Friday, 31 December 2010

New Years Eve

While everyone is planning their New Years Eve celebrations I am driving to a friends property and pondering the universe. Why? Well, it's my birthday tomorrow and for some reason this one smarts a little bit. The last few years have sped past so fast that each year, I have barely become accustomed to my new age before it's time to do it all over again.

It seems to me that the younger I feel on the inside, the older my body gets, what's with that? Maybe it has to do with finally being out of that heavy mothering phase with little babies and finding myself again? Maybe it's what everyone goes through? Maybe I'm just a little bit mad? Whatever it is I find this whole 'getting older' thing a bit of a drag.

Saying that, I am excited about this coming year. I love the idea that at the moment it's a blank canvas just ready for me to paint another years worth of experiences on. And isn't that just what life is? A canvas for each year that we paint our life into?

Whoever you are, the year ticking over probably makes you think a little. Both about the year past and the year to come. Have you made a new years resolution? Or planned something that you want to do in 2011? Is there something that you need to say goodbye to from 2010?

Personally the closest thing I have to a new years resolution for 2011 is to enjoy it. I'm saying goodbye to one of the best and yet hardest years I've had. And I'm hoping to get my head around my new age, and actually embrace it.

You never know this coming year could be one of those years you remember with fondness when your at the end of your life. Isn't that possibility something to be excited about!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Summer Loving - Long Weekends

We have been lucky enough to have spent the last 3 nights down at our friends holiday house. The house is huge and gorgeous and comfortably housed seven adults and nine children. It's on a river and has a pool so there is a lot to do or (like me) do nothing. With so many kids it was almost like having no kids at all they were so busy playing we hardly saw them. The best part is that it was so idyllic. Above is a photo of Hamish paddling in the river about 50 meters from the house. Hours spent swimming and running or watching movies and playing computer games.

For the adults it was a mixture of talking, eating, reading, cat naps, swimming, drinking and more talking.

Sometimes the right mix of people and/or weather just makes for a fantastic few days. And isn't that what you hope for every summer holiday long weekend.

Eating - Everything incl: BBQ, curry, fresh scones, watermelon, left over Christmas pud.

Drinking - Everything incl: water, margaritas, beautiful crisp white wine, heavy earthy red wine, more water, French martinis, cosmos, more water.

Watching - Nothing except the music channel due to lack of holiday house sound system. (but can't wait to get home and watch the Doctor Who Christmas special)

Reading - Trashy mags and Zombies Vs Unicorns anthology.

Listening - Way to much Top 40 and not enough Temper Trap.

State of mind - Completely sated. (except I wish we could have stayed another day or 3)

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Truducken

Merry Christmas everyone. Hope you had a day full of indulgence and merriment. We did. And to top of a wonderful day we had Turducken for Christmas dinner. If your wondering, its a chicken, in a duck, in a turkey each one surrounded by a layer of stuffing and then the whole thing covered in bacon rashes.

It was delicious and not at all freaky and slightly gross the way I worried it may be. Let's hope it's a new Christmas tradition.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas Lights

This evening we took the boys to go and see some Christmas lights. We had heard that THE place to go near by was two streets about 10 minutes away.

They did not disappoint. Neither did the ice-cream from the Mr Whippy truck parked on the street or the free lollipops the residents were giving out.


Watching - The kids going wild over all the lights.
Listening - Carolers and Hamish making up a song about the Santa with a hula skirt and a surf board.
Reading - Santa stop here signs
State of mind - Full of Christmas cheer.

Summer Loving - School Holidays

I don't remember a lot from my childhood, but with sharp clarity I remember the feeling of the last week of school before the summer holidays. Classes were disorganized, you spent more time doing art and craft and you got to help the teacher clean out the classroom. And then bliss of all bliss, school was over for six whole weeks.

The only problem with the summer holidays and being an only child was that sometimes I got lonely. A lot of my friends used to go away or you had to rely on your parents to make a date for you to have a friend over or go out.

This year it has become apparent that this is another one of the blessings of our street. Tonight as I got home there were 10 children (mine included) running and skateboarding and scootering and yelling and laughing on the street. With this many kids in the street there is no shortage of playmates to wile away the hot summer days with.

Yesterday the kids found a 'clicky' bug. It didn't look very healthy so they decided to make it a safe place to live. The picture above is the 'clicky' bug oasis they made. Which now not only housed said 'clicky' bug but all manner of other creatures they had discovered on their explorations.

Things like this made me wish I was a kid again. But also so glad that I have my kids and am able to see the wonder of the world through their eyes.

Watching - Being Human season 1
Listening - Kid Cudi
Reading - Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
State of mind - A little bit sick, but content.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Advent Calendar

I had a feeling that I had written about our advent calendar already, but it appears that maybe I only wrote it in my head.

We bought a handmade advent calendar from oxfam last year. I had read on owlets blog that she puts activities for the family to do in each pocket. Last year that required me to be to organised so I filled it with stickers and candy canes and other little bits.

But this year I was organised. I filled each little pocket with things for us to do each night. So far the favorites have been.

- Paint every ones toenails
- Have dinner for breakfast (pancakes)
- Have fish and chips at the beach (it rained so we had fish and chips at home)
- Make tags for Christmas gifts

And the least favorites have been:

- Fancy dress for dinner (Jack doesn't like dressing up)
- Give everyone crazy hairstyles (having just shaved Jacks head it was a non event)
- Make Christmas decorations (seeing we had decorated the tree a few days before hand no one much felt like doing it all over again)

Last nights was meant to be, have a bubble bath. And it looked like a least favorite as well. But this morning the boys decided to have a bubble pool outside. It was a chilly morning so I bucketed hot water into it. Tonights is meant to be, go and see the Christmas lights. But both boys seem so tired I wonder if they will still be awake by the time the sun goes down?

I'm loving this idea. We have had far more hits than misses and it feels far more rewarding than the stickers and sweets.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Way You Move

This video off you tube is beautiful. There is something so fluid about their bodies. Oh how I would love to have an eighth of their control and grace. I just had to share it.
(plus I'm over tired, it's midnight and I'm still trying to figure out how to turn the alarm off on Jack's watch. This is the second time in the last two weeks. One more try and I'm putting it out in the rain)

Most Disturbing Kids Movies


Sometimes as I go to write a blog post about something specific I do a bit of searching I realise that someone has already written it.  Normally, I'm not in complete agreement with the other writer and I decide to write my own.  This time, I whole heartedly agree with the post.  (especially the note about Watership Down)

And although I may have left off Pans Labyrinth and added Jaws (cause lord knows most of us saw that WAY to young) I feel confident in sharing this and happy to save myself the time and effort of linking to all those youTube sites.  :)

So this link pretty much contains my thoughts on the most disturbing kids movies of all time.

Summer Loving - The Calm After a Storm

Sydney's summer storms are amazing. They are more extreme than a winter storm. They usually come after a hot humid spell and from our place you can often watch the dark grey roll of a storm front slowly creep across the sky.

Then you start to hear it 'talking'. Deep rumblings that roll towards you. Sounding something like bowling balls rolling down the lane. And suddenly, it starts to rain. Big fat drops clatter on our tin roof and steam rises from the streets and pavements.

They almost always come in the afternoons, so there is little lightning to speak of. But the thunder seems to like the stage. Almost in unison the rain gets harder and the thunder claps become so loud they really do sound like the gods setting off fireworks.

And then as suddenly as the show started, it stops. The sun comes out and brings with it the sweet smell of fresh air and warming grass.

The world seems the slow, the air is clear, and everything feels calmer and cleaner. Ahhh ... There really is nothing like it.

Note: So why the picture of a glass of wine? Well how else would you celebrate this change of mood?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Summer Loving - Water Fights

The sun has finally come out today. It's beating down making the concrete so hot that it's burning the bottoms of our feet. The smell of warming grass is wafting through the air. What to do on a day like today?

The kids decided it was water fight day. They got out every bucket, super soaker and hose they could find and then I came up with the mother load. Water balloons!!!

Hours later, after they had saturated the entire lower end of our street they came in and crashed out. Exhausted, pink nosed and completely satisfied.

Oh how I remember summers like that! Next time I think I might join them.

Watching - the final of The Walking Dead. (Note:I would have left the building as well)

Listening - The Temper Trap, I'm having a mini love affair with 'Love Lost' again

Reading - Catching up on NetNews Wire feeds. So many blogs, so little time

Mental State - Tired but refreshed after our Xmas party last night. Nothing quite like hanging on the street till 2am with your neighbors.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Summer Loving - Ice Cream Soup

Ice cream for me is almost exclusively a summer dish. In the midst of winter, it's just not something I ever feel like. (I find myself preferring a biscuit and a hot cup of tea)

When I was a kid I didn't just eat my ice cream, I used to make, what I called, ice cream soup. This means that I would chop and stir my ice-cream until it became 'thick shake' consistency before I ate it.

Tonight I came home and found some ice cream in the freezer. After scooping a few spoonfuls into my bowl, I realized that I didn't really feel like ice cream. The sticky way you have to suck it off the spoon and then it freezes your soft palate giving you an ice cream headache was not what I was in the mood for. But I needed something to satisfy the sweet craving I was now having. And then I remembered my childhood and the joy I felt as I chopped and stirred my ice cream. The delayed gratification of that first spoonful. And the way it was almost silky in my mouth.

I thoroughly enjoyed my ice cream soup tonight. In fact I'm thinking I may have some more.

Reading: New Dawn, the final Twilight book. Not enjoying it at all, but have a morbid need to find out what happens with the whole 'will Bella become a vampire?' thing. I'll keep you updated :)

Watching: The Walking Dead. I'm up to episode 3 of this series about a guys experience as he survives the zombie apocalypse. It's to early to tell if I'm really liking it or not, but it's got zombies and ..... zombies so it can't be to bad.

Listening: The new soundtracks I've just downloaded including: Before Sunrise, Adventureland, Mallrats, Seredipity

Mental State: Slightly tipsy, full of ice cream and satisfied after a chillaxed night with the girls.


(a friend of a friend ends each blog post with a few snippets, like above. I've been really enjoying this way of finishing a post. Next time I'm on my PC I'll link you to his blog, for now I'm going to steal his idea)

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Summer Loving - Fruit

What with hot houses and long term snap freezing (or whatever it is they do) you can get seasonal fruits, that were once only available a few precious months of the year, all year round these days.

But as the weather warms up, they are far more readily available, tastier and cheaper.

If your a fruit lover (like me) then summer brings overflowing fruit bowls filled to the brim with ripe juicy fruit that tantalizes the taste buds.

Top 5 summer fruits;
- nectarines
- grapes
- cherries
- watermelon
- blueberries

I just can't wait for my first grape binge tummy ache.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Summer Loving - Sleeping with the Windows Open

I'd love to make a broad statement like I did with my 'Small Things' posts and say that I am going to make this Summer Loving month. But we all know I didn't keep up with posting daily about small things, as hard as I tried. So the plan is this. My intention is to write something I love about summer everyday. With the disclaimer that I just don't normally stick well within timelines, so I'll write one when I get a chance.

When I got home from India, it was colder than I had expected. Weeks of rain meant that the heater was on at times and the house was closed up. But a few days later the sun came out.

Our bedrooms are upstairs which means, a. They are the furthest point in the house from the toilet and, b. More relevant to this post, they get hot in summer. Once summer really hits this means that they are impossible to sleep in without a fan directly on you. But at this time of the year it means one of my favorite things. The start of sleeping with our double doors open.

Now living in the city, you would think that the last thing we would want is to let the noises of the night in. But we live in a pretty special street. During summer we have a cuckoo that comes and calls throughout the night. We can hear the music playing from the radio stations next-door. We get the occasional siren or person walking past but generally it's quiet. In the mornings we get all the birds in the trees, or the kids playing on the street or again people talking or cars honking.

Part of my loving living in the city is about embracing these noises people make as they go about their lives. And in summer with our doors open I feel more connected to the place we live.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Joy in all Shapes and Sizes


Sometimes I find something as I am browsing the web that as well as making me laugh, also fills me with a sense of joy.  Not at the actual 'thing' whatever it may be.  But at the idea that someone thought to make that, do that, write that, share that.

I have talked before about weird stuff that the web and most of the bits that stick as my favourites also have a componant of 'why' attached or 'its amazing what people decide to do with their spare time'.

Remember,  At-At Day Afternoon?  or badgersbadgersbadgers? or He-Man singing 'What's going on' by 4 Non Blondes? or the old printers singing 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.

So when a friend linked to 'Backin Up' on YouTube it was the same thing.  Some people might just watch this and think its a little funny, or a little stupid, or both.  I watched it and as much as I thought it was hilarious, the main reason it has stuck with me is that I am totally blown away again at what people think to do with their spare time.

So this is the original video of a woman talking about a robbery.
And this is what they decided to do with it.

These guys 'Shmoyoho' make these videos all the time, some are just funny, others have a funny way of putting a political statement in the faces of people (like me) who like to surf the web looking for things to make them laugh and hopefully make them think.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Jodhpur, Delhi and Home - The Final Countdown

After a four hour drive we arrived in Jodhpur. It's much bigger than I expected but still has that small city in the desert feel. We rock into the RAAS and once again are blown away by a gorgeous hotel. This one is a city hotel and no where near as luxurious as the Serai. But compared to most hotels it is amazing. The view over the blue painted buildings (painted blue to honor the king) to the red stone fort is so lovely and it changes as the sun moves.
We decide to spend the afternoon/evening in enjoying the view, room service and the pool.
The next morning we were all keen to get out into the town. The people here are friendly. In fact I think they could have been the most friendly of the trip. When you get caught with a camera they asked you to take their photo. Not for money like in a few other places, but just so they could look at it on the screen. One woman dressed in a brightly coloured sari was standing in her blue doorway and caught my eye. She asked me to take her photo. Then she in invited me into her home to take more photographs. Her standing by a wall mural, her with a cow, her sister and photos of her photo wall which I think were dead relatives. She then gave me her name and address and asked me to post the photos to her, which I said I would. She held up a calendar asking when it would arrive. After assurances that it would be there in a few weeks I managed to get out with lots of hugs and thankyou's.
At one point Trish and Cassandra were negotiating with a shop salesman about a purchase and as I often have while waiting for Trish to complete her bits and pieces I wandered outside and sat on the step. This often leads to interesting conversations with locals or just some quiet time to watch the world go by. In a lot of ways these bits of the trip have been the most amazing. Having 10 minutes or 1/2 an hour to just quietly take this country in.
And as I sat there thinking about the people we have met and all the intricate and amazing parts that have made up my journey I started feeling so sad that it was almost over. I have many times, wished I could just transport my loved ones here with me and stay. Not forever but for a while. I have missed Andrew and the kids so much. But the day before I left a friend said to me "when you get homesick, pay attention for a moment and then let it go. In a few weeks you will be home and wishing you were back". I think that could well have been the wisest advice I was given.
After a full day of wandering the streets it was time to head to Jodhpur airport for our flight to Delhi and our last 2 days in India.
After a delay, we arrived as the sun was setting. We had orgainised to stay in an area called Manju-ka-Tilla. Apparently according to the travelers bible (the lonely planet) it was a quiet Tibetan corner away from the busy, bustling Delhi. As soon as we jumped in our prepaid cab I got a funny feeling this was all going to be a bit sketchy. We drove for almost an hour with the taxi driver playing rave bollywood type music, he spoke no English and so when we arrived on the side of the freeway with a hole in the wall he just looked at us and said "yes Manju-ka-Tilla!" we looked and Trish said "I'm not getting out of the cab" while I tried to explain to the cab driver that he needed to take us to the front of our backpackers. He kept looking blankly at us pointing at the hole in the wall. Finally a rickshaw driver arrived and told us that cabs were not allowed into the area and we needed to rickshaw it the rest of the way.
Nup, there was no way were were getting out of the cab in this dark area with loads of taxi and rickshaw drivers but no one else.
We used the rickshaw driver to translate to the taxi driver that we were going to find somewhere else to stay and could he start driving us back towards the airport. He didn't want to until we knew where we were staying an so after 45 minutes of us calling every place in and out of our budget in central Delhi we finally found a room. They spoke to our driver and negotiated our fee and off we went. Saturday night is the busiest night as far as traffic goes in Delhi so what should have been another 30 minute drive took nearly an hour. I said to Trish that all I wanted was a clean bed with a bottle shop next-door (which are few and far between in India) but sure enough, luck was very much on our side and the bed was clean ... And low and behold a bottle shop right next-door!!
We hung in Delhi for two nights. There isn't much to say about it really, except perhaps that it put me in the mood to go home. Or maybe I was ready to go home so I saw it through different (annoyed and tired) eyes, but I don't think so. Delhi was big and busy, the air was the thickest yet with pollution. The beauty of the smaller cities may have been there but I didn't see it.
By the time we jumped one the plane home, I was ready to leave, but I felt saddened that my time in India was over.
I wonder when I'll go back? I hope it's sooner rather than later. I can't wait to take AB and the kids over and show them what I saw, and see more for myself.
Before I went on this trip, a lot of people told me "you either love, or hate India". There is no doubt I am the former.
PS. I am home now and re-reading these blog posts I can see how long some of these posts have been (and how many spelling and punctuation mistakes there have been). If you have stuck with me through my journaling, thanks! If you haven't, I completely understand why :) It's good to be home, cuddling my kids and Andrew, and I still can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Jaisalmere- The Serai, Two Days and Three Nights in Luxury

The drive from Jodhpur to Jaisalmere took four hours so by the time we arrived at The Serai it was dark.

This place is magical. The whole place is lit by candles and lanterns. As you arrive immaculately dressed Indian men great you with warm refresher towels and a drink. The white canvas tents with leather and wood interiors reminds me of old movies about Englishmen going on safari. The weather is balmy and it feels blissful and so foreign to be in a place this opulent.

We meet Trish's friend Cassandra who runs the Serai, at the front steps and she shows us to our room. Much to our surprise and delight we both have our own tent. They are at the furtherest corner of the estate and its a beautiful five minute walk down stone paths to our tents

At the front of our tents there are stone day beds with white cushions and candles on the table. You then walk into the first room, which is a study/lounge room. It has a beautiful wooden and leather writing desk with thick writing paper and leather bound books. Plus your own little jar of cookies. On the other side there are wood and wicker armchairs and huge plush cushions.

The second room is the bedroom. A stone bed head and bedside tables surround a massive king sized bed. With crisp white sheets. The bedside tables have little leather pouches with water, a torch and beautiful lanterns on.

You then walked into the bathroom. This glorious room has to be seen to be believed. The huge stone shower area with raindrop shower head. The crystal decanters filled with shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer. The huge double vanity with square white sinks set into stone bench tops.

Then Cassandra says that the reason she put us in the furthest tents was that there was a surprise out the back. We pulled back the tent door and there was, in an enclosed candlelit courtyard, a heated in-ground plunge pool/spa.

We are here for three opulent nights. They feel so far away from the rest of our trip. But I think I can get into this luxury for a little while.

Highlights:

- Every time you sit down in the hotel. A beautifully dressed, polite Indian man comes and brings you a cool drink and a plate of snacks. These snacks aren't peanuts or crisps but tandoori lamb in bite sized pieces or paneer and mushroom parcels etc. Little tender scrumptious morsels in all shapes and flavours. For dinner we tend to have a thali. With it's little golden bowls of different curries or curd mixtures. My favorite, to my surprise is the mutton, which in India I am told (after I have already fallen in love) is goat. Summing up, the food is as divine as the rest of this place

- The next morning we went into Jaisalmere. This city is on the edge of the desert and about 70kms from the Pakistan border. It's much drier and more affluent looking that the other areas we have been. Almost everyone wears shoes. Whereas in Varanasi very few women did. There are camels and of course cows, goats and dogs everywhere and they look healthier than those we have previously seen. It is also less touristy.

- After dinner and drinks and laughing. Getting back to my tent and jumping into the hot plunge pool before bed ... Need I say more?

- Cassandra took us to the musicians village. Basicaly everyone in this red dirt and stone village, learns to play traditional instruments and sing almost from birth. They are so good at it that they have travelled all over the world to play. There were 2 adults and 10 children who welcomed us into their home. They then played and sang for us for about 45 minutes. It was spine tingling. And the children all raising their voices in song at the same time brought tears of joy to my eyes.

- On our last night the three of us were going to go on a sunset camel ride over the dunes. But the weather had other ideas. A huge storm hit and it rained so heavily that the tents started leaking. Actually leaking sounds like little drips in the corners. In the main tents it was floor were almost ankle deep in water and torrents of rain were falling inside. We helped the staff squeegee the floors, which hey found very amusing. Cassandra said she would be unable to come with us but we should definitely still go because the sunset on the dunes was spectacular. Then it started raining again and the only car available was a topless jeep. Most people may have taken this as a sign that we shouldn't go. We didn't. Trish and I jumped into the jeep with woolen blankets around our shoulder and our driver drove us, in the rain, to the dunes. By the end of the 40 minute journey, we were soaked to the skin but in hysterics that like so many things on this trip, it might be a long hard road, but it's always worth doing.

After we arrived we jumped onto our beautifully dressed camels for a 10 minute walk to the best sunset vantage point. The only problem was, the cloud was so thick there was no sign of the sun. Just as we reached the end of our camel ride we saw 3 pristine white uniformed men walking over the top of the dune. They greeted us, popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and opened a little container with three sorts of snacks. We ate, we laughed and then we drove home completely satisfied. Sure if the weather had been sunny we would have sat on a picnic blanket, and stayed for an hour taking photos of the glorious sunset. But I think standing in the rain with a camel smelling blanket round our shoulders drinking champagne and laughing at the madness with the staff is much more my style.

- Cassandra also treated us to two treatments in the day spa. First we both got a full body 1.5 hour massage, that started with my feet being washed in water full of petals. And ended with me falling asleep in the table and the masseuse gently waking me and telling me I could stay and sleep if I wanted and he would wake me in a hour or two (I didn't stay because I didn't want to miss out on two hours of this place). The second treatment was in Trish's room. They set the three of us girls up on the king sized bed and then we all had a 45 minute reflexology foot massage at the same time, while drinking wine. I felt so nurtured after a day full of camels, rain and massages I could have cried.

- On the second night we arrived at our tents after a long day of shopping, walking and eating to find a gift wrapped in purple paper on our beds. These are apparently given to each guest every night. First night is a wooden camel, that we didn't get cause we were to busy saying hi and playing, the second night it was a beautiful scarf. On the third night Cassandra had picked us out personalized gifts that we had seen and commented on when we had visited the little shop in the hotel. Trish got a CD of music by the musicians from the village we had visited. I got a beautiful soft caramel leather bound notebook. Divine!

Tomorrow we are leaving the Serai and Jaiselmere to head back to Jodhpur for one night and staying in a hotel that is run by a friend of Cassandra's called the RAAS Haveli. Can't wait to get my head into Jodhpur, every place is so different and I want to soak up as much as I can.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Train - Varanasi to Delhi in 17 Hours.

We packed our bags and had a quick chai and then it was time to leave Varanasi, Sunil and the Alka Hotel. We said our goodbyes to the staff and were pleased when we realized that the hotel were going to send two guys to carry our packs through the tiny winding lanes up to the auto rickshaw. Sunil as always traveling ahead of us, making sure we arrived safely. We swapped email addresses and hugs and we gave him a little more money. I hope he uses the money wisely and it helps him live happily. I guess I'll never know (although I hope we do keep in touch).

The rickshaw dropped us off at the train station where hundreds of people sat with masses of luggage waiting for their trains. Most of the signage was in Hindi and we found it tricky to figure out where we should go. A man at the info desk told us to sit and wait in the main hall area and as I sat the women behind me tapped me on the back. They wanted to talk and ask questions and find out if I had any australian coins. This is something I have been asked for a lot and havent had any but this morning I had found a 5c piece. I pulled it out along with some coins left over from Singapore. And swapped them for some rupee coins. This drew quiet a crowd. So much so that we decided to move down to our platform.

We waited for another 1/2 hour and bought some packet snacks to get us through the 17 hour trip.

As we boarded we finally understood what the travel agent had been talking about. Our space was a walled off compartments with bench seats on either side and a sleeper above, then there was the aisle and another bench seat under the windows and a sleeper above.

We shared our area with two young Russian women, a young Indian man and an older Indian man. The two bunks on window wall was shared by a family, husband, wife and two children about 10 and 15.

We got comfy and started our journey. It was hot but the fans and movement of the train kept it comfortable. Every 20 minutes someone would walk past singing out, selling food or drinks. The most common call was chaaai chai chai ... Chaai chai chai ... Chaai chai chai. It began to sound like a mantra.

We stopped at a few stops, some of which were just in the middle of fields. And the train started to fill up. The sun was starting to dip in the sky and an older woman came and sat on the Russian girls bench. Trish mentioned that it might be time to set up our beds so we had officially grabbed our space and we asked the young guy if he minded.

The way it worked was: we were sitting on the bench and the backrest lifts up to make the middle bunk of three. Once you have all three beds up there is no longer anywhere to sit in you compartment.

We set up the beds, I was on the bottom bunk and Trish was in the middle. Got our bags sorted so that we would be aware of them as we slept and after a dinner of water and packets of chips and nuts. We lay down to try and go to sleep.

It took me a while to start feeling sleepy and I noticed that more and more people were bustling around our space. I wandered to the loo and saw that all the aisles and corridors were filling up. Got back to my bunk and I dozed. I woke to see an older guy standing up in a crowd of people at my feet and told him he was welcome to sit on my bunk (although that meant he had to hunch over). I dozed. I woke and found five Indian men watching me sleep, not in any insidious way, they were just sitting in our space. They laughed as I smiled and rolled over. I dozed. I woke to find a different young guy trying to get comfortable at the foot of my bed. I dozed. I woke to find the same young guy asleep in bed with me, head to tail. I dozed. I woke and found that our entire cabin was filled to the brim with people. Two people in every bunk except for Trish's and one of the Russian girls who also had the middle bunk. The floor was packed with sleeping bodies even under my bunk. I had the young guy in my bed plus another guy who was slung between a tiny free space on my bunk across the aisle to the next bottom bunk. I had a moment of claustrophobia because this whole space (smaller than an average bathroom) had somewhere in the vicinity of 20 people crammed in. I dozed.

As the sun rose I wanted to get up but there was no space. So Iay there and had a laugh with all of the guys. The Chaai chai chai guys started walking up the aisle muddling their way past the semi sleeping people.

6.30am, after 17 hours on the train we finally pulled into Delhi station. Tired but happy we jumped a cab to the airport. Waited for 6 hours (and managed to find a place for a head, neck and back massage) and then hopped a plane for Jodhpur.

The train was one of the hardest parts of our trip. It was also by far one of the most insane, hilarious, and enjoyable parts. Do I want to do it again? Maybe ... But not today :).

4. Varanasi - Sarnath and Tickets and Luggage ... oh my.

Today was one of those days that runs away with you and before you know it your in bed wondering what happened to the day?

We decided to try somewhere else for breakfast and wandered to Main ghat. After getting quiet lost for over and hour, we headed back to try the dolphin restaurant. The dolphin was not only mentioned in the lonely planet but it was just down from our backpacker. Sunil had said it was expensive and we decided we were happy to lash out on breakfast. It turned out to only be serving continental breakfast, which in not what either of us felt like. (who wants a dodgy continental breakfast while overlooking the ganges? It just doesn't quite fit)

I was curious to see how I would go with breakfast on this trip seeing that I am such a muesli and OJ girl. But so far it hasn't been a problem. For some reason when sitting in these exotic places my tummy can happily handle curries and breads for breakfast. Some of the yummiest meals we have had have been at breakfast. After striking out again on trying somewhere different for breakfast, we headed back to Alka for our usual. Paratha with Subji (dry vege curry) and curd and a large pot of masala tea. Ahhh.

We then went into the man who was sorting out our train and plane tickets. He had told us the day before to meet him at 11am. We waited for ages and he finally arrived to a bunch of travellers sitting on his door step each thinking their need was the greatest.

Finally we had our tickets in our hand. What we didn't have was enough baggage space for the bits and pieces Trish had bought. So we made a mad dash with Sunil to the nearest bag shop and then off to find and auto rickshaw to take us to Sarnath.

Sarnath was one of the top places to visit for me on this trip. Not only is it the birthplace of Buddha (or Buddhism) but it's where dad spends most of his time when he is in India. Unfortunately the days had flown so fast and it had taken at least two whole days to feel ready to leave Varanasi and try and navigate our way anywhere that we are now feeling like we are rushing it in before we leave.

The rickshaw driver got us to the temple in Sarnath no problem. Getting us to the school/cafe where dad and Inges friends Rajan, Sukhdev and their kids Daisy and Rosy were was a different story. After reaching Sarnath it took about an hour to locate them thanks to a few sets of bad directions from locals and a my phone deciding that right then was a good time to stop working.

Once we finally arrived we were both greeted like long lost family. We were shown around the school and asked to take photos to show Brother/Uncle John. They gave me gift to give to dad and also presented Trish and I with a small gift. I had asked dad if I should take anything to give them but we both forgot to factor in Diwali. We had a cup of chai and a delicious roll that Sukhdev called a Spinach spring roll but was actually an eggy pancake wrapped around a spicy spinach and paneer mixture and served with a green chilli sauce. It was one of my top three dishes since we left Australia.

Because of our time delay both with the train tickets and finding Buddha Smile School, we only got to spend about an hour with Rajan and her family. But with lots of hugs and promises to come back soon Trish and I jumped into our waiting rickshaw for a slightly terrifying night ride home.

Today felt rushed, I guess that it's the same way the last day in Kathmandu felt. Rushing to do the last bits before you leave. Wanting nothing left on your 'to do' list. The problem is there is always more to do, more to see of every place.

We leave Varanasi at 1130am tomorrow and yes just like Kathmandu, I'm wondering how quickly can I come back.

3. Varanasi - Sleeping on it.

It seems that it takes me till the third day to get my head around a new country. Today I woke up without the fear of walking out of the hotel. We had told Sunil the afternoon before that we felt we were ok without a guide for a while. But in true Indian style he was waiting for us as we left the hotel. We politely told him we were ok today and that we would find our own way.

When we had talked price with him the day before he answered with "as you like". This is a hard situation to be in, trying to find a price between what we feel his help was worth in Australian dollars and what he expects to be paid We decided to give him 3000rp for the 10 hours he had wandered around with us both feeling comfortable that he was happy.

We semi sorted out our plane and train tickets for our next leg. And then down to the ghats. We had decided that this was the morning we would bathe in the Ganges. Trying to be as respectful as possible we sat on some steps near a bunch of women bathing and slowly lowered ourselves in. Trish went in up to her neck but I felt more comfortable sitting on one of the lower steps up to my waist. If you asked me if I felt spiritually clean I would say no. But I feel blessed to be here and to be able to bathe in arguably the most holy river in the world. The other woman paid us no attention. To busy with their own daily washing. And afterwards we wandered back to our room. At the least both feeling as if we had ticked a lifes 'to do' box.

After breakfast we walked down to the main burning ghat. And then wandered around the market both looking and buying a few little bits. It's so cheap here its amazing. I bought a few t-shirts and two pairs of pants and it cost me less than $10. For a main meal it's between $1-$2 and for a boat it's about $1 an hour. We aren't really bartering about the price because both we feel it is too cheap to feel comfortable doing so and also that they seem to have so little in the first place that it seems rude to quibble over what to us is a few dollars. On the upside it feels like both India and Nepal are places that we could comfortably consider coming again (and possibly again and again).

Highlights:

- Tonight I lit a candle resting in a leaf bowl and surrounded by flowers. I sat an made my prayer to Ganga that those who have gone before me have safe trip. I prayed that mum knows I am happy and safe. I prayed for my family and for Andrew to find happiness, for Jack to be brave and find peole who are careful with his heart. And for Hamish to find patience and people who love him for himself. For me I prayed for peace in life and in myself.

2. Varanasi - Diwali (festival of the lights and REALLY loud crackers)

We were meeting our sweet young guide Sunil at 9am to show us around and help us get from a to b. We had realized after we got in, that our chargers weren't going to work in the hotel. So first stop was to find one.

Sunil is a local boy. I'm finding talking to him one of the most enjoyable parts of this time. He is learning English at school and lives with his parents and four siblings. He has never left Varanasi but would one day like to see other cities, if he could afford it. He doesn't know his birthday? Every Saturday he goes to the monkey temple to pray and on the one day a week he isn't at school, he tries to find tourists like us to earn money to pay for school. When he is relaxed he is a sweet kid, but occasionally he puts on his business hat and he feels like different young man. He gets cranky at us when we interrupt his explanations of what we are seeing. And then while he watches us look through shops or sit for a while, he looks like a tired, bored child waiting for his parents to hurry up. It is sweet the way he tries to look after us. Standing in front of rickshaws or cows and shooing away beggars or touters.

He is also helpful with getting our head around this place. And seems honest with his answers.
How much would we pay for this?
How do local women clean after going to the toilet?
What is that woman or man doing?
He has been a wealth of knowledge and a godsend over these first two days.

He was less helpful helping us find the power charger. After striking out at two, hole in the wall, electric shops we decided to leave it and walk into new Varanasi. I saw an electrical shop and told him we would look there. He looked shocked. And when we thought on it later, we realised that going to the more expensive places in town was out of his frame of consciousness, because to him everything was far to expensive to contemplate, that he didn't even think to take us there.

Once that was done we wandered down to the ghats. We are staying at Meer Ghat which seems to be in the middle of the main ghats of the old city. It was extraordinarily hot walking along the stone walk that takes you between the city and the river. We wandered slowly down to the smaller of the two burning ghats.

At first glance these burning ghats aren't as spiritual as I thought. They are so covered in rubbish, animals and spectators that it overrides your first glance. Then you think about the process and realize that on so many ways Indians live their lives out in the open. Every morning they all bathe in the Ganges together with spectators both local and tourist watching on. They hang their washing on walls, they spit, pick their noses and go to the toilet unabashedly. The process of death and burial is the same. Out in the open. Sure their grief is normally processed quietly away from hustle but life and death takes a different meaning here.

We started walking back to the hotel and Trish stopped to look at some Shiva beads. These are five sided beads that are worn as a blessing. After picking hers out and paying the young stall holder gave me a small set of sandalwood beads as a gift. This has been a beautiful and surprising part of this trip. These people have, what looks like, very little material possessions and yet three times now we have been given gifts.

It's Diwali today and so their are a lot of extra people here. Coming to pay their respects to the river. Bangers are going off with such regularity that I have stopped jumping at every one but my ears are hurting. Lights on building are all on plus they have added extras. It looks like Christmas. People are all walking and bathing on the ghats like usual there is just a lot more of them. We asked Sunil about all of these people who are getting their heads shaved and apparently it is something that they do if they have lost a loved one.

The festivities are loud and bright but quiet short and afterwards everyone starts walking home. I see a white guy, our age, putting a wreath of flowers in the river and wonder what he is doing. I have been feeling like tonight is the night to do something for Libby and mum. He said that he had said a Hindi prayer for the river. Thanking it for life. He has been studying for the last few years with a master and asked if I would like to go down to the rivers edge and he could chant a prayer for me and them. So we stood and he sang. I didn't have a flower so I put 10 rupee in the river as an offering and said a prayer for a smooth journey, a quick rebirth, and for them to see us all and know our peace with our lives and their deaths.

This place can be scary and intense to the extreme. But its layers and colour patchwork it together to make a rich canvas. I am already wondering when I will come back.

Highlights:

- at night there are a lot of bugs here. And anyone who knows me knows I'm a little iffy about bugs. When I went out to get my shirt off the line I realised as I had flicked it, I had flicked dozens of little crickets onto myself. In true Leigh style I went to start flicking and screeching. But it feels wrong to hurt anything here so I calmly brushed them off. I also woke one night to find a much larger cricket in bed with me and simply grabbed it and put it out the window. Look at how much I have grown *grin*

- Sunil asked us if we liked astrology? We both said yes and so he took us to see Baba. To be honest I can't quiet put the hour we spent in Babas den into words. Just picture a small red room lit with many garlands of flashing lights. Glass cabinets filled with crystals and oils for healing. And pictures of Hindi gods and Jesus mounted on the walls. Baba sat on his day bed like it was a throne with eight packets of cigarettes next to wads of money. He had to get a feel for you before before he decided if he would read you or heal you depending on what you wanted. All the while he talked to a french guy who lived with him for a few months a year and an Austrian guy sat quietly in the corner. It felt like a scene out of a Tarantino film. Fast talking jumping between subjects, people yelling and cursing. We had decided we didn't want a reading with Baba. For me it was mainly because it seemed we needed to spend at least 2-3 hours today and possibly 4-5 hours tomorrow. Plus Baba had rules you must follow. There were five but I can only remember three;
1. Do not be proud of what he tells you
2. Do not feel angry at others about what he tells you
3. Never tell anyone what he has told you.

He is seen as a major spiritual guide here. And so in an attempt not to offend I said that I had decided not to get a reading because I felt that last rule would be impossible for me to follow. He thought on this for a while. Double checked my birth date and place of birth in a large book. And then said ok you can have only four rules. Talk about a plan backfiring. After much talking and saying we would try to come back later to drink chai or whiskey we left. It was a completely surreal experience and one both of us are sure to remember for a long time to come.

1. Varanasi - It's a New Dawn

It was with a heavy heart that we left Nepal today. I have so loved everything about the experience. Even the challenging bits. Sure there was dirt, pollution and poverty, lots of all of it. But within it all the vibrant and beautiful place shone through. The people are reserved but friendly and you can tell they warm the more you get to know them. What little we saw of the country, was bursting with energy and also a peacefulness that seemed impossible with all the madness around. I also enjoyed the tourist and traveller energy. No doubt without the millions of travelers before us, there wouldn't have been the great places we ate in and the little supermarket that sold all our daily needs. Also, all you needed to do to find safe spots to eat or interesting places to go was follow the white faces.

We got to the airport a little later than planned (no surprises there) and were the last to check our baggage. The man at the counter assured us that we had some of the best seats on the plane as we would have views of Everest (which the pilot didn't point out so I'm unsure if the massive snow capped mountain in saw in the distance was it). We checked our baggage and went through the security where they x-rayed our bags then searched through them and patted us down. This seems to be a theme when leaving Nepal. By the time we finally got on the plane they had searched and patted us down 5 times. At one point we had walked through one security check, down a corridor with nothing in it, to another bag check and pat down. Trish exclaimed that it would probably save a lot of time if they just hired one person that they believed would do a really good job. Instead of 5 people who they don't seem to think had done a good enough job the first time.

While we were waiting for our flight to begin boarding Trish found something she wanted to buy. As she was quickly trying to finalize her last purchase a man came past saying it was last call for the flight to Varanasi. As she went to sign the receipt she noticed there had been a misunderstanding about the price and needed to cancel the transaction. Unfortunately the payment (by credit card) had already gone through. 20 VERY intense minutes later, the transaction was cancelled and we headed onto the terminal, frantically hoping we hadn't missed our flight. Lucky for us the flight was, in true Nepali style, running late and we had plenty of time.

The plane ride with Indian Air was ... interesting. Firstly the plane didn't seem in the best condition. But also as it started up both Trish and I exclaimed that we smelt smoke. It was nothing but it was the first flight in a long time where I felt very tentative about our take off and landing.

And then 45 minutes later we were in India. The hotel had orgainsed a car to pick us up, which made life easier. And an old man in a little van started our drive to Varanasi We hadnt realized how far out of Varanasi the airport was and so for the first 1/2 an hour we had both been thinking to ourselves "if this is Varanasi, then compared to Kathmandu, this is easy" ... oh well you live and learn.

The car dropped us in New Varanasi and we started the walk to old Varanasi. By this time both of us had realized that the stories we had heard were right ... and hugely underestimated. This city is vast and dirty and so very busy. The air is so thick with pollution that you cannot see any blue in the sky. The ground is running with dubious looking water and covered in rubbish and cow pats. And the people are busy and abrupt.

If we had thought the cars and bikes in Nepal were wild. Here they are even more so. Their tinny ring actually hurts your ears. And the bikes drive down these tiny streets barely big enough for two people to walk side by side.

When we arrived, a young boy named Sunil walked us to the Hotel Alka. He asked if we needed a guide. And on the spot we said yes! Funnily, when we were on the plane we had scoffed at a story that a woman had told Trish about her guide. Actually saying we couldn't imagine getting a guide, because (of course) we would figure it out.

One step into old Varanasi we realized how wrong we were. In these narrow dark streets we would have gotten turned around and not been able to find our way to the ghats, let alone out hotel.

Sunil spent the next three hours showing us around and helping us get the few bits that we needed. We asked him to help us find something like a supermarket. Not knowing if such a thing exists. He lead us to this tiny hole in the wall store front that sold a lot of your basic needs all packed into a shop smaller than the size of most toilet rooms.

We organised to meet Sunil the next morning in front of the hotel (we were pretty sure we could find that). And settled in to getting acquainted with our home for the next five days.

The Hotel Alka is basic cheap and clean. It lacks the traveller vibe we were both hoping for but is central to most of old Varanasi and has a direct stairway to the ghats. Our hot water doesn't work but seeing it's so hot, it doesn't bother us enough to talk to management.

It's is Diwali tomorrow and the festive spirit is already in swing. Firecrackers and bangers that sound like a bomb has gone off next to you are already being set off regularly. It adds to the chaos of what I am feeling because every 5 minutes I almost jump out of my skin.

I'm looking forward to waking tomorrow and seeing this place with fresh eyes. I wonder how long it will take me to find my groove? Or will I still feel like a rabbit in the head lights when we leave? I guess time will tell.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

5. Kathmandu - Monkeys, Cremations and Tequila ... Oh my

Feeling the panic of people who have realized they don't have much time left in the country, today was all about ticking boxes.

Breakfast at OR2K again was scrumptious. I had eggs cooked in a spicy and rather salty tomato sauce, Israeli salad and herbed potatoes. It also came with a large baguette, cream cheese, jam and a coffee. It cost around $3.20 and there was so much food I was stuffed and couldn't finish. One of the things that makes this place so special is how safe it feels to eat here. They soak all their food in iodine water and then rinse in mineral water to try and eliminate the risk of water born bugs. I often find myself ordering something fresh, knowing this could be the last salad and fruit I eat for a while. I wrapped my jam and cream cheese baguette in a napkin for later.

We then jumped a taxi to Bodhnath. This majestic stupa (the largest in the world) is about 20 minutes away from central Thamel. And our taxi driver was the most crazy yet. Not only did he keep stalling the car, coming extremely close to hitting the cars behind us as her tried to re-start it. But he kept making wrong turns and at one point did a u-turn in this crazy three way intersection. By the time we reached the stupa we were glad to have our feet back on solid ground.

Bodhnath is like the wealthy grandmother of Swayambhunath. Sitting in the middle of a square surrounded by shops, stalls and cafes, it's presence is omnipotent. You climb a small set of stairs to walk around the upper level of the stupa getting a view of the crowded square below. Walking in a clockwise direction, we wandered and photoed the stupa, young monks playing and the beautiful building surrounding it.

As we left we decided to head to our last Nepali stupa. Pashupatinath. This is Nepals most holy Hindu temple. If Bodhnath is Swayambhunath's rich grandmother. Then Pashupatinath is Bodhnaths decrepit, yet wise great aunt.

It's many icons and shrines cover a large area on both sides of the river. It is said to be Nepal's version of he Ganges and it's Ghats as they hold Cremations on the bank. It was the roughest of the stupas we have seen. The monkeys, lacked the healthy vitality of the ones at Swayambhunath. We saw our first injured monkeys. Apparently because of the old and exposed power lines they get electrocuted often. We saw one that had a gaping hole in it's leg with both ends of bone poking out. It was distressing to watch but a few locals tried help by keeping flies off it.

As I was watching it, one of the local men who approach you to try and be your guide mentioned that it was ok to take photos. I thought it was a strange thing to say until I realized that we were standing right in front of a funeral ghat. I quickly put my camera away but looked up to see many other westerners taking photos, some with massive zoom lens. I know that their guides, like the man I spoke to was probably telling them it was ok. But I was surprised at the lack of consideration they were showing at such a somber time in these peoples lives. After sitting and watching for a while we wandered off around the rest of the stupa.
We saw some Sadhu's. These men are dressed in yellow with their faces painted and dredlocked hair. For money you can take photos of them. We decided to do the tourist thing and took some snaps of them all lined up and posing. This seems to be a theme here, paying for the right to photograph and as much as it seems weird, it feels right.

As we walked down to leave we saw a tiny puppy who looked starving. I still had my roll from breakfast in my bag and couldn't help but give him a little bit. Then I decided to give the rest to a monkey. Normally I am against feeding animals in these situations but after talking it through I realised that this is how these monkeys survive. Over he last few days we have seen many locals feeding both the monkeys and the stray dogs. I pulled out my roll and broke a bit off to give to the nearest monkey. Ok I admit it was silly, because as I tried to get the band that was holding he napkin off he monkey jumped up grabbed it and pushed off me. Lesson learnt. DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. I was lucky not to have been scratched or bitten and the monkey stalked us for a good 15 minutes afterwards.

We spent about 3 hours there. Watching amongst the locals, the cremations and pondering the process and the different ways cultures process the dead and their grief.

On the way home we decided to walk on a road within central Thamel that we hadn't been along yet. Slightly off the beaten track it took as down to the locals part of town. Full of hairdressers and butchers and other stores not setup for tourists. It got dark while we were down there and we talked about the fact that on night one, and even two we wouldnt have felt comfortable here during the day let alone the night. But although the locals can be in your face they are generally very friendly. In fact twice yesterday Trish accidentally overpaid a stall holder and both times they told her and gave the money back.

Highlights:
- Noticing how far we have come. On the first day there was this intersection that totally freaked me out. It seemed crazy busy. On the second day that same intersection was no problem at all but the one further round the corner seemed terrifying. On the third day that same intersection seems like a piece of cake. And on the fourth day I feel like I could cross the road anywhere in Kathmandu. It seems like a simple thing but if you had experienced the traffic and chaos on the roads here you would understand how far I've come.
- Eating dinner at OR2K (Or = light, 2, K = Kathmandu). As always divine food, a good bottle of wine, some laughs and to top it off we got sent two shots of tequila from the table across the room. With a quick Dhanubhad? (thank you) we had our one and only lick, sip, suck in Nepal and off we skipped home to bed.

Now it's back to our room, after one last run around to make sure we've grabbed the bargains we have seen over the last few days, to pack for India ... Oh my :)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

4. Kathmandu - Swayambhunath

Today was first and foremost a day of house keeping. After another gorgeous breakfast at OR2K it was onto washing our clothes in the sink, calling phone carriers to try and fix problems and contacting family. Once all of that was done it was 2pm.

Shocked at how quickly a day can pass we jumped a taxi to the closest Stupa Swayambhunath (The Monkey Temple).

Once again we were enticed by the outer regions of Thamel and into greater Kathmandu. And also saddened by some of the sights.

At one point not long after we arrived at the Stupa a little girl, dirty with one pigtail approached me and asked for money for food. It's hard to say, but this is something that is happening often and I am starting to get hardened about it. Don't mistake me, not angry or annoyed or any less sad, but more able to walk past without feeling my heart break. I took her photo and showed her and she lit up so I took a few more. I then gave her some money to give to her mother, who by the looks of it also had a child which was still on the breast.

Shortly afterwards we saw a man doing henna tattooing and we both sat down to get our feet hennaed. We drew quiet a crowd. Including a group of young boys approximately 10, 7 and 4. They joked and tussled around us watching as the stall holder worked on our feet. After he had finished, the young boys started to follow us up the steep stairs towards the Stupa asking for money. It surprised me how easily they change from kids who are fooling around with you, then suddenly their faces looked sad and their voices weak. Such a change from the rumbling boys of only a few minutes ago I gave them a little money and they stopped following us the stupa steps.

Once we got to the top we were struck by how beautiful it was. And the view over Kathmandu valley really showed how vast this city it. Crowded within the tiny alleys that could take a week to explore on it's own, you forget how far this tightly knit city goes. The cacophony of buildings all looking like they they need the one next to it to continue standing.

Highlights:

- talking to a monk inside the Stupa. He asked my name and then I asked his. I can't remember what he said it was but when I said it, he and his friend laughed. Not at my pronunciation ... I had a funny feeling he had gotten me to call him something funny. Good to know even monks have a sense of humor and love the classic pranks.

- Noticing that all of the postcard stalls seem to have cards of different animals bonking. Is this what they think tourists want? Who actually buys these cards?

- We are getting more able to judge risk as far as food and drink goes. And so we finally decided to try the mulled wine with dinner last night. We needn't have worried, it was so hot that even if they had added water the heat would have made it ok. It was beautiful. Hot red wine with lemon, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. We partook in a few just to make sure :)

- then on the way home we decided to finally take a trip into the Buddha Bar. This is a small doorway with neon painted walls that is on the alley to our hotel. We have walked past it everyday exclaiming that one night we would have to find out what was upstairs. It turned out to be like an original 1970s cushioned chill out den. It had lots of blue lighting making the neon paint glow and stone walls for that 'authentic' cave feel. They served cocktails and shisha's and old style food like buffalo wings and Chinese chopsy. (if anyone knows what Chinese chopsy is please enlighten me, if it helps they also had American chopsy). We partook in a Cowboy 69 each. Like everything else it had a cheesy 1970 feel complete with glacé cherry on the rim and a straw in a champagne flute. It was the first thing we had both drunk or eaten where we really wondered if we would be sick the next day. But the amount of alcohol in it was probably our saving grace.

I'm loving it here. I wish we had weeks to explore but tomorrow afternoon starts the next part of our journey. I am saddened at the thought. But also excited because I feel so at home here that I feel the next part is going to be the really challenging section. Varanasi during Diwaldi is meant to be complete madness. Joyous and challenging at every turn (bites fingernails in anticipation). Wish me luck and safe travels and hopefully I'll find somewhere to blog from. But if not I will still be writing daily, and may have to dump them all on you in one hit :)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

3. Kathmandu - Step by Step

After a leisurely breakfast we decided to walk further afield and follow the road that we had driven on from the airport. The problem is with no road signs, tiny wiggly roads and the fact that neither of us has a great sense of direction is that getting anywhere is having to be done with a general sense of "we might get there ... or we might not".

The walk was definitely a "might not". We found our way out of Thamel and started towards this great wall with massive bamboo behind it that both of us remembered from the drive. But about 20 minutes in we had a feeling we had taken a wrong turn. The problem was, which one? We decided instead to follow the wall around in a square knowing that that would lead us back to the start. What we didn't know was that it would lead us through a massive throng of people all waiting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The crowd was huge and there was an aggressive vibe either because of, or made worse by, the many police wielding long bamboo sticks and shaking them menacingly at anyone who was looking even slightly out of line.

We hightailed it back towards Thamel again and decided that without a better idea of street names, even for short trips grabbing a rickshaw or taxi seemed the best way to go.

On the way back as we were standing in a bookshop a young boy about 14 came up behind us and said "miss, miss, medicine?". I looked down at his hand and a rather large flap of skin was hanging off. He kept asking so Trish and I started looking through our bags. The closest thing I had was some disinfectant hand spray and Trish had one bandaid. He didn't seem to feel that our bodge job was sufficient as the bandaid was already falling off and kept standing there asking for medicine and talking to the bookshop owner.

I noticed that the bookshop owner didn't seem very pleased this young vagabond was in his store. Trish asked the shop owner what had happened to the boy and he said that another boy had cut him with a knife. He then explained that he was a "bad boy" and a glue sniffer. Ahh so that explains it. Often, especially during the night, we have seen little groups of young men, 14-18 years of age, sleeping on the ground or sitting looking stoned out of their brains. They always have chip packets and are inhaling stuff from inside. I had wondered about glue but Trish had seen them holding thin shoestrings of something black (which I now guess is rolled dried glue?).

After our interesting experience of playing nurse, I was reminded of how easily here small things like wounds could get very bad, very fast.

The children here are very sweet and vivacious. But they can also bring you to tears. We had seen so many naked children sleeping on the street in their mothers arms with wounds all over them. We saw one little boy sitting in the gutter of an extremely busy intersection while his father watched on. His little sister, who would have been under one, sitting away from them in a ditch playing with a shoe. Both of us walked past and had tears in our eyes. We wanted to just scoop her up and 'save her' but knew that she was just one of many children here who had lives ahead of them we could barely fathom.

We also had our first few experiences of haggling. Basically after you find out the price, you look quizzical and then say best price? They then knock a bit off. If you look like you are going to leave the shop, they knock a bit more off. If you still look at them quizzically they then ask you 'your' best price and on and on it goes. Trish is much better at this than I am (no surprise there). Mainly because she is purchasing larger items than I am but also because she has gotten her head around the currency much better than I have. Anyone who knows me knows I have enough trouble with numbers and conversions at home but here it is completely exacerbated by the fact that the shop owner is standing there staring at me while I'm trying to do the conversions in my head.

I have a currency converter on my phone and a little piece of paper with approximate conversions written on it. But it doesn't put me in a very good bargaining position to have to pull either out. Also I'm converting both Nepalese rupees and Indian rupees so I'm pretty sure I'm paying more for somethings than I should be. But seeing that normally it's the difference of a few bucks I'm not to worried.

We then spent a few hours shopping around and trying to find somewhere for dinner. It seems that we have found two of the best food places around because after looking into a few places from an older version of the Nepal lonely planet that Trish had copied we wound up eating in the same place we had the night before(I also bought the new version so we didn't have the same trouble again). Mainly because both of us were craving their 'Momo's'. These are delicious little pan cooked dumplings and the ones at the New Orleans cafe were soft and crunchy and so tasty that we were both exclaiming that they could be the dish we crave when we get back home. Never again quite finding something that comes near but always looking.

Highlights:
- Finally finding a toilet with no toilet paper and a little bum washing hose that you use instead. I know it seems strange to see this as a highlight but I was expecting it, so I feel like I have ticked a box for experiences I expect to have during this trip. Although I have a feeling that by the end of the trip the novelty of a cold vagina and bum shower six times a day will have worn off.
- The bookshops in Thamel are set up for two types of people. So even the largest has one half devoted to hiking and trekking and the other devoted to texts about spiritual enlightenment. With a tiny section of fiction books for light reading.
- Trish went to the loo and came out grinning. She said she had seen a cake of soap on the basin and began washing her hands with it. Only to realize that it was squeaky not sudsy and that she was washing her hands with a toilet deodorizing block. Hahaha...

Today we are going even further afield and planning a visit to Swayambhunath (the 'Monkey Temple'), Bodhnath and if time permits Pashupatinath. So wish us luck with taxis, rickshaws and generally finding our way home.

Monday, 1 November 2010

3. Kathmandu - Nooks and Crannies

Life starts later here than I thought it would. We went downstairs at 8am to grab a coffee and found everything was still closed. Seeing that we had decided to do things in that order through playing paper, scissor, rock we weren't too disappointed. And so we went back to our room to shower and do a bit of writing. After my shower I went to brush my teeth. I grabbed a bottle of fresh water and proceeded. Then as I went to spit without thinking I cupped a handful of tap water into my mouth and proceeded to swish. Suddenly I realised what I had done and starting spitting frantically and rinsing with the fresh water. Trish laughed at me and then went to have her shower. When she got out she was laughing and said she had done a similar thing putting her face under the water to rinse her face and habitually opened her mouth. Funny how its the small habitual things that seem to be hard about this whole water thing.

Once we finally left the room we headed to a hole in the wall cafe recommended by the lonely planet. It was closed but we saw another recommendation called OR2K just next-door. We walked a flight of stairs not really expecting much and came across this amazing cafe. Great coffee, full of westerners and most excitingly (for me the techy chick) free wi-fi.

It feels so decadent on a lot of levels to sit here drinking coffee emailing people and just listening. Firstly it's so comfortable here that we could be in any boho-ish cafe in Sydney. Secondly we were just talking about how rare it is to sit peacefully in a cafe with no limit of time to move onto the next thing. Thirdly it feels almost sinful not to be exploring. And yet a big part for both of us about this trip was about resetting our internal clocks. It seems that in our home lives we have both (through necessity) learnt to work at full capacity all of the time. We eat fast, we talk fast, we rush though things as fast as we can because inevitably the kids will loose their patience or we will need to move onto the next task in our day.

And so Nepal may move fast but we are moving slowly through it. Made even more comfortable by these gorgeous nooks and crannies that seem to be around every corner.

2. Kathmandu - Learning the Ropes

We stepped off the plane and jumped straight onto a little bus that then did a big circle and dropped us off about 50 meters from the plane. Maybe this was a good way of getting familiar with Nepal ...

After we got out of the airport we hired a prepaid taxi and jumped in this very old car with a young driver who drove like all Nepalese. Fast, pushy and riding the horn.

The drive to the airport was eye opening. And I think I realised just how out of my depth I was. People walking, bikes, cars and rickshaws all share the dirt roads and everyone drives walks or rides like they own the road. Driving so close to one another that you keep thinking your about to watch an accident. But it doesnt come. Somehow within the madness they all seem to know what they are doing.

We arrived at the Kathmandu Guest House. We knew they had no rooms but had told us to go there first and they would help us. True to their word a young guy came and we wandered around the corner to the Hotel Excelsior. It was just what we wanted. Cheap, clean and close to everything. We dumped our bags and headed up to the rooftop. It is like our own little oasis. We sat for an hour sorting out the bits in our handbags and getting used to the thundering din from the streets around. Dogs barking, people working but mostly what we hear are car, bike and all other manner of horns.

We can look out over the mountains or what we can see throughout the dust and smog. And smell the incense that seems to come from every shop. Getting our heads into the place where we are ready to join the chaos.

We are staying in central Thamel. It's busy but is one of the richer areas of Kathmandu. It's pumping with traffic and people and a million stores selling Nepalese wares. There is less of the confronting sights of people sleeping on the streets and children playing in places we would never let our children touch. And so in a way Thamel has become our sanctuary as well. We walked for a few hours, getting our heads around the area and start our journey learning a few lessons as we go.
After a small regathering of our thoughts back at the hotel. And a glass of very expensive bottle of Australian wine we buy from a tiny bottle shop. We head out to grab some food. We had it in our heads that we would go back to the Kathmandu guest house and eat somewhere we felt was extremely safe and clean. At this point we haven't really slept much for almost 36 hours other than a few catnaps on planes and in airports. And don't feel we have our wits about us enough to judge the street food.

On the walk we hear some great Jazz music coming from a restaurant and Trish remembers the name from the lonely Planet. The New Orleans turns out to be this awesome restaurant with delicious food and massive bottles of Everest beer. We settle in on a big cushioned platform and chill out eating momos and drinking beer and bottled water. We also ordered a second dish each to share but by the time it arrived both of us were almost falling asleep in our food. I think the waiters were a bit offended at how little we ate of or mains and we tried to explain that we were just really tired and had ordered to much. I don't think they believed us :)
Then we headed back and hit the hay, glad that our hotel was down a little alley and away from any traffic noises and we both slept like the dead on the hardest mattress I have ever experienced. But it didn't matter. As Trish said "laying horizontally is completely underrated"

Highlights

- We sat down in one of the dodgy parts of Thamel and a little girl (Ruby) sees our camera. Her mother comes over and starts talking to us about her life, how hard she works and how important it is for her that her daughter learns to read and write although she has no money. She tells us she makes these bags and although we know it isn't true we buy one as we have just spent 20 minutes talking to her and taking photos of her gregarious little girl.
- it's getting dark as we head back towards our room and we have two 'holy' men stop us and put red dots on our forehead. Of course they don't ask and then demand some money. I'm still not accustomed to the currency, made harder by the fact that I have both Nepalese and Indian rupees to sort through. But manage to find a smaller note to give him. Lesson for today, when someone comes at you with a pot of paint either be willing to pay through the nose for your dot or duck.
- the cars here really are nuts I can't emphasize that enough. But you have to learn to stand your ground a little or you would never get anywhere. They beep when they are right next to you and drive so close your surprised you didn't get hit. But they also are seeming aware of you.
- there are also no lanes on the roads, or many traffic lights or round abouts (and what there is no one pays attention to) So if there is a lot of traffic going in one direction they just start driving on the other side of the street. And then get beeped at until they find a spot back on the right side of the road.
- it's so colorful and noisy that it's almost impossible to take anything in. I feel like I have been on sensory overload since I arrived. But after a few hours of waking around this little rooftop courtyard is like a haven away from the hustle and bustle. It's great to know there is a spot to come back to and centre yourself again.

1. All my Bags are Packed

It's a funny thing, watching the week run away from you. No matter what you do you can't get it to slow down. And so you can't catch your breath and your feet can't find solid ground again.

That is how this how this last two weeks have felt. Pelting along ahead of me, with me struggling (but somehow managing) to keep up.

This blog was one of the things that got lost in the rush. I had such plans of outlining this trip to India. Where we were going and what I hoped to get from it. As well as how I was feeling as I moved towards not only the trip, but branching out on my own and away from the children.

But it was not to be. So as I type I am sitting on a plane headed towards Nepal.

Yesterday morning Andrew the kids and I went out for breakfast. It was probably the first time in over a week where we had all spent some quiet time together and suddenly I had this huge realization. OMG ... I'm going away this afternoon! I'm going away from Andrew and leaving him to look after our children to a degree he has never experienced before. I'm going away from my children, for such a long period. Will they be ok without me singing them to sleep? Will their dad be able to soothe them. I mean it took me 5+ years to work out ways to live with, guide and soothe them ? I'm also going away from my day to day self, without the usual things binding me and holding me to the ground. Will I fly? Or crash? Is it possible to do both?

After a morning of trying to keep my emotions under control those goodbyes at the airport were surreal. I hugged them all and said a hundred I love you's. Kissed enough kisses to last them the 16 nights when mummy doesn't put them to bed and extra kisses for their hearts for when they are sad.

And off we walked, through the hole in the wall ...

So far it's been a mixture of planes and airports. But still it's all part of the joys of travel. It's not yet been 24 hours since we left home, and a few hours to go before we set foot in Kathmandu. I'm sure there will be follow-up homesick posts. Today though I am feeling a little lost but happy. Excited and scared. Tired and yet to hyper to sleep.

Honorable mentions so far:

- the guy I was sitting next to was easy going and friendly enough that there were no uncomfortable issues. Except that he made this little tent with his blanket to sleep in and I wondered if it was because Trish and I were talking to much.
- we were wandering slowly to our gate in Sydney airport and then suddenly realised it was last call for our flight and we had a LONG way to run to get there.
- choosing the Asian vegetarian menu for all flights without thinking that such a large amount of legumes eaten in a confined space could be problematic.
- accidentally finding ourselves in the lounge where you are meant to pay to access and sleeping there without paying. (we didn't use any of the other facilities though and so I think when they saw us they let it go)
- we got the emergency exit seats on the Silk Air flight to Nepal.
Upside - we get LOADS more leg room, and TWO tray tables (hey on an airplane you take what upsides you can get)
Downsides - you can't recline your chair so have to sleep totally upright. Ok for Trish who has her little blowup neck pillow. But I keep falling forward as I try to sleep. We also had the air hostess give us a 5 minute speech about what we have to do in case of an emergency. Basically it consisted of the pilot yelling Evacuate! Evacuate! And then Trish and I have to open the emergency hatch (after checking for smoke, fire, or blockages) and make sure the bouncy slide deploys. If it doesn't we have to proceed to step 2 and manually deploy the bouncy slide. The whole time the air hostess was talking I kept thinking two things. 1. Truly nothing (even extra leg room) is free and 2. Isn't it kinda the hostesses job to get the plane organized in an emergency. What happens if the pilot yells Evacuate! And I'm so terrified I want to hide under the seat. I don't think I'm made for emergency exit seating. Hmm I guess that's the first thing I've learnt about myself on our trip to India. I wonder what the next will be.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Time Passes ...


My aunt, after 7 years of fighting and living with cancer, died this week. I have written a lot of posts about her journey and mine.  But truly there are very few words that seem appropriate when someone dies, so this is going to be brief.  Watching and sharing her journey has been life changing and eye opening.  I have learnt more about myself, the process of aging, getting sick, and of family than I would have thought possible.

So go gently Aunty Lib and thank you for the years of love and for openly sharing this journey with us all.  I hope you felt us all surrounding you with love in these last years, months and days.  Give mum a kiss from me xx

- Alison Krass and Gillian Welch - I'll Fly Away

(Oh and by the way, I know that she would have hated this photo, but I love it and due to my substantial lack of digital photos of her, this is the one I'm going with :)

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

From This...


To This...


In 15 mad mummy minutes.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Family ... In All Shapes

When a member of your family gets old there are a number if things you can do. You could put them out to pasture, get rid of them, or you could take them in, nurture their body and hope they get to live with you until they die peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones.


Meet the newest member of our family. My dad and Inges old car. Now normally I don't get excited about cars. But I have loved this car for as long as dad has had it. I started driving it not long after I got my license and always hoped that one day we would have a car just like it.

When dad mentioned a few months ago that when they moved the didn't think they were going to take their old car, he asked if I knew anyone who would be interested in it. I instantly jumped at the idea knowing that Andrew had been talking about downsizing his car (obviously not literally).

Now to be honest I didn't want it to be my main car. Let's face it I live in the city and the smaller and zippier the car the easier it is to drive round here. But it's such a grand old beast and for that 'once in a while' I love that I can jump in and rumble along in it.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Moving On


I mentioned earlier that dad and Inge are moving to Maleny. Well tomorrow is moving day. So yesterday Andrew and I went up and picked up a few bits we were taking (happily) off their hands. In particular their old car (more about that later). 

As we were driving up the Northern Beaches something hit me ... This could be the last time for a long time that I drive up here.

I have driven up to dads regularly since I got my license. And the drive felt like driving home. Of course being the big sook that I am, once I had this thought I became a blubbering mess.

When dad first mentioned moving away people asked me how I felt about it. The answer was always the same. I'm excited for him and thrilled that they have chosen to throw caution to the wind and trying something new. I knew without a doubt that dad, Inge and I will always be close in spite of whatever geographical distance there may be between us. And yet on the drive up there I felt like I was saying goodbye. Not to them so much (although partially) but to a familiar and comfortable part of my life. The idea that if things ever get tough. There was somewhere I could just jump in the car and drive to (and be there within an hour and a half). 

I know that part of them moving away means that we may see each other more as we will go up there to stay for a day or more instead of the normal 4 hour catch ups we do every few months. And so there are some benefits to the distance.  But still, I'll miss my daddy.

As always dad had just the right words to soothe the part of me that found itself feeling like it was five again. And now I know that I am excited and proud but a small part of me is sad for myself and my kids that they are leaving and wondering what and how our relationship will change and develop as we find our way around the geographical distance.

So it's not really a goodbye (although it may be for the northern beaches) it's bon voyage, enjoy the trip that you are taking from the norm. See you on the flip side. 

(now excuse me while I go off and get a little teary, but with a smile on my face) 
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