Here’s some advice for any of you thinking about doing a jungle trek. Have a read over on my Gap Daemon journal
Here’s some advice for any of you thinking about doing a jungle trek. Have a read over on my Gap Daemon journal
Here’s what happened on the rest of our epic trekking adventure. Read over on my Gap Daemon journal…
I am sweating. Every pore in my body is spewing sweat at a mile a minute. I can feel the heat radiating off my nose like I am Rudolph’s satanic twin. I am drenched, huffing and puffing, literally gasping for air. I keep reaching for something to make this ascent easier, my hands covered in mud. The humidity is stifling. Every step is a giant lunge to lift my own body weight. It takes a will that I didn’t know was in me. I am on the edge of giving up. I might die you know…
So these are the rambling thoughts that ran through my head on our jungle trek in Chiang Mai. To say we were unprepared was an understatement. Roscoe and I agreed that we wanted the full experience, not just a day trip – two nights and three days living in the jungle. That was real adventure.
Saying this though, it was clear after about the first hour on day one, that this was not a trek for the feint hearted. This wasn’t a casual meander through the jungle, this was a constant uphill struggle; 1500 vertical metres to be exact.
Thankfully, we had many blessings on this trek, the first one being Duiy, our lifesaving fantastic guide.
Everything we asked was met with a huge smile, he wanted to teach us about the jungle, the plants, the wildlife. He described the medicinal uses of various fauna and let us taste bizarre fruits that we had never seen before. He showed us little things that fascinated us like these cute plants that flinch like humans when touched and curl in on themselves.
We realised just how lucky we were as we met a few groups along the way that had guides that seemed completely uninterested and did nothing but smoke cigarettes and barely say a word. Duiy, however, was full of life, making us laugh and he even saved me from a coronary. Understanding that I had asthma, during that last half an hour climb (which was literally so steep we were almost vertical), like an angel, he insisted on carrying my bag for me and even found me a stick to help balance me on the extra tough parts. Yes, I felt like a bit of a failure being the last one to struggle up the mountain but I was born with these lungs and I was doing my best.
The second blessing was the harmony of our little group. From our first “hello” we clicked. The three days were spent in constant chatter, each of us realising just what an incredible experience this was. Four girls from America, two guys from Denmark and another couple from the UK – we made a great team.
The last blessing was the weather. It was early monsoon season so the sun was hidden by light cloud and thank god it was! If the unforgiving sun had been beating down on us the entire time, it would have made the exhausting trek a hell of a lot harder. Even the odd bout of rain was rather welcome, it cooled us down. I must add that it didn’t make the terrain any easier though and I think all of us slipped and landed in the mud at some point.
The Thai jungle was intoxicating. Incredibly thick and unyielding in places, the path often seeming to disappear to everyone’s eyes but Duiy’s. Wading through the thick vegetation, balancing over babbling brooks, spotting the odd elephant – it was an experience like no other.
I’m glad to say that I didn’t die. The 1500 metres was worth every exhausting second. The view when we reached the top was sensational. We felt on top of the world.
Check out my Gap Daemon post tomorrow featuring the highlights from the first night and the days that followed…
My love affair with roadside food in the chaotic streets of Bangkok knows no bounds. Have a hungry read over on my Gap Daemon Journal.
Finally, we arrived in Bangkok! Check out how happy I was over on my Gap Daemon journal.
I knew India would be a journey of discovery for me. I was so compelled to explore this exotic land and reflecting back now, I know that I’m still not done with the country. This trip largely came from my need to know what my mother left behind and why. I also wanted to see the world famous landmarks that have swum around in my mind for years.
I won’t do my mother a disservice and talk about her past without her approval but the one thing I will say is that now I know why she wanted to leave. Please don’t read too much into that and surmise that I didn’t like my experience, to the contrary, I loved it. It’s just that knowing my Mum and what she likes/doesn’t like – I now feel like I have been able to see why she chose to come to the West.
India tests you. It forces you to confront yourself and make choices about who you want to be. In the face of so much poverty, it’s the small gestures of generosity that struck me the most. This resonated with my Mum who is the most altruistic person I have ever known. Every molecule in her heart is generous. I hope I’ve always lived my life with this value and being in India, I realised just how important a quality it is.
We were on a train, a long hot journey sprawled out ahead of us. We hadn’t had time to get any supplies and this train wasn’t stopping for hours. A family, poor and speaking no English drew out their food for the evening. Before we had a chance to stop them, they insisted we join in. Chapatti after chapatti and moorish dish after dish appeared. We didn’t want to take food from a family and from the wife who had clearly spent an age preparing it. Her eyes, however, glowed with pride. She wouldn’t eat until we had finished – it’s these small acts of kindness…
I wanted to love India. My mother raised me as an Indian. In many ways she is not a modern Indian though, she is still very traditional. Certain values gained from a life up to her 20’s in her mother country stuck with her. The most profound value is family. Family is the key to everything. My mother has always been 100% selfless when it comes to her children. When things have gone wrong in our family she always feels like the world is ending. It’s hard for her to realise that sometimes things don’t always go to plan.
She wants all her children to be doctors or investment bankers. She has worked in the graphic design side of Investment banks since coming to the country and she saw the graduates come in and make millions before retiring at 35. I don’t blame her for wanting that for us. Sadly, I was born with no mathematical brain whatsoever. I was born with the desire to devour and wax lyrical about books. Not the path my mother had expected but actually we are more alike than we realise. She often recounts the numerous times she was caught by the nuns in her strict convent school reading a book by candlelight in the toilets. She couldn’t put the book down and would be scolded for it.
The other thing that struck me is cleanliness. My Mum can’t bear the thought or sight of sh*t. It terrifies her. When our Dad used to throw us in a field and tell us germs were good for us, they toughened us up – my Mum would be wincing on the sidelines, itching to wash our feet before stepping into the house. India it has to be said, has a world of sh*t. Even in the modern metropolis of Mumbai, cleanliness is a big factor. Till today my Mum will warn you about a dog turd she spotted 17 miles away from where you are currently situated.
Over the years Mum has retreated back to the good old days. She is totally obsessed with Hindi soap operas and even though I can only understand a tiny shred, I loved watching them with her. Seeing how enthralled she was with the ridiculous storylines was quite entertaining. I wish with all my heart she’d realised that teaching me Hindi would be so valuable for my future. It would have made this trip a lot easier. All she had to do was only speak to me in Hindi and my Dad would speak to me in English and hey presto I would be bi-lingual. Not only would this have helped me in India, it would have made me pick up other languages much easier. It’s not too late though and I am determined to learn as much as I can in this life. I suppose another reason why she never taught me was because in her home in India with my Nanu –they conversed in English. Mum however has a very beautiful Hindi accent and impressive command of the language. When we went to India together people would always complement her on her lovely voice.
Despite my learning to cook new dishes with Jitu back in Bundi, I can still safely say that I prefer my Mum’s curry! There’s something about Mummy’s cooking that just can’t be replaced. My Aunty Adeline’s vindaloo was the best I had anywhere, even in Goa where it originated from. Roscoe and I agreed that we preferred the hot food of the South to that of the North. Unfortunately we dined in one too many places which ended up catering for an English palate even though we encouraged them not to.
Will I go again?
India had its highlights, the vibrancy of Mumbai and following the Shantaram trail, the lush tropical landscape of Goa, the steeped-in-history Jodhpur, the romance of Udaipur, even breaking my arse on a camel in Jaisalmer but it had its lows too. We both never got completely used to the constant stares, the pushy sales people, the flippant attitude to rubbish and its disfiguring presence even at the most holiest of sites. I was impressed with the signs on the rickshaws in Mumbai that advertised the need to stop spitting everywhere. Whether it’s the horrible scarring red paan and tobacco juice or just generally spitting –these signs explained that it can spread TB and damages the city. The rest of the country needs to take note.
My next trip to this epic country will either be to the mystical North, places like Rishikesh and Meghalaya. Another trip will have to be to the holy city of Varanasi. And yet another will be exploring the tropics in Kerala and feasting on wildly exciting seafood on the beach. I wonder whether my Mum would like to join me on one of these trips? I would love it.
Have a read of our frustrating time in Delhi over on my Gap Daemon journal
I’d waited so many years to see this fascinating archaeological site, it didn’t disappoint. Check out my Gap Daemon journal for my experience of the erotically charged Khajuraho temples and some of Roscoe’s photos.
Over on Gap Daemon, I’ve given my opinion on the failings of Agra. Have a read
Our train to Agra began in a bit of a panic. Having taken a flight the day before from Goa to Delhi at 15:45 my brain confused the train to Agra as the same time when in fact it was 15:05. We arrived at the station at 15:08 thinking we were early when suddenly my mistake dawned on me. With our backpacks weighing us down like tons of bricks, we ran up the stairs to find a platform that might still show the train. I could not believe how stupid I had been. I expected Roscoe to throw a fit but he was as calm as could be and told me not to worry. We just needed to find someone to help us. Arriving exasperated at the information stand, I pointed to our confirmation print out and the friendly soul beamed his Indian smile and chuckled – this train is running 4 hours late… 4 hours?! And here’s me having a coronary over being 3 minutes late.
When the train finally arrived, 4.5 hours later, we settled into our usual sleeper class carriage, on the upper bunk to stretch our long legs out. This train was an express to Goa with only a few stops, one of the first being Agra. About an hour in a fellow approached us and asked us for our dinner order. We hadn’t experienced on board food yet on Indian trains, only the delicious hawkers who alight at every station with yummy treats. Despite our order of two chicken biryani’s arriving about two hungry hours after ordering, for only 70 rupees (1 GBP) who’s complaining?
Arriving in Agra was sadly rather unpleasant. We had arranged a pick up from our friends Lisa and Leigh’s recommendation – the Saniya Palace Guesthouse. The first thing that hit us was the stench. This wasn’t just the smell of heat and over population – this was genuine open sewage that hadn’t changed in over 400 years. Piles of rubbish scarred every street; endless buffalo manure tainted every other step. The air was thick with pollution. Our hotel boasted ‘the best view of the Taj’ from its roof garden. We arrived just after midnight and as the Taj isn’t lit up at night like most tourist attractions, we couldn’t really judge the view. A faint shadow outlined that we were certainly close.
The next morning we awoke before what we thought was sunrise only to find that it had already broken. We brushed the sleep out of our eyes and made our way up to the roof and were very pleased to find an impressive view of the Taj.
Getting a good sunrise/sunset shot of the Taj was very important to Roscoe. We decided not to go into the grounds and instead scope around for a good vantage point. We felt the river would be right. Our Rough Guide told us you could charter boats for groups of people but none of these could be seen. Instead there was one guy with teeth blackened and destroyed by chewing tobacco who smiled and offered us his rickety wooden boat. He and Roscoe took a liking to each other and we made an arrangement to come back for a sunset boat ride.
Regrettably it was very hard to ignore the astonishing filth of the river. Just getting into the boat was difficult with the smell being so overpowering. The water could barely flow – it was so clogged with rubbish that the boat had to take extreme diversions just to miss huge blockages of dirt and sewage. We just had to keep reminding ourselves to look up and cast our eyes over this long awaited wonder of the world.
Our boat guide helped us get into the right angle and we marvelled at the perfect symmetry of the Taj. Shah Jahan’s love struck vision was utterly mesmerising from the river. The marble glimmered in the fading sun. Seeing the endless crowds inside the compound and then our perfectly quiet and rather romantic boat ride was incomparable. Roscoe got his shot.
The next day we went in to the grounds to see the Taj up close. Getting in proved to be extremely annoying as we happened to be on the side where in order to buy your ticket you have to take an overpriced cycle rickshaw to the newly built ticket office a mile away. Why on earth the Agra authorities thought this was a good idea when there is a perfectly placed kiosk right outside the entrance, I will never know.
Upon entering we were instantly aware of how clean everything is compared to the filth of just outside the gates. Everywhere is spotless. Walking through the arches and seeing that famous view of the water walkway and the incredible Taj at the end is a moment I will never forget. It took my breath away. It almost looks like a mirage – it’s too perfect.
We just couldn’t resist ending our day by getting back into the boat to cherish the sight of the Taj just us two.