Friday, December 31, 2010
Up at 6 a.m. for our Everest flight at 7:30...apparently we can't take extra camera batteries in our hand luggage...have you ever heard of anything so insane? No prob tomorrow as the ones in my cameras are fully charged but still...weird....it's the airport policy and won't be able to have them in my hand luggage to fly to London either. Qatar better not lose my suitcase!!
Nice to have the mod cons here although the generator keeps going off and I lose my internet connection....they do power shredding here due to not having enough power for the country. I think it's 9 pm to midnight but it changes. Larger hotels and businesses have their own generator. I better find my flashlight - didn't think I'd need it after the jungle....wrong wrong!!
Happy New Year
We had a great time in Chitwan - we got to go on three elephant rides which were so much fun. They ranged from an hour and a half to two and a half hours. The one yesterday aft. was the longest as the driver wanted to find us a bear but no luck. We dove through dense jungle - vines were ripping through my shoes but when you are on an elephant you win! At one point we went almost straight down into a creek vertically - I felt like I was going to fall forwards off the elephant!! I nearly crossed myself when I saw what we were going to do...and you know how I feel about THAT!!! We got to see a rhino with her baby and it stood there for a few minutes - amazing. Also barking deer (yes they bark just like a dog - heard them in the night which probably means a tiger/leopard was around) as well as others, monkeys and more...lots of birds. Had a canoe trip, a nature walk, a jeep ride and a jungle walk. I must confess I found the walking a bit hard as it was on rocks and up and down and my left leg is bad right now. Limp, limp. Oh well, all worth it.
We stayed in four plex units but no electricity as it was right in the park and they don't allow it. We had a generator a few hours a day which lit up a small light in the bathroom and that was it., But could handle that for three nights...longer...well...I do like my creature comforts....
It was so amazing to be in the jungle again ....no wandering out of your room after 11 pm or before 6 am as there were critters wandering around that could eat you. On our walk we found tiger tracks just a few yards from our lodge. But all amazing.
We did a canoe trip with a walk back but there were kids along so we had to hurry as it was too dangerous. Why the hell would anyone take small children (as in two years old) on something like that....luckily they were on another canoe as the one kid was singing Frosty the Snowman....um...you are supposed to be quiet as not to frighten the animals off. We were all glad to see the back of them.
Our tour leader is wonderful - so knowledgeable and he was a guide in Chitwan way back so knows his stuff. He has a degree in geology so not sure how he got into this field. He has the most amazing smile I've ever seen in my life....it just makes your skip a beat it does....:)
Lots of traffic coming back...the trucks are something else...they have stuff painted on them like "too busy for love" "hi girls, do you love me" & "drive slow, live long". Traffic is crazy but we had a wonderful driver.
Tomorrow morning it's Mt Everest flight and then I am going to take the Stupa and Cremation tour again - I just have to pay my admissions but it was so interesting....and what else would I do....oh yeah shop...
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Free day today and the others are walking on another ridge but I am going to do some postcards hopefully and then walk around the lake when the light is better for photography.
We took a boat over to a temple in the middle of the lake which was nice and peaceful...our "driver" had been into the booze I discovered but oh well he got us back safe and sound. For a while there we were wondering as we were barely moving - Anna thought he was going to rob us and I thought he was too damn drunk to row properly!! :) But all turned out well in the end.
We have had trouble finding a nice place to eat here though - the food ranges from so so to disgusting. We were spoiled by the nice lodge food. Oh well back to it for a few days tomorrow....off to the jungle for three nights so no electricity and no wifi but no probs. Hopefully we will get t osee an elephant race on the way...how cool is that?
Thursday, December 23, 2010
It's been a great few days. Our little resort in Nagarkot was lovely and we watched the sun rise over the himalaya along with a very playful puppy. After breakfast we hiked up to a ridge for a gorgeous view - I was huffing and puffing like a steam engine due to the altitude and alas...not being in shape. I am so glad I did not do a trek. We were accompanied on the way back by a dog., Our leader was telling us that they cannot feed the stray dogs on a trek as they will follow the whole way which can be bad at higher levels. Yaks do not like dogs and will attack; the dogs run and hide behind the humans and the humans get attacked instead. One group leader was attacked this way and was airlifted out., Sue (our leader who is a guy but we call him Sue for short...yeah I know a boy named Sue) told us he had one fellow turn up for a trek in a suit and dress shoes and insisted that is what he would wear despite being told not to!!! Needless to say he dropped out after two days.
Anyway we also walked to a local village which was interesting., Nepal has 30 million people - about 43% are literate. Attending school is the law but in small villages it is not followed and children are kept home to care for younger siblings. Birth control is being promoted and in cities people have one or two children but again in the villages five or six children are normal...
Yesterday we visited the medieval city of Bhakapur which was beautiful and like being in another world. Beautiful temples with intricate carvings. Then we had a four hour drive here.
If the rest of the group are up to it later this afternooon we will walk across a suspension bridge (all very modern) to a nearby village. I somehow doubt they will be so we will do that tomorrow morning and then hopefully do the cable car trip to the Manakamana Temple. Only down side...Saturday is a big animal sacrifice day. Ick. I didn't realize Hindus were such a blood thirsty lot - never heard about animal sacrifices in India but I am sure it's the same. Up in Gorkha today animal sacrifices as well - yeah I am going to walk up all those steps to see that....yep where do I sign up.
After that we will head to Pokhara for three nights so looking forward to that. I will get some laundry done at the hotel...I've been washing out my smalls but need some t-shirts and trousers done.
They have a Christmas tree up here...actually two...but it sure doesn't seem like Christmas which isn't a bad thing. I loved having all the Christmas stuff in London but it's nice to be away.
Merry Christmas everyone!!!
Monday, December 20, 2010
Wow what a day! I am still so excited from everything I saw today. Anchie came to get me at 9:30 and off we walked to the old part of Kathmandu. We saw a famous temple - the Annapurna which is the goddess of grain....being from Saskatchewan I thought that was kind of cool. Of course that is the name of my hotel and the very famous mountain range here. Traffic was absolutely chaotic there as well but Anchie yanked me out of the way. She told me to just stand still and vehicles will go around you. These were narrow streets - well lanes really - but didn't stop motorbikes and vehicles careening down full tilt.
Then we got to Durbar Square...wow wow wow. I can't even remember all the names of the temples but I do have my guide book so will update this when I get home. Fabulous!! I had my picture taken with a Sadhu - cost me 100 rupees (about 1.25) but was well worth it. This was a bit quieter at least and was able to get so many wonderful photographs....took photos of some school girls (about 12 years old max) who posed for me and then one wanted her picture taken with me and gave her friend her cell phone to take a picture! They are everywhere!!! And I got to see a living goddess. (as in the world's only) No photos allowed but she came to the window of her temple. A young girl is chosen who must have 32 conditions - 16 physical and 16 mental. She must belong to the caste of Buddha (she must be Buddhist but is a Hindu goddess...go figure..) and is about 3 years old. She is a goddess until she has her first period then goes back to her family and normal life...crazy or what. She only leaves her compound 13 times a year and is carried either on someone's shoulder or in a chariot - her feet do not touch the earth. That is the only time photographs can be taken. At one time they were never allowed to marry but that has now been changed - I can't even imagine what life must be like for her. She is five years old now. She was heavily made up with of course the kohl on the eyes which prevents evil spirits. Even if I think it's a load of old bollocks how many people can say they've seen a living goddess?
Our next stop was the Temple of Pashupatinath which is the holiest hindu shrine in Nepal. It is the equivalent of Varanassi in India but much less touristy. Like Varanassi people come here to die and/or have their bodies cremated and their ashes put in the river. We saw the end of one cremation and the beginning of another. It was not gruesome at all and I had tears in my eyes when I watched the family say goodbye to their loved one and the oldest son light the funeral pyre. We in the west are so squeamish when it comes to death but it is just a part of life. I asked Anchie if people minded us taking photos and looking (from across the Bagmati River...if you can call it a river...way worse than the Ganges and that's saying something) and she said no. They are too involved in their own ritual and grief. It seems such a personal thing but she has experience with it and says you are not aware of people watching. And people were respectful. The Bagmati is said to flow into the Ganges which of course is India's holy river.
Then we went on to Bodnarth which has Nepal's largest stupa (Buddhist shrine). It was absolutely amazing - white with eyes painted on (which represents Buddha keeping an eye on everyone's actions good and bad..) and huge. We walked around it in a clockwise direction and spun the prayer wheels. It is in Little Tibet as that is where the refugees from Tibet live.
Anchie and I then went for lunch and I had pokharas and she had Nepalese noodles -we shared our food. We had it on a roof top restaurant overlooking the stupa. Afterwards she took me to a shop where I got myself a beautiful wall hanging for my hallway.
And then we came back to the hotel through the crazy traffic. I will be going out with her again tomorrow to Swayambunath but called the "Monkey temple" because of all the...you guess it...monkeys. Time for the cheap drugs tomorrow as there are 106 steps!!! Then to Patan to see their Durbar Square which is even better than the one here apparently. Can't even imagine. Blew through 200 photos today.
After the tour and lunch we are off to Nagarkot - we are picking a fellow up at the airport and carrying on. There are still 14 people signed up for the tour so who knows whether they will get over here or not but the tour is still on.
I am booked to fly to see Mt Everest on January 1st....so fingers crossed...what an awesome way of starting 2011!!!
I will be off line for a while I suspect - we are going to a quiet lodge on a hill for the next couple of nights so am just going to enjoy and not worry about internet access. I probably won't post until Pokhara which is in a week I think.
So Merry Christmas to everyone who is reading this!!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Excited about the walk this morning. Nervous about what is happening with the tour...from comments on Facebook it looks like some are cancelling out of the tour - can't say I blame them but doesn't look good for me. There is another tour one day later so maybe I can hook onto that one..it is late too of course so we shall see.....getting back here for my flight could be a problem. I just hope that tomorrow is my last day in Kathmandu - I want to get out and see the real Nepal.
Not much else to report - hopefully lots more this evening!
I walked out again but did not go far....just too crazy and there is a blackout so can only imagine what it will be like later - only those with generators like this hotel have power. This happens about ten hours a day here due to not having enough energy resources for the amount of people,
I guess I will go back to Thamel on Tuesday and buy what I want as there won't be time when I get back here...not sure what is available in other places. I will ask the tour leader tomorrow.
Not sure if I mentioned the street children - very sad, They come here due to poverty or abuse at home thinking they will get a job (some are promised one and end up being abused again) and live on the streets. I have seen two groups - the last one right by the hotel and one was sniffing glue. Their eyes....they are so high....so so sad. Think I will look up a charity that helps them when I get home no sense giving them money and they don't even ask.
Anyway this place has to be seen to be believed...I am hoping that the walking tour tomorrow will change my mind on Kathmandu and I will see the beautiful side of it because right now my opinion is not too positive!!! Once I get out of the city it will be totally different and I can't wait for that!!!
I walked into Thamel this moring and walking around for about an hour....WOW. I am still adjusting to the third world country thing....culture shock. Yeah I've been places like this before but it always takes me aback at first. Thamel is the shopping/tourist hub with narrow roads crammed with shops on either side and motocycles, cars and bikes racing down the street. Luckily mostly one way...lots of horns blaring which I can hear from here now. I kept track of where I was as didn't want to get lost. checkedf out on shop and said I'd be back (uh huh..) but did not buy anything as too early and too overwhelming but I did get an idea of what I want. Definitely a wall hanging.
Came to a square where people were selling vegetables and it had a temple in the middle - no clue where. At that point I turned around and made my way back - two little girls wanted to pose for a picture for me to see it on the screen and no money changed hands - how refreshing. I have heard the Nepalese have more pride than the Indians although I did some one beggar. it breaks my heart to see that - also saw a little dog obviously dying on the side of the road. I said I am sorry sweetheart but of course could not touch.... Coming back I used the other side of the street so woudl not see the dog and big mistake - had to cross over the street which was a nightmare and probably took a year off my life. Hopefully the year where I am in the dementia unit at the nursing home!
Well this is a crazy place for sure and I have already used my puffer once and will do it again as I find the fumes do bother me.
I feel like I should be out there exploring and my friends who think I am so brave...ha ha. Wel I do't think it's fear at all but the noise and having to have eyes in the back of your head...I will be braving Thamel again to do some shopping but hopefully not on my own. I hope there are some friendly people on this tour - there usually are. Just hope there are some single people or at least couples who aren't tied at the hip - that is such a drag.
Once I get into the country it will be much calmer and can't wait to see the mountains. You can see them from here thrugh the haze but not the same as Iwill see them...she says hopefully. I have gotten internet access for a day so will be one again later.
The sun is really bright and hard to read my screen on the netbook - yeah I know everyone realy feelks sorry for me...
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Anyway going to relax and read my Nepal books for a bit and have an early night so can get up tomorrow and start exploring.
Hope everyone makes it here in time for the tour.....
Got my visa and a prepaid taxi here to the hotel. Okay....flashback to India big time....no seatbelts in the car of course and traffic NUTSO with motor bikes all over the place...well it has to be seen to be believed. Anyway once I just sat and accepted whatever life threw my way I enjoyed the sights. I saw my first monkey of the trip already - saw this brown animal spring across the road and it looked too bouncy for a dog and sure enough, a monkey. People everywhere....a young child being soaped down right along the road (no sidewalks), shops and colourful clothes, mass confusion....can't wait to explore!
I am staying at the Annapurna Hotel on Durbar Marg - I am on the main floor and look out to the pool. Think it will be too cool to swim unfortunately - there was some kind of gathering going on there this afternoon. It is a nice place. I was sensible and had a nap - the only problem is getting up after the nap. Anyway I am showered and changed and going to the Indian restaurant in the hotel for dinner tonight. Wifi costs here but it's fairly reasonable so will take advantage while I can.
Getting together with the tour group at 4 p.m. tomorrow - am wondering if the group from England will make it as the weather is bad over there I gather. It was snowing while I was going out to Heathrow and had my fingers crossed but it stopped.
Warm and sunny here.
I already saw Mt Everest from the air craft so that was fun.
Tomorrow morning I will have breakfast and then explore the grounds of the hotel -it is in a quiet area but will walk a little further in. However I will be doing walking tour with the group on Monday morning. Then Tuesday morning we take off which is just as well as it is very polluted here (like big cities in India) and tourist are prone to chest infections from the air here.
Cheerio for now
Thursday, December 16, 2010
A yucky wet day - it's snowing now - melting as soon as it touches the ground and the forecast for tomorrow here is sunny. However on Heathrow's website they are warning to check with your airline due to severe weather in the next few days. Fingers crossed it's okay until Saturday - of course that doesn't help the people traveling on Saturday. But I will be in Nepal so I won't give a rat's!!! (insert evil laugh)
You get all kinds in here - one lady just bawled out the girl at the counter for playing the music too loud - well it is loud but I just put the head phones on.
Anyway I guess I will use up my hour here and then carry on back to the B & B and start packing up. Not sure when I will leave tomorrow - if the weather is sunny I just may go for a walk and then head out - if not I will just head out once the rush hour is over with. I would rather be out at the airport and putting in time then get stuck on the underground somewhere panicking about missing my flight.
Hopefully I will be able to post from Kathmandu...we shall see.....
Not too bad out- was expecting it to be worse. However tonight we enter the deep freeze with arctic temperatures of...are you ready....are you really ready?.....-2C!!!!!! Gasp, how will we all survive..I am not sure. I must say though it is damn cold as it's a damp cold and as I dress in layers rather than haul my winter jacket over (which I hate by the way..) it is not that great - being a tourist that is and being outside a lot. The British cold is horrid...in Saskatchewan we are in and out as fast as possible - although I must say I am not missing the current cold weather over there...NOT AT ALL....Anyway I will be heading for slightly warmly climes (looks to be 16C in Kathmandu on Saturday) so what do I care?
And I am in London....what other city can you be sitting on a bus and look out and see royal horsemen in their red serge and funny hats on their horsies trotting along the street. Love it. There is just everything here....I fell in love with this place in 1975 and it just keeps getting better and better. I love it more than ever and while there is the old there is the very very new as well. I don't miss the old days of my earlier trips when you walked funny due to the waxy toilet paper in public toilets, your only option for a quick meal was Wimpy.(BARF) ..well I could go on...modern London I love you! Like all loves it isn't perfect...the crowds get to me, I refuse to pay to use the loo unless I am desparate, the people can be snooty at times (no one does snooty like the English can - it's an art form - I am not talking all English - just a snooty few), hmmm...can't think of anything else that bugs me....
Am very excited about heading off to Nepal tomorrow afternoon...not sure if I will do anything in the morning - I am having a cooked breakfast and will probably walk around this area for an hour or so and then start heading to Heathrow.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Tomorrow evening I may go to a Christmas concert (free) at St. Paul's cathedral. Depends on how things go.
The Nutcracker last night was wonderful - as always. I think Waltz of the Flowers is the most beautiful piece of music ever created...it sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it. I never get tired of that ballet. I will have a few ballets under my belt by the time my time in London is finished next month.
My friend Judi came up to London yesterday and stayed overnight so we went around looking at Christmas lights yesterday & checked out Harrods, Covent Garden and Fortnum and Mason today. Last night we had dinner at Mildreds, a vegetarian restaurant. I had an excellent meal which was the daily special - mushroom wellington with spicy red cabbage and roasted root vegetables. I would have it again in a heartbeat.
Tomorrow is laundry day..unless I get ambitious tonight. Somehow I doubt it....if you hear screeching coming from the east it's just me freaking out over the cost. It was ten pounds to do two loads two years ago so probably up to at least twelve now.
I have to double check the weather forecast - I think snow is predicted...boo hiss!!! I don't care as much about the snow as the disruption it will cause here. They are just not prepared for any kind of snowfall - everything comes to a standstill. It's Friday that concerns me as that is the day I fly to Nepal. (I still can't believe I am going!!!)
Wifi at Simon's is still erratic but have been using my netbook to upload pictures and then also put them on a flash memory. I have tried putting pictures on my blog but the wifi is either too slow or crashes on me. Very frustrating. Rest assured there will be pictures eventually. Now that my friend Pat told me how to put them throughout the blog I can now make it a bit nicer looking - I hope!!!
Tomorrow is my last day to catch any of the Christmas action here in London although I think I've done pretty well. After reading the "must do" list I have pretty well covered what I want to see.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Anyway...the Messiah was good. I really enjoyed it - I was in the first row in the highest balcony but got a good view of everything. I mean it wasn't Paul so I didn't need to ogle..:) Now I'm good for another three years - that's about how often I can handle it. Otherwise it is a bit much.
As far as yesterday goes..(man it seems so long ago..just yesterday?) I ended up going back to the market in Brick Lane (well one of them) and buying four coasters - they are really unique and hand made by the artist. I also had a meal there as I wandered around different markets in the area - it was a mish mash of different curries and noodles. Probably combining them all didn't do too much for the flavour as it looked better than it tasted - but it was still good. Enjoyed my day out in the East end very much.
Today I took a tour of Westminster Abbey - hadn't been there since 1975 - my first time to London. So decided it was time to go back as I had forgotten a lot of it (been a lot of water under the bridge since then!). I went with London Walks and the guide was so fun and informative. I love the London Walks company and have done a lot of walks with them. Afterwards I walked over to St. Martins in the Fields to their cafe in the crypt and had their turkey lunch but very disappointing - pressed turkey - or it seemed like it and those hideous sausages they have with bacon on - the veggies and potatoes were good at least but that was about it. So left there dissatisfied as I did not finish my meal - which is why there is prawn and mayonnaise sandwich from M & S in my backpack waiting to be devoured when I get back to the B & B....
This afternoon I went to Hyde Park to see Winter Wonderland...tacky but oh well. I had a cup of mulled wine and wandered around. Then on to Marks & Sparks on Oxford St to buy my goodies.
Corrie night tonight..double episode. Goodie goodie. I am in the internet cafe as the internet at the B & B is too unreliable. There is no way I could consider writing a post even this short without it crashing - or worrying about it crashing anyway. Hopefully he gets it looked at. Very disappointing although am using the netbook (and a flash drive) to back up my photographs. And I will probably do an online journal for my use only...somehow my little book from the dollar store hasn't been cracked open yet.
Tomorrow my friend Judi is coming up to London and we are going to the Nutcracker - I picked up the tickets today. So that will be fun - no doubt we will terrorize Oxford St., Regent St. and Carnaby St. - oh well as long as the toilet paper goes down the toilet life is good!
Sunday, December 12, 2010
It is market day today so have checked out Petticoat Lane (first time in 22 trips - didn't miss much but it was fun...however am going out tonight so can't be buying much) and on to Brick Lane markets which were awesome - heading back there now. I did get a pair of Beatles earrings that are too cute. I do love my funky earrings! I have my eye on a t-shirt and some coasters with beautiful original photographs of London and everything really that I will be back for in January.
Then on to the Columbia Flower market which was crowded (as everywhere is) but did get some shots - everyone is buying Christmas trees of course. I walked back through a housing estate so that was interesting.
It's a clear day today but cold...so coming in here to warm up was a good idea. I had a bagel and cream cheese (had a small brekky at Simon's) at the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane which was good.
I will wander around a bit more and hopefully work up an appetite for one of the delicious meals on offer at the market. Otherwise will time my next visit for the afternoon as I guess the market is open until 6. I will definitely be back!!!
Tonight it's off to the Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall so am dressed in my finest which ain't much believe me - but it looks like I packed right and will be wearing everything I brought.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
By the way I am in the internet cafe with a normal computer - the wi fi at the B & B is just too undependable - Simon just changed service providers so is looking into it. I love this internet cafe anyway - it's nice and warm and clean and new and can get whatever I want to eat. (not that I've ever done that but nice to know the option is there) I hung out here two years ago...but hopefully can use my netbook as it's more convenient. However this is much more relaxing as I don't have to worry about the Internet crashing - trust me yesterday's post was much longer and more descriptive but it went down on me and had to retype everything.
Anyway took the tube to Tower Hill and started walking from there across Tower Bridge. (Today was a dull day with a bit of blue sky at one point but by 4 p.m. it was nearly pitch black outside!) I walked along the Thames Path and stopped at Borough Market - I love that place. It is a food market that is on Thursday to Saturday and is by London Bridge. I got a brownie - it is THE BEST BROWNIE I HAVE EVER TASTED - awesome! I had one last time so finally found the stand - also got a portugese tart. Half the brownie is history and the other half will be too when I get back to my room and brew up a cup of tea. I also got a bit of some wonderful cheese that should be just fine by my window which is a fairly cold area. I will definitely go back before I go back home...they had some awesome spices I'd love to get but depends on what I buy in Nepal...
I carried on along the South bank of the Thames for about an hour and came to the German market but it was absolutely packed. It was all right but not something I'd search out next time - I've been to a REAL one and there is no comparison. I finally found the chocolate festival. Luckily I had resisted other temptations so was able to have a belgian milk chocolate and banana crepe - oh my....thank goodness I had some wet wipes with me as I think I was wearing as much chocolate on my face as I got inside my gob. Oh yummy!!! And yes Dena, I took a photo. People must think I am a whack job as I've taken a picture of everything I've eaten...even the "to die for" brownie.
On I walked, across the river from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben...as far as Vauxhall Bridge then over and back on the other side of the Thames. The area by Westminster is a mess thanks to those yobs. Don't get me wrong, I am all for the students protesting - that rate increase is ridiculous but the violence was crazy. I took the tube and was going to stop on Oxford St. - did get off the tube, saw the mob and got back on going the other way and back here. Just too tired to handle the crowds. One thing I DON'T like about London...all the damn tourists!!! :)
Back here to Golders Green and just had a mushroom and cheese Jacket (baked) potato with salad in a "mom and pop" type place just down the road from here. Best baked potato I've had in my life I must say....was just in the mood for something like that.
I am bummed out that I am not up to doing the Hampstead Pub walk tonight but my feet are not in good shape so I think a quiet evening in is in order. I hope there is something decent on TV tonight - I should work on my trip journal anyway. (haven't touched it since Regina aiport) There are things I don't share on here!!! :)
Tomorrow night is the Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall but before that...who knows...but it won't be a 10km walk. I think I need a break from those!!!
Friday, December 10, 2010
Had a great rest of the day anyway - enjoyed a Xmas concert tonight at St Martins and one by the tree in Trafalgar Square as well. Did a 10km walk from Big Ben to the Tower of London and had a wonderful beef and guiness stew outside at St. Catherines Dock - it was not bad out at all. I took the bus home down Regent and Oxford Sts but was too tired to get off and take pictures. Maybe tomorrow!!!
Me thinks I will type my blogs onto Word and just dump them in here as the wifi here is absolute crap, I am kneeling with my computer on a table. No chair in this room....my knees are killing me so I am a bit crabby But it was a wonderful day.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Line up at passport control at Heathrow but it was going okay until all but two of the officers on each side disappeared on lunch or whatever we barely moved for half an hour. Was not impressed - finally a fellow yelled out "we haven't moved in half an hour" to a supervisor looking chap and soon we were back to five. I got through ten minutes later and needless to say my luggage was waiting for me. Took the tube here and stopped off at a sandwich shop at the tube station and got my prawn sandwich. And just had a cup of tea and a Galaxy bar - waiting for the live version of Corrie to come on. Ah, life is good! It is so nice to be back in my little room at Simon's. I just hope the damn wifi holds out - it's been sporadic. Minneapolis airport doesn't even have free Wifi - guess thet are getting it though which is about time. Even Regina airport has it!
Hope to do a walk from Westminster to Tower of London tomorrow - we shall see. No snow here in London so I can walk without fear of falling in ice - I've been walking like an old lady for the past month or so.
Am fighting to stay awake until Coronation Street is over and then I will zonk...so no sparkling conversation from me tonight.
Nice English brekky tomorrow morning. So thrilled to be back in my favourite place in the world...and I fly to Nepal a week from tomorrow. Screech!!!
Toodle oo!! (how DO you spell that?)
Friday, November 19, 2010
On the way there (three hour journey) we had a rest stop at a little town named Chamberlain. We could use the facilities at the convenience store there (for lack of a better word..). This was in the ladies room.....cozy isn't it. It was all rusted - not as bad as it looked. Trust me I've seen worse...let's see there was the pit toilet in Thailand with cockroaches circling. My bladder was ready to blow but I squatted and everything froze right up. Then there was the Canadian Tire in Toronto that had shit from one end of it to the other.... I can't even imagine how anyone was able to do that but anyway I digress....
On a trip to Saskatoon on the bus a few years ago I had to use this very loo and opened it to discover these two toilets. A woman was behind me and I said "look there's two of them" To which she replied "if you don't mind I don't" and promptly walked in behind me and started pulling her kit off. Holy crap...but anyway nature called so we both sat on the toilets and let 'er rip. Must admit not one of my more comfortable moments. Anyway this time I used it (alone) and while paying for my bottle of water told this story to the cashier and the bus driver and they both had a good laugh. The cashier said there used to be a double outhouse there so the owner just made two toilets there instead. A divider would have been nice!!
Anyway it was a nice little trip. I got to try Burmese food for the first time - very similar to Vietnamese. I had the fried noodles with veggies and shrimp. Next time I will try the Spicy rice dish. If you are in Saskatoon go to the Golden Pagoda on 2nd Ave. N. Delish!! I did the 5 km walk there - not the 10km as it was too darn cold. So a nice day out. And it was good to get on the bus again...not the 'hound. This was our government owned busses with Wifi on them no less. Don't get that on the 'hound!
Anyway that was my little adventure of the week. Three weeks from today I will have spent my first full day in London. (just had to throw that in!)
Monday, October 25, 2010
I guess I need a life..anyway here is the story of my trip to Peru in April/May 2006.
MY TRIP TO PERU
April 21/22, 2006 - Well the day was finally here. My cousin Joanne drove me to the airport -the flights to Toronto and then on to Lima were uneventful. Arrived into Lima in the early hours and of course my luggage was one of the last off. The taxi I had booked through the hotel was there and took me to the Hotel Embajadores in Mira Flores (posh suburb of Lima). My room wasn’t ready and I had to wait about three hours. I chatted with a Canadian couple who had just finished the same tour so got lots of useful tips. When my room was ready I had a bit of a rest then headed out to a nearby shopping centre. Met Andrea, the tour guide - a 28 year old from Switzerland who used to be a flight attendant for Swiss Air and has traveled all over the world. I had dinner in the hotel dining room - steak with rice and French fries (rice & French fries together are popular there) with broccoli and carrots. A good meal. Then I went to bed.
April 23, 2006 - Got up at 7 a.m. and had a light breakfast and met the rest of the group. All Brits. Four single ladies and three couples. I picked up English expressions easily (except for “Brilliant” which I detest - I refuse to use that word. Andrea and I joked about it and at the end she said “you were a brilliant group” and looked at me and smirked.) and this report will be full of them. We met with Andrea and paid our local payment and tip money and exchanged some money for Peruvian soles. Then we were off to the airport to board our flight to Arequipa. After 20 minutes In the air we turned around - “weather problems” we were told which turned out to be engine problems. We were given a snack and shortly boarded another Air Condor flight. Our hotel in Arequipa was the Hotel El Conquistador and it was formally a mansion - very beautiful. My room was nothing special but the lobby area was amazing - lots of wrought iron & stone steps leading to nowhere! We went to dinner at Zig Zag which was wonderful. I had a sampler dinner of alpaca, beef & ostrich with quino (corn) on the side. I wasn’t too keen on the ostrich but the alpaca was very nice. Back to the room for an early night as we had a 2 a.m. wakeup call!
April 24, 2006 - The 2 a.m. wakeup call came after just three hours of sleep. It was dark and cold as we boarded the bus and very cold when we ascended to the highest point in Peru. One of our group, Rosie had to get off the bus to be sick. I was happy I had started taking the altitude sickness pills the first night in Lima. We stopped in the town of Chivay and walked over to the market to get some bread rolls which we shared with the local stray dogs. One got on the bus and wanted to come with us!! On towards Colca Canyon - the scenery was amazing with terraces (80% remaining had been built by the Incas) built into the mountains. Colca Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon - not as spectacular though as it is much more narrow and not the spectacular colours of the Grand Canyon. It wasn’t discovered by “outsiders” until 1970 when they were working on an irrigation system in the area. We were there to see the Andean Condor - and see it we did. In fact they did quite a show for us - Lin was convinced one looked at me as he glided by as if to say “aren’t I a handsome lad”. It is the second largest bird in the world after the Albatross. We then headed to the hot pools and had a quick soak then back on the bus to lunch in Chivay - a delicious buffet of ethnic Indian food. My personal favourite was the Sweet Potato fritters! We had a little walk around afterwards and of course had to pay to take pictures of an adorable little guy with his baby llama. Got back to Arequipa at around 5 p.m. It was an amazing day but an exhausting one. I headed right to bed as I was coming down with a cold
April 25, 2006 - A relaxing morning. I learned that in Peru you water the coffee down - add hot water to the thick brew. I still shudder thinking about that first sip I took “straight“ !! Most breakfasts in Peru consisted of lots of fresh fruit such as pineapple,& papaya, bread rolls, cheese, ham & freshly squeezed fruit juice. At 10 a.m. we met Andrea in front of the Cathedral in the town square and walked to the Santa Catalina convent. Very impressive with brightly colored walls - a photographer’s dream. I should have gone back and photographed it in the late afternoon light. After the tour a few of us went for a cold drink and sat on a balcony overlooking the town square. Afterwards we went to see the musuem Santuarios which houses the mummified remains of “Sarita”. She was discovered on a mountain in 1995 - intact and still had her hair & clothes. She was a young Inca girl sacrificed to appease the gods (likely after an earthquake)about 500 years ago. These children were chosen at birth and were treated with special care all their life until it was time to live with the gods. Five children have been found on the mountains near Arequipa - kept frozen and covered with ice until the earth shifted during an earthquake and they were discovered. Dinner that night was in a restaurant overlooking the square and several of us tried the local specialty - a red pepper with spicy beef inside topped with cheese and scrambled egg. It was good.
April 26, 2006 - At 9 a.m. we set off for Puno. Along the way we saw lots of alpacas and llamas ( as common as cows & horses here) and every tourist stop had the requisite Indians selling goods. I bought myself an “Alpaca” cardigan- well for 30 soles (about $10 US) I knew it wasn’t real but it was colourful and I knew I’d wear it a lot. The landscape leaving Arequipa was desert like but as we got closer to Puno it turned green and lush. We picked up Reuben, our local guide and stopped at a local farm house which was interesting. The daughter of the family was just 20 but looked at least 30 - it's a tough life. Then on to Sillustani to see the culpa. (funeral towers). The trek up was tough because of the altitude and I had just gotten a cold so it was hard going. In retrospect I should never have done it. We checked into the hotel in Puno which is on the shores of Lake Titicaca and then took a rickshaw to a restaurant in the square. I had a plain omelette as was definitely feeling unwell at this point - us three sickies took a taxi back to the hotel while the others walked back. (this detail is important later!)
April 27, 2006 - Today we went off to Taquile island. We got the boat & stopped at the Uros Islands which were so interesting and unique. The women of the island greeted us with hugs and kisses as we got off the boat and showed us around their island. These islands are made of reeds and have to be constantly rebuilt. It was very disconcerting to walk around with a bit of a bounce to your step from the reeds! Quite a few children drown by falling through the reeds. The women dressed very colourfully and so I ended up being dressed up in an outfit and having my picture taken. We were shown into their little huts complete with TV & stereos - then we noticed the solar panels!! The men work in Puno which is a 20 minute boat ride away. I bought a couple of pendants & some postcards. A few of us opted to take the gorgeous reed boat from one island to the other - what an experience. The second island we visited wasn’t as quaint or homey as the first and all they wanted to do was sell us things. We got back on the boat for another three hours to Taquile Island. We walked up the path from the boat and I gasped the whole way due to the altitude and my cold - the views were spectacular so I guess I gasped at that too. We weren’t told about our accommodations as they wanted to surprise us and they were delightful. A simple villa built overlooking Lake Titicaca. We all had our own rooms with a candle to light at night and the “loo” down the path. No electricity on this island. It was beautiful. Lunch was served - an omelette with chips in!! We rested until 3:30 when we walked to the town square. My lungs were burning so I let the rest go on ahead to watch the sunset (which turned out to be a non-event - too cloudy) and I hung out in the town square and gave local kid some postcards I had brought from home and looked in the handicraft store. I met the rest of the group in the restaurant and we had ginger chicken with rice which was nice. (specially prepared for us) Back to our abode in the dark with our torches - mine was a pathetic penlight so had to rely on Rosie’s light to help guide me. I was tucked into bed by 7:15!!! I had to pull out my little pen light to make a pilgrimage to the loo - let me tell you I've never had such a dangerous trek in my life to 'spend a penny'.
April 28, 2006 - Despite pure silence - such I’ve never experienced in my life - I did not sleep well and my cold was horrible the next morning. We had banana pancakes with honey drizzled on top - very nice - and coffee. The owner of our villa, Pedro came with his wife and gave us a weaving demonstration - his wife did the weaving while he did the embroidery - the men on Taquile Island do all the embroidery. I bought myself a Peruvian hat with ear flaps!! I opted out of the walk to the school as I felt so rough which was disappointing as I’d brought pencils and sharpeners, etc. from home - however I found out later the school was closed! Jackie was not in good shape at all so she slept while I wandered around the villa property taking photographs and sat on a bench enjoying the beauty of the lake. You could see the snow covered peaks of Bolivia across the water - with the blue sky and sunshine the lake sparkled and looked like the Mediterranean sea. Beautiful. It is the highest navigable lake in the world. Jackie and I walked to the town square and met the others for lunch. Dare I say it was omelet again - that or fish and I was not in the mood for that. Then we began the descent down the 525 steps to the boat. I was just grateful we had not come up this way! My knees did not like this descent one little bit and let me know. The views down were spectacular - we were so lucky with the weather. Back on the boat to Puno. However my excitement for the day wasn’t over. In a moment of great insanity I decided to take a rickshaw to the nearby market - only my driver did not understand English and we went all over the place - me shrieking at him to turn around. Well you had to be there. I kept yelling at people “speak English?“! I told someone who did speak English Hostal Lago only I pronounced Lago wrong and no one knew what I was talking about. The whole fiasco ended with a police officer taking me to the tourist office in a taxi then taking me back to my hotel. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see my tour group again!! I was lost a good 45 minutes. I learned my lesson - never leave the hotel without a map. Due to not walking around and being ill I was not familiar with the area around the hotel. I am sure the poor kid on the rickshaw still talks about the crazy lady to this day!!! I was never so glad to see my hotel - the group of us went out for pizza that night. I got a good razzing over my adventure.
April 29, 2006 - Today we boarded the train from Puno to Cusco which is one of the top train trips in the world. It was ten hours and beautiful scenery - mountains, lots of llamas & alpacas, lush greenery, etc. We stopped at the highest point of the trip - and surprise surprise there was a market. I had a lunch with me but decided to splurge on “afternoon tea” which was five dollars. Well…I got a cup of tea ¾ full (no refill) , two small vile cakes that they serve on Air Condor, a tiny finger sandwich. No one could believe it and all the group had to come and look at my afternoon tea and have a laugh. Oh well - Andrea said she would tell her future tours to avoid the “afternoon tea”. For one dollar more I could have had a huge sandwich which is what some of the others did. We arrived into Cusco and stayed at the El Puma hotel which was gorgeous - the hotel we had been supposed to be staying in was being renovated. I skipped dinner that night as I was exhausted.
April 30, 2006 - This morning we took a tour out to the Sacred Valley and visited Sacsayuaman (yes, it sound like “sexy woman”) which is an Incan fortress overlooking Cusco. It took 90 years to build! We had a great view of Cusco from the top. On to the Alpaca wool factory where I got myself another cardigan - real baby Alpaca wool this time. Then on to the Pisac market which was very touristy but interesting. I got myself some llama earrings, a leather tooled photo album for my trip pictures (several of us got one so got a good deal as of course it was all bargaining) & some multicolored gloves. The Sacred Valley is very lush and beautiful - it is named that because of the wonderful conditions for growing produce. As we left Pisac several of us stopped at a bakery and picked up some gorgeous hot buns filled with onions and cheese. Yum! I resisted the baked guinea pigs…poor little things. I had a wonderful little guinea pig named Jennifer so I could never ever eat a guinea pig however they are a great delicacy there. Back to the hotel and at 1 p.m. our guide came back to give us a walking tour of Cusco. Okay. We visited the Santa Domingo convent which was built within an Incan temple. Very unique and beautiful. Then our guide said okay he was done - goodbye. We all looked at one another - some guided walking tour! Anyway Brian, Jackie, Malcolm, Rosie & I went for a cappuccino (Jackie was addicted to cappuccino so it got to be a running joke) and cake at a café overlooking the main square. Before dinner we had an orientation on our Jungle extension then we went out to dinner at a cozy little restaurant that only had two huge tables. You could see them making your meal. I had lasagna.
May 1, 2006 - Up early to get the train to Aguas Callentes at 6:15. It was interesting because as the train climbed up the mountain to leave Cusco we went back and forth on switch backs. We passed through a very poor area and I must confess it was the sight of the skinny stray dogs digging around for food that upset me. Once in Aguas Callentes we boarded a bus for a 20 minute ride on hairpin turns up the mountain to Machu Picchu (“old mountain“), the lost Incan city. Finally we arrived, stored our bags and got our tickets. And up we climbed - my knees were not happy. But what a sight awaited us. It is something you have to experience to appreciate. Absolutely beautiful. I will remember my first sight of Machu Picchu for as long as I live or until I lose my mind.at least. An abandoned ruin built on the top of a mountain - in a tropical region with lush green ferns and orchids. It was built in the 15th century sometime by the Incas but wasn’t discovered by the outside world until 1911. No one knows the full story of why the Incas built it there and what the true purpose was but there are lots of theories. Behind it is Wahnu Pichu (“new mountain”) which is such a gorgeous back drop. I sat for a while and just watched the clouds roll in and out - at 2280 meters (7500 feet) you are quite high! It started raining so we made our way back to the bus and to the hotel.
May 2, 2006- Woke up at 2 a.m. to the sound of torrential rain - not an encouraging sound. I fell back to sleep to be woken by a nearby rooster! At 5 a.m. I went downstairs for breakfast and woke up the staff. Breakfast was late needless to say - this hotel was my least favourite of the trip, a strange place. Off we went again on the bus and had a tour of Machu Picchu. I kept up with the tour until they did a higher climb and my knees said “STOP”. I walked around on my own - I was paranoid about falling down stairs and indeed I did fall. On flat ground - the ground was a bit slick from the mist overnight unknown to me and I slid and fell on my behind before I even knew what was going on. It is just lucky I wasn’t a few feet over near the side of the ruin as there was a sheer drop!!! I wandered around a bit and talked to the resident llamas then walked up to a look out and there was Andrea, our guide. So we sat together and watched the clouds go in and out for a couple of hours. I could never ever get tired of that view! The sun came out and I got quite a burn on my face as I hadn’t put on any sunscreen. I gave that beautiful spiritual place one last lingering look and then we walked down for a drink and met the others and headed back to get the train to Cusco.
May 3, 2006 - a rest day today and I took advantage of it. My cold had taken a turn for the worse so all I did was go to the main square to change some money and buy batteries and back to bed! That evening we walked to the same restaurant we had dinner in a few nights before and I had steak and chips. I placed my leftover steak in a quiet alley so one of the stray dogs could have a nice little meal. I am sure one of those hungry mouths would find it!
May 4, 2006 - We got an 8:30 bus to the airport. Our group was splitting up now - those heading back to Lima and then England and those of us who were going to the jungle. It was sad to see our little group down to seven. After a 30 minute flight we arrived in Puerto Maldonado. Rainforest Expeditions picked us up and drove us to their office where we stored the luggage. Then on to the dock to catch our boat. Tried not to get upset at the mangey skinny stray dogs hanging around the dock. Peruvian strays are adorable – like little Disney dogs - not like the dogs in Asia that all look the same. The trip on the boat up a tributary of the Amazon was about three and a half hours. On the way we saw a capybara - the largest rodent in the world. It was exciting for me as I love rodents. We arrived at the dock of the lodge and climbing up the hill was “interesting” to put it mildly. That hill was something I dreaded everything we had to go up and down. I was sure I would fall down and into the river every time! The lodge was brand new and our rooms were amazing. Open walls to the jungle - we had mosquito nets over our beds but otherwise we were open to the elements. Luckily no snakes around - that we saw anyway - I'd have died of heart failure on the spot as I am terrified of the horrid things. Even the littlest garter snakes gets a scream out of me. Before the lodge opened they killed a couple of bushmasters that were in the jungle nearby which are the one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. We went for a walk to see the sunset and were able to spot a toucan and several macaws through the powerful telescope our guide had. Back to the lodge for a dinner of rice, chicken and veggies. 9 p.m. was lights out - someone came along and blew out the kerosene lamps that were placed along the side of the rooms
May 5, 2006 - Today was exhausting. I was also very sad as it was one year since I lost my Sandy. After breakfast we went for a 45 minute walk to a hide (wearing rubber boots) but after waiting for an hour and nothing showing up our guide took us for a “short walk” which ended up back at the lodge! We headed back to the hide where we saw a beautiful butterfly and some birds. Then we walked down to the boat and had a short trip on the river to a farm. Another “fun” climb - oh my knees loved it. The farm was very interesting and we got to sample different fruit - some we’d never tasted before. Then back to the lodge for lunch and to rest for an hour. Then Carlo, our guide said we were going to a lake to see otters. So off we went on the boat and then about an hour hike (or seemed like it) through the jungle after another horrible climb!! What he neglected to tell us that we would be ON the lake. We all shrieked when we saw the ancient row boat we were going in with no life jackets!! Anyway we did it and it was lovely with macaws flying over head. No otters though. The lake was full of piranhas & caimans but we preferred not to think about that! As lovely and peaceful as it was I was glad to hit dry land - however by now it was dark and so out came our torches and we trudged through the jungle in the dark and had to navigate down a steep hill to our boat. From the boat we searched for caimans and were lucky to see a couple - one absolutely huge. Back for dinner and then bed. I was exhausted!!
May 6, 2006 - This morning I woke up to find my backpack had been tampered with. After some investigation I discovered some snacks were missing....we had been told to close everything..Anyway I had had a nocturnal visitor - probably a possum they thought who helped him/herself to my granola bars. Today was a quieter day and we were able to even stay in bed a bit later. Back to the hide after breakfast but nothing. We heard monkeys but didn’t see any - quite disappointing. I saw much more wildlife in Costa Rica. Back for lunch and a couple of hours relaxation - I flopped into a hammock and read. At 4 p.m. we went for a walk on the botanical trail and learned about various plants that are used for different illnesses & spells! Learned about shamans - good and bad. Then we propped up the bar for a while before having our last dinner there.
May 7, 2006 - It was time to bid goodbye to the jungle today - we got on the boat at 7 a.m. and flew back to Lima later that morning. That evening we went out for dinner at a traditional restaurant in a square about half a mile from our hotel - I had steak, rice, fried egg, chips & a fried banana!!!
May 8, 2006 - This morning we had a tour of Lima which was very interesting. We visited other parts of Miraflores as well as Barranco, another suburb plus central Lima. We walked around the main square Plaza Mayor - after years of neglect & being a dangerous spot for tourists and residents alike it was cleaned up in 1997 and is beautiful. Visited the Santa Domingo church and the San Francisco monastery with it’s catacombs filled with human remains. We had lunch at an outdoor patio of a restaurant - prawn and cheese lasagna which was a first for me - but it was very tasty. (there are lots of Italians in Peru hence the popularity of pizzas and Italian food) Four of us walked over to the Larcomar shopping centre and had a cappucino overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Then back to the hotel where everyone left but me. L I was very lonely after they left - and quite jealous that they were flying to London and not me!!! I consoled myself with a session in the hot tub!!
May 9, 2006 - Today was putting in time until my flight left. I walked along the ocean side paths & visited the Larcomar again. Finally it was time for me to go - the private taxi came to get me. Oh boy, what an exciting ride to the airport. The car kept dying every time he stopped which in Lima rush hour traffic was often. So he would keep changing lanes so he wouldn’t have to stop. I am sure my finger marks are still imbedded in the back seat!! We made it though - that was my most stressful time in Peru!! We had a slight delay due to fog (an ongoing problem in Lima) but were soon on our way and all too soon my wonderful holiday was over.
Another blast from the past...my trip to India in January/February 2007.
Saturday January 20th - My adventure began at Heathrow Airport. I had flown over to England on the 8th of January - spent a fantastic weekend in Venice (how could I refuse with an airfare of a pound each way?) & the rest of the time in London. My real excitement began when I checked in and was told my e-ticket was no good - I needed an old fashioned ticket due to the fact I had booked through a travel agent. I gave the ticket agent my envelope and she walked away with it and brought it back and said quite coldly “This is no good - you will have to buy another ticket”. Well needless to say I was in a panic and almost in tears as no way could I afford to buy another ticket. She told me to go over to the customer service desk and as I was standing in line I saw a voucher under my eticket that looked like it should work. I verified with customer service and yes that was it. I didn’t even know I had it and it was tucked into the back of the envelope my travel agent had given me - I can’t remember my travel agent telling me about it but then she did drop it off at my apartment at 9 a.m. before I had my morning coffee (the perks of having your travel agent living in the same building) so who knows! It is just luck I decided to take the whole envelope with me. I still break out in cold sweats thinking about it! Anyway the second agent who checked me in was so sweet and gave me a better feeling about Virgin Atlantic. She packed up my small bag that I thought I could carry on - Heathrow airport now only allows one carry on even though the airline allowd two. That feeling intensified when I got on the flight and saw that everyone had their own TV screen with loads of movies & features to watch. I happily sat and watched “The Queen”, “The Da Vinci Code” and part of “The Devil Wears Prada” until my screen almost disappeared on me. Not to worry - between the movies and the delicious curry meal and breakfast the 9 hours went quickly.
Sunday January 21st - Arrived into Delhi International airport and the Imaginative Traveler rep was there to meet me. We got into a taxi and then half way there the rep got out and said he had to go back to the airport to meet more clients - it was the middle of nowhere. That was strange and I was a bit nervous but it all turned out find in the end - another girl on the tour had the same thing happen to her only hers was around midnight - much more scary!!! I decided it was a hairy ride but not much worse than the previous year in Peru. (I was still half asleep!) I arrived at the Hotel Florence and checked in. I had missed most of the orientation but was able to freshen up before we went out on an afternoon tour of Delhi. Our group was small - just seven of us. Michael (with an infectious laugh) from Birmingham, Anne Marie from Holland, Judy & Shanna - a mother/daughter team from Boise, Idaho and Susan and Melody, another mother/daughter team from Australia. The latter proved to be the bane of all our lives! Our guide was Karun - an Indian fellow about 30 - to be known in this report as “Mr. Hotty”. (he was GORGEOUS) The tour was interesting - we visited the huge Birla Hindu temple, a Sikh temple which was fantastic with a beautiful man made lake in the middle - it is one of the bigger ones in India. There were serving free water but needless to say we declined - they do serve food as well. You never see Sikhs begging - they take care of their own. (Sikhs wear turbans) We weren’t able to get close to India Gate due to high security for Independence Day in a couple of days. We went to see where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. After that everyone was going out for dinner but I decided to have a quiet meal at the hotel and go to bed as I was absolutely exhausted.
Monday January 22nd - After a quick breakfast we hit the road just before 8 a.m. as it was a long drive. I was more wide awake so was able to absorb more around me - saw a few “interesting” sights on the way out of Delhi. Open urinals on a city bridge - how quaint!! Pooping on the sidewalk - well why not! I am not laughing about it but in India you just cannot let it get to you or you would be crying all the time. You learn to walk through hoardes of beggars looking straight ahead otherwise you would never get anywhere. It sounds heartless and afterwards you wonder how you did it but it's just something you have to do. A lot of beggars have missing limbs and it is likely from gangs who do this and use them to make money. We were told not to give to beggars but to donate to a local charity if we truly wished to help them. Anyway once we got into the country it was exciting to see our first camel but not nice to see the first stray dogs. Being the dog lover I am I had to try and feed everyone I saw - most females had nursing puppies and they were too old to be nursing but their mothers‘s milk was all they had. It was heartbreaking to see dogs with puppies hanging on to their teats in the middle of the street with vehicles swerving around them and honking . What struck me the most was that the dogs were all polite and despite being starving waited their turn for the food and didn‘t steal from the others. Judy, Shanna & I sat at the back of the van and kept putting our hands over our eyes when we saw stray dogs nearly get hit. We didn’t see any get hit but we did see dead dogs in the ditches. The traffic in India is unbelievable - total chaos with horns going non-stop. It is considered “polite” to honk and trucks have “horn please” on the back so even in the country with no one else on the road (rare occurrence) you still blare that horn! We arrived into Mandawa in Rajasthan in the late afternoon and stayed at a havali - an old merchants house that has been turned into a hotel. These houses are decorated with beautiful frescoes - Mandawa was full of them. It was on the old silk route and merchants would vie with each other to see who could have the most beautiful home. Dinner that evening was a fantastic buffet (the highlight for all of us was the carrot pudding) eaten on the roof top with live music and fireworks. The desert is cold at night so all of us had a hot water bottle as a companion that night!
Tuesday January 23 - After breakfast we went for a walking tour of Mandawa and saw many more buildings with frescoes on - the ones done with natural minerals have endured for a couple of hundred years while the synthetic colours have cracked and faded. A short five minute bus ride and we were at our desert resort which was amazing. We all had our own luxury mud huts! I decided I could happily live there - I would adopt a couple of stray dogs from Mandawa and be quite happy. J The interiors were absolutely beautiful. After lunch (disappointing spring rolls) Ann Marie and I went for a walk around the grounds. Later that afternoon we went for our camel ride to a nearby village for masala chai (tea) and then back. I sat behind Ann Marie on the way there and then at the front on the way back - when the camel got up and down it was quite exciting! However it was something else I can cross off my list as I’ve been wanting to ride a camel for years! Dinner that evening was another fantastic buffet under a marque with live music, a puppet show and singing. (if you can call it that)
Wednesday January 24th - After a wonderful buffet breakfast (in case you hadn’t guessed I didn’t lose any weight in India!) we headed off to the pink city of Jaipur. Called pink as many of it’s buildings are pink. Our hotel Arya Niwas was basic but had a lovely garden and a great restaurant. That morning we relaxed in the garden and in the afternoon we went on an excursion to the Amber fort which was huge and very interesting with a beautiful view On the way back we stopped to see the Lake Palace which was surrounded by earth and not much water as there has been a drought. That evening we went out to a nice restaurant by motorized rickshaw - called a tuk tuk. When we weren’t in the van as a group we did all our traveling by either bicycle rickshaw or motorized tuk tuk. Quite exciting at times! No road rules seem to apply in India and traffic lights are few and far between. My tummy was burning a bit - not sick - I was never sick the whole time - but I decided to give it a break and had macaroni and cheese of all things (with the inevitable butter naan - I loved that stuff!!!) but it did the trick and I was back to speed the next morning. Just adjusting to the Indian spices.
Thursday January 25th - After a light breakfast we toured the world’s oldest observatory & then walked over to the City Palace. Not one of the more memorable ones - the most exciting thing was seeing monkeys close up for the first time on the trip. (like camels, seeing monkeys would become a ho hum thing) We stopped at a carpet factory - I never realized how long it takes to make an East Indian carpet. (6 months) They were absolutely beautiful but not in my budget unfortunately - I will continue to use my parents’ that is falling apart! Back to our hotel through the chaotic Jaipur traffic. Cows are all over the street and while no one will deliberately hurt a cow (and the cows know it - they do have an attitude) once they quit giving milk they are mostly left to their own devices. It is heartbreaking to see huge piles of garbage with cows, goats & dogs foraging around. Mr. Hotty said he knew someone who opened up their dead cow and found around 85 kg. of plastic. If they cannot find food they eat what they can. Any leftovers I had from meals I always took them in a ‘doggie bag’ and put them out on the side of the road or down a quiet alley as I knew some hungry mouth would find them. That was one of the painful things about India for me besides the terrible poverty - the cruelty towards animals - well maybe just the non caring attitude but when you are struggling to find enough to eat yourself you aren’t going to worry about animals. Yet as with everything in India there were contradictions - stray dogs that were taken care of by local tuk tuk drivers & businessmen - a couple of dogs I tried to feed toast to turned up their noses and walked away. I noticed the toast was gone later though. After a nice lunch with “the gang” - meaning the five of us (Judy referred to us as the “A team“) - Melody and her mother were off spending money which was the soundtrack for their trip - let’s spend a fortune on jewelry that we can show off but let’s argue with the local waiters & salesmen over every last rupee & make a fuss over every meal that might be a bit too spicy - duh..you’re in India! Ann Marie, Michael and I took a tuk tuk to the shopping area - and hoped we did not need to cross the road. Utter chaos! Michael took off to a local coffee shop to observe the locals while Ann Marie and I went shopping. We came upon a lovely jewelry store and both spent a bit there - myself on pretty silver with semi precious stone bracelets as gifts including one for myself. (the owner was upset I wasn’t getting anything for myself so I gave in….it was tough..ha ha) Back to the hotel on the rickshaw ride from hell in rush hour traffic (well it seems to be all rush hour there) - I took video as it was wild - we didn’t think we’d ever get back to the hotel especially as the driver kept asking other drivers for instructions. We arrived back in time for a quick change and wash up then out to dinner to a nice place called “Indiana” which featured musicians & dancers.
Friday January 26th - Happy Republic Day India!! After a breakfast of a masala omelette & fresh fruit we headed off for Ranthambore Park which is a good place to see Tigers. On the way we stopped at a rest stop and there was mama dog with her four babies (once again much too old to be nursing) and dad was lurking too. So of course Judy and I had to buy food and feed them! We arrived at our resort just before lunch - after a buffet lunch we headed off with another group on an open air safari bus. The park was beautiful - lots of hills and trees. No tigers though. The closest we got was seeing paw prints. We did see all kinds of deer, monkeys, a couple of wild boars and a few jackals. I hadn’t expected it so wasn’t disappointed - it is a beautiful area of India. After a delicious buffet for dinner I had a ‘dessert’ of English toffee in my room and out came what I thought was a filling. (actually some of the tooth came out too) I was distraught as you can imagine - who wants to go to a dentist in India. But it turned out fine - no problems whatsoever and I got it fixed on my return to Canada.
Saturday January 27th - Early in the morning we left for the park once again and walked up to the 900 year old fort. Lots of stairs but they were easy to navigate and it was well worth it. What a view!!! The fort is beautiful but badly in need of repair - sadly the Indian government does not have the money to fix it. From the fort we could see the huge lake and our guide told us any dark bits in the water were crocodiles. Once again our guide was hard to understand but Mr. Hotty came to the rescue. Back to the hotel for breky and then we set off for Karauli (a non-tourist town) which took about three and a half hours. We checked into the Maharajah’s palace - yep that’s right. The money that the company pays the Maharajah goes towards renovations on his beautiful city palace which we would see the next day. We stayed at his summer palace on the outskirts of the city. Mr. Hotty handed out our keys and when I went to mine I nearly fell over - it was HUGE! The bathroom was as big as my living room let alone the rest of the place. Mr. Hotty told me he had given me the largest room and not to tell anyone. Of course I had to tell Judy, Shanna & Ann Marie and they all had to come and take a look. Anyway Mr. Hotty told me he wanted me to meet someone so I grabbed my camera and went with him - WELL….here was a mom dog (boxer) owned by the Maharajah named Simone with her darling 7 black puppies. Judy was holding one and of course I had to grab one and we had a real doggie fix. We are both dog people and it was so hard not to touch the strays but we knew we couldn’t for our own health & safety. Dad was supposedly the Maharajah’s yellow lab named Simon but from the look of the pups I’d say Simone isn’t telling him everything!! Judy, Anne Marie and I went for a walk to the local market and were enjoying not being harassed for money until a little urchin asked for ten rupees but we ignored him. (and cursed the tourist who had given him money) Other than that one kid no one else asked us for money. A refreshing change! The children followed us everywhere and we got used to our “entourage”. Everyone stared at us though as they don’t get many tourists here - in fact no tourist hotels which is why we were staying at the palace. It was fantastic to be able to interact with people and know they weren’t wanting anything from you. Back at the palace we had a delicious dinner including fresh veggies (red carrots!) from the palace gardens. We sat and talked in the delightful courtyard after dinner and then I went and slept in my palatial suite. Although the bed was still as hard as the rest of the hotel beds in India!!!
Sunday January 28th - After our usual masala omelette (which I loved) we went on a walking tour of Karauli and visited the city palace which was exquisite. Much nicer than some of the more famous palaces we had visited up until that point. We also were able to attend a Hindu ceremony in a local temple. We had our usual entourage of shouting “hello!” children. On the way back we stopped at a bangle shop (Karauli is famous for it’s beautiful handmade bangles) and we all had to have ours enlarged as our hands weren’t as dainty as the Indian women’s. We nearly caused a riot with both adults and children congregating around watching us. I was able to get some fantastic photos of the children on my digital camera - they loved seeing the pictures and would struggle to be the one right in front of the camera! Karauli was definitely the highlight of the trip to me - seeing what a typical Indian town was like, our lovely palace home, unlimited doggie cuddles!!! After a lunch of soup, sandwiches & pakoras we had a rest and then the camel carts came to pick us up. We sat on blankets on the flat cart and it was great - we got to see the homes just outside of town and the children yelled “hello” and “ta ta” to us. Everyone was so friendly waving at us. We stopped at a lovely picnic site by a lake then went back via the same route with just as many “hellos” as before.
Monday January 29th - Time to leave Karauli . How sad. The route was scenic and I was able to get some shots from the van - images that stay in my mind are: children and adults bathing at the local water pump,(despite the poverty everyone seemed so clean and the men’s shirts were ironed and spotless) homes made of dung, people waving, beautiful smiles & bright saris. After another huge buffet lunch we arrived at Keoladeo Ghana bird sanctuary. We traveled by electric bus and stopped at various places - the very first thing we saw was a rock python. I am deathly afraid of snakes so can’t believe I watched it with fascination as it slithered back into it’s hole. I think because I knew we were going to see it and I was prepared - if we had come across it unexpectedly well I would probably have died of heart failure on the spot. We saw kingfishers and other birds - I am not good at birds but they were pretty!! After that it was off to Fathpur Sikri which is an ancient complex made of sand stone. This was created by a Maharajah who had three wives - one Muslim, one Christian & one Hindu - they each had their own temple & palace. On to Agra - or back to “tourist land” and chaotic traffic & beggers. The normal hotel was being renovated so we were put up in a beautiful business hotel. Another delicious buffet dinner and off to bed.
Tuesday January 30th - Woke up early to get to the Taj Mahal by 6:30 a.m. Words cannot describe the Taj - it is much better than in pictures and the detail is amazing. Went inside which was fantastic as well - way below the ground are the tombs of Shahjahan & Mumtaz Mahal. Shahjahan built the Taj in Mumtaz’s memory when she died after the birth of their 14th child. The original plan was for her tomb to be the in the white Taj and he would be entombed in a black twin version of the Taj but he was imprisoned by his son in the Red Fort (which we visited that afternoon) and spent the rest of his life gazing across the river at the Taj Mahal. I was so lucky to see such a beautiful tribute to love and seeing it was one of the highlights of my life. Back to the hotel for a well earned buffet breakfast. Judy’s daughter Taylor had arrived from Bangalore (where she was doing research) with a private driver to see the Taj Mahal with her mom and sister - they kindly invited me to come along in their private car so I spent the afternoon with them. We went to the Red Fort then on to Ikamd-Ud-Dailah which is known as the Baby Taj. It was very pretty and similar to the Taj but smaller - it was the building the Tah Mahal was modeled after. We got caught in horrible traffic getting to the market only to find everything closed but we did have a wonderful lunch at a place called Zorba the Buddha which had been recommended by our tour company. We then went back to the hotel, had a quick dinner in a nearby restaurant then went to the local train station to get the train to Varanassi. The train station had resident dogs & monkeys - not your typical station!!! Judy and I once again bought food for the dogs and I was told off by a tourist that I was offending the locals as “people are starving in this country and you are feeding dogs”. I was quite taken aback but after a quick pep talk with Judy I went back and deliberately fed the dog right in front of him!!! Monkeys were all over the tracks and even dogs would jump down onto the tracks but would jump up again - it made me so nervous!! I didn’t want to see a dog hit by one of the trains that came roaring in. The overnight trip was okay - I am not a fan of trains and it was definitely the low point of the trip for me. I was relieved when we arrived
Wednesday January 31st - It was absolute chaos at the train station but we managed to get to our bus which dropped us at our hotel. Had brunch then we headed out to Sarnath which is where Buddha gave his first sermon. Visited a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple then the site where the first sermon was held. There was a musuem on site with artifacts which was very interesting. Some Chinese monks (I had asked one where they were from) went through security and had to give up cell phones, digital cameras and they were all giggling like crazy. One lone monk had to sit outside guarding the ‘stash’. It was hilarious as you don’t think of monks as being that technologically advanced and their cheerful giggles made me laugh too. Back to the hotel for dinner.
Thursday February 1st - We were up early and out by 6 a.m. to have our early morning boat ride on the Ganges. Amazing!!! People come to the Ganges to purify themselves as it is a holy river. We Westerners can go on about how dirty the river is and how can they stand it but it was very humbling to see them bathing themselves and see the joy they felt at being there. From a distance we saw a cremation as well - it is said you will go right to Nirvana if you die in Varanassi and your ashes go into the Ganges. We got off the boat and walked to the Gold Temple - it is in the area with a very well protected mosque - there have been bombs in the past so we had to go through security. Once again a clash between Muslims & Hindus. We could not go into the temple as you have to be Hindu to go into that particular one. Walked through very narrow lanes filled with people, cows & motorbikes back to our bus. After breakfast four of us took rickshaws back to the Ghats and walked along several of them - fascinating. . Especially seeing the Sadhus - Hindu holymen who travel from one religious site to another. They coat their faces with ash and look prehistoric. We saw the beginnings of a cremation - fire wood is very expensive in India so you have to be quite wealthy to be cremated. Sometimes there is not enough firewood to burn the entire body before it is released into the water - bodies bobbing around are not an uncommon sight but we were lucky that we did not see any on our boat trip earlier that morning. Back via rickshaw to the hotel where I had a quiet evening in resting.
Friday February 2 - After breakfast we took off in a tuk tuk to do some shopping. We wandered around but it was so chaotic that we just gave up - we never did find any tourist type shops. We did see the local market which was interesting but not what we wanted at this point. I think we were all feeling a bit overwhelmed by Varanassi at this point - everything is so busy & noisy that it is very exhausting to even walk along the street. We took a tuk tuk out to the local university which was lovely - all green and quiet - we couldn’t get over that we were in the same city!! . We had dinner at the hotel then took a bus to the station for our return to Delhi. Poor Ann Marie was very sick - she had eaten something dodgy the night before. Luckily it was the end of our trip so she didn’t miss much but having been ill like that in London I could totally sympathize with her.
Saturday February 3 - The train trip was better than the last one but it was still a relief to reach Delhi. After breakfast the five of us got into a tuk tuk to go to Connaught Place - the main shopping area. The driver gave us a great deal - we found out why soon. We got out at what we thought was Connaught Place only to find he had taken us to a tourist shop where he got a kick back. So we got into another tuk tuk and when Michael went to sit in the front seat with the driver - something he’d been doing all along - the driver said he would charge us another 20 Rupees. Definitely back in the big city!!! In typical Manchester fashion Michael told the driver “You’re in dreamland Mate” and crammed into the back seat with us. Finally we got to Connaught Place - Judy & Shanna hit the shops and after a foray into a bookshop where we both bought Indian cookbooks Michael and I went to a yuppie coffee shop where we observed how the rich young people in Delhi live. It was quite an interesting contrast after the poverty we had witnessed over the past two weeks. We then took the subway (very clean) and both burst out laughing when we were informed by a taped recording to “mind the gap”. We got lost getting out of the subway station but asking people (who were very helpful) helped and we were soon back at the Hotel Florence. Ann Marie was feeling better so she was able to join the group for our last meal together. We took the subway and Melody and Susan joined us there. (pity!) the meal was good - my final Indian meal - boo hoo. I had a potato & cheese dish and a vegetable curry. I absolutely loved the Indian food and miss it terribly - it just doesn‘t taste the same here. Melody & Susan left early - yay - so the rest of us were able to sit and visit for a bit. Back to the hotel & time to say goodbye.
Sunday February 4 - Up early and after breakfast I headed down to the lobby and the car to take me to the airport was early. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the others (who were coming down just before 8:30) which upset me - the five of us got along so well and it was sad to realize I will probably never see them again. Mr. Hotty had suggested we leave for the airport early but I got there way too early and my Virgin Atlantic flight hadn’t even opened yet. I spent the rest of my rupees on tea and ceramic elephant coasters. (which seem to have disappeared) Then it was time to say goodbye to India and board my Virgin Atlantic flight back to London.
What can I say about India. Amazing, enchanting, disturbing, eye opening, humbling, life changing. And I can’t wait to go back!!!