Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Day 189 - Jaipur

We have now been in Jaipur for three days, the first was Andre`s turn to be ill, so we didn't exactly do alot. I took a little walk in the afternoon and recognised the hotel that I stayed in when I was last here about 13 years ago.

Yesterday we took the bus out to Amber Fort about 11k away. The bus was packed but at each stop more people were squeezed in so it was not exactly a comfortable ride. The fort was busy too and the elephant were kept busy carrying idle tourists up to the entrance. The only thing I remembered about Amber Fort from my last visit was the agressive monkeys, but there were none here at all now. It is a pretty big fort with other walls and fortifications on the surrounding hills making it quite scene. After a couple of hours there Andre was feeling in need of a rest so we returned. He was stood up on the bus on the way back but thankfully somebody kindly gave him a seat as they could see he was having problems. I spent the afternoon trying to get my cash card sorted out as I have 2 that don't work anymore. My bank card has been cancelled due to unsual activity i.e. being used in different countries, so in their wisdom they have sent me a new one to my home address, very useful. My visa card as also stopped working and having found a phone number on the internet I rang it and it didn't work, great.

Today we have been on a walk around the city giving plenty of time for taking photos of people, though some demand money for their `service`.

So tomorrow we move on, in a couple of days we will be in Bharatpur where there is National Park and bird sanctuary, then after another days riding we will be in Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Day 186 - Jaipur

Well, as you might have seen in the comments, by complete surprise, Erik and Tjeerd who I cycled with in Iran, were in Udaipur at the same time as me. I knew they were in the south of India heading north, but not having a map I didnt know exactly where they were. So I asked around for the Mona Lisa Hotel and soon found them in their room and like me were leaving the following morning and heading for Ajmer.

So the following morning they came over to my Guest House and we had breakfast overlooking the lake before setting off. The good thing about riding with others is that you can all get lost together. We set of on a small main road heading for a big temple at Ranakpur, but there were lots of roadworks and diversions. We kept checking with people that we were going the right way but after 65k I knew we were wrong and a passing motorcyclist confirmed it. We had overshot the turning onto a little road, but couldn't understand where. We retraced and went on a diversion we had missed by taking the nice new road instead and at last we found it. It was well worth the effort as the road was excellent, very small and nice and scenic ending in a wonderful descent along the side of a steep valley to Ranakpur. We reached there just before dark and found accommodation at the temple, a 7 x 7 cell with flagstones and white washed walks and that was it, not even a bed, but it was just right for us.

The following morning we had the place to ourselves, probably because you couldn't go in untill 12, so we had to make do with the 3 smaller temples by the big one. We then set off and the next 70k were still on tiny single track roads through little villages full of colourful people, women in their saris and the men with big turbans. I was never quite sure if the road would just end as there was little traffic as it climbed into the mountains and changed from tarmac to gravel and back. Eventually we reached the main road, then we had a 50k bash to Bhim and a basic hotel infested with mosquitos.

The next day we went for the easy life and went straight along the main road into Ajmer. Most of the hotels were full and we spent about 1 1/2 hours looking for a room which was a bad place to have a problem as Erik was ill and needed to go to bed. Once we had sorted out the room it was time for me to go and meet Judith and Andre at the clock tower and for once our meeting arrangements were spot on. They joined us in our hotel which meant a reunion of the 5 cyclists.
The following day we went to the nearby Pushkar Camel festival, but for me it was a real let down. There were supposed to be about 50,000 camels there, but most had gone home, but there were at least 50,000 people and the place was packed. People come from miles around and it was at least full of colour and people full of character, oh and a cow with 5 legs! I think I would rather have seen it under normal circumstances (photo).

Erik, Tjeerd and I had breakfast at a little food stall near the hotel. As I sat on a bench with my back to the wall I felt something touching my back. I moved to see what it was and a rat went scurrying off, much to the ammusement of the locals. We decided that 5 cyclists together in the busy traffic wasnt a good idea so we split up and I cycled with Judith and Andre and we all met up again in Dudu, a shortish ride so a good sociable evening. Being a Saturday there were weddings in the town, which once again means making as much noise as possible with terrible sounding bands, firecrackers and fireworks. As we went in search of something to eat in the evening we passed one of the weddings and were immediately latched onto by the kids and teenagers who followed us around town in hysterical fashion. Erik and Tjeerd taught us a nice simple dice game with a really original name....Dice. Much to my annoyance Judith one the first 2 games and really let me know about it.

Today we made our way along the main road again in Jaipur where we will spend a few days, not an exciting route in, but it still amazes me to see lorries coming towards us on a 3 lane dual carriageway.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Day 179 - Udaipur (India)

Well the flight was nice and straight forward. As I queued at checkin with my bike an official asked 'Can I help you`, 'no' I replied', 'What are you doing here' he said, so I told him `checking in`, `With a bike?` came the reply. Did he think I had got into the wrong queue at the traffic lights or something. Soon after it hurt to see them forcing my bike through on a conveyor belt, but when I got it back it was fine.
At customs in India they asked what value in dollars all my stuff was worth, approximately 2500 I said, then they tried to charge me tax as the most I could bring in was 1500. 'It's not dutiable I said', they said it was. 'Let me think I said' then after a few seconds I said 'It's only worth 1499 dollars, not 2500`, 'You are changing your story' they said', 'I know, 2500 was only approximate and know I have done a quick calculation'. They laughed and liked my reply and let me off without any charges and even drew me a map of how to get to the city and wrote of the list of things I should see in Ahmedabad. I got no sleep overnight and by the time I left the airport it was 8am so I went in search of a hotel, but they were all full and I had to go right into the city centre. The changes were noticable straight away, there were no end of dogs on the street, people and motorbikes and rickshaws everywhere and the noise from car horns, trains and buses was constant. The population of the city is about 4.5 million about twice as much as the whole of Oman. It felt VERY strange riding on the left again after 6 months and as I was half asleep there were near misses at every corner, you need to be switched on here and right now I was switched off. I couldnt get my head round the concept of going around a roundabout the 'wrong' way. I eventually found a place with a secure spot for the bike and went to sleep at 10am. At 3pm I went for a walk and was relieved to get money out of a cash machine, then crossed the river, got totally lost and couldn't even find the river again, and its not exactly small! So in the end I got an auto-rickshaw to take me back, so I had dinner and had an early night hoping I would be more with it in the morning. After Muscat that is so pristine, Ahmedabad is at the other extreme, a real dump.

So the following morning I was glad to be on the move, but before I left I visited Gandhi's Ashram where he lived from 1915-1930 and from where he started his salt march to the coast to extract salt from the sea to avoid the tax of the Brits. They are humble dwellings and a shivver ran through me to think that I was standing in the place where the great man lived for 15 years. But I had no intention of staying that long and was away and soon on the main road heading north. I was really surprised by it too, not as much traffic as expected and not as dangerous as I had expected either. If you took away all the traffic going the wrong way down the dual carriageway it would have all seemed quite normal, even though it still feels very odd to be back on the left. I stopped for a break and a truckers hotel. There have an open side facing the road and serve food. I was about the only person there but it soon filled up and I was joined by a family. I was fascinated by gran sat opposite me as she struggled to open a tin taken from her handbag, but I soon wished I hadn't shown quite so much interest as she soon revealed a fine set of dentures! I ended up at Himatnager, another dump of a place and stayed in a tatty hotel at the top of a block, but the floors in between had never been completed and were just open concrete.

The next day I headed for Dungapur and the last 25k were on a little road and by heck it was bumpy, but it was really nice to be on a little road and life was all around as people used cattle to plough fields and for threshing, and there were little villages to pass through. Once there I checked into yet another rough old hotel, this one didnt even have a shower and had a strange looking loo that you could either sit or stand on, very hygenic. It is set beside a lake and I went to the fort at the top of a small hill for great views and then went to a really posh hotel built into part of an old palace. I obviously looked out of place as I was soon thrown out. On the way back there was a very colourful gather by the steps to the lake. It was the festival of the sun and women fast for 48 hrs with no food or water. I was befriended by a student and his family who told me what it was all about and it gave me a good opportunity for some people photos. As the sun went down a large flock of crows flew over the lake from behind us, then I realised they weren't crows but bats, the biggest bats I have ever seen, about the size of a crow funily enough. There were hundreds of them and I was mesmerised, sod the festival! I soon had a crowd around me and after a while the student said it was time to go and I then discovered that the festival had gone and I was the only source of attention. I was then shown around a temple with strange doll like figures, an odd thing to worship.

I joined the family at 7am back at the lake. The fast was now over and the baskets of fruit that they had with them the previous day were disributed amongst the people and I seemed to be given more than most, so much I was then given a bag and people still put more fruit in. I decided I should leave, then it was another 30 odd k back to the main road for a hillyish ride to Udaipur. This is the first major attraction that I have arrived at and it is full of tourists. there are hotels everywhere but I still succeeded in finding a grotty one, but after the room had been tidied and the bed made it looked ok, but the view from the restaurant over the lake and the palace in the middle are just great. In Udiapur you can watch the film Octopussy in a different hotel every night at 7pm for a month, it apparently has scenes filimed here at the palaces. I found a pharmacy and at last got some decent malaria pills, similar to malarone that we can get at home and so much cheaper. I was a bit surprised to read the storage instructions and found it said 'Store in a well', then I remember that when you get to the end of a line you start on the one underneath, which said 'sealed container'. I ate at the highest rooftop restuarant for the views but the mossies still got me, time to take those pills, I hope its not too late. When I got back to my room the mossies were out in full strength so I experimented by sleeping with the fan on full and the gale force wind blasted them away, the only problem was it kept blowing my hair into my face!
Today has been spent wandering around Udaipur. It was always going to be a place I liked as it is beside a lake. The Palace (top building in photo) was wonderful with lots of rooms and fine courtyards, though a little to packed for my liking but they were pretty well all Indians. As the sun was going down I went around to the other side of the lake for a fantastic view of the town and the palace, but sadly photos don't do the place justice. I sat on one of the ghats where men, women and children were doing thier washing, followed by washing themselves. 3 children took a shine to me for some reason and each time other tourists arrived they said they didn't like them. I think they liked me as my skin was darker than theirs, but they were amazed when they saw my feet and tops of arms and were fascinated by my white hands.
Well, despite an bad start in Ahmedabad I have settled in well to life in India and I am thoroughly enjoying it and the prospect of so many good thing to see in the weeks ahead is quite exciting. From what I remember of my last visit India hasn't change that much, but it is much cleaner and so far I have had no hassle at all. Also the cars on the road are all newish whereas before they were all very old designs. The times are changing, but slowly.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Day 174 - Muscat

Yesterday I tried to cycle onlong the coast again, but it was hard work as I kept returning to the main road so after a while I gave up and stayed on the main road into Muscat. It was horrible! Lots of flyovers with one or two lanes going off right to a roundabout underneath, where there was so much traffic coming around I had to take risks to get across, I didn't enjoy it at all. To make things worse I have to go back for 50k along the same road to the airport this evening, what joy. Muscat the capital is a funny little place though and a far cry from the main road coming in. It is nestled between little mountains and is very small and really just an administrative centre, but it is immaculate, not a blade of grass out of place (photo). Stangely for a capital there are no shops or hotels, in fact it is only about 500m across, blink and you have missed it. So to stop the night I returned to Muttyah which has food and things along a nice harbour front (photo). Also I am not the only tourist here, that came as a surprise. There are lots, mainly Germans, but I hear some speaking English. I met a German motorcyclist, Christopher, and he recommended a hotel as he had been here 10 days ago. We went out together to eat in the evening and he took me to a restuarant which he said was very good. The only good things about it were the seats outside and the fresh juices, the rest of the menu was fast food rubbish and it was full or tourists. Consequently I spent over twice as much as the previous night and ate less.

This morning I have had a lie in and breakfast with Christopher at the hotel overlooking the harbour. I have had a wander around town and the souk, but it is very much aimed at the tourist so feels a bit plastic. So tonight I head for the airport and tomorrow I will be cycling in India. It seems odd to take a flight and to still be cycling at the other end, normally the holiday would be over and I would be heading home, not that this is a holiday of course. I have had emails from Judith and Andre and I think we will meet up again in Ajmer in about a week, so long as I miss out Jodphur, where they head for tomorrow. It's a shame as I wanted to go there. When I get to India I will have no guide book or map. I have a photo on my camera of a map, so if the batteries run out, so does the map.

That's about it really, not much to report, but I thought I would take the opportunity to get the photos up to date. There are very few of UAE as my camera was in for repair most of the time.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Day 172 - Birka (Oman)

Well at last I have left Dubia and it seemed strange to be cycling again.

The road out of Dubia was basically a motorway and very busy at times which once again made crossing junctions tricky. Once away from the city the road was through sandy desert, with dunes on both side, but it was partially obscured by trees that are watered and I still can't work out where they get all there water from. It was hot, hotter than Iran, most of the afternoon was between 35 and 40c but thankfully there were garages and rest areas on the way so plenty of opportunities to stop for water. My intended stop was at Al Ain, a big city that isnt even on my basic map. Once in the city I asked around for hotels but they were very expensive and thankfully full. On the way to one of the hotels I passed a nice park, so I went for a bite to eat and returned at about 21:30 to set up my tent, but I was amazed, the place was packed with people having picnics, don't they have homes to go to? Still, I set up the tent and people passed constantly, even after I had gone to bed.

Thursday was a bad day, right from the start. I was awoken at 2am by people telling me to get out of the tent. I woke very disorientated and wondered why I couldn't hear Andre through all the noise, then I remembered I was on my own. I opened the tent to face 3 men, thankfully one was a security guard, but they told me I had to leave. I informed them that their colleague had told me I could camp there but I suspect he hadn't understand my question and just said yes, anyway I refused to leave as I had nowhere else to go. They said they would call the Police and I said go ahead and soon I was talking to them on the phone. After another phone call the Security Boss Man Chief Thingy said I could stay until the morning, then 2 Police cars turned up and they said I had to go. I explained the situation to them but they still said I had to move so I told them I would go and find a bench to sleep on, but they didn't like that either. In the end they said I could stay until 7:30 as I had nowhere else to go. Come 7:30 I was off and I was amazed at the amount of litter left by the crowds and a team of men were already cleaning up, a far bigger problem than me camping for the night. I soon passed into Buriami or whatever it is called. They were a couple of guys on the border post and they waved me through. It is effectively one town split in 2 by the border. It wasn't as plush as the U.A.E. side and they didn't water everything, but other than that it was similar. The road soon went through the desert and to the mountains and it was a steady climb up to a lowish pass and after 45k I arrived at the Oman border post. Bad news lay ahead as they wouldn't let me in as I had no exit stamp from U.A.E. even though I was just waved through. They insisted I had to get one before I could enter Oman. I told them where I had come from and then found out the the border crossing is only for locals and I had to go back to a different border and get my passport stamped, but they couldn't show me on my basic map where it was so it was all a bit hit and miss and it is safe to say I wasn't best pleased. Thankfully I found the border crossing easily enough, but then I had to explain that despite coming from Oman direction I was actually leaving U.A.E. not entering it. By the time I got back to the Oman border post I had wasted 3 hrs and done a round trip of 50km, but at last I could get through. Consequently I didn't get as far as I hoped and camped out in the desert, but at least I had a good nights sleep.

The following morning a guy from a nearby new date plantation showed me around whilst he worked, then asked me back to his house, but I declined as I could see another day of not getting anywhere. I had opted for the coast road rather than the desert route after doing some research on my last night in Dubai. I soon reached the main road but it was a few kilometres inland so I cut through on little roads down to the sea and was able to cycle on the sea front through houses and fishing boats. The gap in the wealth here is very visible and basic little scruffy houses are alongside big fancy houses painted in bright colours. Some of the little fishing boats were made of rush though most had fallen into disrepair. I wanted to camp with a sea view but as light went down there were again a long string of houses, but I found a little spot at the top of the beach where the sand wasn't so soft and right opposite a mosque. There were lots of people about but it didn't really bother me but as expected I had lots of visitors. One said he would return at midnight, so I said I would be asleep, no problem he said, I will be back at 5am! Dinner was tuna, very appropriate and just to make it more authentic it was full of sand!

I can confirm that if you spend the night with a Cricket in the tent you don't get much sleep. I spent ages trying to find the little bastard and decided it was between the inner and the outer as it would shut up for about 10 minutes if I shook the tent vilently. I found it in the morning as I was taking everything out of the tent. Thankfully I didn't get my early morning wake up call from the locals, it came from the mosque instead. Today has been back and forth between the coast and the main road, sometimes resulting in a dead end and retracing. I had wanted to get a bit further than Birka and camp along the coast but I heard there was a hotel here and as I am desperate for a shower after 3 nights of rough camping and my clothes are filthy I checked into the comfortable hotel on the edge of town, enjoyed a nice hot shower and did my washing. Oh it's good to feel clean again. There is also a travel agent here so I popped in to see about a flight to India and they had a direct flight to Ahmedabad for only 49 pounds, too good to be true, so I have booked to fly there on Tuesday night. I had dinner in a restaurant where the fan was so strong that it kept blowing my plastic cup of water off the table. Food here is generally very cheap as like UAE there is no tax. I noticed I was the only one who was given a spoon and fork, the rest ate with there fingers. I make enough mess with rice as it is. Blimey, the sauce was hot!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Day 168 - Dubai

Well I am still here, a day longer than expected but I definately leave tomorrow!

To me there is a strange feel about Dubai. It's growing fast, very fast. Just 6 years ago it was a small city, now is big and getting bigger. There are 700,000 construction workers in the city and in reality it is little more than a very big building site. Only 4% of the population originate from here and water consumption in nearby Abu Dahbi is 500 litres per person per day. That is hardly surprising as they are changing the desert into lush green grass and beds of flowers. Dubai has a 7 star hotel, the most expensive in the world (first photo) and some 35 indoor shopping malls, all air-conditioned, as is the case with every building we have been in. One of the malls we visited even has a ski slope. The place reminds me of the computer game Sim City as a futuristic city is being built and in 15 years or so it will be an amazing place. In some of the malls there are large models of areas of the city that are currently under construction. They are seriously impressive with no expense spared with islands linked together by bridges carrying 6 laned road and metro trains. There are a number of islands being constructed in the sea, one the shape of a palm tree, another in the shape of a map of the world. The oil funding it all will run out in 20 years times and the idea is to have it finished by then and use the place as a commercial centre and for tourism. It's a spend spend spend economy as there is no tax here, but apparently people are not well off and spending is all on credit. Frankly I will be glad to leave the place.

Today I have been to the dentist and had a broken tooth repaired so I am giving it 24hrs before I move on. I think it will only take me a day to cross the Emirates and on Friday I will be in Oman, where I get the impression that things are a little more traditional. The population of Oman is only slightly more than the population of Dubai alone.
Tonight will be my 7th night at the Youth Hostel and it has been a sociable time with a mixed bag of people young and old, backpackers, people looking for jobs, others in full time education etc etc. There has been a mixed bag in our room of 5 too, Germans, An Aussie, a Pakistani and an Egyptian who we have named Russell for his ability to come in late every night from shopping and make an incredible noise with plastic bags. Last night it was 2am, the lights went on full and the rustling started and he quickly woke all of us. I complained to him and there was instantly silence. This afternoon while I was in the room hae came back and rustled non stop for 1 1/4 hrs whilst he kept apologising for last night.
The bird life here has been good and varied and the Hoopoo (photo) came and joined us in the city centre and wasn't the slightest bit bothered as we followed it around with a camera, sometimes no more than 3 feet away.
Judith and Andre left for Sharjar airport this afternoon and a flight to Ahmadabad in India. My latest plan it to cycle to Muscat in Oman, about 600km along the desert road, then take a flight to Ahmadabad, then hopefully catch up with J & A in about 3 weeks time as they will spend more time in the towns and the National Parks than I will. Of course they may take the opportunity to put as much distance as possible between them and me. I had intended to head up the east side of Pakistan, but that doesnt seem a good idea any more given the current crisis that is going on there.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Day 163 - Dubia (United Arab Emirates)

Iran and the United Arab Emirates are about 150km away from each other, but they are a world apart.

After we had had breakfast with the family in Bandar Abbas we dashed across the city in rush our to make it to the ticket office for the ferry, but it was shut. I was told to go around the back and then directed to a guys office who seemed to imply that I could have a ticket. Before long he had a bank ticket in his hand but everybody just stood around chatting and they kept telling me there was no rush, but with 1 hour to go and still not knowing where the ferry went from I disputed that. Eventually I was told to follow them in their car to the port and at about 10:30 I had a ticket. In 15 minutes we had checked in for the 11:00 departure of a very slow hi-speed ferry that left an hour late. Once on our way we discovered the 4 hr crossing would take 8 hrs. We eventually got off the ferry at about 22:00 and there 3 other travellers that had diverted to avoid Beluchestan including Jean who is from Montreal (photo, as he was about to leave out campsite) and was walking around the world. He was 7 years through a 12 year trip, which makes my plans look a bit pathetic. His buggy along with our bikes and a Dutchmans motorcycle had to be cleared by customs and we all had to be questioned first. We were then told we could not get out vehicles back until the following day but the guy who questioned us was very helpful and managed to clear the bikes and the buggy but the motorcycle had to wait. By now it was about 23:45 and we made our way a short distance to the city. Even in the dark we could see the place oozedmoney, fast cars were everywhere and skyscrapers were brightly lit. There are apparently over 500 4 start hotels in Dubia and we found a lovely piece of grass tocamp on and we were soon joined by Jean who had walked over. Beside us was a cricket match being played by Indians, then a football match being played by Iranians. Another cricket match started in the car park and fast cars were spinning wheels whilst at a standstill to burn the rubber and by now it was 1am. Players came over for a chat but by 2am they had all gone and the only noise was from the busy road a few yards away.
The following morning we woke to a view of the tallest building in the world. We made our way to the Indian colsulate and spent until 14:30 fighting beurocracy again. Nothng was straight forward as we were sent from one room and queue to another as each section was completed. Once we had paid we were told to return next Monday for collection. We then made our way to the Youth Hostel, our home for the next few days, but we all preferred the grass. 20 odd years ago this place used to be the desert and now the grass everywhere is fantastic, kept short and watered daily. There is a campsite for every day of the year. When we camped last night we thought the grass was 4 star but now we have seen the grass everywhere is the same.

The last couple of days have been doing odd jobs and a little sightseeing. We went into a huge mall and to start with we felt like kids at Christmas, it all felt so strange after Iran, but within an hour it was driving me crazy and I just wanted to get out and cycle peacefully through the desert again.

Dubai on the surface looks very modern and hi-tech, there are huge islands created in the sea for luxury residences and 7 star hotels, you can even go skiing, but dig a little deeper and really they are still way behind. Internet cafes are slow and any useful site is blocked. Cash machine dont work and computers are there but rarely used as paper is the preferred method. At the Youth Hostel we had made a reservation but wanted to extend it for another couple of nights, but you cant do it at the reception you have to send them a fax. Email is no good as they rarely use it. It's just one example of the frustration we seem to face every time we need anything.

I feel a little trapped here too. There is no way I can leave as I have to collect my passport, my camera has gone in for repair and wont be ready for 4 days, I need to visit a dentist and my bike is unridable as my last innertude has split beyond repair. I am so relieved that happened in Dubai and not as I was heading through the desert to Bandar Abbas.