Thursday, September 25, 2008


It's all gone.
We flew out of Delhi today. So that's the end of India. Endia.

After our days relaxing at Bharatpur and making various daytrips to Fatehpur Sikri, the Taj Mahal in Agra and to the nearby National Park, we headed to the train station to catch a local train to Delhi.
We were encircled at the platform by a bunch of locals who weren't in any way concerned with the boundaries of personal space. We did our best to be be boring and uninteresting but it didn't work that well. Mainly because no one has red hair in India. Also mainly because they don't see a lot of Western laydeez out that way, perhaps.

Anyway, we made it to Delhi, found ourselves a guest house and did some minor sightseeing. Delhi is pretty hectic (though not on the same scale as Mumbai), but it's really quite polluted and after two days there I've acquired a nice smoker's cough from all the muck in the air. We checked out the Red Fort whilst we were around which was cool, although I'm pretty much fort-ed out for the moment.

On our last night we did some souvenir shopping and I got fondled by a kid whose skin was peeling off everywhere? Leprosy, i don't know, but he tried to grab my sandwich and did grab my arm.

Come to think of it, on the last day in Delhi, we saw all manner of things. Whilst in a rickshaw at traffic lights a guy came up begging. He had elephantitis or something. Localised Elephantitis.
Elephantitis of the testicles to be specific.
Begging with one hand, he raised up his football sized scrotum (Not a word of a lie) for us to see. Charlotte was not particularly comfortable with this situation. I'm not sure why, it seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
We also saw a guy without a mandible. (Once you got him talking, you couldn't keep his mouth shut! Bad taste, sorry...)

Moving on...

We landed in Singapore this afternoon and coming from India, it almost feels like we're time travelling.
A far cry from the dusty, dirty streets of Delhi, littered with impromptu stalls and beggars, Singapore seems to be a really livable city and we were most relieved to be able to walk down the street without being harangued.
It's short-lived though, as tomorrow afternoon we fly out for Hanoi.

It's getting late, so I'm just going to head up to my rooftop bed, check out the view over the city and catch some sleep. Ah, it's tough sometimes...

PS: Wasabi Ice cream and Black Sesame Ice cream = Tasty

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What the hell?

What in the hell kind of country closes its most important monument on a FRIDAY?

We got up at 5am and made the 1.5 hour journey to Agra on Friday to see the Taj Mahal.

The fucking thing was closed.
The best we could get was seeing it from a distance from a rooftop restaurant before making the trip back to Bharatpur.

We went again today, this time leaving at 4.30am.
It was open. And definitely worth making the return trip for.

People say seeing the Taj is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Well now we've seen it twice. (At least that's how I made Friday's failure seem ok in my mind)

Ha, we win.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fresh air, silent nghts and antelopes.

We're in Bharatpur, not far from Agra.

It took a while to get here from Jaipur. The news-making rains that have flooded Bihar have sprinkl;ed a fair bit fo water around here too, indicated by the need for ouyr bus to drive through stretches of unsealed road with the axles submerged. (Have I mentioned axles a lot in the last few posts? What is it with axles?)
Anyways, somewhere along the way we also scored ourselves a flat tyre. So we had to pull into some little village to get that changed, using rudimentary apparatus and methods. So it was a little longer than scheduled but we got to Bharatpur in the end.
And then the driver realised he'd lost the key to the padlock which was locking our backpacks in the storage compatment of the bus.
Again with the rudimentary apparatus. (ie. A crowbar)
Then we were asked to pay for the lock.
No sir, I shall not pay for your stupidity.

It's quiet town, this Bharatpur. Which is a nice break from the cities we've been in. There's not much going on here except for the Keoladeo National Park. It's a big wetland area filled with shitloads of birds and various other animals.
Our guesthouse owner/nature-guide-ornithologist-man told us there's 8 metre pythons in there, except they're hibernating at the moment.
What a disappointment. I really fancied me some death by constriction/asphyxiation. Maybe next time.
So no, we didn't catch a glimpse of any ginormous snakes. We did see some birds though. Buckets of them. Figuratively.
Cranes, eagles, owls, ibis (ibii??), ducks, partridge, kingfisher and some weird ones I hadn't heard of before. Like Babblers. And a bunch that leave themselves wide open for all sorts of immature double entrendres. Which I demonstrated, much to Charlotte's diusmay.
We also saw a few antelope, a turtle, squirrels, insects and as per usual, a few monkeys.

Our guesthouse owner/nature-guide-ornithologist-man took us around for three hours, then we pedalled off on our own for a bit longer. Stopping to snack on the packed lunch the guesthouse had made for us.
(An aside: 'Vegetable Sandwich'in India, means 'wet bread with cabbage, tomato and onion' I wouldn't recommend it.)

Tonight, we're off to get some more tasty Indian food. Surprise! Then tomorrow we have an early start to try and get to the Taj Mahal for sunrise. Failing that, we'll go to Fatehpur Sikri to check out the ruins there.

Oh, and we didn't end up going to the 'European Party' in Jaipur. It sounded a bit dodgy and was more than likely going to be a commission scam, where we'd get taken to a textiles factory on the edge of town, plied with chai and then made to buy a nasty rug.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I can cook like nobody's Indian.

Damn straight.
We went to a cooking class the other night. Now we have maaaaad Indian cooking skills. Some of you may even be privy to the unleashing of them upon our return home.
The cooking class was really cool- We were basically in this lovely couple's house. Whilst Rhika showed Charlotte a bunch of trinkets and whatnots, her Husband Amil and I headed down to the markets to pick up ingredients. After wading through rats, rotting food and assorted flotsam accumulated in the recent rain's puddles, we picked up some spinach, flour and yoghurt (probably not pasteurised judging by the dirty clay pot the vendor scraped it out of)and headed back to the house.
We cooked, ate, drank saffron lassis and bought some super tasty spices. Good times.

Now we're in Jaipur- The Pink City.
It's not all that.

It moves along at a frenetic pace and there's so many tourists pouring out of big ass air-conditioned buses and four wheel drives, that it's kind of disappointing. Also, all the locals know that these package tourists have money to burn, so they assume that we do also and are attempting to charge insane amounts for everything.
Not that much of a problem, it just makes the bargaining process take ten times as long. It may also stretch my patience a little, but that's how it goes.

Seeing as this place isn't as charming as we'd anticipated, we're leaving two days early to go check out a national park that's conveniently on the way to Agra, our next stop. We'll spend a day or two there, cruise around on some bikes for a while and enjoy being out of reach of touts and persistent rickshaw drivers.

Speaking of Rickshaw drivers, we took a tour with one yesterday and checked out the local sights, including the Lake Palace, which looks like someone has done a super job in Photoshop and placed a big yellow palace in the middle of a vivid blue lake. We even got some photos as a huge rainbow formed over it. That was pretty cool.

We also visited the 'Monkey Palace' which, surprisingly, was covered in monkeys. We waded through the primates until we reached the hilltop palace. We kept them at bay with peanuts, although one decided to use Charlotte's back as a springboard.
Initial consultation suggests she doesn't have rabies.
We did get rorted into being blessed by some lady for the stately sum om 65 rupees. I'm not one to argue with Hindi gods, so we begrudgingly paid our tithings and left, dyed string knotted on our wrists and (recycled) flower wreaths around our necks.

Then we were taken to see the mystic jeweller, who made astonishing summations about our families and current situations. It was incredible and I'm sure all the answers we provided to our rickshaw driver's seemingly innocent questions earlier in the day were in now way whatsoever passed on to this honourable jeweller character.

Tonight, our friendly rickshaw driver is taking us to dinner at his family's place (I think. Family may mean 'people who pay me commission for bringing gullible tourists to their establishment'), and then on to a party some European friends of his are having.

This conjured images of sharing fondue and saunas with some Nordic types, however it may be slightly different. I don't really know.

Will report on the details soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Horse pants, a fort and a bus.

Well here we are in sunny Jodhpur.
It's really nice. A lot like most of India actually.
We caught the bus here from Udaipur, which was a bit of an experience.
It was kind of like a normal bus ride would be, except on a bus with rectangular wheels.
It was super-rough. Rough enough to have at least 6 or so people throwing up out the window. We wound through mountains, quarries and rural areas on sometimes a road, sometimes a dirt track, the bus periodically stopped by goats and cattle. Oh, and we also spent some time getting out of a bog hole and narrowly avoiding being stuck up to the axles in mud.

We covered 260km in 6.5 hours. That's an average speed of 40kph. In stifling heat, on a bus packed with people from all walks of Indian life. And a Swiss couple. They were nice.

Arriving in Jodhpur, we found ourselves a nice little guesthouse. After throwing our stuff down we walked outside and realised that there was a giant fort on a giant hill looming above us and blocking out the sun.
After venturing across town to buy our onward train ticket, we found a place that did tasty Thalis and had us some dinner, then we bought some Indian sweets (gross, tastes like powdered milk)and got a drink. We then partook in some 'kicking back' on the hotel roof and watching the fort glow pink in the light of the almost-full moon.
The fort is definitely impressive.
It's called the Meherengarh fort (Or something similarly spelt) and it's pretty awesome. It looks like He-Man should ride down from the top of it on his Battlecat.
We headed up there earlier today to check it out and it's one of the coolest places we've visited so far. Plus we had the best audioguide we've had in all our travels.

We're off to do a cooking class tonight, then we head on to Jaipur first thing tomorrow morning.

Also, not to fear, we're not in Delhi for another week, so pretty sure we'll have avoided the whole 'bomb' thing... Plus we're smart and safe and made of 95% titanium, so we should be fine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Animal Farm

No, not the Orwell novel, it's a place called Udaipur.
We've seen all the animals in the streets here:

Dogs: Check
Squirrels: Check
Monkeys: Check
Goats, donkeys, cows, sheep: Check
Bats, geckos, hawks, horses, cranes, pigs: Check

It's like a goddamn zoo, but only with all the shit animals.
Although I have to admit, it was pretty insane when the street we were walking down was the site of a spider monkey assault. Out of nowhere they came swinging in from rooftops, running across cabling and terrorising the street. Seeing as we didn't get our magical rabies forcefield injections before embarking for the subcontinent, we slowly snuck by and left the locals to deal with the chaos.

Jeremy and Charlotte: 1
Monkeys: 0

Udaipur is really cool though. Waaaay more laid back than anywhere else we've been in India. Cleaner streets (even with all the animals around) and it's set on a big-ass lake which our hotel overlooks. Can't complain.

There's a palace built on an island in the middle of said lake, another palace built on the lake's shore and a myriad of temples, shrines and memorials scattered through the labrynthine streets.

We even trekked out of the old town area yesterday to visit the royal cenotaphs. This place is filled with memorials to all the various maharajas that have expired over the years and boy, do the royals here know how to make a posthumous monument.
I think there was something like 250 cenotaphs and I would be happy to live in the majority of them. There were domes and pillars and steps and multi-levels and marble elephants. All kinds of nifty shit that costs a whole bunch.
Oh and there was more monkeys. And disease ridden dogs, that like me, though the cenotaphs were a pretty sweet place to live.

After hiking back into town along a road crawling with all manner of Health and Safety deathtraps disguised as vehicles (Anyone for carrying a 5 metre bamboo ladder on your scooter handlebars UPRIGHT???), we made it back into the (relative) safety of our little part of town, Hanuman Ghat.
Five minutes later, the sky darkened to a menacing black and the thunder and lightning commenced. Sitting on the terrace of our hotel, this made for awesome viewing, until the torrential rain started. We decided then it was time to head for cover.

-Cue food, drinks, chatting, sleeping. Fade to black.-

Today we thought we'd take a nice little stroll to some garden thing that some important guy made for a bunch of chicks he was into. The local guide suggested it was some fancy acreage with fountains and kiosks and various types of exotic flora.

Sounds like it is worth walking to, right?

Two hours of walking, three litres of sweat and four hundred 'no thanks' to rickshaw drivers later, we finally succumbed, hailed a rickshaw and asked him where in the hell we were.

Lost, apparently. Thanks shitty local guide map.

He drove us about a kilometre in a direction we didn't even know was possible and dropped us off at the front of the gardens.

They were pretty shite.

We walked around them for fifteen minutes, then commenced the walk home which was decidedly nicer than the gardens.

Once again, we did the food, drinks etc thing and now I'm waiting while the photos transfer off my camera... Shitty computer is hells slow. (three hours to move some photos, wtf??!)

Tomorrow we've got an early start as we're off on a day trip to Chittorgah to check out its super awesome fort . Apparently it's the best in all of India. Some guy that's into forts says so.

Despite its solid looks, it was overrun by invading armies pretty much whenever an invading army knocked on it's door. And being honorable Rajputs, the inhabitants almost always opted to sacrifice themselves rather than be humiliated by their foes.

So yeah, we're off to a massive (but really weak) fort where thousands of people set themselves on fire.
Romantic, no?

After that, we're back in Udaipur for a day, then it's on to Jodhpur- the land of tight, unflattering equestrian attire.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hope you don't mind me saying, but I'm totally India.

In-to-ya.. Geddit? Errr.. Anyways...

Howdy folks...
We made it to India! Upon landing around midnight, we set about sorting out a hotel through the tourist office which was no problems, then we got ourselves a taxi into town.

Before I continue, I'll try paint a picture of Mumbai International for you.
Imagine, I dunno, say, Tullamarine or Heathrow Airport.

Then replace the shiny new cabs at the taxi rank with 60's model boxes on wheels (Our box on wheels had a fancy carpeted roof. Hells yeah)

Then replace the orderly taxi rank area with a kind of shed thing constructed from wood, rope and occassional bits of corrugated iron.

Then replace automatic doors and air conditioning with gaping holes in the ground and blue canvas walkways leading through rubble to the car park.
Then replace the smooth freeways and train lines into the city with about 12 kilometres of slums and shanty towns.

Then replace any delays resulting from roadworks with delays resulting from being stuck behind a bull towing a trailer adorned with a shrine of Ganesha, surrounded by throngs of people dancing, banging drums, chanting and letting off fireworks.

That was our introduction to Mumbai International and to India. It was awesome. Way better than driving over Footscray on the CityLink or sliding through the darkness on the Piccadilly line.

Since then, it's been a complete assault on the senses.
The smell of incense, of faeces, of sweat, of animals, of spices, of monsoon rains.
The sight of a thousand colours of saris, of buses bursting with people, of millions of taxis and autorickshaws vying for poll position, of mothers and their babies sleeping on cardboard on the street, of every animal with every disease under the sun (Kind of like if Noah's Ark was a quarantine vessel).
The sound of 40,000 horns all blaring at one another, of touts yelling 'Hotel, hotel! Good price, Vally good price!', of coins clanking as another beggar appeals for rupees, of staccato drumming as another procession of people celebrating the Ganesha festival dance by.
The taste of fresh naan made before your eyes by a street vendor, of just-squeezed lime juice, of dosa, dahl and tikkas, of victory as we bargain the price of the world's bigest umbrella down to 200 rupees.

It's a pretty awesome place. Like nothing I've ever experienced.

We did all the Mumbai sightseeing stuff, plenty of awesome buildings, temples, mosques etc, especially a lot of stuff from the colonial days.
We went down to Chowpatty beach for an evening, took an intersting boat trip out to Elephanta island where there's temples carved into caves (and monkeys galore.) We were also asked to be an extra on the set of a Bollywood movie. We accepted and you can now catch me in the upcoming, big budget Bollywood film, Donostana.
I'm the waiter with the big red hair walking through some auction ceremony thing.

It was a long day, clocking in at around 14 hours although we got paid enough to pay for our room for the night. Was very funny to watch the precious stars complaining because 'the fans are blowing wrong' or because 'I said COLD coffee!!'
Wow. Sorry Mr Important nancy-boy Bollywood guy.

It's pretty cool to see how it all works behind the scenes. Although being dressed in black suit, black shirt and heavy waistcoat in 30 degree heat is not so great actually. Especially considering my costume was made of enough synthetic material to fund the running of a petrochecmical plant for a year. It was a pretty hot and sweaty deal but completely worthwhile.

After a day of wildlife watching at the beach (Crabs can jump! A whole foot!!! I did not know this!) we caught a cab to Mumbai Central Station. We had a bit of a wait there and a group of porters befriended us and set about asking if we were married, how many kids we had, why we didn'thave any kids, why we didn't go 1st class because then we'd have a cabin to ourselves, wink-wink.
Raju told me he has a wife and one kid, but that is all, now he only .... You know, for enjoyment. He then insisted I look at his mobile, upon which he'd kindly played some porn. Thanks Raju. Kind AND classy.

After an hour or two of waiting, we boarded the overnight train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, arriving here in Ahmedabad this morning at 6.30am.
After declining the persistent offers of an army of touts, we checked our bags in and caught an autorickshaw into Ahmedabad city.
It's cleaner than Bombay, with more animals and less exposure to Westerners/people walking around looking completely lost with a Lonely Planet guide in hand.
Definitely not a well known tourist destination. By this I mean, we've been accosted at every corner and waved at, grabbed by children, been asked our names, been said 'Goot Morni!' to a hundred times and pointed at, which is totally entertaining and surreal. I kind of feel like the guy in the Mickey suit at Disneyland. Although no one has punched me in the nuts yet.
Charlotte has proved popular with the locals as well, even after having adopted some modest attire(ie. Covered in a shawl/sari thingy from neck to toe) and has left a kid awestruck after she let him take some random photos with her camera.
We've strolled around the streets here and the attention can get pretty full on, so we've retired to a nice little internet cafe for an hour or two. Plus, it's a bajillion degrees outside, so the AC in here is welcome respite.
We catch a train at 11pm tonight on to Udaipur where we kick back for four nights, do a couple of daytrips to nearby towns and hang out by the lake. Awesome.

Also, despite my best efforts, I think I got bitten by a mosquito this morning. Probably not, but maybe. Should be fine, but if I call any of you within the next 7 days, I'll probably be getting you to organise an airlift and some malaria treatment for me. You're cool with that though, right? K, thanks.
Hehe. Seriously though, I'll be fine. No need to worry about malaria when there's packs of rabid dogs roaming the streets.

(Hi Mum, it's fine, don't worry.)

Only 12 more hours to kill till we leave here bound for Udaipur, a bed and a shower.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Yet another enthralling episode from the creators of the previous posts.

So, we went to Paris.
It was pretty awesome. All lit up in lights (How else??), Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc de triomphe etc etc etc....
Really worthwhile, even though the hotel we stayed in made us pay to use the shower. Dirty French bastards.

Then we went to Bordeaux, the world renowned wine growing region. Needless to say, we drank some wine. Bordeaux is super laid back, quiet and has some cool stuff going on.
After spending a few days dottering about Bordeaux, we ventured further south to Bayonne.

Bayonne, not so great. Nothing eventful to report. Except some guy sprayed us with his windscreen wiper jet thingy. Jerk.

From there we caught a mini train across the border to Spain, namely, San Sebastian.

Spain is definitely my favourite country so far.
It's where the awesomeness kicked in and we spent 2 weeks lying on beaches, sightseeing, eating the world's best food, drinking Sangria and basically doing sweet F.A.
San Sebastian = Awesome pinxtos, sangria, beaches
Barcelona = Wicked culture, cool galleries, beaches, amazing food
Valencia = Massive beach, Agua de Valencia (Tastiest booze ever), muchos relaxation.
Madrid = Really cool vibe, awesome food, planes that blow up on runways. OK, we avoided all that. Madrid was awesome.

So we left Madrid at 10am, in 30 degree heat and touched down in glorious England a couple of hours later in blustery cold winds and rain.


Now, we're on to conquer India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore.

Flying out in just over 24 hours.... Kinda nervous.
Should be cool though. They have elephants!