Friday, 30 May 2008

You say you want a revolution!

View of Pokhora from the Yoga retreat.

Rice Paddies, Agriculture in Nepal is pretty basic Which isn't helped by the fact that most of Nepal is mountainous. Most food is imported from India.

Lake Pakhara.

Well, the past couple of weeks in Nepal have been very interesting. On Wednesday night I went to bed in the Kingdom of Nepal and woke up the next morning in a Republic! The newly elected Maoist Party voted to abolish the Monarchy during the night and gave the King 15 days to vacate his Royal Palace! Long live the Republic!! I only wish we could be as decisive with our in-bred, spoilt, over indulged Royals. At the moment there is a bit of unrest in Kathmandu, apparently there are thousands of protesters outside the palace chanting "down with the King!" waiting to see if the King abides with the commies wishes. He's got 600-1000 personal bodyguards holed up with him, so I suppose it could get a bit messy. Although if the bodyguards can count I'm sure they'll realise there are more protesters than bullets. Hope it works out OK. Was going to go back to Kathmandu in a couple of days, but might wait in Pokhara and see what happens:)
For the past week I've been at a Yoga retreat in a small place over-looking the Lake just outside Pokhara. The programme involved getting up at 5.30, then 45 minutes meditation at 6, followed by at walk, then a 1 hour Yoga session. After that- breakfast, then a mud/steam bath, 30 meditation, lunch, chanting, Yoga session, dinner, bed. Met some very interesting people, learnt some new and painful Yoga positions and discovered I'm fucking useless at meditating! Your meant to empty you mind of all thoughts, but all I could think of was what was for breakfast. Oh well, practice makes perfect:)

Guru Adams in Lotus position after mud bath.

Various Yoga positions.

Sunday, 18 May 2008


Daybreak on the South Face of Annapurna. This massive 3000m high face was famously climbed by the Brits in 1970, led by Chris Bonnington. Annapurna is 8091m high and after K2 is probably the most difficult 8000'er to climb. For every 2 people to summit, 1 person pegs it! While I was at base camp, an number of Russian climbers were getting evacuated with frostbite.

Warm by the fire. Inside one of the lodges, sheltering from the daily rainstorms that tended to hit every afternoon. The Annapurna region is so remote everything has to be carried in on the backs of the small but considerably strong local Ghuregs.

Goat traffic jam on a suspension bridge.

Just press play, dude..........................

.....................another Jimi Hendrix convert.

Dhaulagiri, 8167m and 7th highest mountain in the world. Very pretty mountain.

Me at Annapurna base camp, with S face of Annapurna in the background. Been there, got the T-shirt.

Well, I made it out off the mountains alive!! After 2 weeks of continually walking up and down hillsides, living on dal bhaat (lentils and rice) and getting up at 5 am, I'm now considerably fitter and a few pounds lighter. Which is no bad thing after doing minimal exercise and eating curry everyday for the past 6 months. The adventure started off quite slowly. My legs just weren't use to walking up hills, and my pace dropped even further when a friendly guide gave me a load of locally grown weed. Oh well. After a few days the going got easier as I adapted to getting up early, doing the days hike, getting to a lodge by lunchtime, then watching the storm clouds envelop the mountains from the comfort of my pot filled room:) In common with the rest of the trip, my plans of where a was actually going were quite fluid. The original plan was go and trek up to a town called Jomson, but after talking to a couple of Argentinians, it didn't sound that great. Instead I decided to go up to the Annapurna Sanctuary, where I could get a much closer look at the South Face of Annapurna, and get right into the big mountains. As always, the Lonely & Paranoid guide book turned out to be complete bollocks yet again, describing the route as dangerous and avalanche prone. Turned out to be a pleasant 5 day walk, up beautiful forested valleys, topped with HUGE snow capped mountains. Annapurna base camp is at about 4100m, so in the evening it tended to get a bit chilly, but any physical discomfort was completely overshadowed by being surrounded on all sides by massive Himalayan peaks.

I'm now safely back in Pokora, where I'm happily drinking beer and eating anything but fucking dal bhaat. Immediate plans are to have a shave and a hot shower, then go and do some white-water rafting and then maybe stay at a Yoga Ashram for a few days. With only 3 weeks left, for the first time I'm going to have to be a bit creative with my time management!

P.S Happy birthday, Mum!!

P.P.S Thanks for reminding me, Dad.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Namaste Nepal

Well, that's it. I'm out of India. Probably just in the nick of time, as the temperature in Delhi was over 40deg Celsius. A bit oppressive really, so I was quite thankful to get on the plane and arrive in the mountain Kingdom/Maoist Republic of Nepal where the temperature is more reasonable. The guide book describes Kathmandu as a noisy, hectic polluted city, but to be honest, after 6 months in India it seemed like an oasis of calm to me. The city itself is a bit of a tourist trap, 40 odd years of catering for western travellers, trekkers and mountaineers has created an enclave of shops selling all sorts of crap and restaurants offering pizza and filter coffee. On a more positive note, the beer in Nepal is about 100 times better than the piss water you get served in India. Kathmandu has one place of interest-Durbar Square. A complex of old temples and gompas set around the now redundant Royal Palace. Nepal has a strange mix of Hindu and Buddhist religions. Everyone seems to get along with each other. Even with the Muslims.
After a couple of days in Kathmandu it was time to catch the bus to Pokhara. Why anyone 'backpacks' is beyond me. While I was sweating away on the bus, knees cramped under armpits, looking out at the wonderful landscape of mountains and terraced villages, all I could think of was " Shit, I wish I was on my bike." Anyway, Pokhara is the Nepali version of Chamonix. It's right by the Annapurna range, and pretty much the national centre for trekking, rafting and any other adventure sport you'd care to name. In the next couple of days, weather permitting, I'm gonna head up into the mountains and do some trekking for a couple of weeks. With it getting towards the end of the trekking season, the cloud tends to build up in the afternoon and it starts raining, so unfortunately its going to have to be a low altitude/not very dangerous trek. After 6 months biking around India, best not push it! Don't think theres many internet cafes in the Himalaya, so don't worry if you fail to hear from me for a while!!:)

Temple, Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

Cool lime green Enfield custom, with interesting hemp leaf motif, Pokhara.

Friday, 25 April 2008

India TT. Lap record : 165 days: 15 hrs: 35 min: 16 sec

Namaskar India

Well, that's it. I'm now back in Delhi. The bike has been sold, and I've now become what I most despise- a backpacker. God damn it. It seems strange to be at the end of the road of the Indian leg of my journey, but after 13,000 odd km it had to end sometime! I'm slightly amazed that I got round with only one breakdown (knackered ignition coil) one crash (slipped on some train tracks in Darjeeling= grazed knee/bruised ego) and no punctures. Considering the state of Indian roads that must be some sort of record!
After 6 months in the country it's still pretty hard to put into words what I feel about India. I'll start with the obvious , India is a land of contrasts. There is no middle ground. Everything is black or white, you love it or you hate it. You can have the most beautiful building, be it Hindu, Mughal or British and next door there will be the most hideous slum or department store. You can have a vast modern metropolis, with international banks and shops, then 1 hour into the country you can see farmers ploughing the fields with bullocks and planting crops by hand. The contrast between the rich and the poor in this country is vast, and unfortunately like everywhere else in the world the gap is only going to get bigger. The new middle class are going to continue buying mobile phones and designer jeans, and the poor are going to continue to beg for a few rupees. Its horrible to say, but the sight of a kid covered in filth, picking through the rubbish becomes normal.
India undoubtedly has some major problems. A population of 1.2 billion and growing is always going to create problems. To its credit, unlike China, India has a vibrant and functioning democracy. The country is always colourful, load, brash, chaotic. Every day is an adventure, and never fails to produce something memorable. A mathematician or philosopher studying chaos theory need only get on a plane to India to see it in action. To the untrained eye, the country, the transport, the economy, the infrastructure- all seem to be governed by chaos. Underlying all this is a kind of equilibrium, if you wait long enough everything works out in the end. Water comes out the taps, the curry you ordered eventually arrives, the train gets to its destination. All you have to have in India is a few Rupees and lots of PATIENCE.
India is governed by religion and cricket. Although I can understand the latter, I still, happily remain a cynic on the former. After six months visiting churches, temples and mosques, I still remain convinced that religion is a pile of crap. This was confirmed to me a couple of days ago when a brahmin said a prayer for me. I then got on my bike and broke the kickstart. So much for good karma. The only place I felt a tinge of spirituality was at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. A complete oasis of calm and beauty in the heart of a busy Punjab city, where the Sikh pilgrims were incredibly open, friendly and welcoming. Different to alot of mosques and Hindu temples, where you can be made to feel like a bit of an outsider. Forget the Taj Mahal, anyone visiting India for the first time should head straight for the Golden Temple.
I've absolutely loved my time in India. Its an incredible country that never fails to amaze you with it's wonderful people, geography and history! Well that's it, I've run out of adjectives to describe India. All I can say is, if you've never been to India"GO". You won't be disappointed:)
Lastly, I've been carrying a sketch book round India, so here's a 'best of' selection.

Taj Mahal, Agra, November 2007.

Rickshaw driver waiting for a fare. Pondicherry. February 2008.

My bike. Varkala, Kerala. March 2008.

Inside the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa. March 2008.

Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan. April 2008.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Gujarat & Rajasthan

Its only been a couple of days since my last post, but the broadbands pretty quick here in Rajasthan, so I though I'd take the opportunity to upload some pictures now rather than later!
Since leaving Mumbai, I spent a few days in Mahatma Gandi's home state, Gujarat. I am now back in Rajasthan in the town of Udaipur, famous for the setting in the Bond film 'Octopussy' (crap Roger Moore 1980's one) and Bhang Lassis (a potent and very nice yogurt drink laced with hash:)

Mahatma Gandi's Ashram, Ahamedabad, Gujarat. Gandi was based in Ahamedabad from 1915 - 1930. All the important decisions on the struggle for Independence were made in the small room on the left.

Chaos on Relief Road, Ahamedabad. The state of Gujarat is a bit off the track, everyone seems to bypass it going from Mumbai straight to Rajasthan. Which is a shame. Gujaraties are incredibly friendly, and the food is by far the best in India. Gujarati Thali is a meal, consisting of numerous small dishes- sweet, sour, hot, soothing, different textures, then you savour each dish a little at a time. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Elephant traffic jam, Udaipur, Rajasthan.

King of Udaipurs 1924 Rolls Royce and me, Udaipur. One of many Rollers in the kings collection. The jammy bugger also had a number of old Merc's, Cadillac's, Buick's and a couple of Morris Minors.

Lake Pichola, Udaipur.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Bombay Nights

Since the last post, I've continued up the west coast and spent 4 plesent days in Mumbai. Mumbai (formally known as Bombay, but changed back to the pre-British name) is Indias largest city, about 16 million residents, and is by far the most cosmapolitan/westernised place I've visited so far. Which is hardly suprising, givin that Mumbai is positioned on a headland facing the Arabian Sea, and has always had trading links with Arabia and the west. The prominent community in Mumbai are the Paris- originally from Iran/Persia who got kicked out with the rise of Islam. Interestingly they hold water, earth and fire to be sacred, so they leave there dead in towers, to be picked at by vultures! Nice.

View from Arthers Seat, Western Ghats. About 250km south east of Mumbai are the northern tip of the Western Ghats, a chain of mountains that run all the way down to Kerala. The views are incredible, and the mountain roads are hair-raising.

Sunday morning cricket, Oval Maidan, Mumbai. There is a big patch of grass outside the High Court and Bombay University that is used by Mumbaites for playing the national game. Its an amazing sight seeing thousands cricketers running around, creating dust clouds. Everyone plays, young and old. If you go in the evening you can see businessmen in there suits running around like school boys before they go home! The joy and enthusiasm with which the game is played is really infectious. Much more fun than watching a game at Lords!!!!

Mighty bladesman, having a go. As you can see from the completely gay stance, I went to a state school. Didn't make any difference in the end, the bowler kept spraying it down legside for some reason.

Victoria Terminus, Mumbai. Affectionately known as VT, this is all you need to see why Britain had a vast Empire. To invest so much money and time in a train station says it all. Now all we get is the Millennium Dome. All the same - Empires a bad thing, kids. Anyway, most of the old city is littered with these incredibly ornate neo-gothic buildings.

Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai. The place to be in the evening. Everyone congregates to eat food, and watch the sun set, with the city of Mumbai as the backdrop. Ended up getting pissed on the beach with some friendly Mumbaites. The evening ended when they went off to find some hookers and I went back to the hotel to watch Chelsea v Arsenal.