Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Few Hundred Thousand Hindu's and The Ganges....

Hello!  After nearly a month we have decided to head on with our journey and finally leave McLeod.  We were sad to say goodbye but ready to move on and experience new adventures.  Our last week in McLeod was lots of fun, somehow involving not 1 but 3 trips to the local watering took us 3 weeks to find so I think we decided to make up for it.   Last weekend was our friend Jennifer's 30th birthday and so to celebrate we went on an overnight hike 1000m up a local hill/mountain – Triund.  

Our friends Jen & Jules....

I tend to favour flat walks lasting no more than 20 minutes but as it was Jen's birthday I was happy to oblige.  Reports of how long it would take us to get to the top varied greatly – some saying 2 and half hours, others saying more like 5.  We definitely fell into the 2nd category....  It was nice and relaxed though with plenty of chai stops along the way.  It was a beautiful walk, made quite mysterious with the cloud cover creeping up as we got to the top.  

Once on Triund (alt 2800mtrs), anyone staying overnight can rent out a tent, sleeping bag and blanket – perfect, or so we thought.  The man even put the tents up, so we didn't think twice about them until heading off to bed in the dark and realising that neither end of our tent zipped up.  That, the very cold temperatures and the group of barking dogs kindly keeping guard outside meant that none of us got more than an hours sleep.  That said, we had a great time – spent the evening round a campfire sipping whiskey to keep warm and chatting to some Indian folk.  When the cloud cleared and the sun rose the next morning we realised it was definitely worth the hike – the scenery was stunning.

Our last teaching class was on Friday so we played lots of games, drank chai and ate cake with our students.  It was a lovely last lesson and made all the more special by the fact that one by one our students pulled out Tibetan scarves for us as good luck gifts for the rest of our journey.  It was so unexpected and generous of them and made us feel quite emotional afterwards.  Unfortunately we couldn't justify carrying all 20 scarves around Asia and so have had to post all except 1 each home.

Us and our class...

Quite a lot of our last week in McLeod was spent trying to figure out how to move onto our next destination, and until you've tried to book train travel in India I don't think you quite realise how complicated it can be....we certainly hadn't, and trips to 3 different travel agents as well as numerous hours on the internet didn't make it any easier.   

For starters, the website only tells you direct train journeys, so you have to figure out whether trains actually go to your destination.  Then you have to pick one of up to 6 different types of seats, ranging from 1st class A/C to the general sleeper car.  Once you've figured that out, you then keep all fingers & toes crossed in hope that there are still seats.  Not that that really matters mind, as up to 400+ people book tickets on the 'waiting list' in hope that some people will cancel their bookings.  There's also the 'foreign quota' option but only available from certain stations, and also the 'tatcal' seats which are an extra 30 tickets on some journeys released  48 hours before the trains departure.  I think you need a degree from Oxford to figure it all out.  Today we've tried to book tickets to Varanasi, but it turns out all trains are full until December...     

Eventually we managed to plan our onward journey from McLeod, and 2 scary buses, an overnight train with lots of snoring men, a 3 hour wait, 2 mile walk, 2 rickshaws (holding 13 people each) and 30 hours later we arrived in Rishikesh – famous for its yoga, meditation and general 'new age' hippiness.  Once again our knack for gatecrashing religious festivals didn't fail us and we turned up in Haridwar, 1 hour south, along with hundreds of thousands of Hindus celebrating the birthday of their particular guru.   

The city was covered in yellow and orange, seemingly the colour of their particular sect, and although the crowds were pretty overwhelming it looked beautiful along the banks of the Ganges.  The sheer number of people meant that all onward buses were cancelled and unfortunately we've since heard that 20 people were killed in a stampede that afternoon.

Now further up the river in Rishikesh, things are much calmer yet still exciting with plenty to see and do.  We've found an okay hotel, finally got hot water and even came downstairs to find a cow in the lobby - only in India!  

Tomorrow we begin our Hindi lessons – much needed as we're somewhat embarrassed at only being able to say 'namaste'.  John's hoping he can learn the Hindi for 'I'm allergic to....' or 'no butter/cheese/milk/cream/eggs please' as no matter how much gesturing and explanation you try and give in English, every meal seems to contain at least one of the above.  I've already managed to have a dress made at the local tailors, a bargin at just £4 and needed to counter the depression I've been feeling at not even being able to fit into XL clothes. :-)

Our plan is to stay here until about Saturday although it could be longer if we can't book an onward train.   We're also setting time aside to figure out or destination after India – although we had planned on going to Thailand we're a little concerned after reading about the floods.  Less than 7 weeks till Christmas though (sorry to bring that up!) so we have to get on the case.  Suggestions on a postcard please... 

No comments:

Post a Comment