Last Blog from us!!
19/04/2008 - India's Golden Triangle, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and the Corbett National Park
Crikey!! We've made it home: 104 days after we set off - and quite frankly to much better weather than when we left!
Arrived Heathrow Thursday afternoon, Thankfully to T4 NOT T5 and with only minimal holding delays from Air Traffic! Sadly both of us are suffering the dreaded Delhi Belly which we picked up over the last 48 hours but at least it waited till the end of the trip and has not stopped us from doing anything. I'm sure a couple of days of bland tasteless food will have us right as rain!
So this is it, our last blog entry, savour & enjoy...
Day 92, Sat 5th April Singh Sons Hotel N28.6464 E77.1833 Alt200m
Lazy morning swimming in the Cochin hotel pool followed by a flight up to Delhi via Bangalore with SpiceJet Airlines. We have renamed them "Sh*t*jet" due to the late cancellation of our original flight and this alternative being delayed by hours - we eventually arrived in Delhi just before midnight. Thankfully some poor rep was awaiting us, and we were whisked off to the Singh Sons Hotel in the Karol Bagh area of Delhi. Hotel a bit shabbier than some we've stayed in, but nicely located - which with Delhi's nightmare traffic is a good thing!
Day 93 Raj Ghat N28.6405 E77.2499 Alt 146m
Red Fort N28.6559 E77.2379 Alt 147m
Minar N28.5257 E77.1857 Alt 187m
Humayans Tomb N28.5933 E77.2503 Alt 181m
After a restless sleep in a bed designed for midgets, we were up and ready to meet the rest of our tour group for the On-The-Go Taj-Express trip. There were 19 of us in total, a huge group compared to previous tours and we had a large air conditioned coach to ferry us around, and a Busboy (we never get to learn his name as he was way down the pecking order after the guide and driver. Busboy (who was at least 50, and not a boy to our eyes), had the job of providing us with chilled bottled water and security whilst we were on the roads, he also provided the driver with a second pair of eyes, very useful when manoeuvring around the chaotic streets of India! It's a multi-national group with people from England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Before we even start one of the group is already in bed ill and so misses the sight seeing day around Old and New Delhi. We start with a visit to the Red Fort, built in 1638 of Red Sandstone and with walls 2km long on each side. Inside is a multitude of smaller palaces for the rulers, their wives (usually around 3 of these!), many meeting rooms and usually a mosque or temple. After a stop here we were loaded in pairs in to cycle rickshaws for a kamikaze cycle race through the narrow back streets to India's biggest Mosque the Jama Masjid. A very impressive building with a huge courtyard to wander around in and take in the surroundings. About half the place was filled with Muslims praying and worshipping and the other half of the busy crowd were tourists like ourselves taking pictures trying to get value for money on the outrageous 200 rupee camera fee. Next stop was the beautiful Raj Ghat gardens which were the cremation site of Mahatma Ghandi in 1948, a huge memorial garden surrounds the monument marking the site. After lunch we headed to Humayans Tomb, built before the Taj Mahal it is the only monument tomb in India which was built by a wife for her husband. Absolutely stunning it took our breath away as we turned through a narrow gate to see it spread before us. We headed for a brief stop at a Kashmiri carpet workshop where we were shown how silk and wool carpets are woven by hand and were invited to feel and walk on these masterpieces before the hard sell began! Last stop of a busy day was the Qutub Minar, a tower 77m high which was amazing, it was surrounded by the ruins of old Mosques and the foundations of a tower that was supposed to be taller than it never completed), and a non rusting 13C iron pole - it's a bit of a world enigma this thing on how it got here and stays rust free. Finally we made it back to the hotel for a brief rest before a group meal out in the city. We slept well that night!
Day 94 Howard Park Hotel N27.1628 E78.0366 Alt 112m
Red Fort N27.1778 E78.0231 Alt 141m
Taj Mahal N27.1745 E78.0424 Alt 110m
On the coach and on the busy roads by 0730 for the 6 hour drive South to Agra. We stopped off for refreshments and photo calls along the way, and arrived in Agra in time for lunch. First proper stop of the day was the Agra Red Fort (not to be confused with the Delhi Red Fort), essentially very similar, huge red sandstone walls and lots of smaller buildings inside. Only a third of the huge area here is open to the public, and the rest in under the control of the Indian Army. The best thing about the fort here was the incredible views it offered over the river to the nearby Taj Mahal, we got our first shots of it here - and even from a distance it's mightily impressive. Finally we headed off towards the Taj and after running a gauntlet of the ever present and persistent hawkers we made it inside the peaceful grounds. Absolutely stunning, very beautiful and amazing to finally see up close rather than in photos or on television - we just didn't believe we were actually there! We spent a lot of time wandering around and getting up close to the incredible marble building, but the most impressive view was from a distance looking at the entire thing. When we finally left we took horse drawn carriages back to the bus park, once again run the gauntlet of hawkers. Our last visit of the day was to a traditional marble inlay workshop where we watched a demonstration of the enormous amounts of work that go in to hand shaping and carving the marble and semi-precious stones into some fantastic looking designs.
Day 95 Sharpura House Hotel N26.9279 E75.7876 Alt398m
Fatehpuri Sikri N27.0976 E77.6669 Alt131m
An interrupted nights sleep due to a parade heading through the towns streets after midnight! Floats and brass bands all moving along to celebrate a 9 day Hindu festival. At 5am we were woken again, this time by the Muslim prayer call wailing out of the local mosque! A short drive of just an hour after breakfast to the abandoned city of Fatehpuri Sikri. This 16th century city was built by Akbar to house himself and his 3 wives (each in their own palace, each wife was of a different religion and the palaces reflected these beliefs, however although they are all very different in decoration and in size, apparently they all cost the same amount to build - not a stupid man eh?!) All of this was abandoned just 20 years after completion, with one possible reason being the water shortages in the area, and the second is that it was too far from the main population areas to be an effective place from which to rule. At one side of the city was a small pool covered in a horrible green algae, a young boy kept jumping off a 20m high rampart into the disgusting water and then demanding Rupees from the watching/photographing tourists for his efforts! Another couple of hours on the roads took us to the village of Peharsar where we had lunch and took a walk around the village, where I'm not sure who was more interested in who - us in the locals or them in us! Yet more driving took us to Jaipur where we finally arrived around 7 in the evening. A stunning Raj era style hotel awaited us with drummers and dancers to welcome us and flowered garlands for all. We had dinner on the rooftop restaurant accompanied by musicians and dancers. Best chicken tikka masala Nicky has ever had!
Day 96 Amber Fort N26.9858 E75.8504 Alt434m
Lunch stop N26.9455 E5.8402 Alt362m
Observatory N26.9247 E75.8214 Alt409m
By 0730 this morning we are loaded on to elephants and are making our way up the long steep slope to Jaipur's Amber Fort. On top of a hill the fort has stunning views of the surrounding area. Our elephant Mahout (John!) was very pleasant and chatty until he felt his tip was too small at which point he spent the rest of the journey wheedling and pleading for more money (we were already paying him more than our guide had suggested - cheeky bugger!). We spent a couple of hours enjoying exploring the huge fort complex before making the long and hot walk back down to the bus, it did give us a chance for some great bargaining deals on small souvenirs though, we just kept walking until the sellers finally came down to a price we were willing to buy at! After a quick photo call at a palace set in the middle of a nearby lake we stopped in at a block printing workshop where several of our group got to try out the methods first hand. Quite a lot of shopping for presents was done in the attached shop, Cameron ordered a couple of made to measure shirts which were delivered ready to our hotel that same evening. After lunch we visited another workshop, this time dealing in precious and semi-precious gemstones. Surprisingly most of the guys chose to sit for a rest whilst the girls wandered around the sales area with a couple making some lovely purchases! (one of which was sapphire bracelet for about £1500 - she was having palpitations!) Back to the sightseeing and it was the Jaipur observatory up next, including the worlds biggest sundial which (apparently) is accurate down to 2 seconds! There was also a separate sundial for each of the 12 star signs (quite what this has to do with an observatory Cameron does not know), and several other astronomical calculating things! All interesting but most also thoroughly confusing as our local guide we think just wanted to get out of the sun and gabbled very quickly! Just next door is the royal palace which is still the residence of the King of Jaipur, he was throwing a party that evening and lots of staff could be seen blowing up balloons and decorating the surrounding streets for the accompanying parade. The palace was very beautiful and we visited both a weapons and clothing museum in part of it. Around the ramparts a constant stream of monkeys could be spotted running about. They have very pink backsides. Finally back at the hotel after a long day most jumped straight in to the swimming pool to cool down and refresh with the obligatory bottle of Kingfisher! During dinner we watched a puppet show which was excellent (a kind of Rajasthan Punch and Judy), and several of us buy our own puppets to play with later!
Day 97 Indra Villa Hotel N27.5348 E75.2810 Alt404m
Journey rest stop N28.3056 E75.2853 Alt 244m
After a fantastic breakfast of pancakes, fruit and maple syrup we load up the coach and set off on the 4.5 hour journey to Alsisar. This is a small town which appears to be in the middle of nowhere down a very long, bumpy and narrow road. There are some stunning old buildings in the town, but most are decaying and in a poor state so you have to use a lot of imagination to see what they would have been like when first built and in their prime. Our hotel is a fantastic old building built around a single storey courtyard with a large swimming pool in the middle. The afternoon we had to chill out - and as well as lounging by the pool most of the group book themselves a local massage, except the REAL men - damn right! In the evening we ate on the rooftop terrace and were treated to a show of music and dance from some local musicians, during which many of us were required to get up and participate in the dance (how can you refuse a 6 year old boy wearing mascara who grabs your hand and pulls you up?). One of our guides, Amrik, got very much into the spirit and gave a brilliant display of energetic Indian dancing.
Day 98 Lunch break N28.1205 E75.9613 Alt265m
An early morning walk around Alsisar before the sun gets too hot, the streets and dusty and sandy and full of sleeping dogs. We climbed up in to some of the old buildings and after making our way precariously up some crumbling staircases, we got amazing views of the town and its surrounds. Loads of peacocks inhabit the place, and their noisy cries disturb the peace of the place. The group is splitting up this morning, 6 are carrying on with a longer itinerary further into Rajasthan, and the remaining 13 of us load up for the long day on the coach back to Delhi. The air conditioning packed up several times on the journey making it stiflingly hot inside the coach and not helping those who were feeling less than well today. Oddity : the Driver and 'Busboy' don't have air con on as it makes them sleepy - and the high 30 degree heat apparently keeps them alert! We had a chat about food back at the hotel and having lived on curry and spicy food for a long while now, some of us decided a change was in order, and found a local Pizza Hut for dinner tonight! It was a very pleasant change, and surprisingly we could get a pepperoni pizza if we so wished!! (beef from sacred cattle, and pork from dirty pigs is very rare to find around here). After the meal we gave the Delhi metro a shot where we paid a princely 8 rupees (about 10p) for a trip in to the city centre where we met more of the group for some last night drinks! To get back to the hotel, after a few beers, we enlisted 3 'tuk-tuks' (auto-rickshaws) in a race through the Delhi streets, possibly not the best of ideas! (Ours came last by some distance - rubbish - it was only then that we noticed the cataracts of our driver!)
Day 99 Lunch Stop N28.8374 E78.2723 Alt150m
Corbett Hideaway N29.4785 E79.1489 Alt 374m
Those of us remaining are scattering this morning, some off to Goa, some to Amritsar, others to visit the Ganges river, but for us we are put into a car and are driven for 6 hours NE of Delhi to the Corbett National Park in the foothills of the Himalayas. Along the way we passed the building site where the stadium for the 2010 Commonwealth Games is under construction. A lot of the city is in even more chaos whilst improvements to transport and infrastructure take place for the event. Our hotel for 3 nights is the Corbett Hideaway and we have a lovely bungalow style room with living and bedroom areas, as well as a small outside terrace. We find out that our morning game drive tomorrow requires us to be up at 5am, so after a good buffet dinner we head off for an early night.
Day 100 (blimey - even Big Brother doesn't go on this long!)
Morning game drive fording river N29.5864 E79.0515 Alt 418m
It's just starting to get light as we load up into a small open backed jeep and head out into the National Park, its lovely and cool at first but as soon as the sun pops over the horizon things heat up very quickly. We spent almost 4 hours driving around, saw some amazing birds, quite a lot of both Spotted and Samba deer and a few monkeys swinging through the trees. Sadly though no signs of Tiger of Elephant. The forest is very dense, and its difficult to see far into it. On our return to the hotel we have breakfast and then head back to bed for a few hours! When we wake up there is just time for lunch, a quick swim in the pool and then off again, this time on our elephant back safari through the woods. From our high vantage point we get good views and also very close up to some deer as they are less afraid of us sat atop on elephant than they are of our jeep. After an hour and a half the journey was becoming less than comfortable and we were quite glad to climb down from our big grey friend. Before dinner this evening the hotel arranged a slide show and talk about the National Park which was really interesting. A small gecko shares our room with us this evening helping to get rid of any stray insects!
Day 101 Tea House morning stop N29.4469 E78.8946 Alt 263m
Mongoose spot N29.4633 E78.8347 Alt 242m
Birds Alarming N29.4254 E78.9835 Alt277m
Up once again in the gloomy early morning light and off in our jeep with another guide to a different part of the Park. We see both Leopard and Tiger footprints in the soft sandy ground but unfortunately this is the closest we get to seeing them! Loads more deer and monkeys and a couple of Jackals are spotted running about. Any twitchers amongst you would have been loving the birds of paradise and bee catchers that we saw flying around, so beautiful and colourful. Back at the hotel we were fully prepared to eat and sleep like yesterday, but the staff were waiting for our return and whisked us off into town to get another permit for an afternoon jeep drive, not quite sure exactly why this is needed, something about Government restrictions apparently, so we duly complied and after an hours wait we were issued with our passes. Finally got some food just a mere 7 hours after we got up, and crashed out into bed. The afternoon game drive set off by 1430 in the heat of the day, so it was high factor suncream to the rescue. At 14:35 we had our first stop as a we watched a motorbike crash just in front of us - driver who had helmet was fine, but passenger was lying with eyes shut, middle of the road on his back. Before we could say anything there's about 5 guys dragging him off the road and to his feet - there was no regard as to whether he might have hurt his neck. Thankfully other than being groggy he seemed to be not badly injured so we sped on spending almost 5 hours driving around and saw a herd of Blue Vill Antelope and a family of wild boar snuffling around. This time we heard an elephant crashing about nearby but couldn't see it through the thick bushes, we also think we were close to a Tiger given the alarm call set up by the birds, sadly though there were quite a few jeeps around, and it was park closing time it wasn't going to show itself to so many people! We left the park as it got dark and headed back to the hotel, it took a while to drive through the small town of Ramnagar as there was a wedding parade going on with horses and bands marching through the streets, several people reached in to our jeep to shake hands with us as they passed! We arrived back in time for dinner, but to our surprise we were the only people in the restaurant, no idea where everybody else had gone - and that left around 10 staff members hovering over us while we ate, and enough food to feed a hundred :-(
Having persuaded the staff that another early game drive was unnecessary, we had a lie in until 8am before our driver picked us up and we hit the road for 6 hours back to Delhi. Sanu, our driver is keen for us to hire him tomorrow and visit more of Delhi's sites on our last day. We have a couple of places we want to go but its not really worth hiring someone for the whole day, after many discussions he seems to take offence at our planned itinerary because its not where he thinks we should go, and sulks for the remaining journey - most strange behaviour! Back in Delhi Cameron opts for a cut throat shave from the barbers next to the hotel - the shave was duly completed without mishap despite Nicky taking photos with the flash ON! The barber asked if he would like a head massage, this, much to Nicky's amusement, turned in to an hours facial where Cameron had more potions and lotions rubbed in to his face than he's had in his entire life! His summary not being entirely complimentary about the experience! Once we could escape we caught the metro into the city centre and found a Mexican restaurant where all the waiters were dressed as cowboys complete with cardboard pistols in holders! We ate fajhitas, and tried a load of the cocktails off the menu before making our way home.
Day 103 Lotus Temple N28.5538 E77.2599 Alt176m
Indira Ghandi assasination spot N28.6007 E77.2061 Alt180m
In Hindsight this wasn't our best idea ever and Cameron feels awful today (and still is 5 days later), We spend the morning resting in the hotels before feeling up to venturing outside for our last day. We hire a Tuk tuk for the 45 min scary drive across the city to see the stunning Lotus Temple. This is designed to look like a Lotus flower and in some parts is very reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. Having taken a few pictures we load back in to our waiting Tuk Tuk, next stop is the Indira Ghandi Memorial museum which is located in the Ghandi family house and includes memorabilia from her childhood and life as well as that of her family. The sari she was wearing when assassinated in her own garden takes pride of place in the display. Its a fascinating look at the life of India's first female Prime Minister and one of the most famous political families. The last stop on the house tour is the spot in the garden where she was shot by her own bodyguards. We head back to the hotel after this and spend the rest of the evening packing up and preparing to head home. (and Cameron holding his tummy lots!)
Day 104 Crowthorne Nicky's Parents N51.3813 W0.8047 Alt123m
Our last day and it started far too early for our liking. Our taxi picked us up at 0415 to take us to the airport, we are still sure this was unnecessarily early for an 0815 flight. We were arrived and checked in at the airport by 5am (still over 3 hours to wait with little to do). At 0615 we were watching as our British Airways B777 landed on time and after another hour and a bit we made our way aboard for the 9 hour flight home to London. Cameron feeling pretty rough was unable to eat anything and dozed most of the way. Our slightly early arrival over London was undone by the helpful staff of ATC who stuck us around the hold a few times before letting us make the approach in to Heathrow! Luckily we got our luggage without problem (it being tried and tested T4), and headed out in to a bright and sunny day (no really it was!) to be met by Nicky's parents.
It's nice to be home but we are both shattered and suffering in various degrees, thankfully it only affected the last day of the trip, and even then we still did all that we planned to that day. We can't quite believe it's all over after the year or so of planning that went into it all. We had a fantastic time and the memories will stay with us for years, that's about the length of time it will take to sort out all the photos too! We hope you have enjoyed travelling along with us through our diary, that we might have given you some inspiration for trips of your own, and we promise not to bore anyone with the entire photo collection unless you specifically ask to see them, be warned there are several thousand shots from each of us (after deleting the rubbish ones)!
Nicky and Cameron xx
PS the photo competition from the last update was won by photo 2 closely followed by photo 1 - congratulations to Nicky!!!