Mausoleums, monoliths and Mumbai

Most people arrive in Agra from Delhi and head to Jaipur as part of the Golden Triangle, but we like to be different so headed there after Rajasthan. This was for two reasons, Agra was well connected on the railway network and we needed to start heading south and also it was approaching my birthday and we wanted to mark the occasion at Taj Mahal. 

Our arrival in Agra coincided with Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. We had booked into a hostel with a roof terrace with incredible views of the Taj and took part in preparations for the Diwali celebrations with staff and other guests. We prepared oil lamps and took part in prayers and blessings before heading up to the roof to light the lamps and set off firecrackers. All this was accompanied by lots of alcohol and the incredible discovery that if you try really hard you can fit eight people in a tuk tuk. Aside from the Taj the other big (and possibly only other) attraction in Agra is its Fort. Although large and intact it was rather lifeless and underwhelming and having visited several forts in Rajasthan it left us concluding that we definitely do not need to visit any more forts for quite some time.

Burning my hard work

After two nights in a hostel dorm, including our first encounter with inconsiderate dorm mates leading to a sleepless night we were extremely excited to check out and into a fancy hotel as my birthday treat. There we did nothing but hang by the pool and marvel at the luxury (There’s a bath! Infinite hot water! There are proper napkins! The bed has a duvet!) whilst laughing at ourselves and how grateful we were for small details such as that. 

We got up at 4.30am on my birthday to ensure we were amoung the first in line for sunrise. Obviously we had already seen the Taj from the hostel roof but to experience it close up was something else, particularly in the ethereal early morning light. It was so beautiful, I had never considered calling a building beautiful before but this the most beautiful, romantic building I have ever seen. The detail was astonishing and close up it becomes even clearer as the morning sun glistens off the jewels set in the walls. You’re only allowed three hours in the grounds and we spent a large part of that time just sitting and taking it all in.

We got lucky with this shot

After that we were back at the hotel and spent the rest of the day by pool. What a perfect birthday! When were travelling five years ago we visited Machu Picchu on my birthday so we have now decided that every five years on my birthday we have to do one of the new wonders of the world! 

From Agra we took the overnight train to Jalgaon from where we intended to visit the Ajanta Caves. These are a complex of 30 Buddhist caves made up of monasteries and temples and full of statues and wall paintings. These were just stunning. Some of the caves were so dark you just couldn’t help but be mind blown by the fact that this detailed work was carried out in the dark. How the accuracy of the Buddha statues and the details in the colourful paintings were achieved in the pitch black we can only imagine. We had caught a local bus to the caves and the roads were the worst we had encountered. They were full of pot holes following the monsoon and it took 2 and half hours to drive 60kms. We spent the whole journey being thrown around the bus and were dreading the journey back. Once we finished in the caves we stood on the side of the road waiting for a bus to flag down. Then a car stopped containing three guys who had asked us for the arbitrary selfies in the cave and offered us a lift to Jalgaon. We jumped in with seemingly no hesitation, grateful that we didn’t have to do the bus ride again. It was only when we were in the car that it dawned on me that we’d gotten in a car with three strange men. Everything your parents tell you not to do. I spent the journey in a heightened state of alertness making sure my metal water bottle was close at hand so I could use it as a weapon if required. Luckily it was fine and they really were just doing a nice deed. Not sure what it says about my cynicism or India as a whole.

Ajanta caves

The next day we caught the train to Arangabad to visit the Ellora caves. These were a set of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain cave temples, equally as impressive as the Ajunta Caves. These are also home to the world’s largest monolith and a UNESCO world heritage site. Unfortunately for us, the world’s largest monolith on a weekend means hundreds of locals and that means hundreds of selfie requests. It got so overwhelming that I had to ask Joey if we could leave. Foreigners are charged 600 rupees and locals 40 so given that we were paying 15 times what they were I really wanted to enjoy the caves! We did find some quieter caves to enjoy which helped.

Tiny part of the world’s largest monolith

Again we found ourselves on the side of the road waiting for a bus. This time we were rescued by tuk tuk that contained two elderly Indian men and we shared that back to Arangabad. Joey was in the back with the elderly men and I was perched at the front with the driver who of course took selfies of us whilst driving. Upon arrival at Arangabad the heavens opened and we took shelter in a doorway at the station and waited for the rain to stop. And waited and waited. In the end as the streets were flooded and it was getting dark we decided to make a dash for it. We only had to go 300 metres but we were soaked by the time we got back. 

We were due to catch a bus to Mumbai at 11.30pm so we had a lot of time to kill and headed to a shopping centre with the intention of either going bowling or to the cinema. In the end we did neither, heading instead to McDonalds and Marks and Spencers. Sometimes you just need to be reminded of home. Upon leaving the centre we tried to get a tuk tuk and inadvertently got caught up in some tuk tuk mafia warfare. Other drivers tried to stop us getting into one particular tuk tuk and even dragged the driver out for a ‘word’ it was a little bit scary but we stood our ground and made it back despite his best efforts to divert us along the way.

From Arangabad we headed south to Mumbai where we were spending a couple of nights before heading to Goa. We were a little underwhelmed by Mumbai, it felt like just another hectic city full of scams (hello milk lady!). It was a good place to get some laundry done and stock up medical supplies but otherwise it left us jaded, cold and feeling like we would rather spend time in more interesting smaller towns. We did take a boat trip across the harbour to Elephanta island and caves, again a set of cave temples. This time there were only 5 of them so I left feeling very cheated at paying the same price as we did for Ajunta and Ellora caves but the boat ride there was pleasant and it was a nice way to escape the city. There’s also a hill on the island that you can climb which we did. As we started the descent down we met a boy who stopped and asked ‘Auntie can you see me down the hill?’ It turns out that he was scared of monkeys and didn’t want to walk on his own so we accompanied him down. ‘Auntie’ is a term used towards older women so I was a little bemused by this! I can definitely pass for 27 right?!

Rainbows in Rajasthan

We thought it time to give you a proper update about what we have been up to rather than me wallowing in the melodrama of my nits (which Joey has now declared me free of).

After the serenity of the north we headed west to the state of Rajasthan which is famous for it’s rainbow cities. We started in Jaipur which is known as the Pink city. It felt very frantic after the chilled vibe of Manali, but other travellers we met in Agra who headed there afterwards said it felt calm to them as they completed the traditional Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

Hawa Mahal Jaipur

We planned a couple of days here to cover the popular sights of the City Palace and Amber Fort. Amber Fort is 10km outside the city and we decided to catch a local bus rather than splashing on a tuk tuk. This was hilarious as we rammed onto benches constantly getting stared at. Being ‘a foreigner’ in India does have its advantages sometimes, yes you will pay more but you generally get given a seat by the locals and people help you out by telling you when you need off the bus. Also stopping at ‘service stations’ (a very loose description of a toilet shack and food stall) means the driver isn’t too likely to drive off without the two white passengers.

The Amber Fort was just one of many forts we covered in Rajasthan. It was huge and very hot, but seemed unique in that in had a Fort and a Palace within in the grounds. Poor Joey had not been well again and there was a massive uphill climb to reach the actual fort.

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Our travels around Rajasthan were completed entirely on buses, some better than others but I began to realise how much I hated travel days. Well not the actual part of it, just the setting off. Upon booking a bus you are told that your bus departs from somewhere ‘near somewhere’ and from ‘near some hotel’. Sometimes you are text the bus number so you can find the bus that way but often you are on your own asking people who give you a vague wave in a vague direction. The bus to Pushkar from Jaipur was particularly stressful for that as we spent about 20 minutes trying to find the bus. But find it we did.

Pushkar was a fairly chilled hippie place with a holy lake. We’d read loads about various scams that happen alongside the lake and in the Brahma Temple. Scams make me mad, but none more so than those carried out by so called Holy Men! Luckily thanks to our research and my cynicism we avoided them and circumnavigated the lake and the temple without any issues. Pushkar also had a couple of sunset points to climb and watch the sun go down. Rajasthani sunsets were the best!

Pushkar Lake

From Pushkar we headed to Udaipur. This involved yet another stressful bus journey. We had gone into a shop to buy our ticket and were told to go to one bus station to catch the bus, only when we got there we were told it was the other bus station so we had to quickly get a tuk tuk. Upon arrival there was a bus there, we’re still not sure to this day if it was meant to go to Udaipur or whether they took pity upon us. The seats that we had booked weren’t available and we had to sit on a bench directly behind the driver so we could see every last detail of his driving. He did at least wait until he’d stopped though to take the not so subtle selfie of us sitting behind him. When we arrived in Udaipur we were the last ones left on the bus and we were dropped at a random petrol station which did make us think that we had been sold a pup. Luckily tuk tuk drivers are like rats and you’re never more than 5 metres from one and he appeared from no where to swoop us up and to the sanctuary of our hostel.

Udaipur turned out to be our favourite place. The hostel had a fantastic rooftop view over the lake and we watched the sun go down every night from there. We did the usual things like temple visiting, a boat trip and visiting the City Palace.

Sunset over the lake in Udaipur

We eventually had to move on to Jodhpur, the Blue City! This city actually lived up to its name of being blue! Jodhpur is home to the famous Mehrangarh Fort which was really good. You get a free audio guide which helped to understand the history of the place. That guide was probably slightly too long and by point 32 we reached slight hysteria about the whole thing. Our hostel ran a walking tour around the Blue City which was excellent and we were lucky enough to have the guide to ourselves.

The Blue City of Jodhpur

From Jodhpur we headed to the Golden City of Jaisalmer, which is home to, yep, you guessed it, another Fort. This Fort is unique in that it is one of the few living forts in India, which helped to bring it to life. Jaisalmer is also where we did a camel safari, which was such a unique, incredible experience. You start by taking a jeep into the desert (visiting a ‘ghost town’ along the way) and then you are given your camel. Camels are incredibly tall, way taller than a horse and also slightly uncomfortable the longer you are on them. We trekked through the desert watching the sun go down. We arrived at camp and slept in the open under the stars. There were SO many stars it was phenomenal. We saw so many shooting stars.

My camel had attitude

The next morning we watched the sun rise from a sand dune and then got back on the camel. My camel definitely felt a bit feistier after a night’s rest!

Sunrise over the Thar Desert

We took the night bus back to Jaipur where we were crashing for a night before heading to Bharatpur, home to a famous bird sanctuary. This involved yet another stressful journey as we tried to find the bus. The instructions on the message I had for this were ‘landmark M R Travels’ and that definitely didn’t exist. I didn’t have any qualms about calling the guy who had sold us the ticket at 5.15am to try and get further information and a bus number. Amazingly it all worked and we actually got dropped off within walking distance of our hotel.

The bird sanctuary was fantastic and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. We arrived for the sunrise opening and hired a guide who seemed to be eagle eyed himself and we saw so many birds that we wouldn’t have had a hope of seeing without him. As well as birds we also saw antelope, deer and jackals which was amazing.

From Bharatpur we headed 90 minutes east to Agra. We didn’t book a bus and just waited on the side of the road for one to turn up. We let one government bus pass us by as it had roughly 20 people sitting on the roof. This was actually the least stressful travel day we have had so far! Again it paid to be foreigners as when the bus stopped we were let on first and got seats. We probably paid thrice the price but you know what? I wasn’t sat on the roof of a bus fearing for me and my luggage.

Hair raising times

I had intended this blog post to wax lyrical about the rainbow cities of Rajasthan and how Udaipur was our favourite place in India so far. It would inevitably moan about cheeky salesmen, bullying tuk tuk drivers that I swept away like I’m swotting flies. I could also have written about how we managed to avoid every scam going in Pushkar, Hinduism’s sacred lake city and how much we enjoyed the camel safari (even if I do feel like I won’t be able to sit down for a week). It would even have given a special shout out to the monkeys who tried to steal my washing from the balcony where I was trying to sneakily dry it. Maybe in a few days time I will come back and fill in the gaps.

Enjoying the Blue City of Jodhpur

But the premise of this blog is to share our adventures and mishaps. And I had a huge mishap. Well not even a mishap. What happened made me actually look at the cost of flight home and spend most of the day crying, until a friend told me to pull myself together and get on with it.

My head had been itching for a few days which I put down to using a shampoo bar and constant cold showers. I eventually asked Joey to have a look at it. All looked ok from the top, just a bit red, until he dived deeper and found my worst fear.

Yep. I had nits.

Nits.

I turn 39 in a week’s time. I haven’t had nits for well over 30 years.

Nits.

I knew I would get ill whilst travelling but I didn’t imagine I would get nits.

There were tears. So many tears. I had a massive tantrum and whinged and whinged about wanting to go home. We could fly with Ethiad for just over £200 each, I told Joey. I even threatened to shave off my hair. I saw a barbers and wanted to go in there. Joey persuaded me to go to a pharmacist rather than take such drastic action straight away. It took a lot of effort to explain to the pharmacist that I had nits rather than dandruff as he thought when I said I had an itchy head. I turned down several lotions he was trying to get me to buy for itchy heads and eventually had Joey show him the zoo that had made themselves quite at home in my hair. We went to the first shop we could find selling combs and then I raced back to the hostel where I was rude to every salesman on the way back. I just wanted to clear the infestation and didn’t have my usual patience to give the usual smile and polite ‘no thank you’ that usually accompanies my now signature hand swot.

We were staying in dorms with an en-suite bathroom, which posed its own problems. I really needed Joey to help me but what if we got room mates and they caught us in the bathroom together? Joey just said ‘would you rather they think we were up to no good or that you had nits?’ Amazingly luck was on our side and we didn’t have any room mates that night, if there was ever a time that we needed a dorm to ourselves it was then.

The potion was in a tiny bottle and I wasn’t convinced that there would be enough to cover my long hair, but amazingly there was. Joey did a fantastic job covering my hair and scalp with this green slime and making me look like I was emulating Marge Simpson. I had to stay like this for 10 minutes and then rinse it out. After that it needed to be combed through with a very fine comb. Unfortunately the comb we had wasn’t fine enough so Joey had to run out and try and find another one. As it was so hot my hair was drying really quickly so I had to keep wetting it in order for Joey to comb it to evict my friends and their children.

Joey was amazing and spent two hours patiently combing it to remove the offenders. Since then he’s probably spent another couple of hours combing through and every time I itch he examines me like a vet would a dog or cat for fleas.

Actual footage of Joey grooming me

How I caught them I guess we will never know. We get asked for so many selfies, especially with my blonde hair and people lean their heads against you I guess it could have happened at anytime. From now on though selfies will be at a safe distance!

The good news is that we seem to have things under control and given a few more days hopefully I will be able to declare myself a nit free zone and I’ll able to stop threatening to fly home or to shave my hair off.

North India delights

The past couple of weeks seemed to have flown by as we covered the rest of our North India route. After Ladakh we were back in Delhi for a night where we visited the famous Lotus Temple and the not so famous Toilet museum. Time magazine had rated the toilet museum as the world’s third weirdest museum and it didn’t disappoint. It was really small but contained loads of history, various toilets and amusing historical anecdotes.

We’d booked a night train to take us to Amritsar, about 30 kilometres from the Pakistan border and home to the Golden Temple, the most sacred site for Sikhs and one they should visit at least once in their lives. Our train was delayed by three hours, but not late, a train can only be considered late if it is delayed by five hours or more apparently! When the train eventually arrived and we found our beds it was a cozy experience, with 6 bunk beds squeezed into a space about the size of our kitchen. It was more comfortable than I had expected but I didn’t get much sleep thanks to the man snoring all night from the top bunk. The Golden Temple was such a beautiful serene place to visit. It was a very short stroll from our homestay and we ended up visiting it three times, at different times of the day. Each time of course we got asked for endless selfies but we met and chatted to one lovely family early one morning who ended up treating us to coffee and telling us what they really thought of India! We have kept in touch and Rubal is planning on studying medicine in England. He tells me he will come and live with us when he does so and Joe has promised to cook him a roast chicken dinner.

Rubal and his sisters – whoever took the photo chopped half of Joey out!

Amritsar and the Golden Temple was a great place to meet lots of Indians, most of whom wanted to practice their English with us and ask questions, not sure we were the best people to practice English on, but we’re happy to chat! Likewise it gave us an amazing opportunity to find out more about the country and what the locals think. This is one of my favourite things to do, to stop and chat and ask questions.

The Golden Temple

The highlight of Amritsar though had to be going to the border of Pakistan to watch the daily lowering of the flag ceremony. Ever since I had read about this I had been keen to go. We caught the tourist bus there which was full of locals and one other westerner. Upon arrival you go through security and are filtered off into the ‘foreigners gallery’. The crowd get warmed up by Indian women being invited down to the stadium who then take it in turns to run up and down whilst brandishing huge flags. The music gets turned up and they all gather in a large crowd basically looking like they are clubbing to Bollywood music.

Then the border guards are bought out and take it in turns to march in the most elaborate fashion towards the Pakistani border whilst kicking their legs as high as they will go (these men are pretty much doing the standing splits). Then it’s the turn of the Pakistani guards, it’s all done with straight faces but in a good natured manner. Finally the two flags are lowered in perfect unison. What struck us what the passion and intensity that these two nations were showing. Having earlier heard from several different people about how corrupt they found their country it was nice to see the respect and love for India.

Border Guard doing the standing splits

After Amritsar our plan was to head back north to Shimla, which is where the British used to head to escape the heat of the summers. To get there we needed to first head to Chandigarh for an overnight stop. Chandigarh is home to a ‘rock garden’ which was designed and single handily constructed by Nek Chand. It’s hard to describe what this is actually like but I would start by saying it’s a surrealist’s fantasy crossed with Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and one of my nightmares! Chand constructed this in secret from rubble created when villages were destroyed to make way for the city of Chandigarh. The garden consists of statues, amphitheatres and huge swings. There’s also a weird rag doll museum. One day the government discovered Chand’s secret garden which had been built on forest land and threatened to destroy it, but thankfully they realised the worth of what he had created and instead gave him the resources to carry on his work. No photos will ever do this place justice so I will just implore you all to go.

Rock Garden in Chandigarh

It was really hot in Chandigarh which we had been getting used but for some reason I was really struggling in the heat and wasn’t able to find any relief in the shade. The plan had been to visit a lake which was a short walk from the gardens and then head into the city for the Rose garden. I was really struggling and not feeling my usual perky self. I asked Joey if he would mind if we caught a tuk tuk back to the city so I could try and find some air con. We arrived back, I walked about 100 metres and promptly threw up in the middle of the street in front of a restaurant which had been highly recommended to us! I was absolutely mortified, felt so ill and just burst into tears. It’s inevitable when travelling that you will become ill but I’d always hoped for the privacy of our guesthouse rather than a busy street for this to happen. The first time being ill is always the worst and it’s during those moments when I’m being my most melodramatic and feeling that I might actually die that I want to come home. We booked an Uber to take us back to the guesthouse and I spent the afternoon being ill in the privacy of the bathroom.

The guesthouse where we were staying couldn’t do enough for us. They bought a kettle to our room so I could have boiled water and later on bought me some plain rice to eat as well as checking on me regularly.

We’d booked a taxi for 4.30am the next morning to drive us to Kalka, 45 minutes away to catch the narrow gauge ‘toy train’ to Shimla. I’d been looking forward to this and from what I saw it was picturesque, just a pity I spent most of the time sleeping!

We’d booked a hotel in the town centre of Shimla and to be honest I didn’t have high expectations for it. Accommodation seemed to be mediocre and close to the action or good and several kilometres away. Nonetheless I was looking forward to checking in and resting.

Of course there was zero chance of this happening. What actually happened is that we turned up and were greeted by the worst hotel we have ever had the misfortune to step into. The staircase leading up to the room was grim, the floor sticky, the walls marked with goodness only knows what and plug sockets hung loose from the wall. The toilet didn’t flush, there was a full ashtray and I would definitely bet that day’s budget on the sheets not being clean. So we did something that we’d never done before and immediately left and went to hunt for something else. Town centre accommodation didn’t seem that great so we found a step for me to slump on as I still wasn’t feeling that great and just booked a well rated homestay on booking.com

It was several kilometres outside of Shimla so we called an Ola and immediately made our way there. This turned out to be an excellent move as Akash and his family were so welcoming to us and our last minute arrival, making us lunch and feel so welcome. They laughed when we told them where we had come from and looked after us as a member of their own family for the time we were there. We had to take taxis to the town to see the famous monkey temple (and a monkey running down the hill with someone’s glasses in his hand!) but it was worth it. Especially when it came to Joey’s turn to be ill. He had it worse than me and we were in for a rough night. Again Akash and his dad were amazing, looking after us. I went for breakfast whilst Joey was sleeping and spent an hour chatting to them about life in England and life in India. They had been watching BBC news and were intrigued about the current Brexit situation and couldn’t quite get their heads around the idea that the country as a whole hadn’t actually elected Boris.

They owned a couple of cows which provided the milk I had been enjoying at breakfast and Akash’s dad took me for a walk to meet the cows whilst Joey slept. They were kept at his family’s house and it was a privilege to go and meet his mother, father and brother. Although they could not speak much English it was a pure delight to go and be treated to their hospitality and see the land they owned and were so obviously proud of.

Not every day that you get to see where your food comes from

Akash and his family were the perfect homestay hosts, messaging us after we had left to check we had arrived safely at our next destination. Plus they had a great dog, Pepsi, who totally stole our hearts!

We caught a bus to Manali further up in the foothills of the Himalayas. What we thought would be a straightforward bus journey turned into us having to catch three different buses! Halfway through our journey we were bundled off our relatively comfy, if somewhat dusty, bus and onto one with benches for seats and spent two hours crammed together with our rucksacks on our laps! Then we were ushered off that bus, made to walk 300 metres across a bridge to another bus to continue our journey. The road got very very bumpy at this point and was obviously still under construction. We absolutely howled with laughter as we were thrown out of our seats several times. It’ll be a great road once it’s finished!

It was getting dark by the time we arrived in Manali and we’d booked a hostel which we knew was a little hard to find. The tuk tuk struggled to climb the hill leading to it and at one point the driver threw us both out and struggled up the hill with our luggage whilst we were left to walk on ourselves and hope that he didn’t intend to go too far with our worldly goods!

We bumped into a guy who pointed us to the set of steps at which we had been told our hostel was a two minute walk from. These steps were steep, wet and slippery, non uniform and covered in cow and horse manure. Definitely not a delightful two minute walk when you have 15kg on your back. We passed a natural spring and it didn’t take long for me to turn native by gathering drinking water from here daily and washing my mug there.

It was worth the climb though as the views were amazing. We spent 6 nights here exploring the old town, temples and waterfalls. Our favourite part was the village of Vashisht which had hot springs. I was super excited about this as it was likely to be the nearest I would get to a bath anytime soon. There were separate areas for men and women and I went prepared for modest India with my tankini and a cover up to wear. Only to my surprise everyone was topless! This certainly wasn’t the conservative country I’d gotten used to. Never have I felt more British and prudish then the prospect of having to get undressed in front of a bunch of strangers, but when in India….

Manali

Manali was certainly an experience with the cliche of the fragrance of stoned backpackers hanging thick in the air. We enjoyed our time here and our currently fighting fit and ready to head to the touristy state of Rajasthan. For those who don’t know we have a Facebook page (Meandering Maxwells) and Instagram accounts (@meandering_maxwells for me and @methodmaxwell for Joey) where hopefully you can find more photos.

Leh adventures and mishaps

From Delhi we flew up to Leh in Ladakh, this is one of the few safe parts of the troubled Kashmir region and boy was it different to Delhi! It’s a high altitude desert city in the foothills of the Himalayas and we arrived at the very tail end of the tourist season. The altitude here is 11,700 feet (over 3300 metres) so we spent the first day taking it very easy.

Over the next few days we spent time exploring the town, including the Old Palace, some Stupas (Buddhist shrines) and nearby monasteries. All of these activities involved climbing hundreds of steps and generally gasping for breath.

We both fell in love with Leh, the scenery, the quaint setting and the people all made for a wonderful vibe.

However occasionally during travels things don’t always go your way. I just didn’t expect things to not go according to plan quite so early on, nor for there to be tears in the first 10 days.

A day trip to Hemis where Joey nearly becomes my Nemesis

On Monday the plan had been to go the local national park, famous for its snow leopards and as luck would have it snow leopard season had started the day before. A national park sounded great I thought, we were National Trust members and the New Forest was our favourite camping spot so this sounded right up our street. We caught a local bus going to Hemis as per Joey’s instructions. It was extremely full with locals and the 4 singing Buddhist monks we were used to seeing in the city Bazar. We arrived at Hemis and everyone piled off the bus and I suggested to Joey ‘do you want to check the return time with the driver?’ And he was like ‘nah, I looked it up’ so we got off and then I asked him ‘so where’s the National Park from here?’

Turns out he didn’t actually have a clue where it was.

His words and I quote were ‘I thought it would be signposted’.

So there we were basically in the middle of nowhere and our destination of the day was nowhere to be seen.

We had instead been dropped at the annual Ladakh Buddist festival.

Which you know is cool if you like that sort of thing.

But it was basically a load of stalls selling things and a stage which presumably the singing monks would be performing on later.

So there we were with about 3 hours to kill before the bus was due to leave.

We saw a sign for the supposedly most famous monastery in Ladakh.

3km the sign said. That’s not far we thought, we run that in 15 minutes normally we thought.

So we decided to walk up there. Which was an absolute killer. Uphill the whole way at an altitude of over 12,000 feet.

Today was supposed to be about the unlikeliness of spotting a snow leopard, eagles and blue sheep.

Instead we saw cows and magpies.

After about 50 minutes we reach a point where I can see monastic looking buildings in front of me. But Joey’s following the blue dot on his offline google maps and swears it is the other way so of course we have to follow what google says instead of what my eyes can see.

So off we go and when we eventually reach the monastery I’m literally so tired I can’t face another step. And we work out that in order to catch the bus we basically have 30 minutes to look around the most famous Ladakhi monastery.

So we agree to turn around and go back down. Didn’t want to see the most famous sight in Ladakh anyway.

We follow a slightly different path down and after about 2 minutes we reach the point where I had previously pointed out that I could see the monastic buildings.

As close as we got to the most famous sight in Ladakh. *not walking up those steps*

Joey concedes at this point that I was right which was the sweetest part of the day.

We still need to find the bus stop so continue on.

We make it to the point where the bus dropped us off and I suggest asking a driver where and when we get a bus back to Leh.

Apparently all the buses will be going back to Leh at the end of the Buddhist festival. Alternatively there’s a bus that leaves the monastery at 1.30pm

We’d just come from the monastery!

We were told that you could apparently pick up the bus from the main road so we start heading in the vague direction of what we think is the main road from the monastery.

Then because he’s Joey and he always lands on his feet, a taxi with a French woman inside pulls up and asks if we want to go to share the ride to Leh so we don’t negotiate and just get in and pay the 400 rupees between us.

The drive back nearly killed us several times as we end up on the wrong side of the road going round blind bends or trying to undertake an army truck. The French woman and both of us are all holding onto our grab handles for dear life.

I did need a cooling off period when we got back to our guesthouse but we are still married and I can just about start to laugh about it.

Becca’s tears roll down during the Roll Down

Then for some reason I decided to give Joey another chance and let him choose Tuesday’s travel activity. He suggested doing the ‘Khardung La Roll Down’ where a Jeep drives you and a mountain bike to 18,300 feet and gravity brings you back down. I thought it sounded fun and so much like the Death Road which we’d loved doing in Bolivia (read about that here). So I agreed. You need a permit for the pass so we left our passports overnight with the biking company (always a scary prospect) Himalayan Bikers and then headed back this morning.

When we arrived back there this morning our permit still hadn’t arrived and our passports were MIA, so we were advised to pop over the road for a coffee and they’d come and get us when ready. I casually enquired what the bathroom arrangements were along the way down and was greeted with the phrase ‘open toilet, behind rock’ just what a lady wants to hear!

Eventually we got word that the permits had been granted and we were reunited with our passports so we piled into a jeep with 3 Israelis and started to make our way up the incredibly windy mountain road. When I say windy I mean hairpin bends every 100 metres whilst ascending all the time. Meanwhile there is no safety barrier to be seen (unless you count these stones to be a safety barrier) and everyone is driving a little crazily, overtaking on blind corners as per usual. I knew that if our driver made one false move we’d be over the cliff edge and plunging to certain death. If I’d had phone signal I may have considered calling my family to tell them where to find my will.

‘Safety’ barrier

Then we reached the final 14km. Which were completely unpaved, so bumpy, like driving over loose cobblestones. So I shut my eyes and hoped for the best.

This was the worst thing I could have done as I was about to discover I suffer from motion sickness. The Israeli girl next to me took one look at me and asked the driver to stop. I bundled out of the jeep and bent over at the side of the road. I was so embarrassed. Luckily the fresh air and some water seemed to help. I got back in the jeep and fixed my eyes on the horizon hoping it would help.

It wasn’t too much further until we reached the top where it seemed we were the same height as the surrounding mountains (and there was snow at the top). It was cold but it didn’t appear to be anything like the cold we’d experience during the Death Road. I put my jacket on and the running gloves I’d bought with me along with a set of cycling gloves they’d provided and the two guys with the jeep waved us off without any safety briefing or advice other than ‘keep left’. My mind couldn’t help but wander back to the last time we’d cycled travelling where I’d needed a visit to hospital after a tumble over the handlebars in Ecuador.

About to set off on the Roll Down

So we set off down the incredibly bumpy road that I had nearly thrown up on about 30 minutes earlier. The afternoon mountain winds and altitude of over 18000 feet were really kicking in and suddenly I was feeling cold, like properly about to slip into hypothermia cold. After about 20 minutes I have to stop as my Raynaud’s syndrome is kicking off big style. My hands are a mix of not being to feel the brakes and being in complete agony. I had bought some electronic hand warmers that handily doubled as power banks so I got those out and switched them on but the pain as the feeling came back into my fingers was excruciating. There were the first tears of the trip so far. Everyone was very sweet to me though, as I tried to explain to everyone what was wrong with me and why I was flipping out over the cold whilst everyone else was dealing with it just fine. I felt sorry for the rest of the group as they must have wondered what kind of wuss they had been lumbered with – first I nearly throw up at the side of the road and then I’m crying because I’m cold. Thankfully I had bought another pair of gloves with me and with a bit of swapping with others I ended up with three pairs of gloves on. I still couldn’t feel my hands but soldiered on.

As I mentioned the road was so bumpy with so many loose stones that made your bike skid at inappropriate moments. Joey and I both agreed at this point that neither of us we were enjoying it. My arthritic hands were like claws fixed in the grabbing at the brakes position. It was at this point I immediately slapped a one week ban on him to stop him planning anymore travel activities.

We bravely carried on, ignoring the grave markers and mangled wrecks of cars reminding us to ‘drive carefully’ until we reached our Mecca of the paved road. I have never been so happy to see tarmac.

As if I needed reminding!

It was at this point that I started to enjoy myself. The views were amazing. Once you got used to the mountain wind blowing in your face and everyone coming the other way appearing to laugh at you (we didn’t see any other cyclists at all!) then it was good fun and I did enjoy the last 25km in spite of the first 14!

We did laugh about this one more than yesterday’s non trip to the National Park, possibly because I was slightly hysterical about having actually made it out alive and without the need to try out an Indian hospital quite yet.

Surviving Delhi

Delhi was everything we expected it to be and more. The heat was indescribable- the only other time I have known my fingers sweat is when I’m about to play in one of my piano teacher’s concerts!

Delhi is frantic, frenzied and fascinating and any other F word you can imagine. The noise is a constant blaring of horns, which seems to be the way of letting others know you’re there and about to squeeze through the smallest gap possible. The smells are a mix of rotting rubbish, spices and incense and everything is a riot of colour.

Delhi by night

Everyone wants something from the rich naive westerner, it’s impossible to walk more than 5 metres without someone appearing beside you to ask ‘where you from?’ ‘how long in India?’ ‘where you go after Delhi?’ ‘you want spliff?’ I’m very cynical so my tactic is to ignore and keep walking whereas Joey is far too polite and can engage with them. Joey has given up vaping which is a major milestone for him and I am extremely proud of him for doing so, but it did mean he lost his shit a lot on day 1 and I was a little worried about him to start with but he has definitely calmed down now. It did make a nice change from me losing mine though – I could easily do Hanoi again now- read about that here!

We visited the Red Fort which was an experience, and not for the attraction itself. Instead we could barely walk 5 minutes without being stopped and asked for ‘one selfie please?’ And of course, it’s never just one selfie. A lot of Indians don’t venture outside of their country and therefore don’t meet westerners very often so when they come to Delhi for their holidays they are fascinated by us and want proof that they met one! It did start getting a little out of hand and at one point we were surrounded by about 20 women all fascinated by my blonde hair. The highlight was definitely when Joey got handed someone’s baby to hold and pose with! They obviously didn’t realise that he is a dropper!

Red Fort

We also visited the Jama mosque where we fell victim to our first scam – we had to remove our shoes and left them outside and then got charged 100 rupees for someone to guard them! I only wish I’d worn my smelliest pair so he had to sit next to those for an hour. Next time we will carry them with us!

The highlight of Delhi for me was definitely a visit to the Humayun’s tomb, said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal and I could see why. It was one of the most beautiful buildings that I have ever seen. Everything about the whole visit was serene and a welcome relief from the chaos of Delhi. We also visited the Lodi Gardens, again a little haven of peace.

Humayun’s Tomb

We’ve been doing a lot of walking and also a some travel by the metro. We walked through a slum yesterday which was not a pleasant experience (the barking dog was the scariest thing – thank god we’d had our rabies jabs!) But it helps put everything into perspective. The metro is great here, cheap, reliable and with airport style security. I personally love the ‘ladies frisking’ line!

The walk from the Metro to our hotel was brilliantly described by Joey as ‘a dash across the road of death followed by a stroll down the street of cheeky chappies.’

Next stop is Leh, a desert city surrounded by the Himalayas. The challenge here will be the altitude as it sits at 11,500 feet (3500 metres) above sea level and I’m not sure they grow coco leaves here!

Welcome to our blog!

This is the very first post of our travel blog. We’ve chosen the name Meandering Maxwells as meandering means ‘to wander aimlessly’ which is exactly what we are likely to end up doing over the next couple of years through South and South East Asia and we’d love to share our adventures, diversions and detours with you.

The main aim of the blog is to do just that, but we’d also like it to be a resource and inspiration to others who may be about to embark on the same thing. So for that reason we have included tips on packing, money and planning – all the things that we get asked about all the time.

We have also included some stories and itineraries from our last travels five years ago which we hope you will find amusing and helpful, or just relieved that it’s not you who’s going through this!

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Enjoy, much love Joey and Becca x

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