Archive for February, 2012

Vietnam/Laos planning…

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Hong Kong, Preparation, Vietnam

04/06/12 London – Hong Kong

3 x nights at mates house and city explore and border area

07/02/12 Hong Kong to Hanoi (Vietnam)

24 hours, Overnight sleeper bus to Hanoi £30-35

2 x nights in Hanoi @ £4/5 a night

10/02/12 Hanoi to Halong Bay – via Haiphong

Train from Hanoi to Haiphong £2/3 then bus to Ha long Bay £2/3

4 x nights in Ha long @ 5 a night

Kayaking, hiking, camping, sun bathing!?

14/02/12 Halong Bay to Cat Ba Island

Ha long Bay to Cat Ba Ferry £4/6 one-way

3 x nights @ £5 a night

17/02/12 Cat Ba Island to Ha Long Bay to Hanoi

Ha long Bay to Cat Ba Ferry £4/6 one-way

Bus from Ha long Bay to Haiphong £2/3, Train from Haiphong to Hanoi £2/3 then

17/02/12 Hanoi to Vientiane (Laos)

Overnight sleeper bus £20/25 24 hours

3 x nights in Vientiane @ £7 a night

Shooting range, elephants, Luang Prabang (32 temples) and boat trip?

21/02/12 Vientiane to Vang Vieng

Local bus £3/5, North for 100 miles in 3 hours

3 x nights in Vang Vieng @ £2/3 a night

Tubing, trekking and kayaking: LV Natural Tours, Xplore Asia, Paddling Adventures

24/02/12 Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang

Early morning local bus £3/5

2 x nights in Luang Prabang @ £2/3 a night

26/02/12 Luang Prabang to Vientiane to Hanoi

Local bus 3 hours, followed by 24-hour overnight bus £20/25

1 x night in Hanoi @ £4/5 a night

27/02/12 Hanoi to Sapa – via Lao Cai

Train from Hanoi to Lao Cai £2/3 followed by bus for 38 miles

3 x night in Sapa @ £3 a night

RED DRAGON PUB (AN EGLISH COUNTRY PUB), mountain climbing, trekking

01/07/12 Sapa to Hanoi – via Lao Cai

Local bus for 38 miles from Sapa to Lao Cai, followed by train to Hanoi £2/3

02/07/12 Hanoi to Da Lat via Nha Trang

Local bus to Nha Trang followed by train from Hanoi £50

3 x night in Da lat @ £6 per night

Mountain town, views, trekking, etc

05/07/12 Da lat to Hanoi via Nha Trang

Local bus to Nha Trang followed by train to Hanoi £50

1 x night in Hanoi @ £4/5 a night

06/07/12 to Hanoi to Hong Kong

24 hours, Overnight sleeper bus to Hong Kong £30-35

09/07/12 Hong Kong to London

1am in the morning (so really evening of the 08th July!)


So, after witnessing my first outdoor human cremation on huge log funeral fires I have discovered another mode of disposing of the dead.

The Zoroastrians basically believe that the burning of bodies or burial of bodies into the ground undermines their belief that fire and the earth are ‘holy.’ Therefore when one of their kind passes on the leave the body in huge towers called TOWERS OF SILENCE, where they are left for soaring buzzards and vultures to shred the skeleton all flesh, muscle, sinew, etc. The bones are then exposed to natural decay and decomposition.

To preclude the pollution of earth or fire, the bodies of the dead are placed atop a tower—a tower of silence—and so exposed to the sun and to birds of prey. Thus, “purification with all its concomitant evils… is most effectually prevented.”

For health and religious reasons one can not just wonder round these towers, nor would one want to, although the birds make short work of the bodies so the smell is limited. There is also an abundance of spices, incence and perfumes in and around said area to avoid unwanted wiffs and pongs… although sites are generally on the outskirts and away from main populated areas.

The lonely planet describes the city by way of a rich and colourful set of cooking instructions,

Measure out: one part Hollywood; six parts traffic; a bunch of rich power-moguls; stir in half a dozen colonial relics (use big ones); pour in six heaped cups of poverty; add a smattering of swish bars and restaurants (don’t skimp on quality here for best results); equal parts of mayhem and order; as many ancient bazaars as you have lying around; a handful of Hinduism; a dash of Islam; fold in your mixture with equal parts India; throw it all in a blender on high (adding generous helpings of pollution to taste) and presto: Mumbai.

Or as a weiry backpacker put it,

I prefer Mumbai to Delhi, cleaner with less litter, more interesting and fewer people p**sing in the street, but it does smell of fish ALL the time you know…”

It is also describes as ‘London on acid’ which is my personal favourite and it isn’t hard to see why! Although set in a wonderful sub-tropical setting, it could be 1950’s London, with colonial banks, Art Deco facades to residential blocks, Victoria station (which is the spitting image of Paddington or St Pancras), offices, designer shops and red double decker buses.

My walking tour of the city took me to,

Gateway of India

A yellow basalt Gateway of India arch faces out to Mumbai Harbour, built to commemorate the 1911 royal visit of King George V. It was completed in 1924: ironically, the gateway’s British architects used it just 24 years later to parade off their last British regiment, as India marched towards independence. Giant-balloon sellers, photographers, beggars and touts rub shoulders with Indian and foreign tourists, creating a vibrant bazaar feel.

Colaba Causeway

he unofficial headquarters of Mumbai’s tourist scene, a bustling district packed with street stalls, markets, bars and budget to midrange lodgings.

Victoria Train Station

The train terminal building, designed by Frederick Stevens – completed in 1887, is a combination  of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles mixed together to form an imposing, Daliesque structure of buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained-glass windows.

Bombay University

Built to ape a  15th-century French-gothic masterpiece, was constructed by Gilbert Scott – whose other buildings include London’s St Pancras Station.

Prince of Waled Museum

This neo-Gothic building 1848, in the ‘boom years’ for construction, inspired by a German castle.

St Thomas’s Cathedral

Opened in 1923  it was also built George Wittet, who also did the Gateway of India, to commemorate the visit of King George V’s visit back in 1905 – while he was still Prince of Wales – is a fusion of Islamic, Hindu and British architecture displaying a mix of dusty exhibits from all over India.

Marine Drive

A pedestrian walkway built on land reclaimed from Back Bay in 1920, stretching from Nariman Point past Chowpatty Beach to the foot of Malabar Hill… a LONG walk in the sun!

Chowpatty Beach

A walk along the beach through the many beachside stalls you can part take in some bhelpuri or even get a head massage.

Malabar Hill

Mumbai’s most exclusive neighbourhood of sky-scratchers and private palaces for the city’s social and economic climbers. In the centre of the exclusivity is the,

Banganga Tank is a precinct of serene temples, bathing pilgrims, meandering, traffic-free streets and picturesque old dharamsalas (pilgrims rest houses). The wooden pole in the centre of the tank is the centre of the earth – according to legend Lord Ram created the tank by piercing the earth with his arrow. The classical music Banganga Festival is held here in January.

Omelette Man – Jodhur

Posted: February 10, 2012 in 2011 Winter - India, India

This man has been making and selling omelettes since the 1970’s. Same corner next to the clock tower, same wok frying pan and a couple of crappy plastic chairs… his omelettes are truly sensational!

Whist in Jaisalmer I happened across their annual desert festival, a mixture of camel racing, moustache competitions, turban spinning, Rajasthani singing, music and dancing… all out the the Sam sand dunes. It was quite funny really as I had no idea it was on while others had apparently flown across the world specifically to see it!

Jaisalmer is a giant sandcastle with a town attached, an emblem of honour in a land of rough and tumble

Travel about as far north west as you can go, before you get to the Pakistan border and the end of the line – so to speak on the train – you arrive at Jaisalmer, the town in the desert.

The medieval fort (built in 1156 A.D.) seems to grow up into the horizon out of the sand itself surrounded by 99 massive bastions enforced foundations! Within the walls a maze of narrow streets, wandering cows, street vendors selling pashminas and rugs in every colour, leather bags and shoes and sand stone havelis (houses) in various states of disrepair and construction…

First stop Salim Singh-ki-Haveli, the most famous house outside the fort, once inhabited by Salim Singh, the prime minister when Jaisalmer was the capital of a Royal state. Now 300 years old, despite rather tatty interiors and deterioration of sections of stone work, it still strikes a impressive pose (I think the expression used is curb appeal) on the main thoroughfare to the Fort’s main entrance.

Inside the fort an impressive Jain temples dating from the 12th to the 16th centuries.

Amber Palace – Jaipur

Posted: February 4, 2012 in 2011 Winter - India, India

Next stop is the Amber Fort, 6 miles north of Jaipur, perched on a hill top…

The aesthetic ambiance of this formidable fort is seen within its walls on a four level (each with a courtyard) layout plan in well turned out opulent palace complex built with red sandstone and marble consisting of the Diwan-e-Aam or the “Hall of Public Audience”, the Diwan-e-Khas or the “Hall of Private Audience”, the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over the water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Palace

 Sheesh Mahal/Mirror palace (left) and Zanani Deorhi/Womans’ courtyard (below)

The views of the valley below were truly stunning.


Day time 25°C