after being back in Delhi fpr a few days we just wanted to get out again. It's definitely not a place i would choose 2 visit again if i have a choice and many others i've talked 2 feel the same. unfortunatley i'll proabably have 2 come back via Delhi to continue my travels 2 the south
We booked our train straight from the train station as the hotel didn't explain all the trains available and wanted us only 2 travel in the most expensive method. Instead we ended up geting a train that left at 6.45, an earlier cheaper option but one that let us get away to the north on the day that we wanted. We were in chair class and had set seats. Finding them wasn't too much of a problem but the luggage stacks were already full so we had to try and squeeze our huge bags down the side of our seats. Thankfully we had a table seat, the only one in the carriage by the looks so there was just enough room. The train got into to Amritsar at around 2.15 so it was our first long distance train journey. It was definitely an experience. I managed to snooze 4 a while 2 start with but not 4 long.
Once we had checked into a hotel and sorted out our stuff we made our way down to centre of town in a cyclerickshaw. The man cycling looked like he would keel over with the weight of both of us but we made it safely enough. We didn't think it would be appropraite to vist the temple straight away as it was getting late into the afternoon and we wanted to spend a while looking round. Instaed we visited Jallianwala Bagh. It was here that 2000 indians were killed or injured by the British authorities in 1919. It has been turned into a memorail garden and includes a martyrs gallery. As the only foriegners there and to everyones eyes typically British we had a few evil stares thrown our way.
The next morning we headed out again for the Golden Temple. To enter we had to leave our shoes, wash our feet and cover our heads. Since i don't know that much about Sikhism we thought it prudent to visit the museum first. Inside was basically a collection of paintings of famous events in their past and photos of martyrs. Although interesting to view it was not as informative as i had hoped and there was very little on the actions of Indira Ganghi which we had hoped to learn more about. Instead of explining the situayion it was more the case that it happened and then she was assissanated by her Sikh bodyguards. Once inside the main compound however the sight of the Golen temple in the middle of the lake was just as breathtaking as i had imagined. We walked all round the edge taking in the temle from all sides - stoppig to take the odd icture or two. To get to the temple itself though you have to cross a bridge and there were hundreds of indians there queuing. At first me and Jo joined the end of this line as it would be interesting to see the actual temple, however in the heat it would be quite some wait. However in the end we didn't have to wait as someone grapped Jo's hand and took her round to the exit where we were let in that way. IT seems that foriegners and the elderely don't have to que and we walked over the bridge to the temple. It felt strange however passing all those who wanted to visit the temple for their religious beliefs just because we were tourists.
We wanted ro visit the border ceremony and apparently a good way to do it is by shared jeep from the dinning hall entrance of the golden temple. We had a look round in the afternoon, we were given a reciept for the passage after giving them a small deposit. The reciept held the jeep registration and a number to call but i still felt apprehensive about handling over money. I guess we just had to go on trust. So at 3.30 we went back and inteed the jeep was there waiting for us. However it seemed an age before we actually got going as they wanted to fit as many people into this jeep as possible as we were paying per person. In the end there were 6 of us in the back and 2 in the front.
Once we got to the border i was amazed at how many people were also there. As its a daily occurance i was rather taken back with the numbers of Indians who flocked to see it. The ceremony itself was hilariouss. Both the Indians and the Pakistani's took it really seriously, although dramatised and exaggerated its obvious that both sidess play off each other. Almost as dramatic was our journey back. The jeep that we were in broke down....... We were basically left on he side of the road while they tried to get it going again. Out of nowhere we were surrounded by local youths inn loincloths and shepards crooks (i'm not making it up). Kim and Laura both from Canada were also in our position, we had no idea what was goind on. Thankfully there were two Indian tourists in our jeep as well how were translating what was happening and warning us that the group who surrounded us were in no way friendly. In the end we were towed part of the way back, then had to get out again while it towed the empty jeep till it reeved into life again. We didn't get back to the Golden Temple till around 9. We went for dinner (well should say snacks) with Kim and Laura and found out that they too were travelling up to Dharamsala by bus the next day.
Dharamsala / Mcleod Ganj
The bus to Dharamsala was just an ordinary local bus so no airconditioning. IT was fine though because as we traveled further up into the hills it became more breezy and a lot easier to handle. At Dharamsala we had to get a jeep up to Mcleod Ganj which was a further 10km uphill. Because the bus had arrived after the last bus up we basiclly had to pay what the jeep drivers wanted. However Ali was a master bargianer and got him down. We still ended up having to get out as the jeep couldn't quite make it up the hills with all 5 of us inside plus our luggage. At one point it started off round the corner without us. I just had visions of the driver driving off with all our stuff. That didn't happen and we made it up. The hotel that we stayed in offered rooms with shared bathrooms which we didn't mind as it saves us money in the long run. We had squat toilets and a cold shower. Cold showers hadn't been a problem so far as they were a welcome relief from the heat but because it was so much cooler it really made an impact.
The next day we headed to the Tsuglagkhang complex (which includes the official residence of the Dalai Lama) and saw Tibetian monks debating in the form of foot stamps and clapping. The Tsuglagkhang is the equivialent to the JOkhang Temple in Lhusa, Tibet. There was also a small Tibet museum which really opened my eyes to the whole issue, that being the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the struggles exiles went through both back i Tibet and the journey to realtive safety in India and the reality that still many Tibetians suffer injustice under the rule of the Chinese. In particular there is great risk that a culture and religious identity is being washed away while we sit back and do nothing about it. We felt so strongly about the subject that that night we joined a conversation class. Its aim is to give tibetians the opportunity to practice their english. I felt a bit apprehensive to start with as i'm not one that can easily hold a conversation with someone i don't know for around an hour but in the end it was ok as there was lots they wanted to know.
On our second day there we walked to Bhagsu a small village further round the mountian. Just beyound there was a lovely waterfall. I took my swimming stuff with me as i had every intention of taking a dip. However of course when we got there we wern't alone. I still went in though but in my shorts and vest top, couldn't just get there and no. There were 5 of us that walked up but only me and ali actually went in, Jo took my photos to prove that i did it though. Felt very self consious though as many were staring at us. Later after it had stopped raining.... we went and visited the Gu Chu sum Movement Gallery. Inside were photos and drawings depicted the political oppression suffered by the tibetians. Some of the drawings that showed the various methods of torture really made me feel sick. Just to think that this had happened relatively recently in world history and that it could still be going on turned ny stomach. The movement also held conversation classes up on the roof of the building so we stayed on for nearly 2 hours. The Tibetains here were either political prisoners themselves or there family members so the tales they had to tell particularly of their journey over the mountains into Nepal and India were fascinating.
It was more walking the next day. In the morming we headed out for Dal lake. On route we passed the the church of St John in the wilderness. As it had been built by the British for a moment i could almost imagine that i was back at home looking at ome of the many parish churches dotted around the countryside. It was very peaceful just 2 sit inside for a few minutes. From the church is was another 4km up to the lake, which was dry. I had a feeling that somehow it would be. We walked back via a different route which was very scenic, the views over the mountains made up for the disappointment of the lake. Then in the afternoon we decided to take a look at the Secretariat complex where the Tibetian government is in exile.The complex was listed at being a km downhill from the main town but it definitely felt like more, we were already dreading the walk up. Once at the complex we visited the small cultural museum over the library. The library had translations of many tibetian manuscripts which you can gain access to for a monthly membership. We debated wether or not 2 have a look, but it the end decided that the texts would be far eyound our understanding of their religion and culture. The walk up was exhausting but not too bad
Our last day. Jo had a tibetian language class in the morning which she loved. I thought about going but my grasp at understanding languages is hilarously bad. We went down to the temple again where a monk cane to chat to us. It was a perfect opportunity to practice the tibetian they had learnt. We didn't do much for the rest of the day as we were just waiting for our bus. We left Mcleod Ganj at around 7.30 on a local bus which was really packed. I had to get our bags up onto the roof and try and secure them. Getting up there was fine but there didn't seem to be any rope we had to tie them to the railings with a bit of twine. I think we had our fingers crossed all the way down that they would stay secured. Once in Dharamsala we had to wait until 9.30 for our overnight bus. This time i managed to find the chain we had bought for this such occasion and had secured our bags on that way and to each other. The bus wasn't too bad as it was semi-delux (the chairs were more comfortable) and i got a few hours sleep.
We arrived early, about 6.30. The surrounding mountains looked lvely in the early morming light but that was about all we liked about this place. As for the next few hours we had to find a place to stay. The hotels near the bus station were all booked up and advised us to try again after 12 when maybe people would have checked out. We really had only one option to walk up to the ridge where the vast majority of the hotels were. It was a hard slog getting up the hills and we had several nos before we found a place to stay. After walking around a bit and checking out the availiablity of trains etc (3 days before any availiability) we decided that we really didn't want to stay any longer than we had to. We went back to the bus station and booked a bus to Delhi for the next morning. This left us with the rest of the day to do all the things that we wanted to. We thought about walking up to Jakhu temple but after walking so far up decided against it. Not only was it another hard slog up the hill but the guidebook warned about pestering monkeys. I did not want t be attacked by one of those. In the end we walked to the Viceregal lodge which is now the Indian Institute of Advanced study and back again. Not sure how many Kms that was but by the time we got back to ridge my feet were definitely feeling it. Along the ridge there were lots of British arhitecture, it was wierd to see mock tudor houses this far up a mountain in india. Near our hotel was Christchurch ( the second oldest church in northern India apparently). We went and sat inside for a while, we had to take our shoes off like we were going into a temple which was wierd.
The next morning we checked out and headed back to the bus station. This time we were able to put our bags in the back compartment ( for a small fee of course!!) but it turned out a good decision as it poured wit rain for most of the journey. We arrived in Delhi about 7 that night so it was a full days travelling. We found ourselves a hotel for a few nights while we sorted out travel for the next part of the trip. We went to the train station and booked tickets from Delhi to Varanasi and then from Varanasi to Kolkata
We had heard that there is a lot of hotel touts around the train station so we had sorted out accomodation before we left Delhi. This meant that we had someone to meet us off the train and get us to the hotel. If we had had to get there by ourselves i think we would have walked around for hours. Auto-rickshaws can only go so far and then you have to walk the rest but the hotel was situated in the back lanes all of which look the same. The very same day we headed up to Sarnath a little town 10km from Varanasi. We had planned to get the bus from the train station but once we got back up there we couldn't find the rights spot and really didn't want to wait around till one came along as we became crowded by people. In the end we got a auto-rickshaw for not too much more than the bus would have cost. We walked around a park that housed monastic ruins (Buddhist). There was also the Dhaneth Stupa which marks the spot where the Buddha preached his first sermon. There were various other points of interest around the site, the shrine where an emperor meditated etc. We then walked over to the Archaeological musuem which was a lot cheaper than the park. It was full of statues and was quite informative but we didn't stay long. The whole area was full of temples from different countries so we walked around looking at the differences, then got a autorichshaw back to the hotel ( well as close as we could get.
The next morning we were up early!!! we had to be downstairs for half 5. we were walked down to the Ganges to one of the ghats where we got on a rowing boat to see the sunrise from the river. Its a very tourisy thing 2 do but we couldn't miss it out. We were rowed down the river past various ghats including the cremation one. As the Ganges is holy a lot of people want to go to Varanasi to die so they can be cremated at the two cremation ghats. As we rowed past i tried not 2 look. they forbid photos of the cremation ghats but there was no way that i would anyway. We were lucky as other people we met saw floating bodies in the water. The River may be holy but its also incredibly dirty. Its amazing how many people bath in it, wash thier clothes etc when they know its polluted with the remains of dead bodies. For the rest of the morning we had a tour of some of the temples in the area. They were interesting but at the end of the day just another couple of temples....
For the rest of our time in Varanasi we strolled down some of the ghats at our own pace, spent lots of time in a cafe ( sometimes talking to other travellers about their experiences) While sitting down relaxing by the river one afternoon a guy came up to us with cages full of birds. He wanted us to pay to set them free as it would give us good Kharma. However much i wanted to let the birds free i knew that he would only capture more and try to get other travellors to pay to free them. In the ebd we just had to ask him to leave, some of the birds looked really unhealthy , we wouldn't be surprised if their wings had been clipped to prevent them from escaping. One bird had its neck bent an a really awkward angle, it looked like its neck was broken and really nade me angry. HAd could the guy stand there talking about Kharma when he had imprisioned the birds himself. The next day while we walked up the ghats we were joined by jason who was just there for the day, it was such a difference walking around as we didn't so much hassle.
Our train to Kolkata wasn't until the evening so our last day was a lot of waiting around again. Then the train was late so the day seemed endless.
Tried out dorm accomodation this time. We both chose top bunks which turned out well in the end as we didn't get bitten as much as others staying on the lower bunks. For in the afternoon we walked around getting ourselves familiar with the city's layout. We found the bus station and then walked down through the Maidan. It was great it was almost like being in one of the parks in London. We then walked to St Pauls Cathedral which even though is in need of a clean was impressive to look at. We went inside where i sat for about 10 mins, since i hadn't been able to make the service that morning it was good to be able to sit and say my prayers.
I was sick in the night, just my luck. This meant that i was exhausted all the following day. It helped though that today we met up with Jason again to do some sightseeing. We walked for miles. First we went to find BBD Bagh square. Around it are loads of colonial architecture since Culcutta was once the capital of British controlled India. From here we walked further up as there was a high concentration of religious buildings. The ones we found were closed though. We did stumble into the chaotic chinatown and then made a fast retreat back the way we came. Next we wanted to talk to the sisters of charity Motherhouse where Mother Teresa was based. It took way longer for us to get there than we expected. I was nearly dead on my feet and there wasn't a restaurant in sight but we carried on regardless. Once we made it there though we had to wait half an hour till it opened. We just sat down on a nearby step glad that we had at last stopped walking. Here we parted ways as Jason went off 2 see about volunteering. We saw Mother Teresa's tomb and the room where she lived at worked in while at the mission. There was also a museum jam packed with info on her life and mission but i just couldn't have the energy to walk round. We made the walk back to the hotel slow as i was still knackered, went for dinner but couldn't eat much. Had the best sleep i've had in ages though as i virtually passed out as soon as my head touched the pillow. Felt so much better the next day though.
Went to see the Victoria Memorial. Of course it cost more for us to get in than for indians but we're getting used to that now. We did spend a long time looking through the various galleries. There was one that told the story of Kolkata from its origins to the city that we see today inc its colonial history. The memorial was comissioned for Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee but it wasn't finished until nearly 20 years after her death. We contemplated going on one of the horse and carriage rides that go past the gates. However by the look of the horses it didn't look like much of money would go towards their welfare as you could see so many of their ribs. I didn't want to cause these animals any more discomfort.
Over the next 2 days we sorted out the bus to Darjeeling - well at least a bus to Siliguri - we would have to get a shared jeep from there up to Darjeeling. We also wanted to get the train from Kolkata to Chennai booked on our return from Darjeeling as its a major stint (at least 30 hours) and trains can book up days in advance. We also made sure that we had accomodation for when we were in Darjeeling as we didn't want a repeat of Shimla. I'm guessing that the hills are as steep or steeper. The rest of the time we spent in the Maidan as that way we could get away from city life and exploring some of the nearby streets. Just as we thought that Kolkata was great as we hadn't had any hassle things changed. It was literally a few hours before we were due to leave and we were sitting under a tree in the park when a guy came and invited himself to sit with us. He then got way to touchy with Jo and she had to sternly tell him not to touch her. The cheek of these Indian men!!!!! He then asked her if he could touch her, like she would agree. But otherwise we had a much more relaxed time in Kolkata than in other Indian cities we have been too.
Our bus was sheduled to leave about 7 but of course we left late. Our journey was overnight and was meant to take 12 hours but in the end we didn't get to Siliguri till about half 10. We then had to get a jeep which wasn't too hard as some were waiting for people to get off the bus, but because they only go when they are full we had to wait around till they found more people. Buy the time we got to Darjeeling it was around 3.
As with Shimla Darjeeling is spread along a mountain top so we had to haul our bags up various steps and steep (and at one point really steep paths). This time however we had a goal as we had phoned ahead and reserved a room at a guesthouse. The guesthouse was ran by a couple and the husband greeted us on arrival and explained to us about hot water (by the bucket) was availiable for a few hours in the morning. It was obvious though that the wife ran the show as he asked us i we could check in once his wife had returned later that evening. I'm glad that we chose this guesthouse as our stay was bliss and both husband and wife were nothing but helpul. They even had a viewing platform on the roof from which you could see the Himalaya's ( all the surrounding large mountains, but everest).
Sunrise over the Himalaya's is a big draw to tourists visted Darjeeling. The best place to view all the mountains inc Everest is Tiger Hill but to get there you have to get shared jeeps at around 4 - 4.30 in the morning. We couldn't make ourselves get up that early either of the mornings while we were there but we did make it up to the hotels viewing platform both morings. The first morning was too cloudy to see anything but on the second morning although still cloudy there was a beautiful sunrise. It was cloudy for most of the time we were up in the mountains which s just our luck but a least by not going to tiger hill we didn't miss outon anything as we wouldn't have been able to see much more from there because of the cloud cover.
On our first full day we walked out to the zoo and mountaineering Institute. On route we stopped for a bit to reat at a cafe called Hot Stimulatin Cafe where we had the most delicious momo's (tibetian). The Zoo was ok, the animals don't have as large enclosures as they have at home but apparently compared wth other Indian zoos they are better looked after. The best animal we saw was the Himalayan Black Bear as it was a bit of a poser. We have loads of pics of it havingits lunch and playing for all the cameras. I also got to see the tiger, it came outofits hiding place just as we were alking past. Couldn't get a good photo though as the enclosures are encased in heavy criss crossed fencing. Inside the zoo is the mountaineerin Institute We had a look at thier museum which had information about various famous climbers (esp Indian ones). The Everst museum detailed all the successful sumit climbs and the routes taken.
That night everyone was out celebrating Diwali. Bascially everyone was setting off fireworks in the street. The worst were the firecrackers that were let off in any direction, whether the street was empty or not. It was quite amusing to watch the locals set off sparkler like ones on the floor and then jump over the sparks as it turned on the floor. There were also the huge colourful ones in the sky but most were just let off by individuals.
The next mornng we watched the sunrise from the hotels balcony again. It was still cloudy but it was beautiful watching the skybeing coloured by the suns rays. This was the first sunday that we had been able to get 2 a church service, which made me feel more at home. We then walked down to the Bhutia Busty Gompa, which had the mountains as its dramatic backdrop. This would have been more impressive if the clouds hadn't obsured most of them. Then we had to walk back up the hill, which took some doing. We carried on past the main square and up to Observatory Hill where their was acollection of local shrines. By this time we had seen so many shrines that we didn't go and have a look inside. Instead we walked round the tip of the hill to the viewpoints at the back. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading our books at the various viewpoints, didn't see much though as the cloud cover was thick but it was a peaceful way to spend our afternoon.
On our last morning we couldn't get up early enough to watch the sunrise even though it was our last one. We had to check out for half 10 which was early but the couple who ran the hotel would look after our bags for a couple of hours. We walked around to the viewpoints again and this time the cloud cover broke enough for us to see a glimpse of a snow topprd peak. I was so glad that at least we were able to see some of India's highest mountain, it would have been a shame if we had gone without seeing anything except cloud. After lunch we collected our bags and headed down the hill in the direction of the main road in search of a shared jeep back to Siliguri. we found one but they wanted 2 charge us more for the return trip.. something about it being a holiday and not many jeeps going down. When we eventually reached Siliguri we were dropped the opposite side of the road than we had requested and even before we had got out of the jeep there were cycle rickshaw drivers surrounding us, some even tried to get our bags off of the top of the roof so we would go with them. There was no way we were paying just to cross the road even if it was just Rs 5. We crossed ourselves. We then had to wait a few hours for our bus to Kolkata, we puut our bags in the boot this time - much easier.
Went back to the same hotel and the dorms as we kow it didn't get full. We were only staying the one night as our train to Chennai was the next evening. We decided to go straight to the station after checking out even though we would have to wait hours. The guys at the hotel helped us get a taxi at more the proper cost. The announcements for the trains here were much clearer than they have been elsewhere so we heard the platform we were due to leave from without a problem. However as our luck would have it the platform we needed was bascially right at the other end of the station and Howrah station is meant to be the largest station in India. We made it with plenty of time though