I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.

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PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Very Delhi Belly

Ellen went down with a bad dose of the squits last night, here in the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan. Stuck in our hotel room, within a convenient crawl from the en suite toilet bowl, I thought I would take the opportunity to update the blog a few days ahead of my next intended posting date.

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Sunday, 20th April

The city of Agra

06:00 am

Our first sight of the incomparable - The Tāj Mahal.

The Tāj Mahal (Crown Palace) - a monument to love. A celebration of woman, and that is the way, I think, to best appreciate it.


An immense mausoleum of white marble, tinged with a hue of pink, especially at dawn and dusk .. a teardrop on the cheek of eternity.

Built between 1631 and 1648, employing thousands of artisans and craftsmen, by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. He had nine wives altogether.

Mumtaz Mahal died, aged 40, while giving birth.

Upon Shah Jahan's death (31 July 1658), his son, Aurangazeb, also had him interred in the Taj next to Mumtaz Mahal.

I have to say that the Tāj is the most stunningly perfect building I have ever seen, or likely to ever see during my lifetime. Justly denominated one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.



Mumtaz Mahal (pictured above)


Ellen listens-in on her personal headphone tour. Mine stopped working after 5 minutes. Well, this is India after all!

Fabulous.

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Afternoon (Sun-20th)

Agra Fort

Built between 1565 and 1571, Agra Fort is fantastically well preserved.

Emperor Shah Jahan - mentioned above - added to the fort's construction .. and ended up a prisoner in it!

 Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb

These little squirrel-type critters were the first to greet us at the Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb, or the 'Baby Tāj' ..

.. sometimes described as a jewel box and often regarded as a 'first draft' of the Tāj Mahal.

The walls are white marble encrusted with semi-precious stone decorations. Another very impressive edifice.
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Early evening (Sun-20th)

We returned to see the Tāj from a distance and different perspective just before dusk. It was teeming with people at that time. Glad we made the decision to go there at first light.

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Monday-21st

Travelling 292 km [181 miles] during the morning of April-21st, from Agra to Ranthambhore National Park in the state of Rajasthan, with the sole purpose of going on a Tiger Safari.

Oustandingly well maintained gardens around our lodgings at Ranthambhore Vatika Resort.

We have been determined to avoid 'budget' type accommodation during our time in-and-around India. There are plenty of rooms available at £5-10 per night, which are focused on catering for the prolific backpacker trade. But we continue to stick with 'mid-range' to 'superior' hotels and homestays typically costing £15-£35 [US$25-60] per night. Still ridiculously inexpensive compared to Western prices of course.

On a couple of occassions Ellen has even had the nerve to cheekily negotiate and beat nightly prices down from £65 [$100] to £35 [$60]. 'Luxury' at nearly half the normal price.

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Climatic conditions

November to January is the cooler winter season, although calling the 25°C (77°F) weather "Winter" would be stretching the concept by British standards. There is also a brief Spring in February and March. April and May are the hotter months. We are therefore currently touring India during the 'shoulder season' when everyone eagerly awaits the life-giving monsoon rains, which will last from June through to September.

We are finding the temperature hot, but no unbearably so. Weather conditions are by no oppressive, which will likely be the case by this time next month (mid-end of May onwards), when the heat will be extreme at 40-45°C +

All the more reason to single out decent accommodation where a working ceiling fan and air-conditioning unit are essential prerequisites.

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We did spot a couple of tigers in the park, just before breakfast time.

Maybe it was the same tiger we saw, twice?

1½ tigers it is then! .. I'll settle for that.

We were lucky, as sighting a rare and elusive tiger in the wild is by no means guaranteed on these three-hour excursions, which costs incidentally 1,200 rupees [£12 or US$18].

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Wednesday, 23rd

The tour continues northward, up into the Indian Himalayas. Next stop: the historic city of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.


[Panoramas - click to enlarge]

Taken from the top of the victory tower of Isar Lat.

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Arriving in Jaipur at around 1:30pm, we had the whole afternoon remaining to explore parts of the city.
Best carried-out by auto rickshaw .. at 300 rupees [three quid, US$4.50], including the driver's time. Can't go wrong.

.. and we head off, into the mayhem, through the gates of the 'Pink City'

City Palace, where Jaipur's Royal Family reside.

Jantar Mantar (Observatory) - Described on the World Heritage List as "An expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period."

The observatory consists of fourteen major geometric devices that measure time, predict eclipses, track stars' location, etceteras.

One of the HUGE sundials, which tells the time within an accuracy of two seconds .. give or take a quarter of an hour or so.

Angles and curves everywhere you look. Very photogenic.

The Royal Gaitor mausoleum complex, where Jaipur’s royalty are interred.

The quiet, and when we were there, near empty grounds were in stark contrast to the chaos and ever-present din of the city outside.

The monkey community love living in the grounds of the Royal Gaitor. A good place to raise a family. "Hey, bring some bananas next time why don'tcha?!"

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Early evening (Thu-24th)



With Ellen in a slumber and out for the count, I sneeked away and headed straight for the nearest Western fast food joint I could find. After two weeks of curried everything .. boy, it tasted bloody good!

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More in 7-10 days' time - subjec to internet access.

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From Ellen's journal: click on this link → Varanasi, Agra and the Taj Mahal

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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Curry Hunt

WARNING: To all dyslexics and inebriates - please be careful how you read and repeat the title of this post in the presence of company 

Sunday, 13th April

We had planned on leaving Pokhara on Saturday-12th, but at the last moment found out that a mate of ours, Caglar, was due to arrive in town, from Turkey, at lunchtime. He asked if we could delay our departure for 24 hours so we could all meet-up Lakeside for a few beers, plus some hugs and giggles. We agreed, of course.

But the unpredictable Nepalese climate put the kybosh on that idea, as his inbound domestic flight from Kathmandu was cancelled just before departure due to adverse weather conditions (at the Pokhara end.) We completely understood why, as around 1:30pm on Sat-12th the wind picked-up from a dead calm, to almost gale force, within a few minutes - accompanied by severe low visibility. Under such circumstances, you have to ask: who needs a Force-7 fog when flying in a light aircraft?

Never mind, I have no doubt we will meet-up with Caglar again later this year during September in Istanbul.

We were becoming restless; the bike was all sorted and running as good as ever. It was time to hit the road and leave Pokhara with all its quirky misspelt hangouts. What a great little lakeside town. I highly recommended it as a base to explore Nepal.

By 9:45am we were rocking south, down and around the mountains and valleys of the Siddartha Rajmarg Hwy towards the Indian border.

To get an idea of scale, there are a handful of local people down by the riverside. Can you pick them out?

A roadside refreshment break in one of the many townships along the way.

During April/May Nepal is approaching the end of its dry season. In a couple of months' time the dry earth will be replenished with much needed monsoon rains, from June through to September.

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Monday-14th

We picked-out a brand new establishment to stopover the night of our first day on the road (Sun-14th), located no more than a kilometre or two from the border; the spanking 12-bedroom Hotel Lumbini International. So new there wasn't even a proper road leading to its entrance, but we scrambled there in any case. I think we might have been their first guests; certainly the only ones staying that night. No hot water, nor internet. Indeed, the room we liked best was still having its air-conditioning unit installed! And worst of all .. not a bottle of cold beer in sight. Bugger.

Nice family-run enterprise though, and I wish them well .. 'cept for their bloody dog, who likes to bark and howl at the moon the whole night through. Grrrrr!

It took less than two hours to take care of all the Immigration and Customs formalities for both countries. As we were about to leave Nepal a friendly young Nepali Customs officer said to me, "Do you know the meanings of the names 'Nepal' and 'India'?" I said "No, please tell." He replied back:

Nepal means, 'Never Ending Peace And Love' .. and
India means, 'I'll Never Do It Again'

Gawd!

.. and with that, soon afterwards we trundled over the border into India.

What a contrast?! .. all within a couple of hundred metres. My story over the next month will, I have no doubt, tell the tale.

Into Incredible India, at last.

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India - a reminder:

- Capital: New Delhi
- Largest city: Mumbai
- Population: 1.21 Billion (2011 census)
- Official languages: Hindi, English
- Area: 3,287,590 km2 [1,269,346 sq mi]
- The world's largest democracy
- The world's eleventh-largest economy
- Has the third-largest standing army in the world
- A nuclear weapons state.

Clearly a nation to be taken very seriously indeed.

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Monday-14th & Tuesday-15th

The comparitively modest distance of 300 km [186 mi], from the border to the city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges (Ganga), turned-out to be one of the toughest stretches of road we've encountered on this trip thus far.

Too much traffic [Hey, get used to it, again!] .. too much dust .. and too many potholes.

I shall not elaborate.

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Wednesday-16th

The Ancient and Holy City of Varanasi 

We have heard that Varanasi takes no prisoners. With this in mind, we braced ourselves when riding into what immediately struck us as one of the most hectic and blindingly colourful cities in the world that we have visited to date.

The time had arrived to take a deep breath, put on my best smile and snake around the disorientating backstreets and alleys to the western bank of the Ganges .. where I hoped I could at least attempt to get my Karma sorted.

Feral dogs, just part of Varanasi's menagerie of street animals.

There's a lot of demand for firewood in Varanasi - fuel for the many burning ghats where bodies are cremated in public, 24/7.

Yeah right!

Photo_graphy is only strictly prohibeted inside the Durga Temple, which I felt obliged to respect.

I received a Hindu blessing inside the Temple .. at a cost of 20 rupees -20p [$0.30]. Damn good value.

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Another fine example of a Hindu place of worship; the Vishwanath Temple, which stands inside the huge 1,300 acres (5.3 km2) grounds of the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

Profound words are inscribed on many stone tablets all around the inside walls of the Temple. Here's an example:

TO THOSE WISE MEN, WHO ARE FREE FROM LUST AND ANGER, WHO HAVE SUBDUED THEIR MIND AND HAVE REALIZED GOD, BRAHMA, THE ABOVE ETERNAL PEACE, IS PRESENT ALL ROUND.
GITA 5/26

... well that'll be me then.

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One of the best times to visit the river and ghats - the long stretches of steps leading down to the water on the banks of the Ganges - is at sunset when the main ganga aarti (river worship ceremony) takes place at Dashashwamedh Ghat.

A great place to 'people watch' ..

.. and be watched.

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I must introduce you to our very own fabulous personal guide for the two days of sightseeing around Varanasi; a [unshaven] Donny Osmond look-a-like, Cristoforo Rahul Pandit, who happily answered to either 'Cristofer' or 'Rayhool' or 'My Bewdy' .. as you like ..

.. to which he ordinarily responded with a ..

'Ehh, What's Up Doc?'

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Thursday-17th

05:30am

The other best time is at dawn when the river is bathed in a mellow light as pilgrims come to perform puga to the rising sun.


50p [US 75 cents] will buy you more than an hour of a local oarsman's time, for which he will row you down the river with the flow of the current



All the way down to the Manikarnika Ghat (the main burning ghat).

If you believe in Hinduism, then Varanasi is a particularly auspicious place to die. Since expiring here offers liberation from the tedious cycle of birth and death (Moshka); making it the beating heart of the Hindu universe.



After reaching the Manikarnika Ghat, we had to watch our poor bloke struggle against the current for an uncomfortable 40 minutes or so.

Still only got 50p (50 rupees) for his labour though.



Summary:
Everyone in Varanasi seems to be dying, or hustling, or cremating someone; or swimming, or washing laundry in the sewage-saturated Ganges River; or praying to the goddess river to clean away their lifetime's sins.

What a fabulous city. 'Surreal' doesn't do the experience of visiting Varanasi justice. Go there if the chance comes your way.

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From Ellen's journal: click on this link → India

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Friday-18th & Saturday 19th

Riding from the cities of Varanasi to Agra - 610 km [380 mi] - I made some new mates at one of our essential two refuelling stops:


Incidentally the price per litre of petrol here in India is around 76 rupees - which converts to 0.75p [US$1.26]

Passed by lots of truck carnage in the ditches along the way to Agra:




A message to all Indian truckers:

Listen boys, there's no point in applying for a driver's job with Hooper's Haulage; they're not hiring at the moment.

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And now we're in the city of Agra. Home of the Taj Mahal; one of New Seven Wonders of the world.

There should be some fabulous pictures to see in my next post - in around 7-10 days' time.

Stay tuned.