A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: djrkidd

You Gotta Go There To Come Back!

A made dash across China.

sunny 24 °C
View Kiwi' don't fly on djrkidd's travel map.

Now I know the Chinese have been known for some pretty gruesome torture in their time. Having to sit on a hard train seat for 25 hours straight with MSG saturated pot noodles as your only form of sustenance at 5180m traveling in the total opposite direction to where you want to be heading, across a featureless Tibetan Plateau would have to be one of them. However, I was not exactly forced to buy the train ticket at gun point and, well, the beer was cheaper than water.

The purchasing of the ticket was comical as my first destination was far too expensive for this Kiwi’s pocket so I asked for a ticket out of Tibet. With said ticket in hand I went and looked at the map to see where I was actually going. 25 hours should get me half way to Beijing I thought and smiled happily, only to have it wiped off my face when I discovered I was only going to make it to the edge of Tibet and just into mainland China.

Now back to my Cultural Revolution and Tibetan permit gripe. I'll make it quick but I do have to explain why I traveled half way to Mongolia when I wanted to be heading South to Laos. So from Lhasa the only way out of Tibet without paying a nice Chinese man $100 a day plus permit costs, is to take the new and Ultra modern Lhasa express 1754km in the wrong direction towards Russia ….. and that is what I did. Now full credit to the Chinese. The railway, which everyone said was impossible due to the amount of tunneling and the fact that it had to be built on ground that is frozen year round, turn out to be very possible and running like clockwork. They even give access to your own personal oxygen mask just incase the altitude disagrees with you.

"When China awakes, the world will tremble." I believe Monsieur Bonaparte once said. Well to quote another much taller person " Traveling across China in a hurry sucks!"
So here I am, eleven o'clock at night, in a place called Xining (I am sure this translates directly from Mandarin to Kiwi as “whoop whoop”) with two Chinese girls who spoke English and two blokes from Germany also trying to get across China as fast as possible. Now dear reader, having a local that speaks English in China is gift from god himself, because after standing in line for 1 hour you generally find that no one speaks a word of English and sure as hell won't try and sell you a ticket because it is just too dammed hard. With the girls, we found out in seconds that there were no trains for 4 days and they had standing room only (16 hour trip)
At the bus station we found out it was closed and we had to come back at 6am to find out that there was a bus available in 3 days to Xian. Then finally that there were only two hotels in the whole city that would accept foreigners and they were both dives that I wouldn't let my dog sleep in. Another bonus was that we went to a restaurant and actually got and knew exactly what we were eating and the girls ( bless their cotton socks) even paid for the feast.


So 20 hours after I left Xining I was untangling my back pack from a sheep carcass in the rain at the Xian bus station. The 14 hours sleeper bus ride had taken an extra six hours, two of which were loading 30 odd sheep carcasses on board. A sleeper bus… how wonderful I hear you say, yeah sure if you are five foot nothing, but more about this later. First stop was the train station to find that there were no trains to Kuming for four days. It was here that I met Raymond and Jenna from Amsterdam while standing in line dripping wet with my back pack on. They were being annoyed by a guy well before I had turned up and were relieved that he now had me to hassle. This went on for 15 minutes, him talking in Chinese and us telling him that we didn't understand. He keep trying to touch us and being once bitten twice shy about pickpockets and wanting to be anywhere but queuing for a ticket I snapped at him and told him under no uncertain terms that he should leave. (Well that is the printable version and I am sticking to it!) Now the immediate area around me froze as everyone stopped what they were doing and looked in any direction but mine as the Chinese do not like confrontation one little bit. After an hour of standing in line I found that the next train to Kuming was in four days, so Xian it is.

The Center of Xian was surrounded by the old city wall and was quite an amazing sight. This wall was a reconstruction of course and was 7km by 2km and up to 30m high in places. It was interrupted by the occasional watch tower with traditional slanting roofs. Inside the walls housed a buzzing paced city with neon lights, golden arches, and air conditioned shopping malls and a slightly older drum and bell tower.


Xian’s main attraction is the Terracotta Warriors which although are hundreds of years old were only discovered by a farmer in the 1970's. He was awarded 30 Yuan for this amazing find ($4.20) which was a month salary. The life sized warriors are just like they say, made from terracotta and are in three locations in battle formation to protect the emperor of the times mausoleum. Most of the statues have been re-buried as they do not know how to preserve them and till they do, this is the best technique. Now don't worry about our wee farmer, I saw him in the flesh, he is trotting about in a new suit and charges you 30 Yuan to sign a book about the warriors with a big bright brand new smile on his face.


From Xian I said good bye to my Espresso drinking partners Jenna and Raymond and hopped on the train to Kuming to arrive a day and a half later (36hrs) and actually managed to get a night bus that night which took me closer to Laos and my closing deadline of meeting my Dad in a week. I wondered about sampling deep fried food on a stick and generally killed time till my bus a 7pm.

Settling in on my bed in the cramped sleeper I started to feel a little under the weather. Now these buses consist of bunk beds along both windows and then another row of bunk beds in the middle forming two Isles. Your feet go under the persons head in front of you into a steal slanting box that forms the pillow for that person. For the general demographic of China this is fine but when a 6 foot kiwi gets in there, it’s another story. We pulled out of the bus station and are on an express way within minutes, the opening scenes of Rambo 3 are playing and Stallone has even learned Mandarin. Then it happens, my stomach twists inside out and I am trying to make a bee line for the on board toilet. This is easier said that done as I untangle myself from my blanket and head butt the top bunk opposite me, then flapping my wings about elbow the poor women in the bunk above me, and then just because I don't do things by thirds, I managed to stand on the young guy on the bottom bunk opposite. With more pressing things on my mind I crashed down the stairs only to find that the toilet on the bus was locked. The bus attendant not speaking a word of English of course looks at me trying to rip the door of its hinges puts two and two together and then saunters down the bus. I swear to god, I'll do it on the bloody step I yell at her with no increase in her urgency. Now, by this stage I am providing the whole bus with more entertainment than Rambo ever could. I mean just me being on the bus creates a stir let alone running about like a bull in a China shop.

I emerge from the not so sound proof wee box of a toilet to 60 peering eyes and 30 smiling faces and walk red faced back to bed only accidentally banging one other person on the head. So........ two more panicked arm thrashing passenger bashing runs, two more slow attendant bringing me the key walks (She locked it every time!! ) and two more red faced returns, “ just let me off on the side of the motorway thanks” walks of shame back to my bed. Curse that tasty deep fried street food on a stick!


I woke up in shock to find an empty bus. Sleepily I stumble out side and find my back pack sitting on the ground beside the bus, “ this is Jinghong then”, I say to no one, making a mental note that I have to stop talking aloud to myself. I contemplate staying here but the draw of Laos spurred me on. Before I know it I am whizzing through the jungle following a dirty brown snaking river smiling and enjoy the sights that rural China has to offer. 6 hours of this and my final stop Mengla appears. I wonder about nibbling on BBQ street food (Yeah I know… slow learner) watching the Friday night proceedings with aerobics in the main square, Karaoke being screamed from bright neon lit bars and families out for walks.

Two final hours of winding through the jungles and the border guard stamped my A4 "group Visa and took it off me. I then left the modern border check point having traveled for 103 hours on public transport from Lhasa without any proof in my passport that I had ever been to China. 20 minutes later I was sitting in a roadside bamboo hut enjoying a cold drink watching a young child play barefoot in the red dust. I returned an infectious smile from a local passer by that didn't leave my face, relaxing and thinking how good it was to be back in Laos.

Posted by djrkidd 19:18 Archived in China Comments (6)

Rancid Yak Butter & Altitude Makes Me Cynical.

Finding out Tibet is not the untouched wonder I had hoped for.

all seasons in one day 5 °C
View Kiwi' don't fly on djrkidd's travel map.

I swear that the bus rolled and the only thing that saved us was that it bounced back off the bank and continued to slip and slide along the mud track while wallowing from side to side on its busted shocks.
You know that feeling you get when things are totally out of your control. Well, that was firmly knotted in by stomach amplified by the fact that we had a 50/50 chance of dropping over the unprotected cliff and down 300m into a torrent of white water. It was like a badly filmed horror movie and all I wanted to do was get out and walk. However there were three Aussies on the bus and national pride would not allow it. I shared nervous glances with the German bloke beside me, and at my possible last meal of a boiled sweet. I turned up my Ipod to full noise, cursing myself for having paid $390 dollars to put myself in this situation. The bus was surrounded by a group of 50 people yelling and shouting and climbing on the roof finally I could smile and relax. Stepping off the bus into the rain I was glad to be on terra ferma, even though I was in the thick of the mob of Money changers, porters and hawkers all fighting for business before we crossed teh border from Nepal into Tibet.

They had been abandoned by their driver at 2 a.m. in the pouring rain and mud on the side of the road. I woke to find them begging to be given a lift. We caught up with the white Toyota van, that had just left them stranded, half an hour later. We watched in horror and a slight feeling of justice as the driver got knocked over by the ice cold raging river that was up to the doors of the van he was trying to attach a tow rope to. The 4 wheel drive managed to tow him out of harms way and then back into it as they pulled him back across this river that flowed across the Friendship Highway somewhere just inside Tibet. 22 hours after we left Katmandu we crawled into our lumpy cold beds four to a room at 4350m in Nyalam somewhere on the road to Lhasa.


Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, had the forced organized tour that the Chinese Government makes tourist do, so that they can visit their occupied territory, kept up like the last two paragraphs it may well have been worth the money.
However, maybe to some readers delight, the Friendship Highway became just that …. a good highway. The accommodation moved from damp dark dorm rooms (alliteration he he) with leaking roofs and toilets that were a 50m walk away and didn't flush ( they just filled up with shit ) to twin rooms with TV, aircon and hygienic seals on Western flush toilets. The food remained crap with a piece of bread and a boil egg for breakfast, then … “get out here, you have five minutes to take photos!" and “spend your money in the restaurant as I get commission!” and thus the exciting 4x4 adventure turned into an everyday organized tour, … except it had 60 independent travels who didn't want to be on it.
My Aussie tour mates and I did laugh at our non English speaking drivers' consumption of cigarettes and cans of Red Bull. Pumba, as we had affectionately come to name him did add some excitement when he managed to back the landcruiser into me while I was taking photos from a view point and hence forfeited his tip. (Maybe he did speak English after all !!!!)

So, cynical of "China's Tibet"? Yes very! Don't get me wrong people, the country in stunning with dramatic mountains, beautiful lakes and breathe taking vistas. The Tibetan people are amazingly friendly and curious, and brighten your day with beautiful smiles. In the more remote places they are pushing their noses up to the window of restaurants, like kids at a candy shop, looking at what is going on with all these odd looking foreigners…. especially the one with the blond dread locks who they think is the Yeti.


After coming from India and Nepal where everything is for free, ( even when you are getting ripped off) this stepped up to being heavily discounted in China. I was arguing over the price of a bottle of water with a Chinese shop keeper. My argument was that the clearly marked RRP on the bottle was 3 Yuan and that his asking price of 8 was a little steep even for the Himalayas. His argument was if I didn't like it to piss off back to my own country. My counter argument was: “why didn't he do the same!”

Following the irony we arrived one of the most remote and holy cities in the world, Lhasa. I had been looking forward to this moment the whole trip only to have it crushed by multi story concrete buildings, neon signs and Karaoke bars. The fact that it is illegal to bring a photo of the Deli Lama to Tibet and if you try the smallest protest such as wearing a “Free Tibet” tee shirt you will be band from Tibet and Mainland China for life. However, apparently, it is perfectly fine to have hard core porn and sex toy stores on every corner. (Well at least in the area of our tour provided hotel.) I am sure that this is an intricate part of the "cultural Revolution" that I just do not understand.


In the old city Tibetan culture is still struggling along with the hard core carrying out the pilgrims circuit by clapping their hands above their heads in a sort of leg less star jump, then dropping to their knees, then lying down on the ground at full length making sure that they bump their forehead quite hard on the ground. They then stand up and take one step and repeat the whole process, a very committed, all be it, time consuming, and by the look of the bump on their forehead a painful act. The temples set in amazing locations and albeit repetitious are stunning. They mainly consist of a few thousand Buddha's, a couple of gold Stompa’s, enough money offerings to finance the whole trip over again, monks with shaved heads in maroon robes talking on cell phones and drinking coke, and are lit by rancid yak butter candles, the smell of which is hard to get used to.





At this Sera Monastery, they have a stone garden where the monks are allowed to blow off steam and practice their patience in a debating session. When I first got within ear shot of this place I thought the Chinese army was putting down a riot, well, I will let you watch the video of this very peculiar debating practice.

The Potala Palace, the Deli Lama's residence, and you know when he comes to visit. It is an incredible structure, dominating the sky line of Lhasa, although possible more interesting for what you don't see as you wander through 30 of it's thousand or so rooms. But at the end of the day, I think it sucks when you have to deal with the frost nipped faces of Tibetan nomad children on 5000m snowy pass in the middle of nowhere trying to sell you prayer flags. Or when you walk down the streets of Lhasa and the only people begging for money are Tibetan.




Posted by djrkidd 01:24 Archived in China Comments (1)

Leeches, Mud and Thin Mountain Air

Treking in the Langtan National Park - Nepal

all seasons in one day 15 °C

'You must get off and walk to the next bus,' the guy sitting beside me said.
'Yeah, alright, no worries,' I smiled ,slightly confused by seeing the bus parked a few metres in front.
I climbed down off the roof then stood around the second bus waiting with my back pack, turning down the offers of sweet milky tea from the bamboo road side stalls.
"Hey mister not this bus, you have to go the other bus!" He pointed into the distance to the road disappearing into the fog with my fellow bus passengers walking along it negotiating the huge landslides that had washed out the road hundreds of metres to the river below.


I walked along chatting with the bus attendant who was very concerned for my well being carrying my small pack. I had to explain that I was training for climbing mountains and then he happily continued with his guided tour as we walked the kilometere to the next bus. I settled in only to go another two kilometres then repeat the process walking 3 km to the next waiting bus. I can only imagine that this bus was caught in between the landslides and now acts as a ferry. I arrived at the small town of Dhunche at about 4pm finding that my pillow of a sack of onions was quite comfy for the ten hours roof top bus ride from the hot dirty streets of Thamel in Katmandu. The roof was a good laugh; the Nepalese thought it was the funniest thing they had ever seen to have a foreigner up there with them. They would joke away and nip down every time we stopped and come back with a tasty, and some times not so tasty, treat for me to try. The best joke was every time we came to an army check point they would check the bus even though there was only a very small Maorist presence in the area I was trekking. The Soldiers would make everyone get down off the roof and cram into the already overloaded bus. We would sit anywhere we could find room from the dash board to the steps. This would only last for as long as the road was straight and the second we got around the corner the bus would stop and a mass evacuation to the roof would take place.

In Dhunche the driver kept saying: “no boss, no boss!”
"Well you didn't need your boss to get here did you mate" I said waving my ticket to Syabru Besi at him only to realise that he was actually saying “no bus” not “boss”. Slightly embarrassed I asked how long to walk to Syabru Besi to find out it was another 3 hours further down the valley. I set out to a chorus of "nameste" from little kids who followed me along the road then asking for sweets or pens (Yes even in the Himalaya there is Western corruption). One child, must have been 3 years old, she stood there looking at me with her big dark eyes, I was towering above her and she stood to attention in her bare feet, placed her hands together as if praying and bowed saying “nameste”, she was the cutest thing I have ever seen, all two feet of her, in this village perched on the side of the hill in the Himalaya.


Had a quick stop at an Army check point that got the blood pumping a little more than the usual thin mountain air. After checking passports and trekking permits the questions turned to money. I suddenly thought, “ hmmm 5 armed, bored, soldiers and I am in the middle of nowhere and let’s face it….. a mobile ATM. However my imagination was soon put into check as they showed me a short cut down the side of the hill and were offering me cheering moral support which echoed across when I made it to the other side of the valley. At this stage I was chatting through a guy that spoke English to school kids dressed in their Navy Blue bottoms and pristine white tops carrying their school bags and getting wet in the rain. Now that the road was out they had to walk the 3 hours to Dhunche to attend the only school in the area … how is that for commitment!

The Police officer signed me into his book at the beginning of the track, just below was the convergence of two of the fastest flowing rivers I have ever seen. He looked me up and down then tilted his head to the side and said "Where is your guide? It is very dangerous to trek alone!"
"Ah I am from New Zealand man, I'll be right. You know Sir Edmund Hillary he taught me everything I know!" I grinned cheekily
He looked at me quizzically, "You know Tenzing Norgy?" I sighed. His wrinkled narrow eyes lit up and a huge smile that only a dentist would love spread across his weathered face. "Yes Yes the second man to climb Everest!" he beamed. "Yeah him" I smiled shaking my head really wondering who was right and who was wrong.
"Okay Okay Sir you enjoy your trek" he said shaking my hand. I walked off chuckling to myself wondering what really did happen up there that day.


The trek up to Lungtang took two days from Syabru Besi at 1460m I followed one of the wildest rivers I have ever seen through the hot humid leech infested jungle. Luckily the leeches did not like the Marmite bred blood stock of the Kiwi, but seemed to feast on the odd trekker that I met along the way. With the wet season in full swing the track was full of land slides that in some places plummeted into the white water far below. Even with the latest hiking equipment I found myself in some precarious situations, only then to marvel at the porters supplying the villages negotiating the same terrain in Jandals (Flip Flops) with 40kg loads supported by the foreheads. These Guys work for pretty good money by Nepalese standards at 500 rupees ( 7.70 USD) a day. I steadily climbed out of the lush jungle and discovered weed is just that, as it grows everywhere and anywhere. I finally stopped just out of the tree line at 3000m at the Tibetan guest house at Ghorayabela.


The owner was a very gracious and polite man who had come over the border from Tibet during the "Cultural Liberation" and had never returned. His wife lived 1 hours walk (Two for the normal human) in the next village down the valley and he would walk down to stay the night only if he did not have any guests staying. It was here that I teamed up with an American couple who had been teaching English in Japan, Megan and Dennis. They both shared the same love for the outdoors so we hit it off right away. When I say teamed up, I really mean that I left at the same time the next morning and tagged along with them for the next week.


Most climbing literature states that a climber should not gain more than 300m net altitude gain per 24hrs, meaning that you can climb as high as your body will let you but you must come back down to 300m above where you started that day. With this in mind we climb a total of 850m in four hours and promptly I felt like crap when we arrived in Kyanjin Gompa (3850m). I sat in our smoky tea house drinking milky sweet tea that had been cooked off a yak dung fueled fire. A comedy developed, an old lady, in tradition Tibetan dress, was chasing a cat about that was determined to get inside her hut. I had developed a sharp pain in my stomach a few days ago and it seemed to get progressively worse as I got higher however the bonus was that it only hurt when I breathed so it was optional if I was in pain or not.

We attempted to walk to Lang tan base camp but decided to turn back after we reached the glacier with bad weather and the altitude kicking our ass, we walked back down, and were offered cups of tea from people huddled around their fires inside stone Yak huts sheltering from the storm.



We tried throwing rocks into the river to create stepping stones but looked in horror as we realised it was a futile effort as the current of this dirty brown torrent washed away the 20kg rocks we were struggling to move. Out of frustration I took a flying leap and was 100% sure I was going to make it to the small island, I was 100% committed when I found the rock I had used as a take off platform moved from under me, and I less than gracefully landed with one foot on the safety of the island and one foot plunging into the cold raging water. Fortunately only my pride was hurt in my attempt to keep my feet dry and I suppose I did prove that Kiwis really don't fly!


A porter ,struggling under his load, gave us directions to the start of the trail that lead to the summit of Tsergo Ri. After yesterday’s effort we flew up the mountain and reached the yak huts half way up in no time, it’s amazing what a bit of acclimatisation does for you.
We reached the summit in a white out and sheltered under a rock at 5000m, clutching my side and eating peanut butter and granola, as the rain started. We we're considering snaking a trekking peak a little higher but the risk of a $1000 fine and the fact I had forgotten my gloves and was losing feeling in my fingers made drinking hot tea in Kyanjin Gompa much more attractive option.

Posted by djrkidd 02:21 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Life on the Ganga

sunny 45 °C
View Kiwi' don't fly on djrkidd's travel map.

Being alone on a night train, I had to take my back pack with me every time I went to the bathroom. Easier said than done in a small cupboard, but hey, this is India and unfortunately you can't trust anyone. As usual it was hot and steamy, the train made its way along the lush green plains 4 hours late. Finally we arrived and as I queued in the isle a man tapped me on the shoulder and said the two most annoying words in the world "Hey Mister".
"Yes" I replied rather shortly expecting some ploy for money only to find an older gentleman handing me a few months salary right there in the palm of his out stretched hand in the form of my Ipod that had fallen out of my pocket and onto the seat. No, the irony was not lost on me for a second.


Varansi, from the trafficked streets is no different to any city in India, it is just the usual seething mass, busy, dirty and frantic. Step into the heart of this holy Hindu city, in this maze of ally ways winding its way along the Ganga, from ghat to ghat, you are exposed to life in its rawest form. Once you have squeezed past the cows that meander around unbothered by anyone you are greeted by men dressed in bright orange on their pilgrimages to the river to bathe and collect the holy water, their smiles are bright and their welcomes friendly.

On the other extreme are the cremation ghats. Your eyes burn from the smoke from the dead. The families sit and watch as the attendant carries out the grizzly task of burning the bodies. Of the group of only men, the appropriate family member has their head shaved, apart from a little tuff at the back as a sign of their mourning. This is a men only affair as it is feared that if women attend they may cry, thus trapping the soul of the deceased in this world.
Even once they have past away, the dead still have to endure the lack of privacy, as they did during their life in India, the bodies are burnt side by side on the river’s edge in full view of those who care to watch. Of course how well you are cremated depends on how much wood your family can afford to buy, thus partially burnt bodies are set adrift into the Ganges as well as the very poor and the very young.

Then ofcourse life goes on along the banks of this dirty brown river, full of rubbish and weeds. There are holy men giving their blessings, the world’s poorest asking for a hand up, people bathing and drinking, washing their clothes and their dishes. There are holy ceremonies, temples, children playing and people just hanging out being social all along this great body of water, the Ganga. This would have to be one of the most amazing places that I have ever seen in my life.

Mats came back to the hotel, waking me up from my mid afternoon nap saying that a bus was leaving for Katmandu tomorrow. Mats and I had met on the train after I engaged him in conversation with my perfect Swedish; it went something like this..............

inaudible Kiwi/nowhere near Swedish mumble
"AH do you speak English?" with a quizzical look from Mats

Now we were off to the Kingdom Himalaya a lot sooner than I had planned. The bus turned out to be a Land Rover and they managed to fit thirteen backpackers in with their entire luggage on the roof, half covered by a tarp. I was having mixed emotions about leaving India. As frustrating as it was sometimes, I enjoyed the uniqueness of the country and challenges of traveling there. By no means did I reach spiritual enlightenment but then that was never the point of me traveling there, unlike so many people you meet along the way.


The Land Rover pulled into a corrugated iron covered shack, where we stopped for lunch. As we walked in the owner pulled the lid off a fry pan of food that was swarming with wasps.
"Ah you’re right mate, I'll just have that" pointing to a curry that the wasps were not so interested in
While we were sitting eating, the heavens opened and it poured down for 20mins. I watched as our back packs half covered by the token tarp got soaked.


I got up to pay and had to remind the guy that there was a menu on the wall behind him with the prices of the food on it. He apologized as if he had merely made an adding up error rather than bluntly ripping me off. Waiting outside I watch as a man looks in the back windows of the Land Rover seeing if he can get his hands on anything, two minutes later the same guy is walking around with a stick pretending to be blind and asking for money. The driver wants money from everyone before he continues the drive to the border.

We are surrounded by traffic like a log in a current as we enter the border town. I was joking with kids waiting for my back pack when I noticed it running down the road on a guys shoulder.
"Hey I'll carry that myself mate, thank you."
We fill out our visa applications by candle light and as walk out the gate of immigration control, a young guy looks up and says "Welcome to Nepal" with a huge beaming smile.
His grin is infectious and I find myself smiling back excited to finally be in the country I have been dreaming of visiting for years.


Posted by djrkidd 04:20 Archived in India Comments (1)

Welcome to the largest democracy in the World.

all seasons in one day 45 °C
View Kiwi' don't fly on djrkidd's travel map.

Hell on earth is how I would describe it. Hot, dirty, a constant hassle with a smell that makes you gag with every humid breath you take. You are constantly wet with sweat, even the daily down pour brings no relief, you just feel stickier. The rain brings flooding, which in turn, results in you walking through human waste. Rats, that would give your cat a fair fight, swim for their lives. Rubbish lines the street in higher proportions than your local dump. Out of that rubbish the poorest people you have ever set your eyes on build their shelter from the rain, in vain. They are everywhere, malnourished, dirty, with their hands out and such pleading eyes it gives you a sudden overwhelming feeling that you are powerless to help. Welcome to Delhi in the Monsoon!

I managed to watch a whole episode of “Friends” before Karolina walked into the hotel room, in my book this means that I had made it with plenty of time to spare. The 10 hour trip from the Pakistan border had been better than a feature length movie, I was trapped with my face pressed up against the window of the non air conditioned bus…. this was all I could afford with the few rupees I had in my pocket. Every few seconds something new and amusing would appear and the best thing was there were no ads.

Karolina was over for a two week stint, so our first challenge was to book a train ticket up North towards the Kashmir region. After sitting sweating on the platform for an hour our second class sleeper train finally departed. We arrived 12 hours later at the station. We had to change trains. Karolina had woken in the middle of the night to find a man trying to steal her money belt. Tired and groggy we jumped on the first train we saw, an hour later we realised we were heading back to Delhi. This resulted in a four hour wait at some random station and then five more hours sitting on hard seats as the smaller metre gauge train climbed through the forest to Shimla our final destination which took 20 hours rather than the 13 we had planned. Shimla was spread out on a forested ridge and plunged all the way down to the valley floor. There was no flat ground, you had to climb up or down to access any point you had to go. However this place was a breath of fresh air after Delhi, with the only real hassle coming from the monkeys who were a little too big for their boots.


After two attempts we finally got a bus ticket to Manali, this would have to be one of the scariest bus trips of my life. The road plummeted for hundreds of metres with nothing stopping you from flying off the edge at any moment. The driver would get a run on, going down the hills and then brake heavily at the last minute. He would blindly overtake at any moment which often ended with the bus skidding to a halt and narrowly missing a head on with a truck coming the other way. To my disgust Karolina managed to sleep for most of the journey while I sat white knuckled holding the seat in front of me.

It was a harmless suggestion I made to Marco, a Brazilian guy, that we had gone hiking with. "If you want a photo in the current just swim out and then swim back to shore, you'll be fine mate".

Before I knew it Marco was being swept down river at an alarming rate in frigid glacier melt water. I was running after him try to get in a position to throw my backpack, that conveniently had two empty drink bottles that would have to do as an improvised floatation device. His girl friend Racal was happily taking photos of Marco getting swept away, still not realising the danger. Before I could get close enough Marco saved himself by clinging onto a boulder and get across to calmer water. This was about ten metres before the rapids started properly and went for a few hundred metres. Relieved smiles all round and a good story to tell at the pub resulted.



The drive up to the pass was slow due to the monsoon washing out the road and overturned and stuck trucks blocking the way. The army frantically worked to fix the road. Soldiers man handled rocks in typical Indian fashion as a bulldozer sat lifeless 20m away. The delays were not a problem though with the climb into the Himalayan foot hills providing some of most beautiful scenery of the trip so far. Then off to the Rohtang pass, at 4000m but still, as we drove through Rohtang a game of cricket was well in progress. Having come from 2000m the short climb to the top of the pass left me breathing like I had just ran up the hill and not slowly walked. The wind caught the blessings from the prayer flags on the summit and blew into the distant snow capped Himalaya.


Manali was a break from "India proper" but before too long it was back on an overnight bus to Delhi and then a train to Agra. The only tickets that were available was in the 3rd class carriage, and, not wanting to be in Delhi a second longer than we had to, we bought them. I knew I was trouble when a police officer stopped me with one foot in the door and asked to see my ticket, when he saw that I was actually getting on the right wagon he rolled his eyes as if to say “well, be it on your own head,” and waved good bye.

Already there was no room in the main section of the carriage so Karolina and I camped in the doorway by the toilets. Soon we were joined by about twenty others in the small area. Sitting waiting for the train to leave I watched the rats darting around outside a shack where a railway worker was cooking. We were surrounded by a family, from grandparents down to a five year old son. Karolina took turns with the rest of the group to use the fan to ward off the mid-day heat. Two tribesmen stood by the opposite door dressed in purple, with long white beards and turbans. The turbans were set with a red stone in the middle and they were holding spears with sharp metal ends that were as tall as the owner. The four hour trip turned into a test of endurance in these cramped hot conditions. I had the Grandmother of the family resting her head on my knees and coughing her lungs out. I truly believed that she was going to die on that train right there in front of me. Now in a country as populated as India it is hard to find any privacy even for the most personal things such as going for a shit and it's not uncommon to see people on the side of the railway tracks going for gold in front of whole train load of people and thinking nothing of it.


Agra was another traveller's hell hole, but hey, you don't come to India and not see the Taj Mahal now do you! A day of being tourist was in order, seeing the impressive mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, that is made of a Mooney white Marble.
The next day the monsoon had caught up with us, it was 5am and we were trying to get to the train station in the down pour. As usual the first Rickshaw wants way too much because his mate is whispering in his ear, wanting his cut. Another bloke turns up and takes us for our asking price. As we drive off the other two can't get their rickshaw to start in the rain. I can't help but grin at them and mouth some unprintable word at these scammers.
Before I could bask in my own glory too long, a minute down the road our rickshaw drove through a puddle and also cut out. I helped push the three wheeled contraption out of the ankle deep water. Before I knew it, two guys from the hotel are demanding money from us, thinking that we were doing a runner without paying. After explaining that there is only one back pack and that there is no way in hell that I am handing over 2000 rupees to a couple of doughnuts on a bike at 5 in the morning another rickshaw appeared and once again we were gunning along to the station. This is the magic of Asia, you never have to look too hard to find what you want.
A quick good bye to Ina and I turn back into the rain and continued my trip once again to face the sub continent by myself.


Posted by djrkidd 22:01 Archived in India Comments (5)

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