Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Hope you all enjoy the latest part of our adventure in India. All comments are more than welcome please, we hope you enjoy the photo's.

Photo-Leh to Manali

Dodging Goats.

Photo - Thiskey Gompa.

Votives, pilgrims prayers.

Photo - The Himalayas.

Photo - Leh to Manali.

Photo - more scenery.

Photo - pray flags.


Giving the kiddies malted milk biscuits.

Photo - Thiskey.

Gary showing some kiddies photo's of the tent.

Leh - Manali

Dragging ourselves away we set of again on the 2 day drive to Manali. The first night we desberatly tried to get below 4'500m to camp out, we eventualy managed to find a flat piece of land after coming down 21 loops & we slept at 4'200m. Awesome roads again and we didn't know before hand, but we ended up going over the 2nd and 3rd highest passes en route. Because of the delay on the first day we didn't get quite as far as we hoped so day two was a mammoth drive. We set off at 0900 and drove all day with a 1/2 hour break for lunch and eventually reached Manali at 1830 covering a grand total of..... 115 miles!!!!!!! To save you working it out it's just under an average speed of 13mph. The roads undoubtedly the worst we've ever driven on but the scenery more than made up for it as you'll see from the photo's.

Photo - The Dalai Lama.

Photo - Dalai Lama teaching.

Photo - Friendship gate, Leh.

Photo - Leh

Photo - Himalayas.

Photo - The Himalayas.

Photo - Nubra Valley.

The Dalai Lama , Om Mani Padme Hum.

Upon leaving Leh and still tripping out on altitude and all round niceness we came across a huge crowd of people just South of the town. There was a kind of festive spirit in the air and the crowds of people milling around were all in an animated mood. Over a low wall to the side of the road we could see a whole sea of umbrellas filling an area roughly the size of half a dozen football pitches (to keep the sun off) and at one end a stage set-up. It was only the bloody Dalai Lama doing some public readings!!..... and whats more we were allowed right down near the front just behind the Monks to get a gander at him! We were both blown away but Kym certainly felt it (Kym- a slight understatement me thinks, if anyone has spoken to me since, well they will know that it was one of the most magical humbling moments of my life). She took some footage with her camera but her hands were shaking so much it's unusable. I think the fact it would have been her Dads birthday made it even more significant. The faces in the crowds were as unbeliveable as stumbling across the Dalai Lama. Amazing faces and scenes every where.

Photo - B.R.O road signs.

Photo - mountain road workers.

Photo - road repairs !

Photo - Kashmir

Crazy cyclists, we were finding the roads bad enough in the car. Resect to these guys.

Photo - B.R.O road signs.

Border roads.

At this point I have to give a massive thumbs up to BRO, the Border Roads Organisation. They make it possble for people to visit this area without flying and the task they have is unbeliveable. The roads are some of the worst we have ever driven on (not to mention terrifying) but when you consider where the road is you get to wondering how the hell could what used to be a goat track in the highest place in the world be made into something you can drive along. It's a never ending task, in the winter the roads become impassable and the elements undo all the work that takes place on the roads throughout the summer.


Jammu & Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu the winter capital, Kashmir the summer. Definite change in the population here, much more muslim and a real Arab feeling to the place. Quick stop in Jammu, nothing to write home about. Then drove over to Kashmir. You emerge through a tunnel into the Kashmir valley and the first view before dropping to the valley floor is beautiful. Stayed in Srinagar next to lake Dhal for a day and then headed into the real mountains through the glacier village of Sonamarg then an awesome drive to Kargil. A weird night in Kargil (lot's of restaurants that had no food!?) and strange mix of peole. Muslim Indians, Chinese, Tibetans and random tourists.

Indian Pakistan border ceremony.

Amritsar - Wagah border.

Every afternoon at 1630 the border closes and about 2000 people turn up daily to watch the spectacle. It starts with people running up and down the road waving flags to cheers from the crowd, then the ceremonial stuff begins with the tallest members of the Indian army picked to wear the finery and perform Monty Pythons ministry of silly walks while their counter-parts on the other side of the border do exactly the same! The big difference is that on the Pakistan side there are two sections of grandstands (Oh yeah I ain't kidding there are grandstands) one for the men and one for the women. So all this posturing and trumpet blowing (literally and metaphorically) goes on for about 1/2 hour all the while the crowd are being g'eed up by an MC that starts the chanting. It was a pretty bizarre event made even more so by the fact that it takes place every day and is attend by huge amounts of people every day. Most are repeat visitors and the manager of our hostel had been 7 times! Odd, not sure whether it takes the heat out of border relations or inflames them?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Photo dinner plates

Photo Kitchen volunteer

Photo buttering chappattis

Photo Amritsar

Photo The Golden Temple

The Golden Temple

Bikaner was an over nighter and Amritsar was our heading. Most people will know the name from the battle that took place here when a group of Sikh extremists holed themselves up in the golden temple complex much to the chagrin of Indhira Ghandi who used force to get them out killing many and worse damaging the most sacrosanct of all Sikh holy places. Her Sikh body guards assassinated her soon after. Fortunately this isn't dwelt upon these days and so far we both agree it's the nicest temple we've visited. Not only is it beautiful but it has a certain ambiance about it that just makes you feel really welcome and totally chilled out. There is 24hr chanting of prayers from the Gold temple in the middle of the lake but even this although pipped around the complex by speaker, is un obtrusive. The Sikhs welcome any body into their temples regardless of religion, caste or creed the only rule being that everyone must be treated equally. The Sikh founder was the first person to try an rid India of the Hindu caste system and amazingly the foundation stone for the golden temple was placed by at Muslim at the founders request. There are 24hr kitchens in the complex that feed sometimes more than 8000 people a day .. for free... and there are dormitories where you can sleep for free for upto 3 nights. The kitchens have been open for 450 years non stop... 95% of the people working in the complex are volunteers (Kym joined them briefly!!) and the other 5% make up the permanent council who are elected to organise the running of the place. You can tell it had an affect on us. It was all just really nice and a pleasurable just to hang out. But we still have to get to Australia so we had to leave, not without visiting the daily border ceremony that takes place at Wagha between India and Pakistan. Unbelievable.......

Photo- Urgh..


On the drive from Udaipur to Jodhpur we kept passing groups of Pilgrims on their Yatras (pilgrimages). At first it was the odd group every couple of miles or so but the closer we got to Jodhpur the more condensed the Yatries became until it was literally and non-stop chain of them. This is the time of year for it apparently and some of them walk thousand of miles to significant places of worship. They get free food and water along the way from staging post tents that blare out Hindi music from huge speakers (maybe so they don't over stay their welcome?!) but you have to hand to them they are truly devotional. Some of them are in bare feet others with bandaged feet and some pushing carts with their kids on. It's quite a spectacle to see mile after mile of people walking carrying the flag of their local temple.

On the way to Bikaner we couldn't pass the deshok temple without at least having a look. For fans of David Attenborough you may remember this was the least favourite place he'd ever filmed. He's scared of rats you see. This Temple is devoted to the worship of holy rats and don't the rats know it. Yuk... it was disgusting there were rats everywhere and bits of food and offerings were also everywhere and to make it worse you had to take your shoes off. Urghh, did I say it was disgusting? Another odd one ticked off though.


The following day I was sick. It seems my normally cast iron stomach is having a tough time in India while Kym seems to be coping amazingly well. I tried to get up to the fort to visit the Maharajahs palace but only made it to the gates before admitting defeat and returning to base camp. Kym carried on and was evidently hugely impressed when she got back. The present Maharajah commentates on part of the audio guide and by all accounts sounds like a top bloke who is really working hard to maintain culturally significant sites in his area and make them available for everyone. I was well enough to buy some kites though! So up to the roof and let battle commence, only one problem, our worthy adversaries were kiteless!! The pair of them were sat looking forlorn on their roof top with no loose kites heading their way. So after a little bit of gloating that we had four we gestured to them that if they met us down stairs in the street we'd let them have one of ours. He was cheffed to bits when I handed it over but I made him promise not to cut ours. It is really hard to fly them, the technique is to let them spin by letting out the string until the top of the kite is pointing in the direction you want it to go then you spool in quickly to make it travel that direction. It involves a hell of alot of rapid arm movements and after about 10 mins I was almost grateful that I manages to get ours tangled in a mobile mast, not only for my arms sake but also my tongue which of course everyone knows is the concentration monitor.

Photo- view from the fort..

Photo - Jodhpur fort

Photo- Kite flying


Jodhpur was great, a massive fort dominates the skyline and the old city spreads out from the 80m high sheer walls like an indigo scree slope. Indigo was only allowed to be used as a house colour by the Brahmin's (higher caste holy people) in the past but everyone can paint their house in it now and most do as apparently it is cool in the summer and also acts as an insect repellent!? Whatever, it looks cool. Our room was in the old city and believe me they didn't have Landcruisers in mind when they built it. To say we got some looks would be and understatement. The house are so close together that we we're worried as much by the height as the width and inevitably we ended up with a new dent!! While negotiating a very tight right angled corner the inside rear wheel slipped off a curb and dropped the rear wing against the corner of the house. Of course in that situation you have no option but to try and drive out with minimum damage. It don't look too bad! Another roof top terrace restaurant on top of Yogi's guest house gave us a grand-stand view of the most fantastic kite flying we've ever seen. Every evening all the roof tops are occupied with all ages battling it out to try and cut each others kites from the sky and from our vantage point we could see all the players and all the ensuing battles. Two young lads (one guy controls the kite and the other controls the spool, both are equally as important as each other though) on a roof about 20m away were so skilled they took down loads of kites and when they heard us cheering them after another victory it only spurred them on. The owner seeing us getting excited by this amazing game promptly launched a kite for us and gave Kym charge of the spool. No sooner had we got it air born than the young uns swiftly brought their kite in to a dive and cut our string!! Boooo's from us only made them laugh harder! With the light fading we vowed we'd be back tomorrow for another battle.

Photo- bet your Mum can't do this..

Photo - Udaipur

Photo - Udaipur

Photo- truck stop..no we're not famous....

Culture Shock

Spiritually enlightened we left 'em and drove down to Udaipur. The lake here was thankfully almost full otherwise the floating palace might have been a disappointment. Unfortunately you now need to have a dinner reservation (main courses start at £30) to visit the palace (I blame Octopussy) so we had to make do with the view from our roof top restaurant. We checked out some fantastic Rajastani dancing here as well , the showstopper being the old bird dancing with 10 water pots balanced on her head. Gotta say as well that the tabla (the small double ended bongo drum) makes a really hypnotic rhythm in the right hands. Things are definitely on the up enjoyment wise for us in India, I'm pretty sure it's 'cos we're on the well trodden tourist path and the service industry has a much better idea how to handle us "gora". Independence in the truck has come at a price in India, that being curiosity and what we would consider down right rudeness but to the locals is completely normal. While stationary in a traffic jam or at a railway crossing they'll think nothing of getting out of their cars and having a wonder around ours occasionally putting a foot on the bumper and checking the suspension or giving the roof rack a good shake to make sure it's solid and even cupping their hands on the windows to have a nose inside; all the while we're sat inside like we're invisible! We we're a little bit arrogant and self assured on arrival in this country. I think we thought "hey we've been there and done that how different can India be" well believe me it is massively different. I honestly didn't think we would experience culture shock but boy did it hit us.

Photo- Hindu Temple Pushkar