A Travellerspoint blog

January 2016

The inevitable finally happened.....

The Indian Experience - Wagah

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As much as you may try, preventing getting ill in India is near enough impossible. After several attempts to avoid the dodgiest food, on my penultimate day I was eventually struck down with Delhi Belly.

After the exhausting day I started waking up continually running to the toilet and drinking tonnes of bottled water. After being unable to throw up the last pains in my stomach I was left with the realisation that I would have to wait it out to go through my system. Luckily I had been prepared and had brought immodium and dehydration powder with me, but it still left me feeling completely drained of all energy.

Although it could have been worse - it was somewhat controllable and I had escaped getting ill through the majority of the trip. My final day had already planned to be a much more relaxed, with the only thing planned being the visit to the border ceremony.

The road to the border

The road to the border

After spending the whole morning in bed, ignoring breakfast, I arranged for a taxi to take me to the border as well as wait whilst the ceremony took place. With my dodgy bowels, and the cold temperature outside I was a little unsure what time to arrive at the border and I certainly didn't want to miss it all.

Not far...

Not far...

After arriving at the car park area, you have to them walk the next 1km towards the border itself going through several checkpoints and security searches. Having made it in good time, and flashing my passport, I was sent into the VIP International section of the audience and got to witness views into Pakistan whilst waiting for the show to begin.

The Indians are ready

The Indians are ready


Meanwhile in Pakistan...

Meanwhile in Pakistan...

Feeling rather ill, I was actually rather relieved that I would be going home tomorrow rather than entering Pakistan as I had originally hoped and intended. And so this would therefore be the closest I would get to the Islamic Republic.

Warm up

Warm up

After the shouting and blaring of music stopped, Indian schoolgirls were invited down to run a lap of the 'arena' to the border gates and back with a big Indian flag in tow. Meanwhile the less enthusiastic Pakistani side continued with their music blaring. And then, after some more dancing, the real show begins!

Marching

Marching

At the same time, although not actually coordinated with each other, each side starts marching their soldiers towards the gate trying to outdo the other side with the biggest stomps and high kicks in an elaborate, but totally unnecessary part of the ceremony.

The border gates open

The border gates open

The gates are then opened, with the security teams having face offs, before the flags are lowered and the gates are slammed shut again.

Face offs

Face offs


Flags lowered

Flags lowered

The ceremony that takes place every day of the year was completely mental, but it was a brilliant experience, that was totally worth visiting - even though I was feeling awful! After the ceremony is completed, the public, beginning with the most important sections of the audience, are allowed down towards the gates themselves for pictures with the guards and to take a peak into the neighbour from just metres away.

The closest I'm gonna get

The closest I'm gonna get

After the ceremony ended I headed back to my hotel in Amritsar feeling pretty exhausted. I then spent the rest of the evening in the room, getting my bits ready before tomorrow's flight home.

With my flight not until lunchtime, I had plenty of time to get some rest. But feeling ill, I ended up being awake from about 9:30am. Making my way to the airport, I binned my manky shoes for the clean pair I had been carrying with me and boarded the plane back to Doha. After a four hour flight I then had two hours back in Doha's beautiful airport before boarding another flight back to Heathrow. By this point I was really starting to feel drained, as although the time at home was still lunchtime, in India it was evening!

The whole of Bahrain

The whole of Bahrain

Having spent around 25 hours on Qatar Airlines flights in the last week, I had gone through a lot of the films already, so I eventually settled for the Swedish film "The Here After". After taking ages to get going, it eventually culminated with me finding out at the end credits that the lead character the whole entire time was played by Ulrik Munther! As if I had just sat through an hour and a half and not even noticed...urgh...

Eventually my bowels had held out and I arrived back at Heathrow, eventually getting back home at about 11:30pm on Sunday night - 5am Indian time. Work tomorrow would be fun!

India was a fascinating experience, with some truly breathtaking sites, such as the Taj Mahal. It is just a shame that you cannot avoid the slums or a bout of diarrhoea when visiting. I don't regret going, but as I sat there feeling ill beside the toilet at 3am, I had decided that yes, this would be my one and only experience....

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in India Tagged airport ceremony plane border sickness indianexperience Comments (0)

The home of Sikhism

The Indian Experience - Amritsar

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After spending three nights in Delhi, I took an early train leaving at 7am from Delhi up to Amritsar. Although this journey could have been done much quicker by plane I decided that it would be more fun and a better overall experience to ride the Indian railways.

The real Indian trains

The real Indian trains


'First Class'

'First Class'

As this was India, it meant that the eight hour journey could be done in First Class with food for just £17. Bargain! And as we passed typical Indian train with locals clinging on to the sides, I didn't even feel like I missed out on the true experience! - despite the fellow travellers in my carriage being tourists and wealthy Indians.

Arriving at Amritsar

Arriving at Amritsar

Arriving at Amritsar station, and trudging my way through some slummy and disgustingly dirty areas I eventually made my way to my posh hotel, where the doors were once again opened for me. I had a lovely modern room and most importantly a western toilet! - Just in case.

For my stay in Amritsar I had only a few bits planned. As I was going back to work the morning after I arrived back home I felt it would be a good idea to take the last few days easy, and so all I had to see was the Golden Temple (both by day and by night), and the border ceremony.

Originally I had planned to see the border ceremony today, and then take my time tomorrow enjoying the Golden Temple, however as my train was delayed it seemed a bit too much of a rush to see the ceremony - for which I would need to arrive in good time, and therefore I thought I would just see the temple by night.

With my head covering at the Golden Temple

With my head covering at the Golden Temple

Leaving towards the temple it was still pretty light and after dropping my shoes and socks off, and donning a head covering, I arrived at the complex in daylight. With a quick walk through the water pool to clean my feet I had entered the complex, and began to proceed around the most holy sight in Sikhism, viewing the truly stunning Golden temple around the holy pool of water. With the chanting of the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, and Sikhs immersing themselves in the water, the craziness of the outside world had been quickly forgotten.

Close up of the Golden Temple artwork

Close up of the Golden Temple artwork

From the entrance, the temple itself is around three-quarters of the way around the complex, and everyone is allowed to enter it. Although the whole complex is made out of marble, the temple itself is coated in gold, and the intricate design of this gold becomes highly visible as you near its entrance.

The Causeway by day

The Causeway by day

After waiting in a short queue I then made it across the causeway inside the Golden Temple itself, where the Guru Granth Sahib was being read whilst Sikhs sat in prayer. Again, another amazing experience. Returning towards the complex, I avoided the food on offer and made my way back to collect my shoes. I then bought a souvenir model of the temple, before visiting the Jallianwala Bagh memorial park - scene of a deadly massacre in 1919.

Moving topiary at Jallianwala Bagh

Moving topiary at Jallianwala Bagh

With it now being just over half an hour before sunset, I figured I might as well get some food and hang about to witness the temple in night time tonight, rather than coming back tomorrow.

I went to the McDonald's, but found that unlike the others in India that served chicken (of course there was no Pork or Beef), this one was a Vegetarian one! Great for a carnivore like me....Eating the veggie burger I had selected was a most disgusting experience when I witnessed the solid pea inside, and I ended up throwing half of my dinner away, instead just sitting around bored and waiting for sunset. Never did I think I'd be put off of McDonald's...

The Golden Temple by night

The Golden Temple by night

After it had got dark I made my way back to the Temple, and proceeded to repeat the same activities I had done an hour or so previously - including taking photos of the Temple in exactly the same position. With Amritsar being located in the far north of India, and it being a particularly cold snap in mid-January, the temperature this evening had already dropped to just 4˚C. Which when walking around bare feet on cold marble can be quite gruelling. However despite this it was still a magical experience to witness the temple lit up in all its glory.

The Causeway at night

The Causeway at night

After making my way back to the hotel I was absolutely exhausted. Although I made the most of the hot water for the shower and the heating before taking a well earnest rest - all I had left now was the border ceremony...right?

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in India Tagged temple shrine war sikhism indianexperience Comments (0)

"Cows have owners and go home when they're hungry"

The Indian Experience - Agra

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One of my main inspirations to go to India altogether was to visit the Taj Mahal. And having been my dream for a whole seven months, today was the day I would finally make it to one of the world's most famous sights.

Although arranging the trip myself or booking a tour when I had arrived in India would probably have been much cheaper, with everything else going on I felt much more at ease to spend a bit of extra money booking an all inclusive excursion in advance, meaning there was no extra stress for the trip. Every little helps!

Although I was picked up at my hotel quite early, I jumped straight into the car for the three hour drive from Delhi down to Agra allowing me to still rest in the morning, which after yesterday's long walk made it quite relaxing.

Getting to Agra, I was met by my tour guide Hilal - a very funny and knowledgeable man who also had a passion for amateur photography - a perfect opportunity for me travelling alone to still end up with some great photos!

Great Gate

Great Gate

After arriving at the entrance to the Taj complex we took a cycle-rickshaw down to the ticket office and after going through security we entered by the Great Gate before entering to witness the world famous view of the Taj itself.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

From previous experience, I have quite often found that famous attractions like the Taj Mahal end up being slightly underwhelming because expectations are usually very high. And as I had expected a lot I would probably leave feeling somewhat disappointed. However this was not the case at all. The whole complex was stunningly beautiful! So well kept, and amazingly accurate symmetry throughout. A breathtaking experience.

The view you never normally see

The view you never normally see

Luckily the fog that had swept over the whole region was not too dense, and so the Taj was visible in all its glory. Having taken various viewpoints from afar, and using the water to reflect the building for some lovely photos, we eventually made our way into the mausoleum itself, again with fascinatingly accurate symmetry, and highly creative artwork. Although having been distracted by monkeys we initially forgot to put our shoe covers on and had begun walking around like true rebels dirtying the plinth!

On the plinth

On the plinth


"Like A Model"

"Like A Model"

After spending lots of time at the Taj, including being asked by locals to have photos with them; and taking plenty of photos for myself around the complex (at one stage being so photogenic Hilal commented that I could be a model! - hmmm...not sure on that one!) we made our way to the other attraction in Agra - the Red Fort. The fort was huge, and was the home to the local kings being lavishly decorated in traditional Mughal style of northern India.

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

After a busy morning of sites, I was then taken to a local restaurant for some lunch, which although tasty, was a little bit spicy for my British tongue, and may have contributed towards some later problems. After paying for the rest of the tour, and stopping at a local shop to see how the stones were carved at the Taj, I was driven through Agra on my way back to Delhi, when Hilal told me that in India, as cows are so sacred, they are loved and thus all have owners. In the day they wander the streets, but when they get hungry they go back home to be fed. I guess this is the Indian version of the western domestic cat....

Just a cow strolling across the road...

Just a cow strolling across the road...

Arriving back in Delhi by 6pm, I then had a nice relaxing evening to look back over the day, and get my bits together for tomorrow's early train to Amritsar, and my final city on the trip.

The Taj Mahal is an absolutely stunning attraction that makes the whole trip worth it. It's just a shame that in order to see it, you have to go through the rest of India to get there....

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in India Tagged temple fort shrine indianexperience Comments (0)

A casual 15 mile walk...

The Indian Experience - Delhi

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In the run up to my Indian holiday I had discovered that contrary to my knowledge, Beijing was not the most polluted city in the world - it was in fact Delhi. Great! However, after two freezing cold nights I was still looking forward to getting out of Nepal and in to Delhi where at least there would be power!

Waking up in Kathmandu and making it to the airport, unfortunately the smog in both capitals meant that my plane was delayed by several hours, and after security checks at every stage, I eventually made it on to the plane headed for India. Avoiding the under-cooked meat on the plane, I soon arrived in Delhi and was picked up to take me to the hotel.

A western toilet!

A western toilet!

When travelling I usually don't go for a particularly luxurious hotel, however as Indian prices were not the most expensive, as well as preparing myself for a bad case of diarrhoea, and thus wanting a western styled toilet, as well as a safe refuge from the dirty outside world I chose a rather nice hotel a few minutes walk from the central station, where I would need to leave early from on Friday. What I found quite early on is that nice hotels have their own door staff sitting there all day in the winter cold (again, India much like Nepal never got very warm the entire time I was there) just opening the doors for guests!

After checking in, and having already missed four hours of my planned day of sightseeing I cracked on quickly deciding to visit Old Delhi, leaving the rest of the city for the following day. Making my way across to the metro station I was instantly hit by the full force of Indian grime. Not only did I have to avoid the tuktuk drivers' insistence that they take me wherever I needed to go, but also having to avoid the constant spitting that every Indian seems compelled to do. Mix that together with the dirt, beggars and constant smell of urine and excrement you can imagine the pleasure of a gentle stroll around the Indian capital.

Red Fort

Red Fort

Eventually finding the entrance to the metro, I made my way to Chandri Chowk, and the Red Fort. However not wanting to look even more like a tourist than I did already, I first ended up going the wrong way, and thus had to end up walking back on myself in a race against time to reach the Red Fort before nightfall.

Eventually arriving, the full scale of the smoggy haze affecting the city was soon clear, as the fort could barely be seen just 100 metres away. Deciding not to explore further, as I would visit the very similarly designed fort in Agra in just two days time, I continued down the road towards the Jama Masjid, finding that the easiest and fastest way to walk is actually on the road, behind the tuktuks.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

By this stage, it had already got dark that my western face was now no longer so evident, and I found to my surprise I was no longer hassled as I looked no different to a local! I then walked back through Old Delhi towards the McDonalds just up from my hotel and after a casual 5 mile walk I was done for the day. Time to get some sleep for a long busy day exploring the rest of the city tomorrow.

Connaught Place

Connaught Place

After taking breakfast in the hotel in the following morning, I then made my way out towards Connaught Place, the heart of New Delhi. Walking past the colonial buildings and a "Burger Singh", I saw the huge Indian Flag in the middle of the square, before making my way to the first attraction, the Jantar Mantar - an eighteenth century observatory.

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar

Like most attractions in India (and Nepal), locals are charged a pittance (₹5, £0.05) compared to foreign tourists (₹100, £1). Although as this was still cheap compared to rates in Europe it was nothing to complain about. Especially as it became a haven from the rush and hassle of the city. After taking a detour via one of the government owned fixed-price shops to buy a Ganesh souvenir, I headed down to the Safdarjung Tomb - a Mughal tomb that being much less frequently visited, was a real respite from the city and allowed me to explore the architecture thoroughly.

Safdarjung's Tomb

Safdarjung's Tomb


Gandhi Smriti

Gandhi Smriti

Heading north through the suburbs of New Delhi, I arrived at the Gandhi Smriti, where Gandhi himself spent the last few days of his life before being assassinated in the garden. The house includes many artefacts from his life, including his famous glasses, and it was a really peaceful experience.

Gandhi's Glasses

Gandhi's Glasses


High Pressure Pipeline

High Pressure Pipeline

Continuing towards Rajpath, and the governmental buildings, it struck me just how nice these parts were. Luxurious houses (with their permanent security presence), and wide, plant filled pavements. Although the constant signs of "High Pressure Gas Pipelines" next to dodgy excavations did make me a little uneasy given the nature of my job back at home! Arriving at Rajpath I took a little walk around the government buildings before attempting to view the India Gate, which with the smog meant it was completely unseen.

Smog covering Rajpath

Smog covering Rajpath

With the India Day celebrations taking place in around a week's time, setting up the seating areas was already in full swing, and thus Rajpath itself was close, so a small diversion was made to actually get to the India Gate.

India Gate

India Gate


Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb

After arriving at another closed site, I decided to take the metro a little bit of the way to the next site - the Humayun Tomb. However getting to where the Metro was supposed to be, I was unable to find it, and so instead ended up walking the whole way.

Architecture inside the tombs

Architecture inside the tombs

Getting to the tomb, I found this was much more popular than the Safdarjung one earlier in the day, although it was still a nice place to explore. I then made my way south towards the Lotus Temple. This temple is shaped like a lotus, and after removing your shoes you are allowed in to make a prayer or just sit in silent thought.

Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple


Akshardham

Akshardham

My final destination for the day was to view the Akshardham tomb, although as actually visiting involved a lot of rigmarole regarding allowed items I figured I would just view it from the nearby metro station. Again this involved a race against time to view it before sunset, which was successful, just about through the thick smog. And I then made my way back towards McDonalds for tonight's dinner - not wanting to risk getting ill on local stuff, and having my handwash in tow.

Beautiful India

Beautiful India

Knowing there was one in Connaught Place, but being unable to find it, I ended up walking back from the central square via the station, going the completely wrong way! After eating and coming back to my hotel my legs were truly aching by now. I felt as though it must have been about a 10km walk today. I later found to my horror it was nearer 24 (15 miles!)

At least tomorrow's visit to the Taj Mahal was guided and would involve a lot less walking!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in India Tagged temple fort tomb capital parliament shrine gate pollution indianexperience Comments (0)

Those two days without power....

The Indian Experience - Kathmandu

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Despite this being my trip to 'India', the second country in and I was still not even there yet!

Over Dubai

Over Dubai

After flying over Dubai, and finally witnessing "The World" islands, before views of the mountains of Iran and Balochistan I eventually made it to the Nepali capital in the evening, where after sorting out my visa and waiting in the longest queue ever through customs and baggage reclaim I was eventually picked up by my hotel.

Having only been at the hotel for around 10 minutes I was already aware of the effect last year's earthquake and the subsequent blockade by India was having on the country. Not only was there no heating anyway, but we had had our first powercut! Luckily I had brought my torch, backup power and a clock, but it still made it a very cold first night.

The following morning I awoke and after taking some pictures outside my window of the distant mountains covered in fog, I went down to grab some breakfast in the hotel's restaurant and grab a few essentials and local currency before my sole day of exploring the mountainous country.

Monkey Temple

Monkey Temple

Although I was staying in Kathmandu for the whole time, there was still a few places that for me, captured the essence of the country. After arranging a taxi tour through my hotel, I was picked up and made my way to the first stop - the Swayambhunath or "Monkey Temple". The temple is located on a hill in the west of the city and features the traditional stupa and prayer bunting, as well as lots of monkeys somewhat reminiscent of Gibraltar. Had the weather been better, there would have been beautiful views over the Kathmandu Valley and further afield, but unfortunately, in a theme that would follow me all week, the levels of fog/smog meant that not much could be seen at a long distance.

Prayer flags at the Monkey Temple

Prayer flags at the Monkey Temple

After stopping by the Buddha Park, I then made my way over to the Boudhanath Stupa. However unlike the Monkey Temple, this one had been significantly damaged in the quake, and therefore the top of the stupa was now missing, in the midst of being replaced. However it was still a nice experience to walk around this famous attraction, with the traditional Nepalese designs and prayer wheels remaining.

The destroyed Boudhanath Stupa

The destroyed Boudhanath Stupa


Shree Pashupatinath Temple

Shree Pashupatinath Temple

Unfortunately with guided tours, you are always easily taken somewhere you don't want to end up, and with this there was no escaping a visit to the Shree Pashupatinath Temple, where lovely views of wrapped corpses being thrown into the polluted river were awaiting my viewing pleasure.

Ganesh!

Ganesh!

After eventually leaving and heading back into Thamel, the last experience of my day was to walk through Thamel and towards the Kathmandu Durbar Square. This was previously a beautiful square filled with temples. However much had been destroyed in the quake and it was teaming with touts ready to give my white face a guided tour that no amount of "I'm fine thanks" seemed to put off.

Kathmandu's Durbar Square

Kathmandu's Durbar Square

Heading back to my hotel in the early afternoon I was already done for the day. However with no power, and not wanting to risk getting ill from hot food that clearly would not have been cooked well, if at all, I ended up sitting freezing eating Pringles and waiting for bed time! As it was mid-winter, even this far south, Kathmandu never got above 10C in the day.

Views of the Himalayas

Views of the Himalayas

Although the sun was shining, and I did get views of the snowy Himalayas in the distance as well as views of the Monkey Mountain after some fog had cleared, it unfortunately never swung round enough to warm my room up before sunset, and I spent one of my coldest nights waiting for my flight to Delhi the following day!

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains monkeys culture sacred hindu indianexperience Comments (0)