23/6 - Mum, Dad and Carly drove me early in the morning to Heathrow - we arrived in plenty of time and had some breakfast. Emotional farewells as i left them to go through the passport check - suddenly i felt very alone, it's amazing how lost you feel when you don't have a mobile phone! Arrived in Delhi at night - transfer to hotel was my first glimpse of the Delhi traffic - lot's of colourful lorries that wouldn't pass an m.o.t. with 'horn please' painted on the back, and sure enough, there were plenty of horns and flashing of headlights, this seems to be a very effective means of communication as there are no mirrors and everyone seems to avoid hitting eachother even though lane markings are just for show and junctions and roundabouts are a free for all. Had considered venturing out this evening but now i am a bit scared so i will wait for daylight. Watched both world cup games in my room as they were at 20.30 and 00.30, Steve Mcmahon works as a pundit for ESPN india with this indian chap who clearly knows nothing about football, Steve trying to explain the offside rule was pretty funny. It was a bit sureal.
24/6 - Slept past 11 and was apprehensive about leaving the hotel, i am on my own until tomorrow morning when the others from the tour arrive. After Judith's balanced appraisal of the delights of Delhi 'why are you going there? it's horrible' i had visions of kids hanging off of my t-shirt begging for rupees. The weather is hot and muggy but not unbearable - they are waiting for the monsoon. Walked around Karol Bagh where my hotel is situated, extremely busy with, cars, tuk tuks, mopeds, cycles and pedestrians. I was mostly ignored apart from the occaisional shoe shine kid (i'm wearing sandals). From 13.00 to 18.00 i hired a tuk tuk to see the sights - saw india gate, p.m's residence, a 30 foot colourful elephant god (Ganesh) built onto the corner of an ordinary concrete building, went to a nice restaurant and had a nice vegi meal with a mountain of rice, naan and 2 cokes for 400R (5 pounds), went to national museum (boring) and a small Mahatma Ghandi museum which had lots of flashing lights, buttons, videos and music but nothing that actually taught me anything about his life! Tuk tuk man was waiting with his sister-in-law, nieces and nephews when i came out, i sat in the tuk tuk while they all stared at me in disbelief, asked me where i was from and mentioned Beckham and cricket (i later found these to be standard words from any indian trying to make conversation), they seemed like nice kids and were genuinely curious about the white man and not my money, this isn't tourist season yet but there does seem to be very few whites about and we do arouse a lot of interest both from those who want our money and those who don't. Driver took me to an emporium, i thought it would be a bustling indoor market - i was the only customer in there and i was given a really hard sell by a jeweller and a rug man who laid out about 12 rugs for me to look at in the basement - i virtually ran out of the shop to make sure no-one else could grab me. Driver tried to make me go into a fabric shop at which point he confessed to getting commision from certain shops if i go in, at which point i made him take me to the hotel.
25/6 - At last met the group, mostly older than me but seem like a nice bunch. Visited a hindi and a seikh temple - the seikh one was very crowded and they seemed very surprised to see us - especially the kids, it was fun to see their reactions to us with our head scarfs on! Visited India gate (again) and the place where Ghandi was cremated. Manu is our tour leader and is very nice and helpful. Some of us went to restaurant, had my first beer (kingfisher) and watched the England v Ecuador game (some in the restaurant, the rest back in my room).
26/6 - Went to Shekhawati in Rajastan by coach passing through a few small roadside communities built around farming, slate mining and brick making. Shekhawati is a lively little village where the kids were there to greet us as soon as we got off the coach - they are friendly (over friendly) but of course want money. I gave in and let a young lad show me some of the local houses for 200R, took a picture of some women which i then had to make a donation for so in order to get value for money, here it is...
Shekhawati is renowned for it's haveli's with frescoes on the walls - it was once an area where wealthy traders lived as it was on the main trade route - but now most of these houses are in disrepair - the area has bags of charachter and our hotel was an amazing restored haveli.
27/6 - Had a nice breakfast of banana, mango and porridge then went on the official tour of the havelis. Took a short coach trip to the desert resort in Mandawa - mud huts (well, actually they are brick built and plastered with a mixture of mud and cow dung!), built for tourists and very luxurious with a swimming pool as well ( i could get used to this!) Had a refreshing swim then went on a camel ride to a local farm house.
Just as we arrived at the house we saw a sand storm approaching, one minute we were taking photo's of it in the distance, the next we were being sandblasted - it was brilliant.
We all stood in this tiny farm house while we waited for it to pass, some of us walked back in the rain while the others waited for a jeep to come and get them, jumped into the pool. Nice buffet meal at hotel followed by a show of indian dancing by a little girl and a traditional punch and judy style puppet show.
28/6 - Morning swim followed by fruit breakfast. Coach to Arya Niwas hotel in Jaipur, a big, clean, basic hotel with internet access. Really cheap cafeteria (under 100R for a decent indian vegi meal). Took coach to Amber Fort, the old capital of Jaipur built into the mountainside. This is an extrordinary place and our guide Eugene regailed us with stories of what different rooms were used for and how the royalty used to live. Jaipur's street's are as busy as Delhi's and still lots of people trying to sell you stuff, but either i like it better here or i am getting more used to it. Hotel isn't licenced so bought large bottles of kingfisher from nearby shop (50R, 65p) and drank them on the hotel roof with some of the others. Went out to a restaurant and then a bar.
29/6 - Took coach to city palace, the part-time home to Jaipur's royal family which was abolished when India became independant from Britain, a fascinating stone observatory built by an 18th century astronomer king and saw the palace of the winds. Watched a display of carpet weaving and traditional textile printing which was very interesting. Jaipur is known as the pink city as a former ruler and artist decided this was a good colour to paint the city walls and all the buildings within (more terracotta really). At the weapon museum section of the palace a tiny little girl with her family shook my hand and said 'how are you' she was really cute! In the evening we went to see a 3 hour bollywood movie, seems to be a real family outing for the indians and only costs 100R, the cinema is very extravagent, the film was very loud and mobile phones were in use a lot. The film didn't have as much singing and dancing as i'd expected but i struggled to follow the plot as there were no subtitles. Finished the evening with a nice vegi curry at Neros with rice, naan and beer for 450R followed by an extremely persistent woman begging with her baby in her arms, the tuk tuk nearly ran her over. It's hard not to pity them, but we have been told not to give them any money as they are usually run by gangs who take most of the money for themselves and will even cut off a limb in order to get more money - there are charities set up that can use the money properly.
Sorry that this is going on so long but i don't know what to miss out - it will definitely get shorter as the days go by, i promise! Bye for now.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Okay, so it's nearly time to go and anything that i don't manage to sort out in the next couple of days won't get sorted. Panicking a bit but also looking forward to it. The last few months have gone by too quickly and i haven't been very organised - i have done hardly any research on the places i am going and other than the flight itinerary my travel plans are sketchy at best. In a way that could be a good thing as i can just make it up as i go along and not stick to a rigid timetable. I think it will go something like this: India for 2 weeks (pre booked tour which starts and finishes in Delhi) - Thailand - Laos - Vietnam - Cambodia - Thailand - Malaysia - Singapore (that should take me to the end of October). Oz (East coast from Melbourne to Cairns over about a month). New Zealand (Christchurch to Auckland over about 6 weeks up to mid Jan). South America hopefully will include Chile, Peru (including the Inca trail), Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil but in what order and how i have as much idea as you!! Flying out of Rio to Heathrow probably around 13th June to start work on the 18th. That seems like a long way off but i'm sure it will come round quite quickly.