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Journal Asia-tour Nov.2002-Feb.2003

 

by: Maarten van Reek

email: maartenvanreek@hotmail.com

 

A good traveller is someone  who doesn’t know where he’s going to, and a perfect traveller doesn’t know where he’ from. – Lin-Joe-tang

 

In this document you can find the 4 emails that I wrote during my 3 months-tour through Asia (the last mail I mis-labeled with nr 6).

 

 

Reader-index:

mail #

country

date

1

India

Nov.2002

2

Nepal

Nov-Dec.2002

3

Tibet

Dec.2002

4

India, Thailand

Jan-Feb 2003

 

 

Each mail starts with *** + mail-nr, so this makes it easy to find a specific mail.

 

There’s also a page with a selection of the photos I made, see:

http://eigersoftware.tripod.com/fotos3.htm

 

 

Now the emails follow.

 

 

***1

 

L.S.,
Today, 12 nov., i'm in the 2nd stop of my 3-months asia tour, after having spent 4 days in india. in this mail i'll tell about my adventres in indai. i'll do this in englischy because not everybody in the mail-list is dutch.

i lefft nl on 5/11, 11.20, 1st flying to paris and from there to delhi. in paris i had a delay and because of that i arrived in delhi at 08.00 (local time =  +5 gmt) in stead of 6.00 (a.m.) , so that was not so bad. in delhi i took a taxi to the train station, the bus was so full of people and my backpag is quite big (85 l) so the bus was not really an option. so the taxi ride was my 1st asia-experience and my guidebook said it would be a culture shock and so it was.it's the 1st time i'm in a 3d world country and of course im know from the images on tv how poor the people are here, but when u c it with your own eyes it's something else. in the taxi all my senses were under atack:
*images: the streets are so busy and there is so much to c that u dont know where to look: 2-person-riksja's carrying a whole school-class; a whole family of 4 or 5 people on 1 scooter; cows, camels and elephants walking in the street
*smell: sometimes its smell disgusting (hygiene is not in the indian vocabulaire), and sometimes it smell delicious (food!)
*the noise: blowing the horn is a national sport here.
when i arrived at the train station i had sometime to do some sightseeing before my train to agra would leave. i walked through a slum (/krottenwijk) and a group of children , c-ing my camerra, said tio me: photo, so i took 1. and then the asked for money. since i just arrivd in india i only had big money i got from atm, and i tried to explain but in vain, so they all folowed me, i felt like pied piper (rattenvanger van hamelen). then i saw a moskee/temple and i jumped in and so i escaped.
walking down the streets here is something special. people came to me to shake hands, ask me where i'm from, if i'm maaried, why not, or they asked me to be on the photo with them. i'm a kind of attraction here. there r not so many tourist here, i heart that after 9-11 tourism here dropped with n 75 % .
in agra i met  a nice guy, raj, who became my guide for the next day. since i had only 1 day in agra and a. is a big city, this was the best way to travel here. raj brought me in his motor-riksja to all the sights, including taj mahal, also called dream of marble, and that's a good description, it's beautifull.at night raj brought me to a local market where we had some good food. at the market place were also cows (they r just everywehre) and when raj went to get soemthing to drijnk , a cow ate his plate, which was standing in front of me on the table, but i was not paying attention, to busy with my own food. when i saw it, i didnt know if i could chase the cow away, the cow is holy here, and the indians didnt do a thing of course.
the next day before leaving to elhi again, i was invited by a friend of raj , a trader in stones, to have breakfast. after breakfst he asked me if i could bring a package of stones with me to holland, iwould get 1000 euro. i said i had to think about it, had some more breakfast and after having finised it said no., he dindt like it , but i had a nice meal for free :)
the train to delhi was so full that i just sat down in the closest room to the door, which was a mistake. it was 2nd class but apperntly i hhad 3d class ticket and the conductor wanted me to move. i told hime that it was a bit difficult with my big packapck but when we got on the next station he told me to go via the platform to the last wagon. when i was halfway i saw another conductor wavin with a green falg adn i thought i meant thtat the train could leave and so it was, so i threw by backpak in and jumped it. so did the conductor who ran after me and he became a bit angry. he wanted me to pay 3 times the normal price for 2nd class but i said i didnt had that and after a while he saw it was of no use, so he and 2 other train-men accompanied me to the 3d class wagon,  cleaNING my path which was croweded with people, also lying on the floor. in 3d class i sat crammed between indians (no tourists there) but it was also nice: they were singing and shared food with me.
in delhi  i made a bus tour  to c the sights. 1 othe sites was the qutb minar , a 800 year old moslim tower. an indian (probably moslim) said to me: stronger then WTC-tower. i replied: this 1 has not been tested yet. he couldnt laugh.
after the tour i went to the airport and there i saw that my filght to katmandu was cancelled.nepal airline arranged a flight for me (and 3 russians) for the next day and we were brought to a 5 star hotel, lucky me.
after 4 days of india i'm a kind of conaisseur in indian deserts, so if u once fo to an indain restaurant, try this:
*sweet ponga
*kesari bath
*gulub jamum
well, in my next mail i'll tell u about nepal, about 2 or 3 weeks, 1st i'm going to do a trekking.

Maarten


PS:
if u know someone whoi also know but forget to put on the mail-list or whoms email ad. i dont have and who likes to be informed aslo, feel free to forward this email

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***2

 

L.S.,

 

5-12-2002, pokhara
i'm sitting in the sun on the roof top restaurant of my hotel, legs strectched and a cold lemon drink in front of me. but i think i dserved this after finishing the annapurna-circit-trek, a trek of 3 weeks, altitude ranging from 700 to 5400 m, lengt ca 200 km.
but let i begin with where i started my trip in nepal: in katmandu (10 nov.) flying from india to nepal i  passed the himalayas, a maveroulos view. it reminded me of the photo-exhibition i saw in berlin  'earth seen from the sky' from yann arthur bertrand, geo-magazine. when i arrived in katm. i heart that the next 3 days there would be a ban/strke of the maoists, meaning that there would be no public transport, shops would be closed etc. the maoists want to make nepal a communist countryand fight a kind of guerilla, allthough at the moment there are negoticains. because of this, tourism in nepal has dropped with more than 50%. and besides that, there is teh hamlet-tragedy here: teh new king is the brother of the old king, who was supposed to be murdered by his sun - the crown-prince - but nepali told me that they think that the brother did it. but enogh politics. because of the strike the streets of katm. were empty so this was the ideal sitation to explore the katm.-vally by bike. together with 2 other dutch i met, i biked to
-bouddha: a city which has the biggest boddhistic temple in the world
-pathan, baktapur: nice cities with buddh. + hindu-temples
-pashupatinath: the varanassi of nepal, where i witnessed a cremation
biking is not a sinecure here, with all those mountains. once a litle girl noticed that i had some difficulties with a steeep slope and she ran after me and pushed me. to dfo something back we gave some children a lift once we were on 'flatland' again.
katmasndu itsxelf i explored by feet. it's a city at the crossraod of 2 civilizations: the nepali culture with its temples on durbar-square and the modern,western culture with 'freak street' as its exponent - a shopping-street named after the hippies whio came to katm. in the '60 when hasj was legal here - not anymore.but also nowadays threre r a lot of tourists in katm. who could be called modern hippies/alto's.
1 of the most interesting things of katm. i found the 'kumari', the living goddess. she is chosen at the age of 4 and remains kumari until puberty. she is selected after  having passed some horrible test: animals are slaughterd in front of the candidats, priests wear terrifying masks and are yelling to them and the 1 that remains the 'coolest' is teh chosen 1. kumari lives apasrt from her family in a tempe in katm. and doesnt ever leave it . she is so imprtant that the king comes to consult her.
on 14-11  i went by bus to pokhara, the startpoint of my trek. in the bus were a lot of germans and french. later i saw some statistics thaty they tgether with austral;ians and israeli form the main part of the tourists in nepal. in pokh. i looked for an agency to join a goup for trekking for a reasonalbe price, but i couldnt find it - i had offers ranging from $150 -500. so i decided to go alone and be my own porter. after having carried the 30kg basket with grapes inf france, i thought i could carry my backpack of ca 15 kg without any problem.
the next day i went to besisahar by bus, the real start point f the trek. in the bus i met a german and canandain and togetehre we walked the rst of the afteroon, to kudhi  - 790 m. there i met 2 dutch with whom i woulsd spent the rest of the trek.

16-11: to syange 1120 m
scenery: very green, ricefields, waterfalls, wild river

17-11: to tal 1660 m
hostel is a dump, the kitchen is closed because the cook is drunk , there is no electicty - we have to use candles- and the toilet is on the end of a long slipery stairs (outside) populated with pots and pans. here i met
a grooup of israeli with whom we would join for the rest of the trek. they even invited us for 'kidoesh', the beginning of sabbasth, the dinner of friday-night. this made us forget the noise  they made the next morning at 05.30. everybdy here starts walking early, but more like 07.00. at night we also go to bed quit early, nobody later than 22.00. besides being noisy israeli also have a reputation of being real bargainers and we profited from this, weh often had our rooms fro free, or max 1 $

18-12: to danaky 2180m
19-11: to came 2620 m
i had stumoch ache - was it the dahl-bat (local food) or the chili-sauce's expiray-date? so for the next 2 days 'travelers's diarrhea' was my part. at least i wasnt carrying ors and norrit for nothing with me.

20-11 to psang 3130m
scenery: less green, 1st snow, 1st fall ..

21-11 to manang 3500m
i meet n austrailain who also worked in the itc-branche and whose company wnet bankrupt.i would meet quite some other it-people, at least the crises in the itc is good for tourism.
planes r flying here under us!
whetehr it comes from the height or the food, there's a lot of gas during the tek - also called 'broekhoest' as i learnt from a brabander, or, as the germans put it: alles aus was kein miete zaht' - what u learn on a trek

22-11: restday, everybodyu stops here for acclimatization, else u can get altitude sickens (ams)
at night we went to the lcal cinema, a room in a house, with a stove - on wood- and seats with yak-skin and the movie was a vcr-tape. the movie was 'into thin air' about an everst-expedition in which 12 people died. so we got  a lot of confidence for the next part of the trip , the thorung la-pass, with 5400m the higest pass in the world.
at this altitude it's so cold that u have to sleep with all your clothes on, my room-mate even had his hat on

23-11 to yak karka 4100m
1st we visited lama tasji, a 86 year old monch who sits in a cave for 36 year, blessing tourists, saing a kind of mantra. for 100 rps. even monchs r commercial here.
during walking i ahd a hearttbeat of 120 - quit normal here.

24-11to thorung pedi 4470m
to t.p, the last part before the pass, there r 2 roads, weh chose the longest 1 because it was said to be more safe.only at the end it was very icy. i saw a 'profi' (with an altitude-meter watch etc) falling  - nothing serious happend, but still - so i took my time here.
at night everybody was excited about tomorow: what is the weather foreecast, how will the wind be, what is the best time to leave ( 04.00, 05.00)

25-11 to thorung la -5416m  + muktinath 3800m
my alarm went on 03.45, 4.40 we left. it was still dark, some moonlight, and my flash ligth didnt work, but i could squueze in a group of germans who were better mprepared, with mine-helmets - thank god for 'deutsche grundlichkeit'.
at 09.00 i was at the top, yes! no ams, frostbite , nothing.everybiody who made it to the top - not on horseback- was happy, some french were singing the 'marseillaise'
in mukt. we stayed in the bob marley-hotel. at night i had a rasta-teas (ingrediants: no comment). i slept well.
26-11: restday
27-11: to jomsom 2710m
now the descending starts, we walked in a river-bed in the sand, lots of wind, river nearby, it's like a beach walk.
28-11: to kokeatani 2700m
we had lunch in a dutch restauranbt, wortelstampot met appelmoes!
29-11: to dana 2400m
30-11 to tatopani 1190m
in tat. r hot-springs, realy strange experience to be in after teh coldness we had . there is a bar that plays lounge music and serves cold beer, which tasted good!
1-12: restday - no explanaition needed i think
2-12 to gorapani 2820m
according to my guide book this distance is 'blood sweat and tears' and so it was, very steep uphill, but we made it before dark.
3-12 to dudame 1800m
my alarm went on 05.00 , this morning we went to c the sun-rise at pooh-hill. on top -3100m- were a lot of japanese, so it was no problem finding somen0ne with a sunfilter for making a photo of the sunrise.
the hostel in s. is just a hose with some rooms for guests, which has it's charmes w thoght. but at dfiner time we were disaapointed : we ate the food becase we were hungry, under the motto: es ist bezahlt , es soll hinunten' (or to put it more strongly, again a nice german expression i learnt here: zum scheissen reicht's)
4-12 to birethanti 1100m + pokhara
the food of lst nighyt had its influebnce on my metabolism (spijsvertering) to put it nicekly. so the last 3 hours of this trek - the walk of this day - confirmed the saying 'de laatste loodjes..' but i made it unitl bir. -
in the bus to pokh. i put on my walkman and heart jewel singing: 'we r surounded by beauty' and looking to the himalayas i think she must have been here when she wrote this.
and now i go to to barber to have my 1st shave in 3 weeks.
m.

ps: thanks for your emails, i really like to read them, although i cant give everybody a personal answewr

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***3

 

L.S.,
first of all i'd like to wish everybody a happy newyear. the last time i wrote I just finised the trek in nepal. after 2 days of rest we (I and the other 2 dutch with whom i did the trek) felt like being active again and since rafting is also a polpular activity in nepal, we decide to do that.Because nobody of us ever rafted before, we decided to do the beginners level, category 3.  we heart that the season for rafting was at it's end, meaning that the river would be not so wild. So we were expecting to stay dry, but the contrary was true. after the 2nd flow-acceleration 1 Dutch went overboard. And i also became soken-wet since i had the honour of sitting in front. Sometimes the waves were so high that i was peddling in the air. and since we were not alwasy in the sun because of the shadows of the mountains, the clothes didnt dry so fast, so everybody got a cold. But it was great fun!
still not having had enough of Nepal, we went on a 3 day safari in the Chitwan-park, a protected nature aread with rhino's, elelphantts, crocodiles and , although more rare, tigers and bears.the 1st day our guide gave us some intresting instructions: "if a rhino is suddenly in front of u, climb a tree, and if there's no tree, drop your bag (to distract his attenton) and run. if we encounter a bear, climbing in a treee or running makes nos sense (bears do that better than us), but we have to group together and scream als loud as we can". we met 2 other dutch who went into the park before us and indeed had to climb into a tree to escape for a rhino, we even saw this on their digi-camera. So we went into the park with a ,little tension but also with excitement. the 1st animal we saw was a croc who was sleeping in the sun at a riverbank.  after that we walked a long time without seeing anything spectacular. so we got a little afraid that we wouldnt see any rhino, what can happen, as we were told. But after having walked some time our patience was rewarded, our guide found a rhino. We approached it until ca 20 m and climed a tree to see him better. To see i\a rhino in the wild from out of a tree, thaat's something else thatn watching a nature-doc on tv! the 2nd day we went to an elephant breeding centre. There were a few families and some had babies from 4 months. The mothers were chained but the babies could walk freely and since they were not afraid of humans, rather curious, we could touch them and feed them bananas. 2 of the youngsters (ca 9 months) were giving a real show, running after each other, grasping the other ones tail with his trunk, pushing each other with theirs heads, running after yelling tourists, it was like an animation movie. 1 intersting fact we learned about elephants: the elephant doesnt have any enemies because of his size, but there's 1 animal which he's afraid of: the ant. The thing is that if ants get into his trunk, they can walk to his head and infect his brain. so an elelephant sleeps with his trunk in his mouth. we also saw a baby rhino, an orphan of 4 months old, who liked bananas also very much. In the morning he always went jogging with his guard, quite fast. the 3d day we made a ride on an eleephant. Ont he back of the elepant was a basket and via a tower we climbed in, 4 of us. i was sitting in the back of the basket, so when the elephant had to drop something or had some gas, i could fully enjoy it. the goal of the ride was again to see rhino's and so we did, only this time we didnt have to climb a tree, we were already sitting high and dry. we saw a mother-rhino with her baby and this time we could even get closer than last time since rhino's are not afraid of elepahnats (and v.v.). it was a nice adventure although we weree also happy when the ride was over , sitting on the back of an elepahnt is not very comfortable. at night we met the 2 other dutch again who told us that they were going tot Tibet for 2 weeks. At the end of the night we decided to join them. Tibet has something mystical, the country of the Daia lama and Mt Everest, and the idea of spending xmas there was very appealing.
So afrter Chtwan-park we went to katmandu from which we would leave to tibet. Because at this time (Dec) it isvery cold in T. , we rented down-jackets and bought long-johns (long, warm, untertrousers). The trip was as follows: 5 days by jeep/landrover (4WD, 220 pk) to Lhasa, 7 days Lhasa and in 2 days back to Nepal. The jeep-ride was very nice, we crossed passes of over 5000 m and we enjoyed the landscape , very rough, a kind of desert rom grind and rocks, surrounded by high mountains, among which the Mt Everest! in the mountain-villages we stopped , life is very primitive , the people werre wearing yak-fur-coats and hats and thier wasy of transport was a car drawn by a horse. the nights in the villages were very cold, we slept under 2 pairs of blankets - on top of our sleeping bags - i was wearing 2 pairs of socks and was still cold. Washing was also not possible , the water-tubes were shut because else they would freeze. in Shygatse we stooped to see a buddhist monastry. there was a 26 m high statue of buddha, in which 300 kg gold was used ,  very impresive. here we also saw for the 1st time how monks live. they (yung and old) were sitting on red pillows in a big room , burning yak-butter (which smells not very nice), saying their mantras, very concentraed. but wwe also saw the young monks making fun, teasing each other. what was also funny was to see that under their red 'dress' they often wear sneakers and some of them have mobile phones. they also have 'debat-sessions', in which 1 monk sits on the ground, the ohter stands in front of him and claps in his hands in front of the others face, making a statement on which the other has to reply. this goes with very high speed.
after 5 days we reached lhasa. here 2 other dutch people joined us. so i had xmas in lhasa with 6 other dutch, which i coul not have imagined before i started travelling, or even 2 weeks ago. and althoug xmas is not really a tibetioan festival (most of the people are buddhists) , alot of shops, restaurants and hotels had xmas-decoration, also our hotel, which was owned by a Swiss. with breakfsast they played louis armstrong, which remined me of xmas back home ('s gravendeel). and in the hotel were even 'kerstkransjes'. to make the xmas party complete, we also gave each othere presents, accompanied by a funny poem. on xmas eve we went to  a xmas-party in a big club. we were the only foreigners, so we got a lot of attention and free drinks (bier in borrelglaasjes). Besieds local music there was a 'fashion-show' of women in traditional clothing; a yak-dance (men dresses as yaks, dancing on the music of venga-boys, a dutch band).and of course there was alos karaoke - they just love that here. At 24.00 the people let the balloons on the ceiling explode and wished us a happy xmas (or happy new year :). Lhasa is a very interesting city. we visited potala, the palace of the daia lama, a very big building (which is also in the movie '7 years in tibet'). Another intesting place was the Jorkhang temple. This is a pilgrims place, so here u can see people form all over Tibet, dressed in thier nicest (traditional) clothes and wearing their finest jewelry and decorations. Some observations from my walks through Lhasa:
*in the morning the personel of (chinese) corparaations have to line up outside  and listen to a speech of their manager before they start working.
*pool is a very popular sport here, i saw a street with more than 20 pool-tables,
*chines like watching movies, specially kung-fu, with the sound as loud as possible,
*if u have blond hair and blue eyes u can have a harem of a dozen women just by walking through a shop - i was at least aksed a dozend tyimes: 'do u wannt to marry me' , and all i wanted was a pair of gloves.
*once we saw women fighting in the street at night, what is not uncommon as i'm told
*young monks flirt with dutch girls

on 26/12 we left tibet and 2 days later we were back in katmandu again. there i would stay until 1/1 to celbrathe newyears eve with 4 othere dutch. again there was a maoist-strike in katm., so i went biking again. On my bikre trip i saw some nepali guys playing soccer and when i stoppred to look and walked on the 'field' (sand, grind and stones), they asked me if i wanted to join them. i doubeted because i dindt bring my soccer-shooes, i was wearing my bristol all-stars, but then i saw some of the boys didnt wear any shoes at all, so i played with them. they were quite good. so who knows nepal will be on the next WCup. at least i helped them a little by showing them my fabulous technique :) i also went to durbar-sq. in the hope to see the kumari, which is very hard because she only appears 2 times per day. but i was lucky, i saw her, the 6 year old 'living godess', dressed in a red suite and special make-up around her eyes. at new year we went to a coctailbar and later had a nice yak-steak for dinner. after dinner we went to a bar where we toa\sted on 2003, no champaign, only beer. i also missed  the oliebollen, appelflappen, fireworks,, oudejaars-conference and nieuwjaars-concert, and the ski-jumping in gramisch patenkirchen. i guess u can say i had a little heimwee.
once again, all the best wishes for 2003 and i hope to see u (if possible) when i'm back, which will be somewehre in begin of Feb.

M.

 

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***4

 

L.S.,
 
The last time I wrote I was in Katmandu, celebrating new year. I left Katmandu
at 1/1 early in the morning with the bus to Varanassi. It was a long trip, ca.
24 hours. The busses in Nepal and India are mostly in a bad state and my bus was
no exception: I was sitting next to a window which couldn’t be closed which is
not much fun at night when it becomes quite cold. And then there were of course
the checks in Nepal by the military, looking for Maoists. But I had traveled by
bus before in India and Nepal, so I was already used to these things.
 
Varanassi is the holiest city for Hindus, so the place is crowded with
Hindu-pelgrims.They bath in the Ganga, which is a holy river for them. But at
the same time people are also cremated in the Ganga. And the local washmen do
their laundry there. I only hope that my laundry, which I gave to my hotel,
wasn’t washed there..
In Varanassi there are a lot of yoga-schools. Yogi do their exercises not only
in the schools but also outside, at the banks of the Ganga ('ghats') which is
interesting to look at. It's amazing to see what they can do with their body,
they are so flexible. If I would try this I would probably tear some muscles.
There are also a lot of music-schools in Varanassi, which are also visited by
western students. In my hotel there was also a music-student who played flute
and although I like music very much, when someone starts playing at 7.00 in the
morning and all the time the tune of 'Sound of musci', my appreciation becomes a
little bit less.
In Varanassi you also see a lot of holymen, sadhu's and i saw posters announcing
that Baghwan (who changed his name to Osho, I wonder why..) and Sai Babba would
come here. Someone offered me to bring me to the brother of Sai Babba, a man who
lived on a diet of yoghurt and bananas for 12 years and who is supposed to be
alble to tell you about your past and future if you give him a note whith your
name and birthplace. But I didnt go, I know my passed already and even if it's
possible to tell one's future, what is this knowledge good for. And besides,
someone with this diet is not 100% ok I think..
Varanassi is famous for it's silk. On a ghat I met a silk-trader who showed me
his factory. It consisted of several small buildings where children were working
who were not more than 15 years old i think, although the owner told otherwise
of course. Although child-labor is prohibited by law, it still happens. It's
sad, a child should go to school, not work in a factory.
The city is a labyrinth of small alleys, covered with the droppings of the
everywhere present cows and goats. So when you walk in the city at night and
everything is dark because the electricity falls out every night, it feels like
your'r walking in a mine-field, and indeed: after the first night my white
sneakers where not so white anymore.. Because it's such a dirty city, there are
a lot of rats. I saw 2: once when i was walking at night in the alleys suddenly
I saw this huge rat in the light of my candle (which i bought because I left my
flaslight in the hotel). And the 2nd time was at the train-station at the
ticket-office, where a rat came out of the ceiling, walking down the wall. In
Varanassi there are also a lot of monkeys, in temples, on roof-tops of hotels,
everywhere. So when I hanged my laundry on a washing line of the roof top of my
hotel, the hotel manager warned me to bring it in before dark, else the monkeys
might take it. So I did and so my clothes were not stolen, but they did steal a
bag of chips once when I was making a photo from the view of the roof top of a
restaurant.
After ca. 1 week I left Varanassi. I planned to go to Calcutta with the train of
22.00. Once at the station I heart that my train had a delay of 4 hours. But I
was told that it could be worse: sometimes trains have a delay of 24 hours. I
almost started longing to the NS (Dutch Railways).. At night it was quite cold;
I read in the newspaper that there was a cold-wave in N/W- India during the
dtime I was there. I went to the waiting room where it was a little bit warmer.
The room was quit full and a lot of Indians were sleeping. They had brought
blankets and some even pillows, I guess this wasn’t the 1st time they had a
delay. In the room was also a group of Tibetan monks who were going to Bodh
Gaya, the place where Buddha got enlightment and which would be visited by the
Daia Lama now. Also they went sleeping, but not after having said a prayer of
course.
 
After a 12 hour train trip I arrived in Calcutta. With 14 million inhabitants
it's  the 2nd biggest city of India (after Bombay) and especially in the centre
like in BBD Bagh you notice that you are in a million-city: on the foothpath
it's crowed with people and the streets are so busy that u can wait for ever
before you can cross the street. Some other noteworthy things about the traffic:
·       the  buses and trams are very old and rusty and look (and probably are) quite
unsafe, but because the city is so big you have to use them. Good that they are
not so full (not).
·       when i was in other cities in India I felt already a little unconfomortable
when I took a bicycle-riksja, but in Calcutta it’s even worse, here they have
man-pulled riksja's.
·       Calcatta has a metro (as the only city of India) and what you don’t expect
after having walked in the streets of Calcutta, it’s so clean! Once in the
underground it's like you are in a modern, western city.
 
Calcutta is a very poor city, you see a lot of beggars (invalid people, young
mothers with babies) and homeless, who sleep en masse on the streets at night.
But there are also a lot of charity-instituions like the one of the late mother
Theresa, where also a lot of western people work. On Sundays there are long
queues in front of these poor-houses because then they can get a free meal
there.
In Calcutta you can still find a lot of buidings from the British colonial
times, I even saw a St Pauls
cathedral. Another thing which reminds of the British times is cricket: they
play it everywhere. In Calcuta there’s also a cricket-stadium with the size of a
big soccer-stadium in Holland.
Togheter with 2 Dutch that I met, I went to the botanic gardens. Here they have
the oldest and biggest Banyan-tree in the world: 240 years old and with 2800
trunks. For the non-botanists under you: some branches of a banyan-tree grow
downwards and root in the ground, starting a tree of their own. So after 240
years you have a tree which looks like a small forest. I must admit I also
didn’t know this, but I was in good company, both Dutch were
landscape-architects and so they knew a lot about trees.
 
After a small week I left Calcutta (on 14/1) and flew to Bangkok. What I liked
best about Bangkok (and what i found out later is true for whole Thailand and
made me fall in love with this country) is that there are food-stalls
everywhere, where u can get the most delicious things, like: meat from the BBQ,
fresh fruits (also very exotic ones which i’ve never seen before), fruit-shakes,
banana-pancakes, baked bananas, ‘kaulaam’ (a bamboe pipe filled with sticky
rice, sweeted with coconot-milk, you have to try evertyhing) etc etc. Besides
food-stalls u also find a lot of temples in Bangkok, with beautifull
decorations, often from gold, and very colorfull, and in a very good state. The
devotion which with the Thai pray in these temples is also beautifull to see.
But also the way they greet each other, with folded handes and a head-bow, and
of course their smille (Thaliland is called the land of the eternal smile) are
very nice to to see.
I spent 5 days in Bangkok but the last days where a real Tantalus-torment: my
bank blocked my pincard since they sent me a new one (to my address in Holland),
so I couldn’t pin anymore, thank you very much! The only solution was a
money-transfer but that took some days and since I didn’t have much money
anymore I had to live on a tight budget, which was not easy for me with all
these food-stalls everywhere.. But once the money was transfered I (more than)
compensated for this hard times..
 
After having spent ca. 3 weeks in a row in million-cities, I wanted to go to a
more quiet place, so i went to the island Ko Chang (300 km S/E of Bangkok). It
was really like a ‘Bounty-island’: beautifull blue sea, white beaches,
palmtrees, all in a very green hill-shaped landscape. And of course the weather
was beautifull, but with temperatures above 30C you had to stay in the shade.
And not in the shade of a palm-tree: I heart per year 7 people die because a
coconut falls on top of their head.
Together with 4 Swedish I met, I went snorkling 1 day, which was beautifull: I
saw corals, small baracuda’s, parrot-fishes, moon-fishes and flying-fishes (en
masse jumping out of the water, blinking in the sun-light). There were also
(small) sharks in the sea, but we didn’t see them, only in bassins in the
fisher-village.
To explore the island we rented a scooter. It ’s amazing how fast these things
can go, once I clocked a speed of 85 km/h.
We also did a 1 day jungle-trek. We thought it would be an easy walk – the hills
here are not more than 700 m high – but that was a mistake. Our guide was making
the path while we were walking (indeed: there was no path), cutting the trees
and plants with his knife. We also had to do a lot of rock-climbing on slopes
that were quite steep and slippery (it was in a river-bed). Good that I was
wearing my hiking-shoes (not).
Like all Asians, Thai love karaoke. They sing not only in the weekend, no,
everyday, and until very late at night, which we could hear in our cabins where
we slept – or tried to sleep I should say. To see what’s so fun about karaoke,
we went once to a karaoke-bar. But we chose the wrong bar: alomst alle the
visitors where transsexuals and they are not the best singers. 2 of the Swedish
wanted to sing too, but the only CD they had with English subtitles was ‘happy
xmas’. But they were sportive, the sang it and not so bad actually, althoug it
sounds a bit strange, ‘happy xmas’ in half january.
 
I stayed for a week on Ko Chang (or maybe even a bit longer), I think i could
get used to the life there. But I had to go on, I had only 3 more weeks and lots
of things to see. First I went to Ayuthaya (100km north of Bangkok), once the
capital of Thailand and so there are a lot of interestng historical sites. Just
south of Ay.  is  Bang Pa-In which i also visited. Here is a very nice royal
palace, or actually it’s more like a complex with buildings in all kinds of
architectual styles. I liked the Chinese temple very much, very colorfull and
with nice (comic-book-like) pictures.
 
After Ay.  I took the train to Chiang Mai (in the north), a trip of 12 hours.
There I did a 3 day jungle trek. We started with an elelphant ride. There were 3
elephants, each with a basket for 2 persons, but we were with 7 perons. So 1 of
us had to sit on the head of an elelphant, a place where normally only a 
(trained) driver sits. And guess who had the honor? So there I sat on the
elepahnts head with 2 Japanese girls ‘in the back’. 1 of them kicked the
elephant on his behind, maybe she was a horse-driver and wanted to speed up the
elepant. But instead, the elephant started head-banging so I almost fell off.
Arigato! The next part of the trek was a walk through the jungle to a village on
a hill where the Karen- hill-tribe lives, who come originally from Birma. They
live in a very primitive way: they live in bamboe-houses, grow their own food
(mostly rice) and have small pigs as pets (and probably food). To be in this
village and to sleep here, in a bamboe-hut, with no sounds of traffic or
karaoke-bars, only the sound of crickets , was a very nice experience.The next
day we walked to another village which was close to a waterfall, which we used
as a shower, some people even brought their shampoo. The last day we went rafing
on a bamboe-raft and after that back to Chiang Mai. At night there were
celebrations because of Chines new year (1 Feb., the year 2546 If I’m well).
There was music and dancing in the streets, a night market and a lot of
food-stalls with special new-year snacks. So it became late that night..
The next day I made a day-trip to Chiang Rai , to see the golden triangle, the
place where you can see Birma and Laos, on the other side of the Mekong-river, a
place once famous for its opium. On the way back to Chiang Mai we made a stop at
a village where another hill-tribe lived, the Akha-people. They come originally
from Tibet which i could recognize in their faces and clothes (very colorfull).
The next day I went to Wat Doi Suthep, a temple 15 km outside Chiang Mai on a
1700m high hill, a pilgrim place for Buddhists all over the world. I went on
bycycle, and the trip was harder than i thought: the way up to the hill was 12
km , it was over 30C and there was not much shade. But the enthousiastic
beeping/horn-blowing of the scooters who passed me gave me the spirit to make it
to the top.And there I had to climb a long stairs to get to the temple..But it
was worth every liter of sweat i lost: the temple was beautifull (a lot of gold)
and so was te view on Chiang Mai.
When I was down again i thought i deserved a Thai massage which was an
interesting experience: they not only use their hands but also their feet (when
they walk over your back..) and their knees and elbows, not really the most soft
parts of the human body. I almost felt more broken after the massage than before
:)
The next 3 days there was the annual flower festival, which attracts a lot of
people. The highpoint of this festival is the street-parade, where u can see the
most beautifull with flowers (often orchids) decorated cars. And the women on
top the cars were not bad either, but the reason i made a lot of photos here was
only because of the flowers of course..
After Chiang Mai it was time to go back in the direction of Bangkok again; as I
told in 1 of my earlier mails I had to be back in Holland on 19/2 for my
sister’s wedding. On my way back i visited 2 more cities. First I went to
Lopburi, famous for its monkeys who live in several temples. After that I went
to Kanchanburi to see the bridge over the river Kwai, the famous bridge built in
WW II by western (also Dutch) POW’s under horrible circumstances. Kan. itself is
a nice city, the river is crowded with very colorfull restaurant-boats and the
nature is also very beautifull here, with mountains, waterfalls, caves.
But after Kan. it was really time to go home. I left from Bangkok at 3.00 a.m.,
made a stop-over in Kuwait (where we had a delay of 2 hours, because of the fact
that US-army troops were flying in as i heart later), and arrived in Holland at
16.00, where it was of around 0 C (35 degrees colder than in Bangkok). So no
tropical food anymore, but winter-meals like ‘boerenkool met worst’ and this is
exactly what i got when i got home.
 
3 months of travelling  (or actually a little bit more) looks long but the time
went very fast. It was a trip with so many highpoints that’s its difficult to
say what i liked best, but i tried and this is my top 5 list:
1: the food in Thailand
2: the Thorung  La pass in Nepal, with ca 5400 also literally a highpoint
3: the xmas-party in Tibet, with 7 Dutch among many, very friendly, locals, a
xmas which i’ll never forget
4: Taj Mahal, indeed a real architectual (world-)wonder
5: the grand palace in Bangkok
 
I made a lot of photo’s on my trip (30 films) and put the nicest ones on
internet, see:
 
http://eigersoftware.tripod.com/fotos3.htm
 
Maybe later i’ll put some more on it (I don’t have all the films yet), as soon
as I have done that i’ll let you know.
If you like to see more photos, just let me know and we can make an appointment.
And to the people who mailed me but who I didn’t answer yet: I’ll do this asap.
 
M.

 

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