One Day in Bombay

Due to travel plans to make it to a wedding up in Punjab it meant we only had 24 hours in Mumbai between when our overnigh sleeper arrived and our very early flight departed. Our second overnight sleeper bus was a bit more comfortable – this time the beds were wider and we even had our own LCD TV’s in our cabin. Very swish! It did mean that we got more sleep but the downside was our very swish bus broke down – twice. The first time was somewhere in the middle of nowhere and we stopped for two hours while they tried to fix it meaning that we arrived in Mumbai late. The second time it broke down was on the outskirts of town with an hour of our journey to go. We jumped off and got into a taxi and spent another hour (and very expensive cab ride) making our way across town to our hotel and finally arriving at midday – five hours later then expected.

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Once we checked in and freshened up we arranged for a taxi to take us around for the afternoon so we could fit in as much as we could. Our driver drove us over to Colaba a which is the end of the peninsula and home to most of the sights of Mumbai. On the way we stopped in at the Ghandi Museum that is located in his friends house who hosted him on many trips to the capital. It featured lots of memorbillia of Ghandi’s stay and information about his life. It was really interesting and very well set out and presented so I was happy we had dropped in.

Next stop was Marine Drive which is a seafront road spotted with couples sitting on the esplanade watching the water through the smog. We stopped to wander along and get a good view and as we got out we noticed that there were cameras and people dresses up so we thought we might be lucky enough to spot a Bollywood movie being filmed so we waited around to see what happened. They started to parade down the drive singing and dancing along to Bollywood music and following up behind them was Richard Branson. It was then we realised they had three flight attendants waving flags and we figured it was a commercial for a new flight route.

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We hadn’t eaten since before we got on the bus the day previously so we asked to be taken somewhere for lunch and got directed to Leopolds which is a famous cafe bar that is famous on the tourist trail. Its sordid history described in the book Shantaram and also the focus of the terrorist attack four years ago makes it extremely popular. Both the venue and the menu were huge and we settled into our first meal in a day while we eavesdropped and people watched as we ate. It was great to see the place that I had imagined from the book but overall it was pretty underwhelming – just a dark dingy bar!

Leopolds is close to two other main attractions in Mumbai so we wandered over to the Gateway of India and The Taj Palace for the mandatory tourist photos. We wanted to visit Mumbai University and see their library but since it was a holiday we were unable to go in but we did have a drive around the beautiful old building. After that our driver told us that was everything! We were a bit surprises but then realised it was already late in the day. So we headed back to our hotel via one of Mumbai massive department store malls – another thing they are famous for.

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We had seen as much as we could in a short time and I felt we got a good feel of Mumbai. Its a really interesting city with massive sky scrapers and bustling business centres that stand tall shadowing over the slums. I had hoped to do a tour of the slums as I had heard from other travellers that it is pretty crazy but also pretty interesting but since we ran out of time I had to settle for a drive by. We drove past the slum that features in the movie Slumdog Millionaire and it just made me sad to see such a massive example of the huge rich poor divide that is all through India.

I wish we could have stayed longer in this intriguing city but we were heading off to a Punjabi wedding which is a pretty good reason for less than a day in Bombay.

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Temple Town

Our next stop after Goa was Hampi and to get there we had our first overnight sleeper bus. We didn’t realise when we booked but the bus actually had flat beds so when we got on I thought we would be having a comfy sleep. Turns out top bunk sleepers are squishier and bumpier than normal recliner seats and I ended up only getting about an hours sleep.

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It was an experience and we arrived in Hampi which is all that matters so after checking into our hotel we got a rickshaw to take us around town. Our first stop was breakfast and we were taken to a local hotspot – The Mango Tree. It was located right next to the river with low set tables that you sat on the floor to eat at. We had a yummy breakfast looking out to the amazing landscape of a river winding through mountains made of boulders. Next it was on to see the temples that Hampi is famous for.

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We first visited the Virupaksha group of temples and ruins that was located in the heart of the city. We wandered through the temple ruins and climbed the boulders that shaped the landscape of Hampi and to look down onto the intricately carved temple. It was the perfect way to get a view of the city and an introduction to the day ahead – as Hampi is pretty much boulders and temples. We then continued on to visit more temples and the Archeological Museum of Hampi before stopping again at the Mango Tree for lunch. After relaxing in the cool breeze by the river for a while we were starting to feel a little tired as a combination lack of sleep and plenty of walking in the sun had worn us out. It was tempting to call it quits for the day and go back and sleep but we decided to power on.

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It was so worth it as we were the taken to the Royal Centre that host a few different types of ruins such as a bazzar, Lotus Mahal and old Elephant Stables. It was nice to have a bit of a break from all the temples! The last stop was for sunset and we were taken to the top of one of the mountains of boulders to watch it set over the beautiful scenery. We’ve seen plenty if sunsets over beaches and lakes recently but this one can definitely compete. It felt like we were watching the sun set over Bedrock.

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After a long day sightseeing we headed back to our guest house for a rest before dinner. Our guest house was located in the Hampi Bazaar which is home to many guest houses, restaurants and shops. We gathered up enough energy to wander around the shops a little before heading to another restaurant by the river. They have fairly strict rules in Hampi about the consumption of alcohol so we were surprised to see people inside drinking. The manager peaked his head around the door and we thought for a second they were going to get kicked out but then he just jumped down on the mats and joined them. So much for the strict rules!

The next day after much needed sleep we had a whole day before we had to jump on another overnight bus so we took it easy on the sightseeing and decided to head across the river to explore over there. We caught the little ferry across and once we arrived and started walking we weren’t actually sure what was over there. Luckily, as always, there was a rickshaw driver offering his services and he took us to a lake. It was a big resoviur between boulders that looked perfectly blue against the red rocks. He lead us down to a quiet spot where it was easy to swim. Unfortunately we since we didn’t know what our plans were we hadn’t bought our swimmers. I settled for putting my feet in the cool water while James just dived in his jocks.

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Unfortunately we had only booked our rickshaw for an hour and a half so we had to wind up at the lake. The rest of our afternoon was spent at riverside restaurants before heading to our bus. It was hard to follow up our time in Goa but Hampi did a pretty good job. The whole place was unlike anything I had ever seen and a place I would totally recommend for people to visit.

Botel

Our next stop, Alleppey, is known as the Venice of India due to its location on canals. Well I’ve been to Venice and I would have to say the similarities end there. Alleppey is one of the gateways to Keralas famous backwaters and many people use it as transit stop before heading off on a rice barge houseboat. We were no different and as soon as we arrived planned our house boat to depart as soon as possible. The rest of the day was spent wandering the canals and watching another sunset from the beach. Alleppey was a nice town but we were glad we were heading off the next day.

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We were directed to our boat, Baselel, at around midday and were pleased to find it had a clean roomy bedroom, a sundeck and comfy couch chairs on the lower deck that we could relax on. We set of soon after and as we sipped our welcome lemonade drinks we gazed out the side of our boat at the many other rice barges along the way. No two are the same with some the size of huge floating palaces or some smaller like ours. There were modern boats with flatscreen tv’s and satellite dishes and others that were more traditional. We even saw a couple in the process of being made. When I could tear my eyes from the other boats and looked at the scenery I as treated to swaying palmtrees, rice fields and little villages tucked behind the canal walls. We saw fishermen in their canoes, women cleaning clothes against the rocks and young kids swimming in the shallows. Everytime we passed another boat everyone would wave and shout hello. There was so much to look at I didn’t realise we had already been going for two hours when we stopped for lunch.

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Three meals were included in our package and as we were served up a feast we were told that it was all local produce. The fish was caught from the lake we had just crossed and the rice was from the fields behind us. The food was fresh and tasty and I am getting more and more used to eating seafood. We were absolutely stuffed at the end of it and were thankful that all we had to do was spend the rest of the afternoon lazing around.

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Later in the day we had the option of stopping at a local fish market to pick out our own fresh produce for them to cook. The ‘market’  was actually a
shack on the side of the canals but when we asked to see some prawns we were shocked. The owner picked up what could only be described as a medium sized lobster to show us an example of a king prawn. I’m not even exaggerating. We opted for getting eight or so smaller king prawns (which were definitely king size) to have cooked with our dinner.

Not long after we stopped it was time to dock and as we pulled up to the side of a canal we watched the sunset from our top sun deck. It was cool and breezy up there and we spent dusk just chatting and reading in the breeze. Unfortunately after the sun went down there wasn’t too much to do except eat our dinner, read and relax as we tried fight off the bugs attracted to the lights. This would have to be the only downside of the experience as we spent our evening a little bored after so much relaxing. Its a weird thing to complain about I know, but when you can’t really get off the boat and explore there isn’t much else to do!

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The next morning we set off early to make it back to Alleppey. Once we were sailing again we thought we could have done another day since it was so much fun and we were a bit bummed it was all over too quickly. We had a great time on our house boat with our friendly and helpful crew and I can see why it is one of the most popular things to do and the experience is near the top of the favourites list!

Kathmandu – Take Two

Before setting off back to India, James and I had a day to spare in Kathmandu and, as neither of us were particularly that enamored with the city, we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves. Thankfully our handy hotel owner came to our rescue and set us up with a day trip out of the city to Nagarkot and Bhatakupar.

The only catch was we had to be up at 3:30am to drive to our first destination. The last time I was awake at that time on a Saturday morning was after a big Friday night out so I wasnt too fussed on the idea. The early morning start was in aid of a second attempt (our first being in Darjeeling) to see the sunrise over the Himalayas. This time we were not disappointed. Even though we arrived groggy and sleep deprived we got to Nagarkot just as the dawn cracked the mountains. We stood at the look out gazing over the snowcapped peakes and shadowed mountain ridge taking it all in. I was glad that we had got up to see this but I didn’t realise it got better. Once the sun actually peeked over ridge the whole place was flooded with sunlight making the scene even more incredible. Watching the sunrise pop out over Mt Everest is pretty breaktaking and might inspire me to wake up earlier more often.

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The next stop on our trip was the city of  Bhaktapur which from what we saw of it looked like a mini Kathamndu. Similar to the capital, Bhaktapur  is centred around their own Dunbar Square filled with temples, shrines and palaces. Getting there only a few hours after sunrise I was surprised to see it already so busy and full of people. Obviously the Nepalease don’t do sleep ins. We wandered through the square visiting several smaller places before hitting the Sun Temple sitting high above the rest of them over a big square. The building  sat above markets of food and produce, trinket sellers and tourist touts, all before 8am. The temple was topped with locals looking out over the city and as we wandered through the rest of town we saw many families and groups saying their prayers at smaller shrines along the way. We often miss this morning ritual so it was really interesting to see their faith in action.

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We were back in Kathmandu by about 10am and collapsed into our beds for a mid day seistsa. Unfortunately neither of us could sleep due to construction noise outside and the heat. The power cut in our guest house (extremely common everywhere) meant we had to retreat elsewhere for a fan and food. We wandered the tourist hub of Thamel and found the Pilgrim Bookstore complete with garden restaurant outside. After wandering through a huge store filled with books, knick knacks and local wares we spent the afternoon relaxed in in their garden. It was the best way to kill the hottest hours – sitting under a fan and snacking on momo’s (a hybrid of dim sum and samosas – they are delicious). As soon as it cooled off we headed back into the hustle and bustle of Thamel and whiled away the hours, and the rest of our Nepalease rupees, doing what I do best – shopping!

It was a great afternoon fornour last one in Nepal, a place that we both really enjoyed, and we were glad to finally get some sleep as we passed out about 8pm. Next stop is Kerala in South India where we plan to hit the beach!

Elephant Day

During the weeks I have been away I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences but nothing compares to the day I now call ‘elephant day’.  It was so called because all of our activities focused around elephants. Starting with elephant bath time!

Every day, at about 11, the working elephants trundle down to the Rapti River for bathtime with their keepers. Its here that tourists can jump in the river and ‘assist’ with bath time – for a few rupees of course. Basically there is no bathing done but just lots of splashing an squealing. In two’s you can jump up on an elephants back and sit on her while she showers you with water from her trunk. Ours was called Shama and was about eight years old.  Jumping up on her was a bit of a mission and once we were there it was kind of scary but also kind of fun. It was a hot day so it was refreshing to be in the river splashing around but it was also a little disconcerting. The elephants are prodded with sticks and yelled instructions to get up, sit down and spray water. A bit like the breeding centre I was a little disappointed that they don’t just do it for fun. As James pointed out though – we might not want to go near and untrained and uncontrolled elephant. It was still so much fun and it was great to finally see an elephant up close, feel their leathery skin and play in the water.

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Once the are done splashing for the tourists the keepers get them to lay down in the sand where they grab a rock from the river bed and scrub their skin down. A few of the tourist were allowed to jump in and help with the scrub but when Mish tried to help she got told to go back to her own elephant! We watched them play for a little longer and I was still a bit amazed at these giant animals all standing happily a few metres from me.

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The next elephant day adventure was a jungle trek through the national park and nearby community forest. I was glad I wouldn’t be doing the walking myself but as I climbed the platform to get on our elephants back and sat in a tiny platform made of wood I was starting to wish my feet were on the ground. We set off into the jungle and our elephant (whose name I can’t remember or pronounce if I could) seemed to be the lead elephant of about 10 others, atop with other tourists. I soon realised that elephant back isn’t smooth travelling as they plod along but it was really fun to be up high and look down as we wandered along. There were a few hairy moments when we were going up or down hills, into the river and precariously close to trees but mostly our elephant ride was as smooth as it could be. The elephants in our group were so funny, often just dropping to munch on some grass, pull down a tree branch and we cracked up when ours just walked straight over a tree that was in her way just to have it fling back up behind us.

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I wasn’t really expecting to see any wildlife because we were such a big bunch of people all together but I soon ate my words when we came across a mother and baby rhino in a field. They just came out of nowhere and were such a surprise that Hamish even commented that they must have been planted there. Our elephant stood still long enough for us to snap a few photos before carrying on around a corner to find a second baby rhino asleep in the tall grass. I expected it to wake up and wander away upon discovering a bunch of elephants and excited people chattering away but it barely battered an eyelid before returning to its snooze. After only seeing the behind of a rhino the day before we were all pretty excited to see not only a whole rhino but three of them! The ride was over way too soon and we had to say goodbye and jump off. Before the next bunch jumped on we had a chance to play with her trunk and give her a pat thank you. I only wish I had bought her a treat! Its pretty hard to top two elephant rides in one day but Chitwan still had a lot in store for us. That afternoon James, Mish and I headed down to the banks of the river and chatted over some beer while watching the sun set. It was another great way to top off the day.

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Our final day in Chitwan was a fairly relaxed day. We hired bikes and rode out into the smaller surrounding villages. It was great to get away from the tourist strip and all that comes with it and cycle past corn drying on the street, buying drinks from people who barely speak your language and just saying ‘namaste’ to passing locals without them trying to sell you something. The afternoon was spent shopping and relaxing before another twilight adventure to the river. This time we were joined by an English couple, Derren and Liz, who were volunteers and heard from a local that rhinos often come down to the river for a drink at dusk. We wandered a bit further then the river bank and back in the jungle hoping to get a glimpse. Unfortunately there were no rhinos but there was another spectacular sunset and some nice cold beers. On the ride home we had to swerve an elephant waking in the street and I had one of those moments when you stop and think ‘Wow, is this really my life? Cycling past elephants after a sunset by a river?’.

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Sadly, it wasn’t my life for long as our stay had come to an end. Chitwan had been amazing and we were sad to have to leave, not only an unforgettable  place but also to Mish and Hamish who were onto their next adventure. Our next stop was back to Pokhara for other exciting experiences.

Old and New

Our second day in Delhi was spent visiting both the Old town of Delhi and the new town. We had to arrange some travel onwards from Delhi so we headed into New Delhi rail station. It was manic, so much so we couldnt even stop long enough without being hassled to work out where the entrance was. In the end we ended up getting hustled into a rickshaw and taken to a “travel agent” in Connnaught Place. Connaught Place is the main area in New Delhi and consists of a grid of upper class Indian shops and western shops. Our travel agent probably ripped us off but we ended up walking out of there with trains, accommodation and best of all a driver for the next few days – all for £25 each per day.  

Our driver, Sham, then took us to Old Delhi and straight to the Red Fort. The fort was full of tourists, but to my surprise, mostly Indian tourists. We wandered though the bazzar at the front stopping only to buy a travel chess set (James is going to teach me on some of the upcoming long train rides) before making our way into the grounds to visit the buildngs. The fort was pretty run down but was still impressive and probably just one of the many forts to come.  

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Next stop on our tour of Delhi was a twilight visit to Humayan’s Tomb which was built in the mid 16th century. We were lucky to get there on the only clear night we had in Delhi so we could see the moon in the twilght sky. The red building was stunning and the grounds inside were neat and quiet and we had a calm wander up into the tomb. I have to say being inside the marble building with a coffin at nightfall was pretty eerie!   As the sun had set it was time to leave and it was a quick stop at India Gate (Delhis equivalent to the Arc Di Triomoh) for a few photos of it lit up with lights.

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It was great having a driver for the afternoon – having doors opened for me and hassle free transport. I do miss the rickshaw craziness but I a sure I will get used to it over the next few days. Looking forward to exploring Jaipur!