Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Last Chapter....

24th April 2008 - G's summary - Well it's all a bit strange really, this is our last day we fly out tonight at 2am( tomorrow I guess). In the last 5 months I've....... surfed / body-boarded / body surfed / ski'd / been trekking / been close to collapsing with exhaustion / been way too hot / been way too cold / been drunk / been high / been very scared / puked / shat myself / fainted / been moved close to tears / seen sunrises, and many sunsets / seen desert, mountain, ocean, snow-capped peaks / seen poverty beyond belief, diseases, leprosy, death, burning bodies / been cheated / been seriously filthy / been bewildered, awe inspired and deeply disappointed / lost my job / become more spiritual / laughed until I couldn't make any sound and most of all had the best time ever with my wife.

If anyone is considering doing similar, DO NOT hesitate for a second, mortgages will still get paid, friends & family will still be there (you will just cherish them more) and I guarantee you will grow as a person.

So, finally, in the words of Ferris Bueller - Life goes by pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Soooooooo....... the Final Chapter.............back to India and Rajasthan. Came back to Delhi briefly - we knew we were back - cows, horns, stares, men taking photos of Jo.... Actually a mildly funny story. When we got back Lloyds Bank had stopped my card again (this is the 10th + time they have done this). During my conversation with the Lloyds customer service girl I notice an Indian guy taking a photo of Jo with his mobile (this is a common occurence). Mid phone-conversation I shouted "Oy stop f****** taking photos of my wife" The girl from Lloyds could not stop laughing..... ahhhhh Indians.

Went straight to Jaipur from Delhi - the big pink city. Palace below....

Jo looking through one of the peep-holes in the palace. In the olden days the royal women were not allowed out in public so they viewed the public through these

A procession in Jaipur, to mark the end of winter and the start of spring......they had lots of classic Indian Bob the Builder - RANDOM or what ?!?
More of the procession, Elaphants dressed up, now that's more like it

Amber Fort, just outside Jaipur. very big and impressive

We decided to experience a cinema in Jaipur and went to see ONE-TWO-THREE, it was all in Hindi so we left after half way through....and it was rubbish anyway. The most amusing part was to see western people as extras in the background (as we were asked to be extras in a Bollywood film in Mumbai). They were all clearly travellers, one had dreadlocks and another girl was in a bikini looking really awkward and with tan lines...

Last overnight train - hurrah! An epic 14 hours from Jaipur to Jaislemer near Pakistan. We were lucky enough to be inside the train as many people travelled on the roof, gutted.

Next stop was Jaisalmer in the west. A big fort in the middle of the desert, looked very impressive, but was hot hot hot..

Having a lovely romantic dinner on the roof-top of a restaurant overlooking the fort.

The highlight of Jaislamer was our 2 day camel safari, here is Kadu....

Jo and her camel getting aquainted
The two intrepid explorers venture out into the 40+ degrees, in orange
A cool dune where we slept the night
We were joined by Tom and his mum on the safari. Most amusing was the fact that Tom had bought some space cookies with him (called Bhang cookies in India) so we ate a few on the journey. It certainly made traipsing through the desert on a camel a little more surreal

Giving a helping hand to a kid who couldn't drink for himselfOur bed for the night, amaaaaazing stars

Jodhpur - the blue city and home of my favourite riding trousers (Jo's turn....)

Took a zero fun 7 hour bus across the desert from Jaislemer to Jodphur. I needed the loo and was gutted when the bus stopped in the middle of the desert for me and G to pee behind a small shrub! Every pair of eyes on the bus was staring at us when we got back on - as the only westerners on the bus we attract enough attention as it is, their eyes were popping out of their heads!

The desert of Rajasthan is a depressing sight. 80 percent of people depend on well water and you see women walking miles to wells. Women get a tough time here - the rubbish jobs are reserved for women in Rajasthan so you see them working on dusty building sights carrying stones on their head whilst still looking glamerous in their brightly coloured saaris.

Spent a couple of days in Jodphur - we loved it. The blue city (it used to be a caste thing but now they paint houses blue to keep mosquitos away). It was a hetic dusty market town but really untouristy compared to Jaislemer and we treated ourselves to a nice hotel and a pool - we feel that can justify it now that we only have 2 weeks left, so its more of a holiday than proper travelling.

Another 16th century fort and oppulant palace! (Rajasthan is palace-tastic) This one was cool though with really good audio tour with the Maharaja speaking about how it used to be.
G, the museum geek, below listening intently to his headset....

The blue city and fort in the background....
Udaipur - home of Octopussy (they are VERY proud of this fact!)
After a couple of days in Jodphur we headed south to Udaipur on yet another long bus ... with another embarassing toilet incident - this time I thought I was behind a shed but when I looked up I realised I was in full view of the bus. Gutted - self respecting Indian women don't even show their ankles, let alone their bums to an entire bus....

Udaipur is a small city on a lake, with 2 floating lake palaces (where Octopussy was filmed). It was such a nice chilled out place - proper romantical by the lake. Got a nice hotel with a balcony over the lake ( we edge further and further away from the backpacker scene).

View of one of the palaces from our balcony, part of which is now a super expenny hotel.

Classic Indian scene - elephant, cow, tuk-tuk and brightly dressed woman. The women in Rajasthan wear amazing bright colours to make up for the dullness of the desert. The men too wear cool bright turbans - the colour of which signifies their caste.

Sunset drinkies at on one of the palace terraces. Yup, totally opted out of backpacking. There was an aaaaaaaaamazing views of the two lake palaces.

And then we suprised ourselves by coming back to Goa! G was missing swimming in the sea and Rajasthan was toooooooooooooo hot and dusty (40 degrees, argh!) so we came south to the sea. Just one more epic bus journey to the state of Gujarat (wealthy state and so different to Rajasthan, home of the Patel's - Indias biggest emigrant population as we all know!).

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Sun, sea and fresh fruit and seafood (lentil curries in Rajasthan were becoming a bit repetitive). It feels like a totally different country here. Must less poverty and lush and green countryside compared to the dusty desert of Rajasthan. Huge Christian population with massive Portugese churches. And much much less hassle and unwanted stares.

Ok, well someone else did this, but we thought we'd pinch it.....

Oops, burnt ourselves yesterday - classic Brits!!

We've landed back in the middle of the backpacker scene in the biggest way possible! We have come to North Goa to a beach called Arambol - the original Goan hippies have come here to get away from the package holiday-tastic beaches of central Goa. Plenty of aging hippies to laugh at and massively budget accommodation. On our first night we arrived late and took the first room we saw. It was only 2 pounds with a balcony and seaview - the only catch was rats scurrying above us on the wooden beams and rat shit on the bed, not condusive for the best nights ! The next morning we spent ages searching for a nicer place to stay but it is really quiet here with a few totally basic huts and houses for max 2 pounds. We saw a series of minging rooms - the pinacle of which was a mad Aussie woman surrounded by cats who rents out patches of floor space on her roof terrace...! There were lots of dreadlocked people passed out on the floor. In the end we found the best of a bad lot - but still only managing to pay 3 pounds a night. It is cool though and we feel like we have the penthouse suite on the beach though - our balcony is the top blue one in the piccie and our room to the left, it is mahhosive and wicked views across the beach.

Our room is to the top right of G's head...View from le balcony....

And thats us! Gonna spend the next 3 days here in Goa and then back to India for two days and to meet up with Irma (a pal from Sri Lanka who is back in Delhi with her family).

Graham again..... HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANDREW AND FRANNY. Its my nephews birthdays coming up shortly and they will both be.... err one year older. So here you go Andrew and Fran. Jo and I wrote a little message for you in the sand on the beach in GOA. It took us absolutely ages and some Indians even took a photo of it !! See you both soon.

Love Uncle G and Auntie Jo xx

Jo again...... since on the subject of birthdays - Happy Happy (nearly) (big) birthday Auntie Pam!! And Happy birthday Sunday to KBeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Soooooooooo, we're coming home next weekend!!! It feels bizarre as the time has flown. We are excited about lots of stuff - we're excited to see everyone again, to no longer have to carry all of our belongings around and to be based in one place (we have stayed in more than 70 different places over the last 5 months) and excited not to have to barter for EVERYTHING. We also can't wait to see the back of curries and to have some good old English grub (never ever going to an Indian restaurant again!). And it will be good not to worry about getting ill all the time - I have been pretty much constantly "ill" for the last 3 weeks and G had a bad bout which resulted in an accident in an internet cafe, poor G!!! But we will also hugely miss this lifestyle and seeing so much stuff - once the novelty has worn off we both know that returning to real life is gonna be hard - and we'll miss having so much free time, but at least its the summer so plenty to look forward too!

So thats us. Thank you so much for reading this, we hope it wasn't too borning - there is nothing worse than smug travellers, but if it makes you feel better we won't be too smug when we go back to work for the first time!

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee from India. See you soon! Love Jo and G xxx

Monday, April 7, 2008

Last week in Nepal

We've had 1 final week in Nepal and off to Iiiiiiiiiiiindia again tomorrow for the final chapter :-(

We have loved Nepal as there is soooooooo much to see and do. Although I think the lack of oxgyen at high altitude did some damage to our brains... as we accidentally signed up for a 160m bungee jump. We need to remind ourselves that we are 30 (or 34) and NOT 18 again!! It was cool though - thanks Marcus for the resort recommendation (Mark has done the bungee so I haaaaad to!! and Sarah, I was always annoyed with myself that I didn't do the Pipeline with you!). It was right by the Tibetan boarder and massively relaxing (well, apart from the bungee and whitewater rafting....).

G on the bridge - 160m is a looooooooong way down!!

Meeeeeeeee and the 160m drop - nice!
Jump Geeeeeeee jump!!!!!!(his screams could be heard in China)

And then a spot of whitewater rafting - 2 days on the steepest river in Nepal, scary mary. We went with Kiki from the trek and was a lora fun....
Ok... enough of acting like gap year students. We hired a motorbike and took off on a mini road trip for some culture. The gnarly bikers....
We drove 4 hours to Gourkha district (home of the British soldiers). Amazing scenery but 4 hours on a bike = soooooooooooooore bottoms for us. Loads of political rallying along the way as the election is on the 10th - mainly from the Maoist party, who have been bullying people into voting for them and campaigners from other parties have mysteriously disappeared.... But we haven't seen any trouble and 2000 temporary police have been recruited to keep the peace (each with a massive wooden stick).

G with Anapurna mountain range in the background (it may look like cloud to the untrained eye)....
We stayed in Gourkha for one night and then went to an olde worlde town called Bandipur (on the old trade route from India to Tibet).
We went to a Hindu temple which was super high on a hill via cable car (the only cable car in Nepal, thanks to the Swiss... we were glad it was Swiss made!). It is a temple where they make wishes and make a sacrifice or offering to god - new couples often wish for a boy or childless couples for a child. GOAT LOVERS AND VEGETARIANS DO NOT READ ON........ sadly goats, chickens and pigeons are sacrificed (luckily for buffalo's they can't fit in the cable car) and it was so bizarre to see people queueing with their offering. People who couldn't afford a live sacrifice would offer a coconut instead!

The cable car price list - second from the bottom is the price of taking a goat up to the temple. They only get a one-way ticket :-(

G in the cable car (no, the chap next to him doesn't work in McDonalds it is a traditional Nepali hat).
Literally hundreds were queuing, many with animals. The poor goats queued so patiently (see below). The god likes black goats or if not they have to have some black on them....
G in front of the queuing pilgrims (the chap to the left has a chicken under his arm - not black though, so not sure whether his wish will come true).
The sacrifices were made inside the temple so we didn't actually see them, luckily. I felt really sad for the animals who were in the queue - but it is such a different culture it is hard to judge and at least they eat the animals afterwards so I guess it is not massively different from being a meat eater (I haven't eaten meat since though!).

Anyways, back to Kathmandu and spent a night in Patan (one of the old Kingdoms of Nepal). The 300+ year old buildings are amazing in Nepal and the main squares in Kathmandu and Patan are full of temples and crumbling old buildings (yep, sounding more like a 30 year old now and less like an 18 year old!).

The main square in Patan (Durbar square) and the old dudes putting the world to rights....
Went to another Hindu temple this morning with yet more sacrifices :-( This time we saw the animals post-sacrifice. A buffalo, goat, duck, chicken and sheep were all offered to the gods and their headless carcasses were outside the temple. NO MORE MEAT EVER AGAIN!!! (G wanted me to put the piccies here but they are not pleasant!)
There were other safe "holy animals" wandering around the temple but they seemed to know that something was up. Check out the lucky holy sheep peeping round the corner to see what the commotion is....
And thats us! We are off to India tomorrow so last night in Kathmanduuuuu tonight. Can't believe we are home in less than 3 weeks - time has floooooooooown.

Anyways, more from India. Love me n G xxx

P.S. Our articles about volunteering in Seenigama are on the website if interested....

and I wrote an article on another website about our experiences ...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Trekking in Himalayas - photos galore!!!

We're back! It was a shock getting back to the polluted city of Kathmandu having not seen a car for nearly 3 weeks. We did 19 days solid walking and came back a few days early as we skipped the "rest days" (as it was zero fun resting when it was so coooold).

We had such a great time but it was haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard. We took loads of piccies and have put a selection below (managed to resist the urge to post all 300!!). They are in 3 sections which are the wrong order.... but you get the general idea!!!

Love Jo n G xxx

Part 3 - Dragnag via Chola Pass to Kala Pattar (5,580) and Everest Base Camp (5,350m) and then back to civilisation.
The dreaded Chola Pass, this was one of the hardest parts to climb, the altitude and the carrying ruck sacs and the steepness meant that we would take about 10 steps and then have to stop and recover, otherwise we would get too dizzy. Also we were clambering over a rock fall so constantly on the lookout for falling rocks (give me kinder Scout anyday).

Some places we stayed they would only provide a hot bowl of water for 80 rupees (about 60 pence)....
The gang, after 3 weeks together we knew each others bowel movements and even consistency !!
Me on the top of KalaPattar, this was our highest point and thus most knackerin'. From here we got our best views of Mt Everest and it is where the majority of Everest pictires are taken from (without donning crampons etc). At the top when we had recovered slightly I remember forgetting our height amd when I suddenly got up to walk about had to stop and breathe deeply, very weird feeling, and not too pleasant.
Next to a frozen lake at 5,650m
On the lake, skidding about, much fun
Walking over a glacier, finally heading down from the top of Kala Pattar

Our guides, always streaming ahead, obviously they were more acclimatised than us

Awesome views from every angle.

One of the many many rests we had to take
We met a Dutch guy called Martin, he joined us for one day and we destroyed him, after a day trekking with us he got a bad headache and had to descend to a lower town - oops. I think it was because he had flown in and not had time to acclimatise

The many Yaks we saw en-route, they are used to ferry goods up and down the mountains. And in their spare time they make cheese, we ate a lot of yak-cheese.

The BIG GUY himself - Everest.

View from the top of Kala Pattar - we made it! 5,650m and the thin air made walking a massive struggle. Everest is the one on my head...
SHE RA- princess of power, that aint padding...
Everest towering behind. I have read two books on climbing everest now and I would seriously recommend the Bear Grylls one

Yak with nice ear-rings....
View from Gorak Shep (5,160m) of Everest and Nupste (7,879m) at sunset....
The sun setting on Everest.....
Everest Base Camp - 5,380m and -10 degrees (the dog was cold). No idea why anyone would want to go higher, base camp was enough for us! The expeditions climb in May and already the sherpa climbing teams are setting up base camp, it is a huuuuge logistical nightmare.
Brr base camp....The first part of the climb for people who are trying to summit Everest is called the Khumbu ice-fall, it is one of the most dangerous parts that claims many lives. Its is a slow moving glacier with ice boulders the size of multi-storey houses and is constantly shifting. The best time to climb it is before sunrise because when the sun gets on it it starts to move and crack. The sherpas are constantly working on it providing ropes and ladders to cross the dangerous crevasses. And when they inevitably break the sherpas are up there mending them again. The sherpas are the real heroes of Everest, they are never mentioned however when the teams make it to the summit.

Yaks carrying expedition stuff to base camp....when base camp is in full flow (may/june) yaks and porters also carry human faeces down the mountain to be used as fertiliser for growing vegetables, hmmmm we only found this out after eating much veg...
Sun rise - we were such early birds

Temple at Temboche on the way back down. Sherper Everest climbers go here to get permission from the godess of Everest to climb her....

Brrrr, a lot of time was spent huddled around Yak shit fuled stoves
Tengboche Monestary

Yee hah, nearly back!!!
Greasy hair after 9 days of not washing :-( You have no idea how a hot shower feels after 9 days.....
Porter carrying way too much stuff. I read a story whereby a guy died of altitude sickness below base camp, his body had to be transported down the mountain but rigor mrtis had set in. They tried to bend it but couldn''t so the only option was for them to lean on it and break the spine so as to fold him in two. Then he could be placed in a porters basket and carried down.
Prayer walls with Tibetan Buddhist mantras
We made it! Arrived in Lukla, our final destination - NO MORE WALKING EVER AGAIN! (check out Graham's sweaty arm pits...) Hurrah - in Lukla on the last night enjoying alcohol for the first time in 3 weeks, ahhhhh (well apart from the odd cup of chang - a hideous Nepalese millet wine)
Lukla - 2,800m.
The flight home back to Kathmandu (I was scared). Took 35 mins to fly what took us 8 days to walk, hmmmm.....

Back in Kathmandu. Our guide took us to meet his wife and 3 years old boy at their room in Kathmandu. We had lunch sitting on their bed - they rent one room in which they cook and sleep, it was a shock to see where he lives, especially as he is wealthy by Nepali standards.
Part 2 - Namche to Dragnag via Gokyo and the frozen lakes.......
The Namche was a real turning point for us, above this (3,500m) the altitude was going to affect us more and we were to only walk 5 hour days, as oppposed to 7-8 hour days

A tipple at Mt Everest View Hotel....mainly for rich, lazy Japanese

For the record Jo and I hired our down jackets, however they were so warm that I have since bought my own and also bought my dad one. Roger you lucky man....don''t worry yours is green and black.
Nice hats though, thank you Yaks for your bum hair...

Sleeping with your head torch was essential because the altitude makes you wee more, inevitably in the night too. Something to do with making the blood more concentrated and therefore more efficient with oxygen transportation.

Jo and I having some Sherpa tea, she was looking rough that day

These colourful flags are buddhist prayer flags, used for luck on the mountains. They are absolutely everywhere.
Jo in meditative pose....

Me meditating in a cave, sort of......So far I am onto my 3rd book on buddhist philosophy, but don''t worry I''m not going to start chanting.......just yet

Overlooking a massive glacier, it looks grey because it has been scraping rocks from the sides for years, so the top is rocks but underneath is slow moving glacial ice. Amazingly when we crossed the glacier there were parts which were pure white sand, this is due to the same effect that occurs on beaches, millions of years of erosion on the rocks

A frozen lake, one of 3 in Gokyo. When the wind catches it it makes a kind of distant boomning sound (no idea why), it sounds like there is a drum and base party going on somewhere in the distance
High above the frozen lakes with my chubby wife...;-)

Jo was well pleased with her walking, as you can see
Above 3,500m most of the places we stayed looked like this, pretty drab really, just purely for trekkers. Ice would form on the windows during the night and generally no hot showers, occasionally a bucket, but usually it was too cold to comtemplate washing. Getting out of bed was tough in the mornings, and usually around year Hawaii !!

Our guide Rishi, a bit of a nutter really
In the middle of a glacier
White sandy beach in the glacier....weird...

1st half of the trek - Jiri to Namche Bazaar....(Jo) On the first day we took an 8 hour bus journey to Jiri and started our trek on day two. It took 8 days walking to get to Lukla (where most people fly to) and it was super tiring. Our guide Rishie was a legend (especially for me as he helped me carry my bag). We met a Belgian lass called Kiki on day one and spent the rest of the 3 weeks with her and her guide (Raj) which was lots a fun.

The first part was haaaaard work - each day we went up up up and then all the way down again to the bottom of valley, so was a bit soul destroying! The max height was only 3,500 but probably helped us acclimatise for the rest of the trek. This is the old route (pre the flying option) and hardly any tourists still do this route - there was only us three and a crazy Canadian guy was a bit of a lost soul. It was nice to walk through the remote villages - all of the kids rushed over to say hello. Amazing that people have to walk for 3-4 days to get to their houses(Chloe, definitely no taxi option, will mail!) and school kids walk for hours to get to school. We walked about 6-7 hours a day and passed a lot of time by learning super basic Nepali from the guides. Walked along steep hillsides with crop terraces and didn't see any snowey peaks until the 5th day. Went through lots of different ethnic groups but as we got higher we were into Buddhist Sherper territory.
Buddist temple in one of the first villages
More prayer walls and yaks....

And another yak....they carry up to 60kg....
Not sure which day this was, they started to blur into one. Rishie, Graham, Raj and Kiki....

Hurrah, puppy tastic! Saw lots of cool baby animals en route, always a good excuse to stop for a rest!
The highest mountain pass of the first section at 3,500m. It was the first time there was snow on the ground and it was coooooooooooold....

One of the long cold afternoons! We started walking at 7.30am and so arrived at the villages mid afternoon. The routine was the same every day - we had a cold bucket shower and then put on the entired contents of our bag and sat grannies. We played lots of cards and read lots of books - it was so odd being totally away from civilisation. It wasn't exactly luxury... but then we were paying 1-2 pounds a night - there wasn't any heating in any of the lodges (not even a yak shit stove), there was often no running water or electricity and only outdoor "toilets" (holes in the ground covered with sawdust) so getting up in the night was not ideal (and a tiger killed a dog in one of the villages the week before so we were even less keen to venture out at night!).
Cure Sherpa kids - the 8 year old was carrying her younger bro as she helped out in the lodge.

Chang - minging alcoholic drink made from millet
More baby animals, hurrah! (don't think they are massively enjoying being picked up)

Sitting round the warm stove at lunchtime waiting for Daal Baht to cook - our staple diet was rice, lentils and potato curry, mmmmmmmmmmmmmm (especially after 3 weeks). Eating was the highlight of my day and I enjoyed having the excuse of being able to eat as much as physically possible....
There were loads of porters supplies up the mountain as it is cheaper than using helecopter. These guys were amazingly strong and have such hard jobs - they carry up to 100kg by a rope on their heads. Most of the porters are lowlanders from the Rai cast (and sadly some of them were school age boys) - the Sherpers have made a lot of money from tourism and no longer have porter jobs. These guys get paid 2 - 4 pounds a day depending on how much they carry.The porters loads...
More cool Sherpa kids...

Crop terraces - typical terrain for the first 8 days....
We are now back and it is soooo warm compared to the mountains. It is AMAZING to have normal food, running water and a warm shower again. We have spent 2 days seeing the sights in K’du and now off tomorrow with Kiki again to a place called The Last Resort by Tibetan boarder to chill out (cheers sparkle for the recommendation).
Bye for now!! xx