Thursday, 23 December 2010

Days 108 - 118: End of Part 1

Anjuna, Goa

Getting to Delhi marks the end of part one of the round-the-world odyssey. I have to head back to the UK in January or February for a couple of things, not least the run up to best man duties at my friends' Pete & Karen's wedding. Plus, heading up to Nepal and Tibet in January would have been a bit dull as it would have been cold and I wouldn't have been able to do a lot of the stuff I would have liked to do. My India visa expires on the 22nd January so I have to be out of here by then. So I've taken the executive decision to stop the official overlanding as of Delhi and restart from that point as and when I can get my ass back out here.

Delhi was hectic. The trip down on the bus was slow, taking 10 hours when it should have been 5. What seemed to delay us heavily was the sheer number of weddings going on. November and December is really the season for it over here. When the bus did finally arrive in Delhi at 11.30pm the driver refused to go to the interstate bus terminal, which is fairly central. That meant that I was stranded somewhere in the Delhi suburbs with no obvious means of onward transportation. That was until it turned out that one of the people who'd been on the bus was a rickshaw driver whose rickshaw just happened to be parked across the road. This was either a startling piece of good luck, or they saw me coming. I'm not quite sure which. Either way I managed to make it to a rather nice hotel and crashed out there for a couple of days.

Delhi was the place where I hit the wall in travelling terms. Everyone said it would happen eventually, although I didn't really believe them. I just ran out of energy and basically spent a week doing very little. It's not the greatest of places to develop that kind of fatigue either as it's pretty draining. Paharganj, where all the travellers stay, is particularly hard work. Everyone, seemingly, is solely interested in parting you from your money and they will find elaborate ways to do so. In particular they focus on the railway station where people don't know what they're doing. One Aussie woman I met was practically in tears because the touts around the station had been so aggressive in stopping her getting to the ticket office there and steering her towards one of their overpriced ticket agencies. One tout even had a uniform and ID card. There were numerous other examples and it happened so often that I just ended up ignoring everyone who spoke to me and barely breaking stride. It seemed to be the only way but it did mean that I was more rude to more people in Delhi than I've probably ever been in my life until now. For instance, where previously I'd have indulged in some banter about the stuff people wanted to sell me or whether the rickshaw driver would take me to some shop where he'd get some commission in Delhi I just said "no". It's a bit sad that I've been put on the defensive so much here. It's just possible that some people just want to chat, as had been the case in Iran and Pakistan, but they received the same treatment.

Anyway, it's not all negative. After crashing in Delhi I made it down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It was spectacular but very busy. I also went to see the Agra Fort, which is very well preserved and much more impressive than the Red Fort in Delhi (but not a patch on Lahore). I stayed in a nice place called The Nirvana Hostel. Dorm rooms and communal areas for the first time for ages. Then it was back to Delhi, for a few more days, including visiting the museum (which is v good indeed) and meeting up with Jyotin, an ex-colleague of mine who's back in Delhi for the hols.

I'm now down in Goa for Xmas and New Year, currently sharing a villa with Rick and Tugca and expecting to see a few other travellers who I've met over the last few months. Time for a bit of well-deserved R&R. See you again in a few months!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Day 91 - 107: More chapati?

It's been a while since I posted so quite a bit to catch up on. Shimla was a bit dull. It was the summer capital of the Raj and is basically an English market town in the middle of India. Complete with amateur dramatics society and YMCA (where we stayed and no, it's not that much fun to stay there). The main thing that marks it out as obviously Indian is a massive statue of Hannuman the monkey god (yes, he of "born from an egg on a mountain-top" fame). Alexandre and I hiked up to the top of the hill, aware of various warnings that the monkeys up there were particularly violent. They sell sticks to hit them with! It all seemed fine until getting right up to the temple when one of the simian so-and-sos jumped on my back to steal my sunnies. Monkey on my back, indeed. Shimla not that exciting altogether and the Bird Sanctuary rates as the worst tourist attraction I've seen on my trip. Even worse than the meteorite crater at Dogubayazit. The bird collection consisted of chickens, geese and ducks and little else besides. More of a European farmyard sanctuary.

So it was off to Rishikesh where the Beatles came to hang out with the Maharishi Yogi. Lots of Asrams and lots of yoga. I signed up for a week-long yoga and meditation retreat at the Phool Chatti Ashram. I had a few days to kill before that. Met up with Mike, Tanja and Ipi again and we all spent a few days wandering around Rishikesh, getting our ears cleaned by an ear cleaner, going white-water rafting (no-one fell in) and various other things.

So then it was off to the retreat. It's a beautiful place, on the banks of the ganges and about 5km out of Rishikesh so quiet. Cold too, but hey it's December on the edge of the himalayas. The days consisted of a 5.30am start, 3 hours of yoga a day, some more meditation (although I'm v glad I did the Tushita course before as it meant I knew what I was doing in the meditation as most didn't), chanting, nose cleaning (pouring water up one nostril and out the other!) and some nice walks in the country-side. Excellent grub - served up by the kitchen staff who just keep coming round offering stuff until you say no: "more vegetable?", "more chapati?" etc. There were two highlights. Firstly dunking ourselves in the Ganges three times (yes, very cold) after chanting "Om Ganga Mai" a few times and making a flower offering. Secondly the fire ceremony where we did more chanting (the same mantra 108 times, one for each god) and burnt wood. All in all quite a good week.

Then I headed back into Rishikesh with Rick, Tucga, Amira and Cora. Went whitewater rafting again, but this time a much longer course. This time I did fall in, mid-rapids. Wicked fun. Other than that basically doing not much in Rishikesh. We all went to the sunset ceremony at the Shiva temple by the Ganges. I could describe it, but I'll stick some photos up when I next get the chance.

I had planned to head down to Delhi yesterday. But, after tempting fate by telling my Ma on the phone that I'd managed to avoid getting sick at all on the trip since Moldova, I found myself laid up in my 'hotel' in Rishikesh for 24 hours. Nothing serious and I'm off to Delhi today. I'll put some photos on this post when I have a bit more time.