Saturday, 20 October 2012

Varanassi - India - May 2012

We got over the border from Sunauli with a few tiny problems, but they were soon sorted. It appeared we had not got our exit stamp from the Nepal side, so we had to go back to Nepal (only 300 yards away) and get our exit stamp, so the Indians could stamp us in, in India, yay. Probably the most relaxed border known to man, with people just walking back and forth with no one stopping them.  We looked for food but people were only serving sweet and tea, so while looking for the bus to Gorakhpur we stopped at the Soda shop and got a lovely ice cold soda pop each. We then headed off to get the bus. On the bus we were at the front and had the heat from the engine but got to keep an eye on our luggage. The drivers were really lovely as they made sure they stopped us near the train station and hotel area.  After looking at some bad rooms for high prices we settled on a shabby room for 350INR and settled in after some diner. The next day we tried to get sleeper tickets from a special booking office but they had no tickets so we had to get 2nd class seated (unreserved) for the trip. We left later that day at 3pm for Varanasi.


After leaving Gorakhpur we traveled via train for 5 hours in 2nd Class seated and it was not that busy so was quite comfortable. We arrived in Varanasi and had to negotiate with the tuk tuk driver and when we had reached the price we desired we left for Assi Ghat and the driver took us to a hotel and we checked the price and looked for more hotels. The only problem was the fact the driver would not leave our side as he was waiting for his commission at the hotel we went to. After searching many hotels we settled on the first one we came across as the price was right and it had air con. The driver after we settled had left presumably with his commission.  As it was getting late we had dinner at the hotel and slipped of to get some much needed rest.

On our first day we decided to just explore the area and we realised that we were not staying in Assi Ghat, but just a little above that, but we were happy with our hotel and the comfort of our bed, for the price we paid. While walking through the waterside of the River Ganges we saw some great graffiti and some people and animals bathing in the river. While walking towards the burning Ghats some guy tried to attach himself to us, giving us advise and trying to be our guide. We politely said that we didn’t need a guide and said we would not pay him so please leave us alone. Eventually he left us alone. After a while of walking we seemed lost, however found our way back to an internet cafe that served food and drinks. We then navigate our way back to our hotel through the many back alleys. When we arrived back at the hotel we had a nap and rested for the remainder of the day in our air con room, as the heat outside was very hard to take.


The next day we decided to buy an Indian sim card, to allow us to call hotels and to aid in using the Cleartrip website (that allows you to book our train tickets online). We decided to head to the Ramnagar Fort and did this on foot, in the hot summer sun, stopping along the way to buy water and rest. When we arrived at the river side we had to cross the pontoon bridge that looked very unstable. Then we walked to the fort and went inside. There were many different things inside, from lovely old cars, finely crafted weapons and regal carriages it really was quite lovely. We then carried on following the signs and got to the place were you had a very lovely view of the Ganges. After this we stopped for a limca and a fanta then left and headed back over the bridge. Once over the bridge we decided to get a cycle rickshaw back to the hotel. However the man riding this cycle rickshaw was out of breath after 3 or 4 meters, so we paid him and walked until we found an auto rickshaw and haggled a price, and got a ride back to our hotel. Again we rested in our air con room to recover from the heat and later that afternoon we headed to Assi Ghat and found a very nice soda shop selling pump soda for 20INR per cup and it was lovely and refreshing. We carried on to the water side and found this pizza place recommended in the LP Guide and we ate there and the pizza was very lovely. After this we slowly made our way around to the waterfront where many different people tried to sell us a boat tour around the Ganges. We haggled and haggled and finally got our boat ride. We set off down the river in daylight and then came back in the darkness. The ride was very lovely and seeing things from a different view was most awesome. After boat ride we made our back to the hotel to relax for the remainder of the evening.    


The next day we woke up and feeling a little worse for wear and having packed some stuff ready to send home, headed to the post office to send it back to England. We found the Post Office ok and a gentleman helped us and gave us all the details we needed to get our parcel sent, that included goin to see a gentleman who wrapped up our parcel in cloth and sealed it with sealing wax. It really was a funny experience as the parcel looked like a sack with red wax all over it (not normal looking). It cost 2700INR to have the parcel send direct via air, the other option was by sea and air, but someone said that often they split stuff up into bigger or smaller packages and this can cause things to go missing, so we went with direct air deliver. After this we headed back to the hotel for some rest and later headed out to Sarnath just 13 km up the road. We got a tuk tuk there and made our way around the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon. The place was very small but still very lovely and before we knew it we were at the local Tibetan temple and after getting some drinks were back in Varanasi resting and sleeping the rest of our day away.

The last day in Varanasi was very chilled and we slept in a little, then went for a walk around the place again along the Ganges and back to the burning Ghats, but we decided to see how far the Ghats went and they went on for a long time. While trying to find our way home, we decided not to get a tuk tuk and seemed to get lost. While finding our way back we saw lots of people holding a body that was on a wooden style stretcher but wrapped in shiny orange cloth ready for burning at the Ghats. While in Varanasi its a very common sight that makes you realise how much the Indian people face death. Its very in your face but death is as much part of life as anything els is and they understand that. We found our way back to the hotel and rested and packed our bags ready for our train ride the next day that would take us to Gaya.




Friday, 19 October 2012

Arga - India - May 2012

We arrived at Agra Fort Station after the worst and possibly one of the best train rides we had in India. We didn't get confirmed seats from the website so had to buy tickets at the station in Gaya. We managed to stay in sleeper class and then tried to upgrade to get a bed in any other class with no luck for about 6 hours out of 13 hour journey.

My new friends...the first of many, at Agra Fort

We had lots of people on the train telling us that we could sit on their bunk and many of them were very very friendly and by the time we got into Agra Fort Station we had a crowd of people who came off the train and wished us a lovely trip around India. It was quite moving that people who we met on a train would give us a send off at the station like this.
The next problem was getting to the place where the hotels were, we were picked up by some guy and his mate in a tuk tuk who said he would take us to where we wanted to go. Instead he took us to a place where he wanted to take us to, where the hotels look amazing but totally out of our price range. We argued with the driver and went off on foot to find the area we wanted. After a while say 20 minutes we arrived where we wanted to be and checked a few hotels and settled on one called Kamal Hotel as the guy on reception was really funny and most of all the air cooler actually worked well. We then settled in for the night and got some much needed rest.
We decided we wanted to wait another day to see the Taj Mahal, as we couldn't cope with the early start. So we went to explore Agra's other attractions including the Fort.

View from Agra Fort

Agra Fort mix of old and new

Health and safety at Agra Fort

In the morning we headed out to check out the area and the prices for the tickets to the Taj Mahal and the price was 750 INR not too bad really. We then went on foot (to the complete amazement of many of the locals and drivers) to the Agra Fort, it was a very hot day but we were on a tight budget and we like to see places and enjoyed the exercise.

The fort was pretty large and the price wasn't too bad (much higher than Indians of course) but we went inside and enjoyed all the fort had to offer while getting a sneaky peak at the Taj Mahal. One thing that is very apparent in Asia in general, not just India is that health and safety is never the primary concern, as you can see in the picture below a pretty deep hole in the ground with no fences around it to prevent accidents.

After a while of hanging at the fort we decided to leave and walked back to our hotel to get a little rest and got lost walking back but it wasn’t too bad and we were soon back on track. We went to a veggie restaurant for some food later that day, just up the road from our hotel and the food there was pretty good. We decided to go and buy our tickets for the Taj Mahal for the next day.

Teddy bear shoes on Army man

We woke up early the following day to get into the Taj Mahal for 5:30am, when the sun is at its sweetest and when not many people would be around.
We jumped in the queue and Sarah had to join the ladies line and me the men’s line. We got told our banana was not allowed in, so Sarah and I scoffed it down pretty quickly and proceeded to the main gate. At this point the inside of the complex was really really clean in contrast to the outside of the complex that is messy and smelly.As you walk through the amazing main gate, the Taj Mahal can clearly be seen through the arch way and it really is mesmerising, one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

The Beautiful Taj Mahal
After getting through the main gate people are queuing for a photo with the Taj in the background and we waited a little while for our chance and it was totally worth it.

Teapot Taj with well timed bird

Opposite the Taj

We carried on and looked around the Taj, inside and out and found that you could not take shoes inside, even around the temple. Baring in mind that the Taj is made of marble and the floor was very very hot. Most people had special slippers given to them but not us. Luckily I had thick socks on and Sarah was left running around and staying in the shadows to avoid burnt feet.

Sunrise at the Taj Mahal

After looking around and getting some pretty amazing photos we left the complex and headed back to our hotel for a sleep, and sleep we had. We went to the same veggie restaurant for some breakfast then went for a well deserved sleep. We spent the rest of the day walking around the local area and bought some nice postcards from a small shop keeper. We enjoyed our cool room and got an ealry night and packed our bags ready for the train in the morning to Delhi!

Amritsar - India - June 2012

We arrived after another 13 hour train journey from Delhi, in sleeper class with some more lovely people. We tried to sleep a lot during the journey and at one point a group of begging girls hassled Sarah and me for a while, tugging on her clothes for well over 5 minutes. When they had gone and we had a chance to chat, we started talking with a Sikh girl, who was on the upper sleep bunk with her sister. Her English was not to bad but then again our Hindi and Punjabi was way worse. We talked for a lot of the trip, when we left the train we said goodbye and were later told to follow them and not to get a tuk tuk. It turned out that there was a free bus to the golden temple so we piled on to the very packed free bus and smiled as we had now made new friends.

When we arrived the Sikh family told us to leave our bags at the free accommodation and to leave our shoes in the shoe drop point. We did this and the Sikh family showed us around the Golden Temple guiding us around everything. We drank the water around the temple, fearing illness but respected their customs and was fine the next day.

Somehow I managed to get out of the bathing in the temple water, but Sarah did not and had to go into the ladies area and bath with them. We then drank lychee juice and went inside the temple, being shown all the customs required when in the temple. It really was lovely and everything was made of solid gold. We then went on to sit for the prayers and then went to have a free meal with all the other people. It was lovely to see all types of people sitting and eating as complete equals. There was many people cleaning and dishing up the food and it was great to see so many volunteers. We then said a very warm farewell to our new friends that gave us one of the most amazing experiences we had in India. 


We went back to collect both our shoes and bags and went on the look for a hotel to get some rest after our very long day, as the free accommodation was full. We stayed in this nice hotel with a very cold air con system that could not be changed only turned on or off. While collecting our bags, before going to the hotel, a girl said that H.H 14th Dalai Lama was doing teachings in Dharamsala before going to England. After talking it through with Sarah we decided that we would leave for Dharamsala on day 3 in Amritsar. This meant we needed to do lots in our last day. We decided to look around the Golden Temple on our own again and in the afternoon we went to see the changing of the guard at the India Pakistan border.

We jumped in a very old jeep style car with no air con and drove to the border after picking up some other Indian teenagers. We arrived and got stuck in the queue or mass of people pushing and shoving and it really was a very unpleasant time as we had very little water and people were touching us at all sides. When the gate was opened people pushed and people got hurt, but once through the small gate we had to spate into ladies and men and at the end of the line I found Sarah waiting for me. We then went to the area for tourists and got our seats and we had lovely seat and a good view. When the celebrations started the ladies got up and danced and Sarah decided to do this and she had a lovely time. The ladies really take a front row in this event, as on the Pakistan side the ladies are not allowed to do many things due to the Muslim rules. The Indian ladies would run up to the border with big flags to show the freedom they have in India, and it would appear that this is a lot of fun for them.


Then the soldiers started their special foot stamping parade around the gates of the border with the Pakistan side doing the same. The soldiers really do seem to take this very seriously and their faces are very stern. The end of the whole experience is when the flags are lowered at the same time and the gates are opened and closed very quickly, as quickly as that the whole experience is over!


At the end of the parade we posed for pictures at the gate and made our way back to the Jeep taxi and were dropped back at Dominosin Amritsar for a nice cheese and tomato pizza. After this we went back to our hotel and packed ready to leave for Dharamsala the next day.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Mekong Delta Vietnam-Cambodia

room for one more?
You lot wont fit in that van!
Boat load of people

We booked a 3 day trip from Ho chi min city over the border to Cambodia on a boat.

The first day we were taken from Ho Chi Min to the Mekong where we were rowed on skinny boats down a small waterway filled with boats and narrow twist before being allowed to taste different drinks, honey, see Bees a snake. then we were taken to see coconut candy being made, tried the strong coconut wine (like vodka). we were then taken for lunch, where they had a crocodile enclosure. in the afternoon we were taken to Chau Duc we saw the beautiful Sam Mountain temple before being taken to the hotel and having a delicious dinner by the river including spring rolls, yum!
The second day we got up early and went to the floating markets where we had boats hook on to our boat to sell us coffee and fresh pineapple, then we saw how rice paper was made and went to a tropical orchid where Lee watched our guide playing Chinese Chess. We then headed to Cantho, there was a funeral in the shop front next door to our hotel, which was really odd to see, more like a 2 day wake with drummers a band and monks and nuns.
The next morning we went to a fish farm and caught a boat to the Cambodia border, where we had our visa's stamped at the smallest border office Ive seen so far, but a friendly border gaurd who actually smiled! we saw cute kids dive bombing into the water and waving as we drove past.
After a boat ride we were unceremonious hoisted on to a muddy bank with bemused white buffalo's onlooking then 16 of us (with luggage!) were squeezed with luggage onto a 12 seated bus and dropped in a random spot in Phnom Penh, where we negotiated with a tuk tuk to takes to the hotel area again 6 of us (and luggage) crammed into a 4 person tuk tuk cart.