Jaipur, India

Jaipur is the capital city of Rhajastan, which is supposedly the most colourful state in India. The city boasts a number of grand palaces, forts, monuments, and all of the buildings in the old city are painted pink.

The Lake Palace.

One of the most interesting places I visited was a 300 year old observatory, which had a number of instruments including the largest sundial in the world – capable of telling time to within 20 seconds. If you look carefully you can see the time shadow near the wall.


Agra, India

I took a 15 hour train from Varanasi to Agra - the location of the most famous building in the world… the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately Agra is a horrible place and it was surprising that such an ugly and run down city exists within a few meters of the Taj. It was raining on the first day and after visiting Agra Fort, I didn’t have much to do. There wasn’t even a nice place to eat or drink, so I gave in and went to a 5 star hotel on the outskirts of Agra where I spent the rest of the day relaxing on their sofas, watching TV (for the first time in 4 weeks) and drinking expensive chai tea. It was bliss!

Fortunately the next day was dry and I went to the Taj Mahal at 6am before the tour groups arrived. No matter how many times you see pictures, it’s much more impressive in person. It was constructed ~ 350 years ago and made almost entirely of white marble it stands 300ft tall. It’s actually a mausoleum for the Indian Emperors wife who died giving child birth.

After seeing the Taj, I took a one hour bus to another town called Fatheipur Sikrit, which has a vast palace complex and some fascinating ruins.


Varanasi, India

We arrived in Varanasi on the day of a Hindu festival, which meant there were lots of people who had come to celebrate. Varanasi is regarded as the holiest place in the world in Hinduism (and center of earth in Hindu Cosmology). It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest of India. The ghats which border the ganges river are the highlight of the city as it’s the place where people come to wash (in the sewage infested waters), pray and socialise. It’s a fascinating place to people watch!

There are almost 100 Ghats (steps leading down to the water) in Varanasi

Gandhi Art

A pea seller doing his stock count.

The festival of lights - people put hundreds of thousands of candles along the ghats at night.

A chameleon turning red.

A typical cow blocking the narrow back streets. In Varanasi people like to give them food and pat their heads and tails.

Relaxing massage anyone?

This man is busy making silk cloth.

On a long walk one day, I crossed the river where there is nothing but desert on the other side. Worryingly I came across a human skull lying in the sand.


Chitwan National Park, Nepal

On the way to India I decided to visit Chitwan National Park which is home to endangered Rhinos and Tigers. I was staying in a safari lodge on the edge of the park where I stayed for 3 nights. Each day they organised some wildlife spotting activities including; a dug out canoe ride down the river, trekking, jeep safari, elephant safari and bird watching.

5 Legged Elephant!!

Dug Out Log Canoe

Elephant Safari

A Rhino charging a Jeep from the bushes!

Rhino from Elephant

On the last day I got the bus to the Nepal border to enter into India. This was the first time I have had problems in Nepal. It turned out that when I arrived in Nepal and paid my $40 for my visa – they took the money but never actually put the Visa in my Passport. So I had unknowingly been travelling in Nepal illegally. Despite having a receipt to show I had paid for my visa, the immigration officials were being very difficult and demanded I paid them again before they would allow me out the country. After trying to reason with them for 2 hours I ended up paying another $40, which immediately cheered the office up since the cash was blatantly going straight into their pockets.

Along the way I met a Swiss couple and a Danish couple who were also going to India. Since none of us had train tickets, we decided to hire a taxi to take us all the way to Varanasi which is a 7 hour drive. Anyway this worked out very well as it was more convenient and cost less money than the train.


Pokhara, Nepal

On return from trekking I wanted to spend a few days sightseeing in Pokhara, so I hired a motor scooter for 3 days. I didn’t think I would ever drive on the roads in Asia, but Pokhara is actually quite tame (by Asian standards). The tourist area in particular is very quiet and it’s a great way to zip up and down to restaurants and cafes. It’s like driving in the UK, except you need to watch out for scabby dogs, chickens, horses and cows which just wonder across the road and even go to sleep in the middle. Oh and you have to hold your breath when a big old bus or truck comes toward you with a plume of black smoke pouring out its exhaust. Most of the vehicles in Nepal look to be 30 years old and made in India, so they go very slow and it’s easy to overtake on a new scooter. I went; all around Pokhara, up the mountain to the Sarangkot viewpoint at sunrise, to the Gurka Museum and the huge Mountaineering Museum, a bat cave, a Tibetan refuge camp, a place called Bagnes Tal (which is think is the Skegness of Nepal). I even went off into the middle of nowhere to find a lake which was down a very sandy and rough windy road. When I got to the lake I found a little place where the lady offered to cook me some fresh fish – it was very nice too!


Trekking the Himalayas to Annapurna Base Camp

After relaxing for a couple of days in Pokhara I had been thinking about trekking. I couldn’t decide whether to hire a guide and porter or go trekking with an organised group. Well I met a few people in Pokhara who told me that you can easily do it on your own and that it’s much more fun. They were right! So I decided to buy a map and hire a medium sized rucksack and sleeping bag. You also need a couple of permits to trek in the Annapurna region, but I managed to sort that out on my own too (although it took a whole day).

The next day at 6am I got a ride to the bus station with an Australian guy who I’d met the day before. We got the bus to the start point of the trek as it costs about 20 times less than a taxi and it’s a 3 hour journey. 
The trekking route started out pretty flat and went through small villages with lots of rice fields. As it was already 11am by the time I started I decided to go for 5 hours. At the time I thought that was a challenge, but it seems like nothing now.

The trail soon got smaller and started heading up lots of flag stone steps. The first western person I came across was a girl from N.Ireland. She was also trekking on her own and happened to be the only other person on the entire trek that I met trekking solo without a guide and porter. Yeah, so she was a nice person and very easy to talk to. She had just finished the Everest trek so was a good source of advice.

I had imaged the villages on my map to be fairly large, but it turns out the biggest one has around 30 buildings. Most of them past day 1 are just 3 or 4 buildings, which makes them more of a hamlet I think.

We were the only 2 people staying at the guest house on the first night, so the trail was much less busy than I had expected. Especially considering it was peak season. The guest houses are very simple wood and stone bungalows with 2 or 3 single beds in each room. They don’t have sheets, so it was good that I took a sleeping bag with me.

I couldn’t believe the price of the guest houses was consistently 100 rupees, which is around 90p. All of them have a small dining room where you can order the exact same menu. This is usually what I had on a daily basis: Oatmeal Porridge with Honey for breakfast and a cup of hot lemon tea. Vegetable noodle soup for lunch. Garlic Soup and Vegetable curry with rice for dinner (Or sometimes Dhal Bhatt which you’ll have to lookup for an explanation) and a cup of masalla tea. Oh by the way, Garlic soup sounds gross but it’s actually very nice. It’s meant to be very good for thinning your blood and helping avoid altitude sickness.

Because it gets dark at 5.30pm, I tended to go to bed at around 6.30 and then get up for sunrise at 6.00am. At first we were trekking for around 7 hours a day. I was normally in front and because we walked at a different speed and we would normally meet up every hour or so for a short break. Most of the other tourists we saw had guides to show them the way (pretty easy so not much point) and a porter to carry their massive rucksacks. I just took the essentials with me, but it was still heavy after a few hours. I am very glad I saved so much money (around $300-700 doing it myself and it seems like much more of an achievement when you are self reliant. A lot of the other people I met were surprised that I was doing it alone but I think the agencies like to make people think that guides are required.

Anyway, It was a very difficult trail because there are thousands upon thousands of uneven muddy and stoney steps which go up the mountain and then down the other side. Then up an even bigger mountain and down again. And so on and so on. My trekking buddy said it was a lot more difficult than the Everest base camp trek! The trail basically takes you into an amphitheatre of some of the largest mountains in the world. So it follows a valley where the mountains keep getting bigger and bigger. There is only one route in, and it’s impossible to get out or go another way. There have been lots of times when an avalanche or land slide had trapped people inside the sanctuary for days or weeks. But it’s okay as there is lots of food at the guest houses.

The scenery changes a lot throughout the trail, from rice terraces though jungles (with monkeys) and forest, by waterfalls and over tiny wooden bridges. All the time you can see the huge snowy mountains of Annapurna and Macchepuchre in the distance. It was also hot and sunny for most of the trek although it tends to get cloudy in the afternoon (it’s a mountain thing). The first 3 days went very well and I felt very good, healthy and happy to be in such amazing surroundings. My knees and shoulders were a little achey in the mornings but not a problem. Almost everyone else I saw had hiking poles, which I realised are needed to stop your knees getting jerked around on the steps. On the second day I asked one of the locals if he could get me a bamboo and cut it to size – it was perfect as a hiking pole and helped my knees so much. I became a little bit attached to the bamboo and called him Bernard.

On the fourth day the steps stop and it’s a long incline which keeps going forever. As the altitude gets higher you can feel the air getting thinner, it gets cold and it becomes difficult to walk. We were meant to stop at Macchepuchre Base Camp for an acclimatisation day, but decided to keep going all the way to ABC. The last bit is just a short distance of around ½ mile but took around 2 hours because the altitude really starts to show itself. Unfortunately the mountains in the Himalayas are usually cloudy in the afternoon, so we couldn’t even see what was around us when we arrived at the base camp. We were in the clouds and could only see a few metres into the distance. It also became extremely cold, so everyone who had made it to base camp that day had gathered in the dining room where the heat from the kitchen made it nice and cosy. We had lots and lots of hot lemon tea, as it’s really important to drink a lot at high altitude. Thankfully I did not suffer from altitude sickness and just had a bit of a headache for a few houses. Other weren’t so lucky and we saw people being carried away back down the mountain. Usually if you descend it will make the symptoms disappear.

It was a very very cold night and despite wearing 3 pairs of thick socks, thermal trousers and a long sleeve top, trousers, 2 t-shirts, a fleece and a jacket, gloves and hat with my sleeping bag and 2 very thick duvets - I didn’t sleep much. I got up at sunrise and immediately saw the mountains surrounding us. It feels unreal when such enormous mountains are surrounding you in all directions. At the view point you see a huge glacial passage bellow and the Annurpurna mountain range ahead. As the sun rises it illuminates the mountains in a bright orange colour which looks amazing! You might also be interested to know “the Annapurna peaks are the world's most dangerous mountains to climb, with a fatality to summit ratio of more than 40%”.

It was so c-c-c-c-c-cold up there that I only stayed for about an hour to take photos. After that I decided that I was going to start hiking back down. The total trail is meant to take 10-14 days, but we had already made it to ABC in 4 days, a trek which is meant to last 5-7 days. I decided to really push myself and make it back down to the start point in 2 days. Anyway I put my headphones in, zoned out and went as fast as my long legs could take me. I decided I had to make in past Chimrong to Jhinu because I knew my feet and knees would really hurt the next day and I wanted to get all the killer steps out of the way. I hiked from 8am to 5pm (9 hours) with three 10 minute breaks. For about 6 hours it was fine and I was just overtaking so many people and I was really impressed how quickly I was going. The final 3 hours were hell and I really struggled to keep going as the steps got steeper and longer. I did not have any pain this day, but was exhausted. Eventually I made it just in time to Jhinu, which was also tactical because it’s also the place where there is a hot spring. As soon as I found a guesthouse I treated myself to a bottle of sprite and a granola bar and then walked another 30 mins down to the hot springs in the dark. They have built a little communal hot pool, which was really nice to soak in.

As I expected, the next day my legs had really seized up and although I could walk fine. the muscles which are used for going up and down steps were really painful and I was only able to walk half the speed that I did the day before. It also involved a small amount of cursing and hitting plants with my bamboo. Nevertheless I set off at 6am and made it to the end point at 4pm. I got there just in time for the last bus, which was already full so I had to get up on the roof for the 3 hour journey back to Pokhara. The bus guy charged me Nepali rates, just 70p for the whole trip. This time it was a full size bus and riding on the roof was cool, but also a little scary and very uncomfortable. There were a couple of local teenagers who looked really cool and relaxed, basically sleeping on the long steel bars which are about 3 inches apart. I wished I could have looked so relaxed, but with painful legs I think I probably looked more like an old man being given the bumps on his 90th birthday. If things couldn’t get worse, it started to rain heavily for the first time in 2 weeks about half way through. All my clothes were so so dirty that I didn’t really care, but I got off the bus looking like a drowned rat.


Pokhara, Nepal - Rafting!

The road approaching Pokhara was not very promising - a huge line of ugly industrial shops, noisy trucks and rubbish everywhere. As soon as you get off the bus, there are loads of taxis who know exactly where you want to go... "lakeside, lakeside, lakeside!". It's not surprising that all tourists stay at lakeside, it's a relatively quiet part of the city beside Nepals largest lake. Everything there has grown around tourism since the hippies found it in the 70s, so it's mainly one long road filled with guest houses, restaurants, pubs and shops that mostly sell trekking gear and souvenirs.

It's was the perfect place to organise my next adventure. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go white water rafting in Nepal, so the next day I started a 3 day trip down the Kali Gandaki. It’s a grade 4 river (5 being very difficult and 6 being impossible) which runs through a gorge with sandy white beaches and waterfalls.

At night we slept under the raft which as propped up with a paddle. We had a camp fire and the safety kayakers (who follow the rafts and rescue anyone who falls out) double up as chefs for meal times.

The white water was brilliant. On our six person raft, four people fell out, but I managed to hold on for my life. Two of the people who fell out got sucked into an underwater hole for around 10 seconds before it spat them back out. Scary!

One night I felt something tickling the back of my neck. I sat up and shone my torch down. Yep, it was a big old hairy spider which I had to flick away with a paddle. In the morning I found it on the beach.