Escape from India!
Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
158Trip End Aug 08, 2005
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We are in Nepal - yeehah. We're very happy to be here, it's not too cold - yet, and we are relaxing a bit. Here's the latest since our last update.
After saying goodbye to our Tibetan English students, we caught the overnight bus from Dharamsala back to Delhi. We now seemed to be almost used to the discomfort and lack of sleep, so much so that after we checked into our hotel we actually still felt alive enough to bargain a rickshaw to the U.K. embassy, to be ultra efficient and collect our new passports. Unfortunately, against our good intentions, India had decided to have a random festival holiday that meant we had to wait until the next day. We had been looking forward to heading south to the warmer climate of Delhi but surprisingly, the cold had reached there too and all the stalls that a few weeks earlier had sold thin t- shirts and dresses, now displayed thick wooly jumpers and jackets
From Delhi, a short train journey took us to Bharatpur and to Keoladeo National Park, a man made marsh area which attracts many species of birds from as far as Russia and Siberia. It boasts to be one of the world's top bird spotting sights and we thought it would make a peaceful change from other India sights. As we cycled round the tracks in the early morning, with the help of a guide, we spotted jackals, many owls, parrots, eagles, painted storks, spoonbils, kingfishers and woodpeckers. Our guide even found us two large pythons coiled up around each other, hidden at the base of a tree.
Agra was next on the list and as home of the Taj Mahal, it could hardly be missed. So it was that at 6a.m, and after a rigorous security search and 750 rupees entrance fee (Indians pay 20!), we entered the manicured gardens in front of the Taj Mahal. It was built to house the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal the favourite wife (and bearer of 14 children) of Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century. For all it's hype, the building is amazing. All the white marble is inlaid with semi precious stones and the entire Qur'an is said to be written on it's walls. It didn't fail to impress us, especially as the sun rose, bathing the marble in warm red light and highlighting the amazing detail
The competition between hotels in Khajuraho is fierce and the sales pitch discreetly starts on the bus and ends in mayhem at the station, but it resulted in a nice hotel at a good price and the town itself was very pleasant. Now that we were used to very early morning starts, and because all the temples in Khajuraho face east, we went to the entrance for sunrise and really enjoyed a peaceful wander around the beautiful gardens and elaborately carved temples lit by the rising sun. The 'erotic' title is a bit misleading as the temples have many carvings of everyday life, but some are amusingly explicit although not nearly as bad as the guides' explanations of some scenes and Kama Sutra techniques which some of them depict
The next day begins the day's events which we affectionately(?) term 'Disaster Day 1'. We got up really early (5am) in order to visit Panna Tiger Reserve where we had great hopes of spotting a tiger. Unfortunately our jeep did not show up and it was too late to arrange another as the tigers disappear deep into the park as soon as the sun gets warm. So we decided on a sharp exit on the 10 am bus which also decided not to show up. We tried an alternative route recommended to us and became stranded at a crossroads where nobody spoke English and all the passing buses to our destination seemed like a Guinness Book of Records attempt to cram as many people into a bus as possible. So we returned to Khajuraho and had to wait until 2.30 pm for the next scheduled bus, although we were warned that it too might not show. Thankfully it did and we set off on a 5 hour journey to Satna, the nearest town with rail links. At this point we had decided to go to Bandhavgarh National Park to track tigers there. The bus journey started off okay but deteriorated rapidly as the 'roads' degenerated into rubble and potholes to rival even the worst in Africa, and which spewed clouds of dust through the windows which would not close
Varanasi was hectic at first but we had a really nice time there. We had been warned of the scams and touts and couldn't manage to get a rickshaw to the hotel of our choice as when one hotel becomes popular, other hotels change their name to something very similar to make you think that you're where you're supposed to be. Anywhere we ended up somewhere okay and then headed out to the ghats along the river Ganges. There are many ghats that run along the river for a few kms and, being far from the noisy polluted roads, they were a haven of peace and tranquility for us. We strolled along watching the colourful boats bobbing in the water, people washing in the holy river and others worshipping and performing puja at the temples on the riverbank. We came across the 'burning ghats' and saw cremations which take place around the clock. Many people come to Varanasi to die and then to be cremated by the Ganges where their ashes are scattered, in order to escape the cycle of rebirth. It is a subduing experience, witnessing it so close by but at the same time it is an integral part of the culture there. Thankfully we missed some of the really distressing sights that some of our friends had witnessed and had been affected by. We got up early the next morning and did a sunrise boat ride along the ghats in time to see the thousands of people who flock there to perform their daily cleansing activities and religious rituals
In Varanasi we also did a little shopping (Sian couldn't resist a little more silk before leaving India and Varanasi is famous for it) and we tried to see the film that we had been extras in, Kal Ho Naa Ho, which has been released in the cinemas. The crowds turned out to be too big so we gave it a miss for now. We booked a tourist coach to Pokhara, Nepal and prepared for the long journey. The tourist bus was the best option as the Maoist activity in Nepal has resulted in many road block and police checks during which all the people (except foreigners) are checked along with their baggage. This extends the journey time considerably and curfews in Nepal mean you end up spending the night on the bus. We thought tourist bus = only foreigners = no checks = Pokhara in one day. This is where we get to Disaster Day 3! Having checked and confirmed that the bus was going our hotel duly advised us at the last minute that it was cancelled. Flights were not available and so we decided to get a train as far north as possible, then take buses. So we boarded the train to Gorakpur at 1.45pm (it too was late) for the 6 hour journey. It went smoothly at first, until commotion erupted all around as young army recruits packed themselves into the train
Pokhara, so far, has been fantastic
Anyway, hopefully everything will go more smoothly from now on, fingers crossed! If we don't get another chance, then Merry Christmas to everyone, we hope you all have a really good time.
Take Care all,
K & S.