A Travellerspoint blog

Islay

sunny 14 °C
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We knew at the outset of this trip that a visit to Islay in the Scottish Hebrides would undoubtedly be our year’s highlight and it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve always enjoyed a wee dram and over the last eight years we have both steadily sought out our favourite whiskies and enjoyed many a trip to Christchurch’s Whisky Galore and the famed Whisky Festivals.

Islay is no easy destination to reach. Firstly, you must drive along a windy road to the tiny Kennacraig pier and then board a car ferry that is routinely cancelled due to stormy weather and high seas but the CalMac ferry is in a class of its own. The ship is nearly new with a wonderful interior including a quiet lounge, as well as a wee restaurant that serves a range of whisky for you to sample over the two hour journey and our journey was about as beautiful and as calm as you could get.

The ferry approaching Kennacraig pier
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Once we arrived at our cottage, I started to phone each distillery to book in a time for either a tour or a tasting. Yes. We covered eight distilleries in six days with bouts of sightseeing and plenty of eating in between. This is what we discovered:

Sunday – Lagavulin
We began with a basic distillery tour to get a feel for the process and after roughly an hour and a few whisky tastings we had a reasonable idea of what was involved. Apparently, Johnny Depp, the teetotal actor, will happily order a glass just to nose it, so striking is Lagavulin’s aroma (Buxton, Ian; 101 Whiskies to Try Before you Die). Our favourite was the double matured 16 year old finished in a sherry cask – the distiller’s edition. Our verdict is that this dram is very smooth with a sherried sweetness.

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Monday – Caol Ila
On the opposite side of the island is perhaps the most scenic distillery overlooking the wild paps of Jura. We’ve enjoyed Caol Ila’s 12 year old before so we were very much looking forward to what else the distillery had to offer so we elected to do a chocolate and whisky tasting tour. We enjoyed the pairings but unfortunately, our guide was not as informative or as engaging as she really needed to be and overall at 20 pounds per ticket, it wasn’t really worth it. However, we did get to try: Mocka, the 12 year old, the Feis edition and a special edition bottling.

The view of the Jura Paps from Caol Ila
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Sushi the distillery cat
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The tasting table
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Monday – Bunnahabhain
Similar to Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain sits on a wild coast and it is one of my favourite whiskies. The 12 year old is finished in sherry casks and therefore has more body. This whisky is great to have with oatcakes and cheese.

Images of Bunnahabhain
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Tuesday – Ardbeg
There is no doubt that Ardbeg is one of Islay’s most distinctive brands and as such, its distillery is very commercialized and includes a café that seems to be more frequented than the whisky tours. Nonetheless, we had a very impressive tour led by Dougie and we learnt so much more that we left feeling as if we could start a distillery ourselves. The standard is the ‘entry-level’ 10 year old expression which has won several awards. The stills at Ardbeg differ from others on Islay as they are taller and have a purifier on the spirit still, the combination of which contributes to the finesse and delicacy of what is a very highly peated spirit. It was fabulous to taste not just the classic 10 year old but also my favourite the Uigeadail (a monster full of peat smoke, earthiness and layers of oats, oil and more peat), the AuresVerde and the Correyvrecken. Ardbeg is just too tough to beat.

Images of Ardbeg
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Wednesday – Bowmore
It would be foolish to make the pilgrimage to Islay and not spend a little more than you should to do at least one Craftsman’s Tour. This tour is the most comprehensive tour available, conducted in private with the manager of the distillery who in our case was Eddy and who had worked at Bowmore for 49 years. You couldn’t get much more expertise if you tried. Another bonus of spending coin on a Craftsman’s Tour is to visit the number one vaults and sniff the Angel’s Share.

Eddie was simply fabulous and the tour was very informative. We saw the source of the peaty water, we turned the barley on the malting floor, we raked the barley, we shoveled peat into the kiln, we were even smoked in the kiln, we peered into the mashtuns and the kilns and finally we were taken to the number one vaults.

At the start of the tour
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Turning the malt, stoking the peat fire and the source of the water
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The number one vault has stood at Bowmore for 200 years. It is a cold, dark, dank warehouse with mossy and musty mould clinging to almost every surface – apparently it enhances the flavor. Eddie led us to two barrels. The first barrel was the typical bourbon cask that had been maturing for 17 years and the second barrel was the far more expensive olorosso sherry cask that had been maturing for 18 years. Eddie grabbed hold of the whisky mallet to loosen the bun and before we knew it, we were tasting cask strength, unfiltered whisky. Let’s just say Eddie’s drams were akin to 200 mils each instead of the standard 25 mils. I’d say that in the space of about ten minutes, he’d poured us at least 75 pounds worth of whisky.

The number one vault
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As we’ve been touring the distilleries, I have always kept my eye open for whisky matured in a port cask – this is unusual and quite rare. Believe it or not, in the Bowmore shop, I found a 23 year old Port Matured Whisky selling at 25 pounds per dram (25 mils) or 328 pounds per bottle. Needless to say we were not going to buy that. Cheeky as I am though, I requested a sampling and we were so, so fortunate to be given not one but two huge drams of the port matured whisky. God it was good. So good. I really wished that we could buy it and you can only buy it at Bowmore as stocks are running very low.

After all of that, we merrily slumped into the chairs at the distillery and decided that we needed food. Both of us were having out of body experiences and I was so numb, I could barely feel my skin. We settled into a pub lunch and within a few minutes Scott had to depart. He wasn’t feeling well. I managed to eat his lunch and my lunch and then somehow stumbled home. Luckily, I just felt incredibly weird but Scott really did end up with a bit of alcohol poisoning and you can imagine the rest!

Slumped in the chair at Bowmore
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Thursday – Kilchoman
Neither one of us particularly wanted to ever see a bottle of whisky again after the day before but with limited time, we scuttled off to Kilchoman. We love their whisky and no doubt a small part of that is due to the fact that this is one of the very few independent family run distilleries you can find. They even bottle their own whisky which is a rarity. After an interesting tour, we gladly took samples of Kilchoman home rather than tasting them.

Images of the Kilchoman distillery and tasting
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Thursday – Bruichladdich
As far as I’m concerned, this distillery has a modern approach to marketing that makes their whisky stand out on the shelf. It isn’t just savvy marketing though as Bruichladdich produces a very fine whisky and they also produce a distinctive gin. I decided to try their new Octomore which is the most heavily peated whisky I’ve ever tried at 250ppms. It really was peaty!

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Friday – Laphroaig
Seven distilleries later, we finally arrived at Laphroaig for their flavor tasting experience. Luckily it was just Scott and I. We were given a great explanation of the history and whiskies we were about to try paired with food. We thoroughly enjoyed: 10 year old paired with a creamy blue, the quarter cask paired with an orange and the 18 year old paired with dark chocolate coffee beans. Afterwards, I had a taste of the triple matured whisky, too. Yum. Yum! Although it is a bit of a marketing ploy, we ‘bought’ a slab of land and walked out to plant our New Zealand flags on Laphroaig land. Weird but fun, nonetheless!

Images of Laphroaig tasting and claiming our plot!

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Islay has so much to offer other than whisky. As you drive around the island it is not uncommon to see cyclists, ornithologists and whisky buffs walking along the island’s roads. In truth, we would have liked to spend more time walking around the island but whisky was our number one focus. Our other focus, as always, is to discover locally produced food and that didn’t disappoint either.

The scenery

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The Ancient Sites - stone circles and celtic crosses

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The food and drink!

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And finally, a couple of photos that don't quite fit anywhere...

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Posted by Deb_Scott 10:42 Archived in Scotland Comments (2)

Beautiful Bengal

37 °C

We love mountains and amongst other things that is one of the reasons why we are determined to move back to the South Island so we were very eager to be seated on the left hand side of the plane in order to view the spectacular Himalayas.

Fortunately, the clouds had cleared and we were spoilt with breathtaking views of the mountains for much of our flight into the foothills but as with most things in India our luck was to run out. The plane descended through thick clouds of murk to the dusty, hot plains below and our views disappeared. Not to be disheartened, we believed that once we climbed higher we’d see Everest, Lhotse and Khangchendzonga in all their glory.

We sorted out our taxi that would take us to Kurseong and off we went and we should note with a little bit of apprehension due to the descriptions of the roads in various guide books. Our driver wove his way through the usual obstacles and we started to climb the foothills. They may be foothills in the Himalayas but these ‘hills’ resembled mountains. They literally went straight up and the roads twisted and turned as if it were more of an intestinal highway past tea plantations and small villages clinging precariously to the ridges. On more than one occasion I gasped and shut my eyes as the car swung around tight corners and seemed to almost drop off the side of the hills much to the amusement of our driver.

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After about an hour of tortuous climbing we arrived at Kurseong sitting at 1460 metres. There are only two accommodations for tourists here so we decided to go with the atmospheric and stayed at Cochrane Place. It was certainly quite quirky and stuffed full with antique furniture, climbing paraphernalia and plenty of types of tea. Our room faced out over the hillside to views of Khangchendzonga the third highest peak in the world at 8598 metres but wouldn’t you know it – the murk was up here too.

Kurseong is very quiet and we thoroughly enjoyed walking down to Makaibari Tea Estate passing fields of green tea bushes as we went. We were given a very interesting and thorough tour of the tea business and we were both surprised by the amount of stages involved in processing. It seemed quite a lot more technical than coffee processing.

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Our guide Mr Om informed us that the first ‘cleansing rains’ hadn’t come yet hence the thick cloud cover and it had meant a late tea harvest. Personally, I wasn’t worried about the late tea harvest. I was more worried about coming all this way and not getting up close and personal with the roof of the world.

Luckily Cochrane Place had a great tea menu so we worked our way through it. My favourite had to be Kashmir Ki Kali (choice roasted tea, rose petals, saffron, spices and almond) and Scott’s was Orange Blossom Tea (a light Darjeeling tea blended with orange blossom and marmalade).

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Our next destination was Darjeeling via the toy train railway that is supposed to be the highest railway line in the world. Chugging along at speeds of 10km an hour (I’m not joking), we sat back and enjoyed the interesting views of the villages spread out along the ridgelines but once again the murky clouds hovered. At one point in the journey we reached 2700metres (Aoraki Mt Cook sits at just over 3000 metres).

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Darjeeling used to be the epicenter of the Himalayan climbing community. Many of the expeditions originated here and it was great to visit the dilapidated Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, pay our respects at the grave of Tenzing Norgay and visit Windermere Hotel the base where very famous climbers planned their trips. Needless to say, there are several tea shops selling literally hundreds and hundreds of tea leaves from well over $200 US dollars for 100 grams down to a couple of dollars per 100 grams. We really wanted to buy teaware but our packs were already bulging. Overall though, Darjeeling is a town filled with diesel fumes and at a high altitude it makes for a bad combination. I woke in the middle of the night with a really sore chest that only abated once we left.

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After a couple of days, we travelled to Kalimpong within reach of Bhutan and on the trade route to Tibet. This time our driver was very cautious and we spent most of the time winding our way through gorgeous mountain forests, which once belonged to the Kingdom of Bhutan until just over a hundred years ago. Kalimpong is a lovely area covered with forests and flowers but we spent most of our three days tucked up in our hotel some distance from the city centre. We did manage a trip to Durpin Gompa monastery, though.

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We both wanted to continue north to Gangtok but the relentless cloud cover and lack of rain to cleanse the skies forced us to decide to head back down to the sweltering plains. Hiring taxis to drive all over the place just to see more of the same didn’t really appeal if the weather wasn’t going to play ball so we spent two and a half days down the mountain in noisy Siliguri. There is a silver lining to everything though and it meant catching up on washing, reading copiously and simply relaxing in preparation for our final week in India.

Kolkata

Not so long ago, Kolkata was synonymous with poverty and absolute squalor but the Kolkata we have seen is nothing of the sort. The city is the intellectual and cultural hub of India and I’d like to add a city with lovely lush, clean parks and beautiful colonial era buildings that often sit between large ponds and lakes. Even the city’s slums seem to be relatively clean and stink free.

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We started our trip here with the plan to visit the Sundarbans (one of the largest mangrove forests in the world and the best place to spot a tiger in the wild). The problem was that the tour we booked was ‘rustic’ to say the least and even though we knew it was going to be hot, we had no idea how hot. Temperatures have been pushing 40 + with 80 to 90 percent humidity and literally the second you step outside an air conditioned environment, every pore in your body drips and drips until you look like a rapidly melting ice cream. The thought of no air conditioning, no hot water, no electricity and long trips around a swamp for two days and two nights in a high malarial zone with no anti-malarials started to sound extraordinarily unappealing. So, we canned our trip and booked into a heavily discounted room at the Oberoi instead (only morons travel in India in April hence the huge discounts everywhere).

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We were in the mood to splurge and for the first time in our trip, we booked an AC car for a ride around the city. Our first stop was Mother Teresa’s house and shrine that was super busy with Easter pilgrims. Then we headed off to the Victoria Monument to gaze at more marble and more statues. All the way around the city we constantly made remarks about how lovely the city is and then we went to a mall. Usually we loathe malls but we knew it had AC and we felt like doing something ‘normal’ such as browsing a bookshop.

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Two haircuts later, two non-fiction books later and after the enjoyment of going up and down escalators had waned, we relaxed by the pool and lapped up a little bit of luxury.

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With just two days to go, we are feeling so appreciative of our amazing three month journey through India. It has been confronting, challenging and frustrating at times but well worth the effort of travelling independently. We’ve loved a lot about India. It has an incredible diversity of historic, cultural and religious sights as well as beautiful beaches and towering mountains. Not a place to miss.

Our next stop is the U.K and we hope the only challenge will be keeping to our budget!

Posted by Deb_Scott 05:54 Archived in India Comments (2)

Raunchy Khajuraho and Holy Varanasi

sunny 35 °C

Khajuraho

Despite protestations from the guesthouse owner in Orchha, we decided to take the slow 3rd class pack ‘m all in as tight as you can train to Khajuraho. Supposedly, the train takes about four hours but that’s if it arrives on time.

One of my goals in India is to capture a photo that includes a monkey, a cow, a goat, a dog and a person doing their ablutions all in one shot. A shot such as this would perfectly sum up India and at the Orchha train station waiting for the Khajuraho train to turn up I nearly got my wish. Monkeys swung from the trees and flew across the train tracks, a herd of cows waited patiently for the train and one decided to stand in the middle of the tracks, a pack of three dogs hovered close by and men dressed only in loin cloths were washing themselves at the well about 10 metres from all the animals. Foolishly, I’d packed my camera so I couldn’t capture the quintessence of India that day. Still it made for an entertaining wait for the train.

Being the only tourists/foreigners yet again, we eagerly walked down the long platform to board the train which had a planned stop of exactly 1 minute 30 seconds. Fortunately, one man told us to move to the back carriage because the train split in two. Thank God he realized Khajuraho must have been our destination or who knows where we might have ended up!

To our despair, the carriages were really jam packed with people some even sitting on the floor as well as curling up into tight balls on top of the luggage racks. For once being a foreigner in India helped and a very kind family shuffled over to let us perch on the end of their bench. That made five people squished in a row on a one and a half metre bench with women on one side and men on the other.

We’ve travelled in filthy trains before but this one lowered the bar even further. There was dark, grimy water sloshing around our feet, people ate their breakfast and dropped anything unwanted as well as spat out peanut kernels all over the floor and seats. As usual I retreated into my Bose noise cancelling headphone bubble with sunglasses on and my sarong wrapped tightly around me to block it all out.

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Despite the ick, we arrived in Khajuraho and we were very eager to rush out and view all the temples. Our hotel was practically empty, a phenomenon we’ve found since the beginning of March and the archaeological site was pretty vacant too. Since we were here for three days, we decided to chill out and look around rather than rush off to the temples.

Our great find was Raja’s Café. It served a fabulous range of food at very reasonable prices and it was located opposite the entrance to the temples, which meant great people watching. Needless to say, we were there for nearly every breakfast and dinner.

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The temples here contain the most exquisite carvings I have ever, ever seen. Yes – they are not for the prudish but the relief carvings covering the temples are far superior to what I’ve seen anywhere in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Central America. Each temple is covered with sculptures that are totally dynamic. They all seem to move and twirl away from the temples and the detail of each is extraordinary. The braiding on the hair of women is evident as is the beading and embroidery of the saris that cling to their bodies.

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Mostly, the images are very sexual and quite frankly x-rated but it isn’t really that which draws the crowds. The skill of the carvers and the stories told through the moving sculptures is what really stands out. Carvings of women twisting to take a thorn from their feet or washing their hair depict daily life clearly. Favourite sculptures included images of women applying makeup and giant elephants lifting enemy soldiers and crushing them with their trunks or stomping on them.

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Another joy in Khajuraho was hiring a bike and cycling to all the temple ruins scattered in the countryside. Once again, we loved cycling through villages and examining ruins at a leisurely pace. As usual, we were lured into a school by a student who proudly showed us around and then explained all the donations the school had received. We never move around with more than a couple of hundred rupees on us so it was a bit embarrassing handing over a pathetic donation of about $2 but it was all we had at hand.

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In just three days, we took well over 200 photos so the sample in the blog is very small! Getting from Khajuraho to Varanasi is a real pain in the butt so we decided to splurge and jump on a plane. From peaceful Khajuraho to the mayhem of Varanasi, India is one extreme to the next!

Varanasi

Varanasi has huge expectations to live up to. Known as the City of Life and one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities, pilgrims flock here to wash away a lifetime of sins in the sacred waters of the Ganges and cremate their loved ones. It is without doubt a confronting, unrelenting place but after nearly three months in India, it wasn’t too manic. Bizarrely, it all felt quite normal.

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There was no way we were going to even dip a toe in the Ganges due to the pollution and dead goodness knows what in the river (devout Hindus place their dead babies into the Ganges rather than cremate them so it isn’t unusual to spot them floating down the river but fortunately that was a sight we were saved from) but it was fascinating walking from one end of the Ghats to the other. Every single thing and being is washed in the Ganges. We saw people cleansing away their sins, washing being slapped against the steps, goats being washed, dogs being washed, cows slurping from the greasy surface water and holy men chanting in small groups clustered near the water’s edge.

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Not for the faint-hearted, Manikarnika Ghat is the main burning ghat and is the most auspicious place for a Hindu to be cremated. We expected to see maybe one cremation but upon arriving at the ghat, there were at least five bodies in various stages of the cremation progress. Each body is wrapped in white muslin and placed on a bamboo stretcher before being placed on a stack of wood that has been carefully calculated to burn a particular way. Apparently, sandalwood is the best and most expensive wood option. You can see from one photo the piles of wood and the scales used to weigh the precise measure for each cremation.

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Obviously, we didn’t take any photos of the cremations out of respect but we did sit there watching for about 25 minutes until I couldn’t watch anymore. I was mesmerized by one body which just didn’t seem to burn. The flames licked the cremation litter but the body stayed unsinged which made me feel sick to the stomach. We got up and walked around five bodies burning furiously and then promptly got lost in Varanasi’s medieval lanes.

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We only stayed in Varanasi for two days and that really is enough unless you are a cremation junkie or you have a lot of sins to wash away. The only major city left for us to see in all its magnificence is Kolkata but before we go there, we have the Sikkim state and Western Bengal to explore.

Posted by Deb_Scott 09:33 Archived in India Comments (1)

Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Orchha

sunny 30 °C

Agra
Naturally, we were both eager to lay eyes upon, ‘a teardrop on the cheek of eternity’ and ‘the embodiment of all things pure’ but we were wary of tourist hordes and wondered whether the Taj Mahal would live up to its superlative descriptions.

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After arriving in the mid-afternoon, we decided to wait and see the Taj the following day at sunrise. Upon waking the next day, we noticed it was already 7.45am which meant we missed the sunrise and would most likely be engulfed with hordes of group tourists. Surprisingly, we strolled up to the ticket booth around 9am without having to wait and I flew through security whilst Scott was explaining why he had a packet of straws in his bag that were eventually confiscated as they were deemed lethal to the protection of the monument. An Irish couple we met later in the day said that they had their deck of cards confiscated. Very weird. Not deterred by that start, we strode off towards the main gate.

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Walking through the gate we suddenly stopped short and ‘yes’ the Taj Mahal is definitely a gasp worthy monument. It seemed to be floating and appeared as a painting due to a haze that gave it an ethereal effect. Pausing every few metres for photos, we started to notice the beautiful ornamental gardens and the water course way. We were blessed with missing the group rush and seemed to find ourselves in a relatively quiet window of time that made for some lovely photos.

It isn’t until you reach the base of the Taj that you begin to appreciate its true beauty. The central Taj structure is made of semi translucent white marble covered with flowers and inlaid with thousands of semi precious stones in beautiful patterns. The cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal is an elaborate false tomb surrounded by exquisite perforated marble screens. Fortunately, for Mumtaz and Shah Jahan, their actual tombs are buried well below the hustle and bustle of the tourists so they can rest in peace side by side.

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The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world and it is fabulous and totally worth a visit. With the Taj Mahal overshadowing Agra Fort, it is easy to forget that Agra has numerous other noteworthy sites. We were a little reluctant to spend more money on visiting another fort since we’d spent the better part of one month exploring Rajasthan’s forts but we thought we might as well. In fact, it turned out to be more of a palace than a fort and it had fabulous river views of the Taj to boot.

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Our third great find in Agra was Dasaprakash restaurant. We were lured in with the promise of spectacular thalis but ended up ordering the best macaroni cheese (au gratin) in Asia. To top it off, we experienced their ‘Super Strawberry Soda’ which was definitely a super duper soda. We went there twice in two days!

Fatehpur Sikri
The magnificent fortified ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri some 40 kms west of Agra includes stunning examples of Mughal architecture and we were really looking forward to spending a few hours there. Initially, what struck us as unique compared to other sites we have visited, were the ornamental gardens that surround the palace buildings. The buildings themselves may have lacked the intricate carvings and mosaics seen elsewhere but the site was expansive and well planned with multiple courtyards and multiple small palaces to accommodate each of the ruler’s three wives (one a Muslim, one a Hindu and one a Christian). Much of the relief work, whilst simplistic, contained motifs of all three religions.

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One of the more bizarre sights in the palace was the Hiran Minar tower that is decorated with hundreds of stone representations of elephant tusks. It is said to be the place where Minar Akbar’s favourite execution elephant died. In fact, one courtyard served as an immediate execution area whereby Akbar would pass judgment on a person’s fate that may result in instant crushing by an elephant’s foot. Ouch!

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Nearby the palace complex is one of the more interesting Jama Masjids / Mosques we’ve seen in India. The mosque is massive but the front entrance gate is 54 metres high and the mosaics on the inside are still relatively intact.

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Orchha
Initially Scott was reluctant to visit Orchha because of its isolation and it would mean a couple of train journeys packed into 3rd class; however, I convinced him of its worth and off we went by train. Orchha, which means ‘hidden’, is an historic village on the banks of the Betwa River that showcases fabulous medieval Indian architecture. Not only that but Orchha is the cleanest town in India. We did not see one pile of rubbish and it even seemed as if the livestock were making an effort to keep the town’s streets well maintained.

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Wheat fields, tall trees and country paths wove around the numerous buildings that took the better part of a day to explore. It was truly lovely to spend a day walking in such a pastoral area without touts, tour groups and the ever present honking of horns.

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You can see from the photos that the main palace building resembles Bundi’s goblin-esque architecture but it lacked Bundi’s exquisite paintings.
During our meandering, we literally stumbled over a small temple complex emanating ‘Moooo’ and ‘Gigagigagiga’ from a generator. Naturally, our interest was piqued and we walked around farm equipment, broken stones, goats and cattle in order to enter the temple courtyard, which happened to be used as a corral. Here, we truly understood the meaning of one sage traveller’s comments that you have to, ‘literally walk through shit to see the jewels’ in India. On the roof of a cupola standing off to the right and above a huge mound of cattle pooh arranged as blocks of fuel, we discovered Orchha’s best paintings.

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Orchha is a lovely wee town and is worth a visit despite its remoteness. Next stop is Khajuraho and I’m sure it’ll be one of the highlights of our trip to India.

Posted by Deb_Scott 04:43 Archived in India Comments (1)

Salvation in the South - Goa

sunny 34 °C

South Goa

One of the universal truths in life is to be confident in knowing what you like, what you don’t like and acting immediately to alleviate whatever it is that is beyond irritating. Initially, we were as keen as mustard to travel through Nepal after spending two months touring around Northern India but we needed a break. Many of you know that travelling independently in developing nations on a budget for weeks and weeks at a time can be rewarding but very exhausting, especially when you are significantly older than the backpacker crowd. So, it was tough to recognize that we did need a break and that Nepal could simply wait. It isn’t going anywhere. Thank goodness we made the decision to come to the cruisy, hassle free South of India.

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Aside from our short break to Hampi, there really isn’t a lot to do or see in Goa except for exploring tropical beaches. We stuck to the south and now have a great knowledge of Colva through to Palolem.

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Colva and Benaulim are certainly dull places but fairly pretty all the same. Most of the tourists here are retired Europeans trying to eek out every Euro or Pound they have from their pensions – fairly easy to do too considering a self catering apartment not too far from the beach is only 15 pounds a night and food is even cheaper. From our point of view, it was nice to relax here for a few days but we decided that it is rather boring and really, who wants to turn themselves into a walking piece of leather day after day after day.

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Palolem on the other hand is absolutely gorgeous. The beach is a stunning crescent of sand, calm waters and leaning coconut palms. The restaurants are plentiful and the food on offer is considerably nicer than Benaulim. Not only that but there is a lovely vitality here that contrasts with the aged vibe 30kms north. The downside is the cost. Guesthouses, coco huts and hotels cost nearly twice as much as further north but it is worth it. In the end, we spent a week at Palolem following a routine of breakfast at Little World, pack for the beach, swim at the beach, shower and then out for dinner at any of the lovely beachfront restaurants, although Tapas was a definite favourite.

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One of the best features of Goa is the appeal of hiring a scooter and spending a day or so winding through the palm groves and discovering hidden tropical gems as well as admiring the stunning albeit dilapidated Portuguese mansions. On one such day, we scootered up and down undulating hills peppered with palm groves to Cabo de Rama, a Portugese hill fort. The views from the bastion were stunning as were the views from the seashore. Further on, we spent a couple of hours at Cola lounging on the beach and taking a dip in the emerald, fresh water lagoon.

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Nearing the end of our trip in Goa we thought it would be wise to spend time in Panajim and Old Goa. We checked into a beautiful Portuguese guesthouse/posada and spent two days wandering the very hot streets in search of historic Portuguese homes and whitewashed churches. Old Goa and the suburb of Fontainhas didn’t disappoint. At times, we felt as if we were wandering a street in Merida Mexico or even Portugal itself. Another delight was stumbling across three lovely eateries that served brownie that tasted like brownie and one had roast pork!

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Overall, we really enjoyed our month in Goa but we both admit it is time to shake things up and head back North to take in the sights of Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Kolkata and the Northern states of Darjeeling and Sikkim.

Posted by Deb_Scott 08:24 Archived in India Comments (1)

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