Month: April 2020

India 2017 – Karauli & Ranthambore

jeep

My India trip included a visit to Kakauli and Ranthambore.

My favourite part, Christmas Day 2017 driving around a National Park in a Jeep (but more about that later).

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Our first stop, Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur. A vast bird sanctuary and former royal game reserve.

The park’s woods and man-made wetlands protect over 350 species of migratory and resident birds, including herons, cormorants and eagles.

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We explored the parks 12 square miles on cycle Rikshaws.

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Wandering around the wetlands in search of the Siberian Crane.

rest

Annoyingly, I never got the name of this place where we went for lunch.

It had incredible art deco styling.

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Our next stop is Fatehpur Sikri.

Founded in 1569 and abandoned scarcely 16 years later, it is a perfectly intact example of Akbar’s imperial court.

I was surprised that everywhere we seemed to go, someone would take your money, someone would print your ticket and a 3rd person would hand you the ticket. I suppose it keeps people in work.

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In the centre of the courtyard is the Pachisi Board, where the emperor played a game like chess, with dancing slave girls as pieces.

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Nice to find somewhere quiet and just relax.

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We arrive in the town of Karauli.

I took this picture to sort of capture the feel of the place. It looks like the 2 bovine have stopped to chat.

outside

Our accommodation in Karauli, Hotel Bhanwar Vilas Palace.

It was still partially occupied by a high ranking noblemen with his wife, daughter and their servants.

sroom

After relaxing in the garden with a drink, were shown around the inside of the building.

It was like stepping back in time to the days of the Raj. All our rooms were different, with several sitting rooms each decorated with things like grandfather clocks and old shotguns.

walk

The following morning we jump into some camel drawn carts and head into the village.

Once arrived, we wander around. It was genuinely authentic.

Honestly, it’s the only place I think I’ve been while travelling without a single souvenir shop.

cricket

Cricket is massive in India and tournaments are played all over the country.

In this advert, 2 local sides would play in a tournament, and the winner would be presented with a trophy by Munaf Patel, a player in the National side.

dinner

Our 2nd evening, having dinner in the house.

It was right out of Agatha Christy, and I almost expected someone to scream, and we’d find someone murdered in their room.

But that didn’t happen, we just had a delicious meal, then spent the rest of the evening sitting in the garden with Red wine.

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The next morning, we were given a tour of the former Royal residence.

cars

They had  a garage with old cars (including a 70 year old Land Rover).

After breakfast, it’s time to go. We load up into our vehicle and head off in search of Tigers.

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After a 2 hour drive, we arrive at Ranthambore.

We got cleaned up, got some lunch and relaxed in the garden, before our scheduled afternoon game drive.

out

One of the things I’d been looking forward to most on the trip was visiting the Ranthambore National Park.

They have all kinds of animals there, and if you’re lucky (which I was hoping I was) you would get to see a tiger in the wild.

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The organisation of the Jeep safaris is very structured (and regimented).

A lottery system selects who goes in which vehicle (5 to a vehicle, plus guide & driver) and which sections of the park you’ll visit.

So its pot luck, if you see a Tiger or whatever. We drive around until sunset and head back. It’s Christmas eve.

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The next morning, were up early.

Ranthambore National Park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1957, although it was still used as a hunting reserve until the early 1970s.

There are over 40 Tigers in the park, but also sloth bear, langur, striped hyenas, marsh crocodiles, pythons and Ganga soft-shelled turtles so we were bound to see something.

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As the day continued, by afternoon, it was pretty clear we weren’t going to see a tiger.

I was disappointed, but struck by the the park’s beauty.

Once part of the magnificent jungles of Central India, it comprises of rivers, lakes and forests that nestle among a surrounding girdle of steep cliffs and rocky outcrops.

ant

Racing around in a jeep, I can’t remember a Christmas day like it.

Our driver described this animal as “anteeelope”.

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As we rode back, I remember seeing an eagle, A nice way to end the day.

tiger

Well, although we didn’t see a tiger, we did have a really good time.

I’ve put the above picture of a tiger, just in case you (like me) wondered what it actually looked like.

India 2017 – Jaipur, Pink city and Sharp’s fort.

intro

We arrive in Jaipur, the famous Pink city.

india map

It’s the final leg of organised part of out trip with with Explore.

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The must see sight of Jaipur, the Palace of the winds.

We never got to go inside, but a minibus stopped so we could get some soft drinks, and I took this picture from across the road.

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Once we get checked in to our hotel, we head out exploring.

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Our first stop is the City Palace. It’s more of a museum now, and there there lots of displays of royal clothing and carriages.

silver

Textiles and old cannons don’t really get me going, but this Silver pot was fascinating.

When the king of Jaipur (who’s family still live in parts of the building) travelled to London, he insisted on drinking only Indian water (from the Ganges !).

Two of these silver pots, featured in the Guinness book of records and weighing 350kg each were filled with water and accompanied him on his trip.

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The thing I was most looking forward to in Jaipur, the Jantar Mantar Royal observatory.

Built using simple things like Stone, Marble and Brass by Raja Sawai Jai Singh in 1728.

Even walking in the entrance, is mesmerising, you wonder what all these strange things do.

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There are too many amazing things here to discuss, so I’ve just picked two.

The Jai Prakash Yantra.

Two sunken half spheres in marble (this is one, the other is identical, but the “filled in” bits in one are missing in the other).

A lens suspended in wire, casts a shadow over the inverted dome and can be used to calculate location.

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The largest of two identical Yantra’s, known locally as Big Samrat Yantra.

Both the instruments work on the same principle. A triangular wall is aligned with the axis of Jaipur – hence giving it a perfect North-South alignment.

The shadow of this line when it falls on the semi-circular curves on both sides, you see the local Jaipur time. The smaller or Laghu Samrat Yantra gives time to the accuracy of 20 seconds while the large one or Vrihat Samrat Yantra gives it 2 seconds accuracy.

So in summary, time accuracy to 2 seconds from a brick wall. A technological miracle.

vip

Strangely, the hotel we’re staying in has a nightclub in the basement.

Since its the only bar thats open there, we pop down for a drink. As we were residents, they put us in the VIP room !.

fort

I’ve always been a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe.

I was especially looking forward to visiting the Amber fort as its featured in Sharpe’s Challenge.

jeep

We drive to the fort and up into the ramparts in these traditional Jeeps.

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It’s possible to travel up by Elephant but I thought the jeep was faster.

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Entrance to the Fort.

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Amber fort Gardens.

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Baradhari Pavilion.

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There were lots of walkways and passages around the fort (you could literally go anywhere).

Found this clever arrangement, where “running” water was available 4 levels above the well bellow.

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Throughout our trip to India, when we’d been travelling in coaches and cars, we kept seeing advertistments for a film.

Tiger Zinda Hai (which means Tiger is alive). It was a massive blockbuster, featuring 2 of Bollywoods biggest stars.

I’d decided to buy it on dvd when I got home and see what it was like, but no need… Our guide asked if we’d like to see a real Bollywood film in a classic setting (although we’d only be able to watch half of it due to time constraints).

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Inside, The Raj Mandir cinema, harked back to the golden era of movies.

There were entire family’s of at least three generations looking forward to the performance. I an old fashioned evening out.

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Once seated the film started. I can only describe it as being like a religious experience.

Salman Khan, featured in the opening action scene, with his back to the camera. When he turned around, the crowd roared (and I mean FA cup goal type, roared). I’ve been to the cinema several hundred times in my life, and I’ve never experienced anything like it).

When I got home, I found out it was the sequel to Ek Tha Tiger (once there was a tiger) and I’ve seen both of them now.

last_meal

After leaving the cinema, we head out for dinner (its the last night after all).

Our guide promised one of the best meals you’ll ever eat in India !. He was correct.

Hands are shaken and goodbye’s exchanged. We head off to bed, as its an early start in the morning…

morning

And it is. In the early hours of the morning were in the back of a 3 wheeler on our way to the railway station, heading for Udaipur.

Myanmar – Inle Lake

inle_plane

Another short flight, and we arrive in Heho.

We’ll be staying at Nayaungshwe township, on the bank of Inle Lake, a 2 hour drive away.

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Another refreshment stop.

Several people had commented on Kay’s parasol. She takes us to visit this guy, who makes them.

The entire intricate mechanism is made on this foot powered lathe.

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We’ve got free time in the afternoon, so Kay recommends the Red Mountain winery.

Sounded like a fab idea, so Kay organised a chap to take us and wait until we were ready to come back.

We get a tour of the winery and its beautiful grounds. It must be said, the climate here isn’t ideal for red wine, but the owners (from France) are convinced of its viability.

Whatever the quality of the wine, the grounds were incredibly beautiful.

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We were shown around the production facility and then we did a wine tasting, including a tasting board with 4 red wines.

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Kay had also recommended somewhere nearby to eat.

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The Inle heart view had spectacular views across the valley and the food was superb.

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Back to our hotel (which was superbly fitted out and practically brand new).

A gin & tonic before bed, and a good nights rest.

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In the morning, we wonder to the rooftop restaurant for breakfast.

As I look out on the view at the back of the hotel, its not nearly so lovely as the view at the front.

Things are improving, but many of the local people are living in poverty.

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We head for the lake moorings and set off.

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It’s 4 people to a boat and we take it in turns to sit at the front (the boat operator, sits at the back).

These things fly along at an exhilarating speed.

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This picture gives an idea of the size of the lake (when it was my turn to sit at the front).

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The lake is famous for its fishermen, who stand up to get better visibility of the fish, while rowing with their feet.

It has to be said, this has more to do with tourism these days, and whenever you photographed one, the hand was out straight away (and there didn’t seem to be many fish in his boat).

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Indein on the western banks of the lake. An intricate pagoda complex with hundreds of Shan style stupas clustered together on its hillside.

market

Funny how a walk to a major site of interest usually involves walking through a market of some kind.

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We reach the hillside and there are literally hundreds of small Stupas to explore

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Following years of decline, and with the forest reclaiming the site walking amongst these hauntingly beautiful ruins has a very Indiana Jones feel.

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Inn Paw Khone village.

A community of buildings on stilts.

weaving

Inside, entire industries making Silverware and Lotus fibre weaving.

lunch

They also have a restaurant and I have lunch of crinkle cut chips, egg fried rice and a bottle of the local beer.

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We head deeper into the lake.

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Although some people make their living through tourism, others do so, from subsistence farming and literally live on the lake in huts.

collapsing

Not sure I’d want to spend a night in this particular hut, it seemed like it was about to fall down.

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Exploring the floating garden.

name of monastry

Located on the lake, the famous Jumping cat monastery.

The previous person in charge had been famous for training cats to jump in the air and this had led to the name of the monastery being changed.

He has since died, nobody does anything with the cats, so there’s not much there to see (although its considered an iconic must-see sight in the area).

boat_making

Finally, on our way back, were shown how traditional boats are made.

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After a shower and change of clothes, we decide to head into town and see a bit of the place.

We find this friendly bar, and I’m delighted to see on the menu “chip butty”. I’ve been away from home for a few weeks now, and can’t rest it.

chip_butty

So when it arrives, I’m a bit surprised. It’s basically, some oven cooked chips, in the sort of pancake you use for crispy duck.

Didn’t matter, I ate it anyway, but I’ve never seen a chip butty with so much salad 🙂

Myanmar – Mandalay, Ubehn bridge & Irrawaddy river cruise.

road_to_mandalay

Well, Kipling’s Poem begins with the line “On the road to Mandalay” and that’s how this leg of our journey began.

glass

After a couple of hours on the bus we had a refreshment stop.

It’s fun when I’m travelling and I see things that remind me of my youth in Manchester.

It’s almost certainly illegal now, but when I was about 10 it was quite common to see pieces of broken bottle cemented onto the top of the wall to stop burglars/vandals.

On the wall surrounding our stop, they obviously still do.

dinner

We arrived quite late in our hotel, were able to have a candle lit dinner.

Well of course we did, the electricity had gone off, the the kitchen staff were cooking with lanterns and torches.

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In the morning, were up really early to see the famous U Bein bridge.

With just a series of wooden uprights, planted into mud, I was amazed at how stable it was.

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The bridge just as the sun was rising.

This was also important, as this isn’t just a tourist attraction, tens of thousands of people use this bridge every day to go to work, visit friends, collect groceries and suchlike.

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The other incredible thing about it, is its length.

At 1.2 kilometres, its the longest teak-wood bridge in the world.

boarding

After some breakfast, we head out to board our boat.

It was exciting walking along a thin plank, and I couldn’t see a health and safety officer anywhere around.

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Our boat was very comfortable, with a shaded seating area on the top to relax and a dining area bellow.

We set off, and after an hour or 2, we arrived on the other side of the river to visit Saggaing Hill.

bus_market

We were driving up the hill, in this minibus.

As we passed a small market, I asked if we could stop, and I was able to get some cooking equipment at a very competitive price.

monks

From here, we visited the Mya Sekkya Monastery.

We were allowed to go inside, but the monks were having their lunch, so I just took a picture from outside the door.

Later we were shown around their library. It had lots of interesting books (but then most books are interesting to me !).

Especially interesting was the magazine section which featured several copies of Private Eye (but sadly, no copies of Viz).

boat_dinner

After a busy morning we head back to the boat for lunch and a few cold beers.

As we eat, our boat heads for Mingun.

taxi

No minibus when we arrive this time, transport is a bit more basic (but with entrepreneurial flair).

skirt

Skirts are worn in Burma by both men and women.

Kay takes us to a shop where we can buy them, and while there, shows us the different styles with which they can be worn.

bell

Still more stuff to see, the Mingun Bell.

It’s the largest functioning bell in the world. It’s the 2nd largest bell by size and weight after the Tsar Bell I saw in the Kremlin.

You could actually climb underneath and stand inside it (I wouldn’t want to do that while it was being rung !).

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Shinphyume pagoda modelled on the sacred Buddhist mount Meru.

The 7 levels, represent the 7 sacred mountain ranges.

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Mingun Pahtodawgyi

An unfinished pagoda. More of a tourist attraction now, listed in the Guinness book of records as the largest “brick pile” in the world.

The earthquake of 1839 caused huge cracks in the building. Although there is a walkway to the top it’s not recommended.

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The huge stone “Elephant” statue.

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And with that, our adventure is over.

As we sailed back, everyone had an afternoon nap.

Myanmar – Bagan

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The 2nd leg of our trip to Burma/Myanmar, Bagan.

It contains over 4000 Pagodas (and by the time I left, I felt like I’d seen every one !).

People joked about getting Pagoda’d out in Bagan, but seriously after a while, you honestly can get sick of seeing these beautifull things.

Anyway, more about the trip…

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Logistics in Myanmar are a farce, so much of the travel on the trip, was done by plane rather than road.

We arrived in Bagan, and then were given the rest of the day free, so Nikki and I went out exploring on our own.

We got a taxi to the Bagan Archaeological museum. Our guide Kay offered to help organise our transport, but we said we’d be fine (a decision we’d regret later).

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Inside, the museum was very atmospheric and reminded me of the Egyptian museum in Cairo.

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They were doing extensive renovation work in the museum, but instead of big screens and the like, it was photocopied pages and blue-tack.

cat_pagoda

As we walked back, I saw this – Nuclear Catastrophe Overcome Pagoda ?

Couldn’t work out what that was all about, but at one level, I suppose it speaks for itself.

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The Bu Paya Pagoda is famous on the banks of the Irrawaddy river.

What should also be famous is the River View “restaurant” next to it. It had some of the worst food I’ve ever eaten.

But I was so hungry, I just ate it anyway.

cart

We walk through the city gate, of old Bagan and its time to head home. We thought if your somewhere popular, there is bound to be lots of transport.

No there isn’t, what our guide had meant was you need to schedule a taxi to take you, and then wait until you want to come home.

We hadn’t done that, so we had to make our way back on foot, in the baking heat. We found a guy with a horse and cart, but Nikki was concerned about the well-being of the animal.

After about 3 miles, we came to a bit of a village and hired a minibus and driver. As my friend Nick would say,  we had our “hats nailed on

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Back in town  near our hotel now, we decided to get something to eat and drink.

There were lots to choose from, but the sign above swung it for me.

lunch

Our next excursion is at 3pm, so an hours nap for me and a swim in the pool for Nikki.

wall

Outside Hti Lo Min Lo Temple the architecture is impressive even before you’ve been inside.

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Once inside, its even more impressive.

plug

We got to see an example of sand painting.

The basic idea is that you take some fabric and “paint” glue onto it. Soft sand will stick to the glue.

Once you’ve done this several times, you end up with an elaborate layered picture. I didn’t buy one (which I regret now) Nikki bought one of Ubein bridge and I admire it every time I’m in her living room.

ananda

Ananda temple is one of the earliest built in the area and a fantastic snow white colour.

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It’s also very popular and and the entrance is like a market.

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There are 4 of these Buddha statue and each one is 9.5 metres high.

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Exploring around inside, it was like Tomb Raider !.

anoying_car

Just had to put this up here.

It’s easy for pictures of century old beautiful buildings to look tired.

Luckily, the owner of this car has helped by parking it right in front of Pagoda. Thanks !.

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Sulamani temple (told you you’d start to get bored of them).

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Standing outside the temple, it’s early evening and our group sort of hang out and relax.

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Some local lads play Chinlone or Caneball in the shade under a tree outside.

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Now its time to watch the sunset from Shwesandaw Pagoda.

I’d heard about this, and it was even worse than I’d expected. Massively noisy and overcrowded.

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So, I walked around to the back of the Pagoda (which was empty) and sat there relaxing.

Looking out for miles was across began in peaceful silence was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

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Back to hotel, out on our terrace, I update my blog.

I had been testing a new function on my camera. You could place the camera somewhere convenient, and then run an app on your phone, which would show you what the camera could see. One you were happy with the shot, you could take the picture remotely from the phone.

This picture was taken that way, and I was really impressed with the results.

rest

Later that evening (fantastically) we find an Italian restaurant.

They did pasta and other Italian dishes, rather than just pizza’s which we’d become bored of.

The also sold red wine, which was very welcome.

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The following day, a few more Temples and Pagodas

Shwe Gu Gyi.

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Gubyaukgyi Temple.

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Dhammayangyi, an interesting “pyramid” shaped temple.

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We got the usual tour of some traditional crafts.

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Which as usual finished in the showroom/shop.

They had several pictures sowing Barack Obama who had visited there. Some of the Americans on the tour wondered if they’d by so proud if it was Donald Trump.

I try to get 1 small souvenir from each place I go. I bought a small porcelain figure of a local traditional fisherman (I’m running out of shelf space at home).

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More wandering around and exploring on our last evening.

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And to finish off, dinner and drinks in this iconic establishment.

Myanmar – Yangon

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Flying AirAsia from Bangkok (where we’d just flown in after 3 days in Luang Prabang, Laos) we arrive in Yangon for our whistle-stop tour of Myanmar (Burma), a country closed off to tourists for nearly 25 years and only recently opened up to the world.

taxi

We got into a taxi from the airport and headed for our hotel.

It took about 50 minutes to travel a relatively short distance, as all the roads were gridlocked.

We found out later, that traffic congestion is so bad, that due to repeated accidents, mopeds and motorbikes are banned in the city.

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Although closed off from tourism for a number of years, that didn’t stop Myanmar from keeping it’s business connections going. Jade mining and processing is massive in this country and has enabled it to thrive despite it’s previous status as a pariah.

I was mildly surprised to find a BMW showroom on route, which had clearly been there for some time.

makeup

We’ve travelled separately to get here, but now we’d be joining an official tour.

In the reception, was an invitation to our initial meeting. These are quite common on trips of this kind, but the surprise for me was this one was marked as COMPULSORY !

Our first glimpse of local culture, was a table in the hotel’s reception, which had local make-up which doubles as sun protection.

train

Well, it was morning and the meeting wasn’t going to be until afternoon, so we decided to go off exploring on our own.

Not far from our hotel, we cross a railway bridge and see a train packed with people, travelling to work.

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We decide to pay a visit to the National museum of Myanmar.

Hazardous road crossings are not new in adventure travel, but at points this was really quite scary.

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The museum was old and a bit run down, but had excellent air conditioning.

One minor disappointment, was you couldn’t take pictures, so I borrowed this one from the internet.

After a couple of hours in the museum we head back to our hotel. The heat of the day justifies a taxi. I was impressed by Taxi’s in Myanmar, drivers were always polite and well turned out, cars were comfortable with seat-belts.

burger

Back at our hotel, I’m preparing myself for 10 day of oriental food, so snatch the chance of some western food with a burger and chips from their restaurant.

Our introductory meeting begins, and we meet all the other people on the trip and our guide, Kay introduces herself.

She tells us a bit about the country, what we’ll be doing on the tour and stuff like that.

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This was a fast track trip (we needed to be at the airport for 5am the following morning) so we headed  straight out onto town to see the highlights.

The Karaweik Royal Barge. Its made of stone and doesn’t actually float, but is in the middle Kandawgyi lake.

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As we explore the inside of the barge we get to know our guide Kay a little better.

She explained although English is taught in the country, it is not by native speakers.

Considering this, I thought her English was superb and it was also obvious that she had previously worked as a school teacher.

She was also strikingly dressed at all times.

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Exploring around the Park around Kandawgyi lake.

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We now head towards the Shwedagon Pagoda.

We visit the famous Bodhi tree on the hill top, which is 99m high.

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The main Pagoda itself, is an incredible sight on a hilltop overlooking the city, its visible from practically everywhere in Yangon.

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In the evening an almost carnival atmosphere as thousands of local congregate there to pray and celebrate.

When we had handed our passports to Kay earlier, she had worked out our birthdays so explained which birth animal we were.

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At times the area was quite spiritual and I felt a real connection there.

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In some of the smaller Pagodas, it got a bit silly and in this one for example a female warrior who looked a lot like Margaret Thatcher.

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The introduction of Christmas tree lights and screens didn’t help. This one looked like something from 70’s era Dr Who.

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In this temple, we met some Monks who wanted to photograph me (on account of my blond hair, which they had never seen before).

dinner

We finish the evening with a meal at Padonmar Restaurent, one of the best in the city.

street_market

We returned to Yangon a few days later and picked up where we’d left off.

Kay shows us around a street market, which you could literally buy anything from food to fire engine parts.

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Yangon City hall building, in Maha Bandula park.

It was a Sunday and lots of people were relaxing in the park.

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Burma (as it was then called) gained independence from Britain in 1948.

The statue of Queen Victoria was returned to the UK and The Independence monument above, was put in its place.

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Wandering around Pansondan Street you can see lots of colonial buildings.

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The former British customs office.

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I always like to Finish a trip in style. And where else but dinner at the Strand Hotel.

India 2017 – Udaipur – the home of Octopussy.

intro

With our organised tour of India complete, we’ve now got some down time to do our own thing.

We’ve decided to finish off our trip with a visit to Udaipur (followed by Mumbai).

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Love is a wonderful thing. It makes us do things we wouldn’t normaly do in a sensible world.

Like getting on a train at 5am and spending 7 hours on it in baking heat, when we could have got a flight that would have lasted 45 minutes !.

Enough about that.

My 2nd time on an Indian train (the first was New Delhi to Agra). It’s a hive of activity, people are organising bags and finding their seats.

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But it’s early in the morning and a seven hour journey to Udaipur so minutes after the train leaves, most people are asleep.

room

We arrive at Udaipur station and get a taxi to our accommodation.

The place is lovely and the staff and owner are friendly. The only thing…

Why does it seem that when you arrive at some hotels people want to sit you down, give you some tea and tell you about their hotel.

I didn’t want to be impolite but I was tired, just wanted to be on my own and have a lie down. But I didn’t, I sat through half an hour of how he had done all the building work, decorating and carpets himself.

Then we had to do various forms and paperwork (a throwback to the days when Britain “ran” India and “propper” records and admin were the norm.

Shown to our room, it was very comfortable.

gates

After a short nap, we head out to explore Udaipur. The first place to go is lake Pichola, which I was suprised to find, is man made.

We pass under these arches and sit by the water.

pichola

And what a beautiful lake it is.

We look out to the Islands, which were intending to visit the following day.

jagat_niwas

It’s getting towards the evening so we decide to have a drink and something to eat.

When I said I was going to Udaipur, everyone mentioned the “hotel from Best exotic marigold hotel”.

The hotel in question is the Jagat Niwas pallace. But I’ve seen the film and it doesn’t look familiar ?

mh

Turns out (if you’ve seen the film) that they travel away from the hotel to attend a funeral and have a conversation in a rooftop bar overlooking a lake. Thats where I am.

We chat to some other travellers. I realise that for the price of our accommodation, we could have got a room here (but that would have involved arriving with no booked accomodation, wandering around and haggling. We’ve done the right thing.

rooftop

After an evening of fun, we settle on our hotel rooftop, and watch the world go by.

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Up early the next day and breakfast (and tea).

Were expecting queue’s at the City Palace so we get there early.

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Standing outside the palace on the land side.

Started in 1553, it took nearly 400 years to construct and is considered the grandest in Rajasthan.

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There were lots of ornate rooms and stuff like that.

From one of the balcony’s we could see into the courtyard. Although still early, it was really busy.

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One interesting exhibit (which seems a bit out of place) are the original spectacles that Ben Kingsley wore in Ghandi.

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Another view from on-high.

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There was quite a queue, as it was a weekend and lots of the locals had the same idea as us. We board our boat, and put on our boyancy aids.

The first place we see is the Monsoon Palace, up high on the hill.

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Ok, at this point, it’s important to mention that Udaipur is quite famous among James Bond fans.

It’s where the 13th James Bond film, Octopussy was filmed (the opening scenes of the film show the Taj Mahal, and imply their right next to each other, but theyre actualy 700k appart).

The villain of the film, is Kamal Khan, and his residence in the film is the Monsoon Palace.

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The very exclusive Lake Palace hotel.

It literaly occupies its own Island and only residents are allowed there.

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An island you can visit, is Jag Mandir (both this and the Lake palace hotel were used as Octopussy home in the film).

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We arrive at Jag Mandir and disermbark.

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There are some specacular gardens and we wander around.

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The view back to the Palace from Jag Mandir.

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They have an exclusive restaurant and bar (by exclusive I presume they mean expensive).

No matter, it’s a hot day and I’m on holiday so time for a drink.

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Starting to get dark now, so we board our boat and head for land.

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Once again, dinner by the lake, and this view of the Palace hotel lit up in the evening.

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Our last day in Udaipur. Were due to fly later, so we spend some time wandering around the town.

According to my guidebook, the Jagdish Temple is a must see site.

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Seen up close, lots of carved images, which reminded me of a previous trip to India, and Khajuraho.

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Ghantaghar.

The local clock tower. Brought to Udaipur from London in 1887.

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The Daiji footbridge offers spectacular views of the lake (and quite a peacefull place to got for a walk in what otherwise is quite a busy city).

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There are lots of small cafe’s in the town, catering for backpackers.

Many of them have daytime and evening screenings of the James Bond films.

I hadn’t had any hot chocolate in ages, so we popped into one. I was delighted to find they also did Garlic bread with cheese (well, I was delighted until it was put on my plate !).

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Leaving town and exploring in the oposite direction.

Manik Lal  Verma Park. Empty and seemingly disused overlooking Dudh Talai lake.

A really beautiful spot.

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There are 125 million English speakers in India.

What a shame that none of them were available when the sign on this bus was being written.

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Just for fun, we decide to get the Udaipur ropeway, to a hill overlooking the area.

An enormous queue. Interestinly, a group of 3 young, pretty girls, seemed to keep moving forward, pushing in and overtaking poeple.

Nobody seemed to mind. However, I’m from Great Britain, and that doesn’t work with me. When they tried to overtake me, I politely told them that wasn’t on.

I was worried that there might be a scene, but they politely appologised and stayed where they were in the queue. I tried to imagine how that would have played out in Blackpool in the UK !.

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But finaly were on the cable car (with our new female friends as guests, and the mood is light).

The view spectacular, I usualy try to capture each place I visit in 1 picture in my mind.

This is it.

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We finish with a visit to the Karni Mata temple, and then follow a zig zag path down the hill.

Back to our hotel, pick up our bags, taxi to the airport and then flight to Mumbai.

Long weekend in Sri Lanka

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I remember on 2 occasions, trying to book Sri Lanka, but the tour I wanted to do was full. I even tried changing dates and even using other tour company’s but to no avail.

Each time this happened, I ended up visiting somewhere else for that years “big trip”. I realised how popular it was as an adventure travel destination and this made me even more keen to see it.

In January, 2019 I finally got it booked for February 2020. Not long after there were terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka, which put it on a no travel list until about 6 weeks before I was due to go.

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Either way, I was really looking forward to it.

The world was talking seriously about Corona virus, but I was convinced I’d have time to complete my trip (in any other circumstances I wouldn’t have gone. Although I like to model myself on Indian Jones, I rarely take unnecessary risks).

So, at Manchester Airport after 2 busy months at work and the worst of UK winter,  looking forward to some adventure, culture and sunshine.

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We had booked an organised tour with Explore (we’ve done a few trips with them, and find them to be excellent).

Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka, but our tour would run from a fishing village called Negombo which is only 20 minutes drive from the airport.

We arrived at our hotel and checked in. It was 11am local time, and our tour would officially start at 6pm the following day in the hotel lobby.

I had a beer by the hotel pool, then we headed off to explore the beach (which was honestly stunning).

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We wander around for a couple of hours in perfect weather, watching fishermen prepare nets and causing a turf war between 2 ladies  selling scarves.

We found this traditional outrigger fishing boat on the beach. To be honest I think it was used more for catching tourists than catching fish.

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Exploring is thirsty work, so we find a bar on the beach and relax as the sun sets.

In the evening we have dinner – “Curry and Rice”.

Although it sounds like something from Poundland, it’s a local dish that contains 4 curries and some really fluffy rice.

Off to bed, ready for adventure early the following morning.

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And it was early. We had breakfast at 6am, and were picked up by Norman at 6:30 am on this 3 wheeler to begin our private boat tour.

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With the whole day free until the tour started at 6pm, we’d decided to explore the Negombo lagoon, the port and some local areas of interest.

They did a shorter 2 hour tour, but we did the full 7 hour one.

We would visit some of the Islands and see the amazing bird life in the area. Whatever we did, I knew relaxing in a boat would be a great way to recover from Jet-Lag.

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The reception area had lots of interesting books with pictures of local wildlife and some examples of traditional fishing equipment.

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Our boat could comfortably sit 6, so we had plenty of room to stretch out.

We put on our life jackets, check we’ve got spare water and have cameras at the ready.

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And were off, heading out of the various waterways, towards the lagoon.

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I’d read how large it was, but was shocked when I saw it.

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35 square miles.

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The entire lake is only 1 meter deep.

We went to see this fisherman, who had put out his nets.

He would sell the fish to local restaurants when he was finished.

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As we continued along exploring the estuary, we got to see some of the Islands up close.

The lagoon is basically a Mangrove swamp and there is a rich selection of fish and bird life (we met some Australians, in another boat, with massive telephoto lenses on bird photography charter).

But not just that. This island has monkeys on it.

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We drove the boat right up to the bank, and put out some fruit.

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The monkeys came on-board to eat it.

There were several of them, and it occurred to me, that since they had no boat (nor skills to pilot it) they must have lived on the Island through generations.

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Leaving the Muthurajawela marsh went to and outdoor church called All Saints.

It had some nice statues, and importantly, a toilet. Property developers had wanted to turn it into a hotel and the religious folk of the area had almost rioted.

Our guide gave us some fruit to eat. So much, I had to give some if it back (I hate to wast food).

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Exploring the Dutch Canal.

Whenever we found a coconut floating in the water, Norman would keep it for his wife.

By the end of the day, he’d collected 4!.

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The Dutch canal was originally built in the 1600’s. It’s completely straight.

In the 1800’s it was expanded by the British and this section was called the Hamilton canal.

This is the iconic bridge, that appears in most guidebooks.

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We briefly left the canal and the lagoon and went into the ocean (we couldn’t go far, our boat wasn’t designed for that).

We saw the port, where larger fishing boats were docked.

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We continue around the harbour and see this boat, that was wrecked during the Tsunami, but nobody towed it away (I guess they had other things to contend with).

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Finally we see how some of the local people live. Some of them live in their boats, others live in shacks by the water.

Norman was quite disdainful. They make money from the water, but they throw plastic and human waste into it !.

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Well, after 7 hours, were back at reception. It really was an amazing experience.

His daughter served us some mango juice, then we hop back into the three wheeler and back to our hotel to start our 14 day tour of Sri Lanka.

Things had gotten off to a really good start.

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If you’ve not done an organised tour, they normal start with a briefing, where the guide arrives, everyone introduces themselves and then the guide outlines the itinerary and plan for the duration of the tour.

They then ask to see insurance, collect the tip kitty and outline any optional excursions and gauge interest.

So, in anticipation of this, we got cleaned up, collected our paperwork and headed to the hotel lounge.

We sat relaxing with a drink while we waited for the briefing to commence.

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The guide appears (a man who doesn’t give his name) and a woman from Kent who’d flown in that morning. There are 4 of us at the table.

The guide keeps talking around things, mentioning other people on the tour, other people who’ve dropped out, etc. He mentions the national parks may be closed…

This is all very nice, but it’s now 6:45pm.

I hate wasting time anyway, but in cases like this, I’ve waited months for something that will last 2 weeks, and every hour counts. I ask him for the room numbers of the other guests and say I’ll go and “knock on” and find out where they are (I’m suprised he hasn’t done this himself).

Then 2 incredible things happen. He’s vague, so I pin him down, “Is anyone else attending the meeting I ask ?”. No he replies.

Realising that he’s not going to be forthcoming, I ask “Has the tour been cancelled”. Yes he says. The woman from Kent asks “Am I going home tomorrow”. Yes he replies, were arranging for you to fly home in the morning (she had booked flight inclusive, we’d booked our own planes).

He said he’d organise our flight and asked if we had the phone number for Emirates in Sri Lanka (he’s a tour guide ?).

We opened our laptop, booked the next flight home the following evening (it cost an extra £300 and we lost our extra leg rooms seats).

He apologised. I’d lost all patience at this point, so I just told him to make sure our room was secure for the next 24 hours, that our transfer would arrive at 3pm the next day and waved him away.

We wandered around Negombo the next day until our trip to the Airport.

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And then the irony.

Having a trip cancelled in a small group in a fishing village to avoid the Corona virus, were now sat on a plane with 500 other people and wandering around airports which 10’s of thousands of people had passed through.

I was pleased that Emirates had laid on 2 extra flights, although the mood on the flight home was the complete opposite of the flight out, there was no holiday atmosphere this time.

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We arrive back in the UK. A hot bath, some sleep and then I got out for a few drinks at Artichoke.

Sitting relaxing in my local, I’m a bit more reflective. Sri Lanka has been closed to tourism for almost a year. The guide must have been looking forward to life getting back to normal and then seeing it all disappear overnight.

Perhaps I was being hard on him, but when I travel, although I come over as laid back, adventure travel is my life, and this is serious stuff.

The important question I’m asking myself, is did I make the most of whats effectively a long weekend in Sri Lanka ?. I think I did.

Focusing on important questions, Barman, can I have another beer please ?