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EVEREST TREK - DAY ONE

From Kathmandu to Lukla to Phaking

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It was an early rise for our first day of trekking and there is nothing worse than an alarm failing to alarm at the given hour! Not a good start! Luckily our guide, Aspur, was ready and raring to go and paid a visit to our hostel just in the nick to time to shake us awake and get up to the airport. There was no real need to panic however, as a 6:30am flight here never really means 6:30am.

Our little 15 seater plane looked more like a tin toy than a flying machine, and for a moment I wondered if Andy was going to be able to squeeze in there. I was very surprised to find a smiley air-hostess inside handing out cotton wool and boiled sweets for the journey - not sure where she was going to sit though? From my seat I could pratically touch the left propellor and if my window had been open I would have been tempted to reach out to the awesome mountains as we nearly clipped them. My arm pratically turned blue from Andy's tight grip as we experienced slight turbulence, but I was too busy gazing at the tiny lego-like huts scattered below. The runway at Lukla (which I have named 'Lucky') is notoriously short and dangerous, so you have got to be quite lucky to land and stop in time. Even the Nepali women on our plane were praying and singing as we came clattering down! Now I know why these planes are so small.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped into the 2800m altitude air was the rather chilly wind, so I was relieved to find we were stopping for some warming tea and toast before we trudged on. I have named our team 'THE FOREVEREST GANG', because as we have started with a rest I am sure will be wanting many more as we climb the biggest mountain in the world. I am sure Aspur can probably do this whole trek in a day mind you. We actually call him Oscar because we don't really know how to pronounce his real name, and his English is minimal so we don't understand him half the time anyway. We get by though, and we all smile and nod most of the time even when we have no idea what is being said. Hilarious.

The first leg of the tail is a clearly marked path through several villages and fields. It is a relatively flat terrain and we barely met any traffic confronting us, apart from a few sherpa's or a couple of yaks. The yaks are relatively tame and well controlled, and they look so soft and fluffy that I could almost cuddle one, but that would probably mean loosing an eye from their wavy, pointy horns. So, I'll just take a few pictures for now!

As we plodded along we were joined by a fourth member of our team - Monty the Mountain Mutt, who unlike most of the mongrels we have seen he was plump and healthy and he really liked me. He plodded along in front or took up the back to ensure we were all in line. He brightened my day anyway and gave me a distraction from the cold.

Arriving at our destination village: Phakding (my name for it is 'Fat King' because I think it is important to change the names of places so you remember then! ?) was a bit of a shock because it didn't feel like we had walked far at all. It only took us two hours so we were there by 11am, which meant we had most of the day to acclimatise and ..do what we do best...rest! The Snowland Lodge where we were staying was our first experience of mountain accomodation and we were not surprised to find that it was very basic, made out of wood, and had gaps in every join for that chilly wind to seep through and bite you. I was getting a bit grumpy when the owners still had the door open at 6:30pm and they didn't put the fire on until 8pm! I have to admit now that I do get very grouchy when I am cold, so it's not looking good for Andy that I am freezing on the first day.

We had a nice hearty meal of the traditional Nepalise cuisine - Dhal Bhat, Rice and Curry before rushing to our sleeping bags to get cosy. ahhh!

Posted by AndyGem 21:28 Archived in Nepal Tagged foot Comments (1)

Recovering in Nepal

Few days of rest in Kathmandu

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Although the streets of central Kathmandu are busy, they are actually a welcome relief from crazy, disordered Delhi. There is still pollution and people hassling but it is not half as bad or exhausting. Our first impressions of Nepal are in comparison to India, so it seems more afluent, cleaner and friendlier, and it feels great to be able to relax and recover from our chesty coughs.

Our only aim for the next three days is to prepare for the Everest trek, find a guide and beef ourselves up! There seems to be many more influences to the cuisine here, so we are spoilt for choice with variety.. it was absolutely heaven to eat a crispy, stonebaked Haiwan pizza on our first night, with no rice or spice in sight. Happy Days! We have also found a magnificent bakery which sells giant, doorstopper slabs of carrot cake and Andy can get his sugar-rush from the scrimmy chunky, choc-chip brownies. Food for the Gods as Nanny would say!

Purely by chance we stumbled across 'TrailFinders' where the lovely Janitor is an expert on organising treks. Her deal was a lot cheaper and reasonable than the shifty guy at the hotel, so easy peazy, all booked! So, all we have time for now is to sleep and eat! I'm not sure how many of these businesses manage to run efficiently with all these power cuts we are experiencing. Due to the lack of water the hydro electric power souce is low and there is no electricty for 14hrs of the day. It hasn't caused us too many problems because we brought six torches with us - which no longer seems excessive!

After reading through our insurance to check we are covered for Everest - yes, 'Trekking on foot (remote and mountainous areas) tick!, I also noticed there are other 'hazardous activities' which we can partake in throughout our travelling - Tug of War, Polevault, Wrestling, Highland Games, Twirling, Farm Work and War Games. Could come in handy, I fancy a bit of Twirling! ?

We won't be doing anything too strenuous at the moment though, as we have found it a bit too easy to have a little snooze every so often - especially a power nap in the afternoon. This must be what retirement life is like - bring it on!

We have been told the Everest Trek is a well-trodden path and it is very popular in high season, but it will be nice and quiet up there now because it is a lot colder, luckily we have a guide who can show us the way because I will be completely covered to keep warm, even my eyes! There is very few places in Nepal which have not been discovered, so trekking here is not a wilderness experience. Even in the high mountains, small settlements of stone houses and yak pastures dot every possible flat space. People truly live off the land here, something us Westerners find it hard to comprehend.. What!? No Heinz Tomato Sauce?? Outrage!

I am a little nervous about being cold and being affected by altitude, but we have hired thick down, puffer jackets and -20 sleeping bags. All the gear over here has some sort of brand on it... North Face etc, but I'm not convinced of their orginality, they better do the job anyway! The only thing left to do now is pack, and eat, and sleep! :)

Posted by AndyGem 22:45 Archived in Nepal Tagged packing Comments (0)

One Country Down

Overview of India

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As advised by Lonely Planet I don't think anything can prepare you for India, with all its mind-bending diversity. But prehaps the one thing that best encapsulates this extraordinary country is its ability to inspire, frustrate, thrill and counfound all at once. We have both loved it and loathed it, often see-sawing between the two. Here is a quick round-up of the best and worst bits from our three weeks of Indian travel:

HIGHLIGHTS:

- Gorging on giant prawns on the beautiful backwaters in Alleppey, Kerala
- Witnessing the Wild Elephants bathing in their natural habitat
- Soaking up the sun on the desolate beaches in South Goa
- Munching on melon in a lush garden surrounded by power-walking Mumbai residents
- Laughing with the Welsh on the train back to Delhi
- Marvelling at the amazing Taj Mahal, which is just as beautiful as all the pictures
- Not getting ill! Hurrah!

LOWLIGHTS:

- The constant, unadulerated NOISE! Honking, Engines, Shouting, Barking, Squarking, Shouting.
- Smelly, stinky, rabied, wild animals.
- Lack of any order, organisation, time-keeping and urgency.
- Contrast of squalor and poverty with rich, excessiveness.
- Absolute 24hr harrassment, scamming, and bombardment
- Chicken on the bone. In every chicken dish it does get rather annoying.

So, we are off to Nepal now for more adventures. I will post up pictures and more blogs soon. x

Posted by AndyGem 22:21 Archived in India Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Dirty Delhi!

Sightseeing in Delhi and a trip the Taj

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Leaving the peacefulness and luxury of the train at New Delhi station was hard!

The taxi, hotel and rikshaw drivers were relentless in trying to get us to part with our rupees. Our patience by now was wearing thin and then we started becoming more aggressive in telling them to go away.
To get to our hotel we walked through the Main Bazzar which is a very primitive 'high street'. The road was made from mud and rock with tourists, locals, cows and vehicles all battling through. Expecting the worst from the hotel we were pleasantly surprised, hot water, tv and illegal beer sales all available!
We made it to the first tourist attraction, India Gate which is a statue very similar to the Arch de Triumph in Paris. The Indian Governement are not very big on providing information for anything so sadly I can't share any interesting historical facts with you as we didn't learn any! After lunch and booking the train tickets for Agra (Taj Mahl) we retired to the quietness of the hotel room to rest.

Next day we rose early to get the train to Agra but unfortunately we weren't able to secure the ticket as we were only on the waiting list, so went back to bed which wasn't so bad really. After a lie in we went to discover Old Delhi which was very chaotic, walking through many streets it was evident that each street had a speciality whether full of DIY shops or car spares or butchers, so I suppose it was organised chaos. One street was brought to a complete standstill due to a power cable having fallen onto the road, as there is no National Grid in India a man armed with string and a bamboo ladder hung precariously from a post and tied it back up, this success was met with more headache inducing honking of the horns!
The Old Town has the largest mosque in Delhi which we toured around the inside, very impressive but no immediate conversion to Islam planned. In the afternoon we walked to the Red Fort which was hazardous as the pavements here seemed to be used as toilets and hence stink so walked down the road weaving in and out. The Red Fort looked very impressive from the outside with the perimeter of the walls being 2km. Inside was slightly disappointing as all the mini palaces are in a dilapidated state and there are no information points to read. By this time we were tired and rather than walk back we took a cycle ricksaw for the first....and last time. The driver was young and friendly but did feel quite harsh sitting in the back as he struggled and started dripping sweat as we went up several hills. We chose a vegetarian restaurant, more by accident really but the food was good and retired to bed early ready to catch our train at 5:15am.

The next morning we finally got on the train to Agra, after 3 hours we arrived. Aware that there were plenty of sites to see and we only had one day we opted to hire a rickshaw for the day with a driver who had plenty of recommendations. Our first stop was breakfast on an outside balcony with monkeys swinging froms the trees above, highly amusing when one pooped on a German tourist! We went to see the 'baby Taj' in the morning which was very impressive, learning plenty of history from our driver. We then went to the back of the Taj and walked across the now dry river banks to within 50m of the Taj which provided great photos (soon to uploaded). We saw some very small scale farmers working the land and the mud huts they lived in, but these were actually the lucky ones as there were many beggers on the streets and sadly lots of homeless children that just lived in the train station at Agra.
After lunch we visited a workshop where the guilded Taj restoration team worked and saw first hand how the stones and gems are worked into one another.

We had to queue to get into the Taj which is always a struggle in India, forming a line and keeping to it is not something they like. Inside it was amazing and well worth the trip and early start. The gardens surrounding it were well maintained and design was so clever. By raising the building 3m above ground level when you looked at it the backdrop as nothing but blue sky. We spent a couple of hours walking around the huge grounds and also inside. The Taj took 22 years and 20,000 workers to build and was done so by a King as an act of love to his wife (Gem now has big expectations!), sadly the son of the King fell out with his father and locked him up in a tower of the fort that had views of the Taj for the rest of his days. Sad story but absolutely amazing building.

The train ride home was another highlight as we shared a carriage with 2 middle aged welsh holiday makers who travelled up from Goa. They were shocked by Goa, Agra and Delhi were on a whole different level so they had a good moan. They saw a women going to the toilet on the platform, a story we heard several times throughout the journey. But it was good to talk to other tourists and comforting to know they found it as hard as we did. We spoke to a Lieutenant General from the Indian Army on the train who said the trains run of a whim and are poorly organised, that said though we did enjoy all our train journeys and suffered less delays than Virgin.

Another early start the next day, 3:30am and off to the airport, Gem was suffering with a snotty nose but we were glad to be leaving and looking forward to the Nepal adventure. We booked the tickets to Nepal through edreams online, sadly Indian Airlines had no record of this so we had to buy news tickets. Very annoying but we had no option at the time and will resolve it from Nepal.

Travelling through India was an unforgettable experience for so many reasons. We did enjoy it and it was challenging at times but the important things are we saw what we wanted, did what we wanted, didn't get ill and are now ready for stage 2 of the trip - NEPAL!

Posted by AndyGem 02:53 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

Pit Stop in Mumbai

Sightseeing in Mumbai then train to Delhi

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Stepping off the train at Mumbai at 6am was a rather eery experience. At first when we saw lots of bodies fully wrapped in sheets like mummies we thought there was a mass funeral going on... only to realise that people chose to sleep like that. We have not been privy to poverty on our travels, but walking around at the crack of dawn allows insight into a deeper level of humanity. Whole families living and sleeping under the shadow of a bridge, men curled up on cardboard surrounded by snoozing mongrels, pavements swarming with people crouching, praying, begging and sleeping under sheets. And we hadn't even stumbled into one of the many slums that Mumbai is famous for.

Amongst the dingey, dark alleys we came across a hive of activity and commotion. A fruit maket was being set up under a canopy and once our white faces were spotted we were the centre of amazement. My attention, however, was focused on the mountians of fresh produce; Glorious, golden melons, all symmetrically piled up in pyramids; Ripe, Bursting figs carefully wrapped in paper to preserve their flesh; Boxes of pomegrantes; Buckets of oranges, lemons, limes; Piles upon piles of pineapples, apples, grapes. (You get the idea!) Having sacrificed most fruits through fear of repercussions I decided that it would be worth the time spent on the toilet if I could gorge myself on a giant salad. Andy restricted me to one Galia melon and a Juicy pineapple before I bartered for several truck loads.

We went off in search of a quiet spot to feast on our purchases and got dropped off at Malabar Hill, which is part of an exclusive neighbourhood. After climbing a few steps we were met with what can only be described as The Shari's & Trainers Garden - A bit like a coffee morning but instead of sitting and drinking, there is meeting and walking. Hundreds of well-to-do Mumbai residents congregate at this lovely, well kept green space and power walk round to supposedly loose a few samosas from their hips. Other groups gathered for yoga or meditation or laughter sessions; while we sat in the middle, smelling the flowers, chomping on our melon and giggling to ourselves. The best way to describe what we saw is epitomised on a statue carving: 'Experience confirms that friends who regularly meet and walk in the garden have remained healthy and fit for the day'.

The dawn gave way to the early morning sunshine and we watched the views as India's financial city came alive. Glistening skyscrapers and malls embody the vogue centre of fashion and film while the dirty, rubble of the slums reflect the grinding poverty. As we only had one day to explore we set off for a glimpse of Chowpetty Beach and walked to Mani Bhanvan - which was the residence of Gandhi when he visited Mumbai, and has now been turned into a museum in his honour. Known as Mahatma (Great Soul) Gandhi he is one of the great figures of the 20th Century and fought for peace and justice. I did not realise how much he influenced Indian politics or how he wrote to Hitler to halt the fighting or how he campaigned to get rid of the British. We saw his frugle possessions and I can confirm that his flip flops are very dry.

After a few pictures at the recently terrorised Taj Mahal Palace and the impressive Gateway to Inida we prepared for the dreaded, longest train journey yet... 1400km to Delhi, taking 17 hours. It started well when we saw our own private booth and the guard informed me that "Puplett" was a type of fish in India, probably not spelt the same though. Not jusy any old, scaly Trout I'll have you know... no, it's a very expensive, sort-after delicacy. I'm yet to find out any more information but Andrew will have to take better care of me now that I am considered a rareity! :) The journey just got better when our charismatic waiter brought us snacks and told us about the service of dinner and breakfast. We felt like Posh and Becks in our carriage as the concrete gave way to the green hills outside. Inscribed on one of the fields was a giant Om symbol, Buddists believe that, if repeated often enough and with complete concentration it will lead to a state of blissful emptiness, "aummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, aummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, aummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, aummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, aummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm"
Yup, that works!

Train service:

If someone could ring up Richard Branson and inform him of the kind of service we should be accustomed to in First Class..

Snacks: Real tea, Cheese Sandwich, Vege Pakora, Coconut ice, Salted Cashewnuts, Bar of Dairy Milk

Dinner: Bowl of Green Pea soup, Fresh fish covered in spices, steamed veg and pasta. Chicken Masala, Rice, Dahl, Okre salad, Paneer Tikka, Chappati. Yoghurt. Mint Choc Chip ice cream

Breakfast: Tea, Coffee, Friut salad, Masala Omlette, Fresh croissant and jam

Posted by AndyGem 01:24 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

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