicken. Oh and another kingfisher. Think we've got over cricket blues now...
Feeling the slight guilt of lots of eating and drinking we walked to this cemetery. It's an old east India company cemetery and all of the graves are of company nobles and their families. Most are from the 18th century. It's incredible it's still here and the tombs are so elaborate!
It reminds me a little bit of Vegas or Dubai in here. And yes it is all "fake". However that didn't stop us from enjoying a drink in this Irish bar. Nobody's Irish, it's just painted green and plays west life. Jb enjoyed a large Kingfisher - so needed after last night! We had a delicious meal in the restaurant next door. It all seemed posh but the buffet (bought to your table) was delicious and had us extremely full for less than £8 each. Sometimes you need days like this to recharge!
Things are always better in the morning and we decided to take it easy today. We walked to the local mall based on a recommendation. Having passed through the dirty alley ways and hooting cars we walked into this tranquility. To get in, you pass through airport style security. The security here were delightful and welcoming. A privilege reserved for the wealthy (and white people who are assumed to be wealthy 😉). The clean air conditioned quiet space was what we needed. We got a spot of retail therapy in too and found expensive looking shops to be cheaper than the tourist emporiums in Delhi - with 10x better quality and 10x less pushy sales people.
We got home late. Leaving the stadium was a nightmare. Indian security and army are an absolute joke. They created crowd crushes by forcing people out of the stadium. We refused to join the crushes and insisted we waited until the crowd had subsided. We were shocked that the England team's spouses were even directed into the main traffic exits and got no extra security. These poor ladies obviously hadn't anticipated this and were dressed up in lovely summer dresses (they had been in the vip pavilion) so camera phones were pointed their way. Utter madness. We walked back to our house as it turned out to be easier. This is Jon's status on the match. Sad Jon.

3 April 2016

In my bid to look back on this with a feeling of "wow we got to the final" I insisted we had this photo to celebrate second place. Jon wasn't able to pretend.
The worst bit was people having a good look at us being sad. Some tried to comfort and you wanted to just say "oh would you just f-off" but they meant well! Others wanted to grin and take photos. One got yelled at by Jon "if you want a photo you should ask and the answer is no now". Not great!
The heart breaking moment that the West Indies stole it away from us.
A row in front a bloke kept taking selfies of himself with me in the background, when he moved seats to get a better view it became obvious it was intentional. Suddenly I heard a female voice shout from behind me "STOP IT STOP IT. We can see what you're doing! You're taking selfies of the girl. Delete now. You are a disgrace. These people are visitors in our country. Delete delete delete." This Indian woman didn't let up. I thanked her. The bloke looked sheepish. More woman like her required here I think!
The game was insane. Pretty much anyone interested will know what happened so I won't go into a match report. As for actually being there, yes the atmosphere was amazing. The stadium is huge and the crowd was loud. A lot of people were supporting England which was good but a lot were sitting on the fence. So they cheered our wickets and our sixes at the same time. I wouldn't have liked to have been there without Jon. I got more attention than ever. Many people asking for photos or selfies or staring. I even got cornered in the bathroom by some ladies who wanted pictures. I even held someone's baby for a photo. The ladies get very close and look adoring at you. I often get called "cute" and my hair and eyes tend to be their favourite colours. It's sweet but creepy all the same. It's very hot and humid in Kolkata so the unicorn hat didn't last long sadly!
England team come to warm up
So ready.
We got here early to watch the woman's final - Australia v West Indies. The West Indies won and went crazy!
After our religious education we had a bite to eat at Flurrys - a place that was popular in the 1970s hasn't changed much since. We wandered to the cricket ground, being offered tickets as we went (India out of the final so many don't want to go anymore). On our way we saw heaps of amateur cricket matches.
Potentially seems a bit of a random thing to do but we had time to kill. We walked up to Mother Theresa house - the place where she lived since 1953 and is the head quarters for her charity. Her tomb is there too. Her work was incredible and to see that she lived in such a small and ordinary place was humbling. That's real religion - not the big spangly temples and churches with the priests house a mansion. Just genuinely helping people. What a woman.
Ta dah! Up and ready to support England in the world T20 final this evening. As we're not coming back in between we got geared up first thing. I also wanted to tweet photos ahead of the match! Cricket is a great talking point here and even more so if you wear a shirt. We walked through narrow side streets this morning and had all sorts of people come up and shout good luck. Including a very old withered woman in a sari - expecting her to be begging she came over and smiled "England will win today" and shuffled off. Cute!

2 April 2016

We had dinner at a restaurant near by. Turned out to be a Harikrishna restaurant and we kept being offered free books and flowers by hippies. Nice food though. We got in, admired the England flag and drank chai tea. Our hosts did ask us if we wanted to know the best clubbing spots but we politely declined!
On our way back to the house I spotted these cute looking goats tethered on the side of the road. As I was taking a photo Jon said "look behind you". Opposite the goats were two dead skinned goats hanging up at a butchers. Further down the road more goat butchers had a display of their freshly cut off smiling faces. We later saw a stray dog chewing away on a goat head. Eww.
We walked on after our "flag high". There's always something going on and the cities are so loud. This is a march for the communist party of West Bengal. Seeing the disparity between the poor and the rich it's quite easy to see how these guys could easily be very popular...
On the third floor of the market we found a chap with a mechanical singer sewing machine. Expecting a no I was surprised when he, completely un-phased, agreed to make our flag for 55p and in half an hour. Amazing! We came back to the perfect flag, beautifully crafted. I think he was slightly bemused by our reaction. We paid a little bit extra because they were so nice. And it was cheap. India high moment right here! Let's hope the flag gets us on tv ...!
We had set ourself a mission earlier today to find me an England supporter type top and also to buy an England flag. Surprisingly I picked up a top in the market for a couple of quid quite easily. Obviously the flag was going to be more of a challenge. In the market, after tiring of hearing "Mam pashmina shawls, silk scarves, saris, jewellery.. What you want?" I snapped "I'm not interested unless you have an England flag". To my surprise I was met with "yes I have England flag, all sizes. Come." Suspiciously we followed. We were invited to sit in his shop to talk to his "brother" whilst he fetched the flag. The "brother" animatedly chatted cricket with Jon and after about 5 mins started showing me some pashminas whilst we wait. Some more time passed (and more "yeh thanks but I don't want it" replies) Jon asks "is the flag coming?". Brother replies gravely - "the flag. Is very difficult." So we left with a sigh and our consciences saying "I told you so".
Next idea was to see if someone could whip one up for us. Earlier in the day I had asked one tailor who was hostile and asked us to leave. So I had lost a little confidence. On spotting this colourful fabric shop we decided to buy the fabric anyway. Worst comes to it I'll fashion one by hand. We were met by a lovely gentle old man. His shop (although moved premise) has been open for 100 years - run by the same family. We explained we wanted the cheapest fabric he had (expecting to be shown silk). Without comment he found fabric that was about 40 pence a metre. He sold us the fabric and didn't even try to up sell. I guess that's why his shop has run for so long. He even told us where we could find a tailor.
With "paradox" forming the theme of our journey we popped into a nice hotel for a refreshment. Another Oberoi hotel, it was full of officials for the T20 World Cup. Many beige trousered men looking jolly and just bloody loving India (from the safety of the five star bar) 😉 There was also the standard old Northerners who were pretending they were used to staying in such establishments.
Looking at our map we took a "street" which led us through a narrow alley way. Apart from being slightly terrifying, it was fascinating. With the buildings being no more than 6 foot a part the little shops and stalls have all their goods carried in. There are a number of streets like it in Kolkata. I / we get stared at a lot but this was like a 1000 eyes following me as we tiptoed across wet floors, spices, bits of timber, cloth and all manors of things. You dare not stop to take it in as to not cause a pile up - or a scene.
We found ourselves wandering into the market areas of Kolkata and the number of people, cars, carts, cows... Increasing.
As with all of India, for every beauty there is a tragedy. This turn of the 20th centenary building is on its last legs. The ironic sign was not lost on us.
I won't bore with a history- that can be researched if you're interested! However it's quite incredible to see these epic 18th century buildings still dominating the streets.
Grand St Andrews church wouldn't look out of place in many English villages!
After a slightly irritated start we thought we'd walk around Kolkata today. There are no tuktuks here, just yellow taxis, and it feels a little easier to get around on foot. Parts of Kolkata feel really western but you turn a corner and feel very foreign. Despite some stunning British empire and company architecture here, it seems like Kolkata isn't really a touristy place. For us, this is a mixed blessing - less harassment but also less help! As the old imperial capital, this place feels old and it feels deep in history.
First task was to collect the World Cup finals tickets. Having learnt from the Delhi experience that finding the ticket collection booth was a challenge I had contacted the booking site for the address. Trying to stay one step ahead...! This time we found the ticket shack easily after a bit of a walk. For some reason you have to poke your head through a hole that's 3 foot off the ground to talk to a representative. They obviously thought us finding them was too easy as we spent 15 mins arguing over a PIN number that didn't exist and was not mentioned in any emails. The concept that I can't use my phone (roaming charges not wanted!) to call head office didn't seem to be understood. After the queue of Indians behind us turned into a miniature angry mob (people started banging on the sides and shouting). It materialised we could have our tickets after all. We're still none the wiser as to what the problem was. Oh well, cricket is on!!
We had a sound night's sleep, not surprisingly! Breakfast with our hosts was incredible. Many courses, all served by their staff. Our host Mehul and his wife chatted with us. Mehul studied at Warwick uni and they've both travelled loads. Turns out he's inherited the family business - an arms factory. From what we gather they're the main supplier to the Indian government. This four story mansion was built by them in 2006. The whole family lives here. Quite a contrast from the family we dined with in Delhi. These are the "official" Airbnb photos but I can vouch that they're very true to reality!

1 April 2016

We arrived at our Airbnb stay and their staff showed us to our room (all a bit posh). The room is stunning and luxurious - quite an improvement from last night 😂
We drove past what looked like a Big Ben looky likey!
We arrived in Kolkata on time. We've had very mixed reviews on this city so not sure what to expect. Some have said it's brilliant, others say it's "worse" than Delhi. Time will tell. I like their no-muck-about system of prepaid taxis. Sensible prices. They're fun yellow too.
This morning I said to Jon "isn't it weird that we'll be in Vienna 4 weeks today". What are the odds of the inflight magazine having this on the cover then?! Bizarre.
This board in Delhi airport shows it was a good shout getting out of the city!!
We tested out the local delicacies in Delhi airport...
The "ring leader" tried to tell us the word "airport" wasn't there and we weren't reading it properly. lol. My lecture to them on ripping off people just because they're foreign seemed to go over their heads as a cheeky chap pulled out a biro and started to annotate the rate card sign. Changing 950 to 1650. They giggled as he did this. Eventually we won out as we knew we would. They agreed to the rate card of 950. A slight struggle to find change but we were on our way to the airport with tonnes of time to spare. We had to pay the road toll, we paid close attention to the sign which stated cars were 29 rupees - not the 50 rupees the driver said it was. I know we're talking pence but it's the principle of being honest. "You know, it's easier if you're honest" I said to him. After that he chatted cricket woe with Jon. We were early for the flight so had time to kill and to get a bit more shut eye for Jb! Our flight is via Delhi but we're headed to Kolkata for this evening.
Today's a day of travelling. We were up early as we wanted to give ourselves more than enough time to get to the airport. Our India experience tells us not to cut anything fine here. We enquired at the station as to the next train to Chandigarh but it wasn't for another two hours. That could be a bit tight. So thought we'd ask at the Taxi rank. First bloke pondered when we asked and replied "1250 rupees!". I said "that sounds a lot sir, is this special expensive rate for foreigners?". Then came the tale of there being set rates and they're a union. "I see, please may you show me the rate card?". Ah that confused them. They chatted amongst themselves whilst Jon discovered a board that had the rates on. It's 950 to the airport. So we stood by the board until someone walked over "I'll take you for 1550" wtf? That's more! So the argument began. Apparently the board is out of date. Blah blah. As we had time we stood and waited for them not to have any other jobs...

31 March 2016

I mean I didn't expect to have the world's most wonderful night's sleep. The mattress is foam and the sheet has holes and stains. But we were rather surprised to hear the door bell to our room be rung at 5am. We ignored it. It went another two times. Jon went to the door "hello?". No answer. Jon opened the door a crack to find the hotel staff saying something in Hindi and gesturing. "I don't understand you" Jon said. Eventually he managed to explain that we should turn on the hot water now if we want a hot shower later. At 5am. Literally. What. The... 😂
We arrived in Kalka at 10.35pm. The plan is to stay here tonight and then find our way to Chandigarh airport (40 Km away) tomorrow morning. Originally we were going to walk to the cheapo hotel we booked in Kalka but then thought better of walking around in the dark and got an auto rickshaw for 55pence equivalent. We arrived at our budget hotel (worked out at £6.50 for the night...) to be told by the bloke at the door "no no bookings". "I have pre booked" - "no booking" - "yes, I booked online" - "no" - "yes". Eventually we barged past him into reception to speak to someone else. "Oh you booked online. Yes". Right... What a welcome aye! Mr No-booking carried our bags to our room and came back some time later with a toilet roll and some soap. We wanted to find out the cricket score but the TV appeared to only have Hindi channels. After ten minutes we finally found a news channel that had a bulletin on the bottom in English. India are out of the World Cup. That explains it!
There are many temples in Himachal Pradesh. This one was in a local station, incredible!
We past through many remote villages. People waved as we went. It then started to get dark rather quickly, nap time.
Kids and adults alike play cricket pretty much anywhere. These kids no exception. Tonight is the West Indies v India match (we find out who we'll be facing in the final!). The Indian families on our train are getting sporadic updates but we can't quite hear!
Jon enjoying his cup of tea on the way down. The rickety line does make for challenging drinking mind!
Brilliant sign. If only more believed this aye?
It really was a fantastic wind down with beautiful scenery the whole way.
It was time to leave Shimla. We decided to take the scenic train back down the mountain as its been highly recommended. It should also be a little less sick inducing! The "Britishers" (this is genuinely what they're referred to here, including in printed literature) built the railway in 1903 and is a stunning piece of engineering. The narrow gauge railway winds down the hills, taking 5 hours to reach the bottom. We've taken the first class train down which includes refreshments - costing us about a fiver each.
This was amusing.
Most museums we've been to in India have been horrendous - essentially a collection of random items with pointless labels like "old pot" or " traditional dress". However, the military museum at Annandale was surprisingly worth a visit and was informative. Pretty peaceful too.
A cracking view of Shimla from here.
However, the temple was completely over run by these menace monkeys. These monkeys had no qualms in approaching people and having a good nose in people's pockets. One bloke had his smart phone stolen, look at the monkey chewing away on it. What an idiot. There's a few dogs up here too and some of these pictures reminded me of the "sir, no touching the dog please" meme ( google it if you don't know..)
Next we made the epic climb up to Jakhoo Temple. The God statute towers of the city of Shimla. It's quite impressive.
More serious hand sawing. It's incredible they still do this by hand!
We drove up to Naldhera which has a very old golf course. On arrival, we were approached by a man who explained the only way to reach the golf course was by horse back. It was a 5km trek that can't be done on foot. He didn't have a come back for "my wife is allergic to horses, this is not an option". Low and behold it was a 10 mins (at most) stroll to the course. Another British throwback. Still quite fascinating considering the topography! We stopped off for a drink and admired the view.
Rikshan jumped in to ride to the top of the mountain. The road up to the main road is unmade and snakes up the mountain. Terrifying. We had to do a detour to drop Aashit off somewhere which was annoying but never mind!
Time to leave. Waiting for Aashit to do whatever he was doing..
Some impressive hand sawing going on.
Catching up with the news in the sun with a view!
Not sure why this photo was necessary but it does show the layers required for sleeping here!
Jon was awake before me as he could hear a mysterious tapping noise - it was this chap tapping on the window.

30 March 2016

We rejoined the roaring drunk, yet very friendly and lovely, Delhi family by the campfire. One of the ladies who had taken a particular shining to me offered me vodka about ten times. Followed by the words "I'm full set. This is my last drink. I love vodka. I'm full set" repeated several times. Very amusing. We chatted away with them about Delhi and it seems we're not alone with some of our opinions. Wish we had met them before going for some sound advice! They left by about 11pm to drive back to Delhi (a 8-9hour drive), driving in the dark to beat traffic apparently.
Celebrating our epic win against the kiwis. The best part is that we are going to watch England in a World Cup final!!! Unbelievable.
By the time I got back indoors I was able to whiteness England's epic come back. Even this little puppy came to watch and was excited...
During half time we got called over by the large Delhi family also staying at the camp. They were having a campfire and seemed to have an abundance of booze with them. After turning down several offers of vodka or barcardi I gave in to the cherry wine. Which wasn't that bad! Jon snuck back to the cricket whilst I was held "hostage" by some very enthusiastic and pissed Indian ladies who declared me their new best friend. They then insisted I watch one of their daughters perform a traditional Punjabi dance, which was actually very good!
Visibility of the screen wasn't the best and the setting for watching was quite amusing. However, we are in the middle of nowhere so it's lucky we could watch it! Quite a nerve racking start to the match and we thought the kiwis were going to annihilate us. But by the end of their innings things weren't such doom and gloom! And half time we nipped back to our room to get even more layers!
The fading sun leaves behind a very chilly climate indeed. I layered up, sporting my new Shimla old lady cardigan. Looking slightly Michelin man like. Tonight has a low of 4 degrees!
We chilled in dining area and read. Outside is where the cooking takes place! The light started to be a bit challenging as the power hadn't come on for the day. I told Jon to expect to not be able to watch the cricket and to prepare for the worst (#firstworldproblem) However, with ten minutes to go - the power came back on and the channel was found for us!
On the way back from the walk Aashit played avicci and some trance music - you know... To keep up the chilled atmosphere?! I told him my Uncle and Aunty had been to Everest base camp. He thought it was cool and then said "I went to a trance music festival near there once!" Literally wtf...! Ha! We arrived back exhausted from the walk, we walked about 10-12km today and are feeling it! The valleys still looking spectacular as the light starts to fade.
We had lunch back at the base. Jon got the courage to casually ask if the TV had the possibility of playing the cricket tonight. Several people poked at the satellite dish and phone calls were made. Eventually they said " yes when the power is back on ". We were then led onto our next walk, much further this time, with Aashit and brother Dikshan. More pot smoked on the way. Aashit told us people also grow opium here. Apparently the truck drivers take it to keep them alert. We also heard some tale of a friend who had smuggled drugs from somewhere in Africa to Goa, but it was a long time ago now. We have such sheltered lives it seems!! We reached the waterfall which was beautiful but still had rubbish in. People don't get it. All of the water is pumped into the homes from the natural springs. However, Dikshan happily drank water directly from the canals taking water to the houses ... So I wouldn't say it was that sanitary. The walk was hard work but worth it. It's so remote here.
The smell of pine is amazing, it's so good to not smell pollution and dirt! Meanwhile, Aashit took many phone calls on the way back to the camp. I'm pretty sure he acts as the middle man for the farm - and we help finance the trip out. Woops.
The farm had a few cute puppies that I avoided touching sadly! Turns out that the "friend" grows cannabis in this farm and Aashit was making some purchases. So this puppy is part of some drug farm! Aashit showed us one of the balls of weed he had just picked up, the size of a large marble, it costs around a fiver in British money. I think that's a bargain. Aashit explained that the cannabis was much pure and full of good minerals for being grown out here... Right.
Jon had asked Aashit to take us somewhere chilled and laid back and he did just that. After a little snack we went for a walk / short hike with Aashit and his friend (one of the owners) who I think was called Rikshan. Being so mountainous here the trekking is heavy going but these two found it easy skipping down the hill! Then, everything turned a bit random. Aashit said something and laughed that we didn't catch. Smiling, Rikshan said "ah yes I used to be a right junkie!". He then listed all sorts of drugs he apparently "used" to be on. And with that they lit up a splif and merrily walked on smoking weed. That was unexpected! We stopped along the way to admire the scenery and our guides visibly became more... Relaxed. Further down the hill Aashit explained he needed to see his friend in a certain house. Rikshan waved us down the lane "come. He smoke spliff, I take you to temple" he giggled. We wandered through a farm and found this bizarre temple. Rikshan prayed.
We arrived at Shivpur Greens Cottage and Camp mid morning. We were introduced to various people who ran the campsite (which has started building huts to diversify). We were bought juice and chilled out in the sunshine. The "cottage" (it's a hut) is basic but will do for a night. The view from here is outstanding, very peaceful. And for the first time in ten days we could sit with nature and not hear a horn or a beep of a vehicle. Ahh, lovely.
This morning we made the most of our last morning at the luxury Radisson hotel and ate as much as physically possible at breakfast. At some point Jon's T-shirt arrived back and had made a full recovery. Phew. We paid the bill and waited for our tour leader and driver to pick us up for our little adventure into the wilderness. A standard Indian start, half an hour late. Typical. Never mind. We jumped in our 4x4 and Aashit (yes I giggled) lead us up the windy roads for an hour. The roads are seat-grip worthy and make you imagine all sorts of horrific road accidents!

29 March 2016

We bit the bullet and paid a small fortune (not really for uk standards) to get some laundry done. We weren't really expecting it to come back in a basket and then individually packaged! Wish it was cheaper and they ditched all that pointless packaging, it's about to be screwed up in a rucksack... Oh well. Oh also, everything was pristine apart from one of Jon's tshirts which had a red mark on! After all that. He's sent it back so who knows what will happen...
I am a big fan of the police outfits here and these guys were happy for me to pose with them. Comical hats.
The dress sense in this part of India is very different. For a start the climate is much cooler so it would be. But many of the men appear to be keeping pre independence dress. So many of them wear smarts suits, love it! We dined in this super cute cafe and had a very tasty pizza ... Against the odds!
It's unbelievable what people carry on their backs here. This is just crazy!!
We thought we'd pop into Christ Church to have a look. This church could be anywhere in England it really is bizarre. All of the plaques are English names of course, including a rather familiar one! Also saw an ad for a very undesirable holiday...
Sadly the theatre was shut today, which was a shame as Rudyard Kipling is said to have visited and the inside is an amazing Victorian design. We went in anyway and looked through the slats because we're rebels. They were rehearsing some sort of play in Hindi. We could get tickets for tonight but don't think it'll be very entertaining if we can't understand a word of it! Still got a glimpse..!
Another heritage building is the Cecil Hotel which we popped in for tea... Definitely not dressed for the occasion! 😂 It's a five star hotel but British buying power makes tea quite affordable!
This is the institute of advanced studies. But started life as the Viceregal lodge, the residence of the British Viceroy of India. Lord Dufferin had it built and it resembles a Scottish castle! Seems so weird to see in India and really gives you an idea of colonial era India. We couldn't take photos inside but the architecture was outstanding. I noticed a young bloke had dropped his sunglasses. With my luck with sunglasses I felt I needed to help. I picked them up and ran after him. He thanked me several times. I then had to pose for several photos with him and his mate. They shook Jon's hand. Next we then spent another 5 mins posing in random family photos and selfies again. It seems once one person asks everyone wants one. Maybe I should charge... 😂
These dudes are menace! They must cause all sorts of issues with cables!
It's strange walking along alpine lined roads and the temperature is ideal! Lovely an warm but cool too. We walked past lots of Victorian built buildings which are now Indian army and government buildings.
A beautiful morning. First couple of photos are taken from our bedroom window. Today we embarked on the heritage walk to see all of the old buildings in Shimla.

28 March 2016

The high st certainly has British influences. Loving Dominos pizza being up here! The rest of the day we wandered the markets and chilled out. We also sorted some activities for a few days.
We asked, the film is called Dil jo Na keh saka. We'll be sure to watch it when it comes out. Jokes, it's in Hindi.
Bizarrely in the main square they were filming a Bollywood movie! This particular scene was a dance scene, we must have heard the same song about 20 times. It was quite comical to watch. I have to say though I'd say the majority of our Royals Cheerios are better dancers!!
We spent the morning having a wander this beautiful city
I mean. That's what it is. A dead body van...
The beautiful Victorian buildings in Shimla are mainly intact. However a few look like they're rotting to ruin. This one is being restored but is still pretty monkey infested!
We've seen a few chaps carrying all manors of things on their backs. I hope it's an empty one!
From up here we can see our hotel. Centre of this photo with the tall tower. Quite a climb up!
We had a wonderful night's sleep in our comfortable bedroom. As you will see, the whole of Shimla is clinging to the side of the mountain - making walks pretty thigh intensive! But amazing to be able to walk without being harassed every minute. We walked up to the Ridge - the main square of Shimla. Shimla (Simla pre-independence) was the summer capital city in Empire days - as it's so cool in temperature. You instantly see the British influence with the English style church and library. The atmosphere is very relaxed and the views breath taking. It feels very alpine but I wouldn't describe it as cold in the sun!

27 March 2016

Slobs ordering room service and watching India V Australia. Cheering on the hosts!
What a stunning sunset 🌄
Due to it being Easter / wanting some relaxation / getting a good deal and any other excuse I can think of... We booked into a Raddison hotel #sorrynotsorry The view is unbelievable and oh my... So so comfortable. Bliss after the long journey.
Well thank goodness that three foot wooden fence is there to prevent us from falling off the edge...
Still climbing and clinging to the edge...
The journey is slow going on the mountain roads but the scenery is so beautiful. It'll hopefully be a great retreat from the city chaos.
The long coach journey saw us climbing high up into the mountains on a road clinging to the hill. Before we commenced the winding climb we were handed a vomit bag. The landscape is unbelievable and ride mildly terrifying. Thankfully we have been sat mountain side so I haven't had to see the sheer drop the other side.
A stop at a random bus terminal. We bought these samosas. Could end in disaster who knows. Great paper bag!
Someone got off the coach and unloaded the two car bonnets they are transporting...
I have never seen this before, ever! The newspaper has a small section for unidentified dead people. These two unfortunates have both had their heads chopped off. So the paper has printed pictures of their dead heads incase anyone recognises them. Don't scroll to the photo if you don't want to see it, it's pretty grim. Fascinating though.
The matrimonials cracked me up. I wonder how many of these young men and women are aware of the ads their families have placed for them. Particularly the one studying in London!
Jb bought the Hindustan Times for a bit of in coach entertainment. As turquoise is my favourite colour to wear I ought to watch out next year it seems!
This morning we got up stupidly early, mainly because reception decided to wake us up earlier than discussed, to get to the national bus terminal. We're off to Shimla, the colonial summer capital of India. It's set to be 10-20 degrees cooler there (!) and is a beautiful place in the mountains. Hopefully pollution free, my lungs will be happy. It's a 10 hour journey. Thankfully we weren't so tight that we didn't opt for the air conditioned coach. The alternative looked uncomfortable to say the least!

26 March 2016

The atmosphere at tonight's game was much better than Wednesday, as you'd imagine! The game was utterly brilliant. I love T20! I'll spare the match report but it was close towards the end and nerve racking to say the least. An England victory it was though which sees us through to the semi-finals. England will play NZ next. That means for the final in Kolkata (yep we have tickets) I'll either be cheering for England or NZ. Which is ideal. More selfies with random people at the end of the match. I've been hoping the unicorn hat would help me get on TV. Don't think it has worked yet. We got back to the hotel very late. We're up at 5am tomorrow morning to get our coach out of Delhi... We can sleep on the coach I guess!
I like that they do this on the metro but it's sad they have to.
The doorman in ceremonial dress! Next we had to nip back to our hotel, dump some banned goods (like a video camera or coins..!) and get ourselves to the cricket stadium for England V Sri Lanka. We left The Imperial and were approached by a tuk tuk driver who genuinely suggested he do the 2 journeys for 1200 rupees. Approximately 1000 rupees more than we'd expect. That's what happens when you exit a 5 star hotel clearly! We walked on. Metro please...
Jon looks a bit like an old Royal with his new facial hair. You could barely believe this immaculate building is in Delhi. In fact there are loads here, if you have the funds!
After tea we had a wander of the grounds. A lot of paintings and photographs of the Royal family and prints from the nineteenth century depicting the Empire. All British propaganda from the day - saviours for the savages type imagery.
It was with a touch of guilt and feeling that "we earnt it" (we haven't really) in equal measure that we visited The Imperial hotel for Afternoon Tea. It's an old (think 1930s built) five star establishment. Bit of a last hurrah for the British Empire here. It was the picture of calm and elegance. Bliss. We ate everything in sight. The other "half" we were today.
Here are some of the punters. Maybe photo number 134 of me with random Indian family today?! This one did even pretend to want to have Jon in the photo and handed their cameras to him. 😂 Seriously random. We think it was because it was a Saturday so there are more Indian tourists from places western people don't visit there. Or maybe because my hair is down? No one knows!
Great description