Jan
15

The Run To The Sun….

Our humblest apologies for the lapse in time between this and our last blog, but over the past while internet access has been so slow that loading up pictures and trying to write anything took too long - so this is well past due….Also apologies it’s long!!!!
After our Everest antics, we were both totally knackered and in much need of a rest. For the past 2 1/2 months we have been city hopping, so have not had much time to chill. So decided without hesitation that the next destination would be a beach and Goa seemed to fit the bill.
While in Kathmandu, several people had mentioned a small place, Pokhara to us which was en route to the border of Nepal/India. So we decided this would be a good place for a couple of days as it had a lake and apparently beautiful surroundings.Headed off and unfortunately for us, Nepal doesn’t have a railway system so all travel is via bus or plane and as we are now officially tight arses (hmm - fill in the blanks here) we decided to go on the budget bus. Trip was only to be 5 hours so after our mammoth stints on trains in China, we thought we would manage it no problems. However, prior to our departure Al had experienced a bout of the Delhi Belly and had to been able to be far from the loo for the past 3 days so we feared for his survival on the bus.
Arrived at the road where the bus was supposed to be (no bus station, just s street name) at some ungodly hour and were immediately confronted by the masses trying to sell us food and drink. Needless to say we were not impressed. Anyway then realized that as it was the oldest bus in the world so there was no hold and the baggage would have to ride on the oversized roof rack.

 Bus seat on Sunali bus

Some kind chap offered to put our bags up there and then charged us for his services (thanks). Just hoped to God they were still there when we arrived. Anyway headed off on time and faced the madness of streets of KTM for the last time. City sprawled out over about 10 miles awash with people and wildlife and got progressively more rural and poorer the further we went out. After about 1/2 hour, we were outside the city and the scenery began to take over and become more amazing. The large mountains surrounded us again and we were descending down into a beautiful tree lined valley following a river. Bus journey, however, was getting progressively worse. The buses here seem to lack any suspension and when you go over a bump you fly a foot in the air. As the roads are not tarmaced most of the way, there are plenty of bumps. Seats tend to be set on a decline, so no matter how you sit; it feels like you are sliding off. The bus also had the loudest squeak every time it braked and the most frequently used horn ever. The driver felt it necessary to beep around every corner at anything on the road ahead from goats, to cows, to chickens, to dogs, to humans then any vehicle present. Therefore the horn blowing was constant. Road was also very windy and at about a 30 degree decline so lots of breaking an honking! En route saw 2 over turned vehicles- reassuirng!!! ??
Anyway after all that we made it to Pokhara which was truly stunning. Our hotel was lakeside where we had a huge lake on one side and the mountains of the Annapurna range on the other.

 Pokhara and Hymalays2 Praise the lord for Pokhara

The mountains were snow capped and imposing yet the lake was tranquil and sparkling in the bright sunshine - quite beautiful. So had a few relatively chilled out days and no major events other than….
1- Got drunk and lost phone so no longer have mobile. Getting replaced at Christmas so will be in text contact again then. All numbers lost though.
2- Took a boat ride (rowing) around lake and nearly capsized on several occasions. Stayed dry though.
3- First night there were sat in a romantic restaurant by the fire, when all of a sudden the place was surrounded by armed guards and a Land Rover pulled up equipped with machine gun nest pointed at us. Without wanting to look too scared interrupted Al’s Poppodom to ask if we should be concerned and he thought not. Turned out the “Voice of the Nepalese Prime Minister” (his spokesperson) was dining in the restaurant with us and this was his none to subtle security!! The met an old dude called “Avia” who talked to us for an hour on the joys of sex and the apparent “research” he’d done into it. Dirty old man.
So anyway feeling more chilled we headed off from there after 3 days, destination Delhi. We had booked another evil bus (9 hours) to get to the Nepalese border, Sonauli and were then to get to the train at Gorakphur to Delhi - easy!!!
Needles to say bus journey was relatively similar to the last one. Worryingly we headed off in the direction of KTM and Al was convinced they’d conned us into the wrong ticket and we decided that if we ended up in KTM we would just sod it and get a plane all the way to Goa. Unfortunately, after 100 Km if turned off and we headed on to Sonauli. Met 2 nice Israeli guys on board who were also headed to the border and also had no idea how long bus would take and if we were going in the right direction. Anyway apart from being long and uncomfortable the trip was worsened by beggars getting on and off at each stop putting their filthy hands in your face looking for food/money. At one stop a young kid got on with a guitar/violin thing, he preceded to play and screech the same three lines of a song, whilst bowing this instrument for the next 50Km. We even tried paying him to shut up but it didn’t work.
Finally arrived at the “last stop” only to find out we were in fact about 5Km from the border and now needed to jump in a rickshaw to get to the next stop. Poor rickshaw guy didn’t know what he’d taken on when he took us two plus turtle packs.  Al had to get off and push to get him over the initial inertia and we then progressed at a snail pace. Arrived at travel agents where fortunately our train tickets were waiting and we were advised to cross the border and head off to Gorakhpor this evening and spend the night there until our train tomorrow.
Rickshaw driver agreed to take us over the border as cars and lorries were stowed back and he could sneak through. Nepalese border crossing was a case of filling in a form in a wooden shack, getting a stamp and off we went. Passed through and archway to a “welcome to India” sign and that was us - next country. Indian border control was 3 guys at the side of the street with a small desk who again made us fill in a form and stamped the passport and off we went.
As soon as we were over the border we were aware of how much busier and noisier it was and hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come. Arrived at bus stop where we were told we could either get a “share taxi” (2 hours) or a bus (4 hours) to Gorakhpor. Needless to say decided on share taxi. Were almost got lynched as we were dropped off as what seemed like 100 folk surrounded us shouting “Taxi, Taxi”. Got into a Land Rover style copy  jeep and sat waiting to head off. Guy had said it would cost 200 Rupees for the 2 of us then started saying if we wanted to leave immediately it would cost 600. So we had to wait till the jeep filled up. An hour later and 10 extra people (yes 4 in front seat, 4 on back seat and 4 in boot) we were off and wished we’d paid the extra 400 so weren’t packed in like sardines.
Two uncomfortable hours later through roller coaster style roads and an episode of nearly peeing pants before the guy stopped, we arrived in Gorakhpor. Oh my God what a dump. Cows, rats, people and rubbish all over the streets and a putrid smell to boot.

 Downtown Gorak Por

Were dumped in the middle of the city by driver and told hotels were down the road so off we went. As soon as we got off I felt very sick and thought I wouldn’t make it to hotel. However arrived at a hotel opposite the train station (recommended by Lonely Planet) and after looking at the room (although was foul) had to accept or I would explode!!
Needless to say was not pleasant and had a vile case of vomiting and the other!!! Not the best as bathroom was filthy, loo didn’t flush and there was no hot water. So I felt awful. Hadn’t eaten all day and couldn’t face anything, so Al went off for food while I remained in the Hotel room tucked in my body bag and generally feeling miserable.  Then followed a bad night’s sleep as it was so noisy outside all night. Managed to get a bucket of hot water the next day, so could at least wash prior to train journey. Next day was uneventful and basically waited around for trains’ departure at 17:00.
Arrived at train station to a mobbed platform and all people seemed to be waiting to get on our train. When it did pull up people were jumping on while it was still moving and shouting and screaming like wild animals. Fortunately it transpired that these were the people without allocated seats/beds. So we were ok and headed calmly down to our part of the train. Carriage was completely full of beds with no compartments. Against one side of the train was a bunk bed arrangement and then perpendicular to this was a 6 bedded area, like the Chinese trains 3 beds up. However the middle bed was currently folded down to act as the back rest for the seats on the lower bunk (if that makes sense).
So found our seat numbers and sat down. Train wasn’t full but varied from stop top stop as random others tried to sneak on. Were unable to leave luggage as thieves and beggars everywhere and spent the whole time worried that someone was going to kill us. Prior to the trip had heard all sorts of tales of people being poisoned and robbed, so would not accept anything off anyone. Played some cards and at 11 ish it was lights out so had to retire to bed. Not overly comfy sleeping with rucksack (especially for Al) but managed some sleep and arrived at Delhi at about 06;00. No warning, just all of a sudden train had stopped and people were packing up and getting off.
So quickly got up and off train and straight into the line of verbal fire of “taxi, rickshaw, hotel, drugs, hookers, viagra???? What you want????” These people are relentless and just don’t want to accept No, nothing and you have to almost get rude before they go away. Most don’t and just follow you around like a bad smell. Anyway our hotel was just over the road so decided to walk. Hotel was located off the Main Bazarre, which was more like a Sunday Market than a main street. Again, dirty and smelly. Eventually found hotel up a side street and got checked into room, which was actually ok. Straight back to bed for a couple of hours and woke up at lunch and had a much needed shower. Then went up to use Internet in the hotel where we found out that we got free breakfast so indulged in omelet…
Decided to go off to train station and confirm tickets to Mumbai in two days and try and book tickets to Agra, to see the Taj Mahal. All the travel books which we have read have talked about a scam at Delhi railway station. Everyone tries to tell you the foreign ticket office is closed, burnt down or under construction so that you go with them and buy their overpriced and often invalid tickets. So we were on guard. Sure enough as soon as we walked up to the front of the building some twat starts telling us the office has burnt down and we should go with him (never gonna happen) and then some dude in a uniform starts agreeing with him and saying yes it’s definitely shut. So we ignore them and go off and find it anyway.
Managed to book the tickets for the train to Agra for the next day. Lady in station also confirmed, much to our delight, that the train that we have booked to Mumbai is the slow train. THIRTY TWO HOURS and there is another train which would have been the same price that takes 20 hours. As tickets were non transferable will have to endure it. Can’t wait!! After this piece of news felt rather deflated and decided to go sight seeing to pick ourselves up a bit.
Jumped in an “auto rickshaw” (Tuk Tuk) and headed off to the Red Fort (an army Garrison built  by the British and the Indians). Fascinating Structure and absolutely huge.

 Delhi Red Fort1

However plagued with hundreds of scamsters and people staring. As per usual in India cost more for us to get in then Indians and once inside were plagued by people trying to sell you something. After a couple of hours of barging and shoving our way round the fort we decided to head off. Went to have a look around Connaught Place, which is supposed to be the posh part. Like everywhere else in Delhi, was run down and full of beggars. However did notice a McDonalds and a KFC - maybe try tomorrow!!! Managed to find a lovely Clean Chinese restaurant and savaged our way through 3 courses each and a few beers!! Headed back to hotel for a catch up on the internet and then off to bed.
Had an early start the next day as we were off to Agra (2 hours away). Arrived at Agra which was mayhem much like Delhi train station. Hundreds of folk trying to get you in their taxi or Tuk Tuk. One guy recognized that Al was from Scotland so we decided to go with him. Nice guy called VK, who offered to take us to the Taj and then round various other sights for the day.

 VK and Sarah

Sounded reasonable so made a deal and off we went. Arrived at Taj and made arrangements with VK to meet him in a couple of hours. He gave us a strong warning on beggars and touts in the Taj. The government has banned cars, Tuk Tuks or other motorized vehicles going within a few hundred yards of the Taj due to pollution of the marble so had to walk the last leg.
Paid in (non Indian 750 rupees, Indian 90) and were faced with a beautiful courtyard with large ornate gates. Then walked through the arch way to the spectacular view of the Taj.

The Taj and Reids Taj Mahal Entrance Temple3

What a truly incredible building, it glows in the morning sunshine and is in fabulous condition for a 500 year old building. The Taj was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. Apparently the guy was inconsolable and decided to build this to hold her tomb. Apparently it took 17 years to build using 22000 builders and all the marble was imported. Every aspect is beautifully decorated and must have taken ages to carve all the intricacies. What a romantic guy!!! He is also in the tomb now….

Taj Mahal1 Round the Taj3

Dianas Bench 
After the Taj, were whisked off to the Agra fort (the oldest fort in India). Similar to the Red Fort at Delhi, we were initially unimpressed, then stumbled on some beautiful rooms and architecture. The back of the fort looks out over the river to the Taj and on a clear day would have stunning views. Alasdair was convinced that they filmed Octopussy in here but I was not convinced.

 Agra Fort16 Agra Fort1

Anyway were then whisked off to lunch followed by a few gem factories, marble factories etc and were not bullied into buying anything (China taught us well). Saw the “Baby Taj” in the afternoon

 Baby Taj4

and watched the sunset from the opposite side of the Taj which would have been beautiful bar the begging children around us.

Kids on riverbed  Sarah on riverbed

Returned to the train station after an exhausting day and a couple of beers, to be confronted by yet more beggars. One wee Bu$$er would not go away. I eventually gave him a cigarette which he snatched from my hand and then burped as loud as he could in my face – not sure what that translated to in English - thankyou, maybe…
The next day it was the 32 hour train journey, so we bought a few supplies in town and visited McDonalds to replenish the tank. To Al’s horror there was no beef. Here the cow is a holy animal so instead of a Big Mac, Al had to have a Chicken MacHaraja Mac. He was not impressed. Sat to catch our thoughts in a park and almost immediately were surrounded like flies round shit. Someone was trying to clean Al’s shoes while some other guy was trying to poke a metal stick in his ear to clean them. At which point we were glad to be leaving this place.
Train journey was awful. People were jumping in and out of seats at every stop and trying to knick your chair if you moved. Again beggars and thieves everywhere and a general sense of mistrust in everyone. Every ½ hour the train stopped at another station and the whole scramble for seats was repeated. Barely ate as too scared to eat from the rail side caterers and ate only the snacks we had bought. No one seemed to know when we were arriving in Mumbai but was sure it was in 2 nights, not one. Eventually after 2 uncomfortable nights on the bloody train it pulled up at Mumbai station at 04:00, again no warning and woke up to find half the carriage empty. Quickly packed up and got off.
Left the station to another mass of taxi and tuk tuk drivers fighting for our business.  Had a map of Mumbai so knew that the hotel was about 8 Km away. However the lying, cheating taxi driver tried to convince us it was 25 Km and charged us accordingly. Even when we showed him the map he disagreed and even called over a police man to verify his lies, which he did. Too tired to argue so got in and eventually (about 10 minutes later - liar) found hotel. Obviously it was full, so had to run round about 5 others to find a vacancy. Hotel turned out to be very central and reasonable so no problem there.
Mumbai was a welcome change to Delhi. Despite the same beggars, though not as many, the City itself is beautiful with many Colonial style buildings and a grandeur that Delhi certainly lacked.

 Gateway to India3

Spent the next couple of days there and were pleasantly surprised by the place. Went on a trip to Elephanta Island, full of caves, monkeys and old stuff but again were ripped off on prices. Also not sure if the caves were as old as they said as the door ways were made of reinforced concrete with exposed steel work (don’t think that was about all those years ago).

Elephanta Island Caves2 Elephanta monkeys2 Sore Paw Elephanta Island Caves1
Booked the bus to Goa which was a sleeper bus with beds, (excellent so we thought), however in reality the double bed was about 3 foot wide and in the luggage rack above the seats.

 Sleeper bus to Goa

After 12 hours of rolling into each other and the window and with less head room than was possible to roll arrived in Goa. Then had to make it the hour long trip to the beach. Again had the usual taxi /tuk-tuk bidding wars and decided to go with the cheaper tuk-tuk. After almost 2 hours in said tuk-tuk over the bumpiest roads in the world arrived at Palolem beach. Beautiful. Unfortunately the “Cozy Nook” our hotel was right at the end of the beach and the only way to get there was to walk along the beach, turtle packs in situ. Gorgeous place, a bar on the beach and all beach huts behind, which although basic, had running water and a cozy bed.

 Cozy Nook gaff Cozy Nook Bar
Spent the next week chilling on the beach and despite the “lookey lookey” men trying to sell you stuff at every opportunity, was hassle free. The only other problem was the packs of dogs on the beach who barked all night long with the hotels’ dog “Basil” being the ring leader.

 Basil the bruiser

Weather was fab and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky all week and temperatures steady at about 30 degrees - heaven. Watched the sunset behind us every night,

 Palolem Beach sunset4

found some great restaurants, one with a pet cow,

 Waiter cow

drank loads and relaxed. Bliss. Also got a boat out to watch the dolphins in the bay, which was just fantastic.

 Dolphin Trip13 

Met some great folk whilst there, who joined us for dinner and drinks and we tried our first “Hubbly Bubbly” pipe at Café del Mar (tasted like sickly apples not the best).
So from there had to get to Sri Lanka to meet my mum and dad for chrimbo. The cheapest option was a bus to Hyderabad, then fly direct from there. So at the end of a wonderful week it was back on the bus (this time opting for the seats), and off to another filthy Indian town. Hyderabad was not dissimilar to Delhi, though even less Westerners and more staring. Hotel was a shit hole also. However found a beautiful rooftop restaurant with a 260 panoramic view over the town. Food and a few drinks for less than a tenna – who can complain? So the next day was off to the airport to leave India and see my mum and dad and hopefully get a little more luxury than we had been used to…
And for the next tales of our adventures, and Christmas with the Blakey’s you will need to wait a few more days. 

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