A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Public Transport

Coach station restaurants are always good for a laugh and this one was no exception. The owner had trained his dog to keep cows out of his restaurant, and the dog was good. Half way through our coffee and cake a calf wondered in and the dog pounced landing square on its back, he sunk his teeth into the back of the young cows neck and rode it out like a jockey crossed with a killer lion; some great entertainment to start the day. It was 7am.

After food I walked out of the restaurant and sniffed three times in the air, I soon located the public toilets just 300 metres away across the coach park. The smell got worse as I approached and as I opened the door I felt like someone had sprayed vinegar in my eyes. This is the down side of coach parks.

We had a choice, a ‘luxury’ tourist bus, which would only take 8 hours to complete the 115 miles back to Kathmandu (yes, these figures are correct!), or a local bus, which was £1.00 cheaper but no one could tell us how long it would take. So we invested in ‘luxury’. It soon came apparent that we would be enjoying two types of luxury. Firstly we wouldn’t be stopping at every house, junction and farm to pick up vegetables and goats like the local bus does. (Which is why no one could tell us how long it was going to take – it all depends on the goat-count along the way). Our second luxury would be that there were no goats, and no goats meant no goat pee soaking into our bags and clothes. Other than that our bus was pretty much the same as the none-luxury version.

We’d planned to stay over a night in Banipur on route back to Kathmandu but I read up and it seamed like a mission to get there. Get off the bus at some tin-pot town, walk for 2kms to the next junction and try and flag a ride on the next road. “I really can’t be bothered!” I said to Sarah.

I spent the next few hours worrying I was suffering from T.T.L.S. (Travelling too long syndrome) usually the symptoms are dreadlocks, MC Hammer trousers, a stripy hemp shirt and spending your days being melancholy. I had none of these symptoms (shoot me if ever I do) but I had no desire for seeing cool things like Nepalese historic towns. I was disappointed in myself, for some reason I just wanted to go back to Kathmandu and chill out for a few days. Sarah and I discussed it, she put it down to the fact that we’d seen quite a few towns and, although cool, they were all very similar. Eventually I decided it was down to the fact that I’d not had a poo for four days and I just wanted to be mardy. Not melancholy, just mardy.

Posted by asprey 23:17 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Terrible Postal Systems in Kathmandu

Kathmandu is good for a few things, shopping and increasing your blood pressure. So if you need Christmas presents or you suffer from low blood pressure it’s the perfect place.

We’d spent the last few days shopping and had bought our own body weight in clothes gifts and things for our home; if we ever get a home. So it was our plan to post the stuff back to the UK. We tuk tuk’ed our way to the post office and started the procedure of communicating with some of the most confused people on earth. “Excuse me, where can I send a parcel to the UK?”
“Which country?”
“UK”
“Letter?”
“Parcel”
“Send or receive?”
I looked down at the huge 14Kg box in my hands, “Well if I was receiving it I have it here, so I would have received it already, so I wouldn’t need to ask.”
“What?”
“Never mind, send this to the UK!”
“I don’t know, ask him,” Pointing at another guy
“Excuse me, where can I send a parcel to the UK?”
“Which country?”
“Forget it!!”
We’d been in the post office nearly an hour before we found the parcel department, we had the sending or receiving conversation a few times before a man weighed the box and told us the price. After a quick calculation Sarah said, “That’s £80!!”
We carried the box back to the hotel.

Posted by asprey 23:27 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Kathmandu tooooooooooo Long

We walked out of the hotel, every day that we’d come out of the hotel for the last few weeks the little dude across the road had latched onto us, “trekking sir, best trekking tours in Kathmandu, I have one day trek, two day trek, three day trek, 10 day trek anything you want…” he would go on for a good ten minutes every day; but today was different, today he said, “good morning,” smiled and moved onto the next tourist.
“That’s all the confirmation I need that we’ve been here too long!” I said to Sarah. Kathmandu had become the new Bangkok, we’d now spent weeks here, we knew every bar, ever restaurant and even every dude on the street trying to sell trekking tours and locally made tat.

There was no more to see, so we just chilled out.

Posted by asprey 23:29 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Meeting our Group

After another whole day of kicking rocks in Kathmandu we headed to the very posh Tibet hotel to meet our tour group for the next leg of the journey. A mixture of English, American and Portuguese, they seemed a good bunch of people. We ate and drank and headed into Thamel for some ice breaking beers.

Posted by asprey 23:30 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Royal Beach Resort

It was great to be back on the road again, the obligatory Willy Nelson song, “on the road again” blared out as we set off. We risked the mountain roads but it just seemed safer in Kristina. I think if makes a difference being in a vehicle with breaks and tyres that are in working order. Within 3 hours we were at our Beachfront river resort ‘Royal Resort’. They’re no denying, this was a beautiful spot, in a steep jungle clearing at that lead down to a beach next to white water rapids.
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We pitched our tents at the side of river, positioned to get the best views through the front of the tent.

We had the option of white water rafting, canyoning or chilling out on the beach drinking beer. We chose the latter.

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As night fell huge oil drums came out, fires were lit and the beach party commenced. There were a group of locals that had come down from Kathmandu and those guys really knew how to party, the music was cranked up and we all danced round the fire.

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I walked down the beach to a dark spot and went for a pee, looking down the river with the full moon glistening off the water and the sound of the party behind me, echoing off the steep valley walls, I remember thinking what a special night this was.

Posted by asprey 23:31 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Chitwan National Park

“Ok everyone, really for the off?” shouted Noel from the drivers seat. There was a click and a buzz, then silence. “Everybody off and start pushing!” – Kristina was a big girl and even with all the staff and the whole group pushing we managed to move her about three feet.

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“We need that tractor!” I shouted pointing into the next field. Within 5 minutes it was well and truly commandeered and was dragging Kristina over the rough ground. In a plume of blue smoke she fired up and we were off.

Chitwan National Park was definitely one of the high lights for Sarah and me. There were two main animals to see, the one horned rhino and the Bengal tiger. We knew it was pretty much impossible to see a tiger, a guide that had been in the park everyday for thirty years had only ever seen ten, and so we set our goal to see rhino.

As we drove into the park, the last thing we expected was traffic congestion, but we joined a long queue of the parks most common form of transport; elephants! We eventually over took them and arrived at our lodge accommodation.

We jumped into the back of a 4x4 pickup, then transferred to small dugout canoe and headed to the elephant-breeding centre.
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We were both really excited about seeing it but as we approached the elephant sheds we noticed they were all chained by their ankles, some had their ankles chained together that stop them moving around at all. It was all a little disturbing. The guide explained that it was necessary to stop the elephants wondering into the village and crushing people (apparently this had happened on two occasions) but it still didn’t sit right with us. To be honest we were glad to leave.

We met up with Simon who’d travelled down to meet us after his trek; he managed to bring three girls along with him. We all met in the bar next door. We’d convinced the bar manager to extend his happy hour from 7pm until midnight, so the two-for-ones flowed and no one can remember getting back to the lodge.

Posted by asprey 23:33 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Elephants and Rhino's

At 7am the Chitwan guide lead us through the small village and to the river just inside the nation park. We’d been told we would be canoeing down the river for 5km. Expecting fibreglass canoes I’d dressed accordingly in board shorts and a tee shirt, in reality the canoes were of the dug out log variety. The water level was about 2 inches below the edge of the small boat and we were all glad to get out of the thing after about 30 minutes on the crocodile infested river.

The guide gave us a safety talk on what to do if we were confronted by a killer tiger or charged by an angry rhino, he didn’t tell us what to do if we saw a slightly startled chicken, because after two hour of hiking through the jungle and elephant grass, that’s all we did see. He tried to sexy it up a bit by calling it a ‘jungle fowl’ but it was just a chicken trying to find its way back to the village. The fact that the chicken was still alive told us there weren’t many tigers around.

The army, who seamed to run things in this neck of the woods, had banded tourists from washing elephants in the river because an accident where someone had been crushed to death mid-scrub. So when we went for a walk by the river and saw an elephant walah washing his elephant we thought we’d better keep our distance… for about ten seconds, before our curiosity kicked in, we asked the guy if we could help, he scanned the river bank for army, then waved us on.

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It was amazing being so close up, we took it in turns to scrub him with a rock before bath-time was over and he disappeared into the elephant grass again.

After a brief siesta the national park wildlife expert (who strangely also worked in our restaurant, and was the guy who gave toilet rolls out in reception) lead us into the national park again where 4 elephants were waiting for us. We climbed aboard and plodded off into the jungle.

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Following the mornings failure of a nature-spotting trip we’d set our expectations at zero. I thought back to a documentary I once saw on tracking large animals, it advised to listen for vibrations in the ground as they could be heard for huge distances. I decided to adopt this approach.

Suddenly I felt something, “Sarah, keep an eye out behind, I just heard vibrations in the ground, it could be something big!”
“It was something big,” replied Sarah, “The elephant just farted!”
I went back to just looking for the animals.

We plodded on in silence.

“There! Rhino!” we just saw the grey flash as the massive beast darted through a small clearing back into the grass.

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The elephant walah (driver) pointed into the 6 metre high grass, we saw nothing for a few seconds, but then a huge rhino casually stepped out and stood in a clearing looking at us, everyone held their breaths with excitement, then it just plodded off as nonchalantly as it had appeared. We were both wide-eyed with amazement.

Ten minutes later we came across another two rhinos, a mother and her young calf. Our elephant just walked up to them and they didn’t bat an eyelid. They were so close we could have touched them. It was a moment we will both remember for the rest of our lives.

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The setting sun cast long red shadows as we plodded through some of the most beautiful landscape we’d ever seen. It truly has been a magical afternoon.

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Posted by asprey 23:35 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Entering India

India was definitely the country Sarah and I have talked about the most. In fact it was the Taj Mahal that had inspired our travelling when we discussed it on one of our very first dates six and a half years ago. Since then it had always been top of our very long list of places to experience. Indians say the Taj is the ultimate symbol of love; it had definitely played a big part in our relationship. We both felt the same about travelling to India, we were excited, intrigued and more than a little intimidated by what we’d read. We had no idea what effect the place would have on us, but today we would find out.

We left the rhino lodge at Chitwan and waved our good-byes to our good friend Simon; the craziest binge-drinking alcoholic sensible HR manager we’d ever met, and not to mention a total legend.

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We drove down the narrow lanes dodging motorbikes and over taking elephants. By lunchtime we were at the boarder town of Sunali. All boarder towns are bad but we were confident the gates of hell we around here somewhere, it was certainly hot enough.

We stopped at immigration and the truck was immediately surrounded by street kids, “Mr, Mr, hungry, money, money!” one girl, breast-feeding a baby, couldn’t have been more than fifteen or sixteen.

After half an hour the paperwork was sorted and we drove through the boarder, nervous excitement buzzed around the truck; perhaps everyone felt the same about India.

As we crossed no-mans-land and into India all hell let loose, we realised the Nepal side that we’d been shocked by was actually the better of the two sides. The streets were pathed with a hundred years of rubbish. The flies feasted on the stench and filth. Every person was shouting angrily and every truck horn was blaring.

We got our passports stamped and got the hell out of there. Thoughts flashed through my brain panicked by what we’d just seen. We have two and a half months in this place. I don’t think Sarah will cope. What am I saying? I don’t think I’ll cope. Jesus this is going to be hard! I looked at Sarah; I could tell she was thinking similar thoughts.

Within fifteen minutes of leaving the town we were in beautiful countryside, the contrast was amazing. This would be the first example of the huge extremes of India.

We drove through the picturesque landscape for the rest of the day until the sun started to set. There was no accommodation for hours so we would have to camp. Eventually we found a clearing in some trees and parked up. As we unloaded the truck a small crowd of locals appeared intrigued by the strange people that had invaded their village in a massive orange truck.
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The small crowd soon grew into a large crowd. By the time our spaghetti was cooked there were over a hundred people surrounding the camp all just staring on.

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It must be a respect thing because as we sat down to eat the crowd disbursed and they all disappeared. It was so strange. By 9pm we were asleep in our tents.

Posted by asprey 10:47 Archived in India Comments (0)

Road to Varanasi

We were woken at 5:30am by the sound of bangra being played through a tinny mobile phone speaker disturbingly close to the tent, “Sarah, I think we’d better get up, the spectators are here!” sure enough on the other side of the zip there were already ten or twelve on-looking locals. As the sound of more tent zips broke the morning silence (other than the Nokia bangra) the crowd began to grow again until the whole village were neglecting their morning chores to watch the breakfast show live.

After the show a hundred smiles and pairs of hands waved us off as we hit the road again.

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Four hours into the drive the dirt and chaos started again; we were entering Varanasi. We assumed all cities were going to be like this from now on. The traffic was crazy; all horns were blaring again. None of the locals even took any notice when a bus drove straight into the side of our truck. Daniel was hanging out of the window swearing in Spanish, something he only does when he’s really pissed off. He loves that truck.

By lunchtime we were at the hotel meeting Bubaloo our Varanasi guide, he insisted we had to spend the afternoon in a Kashmiri carpet factory. Our guidebook had warned us against commission hungry guides, and particular, the Kashmiri carpet scam. Everyone took an instant dislike to Hubba-Bubba (as he became known) so we declined the rug hard sell and spent the afternoon by the pool drinking 8% beers and making up more funny names for Mr Hubbly-Bubbly.

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Beer, sunshire and tout bashing; what a great way to spend an afternoon.
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We were in bed by 9pm thanks to the Kingfisher extra strong.

Posted by asprey 23:39 Archived in India Comments (0)

Sunrise on the Ganges

Today was a biggy, top five on our worldwide things to experience list. Floating in a wooden boat, watching the sun come up on the river Ganges; for Hindus, the most religiously significant river in the world, where heaven meets earth, the life force of Lord Shiva.

The alarm went off at 4:45am but we were both already awake with excitement of knowing another one of our dreams was about to come true.

We hired an auto-rickshaw for the day, our driver was called Chewbaka, or something like that, so he became Chewy for the rest of the day; he didn’t seem to mind us making Chewbaka noises in the back seat as he drove.

This was our first real outing in an Indian city, seeing real city life. My heart was pounding with excitement. The rubbish was piled high at the side of the street, the same way as a snowplough piles snow, but we were already starting to see beyond that and were taking in the magical fascinating historical side of India. Just seeing cows wondering down the street with painted faces, monkeys running up and down historically significant buildings and the people, wow, the people were intriguing. Holly men wore orange robes, had painted faces and matted hair, women in beautiful saris with henna decorated hands and feet. We were just witnessing people live their whole lives in the street; washing at hand-pumped wells, brushing their teeth with sharpened bamboo and finding a quiet part of the street for a morning dump.
A Small side street bought us to the famous ghats. Huge steps joined the river to the city.

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We jostled through the crowds on the steps and worked our way down to the ancient patched-up wooden boat that was waiting for us. We cast off on the magical river. Within minutes the sun began to rise over the terracotta horizon throwing an orange light over the city and the river. Who says air pollution is a bad thing?

As we sat there I looked at Sarah, our eyes met and we shared a moment. Neither of us spoke but we didn’t need to, we both just smiled.

Our ancient boat chugged up stream as we watched the pilgrims bathing and cleansing their soles in the filthy but sacred water.

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Eventually we reached the crematorium ghats and watched the workers stoking the fires on the riverside to ensure all bones were incinerated before the ashes were washed into the river, just up stream from where the pilgrim bathed.

We were told that mourners would let us taking photos of their relatives burning funeral pyre but in return we would be asked to pay for the firewood, which could cost up to US$200 depending on the size of the body. However regardless of cost, it was good taste that stopped us from taking photos.

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After breakfast Hubba-Bubba arranged for us to visit a silk factory.

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As we entered the doors were locked and the staff bought out the thumbscrews and wallet levers. “This must be another commission pie Bubba has his fat fingers in!” we managed to keep our money in our wallets and made a sharp exit to the dismay of moustachioed money grabber. His moustache really was too big for an honest man.

We decided we needed a slimming down session, our bags were ridiculously heavy with Nepalese souvenirs, sleeping bags, winter coats and thermals, none of which you need when its 35-40 degrees every day. We packed up our jettisoned luggage and carried it to the post office; it weighed 14Kg. After the fiasco in the Nepalese post office we hoped this time it would run more smoothly, and thanks to the efficiency and straight forward process of the Indian postal system it took just 3 hours and 10 minutes of wondering from department to department to post our parcel.

“Jesus! I need a Kingfisher Extra Strong by the pool!” back at the hotel we were told there was a total drinking ban in the whole of India. The Hindus and the Muslims had been in dispute over a temple for the last 60 years, today they would release the results of the high court ruling and the authorities were expecting trouble. Also there was a curfew for all tourists to be in their hotels by 3:30pm. Maybe that explained the twelve armed-guards we saw protecting MacDonald’s.

We think the hotel manager had seen the previous day how much we were capable of drinking, and did the maths on how much money he was losing by not selling us beer. He arranged for a secret party, hidden away on the roof of the hotel. It was another great evening.
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Posted by asprey 23:44 Archived in India Comments (0)

Ken

An early start and a late finish. We were just on the road the whole day on narrow crazy roads and into the hills for same great scenery.
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The sun had already disappeared behind the horizon when we reached Ken River Lodge; my first thought was that they should have come up with a better name for such a beautiful place, who calls a riverside jungle lodge Ken?

We set up out tents in the middle of the tiger reserve, which I thought was adventurous (stupid) and spent the evening sitting in the lodge over looking the river and watching the thousands of fireflies. Kingfisher Extra strong also made an appearance.
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Posted by asprey 23:46 Archived in India Comments (0)

Erotic Temples

The monkey’s shouts and calls woke us up early, but it’s a pretty good way to be woken up. We ate breakfast in the camp and then had coffee in the lodge, overlooking the beautiful lake and jungle landscape. Everyone was disappointed we weren’t able to stay at Ken River Lodge a little longer, but by 9:00am we were trucking. A short ride bought us to Khajarho, a great little town famous for its erotic temples.

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The group giggled and tittered as our guide showed us around the temples describing the history and the freedom that the locals enjoyed in the 11th Century (even the women!) and the various sexual acts that were depicted in temple carvings. I obviously reframed from any innuendos or jokes throughout the talk.

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After an expensive touristy and absolutely edible meal we headed for Orcha
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a town famous for its palaces and temples. It was late when we got there so we had a quick meal in a vegetarian restaurant, in the dark due to yet another power cut, and headed back to our guesthouse.

Posted by asprey 23:48 Archived in India Comments (0)

Cool little Orcha

We left the slightly ‘basic’ guest house and headed through the narrow streets of Orcha and through the crazy market square, you couldn’t get more Indian than this, women in Saris sitting on the floor with their wares spread out on the floor in front of them; spices, lentils, house ware, hard ware, books and simple wooden toys.
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We just stood and took it all in for a few minutes; the vibrant colours, the intriguing people, the shouting, haggling and the smells. It was fascinating. We headed to a small bread shop at the side of the temple and bought some japatis for breakfast. The shopkeeper looked at us quite strange when we started eating them, we assumed it wasn’t the done thing to eat in the street.

We headed down to the Palace and walked round the beautiful grounds watching huge monkeys play cat and mouse with the stray dogs. The highlight of the morning was watching one of the monkeys dive at Rich’s head [the American guy from our tour].
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The japatis hadn’t quite cut it so we went for a proper breakfast. We met Annie and Nat in the restaurant. Annie told a funny story about some stupid French tourists she had seen buying japatis from the shop next to the temple, “…they just ate them, the idiots didn’t realise they are only supposed to be used as offerings to the gods in the temples! I’m surprised they didn’t get lynched by the locals.”
Sarah and I looked at each other, “does that mean they’re not food grade?” I asked, which got a few off looks.
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By 12:00 noon we were on the road again. The roads from Orcha to Agra were about as bad as roads could get, like they’d been bombed, but six hours later we were pulling into our luxury hotel. We finished the night with a great curry and a few cold beers.

Posted by asprey 23:49 Archived in India Comments (0)

Destination Number 1

This was the big one. The thing we’d both dreamed of for six and a half years. Number one on our list, and it had always been number one; The Taj Mahal.

Our Agra guide Ally invited us all to his house for a traditional Indian breakfast of fried breads, curry and bananas. It was really cool to see a very small piece of real India and not just touristy India.

Then it was on to the Taj Mahal. Sarah and I were both buzzing, excitement coursed through our vanes faster than that our driver darted through the traffic. We arrived at the West gate.
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As usual in India men and women had to queue separately, we made it through the stringent security check and bag/body search and walked through the entrance into another courtyard, this lead to another gate. As we walked through the gate the Taj came into sight, we walked forward hand in hand and took in the full splendour of the building; six and a half years in the planning, we were here.
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I couldn’t take my eyes off it I just wanted to take in every detail; eventually I looked away only to look at Sarah and could see the awe on her face too.
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We took the obligatory photos and sat with the group for a while, the colour of the building seemed to change every few minutes as the sun moved through the sky.

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I asked Sarah to go for a walk with me, I wanted some time on our own. We walked down the path towards the Taj and stopped, it was just the two of us. We chatted and reminisced about all the plans we had made to get here and how long it had taken. I looked at Sarah; she looked beautiful. I was the happiest I’d ever been. I knew the time was right.

Dropping to my knee and holding out a white gold solitaire, I said, “ Sarah, I love you. Will you marry me?”
A huge beaming smile came across her face, “of cause I will!”
We hugged and kissed in front of our favourite building in the world.
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We walked hand in hand to the Taj and finally got up close and personal with amazing fine marble detail. It was beautiful from a distance but mind blowing from close up. Gems and semi-precious stones inlayed in marble over every inch of the building. The building, the garden and our moods were just magnificent.
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After an hour and a half of taking in the total splendour of the whole place we had to leave. We jumped into tuk tuks and headed for the famous Red Fort, it was another spectacular building. It took us another couple of hours to take in the mind-blowing scale, architecture and artwork of the place.
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As the sun started to set we arrived at the gardens on the opposite river bank to the Taj Mahal, this was also on our list, the Taj at sunset.
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The riverbank was dense mud lined with barbed wire that had snagged a ton of filthy rubbish from the river but it didn’t matter a jot.
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As the sun set to the west the Taj turned from white to golden and then to red; another view of it’s awesome beauty.
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The guys on the truck insisted on an engagement party, not that we took much convincing. We headed to a restaurant that our guidebook said had live music and a ‘garden party atmosphere’. We walked in to the sound of one guy on an out of tune violin. “Live music?”

The food was good, the beer was strong and the atmosphere was great. After the dinner the lights when out and the manager carried out a cake. The guy on the violin saw what was going on, his instincts were as finely tuned as his home make instrument because he started playing the Happy Birthday tune.
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We didn’t want to spoil the moment so we all sang along as they placed the Happy engagement cake in front of us. We were really chuffed that the guys had made such an effort at short notice.
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All great days should end with beer and cake.
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Posted by asprey 23:54 Archived in India Comments (2)

Fatehpur Sikri

A short drive out of Agra took us to Fatehpur Sikri another famous palace.
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We’d already seen quite a few palaces in India but they were all stunning so we weren’t getting bored of seeing them.
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Our guide, who looked like Indian Elvis, explained the history of the place and made the whole palace come alive with stories of the past. As usual the architecture was stunning and history captivating.
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When we entered the palace temple we were issued with sarongs to cover our knees; a required sign of respect. To my delight mine was bright pink, which everyone found quite amusing.
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The shortage of campsites in India meant that our accommodation for the night ended up being the garden at the back of a restaurant.
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It was a little odd but the place was cool and the lawn big enough for a game of footy. I got injured early on by Ian, a creepy guy who looked like the Kiddy Catcher out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He was a bit of a knob and took the kick-about all a bit too seriously. Later he bragged that he’d injured three people, so I felt the need to take him to one side and tell him he was a knob.

Posted by asprey 23:56 Archived in India Comments (0)

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