A Travellerspoint blog

Incredible India!

sunny 50 °F

Incredible India! That is the country’s tag line and to some extent it does live up to it. I can not describe India in one word or sentence but boy it is very big country! I remember before I started off my journey I was given some advice to which I actually wondered why it was so important. I was told that once I accept all the dirt/noise/stares you will only then start to enjoy India for what it is. There was a bit of truth in that advice but I did find this country very challenging. I travelled to 8 different states and they were all very different from one another. From the food, the weather, dress sense and hospitality (or the lack of it).

I flew in to Chennai to kick start off my Indian adventure. Dealing with temperature soaring to 48deg more and less everyday with 80% of humidity for 3 weeks (with the 2-8hrs of power cuts so no AC/Fans) was quite an experience. Working with the Ridley sea turtles was very rewarding from releasing Sagrika back home after 2yrs of rehabilitation to releasing 50 odd hatchlings back to the Indian sea. Getting back in the backpacking routine I had left to go towards Kanyakumari passing a few cool places along the way. Danuskodi was one of them (Southern most tip) as this place was super clean, from the beach and water! I entered ‘God’s own country’ aka the state of Karnataka, Kerala. Scenically form the distance this place was very green, palm trees everywhere, even the lakes were covered with green petals – it did look very blissful but the main disturbing thing were the men, well generally speaking throughout India they just love urinating everywhere day or night.

I did go to check out the backwaters which were cool but going on a houseboat was out of the question as it was expensive (well on my budget). The men here were very smiley but once all friendly they became very forward ie I was told to leave my hotel room because I did not show any interest to the guy lol what a prick! The beaches along Kerala were o-kay nothing to boast about but watching the locals fully dressed in the water was quite amusing with the tourist beside them wearing more and less nothing lol. During my time in the Southern parts of India it was probably my worst experience. I imagined being an Indian girl backpacking would be in my favour however I was wrong! I was being shouted at by a train supervisor for just asking about how the seating arrangements are set out – this is very confusing, as there are different types of tickets/seats etc, being pushed/elbowed off buses, being served after the non-Indian travellers but the upside of all this is that I got into see all of the attractions at local Indian rate :) whereas all the NRI (Non residents of India) were charged double sometimes guardable the amount!
My impressive journey that I had done has to be the 52hr train journey from Bangalore to West Bengal! I managed and lucky to have gotten a 3 seater non-ac, which basically means I got a fold-away bed in a cubicle with 5 others. The space was crammed but at least I was able to lie down and sleep. It was strange though to waking up at 5 men sitting opposite my bed starring at me lol but they all turned out to be really nice. I was thinking in the 2 days I need to avoid going to the toilet of the stench was BAD! But the guys were constantly buying me food on board so I did end up going …..enough said lol! The train culture was amazing, I really enjoyed it. There was constant banter with the passengers and the workers/sellers. There was an occasion there was an argument where the police had to be called on board and everyone made me feel at ease and no one was STARRING at me which was nice for a change.

Strangers in the UK and most other countries would spark up a conversation at a bus stop about the weather but in India the most asked questions to any tourist would be; 1) How much money do you make, 2) Are you married; and 3) Are you married lol. These questions were not seem to have been invasive at all. Hehehe.

The food side of things were a bit disappointing probably because I have had almost all types of Indian food but I dig the South India Idly, dosa, sambar etc and in Punjab I was loving fresh sugar cane juice and it was good to finally have proper Punjabi food esp the dhal….yummie! I also had an obsession with momo’s there were basically steamed dumplings very popular in west Bengal, Sikkim and in Delhi.
The best / enjoyable places that I went to in India has to be Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Gangtok, Rumchi, Namchi, Punjab and Mumbai. I would most def come back to India BUT next time I would do a lot more planning as this is very vital to do if you are visiting India!

Apparently I went to India at the worst time as it was the 'Monsoon'. In fact everywhere I ended up going all I experience was hot, sunny weather with humidity soaring to 80%. I must have had rain 3/4 days wbut nothing how I had managed it would have been like. Each state had different conditions but the worst was Chennai. The further north I had gone was great but my views of the Himalayan range were not visable due to fog like views, Punjab was lovely, Rajasthan was bearable (but then again I do love my heat - there was breeze) and when I got to Mumbai temperature went down to 27deg!

Overall I am glad that I stayed for my 3 months as planned, I didn’t become all holy, I was not obsessed with yoga (in fact I did not any classes), I did not end up having loads of wrist bands on my ankles, nor did I end up getting braids or dress up in a orange sari but I did learn to become loud and become aggressive when wanting something hahaha.

I made very good friends but one in particular, Praveen if you are reading this ‘Thank you’ for the millionth time lol. I will see you again but next time it is going to be Leh/Ladakh!

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 05:24 Archived in India Comments (0)

Sizzling South Afrika

Johannesburg, Cape Town, Wild Coast, Durban and Hoedspruit.

sunny 29 °F

3rd March – 13th Jo’burg – Sandton
My experience for the past 2 months here in South Africa has been crazy! I did not expect all the things that I got to see in this amazing part of Africa. So my journey had begun on the 3rd March when I left Argentina, excited as I was moving to a different continent and was eager to explore. Landing in Oliver Tambo airport in Johannesburg in the early hours of the morning I was surprised but I don’t know what I was expecting. The airport was very big, very high tech and very clean – streamline comes to mind. I got my first taste of nightlife here in Jo’burg aka Jozi on the night that I landed. My host took me to a regular Saturday night out! Trust me this club and atmosphere is something so different from London clubbing…better! The club consisted of 4 different rooms (one of the rooms was outside so you could see the sunrise!), over 1,000 clubbers and did not close until the last dancer…which I would not know as I was back indoors the next morning at 8am lol and the club was still buzzing. The trooper that I am I slept for a few hours and headed for The Lion Park which was so cool. Short and a sweet trip, I got to chill with baby lions from ages from 0 till 6months – it was amazing!

So I visited various places in South Africa from Jo’burg, Cape Town, The Wild Coast, Durban and the National game reserves. All places very, extremely different from each other.
Johannesburg is known as the economic hub of South Africa and it certainly shows. If not everyone a majority of people drive fast cars! The houses here are BIG and all area have top notch security in place…is this to say that it is true about Johannesburg being another dangerous city to visit in the world?!?!? Well I have been here on and off for nearly 3wks and I have not come across any form danger or have seen any form dangerous activity! I think the general rule to bear in mind is to use common sense don’t do anything you would not do if you were back at home. The only problem that I experienced when I was here was transport! My local supermarket by foot had taken me 45mins to walk one way! Even though this is the Canary Wharf of South Africa public transport seems to be a problem. You seriously need a car! There is however the Gautrain which is amazing but it does not serve the whole of Gauteng State (which includes Jo’burg and Pretoria). You do have combi taxis which are great if you know how the system works and in which direction you need to be in order to go the right direction lol. The locals use sign language for their destination. I picked up on this by mingling in with the locals and it has been a blessing lol and very cheap 8Rands one way so that works out to be 80p. Your best friend would certainly be the local users.

I was lucky to have met an amazing resident who had taken me to a few sights here in Jo’burg. One thing that I must recommend for everyone to see if you ever come here is to go to the Apartheid Museum. It is the first of its kind, illustrates the rise and fall of apartheid in South Africa. It was a system of racial segregation enforced through legislation by the National Party governments, who were the ruling party from 1948 to 1994, of South Africa, under which the rights of the majority non-white inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and white supremacy and Afrikaner minority rule was maintained. Want to know more? Get to SA! Or if money is an issue google it! SA has a complex land with a lot of confusing race-related stuff. There are 6 major races here and they are the blacks, English whites, Afrikaners, Indians, Coloureds and others. There was one book that helped me to shed light on the people of South Africa. It is a must read ‘The Racist’s guide to the people of South Africa’ by Simon Kilpatrick.

So my journey in to Cape Town was not for the faint hearted lol. I always tell people never to assume and there I was assuming that the overnight/day buses were better or even on par with buses in South America (well esp in Bolivia) but I was wrong!
I was told that the journey would take me 18hrs which is nothing compared to my 36hr journey from Mendoza to Iguaçu Falls. Half an hour in to my journey the bus broke down due to overheating. We had waited for over 2hrs for an engineer to arrive. The bus started over again (yay) with no AC (nay) on board mind you it was about 27deg outside…we then were told to change buses at 1-2am…things didn’t get better as an hour before we were approaching Cape Town we were pulled off by the drugs police, who had stripped searched all of us (a bus full of church goers!). Touch down after 26hrs…CT. I was followed by a guy off the streets trying to make some money and I was not in a good mood. Let’s just say the security at the hostel had to take care of him! Anyways that was just my luck…so don’t get worried. I had learnt my lesson about the buses here especially ‘SA Roadlink’ who you do not use! Other bus companies are good but at the price that they charge you’re better off catching a flight – so look around!

South Africa – 14th March – 3rd April Cape Town
I spent 3weeks in Kaapstad, very different from Jo’burg. Catered mainly for tourism esp after their world cup here back in 2010. You would only need a car if you wanted to go to vineyards/garden route and other places like Cape Agulas (which is the most southern point of South Africa not Cape Point). But generally everything is like a 20-30mins walk from main attractions. The city is surrounded by a mountains and amazing stretch of coastline. Table Mountain (you can also take a cable car) took me an hr and half both ways to the top and back down not clever going up on your own let alone late in the afternoon as I then had the challenge of making it back down before it got dark lol. The views from the top as you can imagine were sublime and you could see everything from Robben Island, the world cup stadium and both oceans. I hired a Cobra to drive alongside all the bays and I can not begin with the views that I came across. I was faced with never ending, gorgeous views of aquamarine waters, mountain ranges and homes with secluded beaches. I stopped over at Boulder Beach which the local habitants were African penguins just chilling in the same waters/beach with the local people/tourist…swimming with penguins was unreal!

The best place to have a drink, meal and even nightlife in Cape Town is down Long Street. You can find a stretch of all types of restaurants and bars but be prepared a very touristy place with numerous amounts of backpackers residing here but nevertheless a great night out! I was lucky to be part of a TedX event (Technology Entertainment Design and the ‘X’ stands for an independently organized event) where presentations of up to 18 minutes are given by leaders in their fields. This one particular was an event based on Marine Conservation an amazing event that got me excited and was lucky to meet Dr. Suparaja who I will be volunteering for when I hit Chennai! You can view this event at http://www.ted.com/tedx/events/3983

I went on a biomimicry workshop which took place on a boat and I had a chance to have a dip in the Atlantic to view marine life. It took me a very long time to get the courage and get in the waters…as everyone mentions that the Atlantic is cold. I can now confirm that the Atlantic Ocean is extremely cold but once in your amazing body acclimatises and I was glad I jumped in because I got to snorkel and saw some amazing underwater life!

There is this ongoing discussion on the two colours you would expect to see when the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Well I went to discover whether if this was true or not. I drove to Cape Agulhas where I made it just in time to see the sunset, whilst enjoying a bag of fish n chips  Anyway back to the point, I went to the local tourist information desk to ask where I would be able to see this meeting of both oceans. She came back with how the meeting takes place waaay down south near enough the South pole so you can not see this at Cape Agulhas but you can def feel the difference of water temperature. Put it this was I was happy to go in the Indian ocean for a skinny dip and it was warm! Also in this area we went to the local harbour where I saw stingrays just chilling, fed them with off cuts of fish but more than anything I was impressed by the sheer size of them! So back in Cape Town, if there is one thing that I think you should do is to go to The Aquarium. It is catered for all age groups and unbelievable array of marine life at a great scale as well. My favourite were the jellyfish. There are other activities that you can get involved in which I didn’t do as there were no interest to me like Robben Island (were Nelson Mandela was imprisoned), the shark diving but I would have liked to do the Garden Route (which I will do when I go back :) .

South Africa – Port St John 4th April – 15th April
From touristy surroundings in Cape Town I headed to the Wild Coast. In the modern world, ‘wild’ as far as nature is concerned is a relative concept. It is enough, perhaps, that an area of natural beauty is not utterly trampled by urban development, or destroyed by irresponsible land use, for it to deserve the term ‘wild’. Certainly this is the case when talking about The Wild Coast of South Africa. Rested in the Eastern Cape region it has gorgeous natural environment, comprising of open grasslands, secluded beaches and all outlined by the Indian Ocean. I stayed in an area called Port St. John’s and in my eyes the best place that I have seen here in South Africa. PSJ is very remote African town, in terms of technology and living lifestyle. It is a place of true tranquility and a great getaway. I had stayed at the amazing chalet overlooking a private beach and the Indian Ocean. All you could hear 24hrs a day was the Ocean and birds. No radio, no TV, no transport, no communication to the outside world and hours of sunshine. So what was there to do here? So me and Andre made friends with David a local fisherman who had taken us for a few fishing trips. I am proud to say that I caught my 1st ever fish and cooked it for dinner – amazing! In the evenings we would prepare a Braai of amazing seafood like mussels and crayfish and watch the stars come out in the evening. Nothing beats the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks, whilst cooking dinner on an open fire and sipping some good wine! The town is very small but it does have your standard banks, ATM’s and you supermarket. Everyone here was either Braaing or drinking a very chilled out town. The drives around the PSJ were so serene with acres of land, small villages scattered everywhere (all very happy people and welcoming – kids running along our cars asking for sweets or some change - very good long distance runners) all overlooked by the Indian Ocean. We headed off to Durban for 1night and that was long enough. Not much to do apart from the beach and walk along the promenade but I did hear that they are cool things to do and see on the outskirts. So Durban is the little India here and the craze here as far as food is concerned is a bunny chow. What is it? It is a half a loaf that has the middle of the bread scooped out and replaced by a meat curry. I did have it and it was nice but nothing special – another food craze here are chili bites aka pakora/Indian bhaji.

We headed towards to a private self-catering bushveld game estate near the Kruger National Park game reserve called Maduma Boma, about 10 hour drive (we stopped off in jo’burg for the night) from Durban. The sun would rise over our thatched chalet, which was in a secluded part of the bush. Whilst I was having breakfast a heard of Impalas were grazing just arms reaches from me. I also came across Giraffe’s, Wildebeest Kudu, Nyala and many other species of magnificent African animals. The night sky was covered by loads of bright stars, moving satellites and in the distant you could hear the loud roars of lions nearby. It was an amazing experience for the fraction of the cost of going to the Kruger National Park.
In my last week back in Jo’burg I hit Soweto and downtown Johannesburg; I came across some amazing places like Melville and the local Market on the Main.

South Africans have been so helpful, inviting and this is what makes this country an amazing place to visit. So overall this country has been a home away from home I can not wait to come back here to explore more. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Next stop India.

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 08:15 Archived in South Africa Tagged and coast the town wild cape johannesburg durban hoedspruit. Comments (0)

Colourful Buenos Aires

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I was greeted by Leandro my friend that I had met in Cabanaconde, Peru at the ‘Pachamama Hostel’. He had invited to stay with his family for as long as I wanted which was really nice of him! I really did not do much here in San Fernando but I loved it. Spending time with Leo mum and dad who were great! His mum spoke very little English whereas the dad did not speak a word and bless he would speak to me in Spanish but in a very fast tone. I finally got to sleep on a descent bed, hot shower and to eat salads and vegetables!!!!!!!!!! I did go to Tigre which was only a few stops from San Fernando. It was a nice town with a canal full of boats, people taking out their rowing boats, women on their cycles and obviously locals sipping on their mate! We strolled around for an hour or two before heading to Leandro’s friend’s house where he wanted to finish off his back tattoo. I was looking fwd to seeing this as I have always wanted to get one of my own. The tattoo took almost 4hours to complete and after that we headed back home. There was this big match that was going to take place with the local favourites ‘Boca Juniors’ on the Sunday and I really wanted to go but tickets are like gold dust very hard to get hold off. Saturday morning after breakfast I saved a few designs to my laptop and off we went to Lupita Tattoo store! I was serious and I just wanted to get my tatt and what better place to get it…in Argentina! No doubt I was nervous and shit scared but very determined. There was a chance that they were busy as I did not book an appointment but they were free lol. I explained my design to Leandro and he told Santiago the tattooist. I then had to wait while he had his lunch, nervous as ever trying to think of something diff a bit hard when in all you can hear is the sound of the machines hehehe. This girl had come in and wanted a little heart or something on her finger and as it was a small design he asked me if I can wait a little longer. I was more than happy to hahahah. Watching that girl made me feel more at ease…I can do this.

I was called up, I sat on the stretcher and like in Miami Ink he had transferred my design on my ankle. The actual size that I had wanted he said it would look pretty crap as it has loads of detail so he had convinced me to go bigger, a lot bigger. After free hand drawing it was time. The hour went so quick that I could not believe that I have just had my 1st tattoo. At the points where I felt in pain I was squeezing Leandro hand (bless him) and looking at this guy on the left of me who was getting his whole arm done but there was a time where I was thinking of my nephew whilst listening to some UK garage oooh yeah! I am pleased with the tattoo afterwards I could not put a lot of pressure on my foot but all was good. Later on that evening I was invited to a family asado party. It was really cool to have a family dinner as I really miss just sitting with my family and eating or just chilling with them. A great night and everyone had made me feel at home, a lot of food and alcohol was consumed.
Part 2 for another asado party was being held at Leandro brother’s house on Sunday.

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 02:32 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Argentina, Uruguay back to Argentina lol

Salto, Concordia, Villa Maria, Montevideo, Santa Teresa/Chuy

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The group had separated in the morning as some wanted to leave super early but I needed to have a bit of lie in lol. Fiona and me made our way towards Posadas and from here we decided to take an over night bus to Concordia. It was a long day but it was nice to be inside an aircon bus:o) Once we arrived we had to take a bus towards the border of Argentina/Uruguay the joke was that everyone in the bus station (we the people that worked there) were telling us that we had to pay 20 pesos for an 30-40min bus journey ok it was like £3.00 but we figured that there was a local bus that took us there for £0.60! It is always best to speak to the locals! We were dropped a km away from the boarder which we had to walk to. I thought it would be nice if someone could hitch us a ride so for a joke I stuck my thumb out and someone pulled up. I know what you guys are thinking and how stupid I am but I had a good feeling. This guy basically took us through the boarder and had dropped us off at the 1st town in Uruguay, Salto. We basically managed to hitch hike 600km with 3 diff drivers the last driver was an old man must have been in his 60’s driving one of those big hefty trucks! In the passenger seat I felt like a giant it was an amazing experience. The whole 6hrs being on the road all Uruguay had shown me were acres of green grass land, some used for crops/farming and other areas were just unoccupied. There were loads of green small parrots just flying casually just amazing. We were planning to get towards Montevideo but once Walter had dropped us off we were back walking this time it was approaching evening. As he had left his truck and jumped on his bike he did tell us if we can’t get on another form of transport then we could stop over at his which was 3km away. Out came our ‘Montevideo’ sign and off we were. After 3km nada, we did see Walter bike outside his home. We walked in the supermarket next door brought a few things for dinner and knocked on his door. He was so happy to see us and so were we. He has invited over his nieces/nephew to join and then later they had taken us to a carnival party which was diff. The evening (like midnight) has kicked off with an hour of live comedy and then followed by dancing, we then stopped off for a carnival procession on stage and the night ended with more dancing. We came back at 6am and work up a few hours later, so now we were only 70km away from Montevideo as we were hang no luck with another hike we decided to get on a bus and I am glad we did.
The next few days we actually spent day and night at the bus station (and I am glad that we did not have to pay to use the toilets lol and that it had many restaurants that were opened more and less for 24hrs) because due to the many carnivals all the hostels were booked up and the hotels were highly priced. Uruguay is not cheap! Fiona and I waited for the rest as they were arriving at midnight. When everyone had reunited we decided to go to Chuy, 5 hours away from Montevideo. We took the late/very early bus so we had arrived at 6am. The minute we had arrived there it was pouring with shite load of rain…great! We had paid to get in the campsite and have a smooch but to be honest there were no way that the tents we had were going to stay up let alone keep the rain out. Thank god we were given our money back and off we were back to Montevideo lol. What a joke! Once back to our home heheh I now had to think about my plans which sometimes you end up going along with the rest of the group on what I had to and wanted to do. With only a week or so to go before I am on the plane to my next destination I needed to get to Buenos Aires! So there I was looking for a bus, any bus to BA. Found a cocha cama – the full bed bus! The bus which only the elite take but I thought this is my last bus that I will be taking in SAmerica, I had to get to BA asap and also I just slept (we tried to) on a plastic chair for 3 days! The service was impeccable! We were greeted with a dinner plate all ready on our seat, I slept like a baby and when arrived in Buenos Aires I had a breakfast plate ready for me – well worth the price!

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 02:29 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

The Mighty Falls

Iguaçu Falls

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After saying bye to Martin I was back on my own but I was looking forward seeing Iguaçu Falls! I had a 32 hour journey ahead of me which I was not looking forward. After 14hrs I had arrived in Buenos Aires on Valentines Day lol from here I had to look for another bus that would take me to Puerto Iguaçu. I found a bus that was to leave not for another 2hours, so I grabbed some lunch and sat on the floor pulled out my bestest investment my laptop and watched a movie. Boarded on my 2nd bus at 5pm and off I was. I must admit the journey was not bad at all, the roads were comfortable, the movie that they played was Avatar in English bonus :o) and I also enjoyed on board dinner. I woke up just before sunrise and witnessed my sunrise on the bus not far from my destination. Finally arrived in Puerto Iguaçu, the next mission was to locate where my Spaniards were staying. Pulled out my map and started to walk in the blazing heat. I entered another campsite but this was literally in the woods, so bugs galore :o) I was actually glad to have a ice cold shower but after that I had to have some serious catch up on my sleep…yet again I was suffering from insomnia.

For some reason I was not excited about waking up knowing that I was going to actually see the falls. We were warned to get to the gates as early as possible like 7am but we had left at 8am or so. When arrived we were bombarded by so many visitors and with the humid heat, both did not go well together! You did not need any signs on which way to go and see the main mouth of the falls as firstly the amount of people that were flocking there, secondly you could see cloud like steam arising but it was the sound of the falls that were very loud! We had to walk on this eye sore man made steel bridge that did not fit in with the surroundings for about a mile of so. Along this walk I saw amazing birds flying around and a few catfishes. Once at the mouth of the falls, Garganta del Diablo (devils throat) I could not see much because everyone was barging, some were taller but the older peeps were the rudest, you will hardly get a moment on your own! I did manage to push myself forward to see the spectacular views. Mind-blowing, the whole world just seems to drop away. In the middle there is also an island called ‘Isla Grande San Martin’ which we could have gone to but as you can imagine it is very pricey! We had carried on exploring these 55,000 hectares of natural wonderland, we passed many waterfalls and every angle needed a photo. We then went for a detour away from the crowds on this 45min walk towards this secluded (ok not that many tourist) waterfall/pool area. Nothing spectacular but we did settle here for some lunch. The time just flew by real quick we could have returned for half price the next day but I think I saw more than enough and to be honest I did not wanted to be surrounded by many tourist.

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 02:25 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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