Post 28 Last Thoughts!

40,214 miles 64,343 kilometres!

25 flights, 11 airlines.. all on time

13 countries

11 different currencies

11 Languages, some indecipherable!

A lot of amazing food, extensive use of chopsticks.

Amazing historical sights, cultural encounters and wonderful scenery and nature.

Being on Christmas Island and Cocos islands was magical.. truly in the middle of nowhere!

A few hitches with delayed luggage, lost passports etc but all were overcome with the help of kind people.

Choose your toilets wisely.

We had just 1 tummy problem and 1 insect bite between us in 12 weeks of travel, despite eating street food and in local cafes, and visiting jungles!

Careful planning, probiotics and good insect repellent pay off!

Everyone asks us these questions so we will answer them here!

Which was your favourite country?

Chris – 1. Vietnam 2. Australia 3. Sri Lanka

Anne – 1. India 2. Vietnam 3. Sri Lanka

Where would you most want to go back to?

Chris – Vietnam, Sri Lanka
Anne – India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and for both of us, always, Australia!

Anywhere you wouldn’t go back to?

Maldives and South Korea.. unless Menna and Jen were winning medals in the Paralympics!

Where was the food best?

Japan, Sri Lanka, India, Borneo

Best single experience

Seeing the Taj Mahal… for both of us!

Seeing Mt Fuji was a close second! Plus nature encounters like Leopard, Orang-utang, Wombat and crabs!!

We pushed our personal boundaries, visiting countries and cultures that were very different to any we had been to before.

Some places where English was a rarity and we had to use imagination in communication.

We were happy driving and navigating in some countries …but we would NEVER consider driving in others… notably Sri Lanka and India!

We were able to successfully master mapping systems, metro systems (including Tokyo), and Menus, and ate virtually everything we were offered, often without knowing what it was!

Japan has the most wonderful toilets in the world and has spoilt us forever more. If only chilly British campsite toilets had hot seats!

We never once felt threatened or unsafe.

Most people are very friendly and helpful.

Our age was not a barrier to anything we did.

Many cultures had experienced periods of violence, war and oppression. Their stories were humbling. But positivity and generosity shone through.

People are proud of their countries and what they have, however humble it may seem to us.

Often, the people with least were the most generous.

That there are many people who overcome enormous barriers in life… every one of those Paralympians deserves a Gold medal in our book!

This was a huge trip, and we know that we are very lucky. But exciting adventures can be had in your own neighbourhood. We marvelled at beautiful temples or a great view. But tiny things were equally special.

For me, the beauty of a shell, or life in a rockpool; for Chris, picking up a coconut on a beach in the Cocos islands, opening it and drinking from it like his dad had done, were really special moments.

For all of us, there are beautiful wonders and scenery within reach of our homes, we just have to make the effort to look for them and appreciate them.

We arrived home on Thursday night.

We spent Friday walking close to home on the Dorset coast path at Durlston near Swanage.

The scenery was as ‘Wow’ as anything we had seen on our trip (ok the weather was colder, but we did bring some sun with us as promised!). We also had another magical ingredient which we did not have on our trip. We were with Peter and Tracy celebrating Peter’s birthday. That made it extra special. This weekend we also get together with the whole family and close friends. No amount of travel can replace them, and we treasure them all.

Will we travel again?

Well, as Chris knows well, he married a nomad … I have planned at least 2 more trips while we were away on this one… closer to home this time, and in Boris!

But we know that the greatest treasures in this world are not things, but people and freedom.

Thank you to everyone who has followed these ramblings, supported us and been interested in what we do.

It has meant a great deal.

Now watch this space for the next trip!!

Bye for now. Anne and Chris x

All the photos in all the blogs are mine, and were taken with my phone, hence the variable quality!

Post 9 Kerala – ‘God’s Own Country’ in South India!

We landed at 10pm, were met by a representative and our new driver. As we drove to our hotel in Cochin they explained that Kerala is very different from Delhi. Less crowded, cleaner, and a 95% literacy rate compared to 65% in Delhi. Interestingly, it has been governed by a communist local government for years. However, they do have a lot of strikes, and one was scheduled for the next day affecting all tourist transport, protesting against a hike in fuel costs. Petrol is 69p per litre! We may not be able to leave!

Next morning our walking tour of Cochin is delayed to 11.00. A charming local guide, Peter James showed us the huge Chinese fishing nets, working on a cantilever system. Fresh fish abounds and is a key part of Keralan cooking.

He explained that Cochin was a key port on the Spice trading routes, first settled by Chinese, then Portuguese, then Dutch, then British. The Portuguese brought Catholicism, the Dutch were Protestant, and the British Anglican. In the state of Kerala they are 25% Christian, 25% Muslim, 40% Hindi 5% Buddhist, 5% the rest. It is a state where they live pretty harmoniously, and where women’s rights and respect are taken much more seriously than in other parts of India.

So on our tour we saw the oldest Christian church in India, plus the oldest synagogue in India!

Cochin is also where the 2nd BBC Marigold Hotel Documentary was made. One shop is taking full advantage!

The Cochin palace museum contained some amazingly rich painting from the 16th Century. We couldn’t photograph the best bits!

A lot of men here wear a skirt like garment called a Mundu. It can be pulled up short, dropped long, or flapped to aerate the nether regions!

Cochin is a charming, delightful place, and indeed a big contrast to the chaos of Delhi. But then we were given permission to leave for our 4 hour drive up into the mountains! Twisty and turny but remakably quiet due to the strike! We reached tea country and the Thekkady hills. Our best hotel of the trip so far, the Cardomom County, awaited. Amazing buffets … we tried so many delicious new Indian dishes.

Next day, a bird/animal safari in the Perygar reserve. The posters all show tigers… but chances are almost zero. And so they proved. (We were secretly a bit relieved…the tour was a combination of a tiny, completely open jeep, plus a brilliant guided walk! Neither ideal for meeting a tiger! We did see loads of new birds, monkeys galore leaping through the trees, and my favourite… Mongoose. Plus these gorgeous flowers frequented by humming birds and sunbirds.

Then, back in town a superb demonstration of Keralan martial arts – Kalaripayattu. Look closely at the fire picture.

Another great dinner buffet.. then next day a fascinating tour of a farm for Kerala’s king products…Spices. Did you know that peppercorn plants have no flowers… they have reproductive leaves which need to be washed by rain. Then back to the coast for a lovely 24 hour trip on a houseboat through the Alleppy backwaters. Chris has found a good way to get a cheap haircut!

We didn’t realise we had a whole houseboat.. with driver and house boy… just for us! He was a great cook…. included in the price was lunch…. afternoon tea with hot banana fritters! Dinner… and a huge breakfast! We feel guilty eating it, but it offends the cook if you leave it!

We travelled 40 kms through the backwaters seeing massive of birdlife and a way of life that has gone on for centuries. We tied up for the night by a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. Many houses like this one have no road access at all. No running water. The river is used for everything! We even saw people cleaning chicken and vegetables prior to cooking. Teeth cleaning, washing of self, clothes and dishes.

The small boats were for fishermen, and also they dived to the bottom and collected the mud for making pottery.

(Paul, Pam, Sue,Alan – I even chilled very happily! I reckon I could do a canal boat ….. for a weekend… with lots to look at…. and some nice stops!)

Finally, our last day in India was at the Marari Sands hotel at an unspoilt beach facing west across the Indian Ocean to Africa!

More great food… who were all those people who said we would lose weight in India… we have put it on!

We were anxious about coming to India.. health, security, poverty. We are so glad we came. We loved everything about it.

India is an amazing, vibrant, colourful place. It has its problems, but there is great optimism.

We would come back in an instant.

Tomorrow a new adventure beckons. 😀 xxx

Post 8 The pinnacle of our trip to the Golden Triangle.

Next day a 4 hour drive to Agra, punctuated by a stop at Fatehpur Sikri, a vast sandstone city and palace, built in 1571 by the Mughal Emporer Akbar. It was abandoned just 15 years later when the capital moved back to Agra. All of the exotic jewelled wall coverings were stripped away but the architecture is still remarkable, as were the insights into a way of life thankfully not practised any more… don’t get any ideas boys!Read on for more information!!!

This was the ministerial meeting house, and the pillars were carved from single blocks of Sandstone, with marble galleried bridges to each corner. Emporer Akbar had several wives… and 500 concubines!! They each had an apartment in this palace! See the rooms all around the courtyard.

Each of his wives had their own palace, and could reach the Kings bedchamber via a seperate route! He had what can only be described as an Emporer sized bed… try buying sheets for this!!

He then had a Dream Palace in a seperate building where he would meet with today’s favourite concubine! The downside was.. he had to buy them all lavish presents and jewels!

We then headed to Agra and the main event… the Taj Mahal. So much hype… so many opinions.. would it be an anticlimax? No Way! This should be on anyone’s must see list if you like to travel. It marks the end of a love story! The Mughal Emporer Shah Jahan saw a beautiful girl shopping in the Agra Palace bazaar. She was arguing with a shopkeeper and looked very beautiful. She was the prime ministers daughter! He went to the shop and asked which item the girl had wanted. The crafty shopkeeper said…” many things!”. So the Emporer bought the whole shop and presented it to the girl. After a 2 year courtship they married. He adored her. In 1632 , while giving birth to their 14th child, she died in his arms. Her last wishes were that he build her a mausoleum so he would never forget her, look after their children and never marry again. He kept all 3 promises. He commissioned the mausoleum in 1632. 20,000 workers and craftsmen built it of the finest white marble. At today’s prices.. £650 million! All of the craftsmen were paid an annuity to swear never to work on another building again! It is set on ebony posts in water. Firstly because ebony becomes stronger in water, and secondly because the wood would absorb shock from earthquakes. Similarly they built the minarets leaning slightly outwards so that in the event of a quake they would fall away from the mausoleum. Pretty amazing planning for 1632! Words truly cannot describe it. All I will say is that it exceeded all our expectations, was much bigger than I expected… (look at the tiny dots of people on the far away photos.. they give you an idea of scale), and gleamed in the sunlight. The inlay work is black onyx, lapis lazuli, Topaz and Cornelian. Even in the crowds… (7 million visitors a year! ), you could find a space and feel the magic of this place.

Breathtaking.

Then out for dinner with our guide to an Indian indoor BBQ restaurant.

It was awesome food!

Our hotel was a bit posh… with bathrooms a bit too modern for us! The blind came down a bit sharpish! Our last day in North India started with a visit to the vast Agra fort, built by Mughal Emporer Akbar in 1565, and continued by his son Shah Jahan, who built the Taj. Akbar..of the 3 wives and 500 concubines.. had rooms built here for them all. Some pictures below show the beautiful carving and inlay work. The ramp was so they could roll giant stones down on their attackers.. Indiana Jones style! This was the christening present of one of the princes. It is a huge stone bathtub, with steps in and out, and was presented filled with silver and treasures! A nice practical gift! Then, the drive back to Delhi, through thunderstorms and massive traffic jams due to rehearsals for Republic Day parades on Friday. Then our lovely driver insisted on taking us to lunch at his house. It would put us all to shame. He, his wife and 4 children (aged 11 – 20) were all charming. They cooked chicken biryani for us. Their son had cycled 4 miles to get the chicken! They got out the best tablecloth for us. In comparison with our lifestyles it was a very humble, small dwelling. A moving experience. The bed with their nephew! Lastly to the airport for a late flight south to Cochin in Kerala. 2 Veg curries on the plane..yummy! Met by our new driver who says there is a strike tomorrow!Hot and humid here. Up went the mosquito dome and we slept like logs. New adventures start tomorrow!

Post 7 Just when we thought it couldn’t get better….. Jaipur!

Jaipur is another ancient city. It is where the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is set, and the first BBC spin off series. Local people were very positive about the impact these have had on people’s interest and enthusiasm for India.

Off to the Amer fort at Jaipur. Built after 1592, high on a hill, it is surrounded by 12km of walls which undulate along the tops of the surrounding hills. Were the walls built to keep out attacking armies? No! Tigers and panthers we were told!

This is the huge, many stepped well, built over 400 years ago. The villagers could all get water at once, whatever the water level.

The fort is huge, with 4 huge courtyards, each with a different role. Each was more beautiful than it’s predecessor. The painted decoration was exquisite. A lime mix containing gum arabic was plastered on the walls. The colours were created by crushing semi precious stones like lapis lazuli, cornelian etc. These were painted onto the wet plaster which ‘fixed’ them.

The private chambers were breathtaking. Photos cannot do them justice. They were set with hundreds of pieces of shaped convex mirror glass brought from Belgium.

This is where the Maharajah’s wives would wait, and sprinkle rose petals down on him as he passed through the gate underneath, to welcome him home! Don’t get ideas Chris…although apparently, the nicer the petals, the better the presents!

Then we drove into Jaipur to visit the city Palace. Traffic jam!

The amazing ‘Floating’ gardens at the palace.

In Jaipur we first visited the astronomical museum. It was NOT what we were expecting. A vast outdoor space where, in the 16th century, the Maharajah brought together all the current astronomical and astrological knowledge and built huge instruments for measuring time, position of planets and constellations etc. They are magnificent. And accurate. The huge sundial is accurate to 2 seconds!

Then to the City Palace. More beautiful architecture from 17th century, plus a gallery of miniature art. Incredibly detailed paintings, created using a single hair on a tiny paintbrush.

A remarkable exhibit was a pair of solid silver flasks for carrying water. Read the notes… especially the weight! And then where they travelled to! He chartered an entire ship from Thomas cook for his family and 100 strong entourage!

Next, the huge palace of the Winds…which isn’t a palace at all. Simply a beautiful facade with corridors running behind the sculpted, vented windows. All of the Maharajah’s wives and other ladies would stand here, hidden, to watch parades pass by.

Finally, a walk around the markets, and a few photos that caught my eye during the day. We were shattered but elated by the end. What a place!

Heading to a christening!

Turban seller!

Family transport!