India (2) – Nepal (1)

Monday 3rd August

Drove to Delhi, arriving at the home of Dr S’s brother (a dentist) about 2:00 p.m. His son, Anoop was in, and took some of us off shopping. We wanted to buy a shock-absorber (didn’t get one, but got ours partly repaired) and I wanted to buy a sitar. I had originally intended to go to Ricki Ran, where all the famous people buy their sitars, but Anoop suggested a smaller place where I would not have to pay for the name. I found out that one does not just go in and buy a sitar – one chooses a blank instrument and then specifies exactly what one wants in the way of decoration, colour etc.. Very difficult to imagine what it will look like in the mind’s eye, but I hope mine will be fairly simple – and I can certainly say it was made specially for me.

We had great discussions in the evening as to what to do next. George decided to go back and stay in Chandigarh and look round there with his friends. The remaining five of us decided to go on to Kathmandu – originally by train (because of wear on the van), but when we were told (by the Indian AA) it was a very good fast road we decided to drive.

Tuesday 4th August

Spent the morning writing letters and shopping. Had a small lunch, then set off for Agra, reaching it about 6:00 p.m.. Naturally we drove straight to the Taj Mahal. It was superb – photographs just do not do it justice. The whole building is in marble, and it is much bigger than we thought. Even the windows are carved lattice marble, and the whole place is intricately carved inside and out, carvings which don’t reveal their complete pattern until you are only a few feet away. The effect was also heightened by an incredible sunset to one side and a thunderstorm to the other. Indian thunderstorms are quite something. The thunder is much more frequent than in English storms, sounding more like steady gunfire, and the lightening is like a slow stroboscope. We spent the night on the veranda of the Taj Restaurant, and got very bitten by mosquitoes (over 400 bites for me). We are getting used to the bites, however, and they don’t itch nearly as much as they used to.

Wednesday 5th August

Set off on the road to Patna. It turned out to be a very bad road, and we didn’t get to Kanpur until the afternoon. At this rate, Kathmandu would have taken three or four days, which we didn’t have. We eventually decided to split up, with Mike and the two girls taking the van back to Chandigarh and Malc and I going on to Kathmandu. We eventually decided to fly from Benares, which meant taking a train from Kanpur (dreadful town, used to be Cawnpore, impossible to find anywhere in it) so we caught one that evening. It was incredible, straight out of John Masters. We travelled 3rd class, naturally, but were lucky enough to find a reserved compartment with two spare seats, which meant we were not too crowded. Reached Benares about 4:00 a.m. and kipped down on the platform (which was already covered in sleeping Indians, as were all the platforms we saw).

Thursday 6th August

After about an hour’s sleep I woke, so had a cup of tea and wrote journal until the others woke (Malc and I had bumped into some other English people). The tea here is quite expensive, at least to foreigners, about 3d a cup, but it’s very handy on the train as whenever it stopped people would walk the length of it outside selling tea, bananas, cigarettes etc..

Took a rickshaw (tricycle type) to the Indian Airlines office, to buy a ticket straightaway, and found out that we did not have quite the right papers for a 25% discount (50% for internal flights) – so £10, which was annoying. Decided we didn’t have time to look round Benares, which was a pity, and went straight to the airport. An hour’s flight later we were in Kathmandu. Didn’t get much of the famous view of Kathmandu valley as it was too cloudy.

 

Went straight to the Tourist office, got some maps, booked in at a hotel (4/- a night each for a bedroom with private shower and loo) and then looked round town. It’s an odd place – magnificent wood carvings on the houses, and full of temples, but everything is in a rather sorry state of neglect. We were a couple of hundred years too late. We discovered that this is definitely the cloudy season, so we decided not to go on to Pokhara, where we had planned to enjoy some of the best views in Nepal. However, to partly make up for it we discovered that hashish is legal here, and sold in shops, restaurants etc..

Friday 7th August

Spent most of the day window-shopping and eating. There’s a very nice café cum restaurant next door to our hotel that serves such delicacies as a variety of pancakes, porridge etc.. We also found some Tibetan beer, which is a pale milky fluid tasting of yeast.

Saturday 8th August

Spent the morning looking round Swayambhunath, which is a large Hindu-Buddhist temple a couple of miles outside the city on top of a little hill. It is also called the Monkey Temple, for a lot of monkeys live there. Apparently this temple is typical of the unique Nepalese way of having Hindu and Buddhist deities side by side in one precinct. The hill is covered with a marvellous open wood, which is full of monkeys and statues.

Sunday 9th August

Had a really lazy day, for it was raining and Malc was spending the day in bed with the runs – how grateful we were that we’d found ourselves, accidently, in a hotel with private loo. I spent the day in the café, eating and smoking – in fact getting through the equivalent of 4 full meals. That’s what comes of eating hash cakes and ganja tea – it just makes you hungry all over again! Amongst other things I tried the “Buff Humbeger”, assuming it was a beef hamburger. It was a hamburger all right, but the meat was water buffalo! It was fine.

Monday 10th August

Went up to the British Embassy and got Malc and me certified to prove that we were students. It didn’t really, because an English guy, Jerry, who had walked up there with me, got one, and he isn’t a student. Jerry was Jerry Desmonde, son of the Jerry Desmonde who was Norman Wisdom’s straight man. He was full of stories, for he had just spent a month riding a horse round the Hindu Kush and another month walking around the Chitral area.

Malc and I were planning to fly back, so after finding out that Indian Airways were full for the next 10 days I got a couple of tickets to Delhi with the Royal Nepal Airlines. With the 25% student reduction and some black-market Nepalese rupees the price dropped from £22 to £13 each.

Tuesday 11th August

Malc was feeling well enough to go out, so he, Jerry and I spent most of the day wandering around the Monkey Temple. Ate some mediocre Chinese food in the evening.

 

 

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