A Travellerspoint blog

Jaipur to Calcutta

The long road home...

sunny 46 °C
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Next we went to Jaipur which is full of gorgeous buildings...

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This is the City Palace...

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...where we unexpectedly saw this snake charmer!

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After this we were walking down the road and saw a camel-pulled cart coming down the road...

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THEN, we saw a man doing his shopping on an ELEPHANT...

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They stopped at a street stall and the vendor gave the elephant about 6 rotis (Indian breads) which it stuffed into its mouth, and then another load which it held with its trunk as it walked down the road, unbelievable!!

After that we thought we’d stop and get ourselves some nice rotis too, these men churn out god- knows-how-many breads everyday...they cost about 4p each and were absolutely delicious!! (See the holes in the floor where the tandoors are)

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Agra was our next, much anticipated, stop and we decided to treat ourselves to a room with a view...

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The Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife, who died giving birth to their 14th child, and he was eventually buried there alongside her.

We went in to see the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning to avoid the huge crowds and heat of the afternoon. Obviously we’d already seen it from our hotel, but nothing could compare with walking through the gate and seeing that famous image - We spent a good few hours there walking around and trying to soak it all up, it was absolutely incredible...

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This is Agra Fort, where Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned for 8 years by his son...

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The Emperor was imprisoned in this section, from where he could gaze out over the Taj Mahal...

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From there we went to Delhi...

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It was definitely the busiest and craziest place we’ve been to so far!...

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We stayed in the Paharganj area which is full of backpackers, shops and rubble!...

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This is Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in India, which can hold 25,000 people...

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The Red Fort...

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India Gate...

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Parliament...

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Secretariat...

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President's House...

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This is the last house that Gandhi stayed in before he was assassinated in 1948...

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It’s now a museum and this memorial marks his final steps and where he was shot...

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He was cremated at this spot near the river...

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After Delhi we caught the train to Amritsar which is on the India/Pakistan border and is famous for the beautiful Golden Temple...

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It is considered one of the holiest shrines and culturally the most significant place of worship for Sikhs, although everybody is welcomed there and they feed thousands of people (of all religions) everyday...

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There is an extravagant border closing ceremony everyday and we couldn't believe how fun and light-hearted it all was given the tense situation between India and Pakistan, especially considering Lahore is only about 20 miles away.

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The crowd was worked up into a frenzy, shouting 'Hundustan zindabad' (long live India) while dancing, waving flags and generally going crazy. It was amazing, and although we were grateful that they put us foreigners into the mellow VIP seating section, the other stands did look like much more fun!.

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These Indian guards were doing Monty-Python-style silly walks!...

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Our next stop, Lucknow, was great because it wasn't very touristy so there was hardly any hassle from rickshaw drivers, touts, etc. There wasn't that much to do there so we just chilled out, did a little bit of shopping and a lot of eating!!

This is the residency where the British Raj were under seige for almost 5 months during the uprising of 1857...

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Lucknow University...

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We didn't like Varanasi at first because we got a lot of hassle when we arrived and had problems with the even-more-persistent-than-usual touts that followed us, acted the innocent when we turned around to have a go at them, and then followed us again straight away afterwards, aaargh!! Once we'd got ourselves settled though and found the locals' area, we started to really enjoy ourselves and our hotel had a great view of the river from the terrace!

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Varanasi is on the River Ganges (or Ganga to the locals), a holy river for the Hindu people.

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It's an incredible place where everything happens in or around the holy river, including even cremations which take place at the 'Burning Ghats' for all to see. Apparently, around 2,000,000 people ritually bathe in the river daily, but with raw sewage and human remains floating around, we decided against it!

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We hired a boat to take us along and show us the 'Ghats' (a series of steps leading down to a body of water) and, because I felt bad for the old man rowing it, I managed to convince Steve to pay what turned out to be double the real price - still only about £3 for an hour though!

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From there we had our last Indian train journey (HOOORAH!!!) to Calcutta, our final stop! We'd thought that Delhi was as crazy as it gets but Calcutta was absolutely insane! After 3 1/2 months in India, we were still shocked by the traffic, poverty, begging and rubbish-strewn streets of Calcutta - That's not to say we didn't like it of course, it was still an amazing city with fabulous food, cheap shopping and friendly locals!

Victoria Memorial...

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There were lots of these hole-in-the-wall food stalls selling fantastic chicken tikka paratha rolls. They tasted delicious but at one of the places I found a half-eaten (by me) feather in my roll, urgh!! Steve thought I was pretty disgusting for picking the feather out and carrying on eating the roll but honestly, it really did taste that good and for 30p you can't complain can you?!

Not sure how clear it is but this man is making the fresh parathas from a HUGE lump of dough sitting on the side...

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We've become addicted to sweet lassis (creamy yogurt-type drinks) and these ones were great because they were served in a DISPOSABLE terracotta pot!...

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Our last supper and best naan bread of the trip, at a roof top restaurant overlooking the city...

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We thought we were going to be stuck in Calcutta after hearing about the huge travel disruptions caused by the volcano, and we couldn't get a straight answer from the Air India office, so we went to the airport not really expecting to get on the flight which made it all the more surreal when we landed at Heathrow just 13 hours later!

We hadn't told anyone that we were coming home and we decided it'd be fun to turn up un-announced on the door-step...of course the real surprise was on us because they weren't in and we had to wait for about 2 hours in the freezing cold!! It was quite a drop from the 46 degree humid heat of Calcutta to the 2 degrees it was in England, so we wrapped up in our flimsy Indian blanket and prayed we wouldn't get frost-bite!!

Big Issue anyone???...

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Of course it was all worth it just to see the looks on their faces as they pulled into the driveway!!

SO.......2 years, 5 weeks, 226 stops and 13 countries later, we're back from our honeymoon and home sweet home at last!!

Posted by Steve-Kay 15:15 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ahmedabad to Jaisalmer

sunny 38 °C
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Enroute to Udaipur we had to change trains in Ahmedabad, so we had the whole day there to see some of the sights before catching our onward night train...

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This is Jama Masjid (mosque)...

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Our main reason for visiting Ahmedabad though was to visit the Ashram that Gandhi started, called Sabarmati, which became his headquarters during the Indian Independence struggle...

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Where rich meets poor: These slums on the outskirts of the old city are overlooked by a swanky 5-star hotel...

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Udaipur is a gorgeous city full of temples, palaces and other stunning buildings, built around a lake and surrounded by mountains...

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This is the beautiful Lake Palace which is now a posh hotel and was used in the James Bond film Octopussy.

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It is very touristy but there are still some real Indian sights to be seen...

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We decided to treat ourselves from here and got a car and a driver for the day to take us Jodhpur, stopping at a couple of sights along the way. This is Kumbalgarh Fort...

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Then we went onto Ranakpur to see an incredible Jain Temple. It’s carved from white marble and is supported by 1444 pillars, and no 2 are the same!...

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The journey itself was fantastic too because we got to see a lot of rural, non-touristy India...

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The city of Jodhpur is overlooked by the huge Mehrangarh Fort...

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Market Gateway...

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Clock tower in the market...

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View of the ‘Blue City’ from the Fort...

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Jaswant Thada – a memorial to a Maharajah (King)...

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We thought this little boy was GORGEOUS!...

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Next we went to Jaisalmer...

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We got ourselves a lovely room with window seats to chill out and admire the view of the sandstone fort...

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Jaisalmer is in the middle of the Great Thar Desert, near the border with Pakistan, and we went on a camel safari to the dunes...

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The guide thought it was funny to make Steve look like a scary desert gunman with my scarf!...

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We watched the sunset and had dinner on the dunes, it was an incredible experience...

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Next we are heading to what they call the 'Golden Triangle', starting with Jaipur...

Posted by Steve-Kay 02:57 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Varkala to Mumbai

Incredible India!!

sunny 35 °C
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We flew into the South of India to a region called Kerala and it felt completely surreal as we walked out of the airport. We landed early in the morning so it wasn’t quite light outside but it was already hot and really misty, all the men looked like Gandhi in their white (sarong-like) ‘dhotis’, we got in a gorgeous white taxi and had a REALLY bumpy journey along dirt roads past women carrying things on their heads, all the while the driver was bibbing incessantly for no apparent reason! It was fantastic and we fell in love with India immediately!!

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We went straight to Varkala which was gorgeous...

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We spent about a week there enjoying the chilled out atmosphere...

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...and the lovely fresh seafood. This is a Tandooried whole Red Snapper which was delicious and only cost about £7...

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The Autorickshaws were even bumpier than the taxis!...

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From there we caught a train a train to Alleppey – I decided to have a go at shoving my way on like a proper local and managed to bash loads of men, who were elbowing me, out of the way with my backpack to let a woman with a baby on and then snag us some good window seats wooohooo!!

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Alleppey is the base for exploring the Keralan backwaters and we hired a gorgeous luxury Houseboat all to ourselves, along with our very own crew of 3...

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...which included a fabulous chef who cooked us ten times more than we ever needed so we completely stuffed ourselves at every meal! He somehow convinced himself that I wasn’t eating enough though and kept saying to Steve ‘your wife no eat’, and then dishing me up loads more food!

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Our captain let me have a go at steering the boat...

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It’s a hard life...

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It was fascinating watching the day-to-day life on the river and the locals were lovely, saying hello and waving as they passed...

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This man hooked on for a lift and seemed pretty pleased that we wanted a photo!...

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We had a fabulous time on the boat, our crew were lovely and one of them even took us to his village to see his house and meet his family!

Before we left Alleppey we saw some gorgeous material hanging up outside a shop and before I knew it I was being measured up by a tailor and I had myself a proper made-to-measure Indian outfit – ‘salwar kameez & dupatta’ to be precise!...

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Next we went a little further up the west coast to Kochi which is a famous port.

These old Chinese fishing nets are still in use...

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We weren’t that keen on Kochi because it was extremely touristy (and therefore overpriced) and we didn’t think there was very much to do there, so we went on a search for the locals’ area...

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...and found an excellent restaurant where, when we asked for extra parathas, he strolled over to the kitchen counter, grabbed them up in his hand then walked over to the table and chucked them onto the plate! He also wore a floral dhoti (sarong) but somehow managed not to come across any less manly! He, and the other people in there were lovely and the food was definitely the best in town.

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As we were crossing over a bridge we saw some strange looking things floating in the river. It took us a while to realise what we were seeing, probably because we just couldn’t believe our eyes, but it turned out to be discarded animal parts which people were dumping by the barrel-load...

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We thought we’d seen some bad things in the South American meat markets but this is definitely the worst so far, especially because there are houses all along the river’s edge and the smell was unbearable uuuuurrrrrgggghhhhh!!

From there, we caught our first overnight train which I was really nervous about (especially after the disgusting, roach-express we caught in Thailand!) but it was actually really good. It was spotless, comfy, the people were really friendly AND the food was fabulous!...

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Before this trip I didn’t really understand that Goa is a region with lots and lots of different beaches to choose from. We decided to stay at a small one in the far south called Patnem which was very quiet and had a lovely, chilled out atmosphere with restaurants dotted along the beach...

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It has to be the most relaxing place we’ve ever been to, probably not the best preparation for heading up north to the big cities but never mind!...

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Mmmmm, sunset cocktails with garlic naan breads!...

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When we wanted a taste of the more real India we walked into Chaudi, the town about 2kms away...

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Here we tried our first ‘Masala Dosa’ - a delicious pancake-type-thing filled with tasty potato and onion...

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We’d originally intended to move up to a northern beach once we’d seen some stuff in the south, but we’d heard they were a lot more crowded and not nearly as nice so we ended up staying in Patnem for two weeks and exploring the region from there. We caught some extremely bumpy, hot, crowded, but very fun buses!

This is Madgoa, and these cows are wandering along the main roads but seem oblivious to the traffic bibbing and swerving around them!

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Panaji, the state capital...

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A Spice Plantation near Ponda...

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Peppercorn tree...

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Steve got a bit carried away at the buffet table!...

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The family who was renting us our room invited us to join them one day for a big feast to celebrate the Hindu festival of ‘Holi’...

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It was amazing, lots of local families had sort of open-houses and locals went from house to house having a little bit of food and a chat at each one. There was a great atmosphere around the beach and we were lucky to have been there for it...although we could’ve done without the drumming processions that went past our hut in the middle of the night!

Next we caught a bus inland to Hampi which was gorgeous. It’s an amazing place, full of ancient ruins and it felt more like we were in Rome or Greece than India...

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The temples and elephants reminded us where we were though!...

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...As did this fruit stall, where we saw a monkey steal a bunch of bananas and this little boy chase after him shouting!

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From there we went to Hyderabad. It’s a mostly Muslim city and we got the feeling that perhaps they’d rather be part of Pakistan than India, although we could be wrong...

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This stunning building is called Charminar...

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We liked Hyderabad but found it really crowded and noisy and just generally crazy so we were a bit nervous about our next stop; Mumbai (AKA Bombay)!

We arrived very early in the morning at the main train station (CST)...

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We were expecting complete mayhem when we went out exploring but we didn’t find that at all. It was actually a lot less hectic than Hyderabad and had a really nice atmosphere. This is the ‘Gateway to India’...

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The VERY swanky Taj Palace Hotel nearby...

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There are LOADS of amazing buildings all over the city...

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Mumbai High Court...

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It was a bit disconcerting to walk past the guards because it meant looking right down the barrel of a big rifle!...

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This is the Oval Maiden...

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On Sunday there were about a hundred cricket matches going on simultaneously right next to each other - Steve was in his element!...

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Also on Sunday, the usually busy city streets were just full of people playing cricket, it was crazy!...

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This is the extraordinary ‘Dhobi Ghat’, which is an enormous open air laundry where everything is hand-washed in over 1000 troughs...

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There is a beach in Mumbai called Chowpatty but the water is toxic so you can’t swim in it! It’s a lovely place to hang out with the locals, watch the sunset and enjoy a ‘masala dosa’ though...

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There are also some fairground rides like the big wheel, which is run MANUALLY – the men that run it continually climb up to the top and then jump onto one of the chairs/pods and pull it down to the ground!

OTHER PICS:

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These parathas were the best yet and only cost about 3p!

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We absolutely LOVED Mumbai and could’ve easily stayed for longer, if only to enjoy all the fabulous street food and shopping, but annoyingly we’d pre-booked our train tickets so we left after 5 days....

Latest travel map:

Posted by Steve-Kay 14:53 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Tanah Rata & Melaka

sunny 30 °C
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After realising that we’d left it too late to get an Indian visa before we left Australia, we did some research and discovered that KL (which we were only planning to pass through en-route to somewhere else) was a good place to get one. To be honest, we’d been to KL a few years before and really didn’t like it so we weren’t relishing the idea of being ‘stuck’ there for an unknown amount of time but we didn’t have much choice... HOWEVER, we take it all back because we completely fell in love with the city this time, there’s loads of stuff to do, tonnes of fabulous restaurants and the people are lovely!

These are the gorgeous Petronas Towers, it’s hard to get a decent photo as they’re so tall...

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We saw the Petronas last time we were here but never managed to get up to the Skybridge (the little bridge that connects the two towers) so we were really pleased to get the chance this time...

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This pretty park and lake is all part of the Petronas complex...

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There are some lovely buildings in the city...

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This Mosque looked especially beautiful at night and we liked hearing the ‘call to prayer’ echoing out of it...

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We were staying in Chinatown which is a great location because we could walk to most places in the city. Little India was about 5 minutes away and Steve made me go there for a curry every day, despite the fact that we were planning to go to the real India in the very near future!

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Merdeka (which means Independence) Square...

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There are a lot more shops in KL than we realised; this extravagant fountain is outside one of the poshest shopping centres we’ve ever seen. It’s full of really expensive designer shops...oh, and a Dorothy Perkins!

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The people at the visa place told us we’d have at least a 5 working day wait until we heard about our application, so we decided to see a bit of Malaysia in the meantime. We caught a bus up to the Cameron Highlands, to a place called Tanah Rata. The journey was just over 200km’s and was supposed to take 4 hours but our driver went so slowly it took 7 hours!! It was infuriating and at one stage he was going so slowly that we were overtaken by JOGGERS, I’m not even joking! It was very hilly and the road was winding but not enough to warrant that speed. We wondered afterwards if there may have been a problem with the bus but the owner of our guesthouse said she thought he’d nearly gone over the edge of the mountain recently and was being over-cautious – either way I suppose we should just be grateful that we got there in one piece, and the views were pretty good towards the end at least!

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We couldn’t face getting on any more buses after that so we decided to walk the 4kms to the tea plantation the next day, even though we had to struggle the 4kms back up the hill afterwards! It was worth it though...

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Tea, tea everywhere!

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The town itself was pretty small but had a good selection of restaurants, this banana leaf thali (a mixture of curries, rice & a poppadom/small bread) cost about £1 and was lovely...

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We walked 5kms to a strawberry farm the following day, and then undid all the good we’d done by stuffing ourselves with strawberries & cream, a strawberry muffin and a strawberry lassi! It was lovely but not really worth the walk, plus it poured down on the way back and we got COMPLETELY drenched – that slow bus wasn’t looking so bad all of a sudden!

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After a few days there, we got the bus to Melaka, 2 hours south of KL. It’s a gorgeous little city with a boardwalk running either side along the river. It is said far too often I know, but it really was quite like Venice (except much, much cheaper!)...

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The rickshaws are decorated beautifully and we couldn’t resist the offer of a city tour...

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This is the main square...

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The owners of our guesthouse were amazing. When we got there we got an ice-cold juice, a piece of freshly baked cake, and a half-an-hour chat about what to do and where to eat! It was right on the river...

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....and had a lovely terrace where we could sit and watch the world (well, a few boats) go by...

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We were hanging around for a while whilst waiting for our visa so one day we decided to go to the zoo. We watched a funny orang-utan show and then had our picture taken with the star!!....

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After what seemed like ages, but was in fact only 7 working days, we got our visa clearance so we jumped on a bus back to KL where we had to hand in our passports. We got them back with the visa stamp a few days later and went straight to the AirAsia office to book the very next flight - we were on a plane and winging our way to India less than 12 hours later wooooohoooooooo!!!

Posted by Steve-Kay 09:04 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Darwin to Melbourne, via Adelaide and Sydney

Straight through the middle...strewth!

sunny 40 °C
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When we got back to Darwin, we were relieved to find our lovely campervan just where we'd left it and still in perfect working order! We were lucky because the hotel we'd stayed in before we left for Thailand had agreed to let us park in their secure car park for free!

We planned to spend Christmas in the Blue Mountains, about 3500 miles away, so after 2 more nights in the hotel in Darwin we thought we should hit the road!

It was strange being back in camper after so long, especially after staying in such nice hotels in Thailand, so it took some re-adjusting! The first place we stopped was Edith Falls near a town called Katherine. The fish in this rockpool were nibbling at our feet like they did at the foot spa in Thailand!...

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While we were away from Oz we had serious T-bone steak withdrawal, which we quickly remedied...

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Further south was Devil's Marbles, it's amazing how these huge rocks seem to balance so precariously...

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There are roadhouses (service stations) every few hundred k's along the way. They usually have a good restaurant, bar, accommodation/campsite and lots of character (and characters)!!

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One of them had some cheeky peacocks wandering around...

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We were doing A LOT of miles everyday which wasn't always easy with the heat and monotony of the Outback, but it is pretty gorgeous in it's own way!...

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There are plenty of interesting things to see and nice places to stop and have a cuppa along the way though...

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Tropic of Capricorn...

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We were really excited to get to Alice Springs and be right in the middle of Australia!...

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In the shopping centre in Alice they had Santa's sleigh being pulled by roos (or 6 White Boomers as the Rolf Harris song goes)...

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We only stopped briefly in Alice though as we were so keen to get to Uluru (Ayer's Rock). It seemed to take forever to drive there (about 300 miles from Alice Springs) but it was all worth it once we saw the huuuuge shape looming in the distance...

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The Uluru Resort is basically a whole town, with restaurants, a bank, a supermarket, etc. It's been done really nicely and the prices are pretty reasonable considering they're literally in the middle of nowhere! We checked into the huge campsite, had a cool off in the pool and raced to get to Uluru for sunset...

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Before we went there, I'd always said 'I'm not driving all that bloody way to look at a big rock' BUT I take it all back! There really is something special about it and the light at sunset made it look amazing.

The next day was a whopping 40 degrees so we were among only a few it seemed that were stupid enough to walk around in the heat - think all the sensible people got up early before the heat of the day! It was great though because it meant we virtually had it to ourselves so it was worth it! It was surprising to see the shape of it close up, it always looks so smooth in the pictures but it's all lumpy and bumpy and full of holes...

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Nearby are the less famous, but still impressive, Olgas...

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After Uluru we continued our journey down the middle to South Australia...

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As we pulled into a roadhouse one day we realised there was a problem with the brakes (we probably just hadn't noticed earlier as there isn't really any need to use them on these roads!) they worked but were very spongey. We tried replacing the brake fluid but it came spurting out under the van so we knew it needed looking at properly. We didn't want to have to wait around there for the local mechanic, plus we knew we'd get stung as it was about 150 miles to the nearest town, so we decided to plod on to Coober Pedy.

Coober Pedy is famous for Opal mining, and because it's so hot there, a lot of the town was built underground, in sort-of caves, to keep cool. The company we bought the van from recommended a mechanic called Vince. He was really nice and told us that he'd not only built the road leading up to his place, but he'd also blasted the rocks to create his own house and garage!!

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He managed to fix and service the van, while giving Steve a mechanics lesson down in the pit!...

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Some local sights:

Underground church...

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We visited an old mine that has been turned into a museum (and still has opals in the wall!)...

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An example of an underground home...

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Our next major stop from there was Adelaide, which marked the end of a VERY long road!!

The Adelaide Oval...

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We didn't actually stop in Adelaide for very long because we were short of time and because it's always hard to camp in big cities...plus the nearby Barossa Valley wine region was drawing us in!...

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We had lunch, and a few tasters, at Jacobs Creek...

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Steve was cheeky at Penfolds and got a taster of a $200 bottle of wine (all tastings are free!). I tried some of his one, as I was too embarrassed to ask for some myself, but I actually preferred the cheaper stuff...luckily for him!

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On the way out of South Australia we stumbled across Banrock Station, we bought quite a few bottles there and then saw them all cheaper in the supermarket afterwards!...

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On our last night in the camper, we found a lovely (free!) campsite at Carcoar Dam...

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Last Supper...

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Finally, 13 days and 3500 miles after leaving Darwin, we arrived at my Aunt Lynn's house in the Blue Mountains at 5pm on Chrismas Eve...talk about cutting it fine!!

We had a lovely Aussie family Christmas at my cousin's house (also in the Blue Mountains)...

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Steve giving the possum its Christmas dinner...

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Feeding the birds in Lynn's garden...

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On Boxing Day we drove out to Millthorpe, near Orange, to visit my other cousin and had a biiiiiig Aussie barbie...

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Steve couldn't resist having a go of their sit-on-mower!

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On the way back from Milthorpe we passed Bathurst Racetrack and Steve had a drive around it in our camper...

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Once all the excitement of Christmas was over we got to work on preparing our van so we could put it up for sale. It took ages to sort out all the stuff we had accumulated in the past 6 months (and 22,000kms) on the road! We eventually advertised it late on New Year's Day, got some calls on the 2nd, had it viewed on the 3rd and sold it on the 4th!! It was a real relief to have that out of the way, although it was sad to see it go, so we knew what we had to play with for the rest of our trip!

After that we decided to celebrate and booked a lovely apartment in Darling Harbour and tickets to see Psycho at the Opera House...

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We spent a week in Sydney meeting up with friends and enjoying the sights...

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Sydney by night...

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After that we returned to Melbourne (where we arrived a year ago) for our final 2 days in Australia...

Steve's 100th photo of his beloved MCG!...

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The Yarra River...

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On our last night we went out with Larner (Steve's friend from school who now lives in Oz) and his girlfriend Laura for a few (possibly a few too many judging from this photo!) drinks...

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We had some amazing views as we were flying over the Outback and leaving lovely Australia...

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Travel Map:

Posted by Steve-Kay 03:02 Archived in Australia Tagged automotive Comments (0)

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