This is a hard blog to write as we’ve chosen to cut our travels short and come home.
You’d have to had to have been in a hole to not know that the WHO has declared the Coronavirus a Pandemic and with countries shutting their borders and others imposing quarterines on arrival we feel that now is the right time to head back to the UK, for the meanwhile at least. I suffer from an autoimmune condition so if I get the virus I want to be at home.
This morning we arrived in Khajuraho, which is actually the last Indian town that we wanted to visit. Our original plan had been to stay two nights and catch a train back to Varanasi and cross the border into Nepal on Wednesday. Friday morning we woke to the news that Nepal were no longer issuing visas on arrival and imposed various conditions.
So we could still go to Nepal if:
we got a visa beforehand
We flew into Kathmandu
We submitted a medical certificate declaring us free of Coronavirus
We self quarantined for 14 days.
We had a flight booked out on 16th April and had intended to get a 30 day visa so we didn’t much fancy spending half of our time in quarantine. Or incurring the extra costs of a flight.
We ummed and ahhed a lot about what to do. We considered flying to Thailand but with everything so up in the air and the situation changing hourly we made the difficult decision to fly home.
It had always been our intention to fly home for a bit in the summer anyway, so we’re just coming home a little bit sooner than planned. Once things have calmed down and travel restrictions are lifted we will be off again to continue our adventure.
It’s obviously disappointing to not be able to carry on at present, particularly as I had been looking forward to going to Nepal and seeing some places that my dad had visited. It’s not over yet though and we will make the most of our time in the UK.
So instead we’re being positive and there are loads of things I’m looking forward to:
Catching up with friends and family and seeing babies who’ve grown in the last 6 monthsCelebrating my best friend’s 40th with her in personEating cheese Drinking wine Camping Flushing my toilet roll down the toilet! Washing my clothes in a machine We’ve an overnight train booked to Delhi and whilst we are on that train we will book a flight and hopefully head straight to the airport. So we may be back as early as Tuesday! In the meantime, keep washing those hands!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!