Friday, 28 November 2008
These few days of R and R have been really great. Treating myself to a languid lunch/dinner and then going back to conquer Rome through the night with a nice drink by my side - ok i admit im a bit hooked on Rome: Total War. Currently on Carthage and rewriting history by booting the Italians out of Italy. And staging secret amphibious landings on the Aegean sea (complete with war elephants, sacred band phalanxes and onagers - all ready to take a city=).
Oh, and i got my Theroux - the Great railway bazaar from Border's today. Heard this one was good, and it reminds me a lot of my train journeys as well - im actually growing to be a bit of a train freak myself, too. So, Vietnam in a week or so. Haha. That fast. Its almost as if i haven't even really prepared for it yet. Seriously, India is still very much on my mind - i've promised myself i'll go back soon, even if there really were some parts that drove me crazy =) It really depends on your mood, really - like you could wake up feeling on top of the world and greet every scammer with joy and fight the crowds and side step cows, but when you're down, India has a way of getting to you. I remember those days where i was the only foreigner in town, it gets to you sometimes, slugging back 4 flights of stairs to the mouldy room with flaky paint in the evening. You just suddenly feel so alone, and bored that you just want out at times.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Saturday, 22 November 2008
Looking at those Varanasi pics it's really one of my favourites ever. If i had to make lists it would read:
- Pokhara, Nepal
- Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal
- Varanasi, India
- Ban Nam Goy - a population 80 village, Laos
- Chennai, India - i am a Chennaiker at heart =)
- Rangoon, Burma - driving to Kyaiktiyo in the pre-dawn light, stopping by endless fields of paddy to watch the most amazing sunrise, ever. Ok, this brings me. I will go back to Burma, soon.
- Amritsar, India - and the India-Pakistan border Attari-Wagah.
- Taipei, Taiwan ROC
- Siem Reap (for the Angkor temples), Cambodia
- Udon Thani, Thailand - Thaksin rally and everyday Isan life, very friendly people
Actually all the places i've been to just took my breath away, but these are the few that really made me go, "wow, so im here". And then pause to catch breath and smile to myself. It must be a dream.
And the just forgettable:
- Sauraha/Royal Chitwan, Nepal
- New Delhi, India - even walking down the legendary Chandni Chowk failed. Fled after 3 or 4 days, purpose of stay was just to catch the train. The one exception, though, was Humayun's tomb - amazing, this architectural predecessor to the Taj.
- Agra, India - the town, that is. Taj Ganj specifically. Bleuch. And it poured like mad and did i mention i fell into an Indian gutter.
Oh yea, and just for fun and out of boredom (10 principles for communication campaigns... ho hum), i calculated the distance my trusty 3 year old pair of leather Timberlands have carried me, taking the brunt of injuries such as rusty nails and spilled hot chai. 29,659 km. woo hoo. and walking on...
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Stepping outside the Shanti Guesthouse. First day, walking down the snaking alleys and maze of side streets and side streets of side streets in Varanasi, down to the ghats. We switched guesthouses like 3 times, but finally still, irony irony, wound up at the Shanti - some of the other options were just too sterile/characterless/soulless compared to the Shanti's flaky, moldy walls and shoddy rooms (plus the four floor climb to my room) - the rooftop restaurant, of course, the place to be in Varanasi where we hung out and talked languidly over late breakfasts of toast with beans and eggs, muesli, cold coffee, hot chocolate (first time in India... bit of a sense of home to us all, i guess. And yes, after all the curry (North) and thaali in South India) following an early morning stroll down to the ghats, and just relaxed and shared stories before going for an afternoon siesta, waking up when the day cools at around 4, popping out again to the ghats, catching the Ganga puja ceremony at 7 when the great mother Ganga is put to rest for the night, which involves priests of Shiva chanting, blowing on the conch shell as a symbol of the deity, tolling of bells, chandeliers of fire and throngs of pilgrims. And being sandwiched in it all in the sweltering heat listening as the chants intensify and the bells toll, looking out into the darkness that is the river Ganga.
Ahh... i realise how much i miss India... Varanasi, Amritsar, Chennai, and around Tamil Nadu especially, where i spent long periods of time walking the streets amongst the crowds without seeing a foreign face for days, and stopping by the makeshift stalls to buy chai, stand around and just people watch with other people.
I can remember my last proper cup of chai in India - the breakfast brew at 7 in the morning before catching a cyclerickshaw to "Paul Travels" headquarters (a small provisions shop with the owner frying wafer thin ommelettes as free brekkie (promised on the ticket) and watery chai with travellers milling around) for the bus to Sunauli-Belahiya. Then the long ride into Nepal.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
I wish all these could be over soon. In 14 days. Not too long but i'm already dying on another of my long nights up here in my loft. Miss those days on the road already, the freedom of it all, waking up and smelling the diesel fumes from the belching buses at the sandy bus depot, headed for another city, another small town, another place. Grabbing breakfast on the go. Spilling freshly brewed, potent coffee down the front of my jacket and checking out the food stalls around the bus station for the usual staple of bananas, 3-minute-noodles, bread etc amongst the more unusual preserved birds, unidentifiable sauces, weird meat cooking on the grill... Life on the road.
Sometimes you just feel that you got to be on the road again. This is one of those times, with Seger in the headphones screaming "to the mountain's where im going to..." And mellowing to the bossa nova tunes Lisa Ono, which so brings back memories of those nights i've spent alone in my room, mulling over what to pack for tomorrow's departure, all the stuff laid out on the bed, with my maps, guidebooks, air tickets, passport and all strewn around, the Bossa Americana CD playing on repeat in the background (i'm such an organised person, i know - i used to plan everything but in the end follow nothing. Now i don't plan). That was before Burma. Its like all the emotions before leaving on my first, ever, trip come rushing back now, listening to the same songs - the mixture of excitement, anticipation, happiness, freedom, and that bit of fear, laced with nostalgia. Now i suddenly feel the urge to go out after the exams to go sit at the cafe i used to camp in 2 years ago, planning my trips over a tall coffee which i can make last for 6 hours. Perhaps i'll do that, in 14 days, after the exams are over. And probably grab a new Lisa Ono CD too.
Friday, 31 October 2008
I don't know, but to me, tomorrow is always beautiful - it is always a promise, a fresh start, where everything takes care of itself as it unfurls. Just do as best i can, and let things be. Everything sorts itself out in the end. To quote, i think previous bit was in the Dharma Bums, and now Chozanshi, only a fool worries about what he has no control over. Let tomorrow come, and let tomorrow be. Thats why i always go to sleep at peace and happy however screwed up my day was, knowing that whatever tomorrow brings, will be, and knowing that if i have done my all, there is nothing else i can do but accept and find joy in what transpires. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
The HK-Llhasa is still between the conceptualisation-planning stages, but it should be a go, i think, thats if i can get the Chinese visa from Hong Kong (and the Tibet permit, of course). The least i'd do is probably go around China, sort of going back to the "homeland", i guess. It's surprising how many Chinese have never been to China - i'm one of them myself and even if i don't feel any strong kindship ties with the homeland, it would still be nice to go back to where my ancestors came from, and see what it's like for myself.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
Thamel has really gone upmarket though, that its almost sad-funny (and builds camarederie) when you walk past the really posh looking restaurants with their doormen and the impeccably clean glass facades -and theres no one inside. In the monsoon, the only people here are backpackers, who gather in the small alleys off the main street at the hole-in-the-wall juice shops and Tibetan restaurants for that cheap smoothie or momos, and who all seem to enjoy the Thamel bakeries' 50% off breads offer at 8 p.m.
I kept to 2 meals a day, breakfast at the rooftop at Helena's - at 90 NRs (1.5 USD) for eggs, toast with butter and jam, excellent sauted potatoes, a grilled tomato and tea/coffee. Quite a steal. Then i'd walk all the way out of town into the Kathmandu valley to visit the sights, often as there's nothing in the way of transport due to the frequent bandhas (strikes) over the president issue and the fuel price increase/student discount issue. These are pretty much a fact of life in Nepal, and as the Himalayan Times sum it up perfectly, quoting a student leader, "if we don't burn tyres, no one will listen to us." Talk about diplomacy and dialogue. The common response of the Nepalis is usually, what to do, Kathmandu, accompanied with a little head wobble and a shrug.
And so i walked, out of Thamel, into the old, medieval, fabled city, marked by the regal Durbar Square in its heart, past the Rani Pokhari (Queen's pool) and the fantastic gardens of the Kaiser Mahal on days, out of town into the Kathmandu valley, where the buildings thin out, and roads become more pot-holed and uneven, forming pools of muddy brown water after the nightly rains. And sharing the road with the Nepalis from all walks of life, porters carrying huge, impossible loads on carts and on their backs, women balancing urns of milk on their head, children in fresh school uniforms running off to school, youths enjoying a cup of hot chiya (tea) seated around an ancient square, a tole that marks most of the intersections of Kathmandu's streets, playing badminton, the odd saddhu, the saffron robed Tibetan monks... I enjoyed these walks immensely, disappearing into a Nepal that felt so ancient with tradition and its architectural quirks and splendour, yet so alive and breathing, and welcoming.
*As usual, pics coming up soon - i have yet to sort through my 5 CDs and 2 DVDs worth of photos taken on this trip - so far im only about halfway through it...
Saturday, 18 October 2008
Those times which, thankfully, are not too numerous to remember,
1. Angkor, Cambodia - climbing up one of those huge stone temples outside the main complex along the Grand Circuit, where almost vertical steps cut into the rock crumble and blend into each other, worn smooth by time. Ta Keo takes the cake for being the impossible-st temple to climb up to. A crazy, intimidating stone spire that rises from the centre of the complex, supposedly abandoned after it was struck by lightning. The uncompleted work, as if suddenly abandoned, cast an eerie pall over the temple, even in the midday sun.
2. Vang Vieng, Laos - getting lost in a cliffside cave somewhere in the karst mountains around town. Without a torch.
3. Luang Nam Tha, Laos - dumped by sawngthaew at night in an unnamed, dark and silent road out of town, with all the shops and residences closed, shutters down, and silence all round except for the howling of dogs, and cats screeching eerily.
4. India - the madman's tour of Mahabalipuram. Its a long story, worth a post on its own - ill get to that soon once i settle my exams. Yes, its that time of the year again, before i head off.
5. on the Annapurna Base Camp trail, Nepal - crossing a frozen waterfall horizontally hanging off the cliff side. Actually, that was nothing compared to going down into the South Annapurna glacier, an almost 90 degree, sheer rock face of thousands of millions of sharp, jagged rock fragments. And walking along the glacier on the Fang (mountain) approach march before, climbing back up again. The glacier was another world totally - underground caves and eerie, green unearthly pools of still water, and the rumble of distant rockfall and avalanches.
6. Chitrasali, Nepal - The worst of the lot. It nearly spelt the end of my academic life when due to time zone miscaluculations, guaranteed power outtages in the afternoon and crawling, sporadic internet in the Terai plains of Nepal, i very nearly, and i mean very nearly, missed my subject registration exercise for the new academic year.
Friday, 17 October 2008
In the northern Indian state of Punjab, another of my favourites, a very welcome respite from stepping off the plane from Tamil Nadu's tranquil, palm lined country roads into the New Delhi chaos that still persists at 3 a.m. in the morning. I had stayed at this really freaky place and made up my mind that night, making sure all the doors and windows were locked and tight, to get my tickets from the New Delhi railway station the next day and make an early exit. The buying tickets bit was easy enough - thanks to the International Tourist Bureau , a "nice and spacious office" on the second floor - and after minutes of filling in forms for the trains i wanted and playing couch shuffle waiting for my turn at the counters, i managed to end up with all the tickets i'd ever need for this India trip - in total around 55 dollars of tickets. This is by far the bit of Indian bureaucracy i'm most impressed with, other than the State Bank of India experience in Chennai of course, which made me feel so like a native Chennaiker - yea and i do support the Super Kings in the IPL. One surefire way to make friends (and influence people) in India - talk about cricket and how fantastic Tendulkar is etc...
New Delhi! the old town around Jama Masjid
The Golden Temple, Sikkhism's holiest shrine, was beautiful. One of my fondest memories was everyone getting to their feet, standing around the Golden Temple, in the fast fading evening light as prayers are recited in the Golden temple, electronic speakers carrying it through the entire courtyard. And the scent of imminent rain in the breeze, raking ripples across the now dark surface of the pool of holy water, the Amrit Sarovar, surrounding the Golden temple, light drops of rain touching our faces.
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Wednesday, 1 October 2008
And i saved around 50 dollars for waking up early - the 0900 flight after Christmas was like 25% cheaper than the 5 o clock?? I wonder why. The new trick seems to be making you pay for checking in luggage, instead of it being included in ticket price. Anyway, 370 S$ for the 2 flights into Hanoi and out from Saigon, i reckon i got a decent deal. Throw in cheap insurance and i'm all set.
No Daffy Duck this time out to hand out secret maps; i'm disappointed. Really.
I hence resolve to finish reading the book before going back to my work. There, how's that for willpower and determination.
Going to get my tickets for Vietnam tomorrow - same old place, and i can feel the excitement building in me again. It's gonna be another trip, another journey, and one that i have planned to do almost 2 years ago, as a high school kid poring over maps and guidebooks borrowed from the library.
Decided to push this trip to the 4th of December - so i hopefully get to do my registration exercise first (fingers crossed - and don't get me started on why can't they give us the specific dates earlier), this time older and wiser after the ambulance incident at Chitrasali. Definitely not one i would forget. And probably the best reminder ever to - check your email regularly! and pray hard in a town that has frequent, guaranteed power outtages and crawling internet. And that is in the middle of nowhere on the sprawling Terai plains of Nepal. Lovely.
The rain outside, and the solitude and quiet i so enjoy in the early hours of the morning actually stirs memories of Nepal. Kathmandu, where in the evenings, the skies would just open, deluging Thamel and turning it into a foggy sea of rain and misted lights from the cars and neon signs of bars, restaurants and bakeries.
I also think of Pokhara, sitting in the cosy, hole-in-the-wall Tibetan kitchen eating momos with soup while it rained heavily outside, a torrential downpour that drew us all to under the leaking wooden awning to gaze out in wonder at the pouring skies and the gushing river the streets have become, the herd of buffaloes wading down the street across the tiny shopfront making it all the more surreal and unbelievable. It was my third day in Nepal, and if i could possibly fall more in love with her than i already was, i would, i had.
Monday, 29 September 2008
I feel a strong affinity to these places - where i feel at once so much a stranger, sticking out like a sore thumb, yet so much at home, and especially now, missing these places where i've spent time, made friends, laughed, been squeezed like sardines on buses zooming across the expansive, lonely Indian countryside, chased trains, slept at railway stations.... It's like Gregory Robert's Bombay, the effect India has on me. My India. It feels at once so much like home and so new, so exciting, so enthralling. I will, in fact i think i have to go back to India one day. Its gonna be like going home. I miss India, barely 3 months after crossing the border at Sunauli to Nepal, another country which i absolutely loved and will always remember with fond memories.
Friday, 26 September 2008
Is the list of places i have down in my mind that i will go to, in the near future, if possible - one thing the India trip taught me was that everything is a possibility, don't rule it out just yet. Going to India was pretty much a last minute, spur of the moment decision - basically looking at some books and going, hmm, this is nice, i think i'd go. Then finding cheap flights (to Chennai), and it was all systems go.
- The African coast, down the eastern seaboard from Sudan to Mozambique.
- South America, going from Panama all the way down to Argentina.
- The Trans-Siberian express. Longest railway in the world, zipping from Beijing through Mongolia and Siberia to St. Petersburg.
- Travelling the Silk Roads, going from south western China through the Central Asian 'stans to Iran to Turkey and Europe.
Saturday, 20 September 2008
I even had an address in Pokhara, at Lakeside 6, my room in the Rustika Guesthouse where i stayed for almost a month, getting to know my neighbours and going for walks in the morning around the lake, breathing the fresh morning air from the mountains, looking out into the calm, mirror-flat waters of the Phewa Tal, innumerable ripples drawn on them by the morning breeze, ruffling the evergreens that line the lake. Beyond was the hills, the evergreen forest leading all the way up, a rough cut trail in its midst, to the World Peace Pagoda, sitting serenely on top. Over the next few days we rented a boat and rowed out to the trailhead across the lake, and hiked up to the hilltop pagoda. It was beautiful, peaceful, looking down at the idyllic town by the lake. As if nothing in the world mattered anymore.
Pokhara also had these really charming stone buildings, much like cottages with their colourful frames and stunningly beautiful gardens - flowers of every colour lining window sills, balconies, and porches. The Switzerland of Asia, as they say. And not a bit wrong too. Going out of my guesthouse was a small road, lined with cafes and pop-and-mom stalls and family-run eateries - people i soon got to know really well, all of which whip up tasty, homely grub if you run low on cash or get bored of the restaurant scene on Lakeside, which is a revelation in itself.
We had great, sizzling slabs of steak cooked with rum washed down with Everest beer our first night in Pokhara, which really was quite a bit of a celebration of leaving India behind - it does get to you, after all those long weeks on the road with cows, crazed autorickshaw wallas and overpacked buses and trains. That said, the funny thing about India is that, i can't decide if i loved it or hated it, but one thing i know for sure is that i will go back, one day, soon. The dinner the first night with Dirk, the Dutchie i met in Varanasi, after winding up the hills in the pouring monsoon (it had come early), turning the mountains into pouring waterfalls and the roads into gushing rivers roaring down the edge. The bus was leaking too, not to mention - a steady dripping from the luggage racks above my seat. And all this while our backpacks were outside, strapped on top of the bus in the pouring rain, while the solitary goat inside the bus, trotting the aisle right next Dirk's seat, was nibbling at our shoes.
We longed to get to Pokhara. It seemed like heaven, after those weeks in India and the long ride up to the border at Sunauli and then Belahiya at the Nepali side, where we had spent the night, with 4 Japanese backpackers in a bedbug infested dorm room at the Nepali Guesthouse. We soon decided to spend the night getting wasted on Royal Stag whiskey with Coke at a nearby eatery, talking late into the night before slipping into bedbug-bitten sleep. Everyone was up at four in the semi darkness - cigarette buds glowing in the dark, people sharing a smoke, stumbling to the shower to wash off the terrible rash, and generally looking forward to getting on to either Pokhara or Kathmandu.
And so when we got to Pokhara, the rain slowing to a misty drizzle, we found it was heaven on earth. So beautiful, so peaceful that we fell in love with it immediately and spent much more time than we had ever intended.
Thursday, 11 September 2008
That everything would be alright, for ever, and ever, and ever.
Thursday, 4 September 2008
The coming year end trip would be more relaxing i think - actually, after India, anything is relaxing. Will try to cover Vietnam from Hanoi to Saigon in 3 weeks, probably flying on Nov 30 for nostalgia's sake - left for Laos last year at this same date, and return on the 20th next month. Its probably gonna be quite a rush, and does looks like i have to leave some parts out. Its a Sapa (hill station, trekking) vs. Nha Trang (beaches, party boats) dilemma.
Right now im just looking forward to chilling out in a Hanoi cafe and dodging motorcycle swarms. It actually does feel like so soon, i will be on the road again - almost as if my life is travel save for the brief interregnum of going back to school for one semester.
And i will have to run through getting the air tickets and insurance again - which i love, brings back memories of previous trips and the pre-trip high - travelling is my drug, yeah.
Sunday, 31 August 2008
The shower. Plus fantastic lake views from the window!
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
The evening Shatabdi form Amritsar to New Delhi, Carriage C7
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Not very good pics - apparently there is insufficient lighting hence the exposure time has to be longer and accordingly you have to keep the camera still for a longer period of time - which i couldn't do resulting in fuzzy images....
Saturday, 23 August 2008
Friday, 22 August 2008
I find that often, i have a story to tell, memories to recall for each of these places, so here goes:
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Will try to wrap up the Lao part, and post some new stuff on India/Nepal soon (hopefully). Its back to school for me - less modules this semester, but an ever increasing reading list. At least i love my new timetable - late Mondays and early Fridays effectively giving me a four day weekend i spend sampling the teh tarek in JB. Basically, i love going back to Malaysia - the way of life is just so different, relaxed and you feel that no one knows where you are (especially good if you have pesky project mates) - that you can just disappear, not care and do what you want to do, instead of constantly worrying about that project/proposal/term paper and escape for a while the materialism and regimentation/uniformity that just gets to you, as in all big cities.
I do love my country, for its down to earth vibes, the endearing honesty, and the fact that it is home, afterall, where i grew up... As much as i don't want to turn this into a political blog (i'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist myself), here's hoping for change for the better in Malaysia.
Monday, 18 August 2008
Thank you, Indochina.
Monday, 4 August 2008
Arriving in New Delhi at 1 in the morning was not fun - especially if you have to find a room in the labyrinth of snaking side streets that was Paharganj, the telephone and electric cables haphazardously dangling overhead successfully adding to the claustrophobic, slum-like, "i hate this place" feel. Throw in gangs of touts that drag you around literally, and numerous operators posing as "Govt. approved" tour agencies and telling you "don't worry, you are safe here. You don't go out now and find room, very dangerous here. The people, the rob you... I have room here, you see, you like, i book for you... " And invariably, these rooms cost above 10 dollars for a fleapit (shared baths). And someone tried to sell me a train ticket to Amritsar, 2nd class seater, for 57 USD. I bought it the next day at the New Delhi Railway Station, right across the street, for 12 dollars.
Hence it was no surprise that I didn't stay in New Delhi for long - well, actually long enough to fall sick and hate New Delhi even more after having some insanely sweet and deep-fried bright-orange jalebis (Jalebi Walla - Bollywood stars supposedly send their reps here to "pack")and paranthas for dinner at Chandni Chowk. Gah. Feeling sick i boarded the evening Shatabdi to Amritsar, which was excellent really - good, plush, clean reclining seats to sink into and almost too much legroom, and was even more pleasantly surprised when i was served tea, followed by dinner, dessert, and supper. Amritsar was great - generally it was less chaotic, and there were great shops along Nehru shopping complex for one to fall sick in (im not sure if the kind staff at Cafe Coffee Day remember the sickly looking young traveller who sat beside the toilet (very clean) for easy access and ordered copious amounts of hot lemon tea. I spent most of my sick days there, writing in my journal and reading. Punjab also had more than her fair share of creameries AKA "milk houses" which sold ice cream and other treats, and cafes and restaurants for road weary travellers seeking to escape the daily routine of naan, roti, chapati, dhosai and dhaal curries. It was a welcome break from the stresses (and shocks) of travel in Uttar Pradesh (affectionately UP), India's most populous (and by far most chaotic) state. And that's not even talking about the main attraction yet, the Golden Temple, Sikkhism's holiest shrine. It was lovely - and so was the Amritsar's affable and friendly turban-clad, Sikh population. I took a side trip from here to the border bravado ceremony at Attari-Wagah - one of the highlights of my trip. It was unbelievable - the theatrics and exaggerations that border on parody.
Spent a good few days around Amritsar - named after the pool of nectar (Amrit Sarovar) that surrounds the Golden Temple exploring museums and learning about Punjab's great one-eyed Sikh leader, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who greatly expanded Punjab's borders into Afghanistan. And feeling better i made the trip back to Delhi (transit only) to catch the train to Agra. My transit day in Delhi went well enough - i dropped by the Gandhi Museum at Raj Ghat and paid tribute to the great man, and hailed an autorickshaw to Humayun's tomb, set in stunningly, painstakingly revived Mughal-style gardens of the brightest greens and brilliant blue waterways that run through the garden, and the buttery yellow blooms and flowers. If you have time for only one sight in Delhi, then this is the place to be. After Delhi i took the 645 a.m. train to Agra Cantonment station, staying up to catch the rather staid football match that was the Champions League finals - and almost missed the train in the process, falling asleep during the seocnd half.
*To be continued - pics coming up soon...*
Sunday, 3 August 2008
3 months of life has just trickled by, and i feel ive done quite alot in that time, my life changing that little, barely discernible bit, criss crossing India on trains, running after them at stations when they start chugging off before i have bought my paratha/pakoda and chai at regular stopovers, becoming quite an expert at reading tickets, waitlists and schedules... climbing into glaciers (4300m) and over frozen waterfalls and landslides in Nepal, and slacking off on teh tarek and late breakfasts and suppers (Ramlee burgers, tandoori chicken - now thats something that stirs memories of India - to be exact, weirdly, i think of eating dinner on the rooftop of the Shanti Guesthouse in the Taj Ganj at Agra, looking out at the milky dome of the Taj Mahal in the orange sunset dotted by kites flown by young boys on the rooftops of the multi coloured sprawl of houses linked by wooden planks and tarpaulins, the evening soon giving way to night, the Taj draped in it, mysterious and cool, sitting as silently and as regally as ever in the distance.)
What a 3 months those had been, now that i'm back and just going through all the photos, ticket stubs, and assorted memorabilia. I get quite a kick still, a hangover from travelling i guess, cleaning out my boots, sorting out the laundry and popping out to the photoshop to get my pics developed and waiting excitedly for them to be done...
And theres also getting ready to start the new term, checking my registered courses (the registration exercise was quite a pain to do (involving an ambulance) when you are in the middle of nowhere in Nepal and internet costs 5 USD per hours at crawling speed, moving back to dorm, buying school and cooking supplies (saving up for my year end jaunt - Iran???) - its much cheaper to cook, and also obviously much cheaper to "import" fresh from JB into Singapore each week (i do my grocery shopping in JB)...
Almost 11,000 km and back, climbing to 4,300 metres, travelling on plane, bus, autorickshaw, cyclerickshaw, foot, bicycle, train, car, motorcycle, dugout canoe, jeep, and ambulance (! - its kind of a long story). Its a new start for me i guess, somehow, my life has changed that little bit, and i can just feel it. And its not even four more months to the next trip.
Friday, 2 May 2008
Thursday, 1 May 2008
Above: Nagas and monstour catfish lurk (probably. A result of a wandering mind as does occur when one has to seat on a small seat for 2 hours on a boringly cold December morning.)
Tiger tiger burning bright - Phan poses for a photo
Wednesday, 30 April 2008
My gear is sorted - same old trusty 30 litre Deuter backpack, basically the same kit as Laos, minus a few shirts and pants, more socks and with one more money pouch (the decoy) as i'm carrying more cash now. And (hopefully) one more ATM card from my friendly local bank that i'm gonna process tomorrow.
So that leaves planning. lol. I'm going to have to start putting it out on paper real soon (7 more days!) - right now its bits and pieces swimming around, somewhere, in my mind. Roughly Chennai to Pondicherry and back, then by train to Kochi in Kerala, then a pitstop at Mangalore before continuing upwards to Margao in Goa. Detour to Hampi after that, and then back on the west coast up to Mumbai, don't know if i can fit in a sidetrip to the Ajanta caves here, we'll see. After Mumbai it's to the desert state of Rajasthan where mughals once reigned in mighty fortresses, with a pitstop at Ahmedabad before taking a bus to Udaipur then Jaisalmer. From there i'm making for Delhi, and a quick jaunt up to Attari for the border closing and maybe spending a short time at McLeod Ganj.
It already seems like a lot to cover in a month and a half. Think i might have to cut down on some sights already.... But on paper at least, after going back to Delhi i'll be heading to the Taj Mahal at Agra, then Khajuraho and Varanasi before going north and crossing the India-Nepal border at Lumbini.
Crossing into Nepal what i have in mind is going to Lumbini for a few days before making for Pokhara and possibly doing an apple pie trek there (Annapurna on the mind) - it's a toss up between this and EBC (Everest Base Camp). Pokhara to Kathmandu by bus, flying into Lukla still on the cards if doing EBC, and maybe scheduling some paragliding or white water rafting nearby. Royal Chitwan if possible, heard this one is rated quite highly by travellers. Then it's another adventure in sunny Thailand =) flying from Kathmandu to Bangkok and possibly get beached out/spend the last of my rupees/baht before getting on that plane home.
Sounds like a great time.
Above: Moving out of the Phakam, a nice quiet place to stay tucked in a residential suburb
Above: Rain-drenched alley that comes to life at night as a local market selling an amazing array of food and snacks.
Finally, 17 dollars got me the last room at a restaurant-hotel. Le Tam Tam, i think it's called. Easily the most expensive place i've ever paid for in my travels (i'm cheap). Moving out tomorrow, and pre-emptivity and a better understanding of the mad scramble at 6 when the boats pull in from the Golden Triangle made me book (and damn well doubly triple confirm it) a bed at Levady's for the next 3 nights, where walking in i bumped into the Israeli, Amid again.
Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
2 more days to freedom - i can almost smell it =) That day i was making a list of things to do after the exams - where to eat, where to get my gear, maybe head back to my old school, meet up with a few friends i havent seen in half a year...
On the horizon - Spanish and Southeast Asian history papers - my fav! a result of flipping through the history section of Lonely Planet for like the hundreth time on those huge, kickass 12 hour rides across rural Southeast Asia. Finally seeing a tangible benefit of those long, bone rattling, butt breaking jaunts. Wednesday and Thursday evening papers, then i'm done. Free. Liberated. Emancipated. Right. =P
Monday, 14 April 2008
Been watching the situation in Nepal, hope things will turn out ok. Also getting my pills for India - diarrhoea stopper, rehydration salts etc... A few long nights studying, aside from that surviving and just looking forward to going off in about 3 weeks.
Will have to sort out the travel insurance and money issues soon, and getting some stuff i.e. a flashlight that was confiscated by Singapore immigration and a money belt to act as a decoy, which i will stuff with many small notes and weird, fantastic stuff to make potential robbers think they've stumbled on treasure. And then, while they're bedazzled with their loot, make my getaway. Yeah =) Travelling breeds resourcefulness, no? Like a certain Irish acquaintance who went around Romania (and much of Eastern Europe) with a syringe of Ribena (which was actually HIV infected blood, really) and waved it at any shifty characters that attempted to, ahem, separate him from his possessions when camping overnight outside the city.
Sunday, 6 April 2008
My weed is taking hours to arrive, and when it does i'm greeted by the sight of several pieces of dried, lightly fried pieces of weed, topped with sesame seeds. They're dry, slightly rough in teture, crispy, and taste, naturally, like grass. Interesting taste, but as i was keeping an eye on the budget (running a bit low), it was my main dish and quite naturally also, i got rather sick of it halfway through the enormous platter.
Weed, in case of any disambiguation still, is just that - weed. As in seaweed, but instead, in Luang Prabang, my first dinner is foraged from the depths of the Mekong River that flows right beside the eatery - which might explain the long time they took in serving up the dish. I highly suspect a recent voyage down the Mekong under the moonlight, to ensure the freshness of ingredients used in their food. Right.
Really though, fresh is an understatement of food served in the Lao PDR - I have had instances when i ordered food only for the cook to despatch her son/daughter to run to the nearby market to get the ingredients. Wow. I know i've gushed about Lao food before, but it really is all so sep lai (very delicious) and fresh and healthy.
Saturday, 5 April 2008
Number 2 - expect, and be prepared for a lengthy breakdown by the roadside, more often than not in the middle of nowhere, mountains on one side and wild grass and trees growing untamed on the other. While it might be a very welcome toilet break at times, the moral of the story is still to bring some food and water on board, especially after dragging yourself, semi-awake, onto the bus after spending the night drinking Beerlao. Travel in the Lao PDR involves getting up early.
Number 3 - expect loads of stops to pick up people, animals and other things along the way to, um, maximise returns.
In accordance to all 3 rules, (picking up bed frames (!!!) this time - well, at least that's new) we finally rolled into Luang Prabang in the evening, sharing a sawngthaew into the city, dropping off near the JoMa bakery, where you'll find half the backpacker population of Luang Prabang in the morning.
Friday, 4 April 2008
Steppenwolf - Magic Carpet Ride
Steppenwolf - Born to be Wild
Whitesnake - Here I Go Again on My Own
Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
Led Zeppelin - Kashmir
John Mayer - No Such Thing
John Mayer - Route 66
Status Quo - The Wanderer
Green Day - Time of Your Life
Iggy Pop - I am a Passenger
Marty Robbins - King of the Road
Bob Seger - Kathmandu
Suede - Everything will Flow
Ricky Nelson - Travelin' Man
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
Saturday, 29 March 2008
On the road to Luang Prabang - have heard some good things from travellers coming the other way, so i was definitely looking forward to seeing the city. Met up with the Canadian guy and Dutch girl i met in the Plain of Jars - who had so kindly went to the morning market to buy breakfast for our road trip to Luang Prabang - we had fresh, lightly sugared baguettes, oranges, bananas, and even doughnuts for the 10 plus hour trip.
The sawngthaew we shared to the outlying bus station (4km away) was 5,000 kip each, a fair price which our driver quickly agreed to. Another thing i've come to notice and love about Laos - there is little bargaining and while you are almost always quoted falang prices, it remains very reasonable and fair to both parties.
Our ageing Hyundai bus was a blast from the past - I absolutely adored it. So very 80s, retro looking, a jolly shade of light green with red, yellow and blue stripes, very psychedelic indeed. To top it off, aces had been painted on the tyre guards, with a freshly plucked bunch of bright yellow wild flowers tucked into the front number plate for good luck - not very helpful afterall as we soon had a breakdown after the engine had barely warmed up.
The whole experience was dripping with reminiscences of Kerouac's On the Road - a very road trip experience with the gang from Phonsavanh bouncing merrily along at the back of the bus, rice sacks, green beans and all, breaking out the bread and passing bananas until the engine died some way out of town, disgorging everyone to the roadside where we went for toilet breaks, stretched and then sat around along the ditches that followed the "highway" until some Einstein could managed to repair the engine - i could never figure out how they do it. Some minor touches and kicking here and there and muttered curses, and there ya go, the engine roared back to life just as we were contemplating the possibility of spending the rest of the day stranded by the roadside telling jokes and getting bored of playing new card games of which rules were invented, forgotten and changed arbirtrarily every few turns.
Left: The mountain in full bloom - bright cheery yellow flowers growing wildly by the roadside.