Crossing from the Iran side to the Taftan or Pakistan side was a eye opener and a sign of things to come. The line up was thick with local Pakistanis who had crossed to Iran for some reason. We were given favourable treatment and everyone was pushed aside for us to go to the front of the line. No chance to object or anything, it was just important to get us through somehow. Then the obstacle course to organise the carnet for the bike. It took a couple of hours and riding over what must have been an old battlefield ( coz it had some bloody big random holes scattered everywhere and was a mess) to find the customs area.
It wasnt quite as run down and falling down as the hall to deal with passport control but it was close. The books that had the carnet information entered were covered in dust, and it seemed to take so long to enter the information its not a wonder. The marked difference was the attitude they actually seemed to care for our welfare.
Taftan was an amazing little border town. It was like a scene from Mad Max. Houses were all mud huts as well as petrol stations from the dark ages. There were litterally hundreds of people lining the sides of the road, standing next to a 44 gallon drum of petrol, with smaller cans to dispense the fuel into for pouring into cars/motorbikes. Some were smoking whilst dispensing the fuel and some were just kids of 10 – 15 yo.
We had been informed that we would have to have an escort until we got to Quetta. This was something we were not looking forward to after our experience with the Iranian police.
The difference in Pakistan was initially quite startling. The guys charged with escorting us were called the Levies. They were really nice. Not too heavy duty with the protection bit, pretty relaxed about everything really. I dont think they did much, so they were probably glad to have us around to relieve the boredom. At times our armed gaurd was riding along on a motorbike in front of us and he didnt look around for the hour or so we were with him (no mirrors on motorbikes here).
At each stop they offered us a drink of water or tea, most wanted us to take a picture of them with us, they all seemed like quite warm and caring blokes.
The desert along the road was what I have always imagined a desert to be like. Not like our Nullaboor or the Simpson but a grey sandy desert with small stony sections here and there. In some sections there was sand blown across the road, this made riding a little difficult at times but generally the road was in good condition. The towns along the way were also quite different to what we had seen before. Basically they were towns with all houses made from mud. Not what we had expected in Pakistan. It was amazing that armies used to cross this desert to conquer some new land.
The weather was generally kind, the wind was behind us most of the time, but there was a bit of a dust storm on occasions and the temperature did hit 48 degrees on a couple of occasions.
Our first "big town" in Pakistan wasDalbandin. We stayed at the hotel there which was pretty good considering its location. But Dalbandin was a bit of a culture shock +++++, it was a sign of things to come in Pakistan. After a hard day in the saddle this was the first time the bike fell over on trip. Just parked it in a soft spot in the hotel carpark and it fell over when Bron was trying to get some stuff out. As always it is when most people are watching and when we are most tired.
After Dalbandin the road deteriorated. They are doing roadworks to improve it so within the next year or so it should be a good road all the way. The 300kms from Dalbandin into Quetta took all the next day. Travelling with escorts takes forever because of the constant change-overs and the slow speed. (they like to sit on between 60-80kmh)
When we got into Quetta the police asked us where we would like to stay and we just said " a nice hotel". Well did we get nice or what. They took us to Serena hotel 3 star ($150 aus)(would be classed as 5 star in Aus) This was a real oasis for us after the relative deprivations of the past few weeks. It was so nice to arrive in this lovely hotel, be treated like royalty and stay for a couple of days to rest and relax. The security to get into the hotel was like the process that Maxwell smart goes through to get into control. All sorts of security at the gate to prevent terrorist stikes. I think they mean business here. (there was a suicide bombing here a week after we left)
The next day it took all morning to get permission from Home and tribal department to travel to other side of Pakistan. They prescribed the route we could take and advised all relavant agencys. They said that we may need an escort for some of the rest of our journey in Pakistan due to unrest in some areas. We tried to discuss with them that we would prefer not to have an escort but they wouldnt hear any of it. They informed us that there would be an escort waiting to take us out of town in the morning. $%^&*Y(HUILYKV
It was nice to get away from the escorts in Pakistan and have the freedom to stop when we liked again.
My first impressions of India was that it seemed to be richer and faster paced than Pakistan. The vegetation seemed lusher and thicker. The roads are lined with gum trees (there were lots in Pakistan as well but these are older) The food is more available (due to Ramadan) and more varied.
First stop New Delhi
We went straight to New Delhi because the Commonwealth games start there in a few weeks time and we want to be well clear of the city by then. The Hotel we stayed in was ok but new and pretty poor standards of service and setup. The bike was locked away for a few days and all transport was by the old 3 wheeled buggy.
The preparations for Commonwealth games have destroyed the city (from what I here it was pretty bad before preparations began). Everywhere and I mean everywhere the roads are torn up, the footpaths are torn up, the cityscape is torn up. The work to prepare for the games is mostly being done by hand with little machinery around. The mud and rubbish everywhere is terrible and the traffic mayhem because the roads are torn up is crazy. Talking to the taxi (3 wheeler) driver he is totally pissed with getting around and the way all the work isn’t being done. The main buildings in the city center area are only starting to be spruced up now and they are waiting for that to be done before they put the paving down. Utter chaos.
We went to another of Shah Jahans forts here and it was another amazing structure. The lack of maintenance of these buildings is startling also. Water damage in some of the buildings will take millions to fix but seems to be completely forgotten about. When we were there it rained quite heavily and in the forts museum the water leaking through the roof was horrible to see.
This was also where we first saw the prejudice here against foreigners, as we are called. Indians pay 10 rupees for entry, we foreigners pay 500 rupees. What would be said if we charged non-Australians 50 times more to get into tourists sites in Aus?
We had a look at the Hindu temple a mosque and all were great bits of architecture with some great art works.
After looking at the mosque a older bloke came up to us and asked if we wanted to see some of the old Delhi. We followed along and I discussed with him the need to discuss with us any fee for his services. He insisted that we discuss that at the end of the “tour” so we left it at that, and went on to see some of the way that people live in and around old Delhi. When it came time to pay he wanted a few hundred dollars for his time and I reminded him that he had said that we pay what we think the tour was worth. I think he was a bit disappointed with the amount we gave him.
We sent 6kgs of stuff home (We shouldnt have anything left on the bike but we do) and I am sure the bike will appreciate it. We purchase a good map of India to supplement the GPS for planning and navigation.
After a few days in Delhi we headed out of town via Qutv Minar the flower market and the lotus temple, all interesting and nice places to visit.
The traffic mahem was everywhere and after rubbing up against a few cars who just moved into me I decided that I couldnt allow the risk of being pushed into another car any longer. So some Indian drivers now have some dinted doors courtesy of my wonderful steel cap boots. Also I showed some drivers where there side mirrors were with a wack (that is if they did have side mirrors) Gee it makes a difference, they really back off, and give you some room and respect.
We traveled to Agra over the next couple of days and reached there in the early afternoon. The Taj Mahal was no 1 on the agenda so after checking in we headed the km or so from the hotel. The price was even more discriminatory here with 15 for locals and 750rupees for foreigners so things didn’t start of well. But after walking through the beautiful entrance area we were awe struck by the amazing presence of a wonder of the world. I can only describe the scene as breathtaking but it doesn’t seem enough. The only other time I have been so amazed at a sight was when I first saw Ayres rock.
We spent the next 2-3 hours venturing in and around the Taj, being awe struck at every turn, beautiful in everyway. The place has a real presence. Magnificent.
We ventures to the Agra fort the next day and I believe this is the best of Shah Jahan' s forts. It was quite a sight. Good veiw of the Taj mahal as well. I suppose it helped that I had read the book about Shah Jahan's life before we left and this helped me imagine him here during his lifetime.
On to the Ganges the sacred river and took a tour through the back streets of the village on the way to the river. The back streets were amazing
The same old big crowd gathered around us as we tried to have a look at the river. The crowd attracted a reporter who interviewed us for the local newspaper with photos taken ( yes we have celebrity status here and it does have a price tag)
Getting out of Kanpur seemed to take for ever. The market stalls along the side of the road went for ever. The railway crossings were a constant stopping point.
The amazing thing in India with railway crossings is the boom gates may be down for 15 or 20 minutes (probably longer at times) as they go down when the train is supposed to go through. So you sit there and slowly the traffic builds up on both sides of the railway line. Nothing unusual about that except they dont just take the left lane they take up both sides of the road on both sides of the railway line. So when the boom gates go up there is an instant traffic jam. It is amazing to watch. Just total bedlam.
On the sides of the road are Sugar cane Rice, Millet and Mellons. Everything is amazingly lush. Very tropical.
We stayed at a bird sanctuary tonight. We were pretty buggered due to the heat and the humidity.
We left early and headed toVaranasi one of the seven sacred cities for Hindus and there is a major Buddhist site here too. We booked into a nice hotel after we told them how much we wanted to pay and they agreed with the price. After going for a walk and getting totally lost and down the wrong road we asked one of the 3 wheel go cart blokes to take us back to the hotel. He took us another 3-4 kms away from the hotel, stopped and said it was too far and tried to get some more money for his trouble. We were not having any of this so we got in another 3 wheeler and got him to take us back to the hotel for 1/3 the price. Yes I am getting ##%$E$^%$ pissed of with people with their hands out and people wanting extra money from us because we are foreigners. I am finding that my dealings with everyone are tainted with the thought that they just want my money. And anyone that displays these tendencies are getting a mouthful from both Bron and I. We have had enough and it has only been a week here.
Traveling out of Varanasi we went to the sacred Buddhist site where he gave his first sermon after being enlightened. Another group of people wanting money from tourists. The scenery is beautiful, every time we stop anywhere, we have up to 50 people around us, we stop to get money from the ATM or to eat or to look at anything we cant move.
We traveled along some rivers and the scenery was gorgeous, with more traditional mud huts and grass roof houses with bullocks and carts everywhere. Unfortunately as we have left the main highway the road has deteriorated and it has become one lane roads with a 200 – 300 mm drop of from the bitumen then a 1 metre wide muddy, rough strip then a 3 meter drop to the fields. Scary stuff when if you go to slow a bus or jeep will literally push you of the road and if you go to fast you are constantly fighting with the oncoming traffic. If you sit in front of any other vehicle they are constantly blasting their horns, it is hard to explain the bedlam on the roads, it needs to be experienced.
We got to Bairia about 4.30pm and decided we had had enough, it was another 40 deg humid day and we had sweated enough. We were tired and grumpy. We stopped outside the only hotel in town and the crowd gathered like usual, (it gets hotter when there are 50 people in close) Bron went in to the Hotel to look at the room and find where we could store the bike while I stayed with the bike, the people were asking the normal questions( where are you from?, what city? Where are you going? What are you doing here? How many cc is the bike? How did we get it to India?) when one person asked do you want to put your bike at my place? My ears pricked up and when Bron came back and said they had nowhere at the hotel to put the bike I said to Rocky(the bloke who offered to store it)
That we would love to take the bike there. We took the bike to his place and then he offered for us to stay there, he didnt have to say it twice, we jumped at it, it seemed like a nice quite place away from the main road where we would be mobbed and we wouldnt have the constant horn beeps all night.
Rocky's family were really nice, his extended family were there and his uncle (75yo) spoke excellent english. We set our tent up on the back porch and settled in for a home cooked meal and lovely conversation about how India works.
Initially we thought we had got away from the noise to have a lovely quiet night but then the town PA system started up and a women started singing on it, Rocky's uncle explained that the women had recently had a baby and the singing/chanting was a way of welcoming the baby into this world and telling everyone how happy she was to have had a baby. Well after 3 hours of this we certainly knew she was happy, it did make the conversation with Rockies family a bit tough, but they expressed how glad they were that she had had the baby and it was wonderful to hear her singing.
That is the essence of India, acceptance, for the way things are, and the way it are not.
(maybe I need to take a bit more of this on).
It was a lovely conversation anyway, the main thing I got from the conversation was the understanding of the Indian way of being and that is, Satisfaction, Be satisfied with who you are and what you have, my wonderful friend Tony and I often discuss being grateful for who you are and what you have and I suppose this is a similar mantra.
Rockie and his family were the tonic I/we needed to change how we are being in India with Indians. It helped us with some understanding.
We had a stinking hot night with no breeze and sweat pouring of us all night.
We left Rockies with a different attitude, on reflection I was resisting India, but it has infiltrated me finally, but this day there was lots more to come, India had to beat me into submission there was still some resistance.
The ride started out well enough, the road deteriorated and became horrible, the heat was sapping every ounce of energy then we got somewhat lost in an ever lasting city and taking a back street to get back on to the main road we were going through a “little puddle” when we hit the proverbial brick and over we went. ( always happens when you are &%^&*%^& hot and bothered)
Then after lifting the bike we had to negotiate a 45deg plank across a open sewer, then the cow who decided to get loose from its owner just as were we going past ( it took a full lock up in the rear and a fancy maneuver to get around this one).
Lunch was in a nice country town with hardly anyone around until we stopped, then the standard 50 line up arrived but as we tried to relax with our lunch and the famous 50, the crowd thinned out ( the cafe owner helped) the rest of the day was mixed with bloody hot weather and crowds whenever we stopped but a nice cheap hotel at the end of the day, with good secure parking.
We decided to do some shopping and the Indian's turned on the charm again, really looking after us where ever we went, what a contrast to the touristy places. When you go to give them a tip here or pay a little extra they politely refuse. They have a completely different attitude to around the tourist zones.
It is wonderful to be in the real India. And the real India is everything I could have hoped for.
Today we traveled from the little boutique hotel (that is what the Indian guide book would call it) to Bagdogra. What a ride. The day started out about 4.30am with the roar of the generator in the lobby and continued with the banana sorter/sellers telling each other very loudly how to sort bananas. We packed up and got the bike out of the banana room downstairs and headed towards Purnia.
The road was good and soon we got back onto some of the new dual carriageway trunk road that is being created throughout India.(the Indians go up and down both sides of the road so I suppose you would call it every which way carriageway here)
This started and stopped for the next 50kms or so. It was a real contrast of some of the roads we have been on over the last few days. Then we came to a large expanse of river with a very unfinished bridge across it. We were flagged to the left by the army person on guard there and we continued along a recently completed levee bank.
The view was amazing. The levee bank ran along side the river, which was on our right with an elevated view of hundreds of grass huts and villages and rice paddies on our left. There were mud flats about 50 metres out into the river and children were riding buffalo down to the river and swimming the buffalo out to the mudflats. It was an extraordinarily beautiful sight. It was what I have considered to be classic Indian scenery and it went on for the next hour or two while we made our way along the levee bank towards what we thought would be the bridge across to the other side.MORE...
Crossed the border from India and the changes were immediate. The border people at customs and imigration were far more relaxed. The road was in good condition, there seemed to be much more color and the streets were cleaner. We rode around town to find a hotel where we could park the bike.
We had to leave the bike in the street initially because the car park wasn't open till 7pm and it was a bit disappointing to walk around town and come back to the hotel to find someone sitting on the bike. I gave him an earful and he was most apologetic and I explained that if he asked me I would allow him to sit on the bike but if the bike fell over because we were not there and something was damaged that could not be replaced it would or could prematurely end our trip. Well he became my new best friend and became even more apologetic.
It was nice later we sat down and had a nice chat about the differences between the Nepalese, the Indians and Europeans. It was a pretty deep conversation about different ideals and ways of living.
It is part of what I enjoy most about traveling.
Next we headed up the road toward Taplejun. Information about the road was telling us it was a good road all the way around the loop and others were telling us it was only sealed as far as Phidim and was very poor after that. We decided to give it a go and turn back at Phidim if necessary.
We left the hotel at 10ish and headed up the road. It was a good road and quite beautiful as it went through the rolling hills and the tea plantations. The first surprise was we came across 2 Aussies riding a royal Enfeild around Nepal and India. They were a young couple from Mission beach in Queensland. They had ridden up towards Taplejun but the clutch had gone on the bike so they were limping back to India to get it fixed. It was so nice to talk to a couple of Aussies. They had set up the bike pretty well with a back pack either side and lots of stuff hanging of the back. This was the 3rd clutch they had replaced in 3 months. They were pretty relaxed about it, the last one had only cost 700rupees and the whole bike had only cost $1000 Aussie dollars. I think if I was traveling in India again I would seriously consider riding a local bike. I am sick of the attention the foreign bike attracts.
Anyway after saying seeya to them we headed up the road. The scenery was great all the way, the road was so tight that we were mostly in first and second gear. The land here is all terraced. Acres and acres of land that would be unworkable. The crops here are tea, rice, corn, some sort of squash, and every piece of land that isn't a sheer drop was in agricultural use. There are houses and villages dotted everywhere the eye can see. We encountered 2 days here with cloud and fog but every valley was in full agricultural use. After riding for 6 hours we got to :Phidim and the road deteriorated so much that we were unable and unwilling to continue. So we turned around and headed back. Then it started to rain, as it does when we are looking for a campsite. We found a really nice spot just of the road about 20kms from Ilam. After setting up camp ( our first real camp since Turkey) we cooked tea and then went to bed exhausted. Bron was woken at about 1am with some blokes talking outside the tent. As we are used to people fiddling with our stuff we thought that they had probably just been looking at the tents reflectors or something. (Bron didn't wake me up and I am surprised I slept through it all). But then the morning came and we discovered that they had taken a liking to my riding boots. We were most upset. After 5 months and 30,000 kms with 50% of it camping, this was the first thing we have had stolen.
We went to the local police and reported them stolen but knew that the chances of them being found was pretty well nil. After 2 days, 300kms without getting out of 3rdgear riding in my sandals we headed back down to the flat lands and along the main road towards Kathmandu.It was nice to be in top gear even though we were only doing 80kmh. We stopped about 4.30 pm at Lahan for the night in a so-so hotel with a very so-so town around it. Bron and I did our normal walk around town after settling into the hotel and it was like we were from another planet. Most places we have been we get a few funny looks but generally people are really friendly and inquisitive. In this town it was hard to get a smile from anyone, even when we went to purchase things from a shop we were treated with disdain. This has really surprised me as from what I understand Nepal's main income is from tourism and even though this town wouldn't see many tourists I presumed that the attitude would be a little different. That is the problem with expectations I suppose.
We chose the back road to Kathmandu as we were told this was far more scenic even though it would take longer. It was a lovely road (mostly) but very tight (first and second gear again). We stayed at a lovely little village not too far from Kathmandu so we could get in there early in the afternoon. The scenery and architecture throughout the scenic road was great. The little villages and stone buildings were really beautiful.
We headed towards Kathmandu the next day. I needed to replace my boots as I dont like riding in my sandals and we wanted to get there to check out bike shipping from there. The choice we need to make at this stage is whether to send the bike home from Kathmandu/Nepal or whether to head back into India, head to Delhi (at the end of Commonwealth games) and send from there.
Getting into Kathmandu/Thamel was relatively simple. The last part of the road was probably the worst road we have ridden on, littered with deep ruts, holes, rocks and broken down trucks.
The other hazards were trucks and buses constantly on the wrong side of the road trying to miss rough bits on their side. It seemed of no concern that they were going through a blind corner, and no problem to them that there was something coming the other way, they just kept on their route. I gave up trying to get around them and whenever one of them was heading my way on my side of the road, I just chose to stop the bike and let them go around me rather than risk life and limb trying to get out of their way.
We got into Thamel nice and early (afternoon) and found a nice hotel with secure parking. This city is madness. It is probably the most congested crazy traffic city we have been to. Totally not what we were expecting( there goes those expectations again).
Thamel is a "tourist" area but about the only place around with nice well priced hotels. The constant badgering for taxi's, rickshaws, weed, tiger balm and other wonderful delights people are trying to sell you gets a bit tough at times here and they don't seem to get that you don't want some of their products at times. They chase you down the street into their shops, out of their shops into someone else's shop, it can be hard work at times.
We spent a few days in Kathmandu and found the bloke that lots of people from Horizons send their bike to Bangkok and beyond with. We have chosen to send the bike home from Kathmandu in a couple of weeks after seeing a few more things in Nepal. After sending the bike home we are doing a 8 day trip to Tibet then fly to Kuala Lumpar.
From Kathmandu we leave the frenzied city and head towards Chitwan national Park for a look around. The run down to Chitwan is pretty easy, once we got past the road of the century the rest of the trip was pretty much a breeze. The police did stop us at a checkpoint at one stage and told us that we had been involved in a smash with a minivan. After complaining loudly to the policeman that we had not had a incident with a minivan and if we had we would be worse of and if he would care to observe that the bike has not got a dent or graze on it he did relent and let us go. It took 15 minutes and some assertiveness but we left not sure if it was a scam or whether some idiot in a minivan on the wrong side had swerved back onto his own side of the road and damaged his vehicle. Leaves me with a bit of a bad taste as I said to the policeman " if I stopped and reported everyone who tried to push us of the road, or pulled out in front of us we would not get anywhere because it happens every 5 minutes with these crazy drivers".
It was a nice relief to get to Chitwan, the place we stayed was right on the river and the area/town has a lovely feel to it. After a nice restful night the next day we did our dugout canoe ride down the river, then the 3 hour walk through the national park. We only saw a croc, a couple of monkeys, insects and birds, no tigers or rhinos. We saw lots of elephant grass, plants and trees.It was good to look around the national park. Then in the afternoon we went to the elephant breeding center, where there were twin baby elephants. The evening was filled with the native dancing then another nice quiet sleep.
The next day the 2 hour elephant ride with our first look at a rhino with its calf We also saw birds, jungle fowl, 2 types of deer, a mongoose, monkeys creepy crawlies, this was our highlight of Chitwan. It was wonderful riding on such a beautiful animals back and feeling the sway at every step. The forest from the elephants back was great and I was amazed how quiet it was walking through the forest. We watched the elephant being washed in the river, up until a month ago tourists could help but a drunk American drowned and so now it is banned. The rest of the day was nice restful, Bron went shopping in town and finally bought an elephant.
The ride from Chitwan to Pokhara was a nice easy ride. Only 160kms for the day with some excitement at the end to see the massive Himalayas behind the clouds for the first time.
Again we stayed in the tourist area as that is where the good hotels are. The lake here is quite picturesque and the tourist area isn't quite as pushy as it is in Kathmandu.
The adventurous streak came out in Bron and I today, I have always wanted to go paragliding and I though it was worth getting a price here coz it may be heaps cheaper than in OZ. The price was fantastic so we decided to have a go. We booked in for the next morning as that is when the mountains are most visible, an early morning 4 wheel drive trip up the mountain was the start of this little adventure. I think this part was a bit difficult as we were tossed around a bit then after going up 1880metres to the drop of point we set of for our para glide.
Well we didn't figure in the motion sickness and the rapid altitude change and the effects that has on the body. Even though it was really fantastic to fly with the eagles (literally) we both were feeling a little worse for wear (Bron expressing those effects with a technicolor yawn) So we loved this little adventure but not the effects on our body.
While we were in Pokhara we met an Austrian riding a BMW R100 around India/Nepal then onto Thailand and Australia and a Korean riding pushbike for the past 10 years around the world.
We spent another day we walked into town and the time here was nice and relaxing.
Back to Kathmandu Crazy highway went to Bhandipur on way back lovely original Nepalese village.MORE...
The place where we stop for breakfast is a lovely spot ( clouded over this morning) and it is our first chance to meet everyone else on the bus. A couple of hours of sitting on the bus and we get to the border. This place is even more crazy than normal Nepal. Trucks lined up for kilometers, unloading stuff to be carried across the border. Everything done the hard way, nothing made easy, some of the loads that people are carrying are amazing. We have to change money here at the border and we find a money changer easily enough. Like usual though he is trying to rip us all of with his pathetic exchange rate. Bron changed some money with him but she got 100yuan less than she should have, so I intervened and he offered to give us back the money he had exchanged. We did this but I held back 50yuan which I said was my exchange rate to him. He wasnt happy but I refused to give him his 50 back and stated to him that the way he was feeling was the way he leaves people feeling every day.
The Border formalities were quite extreme. The Chinese really know how to make a formality of something that others can make relatively simple. After 2 xrays and 2 body checks, with baggage checks for Tibet books that may contain material about the Dalai Lama. Talk about paranoid.
This all gave me a chance to use my school Chinese for the first time. All 2 sentences of it, gee it went over well(hahah)
Over the border, onto a Chinese bus and of we go until the first town that is. Then the most ridiculous of roadblocks or traffic jams happened. Even though everyday they have trucks and buses going through the city from both ends, and this situation must have been happening for years they just drive these massive trucks and buses up and down the streets, there are trucks cars and buses parked down both sides with one lane through the middle for through traffic. The problem comes when there is a truck, bus or car coming the other way. Usually if it is a truck or bus they have 10-20 cars, trucks or buses behind them. When they meet another vehicle coming the other way which also has 10-20 vehicles behind it a jam occurs. Then people run around yelling at everyone to move their vehicles in this way or that so that the traffic can move. After 1 and ¾ hours and a number of jams I was wishing that we were on the bike and well and truly clear of this crap.
The day brought some fantastic scenery and it was interesting to have the opportunity to see some Chinese, sorry, Tibetan villages.
The mountain scenery of Mount Everest was lovely, although from the bus was a little restrictive to our veiw at times. That night we stayed at Nyalam in Dormatory accommodation.
The next day brought some beautiful mountain scenery with 3 more mountain passes. W|e stayed at Xigatse for the night and it was a relief as we had gone up to a elevation of 5220 m. Most of the group was feeling the effects of altitude sickness, with headaches, body aches and shortness of breath. I had never experienced this before and it surprised me how it affected me. Bron went through the whole trip without any hint of any ill effects.
The natural scenery for the day was lovely with Goats,sheep,yaks, prayer flags and mountains everywhere.
We spent a day in Xigatse acclimatising and looking around. The town/city was quite developed and clean compared to anything we had seen since |Europe. The Chinese seem to have this sorted pretty well. The local monastery was nice enough with lots of shiny things and some lovely architecture.
The Chinese have checkpoints along the way, just in case we have smuggled someone on the bus with us. One of these checkpoints was interesting, not for anything else but the toilets. They were quite modern looking on the outside, but inside they were, how do I say it, dry wretch invoking. They were just concrete slits letting all og the raw sewerage run straight, untreated, into the "pristine" mountain stream/river next to it. Oh so beautiful. And this stream/river runs all the way into India and on to the ocean.
Autumn in Tibet was surprising, from what we had seen in pictures and on TV there didnt seem to be any trees but all throughout the landscape is littered with deciduous trees, and it was clear from their colour that autumn had set in here.
Next stop was Gyangze.
En route there were more high passes to test our acclimatisation, we hadn't done well.
Some of the main sites we saw for the day were Baiju temple and Kumbum stupa. (and I forgot - shit creek)
Next stop after a big day on the bus with lots of lovely scenery was Lhasa.
It came as a total surprise to me that Lhasa is the way it is. It is what I see as a modern Chinese town. Wide concrete streets with mostly modern buildings. We stayed at a lovely traditional hotel with a nice courtyard and restaurant.
The main attraction of Lhasa is the Potela palace. The palace is situated on a hill overlooking the town and it makes an impressive sight. Looking around the palace there was lots and lots of ornate brass statues of the various gods. The various rooms in the palace were amazingly ornate, the work that goes into some of these statues must be amazing. There were lots of really impressive areas with colourful ties hanging from the roof and shiny things everywhere. Our guide kept on telling us about this and that to do with the Dalai Lama but it all made me wonder, if all of this money was spent on assisting poor people, and all the monks were made to be laborers instead of demi gods the country would be in a different state.
The bazaar/market in the inner streets of the old town were interesting. Still lots of touristy stuff but not the hassles when you look at the items. It was hard to believe and understand the amount of Chinese army troops partolling the streets in full riot gear. I cant for the life of me understand the reason why they are there, unless it is some sort of intimidation and even then why intimidate these people.
The Jokhang temple was nice enough with lots more colour and some shiny stuff again.
Bron and I explored the city at night and seeing the palace and how it is lit up at night was really impressive. It is far more impressive at night than during the day.
The next day we went to the Tsankhung Nunnery in the old part of Lhasa. This was the first truly spiritual place I felt I had been to in Tibet. There seemed to be some feeling, some heart in what they were doing. As the Nunns did their stuff there seemed to be a really nice feeling around them, far more joy there than anywhere else in Tibet.
We found some lions (statues) in the market that we decided we wanted. The amazing thing was they were everywhere, this was nice as we knew we had the bargaining on our side. All the stall holders started out wanting between 1500-1800 yuan. We started with an offer of 80-150yuan. I started to think we were a bit low but soon stumbled on the real price after a tough negotiater slipped up. We finished up getting them for 250yuan.
The Sera Monastery in town was the second biggest in Tibet. It was pretty run down but had lots of shiny things and lots of monks arguing with each other. The guide told us to watch for pick pockets where the monks were doing the arguing, that I thought was a nice touch.
Tea that night was Yak goulash and some other Tibetan delight followed by banana fritters and icecream. We thought it was nice touch to mix tibetan and chinese.
The next day after 8 days in Tibet it was back to Kathmandu with Air China. I cant believe they still let people smoke on planes. It was a good veiw of the Himalayas and only an hours flight. After a week away from the madness I cant say I am glad to be back.
What a contrast to Lhasa, the rubbish, the madness on the roads, (Lhasa was far from perfect)
the lack of any sort of organisation, the hawkers, the rudeness. A day to finalize all the things we had to in Kathmandu and then off to Kuala Lumpar.
We arrived in KL after an overnight flight fom Kathmandu. The customs process to get out of the airport was really easy with the Malaysians being really nice and easy to deal with. The trip from the airport to KL was easy enough although it took an hour on the freeway. We checked into the hotel only to be put into a smoking room, it smelt pretty bad and the toilet leaked so we moved to another room without any issues. We spent the next couple of days checking out some sights of KL and looking at the department store full of electronic stuff. Toy world for geeks.
Bron and I both purchased watches for ourselves, after looking at thousands we finally settled for some reasonably priced nice simple watches. I have had news of my notebook computer in Australia, having major problems so I decided to check out the prices in KL.
I was totally surprised over the few days that we spent in KL, the people were really friendly. It was so nice to be in a place where people were friendly without wanting something from you. Everywhere we went people were really helpful.
One of the highlights was the KL twin towers. Usually tall buildings are fairly plan looking but the architects involved in these buildings actually had some imagination and were able to build 2 buildings that look so different in day/night and different lights. The architects had done a great job.
From KL to Surabaya, Java, Indonesia.
We had planned to catch up with Anita and Matthew who we had met at motocamp/horizons meeting Bulgaria. They are travelling through from Darwin/East Timor and through Indonesia.
So we organised with them to meet in Surabaya , in Indonesia. We booked flights and flew into Indonesia the day before we were supposed to meet, so we travelled down to a nice little place called Pasir Puti, on the coast so we could spend a couple of days relaxing with Anita and Matthew when we meet up.
After some initial issues trying to get in contact with each other we met up with Anita and Matthew and spent a couple of days chatting about travel and home with them. It was really nice to catch up and spend some time. It is amazing how similar Bron and Anita are. They think alike in so many ways and they even have some resemblance to each other in looks. Maybe some common ancestry.
It was sad to say seeya to them for a few reasons. They are good company and nice people, they have similar interests and have toured extensively on bikes and last but not least I was a bit jealous that they were continuing their journey through this wonderful country and we are going home.
We sat around for the day, updating blogs etc the day they left and headed to the Island of Bali the next day in preparation for our flight home from Denpasar.
As the trip from where we were staying on Java to the ferry wasnt far we thought it would not take long to get to the Hotel on Bali tonight. We set of pretty early and caught a local bus for the 3 hour, 120km journey. The bus driver seemed crasier than normal, I think he may have been trying to do the drive quickly as this would allow him to do the trip back to Surabayer by early evening. We seemed to be going hard and fast all the way to the ferry terminal, except the last few kilometers, when we were held up by a traffic jam caused by a bus having a head on with a truck.
The ferry ride to Bali was ok but due to a ferry jam (no available berths at ferry terminal) it took us over an hour to berth. Then came the real headache of the day.
We decided we would not head into Denpasar until the last day before we fly home, this meant staying on the north side of the island. But to get to the north side of the island by public transport, as it isnt so popular, we had to wait until the mini bus ( a hiace van) had the minimum of 14 people in it. So after waiting for over an hour for anyone else besides the 3 that arrived the same time as us us westerners chose to pay twice as much ( 18 dollars each) for a quick exit from the bus stop and head to our hotel. I am not sure if this is a scam they have there as when I did the sums in my head it didnt compute that they would take us at less than double the normal price, and then lose the ability to pick up any more passengers.
The resort/hotel we stayed at although reasonably priced, was very much a resort. A bit over the top for us and the price of food reflected this. We ate mostly at one of the local diners and we were happy wandering the area for the last couple of days before our journey home. We caught a local taxi into Denpasar. This took 4 hours and took us across the interior of the island and through some of the wonderful scenery that Bali/Indonesia has to offer. When we got into Denpasar we checked in to a hotel (the first that had been close to $100 aus a night for a while) and settled in for the final day of our adventure.
Looking around Denpasar was a reminder of Kathmandu in many ways. The constant hassles from shop keepers etc to come take a look, or the „tiger balm“ person wanting to sell their stuff.
All gets a bit tiring.
It was good to get to the airport and aboard the plane to fly home.
For me this was the begining of the difficulties with coming home after a relatively long period away.
The flight home was quite tough because we had got what we thought were good seats but they ended up being problematic because they didnt lean back so we couldnt sleep much on the plane. We arrived home to the welcome of Brons mum and dad at the airport and a drive to Trentham where Cal picked us up to take us home to Ballarat.
It was so nice to be in familiar territory and close to loved ones again.
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