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nicola and kell
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Another travel day to day, this time to….London. We awoke today to realise we’d run out of toothpaste and as a result had to go home. Lots of factors led to us making a decision to move our flight a little early and plan to come back and do Rajasthan some time soon. So, via Delhi, Heathrow and Newport we were back home on the weekend, full of tales, experiences and curry. Thank you to everyone who has taken an interest in our trip and followed our blog. We’ve really enjoyed ourselves and have some wonderful memories and oodles of photos. If you have a spare week, we will gladly talk you through them! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ And now for some credits… Blog words - Kell (mostly) Blog photos - Nicola (mostly) Technical support - Phil W and dad Gordon Most avid reader - Dr Hughes (according to our blog statistics) Most helpful travel tip Rulin for pointing out we can use Skype to make really cheap calls to landlines – a life saver for keeping in touch Hosts - David, Julie & Ethan for looking after us in New Zealand;John, Rulin & Lincoln for looking after us in the US Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
After a very intense morning of blog updates and Ashes watching, we ventured out into New Delhi to see Lutyen’s complex of buildings which formed the centerpiece of the British Empire before WW2. The mix of classical and Indian styles was interesting, but would probably have been more striking had we been able to see more than 10 feet in front of us due to the smog. Apparently New Delhi has the worst air quality in the world, pipping Beijing. We spent some time considering how we were going to get these two developing nations out of our lungs as we headed back to our hotel for a fantastic curry, made all the better by the hotel giving it to us for free as we’d had a gripe about intermittent access to the interweb. Happy days. Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
(image is unrelated) Shopping in Delhi is an interesting experience. As an example, here is the process it took to buy a postcard for 2 of our younger readers: enter shop; have bag checked and body pat down; endure people stating the obvious as you look at bags of tea … “this is tea”; find & select postcard; identify which till (of many) is the right one to take the card to; the clerk then enters your desired purchase onto ‘the system’ – involving manually completing a receipt (carbon copied in triplicate); you then need to find the payment counter. This is generally on the ground floor, away from your purchases – however, you must leave the postcard with the clerk who entered it onto the system; presenting the relevant copy of the receipt to the cashier, you are then able to pay. Your goods however, may still be by the original clerk; so you need to wait until they are delivered to dispatch where they are wrapped and stamped as sold; presenting the original receipt, stamped as paid will allow you to eventually have your postcard and you can leave the shop. And we were surprised they had a problem delivering for the Commonwealth Games. Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
K’s first experience of India was hindered by his ongoing head cold, but nothing could stop the smells of the street coming right on through. Today’s visit was to old Delhi, to see the Red Fort, a Mughal edifice with lots of little palaces and reception rooms inside, an enjoyable excursion. In a way it felt like a trip back to China, but the cameras here were mostly on phones. As we continued our day, it became apparent that we were living most Brits’ dream… curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yum. Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
A travel day today – to New Delhi, again with absolutely no trouble or concern over visas. K nearly lost the plot after the 4th body search between entering the airport and boarding the plane, but was calmed by the Kingfisher beer provided by the airline of the same name. Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
After recovering from our journey, we decided to visit the nearby town of Bhaktapur, a city founded in the 12th Century. The pace of life there is somewhat less hectic than Kathmandu, and the architecture more centralized. We spent much time admiring the Newari buildings and Hindu structures, which on closer inspection had very detailed carvings of the Kama Sutra. Obviously, being British, we walked away very quickly. The trip was supposed to end with a visit to Durbah Square in Kathmandu, but the traffic was absolutely terrible and we spent 2 hours breathing in traffic fumes covering the 12km back to our hotel. Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Tibet Unplugged The next few days were effectively spent driving back to Kathmandu from Lhasa (around 1,200km the route we took) so to avoid lots of repetition of ‘we spent several hours on the bus..’ we’ll cover the big events in one hit. Please follow the link below! So. We left our decidedly chilly hotel in Lhasa (noting that none of the places we slept had anything close to heating) and spent the next hour at the bank, waiting for a couple of people to change money. There were ATMs there… we eventually rolled out of Lhasa towards Gyantse (alt 3,850m), our first ‘on the road’ stop. To reach the town, we had to go over 3 high passes at 4,995m, 5,560m and then 4,600m, the views and scenery were stunning, in particular the first pass overlooking Yamdok lake. Gyantse itself was something of a ghost town. Having once been the second largest town in Tibet, it now found itself – having been Chineseified – quite sad. Hundreds of dogs wandered the streets all night, barking at pretty much anything that moved, making for a rubbish night’s sleep (a recurring theme we found in Tibet). Local legend has it that the dogs are reincarnated monks who didn’t study hard enough. The town highlights were a Fort (closed) and a monastery. While waiting for N to return from her tour of the Monastery, K was approached by a vendor from the market, offering a bowl (‘yak bone’) for 5 Yaun (around 50p). Declining politely he later heard that some people from the trip had bargained hard for 4 and managed to secure them for £15. Impressive! Onwards to Shigatse (alt 3,800m), another monastery town, with a great kora around the outside, lined with prayer wheels. Our guides, Puskar and Tashi decided that they would introduce us to Tibetan nightlife by taking us to a ‘disco’ which was a very glorified Karaoke bar with local dancers doing turns from time to time. It was quite an eye opener. We left before the dance floor became too crowded. The next day saw some very tired people trundle towards Sakya (alt. 4,280m), a town notable for the fact that we were given electric blankets in the hotel – toasty. Oh, and it had a nunnery which you could just drop into. The nuns were very friendly and didn’t seem to mind at all when some very out of breath westerners came to visit. The following day was something of a surprise. We had expected to be doing more driving along and then stopping, but at the second pass of the day (alt 5,050m) when we got our first view of Mt Everest from the ground, it was announced that we were going to head to base camp that day. We had apparently made good progress along the unpaved road (at the expense of whiplash). So there we were, Rongphu Monastery, the highest in the world, around 5k from Everest Base Camp and sea level,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
A trip out to Ganden Monastery (alt 4,300m) today. En route, we saw many pilgrims making their way to Lhasa, undertaking their prostrations at the side of the road as they went. After a brief tour of the monastery we went to watch the debating session and K ended up in his own debate with our tour leader, a Hindu, on the nature of paths to enlightenment. Lunch was followed by an 90 minute challenging kora around the monastery before heading back to Lhasa for dinner. Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Slowly getting to grips with the altitude, K managed to disrupt the morning's plans by inadvertently befriending a Tibetan family on a picnic in the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace. They wanted their pictures taken, which was fine, but more troublesome was the request for a (hard) copy of the picture. The ensuing discussion between guides and family left the window open for the rest of the group to join in the photography. The family grew braver and started to unwrap their clothing purchases from town and dress up some of the girls in our group for photos. Luckily, the next delayed stop was a rather unimpressive (Chinese) museum of Tibet. You can probably guess the party line. We then headed to a nunnery for more yak butter and chanting. Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Another gloriously blue sky greeted us as we arrived at the Potala Palace, home to the Dalai Lama. The climb up the 13 storeys took some time – our bodies not yet acclimatised to exertion at altitude. The tour took us through many chapels, built by one of the 14 Lamas and more than a couple of rather elaborate gold tombs of the earlier incarnations. Each of the rooms had a receptacle in which pilgrims could deposit yak butter which acted as wax to candles. As a result, a heady smell of yak permeated the building; a smell which occurs almost everywhere in this city, with so many temples and yak skins around the place. The afternoon took us to the inside of the Jokhang temple to watch monks chanting and others debating. Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Lhasa (alt. 3,600m) - a breath taking city. Literally. Climbing the stairs to the hotel room left us both gasping to get enough oxygen into our lungs, and the cold was taking liquid from our bodies as quickly as we could get it in, but still – a fantastic city. The morning took us around the Jokhang temple with the devout - spinning their prayer wheels, prostrating or chanting as their beliefs required. The traditional dress is still very much the thing to wear and is deliciously vibrant and varied, with hair weavings, jewellery and yak skin much in abundance. In the afternoon we visited the Sera monastery, home to 500 monks (formerly 5,500) to watch them debate matters of Buddhist scripture and doctrine. Fascinating – just a shame that we couldn’t understand Tibetan. Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Some readers may be aware of K’s penchant for getting to the airport early, in good time for a flight. Well, there’s early and there’s early… we arrived at Kathmandu airport at 7.45am for a flight which was scheduled to leave at 11.45 (edit - this was the tour guide's decision - not K's). We eventually left at 12.30. But anyway, thoughts of the delay quickly disappeared as we had possibly the best hour’s flight we’ve ever had. The route from Kathmandu to Lhasa in Tibet flies directly over the Himalayas, arcing gracefully around Mt Everest. Truly spectacular. Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Some of our group went on a 2-temple-tour today as a gentle introduction to the temple-fest that lies ahead of us. The first, Pashupati nath is the most important Hindu temple in Kathmandu, if not Nepal, and as a result the site of funeral pyres for those able to afford to be cremated at Shiva’s feet. As the temple was one of the important tourist spots, it also attracted a number of what our guide referred to as ‘Photo Saddhus’ - dreadlocked and painted up they waited around the temples for tourists to take their photo and in turn, they took their rupee. At the second site Swyambhu nath, a Buddhist temple, also known as the monkey temple, we were encouraged to walk clockwise along the path of enlightenment around the stupa. We decided that those circling anti-clockwise stepped further away. No sudden thunderbolts, but lots of photographs. Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Another day, another country. We touched down in Kathmandu (alt. appx 1490m) around lunchtime and suffered the inevitable taxi rip off from the airport into town. To be fair, the driver added value by pointing out sights en route – and it was a public holiday, but still…. Kathmandu is much bigger (and more polluted) than either of us expected, though the tourist enclave of Thamel, where our hotel is based, is walkable. The streets are filled with westerners, many of whom have chosen to ‘go native’ dressing in attire from the many, many stores offering the opportunity in the area. We joined our tour group for the next 2 weeks in the evening. Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Singapore, the city Shanghai is striving to be, was hot and humid and decked out for Christmas – which was odd. The place felt very much like a series of shopping opportunities and maybe as a result, people seemed much less happy with their lot than the Cambodians and Vietnamese. We spent the day wandering around looking at some very bad modern architecture- stopping briefly at Raffles to decline the £19 Singapore Sling. Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Hello We're currently acclimatising in Lhasa, Tibet at around 3,600m and struggling to find an internet connection which will allow us to post at speeds faster than sending a postcard to each of you. We'll get back as soon as we can! Continue reading
Posted Nov 13, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
A relaxed day waiting for our flight to Singapore, pottering round the town, posting parcels, drinking coffee… we got to the airport in time to witness what seemed to be a collection of US college students forming an encampment in the departure lounge. We watched with increasing amusement as one by one, they popped open their Apple Macs, there must have been 20 of them, all showing how individual they are. We arrived in Singapore just in time to catch the last train to Little India (lots of curry house and colonial architecture) and collapse into bed as the Deepawali festivities wound down around us. Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
We pushed the boat out a bit today, in more than one sense. We took a tour to the Vietnamese floating villages and Cambodian stilt houses at Kampong Khleang on Tonle Sap lake. We were taken by a former resident of the villages and got fantastic access to businesses on the lake and homes as well as a blessing by monk. We weren’t sure whether the monk’s 6 months of practice qualified him. We visited fish smokers, crocodile farmers, beauticians (with a sliding, smiling baby). We also spent quite a bit of time at a ‘bottling plant’ (ahem) of a family exporting fish paste. The village kids loved having their photos taken and seeing themselves on the back of the camera. Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
At noon today, K achieved complete temple blindness and was saved from hospitalisation by a splendid lunch. This was also his excuse for being beaten at noughts and crosses by 2 Cambodian children. Infants actually. We finished the day by revisiting Angkor Wat itself, without a guide or Hilary. A much more pleasant experience. Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
To stave off temple fatigue, we took a day off and headed into Siem Reap town, perusing the markets, where we subsequently found out that retired tour guides end up setting up their own stall. The central markets were mostly for tourists, but there were pockets of real life to be found. This was also the first time we came across the fish tanks with seating around them; for 3 dollars, you can get your feet cleaned by fish for 20 minutes… some places offered a free beer too which was tempting. Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
A slight change in pace for day 2 of our Angkor experience: we headed out to some of the out lying, older temples – away from the central area. The second ‘temple’ involved a 45 minute hike through the jungle (not quite explorer standard – there were signs all the way!) to a sacred river in which thousands of Vishnu linga had been carved, as well as other Hindu and Buddhist imagery on the stones by the river. Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Day 1 of our exploration of the Angkor Temples began at the (originally) Buddhist Bayon. The complex covers a massive area and was built between the 9th & 14th Centuries and reflects the religious preoccupations of a number of kings – Hindu / Buddhist / Hindu / Buddhist seems to be a reasonable high level summary of what our guide told us. We realised something was occurring as a motorcade pulled up outside the Bayon. Out stepped many burly men with ear pieces and ‘dress-down Hilary’ (Clinton). The sense of excitement among the guides and stewards was palpable. We followed the entourage to what our guide annoyingly kept referring to as ‘the Tomb Raider’ temple – Ta Prohm. We ended the day with visits to Angkor Wat itself and the mountain temple Phnom Bakheng. Being a mountain temple, one would normally expect to find assorted gods and mystics at the top; we found almost every single tourist in Cambodia. Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Another day, another bus trip...to Siem Reap today. It was nice to see countryside, but after 7 hours, rice fields and flood plains became a little samey. Better though, than the incessant Cambodian Karaoke being shown on the coach DVD. We think the bus hostess was pining for someone. Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
A sobering day as we visited sites connected with the Khmer Rouge. First thing we hopped into a tuk tuk for the 10 mile trip to the ‘Killing Fields’ at Choeung Ek where perceived enemies of the regime (initially largely intellectuals and political opponents) and all of their families were executed. The families were killed to prevent revenge attacks later. The museum provided a lot of useful history. We then trundled up to Tuol Sleng Museum, formerly a high school, which became S-21, the largest centre of detention & torture in the country. The cells remained, along with a number of interesting exhibits. It was very moving. As we came towards the end of our tour, an American entourage came through, clearly planning a visit. It was decided that the future visitor (who we later found out to be Hilary Clinton) would probably not want to dwell in the room with the instruments of torture. We spent a short while considering why this might be. It transpired that Ban Ki-Moon had also been through the day before. Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2
Another day of wandering and temples today. As we've hurtled through several countries in a relatively short space of time, we've been interested to see how the cultures shift and overlap between areas and how the history of each place is writ large in its monuments. In Vietnam, the French & Chinese styles were pre-dominant. Here in Phnom Penh there is a very strong Thai and much older Indian influence. Visiting the Silver Pagoda, we were struck by the lack of Boddhisatvas, reflecting the stronger influence of Theravada Buddhism here, rather than the Mahayana Buddhism we saw throughout China and Japan. The day was rounded off with a highly recommended visit to the FCC (Foreign Correspondents' Club) overlooking the Tonle Sap River. Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2010 at pauseandunwindmark2