The Last Post

I write this having been back in the cold, wet and windy UK for a couple of weeks. This has given me time to adjust to what is, quite frankly, a far more mundane existence. It has also given me time to reflect on my trip.

My trip has been an amazing experience and I have many memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Pretty much everything I have done on the trip has been fantastic but there have been two real highlights that stand out.

The first is the 6 days I spent on the South Island of New Zealand. I loved the wonderful scenery and doing some amazing things including whale watching, a heli-hike onto Franz Josef Glacier and jet boating.

Whale watching at Kaikoura

Whale watching at Kaikoura

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Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

The second highlight was the week in India touring the “Golden Triangle” with G Adventures. I loved travelling through such a vibrant country seeing some amazing sights, experiencing the culture and eating some absolutely fabulous food.

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Jaipur

Jaipur

Palace of the Winds

Palace of the Winds

Trying to make a puri

Trying to make a puri

Amber Fort

Amber Fort

I have seen some amazing sights Including:-

Uluru

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The Taj Mahal

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Sydney Harbour

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The cricket obviously didn’t go according to plan. I watched every one of England’s losses to Australia and became increasingly resigned to the entirely predictable nature of these defeats. Disappointing as the cricket was it gave me a base to explore the great cities of Australia. I was part of the world record attendance for a test match at the MCG on Boxing Day.

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Some stats!! My trip took me away from home for 79 nights. I travelled in 5 countries – Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, India and the United Arab Emirates. I went on 17 flights and travelled with 8 different airlines. I stayed in 20 different hotels. So making all these flights certainly means I have had an impact on the environment. All the air miles equate to 4.85 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The driving I did in New Zealand, 1095 kilometres, added a further 0.26 tonnes of CO2 emissions. I am investigating what I can do to offset this.

Best airline – QANTAS. I flew with them more than any other airline. Great service delivered by “real people” not the archetypal young “trolley dolly” you find elsewhere.

Best airport – Dubai. Space age. Roomy. Waterfalls!

Worst airport – Goa International Airport. Dirty toilets and rowing cleaners. Make sure you scan your luggage first! I also had issues at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport with baggage coming off the wrong carousel and lengthy queues for biosecurity checks.

Favourite hotel – The Point, Brisbane. Great service and a room with a fantastic view. Well located for the Gabba and the free boat service into central Brisbane. I also had fantastic service and food at the Resort Terra Paraiso in Goa. Excellent towel and pillow art by housekeeping!

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

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Housekeeping art at Resort Terra Paraiso, Goa

Worst hotel – Great Southern Hotel, Sydney. Room very dated and felt claustrophobic

Favourite cricket stadium – Sydney Cricket Ground. Blends futuristic new stands with well preserved old pavilions.

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Worst cricket stadium – The WACA, Perth. Little shade and needs urgent redevelopment.

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So would I do it again??? The trip has been very much a once in a lifetime opportunity. It has cost a pretty penny and I now need to start earning again. 11 weeks away is a long time and there were times particularly around Christmas and New Year when I was really starting to miss family. Keeping in touch through instant messaging, email, FaceTime and Facebook has been invaluable. When you can talk to somebody and see them on screen the world does not seem such a big place.  I have loved experiencing the different countries and cultures and a much better climate. So yes I would definitely do a big trip again but not for as long.

Has the trip changed me??? Well I don’t feel any different. It may have given me a different perspective on a few things. The trip has definitely given me the desire to travel more and explore further some of the places I have been to.

A successful trip can only take place with help from others. I have had great support from friends and family. They seemed to think my trip was a much bigger deal than I thought myself and showed this with a great send off before I went away. I was worried about my house being left empty for an extended period of time. Thanks to Mum and Dad and my next door neighbours Kathryn and Steve for keeping an eye on it for me whilst I was away. My house remained totally intact whilst I was away but ironically suffered storm damage within a week of my return!

A big thank you to my travel agents, Round the World Experts, and in particular Nigel Wright for turning my dreams into reality.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog. I have enjoyed writing it and it is something I can always look back on. The blog seems to have generated quite a lot of interest – It has had over 4300 views and over 100 comments.

Finishing the blog helps me put the trip “to bed” and allows me to focus on the next phase of my life which starts with the search to generate an income.

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

The end of the Golden Triangle tour

After two fantastic days in Jaipur it was time to leave there and make our way back to Delhi.

It was a long journey taking around 6 hours. Like most of the bus trip round Northern India I found the journey back up to Delhi absolutely fascinating. At the Jaipur end the road wasn’t great, pretty bumpy, and we passed through busy villages and towns where the road sides were absolutely packed with lorries. This was a major trunk road for the Indian haulage industry. On the journey I saw camels being used for transport and close to Jaipur monkeys were commonplace.

Some of the sights from India’s roads are not necessarily easy viewing. On numerous occasions when passing a village I observed locals washing by a water pump. Presumably the pump was having to be shared by a number of people in the village. I wondered what toilet facilities and living conditions were like in those villages. Litter is a problem. It’s everywhere within towns and cities. In the week I had in India I only saw one refuse truck. That was on a motorway with rubbish piled high and litter blowing off the top. I did see wheelie bins and the like but they were often overflowing. Sadly towards Delhi on this journey I did see people sifting through rubbish in a refuse dump. It’s quite common to see men peeing at the side of roads. But what toilet facilities are there for motorists? It is also quite common to see people, mainly men, spitting. This is often to do with the practice of chewing paan. Paan is a stimulating and psychoactive preparation of betel leaf combined with areca nut and/or cured tobacco. Many of the buildings you see at the side of the road, used for trading, are pretty basic constructed from brick and cement. It’s common to see the chimneys of brick kilns scattered through the countryside and numerous advertisements for different cement brands.

After a stop for lunch we were getting close to Delhi. A sunny day turned foggy – or was it smog? We passed industrial parks full of manufacturing businesses. We passed a Harley Davidson manufacturing plant and there were numerous Japanese companies represented.

India is a country of contrasts. Extreme poverty seems all around but there are examples of wealth and real economic advances in areas such as IT and manufacturing.

We arrived back at the Grand Park Inn in Delhi in the mid afternoon. This did give time to potentially do further sightseeing. However the following day was when Republic Day celebrations were taking place and a number of roads and tourist attractions were closed so I decided to stay in the hotel for the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening we went out for our last meal as a group. Like the first night in Delhi, Yash led us through the streets of Karol Bagh to our restaurant. I found the walk much more relaxing than that first night and I think this is due to the fact that I had got used to the frenetic nature of the big cities. It had been a fantastic week. None of the worries I had at the start of the week had been realised. My stomach had been fine and I had felt safe and secure. I had been travelling with a great group of people and in Yash, our CEO from G Adventures, we had an exceptional group leader. He had a real presence about him which helped everything run smoothly and some of the added extras were real delights – eg the cookery lesson and the trip round the village at Abaneri. He is one of the coolest dudes I have ever met!

It was a fantastic meal and I enjoyed the best Indian dish I have ever had in my life. It is called Chicken Lababdar. I have never seen it in the UK but in India it’s a real delicacy with tongue tingling spices and also containing butter, onions, cream and tomatoes. Yum!!

Recipe for chicken lababdar

I saw this on the side of a truck and am inclined to agree!

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Recipe for chicken lababdar

My dish looked something like this....

My dish looked something like this….

After the meal we returned to the hotel and enjoyed the last room party of the week. I crawled into bed at around 2am… I had an amazing time doing the Golden Triangle. An experience I will never forget. I felt there was so much to see and in some ways we had just scratched the surface. I feel I must return to India to see more.

 

Sightseeing in and around Jaipur and a Bollywood Film

We set off by bus for a morning of sightseeing. Our first stop was at the Hawa Mahal or “Palace of the Winds”. It was built In 1799 and the original intention was to allow ladies from the City Palace, presumably from the harem, to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. Constructed of red and pink sandstone highlighted with white lime the five storied facade contains 953 small windows. The breeze (hawa) that comes through the windows keeps it cool, even in hot months, and gives the palace it’s name. We made a brief photo stop here. It’s certainly very impressive and I can see why it’s known as Jaipur’s signature building. Returning to the bus I saw a snake charmer with cobra!

The Palace of the Winds

The Palace of the Winds

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So why is Jaipur called the Pink City? Well in 1853 when the Prince of Wales came to visit the city most of the old buildings were painted pink to welcome him. The colour has remained pink ever since. Actually it’s closer to a terracotta colour but I guess that “Pink City” sounds better than “Terracotta City”. Our next stop was a few kilometres outside Jaipur at Amber, the former capital of Jaipur state until 1727. We got off the bus and towering ahead of us was the Amber Fort/Palace complex. In front of us was a lake. Unfortunately the view was hazy but we passed by again the following day and had a brief photo stop here to get better pictures. There was an option to ride by elephant up to the fort but Yash did not recommend this describing the elephants as “sad” and the ride up not being within the G Adventures ethos of sustainable tourism. We all chose to walk up which did give numerous opportunities to see the elephants close up and yes they didn’t seem a particularly happy bunch.

The Amber Fort with artificial lake in front

The Amber Fort with artificial lake in front

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Amber was a flourishing city as far back as 967AD. The Fort/Palace complex is famous for its mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture. It’s vast with very impressive architecture, mosaics, courtyards and gardens.  One particular highlight was the Sheesh Mahal containing tiny mirrors which when a single candle is lit can transform it into a “starlit sky”. We explored extensively the central area of the fort only then to discover a much older part at the far end. This area was converted into women’s quarters (the Zenana) by Man Singh to house his 12 wives and concubines.

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Ganesh Pol. The shimmering three-storeyed gateway built in 1640 leads to the private apartments

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The huge flagged courtyard is known as the Jaleb Chowk which translated means the square where elephants and horses are tethered

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A mirrored wall within the Sheesh Mahal

A mirrored wall within the Sheesh Mahal

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Adam Bagh the pleasure garden

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The Zemana - women's quarters

The Zemana – women’s quarters

After leaving the Amber Fort we made a brief photo stop at the Jal Mahal nearby. This “water palace” seems to float on the lake. Built in the mid 18th century by Madho Singh I , it is based on the Lake Palace at Udaipur where the king spent his childhood.

The Jal Mahal

The Jal Mahal

We headed back into Jaipur where the sightseeing continued at the City Palace. Occupying the heart of the city, the City Palace has been home to the rulers of Jaipur since the first half of the 18th century. The Palace complex is a super blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture with open, airy Mughal-style public buildings leading to private apartments. Today the complex is open to the public as the City Palace museum. We first visited a lavishly decorated ground floor room which was used for ceremonial occasions. The room contained portraits of the former rulers of Jaipur. The royal dynasty continues but nowadays their role is largely ceremonial. Heading back out into the courtyard we passed two silver urns. These are listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest silver vessels in the world. They carried sacred Ganges water to London for Madho Singh’s visit in 1901. The seven storey palace is beautiful. It’s predominately yellow colour provides a great contrast with the rest of the pink city.

The seven storey palace. Each floor is extravagantly decorated.

The seven storey palace. Each floor is extravagantly decorated.

The record breaking silver urns

The record breaking silver urns

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The tour of the palace ended with an opportunity to haggle with local traders for souvenirs – predominately artwork. I kept my hand firmly in my pocket!

After lunch back in the hotel the afternoon was free. The group split along gender stereotype lines. The girls went shopping and the blokes stayed in the hotel! I spent some time sitting on the hotel terrace in the sunshine watching the world go by below.

The view from the hotel terrace

The view from the hotel terrace

In the evening we went to the cinema to see a Bollywood film. This involved another thrilling tuk-tuk ride there and back. The Ray Mandir movie cinema opened in 1976 and is in an art moderne style with a meringue shaped auditorium. We had come to see Jai Ho starring the Bollywood star Salman Khan. He has appeared in several high grossing Bollywood films. It was the first night of Jai Ho in Jaipur and the cinema was packed. I struggled to follow the plot. It was spoken in Hindi and there were no subtitles. The scenes seemed to follow a particular formula that repeated – comedy scene, sad scene, violent scene, romantic scene and occasionally some singing and dancing. Khan played a “Robin Hood” type character who was keen to right wrongs even if this involved using what at times seemed pretty extreme violence. The audience got really involved shouting out when there was about to be an action sequence. It was a great experience to be in such a different type of audience with a real atmosphere in a great movie theatre holding around 1,500 people.

Salman khan

Salman khan

Outside the cinema

Outside the cinema

The view from the foyer

The view from the foyer

The view from my seat before the film started

The view from my seat before the film started

Bharatpur to Jaipur

So after one night in our country residence in Bhararpur we checked out and the bus headed towards Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.

On the way we stopped at Abhaneri. This former city was established in the 9th century and was known as the city of brightness. Now it is an ancient village that I found absolutely fascinating. On arrival we entered the Chand Baoli step well which was built in the 11th century. It is an incredible structure, a real feat of architecture, particularly given how long ago it was built. The step wells were used for people in the city to draw water. Given it’s design it must have been able to accommodate lots of people drawing water simultaneously.

The Chand Baoli step well

The Chand Baoli step well

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After visiting the step well we went for a walk around the village. It was a fantastic experience. A couple of the girls in our tour party helped one of the locals make pots and attracted quite a crowd. We were followed by some enchanting young children who were after chocolate! I felt like we were stepping into a totally different world. Undoubtedly the people living in the village were desperately poor but I got a feeling it was quite a vibrant community. We saw a local high school with lots of bikes parked in front. Apparently there is a government funded scheme which provides girls (not boys!) with free bikes. This is a way of trying to improve the attendance of girls at school. To end the visit to the village we visited the Harshat Mata Temple which dates from 8th to 9th AD.

Pot making

Pot making

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I was slightly bemused on arrival in India to see swastikas. They are a Hindu symbol, used well before Hitler came along, as an affirmation of good luck, health and prosperity

I was slightly bemused on arrival in India to see swastikas. They are a Hindu symbol, used well before Hitler came along, as an affirmation of good luck, health and prosperity

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No shortage of fruit and veg in the village

No shortage of fruit and veg in the village

The Harshat Mata temple

The Harshat Mata temple

After visiting the village we stopped for lunch at a lovely country hotel, the Umaid Lake Palace. I had a mixed vegetable curry which by this stage had become my regular lunchtime meal.

The hotel where we stopped for lunch

The hotel where we stopped for lunch

We arrived in Jaipur in mid afternoon. I was immediately struck with how much space there seemed here compared with Delhi. Jaipur (city of victory) was founded in 1729 and unlike other pre-modern Indian cities is planned according to the principles of Hindu architectural theory. Jaipur is surrounded by a wall pierced by seven gates. It’s grid of nine rectangular sectors is based in a geometric plan with a system of main streets intersected by spacious market squares.

One of the city gates

One of the city gates

After checking into the hotel we headed out into old Jaipur. Our initial mode of transport was tuk-tuks. This was an absolutely fantastic way to experience the city. It was a short but breathtaking experience. India is somewhere I don’t think I could ever drive in. There are motorbikes weaving in and out and pedestrians, dogs and cows involved in the mix. Lots of horns being sounded. Vehicles often seem to be on a collision course. Surprisingly given the apparent chaos I have seen very few accidents here. So perhaps the horn based system is the answer to reducing traffic accidents?

The tuk tuk I rode in

The tuk tuk I rode in

Our tuk-tuk went through one of the gates in the city walls and then we were on a street with a busy market at the side selling fruits, vegetables, spices and all manner of other goods. We walked up the street and then at the top by a roundabout crossed over the busy road. To do this safely required the help of our leader, Yash, and a policeman. When safely on the other side of the road we got up on a rooftop which gave an excellent view of a roundabout and the apparent traffic chaos. Our next mode of transport was bicycle rickshaws which was another, slightly lower speed, experience of the city. Our rickshaw driver, who I don’t think spoke much English, asked where I was from. I said “England”. He replied “lovely jubbly”! We got off the rickshaws at a shop which Yash promised served the best lassi’s in Jaipur. A lassi is a yoghurt based drink, lightly spiced, which sometimes contains fruit. I ordered a large banana lassi. It was served in a terrocotta pot and was absolutely delicious. On leaving the cafe we smashed the pots for them to be recycled. So as well as an amazing drink you also got a unique pot.

A dog finds an interesting place to lie down!

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A dog finds an interesting place to lie down

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A cow sets off to navigate its way through Jaipur at rush hour

A cow sets off to navigate its way through Jaipur at rush hour

On a Jaipur rooftop in front of a busy roundabout

On a Jaipur rooftop in front of a busy roundabout

Yash, in the baseball cap, takes the lead in crossing the road

Yash, in the baseball cap, takes the lead in crossing the road

The view from the rickshaw sat behind mr "lovely jubbly"

The view from the rickshaw sat behind mr “lovely jubbly”

The day had been absolutely amazing but there was more to come. An Indian cookery lesson. We arrived at the home of a middle aged couple close to the centre of Jaipur. In the garden there were set up a couple of stoves and the lady demonstrated a number of dishes. This included Indian tea (chai), vegetable pakoras, arhar dal, vegetable rice and peas paneer. Her husband acted as a very welcoming host and at one point during proceedings showing family wedding photos. They were obviously very well off compared to most in India. They had a sizeable house and big garden and had a maid living in the house together with a boy from a local village. There was the opportunity for us to participate in some of the cooking. Not being much of a cook, to put it mildly!, it was with slight nervousness I stepped forward to make a puri. This is a type of puffy Indian bread. My attempts with a rolling pin and pan of vegetable oil caused much amusement to all! After the cooking we sat down for the most amazing meal – all vegetarian – in front of a fire in the garden.

Our hosts

Our hosts

Attempting to make a puri

Attempting to make a puri

The group I travelled through India with. Taken at the cooking night, Tor-Bjorn and Paulette didn't attend and Yash missing as he left early to procure booze. Our hotel was alcohol free in Jaipur

The group I travelled through India with. Taken at the cooking night. Tor-Bjorn and Paulette didn’t attend – it was optional. Yash missing as he left early to procure booze. Our hotel in Jaipur was alcohol free.

After saying our farewells we had another tuk-tuk ride through the streets of Jaipur. Doing this in the dark was again another fantastic experience. We drove through narrow streets. On one street a wedding was taking place.

It had been the most incredible day. The highlight of an amazing week. I couldn’t wait to see what the next day brought.