Welcome to the East Side

Woop! Woop! On to the sunny, gorgeous beaches of the East Coast.

Actually it had been raining incessantly in Cairns for the last 2 weeks so when we arrived and saw the weather report for glorious, baking hot clear skies, we were ecstatic. Our plan was to stay in Cairns for 2 days then move on but aiming to catch a different Whitsundays boat we cut our time down to a day .5.

Obviously when in Cairns you have to go to the Great Barrier Reef, so we booked on to the coolest sounding boat, Passions! When we arrived at the Reef Terminal we realised it was a popular choices as 80 backpackers were shepparded on to a medium sized catamaran… But the muffins and tea on entry made any worries about over crowding disappear.

In fact, the tour was absolutely awesome. The staff were really friendly, the food was good, the people were in a great mood and we went diving! Wooooh!!

We had no intention of diving on the tour but we were convinced pretty easily by Simon, one of the staff who remembered all 80 passengers names (I KNOOW!) To at least give the 5 minute trial a go… Well what’s the worst that could happen?
After being geared up and literally dragged to the water’s edge with the heavy oxygen cylinder on our backs, we ‘walked’ into the water to practice breathing with the oxygen mask.

I’ll be honest, it was pretty hard going getting used to breathing with the pump while on the surface of the ocean water. Funny thing is I was less scared about the process of diving than the actual worry of the fish touching me… Ye, I know, totally mental!

So, as I floated about telling our instructor that perhaps I’m not cut out for this, he suggested that perhaps he would take me for a swim and if I get used to the breathing we would consider the diving… Sounds fair!

Off we went; Rishi holding one of Simon’s hands and me the other! Haha…. Think Rishi kinda enjoyed it.. But before I could even consider the possibility of Rishi abandoning me for Simon, the views of the coral and amazingly colourful fish took my attention and I realised we were already a few metres underwater! Simon had been secretly taking the air out of our jackets without us even noticing. I blew my ears out and headed even further down. It was a phenomenal experience, like wandering through an incredibly interactive aquarium.

I got to touch some gooey coral, see a shark..-like fish, get up close and perhaps too personal with some stingrays and of course ‘find nemo’! Rishi and I were so excited and thrilled from the experience that we signed up for a second longer and deeper dive in the afternoon.. Unfortunately we just missed seeing a shark but who cares?! … We went diving! Wooh!

The rest of the boat trip was wicked too; sunbathing on deck, cheese and biscuits, tea and cookies and games and magic tricks! Definitely would recommend this tour and if you’ve never dived…. DO IT!! Nehal’s already promised to take me out diving again. ๐Ÿ™‚

Back in Cairns, we celebrated our super day with a Subway and Japanese style crepe in the night market. Food and well everything here is ridiculously expensive here, I mean water for ยฃ2.50, and this standard indian restaurant had veggie curries for ยฃ10!!.. Uuuuhh .. Nah!

Anywho, this morning we did a little Cairns sightseeing I.e. We wandered the esplanade with giant backpacks in stow and after a healthy lunch.. (ye right!) we’ve got on our 12 hour bus to Airlie beach.

The views on the Bruce highway are really stunning and we have a funny bus driver who is telling us stories and playing movies for us so overall a pretty good way to spend the afternoon! …

ย 7 more hours to go. Night, night.

Alice’s secret..

Welcome to Alice Springs… Uh stay indoors so you don’t get robbed, beat up or killed… Ok, ok it’s not that bad, as long as your back in your room by 9pm! Lol..

After arriving in Alice Springs, which actually has some gorgeous scenery so its shame about the bad rep, we headed into town to have a super quick dinner and rush back to our hostel before 7.30pm. It was quite nice to take a break, we chilled out and watched the film “Traffic” while being told by an Aussie from Melbourne that he couldn’t handle walking down many streets in his city because of the abundance of Indians. Lovely ei?

Don’t worry, Anj took care of him, with a firm “Do you mind, we’re trying to watch a filum?!” ๐Ÿ™‚

We made sure we rested up too in our “cottage” at Alice’s Secret Hostel… The secret was that the cottage, Aka a shed in the garden had more holes in it than… (I’ll let you complete that).. Suffice it to say we had to share our abode with Lord knows how many people peering in and of course a cockroach.. Good memories.. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anywho, the next day, we started our 2 day, 1 night tour early again, with a 6am pick up!

The first day involved a hell of a lot of driving again, to arrive to our first spot, the Rock, otherwise known as Uluru (the official and Aboriginal name for it)!

It is stunning. Uluru is one massive rock at 348m high, 9km in circumference, in a land where there is hardly any other rocks around it. The crazy thing is, this rock continues a mammoth 4km further into the ground!

That is one big stone. As we walked around (we respected the Aboriginals request not to climb it for their religious beliefs…not that everyone else does the same), and our tour guide explained the stories the Aboriginals have for the creation of this rock, it truly did bring it fully to life. I honestly can’t tell you how happy we were that we had a tour guide for that bit, as I don’t think we would have appreciated the beauty as much!

It is amazing to hear how the Aboriginals live with the belief of living in the now using the natural world for all their needs! No creation of materialistic belongings, no belief that anything belongs to them or living for the future! They believe everything belongs to mother earth and we should be there to look after and preserve it!

Anyway we ended the day watching the sunset over Uluru with a glass of Champagne (okay, okay…Orange Juice) and snacks!… Sweeeet! When we weren’t all being engrossed by the food, we did manage to watch the sheer magic of the whole rock change colours as the sun sets.

As if the day hadn’t been exciting enough, Anjali decided to have a shower! … Yeup, so unusual I know, I was so thankful… KIDDING! .. As she was showering, one of the girls pointed out there was a mouse cruising for chicks in their bathroom. (Apparently it was very cute!!).. For some reason, at that point she got the hell out of there! ๐Ÿ™‚ Probably because we’d been told we were more than likely see the mice in our tents anyway, while mini alligator type species would be resting under our tent. Niiice and cosy! Aww.

The next day was a 5am wake up to go in the search for wild Kangaroos and see the Olgas or Kata Tjutu! We saw one Kangaroo!

Gutted! Its better than none.. I guess. ๐Ÿ™

To be honest the walk through Kata Tjutu made up for it.

This is quite a tricky walk and infact one lady on our trip, fell and cut her head open, so had to be air lifted out! Crazy! Her husband told us he would have to fork out around ยฃ3G’s for this! We heard she was okay later, thank God!

Anyway the walk was amazing and when you reach the top, the view is out of this world! You look between 2 Olgas and see the sun rising over the backdrop. It is like it literally came from a post card! Stunning!

And that was it… the end of the road! Well apart from the exciting 6 hours coach journey back to Alice Springs with views of Mt Conner, the Mac-something ranges and a stop off for cheese toasted sandwiches!! Hmm.. (Can you tell Anj added that bit in? Hmm!)

A quick note, one thing we wanted to see, but didn’t have the time to go to on this tour was Kings Canyon (we actually thought it was on this tour), and the Mcdonald ranges from close up, so if you get the chance suggest you spend 4 days there and do it!

Also if you do make it out here to the Red centre, which is kinda more green at the mo.. Make sure you do the free digeridoo workshop… It’s jokes.. We both managed to get sounds of it.. Concerts coming soon to a busking location near you!

Anyway time to leave the Outback now and prepare for the beach part of trip! Bring on Cairns! ๐Ÿ™‚

The Ol’ Outback..!

So the time has arrived, Anjali and Rishi vs the tent! Okay let me rephrase Anjali Vs the Tent!

Yep you guessed it, we’re in Oz (Australia for you folk who don’t know) and we’re going camping in the outback!

We arrived in Darwin early at 5.00am in the morning, got shuttled to our Hotel (yep hotel not hostel), to then find we couldn’t check in for another 6 freaking hours!

So we decided to do what any normal people would do (NOT), go and have breakfast at the hotel buffet at 6am, sleep on our table, wake up at 10.15 and devour some more brekki before heading to our room. Nnoom nnnooom

That first day we kept as a complete chill out and sleep day to re-energize our batteries for the 6.30am adventure which would start the next day. Obviously interspersed with healthy eating, you know, Nando’s for lunch and Dominoes for dinner! Baaabbbyyy baaabbby!

So we were picked up by our intrepid driver/tour guide for the first of our two camping trips; 4 days, 3 nights traipsing around the top end.

The Top End, aka Kakadua, Katherine Gorge and Litchfield are amazing definitely but there was a hell of a lot of driving with the same scenery around of plain trees and forests. We occupied ourselves with looking for crocs and wallabys.. Especially as it was the end of rainy season meaning water was often higher than the bridges and so the crocs could be taking a stroll over the same roads we were!! EEK! Actually to be fair, despite the wildlife spotting and the tour guide’s chit chat, whenever I got on the 4×4 coach I would fall asleep (and so did the driver nearly a few times). Anj on the other hand had to do with twiddling her thumbs or watching me (even though she slept a little bit too).

We did see some cool stuff… The first stop, in my opinion was probably the best. We stopped at a crocodile boating experience (with “spectacular jumping crocodiles”). The crocs are scarily close to you and this is no Zoo, this is the real deal! We go to crocodile infested waters, with the most deadliest crocodiles, the saltwater crocs and offer them some meat on a stick, hoping they prefer that to us! And we don’t make it easy either, this boat is the only one where they get the crocs to jump out of the water to earn their meal!! And we saw some huge ones too, some at 5 meters in length!

What an experience. And to end it off they feed some wild birds, that looked like eagles, by hand…! Was superb and I can’t recommend the experience highly enough!

Another sight which stood out has to be the Katherine Gorge! With its stunning high winding walls, it is amazing to take a boat through (we did it in a speed boat :)). You can find many waterfalls everywhere and its beauty really speaks for itself.

I think some of the waterfalls in Lichfield park and the termite mounds (which were like 3-4 meters high) were incredible too. You could sit there for hours and take in the scenery! Really spectacular!

Other highlights over the 4 days, included climbing up 100m high rocks and seeing the vastness of the land. Plus understanding the aboriginal culture, which our guide was clearly passionate about, brought the whole place alive with the paintings found on rocks, in the wilderness everywhere which in some cases are over 2000 years old!

For me personally I felt privileged to have the opportunity to hand feed wallabys (mini kangaroos) and a peacock! I have to admit I love animals! And these were wild ones roaming around the fields, that I had to build up trust with first, to then feed! Was great! (Anji fed them too!! In fact she’ll tell u that she got closer to the wallaby with the joey sticking out of its pouch! So cute.)

Now before you all ask me, I know what your thinking, how did Anjali handle the camping?!

Well these camping sites in most cases were fairly clean, and apart from them having cold water for showering and frogs getting clean in there with you, they were pretty damn good!

The tents themselves were proper tents, but bigger ones so they could fit two camp beds inside. It was exciting using a torch again and being able to see outside through our see through tent walls. And apart from the odd horse neighing or chewing on our tent, we both slept really well. Though that could be because the “doodia” (insects) hardly showed themselves to Anj (well not in the tent at least – Phew)! I was really proud of her though! …

ย (zoom into the pic above… what do u see in the trees!)

So there ended our first camping trip…we’re now off to Alice Springs to start our second adventure. (If we make it that is..) We’ve been told Alice Springs is very dangerous at night due to loads of young drunkards roaming the city at night, fighting and robbing people…NICE!

See you there ๐Ÿ™‚

Go Rishi, it’s your birthday…

…Loose your luggage, its your birthday!

Okay okay, so we’re in Singapore, Anj had lovingly spoilt me and organized this part of the trip all for me! ๐Ÿ™‚

But after our flight over night, with 8 hour stop over, and after the usual couple of donuts, we waltzed down to the luggage area to find our bags missing!

GUTTED!

Would we get them back? Would we have to wear the same clothes for the next 2 months? Would we have to go shopping and buy a whole new wardrobe? What would we wear after a shower!?

After all these questions ran through my mind…we complained and received 80 quid to survive on for the day!

So off we went to Little India where we took a nice walk around and visited an amazing temple. It had incredible statues and carvings throughout, and we even found a poster advertising a talk taking place by Swamiji (Chinmaya Mission)! Small world!


We then trekked back to our hostel, hoping to discover our bags were back! And guess what they were! Shweeeeet!

So in other words we got paid 80 quid for our luggage to be delivered to our hostel! This was especially sweet since our hostel was on a steep hill, so we avoided the climb with our heavy backpacks!

Anywho, after getting ready and a wonderful meal at an italian restaurant, Anjali took me to this amazing bar right on the top of one of the tallest buildings in Singapore!


ย The views were spectacular, especially at night and we were there till 1 to celebrate my birthday (whoop whoop, I’m now 29). Really special place! Being the partay animals we are though (not), we headed off to the Clarke Quay clubs! Was buzzing with people and all in high spirits! Was a special night!

The next day (my birthday), we received a sudden phonecall from Kish! I couldn’t believe it! Kishan and Meera are ENGAGED! Soooo exciting! And an amazing proposal, which I’ll leave for them to tell the story! CONGRATS guys! (Even though Meera, you know Kish will still always be mine…especially when Brian Mcknights on!)

We then visited Orchard Road to roam the malls. This street is jampacked with shopping center after shopping center! Was a load of window shopping for me and Anj though (especially after the amount we spent in Japan) but it was amazing to see how multicultural Singapore is and how safe it feels to walk around!


Finally we taxied (with a guy who quite obviously was a tour guide in his previous life) all the way to Singapore Zoo! This is a MUST see in Singapore! The animals are not behind cages but actually out in front of you! It was like visiting a wildlife safari, but where you kinda knew you were safe! Amazing experience, filled with monkies, snakes, lions, giraffes, kangaroos, birds, elephants and much much more!

 

 

That finished just in time for us to speed back to little india for dosas, start following the world cup cricket final on our mobile phone and get ready to take our flight to Australia!

The worst thing was we actually got on the plane to travel to Australia just after India started their innings and lost there first 2 wickets! 31-2…crazy!

All I could do was sit there wondering! Did India do it? Are they gonna end their 28 year wait? Will Sachin get his hands on the trophy before he retires?

We landed to find they won! And on top of that Man Utd won, Arsenal drew! I literally wanted to jump up and down on the plane, as I waited to get off! I seriously had to restrain myself!

Overall my 29th Birthday was unforgettable! In one day my best mate got engaged, India won the world cup, Man utd extended their lead at the top, and Anjali spoilt me rotten! Thanks Anj for a wonderful day! (P.S. thanks to all those who sent me their birthday wishes too, I’m lucky to have you all!)

Mind F@*?

2 weeks in China… Enough for a taster of this vast country but probably no way enough to get under the rough skin and brash culture that hits you with shocking full force on arrival.

Having heard so much in the press about the growth of this poor but fast developing country and its comparisons to India, we didn’t expect to see the mass of high rise towers, superb roads, big brand boutiques let alone the speedy subway connection into the city centre. A far cry from India’s dirty roads and lack of pavements, Shanghai was a metropolis which many a western, developed city would be envious of!

We spent our 4 days in Shanghai drenched in rain but managed to see the key highlights including the Bund, the Qi Pun wholesale markets, Old Town and several movies as we rested in our room! Not sure whether it was the rain, the burn out from sightseeing over the last 1 and half months or being shouted at or shunned away by the local people when we asked for anything, that led us to taking a relaxed approach to this part of the trip. In hindsight, this was in its own way a fun way to spend our first few days in China.


The contrast between the westernised, modern exterior of the city with the people who spit everywhere and ANYwhere, push past you as if you were holding them back in a head lock and ignore you if you ask for help was an extremely frustrating factor in the trip. The reason for the title of this post was that despite the incredible rudeness we experienced from the Chinese people (my fists were clenched many a time, ready to knock them out, or at least try to); there were random acts of kindness which completely played with our perception of the people. We had asked for directions of someone who was passing us on the street and they had actually helped… That was shocking on its own, however, 10 mins later as we were continuing down the same road, we saw her running back to us to apologise and let us know she had made a mistake in her directions and it was another way we needed to go. Whoa! Would I have bothered to run back and find that person who I’d misguided?! Hmm..

We also have to give credit to the Chinese for their acrobatic talents; a cirque de soleil eat your heart out style show for ยฃ18 each was fantastically on point, elegant and enthralling. That sounds so posh… Basically, it was really great watching the people throw each other about, bend in ways unimaginable and fly about on pieces of material hanging from the roof with such style and for so cheap!

Of course, no part of the trip would be complete however without a visit to the markets. In true backpacker style, Rishi’s shoes had holes in them and mine were just cheap so the rain had no problem obliterating them (it wasn’t even THAT rainy). It’s ok though Rishi took me to buy some fake uggs 2 sizes too small for me for ยฃ4. Isn’t that sweet of him? And then we went and bought his shoes which were about 10 times the price of mine, from an actual shop, and the ass even managed to get them in his own size! The cheek!

Rested up and ready to see more of China we headed to Yangshuo. This is a gorgeous mountainous town to the west of Shanghai. It’s a completely tourist overrun town and so we loved it. They actually had a vegetarian Indian restaurant!! Soo good! We spent our 2 days here cycling around on a tandem venturing into the mountain area and taking a bamboo rafting trip down the river. The tandem was sooo much fun, I could just sit at the back while Rish pedalled and directed us around town! Kidding, I totally cycled… Don’t scoff! I did! Ask Rishi! In fact, when you ask him, also get him to tell you how he was in the middle of the fields with a Chinese guy’s arm around him!! Hmm!!

Evening activities here included walking around the markets interspersed with pole dancing bars… Despite my pestering Rishi to go to one of these bars, he insisted we go see this water show set in the Yangshuo mountains which was directed by the guy who did the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. It was in Chinese but the effects and the sheer mass of people in the show was immense. The views were phenomenal and so different when lit up so magnificently…A definite must see. We got the cheapest seats (negotiated 150 yuan per person including transfers) and don’t advise paying anymore as the views are more than good enough from these!

We moved onto Xian to check out the famous terracotta warriors. Spring had arrived as we arrived here, so China’s frustrations started to seem less aggravating or perhaps the people were just that little bit nicer… Whatever!

Anywho, being the history buffs we are, we knew that the terracotta warriors had been created as toys for the army to play with when off duty, right? … Uh no, ok, so we had no idea what they were for but knew we had to see them. The warriors are certainly impressive. Each carving has a different face, not to mention the horses and cows which are detailed and so life like. We discovered that this mass expanse holding the terracotta army was actually built as a mausoleum for a king. He was scared of the after life I guess?!

Xian otherwise was pretty chilled out, we managed to see the Jing Di mausoleum which was more like a star trek ship voyage with a holographic film showing the history behind it, the Bell Tower and Muslim Quarter and I cannot talk about Xian without mentioning the amazing pancakes at our hostel…

Despite visiting this walled city, we’d been recommended to visit Pingyao, another walled city where people still live like they used to back in the day…so we took an overnight train from Xian to Pingyao in a hard sleeper. Getting on these trains was an experience on its own. People are queuing up for these trains hours in advance with massive bags holding lord knows what. We were their entertainment, me walking to get water was just as interesting to them as watching Victoria Beckham put on another pout for the camera! Around 40 minutes before the train departs the gates are opened and the big push to get on begins. It’s kinda fun in an odd way. The hard sleeper ‘cabins’ themselves are little areas with 6 beds. We were ‘lucky’ because only the top bunks were left which means there is very little space between the breath coming out of your mouth and the roof of the train! I personally was happy with this as it means we aren’t disturbed by passing people or others sticking their feet in our face to climb up, instead we can stick our feet in their face! Hahahaha!!

Pingyao is a nice little town to visit. The whole place is inside a wall and the buildings are old school but to be fair it can get boring after a while! We skipped out on paying ยฃ15 each to see all the sights in town and instead had an afternoon nap after our tiring morning of cycling round on our tandem! Hey, its 8km all the way round, it doesn’t take that long to see!

Ready to move on pretty soon after, the next day we had another exciting journey by bus and train to Beijing. Firstly, we nearly missed our bus, but we got on one directed by the electric car driver who had taken us to the bus stop… As we sat there relieved to be en route, we suddenly hear shouting and pull up next to a truck where a guy is beating the driver senseless… We did what every good citizen around him was doing.. Sat and stared! Everyone had gathered around and obviously we had no clue what was happening plus the driver wasn’t even fighting back… After a short break to watch the ‘show’ we continued our journey to reach Taiyuan. This is where our mind really got fried by the bi-polar Chinese people. We tried to get a back to the train station from the bus station and managed to secure one with the guy shouting “meter, meter” at us. As we got in though, there was the driver and another guy in the front and the driver had locked our bags in the boot. We set off, slightly worried and noted how there was no meter. We kept shouting meter at him and he responded promptly by putting two fingers up at us… Nice! By pure luck, he got sick of us and told us to get out the car! Thank God! … O shiiit, our train was in just under half hour and there was no way we would make it by walking there. Thanks to google maps we knew which direction it was in. So after a few failed attempts at getting a cab, Rish asked a guy at a bus stand if any of the buses went to the train station. YES!! One did! We got on it and after a few seconds the guy says to us, “I made a mistake”… O FEEEK!! .. “There are too many stops you won’t make your train. I am going to train station too, why don’t we share a taxi”… Uh ok.. So we got out at the next stop and he hailed a taxi in seconds… Bit sceptical as to his intentions I worried that I only had a 50RMB note and the cab was 10, but in fact the guy paid for the cab and refused to take money from us. He was sorry he had given us poor information regarding the bus! … That was a truly amazing gesture of kindness and such a stark contrast to the cab situation we had only minutes earlier… I am aware that everywhere there are good and bad people, but the experiences in China had been so incredibly… Opposite? That we just didn’t know what to make of it.

Anyhow, we were so rejuvenated by the incredible gesture and high-speed train journey that we were actually looking forward to Beijing!!

The three days in Beijing were just superb! Of course, we did have our Chinese frustration moments, like being threatened by a rickshaw driver in the middle of the night as he blocked us from getting out and having photos taken of us without permission from 5 feet ahead of us but overall it was the highlight of our China trip.

The first day we visited the Forbidden City, Tianemann Square and the Temple of Heaven. For some reason, I’d been feeling anxious and kind of low that morning but with the sun out and the sights being so beautiful particularly the moat surrounding the Forbidden City, I awoke from that slumber to get back into the moment and enjoy the travels!

However, it was still niggling away at me and what really helped was the next day when we ventured to the Great Wall. It was a culmination of reading the notes sent by the lovely Kajal and Mitan from camp with meeting a couple of chilled out guys on the bus to and from the Wall that reminded me that anything is possible, I just need to chill the f*!? out!

There is a direct bus from Beijing to the Mutiyanu part of the wall (bus 936 from Donzimen bus station) which we got up super early for. Lo and behold, 1.5 hours later, the bus arrived and so did Kyle and Miguel just in time! Lucky lads! We spent nearly 4 hours on the wall, taking a ropeway up to Tower 6 and then walking up, over, and beyond Tower 23 where the wall is completely deserted and unrestored! Amazing. We were so incredibly lucky with the weather for Beijing and the Wall, with temperatures above 20c which is almost unheard of at this time of year! The wall, the views .. It’s simply spectacular. A real eye-opener to the capability of humans! You just have to take some time out on the wall to marvel at how cool and nuts it is!

We headed back down to Tower 6 and got on a Tabogan all the way down to the bottom! A great way to rest yourself cos you will be tired plus its fun!! Wouldn’t you rather slide your way down the mountain rather than walking if you could?! ๐Ÿ™‚

As we sat at the bottom, waiting for our bus after a tenderly prepared Subway sandwich (extreme sarcasm), we got chatting to Miguel and Kyle who were both travelling separately but had met in Beijing. While we told them about how I pretty much pre-planned most of our trip and they told us how they had hardly any idea how their trips were going to unfold and I panicked as to whether our bus would arrive while they made jokes about whether Miguel’s hand would gain full functionality again (he has massive cut down the hand and fingers held on by some contraption) … I promised that this part of the post would be known as ‘Three chilled out guys and the organised girl’ … Ye ok not the greatest thing you’d like to be known for… But it sums me up pretty well… the important bit was that I just thought bloody hell, these guys are out there doing what they want, following their dreams, open-minded to their future and they have one big-ass smile on their face! This really is what it’s all about!… I’m going to chill the hell out… God tested me on this promise to myself though. We went for dinner at a super posh vege restaurant, which we took ages to find, then headed to see the Cube and Bird’s nest lit up, which was closed 10 mins before we got there followed by a visit to the night market which closed 20 minutes before we arrived and then when I went back to the hostel to console myself with a pancake, the kitchen had just closed…. AAAAAHHhHH!!! Chill out, my ass! Why can’t things just go the way they’re meant to?! … Hmm, perhaps it may take a little time to undo the extreme planning I’ve been doing since I was a kid but at least it’s a start?!


Truth is, I’ve really summarised this experience for the blog but the moral of the story remains. Perhaps it may take a bit of time, but I can see the learnings from the people we’re meeting from the trip. Everyone is in your life or crosses through it for a reason and each of these people we’ve met on the way certainly has had a message for us or me… Either, we can take the lesson on and make a change for our own benefit or ignore it and have the same annoyances and frustrations bite you in the butt again and again… And I have to say I’m sick of getting bitten so am going to try my very very best to make those changes that I know are right for me! Just because you know what you should be doing though, doesn’t mean you are necessarily doing it and it sure as hell doesn’t mean you don’t need reminders along the way… And I’d like to say that’s where your friends and family come in. But I’ve been relying on that assurance too much… Having them tell you what you’re doing is right or wrong may give you short-term comfort but if deep down inside you don’t have that determination and courage, you will veer off track very quickly. You need to find that dream and FOCUS. This doesn’t mean you don’t take support from others around you.

I’m very thankful to my family, friends and Rishi but they can only guide based on the information they have at hand or their experiences. They don’t have the one thing that we’ve all been given, the compass, our gut instinct.


Thanks Mit for your inspirational chat on bbm that day btw! What I remember so clearly from those notes the Sachdev’s sent through was a reminder that EVERYTHING is ALWAYS CHANGING! So sorrow is only temporary and likewise joy. Remember that and endure it. I can plan all I want but there will always be change and if I don’t move with it and adapt, I’ll be back in that lost zone with no escape route visible….

And the escape route was visibly clear, it was our last day in China before we flew to Singapore. Rishi and I finished off the trip by going on a cycling tour through Beijing early in the morning and visiting the Summer Palace in the afternoon.. Seeing old people doing Tai-Chi in the park or going for walks with friends despite the chilly start to the morning was inspiring. We’re apparently going to get our cycles out of storage this summer and may even cycle to the shops instead of driving!! Eek! You’re all more than welcome to join us…

It was a great end to our turbulent journey through China.. A part of the trip we will certainly not forget any time soon!

P.S. No Chinese were harmed in this experience.

P.P.S. Seriously though, we do appreciate that just because it took us time to understand the culture in China, it doesn’t make their way or ours any superior to one another. It comes down to respecting their model of the world and taking it for what it is. Just because they do things differently is no indication of whether they are good or bad people. My P.P.S does not however cancel out how I felt through the whole experience. It’s just another lesson in life.

Dear Diary II – Post Japan

Whoa, so as we leave a day early from Japan, due to the massive 9.0 earthquake and risks of a nuclear disaster, there are a bucket load of thoughts running through my mind. So I decided it was time for a dear diary sequel (well actually a rant, so apologies in advance).

After seeing such catostrophic scenes on television, which looked like they were right out of the movie”2012″ and feeling one freaking heavy earthquake, it puts life into perspective!

The truth is we all bow down to mother earth and in any one second the world could destroy everything that humanity has created! How do you react to that?

Well, if you are a chyk, all of what I’m going to say is obvious, but it truly shows attachment to worlds materialistic possessions isn’t going to ensure you live a happy life…The 500000 homeless people from the tsunami can vouch for that!

Its time to take a fresh approach, and see life as an opportunity… an opportunity maybe not driven by JUST materialistic goals…the house and money are great things, don’t get me wrong…but isn’t living a life of self-fulfillment and enjoyment more important…

I mean how many times do we say “I really wish I could do that” to say either “but I can’t” or “later”. Well this is a wake up call to me anyway…get up and go get what you want…do the things you’ve always wanted to and appreciate life NOW! No excuses…coz you choose the directions you follow in the map of life, no one else does!

This leads me onto the people of Japan, who are without question, some of the nicest people we have come across!

And sometimes when you need help to achieve goals, these are the kinds of people you want in your life to set a great example for all of us.

To give you an idea of what I mean, this is some of things me and Anj, spotted along the way!

1. Whenever on a train, if an older person or people with children come aboard, one of the Japanese always gets up an offers a seat.

Yep I know you maybe thinking we have a seat for that in the UK, but how many people actually do it and show that form of selflessness when the train is busy?

2. They switch their phones to silent in trains, and never take a phonecall on the train. Now can you imagine that in london, where let’s face it we’re addicted to talking on our cell phones!?

They respect other people on the train! And it means you get to chill out and have a good conversation with others with you.

3. Eating on the move is not looked at favourably! If they buy take away, they stop somewhere and take the time to eat, rather than rushing their food as they walk!

WHAT’S THAT? You should take time out to actually relax and eat! Yep shocked me too!

4. Whenever we needed help, someone went out of their way to help us out…doesn’t matter if they couldn’t understand! They simply wanted to help!

And even if you went into a shop, and didn’t buy anything, the store owner still takes the time to converse, smile with you and wish you the best for your journey ahead! So nice!

5. After the tsunami and the quake, so many Japanese went to help their fellow country men.

And there was no looting, but a willingness to help others and share with others what they had, even if it wasn’t much!

Have to say that credit also has to go to the rescue workers from all over the world and those in the nuclear plant, risking their lives to save others!

This attitude, which I summarize by respect for others (others don’t have to EARN your respect, you already should have respect for others feelings and thoughts), kindness, politeness, selflessness and patience is something we all could demonstrate a little more of.

And on top of all that, taking time to savour the life we have with smiles and laughter is important!

That may sound cheesy, but to be honest, I don’t really care if being cheesy isn’t fashionable especially if it means we are living a life of happiness and bringing more happiness to others!

Its not easy, but I truly want to do more selfless deeds, with zero expectation in return!

Yes, even though we may say we already do that, do we really, or do we later get annoyed at someone and list all the nice things we’ve done for them in an argument, or expect that they should have been nicer to you?

That’s for you to decide.

I believe selfless helping will make our world a better place and is something we could all do more of!

Many people will argue against it by saying that they worry people may take advantage of you…well if you’re not expecting anything in return and are doing things for people out of the kindness of your heart, being taken advantage of doesn’t exist!

It doesn’t matter how they act towards you, because you have zero expectations back!

So there you have it, start appreciating and savouring life and what you have. Thank your parents, God, and whoever else you need to, for the life you have! And go out, do selfless deeds and live life to the full!

Coz in reality that’s all we have – the life WE CHOOSE to live!

Let me know your thoughts guys, drop your comments below!

Reacting with the nuclear!

“The nuclear power plants are having a few issues which are fully under control and pose no risk to the public”…. Switch over to bbc.co.uk…. “Experts are predicting that the nuclear situation in Japan is increasingly worsening and could possibly lead to a disaster like Chernobyl if not managed immediately… Only essential travel to Japan recommended.”

Right! Initially we thought that the UK media was blowing the Fukushima power plant situation out of proportion because let’s face it, the worse the situation, the more the interest… So we went along our merry way relaxing in Osaka…

It’s true there isn’t much to see there in the way of sights but it is a fun city to hang around in, eat good food, check out the shops and admire the Japanese youth culture… By that we mean, check out what the girls and guys wear here… Knee high socks are like a uniform and as for what you wear them with, the shorter the better and don’t forget the super high heels or over the knee boots… How disgraceful… I LOVED IT! Lol … To see more of the Japanese fashion statement check out D* (will check name). It was pretty fun here.

Apart from that, we ventured to Den Den, Osaka’s answer to technology town… Far from impressed… And hung around Umeda, the business side of town (well that’s what they said).. We were lucky enough to have booked a super cheap rate at a business hotel in this district, which we eventually found right behind ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ and next door to ‘Girl’s Bar’. Charming! Highly recommend it!!

That night in Osaka, we felt the room shake… Oi, oi, not what you’re thinking.. 3 days since the big earthquake, another earthquake hit near Tokyo but we felt it 12 hours away in Osaka… This was on top of the aftershocks being felt in Tokyo on an hourly basis. Despite me trying to convince Rishi it was probably a train taking a detour underneath our hotel (?!(@? He wasn’t buying it either) we knew that the situation was getting worse. The Fukushima nuclear plant was not doing so well in controlling its reactors either, with explosions unnerving everyone in the early hours of the morning.

Our parents (as well as friends sending messages stating bluntly ‘get out of Japan’) were obviously concerned and suggesting that we do not go back to Tokyo for our flight to China but either change it or just buy new ones from an airport near us instead. There was no point arguing anymore, going back to Tokyo didn’t sound safe (although we really wanted to)!

The hilarious irony was that the next day we were doing a day trip to Hiroshima. Yeup, where the first nuclear bomb was used on humans! The peace park has remnants of a building that was damaged by the nuclear bomb but overall is actually a beautiful park and hard to imagine what it would have looked like when the bomb hit. The museum however has some shocking images and depictions of the effect of that horrendous event. Think the pics below give an indication of how “effective” a nuclear bomb can be!

And this was technology over 50 years ago. I dread to think what new discoveries have been uncovered since then.

Walking through the place, my mind was flitting between anger at the effect of war… No-one deserves to have a nuclear bomb thrown on them but as posters in the museum admit, the Japanese were not innocent when it came to inflicting pain and suffering on other nations in that war either. So what is the need to kill people who probably did not even know what the war was for or sign up to be pawns in these evil game played by the leaders of their nations?… The other part of mind was worrying about the effects of the nuclear explosions a few hundred kms away from us if we went back to Tokyo… In these situations there’s no better solution than the fail safe “Daddy, help!”… My dad had been up since 5am calling the airlines and managed to get our flights changed so that we would leave a day early from Hiroshima instead of risking a trip to Tokyo.

Happy to be safe but sad to be leaving Japan early.

We spent our last day in Kyoto, enjoying the best chocolate doughnut (available in Kyoto station), chilling in our favourite hostel (Khaosan) and visiting our favourite indian restaurant (they had really good chai and kulfi!). (sorry for the funny pic Rish)


Sadly, we are leaving today and on our flight to Shanghai… Booo! Think we have really bonded with Japan, so much so that I feel I am abandoning them, not that I know how I would help. I hope that Japan maintains its beauty, its traditions and fantastic vibe… Without a doubt we will be back some day and next time it will be in cherry blossom season! ๐Ÿ™‚

Spending the night.. with monks!

What do u call a temple that serves beer?

Fukuchi-inn


We are not being rude, that was the name of the fabulous temple we stayed at, at the top of Mount Koyasan. The temple village takes 2 hours to get to by train, cable car and the bus from Osaka but is worth the trek to experience a night in an actual Bhuddist temple.


We selected our temple because you could book it online, they apparently spoke decent English AND they had an onsen… Another Japanese experience which you must do… So I thought we could knock em both out at once! Lol

For the steep prices you pay, you get a vegetarian Japanese dinner and breakfast and a very authentic royakan style room with tatami mat flooring and futons to sleep on. What shocked us though was that on arrival, after showing us to our room, the host asked us if we wanted a beer!!! Kind of didn’t know what to say, so informed them that we did not drink alcohol.. Ye that’s right, I got high and mighty with the temple monks! …

As we had got there pretty early, we thought we’d take advantage of no-one else being there yet and get into the onsen… Now you may be wondering, what of this onsen that I keep mentioning? Well, they are the Japanese hot spring tubs! Sounds pretty tame.. Yes well the main point which I’m shying away from (excuse the pun) is that you have to get in there naked! … The etiquette is that you shower up, very thoroughly, and then get right into the hot tub in your best birthday suit! … It’s supposed to make you more open and friendly to your fellow hot tubbers! Surprising ei? Before anyone asks, men and women’s onsens are SEPARATE! Sorry guys!

Anywho, after that fun experience, we wandered round the really pretty gardens, sat and enjoyed their zen garden before being served dinner in our room. It is a fun experience having a full Japanese meal served to you in your room where you sit on the floor and eat with chopsticks despite not having a clue what the difference is between one dish and the next! The food was surprisingly good but as expected most of the dishes (and there were a LOT of dishes) were composed of tofu. Rishi was in heaven!

Before heading off to an early night’s rest, we tried out a calligraphy class upon Rishi’s request… That was interesting.. Hmm…

The next morning in the early… early, frosty hours of the day, we joined the monks for their prayers… This is obviously great to see especially because the shrine was so amazing in the morning light but we cannot lie… By the end of it, both Rish and I were trying our best to stay awake and warm! Still highly recommend doing this though.

After our Japanese breakfast, we did consider another dip in the onsen, but thought we’d shared and experienced enough so went to wander the town.

The other temples are good to see.. Pick and choose though as there are many.. However they do not compare to those in Kyoto.. My favourite temple, which is the main sight to see here in Koyasan has to be Eko-in (check name)… It is actually a cemetery temple, so after we walked for 2km through the garden of graves

… surprisingly beautiful… we found the temple. The temple is there to protect the tomb of a person who is said to be the only one who will be able to translate the teaching of the next Bhudda to the world. He may be in a tomb, but is not dead, merely meditating. It is a stunning temple with a big gold tables, covered in gold plates and other gold decoration all lit by candles and from the middle you can see through to a gold Bhudda and the tomb. But best of all was the vibe inside which made it phenomenal. We were there when the monks were praying and you could just feel the fantastic energy. Definitely do visit!

 

Snacks and Tsunami

It’s been a while since the last post… I could blame it on the 5th largest earthquake in the world and the consequent tsunami that swept Japan just a few hundred km north of where we were based but I would be lying…Yes, the craziness that ensued from those devastatingly spectacular events did lead to us changing our plans slightly but the truth is we were too busy to write the post because we were loving every bit of this trip.

We arrived in Kyoto in the evening to our fabulous hostel based just off the main shopping area in the city centre. We had booked a twin room as it was cheaper (aren’t we being good backpackers?) thinking it would be two beds next to each other… It wasn’t.. We had a closet for a room with bunk beds.. Still we were happy. The hostel has a big but cosy kitchen/ lounge area which we literally had to drag ourselves from to go sightseeing every morning and the shared bathrooms and heated toilet seats were super clean too! That evening, we had our first taste of Japanese food at a little alley way vegetarian restaurant which I’m sure was breaking several health and safety rules all at once, but it was totally worth it!

Our first full day in Kyoto we visited Nijo castle and the temples in North-east Kyoto including the famous Golden temple (Kinkakuji temple)… All the sights were beautiful with each temple having its own personality and reason for deserving a visit. Our favourite temple on this day had to be Ryoanji with its zen garden..

You actually felt this amazing serenity as you walked into the garden and sat and stared at the 15 purposely placed rocks. The gardens there were also really lovely and we can only imagine how gorgeous the place would look with the cherry blossoms in full bloom!

The highlight for Day 1 however without a doubt was the bamboo forest in the cute little town Arashiyama.. Check out the pic!

Ok, Rishi is looking at me as I write this and saying, “don’t you mean it was the cake roll or the best mango ice-cream” (with real mango bits in it!!)? And he is probably right, my snacking throughout Kyoto MAY have taken more importance than the sights!! But how can you help it when there is a new random dessert concotion at the entrance to every new temple?! It’s rude not to try the local treats!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anywho, thinking we’d seen some very cool temples, day 2 we set out to follow the Lonely Planet Southern Higashiyama walking tour… The first temple, perched on top of a hill was cool (Kiyomizu). There was a ‘game’ there where you walk with your eyes closed from one stone to another and if you make it to the second stone and touch it, it means you will have find love with ease… Did we reach the other side? Did I touch the stone? Did Rishi touch the stone?… I’ll leave you guessing! ๐Ÿ˜‰

The walking tour is good mainly because of the village streets you walk past and the opportunity to Geisha spot (I’m pretty sure our Geisha’s were dressed up tourists, but we got some pictures which is all that really matters, right?!)

Overall though, we wouldn’t say the walk is a MUST do… It was made more appealing though because we chanced upon a ‘snackerie’ (my name for it) which had hot buns with ice-cream inside them. This served well as my snack for the day.. Well until our next snack of pizza crepes (see snacking pics above)!! Yuummy…

As it was an early end to the day, we went back to our hostel thinking we would do our laundry but instead spent the afternoon chatting to other travellers and anihilating a full pack of biscuits with tea in the space of minutes!! CooookiiiIiieeee muuuuunsstttaaa… Nnnnom nnnnooom nnnoooom!!! I think it’s the times when you sit around doing hardly anything except meeting and talking to random people from across the world that actually makes journies like ours that extra bit special .. And fun! ๐Ÿ™‚

Templed out by now? Don’t be silly, Day 3 was Philosopher’s Walk.. Again, what else can I say except it really is so beautiful. You walk along a cherry blossom lined canal and along the way there are tea houses and some temples.

The first temple (Ginkakuji) housed Rishi’s favourite gardens. We also enjoyed exploring Nanzenji where we wandered into a factory behind the temple and also found a mini temple on top of the mountain…

Little did we know but at this time, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale had shocked the peace in north-eastern Japan and triggered a tsunami roaring on to its shores… It was only after we reached Fushimi shrine, a very different type of temple most famous for the hundreds of red tori-gates lining a path up into the mountains, did we realise what had happened as we bumped into a lady from our hostel who told us the news…

This may sound odd, but from around 3 o clock through to our time at this creepy temple, which has growling dog statutes and crows in its gardens, we felt this peculiar, restless feeling… Whether that has any meaning I don’t know but it isย certainlyย coincidental.. I’ll keep that open..

Thank you to all those who messaged us to check we were ok! …To be honest, we thought it was just another earthquake. There had been a smaller one (7.7 on the scale) in Tokyo a week earlier but you wouldn’t have known as everyone carried on life as if nothing had happened. We assumed this would be the same… However, watching the devastation and destruction on the news (as I’m sure everyone saw around the World) you could only be mesmerised by the sheer power of the seas and be thankful that you were not at its mercy in this situation. Despite being in Japan you felt helpless, there was nothing we could do to aid those suffering from the onslaught of the seas, so we sat with the others and just watched!

[Will try to add video of tsunami coverage]

We were still in Kyoto the next day and it did take us some time to psyche ourselves up for exploring given what we were hearing about the number of missing in the north and the constant aftershocks taunting Tokyo. However, we eventually got ourselves out and visited Sanjyu sangendo, which Rishi had been ooon about the whole time.. It is a totally different temple. It’s in the city centre so the gardens are basic to say the least but inside the temple there are hundreds of gold statues, many of them with sanskrit names as they are apparently taken from Indian culture!! The Bhudda here is most likely the nicest one we have seen (as yet)…

Spurred on by the beauty of this temple we decided to leg it to Nara (a nearby city), armed with our lonely planet and a sumptuous chocolate doughnut. (Mouth watering).. This is a popular day trip destination because it has the largest Bhuddha statue in Japan. It really is huge.. And also most of the historical grounds are set in a deer park.. The deer wander freely with you… So Rishi fed them biscuits, one by one…awww… My attempt was slightly less elegant than Rish’s, in that I screamed, ran away and threw the biscuits to the floor.. Still counts as feeding, they ate them!! (see videos!!)

Right, anywho, while we were in Nara there was a massive festival happening to bring good luck to the new year ahead. (Spring marking the start of the year).. So we stood for 3 hours, out in the cold so that we could watch a monk light a humongous broom stick (that’s what it looked like to me!) And run with this broom across the top balcony of the temple spraying the firey bits onto us watchers… Hmm… Ok quick positive perception of the 3 hour agony.. Uh, we will take from this the appreciation of the Japanese culture?! … Lol ๐Ÿ™‚

Unfortunately, our time in Kyoto was up and the next day we were heading down to Mount Koyasan…

Reading back on the above post, there is still so much to add, like the rice balls we ate from the street stalls and the disney world style monorail through the city plus the indian thali restaurant not to mention the toast and tea breakfasts we made by ourselves in our hostel!! I knoooo!! Hmm, does seem to be very food related… But my point is that I don’t think I can fully summarise the little things that we did or saw that made this part of the trip so much fun… The vibe is so phenomenal here and throughout Japan that you can’t but have a great time…