Email sent 31st Jan 06.
Well the last time I emailed I was in Varanasi in India. It was fantastic, for me it was one of the highlights of India!
We stayed overlooking the Ganges on one of the main Ghats, it really was a perfect people watching spot! We were there for two festivals; the first a day when people travel from all over India to bathe in the Ganges and wash away their sin, it was fantastic! The second festival was the Indian kite festival; it was beautiful! The whole sky was filled with Kites of every different color. It is like a sport in India, Kite fighting! The aim is to use your kite to bring down as many other kites as possible!
We visited every single one of the Ghats in Varanasi, each famed for a different characteristic or purpose. There are 2 burning Ghats, where they cremate their dead. It was really interesting in a sort of weird morbid way! One of them is used for burning people of all religions and you can go right down to the ghat and stand and watch alongside the family (sounds disrespectful but I assure you it isn’t) and the second larger burning ghat is for Hindus only. They both go 24 hours and are really busy! It was interesting to observe all the rituals. Lots of old people go to the Ganges to die because if you die there you are released from the cycle of re birth. It is also the most prestigious place to be cremated. You could tell the rich people from the poor because the cost is based on the amount of wood used, each log is weighed near the river. The poor people only had a little bit of wood and so the body would not entirely cremate.
It was very hot and I was very tempted to have a dip in the ganges myself but after a boat ride along the river I learnt a lot about it. The Ganges is pretty much used for EVERYTHING! The Indians wash in it, drink from it, wash their clothes in it, and the ashes from the burning ghats and any left over bits are put in there! Also pregnant women, animals and babies cannot be cremated at the burning ghats and so the bodies are just also put in the ganges as they are!!!! Having learnt all of that I decided against a dip to cool off!
Next up was Calcutta (Kolkata). It started out as a complete nightmare!! Our train was delayed and so we arrived in town late evening with no accommodation booked. We walked round and round trying to find somewhere for the night but in the end had to settle with the store room of a guest house that took pity on us and were keen to earn some rupees! It was awful!! The most damp and dirty room I have ever stepped foot in, and we had to spend the night there! Never mind we got on with it (after lots of moaning on my part) and morning came soon enough!
Calcutta turned out to be a great city! We had been pre warned that it was going to be terrible and after our first night we were afraid the stories we'd heard were right but luckily it turned out great! We did lots of walking and saw all the sights! We also tried their Metro which was surprisingly modern! (Only has one line of 8 stops though so I don’t suppose they could get it wrong!).
The poverty was shocking but we had got used to seeing extremely poor people all over India. Calcutta has a really posh district called Park Road and so we decided to splurge for one night! We had a great meal and went for some drinks in a bar called 'someplace else!' it was fantastic! On the way home we had lots of street children attaching themselves to us begging for anything we had to give, it made us feel so guilty about the meal and drinks we'd had.
The problem was that you cant possibly give to every poor person in India, we would be skint already and canceling the rest of the trip. We bought a mother of lots of small babies and children a tin of milk powder (300 rupees!!! A nights room and dinner) but rather than being appreciative she just snatched it and ran and left us to be mobbed by every other mother on the street begging us to buy the same for them! It was terrible, we tried to explain to them that they must share but they had no understanding of what that meant.
After Calcutta we flew to Mumbai. We jumped in a taxi at the airport to get in to town only to find that he spoke no English and we were already speeding down the highway!! After lots of sign language and pointing at our map he eventually pulled over to a policeman who translated our required destination! It was hilarious! He just kept speaking at us in his dialect and we just getting speaking back in English!! We arrived at Mumbai at 8am but were getting a train at 11pm to Goa so we spent the day sightseeing and getting our bearings ready for our return to Mumbai days later.
The train to Goa was brilliant! We shared our small space with an old Indian woman who had packed her whole house and the kitchen sink and was attempting to pack it in to our already tiny sleeping space! And another couple from Mumbai who were hilarious! What with the old woman (whom we called Aunty) and the couple’s banter we were kept well amused for the full 12 hours!
Goa.... well. First impressions beautiful, white sand, blue sea, the hottest sun shine I have ever felt... etc. It was stunning. Unfortunately it was the Costa del Sol of India!! We could not believe that we were still in India! It was full of lager swilling, sun burnt, karaoke singing tourists! It was awful! Me and Ad have obviously become culture snobs! It was also too hot, we spent 2 hours on the beach and had to crawl in to the shade of a palm tree feeling completely drained!
Back in Mumbai we spent our last night at a hotel called 'Hotel Volga II'!!!!!!! I cannot believe that someone would openly name their hotel after its main characteristic and what’s more own 2 of them!!! But it was cheap and it had a roof! Our room was on reception, separated from the main desk only by a piece of plasterboard! Impossible to sleep!
Anyway that takes me up to our current destination... Bangkok!!!!!
I love it here! We are staying in backpacker city - Khao San in Banglamphu which lacks Thai culture but it is working as a great base for us. Thailand just feels so easy. After India we are having to learn to trust people and Adam is even a bit bored - missing the challenge! It is strange seeing things like supermarkets again - they do not exist in India at all, not even in the big cities!
Bangkok is sooooo humid, I’m having to adjust big time! We stepped off the plane at 7pm in to 32 degree heat!!! It’s sticky!
On Sunday we spent the afternoon and evening in China town celebrating Chinese New Year! It was great! Then Monday we saw the sights of the local area... Grand Palace etc. Today we went to see a place called Siam Square and Silom, we went to a snake farm, Jim Thompson’s house etc. Tomorrow we are off to Damnoen Saduk to go to the floating market! And then in the evening we are going to see some Muay Thai boxing!! (Debating what tickets to buy: ringside, betting area, or animal cage!!!) On Thursday we are off to Kanchanaburi for a day. Then Friday we are moving out of Bangkok and on to Ayutthaya for a couple of days (the second capital of Thailand). Then we are going to head further north to Chiang Mai for a few days. After that we are going to hurry north for the 14th to attend the infamous Full Moon Party and then spend the following 10 days Island hopping!!!
So that is the latest update! I hope everyone is well and not too sick of my group emails yet!
Thank you all for your emails, I promise I will reply to you all at some point!