Monday, 29 December 2008

A teardrop on the face of eternity

We saw another of the wonders of the world today (I'm still grumpy Christ the Redeemer made it in over Angkor Wat) when we and thousands of others visited the Taj Mahal. Ninety percent of the visitors were Indians and in a reversal of us snapping the locals, Lauren twice got asked to pose for pictures. Must have been those un-Indian bare calves, the saucy vixen.
What can you say about the Taj, the world' s greatest (and most extravagant) monument to love and arguably the most beautiful building ever created, that hasn't been better said a hundred times already? Bugger all, so I'll just leave it to the pictures.

India in a nutshell

Yesterday Tane and I travelled from Delhi to Agra. During this trip we saw snake charmers, dancing monkeys, an elephant walking down the road, cars with approximately 15 passengers, women wearing saris of every colour in the rainbow and horses weaving between cars (and cows) as they raced down the motorway. "Wow, India is amazing, I love it here!" I thought. Five minutes later we stopped at some traffic lights and an old man with deformed hands came up to my window and starting scratching his hands on the glass. He left, leaving my window free for a teenage boy to come and suck on the window while making kissing sounds. "Wow, that's gross" I thought.
Tane doing his "I'm not paying attention to you beggars and touts so stop pestering me" walk through Agra

Based on our experiences in India over the past few days I think that's India in a nutshell - everything I see either repels or amazes. There doesn't seem to be any in-between here, nothing to be indifferent toward. So far I love India, but if I have many more experiences like today when I was poked repeatedly in the rear by a young beggar I might revise my opinion. Whether we leave India having enjoyed it or not, one thing's for sure though - travel in the West is going to feel pretty boring in comparison after this.
Sacred cows near our hostel. While Tane was taking this photo I got surrounded by four men wanting me to ride in their rickshaws.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas in Kathmandu ... with monkeys!

It's quite cool spending Christmas in a non-Western country. To be sure, they did celebrate the festival here. There was a banner across the main street of Thamel (the tourist-focused area of Kathmandu), jingles in the restaurants, and they closed Thamel to most motorised traffic for a festival - but that was really all for us visitors. The local teenagers loved walking around Thamel without constantly having to dodge motorbikes, but otherwise it was life as usual.
We had a nice relaxing day, calling home in the morning and then heading off to Swayambunath, a hilltop Buddhist/Hindu (Nepalis often combine the two) temple.

It's an impressive site, with sweeping views of the city, but it is most famous for the hordes of ...


Lauren's not the only one who loves mango juice.

There were children shrieking, adults looking scabby, everyone was pigging out on unhealthy food and there were screaming rows between families that finished with one lot running off.

So yeah, not at all like a normal Christmas.

First we take Kathmandu, then the world.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The roof of the world

A couple of days ago, I threw a sook. It was a big one.

As great a time as we'd been having in Nepal, the daily power cuts and cold showers were grinding me down. But what really made me throw my toys out of the cot was the haze that has covered the country since the first day we've been here. I was worried the only sight of the Himalayas we'd get was on the plane in. But yesterday we headed up to Sarangkot, a hill near Pokhara, and the last traces of my grump (much to Lauren's relief) well and truly vanished. Even with the mist the view was fantastic and at dawn, the skies cleared. It was one of the most breathtaking experiences of our lives.

After that we spent a few hours walking through the villages in the hills with our guide Raj. The sun was out and, except for buffalos groaning, locals chatting away and kids asking for sweets, it was wonderfully quiet.

The mountain in the background, Dhaulagiri (8167m) is the seventh highest in the world.

Machhapuchhare, 'Fish Tail', a sacred mountain that has never been climbed.

All together now ... awwww

Along with rhinos, langurs, rhesus monkeys, eagles and the laid back atmosphere, one of the highlights of our stay in Chitawan was our visit to an elephant breeding centre. We like elephants. Especially as one of the mothers had month-old twins! We were told they're the only ones in the world.

A not-so-cute elephant.

A dirty old wild boar trying to sneak up and steal some of the elephants' delicious molasses-coated hay. A bit of stamping and he took off.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Crocs and tigers and bears, oh my!

I promised Tane months ago that if he joined me in Nepal we could go to Chitwan Park, an area near the Indian border that has all sorts of beasts hanging out in the jungle. I regretted that promise as soon as we booked into our guest house and realised that I was sleeping a mere croc-infested river away from about 80 tigers. A worker at the guest house told me not to worry, he's only seen tigers in the guest house area twice. And, a guide went to great lengths to reassure me that I'd be perfectly safe as it had been a full two weeks since a tiger had killed anyone in Chitwan. Needless to say, I did not feel much better.

This morning we travelled along the croc-infested river in a dodgy canoe. The canoe rocked (perfect for tipping me out into a croc's mouth), the river was in mist (perfect for croc's hiding ready to attack) and the guide told me not to worry as the man eating creatures only attack the canoes "sometimes". He then went on to list the things the crocs eat, such as fish, humans, dead bodies etc. I did not enjoy the boat ride at all after that.

We then walked through the jungle back to camp. The guide said that we were safe, the person attacked by a rhino 15 days ago didn't die, and he had been mauled by a bear and was fine now. I armed myself with a stick just in case, and felt true fear when the guide pointed out a set of fresh tiger prints in the dirt. Ug.

Tane hung around to take this photo of the prints. I on the other hand moved as fast as I could in the opposite direction the prints were facing.

We didn't see any tigers or crocs, but did see lots of monkeys, some rhinos and elephants. It was awesome, once I got over being terrified it felt quite cool hanging out somewhere where tigers and rhinos do and seeing animals in their natural habitat.

A monkey chillin' in the jungle

The highlight of our time in the park was a trip back through the jungle on elephant back. We were closer to the monkeys and higher than the rhinos, which enabled us to get really close to them. Elephants are cool, although seeing ours bash through the jungle I still wouldn't want to meet one in a dodgy alleyway on a dark night.

Rhinos as seen from elephant back

Friday, 19 December 2008


Us in Kathmandu, me feeling a little silly that I am in Kathmandu with a bag that says Kathmandu

In some weird alternate reality, there must be all of the places as I imagined them rather than how they are. There is an Istanbul where everyone wears a fez, and some small English towns that look like the BBC adaptations. There is also a Kathmandu which is chilled out, clean and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I have never, in all my travels, been so wrong in my impressions of what a place is like than Kathmandu.

Two men dressed in the traditional Nepalese garb looking over some sacred cows. I couldn't take the photo any closer, alas, or else they would have charged me. Note to self: get better zoom ...

Kathmandu has mountains in the distance, but is smoggy, busy and dirty. Tane and I were initially taken aback by this, especially as our first few minutes in the Kingdom of Nepal were spent being mobbed by touts. Once we got used to the idea that Kathmandu wasn't a haven of peace and mountain air, though, we found we liked it so much we were there all of half a day before deciding to change our flights back to India to allow more time in this fabulous country. Kathmandu isn't clean or calm, but it's a really neat place that we look forward to better exploring when we return there next week after our foray into the Himalayas.
A stupa in Kathmandu

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Abu Dhabi

When Tane and I found out that our flight from Abu Dhabi to Delhi was delayed by about 8 hours, we were gutted. We'd already travelled from London with zero sleep, and felt about as fresh as a tin of mould- covered baked beans. That was until we realised that we had enough time for a look around the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Woohoo!
Having been in Abu Dhabi's more famous neighbour Dubai last year, we were unsure what its capital would be like. Dubai was a fabulous few days, but was so overwhelming, hot and dripping with wealth it was hard to imagine a similar city existing anywhere in the world. Abu Dhabi was different than Dubai in many ways - greener, cooler (as it was winter this time) and calmer for one. It was, nonetheless, similar in that it appeared to be dripping with wealth. The mall felt like the lobby of a posh hotel, and the hotels themselves looked like this.
We liked Abu Dhabi, it has a lovely waterfront and we spent a happy few hours there in the sun. It meant that by the time we arrived in Delhi we felt even more rotten, but I don't care - it was totally worth it.

P.S. We are in Kathmandu now and will blog about that soon, as I have run out of time as my guest house curry is nearly cooked!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Top five moments of 2008

2008 has been a great year. I have seen interesting things, read great books, and gotten to know my corner of London well. Deciding on my top five moments of 2008 (as at today, of course!) wasn't easy, as in many ways it was the day to day moments like eating my lunch in St James's Park every week day over the summer months that made this year such a good one. But, this is my best attempt of my top five moments of 2008:

1. Hearing the call to prayer while riding camels at the Pyramids, May 2008.

2. Realising in the last 500 metres of my Half Marathon that while I hurt, I had finally done one, October 2008
3. Showing Ngaire around London, 13 July 2008
4. Cycling around the Arran Islands, Ireland, 25 July 2008
5 = Arriving in Luxembourg City, 1 February 2008. I was just really excited to be there as had wanted to go to Luxembourg ever since I was about 12.
5 = The trail run in the Lake District, 16 April 2008. Running down hills through in beautiful scenery was great fun.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Chillin' in London

It's been a long, cold winter in London - and it's not even officially two weeks old. We've been fighting the gloom by spending a lot of time with museums and friends, but it's still been a bit grim. However, this weekend London gave us a reminder of just how great it is. The weather was wonderfully clear and, for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, almost warm.

The Thames in Hammersmith, at low tide

On Saturday Lauren and I went our separate ways, with she and our friend Stephen off to the Florence Nightengale Museum and I off with English friends Lewis and James to see Britain's greatest obsession - The X Factor!

Kidding. It was actually Britain's second-biggest obsession - football. We went to a Premier League game, Fulham versus Manchester City.

Craven Cottage, Fulham's ground

Both are mid-table teams, so they're not quite up there with Chelsea and Liverpool, but the quality of the game (1-1) was WAY higher than the last top-level match I saw - Auckland's rubbish Football Kingz playing in 2000.

That night we had a lovely evening chilling out at Lucy's and Amar's house - and, um, watching The X Factor. True music lovers will be fascinated to know that ethnic minority boy band JLX, much to my surprise, weren't completely crap this week. But if Alexandra doesn't win, there's no justice in this world.

It was chilling of another kind on Sunday, when we visited Regent's Park. It - and the surrounding Georgian villas - are gorgeous, but boy, once the sun started dipping over the buildings (3pm) was it cold.

Still, despite having to walk around wearing almost every piece of clothing we own, it was one of those weekends that recharged our liking for London. Though I must say that a trip to a New Zealand beach sounds pretty good right now!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Google Street View

Last night I had my first look at Google Street View. It's amazing, sitting in my cold London flat and effectively walking around Cuba Mall in Wellington. We looked at the Harbour from Oriental Parade, checked out Metro New World, and saw that Ashhurst looks much more derelict than when I lived there. By contrast, the flat I lived in on Queen St in Dunedin appears exactly the same.

It was remarkable, Tane Stephen and I stood open mouthed as images from home filled the screen. It's not unrelated that Tane and I had a lengthy conversation today about when we want to move home, and that I rang a travel agent to get a rough idea of how much our proposed trip back would cost.

The question is, though, where can technology go from here? Already the disc man I had in 2001 is dated, my first mobile phone a brick and film cameras and VHS machines almost obsolete. Having said that though, in my opinion mobile phone technology seems to have plateaued unless you are a technology nut, and computers are faster but I (and I assume many others) have reached a point when they don't feel the need for an upgrade. I was reading recently about how much the refrigerator and washing machine changed life for women especially in the 1950s, which indicates that our children will probably take for granted the fact that you can carry an entire CD collection, your camera and the Internet in your pocket.

What's next? Will we have flying cars soon? What about hovering skateboards like in Back to the Future? Where can technology go from here? Surely things cannot get much smaller and still be user-friendly. All suggestions welcome, and I'll dredge this entry up in a few years time and we can all have a giggle about it.