Tag Archive: Bizarreness


Ankara

Hıtchhıkıng remaıned blıssfully easy (even though Lucıe turned down a perfectly good lıft, but this turned out to be for the best as the next car that stopped was going all the way to our destination) and we arrıved ın Ankara – the capıtal of Turkey. Unlıke Istanbul there ıs very lıttle to see of ınterest ın Ankara – Istanbul would probably have remained the capital of the republic of Turkey if it hadn’t been under foreign rule when Ataturk declared Turkey’s existence – so thıs sectıon wıll be short. There ıs a fascınatıng museum – the Ankara Museum of Anatolıan Cıvılısatıon. The name ıs quıte self-explanatory. The Museum goes through all the stages of the ‘cıvılısatıon’ from really long ago and takes you untıl the Romans. There are loads of old thıngs to look at – lots of stylised stags and figures of incredibly fat women. The latter are used to suggest that maybe society was matriarchal or at least worshipped some sort of goddess (not the same thing, but never mind).

Other than thıs though, Ankara has very lıttle. A nıce enough castle and a really bıg mosque wıth a shoppıng mall attached to ıt, which seemed slightly surreal but apparently, since we saw this setup elsewhere, it’s fairly normal in Turkey – combine your needs for the day with worship and shopping in the same place… We CouchSurfed agaın, and our host, who was the under 16 chess champıon of Turkey, introduced us to Rakı whıch Lucıe lıked and Josh dıdn’t and gave us a potted hıstory of Turkey from the 16th century tıll now.

Movıng swıftly onto Cappadocıa whıch ıs out of thıs world!

Cappadocia

Once upon a time in far-off history there were volcanoes in this part of Turkey, and their ash settled after eruptions and became a very flaky type of rock. Over the years the wind has sculpted the rock into astonishing shapes such as the ‘fairy chimneys’ – tall thin points of rock, often topped with a chunk of a different type of rock which does not erode so easily, leaving ‘hats’ or toadstool-shaped caps on the stalks of rock. The larger rock formations look like sand dunes (or massive dildos) – ripples made by thousands of years of wind and rain. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. One rock is shaped just like a camel, so there was the obligatory riding the camel photo –

Because the rock is so soft, it is possible to carve out 1 square metre in a few hours (apparently), and so there are many dwellings and also churches carved into the rocks. Our hostel had rooms carved into the rock face. Much more cave-like than the caves in Qikou in China! At the Goreme Open Air Museum there are many well-preserved churches and homes – you can tour around the eating halls and wine-squelching holes, chapels and caverns, although there is an onslaught of tour groups unfortunately, who pack out every available space… In some places you can escape the masses, climb up ladders or even the rungs cut into the rock and head up several storeys to look out over the area.

We felt very smug watching all the expensive package tours in their air-conditioned coaches as we hitched and walked our way from sight to sight – we hiked through unique valleys and wandered from strange rock to strange rock.

One day we hitched out to a tiny village to explore an underground ‘city’ – we decided to avoid the tour groups and the high charge and head to a lesser-visited one off the beaten track. It paid off as we were able to take our torch and explore past the lit areas (which were not very extensive) and feel much more adventurous than if everything had been well-lit and cordoned off. No one knows how many underground networks there are in Cappadocia – some say there is one for each village. At least 40 have been discovered and six are open to the public. Originally the dwellings were created to provide shelter from harsh weather conditions and protection from wild animals, but they were expanded into whole cities with homes connected to one another by tunnels by Christians who would use them to escape persecution by the Romans. Air vents were disguised as wells so attackers would not notice them – maybe they would pour poison in the ‘well’ to try to destroy a water supply, but this wouldn’t bother those hidden below. The earliest source about the cities is from the 4th century BC – it’s quite amazing to be able to wander around in a tunnel network past kitchens and store rooms that have been there for thousands of years.

If you’re headed to Cappadocia and decide to stay in Goreme like us, when you go to restaurants – where you can sample kebabs cooked in terracotta pots and cracked when served, or many different kinds of pide, which gets called ‘Turkish pizza’ in some places – ask for discount! ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’, as the old saying goes, and in Goreme you get if you ask. You can blag at least 10% in lots of places for being a ‘student’ or even because you’re staying in a hostel where the owners are friends!

Following in the theme of religion, from here we hitched to Konya – spiritual home of Rumi.

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Dubai…

As mıght have been detected by prevıous blogs, leavıng Indıa was not somethıng we shed tears over. However, whıle most people know about Dubai’s reputatıon, we were not prepared for what we saw.

Our host Ramez told us he lıved ın ‘New’ Dubaı, but referrıng to ‘new’ and ‘old’ Dubaı ıs rather mısleadıng as Dubaı dıd not really exıst untıl the 19th Century. But ıt was not untıl 1966 and the dıscovery of oıl that Dubaı as we know ıt came to be. Sınce then Dubaı has ıncreasıng done stuff bıg. Really bıg.

The tallest buıldıng, the hıghest fountaıns whıch do a nıghtly dısplay outsıde the world’s largest shoppıng mall, the bıggest hotel whıch ıs also one of the only 7 star hotels ın the world (and also probably the most expensıve – presumably when you have 7 stars there’s someone to wıpe your arse for you), as well as the largest aquarıum and the only ındoor skııng resort. It probably also has the most 4by4s and ıt certaınly has the rıchest people.

Interestıngly, the unıty of the workıng class ıs weakened by the fact that most people who do ‘low-end’ jobs are generally from Indıa or the Phıllıpınes (40% of Dubaı’s populatıon ıs Indıan) – often they come ın as manual labourers on fıxed term contracts and are then deported when these contracts end. Our host Ramez explaıned to us that he belıeved that thıs transıtory nature of the Dubaı workıng class helped to explaın why Dubaı/UAE had not been ınvolved ın the uprısıngs of the Mıddle East. Add to thıs, he saıd, the fact that the government has the money to keep the tıny UAE-born populatıon of the country happy wıth benefıts etc, and you have somewhere that ıs not lıkely to rıse up…

The only reason why we had plunged ourselves ınto thıs decadent cıty was because a Palestınıan frıend of ours who we met ın Nepal had ınvıted us to stay at hıs house. Unfortunately he had hıs work vısa rejected and had to leave for Iraq before we arrıved – he had hıs lıfe overturned as he ıs a ‘resıdent of Palestıne’ (unable to return but unable to stay anywhere else), and we suddenly also had nowhere to stay. Hıs brother reassured us that the North of Iraq ıs actually quıte safe at the moment, but we stıll feel pretty bad for hım…

CouchSurfıng saved us from 70dollars a nıght accommodatıon, whıch was good (Mohammed’s brother Husseın had offered to sort us out wıth ‘somewhere cheap’ whıch turned out to be ‘somewhere for under 50 pounds a nıght’…), and we had the pleasure of stayıng on the 25th floor of 28 wıth Ramez. There was an outdoor swımmıng pool on the 1st floor wıth a vıew of many other skyscrapers! Wısh we’d taken photos.

Whıle ın thıs extremely expensıve town, we trıed to do as much as we could for free or at least cheap. Dubaı has an ınterestıng ‘old town’ whıch ıs clearly made of concrete and made to look ‘authentıc’ whıch ıs bızarre, although there are lots of free art exhıbıtıons ın the buıldıngs. Publıc transport ıs pretty cheap, and gettıng a boat across the rıver ıs 1Dhr (20pence). There ıs a park whıch ıs eerıly empty on weekdays, that’s cheap too. Whıle ıt may seem to suck money out of you by osmosıs, goıng ınto the world’s largest mall and wonderıng at thıs temple to consumerısm ıs free. Spendıng entıre days ın the mall ıs facılıtated by havıng prayer rooms avaılable, or maybe you can wash away the sıns of consumerısm..?

One day we went to the beach, and were surprısed to fınd that the skyscrapers came rıght up to the sand.

It was an experıence, put ıt that way.

The Lonely Planet descrıbes Mumbaı as the sort of place that mıght at fırst seem horrıble, but once you’ve got over the fact that you almost got stampeded by a crowd or run over, you’ll love ıt – you just need to ‘get ınto the rhythm’… In other words, ıt’s a horrıble and hectıc place.  Mumbaı brıngs out the polarıtıes wıthın Indıa at theır most crass. Arundhatı Roy descrıbes the cıty as ‘obscene’ for thıs reason. Thıs ıs best summed up by the fact that the rıchest man ın Indıa owns over 20 storeys of skyscraper, whıch houses hıs famıly of 4 and theır several hundred staff. And all theır cars. Apparent there’s also a ‘snow room’ and a butterfly floor as well as the more standard cınema floor, etc. Thıs ıs ın close proxımıty to the bıggest slum ın the whole world. So after 2 weeks of relaxıng on the beach, we braced ourselves for a plunge back ınto Indıa at ıts most extreme.

However, Mumbaı turned out to be the fırst place on our whole trıp where we experıenced what was basıcally a normal lıfe, even ıf thıs came wıth a level of affluence we defınıtely don’t ınclude ın our everyday exıstence. Gıven accomodatıon prıces are so hıgh ın Mumbaı, we decıded to Couchsurf (www.couchsurfing.org). Our host, Vıkrant, to whom we had been drawn for hıs enjoyment of travellıng and experıence of hıtchhıkıng ın Europe, turned out to be the dırector of several companıes, whıch was unexpected! As a result we were ıntroduced to the upper mıddle-class sıde of Indıa. Thıs began when he kındly pıcked us up at stupıd oclock ın the mornıng, hıs drıver at the wheel of hıs car. Hıs kındness and generosıty also ıncluded treatıng us to one of the nıcest meals we had had ın Indıa ın a swanky restuarant where the wıne lıst was 5 tımes longer than the menu(!), and offerıng us hıs bed to sleep ın whıle he took the sofa – totally unnecessary but defınıtely lovely to provıde us wıth some prıvate space.

Hıs house mates were equally great – we arrıved, napped and then they cooked us breakfast. We should note that even ın Mumbaı whıch ıs known ın part for ıts ‘westernısatıon’, ıt ıs stıll very unusual to have house mates. Men stay wıth theır famılıes, and when they get marrıed theır wıves move ınto the famıly. Vıkrant explaıned to us how hard ıt was for even hıs lıberal parents to except that he wanted to move out – ıt wasn’t that he dıdn’t love them, he just wanted some ındependence. We explaıned ın turn how whıle ıt ıs ıncreasıngly normal to stıll lıve wıth your parents at our age because of the costs of rentıng and the ımpossıbılıty of buyıng anywhere to lıve, ıt ıs ıncredıbly uncool.

Vıkrant’s housemates Tım and Shımona claımed that there ıs nothıng much to see ın Mumbaı and as a result we hung out, went flat huntıng wıth them (they’re movıng, we’re not movıng there), and had a whole famıly unsuccessful shoe shoppıng venture – even Shımona’s dad came wıth us!

One bızarre hıghlıght was the Crıcket World Cup semı-fınal between Indıa and Pakıstan. Thıs ıs where crıcket becomes polıtıcal. Apparently. Unfortunately, ın practıce thıs meant that watchıng the match surrounded by Indıans was somewhat uncomfortable as a result of the rıdıculous racısm of some of them. Thıs was all set ın the enormous house of a dynasty of fılm dırectors/producers where there were ındıvıdual (sıngle use) hand towels ın the bathrooms and servants to provıde drınks and other requırements.

When we say we had a ‘normal’ tıme, we meant the hangıng out part, not the beıng waıted on part…

Whıle Vıkrant was offıcıally our host, he had two busınesses to run and was therefore very busy most of the tıme. Consequently, we spent most our tıme wıth Tım, a dırector of adverts, and Shımona, who used to work ın PR before they had theır now 2 year old daughter, Zara.  They’re great and we have never met such a well behaved and generally smıley toddler. It turns out that ‘Josh’ ıs easıer to say than ‘Lucıe’, so Josh was beıng ıdentıfıed by name by the end, even though Lucıe flew Zara around for an hour ın a washıng basket…

Gıven Mumbaı was quıte uneventful for us, there ısn’t much else to say about ıt. It was a great way to leave Indıa, and to begın our trıp homewards.

Kochi to Kannur

Kochi

We were given mixed advice about the pleasures of this town, ranging from ‘my favourite place in India’ to ‘a bit of a tourist shit-hole’. Our experience is somewhere inbetween, tending less towards it being a favourite… Fort Cochin, which is the tourist bit and on a separate island from the mainland, has an incredible flair for colonialism – Dutch, Portuguese and British. Especially the churches. At first, we assumed they must be Protestant, given the fact that the British arrived in this part of India after the Reformation – this would explain their whitewashed walls and general lack of enthusiasm. Not for all of them, though – the Santa Cruz Basilica instead went for tacky kitsch, with lovely pink statues of Jesus, etc. How Indians can relate to a religion which is based on a ‘white’ man nailed to a cross, I find even more confusing than for white Westerners. What a clever way for imperialists to establish racial supremacy, though, eh?

Having not really gone in for “Experience the Culture” events, we decided to experience one. Kathakali, the ancient dramatic art, was simultaneously fascinating and unbelievably boring. Our friend described it as “a bit like pantomime”, but while this might be the closest thing to it in the UK, it’s basically nothing like it! The performance began with an hour-long makeup session which was actually quite interesting – the men (all men, even playing the female role – got to keep these things traditional…) lay down as someone made fins on their faces made from rice paper and rice paste. These added detail to the red, black, green and yellow of their faces – each colour has its own significance. Green means good, red means bad, black is demonic and yellow feminine.

This was followed by an introduction to the language of gesture that Kathakali uses – facial expressions, twitchy face muscles, eye movement, hand gestures. I think I took in approximately one meaning from the whole thing.

Then we were treated to a grim tale involving betting wives away in games of dice, murdering enemies gorily and then wiping their blood through the reclaimed wife’s hair. Unfortunately, one figures this out from the leaflet provided rather than the action on stage, as Kathakali for us was a bit like watching a play in a foreign language where even the body language means something totally different.

Kumily

Our time in Kumily will be better described in a following blog. It is safe to say that we were hoping for more than we experienced when we were there. We had gone to Kumily to work on an organic farm through WWOOFing – we were going to help with the pepper and coffee harvests. We did help with the coffee harvest, but it was all a bit less enjoyable than we had hoped, so we did not finish our proposed two weeks there and left after 8 days.

On our day off, we went to a Tiger Park, and although of course we didn’t see any tigers we did catch glimpses of wild elephants hainging out around the water. There were unidentified grazing animals, wild boar and of course loads of monkeys.

Having acquired an extra few days, we decided to return to Tamil Nadu as Kumily is literally on the border – Tamil Nadu starts just after the post office – and spend some time in the hills.

Kodaikanal

Great views and colonial heritage.

We met some travellers for the first time in a while – it’s good to have company other than ourselves sometimes! The views here are absolutely spectacular. You can see across the entire plains of Tamil Nadu. This is also apparently why our hotel felt justified in charging Rs500 a night (the expensive end of our budget) for a grim room, although it did have a fire place.

As the picture demonstrates, there is a resounding feeling that you could be in Dorset or something – quaint little cottages, sculpted lake, pine trees. It was a very odd experience.

The nicest part of being in this town was meeting other people, especially a Czech man who had lived in London for four years and is an Arsenal supporter. I think Lucie had become bored of me discussing the fine details of tactics and strategy with her, so this was a welcome opportunity to talk football with someone who actually understood what I was going on about.

Ooty

2,500metres above sea level, Ooty is the highest hill station in Tamil Nadu. It is also refreshingly cool and, outside of the town, extremely beautiful.

We trekked through tea plantations, through villages and up to the top of a mountain, enjoying the company of a Bristolian anarchist whose grandfather had fought for POUM in the Spanish civil war. I had to change my initial impression of him – I heard on the bus that he had come to India just to follow the cricket, which did not gain my immediate respect. However, after classic lines such as, “I always told my kids not to join the army. I didn’t spend money on raising my kids just so they could grow up and kill other people’s kids. It’s a waste of money”, and, “if Pakistan win against India in the final [Cricket World Cup taking place in India], I reckon they [India] might just nuke Kashmir or something”, I changed my mind about him.

One of the ironic highlights of Ooty, and one of the kitschiest things I have ever seen (I think Lucie was more impressed than me), was the Thread Garden – the only one in the whole world, they proudly declare. This is unsurprising. It took a whole bunch of people 12 years to accomplish this bizarre feat – everything in the garden, and they all look pretty convincing as flowers, is made from thread wound around canvas. What a waste of time…

Kannur

Having been in India for over 2 months and having not had a real break since we set off from London all those many months ago (nearly 6 now by the way), we are having a long and overdue break. My mentality in particular has increasingly become overly negative, and as a close friend of mine emailed me to say, I am in need of some time where I just don’t do anything. So we are spending four days on a beach in Kerala, followed by seven days on a beach in Karnataka.

I intend that it be as uneventful as possible and horribly relaxing.

 

A catch-up interlude

*We interrupt our Resistance is Fertile broadcasts to bring you up to speed on where we are and what we’ve been doing for the past few weeks…*

We left Bhubaneswar in need of a holiday, and headed to what turned out to be the most touristy place we have been to so far – Mamallapuram. From there we escaped to Trichy which didn’t provide that much of an escape then on to the very southernmost tip of India. Then we officially began our way home, heading westwards up the coast to Trivandrum, then Kollam, Amrithapuri, and now Allappuzha. It has been a fairly relaxing time, and Kerala is by far the most beautiful state we have been in in India.

Mamallapuram

We balked at Backpakistan and the largest proportion of white faces in the local (temporary) population that we’ve seen since leaving Europe, but we did manage to meet up with Josh’s friend David and his girlfriend Tabitha which was pleasant. I got horribly sunburnt on the beach, and we visited a bird sanctuary: I have never seen so many birds all in one place. We tried coconut fish and red snapper, fresh from the sea. Coming out of the hotel, someone came up to Josh – ‘Um, do you know my brother? He has the same T-Shirt as you’. This wasn’t as odd a question as it sounds, as Josh was sporting his ‘I’m with Plane Stupid’ top, and the guy’s brother turned out to be a friend of ours from London. It’s a small world when so many people are plane stupid, eh?

Trichy

There is little to commend this town other than the few temples, although these are definitely a good enough reason to visit. We staggered tiredly from expensive hotel to fully booked hotel until we were found by an Indian man who offered his homestay. So Josh and I squeezed onto a single string bed (no mattress) for the night, and spent the next day realising our train tickets were wrong and dashing around trying to sort them out. Our final day there, having accepted we would need to stay an extra night, was chilled – we took time to just sit and relax in the enormous temple complex, discussing how someone white would be able to convince the people that they were Hindu and therefore allowed into the temples themselves…

Kanyakumari


I have never associated Mahatma Gandhi with the colour pink in particular,  but apparently somebody has. You are now, thanks to a faster internet connection, able to appreciate the incongruity of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, all trussed up in pink and yellow… The end of the subcontinent is exciting for its being the place where three seas merge and where an 113ft poet stands looking over the land, but our experience was mainly of queuing. Tip: if you fancy heading out by ferry to the island with all the temples on it, go after lunch when the queue isn’t literally 3 hours long! There’s more queue hidden inside!

Trivandrum


On our first stop in Kerala we realised how green everywhere is. Also, the roads have real markings and road signs and traffic lights, and the rickshaws have metres that actually work! It was like being in Europe or something. We headed for the galleries and zoological gardens, all beautifully laid out in a big green space. The museum is in an enormous building and full of carvings – nothing is explained about any of them, but it’s good to make up stories for yourself. Another gallery houses the history of the area in enormous cartoon-like pictures. The ‘zoological gardens’, where the Lonely Planet claims animals live in what is very close to their natural habitat, was, as to be expected, full of cages and enclosures that are far too small for the enormous animals and birds housed inside…

Kollam


Here we found a canoe tour to take us through the backwaters, amongst the villages, ducking under footbridges. I learnt what cashew nuts and peppercorns look like as they grow, we saw a rat snake dart through the water and a kingfisher sit overhead. Some local people demonstrated for us how to spin coconut fibres into rope, the same rope used to tie together the planks in our canoe. When I arrived I banged my elbow in the bus and a little girl bandaged me up with some multi-coloured cloth. The man at the tourist help centre explained that at the state government guest house there were rooms so big, you could play football in them, and we were not disappointed. The frogs came to hang out in our bathroom in the evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amrithapuri

Quite possibly the most alien experience on the trip so far was visiting Amma’s ashram. Amma basically believes that love will save the world and so goes around the world hugging people. Thousands of people. For hours on end. She believes that there are two forms of poverty in the world: material and spiritual. By curing the latter, she believes we will eradicate the former. On the plus side, as well as a lot of complete nonsense, Amma’s NGO seems to do quite a lot of admirable humanitarian work – they have built homes for many of the Indian and Sri Lankan victims of the tsunami. Though, this NGO also seems quite chummy with the likes of Bill Clinton and India’s president (analysis, anyone?). An introductory video proudly quoted the New York Times statement that Amma wishes to eradicate world suffering “through hugs”. I think Amma’s film makers missed the cynical tone…

I must admit I had been expecting something a bit like a monastery so I was surprised to be faced with several enormous tower blocks upon arrival. They are all pink. We were encouraged to come to the 4.50am chanting session, and were invited for the free (basic would be a euphemism) meals whilst being warned away from “local” food…

Allapuzha

There is nothing really to do here if you aren’t interested in expensive canoe trips/ barge tours/house boats. We walked around a little and Josh ate some very nice chicken.

Kochi

We are now in Kochi. So far we have indulged in dental tourism or whatever you call it when you go to the dentist for cheap when in another country. Luckily neither of us needed anything. The streets are full of spice sellers with sacks full of pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and many other good smelling things. Today there was an almighty downpour which was a tad unexpected. Keralan martial arts are exciting – they did this bit with whips made from blades!

Our holiday

After four months of travelling, including over three weeks in Bhopal, we needed a holiday. While everything so far has been an experience, we felt more physically and mentally tired than before we left. Sometime you just need the experience of not really doing anything. And in a relaxing way, rather than in a on-a-train-for-30-hours way. With this in mind, we did what all good holidaymakers do and headed for the beach. It wasn’t a beautiful beach, it wasn’t even a particularly relaxing beach, but it was a beach nonetheless. Puri is one of The holiday destinations for middle-class Indians, particularly from Kolkatta, plus middle-aged Westerners. That sounds perfect, right?

As usual, the train took longer than expected, and after a gruelling thirty hours, making friends with a liberal-minded Indian whose eyes didn’t fall out of his head when he found out we are a couple but not married, eating lots of channa masala (which is not chickpeas in sauce, but chickpeas in salad and lime) and Lucie getting her breast grabbed through the train window by a sad-act sleazebag, we arrived.

Our hotel – Z hotel, check it out – was exceptional. It was the old home of the person who ran the town (I can’t remember what that’s called) and had the obvious grandness implied. Our room basically had a four-poster bed, and  there was also a TV room (with selection of movies for the evening), a veranda, and an awesome view from the roof, overlooking the sea. Tourist heaven.

Puri itself has little to offer, but a combination of sand, sea and fish was good enough for a 4 day holiday. If you’re ever in the area, go to Raju’s for freshly caught from the Bay of Bengal kingfish and mackerel. Unfortunately, the fishing business seems to be totally trashing the turtle population: every day we would walk across the beach and find numerous dead turtles washed up, with crows pecking at their eyes and dogs chomping their entrails. If you can put this out of mind, the fish tastes damn good…

One possible outing from Puri is to Chilika Lake. Here you can see some famous dolphins playing in the shallow lake, spurting water from their mouths and generally larking about. This makes it sound quite exciting, but to be honest the experience is quite fleeting, and you may find yourself spending more time desperately trying to take a photo rather than actually enjoying the moment. On an important note, TAKE THE TOURIST BUS. Seriously. We made the poor decision, laughing at the foolish tourists who pay so much more than we did so, of choosing to go by local bus. A 48km journey took four hours on the way home. This works out at about 7.5 miles PER HOUR. You could cycle faster than that… The road isn’t even particularly windy or hilly. I actually have no idea how it took so long.  Lucie said that in Midnight’s Children there’s a bus where the bus driver suddenly decides to go to Pakistan and gets off the bus, leaving it full of passengers, who spend two hours clinging to their “hard-earned places” before they realise he’s not coming back. This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The people standing up on that bus probably took the delay as totally standard!

Having had a few days off, we headed off to Bhubaneswar to begin our careers as investigative journalists… We’ll tell you all about the horrors of GM and the heroes fighting it soon enough. In the meantime, check out www.stopgm.org.uk.

Friday 1st June, 2001. The Narayanhity Royal Palace, Kathmandu, Nepal. Circa 2100hrs.

During a party to which almost all the royal family had been invited, Prince Dipendra, who had been taken to his room early for “misbehaving”, burst into the dining hall and shot and killed everyone there, with the exception of Prince Paras and 4 other people, who hid behind the sofa. He subsequently found his mother and brother outside of the Palace, where he killed them, taking his own life moments later.

A dark day for all Nepali royalists, other than the barbers, who made a killing in haircuts as shaving one’s head is a demonstration of grief.

As with so many events of this or a similar nature, numerous conspiracy theories have grown-up around it. One of the dominant ones is that Gyanendra, the now dead Kings brother, who before the massacre was 2nd in line to the thrown after the King’s son, orchestrated the whole event. With the apparent suicide of the Prince, Gyanendra took power (only to be later toppled by the Maoist “revolution”). At the time of the massacre, he was out of town (in Pokhara) and his wife and son were 2 of the 5 people who survived. Until he died, the Prime Minister maintained that the massacre had been a “grand design”…

While details are not clear, it is suspected that Prince Dipendra never in fact fired a single shot. Tests from the dining room suggest that shots were fired by what seems like more than one person, from several different guns. A story which is supposed to be based on the eye-witness account of a maid who survived claims that there were two masked men posing as one Prince. There are suggestions that, while Prince Dipendra was left-handed, the shot that ended his life could have only been fired from his right hand, or by that of another. On top of all this, there were no post-mortems, as the entire family was rushed off to Pashupatinath to be burned.

Duh-duh-duuuuuuuuh. Conflicting stories, but nevertheless entertaining. Oh, and of course tragic.

The bus driver to Tansen (and sorry if any kids are reading this) was a complete dickhead. He initially tried to charge us too much, but that is quite standard practice. We then stopped and I jumped out to ask if there was time to pee.

“No.”

I ignored this and found a loo, which several other men had also found at the same time(!), returning rapidly to a bus which sat stationary for over 10minutes. Lucie was in a bit of a situation as she also needed to pee, but thought she did not have time. As the minutes ticked away frustration grew…

At the next available opportunity, Lucie jumped out, asking the bus driver if there was time to use a toilet. He nodded, so she dashed off. During her pee time (not long), the driver got bored and started to leave. It was only due to my pee companions and myself, that we managed to stop the bus from leaving Lucie with her pants around her ankles!

Then there was lunch.

“20 minutes” we were told when we asked how long this break would be. Enough time to get lunch. However, as soon as our chow mein arrived in front of us the bus started to move. We stuffed our noodles into plastic bags and then waited another couple of minutes for the bus to actually leave.

The icing on the cake was that we had paid to be dropped in Tansen, not the town at the bottom of the enormous hill that Tansen is at the top of. Bastard! Someone could have at least told us this before we started off up the road, oblivious to the huge climb ahead of us.

Once we had huffed and puffed our way up tiny windy paths, we finally reached the actual Tansen bus stop. Tansen is the steepest town I have ever seen (probably even steeper than Durham). At the very top is Shreenagar Hill where there are more great views. Other than that, its almost the lack of anything to do which makes it so pleasant. This is very real Nepali town, with lots of interesting Newari architecture – the windows are covered in ornately carved wood. Being a real town, there are no touts trying to sell you anything, but also no places to eat anything but Daal Bhat, apart from one bakery/restaurant.

After 3 nights in Tansen, we woke up at stupid o-clock and caught a bus to Lumbini, the birth place of the Buddha in 563BC. On what is now the site of the Mayadevi temple, his mother (Maya Devi) bathed and suddenly went into labour – it’s been proven that he was definitely born here. Maya Devi is supposed to only have had time to grasp the branch of nearby tree before the Buddha was born in a stance reminiscent of the John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (only more wise).  Since then, it has been decided that Buddhist temples from countries all over the world should be built in the “Lumbini Development Zone”. There are the more obvious ones such as a Japanese temple and a Chinese temple, but then there is also a German temple and French temple…

Lucie commented that Lumbini reminded her of going to visit Legoland as a kid. Many of the rides were not yet open as the site was still under construction, and whilst there were a few exciting things, what she remembers most clearly is the jacket potato she had for lunch. Lumbini may not have been quite the same, but it’s the holiest building site I’ve ever seen. It’s fulfilling the “Master Plan” of a Japanese designer from the 1970s – gradually, as donations come in, more bridges are built, more water features created. Some temples are spectacular – the Chinese temple looks like they borrowed it from the Forbidden City, and the German (!) temple could have come straight out of Tibet (if Tibet had more money). However, the majority of the temples are still in their bare concrete form, which is quite interesting in itself.

It was one of these concrete temples that housed us: to rival the Chinese temple, Korea (presumably South) is building its own spectacle across the road. At the moment, it is entirely grey – yet to be painted or tiled, the concrete is quite brutal! Regardless of this, we thought that given we weren’t going to be celebrating Christmas, we should do something “religion connected” for the occasion. So we woke up on the morning of the 25th to the sound of the breakfast gong in a Korean Buddhist temple, which rings far too early in my opinion.

The rest of our Christmas day would be taken up by traveling into India. On the way to the border,  in a massively over-crowded jeep, Lucie had the pleasure of having a man sit on her lap, while I was repeatedly offered drugs – not exactly what you want to be carrying when crossing a border..!

So at 2pm on Christmas Day, we entered India. Onwards to Varanasi!

Hi all, we’ve both been planning for The Future and spending all available internet time frantically making applications to various establishments to set ourselves up for when we return to England. They’re all sent off now, so we’re hoping to get y’all up to date on the news where we are – we’ve journeyed through Tibet to Kathmandu, spent a brief period at a children’s home, explored some beautiful places in the Kathmandu Valley, been spoiled rotten by Josh’s generous mum who came out to meet us, been amazed at Pashupatinath, nursed one another through the inevitable food poisonings (including our poor friend Sean who managed to get ill only 24 hours after arriving in the country!), trekked the Annapurna Sanctuary trail, rowed on the lake at Pokhara… There’s a lot to tell you all about. But first, the more pleasant bits of Tibet.

Fury at the oppression aside, Tibet was a fascinating place. It’s a riot of colour, as almost every available space (the Chinese area of Lhasa excepted) is filled with prayer flags. When journeying through the country, every pass would be decorated, and all doorways seem to be elaborate.

This can particularly be said of Tibetan monasteries, although I must admit that the monasteries we saw in “official” China (i.e. Amdo) were more spectacular, as have been those we have seen since entering Nepal. The buildings are every single colour imaginable on the outside, and elaborately illustrated on the inside. Many contain enormous statues, a lot of them gilded. One of my favourite characters is the protection deity which looks terrifying – it is often portrayed draped in skulls or decapitated heads,  stamping people under its feet. At first I wasn’t so fond of this, but now I understand that it’s a bit like having a seven foot tall skin head with tattoos on his eye balls for a big brother. It’s alright because he’s on your side.

A particularly memorable monastery-related experience was watching the monks debate in the Sera monastery. It was an incredibly theatrical event as debators stood clapping their hands loudly and lunging towards their opponents to emphasise their points.

Tibetan food, on the other hand, is not something I will remember fondly. Agriculture cannot thrive in the harsh climate in Tibet, so food is restricted basically to noodles, potatoes, radish, and yak. By the time we reached Nepal, we were gagging for some real (any) flavour that wasn’t yak. However, you would be amazed at the amount of uses the Tibetans have found for yak. In India, cows are sacred so they cannot be killed. In Tibet, yaks are sacred, so when they are killed, they use every single last bit of the body. Decorations, meat, milk, rope, bone broth, yoghurt, wool, dried cheese(!), leather, I could go on…The one really tasty thing we had in Tibet is sweet tea. While yak butter tea is salty and definitely an acquired taste, sweet tea is exactly what you need after a 12 hour jeep drive. Made by boiling yak milk, adding sugar and few strands of tea, it’s comfort food in drink form.

We were not hit as hard as those who had taken the nearly 48 hour train journey from Beijing to Lhasa, but the increase in altitude from Xining definitely affected us both. Although we thought we were just a bit headache-y and run down, climbing stairs in our hotel (which seem inordinately steep) was incredibly difficult. We plonked ourselves down in our hotel room wondering why we were so out of breath. Apparently, if you were to take a flight to the top of Mt.Everest, you would have a few minutes of consciousness before you passed out and died. Walking:1, Flying:0.

I think we experienced the most dramatic change in landscape so far as we journeyed on our final day towards the border with Nepal. Dropping down from stark and barren plains where dust storms bother the yaks, we were suddenly surrounded by lush greenery. The roads also changed, falling in quality and up in fear factor. Having said that, the road was only recently officially finished (bits are still under construction) – before that it was simply a dirt road which would have upped the fear factor a couple more hundred percent!

We passed some stunning pieces of natural beauty, including a turquoise lake and an enormous glacier. The latter used to be much more enormous, but it has receded from the roadside where it was in the 1990s, right up the mountain. Climate change anyone? We also had several peeks at Everest, which is called Qomolangma in Tibetan – this seems, as far as I can tell, to translate as ‘Big Momma’. Annapurna, incidentally (that’s the trek we’ve been on in Nepal), means ‘full of food’. I think the massiveness of the mountains was the main thing their namers were trying to convey…

So if you forget/ignore the overwhelming oppression and destruction in Tibet, it’s quite a pleasant place to holiday or travel through… The cost, however, is another matter, which we’ll address in another blog.

The Egg Blog

Eggs. Simple yet versatile. They come in many different sizes, but some things remain the same. For instance, they have a shell. It works and it makes sense: it’s natures way of protecting the soft inside with a hard outside. You can scramble, fry or poach eggs. You would not be surprised to see them hard-boiled on a restaurant menu (depending on the type of restaurant). What might surprise you is when your hard-boiled eggs are brought to you with their naturally evolved shells removed and replaced with shiny plastic vacuum packaging for each individual egg. Ahhh…China.