A relaxing day in McLeod Ganj

Saturday 19th March 2011

I think todays blog is going to be a bit shorter – “thank goodness” I here you say.  Mainly because for the first time I’ve had a chance to unwind and take in the spectacular views and do very little else.

Breakfast of cheese omelette and tea on the terrace was followed, sadly, by having to check out of my hotel as they are full for the weekend.  I would gladly have stayed on, but finding a room elsewhere wasn’t a problem at all, and for 600/- im quite pleased to be saving a little money at the expense of not having a spectacular mountain view from my window.

At lunch I met up with the Americans and spent the rest of the day lounging on a restaurant terrace taking advantage of the free wifi to catch up on the world news – and it wasn’t good to learn that Japan is now on a higher than ever radiation warning while UK, USA and France were preparing to attack Libya to enforce a so called No Fly Zone. Up here in the mountains it all seems so far away.  Another lemon cheesecake?  Yes please!

By tea time, as the sun went down, town became very active in the lead up to Holi which is celebrated here today and the rest of India tomorrow, and the alcohol shops seemed to be doing a roaring trade.  However as the sun went down, lightening flashed all around the mountains and it was pretty obvious that the evening was going to be washed out.

Wet and cold in fact – the lightening circled us for a couple of hours, bringing thunder, hail and of course rain.  Very heavy rain, but not unexpected as this is one of the wettest places in India.  The sparking electrical junction boxes along the main road finally gave in to their soaking and the whole town plunged into darkness, so I dashed out into the rain and back to my room for an early night.  Hopefully the storm will clear away the clouds and we will have a brighter start to tomorrow.

Delhi to Dharamsala

Thursday 17th and Friday 18th March 2011

Welcome to Dharamsala. Or to McLeod Gang to be precise – the upper town which is home to the Dalia Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile.  It is therefore a major attraction for both Tibetan monks and buddhists from all over the world, as well as being a travellers centre too and so our western desires are well catered for in most respects anyway.

After leaving New Delhi Station on Thursday night I treated myself to a taxi to Old Delhi station as the bags were just too much to carry.  How Ive ended up with such a burden I really don’t know, but I promise to donate most of it to a good cause when I get the opportunity.  Meanwhile laden like a Sherpa I was soon speeding – yes speeding – through the Delhi traffic. On the right Paharganj – unchanged since concrete was invented – a sprawling mass of ramshackle buildings mostly unfinsished despite their age – all with a lethal mass of bare wires and randomly lethal metal bars sticking out amongst the neon signs.  Buried down deep alleyways are the backpackers hotels but tonight I was not stopping.

Quickly glimpsed the famous Nirulas restaurant in Connaught Place where I remember the relief from the dirt and poverty on my first visit here, splashing out on bacteria free treats in the air conditioned comfort.  Not tonight though.   I had my train to catch, but more importantly still, my station to find.

Dinner thali before the train trip

The prepaid taxi booking office outside the station had already been a test – you are surrounded by taxi touts before finding it, even when you get there you are told it is closed or shown to a taxi at the front of the rank, yet has nothing to do with the booked taxi system.  Inside there were piles of paper slips and I watched while mine was completed in triplicate.  One for the seller, one for me and one for my driver.  From the mass of drivers around me, one was selected and I paid my 105 rupees for the trip – I never know how the drivers are chosen, as when being taken to my car, it turned out to be absolutely buried ten deep and bumper to bumper.  However two or three surrounding cars were pushed backwards and forwards to open up a gap only just big enough for a car to get through.  Not quite big enough though, but we pushed through with only a minor bang and scrape

I’m sure the driver had done this trip 1000 times.  He accelerated towards every gap –  and I mean any gap more than 1mm wider than the car and jammed on the brakes just in time, every time.  He cut the engine as we approached major junctions to save petrol, even though it is less than half the price here than we have at home, and then joined the revving engines in anticipation of red lights changing to green, thus burning up any savings he made earlier.  He turned to face me whenever the road ahead was clear enough to hurtle unguided and told me that England were winning the cricket quarter finals.  I tried to sound impressed enough without encouraging too much more conversation as I would much rather he faced the way the car was going, at least most of the time.

Red Fort on the right – my goodness it is so much bigger than I can remember – thousands and thousands of people to the left – massive avenues and tiny lanes – neon and candle powered lighting – and finally we arrived at an unlit fence, lined with chai stalls and tyre changers operating on truck wheels with their hammers and chisels on a pavement illuminated only by passing cars and the occasional tilley lamp.  “Old Delhi Station” declared the driver – he wasn’t wrong but had dropped me at the back gate, by platform 1 (yes inronic) where a train was ready to depart on the unlit platform. 

Which is your train please, he asked.  Jammu Mail at 20:20.  I had inadvertently dropped another cricket link – “Twenty twenty” he beamed and repeated it a dozen times.  “Very good twenty twenty cricket sir.  Very good!”  Well at least we were stopped this time.

In the darkness the train on platform 1 was departing.  Another few hundred people joined it by adding themselves to those hanging out of the doors and the police blew whistles and waved sticks.  “Train on platform one is now ready to depart” announced the very well spoken station announcer.  It sure was and I sure hope mine isn’t as busy as this!

Jammu Mail gets ready to depart from Old Delhi

Train 12445 Jammu Mail Platform 12.  It was painted onto the departures board in the platform 1 unreserved booking office.  A good sign.  Up and over the footbridge to the main station and an hour in hand, I searched for food and some sort of confirmation of the platform.

And there it was in huge eye watering neon letters – 12445 Jammu Mail Platform 12.  Great – I can relax now, I thought, and found a superb Punjabi Style Thali meal for a pound in a clean enough fast food outlet in the station.

Still with 45 minutes to spare I went to platform 12 where an earlier train was just departing. Quite civilised, this one, with lots of room inside.  It let out a blast of noise and started moving, followed by a few people getting back off while it gathered speed.  A girl fell out onto the platform and rolled along with the momentum of the fall.  Nobody turned to look – not even others who had jumped out with her – but she got up, dusted down and went on her way – just another every day unexplained occurrence in this crazy country.

Lots of people on Platform 12 but time to buy a chai and some snacks before leaving.  As I did so a young American asked if I was waiting for the Jammu Mail but he had been told it would be platform 12.  We looked together at the huge neon signs above – Platform 12 it was.  I took hold of the biggest boiling hot chai, burning its way though the paper cup and brim full, with a straw sticking out of the foamy milky froth.  Also in this hand a carrier bag with my “Cheeky Monkeys” and my “Veg Puff”.  It takes almost as much courage to order these things without feeling a complete twat that they might as well be completely foreign words.  Nevertheless my order is read back – on chai, one veg puff one cheeky monkeys.  51 rupees sir. 

My provisions for the trip were complete.

In the other hand my bag which now weighed so much I could hardly lift it and over my shoulder my computer and cameras, Rough Guide and water.  I realised I wasn’t exactly in the best of states to be searching for my space on the train, especially when in the distance, on Platform 10, the Jammu Mail was getting ready to depart.

Bloody hell – boiling chai in hand I climbed the footbridge with another 1000 people and read the electronic display at the top of the stairs down to platform 10.  Indian trains are usually 20 coaches long, each with its own number, but not necessarily in a logical order.  My coach was A3. The display read SV,SB, S9,S8,S7,S6,S5,S4,S3,S2,S1,A1,S10,S11,S12 etc.  A3 was consipicous by not being there.

Not to worry – I started scanning though the names list, printed up on page after page of dot matrix printout on the Chart beside the train.  They were not in any particular order, except by coach, and some people had conveniently torn off the bit with their name on it which may have helped them but left many others unsure of their PNR status.  Coach A3 was an Airconditioned sleeper with two levels – therefore is known as AC2.  The only AC2 list was for coach A1 and I wasn’t on it.

Michael BEVERIDG confirmed place

Well if it wasn’t A1 then I must be further down the train.  I walked down 10 more coaches – all sleeper class – the lowest possible on this train and all were totally packed.  I was trying not to spill my tea, at least it wasn’t quite so hot now, as I made my way back to the other end of the train.   I took another look at the booking charts and there I was Michael BEVERIDG (you have to assume a train name of up to 15 characters, but it must be close enough to survive comparison to your passport name).  Place 12 SU. Coach A3.

One final look for coach A3 was successful.  It was simply added on beyond the coaches which were on the overhead display – the display was just not long enough to show them all.  And as I boarded, Jamal my new American friend, his mother and his sister were also just discovering that the train had moved from platform 12 and were in just as much a fluster as me.

We climbed in and it hooted, although in a much more muffled way, as the engine was about ¼ of a mile away.  The Jammu Mail had departed on time.  Nobody jumped off, as far as I could tell.

Bed 12 was vacant. Big enough to hold a pile of blankets, pillows, my bag, my other bag, my water bottle, veg puff and cheeky monkeys. Where I was supposed to fit was not my most immediate worry – I sat and finished my tea with the Americans and we introduced ourselves.

The train!

Jamal had been teaching English, voluntarily in a Delhi slum where he had lived for the last 4 months without any income.  During that time he hadn’t left the slum at all and had eaten fruit and vegetables, but no meat or bread.  His biggest treat of the day was a box of chocolate filled croissants and banana bread all tied up with a ribbon – a present from his mum.

Mum and sister had flown in to join him on a trip to Dharamsala.  Not your average American tourists I hasten to add.  Mum lived in a Buddhist monastery in the south of france.  I should have taken the hint with a son named Jamal!  They wondered if I would like to share a taxi and so I immediately changed my plans and accepted.

This was now my second night without any real sleep and so I climbed (yes climbed) into the bed amongst my bags and things and somehow slept for 8 hours.  Mike its 6:30 came an American voice outside my curtain. Almost on time we pulled in to dusty Pathankot station, anticipating a mass of hungry taxi drivers fighrting over our business.  There were a few taxis, many of which could possibly make it to the outskirts of town without  falling apart, and only a token interest in touting for business.  The town was just waking up as we decided to head for the bus station to check out the alternatives.  It only just dawned on me that the journey ahead was to be 150 kilometers and therefore upwards of three or four more hours of travelling.

My bag had by now worn its way through part of my shoulder blade and was therefore more or less part of me. The bus station wasn’t that far, nor was it very busy when we arrived.  This of course is the land where some signs are in English but most are in Hindi so it took a bit of double checking to prove to our complete satisfaction that there would be a bus to Dharamsala at 08:35.  The prior one was at 07:15.  It was now 07:20.  Oops.

We ate breakfast of chocolate croissants, banana bread and cheeky monkeys.  Quite an international spread.

Tea stop on the way to DharamsalaThe bus wasn’t nearly as bad as we had feared – busy but not packed and padded seats with legroom.  We ducked and dived in and out of the towns traffic, through mile after mile of Army Encampments, or rather Cantonments, with lovely slogans like “Country First” painted at the gateposts.  

We were initially heading down a main road towards Delhi, but when we branched off to head northwards, the scenery made a dramatic change with a backdrop of snow covered peaks and bus changed into permanent second gear hill climbing mode.

Hairpins going up are best tackled at full revs otherwise the bus stalls, so we certainly felt some G forces as the front of the bus started heading left while the back was still finishing going right.  Corners are also a really good place to overtake, since the road is a bit wider there and so we often headed two abreast towards anything coming down.  But in the true Indian way, the whole experience wasn’t in the slightest bit scary, apart from to the American mum who seemed to have communicated secretly with Jamal.  “We can ask the hotel to book us a taxi for the way back”.

During the final stages of any journey I usually refer to the Rough Guide to see what lies ahead.  I find that I don’t take anything in until I get close to the destination, or even after leaving, when Rough Guide sometimes forms the guide to what I just missed.  Therefore a little advance planning sometimes helps.

The Americans had actually already booked their hotel and were concerned that I hadn’t. In fact they had conveniently booked two hotels – one was recommended to them after the other was booked, yet they had been unable to get through by phone to cancel the first.  It sounded like a great idea that I then took one of their rooms, particularly since they had convinced me that it was going to be really hard to get one on arrival.

The Rough Guide map showed it too, so finding it should have been easy.  But it then dawned on us that Dharamsala was in fact the generic name to the area, as well as being the town of Dharamsala while  the Dalai Lama, followers and hangers on actually resided in McLeod Ganj – the upper town.  On the map (not to scale) it appeared walkable.  Our Indian travelling companions though it was 30km, and we settled for expecting it to be 10km.  Actually its 9km along and 1km up, in  vertical sense.

McLeod Ganj

So we stayed on the same bus for another 40 minutes while it carried up the constant hairpins which led us to the final bus station of the trip.  Another 10 rupees too.  It was difficult to get our bearings when we arrived as we expected to being going through somewhere and then getting off, not just getting off.  It turned out that we were exactly where we expected on the map, but had bypasswed the town by means of taking the Cantonment Road rather than the steep road, thus explaining why all the public taxis here, which use the steep road, are actually four by fours.

McLeod Ganj is just great.  The Buddist temple at the lower end of town pumps out amplified chanting and groaning several times a day while the upper town is wall to wall restaurants and coffee shops and of  course hotels.  My room turned out not to be what we expected.  I reported t the next door coffee shop as instructed by Rough Guide.  Most of these establishments, escpecially when listed in Rough Guide are not run by elderly gentlemen  in a tweed jacket and walking cane.  I said I thought he was expecting me or at least an American family and he said he was not.  He asked why I though this, and I showed him the Rough Guide.  He showed me the rooms next door amonst the shell of a building site.  Indeed this was my place but I have disposed of it.  These people must stop using my name.  I can not have them using my name…..

I thanked him and left, taking a quick look into the building site next door where there probably was a room booked for Mr Mike but it was deserted and somehow I felt I could do better so went back up the steep hill into town.

It was time to lose my bag though – I could carry it no more and so  I took a room at the first place I found -a Tibetan run hotel with a private terrace and hot shower.  1000 rupees – its quite a lot but thankful for anywhere I filled in the 20 questions for the guest register and checked in.  Things must be getting a bit more relaxed here,as you no longer are required to provide Fathers Name.

 The view was stunning down thousands of feet to the valley below.  A ball would roll all the way back to Dharamsala.   The morning had been cool.  The bus trip got hotter and hotter.  Now I had to hide from the sun, such was the change in temperature.

I walked through town exploring and eating.  Tea – local tea 20 rupees, Assam tea 40. Milk tea 15.  Darejeeling.. Herb.. Honey tea.  Popular with the monks, honey tea.  I stuck with milk tea.  Nice.

The rest of the day flew by.  I tried to Skype home with pretty bad results, watched the tea time traffic jam when all the monks leave the temple at once and head for coffee shops where its so strange to see them using their laptops with wifi.  But many of them are on a major trip too – this isn’t their home, but a pilgrimage place.

It also turns out to be the first day of Losar on Saturday – that’s the Tibetan New Year which lasts for a month and is marked by the full moon.  IN addition it is also Holi, the Hindu festival of colour, starting on Sunday, where I can look forward to being plastered with coloured dye.  Yes all over.  People are already starting to throw the coloured powder at each other, or dyed water.  At least its water and dye here and not dung like some places use.

So with the evening drawing in, my three days without sleeping in a bed were taking their toll and I went back to have the best ever nights sleep.  Quite an exceptional day.

Dubai to Delhi

Thursday 18th March 2011

Well I guess this is day two already after a hot and dry night on the plane. So much for Economy – this is the Business!  Yes I got upgraded with not only Business Class on the next flight to Delhi, but full access to the Emirates Lounge in Dubai.  Doesn’t sound much – after all I have been in, and indeed been responsible for provisioning, business class lounges in the past.  However to discvover that this one runs half the entire length of the terminal on the upper story with at least a dozen different service points all offering an incredible reange of hot and cold breakfasts – its a totally different world – and it is very busy this morning.

There is of course free wifi and hundreds of charging points, showers and health spa (the only extra).  But the food – the quality is superb – is the star of the show and a delicious plate of South Indian idli and sambar was just the ticket to recover from last night.

I felt really awful coming in here though, as I had met a really nice chap on the flight who was on his way to Sydney to meet up with his Australian girlfriend, where he would then spend the rest of his life. Emigrating without ever having been to Australia is a fairly big step, and he was totally bewildered by the size of Dubai airport, asked if I wanted to join him for some breakfast and then had to say goodbye as I toddled off up the stairs.  Best of luck if by some bizarre chance you are reading this – I really hope it all works out in Oz.  Oh yes – and his father runs a boat yard in Rugby, fitting out narrowboats. What an incredibly small world!

The emirates crew were also very professional and one in particular, a South African guy called Ronaldo, seemed such a genuinely interested person that we all ended up shaking hands as we left the plane. He also chatted in Aafrikans to our South African neighbours who had been visiting Crufts, and were Bull Terrier breeders back home in Capetown. What an interesting flight it turned out to be.


Emirates A330 departing from Dubai

With the three hour wait over the Delhi flight was about to depart – this time in an older Airbus 330 which left from a coaching stand absolutely miles away from the terminal.  Business Class certianly didnt exist on the bus but the sight of the enormous leather armchairs was most welcome as we boarded.

Compared with the A380 this is a small plane and quite old fashioned – and completely full.  The crew started off quite efficiently, serving us with champagne or soft drinks as we sat down, but with a full cabin of 42 passengers they began to fall apart when it came to serving drinks and food.  Everyone got what they wanted, but some were very annoyed about the delay in serving – and when you think how much some of these people had paid, they certianly had a point.

 However the demands of some of these passengers were verging on the unreasonable and made me realise that whilst I like my comforts and expect a lot, I hope I never turn into the sort of person who formed the majority of the people in this cabin.  Mostly Indian, mostly quite old and mostly very demanding from not being able to cope with fastening their seat belt to wanting continuous refills of their drinks.

Lobster and Caviar for lunch!

My meal was Lobster and Caviar followed by Sea Bream and was quite nice, but proves that all the money in the world cant really buy an exceptional meal onboard.  I would quite honestly rather have had something less fancy but nicer.

I left the flight thinking that most of the passengers were spoilt brats, but do agree that this crew were making a mess of the service.  However the plane got its own back, as when we landed all the business class trollies flew open and spilt the entire contents of most of the 42 used meal trays, glasses, soup bowls and contents all over the crew and floor.  The noise of breaking glass was quite incredible and the galley floor ended up awash with spilt wine, soup and equipment.  The crew were so busy ducking from the flying bottles that they didnt notice that two passengers had got out of their seats while the plane was still running at over 100 miles an hour, to close the overhead lockers which had burst open.  A messy end to a messy flight and whilst I really enjoyed my huge seat I feel the overall experience onboard could have matched that of the lounge if only they hadnt tried too hard.

There was a short delay in allowing us off due to sweeping up the mess, but I got off first (as usual!) into the amazing world of the new Delhi airport which is of world class quality.  We Business Class passengers even had our own passport desks (although there was no check to see if anyone had taken advantage) and within ten minutes of landing I was collecting my priorty labelled Business Class bag and heading out of the airport.

The new Delhi metro airport branch has been open for only three weeks or so, and for 80 rupees whisked me and about 10 other people into the centre of town within 20 minutes.  With 8 or 10 carriages, a staff of thousands, this train could have carried over a thousand people – presumably word has still got to get around that it exists. 

All I have to do now is find an exit and check my train reservations.  Wait a minute – BUMP!!! – whats that?  Thats the sound of me coming down to earth and arriving in Delhi of course!! And its just as chaotic as ever.

Newbury to Dubai

Wednesday 17th March 2011

Emirates A380 ready to depart from Heathrow

Seat 80B rocks!

Where am I? What the hell am I doing here?

Its like a dream. This morning I woke up to bad karma – a neighbouring boater had died in his sleep and the police were everywhere. Just after I left to catch the express bus to Heathrow airport, the M4 – that’s the main motorway from the west of England to Heathrow, was completely blocked with a serious accident. Libya is at war with itself and after Egypt and Tunisia are still reeling from Twitter powered revolution, Bahrain has stamped hard on its people with tanks and guns this morning. Japan was recovering from the worst earthquake in recent history, tsunami soaked nuclear power stations were threatening to contaminate not only Japan but the rest of the world and the guy in seat 80B is cutting his arm off with a second rate blunt penknife.

Well actually I’m the guy in seat 80B on the Emirates Flight Ek4 from London to Dubai and I’m watching the film 127 Hours in which the self-amputation forms the key story line. The rest of the above is sadly true and god only knows what’s going to happen in Japan. Dubai, and Delhi, as far as I know right now, are still intact and as my plane(s) will be landing at both of those airports in the near future I really hope it stays that way!

80B turns out to be a fabulous seat on the Airbus A380. Its an emergency exit seat with unlimited legroom, unlimited good company from surrounding passengers and crew and thus far unlimited wine. Gruner Vertlinger 2008 no less. My goodness if Emirates serve this in Economy then I cant wait to find out what they serve in Business Class – or upstairs as we say, here on the A380.

Emirates so far has been a very positive experience. The Airbus is nothing short of incredible in size and comfort but the lounge at Heathrow was also brand new with a grandstand view of the aircraft loading and comfortable seating including workstations with power sockets and free newspapers in both recognisable and unrecognisable script.

Looking around, there certainly wasnt even a hundred people so we were treated to more spare seats than I could ever have imagined, and sitting facing the crew during take-off, they confirmed that this was an unusually quiet night, after their last flight of 405 passengers. My fellow passenger – I say this even though he was sitting in the row behind – suddenly annonced that he had never been on a long haul flight before but nevertheless was on a one way ticket to a new life, emigrating to Australia, which suddenly put my two week trip to seek out a new experience in India into perspective.

So seat 80B is right beside the emergency exit at the front of the rear cabin, downstairs on the A380. It has no seat 80A and so theres a huge space to the left and row 79 is in a different part of the plane. To the right 80C is empty – apart from my bags and discarded empty wine bottles. Our friendly crew recommend moving back to claim an empty row each before takeoff, but somehow it seems absolutely fine here as the menus are handout out – roast chicken or lamb tonight.

And 1000+ channels of entertainment out of which I managed to listen to Michael Palin – Emirates guest of the month – followed by the odd snippet of the Kings Speech (not my cup of tea) before setting down with dinner, another Gruner Vertlinger, and 127 Hours.

127 hours is a true story of sheer hell stuck alone down a crevice without water, before finally removing his arm and climbing back to humanity. The underlying theme seems even more eerie. “You didn’t tell anyone where you were going? How will anyone find you if you didn’t tell anyone where you were going? You can’t be a missing person if nobody knows you are missing!!!”

Crikey here I am on a flight to Delhi, onward reservation to Srinagar via Jammu, in Kashmir – and nobody really knows of my semi-serious plans to actually go there. If I don’t then I stand to lose 35 pounds – 20 pounds for a flight from Jammu into Srinagar and 15 pounds for an overnight train into Jammu from Delhi. Several familuy and friends know of my arrival in Delhi but only Gavin knows of the next few steps – mainly because last night I had to get up at 02:25 am (8:00 in India) to make a rail reservation on a fully booked train from Delhi. Well fully booked in advance terms, but in the crazy Indian way, hundreds of extra seats/berths are released at 8am on the day before the day before travel. These seats, known as th Taktal quota, are more expensive than the regular unobtainable seats, and dissappear fast – as demonstrated when the Indian Railways booking site visibly died under the pressure of thousands of hopeful customers booking at the last minute.

How this website even gets through a single day when you discover that 14 million people per day travel on Indian Railways, many of whom pay for waiting list tickets and then have to be refunded when they fail to get confirmed bookings – or they can voluntarily cancel their plans, or offer to be upgraded or downgraded or simply bribe someone in the old style. It accepts all kinds of payment as long as you live in India or at least have an Indian bank account or credit card, but shamelessly declares that international credit cards will not be suitable for the payment gateways. In true Indian style this is not quite the end of the story – and once you know to select the ICICI Visa/Mastercard option (one wrong click and you have to start the entire booking process again) then Nirvana is only a couple of clicks and a wing and a prayer away, even with an International card.

I digress. Seat 80B is getting a bit uncomfortable now, but I really prefer to remain seated upright rather than reclined – much to the relief of the person sitting behind who remains able to see his 1000+ channels of entertainment without touching it with his nose.

So I guess, Dubai time, we are now already into the second day of my trip. I promise to keep at least someone informed of my travel plans – hey Gavin – and hope someone will keep me informed if Japanese exports of the radioactive kind should ever be spotted winging their way towards Kashmir.

Kashmir has enough negative vibes this week – whether police shooting terrorist leaders or the new official policy poisoning wild dogs, or even the army digging out 600 or so of the travellers who ventured up the roads into the snow this week. Yes its all happening again in Srinagar. So maybe I will pick up my flight from Jammu, or maybe I will forego the 20 pounds fare and head south to Pathankot and thereafter Mcleodgang which should be altogether much less of a worry.

But one thing’s certain. With two current train reservations from Delhi to Jammu tomorrow night, one of which is still well into the waiting list category, but one of which is confirmed, I will be heading jammu -wards tomorrow.

Getting ready for India

Busy planning at the library

Welcome to the first post for four years!

Four years ago I was “obliged” to give up blogging from Globetrotter, the narrowboat which has been home for the last seven years.  But now I am back, mainly to start a travel blog for my latest solo trip to India, which will start in only three days time.

I may well bring back the old pages too, but all in good time, as my priorities are planning two weeks travelling, which has so far involved many hours on the web in the hands of Indian Railways and their incredible booking system on top of many hours trying out various combinations of flights, mainly with Emirates whose prices have been among the lowest when dealing direct with airlines rather than booking through an agency.

Last trip to India was in the snows just before Christmas, but it was a bit of a soft option package holiday with Thomson to Goa.  Whilst we spent most daytimes out in “real” India, we were definitely living in a bit of a bubble in a brand new 3 star hotel in Candolim, which was all very comfortable and nice, to the exent that when our flight home was delayed by 62 hours due to the snow in Gatwick just before Christmas, Thomson holidays simply extended our holiday by three days and let us continue in the same room with the added benefit of half board thrown in too.  No complaints there, but I left Goa feeling like I had missed an opportunity to see anything new, although it has to be said that North Goa has changed a lot in the twelve years since I was last there.

At the last minute, just before I booked, I couldn’t resist checking Thomson’s website again; with impeccable timing they knocked 60 pounds off the price I would have paid with them last week, making a flight-only fare to Goa direct from Gatwick only 381 pounds (which is actually a lie on their behalf, as you have to add 40 pounds more to take a bag, unless you can live for a fortnight within your 5kg cabin baggage allowance) but even so £421 direct to Goa isnt a bad price.  It would however have been hard to resist turning left towards the beaches instead of turning right towards India.

With this sudden opportunity to go it alone for a couple of weeks I have jumped at the chance, and this time plan to push the boundaries a  bit, and so have started the process with a return flight to Delhi from London with Emirates, an overnight train to Jammu and a flight up to Srinagar, even though its a bit early in the year to be heading to Kashmir.  Lets see what happens!