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Published: October 5th 2008
Kolkata: Britain's attempt at matching the Taj
I have just returned from my travels and am absolutely shattered from the whole experience. It was a trip carried out at a hectic pace, with almost no time to relax and more importantly wash clothes!
I arrived in Kolkata on the 17th August. I spent a few days there before heading into the mountains where i spent three months last year. On my way up i was delayed by two days due to strikes. The Himalayan parts of West Bengal were protesting because they wanted to become a separate state, Gorkha Land. It was fantastic when I did finally reach Lepcha land. I spent 4 days there, and even though it rained heavily most of the time I still managed to see many of key players. The biggest shock was to find out that Raymond, the 21 year old who looked after me last year, had married one of my school pupils (who is now 17) and had had a child! Other things had changed. there were two new schools and a new church (sadly it was built on the old cricket pitch). The landscape had also transformed and taken on a lush almost jungle like greenness. This had
a huge impact on getting around. At times what were once paths had become fast flowing, impassable streams. Walking to the market used to take 40mins, but in the humid, slippery conditions it took a very sweaty 1hr! The walk back took even longer, over 2hrs, but that was largely due to the fact that Raymond took me on a Himalayan bar crawl!
I left the villages not only very hungover, but also extremely happy for having made the major detour to get up there. I had previously been traveling on my own because my friend from uni had to stay home on account of a debilitating back problem, but for the next two weeks i would be accompanied by two girls who were out in the villages with me last year. We had initially hoped to go to Tibet, but after all the problems we gave up that idea and instead flew down to tamil nadu, which is one area of India where the weather is good at this time of year. We arrived in Chennai and spent a day or two there before heading south to Madurai. There we hoped to see one of the most famous
This photo does not do justice to just how poor their yo yo skills were. The girl on the left, my host's younger daughter, has grown up ridiculously over the year.
temples in India, the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. Unfortunately it was under scaffolding. The girls went and explored the complex anyway, while i recovered from a brutal train journey, during which i had been sick 10 times! We then went to Kodaikanal, a hill station. It was a relief to escape the intense heat. The town was very peaceful and was blessed with stunning views. I quickly recovered and very soon we were back on the scorching plains in Trichy. The temple complexes here, in particular the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, were incredible. What struck me most was that they all were very lively places. In the outer areas of the complexes, there were shops restaurants etc. Towards the centre, where the religious artifacts and practices were in abundance, there were Brahmins and others talking, relaxing and just passing the time. It could not contrast more with Churches back home.
We took a couple of very hot and dirty buses up to Pondicherry. It was such a relief to see the Ocean. Something about it lifted our spirits immensely (the delicious Indo-french food helped as well). We soon dashed up to Mamallapuram. Here we saw celebrations for Ganesh's Birthday. The photos
give an idea of what went on. They don't however, give any sense of the unbelievable noise that the locals made. The beach here was stunning and the colourful boats and thatched roofed restaurants reminded me of the caribbean. This link was quickly dashed when a herd of cattle wandered past and then when walking along the water's edge the following morning we saw that the beach also served as a local loo!!!
After this find, Mamallapuram lost so much of its charm. I had a look at the Shore temple and then myself and one of the girls went to a nearby temple town, Thiruvanamalai (the other girl flew home at this point). It should have taken us 4 hours to get this place, but it ended up taking nearly 10. We waited at a town for an elusive 122 bus for nearly 2 hours before taking another bus up to Chennai (the wrong direction). there we stubbornly continued our round about journey to Thiruvanamalai. It was all worth it though. the temple complex there was stunning. The best part was at the nearby ashram, we were able to take a 4km walk to a view point, from
which we could see the complex as a whole in the context of the landscape. The amusing thing was that we had to remove our shoes at the ashram entrance so we ended doing this walk along a steep rubble path in bare feet! After this ordeal we went to get a drink. While sipping at a luke-warm coke, a man sat down next to me grabbed my hand and started to read my future. Apparently i would have two children and because i have freckles, i would also be rich!
The next day at 3:00am, i left for the Chennai airport to fly to Kathmandu.
I spent 2 days in the bustling capital of nepal with my 3 uni mates before starting off on our trek. The trek was without doubt the highlight of the trip, even the plane journey there was amazing. We had 13 days in the Everest region. I cant begin to relate to you everything that went on, but hopefully the photos give you a good idea. The dog pictured was stray, which followed us for 5 days. we named it Tenzing, after the first Sherpa to summit Everest (other groups named him
Ben and Poppy, oh dear!)
After the trek finished we went to a traditional village in the Kathmandu valley called Bhaktapur. There we saw a more beautiful Durbar Square than the one in Kathmandu. One particular thing i remember from it was seeing a cow's intestines hung up on a palace. apparently they stay up for a year before being taken down for a particular festival. On our last day in Nepal, for some reason we decided to go for a 70km bike ride in the Himalayan foothills. It was a disaster. When we set off from our hotel, it was drizzling, i was exhausted and my friend had some serious stomach issues. After 2 hours or so we had travelled about 30km. We stopped for a break briefly and then continued on. The scenery was fantastic, very similar to the views in Lepcha villages. I was really struggling, my arms were aching from going over so many potholes, i had pulled a muscle in my back, my bottom was on fire and more than anything i was fatigued. strangely my legs were the only part of me which felt fresh. i soon began to lag the others. at
a crossroads i was surprised not to see them waiting, but i asked a policeman for directions and he pointed me up a very steep hill. For the next hour i trawled up at a snail's pace. I was disheartened not to have seen any sign of my friends, i thought they had either got bored of waiting or i had been sent the wrong way. It then began to rain heavily. i was soaked and tired when my chain fell off. that was it, i threw my bike into a ditch in frustration. When i picked it back up, i saw the back wheel had bent slightly, and from then on the wheel no longer went round smoothly making the ascent even harder. 30mins later the road had disappeared and i was onto a dirt track. My arms were like jelly and i just wanted to give up. Unfortunately i was at the furthest point from our hotel so there was no chance of a quick solution. I sat under some shelter while rain persisted with a monsoon-esque determination. It had been 2 hours since i had last seen my friends (and 5 since breakfast!) when they finally turned
up. It turned out that they had gone the wrong way right back at the crossroads, and then had gone back down the road to try and find me. I had had enough and went back the way we had come. they pressed on despite the fact the road was un-bikable and was soon resembling a fast moving stream! after 5 mins, i got a puncture so i miserably walked down the hill to try and find a bus (fortunately that proved quite easy and at 5:00pm i returned to the hotel, hungry and shivering). At 6:30 the others finally appeared. It turned out that the path had got even worse and after many falls they had given up and carried their bikes down the side of a mountain. Eventually they came across a small traditional village which had one bus a day (possibly an exaggeration on their part) going to Kathmandu, which left at 5:30!!! The next morning, (6:00am) we headed to delhi.
In Delhi i visited all the major tourist sights. Humayan's tomb was my favourite. It is a basically a red taj mahal, as the photos show. Apart from a bomb going off near the
Qutab Minar and my camera being stolen at the top of a minaret in the biggest mosque in India, my time there was fairly uneventful! I did buy a sitar and had a few bizarre lessons too.
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