Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Oh right, I have a blog

Hello whoever reads this!

These two kiwi guys who I met at some point, I can't really remember, have been frequently updating their blogs.  You see, these two are party animal drunks, so I'm feeling a bit lazy with the fact I haven't updated this thing for months, as I've been sitting on my backside enjoying the easy life - well except for that two weeks climbing to Mt Everest base camp.  So I'm doing it now and will try to recall what happened pre-Everest.  So wait, where was I...checking last post...Varanasi?  Urgh, not my favourite place, that festering stink-hole, I think the old man and I hopped a train to Siliguri from there, yes, that's right!  The train to Siliguri!  I can't remember anything about it.

I do know that we got to Siliguri, a complete nowhere town as it was the town at a respectable altitude underneath Darjeeling.  It was a lot cooler here though, that was lovely!  Train..Siiguri..Darjeeling, yes, I recall being somewhat disheartened that the 'Darjeeling Express' didn't exist, as there isn't even a real train that goes to Darjeeling (there's a 'toy-train'), however the Malaga Express, even with it's less catchy name was a charming ride.  Yep, memory is somewhat returning.  We arrived at Siliguri and chartered a jeep with 50 other people up the 2.5 hour 'road' to Darjeeling.  Me and pops we crammed in the back with our packs and to other Indians (smaller than our packs).  It was a hard ride, and by the end of it my old man was at the end of his tether, he insisted on checking into this real standard hotel and we paid through the nose for the flea-bitten sheets.  Slept well though and I was in good spirits.

The next day he was still a bit tired, and we were lost, and why do we have to go up that big-ass hill, so it was a relief to finally find the place I was looking for since my guide book told me to.  I understood his mood though and we calmed down and cheered up.  The place was lovely - had views of the fog and clouds 20m away.  This cleared up eventually, and we were rewarded with a view to rival the best.  In Darjeeling, there was lots of British leftover stuff, such as buildings and land rovers.  There was an earthquake on the way up in the jeep if I recall correctly - some scared local hugged my dad in fear.  To be honest I had a blast during the quake, and due to the hardy buildings of blighty, no-one died in Darjeeling.*

I waltzed around the hilltop town for a few days, and a few events jump out at me, I met some Irish and had a drink with them at a pub, I bought some outdoor gear, and now I remember, I had lunch with those kiwis here and talked politics religion science and all that trite I love/hate so much.  They seemed somewhat intelligent.**

We decided to leave Darjeeling and go to Nepal!  Another tortuous jeep odyssey down the mountain later, we were at the border.  The first man we met in Nepal, baldy border officer, bribed about $20 out of us to let us in.  We couldn't really argue, this butthole was the authority, but we wanted desperately to get out of Kharkavitta a real border helltown, something akin the the US-Mexican border towns.  We soon met many other Nepalese that were on the nice end of the scale so our will wasn't too shaken.  The only option out out of town was an uncomfortable local bus for the 17-hour journey.  We had company in and old Scottish perv and his young Malaysian rent-boy, but looking past the obvious moral character flaws he was quite the pleasant chap.  I somehow slept well, I must have been quite exhausted without knowing it.

Apart from a truly disgusting pee-wall toilet, Nepal was clearly cleaner than India.  The people were less hassle too.  Sure they would sell the shirt from their back for 10 rupees, but unlike Indians, the only pestered you for one hour.  Years later we got to the outskirts of Kathmandu where for some reason, the bus decided to let everyone off.  Due to the smog we had to use our sonar to find a cab to take us to Thamel because my guide said so.  Thamel was a tourist haven, sort of like Khao San road but not awful.  We did the usual hotel thing for a few days, then suddenly one morning, from the window of a coffee shop, I saw Laszlo, a dope Hungarian DJ that I met in Varanasi.  We hung.  I liked Kathmandu.

*Ironically, that same earthquake caused the wall of the British embassy in Kathmandu to fall and crush five people to death, the only casualties in Nepal, rendering my 'strong british buildings' quote sadly void.
**They were pretty intelligent, I was mostly bluff.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Royal Enfield, Taj Mahal, Ganges

Baths in the Monkey Temple

After this short time in India, I had become used to the bartering system, and at Jaipur train station managed to haggle a cab down to $2 to take us our hotel.  There were two Canadian girls sharing the cab with us and they were quite cynical toward the advertising of our hotel, as it showed it to be quite luxurious.  Luckily they were proven wrong, and for ten dollars apiece, my father and I stayed in what would have been a four star hotel back home.

Jaipur at first seemed to lack the charm of Jodhpur, the previous city, but upon further study proved just as exciting.  The rooftop restaurant was picturesque but the food lacked the quality of the local’s cafes we’d been eating in.  I met another Australian at this restaurant, and after chatting for a few good hours we decided to go get a lassi.  Jesse had bought a Royal Enfield motorcycle way up north near Leh, and was riding it south.  The hustle, bustle and outright chaos of the roads were amplified by it being night time, and my being perched on the back of a motorcycle (very low on the road hierarchy), but surely enough we made it to the wallah and enjoyed a fantastic lassi (yogurt shake) and some choice street food.

The three of us decided we really had seen enough huge forts, so we flagged down a rickshaw to take us to Amber fort on the outskirts.  It was rather nice, surrounded by Great Wall of China stye battlements over the hills, and we were entertained by our driver Saleem and the remnants of the monsoon.  Back in town my father and I stopped in a local armoury to buy some knife because we like that sort of thing.  Ended up with a sweet little Muslim style dagger and a badass Lord of the Rings elven-looking short sword (Dad keeps taking it with him everywhere and gets stopped at the numerous checkpoints on the road all the time).

It was time to leave Jaipur and Rajasthan,  so with sadness we checked out of hotel Pearl Palace and jumped the train to Agra, about 6 hours away.  The trip was uneventful barring meeting a few cool Indians, and it was almost midnight when we arrived and booked into some crap hotel.  

I was looking forward to seeing the Taj Mahal so I went straight to bed.  The night was a long tortuous one; I was wracked with fever and had quite a few surprisingly prophetic dreams.  I woke up with a killer fever, at six a.m, and father dragged me with him to the Taj for the dawn viewing which was, even wracked with fever, quite incredible.  The building is impressive and none of the thousands of pictures you will find everywhere do it any justice.  I dosed up on the meds to sort myself out, and spent the remainder of the day resting in  the lobby of the hotel and drinking chai with locals just outside.
Our train was leaving at 11:20pm for Varanasi from a station about 30km outside the city, Tundla, a real shithole, and we left a few hours earlier to avoid trouble, arriving at the station at 9pm.

Six hours later, after drifting in and out of sleep on the scummy platform, our belated train arrived, and we made haste for our clean 2-tier air-con sleeper train, tipping the helpful porter who waited with us at the platform the entire time.  We were happy to arrive in Varanasi, and after we helped an old Venezuelan woman find her way to the city, we jumped in our shower at our awesome riverside hotel and cleansed our frankly disgusting bodies of the filth of India’s worst.

Varanasi, as it is with all other Indian cities we have visited, was completely different, but fully intense.  The touts here were the most persistent, and while my cold heart makes it quite easy for me to brush off the consistent offers of help and trinkets, my soft father falls victim with far less effort required.  He is getting better, but I always keep one eye and ear on him when we walk the streets. 
The Ganges river, the holiest river in Varanasi, the holiest city in India, is putrid.  It is a cesspool of filth, sewage, rubbish, animals, dead bodies (human), and mud.  To Indians here this is as normal as a daily shower, and they go about bathing, praying and even drinking from it.  From my perspective if I went for a swim in it, I bet I would emerge with a third arm or instant cholera, so for the time being I have steered quite clear, and have tried to convince my ever clever father that no matter how holy the river may be, Shiva won’t protect you from the multitude of death dealing amoeba that just can’t wait to have a swim in your bloodstream.  So far I’ve succeeded.

Next up:  Hilltop station of Darjeeling, then Kathmandu in Nepal.  Hell yes, this is where MY part of the trip begins.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Suitcase bomb, Cattle class, Huge fortress

The beginning to the trip was standard.  Father and I went through the routine of airports, plane trips and customs.  We live in the future so I won’t extrapolate this segment of the trip as you all know the what happens.  We arrived in Delhi international at 2:30am and quickly caught an, in hindsight, expensive taxi to the innards of the city of 13 million.  According to my guide, Paharanj was a happening place so we made a beeline there.  We got out of the taxi to a dark ten metre wide street with large piles of rubbish and street sleepers galore.  I took the lead and we navigated the rather scary road without trouble, until we found a hotel, Vivek.  Of course we chose air conditioning as it was cheap regardless and we were soft.

In the morning (same day) four hours later, my dad looked out the window to the same street in the daylight.  Asking him what he saw, he responded: “The Apocalypse”.  Yes, it was quite chaotic and it was quite the shock to the senses to see how everything so chaotic yet still organised somehow, functioned especially with two green westerners in the midst.

Naturally we went straight to the rail station nearby to book ticket straight out of Delhi, and were promptly given the run around by a quite official looking tout who took us to the ticket agent of his choosing where we booked our itinery for the first month of the trip.  We likely paid more than we would have at the official station kiosk, but it was good to have it all done in a few hours.  The agent also threw in a driver for us to show us around the city for the day, but really, this was a minimum security jail term, as we basically had to do as the driver told us until our train to Jodhpur at 9pm that night.  We of course were worried about the legitimacy of our ticket agent and the fact our packs were in the boot of the driver’s cab, who could abscond at any moment so the whole day we had our suspicions.

Babu the driver deposited us at a linen and sari market where my father was quickly suckered in to buying two (rather nice actually) saris.  As we were leaving, a rainstorm arrived, shortly followed by a resounding boom.  We had no idea what it was and chalked it up to India.  Later that evening we learned it was a suitcase bomb detonated outside the high courts which were close by, and twelve people were dead.

With a sigh of relief we boarded our third class rickety sleeper train bound for Jodhpur, a semi-arid desert city.  Arriving at a respectable hour this time we were assured of ourselves, and thought we’d have no trouble.  Then we found that I had left the guidebook in Babu’s car.  My dad went a ghost shade of white and was rather worried at our chances as delicious tourists in this dog eat dog country but luckily this same country has markets where literally anything can be found.  The first shop I entered had a copy of Lonely Planet India in English like it was nothing.

The hotel was terrific and the company grand.  Michael and Gordon Freeman*, two Germans, were good talkers, so we spent a short time taking a walk around the city.  We retired early to the restaurant on the roof and had a few well-earned beers.  The next morning we planned on visiting the fortress towering over the city, it was the biggest fortress anywhere, probably.  Katy, another German, tagged along with us as we made the long walk to the gate at least 200m high.  On the way we traversed the ‘Blue City’, exactly as it says on the tin, it was rather blue, and extremely charming.  The fortress itself was incredible, like nothing I’ve ever seen except perhaps in Italy on a smaller scale.  We did the touristy thing and got an audio tour which had the smoothest, most distinguished British-Indian gentleman narrating.  I could have listened to that fellow talk all day.  Hours later and a visit to a serene Zen-like temple finished (including jump-shots) we rickshawed back to the clocktower, the ‘centre’ of town I suppose, to have lunch at a local’s lunch stop.  This is the best way to eat in India we have concluded, it is ultra cheap (A full curry, rice, four Naan breads, yogurt, coriander dip and a bottle of water is around 65 Rupee/ $1.15)

Father was full and had had enough of the walking thing, so he left myself and Katy and retired to the hotel for the evening.  Earlier, we had passed a cinemaplex where the local Bollywood blockbuster was playing, “Bodyguard”, so to learn the local way, we decided to see it.  It was a fantastic time, regardless of the movie only being in Hindi, and it will not be the last Bollywood production I see.  The rest of the evening was spent socialising with other travellers at our hotel, and I met two kiwis and a Canadian woman who I may now be trekking with in the Himalayas in four week’s time.

We are on a train now to Jaipur (not Jodhpur), a town apparently renowned for its congested, polluted chaotic way of life.  We’ll see how that goes.

*Real name: Sebastian

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Update and recollections

My previous blog,  www.bikevoyage.blogspot.com was a travel blog about voyages on my bike, as the address suggests, and hasn’t been updated since mid-South America, and a lot has happened since then, including a really long sentence with four commas.  I left you mid-slump recovering from a bad bout of Giardia in Patagonia.  Long story really short, I kept cycling until I got to the Bolivian border, then jumped a plane to Toronto.  I stayed there for two weeks, cycled to Montreal and stayed there for another two weeks with a nice Québécois girl, then shortly after, I cycled to Quebec itself.  I then cycled a good portion of western Canada before settling in the somewhat underwhelming city of Vancouver, where I: Had trouble with U.S border guards, had fun with Canadian border guards, worked cash underhand painting buildings with a bunch of potheads and no WHSOs, almost fell to my death from a 12m+ ladder, helped my friend Tim Harvey in nefarious business on Salt Spring Island off the coast, met a nice dutch girl, got addicted to smoothies (so many hipster psuedo-lefty narcissists on Commercial drive, that’s all they drink) and took sword-fighting lessons, that’s broadsword, not fencing lessons, mind you.
Phase two in recollections of my life up until the present is as follows:  The flight back home after running out of money and being moderately arrested for drug-smuggling in Sydney airport, travelling to New Zealand (Wellington) to work and save up some more green and not meeting more than a handful of worthwhile person in an entire year with me becoming cynical and jaded the result, then a two-month return to Brisbane where I didn’t meet a single unsavory character in two months, sorted out some loose ends, restored old friendships and re-met a nice Australian girl, ergo restoring my view on people and society as a whole (-1 + 1 =0).

Tomorrow I fly to India for three months, my father accompanying me for one of those. Here are a collection of pics to bring you up to speed:
 Most of the rest of South America

 Santiago hairdresser mall

 Toronto being Santiago

Easy-peasy camping in Canada


 Salt Spring Island

Tim Harvey (left)


 Family 1


Family 2 (From left to right: Me, sister)

Me now