Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Puppets in Bhaktapur

Kathmandu and Surrounding Valleys

On our return to the busy streets of Kathmandu we coughed and spluttered with the pollution, weaved our way through crowds of people and for the first time truly appreciated to beauty and serenity of the Nepalise Himalayas.  We had returned from the most amazing opportunity to live in the mountains for almost two months with not a road or factory in sight.  Although we had enjoyed the simple life in the mountains we were so excited about some good food in the city.  After dropping our bags at our trust little guest house in Freak Street, we strolled (well - Emma limped) to The Snowman - a quaint little coffee shop with a lovely owner and killer cakes!  We gobbled our apple pies and then wondered around the touristy area of Thamel.  We were lucky enough to be reunited along the way with all of our favourite trekking buddies (Germans from The Hill, and Israelis from The Glacier), and so we met up that evening to enjoy steak and a beer together.  Good times - No more Dahl Bhat coming!

Bhoudha - Kathmandu

Shanti Stupa - Boudha

We spent the next few days in Bhoudha, just 4km from the hectic hub of Kathmandu. This Buddhist area of the city is far more tranquil.  The guest houses are well hidden in the backstreets amongst many monasteries and in the centre of the region lies the ancient Stupa. The next few days were spent wandering clockwise around the Stupa, sorting out our return to India Visa and eating more lovely food including the biggest lunch ever of unlimited Momo's, chips and vegetables at Dawa's house.

Bhaktapur - Kathmandu

Emma by the intricately carved walls of the temples of Bhaktapur

We took a day trip to the stunning ancient town of Bhaktapur, in the East corner of the Kathmandu valley.  We travelled there in great style - on the "Fun Bus" as Emma describes it.  On the whole, we felt that Kathmandu is less hectic than any Indian city.  However, one thing that is faster paced, even than India, is public transport.  Getting on and off a bus or tempo is a gamble, instead of the British way of coming to a standstill at a stop in Nepal the bus or tempo cruises past with a man swinging from the open doors hollering the destination in Nepalise.  If you think its your destination you jump on as the vehicle drives on.  Aboard our Fun Bus we stood all the way, packaged in like sardines.  This was no fun at all for Guy as he is far to tall for these Asian vehicles, his neck was bent and he avoided the metal splinter on the roof top for the next couple of hours!  Although Guy was unimpressed, Emma had a great time swinging around corners with the bus blaring party music on big speakers roped to the roof!

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur was very beautiful - well worth a visit and also well worth avoiding the tourist entrance with a  $15 fee. While the main square with oriental temples was quite impressive, we mostly enjoyed winding around the traditional streets and watching local life away from the tourist attractions and the Mantra Song! The town has a big pottery trade and local potters were continually organising clay pots out to dry in the sunshine, Emma was forced to by a clay incense Yak from one persuasive potter.

Spinning on the Streets

Fifteen days in India

A quick flight from Kathmandu to Delhi took us back to India. Luckily the humidity we had experienced before we left for Nepal had passed and as the city felt more comfortable the A/C bitch in Emma died. We only hung around for long enough to plan our onward journey to Rajasthan and we then embarked on an overnight train journey to Udaipur.  Our first overnight journey in 2nd A/C we were amazed by the luxuries (compared to our usual 3rd sleeper trains) - bed linen, reading lights, power supplies and no cockroaches!

Udaipur - Rajasthan

Udaipur Sunset

Known as the city of lakes and described as the most romantic city in India, Udaipur was very beautiful. Indeed the Bond film Octopussy was largely filmed there and the locals are justifiably proud. We lived amongst the rows of white-washed guest houses set around Lake Pichola. We gawped at the super sminky  hotel in the middle of the lake costing hundreds of dollars to stay per night!

Striking skies over Udaipur

The city was full of tourists - Indian families and people from all over the world enjoying what is almost undoubtedly the most architecturally beautiful city in India. We enjoyed our little guest house very much, the views were stunning and the resident tortoise made us very welcome.


Though we had been more cautious since returning to India, Emma got ill again and we spent a few days in our room, taking a trip out on a bumpy rickshaw to give a poo sample in a pepsi bottle! Once on the mend we booked onto a cooking class as we had loved the cuisine of India so much and in our last few days felt that we must learn some tips to take home. The class was inspiring, we went to a local family house and learnt how to make various curries, jeera rice, a sweet dish and chapatis. We experienced the joys of the pressure cooker and got told off for rolling square chapatis!

One of the few round chapatis!

After another day of sight seeing we made our plans to move on. Our initial idea to travel to the desert region of Jaisalmer in the far west was a little too optimistic as we were unable to book travel there and back in time for our impending flight home. So instead we packed our bags for Pushkar. 

Pushkar - Rajasthan

Pushkar is a holy Hindu city comprising of the most holy lake in India surrounded by 52 Bathing Ghats. The bus journey to Pushkar was very scenic and we got our first few glimpses of sandy desert terrain in India, however upon arrival we wished we had spend longer in Udaipur. Although the Ghats are a lovely place to be, the town itself was set away from the scenic views and seemed to be one big tourist bazaar. From these streets you could see nothing of the Ghats or surrounding hills and instead were faced with stalls of “Rajasthani mirror skirts!”-  the bane of Guy's life. 

Birds on the Line

We did however stumble upon a lovely little health food café and while we felt that in our last few days we should be gobbling as many amazing curries as possible, we couldn’t help but eat fresh veggie and bean dishes with mulberry and alma soda. It was hard to leave the café, but not hard to leave Pushkar and so after two nights we took a train to Jaipur – the capital of Rajasthan.

The best sight in Pushkar - Perfect Royal Enfield

Jaipur - Rajasthan

We had reached our final destination in India before returning home. Feeling apprehensive that Jaipur was going to be another big city we went exploring inside the walls of the Pink City. Jaipur surprised us, aside from the hustle and bustle of the markets, it was a fairly relaxed city – in fact, we agreed that Rajhasthan was a more relaxing state than many others in India. 

Palace of the Winds

Guy's Mum suggested that the first attraction to see was the Palace of the Winds (Hawa Mahal). An aptly named place for Guy to be. A beautiful pink palace built to allow Women to observe the city, without being seen by men! After seeing the Palace of the Winds we went on our final guide book-guided tour and looked over the city from many view points into the evening.

Hawa Mahal

"Muke" Cow at Jaipur Fort

The Journey Home.

The Inspirational Lotus Temple - New Delhi

On the countdown to returning home, Emma was feeling quite sad and pointed out when events became “the last in India” - the last train journey, the last rickshaw ride, last masala dosa etc. We arrived back to the familiar Delhi in time for Emma to do her important Paraganj shopping day – where she became disappointed and bought very little. We did however visit the Lotus Temple of the Bahai Faith. It is an inspiring religion, welcoming of all religions to worship together. We ever so slightly lifted the room budget and stayed in a more swish hotel for our final evening and proceeded to eat as much lovely Indian food as we could manage. On our final morning we donned our loaded backpacks and took a final walk through the streets of India…trekking past street festivities, weaving between the crowds, traffic, two elephants and avoiding the hollers of rickshaw drivers. We arrived at the Metro and were escorted to the airport in style.

Elephants in Paraganj

After an enjoyable flight of good movies and the first glass of wine in 6 months, we landed back in Heathrow airport to be greeted by a very excited mummy Karan at arrivals.  That evening we enjoyed British cuisine, drinking water from the taps, moaning about the cold and everything else British.  The following day was rather odd - we felt quite alien in our own land.  London felt too quiet – as if there had been an apocalyptic event.  There was barely any traffic (human, animal or vehicle) and the roads felt uncomfortably smooth and fast.  The sky was so far away from the land and the wind was ferocious. The multicolour merge of saris was replaced by the dullness of the British winter coat and the anorak. We paint a bleak picture, but really it wasn’t. We enjoyed seeing our family so much (Bridget had grown another 2/3 inches and now towers over Emma) and we had returned for the beginning of what turned out to be a glorious Autumn. We had missed the lush green rolling hills of England, the rich tones of the trees and the variety of colours in the changeable autumn skies. Slowly we readjusted to eating cereals for breakfast, hot showers, taking a trip to the shops without the need to barter, Weatherspoons with Mon Papa, Virgin train services and Saturday night TV on the sofa.

Very Excited Mum at Heathrow

It is amazing to think that we have been home for over 2 months and have failed to complete the blog until now! Thinking back to our days in India trawling between hot and mossie-filled Internet cafes, battling with a dodgy connections and spending literally the whole day to complete one blog entry, it seems crazy that we now have two laptops between us, Internet connection 24/7 and didn’t get round to it until now. So the day before we stop living out of our bags and move back to Bristol these are our travelling memoirs…

Travelling in India and Nepal for 6 months was an incredible experience. The diversity of landscape we discovered was breathtaking, along with the spirit of the people we met. We would both agree that the most inspiring thing about our travels was meeting with sincerely happy Indian citizens – happy to have family, proud of their family and proud of their country and culture. Of course, in the bigger cities we met people who were heavily influenced by the media and Western culture – and this did feel a little disturbing (especially the whitening “bleach” skin creams!). But we now feel inspired to see the beauty in our culture, and indeed, discover more about our land and history. Perhaps the grass isn’t always greener on the other side?

We had a “smooth” travelling experience.  Despite hearing unnerving travelling experiences first-hand and second-hand during our travels, we stayed safe and generally well (apart from Emma). We never experienced any of the tension or animosity that some fellow travellers described. In fact, the people we came across were so human and helpful that we almost felt protected. As Westerners in India, we were at times overwhelmed by the “positive racism” and almost celebrity status we felt in the streets. But the diverse conversations, photo requests and cucumber sandwiches (yes, we were offered a cucumber sandwich on a train!) that came our way really made the whole experience. Indeed, Emma’s last experience in India was being beckoned back into the searching cubicle at the airport so that the female guard could replace the broken hair clip in her hair with one of her very own clips! Emma went home with a lovely new plait and a tear in her eye.

We will always have the most vivid memories of crazy, beautiful India – from arriving into confusing Chennai with no plan and being greeted by new couchsurfing friends, swimming with beautiful people in the phosphoflourecent night time sea, biking through the mountains, having fun with the children we worked with to conquering Everest base camp! We will, we are sure, appreciate these memories forever.  And so, without further ado, with a smile on our faces and a nostalgic tear in our eyes the blog is complete!...For now anyway.  India, we will return!

Bonus Pics

Inside the Hawa Mahal

Catching up with the news in Bhaktapur

Thumbs Up - The most supreme cola in India - Guy's final can on the plane home

Monkey Riding Pig - We saved the best until last!