A Travellerspoint blog

Holy India - holy cow

How many contrasts can there be in one subcontinent ? Go there and find out for yourself (blog co-written by Simon)

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View Year Off 2007 on Lejla's travel map.

Mumbai (4 nights): Virgin Atlantic London H’row to Mumbai International is a good 9 hour flight. The flight wasn’t too impressive – probably because it was our first Virgin Atlantic flight and we must have hoped for a spacecraft which beams us from one place to the other. In the taxi and off to the tourist area …. on the footsteps of Shantaram. Choose the Bentley’s hostel (quite pricey here in Mumbai with 20 quid the night). Spread over different buildings on different streets, it was very close to our new local Leopold’s and included breakfast in the room. Nice toast and nice tea. Yummie ! We ended up fairly jetlegged, slept many hours before venturing into the chaos called India, Bombay. From various walks (impressive Victoria Terminus train station), the Haji Ali mosque built into the sea, Chowpatti Beach munching on bhelpuri, the Hanging Gardens (nothing hanging there though), Marina Drive with the gorgeous Saltwater Grill – a real oasis in the hectic loud beeping metropolis. To give us the energy I couldn’t deny myself the first chicken tikka masala, but very quickly turned all vegetarian as the food is just too delicious. Normally, I crave for western food after more or less 2 days, but hey – still after 2 weeks we are going strong on indian food. Highlight of our Mumbai trip weren’t the sights though, but the people. On our last day but 1 after walking the city for many many hours we returned really sweaty and exhausted in our quarter and crossing the street an older Indian asked Simon where we were from. This is obviously the one and only question you get asked absolutely permanently and everywhere in India. A question you do answer too many many times a day, what followed was an invite to have a drink together. Simon was to my surprise very open and we mentioned that we like the Leopold’s bar which was trashed as being to expensive from his side. This “mad professor” was a genius and will probably stay in my head forever. His was so clever and intelligent, knew every answer to every question, but also had a mad element to himself in particular after his second kingfisher. We probably spent 2 hours with him. He persuaded the waiters to be allowed to even take with him the empty beer bottles we consumed for his cleaning lady who would get 1 rupee per bottle. After beers and nice food, paying the bill and giving him some change for his bus journey back, our paths parted. What an experience ! India here we come!
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Matheran (2 nights) is just under 2 hours out of Mumbai, a short train ride from the VT train station. This hill station was discovered, established and the roads paved by the British and with just under 1000m above sea level, this is the perfect break from the noise, traffic and dirt in Bombay as the place is vehicle free. To get to Matheran you actually need to take 2 trains. The second one is the real tourist - a so called toy train but hasn’t reopened since a huge mud slide in 2005, hence we caught a cab and walked it. Our luggage was taken care of by porters. Thank god ! These guys (male and female) are so strong. They can still walk faster with my backpack on their head than me on my feet and without any luggage. Life can be so embarassing - in particular as their combined aged exceeded easily 100+. I learned from the first part of our trip and haven’t completely filled up my 70l rucksack, so it is much easier travelling now with only around 16kg on you back. Also, the laptop has been worth the hassle. There is hardly any wifi around, but still allows to watch some movies and playing around in the evenings as some of these places are fairly quite in the evening. OK, Matheran was all about a nice hostel with gorgeous food. We thought the day rate was a little bit ambitious, only to be told that this included all food (4 course lunch + dinner, afternoon tea and breakfast) which made this a splendid deal. We even tried out their swimming pool, managed to put Simon on a horse again – after Italy I wasn’t sure whether this would ever be happening again and went on a tour to see some stunning and beautiful view points in the area. ..and then there were the naughty monkeys stealing our afternoon tea....

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Pune (2 nights): Lejla really wanted to go to this place for the Osho ashram. You needed a HIV test to stay there or visit. It was expensive to stay so we retired to the hotel next door which was much cheaper; then decided to pop in and go for the day. Problem was you need to wear these ridiculous maroon robes around the place. We managed to procure some from a market vendor for half the price. 2 maroon and one white as Lejla wanted to go for the big bash that evening at 6. I decided we should hang around the pool despite looking like a wan*** in this robe. To swim you can only wear maroon trunks so I decided to use my red ones and nobody said anything so fair enough. That night we went back to the hotel and Lejla decided to go to the 6 o’clock whatever. She came back 2 hours later saying it was all bol*****. Thankfully not indoctrinated yet. The next morning was the obligatory welcome meeting which she attended. I slept ! It was actually quite good she said and discusses a lot of the reasoning behind the bollo***. I stayed by the pool most of the day while she met with some of her welcome buddies. We decided to attend one of the day events the one that seemed the least ludicrous. 15mins of leg wobbling, 15mins of crazy dancing, 15mins of sitting stationary and finally 15mins of lying still. I could waste my time doing other things but enough people seemed to be into it so fair enough. After this we binned our robes and headed outta there leaving Osho’s sect to go find themselves up their own ars** !
Lejla says: unfortunately i am not allowed to put this one and only picture up which shows Simon in a maroon robe. It is so funny and would make everybody laugh and turn any kind of bad day you might have into a great one. BUT, not allowed. 5 weeks down the line, i actually really like my Osho experience and might go back, one day !

Delhi (4 nights): we finally made it to Delhi which I thought would be pure hell. Actually it wasn’t and we really liked our Hotel Vivek on the main bazar with Sam’s Café sitting on the rooftop - so much about trying different food and restaurants. This one was purely under the motto, stick with what you like - i think we had any meal of the day in this place and discovered our likings for ginger honey lemon teas. Trying to plan our itinerary for the next couple of days (somehow this is what you spend most of your time on traveling), our second day there was our worst so far. What a bunch of scam artists. We wanted to book our train tickets as we already had a return flight from Varanasi to Delhi. We attempted to go to the Delhi train reservation centre only to be misdirected to scam travel agent number 1. He talked us into trying to get a car to go and see Rajasthan which we didn’t really fancy. So we moved onto what we thought was the better agent in the building next door. He seemed completely switched on and told us a better route to take and how he could change our flights. He also tried to talk us into going to Kashmir. The bible says no no no !! Big scam. 3 hours later we had nothing to show for our selected trip and the trains were also booked for the route we wanted. We lit out of there with some false pretense of getting money. We didn’t return. Lejla had good or bad vibes about the place and I think she was right. The final place was a nice spot the guy was totally honest and yet we didn’t get back to him. Feeling guilty we just booked our own flight to Varanasi for 3 days.

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Varanasi - holy city on the holy Ganges (3 nights): we flew there with Spicejet, one of the newer low cost airlines (and good competition for Kingfisher) who had been very good to us up until that point. The taxi ride into town ended up as a little bit of a nightmare due to a festival which meant that the whole population of Varanasi decided to move around. Also, the hotel in the maze of the old town didn't allow for wide streets meaning we had to put the bags back on us and rush behind the taxi driver who parked the car to show us the way to the hotel But I have to say, the Indians although being quite awful to their country in terms of the rubbish they throw all over the place, they are pretty straight. True to his word, we arrived at our nice hotel overlooking the Ganges and we got a room despite our reservation not having gone through. Varanasi is famous for its more than 80 ghats which are basically concrete blocks allowing you to enter the Ganges River, most are used for bathing but there are also several "burning ghats" where bodies are cremated in public with funeral processions threading their way through the backstreets of the ghats. I was very touched by this and kind of felt the spirituality of the place with the morning procession sounds of danglers and prayers staring at 5pm in the mornings.

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Agra - home to the Taj Mahal (1 night): as we are both two lazy little buggers we kind of laughed at our travel agent suggesting a 6am train and preferred the late afternoon train which was the commuter train. Starting with a nearly empty train with lots of space on wooden benches, this changed after one stop and exceeded any cramped tube trains i have ever seen in London. People squeezing in and getting squashed, but all smiles and the guys just being funny. Indian men seem to always behave like little kids when in groups. They hug, hold hands, tease each other, sit on top of each other and just love cleaning their throats (i still can't figure what their problem is in their throat) with the left overs being spat out of the train window with all the additional rubbish they can find in their pockets, alternatively food left overs. BUT back to the reason for our trip: the Taj Mahal - described as nice but overrated to most beautiful, i am definitely supporting the latter. This must be the most beautiful building in the world and is proudly shown as the cover of the newest Lonely Planet Version. Finished in 1653 the mausoleum looks absolutely immaculate in the 21st century and it was a pleasure to just chill and walk around this most impressive place.

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Pushkar (3 nights): I think at this time we starting loving India despite the prospects of a village without meet, eggs and alcohol ((Funny enough we were never offered suspicious teapots - filled up with beer !!!!!)). The guys who opened the seventh heaven in pushkar just did everything right you can possibly think off. An amazing old haveli converted into a chillout cafe del mar meets hostel, rooms with taste and a rooftop restaurant with cool views, fab food, great masala chai and fruit juices and then there was the WIFI in the room which made us addicted to the place. We didn't want to leave, but after 2 nights our dream home was booked and i started wondering about budget and stuff. So, after a superb camel ride in the rajasthani desert it was time to say good bye to another holy village, this time without the Ganges, but a cute pond in the midde of town.

Udaipur (3 nights): voted as one of the most romantic places in the world, this is an amazing beautiful place with a lake in town and 2 palaces in the middle of them One of the palaces has been converted into a posh hotel and Octopussy was filmed here many years ago. The hostels tend to show the movie in the rooftop restaurants. What a boring movie, but the india scenes and the shots in Udaipur made it worth watching again. Fab stuff !!!
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Kerala (10 days): Taking the advice of our friends Iain and Tim, we took the same houseboat that they recommended, we weren't disappointed. We ate, ate oh and ate some more. We learned some new indian card games which were about as clear as the river we were punting on. We also fished a little and both caught a few tiddlers. I had a bash at punting which was pretty tricky but I like to think I taught the captain a few new moves ! Anyway after he pulled me out of the river lejla had a go ! All good fun but we did eat a lot !

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Finally we arrived at Varkala or should I say rolled there. Many a backpacker to behold and seeing as it was November and they were already putting up the lights in London we thought we should get in the spirit and so booked into a hostel called Santa Claus. It overlooked the sea, Varkala is actually on the cliffs and you can walk down to the beach. We ended up staying longer than expected as we enjoyed it so much and there was more fresh sea food than at iceland ! We swam in the sea and chilled and read books and also found a yoga class which we quite enjoyed. Twas the night before Christmas by the time we left, well actually Nov but close enough !!

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Our last two days in India we stayed in nice resort which Lejla had booked on the internet. However despite a comfirmation of payment, we arrived to find the room was not booked and so we had to haggle and bargain before we got a room at a reduced price. The place advertised Wi-Fi (non existent but they did have a dial up phone connection !), Gym (consisted of a rusty old treadmill and some dumbells and a couple of beds where the staff slept !) However it backed onto the backwater canals and had the beach on the otherside so all in all we enjoyed our last couple of nights in India. On the final day we went for a nice massage which was wonderful a great way to say goodbye to india. It was fun in places but boy i think we are ready for Singapore & Vietnam !

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Posted by Lejla 22:29 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Part II - Europe - being back home

UK, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia with family and DEAR friends

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View Year Off 2007 on Lejla's travel map.

Well, what should i say ?

Been there, done it, seen it - tick the box. Well these 3 months of our trip where slightly different, in a way unplanned, but planned and instead of city hopping and exploring many new exciting european countries as possible, the theme was – have fun and see as many friends and family members as you, to avoid paying rent ☺.

Arriving back in London after 5 months (how time flies !!!) in SA, was a little bit of a shock to the system. Straight into the rain and miserable ‘no go’ summer (vs some incredibly shocking heatwaves), back on the Piccadilly Line and straight up north to Manchester on the National Express. Any more details requested. Heading for the big event (and probably the one and only reason why we didn't buy a round the world ticket, but a rtn ticket) - THE WEDDING 2007 of Miss Topsmudge aka Claire and Ricardo Laxton (what a last time !!!!).

Due to the fact that Simon never looks nor reads these bloggs, i can openly communicate that he drove me nuts with the wedding preparations or should I say the one and only wedding preparation to write an easy smart funny sophisticated short but long enough best man's speech. Not a big job, or !? Easy :-). Anyway to cut a long story short, the speech was pretty impressive and the wedding was fab and worth any return !

So, it all started with a trip from Manchester down to London for a short changing of clothes in our house which is now rented out to a french couple, a little reunion with our friends down in London which was followed by Europe time. Took the Eurotunnel to Calais and tomtomed it northeast to Germany with a little day trip to Brugge and Venlo (memory lane).

Germany was great, in particular meeting and greeting many good girlfriends with big bumps and seeing small little german toddlers crawling and running around. I can't deny becoming at least a little bit broody getting into the new german baby boom peaking big times after the happy futi world cup last summer !

Italy, well easy to sum up. Pizza, Pasta, Party - stuff yourself as much as you can, only to follow it buy a crazy run down from Giovi to San Eustachio. For those of you who haven't heard of these wonderful places in the Salerno area (south of Naples). The first place is where the Hodgkinson family resides in the summer when it is too wet up "north" (aka Manchester - Atherton to be precise) and the second place is where 75% of Si's ancestors come from. It is basically a beautiful but crazy 2 miles run (David, i am guessing here big times) we did, just to justify more of the italian specialties served in this area. ....and did i also mention the heat wave down there this year...??? Nice one ! Decided again we like nice hot weather.
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Zurich – what would a year be without the streetparade, always second Saturday in august. Well, it wouldn’t be a complete year without seeing our special friends there – they just treat as too. Even the goddess of weather was with us, no rain, but sunshine on Saturday followed by nice chill out sessions @ Zueri See mixed with some serious partying. GEIL MANN!
One of the challenges we set ourselves for Part II of our trip was to pay no rent for any accommodation to safe up some money and head back to budget – well at least trying ☺. We missed it. On our drive from Zurich to Croatia, we just needed a break in Trieste (Italy – bordering the Slovenian border). Miss Tomtom directed as to the Hotel Istria and we splashed some serious 60 EUR on a nice bed and even managed to get some prosecco’s in that night.
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Croatia – mon amour ! Finally home – well kind of our new home since we don’t have one in London anymore. Own bed, more sunshine, some serious cooking and some nice family parties sum up these superb 5 weeks we had. Thanks to Ryainair we were even able to squeeze in some visitors from the UK who entertained us and we them, 3 weekends in a row. Nice touch ! Once on our own, we tried to figure our why Croatia has so many good tennis players (OK, unless they play the Davis Cup against the UK, normally not THE tennis country in my eyes). Unfortunately, we had this idea too late and only managed to hit the ground a couple of times.
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YES, and aren’t my grandmother sheep gorgeous ?
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All in all, an amazing time. 3 months which passed far too quickly, but hey – the traveling must go on. Time is flying and India is calling.

Posted by Lejla 12:00 Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Colombia - Cartagena, Taganga and Tayrona

Beaches, Sun and Fish on the Caribbean Coast

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View Year Off 2007 on Lejla's travel map.

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God, we were so excited when we booked our flights to Colombia in Peru as it was finally time to say good bye to cold weather in particular cold nights. Really got feed up with it at the end and i think Simon had enough playing the human hot water bottle, but also didn´t approve of my leg warmers, gloves and alpacha hut in bed. Not really any kind of win win situation for me, other than to pay many $$$ to get to Colombia as we are starting to run out of time. I know this sounds pathetic, but it is true. We have less than a month left in SA and started to have the MUST do´s of Colombia (min 2 weeks), Galapagos, Quito and BA for a lot of shopping and steaks on our last 4 days.
Anyway, got to Cartagena and what a feeling to leave the airport. Humid and hot though not sunny on the first day. Cartagena is a colonial gem, absolutely beautiful with one of the best and most stunning old towns i have seen in my short life. That´s one side of it. Then you have the Miami like beach strip with its highrises where plenty of Americans have a nice or not so nice condo and you have the cheap area, fairly poor, packed with backpackers and cheap hostels. This is where we ended up, why not ! We stayed a couple of days here, in the need to climatize, get used to Colombia, have some nice food and meet some backpackers who could give us tips on where to go and what to do next.
First trip was to Playa Blanca, apparently one of the best beaches in the region. An early start for us to get going and catch one of the first boats to get there, we realised that it was a bank holiday meaning no boats other than tourist ships would go on the day. What started like a half an hour trip ended in a 5 hour boring trip where everybody just got burned on deck, babies were pucking downstairs and a complete waste of a time, but the boat was packed. I wonder what kind of people book these trips where you just spend a day on the boat, doing nothing. Anyway, we arrived at Playa Blanca and the beach was stunning and the water was just too good. A personal bubble bath. Unfortunately, the minute you arrive you get hassled and pestered by the locals, trying to trick you into buying and trying oysters, which spoils the experience. Obviously, they are just trying to make a living, but they are so desperate that they seem very aggressive to us lot. Anyway, once we got to the other site of the beach, life changed completely to a "Hola amigo, todo bien, si tranquillo" lifestyle. For the next 2 days we just spent our time at Hugo´s Bar. Made friends with the owner and his mate from Medellin and just got spoiled with superb drinks and food. Other backpackers we met hated Playa Blanca and couldn´t leave as soon as possible. I was also a little bit surprised that these was called the best beach in that part of the caribbean coast, but once you turned away from the beach, there was so much rubbish and so many concrete piles which were probably houses. Our Medellin guys told us the fully story. Basically, there is a big fight between the locals and the government ongoing, where the government says that most of the huts and shacks which have been build are illegal, hence bulldozed all of them, with military and security guys with weapons patrolling the site, making sure no rebuilds are happening. The governement seems to be so keen to ensure that Bill Gates (apparently) is going to build a huge hotel complex on Playa Blanca in the coming years. Well, we heard those kind of stories before, haven´t we. All the places you revisit, be it SE Asia and other parts of the world, just change drastically these days ie. Koh Samui. Anyway, we somehow love the place, stayed for 2 nights before heading to the next place.
Taganga, Santa Marta was our next stop. Approximately, 4 ours east of Cartagena. This should have been the next beach highlight. After traveling SA for the last 5 months, we weren´t really interested into going all cultural. The whole purpose of the Colombia trip was to warm up. Hence, there was a built up to come to this place and the expectations high. I nearly got depressed arriving at Taganga. I imagined this beautiful, peacefull fishervillage and all i could see was a nothing place with nobody around, other than a lot and i mean a lot of rubbish. It rained massively that day and hence the rain just created this chaos. Even the trip to an american style mall couldn´t cheer me up, but meeting old faces, the sun coming out, the rubbish slowly disappearing, another rave beach party and a homely hostal with table tennis competitions (and me beating Simon 2 in row) changed in particular my mood.
Tayrona National Park was the last place for beaches on our to do list and again another bank holiday fiasco, no boat on the day we wanted to go, hence we delayed the trip by one day to make sure we catch a boat instead of the bus. At 10am the next morning we set off with 2 boats each with a double engine and 14 passangers (well us and the rest israelis). The trip started ok, but got pretty scared once we left our bay and it felt like we were sitting in a little walnut shell on the open sea. We were kind of close´ish to the short, but the waves hitting our little boat were just too scary. I didn´t mind it too much at that stage, feeling safe with my little life jacket on and Simon smiling next to me when one of the 2 engines collapsed and the boat starting to move more due to the strong waves. This is when the nightmare trip of my life time started. It felt like torture and i will save you from to many details. This is probably how a slow death starts, i call i severe sea sickness as the guys couldn´t fix the boat and didn´t want to go on with one engine as the colombian maritime police were starting the checks and this whole thing the locals organised was just so illegal (too many people on the boat, one engine). To cut the story short, i pucked for about 3 hrs. A trip which should have taken 1 hrs 15 min, took all in all out 5 hours with more stops on another beach, waiting for the police to disappear and too many lies and me pucking after one of the biggest breakfast ever, as the food was supposed to be limited and expensive in the national park. Let´s put it this way, there was additional breakfast for the fish population. Back on mainland i recovered in no time, the national park was absolutely stunning, i loved it despite having to stay in a too small tent (i love camping though) as we were concerned that sleeping in the hammock would result in too many bites as we only had one (never used) moscito net which we then decided to put over our tent, just to be able to say we used in once in 5 month.

Posted by Lejla 09:33 Archived in Colombia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sandboarding - Ica - Peru

Huacachina, here we roll and Nazca Lines

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View Year Off 2007 on Lejla's travel map.

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I think these sandboarding pictures speak for themselves. Glorious ! Couldn't get enough !

Posted by Lejla 09:31 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cuzco - Machu Picchu - Peru

...not the famous Inca Trail for us

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View Year Off 2007 on Lejla's travel map.

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There is a lot of talking and writing in superlatives going on, but Cuzco has to be one of the most stunning places in the whole of South America. OK, again it is all about expectation setting and we were told it is gringoland (which it is), you get hassled more than in any other place in South America (yes and it needed a little bit of getting used to it, but also this prepared us for Colombia which is as bad in certain aspects - well the goods were at least 3 times more expensive in Cartagena). Cuzco is set in a valley and the architecture and the buildings are just stunning. We stayed in the famous Loki hostel and just had a superb view from the bar overlooking the town. Walking downhill for 10min you were in the amazing old town or actually city centre.

With our new friends we even organised to go to a Rave which was set in the forrest and reminded us of good times we used to have at the street parade in Zurich. Sporty activities were the white water rafting which was a completely new and amazing experience for me. Got a little bit nippy after a couple of hours, hence i was glad we just booked a day and not 3 day trip. Cold waters, hey!!!

Well, what should have been the highlight - our trip to Macchu Picchu. Still not sure whether i can spell this properly. Yes, indeed an unforgettable experience. No way to get booked on the 4 day Inca Trail to get to MP, and probably too hard at the time for me, as i am extremly unfit on high altitude, but we made up for it by getting up at 5am to walk to MP from Aguas Calientes which turned into a complete nightmare trip for me as i was sick and sweating, nearly fading walking up big steps for 1 1/2 hrs to see the sunrise, but arriving too late and there being far too many clouds adding to the mystic atmosphere. NICE !

Posted by Lejla 16:48 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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