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

image

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.

image

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

image

The Taj Mahal

image

Sydney Harbour

image image

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.

image

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

image

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.

image

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

image

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

Taj Mahal and Agra Fort

We were visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise so this meant an early start. The bus left the hotel at 6.30am and by 7 we were in the queue waiting for the outside gates to open. At 7am the huge external gate ( one of 3) was swung open and we made our way inside. Security was high and this involved airport style security and the most in depth search of my rucksack since The Gabba in Brisbane!

The forecast for the day was not great but at 7am it was dry but murky. We soon got our first view of the Taj Mahal. Wow! It’s incredibly impressive even in foggy conditions. It’s hard to think there is a more beautiful building anywhere else in the world.

The Taj Mahal was constructed between 1631 and 1654 by a workforce of 22,000. It was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz had already borne the emperor FOURTEEN children when she died in childbirth. The Taj Mahal must be the ultimate symbol of love.

Yash had arranged for a specialist guide to explain the history of the Taj. One of our first photo stops was at “Diana’s seat” by the Lotus Pool. The seat is so named due to the iconic photo of Princess Diana taken on her visit to the Taj Mahal in 1992. She was on an official state visit to India with Prince Charles but visited alone as at the time her marriage was collapsing. As it turned out the rest of the group, and I, had our photos taken on the wrong seat. Hey ho!

Me on the wrong "Diana seat"

Me on the wrong “Diana seat”

The iconic photo of Princess Diana taken in 1992

The iconic photo of Princess Diana taken in 1992

We then moved onto the Taj itself and entered after covering our shoes. Like the Baby Taj yesterday it’s perfectly symmetrical. We saw the tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan. Mumtaz’s cenotaph is right in the centre of the tomb chamber with Shah Jahan’s to one side. This is due to his grave being moved there after his death when the Taj had already been completed.

We has plenty of time for taking photos. Unfortunately the sun didn’t come out and it stayed murky.

image image

One of the 4 minarets. They are 40m high

One of the 4 minarets. They are 40m high

A recessed arch known as a Pishtaq

A recessed arch known as a Pishtaq

After finishing at The Taj we had a coffee nearby and then headed back to the bus. On the way we passed a number of souvenir sellers. After detailed negotiations I managed to secure a very tasteful item – a Taj Mahal glitter dome! – at the bargain price of 100 rupees (£1).

After getting back on the bus we headed back to the hotel which gave an opportunity for breakfast. Whilst back at the hotel the heavens opened and there was thunder in the air. We were lucky to have seen the Taj whilst it was dry.

Despite the weather we headed back out at 10.30 to visit Agra Fort. The walled city of the Agra Fort was first taken over by the Mughals, led by Akbar the Great, in the late 16th century. Akbar liked to build with red sandstone often inlaid with white marble and other intricate decorations. It was during the reign of Shah Jahan, Akbars grandson and the builder of the Taj Mahal, that the fort took on its current state. Shah Jahan preferred buildings of white marble, often inlaid with gold or other semi precious gems, and he destroyed some earlier buildings to build others in his own style. At the end of his life Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the fort by his son, Aurangzeb. It is believed that Shah Jahan died in Muasamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony with an excellent view of the Taj Mahal. The Taj of course is where his favourite wife Mumtaz’s body lays on the other side of the River Yumana from the Fort. The Fort is also the site of one of the most important battles of the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused the end of the British East India Company’s rule in India, leading to a century of direct rule of India by Britain. The Fort is a really fascinating place and our guide really brought things to life for us with stories such as Shah Jahan and Mumtaz having fishing competitions together in the fishing lake. He always let her win! There was also a harem of beautiful ladies within the Fort in the days of Akbar the Great and Shah Jahan. The rain stopped towards the end of our visit but despite this the Taj Mahal was barely visible across the river.

image

image

imageimage

image

image

Grave of John Russell Colvin who was the governor of the a North West province of India who died at Agra Fort in 1857

Grave of John Russell Colvin who was the governor of the a North West province of India and died at Agra Fort in 1857

image

We headed back to the hotel for lunch and I really enjoyed my choice of mixed vegetable korma. In fact I began to order mixed vegetable curries for lunch each day in India following this.

We had free time in the afternoon which I used to catch up with sleep. The journey from Thailand to India and the early morning had caught up with me.

In the evening we headed out to the Dasaprakash South Indian restaurant and a totally different style of food. Check out the Dosa that I had. A Dosa is a type of fermented crepe cooked with rice batter and black lentils. Mine was a little bit different to the norm as it contained wheat, onions and potatoes. Very tasty!

My Dosa

My Dosa

After the meal we headed back to the hotel. Yash invited us back to his room for a party. Most of the group went along. Room parties were to be a theme for the rest of the week.

Delhi to Agra

Day 2 of my Indian adventure started with a quick breakfast of coffee and toast. We checked out of our Delhi hotel and awaited our transport. It consisted of a 20 seater bus with driver and helper. With bags loaded into the bus – I remembered to tip this time! – we set off into old Delhi.

Our first stop was Jama Masjid (the great mosque) built in 1656 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It took 5,000 workmen six years to build and is the largest mosque in India. The huge square courtyard can accommodate up to 20,000 for occasions such as Friday prayers. It was a foggy day in Delhi so we declined the opportunity to climb the minaret. This is supposed to give great views of the city but with the fog there wouldn’t have been much to see. We removed shoes whilst entering the mosque. This to be a common theme over the next few days and it was common for our shoes to be “minded” by someone in exchange for a tip.

In the courtyard of the biggest Mosque in India

In the courtyard of the biggest Mosque in India

The Jama Masjid

The Jama Masjid

After leaving the mosque we walked through the streets of Old Delhi heading for Chandni Chowk one of India’s most vibrant centres of commerce and religious activity. It was early in the morning and many shops had not yet opened. The usual opening time is 10am. I paused at a stall where an Indian gentleman had just ordered breakfast. We stood aghast at a street where electrical cables hung above us in a chaotic spaghetti of danger.

Breakfast in Old Delhi

Breakfast in Old Delhi

Check out the electrical cables!

Check out the electrical cables!

Having reached Chandni Chowk we visited a Sikh temple. The Sikh holy site of Gurdwara SisGanj stands at the site where the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded in 1675 on the orders of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for refusing to accept Islam. To enter the temple we had to remove shoes and socks and wear headscarves. We sat in silence for a few minutes watching Sikhs at worship.

image

Inside the Sikh temple

We watched lunch preparations underway in the temple kitchens. Some of the girls helped with making chapatis. Apparently lunch is provided free to the worshippers within the temple.

Now that's a big pan!

Now that’s a big pan!

Making chapatis

Making chapatis

After leaving the temple we retraced our steps back to the Jama Masjid where the bus was waiting. Many of the shops which were shut when we passed earlier were now trading. There were lots of jewelry shops with no doubt many bargains to be had.

It was now time to leave Delhi as we had a 5 hour journey ahead of us to reach Agra which is around 210km south of Delhi. It was a good journey with most of the road being a relatively new toll motorway. We passed a number of new residential and office developments in the Noida area. One of the places we passed was the Indian Formula 1 circuit at Buddh. Much of the scenery along the way was agricultural. North India is very green at this time of year. There were many workers out in the fields and little sign of mechanisation.

Having made good time to reach Agra we visited the Itmad-Ud-Daulash tomb which is also known as the Baby Taj. It was built by Empress Noor Jahan, the beloved wife of Prince Saleem’or Jahangir, in the memory of her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg, who was the Prime-Minister of the Mughal Court. The Baby Taj was started in 1622 and took 6 years to build. It is if particular interest as it is a forerunner of the Taj Mahal and many of the designs within it are also present within the Taj. The tomb is a combination of white marble, coloured mosaic, stone inlay and lattice work. I found it absolutely captivating and loved the symmetry of the design. It was a wonderful way to spend time at the end of a long journey. Compared to the fog (or smog?) in Delhi it was clear in Agra.

The baby Taj

The baby Taj

Sandstone entrance gate at the Baby Taj

Sandstone entrance gate at the Baby Taj

Me at the Baby Taj

Me at the Baby Taj

image image

After leaving the Baby Taj we headed for our hotel. We got stuck in a traffic jam on the way. Traffic coming on the opposite direction moved onto our side of the road to try and avoid the gridlock. It was absolutely fascinating watching from the bus. Tuk tuks rammed full with an improbable number of people. I saw a family of five (mum, dad and 3 kids) on a motor bike! The young girls on our bus got plenty of attention from a number of the Indian guys stuck in the traffic jam. Eventually the traffic started to move and we got to our hotel.

Family on a motorbike. Mum head away behind Dad for this shot

Family on a motorbike. Mum hid away behind Dad for this shot

A very full Tuk Tuk

A very full Tuk Tuk

In the evening we went out to a local restaurant and enjoyed a meal sat outside. There were a number of Indian weddings going on in Agra. It’s peak season for weddings there. We saw a wedding procession go past involving a marching band and the groom.

After getting back to the hotel I had a drink in the bar but then retired to my room. Tomorrow was an early start and I was going to see the Taj Mahal!