Ticking off the beaches

We’d heard lots of good things about the city of Galle and we weren’t disappointed when we arrived. Galle is a city fortified by the Portuguese and expanded by the Dutch. The European influence was clear to see and wandering around the streets felt at times more like a holiday than travelling. I’m sure that most of you think we’re on an extended holiday but there’s a difference in feeling between travelling and holiday that’s hard to explain unless you have travelled. Whilst in Galle we experienced a lengthy power cut. We had become very used to frequent power cuts in India but these never tended to last very long. We’ve been lucky enough to not have had too many in Sri Lanka but this one started at around 8am and affected most of the city. We were to find later in the day that it was a scheduled power outage for 10 hours to allow maintenance to take place but it would have been helpful for our guesthouse to inform us beforehand so that we could have prepared ourselves and do useful stuff such as make coffee, take a shower and charge phones etc! We spent a very hot day wandering around trying to get cool. We’d planned for a day in museums but a lot of them didn’t have generators so were closed. We also had to be very picky about where we ate that day as call me fussy, but I wanted my food to have been refrigerated all day.

Galle Fort lighthouse

From Galle we headed a very short distance east to Unawatuna, a beach resort. We ended up extending our stay here as we enjoyed the beaches and our accommodation- we had the place to ourselves and a massive roof terrace where we could watch the afternoon rains roll in. We visited a couple of different beaches here and took a Sunday morning stroll to the Japanese Peace Pagoda, gifted during the time of the civil war. It was quite a stroll uphill, through jungle which reminded me at times of Tayrona in Colombia. From here it was a very short stroll to a tiny beach called Jungle beach. This was a very pretty cove with still crystal clear waters. We also stumbled across another small beach, Wijaya beach, where we were swimming one day and to my surprise a turtle appeared alongside me. Unlike in Hikkaduwa people weren’t trying to touch this one or pick it up. One day on our way out to dinner I tried to navigate us a short cut. I’m not great at directions so this was never going to end well. It had just about stopped raining and some movement caught my eye – a huge snake slithered UP A WALL about a foot away from me. I mean I’ve known some snakes in my time but this was the biggest of all. This obviously didn’t put me off the short cut though and I blithely carried on only to be barked away by a huge pack of stray dogs. I decided that actually maybe we should stick to the main road!

Japanese Peace Pagoda in Unawatuna

From Unawatuna it was off to Weligama, a place famous for surfing and renowned as somewhere good for beginners to learn so we thought we’d give it a go. I have to say I was quite sceptical about it before hand as I didn’t think I’d be any good at it. We were paired up with an instructor called Michael (that well known Sri Lankan name) and he demonstrated how we needed to lie on the board, paddle, push up, put the back foot up and then the front foot, Joey went first and surprisingly for him he didn’t get it straightaway. Soon it was my turn and it turned out that I was actually the natural! I got up really quickly and accurately and only needed a couple of practices. Could it be that surfing was my sport?! I’m extremely competitive and was very excited about the possibility of actually being better than Joey at something (other than Shithead). Unfortunately all of the above happened on the beach and not in the sea. When it got to the water it was a totally different story. Joey picked it up really quickly and I, well I spent most of my time in the sea trying to scrabble back onto the board. I got thrown off so many times it was like being in a washing machine and I was really starting to resent the leash! Can it be called a wipeout if you don’t actually manage to stand up?! I had friction burns on my fingers from trying to get back on the board that lasted a week.

We also did a whale watching tour which was incredible. We sailed about an hour out to sea and eventually saw a spout of water, a tell tale sign that one was about. When we eventually spotted it on the surface it was breathtaking, it was HUGE. You never really think about how large they are, but it must have been as long as the boat. We saw it dive under the boat, and got some pictures of it’s tail as it headed back under.

The tail of a blue whale

Then it was straight to Dickwella. Yet more beach time (well we are on an island!). We wandered to the main Dickwella beach which was so wide and long and also surprisingly empty. We couldn’t understand why it was so empty, it was a little bit of paradise. About two minutes later we realised why when a massive wave came crashing down and caught me totally unaware, I did a very impressive cartwheel /forward roll and ended up whacking the side of my face on the sea bed. I still have a very impressive bruise and am being a drama queen about the whole thing and keep telling Joey that I think I’ve fractured my cheekbone. I’m sure once the swelling and bruising goes down I’ll be able to laugh about the whole incident.

Dickwella is home to the largest seated Buddha statue in Sri Lanka so we popped there. It was very quiet on the morning we went and they have a very impressive / disturbing collection of statues acting out scenes of hell. Some of the punishments being displayed definitely made me wince.

One of the hell punishments

The world’s second largest blow hole is also just outside Dickwella so we headed there. I wasn’t in a great mood that day but I was left distinctively underwhelmed by the whole thing. I’m sure it’s all about timing as it’s not often I’m left underwhelmed by a natural phenomenon.

The world’s second most underwhelming blow hole

Our last stop on the coast was Tangalle. It’s at this point that all the beaches seem to merge into one. We spent a couple of days here swimming in the clear seas spotting lots of colourful fish and working on the tan. It’s here that I cracked and opened the marmite. Not because I’d had a bad day but because I wanted to! You can actually buy it fairly easily here so I decided that we might as well enjoy it and buy a back up jar for our last couple of weeks in India!
Now the plan is to head inland firstly to Udawalwe national park and then towards the tea plantations and cultural triangle. It’s incredible to think we’ve almost had a month here already and that our South Asia leg is over halfway through. We’ve been planning our summer return which is exciting for more than one reason but more on that another day!

Lanka love

I am rubbish at thinking up titles for these blogs so please bear with me and if anyone has any tips please let me know!

We’ve been in Sri Lanka for a fortnight now and our absolutely loving it. I feel so relaxed, chilled and happy here. India at times felt like an uphill battle whereas Sri Lanka is definitely a downhill gentle meander!

Even the arrival into the airport and navigating immigration was straightforward, we took a bus from the airport and it really was easy as pie. We checked into our hostel and set off on an explore of Colombo. Now normally Joey and I hate big cities but Colombo surprised us immediately. We were totally seduced by stupid things like pavements, rubbish bins and traffic lights! We knew straightaway we were going to love it here. We took a wander to the seafront and watched the sunset and we could both feel a weight lift from our shoulders.

We’d booked a hostel for the first couple of nights and were shattered after an early start so decided to go to bed quite early. Only about 11.15pm I was woken by someone shaking me. My immediate thought was ‘oh god I was snoring again’. Snoring is something I only do when we’re in dorms. I don’t quite know how I have this wonderful talent to only snore or talk in my sleep when we’re sharing a room with strangers but it’s such a skill I’m considering listing it on my CV. However this time it wasn’t Joey shaking me, it was the hostel owner, accompanied by several members of the police. They were asking to see our passports and visas. The hostel owner seemed surprised that he’d woken me, I mean goodness knows why I would be asleep in my bed at that time of night but at least I wasn’t snoring. It was a very surreal and new experience but all was well and we were just left wondering if that was something that happened every night!

The next day we headed to the immigration to extend our visas. Currently you can obtain a 30 day stay for free but we wanted to stay 2 months and research had thrown up that it was cheaper to get the 30 days free and extend whilst there rather than arrange a visa in advance. It was a very bureaucratic process that Joey found quite frustrating but I quite enjoyed playing the game. Then I’ve worked in 2 secretariat departments so I love rules and processes! Afterwards we headed to meet two of Joey’s childhood friends who were now living in Sri Lanka.

From Colombo we headed down to Bentota on the coast. We caught the train which again was super easy – you got to the station, buy a ticket and get on the train. We totally marvelled at this idea having struggled with waitlists in India. We have clearly been travelling too long that we’ve forgotten that this is how it works in the UK! Bentota was a little gem. White sand, clear seas and really calm. We spent some very days here laying on the beach and playing in the waves. We also managed to catch up with another old friend of Joey’s who just happened to be on holiday here. I don’t know, you wait four months to see a familiar face then you see three in three days! We did a boat safari which we’d been sold with the premise of seeing crocodiles in the mangroves. Of course we didn’t see any crocodiles but we did see lots of water monitors – they are huge! Honestly, it’s ridiculous how big they are. We were also taken to a coconut plantation, where we heard how there are two types of coconut in Sri Lanka, the green and the orange. The orange one they just drink here, but the green coconut they drink, eat and use all the pieces. It was fascinating to learn how every part of the coconut is used – the wood for making spoons, hair pieces and anything really, the shell for bowls, the fibre on the husk is used to make ropes and even the leaves are woven together in order to hang the wooden utensils. I love coconuts and this made me love them a little more.

Coconut utensils hanging from coconut leaves

From Bentota we hopped on the train again to Hikkaduwa, again on the coast and apparently a backpackers haven. We stayed a short bus ride again from the main centre of town and again the beach was beautiful and the sea transparent; it definitely feels like we’ve landed on a tropical island! Hikkaduwa wasn’t all just laying on beaches and topping up my tan, there were some sights to see.

Just north of Hikkaduwa was the site of the tsunami train disaster. On Boxing Day 2004 some 1200 plus people were on a train originating in Colombo when the tsunami hit their train. The wave was so powerful that the train was upended and ripped from its wheels. There were only 10 survivors. At the site there is now a Buddha statue which is 18 metres high, the same height as the wave. Getting up close to that is a stark indication of just what those people, doing the same train journey that we had done the day before, were faced with. The train track was also surprisingly far from the shoreline, maybe over 100 metres. There is also a tsunami education museum and photo museum. They are both run by people who survived that day and some of the pictures are incredibly graphic and harrowing but it was important to go and remember the victims.

The Buddha memorial at the site of the Tsunami train disaster

After these and a visit to the official memorial (which is also a mass grave of those individuals killed in the train tragedy) we thought we’d cheer ourselves up with a visit to the local turtle hatchery. Only the turtle hatchery was actually probably as depressing as the tsunami museums. The guy running them probably does have the turtles best interests at heart, but by hatching eggs there he inhibits nature as turtles like to go back to the same spot where they where hatched to lay their eggs, and well you can’t choose to go back to a hatchery can you? That coupled with lots of tourists picking up the day old babies and handling them actually made us feel very sad. The next day we walked to turtle beach with the hope of seeing turtles in the wild, and that we did. It was incredible to see them almost swim up to you, quite moving to see nature that close. There were plenty of tourists touching them, feeding them seaweed and even kids trying to pick them up. We opted not to touch these wild animals and it felt like they migrated towards us because we didn’t want to touch, their flippers almost touching our legs. Joey and I had a deep discussion about how we found it hard to reconcile our desires to see wild animals in their natural habitat with the local destination’s need for tourism and to sell their town as a place to be able to touch wild animals. It felt wonderfully moving and deeply exploitative at the same time.

One of the turtles in Hikkaduwa- no zoom needed here!

We also took a bus to Ambalangoda – home to a devil mask museum. Devil masks are everywhere in Sri Lanka, so it was great to pop to a museum and workshop and see the history and work that goes into making these. They are all handmade from balsa wood and the intricacies are amazing. It was during a wander round the shop that we were both truly regretting not having the room in our rucksacks to take one home, definitely an excuse to come back here in the future!

Devil masks on display in Ambalangoda

So far life in Sri Lanka has been incredibly easy, we’ve caught local buses everywhere, the people are so friendly and the food has been absolutely delicious. It’s definitely somewhere we would come back to on holiday and without a shadow of a doubt I would recommend it to all my friends with kids old enough to handle the flight here. It’s cheap, a great introduction to Asia without all the hassle of India and so far there’s been no need to open the marmite!

Bye bye India (for now)

Well aren’t you all lucky, two blog posts in a week! Don’t worry this isn’t a New Year’s resolution to spam you all twice a week, it’s actually me wanting to tie up loose ends and finish blogging about India (for now at least) for tomorrow we fly to Sri Lanka, so this is an update on our last 10 days or so and some reflections on our four months in the subcontinent.

On Boxing Day we left our lovely posh treat hotel and travelled down to Kanyakumari. We were winging it on this occasion as we had neither a bus nor accommodation booked. The bus was definitely the easy part, it was very cosy with Joey’s rucksack on his lap for most of the journey. We alighted and set about trying to find some accommodation. We’d looked at google maps and identified a strip of hotels so headed there, the first one we tried turned us away as they were full, as did the next two. Ok, we’d now tried three hotels and kinda felt it was a little ironic that Joseph was a trying to find room at the inn on Boxing Day and they were all full. Thankfully the fourth guesthouse had a room which we snapped up at an overpriced rate, just thankful we got to take our rucksacks off.

The point of us being in this random town was that it was a semi pilgrimage – this was the southern most point of mainland India. We’d spent the last 110 days travelling south to reach here. It’s one of the few places in the world where thanks to the geography you can stand in the same place and watch the sunrise over the ocean in the morning and watch it sink into the sea at night, it’s also the place where three seas meet, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. You can see the amalgamation of these oceans as the different colours swirl together and the waves travel in different directions. So we watched the sunset, then rose early to watch the sunrise. The sunrise was insane. There were so. Many. People. I have never seen so many people gather for a sunrise. I busted some Indian guys taking some sneaky selfies of us which annoyed me (just ask – though after four months of this I’m more than likely to now say no. Unless you’re a cute kid, then I feel like the Queen when they say ‘excuse me ma’am). So from here on in its north (or east) we travel.

Sunset at Kanyakumari
Sunrise at Kanyakumari

We caught a bus to Madurai, home to the Meenakshi Amman Temple, the pinnacle of south India’s Temple culture and considered as important to the south as the Taj Mahal is to the north. It was incredibly colourful and a very peaceful place to wander around. Best of all, no phones or cameras were allowed so we could wander without being pestered! We were both suffering from colds at this point and tired thanks to a dorm mate threatening someone else in the dorm the night before and not allowing us to switch the air con on so we’d had a very restless night. We took a short walk to the shop and Joey got touched on the arm by an old arm who then proceeded to ask him for money, this had happened quite a few times over the last few days but this guy was the straw that broke Joey’s back and he just said to me ‘I can’t do another temple town’ which was exactly what I had been thinking, so we started working on a get out plan. We raced back to the hostel and booked a bus for that night to Pondicherry, an old French Colonial town.

Meenakshi Amman Temple

We arrived in Pondicherry at 5.30am and couldn’t even gain access to our hostel to leave our bags for another two hours so we headed to the beach where we’d intended to hang out at a 24 hour cafe the hostel had told us about. Arriving at the beach though we stumbled across a Rangoli competition. Rangoli is an art form in which patterns are drawn on the floor using rice flour and is thought to bring good luck. It was fascinating to watch 400 women draw these incredibly intricate patterns on the floor just using their hands and we actually enjoyed being homeless on this occasion as we dropped our bags off and then went straight back to view the art. Whilst in Pondicherry I got in touch with an Indian family who owns the old family home of a friend of mine and we were invited to view the home and for lunch. This was such incredible hospitality from a family who didn’t know who we were, to invite us into their incredibly beautiful home, show us around and invite us for lunch. We have met some incredibly kind and generous people during our time here. As Pondicherry is a old French colony we were able to buy some decent cheese for the first time, and more importantly a jar of marmite! We haven’t actually opened the marmite yet, we are saving it for a really really bad day, the thought being that if we do have a bad day then we can comfort ourselves with the marmite. So if any of my friends get a message from me saying ‘I opened the marmite’ know it was a really bad day and I need you to be kind!

Rangoli in Pondicherry

From Pondicherry we took our last local bus to Chennai. Upon arrival we took a town bus to our Air BnB apartment. Local buses have been great and the conductor is always so helpful telling us where we need to get off. Until now. It was quite clear that they didn’t want us on the bus and kept trying to throw us off at various points. In the end when it became abundantly clear they didn’t want us on anymore we got off and walked.

We decided before heading to Sri Lanka, we really needed to rest and regain our strength and patience, so we arrived with the intention of doing nothing for a few days. Which is more or less what we’ve done. We have visited a shopping centre a few times and have been bowling. However bowling was the straw that broke my back! The day before we’d bought some ice cream (mint, obviously) and spotted some men taking our photo whilst I am trying to eat my ice cream! Then during bowling people kept coming over and watching, fair enough, we are in a random area of Chennai and there aren’t many westerners here, but I snapped when I saw a group of men filming us. I went over to them and absolutely lost my shit at them for about five minutes and made him delete what he had taken. It was clear he didn’t speak any English so I got the staff involved too and made doubly sure that he understood that it was not ok to film us without our say so. I think he got the message.

So after four months here it’s time to say goodbye to India, for now anyway. We are flying back in March and have a couple more places we’d like to see, but at the moment we can’t see us spending more than two or three weeks here. All the research that we had done prior to arriving suggesting that you will love India and you will hate India, sometimes both at the same time, and I would say that is the most accurate thing that I read about the subcontinent. I have tried to not sugarcoat our time here, but as well as frustrations, we have had some incredible times here and we’ve met some amazing, generous people. The last couple of weeks have been tiring as we have visited a lot of places in December alone and I feel as though I have been constantly ill with one thing or another in the last two weeks.

We’ve travelled 10,440 km in total from place to place (you can tell I’m international now as I now speak in kilometres!) and that only involved one flight! A third was done by rail and the rest spent on buses, probably get dropped in the middle of nowhere. India lives up to every stereotype image that you have heard about it – piles and piles of rubbish everywhere, cows in the street (eating the rubbish), monkeys everywhere, women doing their washing in streams and tuk tuk drivers everywhere. But far and away the thing we loved the most is how helpful and friendly the people are. You will always find someone to help you and to say hello to you.

Our top five experiences were:

The Taj Mahal

Backwaters of Kerala

The ruins of Hampi

Desert safari in Jaisalmer

Watching the sunset over the lake in Udaipur every night

A Cheeky sixth- The India/Pakistan border closing ceremony

So now it’s onto Sri Lanka and we have high hopes!

Canoeing and Christmas in Kerala

After some beach time in Gokarna we headed south to Kochi, in Kerala, one of the southern most states which is famous for it’s backwaters.

Gokarna station was tiny, but the train arrived only an hour late, and we’d opted for 2nd class as opposed to our usual 3rd class ticket. This looked really promising, there were only 4 berths in each section as opposed to 6 and each section was divided by a curtain for added privacy. The toilets were also remarkably clean so I was looking forward to getting a pretty good night’s sleep.

Our train arriving into Gokarna station

Of course when we boarded the train there was someone in our seat, there’s always someone in our seat, I have had to wake people to throw them out of my seat. I’m not sure why this is but he turned out to be pretty friendly and bought us Chai and snacks. He left us after about four hours and a family of three got on in his place. They were also friendly, offering us food again but as we started to settle down for sleep the baby started crying and this went on for about three hours. I say baby – he was actually three years old and he just would not stop crying. In fact he only stopped when I turned on my light, sat up and gave him a serious hard stare. I’m sure the rest of the train carriage will be forever grateful to me. (I’m sure none of my friends babies would have done this!) so we arrived into Kochi at 3.22am, shattered and homeless. Train stations in India are well set up though and you can pay for a dormitory bed or a waiting room. We opted to pay for an AC waiting room for three hours until we could arrive at our hostel at a reasonable hour.

In Kochi we’d planned to visit the Jewish quarter, taking in a synagogue. Kerala is a predominately Christian state so we visited our first Indian church as well, meaning that we had then ticked off religious buildings of 7 major religions in India. Kochi is also home to the largest shopping centre in India so we spent a day there, taking some time out from sightseeing to have some fun. It was a great way to take a break from feeling like you have to see everything. The other must see is the Chinese fishing nets – best viewed at sunset and quite a sight!

Chinese fishing nets in Kochi

After Kochi we headed to the mountains to a small town called Anachal, near to the more famous tea plantation area of Munnar. We’d booked into a hostel that had newly opened and was a little out of town. Who did we find staying at our hostel upon arrival but Ellie and Jake, the English couple that we’d first met in Agra and had subsequently bumped into in Goa (twice), Hampi and Gokarna! It’s a small world when you’re travelling. We took a trek to a tea plantation the next day which was good fun, with tea bushes as far as the eye could see. It was a hard climb but worth it. We went with two other British girls from the hostel, one of whom had cycled from Bristol to Kazakstan and flown to India from there to continue cycling. Just when you think you’re doing something extraordinary, someone else pops up to blow you out of the water! Along the trek as well as seeing tea bushes there were pineapple bushes. I actually found this to be the highlight of the day! I knew how pineapples grew, but I’d never actually seen a pineapple bush before so to see some up close was amazing and one off the bucket list! As we were walking I could see the guide staring intently at my trainer and it seemed it had spotted two little leeches on my foot! Something made me lift my trousers up and lo and behold there was a huge one on my ankle – cue lots of girly screaming and the fear for the rest of the trek!

The tea plantation
Pineapples – who knew seeing them grow would be on the bucket list?
Tea as far as the eye can see

The next day we took a bus to Alleppey, we’d set off early from the hostel with another girl and waited patiently for the bus. There was a quick toilet break, but the ladies was locked so I had to wait for the men’s to become free which delayed me a little longer and when I emerged the bus was starting to pull away so we had to quickly jump on. I got on first and swapped seats with Joey who had patiently guarded the toilet for me and who then ended up sitting next to the woman I’d been sat next to for the last two hours. Less than five minutes later the woman was promptly sick all down Joey’s leg and rucksack. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me as that would have started a domino effect for sure! Luckily Lou who we’d travelled with from the hostel had some face wipes so we were able to clean up most of the sick before it dried.

Alleppey is a major gateway to Kerala’s backwaters and is known as the Venice of the East. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and it quickly started to pour down with rain and I mean pour down. It lasted hours and by the time we ventured out four hours later all the streets were flooded. The next day we arranged for a tour of the backwaters by bamboo canoe which was amazing. It was so peaceful and serene as you quietly sail past villages along tiny canals, rice paddies and people going about their daily life in the backwaters. We started the day being taken to an Indian family’s home for breakfast and chai which we had to eat with our hands. To get to the home we had to wade through water in the front yard. There was one stop along the way which was chance to go to the toilet but to do so you had to walk along a narrow plank to get there – it was harder than it looked and we were definitely all waiting for someone to fall in. After the tour we went back to the Indian family home for lunch, this time served on a traditional banana leaf! The backwaters canoe tour was definitely one of my top five Indian experiences.

Our bamboo canoe
The plank we had to walk to reach the bathroom

One thing that we also wanted to do was hire a houseboat for the day and sail on the backwaters. It was an expensive thing to do as it cost over half of our weekly budget for one night but if you are going to do something only once in your life, you may as well do it properly. The boat was amazing, luxurious with two sun decks and we had three members of crew looking after the two of us! We were served a welcome drink of coconut juice, followed by a huge lunch, then banana fry for afternoon tea, then dinner and breakfast the next morning! We docked up in a quiet spot which was surprising as earlier in the day we had seen so many houseboats it was akin to an armada! The next day we got up super early to watch the sunrise over the backwaters, such a beautiful setting.

The armada of houseboats
Sunset viewed from the houseboat

From Alleppey we headed south to Varkala, a holy beach resort. Varkala is also the only place in Kerala where cliffs can be found adjacent to the Arabian Sea. We’d book some pretty low budget accommodation here, it wasn’t the worst place we’d stayed but every night in the bathroom there was some sort of insect gathering. I wasn’t well during my time here and having to fight with army ants and cockroaches to use the toilet wasn’t my idea of fun. In fact it was so unpleasant I actually chose to find a spot outside to be quietly sick rather than use the bathroom!


It was a joy to move onto Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. We had an initial two nights here and just visited the shopping centre where we found the Salvation Army singing Christmas carols which we thoroughly enjoyed and I found quite moving. We also took the opportunity to go to the cinema. We picked a film at random which was screened in Malayalam, the local language, with no subtitles. We got the gist of the storyline and there was some helpful sinister music every time the bad guy appeared on screen and some incredibly graphic violence. All films in India start with the national anthem and have intervals. Everyone gets terribly involved and shouts at the screen so it was definitely a fun thing to do.

We stayed within Trivandrum for Joey’s birthday and Christmas, treating ourselves again to a nice hotel with a pool where we did nothing but eat, drink and hang by the pool. Christmas whilst travelling is always a little odd, but we managed to have turkey and carols so it felt a little Christmassy but it seems that even if you have 30 degrees and sunshine you can’t avoid the Christmas cold and I spent most of the day feeling ill!

We’ve only a few short days left in India, how quickly time moves when you see so many new things and places.

For now it’s our chance to wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Goa-ing to the beach

After Mumbai and a couple of weeks of moving from place to place in quick succession we were ready for a break and for Goa. We caught a day train and then an onward taxi to Anjuna. Anjuna is famous for its trance parties but we’d picked it based on some criteria that we’d put into a famous booking site and then just chose the cheapest, best reviewed place based on that.

The taxi ride did fill me with excitement (and it wasn’t just the adrenaline from the crazy driving) – Goa looked beautiful. There were palm trees with coconuts, the Portuguese influence was clear everywhere and was that a supermarket I just saw?! The hostel has also received great reviews which talked about a chilled atmosphere and people staying for days on end. We’d booked two nights to start but as soon as I walked in I knew I wouldn’t last beyond the first night. 

There were dorm beds in the reception area and the dorm areas appeared to be separated by a bit of netting. The dorm we were in was the crampest room I’ve ever seen. It was when a fellow guest greeted us with the words ‘hello beautiful souls’ that I realised how out of my depth with this hippie lark I was. As everyone else sat around in a circle playing drums and taking drugs I was working on an escape plan and frantically messaging friends to tell them the latest hostel horror story.

I booked a guest house in the same town and we exited stage left. This was a great move in the end as we ended up with a much nicer place and meeting some incredible people who became our Anjuna family for 5 days. Joey was brave enough to hire a scooter and so we set off exploring North Goa and it’s various beaches and supermarkets (did I mention Goa had supermarkets?!). We even went to a trance party which was probably the weirdest party experience I’ve had. Everyone seemed to stand in a line and barely move. Luckily the family all seemed relieved when we indicated that we were going to head back. Unfortunately no one seemed to know the way and it took about 3 hours to walk home. No one is entirely sure about what happened en route only that involved a herd of cows and a police car. 

Typical Goan sunset

When the time came to say goodbye it was sad, but we were ready to head to the next beach. We headed north to Mandrem which was one of the beaches we’d explored earlier in the week. It was a fairly quiet beach but popular with Russians. The only drawback was the aggressive nature of the beach sellers. I appreciate that they need to make a living but they surround you and won’t take no for an answer. I’d decided that at some point I’d like to get a henna tattoo so on the beach watching the sun go down with a beer seemed like a great time to do that. Unfortunately it turned into beach seller mafia warfare. Other sellers that I’d said no to that day were very affronted and another guy proceeded to lay out all his wares in front of me and try and guilt trip me into buying something which actually made me more determined not to buy anything. 

Surrounded by beach mafia in Mandrem

From Mandrem we caught a local train to Palolem right in the south, thereby going from one end of Goa to the other. Getting off the train was hilarious, it appeared that the train had stopped only there was no platform, it was only two locals telling us that it really was our station did I realise that I was going to have to jump 4 feet down from the train with my rucksack on. Then to exit the station we had to walk over the tracks and then clamber up to the platform on the other side. Bad day to wear my skirt! A tuk tuk was waiting and wanted to charge 200 rupees (just over £2) to drive us 2km. Given that we’d paid 60 rupees to go 100km on the train there was no way we were prepared to pay that, so we walked 25 minutes in 33 degrees with our 15kg rucksacks.

Palolem was lovely, so chilled, some great waves to play in and we bumped into a couple that we’d shared a dorm with in Agra. We’d actually seen them the previous week in Arambol and they started to joke that they were just checking my Instagram and following us. 

We knew we were getting cosy in Goa and hadn’t really done much other than laze in the beach and watch the sun go down. We were definitely finding things a little too easy so it was time to leave the beach behind and get back on the road.

We took the train towards Hampi which is one of the weirdest, surreal, mind blowing places I have ever been. It’s full of ancient ruins, incredible stone carvings including a stone chariot. The town is full of huge boulders whilst also being surrounded by banana plantations. It was Bedrock meets Ancient Greece in India. We spent three days exploring the ruins and watching sunsets and sunrises. It was quite a shock to be back amongst the hustle after Goa but we certainly needed to get back into that mindset.

A tiny selection of some of the boulders in Hampi
The Hampi Stone Chariot

We wanted to end up in Gokarna on the coast, a couple of hours south of Goa but unless you fancied getting a local bus that left at midnight from the next town the only option was to get one that arrived at 3am. We didn’t much fancy that either so decided to live up to our name and meander our way there. So we headed 420kms south on a night bus to Mysore. Mysore is the South’s yoga Mecca and it wasn’t a bad stopover point, there was a nice palace to visit and it had a Decathlon store which we got to play in on our homeless day. My back had been really hurting again, a combination of trouble from 3 years ago, hard beds and a lack of decent seating so I decided I needed to sort myself out and start stretching again. So I bought a yoga mat. When I do stretch it does help but it’s difficult to always find the space to do it.

From Mysore we got on another night bus and headed 450kms north again to reach Gokarna, at the respectable time of 8am. I was starting to feel a little bit ill at this point (as my lovely friend Clair put it, I had ‘Mysore tummy’!) and accommodation is best found once you’ve arrived in Gokarna so we headed towards Kudle beach to find a guesthouse. It’s not much fun traipsing around trying to find somewhere to stay when you feel rough so we didn’t really negotiate and plumped for the first place we saw with a western toilet and in our price bracket. 

Gokarna means ‘cow ear’ as it is where Lord Shiva is said to have emerged from a cow’s ear. We spent a lot of time just chilling here and planning our onwards journeys. We did receive a treat on our last day though when Raakesh, our Indian brother from our Anjuna family turned up to meet us. What a fantastic way to spend the last day on the beach!

We spent quite a lot of time planning whilst in Mysore and Gokarna and booked a flight to Sri Lanka, it’s hard to believe that we only have a few weeks of our first India leg to go having already been here three months!

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.


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


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 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.

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