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Published: October 30th 2010
I've just had a two week sojourn in the Yorkshire visiting my mother, sister Ann and her family. There's no blog and I didn't do too much except spend time with my Mom. However, I did manage to get down to the Blues Bar in Harrogate on Saturday nights. I n addition, I enjoyed dinner and beer in York with two other independent Russellite Travelers (Heather Hebblethwaite and John Garret)..
I'm now starting to head towards home, but first it's Bangkok and India. The ticket to Bangkok starts in London. My friend Ian Binks kindly offers me a bed for a two nights to allow me to catch up with old friends, Dennis and Sue, Marian Reese and Ian and Annette Wheeler. On Saturday, 16 October the flight leaves LHR and arrives in Bangkok on Sunday, 17 October. Malcolm, from Fiji meets me at the airport, I check into the hotel and we immediately take the train into Bangkok Central to meet up with a Australian friend who is in town, Dennis Stewert. It's beer, food and chatter with the promise that we will stay in touch.. Monday, October 18
Myself and Malcolm spend the morning relaxing and waiting
for our flight to Bangkok. At 8.30pm we are off, off and away to Delhi. Richard Avery, who will be called Dick from now on, meets us at Delhi airport and we take a wild ride to the hotel. I booked the place on hostelworld.com and it can only be classed as a “hole”. The next morning, I tell the management the room is completely unacceptable and we check out. Tuesday, October 19
The new hotel “The Lavesi” is excellent and only $28 US per night. We hire a car and driver for the day and drive to old town. Traffic is horrendous and it is the constant banging on the horn that I find annoying and have trouble getting used too. The red fort is worth a visit, but nothing that I cant live without. After the fort it is time to enter the heaving masses of Old Delhi and we shuffle our way towards the Sikh Temple. This turns out to be quite an experience and we find the Sikhs to be warm friendly people despite their curved daggers and swords. This is the main event for the day as far as I'm concerned. Then we continue
on to Delhi Town hall where we take pictures, turn around and head into the overwhelming foot traffic. No matter which way you go it seems as though you are a salmon swimming up-stream. Finally we find our car and driver an enter Delhi traffic, by the time we reach the hotel my head is thumping from the constant blaring horns.
In the evening we find a restaurant/bar called ”Spicey” the food is wonderful, reasonably priced and they sell beer. How good is that!!. Wednesday, October 20
Today we plan to go to Delhi station and buy tickets for the train to Agra. You might well think that this should be an easy task, but unfortunately it turns out to be harder than you can imagine, and we end up booking a complete 26 day tour of Rajasthan and Kashmir with a tour company. There seems to be people strategically placed to lie to travelers and stop lone travelers making their own way around India. Maybe, this is not the case, but you certainly need lots of time to make travel arrangements on your own. Our agent throws in an afternoon tour of Delhi to wet our appetites
and we visit Humayuns Tomb and the Bahai Faith Lotus Temple.
We check into a new hotel for the night that is now part of our “tour”.
Again we go to Spicey for our evening meal. The food is excellent and the service is good. This could well be our number one restaurant for the trip Thursday, October 21
We are picked up at 8.30 and taken to the airport for an 11.00 flight to Kashmir. We are staying on a houseboat in Nigeen lake, Srinagar. The British Raj came to Kashmir in the summer months when the temperatures became too hot in Calcutta and Delhi. The first thing that you notice on arriving at the military airport is the amount of soldiers, of course this is to be expected as commercial airlines are sharing the airport with the military. However, as you travel through the city you find that there are soldiers, pill boxes, troop carriers with machine gun turrets throughout the city. Dick had heard that there was political unrest in Kashmir, but even though Kashmir is supposed to be part of India, this seemed to be an occupation by a foreign army.
arrived at the houseboat and are immediately given the hard sell by the local representative, Mustaffa, of our Delhi tour operator to take additional tours to the tune of US $465 each. We turn him down and announce that we are leaving for a walk. To our surprise we are followed by one of the houseboat staff to make sure that we don't purchase tours from anyone else. I finally call the unfortunate man and tell him to “stay”. Finally he does and we continue our walk in peace. Along the way we interact with the local Kashmir's and find them to be friendly and interested in where we are from. The culmination is when we are approached by two young girls of around 16-18 years of age who want us to give them pens; I oblige, but only have one pen with me. On the side of the lake there is we take the requisite pictures before turning around and making our way back to the houseboat. We pick-up our man Yusef along the way and then we head back to the houseboat for a dinner of chicken curry, cauliflower curry and rice. All very nice!!!
was warm during the day I find that it is cold at night in Kashmir in October. I don't sleep very well, just as I am dropping off for the third time, I feel something on my bed and very startled, I yell out to Malcolm. Whatever it is, I kick it towards Malcolm's bed in fright, it later turns out that we have a “Rat”. Friday, October 22
On waking up, it is raining and very cold. In fact, I can see my breath, this I am not ready for and have few warm clothes having left my sweaters in Bangkok. After breakfast, we decide to make a break from our captors and walk off towards town, but are immediately followed up the road by another of our houseboat minders, Rami. By this time I'm a little pissed and tell him to take a hike, later it turns out that he was going to offer us the use of the car to take us into town. Instead, we pile into a Tuk-tuk and ask to be taken to the tourist area. We are now very cold and wet, and everything is shut as it is Friday. Shivering and
wet, we look for somewhere to have coffee, Malcolm spies a hotel and we enter out of the rain. The owner, a Muslim man who is intelligent,but fervent, welcomes us and gives us coffee. Discussion starts and we are soon into Kashmir politics and why the Indian Government shouldn't be here. It would seem in our host's view, that most Kashmir's want unification and independence. Kashmir is bordered by China and Pakistan and is very close to Afghanistan. China and Pakistan each encroach on Kashmir. We are also told that strike conditions prevail as a response to a period of violence between Kashmir's and the Indian Army where children have been massacred due to civil unrest and stone throwing incidents. We later experience a stone throwing incident where youths are throwing stones at heavily armed Indian troops.
We are again captured by our tour operator, taken to his hotel for warmth and food and sold a day tour to a glacier in the Himalayas. The price starts at US $95, but we bargain him down to $50 US. After lunch he drives us around the lake and takes us to a Kashmir Carpet merchant. The family are devout Muslims
and have been educated in Manchester, England and are United supporters. All of the carpets shown to us are wonderful and I even waiver, but my feeling is that there is not much room for bargaining in this situation. 6X4 silk rugs are priced from $1,330 US and even though we were given the hard sell we do leave without buying. However, I do arrange to go back for a second look the next evening. Our tour operator, Raffi takes us back to the houseboat and curry dinner served by our faithful Yusef. Saturday, October 23
It's clear and sunny. I immediately tell Rami that he should inform Raffi that our carpet trip is not happening this evening. We are not buying carpets, magic or otherwise. A 4 wheel drive arrives for our tour. Yusef will accompany us. And we're off, the 4 wheel drive races through town on its way into the Himalayas. To say that we are not frightened would be untrue, however he appears to be quite skillful and keeps the SVU on the road despite racing along cliff-side roads with scary drops. After about 80Km we are in Sonamarg, the snow, and the Himalayas. We
have picked up our guide a 72 year old man who will lead us to the glacier. It seems that it is horses for courses and and as we are all sixty or over we should at least be able to keep up with a 72 year old man. None of us are dressed for the snow and Malcolm is in sandals. However, he gets a pair of boots while Dick and myself trek into the snow in our trainers.
On the way back to the houseboat we experience the stone throwing incident. Our driver wisely speeds up and takes us out of danger. Back at the houseboat it's time for another curry dinner. Sunday, October 24
Again, the sun is shining and the weather is lovely. Yusef appears and treats us to a big breakfast including extras of juice and porridge, which is a step-up from our normal breakfasts of flat Kashmire bread (a bit like a cold Nan), butter and jam, followed by an insipid omellete and Kasmire tea (lovely with a hint of cinnamon). Yes, we are off to the airport to go back to Delhi.. Along the way we arrange a stop at the
old town market, which is what we wanted to see all along, but circumstances, weather and our tour company seemed to prevent us from seeing. The three of us spend time walking around the market, which is situated around the biggest mosque in Kasmire. Burkah's abound and it is very clear that Kashmire is a Muslim State and in my view, very, very conservative. One interaction that I had with a man perched on a wall turns quite aggressive as he immediately brings up Burkah bans in France and the west. I disengage and head back to the car.
We are now on our way to the airport, which turns out to be a bit of a nightmare. Queues of traffic go from three lanes to one lane as each vehicle is searched and the inhabitants and luggage scanned. On entry to the airport the luggage and passengers are scanned and searched again. Dick seems to be having an unlucky day as the security people seem to be focusing on him. Myself and Malcolm seem to be getting through OK. We are again searched before reaching the departure lounge. And again scanned and searched on the tarmac before boarding
the aircraft. After take-off we fly over the Himalayas providing magnificent views of this majestic, snow covered mountain range, and head towards Delhi.
We are met by our driver Harish or Harri to his European passengers. Then, we commence on Toads Wild ride towards Mandawa, a six hour ride at breakneck speeds. Initially we are in daylight, but soon darkness descends and the ride gets quite scary. Headlights are always full beam, often lorries have only one headlight and it isn't until you are upon them that you find this out.
We arrive at our hotel at around 10.15pm and manage to get food in the restaurant before heading to bed. Monday, October 25
I must mention that the Mandawa hotel is called a Haveli, this was probably a merchants house, with beautifully painted ceilings and walls. To the uninitiated, this is just a building that is big, old and not a palace, built by rich merchants or administrators. However, while the room was nice and clean, the bath looked as though it hadn't been cleaned in 10 years. In addition, the restaurant was over-priced for the standard of food and service was less than average..
The next morning its time to tour Mandawa and its Havelis with the Assistant Mgr of our hotel. The Havelis are several hundred years old, were once beautiful, but now in various states of decay. This is followed by a stroll through the market with our trusty cameras click, clicking.
Onward, towards Bikaner at a reasonable pace, Harri no longer has a lead foot and even stopped to allow us to take pictures. Lunchtime saw us stop at a tourist restaurant with overpriced food and beer (200 rbs for a kingfisher beer) Tuesday, October 26
Our hotel for the night is Sagar Hotel, a red hotel with reasonable rooms, internet and bathrooms that function properly.
For dinner we go to the Laxmi Niwas Palace, the hotel restaurant is expensive, however we are directed towards a garden restaurant that is reasonably priced with good food and most excellent service. There is a great view of the palace, all lit-up in the background, as we eat our curry, nan and drink our kingfisher beer.
The breakfast is a buffet and when we got there it was slim pickings. Malcolm made a remark to a lady and
stated that the Germans must have got here first, of course she was German, and later her husband came back to tell us that “the Germans finished the dregs so that there would be a re-fill and the Americans could eat all they want”.
Our only stop of the day is Junagarth Fort in Bikaner which dates from the 16th century and was built Moguls (Muslims from Afghanistan). The place is outstanding and it is good to see that renovation is continuous. The plaster is like shined marble and it turns out that the plaster is “sea shell”. These Maharajas certainly knew how to live!
We are back in the car for a six hour car ride through the desert to Jaisalmer and the Royal Hotel. In the evening we have vegetarian curry on the rooftop restaurant which provides a nice view of the fort Wednesday, October 27
I wake up quite early, 6.00am and take my camera to the rooftop in an attempt to take an early morning picturet of the fort. We have breakfast at 7.30 and then have a guided tour of the fort and walled city. Jaisalmer is called the golden city because
it is made from yellow sandstone which is mined in the desert. Our guide tells the history of the fort which was started in the mid 1100's (about the time that Normans were building the Tower of London) and we commence our walking tour. It turns out that the fort has never been conquered, because it has a deep well 300 meters and in the surrounding desert there is no water. There is also only one entry into the city which is gated and any attacker breaching the first gate would then come across a second and third gate. Walking in through the main gate we are attacked by an army of locals and Romany's selling anything from beads and bangles to textiles. This carries on until we reach the main square. Shortly after there is a Jain temple which has amazing carvings and the Hindu God is very reminiscent of a Buddha. I make a joking comment to three women from Coventry and get my head bitten off by one of them; I hope she gets Delhi Belly....
I must mention the bulls and cows wandering through the streets, most are mal-nourished and eat paper, plastic and can
be seen rooting about in the many rubbish piles around town.
After we finish we have lunch with the guide and then return to the hotel. In the afternoon I head out on my own to do some minor shopping Harri arrives at 4.30pm to take us to Sunset Point for a view of the fort and to watch the sun go down. This is very average and I wouldn't recommend it to visitors.
Our evening meal is at a restaurant called Saffron, excellent food and definitely in our top 3 restaurant list to date. We return to the hotel and find there is Rajasthani entertainment upstairs in the restaurant the entertainer is a transvestite, and boy could she dance. Even standing on swords she/he managed the Rajasthan shuffle.....
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