Category: Central Asia

India 2017 – Karauli & Ranthambore


My India trip included a visit to Karauli and Ranthambore.

My favourite part, Christmas Day 2017 driving around a National Park in a Jeep (but more about that later).


Our first stop, Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur. A vast bird sanctuary and former royal game reserve.

The park’s woods and man-made wetlands protect over 350 species of migratory and resident birds, including herons, cormorants and eagles.


We explored the parks 12 square miles on cycle Rikshaws.


Wandering around the wetlands in search of the Siberian Crane.


Annoyingly, I never got the name of this place where we went for lunch.

It had incredible art deco styling.


Our next stop is Fatehpur Sikri.

Founded in 1569 and abandoned scarcely 16 years later, it is a perfectly intact example of Akbar’s imperial court.

I was surprised that everywhere we seemed to go, someone would take your money, someone would print your ticket and a 3rd person would hand you the ticket. I suppose it keeps people in work.


In the centre of the courtyard is the Pachisi Board, where the emperor played a game like chess, with dancing slave girls as pieces.


Nice to find somewhere quiet and just relax.


We arrive in the town of Karauli.

I took this picture to sort of capture the feel of the place. It looks like the 2 bovine have stopped to chat.


Our accommodation in Karauli, Hotel Bhanwar Vilas Palace.

It was still partially occupied by a high ranking noblemen with his wife, daughter and their servants.


After relaxing in the garden with a drink, were shown around the inside of the building.

It was like stepping back in time to the days of the Raj. All our rooms were different, with several sitting rooms each decorated with things like grandfather clocks and old shotguns.


The following morning we jump into some camel drawn carts and head into the village.

Once arrived, we wander around. It was genuinely authentic.

Honestly, it’s the only place I think I’ve been while travelling without a single souvenir shop.


Cricket is massive in India and tournaments are played all over the country.

In this advert, 2 local sides would play in a tournament, and the winner would be presented with a trophy by Munaf Patel, a player in the National side.


Our 2nd evening, having dinner in the house.

It was right out of Agatha Christy, and I almost expected someone to scream, and we’d find someone murdered in their room.

But that didn’t happen, we just had a delicious meal, then spent the rest of the evening sitting in the garden with Red wine.


The next morning, we were given a tour of the former Royal residence.


They had  a garage with old cars (including a 70 year old Land Rover).

After breakfast, it’s time to go. We load up into our vehicle and head off in search of Tigers.


After a 2 hour drive, we arrive at Ranthambore.

We got cleaned up, got some lunch and relaxed in the garden, before our scheduled afternoon game drive.


One of the things I’d been looking forward to most on the trip was visiting the Ranthambore National Park.

They have all kinds of animals there, and if you’re lucky (which I was hoping I was) you would get to see a tiger in the wild.


The organisation of the Jeep safaris is very structured (and regimented).

A lottery system selects who goes in which vehicle (5 to a vehicle, plus guide & driver) and which sections of the park you’ll visit.

So its pot luck, if you see a Tiger or whatever. We drive around until sunset and head back. It’s Christmas eve.


The next morning, were up early.

Ranthambore National Park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1957, although it was still used as a hunting reserve until the early 1970s.

There are over 40 Tigers in the park, but also sloth bear, langur, striped hyenas, marsh crocodiles, pythons and Ganga soft-shelled turtles so we were bound to see something.


As the day continued, by afternoon, it was pretty clear we weren’t going to see a tiger.

I was disappointed, but struck by the the park’s beauty.

Once part of the magnificent jungles of Central India, it comprises of rivers, lakes and forests that nestle among a surrounding girdle of steep cliffs and rocky outcrops.


Racing around in a jeep, I can’t remember a Christmas day like it.

Our driver described this animal as “anteeelope”.


As we rode back, I remember seeing an eagle, A nice way to end the day.


Well, although we didn’t see a tiger, we did have a really good time.

I’ve put the above picture of a tiger, just in case you (like me) wondered what it actually looked like.

India 2017 – Jaipur, Pink city and Sharp’s fort.


We arrive in Jaipur, the famous Pink city.

india map

It’s the final leg of organised part of out trip with with Explore.


The must see sight of Jaipur, the Palace of the winds.

We never got to go inside, but a minibus stopped so we could get some soft drinks, and I took this picture from across the road.


Once we get checked in to our hotel, we head out exploring.


Our first stop is the City Palace. It’s more of a museum now, and there there lots of displays of royal clothing and carriages.


Textiles and old cannons don’t really get me going, but this Silver pot was fascinating.

When the king of Jaipur (who’s family still live in parts of the building) travelled to London, he insisted on drinking only Indian water (from the Ganges !).

Two of these silver pots, featured in the Guinness book of records and weighing 350kg each were filled with water and accompanied him on his trip.


The thing I was most looking forward to in Jaipur, the Jantar Mantar Royal observatory.

Built using simple things like Stone, Marble and Brass by Raja Sawai Jai Singh in 1728.

Even walking in the entrance, is mesmerising, you wonder what all these strange things do.


There are too many amazing things here to discuss, so I’ve just picked two.

The Jai Prakash Yantra.

Two sunken half spheres in marble (this is one, the other is identical, but the “filled in” bits in one are missing in the other).

A lens suspended in wire, casts a shadow over the inverted dome and can be used to calculate location.


The largest of two identical Yantra’s, known locally as Big Samrat Yantra.

Both the instruments work on the same principle. A triangular wall is aligned with the axis of Jaipur – hence giving it a perfect North-South alignment.

The shadow of this line when it falls on the semi-circular curves on both sides, you see the local Jaipur time. The smaller or Laghu Samrat Yantra gives time to the accuracy of 20 seconds while the large one or Vrihat Samrat Yantra gives it 2 seconds accuracy.

So in summary, time accuracy to 2 seconds from a brick wall. A technological miracle.


Strangely, the hotel we’re staying in has a nightclub in the basement.

Since its the only bar thats open there, we pop down for a drink. As we were residents, they put us in the VIP room !.


I’ve always been a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe.

I was especially looking forward to visiting the Amber fort as its featured in Sharpe’s Challenge.


We drive to the fort and up into the ramparts in these traditional Jeeps.


It’s possible to travel up by Elephant but I thought the jeep was faster.


Entrance to the Fort.


Amber fort Gardens.


Baradhari Pavilion.


There were lots of walkways and passages around the fort (you could literally go anywhere).

Found this clever arrangement, where “running” water was available 4 levels above the well bellow.


Throughout our trip to India, when we’d been travelling in coaches and cars, we kept seeing advertistments for a film.

Tiger Zinda Hai (which means Tiger is alive). It was a massive blockbuster, featuring 2 of Bollywoods biggest stars.

I’d decided to buy it on dvd when I got home and see what it was like, but no need… Our guide asked if we’d like to see a real Bollywood film in a classic setting (although we’d only be able to watch half of it due to time constraints).


Inside, The Raj Mandir cinema, harked back to the golden era of movies.

There were entire family’s of at least three generations looking forward to the performance. I an old fashioned evening out.


Once seated the film started. I can only describe it as being like a religious experience.

Salman Khan, featured in the opening action scene, with his back to the camera. When he turned around, the crowd roared (and I mean FA cup goal type, roared). I’ve been to the cinema several hundred times in my life, and I’ve never experienced anything like it).

When I got home, I found out it was the sequel to Ek Tha Tiger (once there was a tiger) and I’ve seen both of them now.


After leaving the cinema, we head out for dinner (its the last night after all).

Our guide promised one of the best meals you’ll ever eat in India !. He was correct.

Hands are shaken and goodbye’s exchanged. We head off to bed, as its an early start in the morning…


And it is. In the early hours of the morning were in the back of a 3 wheeler on our way to the railway station, heading for Udaipur.

India 2017 – Udaipur – the home of Octopussy.


With our organised tour of India complete, we’ve now got some down time to do our own thing.

We’ve decided to finish off our trip with a visit to Udaipur (followed by Mumbai).


Love is a wonderful thing. It makes us do things we wouldn’t normaly do in a sensible world.

Like getting on a train at 5am and spending 7 hours on it in baking heat, when we could have got a flight that would have lasted 45 minutes !.

Enough about that.

My 2nd time on an Indian train (the first was New Delhi to Agra). It’s a hive of activity, people are organising bags and finding their seats.


But it’s early in the morning and a seven hour journey to Udaipur so minutes after the train leaves, most people are asleep.


We arrive at Udaipur station and get a taxi to our accommodation.

The place is lovely and the staff and owner are friendly. The only thing…

Why does it seem that when you arrive at some hotels people want to sit you down, give you some tea and tell you about their hotel.

I didn’t want to be impolite but I was tired, just wanted to be on my own and have a lie down. But I didn’t, I sat through half an hour of how he had done all the building work, decorating and carpets himself.

Then we had to do various forms and paperwork (a throwback to the days when Britain “ran” India and “propper” records and admin were the norm.

Shown to our room, it was very comfortable.


After a short nap, we head out to explore Udaipur. The first place to go is lake Pichola, which I was suprised to find, is man made.

We pass under these arches and sit by the water.


And what a beautiful lake it is.

We look out to the Islands, which were intending to visit the following day.


It’s getting towards the evening so we decide to have a drink and something to eat.

When I said I was going to Udaipur, everyone mentioned the “hotel from Best exotic marigold hotel”.

The hotel in question is the Jagat Niwas pallace. But I’ve seen the film and it doesn’t look familiar ?


Turns out (if you’ve seen the film) that they travel away from the hotel to attend a funeral and have a conversation in a rooftop bar overlooking a lake. Thats where I am.

We chat to some other travellers. I realise that for the price of our accommodation, we could have got a room here (but that would have involved arriving with no booked accomodation, wandering around and haggling. We’ve done the right thing.


After an evening of fun, we settle on our hotel rooftop, and watch the world go by.


Up early the next day and breakfast (and tea).

Were expecting queue’s at the City Palace so we get there early.


Standing outside the palace on the land side.

Started in 1553, it took nearly 400 years to construct and is considered the grandest in Rajasthan.


There were lots of ornate rooms and stuff like that.

From one of the balcony’s we could see into the courtyard. Although still early, it was really busy.


One interesting exhibit (which seems a bit out of place) are the original spectacles that Ben Kingsley wore in Ghandi.


Another view from on-high.


There was quite a queue, as it was a weekend and lots of the locals had the same idea as us. We board our boat, and put on our boyancy aids.

The first place we see is the Monsoon Palace, up high on the hill.


Ok, at this point, it’s important to mention that Udaipur is quite famous among James Bond fans.

It’s where the 13th James Bond film, Octopussy was filmed (the opening scenes of the film show the Taj Mahal, and imply their right next to each other, but theyre actualy 700k appart).

The villain of the film, is Kamal Khan, and his residence in the film is the Monsoon Palace.


The very exclusive Lake Palace hotel.

It literaly occupies its own Island and only residents are allowed there.


An island you can visit, is Jag Mandir (both this and the Lake palace hotel were used as Octopussy home in the film).


We arrive at Jag Mandir and disermbark.


There are some specacular gardens and we wander around.


The view back to the Palace from Jag Mandir.


They have an exclusive restaurant and bar (by exclusive I presume they mean expensive).

No matter, it’s a hot day and I’m on holiday so time for a drink.


Starting to get dark now, so we board our boat and head for land.


Once again, dinner by the lake, and this view of the Palace hotel lit up in the evening.


Our last day in Udaipur. Were due to fly later, so we spend some time wandering around the town.

According to my guidebook, the Jagdish Temple is a must see site.


Seen up close, lots of carved images, which reminded me of a previous trip to India, and Khajuraho.



The local clock tower. Brought to Udaipur from London in 1887.


The Daiji footbridge offers spectacular views of the lake (and quite a peacefull place to got for a walk in what otherwise is quite a busy city).


There are lots of small cafe’s in the town, catering for backpackers.

Many of them have daytime and evening screenings of the James Bond films.

I hadn’t had any hot chocolate in ages, so we popped into one. I was delighted to find they also did Garlic bread with cheese (well, I was delighted until it was put on my plate !).


Leaving town and exploring in the oposite direction.

Manik Lal  Verma Park. Empty and seemingly disused overlooking Dudh Talai lake.

A really beautiful spot.


There are 125 million English speakers in India.

What a shame that none of them were available when the sign on this bus was being written.


Just for fun, we decide to get the Udaipur ropeway, to a hill overlooking the area.

An enormous queue. Interestinly, a group of 3 young, pretty girls, seemed to keep moving forward, pushing in and overtaking poeple.

Nobody seemed to mind. However, I’m from Great Britain, and that doesn’t work with me. When they tried to overtake me, I politely told them that wasn’t on.

I was worried that there might be a scene, but they politely appologised and stayed where they were in the queue. I tried to imagine how that would have played out in Blackpool in the UK !.


But finaly were on the cable car (with our new female friends as guests, and the mood is light).

The view spectacular, I usualy try to capture each place I visit in 1 picture in my mind.

This is it.


We finish with a visit to the Karni Mata temple, and then follow a zig zag path down the hill.

Back to our hotel, pick up our bags, taxi to the airport and then flight to Mumbai.

Long weekend in Sri Lanka


I remember on 2 occasions, trying to book Sri Lanka, but the tour I wanted to do was full. I even tried changing dates and even using other tour company’s but to no avail.

Each time this happened, I ended up visiting somewhere else for that years “big trip”. I realised how popular it was as an adventure travel destination and this made me even more keen to see it.

In January, 2019 I finally got it booked for February 2020. Not long after there were terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka, which put it on a no travel list until about 6 weeks before I was due to go.


Either way, I was really looking forward to it.

The world was talking seriously about Corona virus, but I was convinced I’d have time to complete my trip (in any other circumstances I wouldn’t have gone. Although I like to model myself on Indian Jones, I rarely take unnecessary risks).

So, at Manchester Airport after 2 busy months at work and the worst of UK winter,  looking forward to some adventure, culture and sunshine.


We had booked an organised tour with Explore (we’ve done a few trips with them, and find them to be excellent).

Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka, but our tour would run from a fishing village called Negombo which is only 20 minutes drive from the airport.

We arrived at our hotel and checked in. It was 11am local time, and our tour would officially start at 6pm the following day in the hotel lobby.

I had a beer by the hotel pool, then we headed off to explore the beach (which was honestly stunning).


We wander around for a couple of hours in perfect weather, watching fishermen prepare nets and causing a turf war between 2 ladies  selling scarves.

We found this traditional outrigger fishing boat on the beach. To be honest I think it was used more for catching tourists than catching fish.


Exploring is thirsty work, so we find a bar on the beach and relax as the sun sets.

In the evening we have dinner – “Curry and Rice”.

Although it sounds like something from Poundland, it’s a local dish that contains 4 curries and some really fluffy rice.

Off to bed, ready for adventure early the following morning.


And it was early. We had breakfast at 6am, and were picked up by Norman at 6:30 am on this 3 wheeler to begin our private boat tour.


With the whole day free until the tour started at 6pm, we’d decided to explore the Negombo lagoon, the port and some local areas of interest.

They did a shorter 2 hour tour, but we did the full 7 hour one.

We would visit some of the Islands and see the amazing bird life in the area. Whatever we did, I knew relaxing in a boat would be a great way to recover from Jet-Lag.


The reception area had lots of interesting books with pictures of local wildlife and some examples of traditional fishing equipment.


Our boat could comfortably sit 6, so we had plenty of room to stretch out.

We put on our life jackets, check we’ve got spare water and have cameras at the ready.


And were off, heading out of the various waterways, towards the lagoon.


I’d read how large it was, but was shocked when I saw it.


35 square miles.


The entire lake is only 1 meter deep.

We went to see this fisherman, who had put out his nets.

He would sell the fish to local restaurants when he was finished.


As we continued along exploring the estuary, we got to see some of the Islands up close.

The lagoon is basically a Mangrove swamp and there is a rich selection of fish and bird life (we met some Australians, in another boat, with massive telephoto lenses on bird photography charter).

But not just that. This island has monkeys on it.


We drove the boat right up to the bank, and put out some fruit.


The monkeys came on-board to eat it.

There were several of them, and it occurred to me, that since they had no boat (nor skills to pilot it) they must have lived on the Island through generations.


Leaving the Muthurajawela marsh went to and outdoor church called All Saints.

It had some nice statues, and importantly, a toilet. Property developers had wanted to turn it into a hotel and the religious folk of the area had almost rioted.

Our guide gave us some fruit to eat. So much, I had to give some if it back (I hate to wast food).


Exploring the Dutch Canal.

Whenever we found a coconut floating in the water, Norman would keep it for his wife.

By the end of the day, he’d collected 4!.


The Dutch canal was originally built in the 1600’s. It’s completely straight.

In the 1800’s it was expanded by the British and this section was called the Hamilton canal.

This is the iconic bridge, that appears in most guidebooks.


We briefly left the canal and the lagoon and went into the ocean (we couldn’t go far, our boat wasn’t designed for that).

We saw the port, where larger fishing boats were docked.


We continue around the harbour and see this boat, that was wrecked during the Tsunami, but nobody towed it away (I guess they had other things to contend with).


Finally we see how some of the local people live. Some of them live in their boats, others live in shacks by the water.

Norman was quite disdainful. They make money from the water, but they throw plastic and human waste into it !.


Well, after 7 hours, were back at reception. It really was an amazing experience.

His daughter served us some mango juice, then we hop back into the three wheeler and back to our hotel to start our 14 day tour of Sri Lanka.

Things had gotten off to a really good start.


If you’ve not done an organised tour, they normal start with a briefing, where the guide arrives, everyone introduces themselves and then the guide outlines the itinerary and plan for the duration of the tour.

They then ask to see insurance, collect the tip kitty and outline any optional excursions and gauge interest.

So, in anticipation of this, we got cleaned up, collected our paperwork and headed to the hotel lounge.

We sat relaxing with a drink while we waited for the briefing to commence.


The guide appears (a man who doesn’t give his name) and a woman from Kent who’d flown in that morning. There are 4 of us at the table.

The guide keeps talking around things, mentioning other people on the tour, other people who’ve dropped out, etc. He mentions the national parks may be closed…

This is all very nice, but it’s now 6:45pm.

I hate wasting time anyway, but in cases like this, I’ve waited months for something that will last 2 weeks, and every hour counts. I ask him for the room numbers of the other guests and say I’ll go and “knock on” and find out where they are (I’m suprised he hasn’t done this himself).

Then 2 incredible things happen. He’s vague, so I pin him down, “Is anyone else attending the meeting I ask ?”. No he replies.

Realising that he’s not going to be forthcoming, I ask “Has the tour been cancelled”. Yes he says. The woman from Kent asks “Am I going home tomorrow”. Yes he replies, were arranging for you to fly home in the morning (she had booked flight inclusive, we’d booked our own planes).

He said he’d organise our flight and asked if we had the phone number for Emirates in Sri Lanka (he’s a tour guide ?).

We opened our laptop, booked the next flight home the following evening (it cost an extra £300 and we lost our extra leg rooms seats).

He apologised. I’d lost all patience at this point, so I just told him to make sure our room was secure for the next 24 hours, that our transfer would arrive at 3pm the next day and waved him away.

We wandered around Negombo the next day until our trip to the Airport.


And then the irony.

Having a trip cancelled in a small group in a fishing village to avoid the Corona virus, were now sat on a plane with 500 other people and wandering around airports which 10’s of thousands of people had passed through.

I was pleased that Emirates had laid on 2 extra flights, although the mood on the flight home was the complete opposite of the flight out, there was no holiday atmosphere this time.


We arrive back in the UK. A hot bath, some sleep and then I got out for a few drinks at Artichoke.

Sitting relaxing in my local, I’m a bit more reflective. Sri Lanka has been closed to tourism for almost a year. The guide must have been looking forward to life getting back to normal and then seeing it all disappear overnight.

Perhaps I was being hard on him, but when I travel, although I come over as laid back, adventure travel is my life, and this is serious stuff.

The important question I’m asking myself, is did I make the most of whats effectively a long weekend in Sri Lanka ?. I think I did.

Focusing on important questions, Barman, can I have another beer please ?

India 2017 – Mumbai, New Years Eve.


Our trip to India was fast coming to an end, and I was showing signs of wear and tear as I sat drinking at a rooftop bar on our penultimate night in Udaipur.

The last leg of our India trip, on our way to Mumbai (at one time called Bombay).


Maharan Pratap Airport.

A few vendors providing food and drinks, it was nice to sit in peace and quiet and catch up on our reading.

Only an hour and a half and far more comfortable than the “romanticism” of our train journey from Jaipur to Udaipur !.


We arrive at the airport, book a tax to our hotel and then the usual drive around and around. Nikki spots our hotel and we point at the pavement outside. Suffice to say, not tip was given.


When we arrive at the ITC Maratha hotel, its quite simply incredible. It harks back to the times of the Raj and is nothing short of opulent.

Everyone was very friendly, but all bags had to go through airport style security before being allowed in the hotel, security is taken very seriously after the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008.


When I say opulent, allow me to illustrate. How many toilets have a TV showing Premier league football.


I sat down with my guide book and a mind map I’d drawn up with a list of things to see. I ordered a pint of beer (which I’d later find out cost £18) and started planning.

We had that evening in the hotel, then a day to spend in Mumbai, and fly home about 11pm the next day (which would be New Years eve).

After an incredible banquet dinner and a few drinks, its off to bed. We’ve only got 1 day and are unlikely to come back here, so I want to make the most of it.


Up early and a breakfast laied out on tables as though we were at a wedding.

The hotel staff are incredibly helpful and are happy to provide assistance planning our day tour.


They comment that the hotels policy is not to recommend the train/tram network and that they can get us a taxi (an offer we are happy to take up).

Minutes later were heading to the city centre on the Bandra-Worli sea link, a 1 mile long bridge that sort of goes out to sea and then back in again. It was desinged to reduce congestion getting into the city.


We couldn’t see much from inside our Taxi, so I found this picture to illustrate.

The coast of Marine drive can be seen from here, its nicknamed the Queens necklace.


But although the bridge and the buildings are spectacular, signs of poverty aren’t far behind.


We begin our sightseeing on foot.

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus featured in Slumdog Millionaire.


On the waterfront, the Gateway of India built for Queen Victoria’s visit.

It possible to do boat trips to Elephant Island from here, but being New Years eve, everywhere was packed.


Behind it, the internationally famous Taj Mahal hotel.

On the ground floor at the back is a coffee house and we stopped there to rest.


The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, abbreviated CSMVS and formerly named the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India.


Three floors of interesting artefacts and obviously Victorian in style.


Lots of old things to look at in glass cases.


But far more interesting, Ghandi’s iconic spinning wheel.


And the constitution of India.


A beautiful building, we relax outside in the shade.


We continue on and I’m shocked to see this sign.

This isnt a police station, this is a high street bank where you might pop in to pay some bills !.


A sensible precaution, so nobody trips over it.


With the sun setting over the Queens Necklace, and with only a few hours left of our amazing trip, we find a hotel bar with a balcony and relax.


As we walk back along the waterfront, people are congregating, looking forward to happiness and prosperity of the New Year.

But we’ve got a plane to catch. We head back, get cleaned up, have a bite to eat and its back to the Chaos of the airport for us.


We land in Paris. Unfortunately, the bus is slow taking us to our terminal, and we miss our connecting flight.

Annoying, but now we’ve got 3 hours to to kill.

So, breakfast in Paris on New Years day !.

Delhi & Agra 2017

Comming towards the end of my sabatical, I’d just returned from an amazing trip to Namibia.

So what next…

Well, Nikki and I like to get a way at Christmas (although usualy places close to home like Cyprus or Malta). India looked a good fit, but its somewhere I’d been before and Nikki hadnt.

But with a bit of tweaking, I could create a trip that would suit us both.


I found a trip called Mughal Highlights with the adventure travel company Explore. It looked a perfect fit.

On my previous trip, I’d travelled west to east from Delhi to Varanasi (and ultimately Kathmandu).

I found a trip with loads of new things to see, yet lots of must see sights for Nikki.

Delhi and Agra would be duplicated from my original trip, but I saw almost nothing of Delhi the first time and Agra, and the Taj Mahal are always worth a 2nd visit.

Packed and ready to go, with my “new” sandals (which, due to it being winter I never got to wear), Tilly hat, first aid kit and emergency repair kit. Last but not least, the ubiqitous chocolate limes.

Off all the trips I’ve been on, the flying expirience was the worst by far, due to a series of what I can only call bad luck.

We arrive at the excelent Manchester airport at 5am. Drop our bags and then we can get some coffee and nice breakfast. But whats this, theres a problem with the “machines” we have to stand up and queue for an hour and 40 mins.

The delay means we have to rush through to get our plane. Some nugget in security has tried to bring an iron through security which holds things up further.

We get to the plane, which is delayed. On landing in France, we run to get our flight to Delhi, desperate not to miss it. Then once on the plane, the pilot keeps us on the ground for 2.5 hours to give other people a chance.

Ok, so at least now were on our way to India.

We land, have the farcial thing of some sort of annoying paper imigration form (that could have been issued with our visa. We have to find all sorts of details, find something to lean on and write it out (and its midnight and were exausted).

Then some sort of amatuer security thing with finger prints. Which meant from Landing it took nearly 3 hours to get out of the airport.

Which meant that the transfer we’d booked had already left and we had to get a taxi. The taxi drive gave us some rubbish about a big tip to feed his family. I threw the money at him and went into our hotel.

Oh, did I mention I had a really bad cold ?


No matter, we’ve arrived. A hot shower, comfortable bed and some sleep.

In the morning, we had some breakfast and then decided to go out exploring (the tour didnt officialy start until late afternoon and sitting around isnt for me).

New neighourhoods are sprouting up all the time in India. In this case, the New Friends colony, split into areas like zone G where we were staying.

On our orientation walk, we come across this sign.

Later, our tour begins and first thing is our guide Abi. I won’t bore you with the details, but simply put, he was an amzing guide.

An early introduction to the contrasts of India.

We travel on the underground, and I see the woman only carriages I’d heard about.

The platform and carriage are bright, in good working order and spotlessly clean.

We ascend into the old town.

You can see the difference, it was filthy and squalid.


The best way to see this part of the town, is by cyclo.


Abi pointed out that the technology boom in India was great, but getting hold of a good electrician was still a challenge (as you can see from the high quality electrical work in this picture).

The Jama Masjid mosque.

You can see a lot of smog in the background, but the building itself was spectacular.

I had to pay a bit to borrow some flip flops (and pay someone to keep an eye on my shoes).

Nikki had to wear this sort of dressing gown thing.


Walking from the mosque, we pass the famous Red Fort.

A Mughal fort, befitting a tour called Mughal highlights. A world heritage site, the Prime Minister hoists a flag here every year on indipendence day.

And then onto our air conditioned bus.

The Airforce building has aeroplanes mounted outside.

I imagine it’s so people can find it more easily and if they arrive at the wrong place and find tanks, they know theyre in the wrong place.

The Qutb complex.

<say something historic about it>

Quwwat-ul-islam arch. All thats left of the building constructed in 1193 and in the background the Qutb Minar tower.

Driving around once it goes dark, we get to see the Governement building from a distance and The India gate, a momorial to 70,000 Indian soldiers who died in the first world war.

We finish off the evening with a few beers and a delicious curry.

It was the most expensive meal we ate on the whole trip and cost about a tenner.

I guessed it would be expensive, as it was above a Lexus dealership.

The next day we do a quick visit to Hamayans tomb.

Another Mughal building, it was spectacular to look at, I just wish there had been some sunshine.

Like the Taj Mahal, it was symetricaly perfect.


And then were off on our way to Agra.

We passed these 2 people sat on the top of a truck, with a quilt over them to fend of the cold.

They were really friendly and waved at us.


Get cleaned up in our hotel, then its out to see the Taj Mahal.


I’d seen it before, but just like last time, I was left speachless.


In the evening we eat some Thali food and are entertained by musicians.


The following day, up bright and early and were off to see the Agra fort.

I was really looking forward to this. Thing is, the Taj is amazing, but all you can really do is look at it.

This thing is A FORT and I’m basicaly a boy in a mans body.


Inside, were introduced to a local guide and expert who talks us through the various parts of the fort and their history.


Half of the fort is closed off, as it’s still used by the Indian army (Parachute Brigade), even to this day.


Diwan – I Kas, the hall of private audience. Originaly used by Akbar and great and later by several of his descendents.


The Throne of Jahangir. Made from Belgian marble.

When the “British” attacked, they fired a canonball, which hit the throne, bounced off and made a hole in the wall nearby.


Shah Jahan Mosque.


The battlements of the fort, showing high walls, a moat and a gap between the outer in and inner walls where Tigers roamed.


And were off on the road again.

Tour of India and Nepal – The Trisuli Centre.

 bus We set off in our bus for lunch at the Trisuli centre.The vehicle had no power steering, and I wonder to this day, how the driver (who slept in the vehicle at night) managed to drive it for so long without passing out.
We travel along the Pokhara – Kathmandu highway.A view of the Marsyangdi River as we drive high above the valley. river
 directions1 A road was blocked due tan accident and we asked these friendly children, at the side of the road, for alternate directions.Earlier some other locals had given directions, in return for a lift on the back of our bus (they hung onto the ladder at the back, at one point it looked quite scary).
We arrive at the Trisuli Centre for lunch.Ethical travel very popular at the moment, the Trisuli centre was an area of natural beauty, which had been renovated environmentally through donations made by the Adventure Company.  jeep
 garden  A short walk from the Cafe, was this beautiful Oasis, with a stream, a quiet garden and this bridge.
 Nearby, some very old Tree’s reminded me of the kind I had last seen at the Angkor Wat.  roots
 tree1  I glanced at this tree, and hardly noticed anything inside.
 On closer inspection, the dead leaf, turned out to be this butterfly.  tree2
 meroots  Me standing in front of one of the old tree’s.
We crossed this amazing bridge.Himalayan Encounters who organized the Nepalese side of our tour, are the largest white water rafting company in Nepal, and most of their work, is done on this river.

I didn’t go on this trip for “summer holiday” experiences, but this really was, one of the most beautiful days that I can remember.

 canoe  On the far bank, were Canoes, and some of the tented accommodation, used by the rafter’s on expedition.
You can see that this outside frame, around the tent, provides shade from the heat.Wherever we were, our guide always seemed to find the best place for shade, I learned over the week to watch and copy him.

The tents actually had beds inside, this would hardly be rough camping.

 construction  For Bushcraft enthusiasts, a close up of the construction of the shelter.

Tour of India and Nepal – Pokhara.

lake Pokhara is a remarkable place of natural beauty, situated at an altitude of 827m above sea level and 200 km west of Kathmandu valley.The serenity of the lakes and the magnificence of the Himalayas rising behind them create an ambience of peace and magic.

A popular staring point for treks including the anapurna circuit.

In the centre of the Phewa Lake is the Barahi temple features a two story pagoda.

 Pay to use toilets are quite common in many countries, but this was the first time, I had seen one that used a “sliding scale” pricing system.  tolet
 arrival Phewa Lake is the centre of all attraction in Pokhara.It is the largest and most enchanting of three lakes that add to the resplendence of Pokhara.

We hired 2 boats, and headed across the lake to visit the world peace pagoda.

As we arrive, we walk up the hill, to the world peace pagoda.The hillside villages we could see, reminded me of Italy.

It was a special moment for me. Okay, it wasn’t a proper trek, but it was still hill walking, and to be doing it in the Himalayas’ for the first time was significant.

Realising this would be a special photograph, I put 2 pillows into my rucksack, so it kept its shape.

There is nowhere else in the world where mountains rise so quickly, within 30 km, from 1000m to over 8000m.

 wppagoda The world peace pagoda is situated on the top of a hill on the southern shore of Phewa lake.It has four images of Buddha facing in four directions.
As we walk back down the hill it starts to get dark.We met this “walking haystack” coming the other way.

I gave him a little money for agreeing to be photographed. He misunderstood and tried to give me some Marijuana !.

An interesting institution of Pokhara is the British Gurkha Camp in the north of the city.

It has been established as a recruitment camp for Nepalese as Gurkha soldiers. About 370 are selected annually in December out of a pool of over 20,000 applicants. About 140 eventually join the Gurkha Contingent in Singapore while the rest join the British Army.

 armwrestle In the evening, we head into town for an evening out.I decided to have a T Bone steak. Delicious.

Our guide takes us to a bar/club called Paradiso It actually had vintage motorbikes and all sorts of memorabilia.

Once the ale started flowing, everyone reverted to type.

The arm wrestling competition begins in earnest.

Devi’s Fall known locally as Patale Chango (Hell’s Falls) also know as Devins and David’s is a lovely Waterfall.The water from the Phewa lake converges into this small area and the force of natural energy is spectacular.

Legend has it that a trekker by the name of Davy, was washed away by the Padi Khola and mysteriously disappeared down into an underground passage beneath the fall.

 mntmuseum2 But this was the Himalayas’, and I wasn’t here to see waterfalls.I desperately wanted to visit the world mountaineering museum. Our guide said it wasn’t on the itinerary, but arranged a private taxi to take me (he was able to give the driver specific directions, as its very easy to get lost).

The museum was enormous in size, had all sorts of authentic artefacts, pictures and articles.

Some photo’s and diary entries by early explorers and mountaineers.To Celebrate 50 years since the accent of Everest, another section said the world owed grateful thanks to the following

Tensing Norgay Sherpa (first ascent of Everest).

Edmund Hillary (first ascent of Everest).

Two other interesting additions were:

Babu Chhiri Sherpa
longest time on the summit (21hrs on the Summit of Everest).

Appa Sherpa (The plaque said 12 times Everest Summitter (he has since done it 5 more times)).

 bcrubbish Not everything in the museum was pleasing.A whole series of displayed showed some of the things that had been discarded in the mountains.

It was pointed out, that metal canisters like these would have taken more than 400 years to biodegrade.

There were dozens and dozens of fantastic mountain photographs.Many of them, were taken by one of my Heroes, Doug Scott.

I actually have a copy of the same picture hanging in my home.

 jacket This Jacket was said to have been worn by Morris Herzog.The French team, were the first mountaineers to climb above 8000 metres and Summit Annapurna

At the time, nobody knew what would actually happen to a human being at that altitude and they were subjected to medical experiments for years afterwards.

I have read Annapurna several times. In an era where politics, prejudice and money seem to contaminate every worthwhile endeavour, one quote from the book has always stayed with me.

When selecting the people for the trip, 20 men were selected. Herzog said simply “these were the best mountaineers in France. Nobody said otherwise even in private”.

My Taxi driver takes me back to Pokhara, and I ponder what to do with the afternoon.It was here that I got the first hint of what Kathmandu would really be like.

I mentioned, that I wouldn’t rent a mountain bike today, but would rent one in Kathmandu to see it. He replied that riding a bike there, would be suicide. It was then I started to think that maybe Kathmandu wasn’t like Chamonix or courmayeur !.

I rented the bike, and had a great ride around the village and part of the lake.

 trips Pokhara was the ultimate adult playground.There were dozens of places where you could organise treks/trips/white water rafting/mountain biking. All the main Treks around the Annapurna ranges are run from Pokhara.

There were also tours running all around the region, and even an overland trip to Lhasa.

This previously couldn’t be done “on the fly” as it would involve travelling into a Chinese special administrative region.

I wondered around to meet up with my friends, and saw Kingsley was having his head shaved.There were also loads of Cyber Cafe’s, bars and stuff like that.

It was here that I bought the excellent Jane, a torch, as astoundingly, she hadn’t brought one with here.

 carpweave We visited a Tibetan refugee camp and had a tour of their carpet factory.From 1959 to 1962 some 300,000 refugees came to Nepal from neighbouring Tibet, which had been annexed by China.

These camps have evolved into entire settlements.

Because of their different architecture, prayer flags, gompas and chorten, these can easily be distinguished from the other settlements in the area.

I quite fancied buying a rug, but they were pretty expensive.

I saw this sticker on the window of the tea house.The Panchen Lama is the one of the two highest ranking lamas (together with the Dalai Lama) in the Gelugpa (Dge-lugs-pa) School of Tibetan Buddhism (the school which controlled Tibet from the 16th century until the Communist takeover).

There is a controversy about who is the true present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama: the People’s Republic of China asserts it is Qoigyijabu, while the Tibetan Government in Exile maintains it is Gedhun .

Choekyi Nyima was arrested at the age of six years by the Chinese in 1995. He then became the world’s youngest political prisoner.

 rcamp I wandered around the village market and bought lots of presents.At one point word went around the stalls, that an idiot on a buying spree was “in town” .

I commented to one of the stall holders, that although I only had 1 wife, I had enough presents for 3.

We woke early in the morning to watch the sunrise over Sarangkot.I went into the hotel reception to pay the bill.

It was then that I realised the the hotel staff, actually slept on the floor in reception.

It was humbling to see that the people who had worked so hard to take care of me, cook my breakfast and stuff like that, but didn’t actually have a room of there own.

 teahouse The best viewpoint of Pokhara is Sarangkot (1600m) to the west of the city.There was a small tea house, and I had some hot chocolate.

The the most stunning of Pokhara’s sights is the spectacular panorama of the Annapurna range that forms its backdrop.

Stretching from east to west, the Annapurna massif includes Annapurna I to IV and Annapurna South.Although the highest among them is Annapurna I at 8091 meters, it is Machhapuchhre, which dominates all others in this neighbourhood.

The famous fishtail mountain is considered holy, so you need a permit to climb it.

Unfortunately, there was too much cloud, so this picture didn’t really work out the way I would have liked.


Tour of India and Nepal – Khajuraho.

school1 We set of to visit the Erotic temples of Khajuraho.

On the way, we get the chance to visit an Indian village School.

Even though the School is in the middle of a village, and many lessons are taught outdoors, no compromises were made.

The teachers were very professional and the children well behaved. Just a look from one of the teachers would see a misbehaving child fall into line without a word.

Reminded me of what Schools used to be like in the UK.

I learn an important tip on travel photography from Kingsley (one of the many things I learned from him).

Basically, when you photograph a local. Always show them the picture.

Usually, as in this picture, they are quite delighted, which means everyone takes away something good from the experience.

 school3 We had all brought pencils and paper and stuff like that to give to the children.

We were very impressed, when a very young child wrote the entire English alphabet in right before our eyes.

At first I didn’t want to go into the School, had a bad time at School personally, and I wanted one of my friends to donate my pencils and stuff.

In the end, as good friends would, they talked me into it. The Children were so focused on learning, that they seemed oblivious to the poverty that surrounded them.

As I said goodbye and left, I was nearly crying.

We arrive at Khajuraho.

Our simple accommodation had this amazing pool complex outside.

Khajuraho village is surrounded by the mountains of Chatarpur in the district of Madhya Pradesh and is 395 Km southeast of Agra.

 pool2 The lads made straight for the pool, and even had a go on the water slide.

Water isn’t my thing (but that doesn’t mean I’m dirty or I smell or anything !), I have never associated recreation and water together.

I continued to read my guide book, and you’ve guessed it, have a couple of bottles of beer.

In the hotel bar, this simple yet amazing device.

This free charger, would fit practically every type of mobile phone.

Why does the “developing” country of India have ideas like this, yet I have never seen anything like it in “modernised” Great Britain.

 kingsley By now, it was so common, that I practically forgot to take a picture.

Kingsley attracts more “Bovine” attention.

Today this village remains with 22 temples, which give us a glimpse of a golden time of art and devotion at their peak. Out of 22 temples, two were made from sandstone. The stone blocks were first carved and then the interlocking pieces were assembled to form a temple. Each temple is different from one another.

The contrast of it being so ornately carved, and yet, this wasn’t a coffee table statue, it was an entire building, and scale was incredible.

 carving4 Probably the most photographed place in Khajuraho.

There is some pretty extreme stuff in here, with men and woman doing just about everything that’s possible between them, and the occasional illustration of a man pleasuring a horse !.

The Western Group is the largest of all the temple groups of Khajuraho.

It is not compact and located in the center but also include the most renowned and noteworthy monuments built during the reign of the Chandela rulers.

They are also known to have been maintained well by the Archaeological Survey of India and the lush green lawns surrounding them with multihued shrubs and fragrant blossoms add to their beauty.

The most prominent temples of the group are the Lakshmana Temple, the Matangesvara Temple and the Varaha Temple that are a part of a single complex, the Visvanatha and Nandi temples situated near the above-mentioned complex and the Chitragupta, Jagadambi and the Kandariya Mahadeo temples a little to the west of the complex.

One of the smaller structures that reminded me of a Tibetan bell tower.

 carving2 Unesco world heritage site.

The Khajuraho temples do not contain sexual or erotic art inside the temple or near the deities; however, some external carvings bear erotic art and tantric sexual poses.

A common misconception is that, since the old structures with carvings in Khajuraho are temples, the carvings depict sex between deities.

This is just one small section of the outer wall of one of the temples.

Here there are several hundred carved figures and each one is different.

A similar scene, taken more closely from a different angle at Kandariya Mahadeva temple.

The name Khajuraho is derived from the Hindi word khajur meaning date palm.

 melakshman Lakshmana temple.

The city was once the original capital of the Chandela Rajputs, a Hindu dynasty that ruled this part of India from the 10th to the 12th centuries. The Khajuraho temples were built over a span of a hundred years, from 950 to 1050. The Chandela capital was moved to Mahoba after this time, but Khajuraho continued to flourish for some time.

These are fine examples of Indian architectural styles that have gained popularity due to their salacious depiction of the traditional way of life during medieval times. They were rediscovered during the late 19th century and the jungles had taken a toll on some of the monuments.

The artisans were masters of their of art.

The body of the subject would bend in 3 distinct places, and the tilt of the head would add to the aura of seduction.

According to Hindu legends, Hemvati was a beautiful young Brahmin woman for whom the famous temples of Khajuraho have been built.

The legend goes that she was bathing in a pool near her house in Benares (now Varanasi) in the moonlight. Her ravishing beauty so much captured the fancy of the moon god that he could not help descending to earth to meet her. Hemvati had an affair with the moon god. She conceived a child out of this relationship. Since it had happened out of wedlock, Hemvati was worried and asked the moon god about her fate once he departed from the earth.

 ganesh The moon god prophesied that their son would be the first king of Khajuraho. She was asked by the moon god to leave for a forest of khajurs (date palm trees) far away from Benares to deliver her child. When he grows up, the moon god told her, he should perform a sacrificial ritual that included among its rites the depiction of erotic figures. He should also build 85 temples at the forest of Khajurs, which subsequently came to be known as Khajuraho, all carved with erotic figures. This would free his mother, said the moon god, from the blemish of extramarital love.

Hemvati then left her home to give birth to her son in a tiny village. The child, Chandravarman, was as lustrous as his father, brave and strong. By the time he was 16 years old he could kill tigers or lions with his bare hands. Delighted by his feats, Hemvati invoked the Moon god, who installed him as king at Khajuraho. Chandravarman achieved a series of brilliant victories and built a mighty fortress at Kalinjar. At his mother’s request he began the building of 85 glorious temples with lakes and gardens at Khajuraho and performed the ritual which expunged her of her guilt.

The now familiar symbol of Ganesh.

 This picture shows the elevation of some of the temples, and the beautiful gardens that surrounded them.  garden
 impossible This astounding picture shows a man pleasuring 3 woman while standing on his head.

Our guide commented, that he would need to be an adept at Yoga, if this was even possible at all.

 Our crew sat outside one of the temples.  group

Tour of India and Nepal – Orchha.

 garden One of my favourite parts of the trip.

We arrive at our hotel, straight after a couple of hours on a train, and in a mini-bus, and are shown straight to the garden terrace, and offered a drink.

Indira briefs us on the local, and our planned itinerary in for the next 2 days.

The beautiful room I stayed in, next to the river.

Once again, basic accommodation, proved to be nothing of the sort.

 switch  The electrics, in some of our accommodation, was a little old, but added to the character.
The view from my balcony, showing the the river that ran past the hotel.

Waking in the morning and looking out across the water, was a special moment for me.

 street  The main street, of this simple village.
 My friend Kevin in front of the Man Mandir Palace and Gwalior Fort, in his “foreign correspondent” pose.  kevin
 side  A projected view of one of the palace walls.
 The main wall of the fort, taken through one of the gates.  entrance
 arches  Another part of the fort, showing the detail of the stone carvings.
The beautiful courtyard, showing the high walkways, all around.

It took several hours to see them all.

 hanuman  A temple inside the palace, had this picture of Hanuman (the white monkey in the picture) I had seen a song/dance rendition of the Reamker, which features Hanuman, while visiting Cambodia.
 Gate at the back of the palace, with superbly carved elephants.  ele
 underground  Underground, in a recently opened area.
 Indian Women in Traditional dress.  women
 pool  In the centre of the forecourt, was this bath, similar to the ones I had seen at the Angkor Wat.
As we head up to the walkways, I pose on the stairs with Indira.

I really is hard to describe, just how excellent she was as a guide.

I remember reading a quote once:

What’s the difference between a gymnast and an acrobat ?

They both do the same things, but the gymnast tries to make the activity look easy, and the acrobat tries to make it look hard.

Indira made travel organization look simple, but having arranged my own trips several times, I knew that it wasn’t.

 rooftop1  View of the forecourt, from high up on one of the walkways.
 A view of one of the other forts, through a “window”.  homeless2
 me  High up on one of the walkways, out of the window, there are views of the village.
Angela and Paul, with a Hindu Holyman (possibly, or more likely, someone who dresses like one).

On the left of the picture, another “Holyman” wanted to get in on the action.

 kingsleyindira We visit a traditional Indian village.

Kingsley and Indira sample some street food, and as usual, wherever Kingsley goes, livestock are sure to follow.

I’ve done quite a lot of bushcraft and shelter building, but, using techniques i had been taught and practiced, this was actually someone’s home.

 bed This bed was hand made by the occupants of the house.

Indira had told me as a child, she slept in a similar bed.

The construction was amazing, and could easily have been constructed with just a swiss army knife.

The cordage was hand made in a similar fashion to the stuff I did at Woodsmoke where cordage was twisted against its natural “turn”, and created an binding effect.

An eating house in the street, with food cooked on an open fire.

It always seems strange when I see people using skills I learn as a hobby, which they use as a practical day to day skill, in the same way I operate a microwave.

One of the few souvenir shops around here, made me laugh. It had a sign in the window which said “More crap inside”. Priceless.

 homeless1 The other fort, much nearer to the village, which I had photographed several times from a distance.

When we walked around, we found that several homeless people were living there.

India is really moving on, in terms of business.

Even though it was a small village, there were many posters like these, advertising training in computer technology.

 comp2  This one, wasn’t actually fastened onto the wall, it was painted directly onto it.
 The local police station.  policestation
 sundown2  After we had walked around the town, Indira took us across the rive on this bridge, and we were able to relax here.
Here I relax in what Kevin called my “C&A Man” pose.

A few minutes later, Kingsley, good naturedly started to hand out pencils to a few of the local children, and we were mobbed !.

 sundown1  Looking across the river at one of the other forts.
We decide to leave the minibus and walk back to our hotel.

A superb relaxing walk and a great end to another brilliant day.

 beforetea Before dinner, I grab a bottle of beer, and join everyone, “paddling” in the water at the back of the hotel.

We were sharing the hotel with some other guests, who also like to drink, and sadly at 10pm, the Hotel ran out of beer !.