It feels really strange being back in blighty, simply because it doesn’t feel strange. It doesn’t feel like I left at all in fact. I was met by Nanny and Mum and my Aunty Sue at Heathrow, equipped with a homemade glittery sign attached to a fly swatter!
They met me with the requested welcome committee supplies of a flask of green tea, but I got a box of macaroons to boot. We then headed to Nanny’s for some crumpets and Marmite, the staple foods I had been missing.
I’m already enjoying the creature comforts, the simple things in life, the water from a tap luxuries and the distinct lack of cockroaches. My sleeping pattern is all over the shop. I was up at 5am in Kathmandu and didn’t get to sleep until 1:30am in England, so only 1 hour sleep in 25 has turned me upside down. Very excited for the summer so it feels good to be back.
I found this nice passage in the journal of a travel writer describing their experiences in Tibet. Its unusual for me to relate to such cliched travel tales of ‘finding yourself’ but this trip has given me a level of self assurance I could never have imagined when I set off. My creativity has been restored beyond my wildest dreams and the yoga helped to assert fearless expression of my true self. I’m so contented and bewildered by my travels and its rekindled my enormous wonderlust. I cannot wait to venture to other continents and the southern hemisphere in particular.
So I guess I should attempt to surmise the first half of 2013 and the first continent in my travels.
I’ll work chronologically in order to try and remember it all.
My first stop was a return to Thailand. I eased myself in gently by going back to somewhere familiar. But this time instead of going east to west, I went from south to north. Learning to dive was sensational, such a completely new experience and night diving will probably remain one of the coolest things I’ll ever do in my life. I’m still fairly certain that my most memorable night in 5 months was spent celebrating Chinese New year in Chinatown in Chiang Mai. The land of the Thai is also the place I met the best travel partner I could’ve hoped for so it is probably held in higher regard due to those extra brownie points.
Laos was our next destination, sadly a very brief whizz through but we took our sweet ass time getting there on a slow boat down the Mekong. Laos was also the setting of the infamous wedding ceremony at a bowling alley with an ordained Canadian! I’m still wearing the ring to date. Not sure if that makes it legit.
We then flew into Vietnam. I was really apprehensive as this nation had been at the top of my to see list for some time. So I really didn’t want to build my hopes up and get disappointed by an anti climax. I didn’t in the slightest. It was everything I hoped and more. The moody mists of Halong Bay were enchanting and Hanoi was a beautiful unexpected gem. The progressive heat increase as we headed south was accompanied by a series of nightbus adventures. Learning to surf in Hoi an was a big highlight but I loved being the navigation passenger on the back of a motorbike just as much. The red sand dunes in Mui ne were gorgeous and made for an exceptional photography opportunity. The war museum in Saigon was a humbling experience. The food was sensational but I was one banh mi away from being a certified fatty! Saying goodbye to someone I had been so inseparable from was one of the most gut wrenching emotional moments of my life. But we had a strange sense of assurance that we’d definitely see each other for future adventures. How right we were!
I cannot express my sheer amazement of how I actually ended up in China. It was always such a complete pipe dream but it came true. None of it would have been possible without the sheer brilliance of my visa assistant and personal guide and translator, the wonderful mister Nelson. I am so grateful to him for all his help and truly in awe of his talents. My reflections on China were extensive enough to warrant its own post. But in summary hiking the Great Wall blew my mind as did swimming in the Olympic park. The panda cubs in Chengdu turned me into a complete girl and my day spent in the peoples park was probably the most surreal thing in my life. Zhangjiajie was the best last minute decision. The landscape is so diverse. The sezchuan food hotter than I could have ever conceived and the green tea as superb as I dreamed it would be. Thousands of kilometres on nighttrains paid off. This nation was well worth the whistle stop tour.
I don’t feel that my brief 24 hours in Hong Kong give me a license to make any significant comment. But the memory of a morbidly obese big beautiful internet host chain eating tins of tuna will probably stay with me for ever. The image is probably etched into my retinas and the stench forever burned into my nostrils. Amazing michelin star dim sum more than made up for it though. I could tolerate the miserable weather there with humility but I towed the line with the lighting bolts surrounding the plane as I left. That I really could have done without.
I don’t really know where to begin on my 2 months in India. It was a complete battery on my senses because they were permanently stimulated. I tried to not have any expectations for the yoga teacher training but it really tested my patience. I knew I was committed enough to achieve certification and I’m genuinely proud of myself for my accomplishments during such a heatwave along with all of other incredible people I met during my time in Rishikesh. In hindsight I should never have travelled so quickly through central India in such extreme heat but it was worth it to complete the bucket list. I feel great having only having one bad bout of illness during my whole time there. As debilitating as it was and how mortified I was throwing up at the border ceremony, I am grateful to have made it to the mountains. Seeing the Dalai Lama teach in his own home was really surreal, purely for how normal it felt. I’ve always been moved by his smile but witnessing it in person is truly heart warming and I’m forever grateful for such a good view! Dharamshala proved inspirational in terms of compelling me to research the history and current situation of Tibet and I’m really looking forward to getting my reading hat on. I’m still flagergasted by Delhi’s relentless attempts to screw me over. Every person is constantly trying to squeeze an extra few hundred rupees out of every conceivable situation. Its exhausting but the brilliance of the goodies makes up for it and restores your faith in human kind.
My final destination is a very brief stop in Nepal. But brief is a good thing. Its so hot and humid and rains cats and dogs every day now the monsoon is on its way. Spending a week under the supervision of a teacher and painting thanka in pokhara has been an incredible experience. As was avoiding getting struck by lightning on a lake whilst kayaking, could have done without that vigorous heart exercise. Seeing the fishtail mountain range was superb but hiking in the heat made me glad that I didn’t push myself into a mammoth trek. Kathmandu is in a sunken bowl with the surrounding mountains so the pollution hangs in the dirty air. Not a great fan of that, so its making me all the more excited to fly home.
So in summary I don’t know whether learning to dive and celebrating Chinese New year in Thailand, slow boating and getting married by an ordained Canadian in Laos, learning to surf in Vietnam, walking a stretch of the Great Wall naked or seeing panda cubs in China, avoiding the big beautiful tuna eater in Hong Kong, becoming a certified yoga teacher or projectile vomiting to an audience in India, or learning to paint whilst hiding away from the monsoons or seeing Mount Everest from the sky in Nepal was the highlight of my trip. Either way I’ve had an absolute ball and shared these memories with some incredible folks, and for that I’m truly grateful. Asia has been a real treat and I’m sad to say goodbye to this fabulous continent but here’s to an equally amazing English summer. Tutty bye Asia. Thanks for having me.
This is a snapshot of the enormous set meal I had at the Japanese restaurant. A not for profit vegetarian set up on Jogiwara Road. Now many people have told me that I really should write a food blog. Mainly because I often have elaborate conversations about food and have even been known to use the adjectives gelatinous, glutenous and stodgy in the same discussion. The inner fat kid inside me would really indulge in this. However these are the reasons why I really shouldn’t.
I’ve been staying in Mcleod Ganj, home to some of the best eateries for a little while now and all my self control left with the taxi that dropped me here. Worst of all I’m staying at Kunga guesthouse attached to the phenomenal Nicks cafe. The staff here are fantastic and the food is delicious. They make their own fresh pasta, pizzas and gnocchi, so a mere few steps from my room is a whole world of temptation. One of the yoga teachers in Rishikesh warned us that this place is a black hole. Self practice goes out the window and all you do is eat all day apparently…he was spot on.
You can find any type of cuisine here imaginable. The newly opened Korean place on Bhagsu Road is out of this world. Yesterday we visited the vegan Maya cafe in Daramhkot. Their smoothies have to be devoured with a spoon as it is too thick to drink through a straw!
I had the most delicious beverage of my life at The Commonground. A scrummy hot white chocolate with cardamon and cinnamon.
The restaurant next door, Lhamo Croissant, bakes fresh daily and the smells wafting in is pure torture. I was very well behaved though and had the club salad there the other day, a salad big enough for 3. It contained home made hummous, delicious English cheddar, boiled egg and tuna. Served in a pyrex dish bigger than my head. All topped off with a delicious fresh dressing and bread straight out the oven.
However last night I had a tuna melt sandwich. Which is 2 bloody doorstep sandwiches! We then shared a piece of banana chocolate cake and a slice of lemon tart. Complete guilty pleasure.
I had my first pizza in 4 months. A Hawaiian to boot. My favourite flavour made in a wood fired oven. It was ridiculously huge but I managed to eat it due to the severe stretching my stomach has undergone since arriving here.
The strange thing about staying here is that you completely defy your body’s instincts. You eat beyond being full and intentionally chose unhealthy things you wouldn’t normally pick. My logical reasoning is that the food really is genuinely incredible. Whatsmore its a quarter of the price you would pay for it in the west. So your brain tells you its a reasonable decision, in fact a sensible one because you could never afford this opulence back home. Needless to say I’ve indulged myself along with everyone around me. But my goodness its been an utterly delicious week. Its a good job I’m leaving this godforsaken town for Nepal tomorrow. The hiking may just with any luck counteract this gluttony.
Now for some food-related comedy gold…
Old monk rum balls in a jar. A local sweet delicacy.
Some ingenious marketing from the Drum Stick Restaurant. Ridiculous logo but a delicious crispy pork with pok choy.
And finally. Have you ever seen a pug eat a whole tomato? Well you have now!
I really can’t comment too extensively on Amritsar as it was an arduous 24 hour challenge of mental strength and will. When skeptics of the traveling lifestyle query as to why you like traveling so much, you often find yourself coming across extremely positive, glowing about all of your exciting destinations. My time in the Punjab supports the skeptics. It proves that traveling isn’t always a breeze and can be really hard work both physically and mentally challenging.
I took a night train (sleeper class) from Delhi. It was scorching and i walked the ran length of the train twice before jumping on to find my seat due to wrong advice. I woke up in the morning feeling terrible. I put it down to dehydration abduction drank as much water as I could.
I arrived at the train station and had to climb down the train ladder with my backpack on down to the tracks and squeeze between the other trains feeling rough as hell. I made it to the golden temple hoping to find the accommodation. I couldn’t. Noone understood my incomprehensible slurring so I found the nearest hotel and checked in. I had a room on the top floor hotter than I have ever known on earth.
By now I had drank litres and overdone it on the electrolytes and started throwing up. I still hadn’t eaten anything so slept as best aim could. I was determined to go the Indian Pakistani border ceremony. I dragged myself there sharing a rickshaw with 3 guys from Kashmir. I got the VIP gallery and watched the proceedings with little amusement. The pantomime esque foot stomp under normal circumstances would’ve at least raised a smirk. As soon as it finished I made an escape and proceeded to projectile vomit everywhere…with a full audience!
I could only sleep that night by soaking my pajamas in luke warm water and laying under the fan. The heat was indescribable. The fan simply moved hot air around.
After a full night of puking I decided to get out of town as soon as possible. Nobody was interested in trying to help me. The only assistance I could get was from a guy in reception who wanted to practice his German with me. I gave up and spent a full days budget on a private taxi and headed for the mountains.
I have since seen a lovely fella that I last saw in Delhi. We left at the same time. Turns out he had exactly the same symptoms poor guy. Traveling alone when you are that unwell really isn’t fun but I’m so glad that this is the first and hopefully only occasion in India in 2 whole months.