Home sweet home

After the tortuous return flight from Kathmandu (the killer stage being the 6 hour stop over in Abu Dhabi – home of the world’s most uncomfortable airport seating – from 9.40pm to 3.30am), it’s been a nice but weird day back in London. Phil met me at LHR, which was really really lovely, and once back in the Barbican and after unpacking and starting the washing marathon we headed over to Warwick Avenue for a very tasty lunch at the Prince Albert Pub and Formosa Dining Room, organised by Tom Coates.

Time for a bit of a veg session now catching up on all the telly Phil’s videoed in my absence (USA-tastic: The OC! The West Wing! Desperate Housewives!). Then I’ll think about getting my stuff together for day 1 at Norton Rose…… Sorting holiday pics will have to wait a while.

(In the end, I didn’t do anything with my photos (a task for this weekend methinks), but I did manage to stay awake all the way through to midnight, largely thanks to C4’s “100 greatest pop videos”….. )

Delhi to Kathmandu – interim report from Varanasi

I’m sitting in Varanasi in the internet cafe in the hotel we’re in – the first time I’ve managed to get online so far. At 50 rupees for 90mins works out at less than 1p/minute and as today is a free day, I’m making the most of it. Oh yes – before I forget, Elke also showed me the Clinic Beaucare website.

But back to Varanasi….

We were up at 5.45 to go on a boat ride on the Ganges to see the sun rise over the ghats (the steps where people come to wash/pray/cremate) …. but all we saw was lots and lots of rain and about 5 people instead of the hundreds shown in the postcards, the magnificent palaces built by kings and princes, which rise majestically above the ghats, looked rather rundown and forlorn in the daylight.

We’ve been really unlucky at times with the weather – overcast and cold in Delhi and Jaipur where the morning fog made it cold too, and not so good for taking photos 🙁 That said, Jaipur and the Amer/Amber Palace still managed to impress, as did the camel carts and colourful local life as well as the buildings and scenic settings of Rajasthan.

We’ve just had 2 hot and sunny days, in Agra (so good pics of the Taj Mahal, which is every bit as amazing as you’d expect, and the Red Fort, which was equally stunning), and then travelling on an overnight train to Allahabad (11pm departure, 5am arrival, confluence of 3 sacred rivers, and lots of pilgrims). After three hours of recuperation in an Allahabad hotel (not sure why we needed 3 hours…) we continued on by coach through sunlit rural villages, and in one we had an impromptu stop at the village school (which proved to be less voyeuristic than I initially feared), in addition to the programme’s scheduled stops at a temple (where I felt we weren’t really very welcome…) and the old fort at Chunnar. The rest of the day was spent relaxing on a tranquil 4 hour boat cruise down the Ganges to Varanasi, where we arrived under cover of darkness and so were able to see the evening prayers in full effect.

I will confess that so far I am disappointed with the trip, and that’s in part due to the fact that I’m used to a bit more independence when I travel with Hazel and on the last “organised” trip we did with Intrepid. I don’t think I’d do another Exodus/Explore-type holiday in a hurry. I know that the poor weather, l-o-n-g flight out (exacerbated by terrible scheduling) and hectic travel from day 1 onwards hasn’t helped generate a terribly favourable impression of India, but there are other small annoyances that together put me off somewhat.

The group are all nice, and there is a fair spread of ages and interests, but we’ve got a not terribly experienced local guy, Avtar, as our tour leader. His english gets a bit muddled at times, and he does ramble on when explaining cultural or religious things. Plus he’s not good at explaining the options to us, and then gets all funny when we ask questions to clarify the “programme”, and sometimes his answers don’t match up to the question. He does try hard though.

We’re eating in tourist/”international” restaurants, which in the main have proved pretty souless and devoid of any other diners, and although we are staying in nice (on occasions, very plush) hotels, they are usually far from the centre of things. Avtar isn’t at all keen about us going off on our own, which I’m finding really frustrating.

On Sunday, we couldn’t visit the Red Fort, Masjid Jamal or the old town in Delhi, as per day 2 of the programme, because of the Republic Day rehearsals. I would have expected our local guide / organisation to have been aware of the date and impact of rehearsals, and to have re-jigged the programme accordingly.

To make matters worse, we were taken to a carpet co-operative “workshop” in Delhi and a marble inlay “workshop” in Agra – aka hard sell of expensive souvenirs tacked onto a 5 minute explanation of the craft, which is about as far from my idea of a holiday activity as I can imagine…. we mutinied in Jaipur when Avtar and our local “guide” Bharat tried to take us to a second carpet workshop in less than 48 hours, and negotiated a 45 minute spell exploring the centre of Jaipur’s Old City under our own steam. I think that I would have found it less irritating if we had spent any time so far in “normal” shopping streets and markets, but we’d not!

Tomorrow we drive to Nepal. Hopefully things will pick up there….

Delhi to Kathmandu resources

Exodus trip info: http://www.exodus.co.uk/holidays/ain.html *

BBC Country profiles



Royal Nepalese Embassy, London – Visa information

(No need to get there early, well in January at least….! I didn’t see more than 10 people there when I applied for and then returned to collect my visa the next morning. If you ignore the hour I waited from 9am to 10am for the Visa section to open, during which time I was joined by 5 other “queue-beaters”, the waiting time was less than 5 mins.)

Guidebooks: India

Guidebooks: Nepal

BBC weather forecasts

Nepal Weather Report


The Pioneer
The Kathmandu Post

Itinerary and map (http://www.exodus.co.uk/mappages/ain.html *)

Day 1 Start Delhi.
Day 2 Visit Red Fort and New Delhi; free afternoon to explore.
Day 3 To Jaipur; afternoon sightseeing including City Palace and Amber Fort.
Day 4 Morning sightseeing in Jaipur; afternoon to Agra via Fatehpur Sikri.
Day 5 Sunrise visit to Taj Mahal and visit Red Fort. Overnight train to Allahabad.
Day 6 To Chunar Fort via Vindachal Temples at Mirzapur; board boats and cruise on Ganges to Varanasi.
Day 7 Dawn boat ride by bathing Ghats. Free to explore, or visit Sarnath, the site of Buddha’s first sermon.
Day 8 Cross border to Nepal.
Day 8-10 To Chitwan N.P. Elephant safaris, jungle walks and river trips.
Day 11 To Pokhara with views of Annapurnas.
Day 12 Sunrise over mountains. Free to explore or daywalk to Sarankot.
Day 13 To Kathmandu, following Marsyangdi and Trisuli river valleys.
Day 14 Visit Pashupatinath and Bodnath; free afternoon to explore.
Day 15 End Kathmandu.

* 28 March 2014 Update: Well, that’s a first – Exodus have asked me to remove my links back to their website as they’re having trouble with their Google rankings due to “unnatural links” pointing to their website. Hence the unlinked URL to the trip and map pages (v old style!).

Delhi to Kathmandu, here I come!

I’ve just booked the Exodus Delhi to Kathmandu trip I spotted earlier this week – paying extra for business class/premium economy flights but what the hell, travelling is why I work!

So next step is to sort out visas for Nepal, and possibly India (Grrrrr – I can’t believe that I may have to get another visa because the Kerala one expires on 03 Feb!!! Why was I so organised about getting my India visa for Kerala sorted out???), and to check out books and background info. Oh, and to transfer some [lost in a db move]

Holi- Holi- Holiday?

Well, having provisionally arranged to start at Norton Rose on 07 February, I met Sue Hobson today and fixed my leaving date for Friday 21 January….. so this evening I have been checking out holiday options, and in the wee small hours (well past 1am on 06 Jan), I found this Delhi to Kathmandu trip with Exodus (http://www.exodus.co.uk/holidays/ain.html)*:

Delhi, the booming capital of modern India, has had many rulers and contains a wealth of buildings and culture that bring to life its rich and turbulent history. Safe in its natural mountain fortress, the fabled city of Kathmandu was virtually cut off from the rest of the world until the last half century. Smaller, but no less fascinating, this city has been described as having more temples than houses and more gods than people. To travel between these two very different cities is one of the most beautiful and fascinating journeys in Asia. For culture vultures the Taj Mahal, the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur, the holy city of Varanasi or the Buddhist Stupas of Kathmandu may be the highlight; for those more interested in nature’s treasures, spotting rhino on an early morning elephant ride through Chitwan National Park may feature as high on the list as their first view of the mighty Himalaya, towering 8000m. (26,000 ft.) above the plains on the India/Nepal border. On any journey however it is often the friendliness of the people you meet on your way that lasts longest in the memory.

Travel: Private bus, train, boat and elephant.
Group & staff: Min. 8, max. 16, plus leader, driver, local guides for sightseeing.
Accommodation: 11 nights hotels, 2 nights jungle lodge, 1 overnight train.
Food: All breakfasts and 1 lunch included; full board at Chitwan.
Travel dates: Fri 21 Jan 05 Sun 06 Feb 05
Cost: TBC

* 28 March 2014 Update: Well, that’s a first – Exodus have asked me to remove my links back to their website as they’re having trouble with their Google rankings due to “unnatural links” pointing to their website. Hence the unlinked URL to the trip page.