Category: Central Asia

Tour of India and Nepal – The Trisuli Centre.

 bus We set off in our bus for lunch at the Trisuli centre.The vehicle had no power steering, and I wonder to this day, how the driver (who slept in the vehicle at night) managed to drive it for so long without passing out.
We travel along the Pokhara – Kathmandu highway.A view of the Marsyangdi River as we drive high above the valley. river
 directions1 A road was blocked due tan accident and we asked these friendly children, at the side of the road, for alternate directions.Earlier some other locals had given directions, in return for a lift on the back of our bus (they hung onto the ladder at the back, at one point it looked quite scary).
We arrive at the Trisuli Centre for lunch.Ethical travel very popular at the moment, the Trisuli centre was an area of natural beauty, which had been renovated environmentally through donations made by the Adventure Company.  jeep
 garden  A short walk from the Cafe, was this beautiful Oasis, with a stream, a quiet garden and this bridge.
 Nearby, some very old Tree’s reminded me of the kind I had last seen at the Angkor Wat.  roots
 tree1  I glanced at this tree, and hardly noticed anything inside.
 On closer inspection, the dead leaf, turned out to be this butterfly.  tree2
 meroots  Me standing in front of one of the old tree’s.
We crossed this amazing bridge.Himalayan Encounters who organized the Nepalese side of our tour, are the largest white water rafting company in Nepal, and most of their work, is done on this river.

I didn’t go on this trip for “summer holiday” experiences, but this really was, one of the most beautiful days that I can remember.

 bridge
 canoe  On the far bank, were Canoes, and some of the tented accommodation, used by the rafter’s on expedition.
You can see that this outside frame, around the tent, provides shade from the heat.Wherever we were, our guide always seemed to find the best place for shade, I learned over the week to watch and copy him.

The tents actually had beds inside, this would hardly be rough camping.

 tent
 construction  For Bushcraft enthusiasts, a close up of the construction of the shelter.

Tour of India and Nepal – Pokhara.

lake Pokhara is a remarkable place of natural beauty, situated at an altitude of 827m above sea level and 200 km west of Kathmandu valley.The serenity of the lakes and the magnificence of the Himalayas rising behind them create an ambience of peace and magic.

A popular staring point for treks including the anapurna circuit.

In the centre of the Phewa Lake is the Barahi temple features a two story pagoda.

 Pay to use toilets are quite common in many countries, but this was the first time, I had seen one that used a “sliding scale” pricing system.  tolet
 arrival Phewa Lake is the centre of all attraction in Pokhara.It is the largest and most enchanting of three lakes that add to the resplendence of Pokhara.

We hired 2 boats, and headed across the lake to visit the world peace pagoda.

As we arrive, we walk up the hill, to the world peace pagoda.The hillside villages we could see, reminded me of Italy.

It was a special moment for me. Okay, it wasn’t a proper trek, but it was still hill walking, and to be doing it in the Himalayas’ for the first time was significant.

Realising this would be a special photograph, I put 2 pillows into my rucksack, so it kept its shape.

There is nowhere else in the world where mountains rise so quickly, within 30 km, from 1000m to over 8000m.

 walking
 wppagoda The world peace pagoda is situated on the top of a hill on the southern shore of Phewa lake.It has four images of Buddha facing in four directions.
As we walk back down the hill it starts to get dark.We met this “walking haystack” coming the other way.

I gave him a little money for agreeing to be photographed. He misunderstood and tried to give me some Marijuana !.

An interesting institution of Pokhara is the British Gurkha Camp in the north of the city.

It has been established as a recruitment camp for Nepalese as Gurkha soldiers. About 370 are selected annually in December out of a pool of over 20,000 applicants. About 140 eventually join the Gurkha Contingent in Singapore while the rest join the British Army.

 haystack
 armwrestle In the evening, we head into town for an evening out.I decided to have a T Bone steak. Delicious.

Our guide takes us to a bar/club called Paradiso It actually had vintage motorbikes and all sorts of memorabilia.

Once the ale started flowing, everyone reverted to type.

The arm wrestling competition begins in earnest.

Devi’s Fall known locally as Patale Chango (Hell’s Falls) also know as Devins and David’s is a lovely Waterfall.The water from the Phewa lake converges into this small area and the force of natural energy is spectacular.

Legend has it that a trekker by the name of Davy, was washed away by the Padi Khola and mysteriously disappeared down into an underground passage beneath the fall.

 devifalls2
 mntmuseum2 But this was the Himalayas’, and I wasn’t here to see waterfalls.I desperately wanted to visit the world mountaineering museum. Our guide said it wasn’t on the itinerary, but arranged a private taxi to take me (he was able to give the driver specific directions, as its very easy to get lost).

The museum was enormous in size, had all sorts of authentic artefacts, pictures and articles.

Some photo’s and diary entries by early explorers and mountaineers.To Celebrate 50 years since the accent of Everest, another section said the world owed grateful thanks to the following

Tensing Norgay Sherpa (first ascent of Everest).

Edmund Hillary (first ascent of Everest).

Two other interesting additions were:

Babu Chhiri Sherpa
longest time on the summit (21hrs on the Summit of Everest).

Appa Sherpa (The plaque said 12 times Everest Summitter (he has since done it 5 more times)).

 ev
 bcrubbish Not everything in the museum was pleasing.A whole series of displayed showed some of the things that had been discarded in the mountains.

It was pointed out, that metal canisters like these would have taken more than 400 years to biodegrade.

There were dozens and dozens of fantastic mountain photographs.Many of them, were taken by one of my Heroes, Doug Scott.

I actually have a copy of the same picture hanging in my home.

 pics2
 jacket This Jacket was said to have been worn by Morris Herzog.The French team, were the first mountaineers to climb above 8000 metres and Summit Annapurna

At the time, nobody knew what would actually happen to a human being at that altitude and they were subjected to medical experiments for years afterwards.

I have read Annapurna several times. In an era where politics, prejudice and money seem to contaminate every worthwhile endeavour, one quote from the book has always stayed with me.

When selecting the people for the trip, 20 men were selected. Herzog said simply “these were the best mountaineers in France. Nobody said otherwise even in private”.

My Taxi driver takes me back to Pokhara, and I ponder what to do with the afternoon.It was here that I got the first hint of what Kathmandu would really be like.

I mentioned, that I wouldn’t rent a mountain bike today, but would rent one in Kathmandu to see it. He replied that riding a bike there, would be suicide. It was then I started to think that maybe Kathmandu wasn’t like Chamonix or courmayeur !.

I rented the bike, and had a great ride around the village and part of the lake.

 bike
 trips Pokhara was the ultimate adult playground.There were dozens of places where you could organise treks/trips/white water rafting/mountain biking. All the main Treks around the Annapurna ranges are run from Pokhara.

There were also tours running all around the region, and even an overland trip to Lhasa.

This previously couldn’t be done “on the fly” as it would involve travelling into a Chinese special administrative region.

I wondered around to meet up with my friends, and saw Kingsley was having his head shaved.There were also loads of Cyber Cafe’s, bars and stuff like that.

It was here that I bought the excellent Jane, a torch, as astoundingly, she hadn’t brought one with here.

 shave
 carpweave We visited a Tibetan refugee camp and had a tour of their carpet factory.From 1959 to 1962 some 300,000 refugees came to Nepal from neighbouring Tibet, which had been annexed by China.

These camps have evolved into entire settlements.

Because of their different architecture, prayer flags, gompas and chorten, these can easily be distinguished from the other settlements in the area.

I quite fancied buying a rug, but they were pretty expensive.

I saw this sticker on the window of the tea house.The Panchen Lama is the one of the two highest ranking lamas (together with the Dalai Lama) in the Gelugpa (Dge-lugs-pa) School of Tibetan Buddhism (the school which controlled Tibet from the 16th century until the Communist takeover).

There is a controversy about who is the true present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama: the People’s Republic of China asserts it is Qoigyijabu, while the Tibetan Government in Exile maintains it is Gedhun .

Choekyi Nyima was arrested at the age of six years by the Chinese in 1995. He then became the world’s youngest political prisoner.

 panchen
 rcamp I wandered around the village market and bought lots of presents.At one point word went around the stalls, that an idiot on a buying spree was “in town” .

I commented to one of the stall holders, that although I only had 1 wife, I had enough presents for 3.

We woke early in the morning to watch the sunrise over Sarangkot.I went into the hotel reception to pay the bill.

It was then that I realised the the hotel staff, actually slept on the floor in reception.

It was humbling to see that the people who had worked so hard to take care of me, cook my breakfast and stuff like that, but didn’t actually have a room of there own.

 sleepover
 teahouse The best viewpoint of Pokhara is Sarangkot (1600m) to the west of the city.There was a small tea house, and I had some hot chocolate.

The the most stunning of Pokhara’s sights is the spectacular panorama of the Annapurna range that forms its backdrop.

Stretching from east to west, the Annapurna massif includes Annapurna I to IV and Annapurna South.Although the highest among them is Annapurna I at 8091 meters, it is Machhapuchhre, which dominates all others in this neighbourhood.

The famous fishtail mountain is considered holy, so you need a permit to climb it.

Unfortunately, there was too much cloud, so this picture didn’t really work out the way I would have liked.

 sarangkot2

Tour of India and Nepal – Khajuraho.

school1 We set of to visit the Erotic temples of Khajuraho.

On the way, we get the chance to visit an Indian village School.

Even though the School is in the middle of a village, and many lessons are taught outdoors, no compromises were made.

The teachers were very professional and the children well behaved. Just a look from one of the teachers would see a misbehaving child fall into line without a word.

Reminded me of what Schools used to be like in the UK.

I learn an important tip on travel photography from Kingsley (one of the many things I learned from him).

Basically, when you photograph a local. Always show them the picture.

Usually, as in this picture, they are quite delighted, which means everyone takes away something good from the experience.

school2
 school3 We had all brought pencils and paper and stuff like that to give to the children.

We were very impressed, when a very young child wrote the entire English alphabet in right before our eyes.

At first I didn’t want to go into the School, had a bad time at School personally, and I wanted one of my friends to donate my pencils and stuff.

In the end, as good friends would, they talked me into it. The Children were so focused on learning, that they seemed oblivious to the poverty that surrounded them.

As I said goodbye and left, I was nearly crying.

We arrive at Khajuraho.

Our simple accommodation had this amazing pool complex outside.

Khajuraho village is surrounded by the mountains of Chatarpur in the district of Madhya Pradesh and is 395 Km southeast of Agra.

 pool1
 pool2 The lads made straight for the pool, and even had a go on the water slide.

Water isn’t my thing (but that doesn’t mean I’m dirty or I smell or anything !), I have never associated recreation and water together.

I continued to read my guide book, and you’ve guessed it, have a couple of bottles of beer.

In the hotel bar, this simple yet amazing device.

This free charger, would fit practically every type of mobile phone.

Why does the “developing” country of India have ideas like this, yet I have never seen anything like it in “modernised” Great Britain.

 phonecharger
 kingsley By now, it was so common, that I practically forgot to take a picture.

Kingsley attracts more “Bovine” attention.

Today this village remains with 22 temples, which give us a glimpse of a golden time of art and devotion at their peak. Out of 22 temples, two were made from sandstone. The stone blocks were first carved and then the interlocking pieces were assembled to form a temple. Each temple is different from one another.

The contrast of it being so ornately carved, and yet, this wasn’t a coffee table statue, it was an entire building, and scale was incredible.

 lakshman
 carving4 Probably the most photographed place in Khajuraho.

There is some pretty extreme stuff in here, with men and woman doing just about everything that’s possible between them, and the occasional illustration of a man pleasuring a horse !.

The Western Group is the largest of all the temple groups of Khajuraho.

It is not compact and located in the center but also include the most renowned and noteworthy monuments built during the reign of the Chandela rulers.

They are also known to have been maintained well by the Archaeological Survey of India and the lush green lawns surrounding them with multihued shrubs and fragrant blossoms add to their beauty.

The most prominent temples of the group are the Lakshmana Temple, the Matangesvara Temple and the Varaha Temple that are a part of a single complex, the Visvanatha and Nandi temples situated near the above-mentioned complex and the Chitragupta, Jagadambi and the Kandariya Mahadeo temples a little to the west of the complex.

One of the smaller structures that reminded me of a Tibetan bell tower.

 smalltemple
 carving2 Unesco world heritage site.

The Khajuraho temples do not contain sexual or erotic art inside the temple or near the deities; however, some external carvings bear erotic art and tantric sexual poses.

A common misconception is that, since the old structures with carvings in Khajuraho are temples, the carvings depict sex between deities.

This is just one small section of the outer wall of one of the temples.

Here there are several hundred carved figures and each one is different.

A similar scene, taken more closely from a different angle at Kandariya Mahadeva temple.

The name Khajuraho is derived from the Hindi word khajur meaning date palm.

 carving1
 melakshman Lakshmana temple.

The city was once the original capital of the Chandela Rajputs, a Hindu dynasty that ruled this part of India from the 10th to the 12th centuries. The Khajuraho temples were built over a span of a hundred years, from 950 to 1050. The Chandela capital was moved to Mahoba after this time, but Khajuraho continued to flourish for some time.

These are fine examples of Indian architectural styles that have gained popularity due to their salacious depiction of the traditional way of life during medieval times. They were rediscovered during the late 19th century and the jungles had taken a toll on some of the monuments.

The artisans were masters of their of art.

The body of the subject would bend in 3 distinct places, and the tilt of the head would add to the aura of seduction.

According to Hindu legends, Hemvati was a beautiful young Brahmin woman for whom the famous temples of Khajuraho have been built.

The legend goes that she was bathing in a pool near her house in Benares (now Varanasi) in the moonlight. Her ravishing beauty so much captured the fancy of the moon god that he could not help descending to earth to meet her. Hemvati had an affair with the moon god. She conceived a child out of this relationship. Since it had happened out of wedlock, Hemvati was worried and asked the moon god about her fate once he departed from the earth.

 carving3
 ganesh The moon god prophesied that their son would be the first king of Khajuraho. She was asked by the moon god to leave for a forest of khajurs (date palm trees) far away from Benares to deliver her child. When he grows up, the moon god told her, he should perform a sacrificial ritual that included among its rites the depiction of erotic figures. He should also build 85 temples at the forest of Khajurs, which subsequently came to be known as Khajuraho, all carved with erotic figures. This would free his mother, said the moon god, from the blemish of extramarital love.

Hemvati then left her home to give birth to her son in a tiny village. The child, Chandravarman, was as lustrous as his father, brave and strong. By the time he was 16 years old he could kill tigers or lions with his bare hands. Delighted by his feats, Hemvati invoked the Moon god, who installed him as king at Khajuraho. Chandravarman achieved a series of brilliant victories and built a mighty fortress at Kalinjar. At his mother’s request he began the building of 85 glorious temples with lakes and gardens at Khajuraho and performed the ritual which expunged her of her guilt.

The now familiar symbol of Ganesh.

 This picture shows the elevation of some of the temples, and the beautiful gardens that surrounded them.  garden
 impossible This astounding picture shows a man pleasuring 3 woman while standing on his head.

Our guide commented, that he would need to be an adept at Yoga, if this was even possible at all.

 Our crew sat outside one of the temples.  group

Tour of India and Nepal – Orchha.

 garden One of my favourite parts of the trip.

We arrive at our hotel, straight after a couple of hours on a train, and in a mini-bus, and are shown straight to the garden terrace, and offered a drink.

Indira briefs us on the local, and our planned itinerary in for the next 2 days.

The beautiful room I stayed in, next to the river.

Once again, basic accommodation, proved to be nothing of the sort.

 room
 switch  The electrics, in some of our accommodation, was a little old, but added to the character.
The view from my balcony, showing the the river that ran past the hotel.

Waking in the morning and looking out across the water, was a special moment for me.

 backview
 street  The main street, of this simple village.
 My friend Kevin in front of the Man Mandir Palace and Gwalior Fort, in his “foreign correspondent” pose.  kevin
 side  A projected view of one of the palace walls.
 The main wall of the fort, taken through one of the gates.  entrance
 arches  Another part of the fort, showing the detail of the stone carvings.
The beautiful courtyard, showing the high walkways, all around.

It took several hours to see them all.

 fort1
 hanuman  A temple inside the palace, had this picture of Hanuman (the white monkey in the picture) I had seen a song/dance rendition of the Reamker, which features Hanuman, while visiting Cambodia.
 Gate at the back of the palace, with superbly carved elephants.  ele
 underground  Underground, in a recently opened area.
 Indian Women in Traditional dress.  women
 pool  In the centre of the forecourt, was this bath, similar to the ones I had seen at the Angkor Wat.
As we head up to the walkways, I pose on the stairs with Indira.

I really is hard to describe, just how excellent she was as a guide.

I remember reading a quote once:

What’s the difference between a gymnast and an acrobat ?

They both do the same things, but the gymnast tries to make the activity look easy, and the acrobat tries to make it look hard.

Indira made travel organization look simple, but having arranged my own trips several times, I knew that it wasn’t.

 stairs
 rooftop1  View of the forecourt, from high up on one of the walkways.
 A view of one of the other forts, through a “window”.  homeless2
 me  High up on one of the walkways, out of the window, there are views of the village.
Angela and Paul, with a Hindu Holyman (possibly, or more likely, someone who dresses like one).

On the left of the picture, another “Holyman” wanted to get in on the action.

 angelapaul
 kingsleyindira We visit a traditional Indian village.

Kingsley and Indira sample some street food, and as usual, wherever Kingsley goes, livestock are sure to follow.

I’ve done quite a lot of bushcraft and shelter building, but, using techniques i had been taught and practiced, this was actually someone’s home.

 hut
 bed This bed was hand made by the occupants of the house.

Indira had told me as a child, she slept in a similar bed.

The construction was amazing, and could easily have been constructed with just a swiss army knife.

The cordage was hand made in a similar fashion to the stuff I did at Woodsmoke where cordage was twisted against its natural “turn”, and created an binding effect.

An eating house in the street, with food cooked on an open fire.

It always seems strange when I see people using skills I learn as a hobby, which they use as a practical day to day skill, in the same way I operate a microwave.

One of the few souvenir shops around here, made me laugh. It had a sign in the window which said “More crap inside”. Priceless.

 cooking
 homeless1 The other fort, much nearer to the village, which I had photographed several times from a distance.

When we walked around, we found that several homeless people were living there.

India is really moving on, in terms of business.

Even though it was a small village, there were many posters like these, advertising training in computer technology.

 comp1
 comp2  This one, wasn’t actually fastened onto the wall, it was painted directly onto it.
 The local police station.  policestation
 sundown2  After we had walked around the town, Indira took us across the rive on this bridge, and we were able to relax here.
Here I relax in what Kevin called my “C&A Man” pose.

A few minutes later, Kingsley, good naturedly started to hand out pencils to a few of the local children, and we were mobbed !.

 canda
 sundown1  Looking across the river at one of the other forts.
We decide to leave the minibus and walk back to our hotel.

A superb relaxing walk and a great end to another brilliant day.

 walkback
 beforetea Before dinner, I grab a bottle of beer, and join everyone, “paddling” in the water at the back of the hotel.

We were sharing the hotel with some other guests, who also like to drink, and sadly at 10pm, the Hotel ran out of beer !.

Tour of India and Nepal – Varanasi.

steps We arrive in the city of Varanasi, the Holiest of India’s City’s and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

The Munshi Ghat, my personal favourite.

 We arrive in the late afternoon. Relax around the hotel, and in the evening, visit the Hotels superb restaurant. curry
 morning1  Early the next morning, we set out towards the Ganges, to see the City awaken.
The Ganges is sacred to Hindu’s, who refer to it as the holly river.

We look out across the river and watch the sun rise.

Some of the boats, were already out on the water.

 sunrise
 morning2 We walk down the steps to our waiting boat.

Thousands of people visit the waterfront steps (known as Ghats) to begin the day.

As the sun comes up, we travel along the waterfront, and visit the various Ghats.

Despite the early hour, their was a “carnival” atmosphere to the morning, as many dozens of boats converged on the water.

 morningboats1
 morningboats2 Sitting in our boat, in the early morning, it was very relaxing.

Several people in small boats, paddled up beside us, and tried to sell us floating candles.

The idea, is that you light a candle, for someone who has passed away.

One of my friends lit one. I have decided not to show that picture, out of respect.

 Some of the colours, when the sun hits the Ghats were impressive.  water
 ghats Hindu’s consider it auspicious to die in Varanasi and many travel here for that purpose.

There is a ritual when people die, performed by their eldest sun.

Their body is burned on a ceremonial fire, and their remains are thrown into the Holy river.

This is a picture of one of the burning Ghats.

Afterwards, there ashes are placed in the Holy River.

 Rana Ghat where people wake early and perform ritual ablutions in the Holy River.  bathing
 washing  A view down the length of the river showing more people washing, who have waded out further into the water.
The Kedar Ghat, where clothes are washed, and then laid on the steps to dry.

One of the most beautiful mornings I can remember.

 mesteps
 map1 We drove around, on a guided tour, and visited the Campus of Banaras University, the largest in India.

After this, we paid a visit to the Bharat Matar, or Mother India.

Inside is a large scale map of India on the floor.

As it was a beautiful day, I decided to stay outside in the sunshine, and asked the lads to take my camera, go inside, and take a picture for me.

This is the picture that they took, not exactly what I had in mind.

This is the actual Bharat Matar.

Its most impressive, and I am disappointed now, that I didn’t go inside after all.

 map2
 street As we walk around back through the City in daylight, you can see just how busy and vibrant, it is.

Many serious travelers that I have spoken too, have told me India is there favourite country, and I could certainly see why.

We decide to head further afield and see a bit more of the City.

Our excellent guide Indira, arranges some motorized rickshaws, and off we go.

In the picture, you can see the driver smiling.

One of the things that struck me about India. People have an order of magnitude less, than your average person in the UK, and yet they are still happy.

I wonder if some of the “hard done too” people I know, would benefit from living in India for a year !.

 angela
 bakery1 For lunch, we visit the bread of life bakery on Shivala Road.

Its well known, for offering pensions, healthcare and education to its employees and their family’s.

They also contribute significantly to the families of Motorized Rickshaw drivers who have been killed in road accidents.

It was nice to visit somewhere nice for lunch, and contribute to charity at the same time.

There were plenty of backpackers in there, the place is popular, and practically famous.

I think a lot of people had visited it, to eat some pastries, that remind them of “home”, because it can be quite hard to get proper “pastry”.

Unfortunately, the power had failed, and the over, had broken, so our food options were limited.

 bakery2
 driver2 As we left the bread of life, Kevin and I travelled together in the Motorized Rikshaw. I was delighted to see, that I wasn’t the only person that find this kind of transport terrifying.

I took this picture to try and capture the feel of tearing through the streets in one of these things.

 As the Rickshaw stops at the lights (an occurrence that seemed to be rare) I saw this young girl doing her homework as she looked after her fathers workshop.  homework
 boats Just before dusk, we pass the river, and all the boats are empty.

The river that was furiously busy earlier in the day, is now serene and quiet.

I realized that this must happen every day, and it reminded me, of the circle of life (I do a lot of thinking, when I am travelling).

We visit a factory, and learn how silk is made.

Obviously, there was an attached shop, and we had the “opportunity” to buy.

Cynicism aside, the stuff in the shop, was superb and the prices far cheaper than we would have paid in the UK.

The loom in this picture, is 80 years old.

 silkweaver
 ncar As we head out in the early evening, we travel in “Noddy” cars like this.

When I came to open the door, you could feel the click of the mechanism was smooth and secure, these vehicles are very well built.

Our driver, like most of the people we met in Varanasi, wore trousers, a shirt and shoes, clothing that would be fairly formal back home in the UK.

At that temperature, I don’t think I could have bare the heat, in the suit I wear for work.

 driver1
 gate We take a boat to the far side of the Ganges and visit the 17th century Ramnagar fort.

It was originally home to the Mharaja of Benares (an older name for Varanasi)

It is very well preserved, but then it would be, the king ( the former king ) still resides here.

Sadly we had had such a relaxing time walking up the beach, that when we arrived, the fort was closed.

We head back to the beach, to catch our boat back to the other side.

We watch the sun set on the Holy River.

 sunset
 ceremony1  As we reach the other side, we disembark at Dasaswamedh Ghat, where we will watch the nightly Aarti (ritual thanks and blessing given to the river).
I managed to find a place quite high up, to get pictures and capture the ambiance of the ceremony.

Several people, perform ritual dances, facing out onto the river.

There was traditional music playing out of loud speakers.

 ceremony2
 ceremony3 Unfortunately, in the middle of the ceremony, the power failed. The lights went out, and the music stopped.

Power failures had been a constant occurrence throughout our visit to India, but up until this point had just added to the experience.

I wondered what they were going to do ?

They were obviously prepared for this, some musical instruments were produced, and auxiliary power fixed the lighting.

It’s said that no trip to North India is complete without a visit to Varanasi.

I haven’t seen the rest of India, so I cant comment comprehensively.

What I can say, is that the place was a treasure trove of cultures, adventures and experiences, and I had a fantastic time there.

 tuktuk

Tour of India and Nepal – Lumbini.

border Dropped off by bus, we bid farewell to Indira, and walk towards the Nepalese Border.

I had read that at times, the Nepalese side was so disorganised, that a person could leave India, and end up spending several hours in “no mans land” until the border guards actually woke up.

Nothing like this happened, we got through without event. I didn’t buy a visa in advance, which saved £25. I normally do to avoid hassle, but on this occasion, I decided to save a bit of money, and it worked fine.

We meet our Nepalese guide, board our bus, and head towards the town of Lumbini in the Himalayas foothills.

After check in, we get cleaned up, get some food, and have an early night.

Lumbini was the birthplace of the Gautama Buddha the apostle of peace and the light of Asia in 623 B.C. (he later founded Buddhism, and is known better to westerners as the Lord Buddha).

The site is home to Monasteries from Buddhist country’s all over the world. It is in 2 zones, separated by a Canal.

East Monastic Zone is dedicated for the construction of Theravada monasteries.

West Monastic Zone is dedicated for the construction of Mahayana traditional monasteries.

The place evokes a kind of holy sentiment to the millions of Buddhists all over the world- and is the Mecca of every Buddhist, being one of the four holy places of Buddhism.

entrance
 rules Buddhists undertake certain precepts as aids on the path to coming into contact with ultimate reality. Lay people generally undertake five precepts. The five precepts are:

1. I undertake the precept to refrain from harming living creatures (killing).

2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not freely given (stealing).

3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.

4. I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech (lying, harsh language, slander, idle chit-chat).

5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.

Bodhi tree and pond at Lumbini

The Lord Buddha sat under a tree like this on the night he attained enlightenment. The tree itself was a type of fig with the botanical name Ficus religiosa. In the centuries after the Buddha, the Bodhi tree became a symbol of the Buddha’s presence and an object of worship.

Many temples throughout the Buddhist world have Bodhi trees growing in them which are or are believed to be offspring of the one from Anaradapura and their worship forms an important part of popular Buddhist piety.

 tree
 outside The exact location of the Birthplace of Buddha, remained uncertain and obscure till December the 1st 1886 when a wandering German archaeologist Dr Alois A. Fuhrer came across a stone pillar.

Historians now know this to be the Ashokan Pillar featured in the centre of this picture.

To the south of the Pillar is a garden with the sacred pool (Puskarni), believed to be the same pool in which Maya Devi took a holy dip just before giving birth to the Lord and also where infant Buddha was given his first purification bath.

In the background is another Bodhi Tree, and many fluttering prayer flags.

Prayer flags are actually colourful cotton cloth squares in white, blue, yellow, green, and red. Woodblocks are used to decorate the prayer flags with images, mantras, and prayers.

 flags
 foundations The foundations of the original birthplace of Buddha inside Mayadevi temple. There is a marker stone, showing the exact spot where he was born.

The site was Revealed after a hard and meticulous excavations under the three layers of ruins on top of the site.

I took this picture inside, as the building constructed around it, to protect it from the elements, looked (sadly) much like a red children’s fort and was most uninspiring.

Our guide showed us this temple.

It is possible to go there for a week, and “study” enlightenment.

This involves 7 days of not speaking a word. It was joked that I would struggle to complete this.

Our guide pointed out that they would prepare you in advance and you would get lots of meditation practice first.

 medcenter
 luck  Eternal peace flame directly on the Canal, near the world peace pagoda.
The Korean Monastery still under construction.

This had the look of many of the “Soviet” buildings I had seen in China and Vietnam, and didn’t strike me as in any way, religious or enlightening.

 korea
 temple I’m not exactly sure, but I think this is the entrance to the Chinese temple.

I took the picture specifically because of the 2 lions outside.

 Each lions mouth contains a ball, and its said to be impossible to remove it (some kind of Arthurian legend perhaps).  lionmouth
 walkway  Inside the Chinese Maitreya Temple.
 Our crew pose for a snapshot, on the steps outside the the main hall, of the Chinese monastery.  group

Tour of India and Nepal – Kathmandu.

bodnath We finally arrive at Kathmandu, a place I felt like I had waited all my life to see.When I got there, it was a bustling city, and reminded me of the dirtier parts of Manchester on a sunny day.

Anyway I was here now, and wanted to make the most of it. Our first trip was Bouddhnath 6km to the east of Kathmandu.

A colossal and ancient stupa (Buddhist temple) and one of the biggest in the world and stands 36m high.

Like many of the things I had seen on this trip, it was a world heritage site.

It took its name, meaning dew drops, from a legend that when built dew was mixed with mortar, as there was a drought.

Around the stupa were many smaller temples like this one. Outside a pilgrimage of American Buddhists arrived by coach.Sadly, in a major tourist attraction like this, scams are inevitable:

A man dressed as a monk, was praying, some people gave him money, then we realised, that he wasn’t actually a monk at all.

A woman approached us. We thought she was begging, so declined. She said that she didn’t want money, just asked us if we would buy milk for her baby.

It was hard to refuse. We found in reality, the woman, and the shopkeeper were in cahoots. The milk was massively overpriced and when we’d gone they would have split the money.

temple1
 paint2 Nearby we went to see how authentic Thangka (Buddhist) painting was done.Some of them were very beautiful, but I had already purchased a picture from a Thali village I was fond of, and the prices here were very expensive.

In the centre bottom of this page, is the newest Thangka design, created personally by the Dalhi Lama.

They have trained more than 300 artists here.

Similar to the burning Ghats I had seen in Varanasi.The dead were brought here, to be ritually burned, this was normally done by the eldest son.  ghats2
 swayambunath6 Swayambunath was another Stupa that we visited.The pilgrim’s route to the Swayambunath Stupa is a steep stone staircase of more than 300 steps, often claimed as 365.

At the base of the staircase is a large, brightly painted gateway.

Inside was a massive prayer wheel nearly 12 feet tall that requires two hands to turn.

Filled with thousands of prayers, this wheel strikes a bell each time it makes a complete revolution (perhaps just to make sure someone up there is listening). Be sure to give it a spin before beginning the climb to the top of the hill.

On the way up, I saw some of the monkeys that live here.I was advised to beware, as they carry disease, and can be aggressive. I found that to be good tempered.  monkeys1
 swayambunath3 From the top, there are spectacular views of Kathmandu.The earliest record of its existence dates from a 5th-century stone inscription.

Scholars and archaeologists believe that there was probably a shrine here as far back as 2,000 years ago.

There were dozens of Buddhist prayer wheels built into the wall around the stupa.

We enter the internationally renowned Durbar Square (this would have been a bit more significant, if we hadn’t visited a Durbar Square in Bhaktapur, the day before).In reality Durbar Square means Palace complex, and isn’t an unusual name at all.

Getting back on track, sitting in Durbar Square, drinking coffee and watching the world go by is one of the things I have always wanted to do.

At one point, the civil police stopped us and asked to see our tickets.

Many of the streets here, don’t actually have an names, which can be confusing.

 dsquare3
 box  In scorching heat, this chap carries this enormous heavy load.
It is believed that the name of Kathmandu City is derived from the name of this temple. Kastha means wood and Mandap means pavilion.We had lunch at rooftop restaurant overlooking the square.

One of the popular temples of Durbar Square, Kashamandap is known locally as Maru Sattal. It is said to be built by single Sal tree.

 dsquare2
 letterbox Rather unusual looking postbox.We saw the outside walls of the Royal Palace, but it was closed.

There had been a protest the day before, and people had been shot.

Kumari Ghar is the temple of Kumari – the living Goddess. Kumari is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju.The current Royal Kumari, Preeti Shakya, was installed in 2001 at the age of four. Both Hindus and Buddhists equally venerate her.

The Goddesses social calendar must have been busy on the day we were there, as we weren’t granted an audience from her balcony.

There is a square inside the temple, which some of the most amazing carvings I have ever seen and the building is simply majestic.

 lgod
 kala A statue of Bhairab.It shows Shiva in his most fearsome form. He has six arms, carries weapons and a body, has a headdress of skulls, and tramples a corpse.
 That evening, we have our goodbye dinner. It was sad, I had made some really good friends, and I had soaked up so much of the culture that surrounded me, that I wasn’t sure how I would manage back home.We would be flying home the following evening, so it was our last night out together.

Our guide took is to a superb authentic restaurant, where several dancing birds and yetti’s performed for us. It was uncomfortable sitting on the floor, but after plenty of beers I hardly noticed.

 dinner
 plane  On the last day of our trip, we have a private flight around the Himalayas and and Mount Everest.
Although I am an eternal optimist, I know that I will never climb to the top of Everest.As I sat there, I know it was the closest I would ever get to the summit, which was both euphoric and sad at the same time.  meplane
 cockpit Most unusually we were invited one at a time, to go into the cockpit.I got to look out of the front window, talk to the captain and co-pilot and be shown what the controls do (although they wouldn’t let me touch them).
The Summit of mount everest.The rest of the day, I just wandered around Kathmandu and killed time until our flight home.

A few of my friends, asked me why I was so quiet (if you know me, its noticeable when I shut up).

After seeing the Summit of Everest with my own eyes, I didn’t feel much like chatting.

 ev
 gearshop  One of the many shops, selling outdoor equipment.Interestingly, many of the items, are made of material from the same supplier as the actual goods and produced by people who have previously worked in an official factory.

You can usually only tell the difference by the finishing and the quality of the stitching.

Still, if like me, you think most modern outdoor gear is overpriced and over engineered, it produces a superb alternative.

 Overall, I was a bit disappointed with Kathmandu. I imagined it as some sort of simple mountaineering town, when in reality it was like walking around a very warm liverpool.You can see from this picture, how busy the backpacker district (where thankfully, we didn’t stay) was.  thamel2
 fireandice A must see for me, was the Fire and Ice restaurant, said to make the best Pizza’s in Asia.Alan Hinks was interviewed after completing the Challenge 8000 (there are 14 mountains above 8000 metres, at this altitude, the human body cannot acclimatise) more human beings have stood on the moon than the top of all these mountains.

Run by an Italian Lady, who has the parmesan made in Lhasa.

Tour of India and Nepal – Delhi.

airport I set off on a tour of India and Nepal with the Adventure Company.

Flying from Manchester, I stop of in Doha, before continuing to Delhi, to begin the tour.

As I arrive in Doha, I notice a girl in front of me, has a document holder, with the logo of the Adventure Company on it, and I discover that she is on the same trip as me, with her friend Paul.

We all go for coffee, and get to know each other.

In reality, I forget to take a picture of us having coffee at the time, the reason that we all have suntans in this picture, is because it was actually taken on the way home, and in that way, is a fake.

coffee
 road The debate of independent versus organized travelling has ranged for years and will continue to do so.

One positive thing about organized tours, is that when your plane lands, somebody, is actually waiting for you to arrive, and will start making phone calls if you don’t.

Our bags are carefully loaded onto an air conditioned vehicle, and we are driven to our hotel.

The first thing that surprised, was how cows were tethered and grazing in the middle of the road.

In fairness, I didn’t find the road system to be any worse than some of the more “exciting” cities I have visited in Europe.

 cow
 olddelhi After we arrive at our hotel, we have a wonder around the hotel vicinity, during the early evening.

Here a scene of people relaxing on the street and chatting, street vendors serving snacks, and bicycles being repaired.

 Because we had arrived late for the Delhi tour, my friend Kevin let me use one of his pictures.  arch
 noparking Next door to the hotel, I loved the honesty of this no parking sign.

I certainly didn’t see anyone park there, at anytime while I was staying.

Early in the morning (very early in my case, as the hotel receptionist, woke me at 3am, rather than 4am, but never mind) we head for the railway station, to catch a train for Agra.

Here an enormous line of Tuck Tucks, rise early for the morning business.

 station1
 platform The train platform was crowded and busy, but a lot more organized than I had led to believe for a developing country.

Overall, was no different from catching a train on match day in the UK.

The trip brief, said that travelling on a train in India would be a very unusual experience.

It certainly was for me, having come from one of the worlds most developed nations, I was completely unprepared for a spotlessly clean train, that left on time 🙂

 train1
 trainside The train travelled through some amazing countryside.

A few years earlier, they had to stop running the train, as “bandits” dropped onto the roof, and took over the train.

Thankfully, nothing like this happened to us.

Being unprepared as I was, 2 young people came over and seemed to want to sell me something. I shoo’d them away.

For not the first time while ravelling, I had made an arse of myself.

My friend Angela pointed out, that the journey comes with a complimentary breakfast, which they were trying to serve.

I apologized to them, and tucked into my breakfast.

As always, in a moving vehicle when you are tired, its easy to drop off. I had about 2 hours sleep, the journey was very comfortable.

I don’t know who runs the trains in India, but Richard Branson could do worse than hire them.

 train2
 agra We arrive at the busy station in Agra.

Considering, I had prepared myself mentally for an ordeal, the train journey, was actually one of the highlights of my trip, and I felt a bit silly.

Tour of India and Nepal – Chitwan National Park (2/2).

elefarm2  We wander around the Elephant Breeding Centre.
 We were able to buy flatbread, that we could feed to the Elephants. elefarm1
 elefarm3  Elephants have always been my favourite animals and it was a special moment for me, to be able to spend time with them in peace and quiet away from a Zoo.
 Just after leaving the Elephant Sanctuary, our guide takes us trekking along the flood planes.  wsaf3
 wsaf1 Our guide speaks to a colleague. He quickly asks us, if we can move really fast (I though he meant run, but he meant walk quickly) for about 10 minutes.

We move quickly through the scrub, and are rewarded by a sighting of a rhino.

At one point, the Rhino looks slightly spooked, we back away as instructed (we could see it, but it was too far away to photograph without a zoom lens).

After an exhilarating half hour, we head back to the Elephant sanctuary entrance, to cross the river and go back for lunch.

We were surprised to see this.

 rhinowalk1
 rhinowalk2 We had spent the morning, looking in the wilder parts of the park. We were astounded at the irony, when a Rhino walked right across the grass in front of us, bold as brass.

We were able to get really close and see it. One Japanese guy took a real chance and went a bit too close to it.

My guidebook was clear about this: Before getting inquisitive with Rhino’s and ignoring the advise of your guide, just imagine being trampled to death !.

After an amazing morning, we head back across the river, to our waiting Jeeps.

An old man on the bank, was carving small animals from wood (it was how he made his living).

Interestingly, he had Elephants and Rhino’s (I bought one each, have them to this day, they are treasured possessions) and since the spectacle of the Rhino passing, the carved Rhino had doubled in value.

 rivercross
 eleguide After lunch, our guide arrives with an elephant, and we take it in turns, to learn how to climb on its back, like the locals, using its very strong ears.
 We head to the loading station, where our 3 Elephants arrive, complete with “viewing platform” seats.  elesaf4
 elesaf3  We head gracefully along the trail.
 Crossing through Wetlands.  elesaf2
 elesaf5 Finally we reach the bush.

In this terrain, it was like being dragged through the proverbial hedge backwards.

It was pretty cool cruising high above the forest floor.

We saw loads of wild animals (but unfortunately, no Tigers. Our guide had said lf we see a Tiger, we should go home to the UK, and easily win the Lottery !)

The Rhino’s were relaxing in the long grass (well I think that’s what they were doing) and we were able to get right up close to see them, as you can see from this picture.

There are 400 wild Rhino’s in the park.

 rhino2
 bathele1 Afterwards, its time for some R and R.

The Elephants needed to be bathed, and we were invited to go down to the river to bath them.

Not my sort of hobby really, so I sat on the bank (with a Beer, obviously), kept hold of the Camera’s and took pictures of everyone.

Here Kingsley tries to stay on the Elephants back.

 bathele2
 shop Later, we wander around into the village.

I bought some presents, a beautiful painting of 3 village women carrying baskets (which hangs on my wall at work) and something I have always wanted, a Gurkha Knife.

I bought lots of stuff from this Charity shop, which contributes to single mothers in the area.

In the evening, I relax around the bar with Kingsley, the famous Pencil entrepreneur of Indian legend.

To mark the 50th Anniversary of the ascent of Everest, a special brand of Lager had been produced.

They were still selling it a couple of years later, and it was still delicious.

Its moments like these that I treasure, when you sit amongst friends and recount the days events.

 everest
 jeepsaf Up early again, and back to the Jeeps, for our final trip out

In only 2 days, we had done a village visit, a Canoe Safari, a walking Safari and an Elephant Safari.

This was an early morning Jeep Safari, to see small animals.

 As we crossed the river by bridge, there was an early morning eclipse (not photographed terribly well.  eclipse
 jeepback As we set off, we see more Elephants along the road.

During the Monsoon season, roads like this one are impassible.

As we drive through the forest, in the early morning, there were loads of birds and other creatures to see (there are over 450 species of birds in the park).

Sadly, my Camera just wasn’t powerful enough to photograph them.

 jeepsaf3
 jeepsaf1 I decided to just enjoy the experience.

I love driving over rough terrain anyway, and the surroundings, just made it even better.

Tour of India and Nepal – Chitwan National Park (1/2).

entrance The Royal Chitwan National Park, one of the “must see” sights in Nepal.

I had been looking forward to it, but my expectations were surpassed.

As was the case, on arrival at many of our destinations, we find and sit down in a large garden

It was nice to be able to stretch out, after hours inside a vehicle, and made even better with a cold Beer.

garden
 schedule The whole place, was really well organised.

They even had this board, showing who was doing what and when.

I took regular pictures of the board and referred to the timetable regularly, so as not to waste even a moment of this opportunity.

 In the late afternoon of our first day, we head out by Ox cart to visit a local village in Tharu.  oxcart1
 goats I have been to “villages” (Dubai and Wadi Rum spring to mind) where the “villagers” were actually University Educated actors.

This was authentic. A real working village, and the locals, couldn’t have been more friendly.

Our Guide briefs us, before the tour of the village begins.

The people of the village, are not naturally afflicted by Malaria, and before Malaria was removed from Nepal, the villagers were the only people who could live here.

 village
 runt This poor bedraggled chick, caught my eye.

It was such a chirpy and upbeat thing, that I couldn’t resist taking a picture of it.

 One of the local children, collecting clay and mud from the road, to “improve” his home.  digging
 vilhut One of the clay huts, that the villagers lived in.

A simple design made from natural resources, but in no way inferior, to many council houses in the UK.

 We found wild Marijuana growing in the village (nobody seemed to mind).  mar
 museum The village has a community Centre, which houses a small museum.

While we wandered around, the villagers never came over begging, or trying to “badger” us into buying anything.

Instead, they subsidise their paltry income, by charging admission, which made everyone feel more dignified.

Here Jane poses outside.

 Many of the baskets and traditional wares, used day to day in the village.  baskets
 door I have attempted to make grass mattresses and doors in the past.

None of my attempts have ever been even close to this one.

This isn’t actually an artefact in the museum, its a “proper” door.

 We reluctantly leave the village and head home.  oxcart2
 sunset1  Before reaching our camp, we stop of at a local cafe by the river, and enjoy a drink, as the sun goes down.
My home during my stay at CNP.

This beautiful chalet, spotlessly clean, with its own veranda.

Although close to all the hotels amenities, it was positioned so that you could feel separate and independent if you wished.

 home
 projector Our guide really did make the most, of every minute of our visit.

In the evening, after dinner (and before the ale started flowing !) we were given a talk on local plants.

The next morning, after a relaxing evening socializing, a comfortable nights sleep, and a superb breakfast, we are pickup up by Jeep, and taken to our first activity of the day, a canoe safari.

I thought these Jeeps were amazing. Its 80 years old and functions perfectly (the jungle isn’t the kindest place to motor vehicles).

I remember thinking, that the person who built this, is probably dead now, but I think he would be proud to know, that its still going.

 jeep
 cansaf1  We disembark from the Jeep and set off in two large canoes (they were made locally by the tribesmen) and head down the river.
Our punter (he wasn’t into gambling or anything 🙂 kneeled on the back of the boat, and used his stick to point out wildlife.

On the right of this picture, you can see one of the “Crocks”.

 croc
 cansaf2 You can get some idea from this picture, what it was like to be in the Canoe.

The thing that kept worrying me, was what would happen, if the Canoe capsized and we ended up in the water with the Crocks.

But then I thought, that’s why its called adventure travel.

Also, everyone else in the Canoe, seemed to be thinking the same thing and sat very still, during the journey.

 As we leave the Canoe’s, we are shown this plant called “mother-in-laws tongue” !.  miltongue