the biggest and longest adventure ever

My biggest and longest adventure has come to an end. Unfortunately it ended a little earlier than planned, due to new Indian Tourist Visa regulations, but it is wonderful to be home. I have missed out on a few key Indian experiences like visiting the Taj Mahal (is there anyone else in the world who has been to India and not seen the Taj?), sailing down the Ganges or visiting the ashram that the Beatles went to in the 60s, but that just means that I will get to go back to India next year.

And when I think about the experiences I did have over the past seven months….wow. Hiking through the Himalayas, flying through the tree tops in Chiang Mai, diving in the Red Sea, floating on the Dead Sea, living with a Nepali family, working in a Nepali health clinic, bathing an elephant, chanting with monks in a monastery, hearing the Dali Lama speak, visiting the Pyramids on new years day, being in Petra for my birthday, getting to know the locals on the Indian trains, being part of countless Hindu festivals, spending time with the slum women of Bangladesh, sleeping under the stars in the deserts of Egypt and Jordan, and I could go on forever with the amazing things I have done and will never forget.

So, my blog is at it’s end as the reality of work and normal life is nowhere as exciting as a travel adventure. Hopefully the blog will start up again one day when I’m back on the road, until then, thank you all for tuning in. Now I will tune out xx


memories and dust

For the past week I’ve been sitting in the passenger seat of Mohammad’s car while we drive from the northern town of Jerash down to the Red Sea port of Aqaba. That is just about the whole stretch of Jordan, that is about 350km. It’s not a big country but it has a lot of history.

Jordan has been ruled by Persian, Turkish, Babylonian, Islamic and Roman Empires, it was part of Pharaonic Egypt, some important stories from the bible took place here, it was founded by the Nabataen people who left Petra as evidence and this is all just a fraction of what has happened there over the past 2000 years or so. When I was exploring the sites I was reminded of the British Museum and how they have artifacts from all sorts of places and put them all in the same room, a mismatch of antiquities, this is kind of what Jordan is. Roman columns next to Moses’ memorial next to Lawrence of Arabia’s house next to the caves and tombs of Petra. It’s so interesting.

I started my tour of Jordan in Jerash. This town has the largest Roman ruins in the world, Rome has modern buildings popping up in between all of their ruins so they are discounted. The ruins in Jerash are beautiful and amazingly well preserved despite the twice daily chariot race and gladiator show held among the ancient columns.

Madaba was next, home of ancient mosaics. I found myself suffering from mosaic fatigue pretty soon after arrival, but was still suitably impressed by seeing the massive mosaic map of Palestine, laying on a church floor, puzzled together by one priest in the 6th century. Unbelievable.

From Madaba I walked up Mt Nebo to the place where Moses died. As an nonreligious person it was fairly unremarkable, aside from the misty views into Israel. So I hiked back down and headed to the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea has a 33% salinity, compared to a 3% of most other bodies of salt water, which means that you are extremely buoyant while your swimming. But to be honest, you can’t really swim , I found that being face down was extremely hard as the buoyant nature of the water just pushed my bum to the sky. Not a comfortable position to do a little freestyle. Instead I just floated for a while, trying not to get the water into my mouth (tastes horrible!). Did you know it’s also the lowest point on earth? The water surface is actually 400m below sea level.

Next on the itinerary was Petra. One of the 7 modern wonders of the world, and don’t the locals brag about that! For those who don’t know much about Petra, it is a town built a couple thousand years ago by the Nabatean people. Temples, homes, markets, theaters, tombs and monasteries were carved out of the natural rocks in an area covering 36square meters or so. It is quite breath taking to walk around, both metaphorically and literally, hiking up the canyons to the monastery isn’t for the unfit but it is worth the effort to stand at the viewpoints and look out into the valleys and desert below. As for describing the rest of it, I can’t and my pictures can’t justify it. My suggestion is to go.

The last worthy place to mention in Wadi Rum, in Arabic it means valley of high mountains, it is the desert made famous by the writings of T.E Lawrence and the film location for Lawrence of Arabia. I camped out under the stars with some wonderful people, drove a jeep around the dunes, watched the sun set and rise again the next morning and ate the only vegetarian dish that Jordinian people know how to cook, lentil soup. I am sick of lentil soup!

There were many places I saw in between and I have loved my time here but, to be honest, Jordan is not my favorite country. It has some brilliant and wonderful sites but it doesn’t seem to have much personality. The only way I can seem to describe it is by saying that it is like a McMansion with some fantastic antiques in the living room. This is not to say I would change one minute of my being there or that I wouldn’t recommend going there, it just means that Jordan isn’t on my ‘to go back to’ list.

fish out of water

There was a girl who went to the Red Sea

A deep sea diver, she wanted to be

She swam with the fishes

And smoked lots of shishas

And the Nitrogen Narcosis filled her with glee…..

wide open road

It was an early start to the day, considering the shisha smoking hadn’t stopped until rather late the night before, but it was crucial that they all be on the wide open road by seven to make it through their entire journey in time and also to make the most of the cooler mornings. The midday sun would be scorching despite being in the heart of Winter and they had a lot of ground to cover. So with the bus filled with people and luggage it set out on the wide open road to head for the wide open desert of Egypt. The drive was long with little to see aside from the yellow sands, patterned with the ripples of the wind, and the occasional police check point. The bareness of the scenery did little to subdue the excitement.

Unsurprisingly and inconveniently, within the hour a toilet break was needed. The two options given were to use the side of the road, not ideal since the panoramic views of desert horizon didn’t provide much privacy, or they could rely on the kindness of a rare ambulance station that sits in hope that no one needs their assistance along this stretch of highway. Unanimously it was agreed to ask at the ambulance station. The kindness of the locals prevailed and within 50 minutes 15 people were relieved and filing back onto the bus to continue our epic journey through ancient lands.

Before long, the rippled sand was cast into shadow by gigantic stone structures built like sandcastles by a prehistoric race. The Great Pyramid stood high above the Russian and Japanese groups at it’s base, who all had looks of awe pasted on their faces, and questioned the ability of man to haul the hatchback sized blocks of stone and place them one on top of the other. As each member of the group stepped off the bus their face would affix to the same look of awe and the same questions would be asked. An ancient wonder. It sure is. But in no time it was time to get back on the bus and hit the highway again for the next display of ancient civilization.

A desert valley hiding the graves of old time kings, with the appropriate name of Valley of the Kings, a place in the desert to the west of the Nile where the sun sets on life. The group set off to squeeze past rocks and slide down mountainsides in order to find the entrances to old tombs of important men who had been dead for a couple thousand years. No new discoveries were made, which didn’t surprise anyone as they had all learnt that it had taken some British guy 4 years of digging to find the treasures of the young King Tut. But they all felt like explorers all the same.

The day had been long and hot so far, the entire group was in need of some R&R. There seemed no better way than to jump onto a felucca and sail down the Nile while sipping on wine and eating baba ganough. The crew zigzagged them down the river aboard the cushioned boat as the group played backgammon and cards and began to wind down for the day. Mass reluctance was displayed by the time the felucca docked, the entire group would have been happy if they were allowed to eternally float on the sea blue waters, watching the golden sand shores go by and laying in the cooler afternoon sun, but this wasn’t meant to be.

Instead of sailing on the Nile for ever they were to embark on the final leg of the journey which took them onto jeeps and into the White Desert to witness the crimson sunset and the purple sunrise the next day, not without a hitch of course. A flat battery, a flat tyre and a leaking fuel tank provided much frustration and entertainment but didn’t stop them from getting to the desert moments before the sun began to drop. As the light slowly disappeared for the night a fire was lit, the food was cooked and the shishas packed and once the light had disappeared and the temperature had fallen to freezing, it was time to huddle together in sleeping bags with the sand as their mattress and a million stars as their ceiling. No one could think of a better way to finish off their day in Egypt.

what i like about you

People always say that when it comes to India, you either love it or hate it. Considering that I decided to come and spend almost 3 months travelling around ‘incredible india’ without trialling the above theory, it is very lucky that I love it. Here are just some of the things I love about India.

As a necessity of life, food is very important. As a person who thoroughly enjoys eating out, food is very important. I have been able to indulge on things like masalas, chais, dosas, iddlys, sambal, lassis, pakoras, vindaloos, thukpas, momos, biryani, ice creams, coconut curries, achaars and pickles, local fish, aloo, paratha, curd, rotis, kebabs, tandoor, thalis, pulao, naans, jalfrizis, daal, koftas, paneer channa, fruit and lots and lots of rice. And doesn’t my waistline know it.

banana leaf dinners

I say this about every country I go to, but I do love the people here. The kids are curious, the women are shy and kind and the men are so eager to help. I especially love being able to capture a smile on camera, which is very rare as majority of Indians seem to put on a very serious look when posing for a photo, like the time when a group of young pilgrims ran up with extreme excitement begging that I take a photo of them, once the camera was held up each one of them looked as though he was having a mugshot taken. The people here make me smile all the time.

a rare smile

the pilgrim mugshot

India does colour well. On the streets you get to see things like groups of women in their various saris looking like a giant fruit bowl, temples and their idols painted in colours from a children’s book, houses in vibrant pinks or lime green, market sellers with trays of spices or tika powders, hawkers trying to sell you carpets and bed sheets in ‘many colours madame’, and they are right, you can buy a bed sheet in any colour of the rainbow or in all the colours of the rainbow at once if you want.

colours of the markets

There is barely a street that you walk down in India that doesn’t have a temple or statue of an idol to worship, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist. But there are two that I have come across in my travels that have really amazed me with their beauty. The Golden Temple in Amritsar is a Sikh temple that attracts thousands of pilgrims every month. In the middle of an ordinary, dirty looking Indian city are the marble walls that hide a man made lake which surrounds and reflects the gold plated temple and the hundreds of barefooted people in their saris and turbans who go there to worship. The second temple is in another dirt and ordinary city down in the south, Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. A Hindu temple built to worship the goddess Meenakshi, built with 12 towers of colourful and intricate carvings of all the Hindu gods and idols, like Ganesh riding his rat, the Gatekeepers, and a scene showing the entire wedding party of Shiva and Meenakshi. I could have spent hours looking at this temple.

a shimmering golden temple

rainbows of meenakshi

There is a god that is an elephant, who is only an elephant because his mother cut of his head as a child and felt so guilty that she replaced it with the head of the first creature she saw, there is a monkey man god who fights battles and a blue baby who is worshiped. This is Hinduism. Well, that’s not all that Hinduism is but these are some of the 330 million Hindu deities that are worshiped throughout the country. You can find carvings, pictures and statues in bright colours with the cartoon looking faces of Krishna, Vishnu, Ganesh, Parvartti, Shiva, Hanuman, Devi, Lakshmi and of the other 329million or so, all covering temples, home shrines, car windows and even jewellery. I’ll miss the vibrancy of Hinduism when I leave India.

gods on parade

Chaos. With the second largest population in the world you get lots and lots of chaos. There is always activity, always people, always traffic, and it makes the country feel alive. With this amount of chaos there are constantly delays and jams and I understand that as a expat living with it each day this would not be so amazing, but as a backpacker it gives me the opportunity to slow down and watch people, to smile at the kids and to have conversations with the locals.

That’s what I like about India.

when we were young

I have a confession; I am not the same backpacker I was in my younger years.

THEN: I would stay in dodgy little hostels in the backstreets of hell and stay in a dorm with a bed next to a Scotsman fresh out of prison (true story) if it meant it would save me a few extra pennies. It never bothered me to get woken up at 3am or to hear the drunk couple fooling around in the bed in the corner because I could survive on 3 hours sleep a night and the extra cash would let me have a few extra drinks at the pub.

NOW:I no longer have the ability to share a dorm with 12 other backpackers, I can’t think of anything worse than being woken up by people coming back drunk or hearing them get up and pack to get that 5am train. Don’t wake me up, I really need my beauty sleep nowadays and I don’t have the ability to share a bathroom with other residents so I find myself very happy to pay the extra 100rupees for the private room with a private bathroom.

THEN: I was happy to eat cheap and nasty food, never mind the calorie content or even the taste, all in the same of budgeting to allow an extra vodka that night.

NOW: I don’t want to survive on deep fried street foods like samosas and pakoras for each and every meal. I prefer to eat something that can be classified as food, something a little healthy and finding a decent, healthy meal here in India is tricky enough without restricting the cost. And besides, there aren’t that many bars to be spending my money at.

THEN: 15hour bus rides with the locals, sure. 27hours in cattle class on a train, why not? Reach my train station at 3am and sleep on the street til the hotel opens it’s doors, that’ll be a fun adventure….

NOW: No, no, no. If there is no second class sleeper train tickets then I will get the deluxe-luxury bus please, and if there is no bus then I will fly. I don’t care if its only 60km away. But seriously, I will only get a 2nd class train ticket as I like having that little bit of privacy, I like not having the locals sit and watch me like I’m the in-flight movie or waking up to 5 men pointing their camera phones at me. As for the buses, it’s deluxe all the way, I don’t want to share any more trips with a herd of goats.

THEN: The hotel is 3km away from the train station but a cab will cost 5pounds. The obvious answer used to be ‘walk it’. I was young and fit and healthy and didn’t have a bad back and was on a tight budget, I could deal with walking with my 18kg worth of possessions on my back.

NOW: Oh, the hotel is 500m down that way? Let’s get a rickshaw. I am older now and my back is sore and my knees hurt and my 16kg worth of luggage is feeling really heavy. Let’s pay to have someone else carry us and our luggage directly to the door of our accommodation.

I am certainly not the young backpacker I was. I am lucky that I have chosen to travel through such an affordable country that allows me these extra little luxuries in my old age.

castles made of sand

views of jaisalmer

sunset with the camels

desert ruins in pink

streets of jaisalmer

squeezing into the temple

colours against the sand

sunset shadows

sally & lyrian

camel treking

our desert ships leave us

jaisalmer fort

sand angels

deserts scenes as we leave jaisalmer for jodhpur

losing my religion

Off to Mcleod ganj, the home-in-exile of the Tibetan Government and of the Dalai Lama. Wouldn’t it be awesome to meet the Dalia Lama in his home town! But everything we had read about trying to meet him said that he was never in Mcleod Ganj at this time of year, it’s winter and he usually heads off to do good deeds in warmer climates, so we were resigned to the fact that we were there at the wrong time. Defeat. Oh well, still plenty of interesting things to do here.

Walking around town, Lyrian points out that there are all these posters written in Russian. Using the language skills she acquired whilst living in Russia she worked out that for the first time ever, the Dalai Lama was giving 3 days of teachings to Russian Buddhists, beginning the next day.
Our roller coaster of emotion that began at defeat slowly starts to rise to surprise and excitement as we realise that he is here, against the odds he is actually here in town, but plummets to frustration because we aren’t Russian and can’t register to attend any of the teachings. This turns to optimism as we think about the fact that, surely, the Dalai Lama wouldn’t exclude anyone from his talks, it’s not his style, maybe there is a way for us to sneak in.
Elation next as Lyrian practices her Russian to ask where other foreigners register. We have to walk back up the hill with 2 passport photos, passports and a completed form and simply be handed a pass to get us into any or all of the teachings over the next 3 days.
Disbelief, excitement, anticipation. We are actually going to be able to sit and listen to the Dalai Lama give teachings on Buddhism! This is so cool.

The next morning we got up early and had breakfast and walked to the monastery to take up our positions. We managed to find a spot on the ground amongst a few hundred Tibetan Monks. In all directions, all you could see was red robes and shaved heads with a few scatterings of foreigners. It was quite a scene, very humbling.
And then there was a hush, the 14th Dalai Lama walked past, shaking hands, saying hellos, the usual red carpet scene. Oh my god, I just saw the Dalai Lama in the flesh, wow he looks exactly like his photos.
He takes up his place in the front of the temple, unfortunately we can’t see him from our spot on the concrete, but that doesn’t matter. He starts the first teaching, based on his thoughts of human nature, compassion, inner happiness. All the basics of Buddhist philosophy, material things will not bring you true happiness, consciously increasing positive emotions and consciously decreasing your negative emotion, the need for more compassion throughout the human race, serving others will lead you to happiness. His closing was ‘serve others, and if you can’t serve others then do no harm to others’. Very simple. There wasn’t much I hadn’t heard or read before, but to hear it all from the man himself was such a treat. Something I’ll never forget.

Due to our tight schedule (so much to see, so little time) we didn’t go to any of the other teachings, but I’m ok with that because I got to hear the Dalai Lama speak about compassion!

a new sky

My final views of Nepal as I fly from Kathmandu to Delhi

step by step

Annapurna Panorama

Pokhara-Naya Pul-Gandruk-Tadopani-Gorepani-Poon Hill-Kaski-Pokhara

4 people, 5 days, 9kgs on their backs, 3210m altitude to climb over an 8km distance.

IMG_0286It only took an hour for the tips of Annapurna South to show themselves and act as encouragement for us to keep climbing up those steps

IMG_0301Who needs an experienced guide when you find a local dog willing to show you the right path?

IMG_0310Beautiful, but can you imagine living here and having to hike up and down hills to do your groceries?

P1010780Hiking up and down these hills once has force me to line my feet with tape to try and avoid getting more than the 5 blisters I wound up with.


A well earned rest and feed after climbing from around 1500m to 2500m. At this point this was the most amazing view I had seen.


The views at lunch time were quickly outdone by the sun setting in Tadopani. The sun lit up the snow on the mountaintop into colours I had never seen and then….


I turned around and saw the moon rising behind the hills.


Very early the next morning we decided to get up earlier than we had to and climbed 500m higher on altitude than we had to so we could see the sun rise in Tadopani. Those extra steps were worth it but it didn’t stop us complaining about our aching calves.

IMG_0388A happy looking group because we made it to the ridge to see Pokhara Valley to one side and the full Annapurna Range to the other. And happy because we knew most of the uphill hiking was over and done with.


Annapurna South. How is it possible that the views kept getting better?


This is the result of getting up at 4.15, hiking up 500m for an hour. Poon Hill is 3210m and you get to see the sun rise over the Valley and start to light up the entire Annapurna Range. A magic moment, and a very, very cold one too.


Evidence. Poon Hill, 3210m.


And this was our reward.


Sikhiyo! Finished! Time we got in a cab and headed back to our hotel for a much needed shower.

Moon Over Annapurna Panorama_2

For someone who is not a natural mountain climber, this was hard. At times I was taking it step by step and forcing myself to place my left foot up onto the next stair. Despite this, the entire time I knew that every step was worth it. For a view like this, how could it not be worth it?

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