I have joined a mad Irishman on a cycling trip around the world.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Nepal and India, two very different countries

Oh I miss Nepal. Nepal was quiet, serene, peaceful and despite it being high season, not too busy. The people were lovely and friendly, the tea houses were cozy havens at the end of a (not too) long day trekking and the goats and yaks provided plenty of entertainment. Our bags started out quite heavy, we rented completely unnecessary camping equipment for our trail run but once we'd whittled down our gear and I'd eaten the two kilos of chocolate which is required for any long walks, we were all set for the Annapurna circuit. This is a two and a half week long walk around the Himalayas ending in a big climb over a pass at 5000ish meters. We even had snow on the last day! It was very beautiful and pretty rewarding. By the time we climbed the last ascent of the famous Poon Hill, we were flying up there, leaving all the nerds in their fancy hiking gear and walking poles gasping for breath!

Our first homestay with a Tamang family

This baby could really boogie

Cute Nepali kid collecting flowers

"Yes of COURSE we need all this stuff! Stop asking me!"

Hanging out the washing


Sun rise near Langtang


Three o'clock goat block!

Relaxing after a hard day's climb


Up and up and up and up

The last day climbing


Julian takes us off the beaten track

Sun rise over the Annapurnas at Poon Hill

Then we went to India. India has blurred into one hectic, noisy, stinky, starey, scam filled and really quite stressful blur. Quite a contrast to our peaceful meanderings around the Nepali mountains. Our first experience was Varanasi, a holy city on the Ganges, during one of its seemingly endless festivals, Durga Puja. This is when hundreds of statues of a goddess sitting on a tiger are built, visited by hundreds of thousands of people over a few days, and then dragged unceremoniously through the streets and chucked into the Ganges. It was mental. It was especially mental for Julian who had taken up the nice hotel owner's offer of a lassi only to realise an hour or so later it was green because it was full of bhang. Bhang is a product of marijuana which is legal in holy cities in India. Completely stoned out of his mind Julian only just managed to direct us through the hoards of dancing Indian men, I was completely lost as usual and busy contending with the overly friendly young lads.

Rudey-dudey sculptures at Khajaraho

Early morning at the Taj Mahal
The worst smog on record at Delhi's Gate of India
Indian Sarus

The cities didn't seem too bad after Varanasi. Delhi was smothered in smog, we stayed in Agra just long enough to see the Taj and Jaipur was a war zone during Diwali. In Jaipur we stayed with a man we'd met in Oregon state when we were cycling in the US last year. As a member of the Lion's Club Hemant likes to cycle for a few weeks in the country where the annual Lion's Club meeting is held that year. Last year it was the US, this year it was South Korea and next year will be Hungary. When we met him he said we must stay with him when we get to India. When we got in contact with us he said we were late, he'd been expecting us in February, but we must come and stay in his house in Jaipur. His wife fed us delicious home cooked food, we played violent video games with his son and we cooked everybody pancakes.We were thoroughly looked after, a lovely family atmosphere amidst the chaos of Diwali.

Girls posing for photos

Elephant dodging

The foyer of the cinema in Jaipur

No Horn, please no Horn!


Diwali is the "festival of lights" It is the biggest festival of the year and is the equivalent of our New Years Eve except it lasts for five days. I felt under siege for at least a week. Fireworks and bangers exploded continuously all day and night. Some of the bangers were loud enough and bright enough to blind and deafen a person for at least five seconds. In fact, as a small boy told me with glee, a Tiger Bomb 20 (a legal firework) can blow a hole in a wall. Even with ear plugs in (my new must have accessory for any time of the day or night in India) it was hard to believe we were not in the midst of a full blown war. Once as we sat eating dinner on a rooftop (after Diwali was officially over) we had to leap from our seats to avoid a rocket which had been set off on the next roof top and was heading right for us. It missed me by millimeters. India is not a relaxing place.

Our hotel during Dewali

Fireworks over the city

City lights

Not many safety measures
The best festival we saw I don't know the name of or which god it was celebrating but it had something to do with magic and 32 oxen and a line of drunk men dragging a huge rock though the town. We hitched a ride in a jeep with a family who had come from the city to see the fun. They took us under their wings and we all had to hold hands for safety. I had Grandma's hand and Julian had Eldest Son's hand the entire time. Thusly we were safely escorted to each "magic statue". We saw a pineapple balancing on a spinning wheel on a mobile phone balancing on a jeep resting on four glass tumblers, topped with a gaudy plastic statue of a god spitting water. But where was the water coming from? Magic! After about sixty of these we were bundled through someone's house up onto the roof to watch the stone being dragged along by the men and oxen. The men yelled a lot and poured alcohol on the stone to help it along but it didn't get very far.

Sitting in the back with the ladies. J is up front

Magic bike?

Crowded roof tops

Just making the tea
Stop it, this is serious!

The very heavy rock

As the sun went down and the stone had only moved three feet, we were brought back to Grandma's house for food. There is a custom in India of hand feeding guests. The people of the house will prepare a little parcel of chapati and vegetables and delicately pop it into your mouth. Apart from it seeming very impolite to refuse this food, the girls had decided to henna my hands and I couldn't stop them feeding me curry, sweets, tea and more and more and more sweets! I have never been so full. It was my best day in India. The next day we saw the stone abandoned by the side of the road 15kms away. How did it get there? Magic!

The girls get to work

Cheeky neighbourhood lads

It got much much darker

I seem to remember complaining about the attention we received in Indonesia. I take it all back. That was nothing compared to the attention I received in India. I could manage to ignore the fact that every single man I could see, whether on the street, in the restaurant, on the train, was staring at me, at all times. Unblinkingly, unashamedly, staring. I learned to sleep on the sleeper train despite the fact that all the men would rather watch me sleep than sleep themselves. But I started getting fed up with men bumping into me on the street on purpose. I learned to see them coming and dodge out of the way, but how do you dodge out of the way of a man on a motorbike in the dark driving up behind you and grabbing your ass on his way past? I felt vulnerable, weak and unable to defend myself. I actually stopped wanting to go out. All the girls I spoke to had had similar or worse experiences. Blame culture, Bollywood or anything you like, I don't care, I have no respect for Indian men. And woe betide the next male traveller who shrugs and says "It's all part of the Indian experience"!

Cute monkeys with very long tails

All natural colours apparently

House in the fort Jaisalmer

Enjoying the sunshine

Let us in!

Very sweet kid

A man and his horse
Keen to escape the men for just a little while, I persuaded Julian we should take a three day camel safari! Camels are hilarious! Look at their faces! It was pretty nice to be out in the desert with only a guide, a small boy who definitely should have been in school and three burping farting camels for company. Three days might have been more than enough, my bum was killing me.  

Camel festival in Pushkar

Fancy camel

On the move


Off we go!

Julian and my camel

Who DOESN'T want a beer in the desert?

Sand dunes

Our guides

The food was amazing in India. We ate like kings most days. My favourite thing was the chai though. Hot, very sweet and spicy, just what you would give a person suffering from shock. Perfect after a day, or even just five minutes of dealing with the traffic, noise, piles of poo (all types), pools of blood, mountains of rubbish, open sewers, hassle, scams, and perving which featured heavily in most of the India I saw.

Meeting this guy was definitely a high-light, plus he's a bicycle mechanic!

Rats at the rat temple

Ghats in Varanasi

England vs. India at Eden Garden, Kolkata (we won)

I was deeply disturbed. I still am

Policeman posing with his Royal Enfield
Honey got fat at Bok Bok Bike
A friendly little parasite
After seven weeks in Nepal and seven weeks in India, we flew back to Bangkok. It was like coming home. I never thought I'd say it but I love Bangkok! Compared to India it is quiet, spacious, clean, smells good and the people are lovely! The people always were lovely but now they seem like the loveliest people I have ever met. We've been here longer than planned of course, our bikes were all set to go thanks to Hma and the Bok Bok Bike team (still the best bike shop I have ever been to) but India couldn't let me go without a parting gift. After the obligatory trip to the hospital I was diagnosed with a friendly faced giardia, some sort of dysentery I think. The drugs I took to "kiw'em!" knocked me right out and we've had to delay our departure for a few days but we're all ready now and set to go tomorrow! Let the journey commence! Again.

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