A Travellerspoint blog

The Peoples Republic of China

Beijing

semi-overcast 18 °C

After a bumpy flight from Kathmandu via Hong Kong we were glad to finally arrive in Beijing! Beijing airport is like a huge space centre! Most of the signs were in Chinese and English so we eventually found where to get the shuttle bus into the city. Beijing is a huge city and very modern. We were really lucky with our hostel. It was like a 5 * hotel and we had housekeeping everyday! It was way out of our league for 8euro each a night but we decided to live it up and stay somewhere decent with hot water and clean fluffy towels!
We stayed in Beijing for a week so we really got to know all the staff at the hostel and had great craic with them. We got to learn some Chinese and they got to improve their English. We got to know a few travellers too including a crazy Russian guy that entertained us with Russian war ballads every night. One night he was strumming so hard on the guitar stings that his fingers bled! He wasnt too bothered and kept playing!
The sights in Beijing are very spread out and its a huge city so once we got our heads around the subway we were sorted. The girls in the hostel were great and wrote all we needed to know in Chinese including " Wo chi su - I am a vegetarian"! This has been our most used phrase so far in China. The whole meat thing is freaking me out! They would eat anykind of meat; monkey, dog, snake, smoked rat the works. I have tried a small bit of chicken I just hope to god it wasnt rat! Im sticking to the veg chowmein from now on to be on the safe side...
In Beijing we headed off on our own steam around The Forbidden city, Tian'namen square and Summer Palace. We have seen a few other foreign tourists mainly American but not that many. The main tourists are the Chinese. Its funny to watch them. They are crazy people. The tour guide leads them around with a flag and talks through a Britney Spears style megaphone. They all have matching bags and baseball caps. I wonder will Europe be ready for the Chinese tourists when they arrive?!Can you imagine 1.3 billion of them on the Rock of Cashel?!
We made it to the Olympic site too for a look around and managed to get some training in! Its still under construction so I hope its ready for us when we come back in August! It was cool to see the cube and the birds nest.
For some reason Ben is now obsessed with walking and insisted on us doing a 4hr trek on the Great Wall. We organised a day trip with our hostel and headed off with a few more travellers for the day. So it was an was an early start at 6.30 and a 3hr drive outside Beijing. It was tough going and no walk in the park but nothing compared to the Annapurnas in Nepal (thanks Phil your still dead!) There were some very steep inclines but the views were fantastic and well worth the effort!
We found an Irish bar in Beijing in the Sanlitun area where we stayed but there were no Paddys to be found in Paddy O' Sheas only a few English and loads of Chinese. Ben had a mingin pint of Guiness and I settled for a local Tsing Tso China s finest suds!
After a good week in Beijing we got an overnight train to Xian!

Posted by rachelk27 08:07 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The Kingdom of Nepal

Kathmandu and trekking in the Annapurnas!

all seasons in one day -10 °C
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After a stressful 2hr drive by tuk tuk to Varanasi airport we just about made it alive! The driver was a lunatic swerving like a mad man around cows, cars and motorbikes! Its 4 yrs in jail if you kill a cow on the roads in India!
We witnessed Indian bureaucacy at its best at the airport. There are so many people around to do the one job. When we finally got our boarding cards they were checked and stamped around 6 times! We had to identify our bags before they put them on the plane even though the only flight departing was to Kathmandu!
Flying over Nepal was beautiful. Its so green and mountainous. We got our visas no problem at the airport and got a taxi to our guethouse.
The staff in the guesthouse were lovely but the building was a really old Nepalese style building and the ceilings were really low so Ben couldnt stand up in the room! We only stayed there one night and moved on to another place where Ben could stand up in the room without banging his head! Nepalese people are tiny!They have the shortest legs I have ever seen in my life!
Kathmandu is much more chilled out and relaxed than most of the Indian cities that we visited. People here are lovely and not too pushy. Everything in Kathmandu is geared towards trekking and outdoor activities.
There is so much to see and do around the city you could easily spend one week checking out the local sights.
Phil decided to fly over and join us on our Annapurna trek in the Himalayas.
We stocked up on all our necessary supplies for the mountains and bought our bus tickets to Besisahar.
The bus journey to Besisahar was crazy! The driver must have been on speed. We had only left Kathmandu around 30mins when the front shocks on the bus went. Everybody had to get off the bus until the driver managed to fix it!
Around 5 hrs later into the bus journey we got a flat tyre so everybody had to get off the bus again!It only took him about 45mins to change it so we were on our way again!
In Dumre we had to change bus for the last leg of the journey and this bus was packed so we decided to travel Nepali style on the roof of the bus with our bags! I was terrified at the start but it was a lot more comfortable on the roof than it was on the bus! There was nt any chickens pecking at our feet! It was a case of hold on tight and mind the overhead cables!
When we finally made it to Besisahar we decided to walk to Khudi to get our legs into top condition for the Annapurna circuit.
We found a nice guesthouse in Khudi (a stone hut with a galvanised roof) not bad for a euro for the 3 of us! We had a traditional Nepalese dinner "Dal Bhat". It consists of an endless supply of rice, lentil soup, veg curry and pickle.
The Annapurna trek is one of the most beautiful treks in Nepal. The scenery along the route was incredible and changed each day from deep river valleys to steep rice terraces.
It took us 8 days to trek from Khudi to Jomsom via the Thorong La Pass. We trekked for 8 hrs most days! For the first few days we walked through ancient stone villages and crossed over high suspension bridges.
After 4 days of hard trekking we made it to the village of Manang. It s a beautiful old stone village with a large Tibetan population. People here look totally different to the people in the Kathmandu valley. Buddhism is the main religion so we saw lots of prayer flags, prayer wheels and gompas. We had planned to have a rest day in Manang but that involved an acclimatisation day! So we had to climb high and sleep low! Manang is at 3500m above sea level so to help prevent mountain sickness we trekked up to 4200m during the day. We visited a Tibetan monastery and recieved a blessing from a 93 year old monk that we would have a succesful climb over the Thorong La pass!
After all that climbing we took it easy for the rest of the day.
The air was very thin in Manang and breathing was much more difficult. It was freezing too so we slept with our clothes on! There s no such thing as central heating in Nepal.
The following morning after our usual porridge and black tea breakfast we left early for another 8hr trek. It was a tough day and our hearts were beating faster and faster! Around 110 beats / min! We made it to Phedi and were lucky enough to find a room. It was busy with trekkers and the atmosphere was really good. So much hype over the pass!
On the 19th of March, D-day had arrived!We had a terrible nights sleep. It was so bloody cold , the coldest I have ever been in my life. It was around -10C and my water bottle froze!We even slept with our hats and gloves on!
A lot of people got up at 3.30 to climb over the pass but we decided to have a sleep in and got up at 5.30 instead! After trekking in snow up to our knees we finally made it to the Thorong La pass at 5416m!We only stayed at the top for a few minutes because of the biting cold wind. It was so beautiful up there and we were delighted to have arrived there safely so many people had turned back with severe mountain sickness.
The descent was really tough especially in places were the snow was melting and the ground was really slippy.
After trekking for 9hrs we made it to Muktinath village at the other side of the pass. We all felt terrible here, instead of getting mountain sickness we got low sickness! Lots of people get it after a steep descent.
On the 20th March we trekked for the last 8hrs! The scenery was very lunar like and karst from Muktinath to Jomsom. I dont know how people live in such severe conditions. We chilled out in Jomsom for 2 days and stayed with a lovely Tibetan lady who looked after us and fed us up!
We decided to fly from Jomsom to Pokhara with Gorka airlines! When I went into the office to book the tickets I asked the agent about the flight! He assured me it was a beautiful flight over the Himalayas and wait for this its a classic!

" The plane can seat 18 people but we only take 14 passengers so the plane can take off"!!!!

I was a bit worried about the weight of the 14 passengers in total but it managed to take off along with Ben, Phil and I.

After our 8 day "purification trip" in the mountains we decided to hit the bottle in Pokhara and cancel out all our hard work. We made up for not touching a drop on St Patricks Day! To Be honest we were in bits after 2 beers each!
We spent 3 days in Pokhara and really enjoyed being back in civilisation!

We got another bus back to Kathmandu and luckily enough the driver wasnt as crazy as the other one!

In Kathmandu we rented out motorbikes for 2days and drove to Kodari on the Nepal - Tibetan border. Phil gave Ben a crash course on how to drive a motorbike and I was hapopy enough to jump up on the back of it! After a bumpy 6 hr drive on the back of the bike ( and a broken backside!) we made it to the border town of Kodari! Not much to see in the town but the drive there was beautiful!
We walked over the Friendship Bridge and crossed the red line! One leg in Nepal and the other in Tibet (China). I took a picture of the bridge and 5 Chinese secret service police ran over to me and ordered me to delete the photo! I didnt understand what the big deal was!At least they didnt take my camera!
So after all that excitement we drove back to Kathmandu on the bikes the next day.
Phils time was ticking and it was time for him to fly back to the real world in Ireland so we said our goodbyes.

After a lot of hassle at the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu Ben and I were lucky enough to get our Chinese visas. We saw so many "Free Tibet" supporters getting banged away into paddy wagons and protestors getting pushed away by the Nepalese police. The situation in Tibet is awful and hopefully for their sake there will be some sort of peace again soon.

After spending nearly a month in Nepal it was time to move on again to the next port of call. We finally got a flight to Beijing via Hong Kong.............

Posted by rachelk27 06:06 Archived in Nepal Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Uttar Pradesh

The Cow Belt of India

sunny 25 °C
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Uttar pradesh is India s most populated state around 160million! After leaving Rajasthan our first stop in the state of UP was Agra home to the Taj Mahal which is described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love!
It really is a wonder of the world! Around 20,000 people worked on the Taj and some of the builders had their hands chopped off so the intricate designs could never be repeated on another building!
We gave around 3hrs strolling around and took plenty of pictures. We stayed there until sunset and watched the white marble change colour.
We only gave one night in Agra and that was even plenty! Its the biggest sh*thole we have been in so far. Around 10million people visit the Taj Mahal every year and you would think the government would make some effort and clean the place up.
The city itself is horrible and the river that flows through the city is an open sewer supposedly incapable of supporting anytype of life form! At least there s a 2km exclusion zone around the Taj so there s no traffic allowed near it.
Our next long train journey was from Agra to Varanasi which was meant to take around 12 hrs but took 15.
We got off the train around 12.30 the next day and were lucky enough to get a nice guesthouse overlooking the Ganges.
Varanasi is India s Holiest city and its also know for its burning ghats. A long string of ghats line the banks of the Ganges river. Many people come to the ghats to bathe in the holy Ganges, do yoga, get a massage, wash clothes etc...
There s also 2 burning ghats which operate 24/7 and seeing really is believing. Hindu s believe in reincarnation and to be cremated by the Ganges is a huge privilage for them. We visited these burning ghats and to be honest I wont be too graphic but Im still not feeling the best after what we saw on the fires....
It really was a shock to the system but death is business as usual here for the untouchables that cremate all the bodies.
We stayed in Varanasi for around 4 days and tomorrow is our last day in India. From Varanasi there s an 18 hr bus to Kathmandu where you have to stay the night at the border. We have decided to take the easy option and take a 1hr flight!
We really enjoyed our travels in India and were so lucky not to get any Delhi belly! We saw some amazing things and some horrible things. India has its fair share of problems beggers, lepers, pollution but it also has so much to offer a first time vistor if you can manage to keep your cool!

Posted by rachelk27 08:36 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Rajasthan

The Land of Kings

sunny 25 °C
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The trains in Rajasthan were heavily booked so we decided to take a 2 week trip around the state. Rajasthan is India's most colourful state. Its also very dry and has a desert and semi desert like landscape. Water shortages are a common problem here so women walk long distances with terracota pots to fetch water. The women here wear really colourful saris with mirrored detail that sparkles in the sun.
We both really enjoyed Rajasthan, it really is the land of the Kings!
From Delhi our first stop was Bikaner. Here we went an overnight camel trip in the Thar desert. We were only around 50kms away from the Pakistan border so there was a very strong military presence around us.
The camel trip was great craic and we were very lucky with the group that travelled with us (3 Spanish girls and a German couple).
We were on the camels for one full day so our backsides were pretty sore after it! In the evening we had a fab dinner under a full moon and a starlit sky! Our entertainment for the night were 3 local Rajasthani musicans. When the music finished we started our own sing song and Ben did us proud with a few home tunes! Afterall that singing we managed to get a goodnights sleep in our cosy tents!
It was time to move on the next day and it was good to get away from the smelly camels!
We travelled 300km to Jodhpur city on the edge of the Thar desert. We visted the Meherangargh fort which is the most impressive fort we have seen in the whole state. The fort is sprawled across a huge rock overlooking the city (around 10times the size of the Rock of Cashel!) Its a nice city and we enjoyed strolling arouynd the old city which is full of spice markets. It was good to get out of the city alive after nearly killing myself! I was walking along checking out the view when I slipped on cow sh*t and nearly broke my back! You really have to be careful where you walk here!
After Jodhpur we travelled further south via Ranakpur and visited India s largest and most important Jain temple. Entry into the temple was free but for a mere 20 rupees (around 30 cent) the Jains fed us the most amazing thali! Ben ate them out of the house and home and has converted to Jainism since!
Udaipur is known as the Venice of the East and is India's most romantic city! Its a beautiful city overlooking Lake Pichola. Udaipur is famous for marble and the James Bond movie "Octopussy"!
All guesthouses in the town show the movie everynight to lure customers in even though it was filmed in 1983!
It was such a treat to sit down and watch the film because we hadnt watched tv in about 4weeks!So we sat on the rooftop restaurant and watched the film.
Its wedding season at the moment in India, when we were on the rooftop we could see all the fireworks from 4 different weddings across the city! it was magical!
We also had our first hot shower which was the best feeling ever! Felt like I needed to be power hosed in bleach to get all the grime off!
After Udaipur our next stop was Pushkar. Its a holy pilgrim town where alcohol, meat and even eggs are banned! The place was really relaxing and very clean by Indian standards! We visited a few Hindu temples and soaked up the atmosphere. The place was full of sadhus or Holy men. They devote their life to Hinduism.
From Puskar we travelled along the dusty roads again to Jaipur "The Pink City"! Its the capital city of Rajasthan and by far the most chaotic! The streets were full of auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, camels, cows and even elephants!
We visted Amber fort and haggled hard for a spin on elephant to the top! I was terrified, we were so high up and just about managed to get there safely!
One of our highlights was a visit to Ranthambore National Park home to the Indian tiger! We were so lucky to see 2 tigers because we only had time to do one safari. There such beautiful animals and did nt seem to bothered with us taking their pictures even though there was no roof on the jeep!The park is also full of crocodiles, deer and birds!

Posted by rachelk27 09:57 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Delhi

Capital of India

sunny 20 °C
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We were exhausted when we arrived in Delhi. We were stuck at the airport in Trivandrum for over 4hrs so it was pretty late when we landed.
The temperature is much cooler up here compared to the tropical temperatures of the south. The days are nice and sunny but the nights get really cold.
We stayed in Pahargang the market area of the city full of budget hotels and guesthouses (and cows walking around the street!). Our guesthouse was in a nice quite area but I didnt get much sleep. The staff were really nice but the room wasnt the best. I was afraid to sleep on the pillows incase of catching some rare facial disease ( glad I brought a cosy fleece with me) so I just slept in my clothes.
We woke up to the sound of Hare Krishnas singing at 7 every morning so sleep ins are a thing of the past! There are so many different religions in India ( Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddists etc) to name a few. Its lovely to see them all live in peace under the one roof. No matter where we go we always come across some religious festival.
Delhi wasnt that bad as a city I was expecting it to be terrible. Some pockets were really bad with rubbish and pollution. But overall the city was impressive and we saw most of the sights.
Ben was dying for a McDonalds when he saw the golden arches in a flash area of the city. He was thrilled to bits, mouth watering for 2 big macs. When he ordered at the counter the waiter just looked at him and said "cows are holy in India no beef is served in this restaurant"! It was kinda funny at the time but we both totally forgot that Hindus dont eat beef. Poor Ben had to settle for a chicken burger instead!
We only stayed 2 days and 2 nights. We could have stayed a little longer but decided to book a 2 week trip around Rajasthan......

Posted by rachelk27 09:33 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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