Sunday 13th July
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Himalaya
We made it out of our hotel room today for a gentle meander around Shimla – thankfully it seems we
are both on the mend now, and, with plenty of food and rest, we should be fine. We've started on the
food front by stuffing ourselves with Dominos Pizza (anything other than curry is a treat), and, bliss of
blisses, gateaux from a French style bakery – the first cake of any kind we have seen in four months!
We took some gateau to the ladies in the library who were so kind to Dan the other day as a thank you.
We were amazed to be told that the man who went rushing off to get a doctor for Dan was a member of
the public – who would do that for you in England?
We shared our breakfast and afternoon tea (yes, more cake!) today with a troupe of cheeky red-
bummed monkeys. They're everywhere here and came to our hotel window chattering for food. There's
bars on the windows to stop them coming in, but the stick their little hands through and take food ever
so gently from ours. This morning we gave them toast and jam and watched as a baby sat licking jam
from his fingers.
It was pleasantly warm and sunny this morning – the thermometer in the town square showed 21C and
this feels just right to us at the moment. When the cloud comes down, it comes quickly, and the
stunning Himalayan views are hidden in moments. Just now, in the early evening, we can barely see
thirty feet out of the window.
We had some sad news today from Kitty that our poor Felix cat has lost an eye due to an incurable
infection. Kitty says he's doing fine though – she's been an absolute gem and even sent Felix's mum,
Charley, to hospital with him as they've never been separated. I do miss Felix and Charley, but it's a
comfort to know they're being so well looked after.
Footnote: On reading this through, we realise that we haven't said a great deal about our eight days in
Shimla. But we're agreed there isn't a lot more to say. It was just a good, clean, cool place to chill out,
recover, eat, watch rubbish on TV and enjoy room service. Nice as it was, I still think the highlight was
Saturday 19th July
Vashist, Manali, Himachal Pradesh
We awoke yesterday morning in Shimla to the sound of torrential rain lashing against the windows.
The cloud was so low we couldn't see the tree twenty feet away. It somehow didn't seem the best of
days for a nine hour car journey up and down mountains along the hairpin bends of the Himalaya.
Our driver got off on the wrong foot with us by repeatedly slamming the car boot door onto Dan's pack
just about where the laptop was stowed.
It can't be said that the journey was relaxing – our driver, Raju, was reasonably careful most of the
time, but we were thrown around all over the place as the tiny hatchback wound its way up and down
the mountain passes. There were landslides everywhere caused by the monsoon rains and, more than
once, Raju had to slam on the brakes to avoid huge lumps of rock in the road.
The journey from Shimla to Manali is 237km. There's only one road and many parts of it are no better
than a farm track in England. As we passed through the town of Mandi and into the Kullu Valley, the
scenery became increasingly spectacular, with towering mountains and densely wooded valleys. I was
surprised to see palm trees growing this far north in the shelter of the sunny valleys, together with huge
yuccas and aloes, and even willows along the water's edge.
We followed the course of the River Beas all the way to Manali – a wide and very fast flowing river at
this time of year, it must be a hugely important water source for the people of the Himalaya. Pipes
come down from the rocky sides of the road draining pure fresh mountain water. Raju stopped to fill
his water bottles – the water was as cold as if it had been refrigerated.
All along the Kullu Valley are campsites and places for river rafting. The temperature in the sunny
floor of the valley was around 30C, but this dropped sharply as soon as we gained altitude. Manali, at
the foot of a valley, is 2050m above sea level, and the peaks in the valley reach around 4000m.
Vashisht, where we are staying, is probably around 3000m. The mountain tops are often obscured by
the dipping clouds – there are some seriously moody clouds here.
The lack of oxygen here is noticeable as soon as you do anything remotely energetic – everything has
to be done slowly. We're not high enough here to be affected by AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) –
3000m is the dangerpoint, but you're certainly aware that things are more of an effort in the thinner
atmosphere. In Himalayan terms, we're in baby mountains here, with Everest reaching 8848m. But,
when you look at it in British terms, with Ben Nevis at thirteen hundred and something metres, and
London not much above sea level, we're still a lot higher than we're used to. Walking the half mile
steep road up the village, followed by the hundred-odd steps up a sheer mountain face to our
guesthouse is a monumental effort, but the views from our balcony make it well worth the strain.
Everywhere, there's the sound of running water; torrential waterfalls crash down the snow-capped
mountains across the valley.
Manali is very much on the travellers' trail, as it's an old hippy haunt of the 60s. Today, it's still just as
busy, with a combination of hardcore trekkers, a small number of Indian tourists, and most of the year-
round Goa crowd whi migrate here when their beaches are washed away by the monsoon. There's large
numbers of Israelis, together with Americans, Japanese, Chinese, English, French and Tibetans, so it's a
pretty multi-cultural scene.
Our guesthouse is in Vashisht, just across the river from Manali and 4km up a steep mountainside. It's a
quiet but still touristy village with a much more laid-back feel than the bustle of Manali. There are
sulphorous hot springs and baths in the centre of the village, open for public bathing between 5am and
9pm. There are three carved wooden Tibetan temples in the village; some of the people here look
distinctly Tibetan, with oriental eyes and beautiiful walnut-coloured skin with a rosy pink glow. Rather
than cows wandering the streets of Manali, there are mules. They look somewhere between an English
horse and donkey – bigger than our donkeys with ears too long to be a horse, but too short to be a
donkey. These are used as goods carriers in the mountains and we've seen some saddled up with heavy
loads of trekking gear.
The Kullu Valley is famous for its apples and sizeable orchards lay all along the valley floor and lower
slopes. Apples will only grow in the north of India and it's been a long while since we ate one that
wasn't hugely expensive (30p each!) and imported from New Zealand. The fresh apple juice is to die
The Kullu Valley was originally known as Kulanthapitha (End of the Habitable World).
Many other familiar plants grow here – hollyhocks, sunflowers, crocosmia, hydrangea, calistemon,
marigolds, tomatoes, lettuce, green beans and the most healthy-looking dahlias I have ever seen. The
verdancy is soothing to the soul, especially coming from the barren inferno of Rajasthan. The birds are
semi-tame – they come into our room for food – and the constant roar of the river in the valley far
below is restful. Generally the scene is reminiscent of Alpine peaks, except that there are more of them,
they're both higher and steeper and they are less inhabited.
Having hot water has been amazing since we hit Himachal Pradesh. It doesn't seem to matter how hot
you are – cold water just doesn't make you feel clean. I have to admit to standing under the shower for
longer than was strictly necessary this evening! In Rajasthan, they just looked at us as if we were crazy
when we complained that the advertised hot water was not available.
Whenever we go anywhere new, there's always plenty of laundry to catch up on. One of the first things
we'll do on getting somewhere new is decide where to hang our washig line. The hot water is a definite
bonus on that score too – you can actually manage to get your clothes clean - eventually.
If all goes according to plan, Manali will be our last major stop in India. We're glad to end our tour of
this country of endless contrast on a high note, feeling relaxed and soothed by the fresh clean moutain
air, and well on the way to feeling healthy again. Our journey has taken us (all but a few hundred
kilometres at either end) all the way from the southern tip of India to the northern border.
Wednesday 24th July
Vashisht, Manali, Himachal Pradesh
We've spent the last few days relaxing and unwinding – it's amazing how some good food, clean air
and warm sun can make you feel so much stronger.
We had lunch the other day on the rooftop terrace of a cafe improbably perched halfway up the side of
a mountain with the most stunning mountain views in every direction.
The weather here is extremely changeable – despite being in the midst of the monsoon, there's only
been some showers so far – certainly nothing on the scale of the Goan monsoons. When the sun is
shining, the skies are crystal blue, the sun is very strong, and it's hot, hot, hot but always with a clean,
cool breeze. The clouds can comme down over the mountains in minutes and before you know it,
you're piling on the clothes – the woolly hats we've been carrying around in vain for the last four
months don't seem quite so silly now!
We've explored Manali and Old Manali. Manali is a busy little town with a relaxed atmosphere and
endless shops selling woolly hats, socks and shawls. Knitting seems to be big business for the Tibetan
ladies – they actually wander up and down the mountain paths knitting on four needles without even
looking while going about their daily duties. There are many Angora rabbits here that look just like
cotton wool balls with legs – an old lady sits in the village with one on her lap all day every day,
charging 20Rs for a photo with it. We object to paying for pictures (we'd rather buy socks ;-) and Dan's
become a master at covert bunny photography with a zoom lens!
Old Manali is a definite travellers' haunt – it spreads down a steep hill with a whole road full of shops
just like the stalls at English music festivals, selling Westernised Indian clothes, leather and wool.
Our visas for India expire one month today. The time has passed really quickly, although by the time
we leave, we will have been away six months and half our travels will have gone. We've had the
luxury, up until now, of not having to watch the clock, or even the calendar. We've been able to spend
as much time as we like in any particular place without even thinking about it. This isn't going to be the
case for the rest of our travels, mainly because visas for other countries are shorter-term.
So we're going to have to do a lot more planning. With this in mind, we've been researching Nepal and
how best to get there. Although it looks only a short distance on the map, the overland journey from
here involves a nine hour bus journey from here to the Nepalese border, followed by a twelve hour bus
journey from there to Kathmandu. The second bus runs only through the night and we've read some
frightening accounts of bus journeys in Nepal. There are no trains in Nepal and the condition of the
roads makes India's sound like gold-paved highways. Fortunately, Nepal is a tiny country (only 800km
across its longest dimension) compared with India.
There is an airport 50km from Manali, so our second option is to fly from Bhuntar to Delhi, and then
from Delhi to Kathmandu. It seems you can't fly out of the country without going to
Delhi (oh! and we've managed so well to avoid it thus far!). Unfortunately the internal flight to Delhi is
prohibitively expensive, so to do the whole journey by air would use up most of our monthly budget.
We've decided to compromise – we'll work our way gradually back down the Kullu Valley, stopping
enroute, and work our way to Agra. We'll pay a quick visit to the Taj Mahal and then fly out of Delhi to
Yesterday we were sitting in the garden of a cafe in Old Manali enlljoying a late afternoon lunch. We
noticed an old Indian guy grooving away to the Western dance music at another table, and, as we
smiled at him, he came to join us. He looked like a poor rural man – about 80 years old, he was dressed
in filthy ragged clothes with wild flowers in his traditional Himachal cap and a grin which revealed just
one remaining tooth. He didn't speak a word of Engliish but gave a humorous chuckle as he accepted a
glass of Kingfisher. We shared our food with him, and, when we'd finished, he carefully wrapped the
leftover chips in a piece of newspaper to eat later. Dan got his camera out and the old boy threw an arm
around me to pose for a photo. It's a great photo, but it has to be said I was praying for Dan to get on
with it as the old guy smelled about as fragrant as a worse-than-average Indian toilet!
When the waiter came to bring our bill, he told us that the old guy wasn't quite as poverty-stricken as
he seemed – far from needing our leftover chips for his dinner, he apparently owned three local hotels
and half the apple orchards in the valley! The waiter said the guy came every day to enjoy a cup of free
chai with the travellers over a toothless, wordless natter.
Tuesday 29th July
Finally managed to get flight from Delhi booked after three days messing about waiting for the guy in
the internet cafe to do it!
Thursday 7th August
Old Kasol, Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh
In Vashisht we came across bed bugs for the first time in India – I awoke one morning with a rash of
little bites all over my arms, shoulders and lower back. We didn't realise they were bed bug bites until
the next night when Dan woke up complaining of being bitten, we turned on the light and saw the little
blighters crawling about in the joints in the wood behind the bed – yuk! We woke the manager and
moved to another room for the night.
We made our escape from Manali on Monday 4th. Manali's a bit like Goa in that it would be all too
easy to chill out there for months amidst the beautiful mountains, taking gentle strolls here and there or
just relaxing in the sun reading a book. But time is not on our side here in India anymore and we had to
make a move.
We're gradually working our way south again to Delhi ready for our flight out on 18th. We got a taxi
30km back down the valley to a little place called Naggar – a tiny village set midway up the sunny side
of a mountain. There's nothing more there than a couple of guesthouses, a chai stall and a five hundred
year old “castle” - I use the term loosely because it's not much more than a large house, built in the
Tibetan style of layers of rock interspersed with layers of wood, all held up with beautiful carved
wooden pillars. The castle may not have been all that, but despite it being a cloudy day, the views from
the verandah out across the Beas Valley were stupendous – this surely has to be some of the most
stunning scenery on earth. The Kullu Valley isn't known as The Valley of the Gods for nothing.
Our second day in Naggar we took a steep walk up little tracks through the forest to around 3000m
where we found the Krishna Temple, a carved wooden Buddhist temple set high above the valley. The
effort of climbing up there was well worth the panarama from the top and the sprawling jasmine bush
growing in the temple courtyard was the sweetest I've ever smelled.
Yesterday we took a taxi out of Naggar another 30-40km down the Kullu Valley and off into the
Parvati Valley. Apple harvesting is in full swing now in Himachal and all along the way makeshift
tents have been erected from tarpaulins and are filled with local people sorting and packing.
The Parvati Valley is exceptionally steep – more of a ravine or a gorge than a valley. There is just one
road in and out, hewn from the rock halfway up the valley side with terrifying overhanging rocks that
appear to be about to crash down on you at any moment. The landslides all up the road are testiment to
the fact that this happens more frequently than you'd like to think about whilst on the road.
The thunderous roaring Parvati River rumbles along the valley floor, crashing and foaming its way
across the rocks. Pine trees and outcrops of rocks line the valley sides. Suspended across the river at
death-defying angles are wires on pulleys and winches with metal baskets attached for transporting
both people and goods across the water up to the little houses perched on the high sides of the
mountains. You'd sure need to have some faith (or fatalism!) to get into one of those!
So, we've had a couple of weeks in the mountains and now we're going to have a few days with the
rivers and valleys. We're in a small village called Kasol, midway up the south side of the Parvati
Valley. Our guesthouse nestles amongst pine trees right on the bank of the crashing, broiling river. The
sound somehow manages to be both deafening and soothing at the same time. Dan has been hoping to
get some fishing in since Goa, but the water looks far too turbulent here and the locals tell us that
although the trout fishing here is good, it's not fishing season and the water is not clean during the
monsoon. There is a risk of contamination with pesticides used by farmers higher up the mountain at
When the sun shines, it's much warmer down here on the valley floor and this morning we awoke to the
clearest of blue skies and strong sunshine. We've been told that this is the wettest it's been here at this
time of year for the past decade, but it doesn't seem wet to us. Although there are heavy and prolonged
showers, the seem to come mostly at night so they don't bother us – I wish England would arrange its
weather like that. And you don't seem to get drizzle in India – when it rains, it rains properly.
All in all we've done pretty well avoiding the monsoon in India so far. I'd expected to see a lot more of
it, but we've really only had a week or so in Goa. I think had we not planned to avoid it we would have
got a lot wetter – there are the usual floods in some of the cities at the moment. The newspapers carry
stories of people falling down manholes in Delhi, never to be seen again. The manhole covers are
removed by people wanting to save their homes from flooding.
Certainly, the Parvati River is in very full flow just now. This is the second heaviest time of flow for
the rivers – they get fiercer in the spring when the snow melts on the mountains. We can see the water
marks on the rocks in the river five feet higher than they are now. This is a perfect environment – in the
summer at least. I'm not sure it would be so welcoming in the winter when all but the deepest valley
floors are covered in snow and many of the roads are impassable between October and February.
We have just eleven days to go now before we leave behind this country that has been our home for
almost six months, and the time is going faster than ever.
Sunday 10th August
On Friday, we took a walk to Manikaran, the last village in the valley. Famous for its natural hot
springs (hot enough to boil rice), Manikaran is a Sikh pilgrimage centre, and all along our walk we
were overtaken by Sikhs on motorbikes in their orange turbans.
The road to Manikaran is a twisty turny single track with huge rocks overhanging that were none too
comforting to walk under. It was a cloudy day and the steam rising up around the village added to the
atmosphere. The bridge crossing the river into the village is hung with hundreds of Tibetan prayer
flags. We stopped in Manikaran for a meal. The village didn't seem particularly friendly and for the
first time in a long while we encountered hostile looks – perhaps the Sikhs didn't appreciate Westerners
wandering around their holy places.
By the time we had finished eating, the heavens had opened. The waterproof jackets came out but we
would have got soaked on the 6km walk back to Kasol, so we found ourselves a taxi. Thankfully, it was
a slow and gentle drive back down the valley, although less than comfortable because of all the
potholes, and with kilometre drops into the torrential river below.
On Saturday we took a walk the other way down the valley to the next village, Chhlal. The bridge
across the river is a somewhat precarious footbridge, made from rotting pieces of wood suspended on
iron chains. We watched a few locals trotting across first and then tenuously made our way over – it
swings and bounces as you cross and the churning water below where the wooden panels are missing is
none too comforting. We made it safely across though and followed the riverside path through the
forest down to the village. Chhlal is even smaller than Kasol – just a few houses, two little hole-in-the-
wall shops and a dhaba (snack bar) where we stopped for some lunch before heading back for Kasol
and once more over the swaying bouncing bridge. I'm sure the locals think we Westerners are complete
wusses picking our way gingerly across holding onto the (loose) hand rails either side – the bridge is
just part of their daily walk to and from then village and they even take their cows across it to graze on
the rich green grass on the steep slopes towering above the far side of the river.
12th August – my 39th b'day
Mandi, Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh
We suffered a taxi journey from hell yesterday as we made our way two and a half hours' south from
Kasol. Despite our telling the driver to slow down at least seven or eight times, he took no notice and
went careering around the mountain roads overtaking on blind bends with half mile drops at the side of
the road and reaching speeds of 95km/hr in his filthy dented van. We were about ready to punch him by
the time we reached Mandi.
Mandi is one of the larger towns in Himachal and it's a bit of a shock to the system to be back in the
hustle and noise of India at large after the beauty and tranquillity of the Himalaya. We're at just 80m
above sea level here and have seen the last of the mountains and valleys until we reach Nepal. From
here on in, it's going to get progressively noisier and busier until we fly out in six days' time.
Kathmandu's going to be pretty manic too.
It's muggy here in the valley after the cool mountain air and temperatures reached 30C today under a
wet grey sky. We have fans in our room again for the first time since Rajasthan. It was getting dark last
night as we wandered around Mandi looking for a hotel. We were confronted by the worst selection of
dark and dirty, lumpy-bedded rooms we have seen in the whole of India. The only respite on offer was
a hotel above the town which is the former palace of the raja of Mandi. The rooms are the most
expensive we've had yet in India at 1,100 Rs (twelve pounds fifty) a night, but as it was my birthday we
decided to treat ourselves for a night and move to a cheaper room in the morning.
The best thing about the room was that it had both hot water and a bath tub! It took nearly two hours to
run a bath this morning with the hot water trickling out without pressure and the geyser running cold
every fifteen minute, but we had paid for a bath and were determined to have one! It was chucking it
down outside so our planned excursion to a nearby lake was a no-go anyway. Eventually, the bath was
wonderful, being only the second we've managed in five months, and we were two hours past check out
time when we finally moved to our cheaper room.
The other great thing about paying more than a tenner for a room was the bed – it had the first sprung
mattress we've slept on in five months – at the budget end of the market, mattresses are either foam (if
you're lucky), or some kind of kapok. If you're really unlucky, it's straw (probably mixed with cow
poo). Not only did we have a sprung mattress, but also clean sheets! Generally you only get a bottom
sheet (and a blanket in colder areas). We have our faithful “Flumpy” - the elephant embroidered sheet
we bought on the beach in Kovalam in our first week in India, but he's getting a bit worse for wear and
it was bliss to sleep in something machine-washed specially for you.
We've spent the rest of the day exploring Mandi – not that there's a great deal to see. This valley
junction town centres around a two-storey shopping “mall” with lots of cheap dhabas and grimy hotels.
There aren't a lot of Westerners here and we're having to get used to being stared at again. Unlike
Manikaran, at least the stares here are just curious and interested rather than hostile.
Our main errand this afternoon was buying a new clock. We've had no idea whatsoever what the time
has been for the last five or six days, when Dan's clock died. We've simply got up when we've woken
up and gone to bed when we're tired.
So we're on schedule for our flight from Delhi in six days' time. The trouble with having a schedule is
that you don't know whether you're going to like somewhere until you get there. We'd probably have
staye a few more days in Manali if we'd seen Mandi first. But hey, better to be early than late when
there's a flight out of the country and an expiring visa to think about – we wouldn't want to find
ourselves halfway up a mountain with a huge landslide that could take days to clear in between us and
the airport. We'll spend a couple of days around here before catching a taxi to Chandigarh and the
northern point of our railway south to Delhi.
19th August 2008
Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal
When it came to it, it worked out too expensive for us to get a taxi to Chandigarh – although £60 is not
expensive for a 300km taxi journey, it's still a bit rich for our budget here. For almost six months we'd
managed to avoid long distance Indian buses, but it seemed India wasn't going to let us escape quite
that easily and we'd have one more epic journey before we could leave. We shuddered a bit, resigned
ourselves to our fate and booked tickets on the following evening's overnight bus to Delhi.
The night before we left we managed very little sleep – a storage facility rght outside our room began
deliveries by truck of huge water tanks before daybreak, and, in the darkness, hoisted them up to the
roof, pulling them against the corrugated iron front of the building, shouting to one another all the
while. Half the hotel was awake by 6am.
So, it was in an exhausted state that we arrived at the bus terminal that evening. The news wasn't good
– there had been a huge landslide 50km down the valley and no buses were able to get through. The
bus man smiled and shrugged, saying “natural problem” and promised to put us on the bus the next
evening. We'd already checked out of our hotel and, much as we didn't want to go to Delhi, we had a
flight to catch. The bus man made a few phone calls and we were “lucky” enough to get the last two
seats on the last bus coming through Mandi that evening. It would do its best to get to Delhi and we
were told we could expect it to take ten hours, not a soothing prospect when we'd had no sleep and
were unlikely to get any that night either. We tried not to think about the heavy rain and landslides in
the darkness on the mountain roads that are dangerous even in perfect conditions.
It was worse than we had expected – because of road closures, the bus had to take a circuitous route on
narrow passages around the mountains. We could feel the wheels of the bus sliding as we negotiated
fallen trees and huge piles of boulders by the sides of the roads. I was glad it was too dark to see the
one-two mile drops we were only inches away from at times.
We didn't sleep. We had been travelling for eight hours when we crawled blearily off the bus for a chai
stop at 04:30am. Dan chatted with the driver and we were told something we really didn't want to hear
– because we'd had to go the long way round, the journey was going to take another eight hours,
bringing it to more than sixteen hours. We were thrown around in our seats as the bus hurtled around
one ninety degree bend and then another in the opposite direction.
Dawn broke at around 05:30 and the rain came down more and more heavily, the roads becoming
steadily more flooded. The bus went faster and faster trying to make up time. We were like shell-
shocked zombies by the time we stopped for breakfast at 07:00. It felt like the bus journey would never
By 10:00 we were approaching the suburbs of Delhi. The smog had to be seen to be believed – it hung
for miles across the sky in a thick, grey woolly blanket. The bus's air con did little to suppress the
smell. We were stilll 30km from the city and dreaded what lay ahead.
We hit traffic jams after another half an hour. The road into Delhi is classed as a highway. Certainly,
it's as wide as an English motorway, but there are no lanes. It's a seething mass of trucks, cars, buses,
cow-driven carts, people and potholes, all swerving randomly to avoid one another. By this time, we
were too numb to be nervous. The M25 in the rush hour was poetry in motion by comparison.
We pulled into Dellhi Interstate Bus Terminal at around 11:00. We staggered off the bus to be greeted
by overwhelming polluted humidity, taxi touts and a smell we've encountered nowhere else in India.
Filth and rubbish rotted in piles on the roads and pavements; thousands of people squelched through it.
Ignoring the pestering taxi touts, we made our way to the Prepaid Rikshaw counter. As we got into a
tuk tuk, the heavens opened. We made our way through central Delhi in brown knee deep water and
filth, as the traffic squeezed through gaps with less than inches to spare. The scarves we held across our
mouths and noses did little to keep out the smells and pollution. Entire families on mopeds weaved
amongst the traffic, everyone soaked to the skin in the sudden downpour and seemingly remarkably
unprepared considering this was the monsoon in India. Drains and manholes bubbled filth, sewage and
Our guidebook had warned us to expect Delhi's budget accommodation to be none-to-salubrious, so we
considered ourselves lucky to find a clean hotel pretty quickly. In view of the pollution we'd decided
air con was a must. Exhausted, we collapsed into a clean, cool bed for the rest of the day. Dan ventured
out for a few essentials but I didn't have the energy to tackle Delhi just yet.
Having caught up on some sleep, we ventured out the next day, exploring the touristy Paharganj area of
central Delhi. There are many tourists here, and, for many of them, Delhi is their first stop in India. I
think, had it been mine, I may have been making a beeline straight back to the airport. The smell of
rotting garbage is completely overwhelming – random mounds of it the size of a caravan sit beside the
roads, cows and dogs trying desperately to make a meal from the contents.
Despite, and perhaps because of, all this, the people of Delhi are welcoming, happy and friendly. It's a
very interesting city to visit, although I have to admit to being relieved that our was to be only a short
In the evening, some Indian friends we'd met in Kasol who live in Delhi came over to visit us. It was a
great evening - the two guys are very much on our wavelength and we enjoyed being able to openly
and honestly share our experiences of India with them. They laughed at our stories, particularly when
we told them that in England a few years back, a single cow which had escaped onto the M25 during
rush hour had made news headlines and caused miles and hours of traffic jams. And so, our last night
in India was a late and drunken one. It was almost 04:00 by the time we got to bed, knowing that 4hrs
later we'd have to be up again with a plane to catch.
Inevitably, it was in a dazed state that we caught a tuk tuk to Indira Ghandi airport yesterday morning.
But the God of Travel was on our side this time – the travel arrangements went entirely according to
plan and we enjoyed an efficient and comfortable flight to Kathmandu. It only takes one hour and
fifteen minutes and it seemed no sooner had we taken off and been fed and watered than we were
It's something of a surprise to find ourselves in a new country having been in India for so long that it
had almost become home. So that was India? Wow, what an experience. I plan to write a summary of
our thoughts and feelings on this amazing country, but it will take time to do it justice, so perhaps this
will wait for the book we plan to write when we return home. For now, our Indian Odyssey has come to
an end and it's time for our next chapter, in Nepal - “The Roof of the World”.PART TWO
ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD
- NEPAL Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal
Sunday 25th August
We'd read that if we sat on the left side of the plane coming into Kathmandu there would be some
amazing mountain views. We did catch a few dramatic glimpses but unfortunately it was a fairly
The Kathmandu valley is about 25km by 20km and nestles between mountains in all directions
reaching to about 2800m. These are babies in Nepalese terms – eight of the world's ten highest
mountains are here. Our guidebook had told us to expect a barrage of hotel and taxi touts. Sure enough,
we were surrounded the instant we left the airport terminal, but we're India veterans now and this had
nothing on the out and out pushiness of Rajasthan or Delhi. We did as we usually do and allowed the
tamest looking tout to take us off to the hotel where he earned the best comission. We tend to stay
wherever they suggest for the first couple of nights until we get our bearings and then move if and
when we find somewhere better.
KTM is billed as one of the most polluted cities in the world and we were caught in a traffic jam within
ten minutes of leaving the airport, but it didn't seem so bad to us – once again, India had prepared us
well and we'd had worse experiences in Bangalore, or Delhi.
We immediately noticed how much cleaner the streets are here – the rubbish actually gets collected and
taken away. More noticeable still was the lack of cows. It is sheer bliss not to have to avoid a sloppy
cow poo with every step. Although cows are also sacred in Nepal (killing one attracts a two-year jail
sentence), you don't see them wandering the streets of KTM. The hotels are of notably higher standards
than those we've been at in India and we even had a clean bathroom – with a bathtub! Fortunately a
bath plug is part of our travel kit since these never seem to be provided in Asia.
Exploring Thamel (KTM's backpacker central) in the evening, we were amazed by how quiet KTM is
compared with Indian cities of a similar size. We sat in a garden restaurant enjoying a Nepali set meal
and revelling in the peace and quiet. Thamel is packed with budget hotels and restaurants. Shops selling
books, maps, trekking gear, woolly hats, yak wool shawls, T shirts and Westernised clothes line the
narrow alleys in every direction. We spent the first day or so checking out hotels and moved by taxi to
a cheaper one.
Nepal's currency is Nepali Rupees. Where there were 80Rs to the pound in India, there are 127NRs
here. Prices here are higher than in India by perhaps a third, but it's still cheap and we managed to find
a room with not only a bathtub but hot water as well for 400NRs a night (about £2.50). Since we left
England, a bath has been a rare treat, so now we've wallowed to our hearts' content.
KTM has a buzzing cosmopolitan atmosphere and in the evenings every other bar has a live band
playing Western music at variable standards. We even found a dance/house/trance party at a bar the
other night and enjoyed the first loud music we've heard since Goa.
The climate here is different from India too. The monsoon is on its way out now and although there are
still some very sharp showers that can soak you in moments, when the sun comes out, it's hot and
strong, with clear blue skies. On the whole it's a lot less sweaty and more comfortable than India.
The culture here is largely Hindu but with a good smattering of Buddhism and Tantric beliefs. There
are many Tibetan exiles here and the blend of religions works well. It's different to see the Buddha's
eyes and prayer flags fluttering from the temples alongside the statues of Hindu deities we've become
so familiar with. Many of KTM's monuments and temples dateed back to the 12th and 13th centuries
and as you wander around the city, you come across antiquities sandwiched between modern buildings.
The fascinating thing about these is that they're still in daily use – if they were in England or anywhere
in the west, they would be locked up in museums. One of the most unusual we've seen so far is a shrine
to the God of Toothache. This is a hideous looking lump of wood with thousands of coins nailed to it.
All around the toothache god's shrine, dentists have hopefully set up their businesses with signs
showing a mouthful of grinning teeth.
Our guidebook has a number of walking tours around KTM and we've been following some of these.
This isn't made easy by the fact that most of KTM's roads other than main roads don't have names. For
the purpose of post delivery, buildings simply have a PO Box no and an area. If you want to find
somewhere, you head for the general area and then ask around. It seems to work, although street maps
without road names are slightly unusual! Many of the doorways in the oldest part of town are less than
fivee foot high.
When we arrived in Nepal, we found that visa fees increased last month (it's $40 for one month). The
websites we'd checked for info on this hadn't been updated, and, because visas must be paid for in $US
cash, we didn't have enough for the two months we had planned, and had to settle for one month. Still
we did a lot better than many of the tourists arriving at the airport who hadn't got any dollars at all.
We plan to spend a week or two around KTM and then head west to Pokhara where we'll be able to see
some of the mountains and beautiful scenery that Nepal is so famous for. Everywhere you go in
Thamel, people are trying to sell you treks for Everest Base Camp and Annupurna – the two most
famous circuits. These might be a bit out of our league, but we'll certainly enjoy some walking while
we're there. We're hoping to be able to head for China after Nepal and are planning on seeing the
Chinese Embassy here early next week to find out about visas and best ways of getting there from here.
We'll need to be a bit more on the ball now we're dealing with shorter term visas.
Today we visited KTM's Garden of Dreams. This was built in the 1920s and based on the style of
English Edwardian Gardens. The 1.2 acre garden had been neglected for years but has been recently
restored. The soothing green foliage planting and calming watercourses create quite an oasis in the
centre of a chaotic city, although it could have done with more flowers and I'm not sure ivory elephants
are genuine Edwardian style! Still it was a good place to stop with our sandwiches and an hour to spare.
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