Rachel and Matt’s World Tour
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Category — India

That’s all folks!

Well, it’s home sweet, wet, cold, home!

Since we left you in Kolkata we flew to Mumbai (Bombay) – we saw the slums that hold 55% of Mumbai’s population as we flew in. It was very sobering as they went on for miles.  There are also many huge, impressive British buildings that we enjoyed strolling around, and we watched hundreds of people playing cricket on the Oval Maiden.

It took us 14 hours on the train from Mumbai, but we had a fabulous, relaxing time in  Goa. We visited 3 gorgeous beaches: Anjuna, Arambol and Mandrem. Anjuna had a huge market by the beach on wednesdays so we were able to bag some last minute gifts. Arambol was full of dippy hippies swinging balls on ropes around on the beach or performing some strange form of Tai Che/ ‘I want to be a tree’ on the rocky headland, but the beach was beautiful and the oceanside restaurants served delicious seafood and curries of course.

Mandrem was incredibly peaceful, the beach was even more beautiful than Arambol and huge with virtually no-one on it.

After the painful train experience on the way to Goa we were very happy we had booked a flight back to Mumbai to connect to our flight home – and so here we are!

It has been the most exciting experience of our lives. Our favourite country remains New Zealand because the countryside is so stunning and varied, the people were very friendly, the food and wine were awesome, and it was just so organised with many things to do and sights to see. Laos was a close second for both of us, as again the countryside was stunning, it had the quirks and beauty of south east asia but without the pushy loudness of the people of many other asian countries we have visited; the people are so friendly and chilled.Nepal must also be up there because of the jaw dropping scenery, the best of the trip.

Our favourite day was when we both lost our senses and jumped out of planes or headfirst into gorges, followed by celebrations of our bravery with new friends in Queenstown. Other very special days were wine tasting around Marlborough in NZ, tubing in Laos, walking on the volcanic White Island in NZ, exploring the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, surviving the hard slog of the Thorong La Pass in Nepal, and seeing the imposing and amazingly beautiful Taj Mahal. There are so many more I want to list but it would take too long and you will get bored reading!

There were thankfully very few lowlights, but these would probably be getting ripped off in Vietnam, staying in the tacky area of Phuket surrounded by sex workers, and dealing with hocking and spitting and other gross habits in India and Nepal.

We are now both gradually getting back into normal life, though it’s gonna take a while. We hope that you have enjoyed reading. It has been so great for us to write this as a record of our adventures so thanks to everyone for the comments. I look forward to reading it back when I’m old(er) to remind myself that we have done something exciting and amazing in our lives.

Until the next trip!…

December 3, 2009   10 Comments

North India Unplugged Part 2

Hello all.

We finished our Intrepid tour a few days ago and are now in Goa on the west coast. Here is what we have been up to since our last update.

We left the madness of Pushkar behind and headed to Jaipur, home to the Amber Fort and the Palace of the Winds. Rach thought the fort was very pretty inside with it’s ornate rooms. The audio guide however was extremely odd. The walls and doors talk to you in very serious monotone voices. The Palace of the Winds was also cool, but the bag sellers nearby would win the award for the pushiest in India easily.

We also took in a Bollywood movie at the Raj Mandir cinema. “Blue” was a laughable film about retrieving sunken treasure. There were no subtitles so Pradeep had to explain things every so often. Kylie also makes a cameo appearance with an awful song “I wanna Chiggy-Wiggy with you”! The cinema itself was very grand, built in a 1930’s style and was packed to the rafters. Everyone had a great night out, which was finished off with a tandoori.

After Jaipur we spent one night in Bharatpur. The nearby Keoladeo National Park provided some welcome relief from the constant noise and pollution elsewhere. We were pleasantly surprised to see lots of wildlife as the lack of rain in the monsoon season had reportedly caused many birds to migrate to other locations.

Next stop was Agra and one of the highlights of our whole year away, the Taj Mahal. On our first evening we had a whistle stop tour of the cities other atractions; Akbar’s Mausoleum and Itimad-Ud-Daulah (Baby Taj), as well as a view of the Taj from over the river. The next day we were up early to beat the crowds to the Taj. With many iconic sights, when you see them in real life they sometimes don’t live up to expectations. The Taj Mahal exceeded ours. It’s much bigger than we imagined and even more beautiful. It’s a shame some people don’t feel the same and choose to drop their  litter all around the ground (which hadn’t even been picked up from the previous day!).

Be sure to check the pictures, even though they don’t come close to doing it justice. After the Taj we visited Agra Fort. This was where Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned by his son for wanting to build another!

After a long train ride we arrived in Varanasi on the bank of the River Ganges. It is one of the holiest places for Indians, who come from all over the country to bathe in the water. People also come here to die as it is believed to give them an instant ticket into heaven. We saw two burning ghats, which is where the bodies are cremated, and the ashes scattered in the water. We also saw the Ganga Aarti ceremony, which with the thousands of spectators made for a great cultural experience.

Our sunrise boat trip, where we saw people bathing in the waters of the Ganges (not recommended, it’s pretty toxic!) was a picture postcard moment for us. Just outside of Varanasi is Sarnath, which is where Buddha performed his first sermon. There are Buddhist temples representing many countries in the world along one road, and a large stupa where some of his ashes are contained.

Our last stop on the tour was Kolkata (Calcutta). We didn’t see much of the renowned poverty and were surprised by the relatively modern/organised city centre. We saw the Victoria Memorial, which was very impressive, but not particularly well looked after. Frederique had her birthday on our first night in Kolkata so we went out for a special meal to celebrate. Pradeep did a great job in finding a cake. Mother Teresa lived in Kolkata for most of her life and we visited her house and mission centre, a short distance from our hotel. It was very moving reading about her life and her unwavering efforts to help the sick and impoverished people of India and the world.

Finally it was time to say goodbye to our group. We have made many good friends over the course of the trip and couldn’t have wished to travel with better people. Announcement: Pradeep, our leader was a legend. His many cultural insights enhanced the trip immensely, and the evening at his home in Udaipur was a highlight for everyone. He is also the best/worst dancer we’ve ever seen! 10/10 for effort.

We only have two weeks and are looking forward to soaking up some rays in Goa, to make you all look very pale! Until the next, and final update…

November 16, 2009   9 Comments

North India Unplugged Part 1

Hello all.

We have been in India 12 days and are 11 days into our tour with Intrepid. India is not half as intimidating as we thought it was going to be but twice as beautiful.

Our first day in Delhi was spent exploring and we were able to cover many sights as we hired a car and driver for the day. We saw the colonial era buildings of Rajpath (Kingsway): The Parliament and Secretariat Buildings, Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House), and India Gate, a 42m high WW1 memorial arch. We also strolled around the atmospheric ruins of Qutb Minar with its 73m high tower, and Purana Qila, the Old Fort. We also stopped to look at the Lotus Temple, which looks very much like Sydney Opera House, and is of no particular faith, all are welcome!

That evening we returned to the hotel to meet our companions for the next 22 days… a mix of Canadians and Australians, and all very friendly. Our guide Pradeep took us all on a walking tour of Delhi the next day. We visited a Sikh temple where all are provided a free meal. We were able to go into the kitchens, where I rolled and Matt cooked some chapatis! We also visited Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque that can hold 25,000 worshippers! We strolled through a couple of bazaars, mostly selling Sari’s and spices.

The same evening we boarded the night train to Jaisalmer. It was comfortable but noisy as there were many people in each carriage, and sometimes 3 or 4 men per bunk! Jaisalmer is called the Golden City as all the buildings are made from sandstone, and many of them are intricately carved. The town was just gorgeous, with its beautiful palace within the Fort and narrow alleyways full of textiles shops. The local craft is patchwork, mirrorwork and embroidered textiles. In Jaisalmer we visited the stunning carved buildings of the palace, the Haveli’s (rich merchants mansions) and the Jain temples. We also took an overnight camel safari into the Thar desert where we watched the sun go down over the dunes, and were then treated to music and dance by the locals. It was fun joining in and prancing around the camp fire.

After Jaisalmer we visited Jodphur, where we visited the huge and imposing Fort Meherangh, which had a fascinating history of the Maharaja’s and Battles of old, and great views across the ‘blue city’. Jaswant Thada nearby is a pretty white marble memorial and looks like a baby Taj Mahal. The markets around the clock tower were hectic to say the least, and so smoggy and dirty, so we didn’t shop much here, but we did have the best lassi in India! It tastes like creamy lemon cheesecake in a glass – delicious!

From Jodphur we went to Udaipur. Our favourite town yet, set around a lake with incredibly beautiful buildings, much of the James Bond film, Octopussy was filmed here. The local crafts are miniature painting and we saw some amazing examples in our tour of the city palace. The workmanship is so impressive we were tempted into buying a few pieces. On our first evening we took a boat ride around Lake Pichola from where there are excellent views of the city palace on the waters edge, and the Lake Palace on an island in the lake. Now an extremely plush hotel, room rates start at hundreds of pounds.

The group seems to have gone shopping mad in Udaipur! Jewellery and clothes and paintings mostly. We celebrated Halloween by dressing up and carving a pumpkin, which got a great deal of local attention from the locals when we took him for dinner in our costumes! At the end of the evening we gave our hats and accesories away and the kids were so excited, it was a cute moment. Udaipur is Pradeep’s home town so he knew everything there was to know and is very passionate about the place. On our last evening here he took us to his home for dinner. The food was awesome and the company even better. We learned a great deal about the lifestyle here from chatting to his extended family and friends.

Sad to leave Udaipur, we took a long and tiring bus journey to Pushkar. Luckily for us the world famous Camel Fair is on. We explored with Pradeep yesterday but it is quite intimidating. Some Indians, mainly young men get very excited about seeing a whitey! It’s not so bad for the couples, but the girls get much unwanted attention, and lots of cameras in their faces.

Sadly we we saw two dead horses and Debbie and Phil even saw a dead man!! Thankfully he had been moved by the time we walked past. A few hours in the extreme hustle and bustle is enough for most of us so we are going to spend the rest of today relaxing by next doors pool.

We have seen and done so much already so there are lots of pics on the photo’s page.

November 3, 2009   6 Comments