A Travellerspoint blog

Mumbai

Actually Bombay, no one has told the locals yet!

sunny 40 °C

So the metropolitan city of Mumbai! On the train in it already took me by surprise. Looking out the window it was so strange to see these great slums spanning out like seas in front of you, with the new rich looking building like cliffs. I have read about it, talked to people about it but nothing really prepares you for the sight of it. But the thing that was the clearest through all this was that people were happy, you can see children laughing and playing cricket, women still in colourful Saris chatting to their friends and you see a sense of community at you don't see anywhere else in our world. It is something that I have seen before in Africa that people not only survive but can be happy anywhere.

So after a particular expensive journey to Colaba by taxi I arrive at the Salvation Army Hostel. Now the reason I have chosen this place is because it is by far the cheapest place in Mumbai to stay. The problem is that I am not a follower of the Salvation Army and was not sure weather you had to be. Worried that I may get caught out as a imposture I keep my head down low and talk to no one, while I run out the door to see Mumbai. Luckily later talking to other there is no entry requirements and I will not have to be attending any bible study sessions before having to be in bed by 9pm. Still no drink allowed inside though :-(

So most of my knowledge of Mumbai comes from the book Shantaram, a must read I tell you. So my first couple of days are spent wondering around seeing the places that are in the book and wondering if any of the people from it are still around. I would like to say one thing about Mumbai though, it is not the sort of city you want to walk around to much in at it is so HOT. I mean one day it was 40 °C the day before this it was 36 °C and I walked 10 miles. It is a big sprawling city with so much to see and so much to do. But it is also a city where you can be busy doing notihing. One afternoon I spent a couple of hours watching cricket at the Maidens (parks built by the British and have at least a dozen games going on at once).

I meet some fantastic people and some times had to fain interest in football talk. All part of an adventure, but the beer was cheap and the chat was good. I went to the famous Leopold's for a beer and stood under the Gate of India. I have to Admit that I fell in love with Mumbai. I still can't put my finger on way. Because everything I seem to love about it was the stuff that I dislikes about Delhi. Maybe I wasn't ready for Delhi, maybe I was in a travelling mind when I got to Mumbai. I don't know but it was a fantastic city that was hard to leave.

One of my favourite place in Mumbai was the street stole that I ate most days. This little stole where only locals eat became my haunt. It was amazing and I did not understand why tourist walked past it. The food was some of the best I have tried and proved my theory that street Chai is the best and for only 5 rupees the only way to do. I took everyone there and will tell anyone to go.

One thing I would like to say is that even though it is called Mumbai on every map, chart and transport list in the world, no on there calls it Mumbai. It is almost like the world forgot to tell them. They correct you when you call it Mumbai and spit when you ask why, saying a politicians. So what do I call it. Mumbay I tried but didn't feel right so I called it Bombay and hoped not to offend.

But it is not all laugh my time in Bombay and on route to my Bollywood debut as a professional actor I got pick pocketed and lost my card and most of my money (which does not normally live in there). I am not angry I think I know the bloke who did it and he need the money more than I did. But it has meant I am not going to be able to see south India as much as I would have liked. But hey it travelling. So Goa I head with not much money but a friend to meet. Efe the savior of the trip.

One other thing, it seems like everyone in Bombay is a writer. In my time I met no less than four writers, it seems like the writers version of LA. It was highly amusing. And it got me thinking should I start calling myself a writer?... No I'm still an actor and can't wait for LA :-p

Posted by Joewhittaker 01:21 Archived in India Tagged mumbai Comments (1)

The rest of Rajasthan

Chittorgarh, Udaipur and the dreaded Mt Abu

sunny 28 °C

So after leaving wonderful friendly Bundi we headed south west to Udaipur. On the way to Udaipur we stopped of a Chittorgarh, Chittorgarh is a tiny town in the middle of these two town with -and I quote 'the best fort in Rajasthan'! This huge fort spans over the entire hill and is about 2km long. Inside it is full of palaces, temples and swimming pools and the most job satisfied guard we have ever met. Who greeted us with open arms and a theatrical "welcome to chittorgarh fort and the Shiv temple"! I would love to explain more about this town but half of the group where suffering from the belly and the rest of us still a bit shocked by the 5am start after a night on the rum! As I said before it wasn't a dry town. We left soon afterwards for Udaipur and bed.

So arriving at Udaipur at night, I once again left the Latinos take over the hotel hunting I stood back and chatted to the locals. As I was chatting to the locals it comes clear to me that this town with all it's splendor and glory (of what I had seen so far) prides itself over one things. It is not the beautiful City Palace (see facebook for pics) or the stunning man made lake that was created by the Raj as you wanted a lake and not a river, or even the world famous hotel in the middle of said lake. No this is India and their proudest moment is that the Roger Moore classic James Bond: Octopussy was filmed here. The funny thing is that in every hotel at 7.30pm they show Octopussy, it is the funniest thing! The best bit about it is that they never say the towns name and the only reference to any town is 'M' says get to Delhi!

But the city, it is one of those cities that still has a town feel to it, everyone is friendly and you feel welcome there. It is a beautiful town and made better by the face that you can get a proper cup of English tea, it was the happiest day. When we were exploring the city palace one of the silliest thing to date happened. The palace has a camera charge and my clever friend Albert -like all of us- decided to not pay. But unlike all of use he decided to take a picture... next to the guard! What happened next was a strange event, worthy of Monty Python themselve with a Spanish man, in a orange dress (Indian male wear but still a dress) on the floor bowing a touching the feet of the guard and then standing up a shouting and then back to the floor while the guard was trying to throw him out and charge him 400 rupees. It was a sight to behold, I left him to it and walked away.

Also one thing that I would like to add is that it is possible to get four passengers and luggage into a two man auto-rickshaw! As I have been saying anything is possible in India. But sadly it was time for this group of single travellers to part ways and I headed south to Mt Abu and the others north. Efe I was to meet in Goa and the others maybe next year in Argentina.

Now Mt Abu, Mt Abu is the worst place I have been to in India. It is the collection of everything that I hate about India, there is no good thing about it. It is the nearest thing to Blackpool they have (not that I am saying there is anything wrong with Blackpool), but it is a town created for tourism all the shops see junk and guns. Everyone is out to get as much of your money as they can, I bought a train ticket and the commission was more than the ticket itself. The only good thing about it is that you can leave. There is no culture or history and I only went there because an Indian says it was great and had good trekking. Well I am not going to waste my time writing about it. JUST DON'T GO.

But this made me sad that I finished Rajasthan on such a low note as I loved Rajasthan. It was everything I expected it to be and more. A land caught in time where forts and palaces and mansions still stand. We you can image princes and princess, warriors and farms living. It is beautiful, friendly, magical and so much more. But ever good thing has to end and a new one begin. So off to Mumbai (Bombay)!

Posted by Joewhittaker 00:08 Archived in India Tagged of rest raj Comments (0)

Bundi

sunny 25 °C

So after staying five days in Pushkar and making lots of friends a group of us left for Bundi (Albert, Maggie, Efe and myself), the one problem with my new travelling group was there was me a English speaking Englishman and then one Spanish and two Argentinean, if your counting that is three Spanish speakers and me. I seemed to be at a disadvantage already.

Bundi is or was another Pushkar, it used to be a dry town and still has the holy lake in the middle it. But luckily the drinking ban has been lifted and it is not full of tourist in silly parachute pants! It was here that we stayed in a hotel run by one of the nicest families I have ever met, who invited us in like their own family and couldn't do enough for us. And made one of the best Thali's I have tried to date.

This was the town where we got are invite not only to a families house for lunch, which we attended and I would like to say that I have never been so polite and reserved and English in my life. The reason for the invite was because there had been a wedding two days before and we where invited for the last of the family celebration. So when we arrived we all got bundled into the room of the newly weds, which had happened the day before but I was not present. As we sat there, we talked and chatted and laughed and once again got treated like me were family. We had a lovely afternoon sitting on the roof eating and chatting and getting into the arm wrestle competitions with the oldest brother (an soldier in the Indian arm) and it was a great afternoon.

But that evening a even better event happened we were sitting in a Shiv (a God) at the celebration of his Birthday (like Indian Christmas) and we got an invite from a man to a Indian wedding, thinking we was not serious we forgot it and I went back to shaking me tambourine but when we started walking back we came across it and walked in. Indian can do weddings I found out that evening. We ate more food than I have ever eaten in my life and then straight after that we got pulled onto the dance floor. There was so much colour and the smell of the kitchen is wonderful. I felt a bit band as we got all of this hospitality and ended up being the stars of the wedding and didn't pay anything and only got to chat to the groom for a second, but no one would except money. SO I excepted it and danced like a uncle at a western wedding a laughed a lot. I only wish I had a camera.

But Bundi was not all fun and games, no it was also the place that I got attacked by the monkey. #mum stop reading# I was up a hill taking photos of the sunset when I turned around a was face to face with a monkey. Slowly I turned to leave thinking is I look weak it will leave me alone, but the next thing I know it was charging me and I am running faster than I have ever ran. Scared I start climbing down the hill to the town wish I wasn't alone. The next day when we were up at the fort and being confronted by a army of them I have to admit I was a little scared, but never corner a wild animal and you'll be fine. Also I'm fine.

Posted by Joewhittaker 07:51 Archived in India Tagged monkey attack Comments (0)

Pushkar

Surrender to India

sunny 25 °C

So Pushkar, Pushkar will have a lasting memory on me for years to come as I can hand on heart say that it was a turning point in my life. The writer David Gregory Phillips, in his book Shantaram says a line that stuck with me from the moment I read it. In his book is says "the only way to win in India, is to surrender to it... Surrender to it". When I first read this I thought nothing of it! Let me put that on the back burner but remember it!

On the way to Pushkar on one of the local bus I have taken to riding I had a conversation with a man on the bus, the topic of the conversation was not important and I can't remember what we talked about, but the remarkable and note worthy point was he spoke not a world of English. Are conversation was done completely through arm movements and talking in our own language. It was one of the best chats I have had because he was such a genuinely nice bloke who just wanted know about me and me him.

After I had found a hotel, I headed out for lunch. I went for Thali, Thali is one of the great Indian dish for less than a pound you get rice, curry, dal (lentil spice soup), chapati and normally more and it is always free refills. It was here that I met Albert a Spaniard that has come to be one of my close friends from this trip. Albert is one of these fantastically intelligent people that you meet, Albert had been travelling in India for five months when I met him and he has been really taken by the idea of India and the Hindu religion. We spent the whole day talking about the religion and he really opened my eyes to the concept of opening your heart to the universe. I am not trying to say that I am converting to the Hindu religion but to have a greater knowledge of the world that I am exploring.

Myself and Albert spent the next couple of days meeting others and just exploring Pushkar. But alas at the end of the second day it was time for me to go and catch a bus and head to my next destination. Let me remind you, in Delhi I was talked into by all my Rajasthan train ticket before leaving and because of this I have been stuck in towns or leaving before I was ready. So I said my byes to Albert, Maggie, Diego and Billy and walked to my bus. It was on the walk that I started swearing about these tickets and thinking I was not ready to leave. It was when I was stepping onto the bus that that quote came to me again "surrender to India" and I stopped, asking myself why am I doing this why am I following this insane plan. So I didn't I tore up the ticket, turned around and went back to the town. I had a rush of excitement, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

So the reason why Pushkar will stick with me because it was not only the place I refound my spontaneity, but I learnt to say no and was the start of building my self-confidence and mainly started following my heart and stopped listening to my head.

The only problem I have with this is that it had to happen in Pushkar. As you know I am British and the more foreigners I meet on my travels the more I am told how British I actually am. One of the joys of been British is that you can be a cynic and I came to Pushkar with a cynical mind. India is one of these places where people come to find themselves and I to have found a inner self which I did not have before. My problem is that so many people come to find enlightenment at the bottom of a spliff. So imagine the irony that the place that I found myself was the one place where I really didn't want it to happen.

Posted by Joewhittaker 06:43 Archived in India Tagged pushkar Comments (0)

Jaisalmer the myth, the legend and the camel!!!

And the extremely soar bottom.

sunny 35 °C

So as some of you are probably unaware -mainly die to the fact I have told no one- I am not the first Whittaker to grace this magic land of India. Alas like some many great hunger siblings of history I got beaten to it by my sister. This I would like to point out is not a bitter point for me and does not bother me one bit as when my sister returned she studied Maths at Uni and became an account (1-0 to the young brother)! The reason I am telling you this is because as the second Whittaker I have should have the gift of knowledge when it comes to my sisters less pleasant experiences. But sadly there is one I forgot and while in the Desert in Jaisalmer I came a cropper. The one this I forgot was not, wear a hat -as I has a very nice straw cow 'camel' boy hat-, nor was it the lack of sunscreen. The one thing I had forgot was the cushion and my god did I regret it. I have never had such a uncomfortable ride in my life. Not only that the camel safari I had ventured on was no less than the Indian equivalent of the donkey ride at Blackpool. Sit on a camel for an hour being drag along and then sit on a dune for a hour (no body talking) watch a sunset and get dragged back. But sleeping under the stars was nice.

Anyway less about my complaining. So Jaisalmer, the fort Oasis. Short history for you was once the major point for the desert trade route from India to Afghanistan, traders carrying spices, textiles, perfumes and other stuff. This was until the Portuguese (yes the Portuguese not the British) came and created Bombay as a major port and camel trade stopped. The fort is still there and is the only living and working fort in Rajasthan (maybe India I'll have to check). It may not be for to long though as due to the cleanliness of the India people the drains are now full of plastic and the waste water is breaking the dry sandstone and threatening to claps the entire fort (actually already has). But now fear, before you get all worried about this beautiful -and it is, did I forget to mention- fort, like all great plans there is a twist to save the plot. The heroic Indian Government has sent a whopping $10million to save the fort... which has gone missing (probably in the pockets of the politicians)! Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the corruption of Indian politics.

So anyway I loved Jaisalmer, it was a lovely lovely place. Even though when I walked off the lovely air conditioned train, into the desert there was a couple of things I forgot. Number 1, deserts are hot and that is why they are deserts (and before anyone comments deserts can be cold as we I know the arctic and antarctic are deserts too) and number 2, jeans and a jump are not appropriate clothing for 35 °C heat. I have never been so hot in my life, melting I think the word you would use is.

Jodhpur

I sadly din't have much to say about Jodhpur, The Blue City, which to my delight was actually blue. A very busy trade town with little streets and even smaller shops. But alas I was there for only one day and did not venture far out. One strange thing that did happen was I got taken for breakfast by two large Canadian couples, I stange affair with the end result of being offered out for cocktails later, worried I ran for the hills saying I will think about it before disappearing into the crowd like a British Spy.

Leaving at 5am the next day as well.

Posted by Joewhittaker 05:50 Archived in India Tagged and jaisalmer jophpur Comments (0)

Jaipur and Amber

The Pink City?

sunny 20 °C

They call Jaipur the Pink City of Rajasthan, painted in 1728 to welcome the Prince of Wales on a state visit of India and ever since the city walls and buildings –inside the old city- have been painted and rebuilt with the exterior walls paint pink, even to this day. I would like to make a couple of points about this from my point of view, why pink? What has pink got to do with Britain and especially Wales but this point I can let slid as it was a lovely gesture. My second point is my main and final point on the matter and I can’t let this one slid, after three days of walking around and around I saw no witness of any pink on the city walls and builds within the walls… there terracotta! I look everywhere and terracotta is everywhere. Now don’t get me wrong terracotta is a perfectly good colour but I want my pink city. I am going to have to go to San Francisco after all now.

Jaipur is a strange place, at first I really liked it. It had a good feeling about it. A small town that has grown to a city that has kept the feeling of a small town. My mind change a little when I worked out that it was all shopping. But I think that it has always been a trade town, trading in silver and silks. It was a fascinating mix of main street shopping and back street market feeling. Every five minutes I would get an invite in for a Chai and a chat while the trade man shows off his wares, to the point where I couldn’t drink anymore tea. One of the strangest things about the town though was that there was no tourist and I still to this date have no idea where they have gone. If I have to be honest I found that this was very hard and I don’t know why. I think I was just lonely and almost packed in the trip because of it. But I bounced back, I don’t think I thought about how hard travelling around the world on your own is and I think I needed to have this experience to really help with the rest of the trip.

Anyway less of that now!

One of the things that I did do when I was here and am happy that I did it, on the first night I was wondering around the streets of Jaipur, exploring the city. But from what I can tell the city closes down by the about 8pm and I was left with the opinion of eating in a restaurant and eat on my own or getting some takeaway and eating back at the room. When I made my decision to get something and eat in the hotel, I turn the corner and am faced with the bright signed KFC and dear readers I did it. In the country of good food I turned to the Americans to feed me. Then when I got back to the room I turned to our friends across the water to entertain me with WWE Royal Rumble and it was good.

One highlight of mine of my time when I was in Jaipur was when I took a trip out of the city to Amber the original mountain town before it moved to the plains below. This is The Golden City and is a grand structure that sprawls across the hills of Amber. When I got off the bus at the bottom of the hill, I started to walk through the Garden of Public Audience and when I was standing under a tree looking up at this fort ahead of me –thinking how high that hill looks- a thump behind me and a monkey had through itself out of the tree and was running across the lawn. Shocked I looked around and the thing I know it is raining monkeys all around me. I was just waiting for one to just land on my head, but lucky I was fine and shot off to the safety of other people. But you do have to laugh really.

Posted by Joewhittaker 09:02 Archived in India Tagged city pink Comments (0)

Agra

The Taj Mahal

sunny 20 °C

So I walk out of my hotel on the streets of Agra. The plan for today is to see Agra Fort and get to the Taj Mahal for sunset, which sound like a good plan except for the fact that it is 10am and sunset isn’t for another six and half hours and there is nothing to do in Agra except for the for and the Taj. I start walking it is a beautiful day and I am in high spirits, so I am in the mood for proving everyone and find another secret gem in a town disregarded by many as a “dusty hole”. After walking for about an hour I slowly come around to the opinion that maybe other people are right. As I reach the outer walls of the Taj a cycle-rickshaw pulls up and tries to get a fare. He tries the age old Indian trick of asking “which country?” in the hope that knowing the persons country can be the key to open a business deal. After much talking and laughing, I decide that I will get a ride and we set off up the hill to the fort.

After a couple of metres going up the hill the driver gets off and starts pushing, “too steep” we claims. I laugh at him saying that I could cycle up this hill with a family up this hill with a family on the back. Joking he tells me that I should give it ago and to his astonishment I agree and jump on the seat and after proving I could cycle up the hill I get him on the back and head off towards the fort. Cycling through the busy streets the reactions of the people is electric and shouts and jokes about a tourist cycling a Indian on a rickshaw, it is all going well until I go to brake at a tight corner –expecting the brakes to work- and crash into the side of a toc-toc. Panicked the driver jumps on the front and shot of at a angry driver, there was no damage and I sit back laughing.

I get to the fort, a lovely fort with marble buildings and lots of monkeys. This is the second fort of many I will do in India and I have one problem with forts in India. Will in England is I go to a fort I like –in my head- to pretend that I am a soldier attacking the fort and imagine the world of fort life, but in India the forts aren’t like that. They are rich with architecture and I feel a like cheated when I walk around these forts. The idea that the Maharaja would have bathed there rather than soldiers fighting made me feel a like sad.

To waste time I fulfilled the ritual of a the rickshaw taken me to shops where I don’t want to buy anything so the shops would pay him commission and I walk around pretending to want to buy something until I see on the clock I have fulfilled the 10-15 minute time I had to be there and run out the shop like I have been chased by a dog, jumping on the rickshaw and head to another shop. It’s a fun game and waste time beautifully.

Now it is time to go to the Taj Mahal, the building I have thinking about since I have been planning this trip. Michael Palin declared that “you have not visited India until you have seen the Taj Mahal.” As I turn the corner at the rear court yard and I look up and am faced by a piece of beauty that makes my mouth open and takes my breath away. As it sit there in front of me in all it’s glory I can’t help but smile and stare. It is a fantastic sight and as you walk around it, you understand why it is so famous. The strange thing is that you take your shoes off before ascending the stairs –and no Slumdog fans, no shoes got stolen- and you can not take photos inside all to respect the dead that are buried there, Shah Jahan and his wife –who the Taj was built in memory of- Mumtaz Mahal. As I sit there waiting for sunset I think about the gesture that this building is and again with the quote from Rabindranath Tagore “a teardrop on the cheek of eternity”!

Will leaving Agra I am still confused about something. What that is, is how can a town that has a piece of outright beauty like this one have, still be a complete hole. I was wrong there is no secret gem hidden in a back street of Agra. But when you have the Taj you don’t need it. Happy I board the train waiting for my next adventure in Jaipur – the pink city.

Posted by Joewhittaker 09:01 Archived in India Tagged agra Comments (0)

Amritsar

and the Pakinstan Border

overcast 10 °C

So my next stop is Amritsar, a Sikh town near the boarder with Pakistan. As I leave the train station with my lonely planet in hand (the bible of any backpacker) I see that my chosen hotel is a short walk from my location and I wade my way through the sea taxi and toc-toc drivers that once again has swarmed me again I head down the road and cross the bridge. Now having to cross the street I look up to see a moving mass of traffic where what seems to be 10 lanes are trying to condense to 1 lane. This is what I love about Indian traffic, if everyone drove like we do in Europe everyone will get everywhere quick and not have these mad 24 hour traffic jams. The problem is that some how I have to cross this traffic and I have no idea how you do it. I try walking down the road a bit and it worse down there as the traffic is flying at 100mph towards the bridge. Confused I stand back and wait to see what the locals do. After a while I work out that there are no locals crossing and admit defeat and I walk the long way round and get to the hotel. The work that took me 4 minutes when leaving Amritsar at 4am took me 30 minutes, I love India.

So why am I in Amritsar I hear you ask. Well for two reasons really, Amritsar as a lot of the more northern towns in India –I believe- is a Sikh town but not just any Sikh town. It is here that the famous Golden Temple is located and to Sikh’s this is the Mecca of there religion and pilgrims come from all around the world to pray and bath in this beautiful gold gilded temple in the middle of the holy lake. I don’t think I can start to explain how stunning this building is and how impressed and taken back by it I was… so I won’t but I’ll tell you about how cold the water you have to wash your feet in is. It was the biggest shock I have ever had.

I do a tour of temples and all of a sudden I encounter the Mata Temple, this is the weirdest temple that I have ever visited and probably ever will. Let me paint a picture for you if I can. So take a normal Hindu temple –bells, flowers, incense, statue of Shiva- and place that on the ground floor and the make a Cave Temple where you crawl through holes, climb over cows and walk through ankle deep water well passing as many gods and goddess; that they could fight in. That is not it, when they were designing it they clearly asked in the creator of Disneyland to design it. So you walk around all this being face by the most cartoon like gods. This tickled me so much I sometimes had to run forward or hold back so my laugh wouldn’t offend the pilgrims –a lot of which were women hoping to become pregnant- that were walking around me. I decide it is best that I should leave.

The other thing Amritsar is famous for is it’s border closing ceremony. As I said it is near the border with Pakistan and every night they have a full patriotic show to shut the gates. It is the strangest thing and has got so popular that on both sides they have built grandstands to accommodate the people. The soldiers do an impressive show of leave kicks and running marching as kids run up and down with India flags. The one thing that I wonder is how serious the soldiers as they stand there shaking with energy, waiting for their time to march towards the border and face off against a Pakistan soldier. I like the ceremony as it is good fun even though the two countries are at war. The reminder of the war is around when you see a sniper over looking the border and the army barracks a 100 metres back from the border.

Posted by Joewhittaker 08:59 Archived in India Tagged amritsar Comments (0)

Delhi

The Capital of India

sunny 17 °C

So as I head for the capital on my mind is the two missions on the agenda that are to be done while in Delhi. I have been thinking about this plan of action for a while. The first is to see and explore as much of the city as I can and get a feeling for it in the short time that I am here. The second and more important is the on to, once and for all work out what the difference between Old and New Delhi as to me it just seems like Delhi.

So I arrive in New Delhi train station at 6.30 on a cool misty Thursday morning, still dark outside and the city is still asleep. As I walk through the streets looking for my hotel I watch as the place slowly wakes and comes alive. Chai sellers are setting up there station on the side of the road and women in bright coloured saris sweep the outside of the shops and rickshaw drivers slowly make there way to the train station and other hot spots for the days work, while wiping the sleep away from their eyes. As I head down the back streets –still searching for my hotel, a little lost- I see people worshipping at temples and the sound of bells ring through the alleyways as the sky begins to brighten and they welcome in the new day and I feel strangely safe in these eerie claustrophobic streets. After a while a couple of over eager hotel touts that had been following me for a while started to push me towards there hotel and making me uneasy –and in a completely out of character move- I turn and square to him and as his friend scarpers and leaves his friend to face against a foreigner that is twice his size, I stare down at him and set him off packing. A little rattled and adrenaline pumping from the event I reappear at the main street and ahead of me is a sign for the hotel.

To no surprise when turning the room is not available so the manager takes me to a free room in the hotel next door which seems to cater solo for dwarves and midgets. I only say this because when I fall on to the bed to catch on the needed and missed sleep I work out that on the bed where my shins are meant to be is wall in the way. After a few minutes of creative thinking I work out that sleep is not an option and I head to the street to eat and to find this midget community that requires their own hotel.

On my most tourist day in Delhi I decide that I would like to go and visit the Jama Mosjid mosque that towers over Old Delhi in all it’s grandeur. The problem was that the day I visited the mosque was the day that I had cracked out the pale British legs forgetting about the rules of mosque. So I appear in this mosque with sunglasses on, camera in hand and wrapped around my waist a bright yellow sari. I tell you that it is impossible to wear a sari and act normal and as I stand out like, well like a white man wearing a sari wondering how I get myself into these situation. I then notice all the cameras turn on me, not willing to posse for a hundred photos I turn and run for the safety of the Red Fort leaving the sari behind.

Sadly Delhi doesn’t have the tranquility of Varanasi or the open friendliness of Kathmandu, everyone that I have talk to about Delhi says that it is a massive culture shock and even if it wasn’t so much a culture shock that hit me in my three days in the capital I was shocked by the city. The amount of people that bombard you every time you walk on to the street is crazy. There are people everywhere trying to sell you something, scam money of you, beggars that follow you down the street not taking no for an answer. The whole city is money driven and everyone is in on it. I can now see why I have heard so many stories of people arriving to Delhi and leaving India a day later, unable to cope.

The thing about Delhi is that it is a hard city to be a white tourist in, when you are in the tourist areas it is a constant fight every time you walk onto the street. Every beggar, shop sells man, travel agent, tout and scam artist try their hardest to get a piece of your money. So many people don’t like Delhi as you are treated like a walking wallet and I too felt like this, it is such a money orientated city it is hard to stay afloat and many people leave Delhi and even India because of it. Even though it has a different side to it and it only takes a little bit of exploring to find it. On one of my many walks in the city I got out of the main bazaar and the tourist area and found myself walking in the areas where tourist don’t wonder. You see the people that would normally beg laughing a joking, kids playing cricket, the handicapped smoking and playing cards. I walk past a shop where the TV was showing the test match and instead of selling me something, he offers a chair. The problem is that most people leave Delhi not feeling this warmth of people and I find this sad.

Posted by Joewhittaker 08:57 Archived in India Tagged delhi Comments (0)

To India and Varanasi

sunny 20 °C

So Nepal is done and dusted and I have a new adventure a head of me. From here the subcontinent stretches south before me. A world of unknown adventure, exploring and fun lay ahead for the next two months. I have thought about India the most since I have been planning and talking about this place, it sounds like a wild land full of religion and people. A country with 1.3 billion people in it and some of the best experiences of people lives have happened here. I sat on the train thinking that my dream has come true I have come travelling and I am here on my own the other side of the world and I am excited and ready for what India has to throw at me and I hope that I can cope. I am sure I can I have been thinking about this country for as long as I can remember. And if my dream does not happen like I have it, India is the birth place of dreams;

"If there is one place on the face of earth
where all the dreams of living men have
found a home from the very earliest days
when man began the dream of existence,
it is India." Romain Rolland

This is the India I have to look forward to and I will be ready for it, just after I have had a shower.

So here I am standing on a train station platform at Varanasi, the holy town in India, the start of the river Ganges. The first thing that hits me as I am standing there taking a couple of seconds for the blood to get into my legs so that I can start walking, is the smell. I am confronted with a smell of urine, poo and burning plastic. Taken aback by the harshness of the odour I start walking towards the staircase having no idea about where to go, where to sleep and how to get there. Walk I was thinking, the new fitting, post mountain me was ready to walk. But then I am confronted by a man, a smiling man you offers his toc-toc (or auto rickshaw)

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Getting in I rely on the travellers bible the Lonely Planet to find a hotel, but the as I find quickly my rickshaw driver has a different plane of action and I so after being kidnapped and taken to lots of guesthouses that ain't the Shanti Guesthouse, I submerge at the Elvis Guest House the other end of Varanasi to where I want to be but being told 'best area', this I still am unsure about. Tired and not that bothered about where I sleep, I agree and go to my 200 rupee a night hotel room and to my surprise and joy I find my complimentary live in geeko on wall.

Some how in my excitement and over tiredness I agreed to do a one man toc-toc (see above) of all of the Temples in Varanasi (which has you image are plentiful). So before I really know what is going on I am racing at about 100mph through the streets of the city I have just arrived in. I go to Hindu temples, Buddist Temples, Temples to India and Silk factories. Basically I have achieve to see the entire place in little over 4 hours and got the feeling of nothing. Still to this day I only have a foggy recollection of that first 5 hours. Confused I crash on my bed and get some sleep.

So how do I paint a picture with words to help you understand this city. I think the best way to say it is to describe the way that it hit me as an intense violation of all of my five human senses. I have already described the smell, the over powering smell that insults the nostrils and makes you miss England and the wonderful sewage system that we all take for granted. Then after the smell the sound hits you, an orchestra of car horn, shouting salesman, screaming children and dogs barking, the sound turns almost like a hypnotic chant. The sound track of India. Then there is the colour, women by the river in bright sarees wash and drying even brighter clothes. It's a wash of yellows, pink, blues, reds and more. This place invigorates the senses and leaves you with the memory of the last days of a music festival without the terrible hangover.

The other way to look at the city is about how poor it is and how much death there is around, people fly from all over the world to come and die here and hope for the easiest route to the afterlife. Even though I am saying all of these negatives things Varanasi as has a way of winning my heart and all the bad and overwhelming things that happen there make you (or just me) love it even more. Every time since I have told people that Varanasi was my first city there response was 'really that's brave!' I don't believe this to be true because I got to see the true grit of India from the start and the rest will come easier because.

The rest of the time is spent relaxing and talking and meeting foreigners and I had a great four days there. I think that I spent most of my time walking on the river and drinking chai from the coolest man in the world;
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When I turned up though I found out that there was a festival going on and excited I rushed to see it, to find out that this festival last for about two months and is repeated ever night but still it was nice to watch the prayers and moves (none of which I understood) on the banks of the River Ganges. I don't think I got much of what I saw in Varanasi and I was overwhelmed by the amount of death that I saw there. But as I said I loved it and would go back in a heartbeat.

Also any restaurant owners out there sell Banana Lassi's you'll make a killing. Anyway sorry for the delay but thank you for reading and I've be Joe Whittaker good night.

Posted by Joewhittaker 05:26 Archived in India Tagged varanasi Comments (0)

Kathmandu and Citwan Safari

sunny 22 °C

As I travel on the bus back to Kathmandu I finish the book I have been working through for many months the bourne identity and look out the window and it dawns on my like being hit by a brick, 'what the hell am I going back to Kathmandu for, you pretty much drive past Citwan Safari park on the route back anyway. So for no reason at all I disembark the bus at Kathmandu and spend couple of days chilling in the city with no really desire to do anything. I am feeling a little under the weather so I use this to catch up on some need sleep and rest. On the second day I go and see my guide and would like to say friend King to accept an invitation to his home to meet is wife and to lovely children. His family are lovely and I send the two hours of King Dawa's lunch break making small talking and being reserved and polite and as British as I have ever been. I also fined a place to have steak (in a hindu country) this make me happy and even more so as my hostel own (yes the someone that took me to a brothel bar) said I would go to hell. I hope he was joking.

So another 5.30am alarm, not to be moany but I thought holidays where meet to be fun and relaxing. I have never found waking up at anything before 7.30 fun and yet this holiday keeps doing it to me. Bar staff are not early rises, if I was I would have been a post man, milk man or got a really job.

So let me describe the Safari lodge I was in to paint a picture. The lodge located on the banks of the river over look the safari itself. From the roof top restaurant to the left is long grass field and a small river and to the front and right is the jungle (an island 900metre squared). The rooms are clean and big and except me the guest are all either Chinese or French, over run with them. I befriend a young French man called Neco or something like who when asked by our guide if he earns a lot of money replies not really I can only afford a small two bedroom apartment in the centre of Paris. I'm sorry correct me if I'm wrong but isn't Paris REALLY expensive. Only jokes he was lovely. The Chinese on the other hand didn't talk outside their groups and spent a lot of time taking photos (I love when stereotypes come true).

The Safari was amazing, a Canoe Safari first thing, where they was so much mountain fog that you couldn't see the back but it was a good relaxing ride. Then a jungle walk. This was fun as I crept around the forest looking for a Tiger I was determine to find. I didn't. But in the afternoon a 4X4 safari and then in the evening the Culture Programme. A show of seven traditional dances performed but young men. It was spectaular to watch and then bed. As I was leaving on the 9.30 to the border I got the 6.30am elephant safari. The fog was back so all I saw was deer and wild chickens. But I didn't care I was riding a freaking elephant, was the coolest thing and the best is I didn't it was two American's and a Australian. I lost the Chinese and French who don't understand the idea of quiet. I blame them for the lack of tiger. Order one from the safari guide no bright colours, both French and Chinese turn up in day-glo colours. Rule two stay quiet, nope couldn't follow that on either. Oh well I enjoyed myself and saw lots of animal.

Was time to board the bus and run for the border. The only problem with this was that I was still on the Elephant a one hour 30 safari turned into a two hour 15. So running like hell I run to the 4X4 that rips back too the Lodge I grab my back and we're off to the bus stop to find out that it was a 9.30 bus not 9. Not sure how many traffic laws the drive broke or how many people he almost hit (I wasn't looking) but I thought a big tip would have to be given.

At the border I get my bus ticket for tomorrow from the Hotel Plaza and decide that this is as good a place as any to stay, it wasn't. The bed sheets were brown and the toilet was something out of the film Saw. I am proud to say for the first time in my life I complained got a refund, jumped on a Rikshaw and left Sunoli (the border town) and went to Bhairahawa the next town in. I stayed in the Hotel Glasgow (I didn't ask) and the next day I headed south. First country complete, Nepal crossed of the list. What will India have in store.

I have to admit I am currently in Gorakhpur waiting for my train at 23.15 to Varanasi and there is nothing here. NOTHING. So I have been in a cafe reading a blogging since 2pm, it's no 5.30pm. I know it seems sad but I wondered and wondered and found nothing. An impressive train station and a lot of people. But hey you win some, you lose some. it's the joy of travelling. But Varanasi will not disappoint.

Call again readers xxx

Posted by Joewhittaker 04:02 Archived in India Tagged to citwan gorakhpur Comments (0)

Pokhara and The Annapurna Mountains

The never ending stairs!!!

sunny 10 °C

Hello my blog follows, I would like to apologise for my slowness of my blogging entries.

So I arrive in Pokhara after the most horrific bus journey I think I have ever encounted due to many factors of 3 hours sleep and well lets say more than 3 hours of drinking the night before. Also my guide for this trip a man by the name of Bharat Jirel or King Dawa as he is known, force feed me at the breakfast and lunch stops saying that I need to eat for energy and let me tell you eating was the last thing on my mind. So bloated, smelly and tired I arrive at the Lakeside town of Pokhara a peaceful and hippy-esque place full of trekkers, paragliders and tourist that transform themselves from Gore-tex clad trekkers to hemp wearing Glastonbury goes from the many boutiques and shops along the main tourist stretch. My room at the empty hotel was on the top floor (4th floor) for reasons unknown to me from my room the view was no different than at least the floor below, but I took it as training for the days to come.

So the time was here to tick off the main activity for Nepal, trekking. The bus ride to the starting point was enjoyable and bouncy the only problem being the lack of room between my head and the ceiling, confirming my theory that Nepalese are heightist. So concussed but happy I set off into the currently cloud covered mountains. The first day was easy 4 hours I was told to Hillie, the first night stop. Two and a half hours later we arrive, after making great time to the Green Hill Lodge and Restaurant in Hillie. Run mainly by two girls, the young daughters of the owners who seem to shout a lot and demand feeding. It was a pleasant night spent in the kitchen around the fire with a Frenchman called Loulou and his guide. Laughing and playing cards with the girls. Also advise to anyone, if you are in Asia and someone asks how spice you want something under no circumstance say has hot as you like, it hurts... Alot! I have never felt plain like it, my mouth so hot nuclear fusions could happening and throw watering eyes I see the laughter on the faces of everyone.

The next day was a longer day 7 hours. King Dawa looks at me when I ask what it was like and points to the ridge his nose and says up. I have dubbed this day the stairs of hell a just name. 1400 metres incline all stairs. For five and a half hours I climb mountain stair after mountain stair. By the end of the day I barely have the energy to finish the day but I make it and collapse into the sofa in the common room at the Panorama Veiw Lodge in Ghorepani some 2870m above sea level (asl). Impressed with myself that I have once again beaten the guide time I turn to King and he is smiling. After asking what he replies most people take two days to do that climb. 'why have I just done it in one then' he shrugs and saying 'you didn't ask to stop!' That night is spent on the sofa infront of the fire, it was snowing outside and about -5⁰c outside.

The next morning I am awoken at 5am to ascent to Poon Hill to see the sunrise of the mountains an hour climb to the top, after 45 minutes though the summit is covered in thick grey cloud and we turn back for breakfast and our luggage. The day was a descent to Tadapani after a 3300 metre (asl) ridge walk. Snow was heavy on the ground but we plod on and I spend the night over looking the starry mountains from my bedroom. At this point Dal Bhaat had become a regular meal and I started to become sick of eating the same thing. Dal Bhaat is Lentil soup, rice, spinach and chutney. Nice, very large and very boring after the seventh time in 4 days.

This day a none stop walk to Chhomrong a good day, my fitness was up and I felt like I had lost weight and I finished the day in good time (for someone of my fitness) and finished just in time to avoid the snow storm that would stop my Annapurna Base Camp aim because of Avalanche threats and waist high snow on top with temperatures around -25⁰c. The next day I descend Jinhudanda and the hot strings. As I lay in the hot springs sun glasses on, beer in hand and silence around. I get tapped on the shoulder by King the only other person there and points to the other spring and I see a brilliant sight, a group of monkeys around playing, bathing. I watch cursing that the only time I haven't had a camera this holiday would be the missing of the best pictures so far.

The next five days are spent walking back to Pokhara, easy and uneventful a sense of disappointment that I couldn't make it up but that much danger isn't worth it at the beginning of a trip like this. But I did meet a lovely American couple (Kris and Jessi) from California who when back in Pokhara bought me a book as a present which was so nice of them and we chilled out together the day after getting back to Pokhara.

Now I am going back to Kathmandu and then to Citwan Safari Park (formally Citwan Big Game Hunting Reserve, funny how things change with the money)

Posted by Joewhittaker 02:53 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains annapurna Comments (0)

Kathmandu and the world of Nepal!

And the invasions of the Australians!!!!

sunny 17 °C

It was a sunny crisp Thursday morning in Kathmandu when I emerge from the hotel ready to find the sights, sounds and smells of the Nepal captial. I leave armed with a map, camera and nothing else ready to start exploring the first stop on this journey. Thanks to a mixture of jet lag and the beers from the night before I have missed my new Australian friends, so this day is going to have to be done alone. I start walking down the street with a aim of getting to Durbar Square, one of the world heritage sights in Kathmandu.

I decide to make a own route to get a real feeling for this city. To my surprise the first street I decide to walk down takes me back. On the corner of the street I see a Levis shop and the further down the street I go the more exclusive and expensive the shops get. By the time I pass the Rolex shop I stop and enter the shop, to see if these shops are full of these fakes I have heard about. To my surprise I see that the Rolex shop is full of real watches the Apple store next door if full of real Apple computer. Confused I keep walking, maybe I have been wrong about this country, maybe there is more money in it than I expected. My mind is instantly and sadly changed as I walk off this street and see the true Kathmandu. The sad Image of Lepers, street children and street sellers confront me. The street I have walked off must have been the rich street of Kathmandu, the Champs Elysees, the Oxford street of Nepal.

After many different turns I arrive at the Durbar Square and wonder around this wonderful group of squares, taking a guide to explain the temples and buildings. As I finish in this square, being harassed by every different sellers I walk back in to Thamel, The main tourist area of Kathmandu where you can find any item you want in any label you want as long as it is a fake. The streets are so narrow and you are constantly have to jump out the way of the horde of taxis, rickshaws and motorbike that storm down the streets. The taxi drivers driving next to you expecting you to change your mind about getting in because they shout taxi at you about wont drive on. It was late afternoon at this point and I escape back to the hotel.

I am not sure what it is about Nepal at this time of the year but it is full of Australians, it seems that over the 4 days I have spent in this city every other person (tourist) I meet is from Australia and most of them from Melbourne.

That night myself, Mitch and Sean my two Aus friends and Jessica a girl from Melbourne I met in the hostel go for what we thought was an innocent beer with our hostel owner. I can no comfirm this is so but when we turned up to this bar, which had a Nepalese folk band on the stage we go presented with 7 young attractive waitresses, which seemed odd for the fact that there was only 5 of us. Confused we order drinks and my suspicious are roused by the fact that known of the girls can pour a beer properly. Let on we all agree (when Khem the hostel owner was away) that this indeed was a brothel bar and we pay and run.

The next couple of days are spent in very much the same way. exploring and meeting in Australian friends. One day I go to the Monkey Temple a really cool temple unified between Hindu and Buddhism and full of cute monkeys. The only floor to this temple is that there are 365 stairs to the top and they are a killer, completely out of breath at the top I decide that the $600 I have just spent on the Annapurna Trek may do me some good.

I love Kathmandu from what I have seen it is a busy busy, polluted city where you can buy anything and don't have to look
as it will get thrust under your nose as some point. but it was sadly time to leave. On the Sunday morning at 6.30am after 3 hours sleep and a big drinking session, I leave my hotel and catch a bus that will take me to Pokhara and the the Himalayas, what fun.

Posted by Joewhittaker 21:10 Archived in Nepal Tagged kathmandu Comments (0)

The Adventure starts NOW!!!

well it did when it started 6 days ago.

sunny 7 °C

Hello and welcome to now what I can officially call my travel blog! So it as began, all this waiting is finally over and I have taken the dig step into the wide world of Asia, with absolutely no encouragement out of the car by my Mum when it came to being at the drop off at Heathrow Airport - Terminal 3 and no big cold feet when in the queue at the check in. But as so as I waved my very well packed back (if I say so myself) through into the unknown void which is behind the scenes I think to myself what is there to be nervous about and I step through security with what could be seen to be a spring and then almost knock a child over because I'm not looking where I am going.

After a quick look around the duty free and an even quicker look at the queue at the bar I retire to a corner to think about what lies ahead of me. The feeling from Zurich come flooding back to be and the burning fire of excitement, adventure and (sorry Mum) mischief start crackling in my stomach and as I sit there there are two thinks that come into my mind. Firstly my loving family that have encouraged me to leading up to this once in a life time opportunity and secondly I am sitting in the busiest terminal I have ever seen and I grinning to myself. Embarrassed I quickly duck my head into my book and hope that know one thinks they have to share a plane with a weirdo!!!

The flight was perfectly ordinary except for the young child which decided to cry for most of the flight. The second, shorter flight I sit down thinking it was at least to get a little sleep, to find out the Nepalese girl next to me not only lived and studied in England but lives the town over from my home town and only studies at the college to did. Farnborough College of Technology representing. So of course instead of catching up on the well needed sleep I spend the time making friends and laughing out how small a world it is and about how we think the guy next to her is drinking a lot of whiskey with a Heineken mixer for 11am Muscat time.

So there I am standing in the arrives of Kathmandu International Airport with two Irishman after being told I didn't need to go through customs my a very suspicious with a gun (my mum always send, do anything a man with a gun says) and been told to just jump the barrier. Ask no question I thought. Let me explain this arrives hall to anyone how has never been to Kathmandu, the second the taxi drivers and Hostel/hotel reps so white skin you are swamped by every man, women or child trying to get your business. When I say swamped, up to my nipples, not a tall race of people the Nepalese I lent quick. So being swamped being offered everything from dinner to daughter (yes I am convince one man offered for me to take his daughter for free taxi) and I at last see my lift and I drop shoulder and make it through with only a couple of extra eager taxi drivers still optimistically in pursuit.

As the car pulls out I at last remember what the roads in developing countries are like and after the best white knuckle ride and fanned interest in a conversation about English foot I arrived, Thamel at my feet and an Australian offering a beer. Perfect.

Posted by Joewhittaker 04:15 Archived in Nepal Tagged the of british arrive Comments (1)

It begins!!!

Zurich!!!

sunny 1 °C

I wake on this crisp and sunny Zurich Boxing Day morning with a sense that something has change. Instead of the low feeling of post-christmas blues that plague many of use on this day. The feeling that we became the living embodiment of at least three of the seven sins, a strange way to celebrate on this, such a holy day, the hangover is flicking in the background and the bloatedness is subsiding. The feelings that millions are feeling over the world, I wake up with a fresh sense of adventure stirring in my stomach and the realisation that this is the start of something massive, but also have the hangover feeling and the deep grumbling regret of gluttony and greed.

So as I start the final count down to the day that I leave Europe for the exotic and fascinating world of Asia and the subcontinent of India, 8 days to be exact, I start to think about the adventures that I am going to have and how they compare to the adventures that have come before! WIll I encounter some of the friendliest people who will great me with warmth and kindness as I attempt to learn about their lives and culture? Will I have my taste buds explode with a million different unknown taste sensations from ingredients that I have never heard about? Will I see spectacle that will leave me speechless and stunned by the sheer beauty and grandness at what lies below my feet and in front of my eyes? And will I experience adventure that would make Peter Pan look like a holiday maker to Butlins... well there is only one way of finding out!

But I am getting ahead of myself of course, I am still in Zurich with my wonderful family that has just been extended by the arrival of my newly born nephew Ethan Nicolas, a sweet little thing that has the sleeping pattern of his Uncle and Leicester friend where the day is for sleeping and the night is for the fun. This is of course to the distress of my sister and brother in law who (like normal adults) sleep at night! Christmas at the Smyth household was a delight with Amelia (my Niece) enjoying her second ever Christmas and the first that she really knew what was happening. The excitement and the joy that is put across from Amelia and the parents makes the magic of the day multiplied. As for the dinner, the responsibility falls to me as I step up to face the hardest meal of the year (excluding the post pub meals I try to cook) in an unknown kitchen and a faulty hob! Dinner arrived 25 minutes late, which of course the most important part of the day, but complete.

One of the major things that has failed this year is once again I fly out for Christmas in Switzerland with the promise White Christmas and with excitement in my eyes I board a plane to enjoy vast endless white views and Jack frost awaiting to cool my noses and make me feel I am in a winter wonderland. When I look out of the window in the aircraft all I see is snow covered hill tops and my heart is full of the delight of the idea of my beloved snow. So I make my way through the airport and rush out side to be greeted by the worst sight one can see, rain. Not just British rain, but heavy, cold, depressing rain that has melted the snow and worst extinguished the delight in my heart! This weather stays until Christmas day when I awake to look out the window and see the most glorious sunshine and the bluest of winter blue skies and the equilibrium is restored.

What has the rest of the week got in store for me I don't know but everyday I come closer to the 3rd the more my niece on christmas morning I will become!!! x

Posted by Joewhittaker 02:08 Archived in Switzerland Tagged christmas Comments (0)

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