Thursday, 29 May 2008

Om Namaha Shiva

woke up early and spent the 1st 20 minutes trying not to scratch my foot. It had spent part of the night outside the mosquito net and had therefore been feasted upon. Sadly, I failed!

Seeing that I was going to be hanging out in Hampi for a while I gave the temple at the end of the bazaar a miss. There is plenty of time and it’s the closest to the hotel. Instead I went over a small hill and clambered down the boulders on the other side. Nearby was a temple surrounded by a courtyard. Inside were some really well executed statues. Across the road were the remains of a bazaar with covered colonnades either side. Off to the left was a tank, small and square with enough water in it to support the most basic forms of life forms.
Spying a goat trail I knew where I was heading next. The track led to large pile of boulders, you would call it a hill. A slightly suspect path led all the way to the top and was met by a simple temple. Inside was a lone priest and I got a blessing and for some reason, unbeknown to me, a flower stuck behind my right ear! The track down the other side gave great views of Hampi bazaar, the river and several temples dotted all over the place.

I was planning to celebrate the fact that it has been one year on the road today, with a beer or two in the evening. However as Hampi is a dry town I had a fruit juice instead…damn!!!!

The night-time saw me tuck the mosquito net under the mattress. I sadly couldn’t do much about the heat or the glistening beads of sweat!

[RECAP TIME:On May the 29th 2007, outside my sister’s house in Wokingham, my legs pushed on the pedals of my trike and started me off on this journey around the world. Well, a year has passed and many things have happened…..

• Amazingly I am even more relaxed and chilled out than when I left
• I’m a damn sight fitter than 12 months ago but not as fit as I was last September, might be because I started smoking again (oh …and my legs were huge back then!)
• I am sometimes inventing stress just to remind myself what it’s like!
• I’ve come across places by chance that has just stuck me with their beauty.
• Other places I made a bee line for and I was greatly rewarded with what I saw and felt.
• Ice cold beer tastes pretty much the same whatever country your in, especially after a long hot day
• I am getting better (I hope) at taking pictures, some of you may even have looked at a few
• People have been really friendly across all the countries I have travelled (yes, even the French!) and the question that I have yet to truly answer is “would I of been as friendly if the situation was reversed?” living in London for 10 years I feel the answer might be no!
• I no longer miss being on my trike. I've seen the road traffic in India…very scary
• I still really really don’t like dogs!!!!

So, one year gone and a few more still yet to come and I can’t see myself getting bored.]

Friday 30th

I was up early to “enjoy” the cool of the morning. However by 8am it was already hot as I made my own path along the river bank, leaping from boulder to boulder. Occasionally I was forced to back track as I have short legs! About 4 kms later I came to the bridge across the river. There is a large gap in the middle due to the fact it’s yet to be completed so I paid the ferryman R10 (but not till I got to the other side). The ferry was a large coracle, made from cane and wicker. The “hull” was made with plastic hessian coated with waterproof tar. They’re big enough to carry a couple of motorbikes at a time.
Once on the other side a short walk led to the village of Anegunda, where I was able to rehydrate. Following the narrow road as it slipped its way past boulder heaps, banana plantations and expectant paddy fields leading me to the Hanuman or monkey temple. Perched on top of a prominent hill overlooking the river. At the bottom of the steps it was time for another family portrait. The steps were easy and the views breathtaking. The monkeys, well they were just being cheeky! After the walk back down a couple of cold cokes at the roadside drinks shack were much appreciated.

I continued walking along the road with the sun at its zenith. The 1st chance I got to follow the river I literally jumped at it. Later on the road and the river converged underneath an old stone bridge. Seeking some shade at a small shrine nearby, the resident holy man and I chatted for a while. His attempt to explain his faith via a drawing was confusing to say the least.
The way back to Hampi led across the river and over Hampi Island. During the dry season, i.e. now, you can walk across the riverbed on the northern side. Up and over the island keeping well out of the way of the water buffalos. Those, along with cows, have joined dogs on my “animals I really don’t like anymore” list. At least with cows when I’m out of India they will not be sacred anymore…Yorkshire pudding anyone?
On the other side of the island it was a 30 second ferry ride across the water to Hampi bazaar. The jetties on both sides were designed with flip flops in mind…not trainers!

Following a siesta it as time for a shave. Due to the poor light levels in front of the mirror in my room, I paid a man to hold a cut throat at just the right angle to the skin on my face, neck and head. He didn’t do too bad a job but for a control freak like me I feel it will be a case of first and last time.

Saturday 31st

Today turned out a far longer walk than I had originally planned. I’ll tell you why later…

I headed south along the road towards the royal centre. After 1000 metres or so I went over a rise and went left onto a dirt track towards the noblemen’s quarter, or where the pretentious rich people used to live. The dog that had followed me from Hampi lost interest and I was finally alone. It was peaceful with just the wind and the birds making the sounds. Crossing a road and through a gap in the wall I entered the royal quarter.
Much of the architecture that wasn’t a temple has been robbed. Why quarry for rocks when there are already loads lying around already cut and dressed. The defensive and perimeter walls were still in good nick, either the stones were too big to more or the government put them back!
One temple I went into had inside black stone pillars. All of them carved in fine detail with the different manifestations of the various Hindu gods. On the outside, the walls of the compound had several bands of reliefs from the top to the bottom.
As I was walking around with out a map I stumbled on the elephant stables by chance after crossing a few fields and a couple of small temples. On the opposite side of an immaculate lawn was a big wall with a small doorway. Turns out it was the Zenana Enclosure. Within its walls were the foundations of the queen’s palace and the exquisitely detailed and beautiful Lotus Mahal. Then I went back through the wall to check out the stables more closely. The royal elephants each had a room to themselves but it wasn’t en-suite. Behind the stables, a short walk through bananas was a small simple temple lower today than the country side around it. I sat by the door in the shade and chilled out.
I decided to walk back through the enclosure and out the other side. On the other side was a man in a nicely ironed uniform who asked to see my ticket. What ticket was my reply! R250 later I had a ticket to see the Zenana Enclosure, which I had already seen!!!
The man told me that the ticket was also valid for the Vittela temple which was several kilometres away but only for today. Now you know why my walk turned out longer…yes I could have taken a rickshaw but they don’t go down goat tracks do they!

As I was near the village of Kamalapuram and the archaeology museum a small detour was in order. Outside the museum I was surprised only to be charged R5 entrance fee. The place has 4 small galleries and within each are displays of stonework, metal work, locally found remains and a photo gallery showing before and after pictures of various places around this world heritage site. In the central courtyard was a large detailed model of the whole site, complete with little stone hills.

According to the road sign it was 6 kms to the Vittala temple. Goat tracks are more fun, if slightly longer.

Arriving hot and sweaty at the temple a cold drink and just a little bit of shade was in order.

The temple itself is mighty purdy (as Dolly Parton would say) and one of the highlights is a detailed stone wagon. All four of its wheels could turn, well before they were fixed in place to stop people from checking if it was actually true. Inside the main temple, the by now daily occurrence of me being asked to take family photographs took place. After the photo had been taken literally everyone steamed towards me to be the 1st to look at the result. Kids pushing, grandma’s slapping the unruly grandkids whilst they themselves barged into the foreground. Fleeing from the chaos, I made my way slowly back towards Hampi bazaar. The mid afternoon sun blazing down upon me

Nearing the hotel I spied an ice cream shop…mmm!

Sunday 1st of June

It was a day for chips!

But first, after breakfast a slow and easy walk to the local waterfalls sounded appealing. Along a dirt track, then a slightly muddy path made so by a light shower the previous evening. Passing through bananas I emerged into a wide expanse of rock, with several water courses flowing amongst them. Not a single water fall insight! Hey, it was no big deal. I went upstream zigzagging my way over rocks, sand and water. Seeing an interesting cluster of boulders I went away from the river for a climb. After an hour of fun I was hot and sweaty (again!) and found myself back down by the river.
Not to sure of where to go next I decided that going over a grassy knoll was the best idea. Only because I couldn’t see what was on the other side. Once over the rise I saw…yep, that’s right more rocks. As I transversed my way across the faint but unmistakable sound of cascading water reached my ears.

Eventually I came across a delightful little setting. The river was hemmed in on 4 sides by a huge jumble of rocks and boulders. Upstream the water gushed out from underneath them, whilst 100m downstream the water had over the eons swirled a path through them scouring out smooth arches and curves in the rock. Following the river downstream I ended up on a rock island mid stream. To continue meant performing a 6ft standing jump across the deep and fast flowing water to a sloping rock on the other side. I went back the way I came…I ain’t no fool, well not this time!

Around midday I was heading back to the village, passing a cafĂ© I made a pit stop. Fried eggs and chips for lunch…bloody wonderful!

In the evening I was feeling man hungry for some reason. I settled on macaroni cheese…with a side dish of chips: Me = fat bastard!

I’m off to Goa on the Wednesday morning train and by the evening I’ll be sitting in a beach bar with an ice cold bottle of beer firmly grasped in my hand.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Road trip to Hampi

Day one:

At 8 in the morning I chucked all three of my bags into various parts of the car. Sitting on the back seat I gave my driver the nod of approval to proceed in a southerly direction. Seven hours later I cruised up to the Navaratna International Hotel in Bijapur.

Day two:

After a breakfast of caffeine and nicotine it was into the car for a days sightseeing around the town. The first place on the list was on the other side of town. My faith in my driver’s navigational skills completely disappeared as he needed to stop 3 times to ask for directions. The thing is, the place was signposted all the way and he only had to make one turn on the entire journey!
We arrived at Ibrahim Rouza, it’s an Islamic mausoleum built in the early 1600’s. The minarets are said to of been the inspiration for those at the Taj Mahal. It’s rated as one of the most finely proportioned Islamic monuments in India…nice!
Whilst I was looking around the site, my driver employed a local man to give him directions for the rest of the day’s tour!!!
Next, was a section of the old defensive city wall. On top of one of the battlements was a bloody big cannon allegedly weighing in at 55 tons!
Following on from there it was a short drive through the back streets to the Upli Buruj. It is a 24m high watchtower with an external spiral staircase winding its way up to the top. Once there wide views of the city were found.
I then went to Bara Karman, the ruined mausoleum of some bloke called Ali Roza. All that’s left on the raised platform was the carcass of the building.Graceful curving arches, a tome and not much else.

Arriving at the Golcumbaz I was impressed straight out of the car. Built in the second half of the 17th century as a mausoleum (again!) for Mohammed Adil Shah. It has 4 seven storey towers, one on each corner and a dome with a 38m diameter. That’s quite big for a dome! Inside it is plainly decorated with a few carved reliefs. Taking a staircase found inside one of the towers brings you out onto the roof and the entrance to the “whispering” gallery. Due to the large number of kids running around a more apt name would have been the “screaming and shouting” gallery!

For the rest of the afternoon, I gave my driver time off and walked around the town.

Day three:

It was an early start. The final destination was the town of Badami. Before I got there, there were two places to visit.

Alihole: this place was the Chalukyan regional capital from the 4th to the 6th century. It teems with over 100 temples dotted all over the small modern day village. The temples range in size and style and the development of the craft can easily be seen

Pattadakal: this place replaced Alihole as the capital and damn didn’t they do well. Built between the 7th and 8th century AD. It’s a notable improvement in terms of size and quality over Alihole.

Arriving in Badami, turning up at the hotel (overpriced even after haggling a R150 discount) just to dump my bags onto the bed. The town of Badami is split between the “new” part based along the main road and the old part near the tank with its narrow streets.
I went to the caves, yep more caves but this time there was only 4 of them. The caves overlooked the Agastyatirtha tank, which was large! The water here is only replenished by rain water running off the nearby hills. As the monsoon was nearly a year ago the waters were green in colour and faintly whiffy! That didn’t seem to stop the kids from swimming in it and the women washing their clothes.
Back at the hotel I completely missed the entrance and ended up in the bar next door. Two large and ice cold beers later it was time for a long afternoon siesta.

In the early evening I wandered around the old town down by the tank and watched a beautiful sunset. By now I was hungry and I enjoyed my new favourite dish of paneer chilly and jeera rice. Once again failing to enter the hotel more cold beers followed and bizarrely I was asked for my autograph. 1st and last time I’m sure!

Day four:

It was only a 3 hour ride to Hampi arriving in the early afternoon. The hotel is quite nice with a simple room (although it lacks a/c and a TV!). Its best feature is the small garden 3 steps from my room. Overlooking the river with a banana plantation in between. On the patio area, which is under cover are found 3 “hammock” chairs…lovely.

After checking my emails my worst fears were confirmed. There is no diving in Goa in June (or July, August or September for that matter!). So, I have no idea where I’ll be going once I leave Hampi…

N.B: over the 4 day journey I saw, on average, 1.25 Lorries a day either lying upside down in a ditch or wrapped around a tree!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


Today I arrived in the town of Aurangabad. Surprisingly I was met at the train station and given a free rickshaw ride to the hotel. The driver was a man who gets a mention in the lonely planet for his rickshaw services and now runs a tour company in the grounds of my hotel. The hotel is really well appointed and the a/c unit on the wall is now my new best friend! Following a relaxing and slightly chilly siesta I popped into the tour guy’s place. For R1250 I get a car to take me to Ajanta tomorrow. Now, it’s expensive but I really didn’t feel like spending four hours on a local bus!

I took a short stroll around the town. It’s a worn out place with narrow dusty side streets and the river that flows through part of it is pretty much an open sewer. I saw some local kids throwing large rocks into the stream. Looking over the wall I saw the target. A small snake was swimming across the stream, crossing from one rubbish strewn bank to another. The snake seemed to me to be out of place and I got the feeling that it knew it as well!

Wednesday 21st

Ajanta caves:

The expensive taxi ride was indeed enjoyable and the 110 km journey was passed without any screams or crashes. Although having to pay R15 for a road toll pissed me right off!

Once at the caves, I had to pay a R7 amenities fee, R15 car parking charge and another R7 to take the shuttle bus the 4 km to the ticket office. After shelling out another R250 (didn’t bother with the R5 light permit) I was able to walk up the steps into the horseshoe shaped valley.
There are 30 caves here all of them shrines and temples to the Buddhist faith. Each one has been cut into the rock by hand and the earliest caves date from 200 BC whilst the later ones from around 650 AD.
Thankfully my camera can take pictures in low light levels as flash photography is banned (and quite rightly so!).
Each time you enter a cave the shoes need to come off. Walking around in my socks made me feel very English.
As I moved from cave to cave the amount of children following me increased and when I sat down I was quickly joined by 6 or 7 kids and their mums! The dads were holding the cameras. Maybe I really should start charging a modelling fee. R5 per photo seems about the right amount!
It was only fitting that a couple of other bald men caught their attention more than I. Well, I’m not going to be able to compete with Buddhist monks at a Buddhist shrine now am I!

Most of the temples follow a pattern. They have a central court surrounded by pillars. Across the cave opposite the entrance is a small room containing a statue of the Buddha. Around the walls are small alcoves or cells. All of the temples were, when 1st completed, covered in paintings, murals and vividly striking colours. Over the years and centuries these have faded, cracked and fallen away or just plain damaged. However enough remain to allow you a glimpse into just how awesome they were. The pillars are carved with intricate designs and motifs with special attention to detail at the tops.
The majority of the ceilings were also painted with complex geometric designs. Some were still visible. Sadly the best preserved cave was also the darkest and you were restricted to the most central areas. So most of the photos taken inside sucked in terms of exposure and my inability to keep my hands tripod steady for 2 to 3 seconds.
Whilst walking along the path between each cave, chipmunks would be darting around. Their little noses twitching almost as much as their eyes.

After a couple of hours walking around under a hot sun it was time for a cold drink. All they had was beer! Damn…I have a hard life!

When the car was back in town I jumped out and went to check my emails. Amazingly they’ve managed to find my rucksack (again!). Must have been the thought of £1500 in compensation motivating them. I replied to the email telling the where I was. I let them know that they have 3 days to deliver it to me at my current hotel f.o.c. I’ll see what they say tomorrow.

Once back at the hotel I chatted with the tour company guy. For £250 plus my accommodation expenses I can go on a 4 day road to Hampi. Along the way stopping at several ancient sites and temples. It’s only at times like this that I wish I had a travel buddy because £125 would seal the deal. Mind you if my rucksack does indeed turn up then I feel I will be riding in the backseat. Because I’ll have so much stuff it will take me a few days to decide what to dispose off. I don’t need 12 pairs of pants…that much I know. Also, lets face it, it will be a damn sight easier than trying to do it all myself.

Thursday 22nd

Well, the bad news is that Chelsea lost the match last night. Seeing that the game didn’t start till 00:15 in the morning led for a long day.
The good news is that my rucksack turned up in the late afternoon. I now have an 85l bag, a 50l bag and a 30l bag…with way too many clothes and electrical cables!
With that in mind I booked the road trip to Hampi and I leave on Sunday morning. After haggling a little bit the price is R18000.

Today I walked across town to the poor man’s Taj Mahal. It was built in the 1600’s by the son of the man who commissioned the Taj Mahal. I’ve seen pictures of the original and this one is similar if a lot smaller. I feel that it’s had less love shown to it. With time and money it would look fantastic.
It’s set out in a large square walled garden with the mausoleum at the very centre. From the middle of each side a water channel lined with fountains leave from small pavilions and head into the centre. In the middle of each quadrant are raised octagonal platforms with a shallow pool in each of them.
All the paths are raised, or the gardens sunken, depending on your view point. The ground is set to lawn with large trees for shade. Whether this is based on the original plan I do not know
The mausoleum is raised up by some 20 feet on a large platform. A tower occupies each of the corners with a small mosque off to one side.
As you enter the building changes from a square on the outside to an octagon on the inside. The tomb chamber occupies the basement and is able to be viewed from the ground floor via a large opening surrounded by a foot high balustrade. The chamber is open all the way to the large domed ceiling with lattice work panels on 4 sides to allow the light in.

On the walk back to the hotel I passed along a river, on the opposite bank was a quite well preserved section of the old city wall. There are several gates still standing outlining the boundary of the old city and I passed through a couple of them.

Friday 23rd

After agreeing to the take a road trip I was given the offer of a free a/c car ride today. I asked for a rickshaw instead, it’s much more fun. It was only a 30km ride to the ellora caves, so I had a lie in and left at 9am.

Arriving almost an hour later, well the rickshaw is only a 175cc and there were hills to go up. The caves are split into 3 groups, Buddhist, Hindu and Janin. I went to the Buddhist caves 1st.
Although they are similar to the ones at Ajanta they are just a damn sight more impressive. There are 16 caves in this group and I started at number 1. By the time I made it to number 16 my mouth was suffering from rsi caused by going “wow” far too much.
As always a picture says a 1000 words…so off you go!
The last Buddhist cave, well it wasn’t really a cave. All they had done was find a large amount of rock and then started digging. As they dug, they carved. What rock the left was amazing. As I was walking around cave 16 a grandpa with a gaggle of grandkids came up to me. All of them wanted to take turns looking through the lens. No problem but holding onto my camera to make sure it wasn’t dropped was difficult. Then, 4 of the kids demanded to be photographed…

Back on the rickshaw for the 1000m blast up the road to the Janin caves (it hit 41oc so I wasn’t going to walk). From the approach they looked really disappointing, however their beauty was hidden behind unassuming entrances.
At the Hindu caves, the 1st one was a huge expanse of removed rock which was very similar to the main temple on Elephanta Island only better! From there the rest of the smaller temples spread out along an arching pathway, that although was closed off there was on one around….

The fort

This stronghold remained undefeated until someone bribed the gate keepers. I can see why!
Behind 5km of defensive walls lies the main keep. Built on a huge chunk of rock with sheer cliff faces reaching up 200m. Surround that with a wide deep moat and make the only entrance a narrow stairway through bat infested passageways.
It took me 40 minutes and a litre of water to get to the top .were the views worth it? Yep! One half of the 360 view were steep hills the other open plains leading across the countryside to the horizon.

Today if I were charging a R5 modelling fee I would have made enough to pay for the ice cold beer I’m drinking right now. For some reason dad’s want their 4 year old sons to pose with me. At one point I had a kid hanging off each arm as I did a “bulldog pose” …not my idea honest!

Friday, 16 May 2008

looks like i'm the only white boy in town

Wow, what a difference 165 kms and 4 hours make!

The train was amazingly long and it took me nearly 5 minutes to walk from the back of the train (where everybody was literally fighting to get onto the cheap seats) to my second class a/c carriage. The train pulled slowly out of the station and gradually built up speed. As I looked out of the window, passing the poorer parts of Mumbai, I found it strange, to say the least, to see people squatting in between the tracks taking their early morning bowel movements for the entire world to see!

The small town of Nasik (pop.1.2 million) straddles the banks of the Godavari River, which is one of the holiest rivers in India. This town is host to the Kumbh Mela which is held every 12 years. Imagine up to 30 million Hindu pilgrims all coming here to bathe in the holy waters. Luckily for me it’s not on at the moment!

The station was 8 kms from the hotel and a cheap auto rickshaw ride took me all the way. Although I did have my eyes closed on a couple of occasions as the driver weaved his way in and out of the traffic which only sometimes obeyed the rules of the road!

The hotel I’m staying in is 5 times cheaper than the one in Mumbai and it’s so much better. I’ve even got cable TV. It’s nice to be able to watch BBC World to get a non Indian view of what’s happening in the world.

It is a short walk from the hotel to the river and here I feel for the 1st time I’m seeing India. The river is controlled by a weir and some of the flow is diverted into a large shallow tank. Flanked by steps on two sides people come here to wash their clothes and bathe themselves in the holy water. Of course the kids just have fun splashing around.

Along the river banks are temples and shrines with the pungent smell of incense blowing on the wind.

Being here it feels like I’m the only white boy in town and as such I’m getting loads of stares as I walk around. No different to Acton high street really. I’ve had several people come up to me just to talk which is a great change from last week! One family came up to me and after shaking all of their hands at least twice I posed for minutes with all the family whilst photos were taken. Then it was the turn for individual pictures with each family member followed by more handshakes and words of thanks. Sure did put a smile on my face!

After a late afternoon siesta I bimbled around some more by the river soaking up the views at night. By now I was getting hungry and I found a great little restaurant near the hotel. The A/C was on and the beer was cold and cheap. When I was ordering my meal the young man did the shaking of the head thing that only Indians seem to do. Reminded me of watching “goodness gracious me” on the TV

Saturday 17th

It’s my 1st full day here in Nasik and to be honest apart from people watching down by the river there’s not much else to do. You know what, that just suits me fine. In the morning I just sat and watched the waters go by and in the heat of the afternoon I lounged on my bed with the fan on full and the large windows open. Lying there watching BBC world, espn and axn was just heaven. In the relative cool of the evening I wandered around the narrow streets of the old part of town, either side of the river. Last night I found this restaurant near the hotel and tonight I’m back again. I’m in the “posh bit” i.e. it’s got a/c. it’s dimly lit and sparsely populated…nice!

Right now I am glad Chelsea aren’t in the FA cup because ESPN is showing the tennis and all the Indian sport channels are showing the cricket!

For regular followers of my travels you may have noticed that on my photo website the photos have become smaller. The reasons for this are

• No one really looks at the pictures full size
• Smaller photos upload quicker

I’ve started to map out a route, well kind off, and so far I’ve reached Goa. I should get there sometime in June. Hopefully before the monsoon does and I’ll try and avoid the beaches as much as possible. I still want to go diving, which is the main point of going there. For those of you who can’t understand going to Goa and avoiding beaches…I hate sand! Blame my parents and childhood summer holidays in the West Country. Mind you if I find a nice pebble beach that would make me more than happy.

Earlier on in the evening I was hanging out on the steps down by the river when a local sat down beside me. His age was hard to determine and as carbon dating only works on the dead I was slightly at a loss. Dressed in orange from head to foot with a large wooden shaft at his side I guessed he was a Hindu holy man. Like me, he didn’t bother with learning a foreign language which is where the “point to it” dictionary came in. I think I managed to explain my travels to him as did he to me. Mind you the map of India was small and for a skinny man he had amazingly large fingers. I said my goodbyes but when I got up to leave his hand wrapped around my wrist tightly. He talked quickly and intensely but unfortunately the “point to it” dictionary didn’t have any pictures of the metaphysical world. So, with either blessing or a warning ringing in my ears I departed stage right.

10 days in India and so far I’ve had more Chinese food than Indian. When I was in Iran I was hanging out for some dim sum and chicken fried rice! So far the only “Indian food” I’ve had has been chicken curry and chicken tikka both of which I can get in England. I’ll be in India for 5 months so there is plenty of time to taste al sorts of things and enjoy the after affects….
Sunday 18th

A lazy and happy Sunday. Brought my train ticket for Tuesday and hopefully I filled out the form properly and will be seating in an A/C carriage! I’ve even booked a hotel for when I get there and splashed out £8 a night for a room with air conditioning. It will be nice to wake up in the morning with body hair that doesn’t resemble a dew laden lawn on an early spring morning.
As it was a Sunday I lazed in front of the TV, channel surfing and by complete luck came across the French motogp…sweet! For the next 45 minutes it was all ooh’s and arh’s.

In the evening I ended up in your classic Indian boozer and enjoyed a couple of cold beers. Out of the dozen or so customers I am the only one with a beer. These locals sure do enjoy drinking the whiskey. Bagpiper seems to the brand of choice here but I’m not sure if it has ever seen Scotland

Monday 19th

Damn, if you thought I was one idle bastard yesterday, this day would leave you in disbelief!

I didn’t leave my hotel room till round 8 pm. I spent the whole day lounging around watching TV. Just because I’m in a foreign city doesn’t mean that I will be out sightseeing everyday. I’ve been on the road for nearly one year and some days all you want to do is “noting at all”

In the evening I needed to refill the wallet. The 1st atm I went to was broken. The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th atm’s all said that there was an error with my card, both of them! Panic…well almost! However the 8th one dished out the cash so I was able to eat tonight and pay the hotel in the morning

Thursday, 8 May 2008


Arriving at the airport without my rucksack put a bit of a damper on things and the long taxi ride to the hotel was slightly blue (either I was upset or swearing…I’ll let you choose)

After Iran, the 1st thing that hit me was the thickness of the air. From 3 weeks spent at 1000-15000 metres to sea level was noticeable. The 2nd thing to grab my attention were the smells, many of them, lingering in the lazy humid air fighting for dominance with every inhalation.

Arriving at the hotel at 04:30 in the morning I crashed out. Later in the morning with a mouth feeling like a mouse’s backside I went shopping. Toothpaste, soap, pants, socks and a T shirt and then back to the hotel for a wash and scratch!

My 1st impression of walking down the street in India was just how rude everyone was. Those that wanted to chat were either street sellers of tourist tat or low level drug pushers trying to convince me “that it was really good shit man!” Guess I’ve gotten used to the Persian “relaxed way of life”

Aside from the initial Hubble and Bubble of life, which within a few days I’m sure I’ll get use to, I feel the heat might take a few weeks.

Hopefully with several flights a day between Dubai and Mumbai my gear will be on one of them and at some point tomorrow I’ll have my bag in my room. Otherwise it will be a day of shopping to replace everything. Well, not everything, just the essentials. Mind you this way I should be able to reduce the weight of the bag by halve!…you see…positive frame of mind (but if you add up all that I may of lost it comes close to £ strong young man!)

I’ve booked a room at Bentley’s hotel in the Colaba part of Mumbai. According to the lonely planet it’s the best budget hotel in the area…now that is scary! It does have a ceiling fan in the room and it’s just around the corner from the sea. The sea is never going to win any awards for best place in India to swim. Imagine a water colour that you couldn’t believe fish would swim in. Try brown and then reduce it to a four letter word with none of the original letters left! After that add some rubbish and spilt diesel and that about covers it!

Well it’s only been 17 hours in India and I have to admit its starting to grow on me already (this may not be a good thing…it could be a growth!)

Beer: now I was wondering how it would feel to sink a pint of beer, the 1st in 3 weeks. I did so at an Irish pub in terminal two of Dubai airport…sad I know. The 1st beer I wasn’t sure of so I just had to have another, just to make sure you understand.

Friday the 9th

After a long peaceful night of sleep I awoke fresh and eager to explore. My feet 1st took me to the “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja Vastu Sangra Halaya” formerly known as the Prince of Wales museum! At the ticket office I had my 1st experience of tourist prices. An Indian national had to pay R15 to enter whilst everyone else had to pay R300. On the plus side you do get a free audio guide tour…what a bargain! (That’s me being sarcastic).
I spent about 90 minutes inside before heading out onto the mean streets of Bombay. Now I know it’s now called Mumbai but Bombay just sounds better.
I headed across the land from seafront to seafront and managed to get lost a few times. Form Colaba, through the ford and churchgate districts and along the waterfront to chow patty beach. After that it was into Kotachiwadi and the Opera House area. By 1pm I needed to hit the shade and let the sweat evaporate…
By now I was a few miles from my hotel so I caught a suburban train half the way back. Very scarily the train doors don’t close, even between stations!
So far the only locals I’ve talked with have been street sellers, drug dealers and shoe shine boys and I missed saying the word “yes” as opposed to “no” and “go away” (and mastering complete indifference, which I do so well!) So when a retired teacher started to talk to me on the train I was more than happy to while away the time with meandering conversations. We ended up in a typical Indian bar for a slow beer on a long afternoon.

Tuesday 13th in the evening…having a beer

It’s now my 6th day in Mumbai. I had only planned on staying till yesterday. I have still yet to get my rucksack. I’ve almost given up all hope of ever seeing it again. I’ve added up what the contents will cost to replace and it comes to over £1400. Emirates better pay up or I’ll go online and lodge a claim in the small claims court in england, which you can do in this day and age. To say that I am frustrated would be putting it mildly. In Dubai they have identified my bag but despite several requests they have continually failed to put it on the fu%king plane. However when you are in a situation that no matter what you do has no effect on the outcome you just have to relax and enjoy the experience…I’m trying real hard!
So today, for a change from the normal routine of the last few days, which is basically phoning up the airline baggage office (which can either take 1 minute or 3 hours as they don’t queue the calls…all you get is a ring tone or an engaged tone which is 99.99% of the time) I went on a trip to Elephanta Island which is found in the middle of the bay.

The crossing took about an hour and the cooling sea breeze was very welcome. The reason for the trip was to see the Hindu shrines cut into the caves and rock. Once off the boat you have a short walk to the 1st ticket office. Here everybody pays a R5 landing fee, this maybe the only time in India that happens! From there you walk up the 120 or so steps up the hill, which are crowded either side with tourist tat sellers, to the main entrance. For R200 I got the smallest entrance ticket ever. It was about the size of a large stamp but it got me passed the guards.
After the climb I needed to sit in the shade and cool off for 5 minutes with a nice cold drink. Unfortunately a thieving monkey grabbed the bottle which I had placed next to me. It then growled at me and for a small monkey it had very large and sharp teeth! It then proceeded to unscrew the cap and pour himself a drink…what a bastard!
Anyway onto the caves. The main cave or temple is fairly large with pillars carved from the rock. The ceiling had at one time been covered in frescos but they have long since disappeared. The real draw of the place was the sculptured reliefs hewn from the “living rock”. They are about 13 to 15 hundred years old and despite the cultural damage to some of them they remain impressive in both size and detail.

The boat ride back was cool and the fan in my hotel room kept me that way.

At this point we need a flashback to 19:30 on Sunday. There I was in the local sports bar surrounded by red shirted wearing locals watching the scum of Manchester win another league title. Lets hope that Chelsea win in Moscow!

Thursday 15th

Well it is my last full day in Mumbai; thank fu%k for that!

Yesterday morning I got a call from reception that someone from Emirates had turned up. Yippee…he’ll have my rucksack I thought as I raced to the front desk. Nope…all he had was a claims form…bugger!

I now have a new rucksack; well it’s a soft suitcase with some rucksack style shoulder straps. It only cost me R1000...think I was overcharged!

So now my bags will have clothes and a wash kit and nothing else. I’ll tell you this if at any point on my trip I die from exposure or contaminated water will someone sue Emirates!

Tomorrow morning I’m catching the 6am train. Yes I’m that keen to leave Bombay

Saturday, 3 May 2008


The bus journey, on Saturday, from Yazd to Shiraz was long and rather uneventful. Spending hours looking at dusty arid scrub land can only hold one’s attention for so long. Throughout the 7 hour ride only two things caught my eye. The 1st was a lone cyclist, on a fully loaded bike, slowly making his way uphill under the midday sun. It was the first time since I had started travelling again after my winter break that I wasn’t envious. I think I am finally over my “I wish I was still on my trike” frame of mind. The other thing was an artic lorry, not that unusual in most countries but this one had a Tesco trailer!

Looking at the town map of Shiraz in the guide book you see a main street running east to west through the main part of the town. After Esfahan, I had high hopes of a slightly peaceful tree lined boulevard. Sadly what I got was a dual carriageway with the opposing lanes separated by a raised strip of grass. This being Iran, the dual carriageway had between 4 and 7 lanes of traffic travelling on it at anyone time!

I arrived here in the mid afternoon and at least this hotel has a window (It also has aircon that I have no control over and so I was forced to use a blanket to keep me warm during the night). In the evening a lazy walk around the neighbourhood was all I felt like doing. I did happen to walk pass a cake shop…mmm.

On the Sunday I was up early for the 25 minute walk to the botanical gardens of Bagh-E-Eram or Garden of Paradise. The name is a bit of a stretch but some of the plants and their settings were worth the walk. However having to pay 40000 rials to get in was a slightly high price to pay. The evening meal I had the night before cost less than that!

From there I went to a place of pilgrimage for many Iranians and this time it wasn’t to a mosque or a religious shrine but rather a simple tomb. It was the final resting place for the Iranian poet Hafez. He was born here in Shiraz in about 1324 and even now in the present day his poetry evokes strong emotion and devotion in the population. Many people when they visit perform “faal-e-Hafez“. This involves opening a page of his poetry book at random and finding a guide to the future from within the pages. Whilst I was there, many people stood at his tomb, ran their fingers over the inscription and then opened the book and became lost in deep thought.

A short walk away is the Imamzadeh-Ye-Ali-E-Hamze. This is the shine for the nephew of the 7th Shitte Imam. It is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever been inside. I was unable to take any pictures and for once I am happy that I wasn’t able to. I really feel that my camera would have struggled to match what my eyes saw. Once inside all you can see are multicoloured mirrored tiles which……and I’m not going to tell you anymore about it! Get off your fat arse and come and see for yourself!

One thing that I have learnt in my time here in Iran is that if you sit down anywhere for more the 5 minutes someone will join you and start up a conversation. Because I was walking around everywhere and the sun was shining I had a lot of conversations today. Not that I mind but sometimes all you want is to sit down for 5 minutes in the shade and not 45 minutes.

In the late afternoon I visited the Arg-E-Karim Khani. It’s a square fortress with a circular tower at each corner. One of the towers has more of a lean than the one at Pisa and the guys from Italy weren’t able to help with this one! Inside is a small citrus orchard divided into four equal squares with a long narrow pool in the middle. It was, at one point in its history used as a prison. Once I had left the fort I sat down outside in the shade, can you guess what I did for the next 60 minutes…

The next day (Monday 5th) I, along with a fellow English guy called Kes who is staying at the same hotel ( shared a taxi and the expense to travel to 4 archaeology sites near Shiraz


The ancient city of Pasargadae began life under Cyrus the Great in about 546 B.C. What is left of the city today covers a large area. So it was nice that the taxi driver drove us between each monument. Out of the 6 of them the most impressive was the Tomb of Cyrus. Standing large in the flat landscape it seemed to be bigger than it was. It’s no where the size of the mausoleum in Bodrum but at least it is still standing. Guess no fort building Christian soldiers got this far!


At this site are the 4 rock hewn burial chambers of Darius I, Artaxerxes I, Xerxes I and Darius II. Each of them follows the same basic design of a large cross shaped relief with the burial chamber entrance in the middle. Sadly there was no way to get inside, well unless you carry a long ladder with you at all times and were able somehow not to be noticed by the site guards. Below each of them was carved relief’s depicting the more dramatic scenes of their reigns.


Across the main road from the rock tombs is this little site with some nice carved relief’s cut out of or into the rock face…I can never tell which way round it is


The best was saved till last. This city was the hub of the 1st Persian (Achaemenid) empire and construction began here in 518 B.C under the guidance of Darius the Great. The city was “lost for centuries under a cover of dust and sand before being rediscovered in the 1930’s. For a more detailed description check out a website.

As Arthur Upham Pope wrote “the beauty of Persepolis is not mere size and costly display; it is the result of beauty being specifically recognised as sovereign value”

In the evening an enjoyable meal in a nice restaurant with Kes was had and afterwards we went to a coffee shop and I had my fingers crossed! Now it’s been 20 days since I have had a coffee and man, did I really want one! Inside the empty coffee shop I asked for an espresso and my hopes faded a little when I was brought a large cup of black liquid. Turns out it was a really good coffee and it was an espresso…a damn big one…happy days!

For my last full day in Shiraz and therefore Iran I just walked around and ended up talking to an old man (an ex lawyer) who had mad starring eyes and at the end of every sentence would lean forward and poke me in the chest with his bony finger by way of exclamation. So, just for fun when he asked me what my religion was I answered “Sfauism”. I then proceed to tell him all about the long and detailed history of Sfauism and how in fact Islam had been influenced by it! I know, it was wrong but it was far too much fun not to do it!

So there you go…that was Iran. An absolutely great country with some of the friendliest people on the planet. I fully recommend that if you have the chance to come here you should, it’s something that you will not regret.