Myles Harrington

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Big Trek to Triund and Some Milky Goodness

In India on April 30, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Yesterday we decided to go for a two day trek up to the top of the mountain we had been looking at for the last five days where a light shone like the star of Bethlehem calling us to the top. At the top of this mountain is a small hamlet called Triund where we’d heard it was possible to go and rent tents or small rooms and stay over. It sounded like the perfect excursion for five hungover people, as long as the 9km trek was as easy as the tour guides had promised us it was. The local travel agents were trying to charge us 1000 Rs each per day (£15) so we decided to go it alone and were bloody glad we did as it would have been highly embarrassing to turn up with a guide as the route was pretty easy to follow with a few ask and point help outs from the locals along the way. The first 6km went by relatively quickly with a stop at a shop en route but the last 3km was a slightly steeper and more treacherous challenge, through jungle like territory mixed with Dartmoor style rockery.

Honey, I've reached the top

In a bizarre scene that would only happen along that kind of route, Filip and I, who had walked on from the rest of the group who were suffering from last night’s local liquor  a little more, started chatting to a shop owner named Pardeep. At the end of our short conversation he offered us a room to stay in at the top of the mountain, gave us a key and a small note written in Hindi that we had to give to Sanjay in the shop at the top of the hill. All went to plan and we were in our stable like residency fours hours after setting off up the rocky path and we managed to catch the last of the sun with stunning views of the Dhauladhar range.Like baby Jesus we followed the stars and slept in a manger

After dinner, Filip, Minja and I who were sharing the shack decided to go down and speak to the two goat herders who had set up camp just down from our room. A 16 year old boy and his father were extremely hospitable to the three strangers that stumbled down their hill through their herd of bakri. We just sat and chatted with them for about an hour in broken English. We bought delicious fresh goats milk which tasted like Milkybar, smoked the father’s strong tobacco water-pipe, held the baby goat Hassasia and shared a bidie. It was the most memorable hour of my trip so far and made the arduous trek well worth it.

The goat herder gang of Triund

In the morning we had our second expensive thali in Tiund (expensive because they have to trek everything up by donkey) and this time Victor and I set off before the rest of the troupe. We decided to go the other way back, that we’d been told was possible by both the travel agents in McLeod Ganj and shop owners in Triund. They gave a wave of a hand in a general direction and we set off. The path was rough and extremely disjointed and as we were trekking down we realised at several moments we were passing McLeod Ganj on the wrong mountain ridge and in the wrong direction. This is where the expensive guide would have earned his rupees. We passed through peoples’ courtyards, steep farming pastures, tiny villages and down to a river bed. On our way we stopped off at a woman’s house and in our desperation for refreshment cheekily asked for a chai, she happily obliged and in a trade for me grinding some grain we got some sweet milky goodness.

Nothing like some hard labour in return for a free chai

After we returned only three hours after setting off (it seemed like 12) it was time for me to return to the laziest and most ignorant tailors in India to collect my hand-stitched granddad shirt that had taken four visits to perfect. It cost less than a pound per visit so I suppose I shouldn’t moan too much. A well deserved Kingfisher on the rooftop was in order and the day was finished of with a delicious Japanese feast.

Modeling the fine stitch work of India's laziest tailor

His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Me

In India on April 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm

It’s been a packed couple of days for me in McLeod Ganj. Yesterday I was woken early by the deep inhalations of the Canadian sleeping next to me so I decided to get up and have a wonder around the town at 6am. I stopped off at the main square and had a roll of delicious Tibetan steamed bread which is very similar to an English muffin and then wondered down towards the Dalai Lama’s temple and residence at the bottom of the hill.

The temple near the main square in McLeod Ganj

The temple in the main square in McLeod Ganj

There was a buzz in the air because the Dalia lama was making an appearance to pray for the Tibetans who have died in the recent earthquake there. I sat and had a chai and an egg roll from a street stand and watched as monks, locals and tourists gathered to see the man himself. We didn’t come back to the temple untill about 8am and by then the queue to enter was about 200 metres long and we thought we’d never manage it. Luckily they decided to open up the monk only entrance to the rest of the rabble and we managed to sneak in and get the best seats in the house! We were incredibly lucky as the buddhists didn’t have the heart to tell us we were blocking their view. I can’t describe the tense yet enjoyable feeling in the air as he walked past. It was hard not to get caught up in the moment as everyone bowed down in the prayer position following his every step as he entered the temple from his residence a short walk away.

Yesterday evening it was time for something a little more light hearted so we stocked up on Hide and Seeks and went to the illegal cinema next door for a screening of Scorsese’s Shutter Island. The film was, according to the bloke who took the extortionate entrance fee (just over two pounds) “DVD quality”, it was in fact a Russian download with bad syncing and it stopped twice during pivotal moments. I tried to get my chai for free because of the inconvenience but he wasn’t having any of it, he said we could go back for another film for free if we liked. I might take him up on the offer, as long as the film really is DVD quality.

Send me DVD copy so I can screen in basement cinema in India

Today we attended a fantastic cookery course where we learnt to make some delicious Tibetan specialties; momos. They are dumplings that can be filled with various fillings such as vegetables, mutton or even chocolate. We made the most traditional varieties of mixed veg, potato and sweet (brown sugar and sesame seeds). The lesson cost double the price of the cinema but the profits were all going to a local Tibetan charity so we didn’t mind paying a little more.

The gang chow down on some home-made momos

The gang chow down on hand-mad momos

My favourite was probably the mixed veg one and our efforts were much tastier than the street stall versions that I’ve eaten everyday since being in McLeod Ganj. I now appreciate the technical skill required to make them and can’t understand how the ladies in the street can afford to only sell them for 15p for four pieces! The teacher told us they can make about one or two hundred an hour and get up at 3am to prepare them for the day’s trading. No wonder their seasoning is slightly off.

Momo magic

Zorbing, Bathing and Chilling in Manali

In India on April 25, 2010 at 6:23 am

We’ve been in Manali now for about five days and have managed to build up a massive bill at our guest house. We’ve got to go and check out now and split up the thousands of rupees. That’ll be good fun. Today has the best weather that we have experienced here so it feels a shame to be leaving. There is no rain! Three of us are getting the 7.30pm 12 hour mini bus ride to Dharamshala later today. We bought some special prescription only sleeping pills in Shimla so hopefully they’ll help take the edge off the bumpy ride.

The view from my guest house window in Manali

Yesterday I did some extreme sports like you’re meant to while in Manali. We all went zorbing. I now know why all of the organisers were saying you shouldn’t do it in the rain. It was raining like England when we got out of the taxi and the zorbs were disgustingly dirty with yak shit on the outside and in. It was great fun doing it but I wouldn’t be in any hurry to do it again. It was an expensive 30 seconds but the feeling of weightlessness was cool.

Just before I rolled around in the mud with Axel

They see me rollin' They hatin' Patrollin' they tryin' to catch me ridin. dirty.

After the zorbing, some delicious vegtable pakoras and a few rounds of chai we went to Vashist’s natural hot springs for a lovely soak with the locals inside a man made temple with intricate marble carvings. At first the water was a little too hot to handle with the cold air but it made a nice change to the cold showers i’ve got used to.

Soaking it all up with the locals

I would recommend anyone who likes Amsterdam to come to Manali. The place should be caled Little Amsterdam because there is the same feeling around the town, basically all the locals are drug dealers or saffron dealers (i’ll let you decide who gets better business), and there is the same distinct smell when you go into all of the coffee shops. There are hardly any police here and the weather is identical. Also, the view of the mountains and natural waterfalls is a bit better than the scummy canals.

Yaking Up a Hill in Worse Weather Than in Britain

In India on April 23, 2010 at 6:46 am

From Shimla we stopped off the beaten track in Mandi. After just one night there we got back on the dirt tracks for the trek to the foot of the Himalayas and we now based in Manali for four or so days.

The garden in the middle of the sunken market in Mandi

Manali is a small hippie town where people some to do extreme sports and get stoned in the Tibetan-esque region of Himachal Pradesh at an elevation of just over 2000 metres.  When we arrived after two bus journeys that cost the same as a single zone 1 tube ride; it was pissing it down. I have never seen so much thunder and lightening as I have in the past three days.  It’s quite beautiful to see the sky lit up constantly with flashes hitting the tops of the snow capped mountains.

On our first full day I couldn’t take it just walking around in a thin cardigan anymore (thanks Tom) so I went on a shopping blow out purchasing a standard backpacker jumper (like the ones they always sell at festivals in the tents that stink of incense), a cosy blanket (for sitting in the cinema with), some purple socks and a cool hat (as modeled in the image below). Then we trekked up a hill to a temple that’s about 500 years old with amazing wood carvings and outside there were a number of tourist trap adventures. You could get your picture taken with a giant rabbit or ride a yak for 100 Rs. How could I resist a yak ride? Up and down the hill and it got boring after 3 seconds. It’s still a nicer ride than camels though.

Taking the bull by the horns

Continuing on my spending spree for the day Minja and I decided it would be a nice after to have an afternoon beer and an expensive and luxurious cheese platter from one of the finest restaurants in Old Manali. The platter featured yak cheese (i love that beast) which was kind of like emmental, some local Himachal cows cheese and some old imported favourites (brie, mozzarella and gorgonzola). In the evening we chilled out at one of the ‘cinemas’ (a large TV in a local’s lounge) and watched a Bob Dylan documentary.

Minja, Me, Victor, Brent and a stray

The Raj Town of Shimla and Very English Wine and Beer

In India on April 20, 2010 at 1:46 pm

The first thing i have noticed since being in the new state of Himachal Pradesh is how much more liberal they are compared to the last state I was in; Uttarakhand. It surprised me how divided India is into the states, I didn’t realise that they were but I suppose when you think about it they are the same size as countries in their own right. I noticed how liberal they were as soon as we crossed the border and the guards were joking about us going to smoke in Shimla. We then stopped for a chai at 3am at a roadside house/restaurant and the brother who lived/worked there showed us some hash; I am not sure whether we were meant to be impressed, shocked, jealous or buying but it gave us a homely impression of our destination for the next 10 or so days.

It’s strange how in Shimla it is illegal to smoke in public places but there are numerous beer shops all of which are called English Beer Shop, English Wine Shop or English Wine and Beer Shop. It’s good to see that England’s reputation as the drinking capital of the world is still going strong. This trend of naming alcohol shops with English as a prefix continued all along the Shimla-Menali High road and every village had their own English Shop selling fine plastic bottled whiskies at Rs. 120 (£1.75) for a litre! It’s a tough choice whether to buy Kingfishers at a pound a pop or a go for a bottle of Officer’s Choice and a party pack of Coke.

After a heavy night on the Kingfishers and whisky it was time for us to explore the treasures of Shimla. The town itself is constantly referred to in literature as looking very traditionally English. I would say they are definitely overstating the beauty of my home country. Shimla looks more like how you’d imagine an Alpine outpost to look. Lots of faux wood and fir trees.

The English style church in the Alpine style Shimla

The first and pretty much stop on the tourist trail was the Viceregal Lodge on the outskirts of town with its botanical gardens. This time the architecture was in a Scottish style and the building lived up to its reputation. The grand country house has an amazing history and even has the same wallpaper as it did 122 years ago. Probably the most interesting point that was described by the tour guide was how they created crevasses in the walls when they built the building to house electricity even though there wasn’t yet electricity in the state and they even installed a sophisticated sprinkler system that used nitrous oxide.

We are now in Mandi, further north for one night in a town that was described by Lonely Planet as definitely not touristy. There are a few nice temples and a bizarre underground bazaar but that’s about all. Only one night here and then onto the very touristy Menali for some good whisky fuelled times and extreme sports.

A Rundown and Famous Ashram In The Forest

In India on April 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm

After a lazy couple of days with not much worthwhile writing about we (I am still hanging out with the Swedish bunch mentioned in my last post) decided to do something with the day. It was either a trip back to the beach on the Ganges for some swimming or to visit the famous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram made so by the Beatle’s visit in 1968.

After bribing the guard, or perhaps he is a very lazy and stroppy owner, and his spiritual accomplish with 50 rupees per person (quite pricey at 73p; my breakfast cost the same) we clambered up the steep incline and past the meditation huts through some of the 2km grounds to the now derelict ashram. It was a very interesting place with shards of broken glass everywhere and crumbling brickwork. Every building is open to walk around and there is a cool painting featuring Beatles imagery in one of the bedrooms that was painted by an unknown German artist. Even if the Beatles hadn’t blessed the haloed grounds of the ashram it would still be a cool place to explore.

The ant hill like huts where John more than likely 'meditated' with Yoko

According to Wikipedia the Beatles “ate three vegetarian meals daily, and had wide-ranging conversations”, it sounds exactly like my time here except finally last night after a week of abstinence from booze we finally managed to get our hands on some beers! Exciting times. We drank the one restaurant that serves them in town dry, a poultry two cans each of my least favourite alcohol Fosters. We were just getting into the swing of things when we ran out so three of the Swedes went on a booze hunt and managed to get lucky with a delicious bottle of Indian vodka called Magic Moments that we got delivered by courier for an eye watering 1500 rupees. The drink is so good that the label features a swimmer drinking the fine spirit (with grain imported from France no less) while swimming. Notice the intricately carved guitar silhouette too. Classy stuff.

India's best. Served with Limca for a jolly good time

The Rishikesh Rumble

In India on April 14, 2010 at 8:10 am

All was going well a I sat down to eat Mama’s delicious thali last night. I’d got talking to a bunch of Swedish people over dinner who were planing on heading off to Haridwar today for the mad and massive Kumbh Mela festival. I decided on a whim that I would go with them and we had to be up at 5am to make sure we could get there.

An early night was required so at 9am I tucked myself in and tried to drift off.  One hour passed, then two and three and all the time I didn’t have a Delhi belly, more what i now have coined the Rishikesh rumble. My stomach was bloated and gurgling and I didn’t have any antacids to heal my pain. Big mistake. Come about midnight I got ‘the rush’ sprinted to the toilet and proceeded to yack my guts up. Mama’s thali didn’t taste so good this time.

Eventually I did managed to get some very broken sleep and luckily wasn’t sick again so decided to tackle the day head on and arrived at the Swede’s guest house as arranged at 4.55. The first of my co-pilgrims greeted me and he’d been up all night being sick too. I thought it was going to be a pandemic and the day would be called off but he was the only one that was ill so was staying behind. We started off walking towards the town and all of a sudden I got ‘the rush’ again and spewed down the hillside like a volcano erupting curried lava. Still, at least the cows will have a tasty treat today. I went back to bed and thankfully haven’t been sick again…yet.

Red marks the spot for a tasty roadside meal for the cows

A ‘Youth’ Hostel, Thinking of Doing Yoga and a Russian Couple

In India on April 12, 2010 at 6:20 am

It seems strange to be writing about Saturday now when it feels like I have done so much since then. But when I was back in Delhi I decided to move into the International Youth Hostel. I’ve stayed in one of their hostels before in Zagreb and it wasn’t very good but their one in Euston looks really nice so i thought it was worth a try. This is the kind of thing I was expecting at a youth hostel:

Party time - how it should have been

But the reality was more like this:

How it was - This man snoring for 10 hours

The average age at the ‘youth’ hostel was probably about 55, so after a night with them all snoring in some kind of orchestral fashion in different times, pitches and paces; I checked out.

During the day I did lots of amazing tourist things. I went to the Old Fort, Humayun’s Tomb which apparently the Taj Mahal was based on and then onto the zoo where  i got whisked around in a limo golf cart for 50p. The standards of welfare at the zoo were actually okay. I was expecting them to be horrific but there was of course the standard pacing animal. London Zoo has their pacing tiger, New York has the pacing snow leopard (looking much happier in this video than when i saw it going mad) and Delhi has their psychotic lion.

On Sunday I spent most of my day (nine hours) in an air con taxi going from Delhi to Rishikesh via Haridwar with a Russian couple and their one year old child. I’m not quite sure how I ended up with them but I originally went to the bus station to hop on a bus that should have taken five hours. The queues for tickets and the panic to get on crammed buses was too much to handle or even understand and these group of seven people from Belarus said i should share a car with them. An hour later I was in a car with the yoga king of Moscow (apparently he owns a yoga school there) and the queen of Goa (she had been there for the last four months) and a child (which i think was theirs) who would go around eating dirt when we stopped.

We were originally going to just stop in Haridwar but the problem with that was we arrived at 10pm and the legendary Kumbh Mela was in full swing. Imagine Notting Hill Festival but over the whole of London, or Glastonbury ten times the size and in a city. There where tents everywhere as we drove through and the whole town was covered with fairy lights. So it would have been nearly impossible to get accommodation. Amazingly though all of the traffic was  still moving! Check out this video Chloe sent me before I even knew I was going to Haridwar to get a sense of the occassion.

I luckily called ahead to a hotel i’d been recommended by the only youth in the hostel, Mama’s Cottage on the High Bank in Rishikesh. She only had one room left (the one i had reserved earlier in the day) which the Russians got so I had to sleep in her lounge with her young son/cook on the sofa opposite me. I have to stay in the lounge tonight too because she is still full. I don’t mind though it’s only £1.50 a night, i get to call her mama and she’s currently doing my washing. I’m off now to explore why The Beatles fell in love with this place.

Rocky Rickshaws and a Nice Red Fort

In India on April 9, 2010 at 11:04 am

I managed to sleep through the whole night which i was surprised about given the yapping dogs and shouting tradesmen just outside the window. The air-con cut out at about 1am which was inconvenient but the fan did okay at finishing off the night.

The first port of call was the Red Fort, seen in all its glory below. It was too far and hot to walk so I decided i’d get an auto-rickshaw from outside New Delhi Train station. Somehow after much haggling I ended up on a push bike rickshaw. The poor man had to slog over bumpy pot-holed terrain along what seemed to be dual carriageways for about 20 minutes. It was then when we were freewheeling towards oncoming traffic, it dawned on me that I had absolutely no ID on me. So if I had died I would have probably been carted off to a hospital never to be seen again, minus my camera and many hundreds of rupees. So i’ve decided it might be a good idea to keep it on me from now on, alongside my insurance details so they can complete any life saving treatment necessary.

Obligatory Tourist Spot Number 1

After a delicious ‘vegetable sandwich’* (cucumber and tomato) at the fort’s under-prepared restaurant and taking the standard tourist snaps it was time to return home to purchase a SIM card and a backpack to carry my passport in. I got on another death trap bike rickshaw back to the hotel because I needed another adrenaline hit. The journey was just as bad and for my family’s sake i’m not going to divulge details.

A fine example of the scariest way to get around Delhi

*I experienced my first famous Delhi power cut when I got here the first time

Destination Delhi

In India on April 8, 2010 at 9:49 am

After a rather eventful flight (i’ll explain later) I got to my hotel extremely easily at about 8am this morning. The taxi man was there, my bag was there and I was let through without a suspicious stare.

He only nearly killed three people with his mirrorless driving

I was delightfully surprised considering the nightmare stories I read here yesterday that my four pound a night hotel was actually not too bad. It was even better than some hotels in Oxford! Upon my arrival I was instantly upgraded to a lovely double room with air-con and in a lovely shade of pink. I think it was because they had run out of the cheap ones.

Onto the flight fracas – After a delicious mushroom and spinach risotto for dinner (it genuinely was quite tasty, not quite Jamie Oliver more a la Matt Hull) and wasting two and a half hours of my life watching 2012, I decided to try and get into the new time zone, which is randomly five and a half hours ahead, and have a sleep. The next thing I know as I come back round from an hours nap, there is a Gazza look-a-like standing in my leg room area pissed up even more than Gazza on a stag do wearing his sleeping mask and trying to open up the emergency exit, calling the cabin crew motherf*ckers and threatening to light up a fag if they didn’t give him another vodka and coke. God knows how he’d managed to get so drunk so quickly. I’d only managed to neck two double G&Ts and a glass of french dry white. He must have snuck on his own, note to self for next time.

When they eventually managed to calm him down and upgrade him (unbelievable) to the empty World Traveller Plus section he came back to us cattle in The World Traveller section (economy to everyone but BA) and insisted we should all upgrade ourselves to “2nd class ’cause it’s f*cking empty”, I felt like I was on the Titanic in steerage. Although his offer was extremely tempting, especially if they gave into his demand of unlimited vodka and cokes, but no way was I moving from my leg room luxury.

Better than World Traveller Class Plus even with free vodka

Delhi is absolutely mental, dirty and a major hassle. I crashed out when I first got into my bed at a cosy 16 degrees (thanks air-con), woke up three hours later and thought I should probably venture outside. A walk to the end of the road and I encountered a police riot; I thought the hassling tout was lying when he told me to go to Connaught Place the other way because it wasn’t safe. From what I could gather and from what i’ve been told as the word has spread about town, the government decided to rip down some illegal shops. Very exciting. So I took the advice of my con-man friend and walked the long way round. I can’t remember how many random mens’ hands i’ve shaken already today and i was only out for a couple of hours. There was the mobile phone shop owner, the student who got married at 16  from Jaipur and the fake tourism office man that was definitely approved by the Government of India.

I’ve also had my first taste of Indian food, a tasty vegetarian thali that was just as good as Masala Zone and it was only 80 rupees! It seems like i’ve achieved a lot so far so I am going to get back on it and do even more.