Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Day 217 - Delhi

I hope you all had a good Christmas. The weather has warmed up somewhat, so it has felt even less like the festive season.
My original plan had been to leave Amritsar and cover the 470k in 4 days ending with a 170k ride into Delhi on Christmas Day as there were apparently no hotels on that stretch. In the end I couldn't face the thought of that so I opted to cover it in 3 days, that way they were all roughly the same length and the last day wouldn't seem so daunting. Well, I made it in 3 days and to be honest it was all pretty straight forward as it was a main road bash, so little route finding involved, though I was 45k out of Amritsar before I saw a sign that confirmed I was on the right road. I did ask a few people at a main road in Amritsar if it was the Delhi road, but nobody could understand Delhi, or at least my pronounciation of it. At last it dawned on one of them and they told me which way to go, but I had already decided to trust my compass and go the opposite way to his suggested direction. Thankfully the compass paid dividends again. The route was dead flat the whole way with the only hills being bridges over the railway. There was nothing of touristic interest either, so I was happy to push on each day. I did take "taxi" rides when ever I could though. No, I am not getting soft and scrounging lifts, its just that there are often tactors with large trailers passing and when they are going at a good speed I sprint (as much as I can with a 50kg bike) into their slipstream and get an effortless tow for a while. The ideal speed is 28k with about 31kph being as fast as I can maintain for any period of time, but its all a bit of fun and makes boring kilometres slip by quickly, though it can only really be done on a good surface as hitting unseen potholes at speed donesn't appeal that much. The first night I stopped at Ludhiana which has an elevated road going through the centre, very frustrating when you can see all the hotels, but you no way of getting to them.

On the final day into Delhi I opted for a 7am start, it was cold and the fog was very thick with a visibility of no more than 50m. Going at 20kph on a bike was plenty fast enough and I expected to se plenty of accidents with their terrible driving, but amazingly enough they slowed right down and drove with a little sense, if you exclude those with no lights on at all. Fog lights dont seem to have been invented here as hazard warning lights are the preferred option, not that it's a problem, they don't use them to indicate with anyway. The last 20k into the centre took an age as the traffic was solid. Normally thats not a problem on a bike as you can weave through, but here there are so many bikes that every last gap gets filled and when things get moving again it also takes an age as they all have to unravel themselves from each other. Still, I got here on Christmas Eve, that's the main thing.

I had intended to try and get a Bangladesh visa as soon as possible but I was told that Christmas Day was a holiday so they would be shut, so I had to have a lie in, a liesurely breakfast, then a pootle around New Delhi on the bike, it's a tough life. The masses seemed to converge on India Gate, not that anything seemed to be going on. I had a chat with some soldiers outside the President's Palace and they were the only people to wish me a Happy Christmas. OK, so there is a 2ft Santa in the hotel, but that's as far as their celebrations seem go. And that reminds me, I left a dirty old sock at the end of the bed for Santa and when I got up there was sod all in it, not even an orange, not even a poxy nut! The guy is a fraud.

I am staying in Paharganj area of Delhi, there is a bustle about the place and it has far more life and atmosphere than in New Delhi. You can get any type of food you like, even "Authentic Italian food, with an Indian touch". How can that be authentic then? Today I have been suffering the queues and hassles of the Bangladesh Consulate. After queueing for ages at the visa section I was sent inside and once there I was pretty much alone with a French guy who also wanted a tourist visa. We were both questioned about why we wanted to go there, especially as we didn't know anybody there, so we would have nowhere to stay. The French guy seemed to get more of a grilling than I did and they seemed very reluctant to give us visas, which somewhat contradicted the posters on the wall that said "Visit Bangladesh, before the tourists arrive". Still, mine got sorted and I should be able to pick it up tomorrow, far quicker than I expected. Once back I cut my hair and went to a barber to get the back of my neck shaved. He also did the long bits that I had missed, but at 15p I will think twice before indulging in such luxuries again. It only took him 10 minutes, what is the world coming to? Guess what I have got lined up for the rest of the day. Well having had the stress of a Consulate during the morning, I am going to chill out in front of the television this evening as there are 3 consecutive live Premiership football matches. Actually, I probably wont see any of them as I suspect I will fall asleep.

This will be my last post for about 10 days as I will be on holiday. The bike is going into Hotel storage tomorrow and I will be travelling back to Agra and Jaipur by public transport. I hope to see the New Year in at the Taj Mahal.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Day 212 - Amritsar

Well I was packed and ready to leave Mcleod Ganj and sat having breakfast will Dan. I didn't really want to move on, so I didn't, I unpacked and stayed another day. The Dalai Lama was due to arrive that day and I asked at the hotel if they knew the route he took, but they suggested going down to the temple. I wandered down there and as I approached there seemed to be a lot of people about and in fact they were lining the streets, so I picked what I thought was a good spot on a sharp steep uphill bend. The crowd kept growing, but it was always calm and strangely quiet, then after about 30 minutes there was a sudden and very noticable rise in the excitement of the crowd and a few seconds later the vehicles came up the road and there in the second one was the Dalai Lama, wearing the wonderful smile that he seems to have in all of his pictures. I only saw him for a few seconds but there is an aura about the man and it has still left me feeling good, even a few days later. I walked down the steep hill to the library and a complex that even has the `Tibetan Parliament - In Exile` along with a number of other official departments. Next stop was the Tibetan museum, but I needed a coffee and a bite first so I went into the cafe at the temple. The tables were all in use, so I was told to sit at a table where a woman sat on her own. She was a German called Suzanni, a really lovely person, and very courageous. She had been in Mcleod Ganj for 2 1/2 months, seeing a doctors that had been recommended to her. I don't know what her illness was but she has a tough life. She lacks the energy to do anything and is affected by most foods so has to do all of her own cooking. As we talked and I learnt more about her I mentioned a quote I had seen from the Dalai Lama about never giving up, no matter what happens. I little later I noticed that she had that very quote on the book mark she was using. I have seen a number of excellent quotes from the Dalai Lama including `Paradox of Our Age` (See photo, you will need to left click unless you have very good eyes). Time slipped by to the extent that I only got to the museum as it was about to close. I once again had dinner with Dan and Anthony, all very sociable.

I saw Dan again at breakfast the following morning, but this time I really had to move on. He is staying until the weekend and attending a teaching given by the Dalai Lama and I wish I was too. The route was down, down, down out of the mountains, but pretty slow due to the rough roads and constant twists and turns. It felt a real anti-climax to be leaving when I didn't want to and to lose the scenery too as the high mountains were behind me. I soon realised that I wasn't going to get to Gurdaspur for the night as the signposts suggested it was much further than I expected. Just before Pathankot the road bridge over a river was closed due to `Damage`, which in reality meant a large chunk of it was missing! I had been warned about it and that the detour added 12k of track on to the route. I didn't fancy that or the walk across the rail bridge as it was also very long. That left me with a wade through the river, which wasn't that deep but was fast. It reached the front panniers so I had to lift the front of the bike which made progress even more of a hazard, but at least I made it and gave my sandals a clean into the bargain. It then became clear that the map was wrong and it wasn't so far to Gurdaspur afterall and I made it there in good time.

That meant I only had to ride 75k to Amritsar giving me the day and a half there I had hoped for. Once I found the Golden Temple I showed them my letter of reservation to which they pointed out I was a day late, but they gave me a room none the less, right next to the temple and for just 100 rupees. The Temple complex is big in everyway. You have to leave you shoes at the entrance, but the storage area was so big that I decided to leave mine in my room and walk in bare feet from there. I have always wanted to come here and I wasn't disappointed. It is the centre of the Sikh religion and all around the outside the buildings are white, enclosing a small lake in the centre of which, accessed by a narrow bridge, is the Golden Temple. It is a pretty good name for it as it gleems gold like nothing I have seen before. There were queues all the way across the bridge so I decided to leave the actual temple until later. Instead I went to Jallilian Bagh, a park surrounded by tall buildings with one access point. It is the park that on April 13th 1919 was the scene of a peaceful demonstration against the British occupancy of India. The British army moved in and opened fire on innocent people that had nowhere to go. Around 380 died including children and another 1500 were injured. There is a large well there which people jumped into it to get out of the way of the bullets and around 120 bodies were removed from it. I sat there quietly ashamed of what the British have done in the past and of the mistakes that we continue to make today. I went back to the temple for dinner. There are massive kitchens and dining areas there and they feed around 30,000 people a day. I just did as the person in front of me did and collected a trays with sections on it, a bowl and a spoon, then walked into the dining hall and sat on the floor in the next line that was being formed. There were prayers as the food was being served, well slopped really. We were given 2 vegetable dishes, chapatis and rice pudding and they kept coming around to give you more if you wanted. It was all a very slick operation and tasted good too, so long as you weren't to bothered that you were served from a galvanised bucket. A unique culinary experience. Once you had finished you carried you dishes out where they were stacked and given to a huge team of dish washers, and all this was for free and they serve you any time you turn up, 24hrs a day. After dinner I took another walk around the Golden Temple that looks so different when lit up after dark.

I took breakfast at the temple too, but it was the same as the evening meal without the rice. The queues for the temple were small so I went in. 3 men were playing music which is broadcast around the whole area, they play 24 hours a day, well, not the same 3 men I assume. The lower part of the exterior is inlaid marble like the Taj Mahal, the top being golden of course. Inside there was more inlay and beautiful paintings. I stayed there a while mesmerised by the wonderful surrounding and the live music. There were areas where people sat but they seemed to be enclosed and nobody was moving, the rest of the people passed through in a bit f a crush. I sat again just outside and people watched for a while, all very colourful. In the afternoon a took a trip to the Pakistan border. Now I am not the type to go to a border just for the sake of it, but this was no ordinary border. Every day when the close the border there is a ceremony acted out with their Pakistani counterparts, which consists of much stamping of the feet, in fact one guy lifted his leg so high I am sure it cant have been attached to him, alot of shouting and a bit of nose to nose eyeballing of their neighbours. All this is done in front of an excited crowd of about 4,000 in specially built grandstands and really has the feel of a football match, a great atmosphere with lots of chanting and roars of joy as the border guards stomp towards each other at great speed. Then the flags are lowered and soon after the ceremony is over and crowds rush down to have their photos taken with the police. Heading back to town was also very similar to leaving a football match.

So tomorrow I head off back towards Delhi, something I dont relish as it is a main road bash the whole way with nothing of interest to see, oh joy!

Well before I go I must wish you all the very best for a good Christmas as this will be my last post before then. Strangely enough it hasn't seemed the slightest bit like Christmas to me apart from the fact that the temperature has dropped somewhat dramatically.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Day 208 - Mcleod Ganj

What a difference a few days make.

Getting out of Chandigarh was far easier than getting in though I needed to go east and the grid went diagonally. I think I just got lucky. Whilst in Chandigarh I went to the Rock Garden, made of all sorts of unwanted things. There were lots of figures made mainly of crockery, but some were made from broken bangles, all a bit whacky, but fun. There I met some nice people, Narinder Singh, the Gaurdian Angel of Tourists according to the article he gave me, though he talked so much that I never got beyond the title. I also met Anthony from Australia and two other tourists whose names I didnt get that were also entrapped by the GA, but it was all very friendly and he took us to an office and gave us tea and biscuits whilst he faxed a letter to Amritsar to organise a room for me to stay in at the Golden Temple. The night was spent at Rupnager, another uninviting place, but at least it was small. I was getting over the slight illness, but the rich food I had for dinner made me feel sick again.

I woke during the night to thunder storms and alot of rain and it was still raining as I was ready to leave so I gave it a while and it stopped. The rain itself was not a problem, it's the mucky roads that are! About 20k out the road turned to gravel and in places covered from side to side with water, a complete mudbath. If going through it wasn't bad enough the other passing vehicles plastered me from head to foot in mud as they bounced through the potholes. Bike and bags are now brown. After 30k the road went up into the mountains with an 800m climb. By the looks of it the scenery was excellent but visibility was very low. After I arrived at the hotel there was another thunderstorm right overhead so at least I was lucky to miss that one.

The following day started with thick fog and it was cold too. I started with a climb and before long I was above the clouds which were over the rivers and lakes, blue sky was above me and the mountains looked just great. The road kept rising up gently and before long the sun cleared the fog giving a wonderful day with just wonderful scenery. I passed through little villages which were pretty clean and friendly people greeted me as I passed, it felt great to be alive and passing through this fantastic vista, what a difference a couple of days makes. Having passed through all that filth and flat lands its hard to believe that these wonderful mountains are in the same country, let alone just being a handful of kilometres away. I ended up in Mandi, a nice little town with a sunken garden and market in the middle, and mountains and rivers all around.

The following day started off foggy again, but also started with a climb and again I was soon under blue skies above the clouds in the valleys. It was cold, 6 degrees, but I can't really complain about it as I passed a school where they were being taught outside in the sunshine. The scenery was just amazing and got better as the day went on as I approached the high snow covered mountains. I am sure there is better scenery around in Northern India, but coming so soon after those bad days, this was just pure joy, I think I rode with a smile on my face all day. I ended up in Baijnath and even found a really good hotel at a very reasonable price. After a hot shower that included washing all the mud off the bags from a couple of days ago I sat on the balcony with a great view of the mountains, what more could I ask for. I even watched 2 live Premiership matches in the evening.

I left Baijnath on a beautiful clear day, but the riding wasn't up to the standard of the previous day. At one point I seemed to be heading away from the high mountains so stopped to ask the way to check. I was told I had missed a turning and needed to retrace 10km. I asked another for confirmation who said I could continue and turn right. I continued, but there was no right turn. Further questioning gave me answers of both directions, all a bit confusing, so I just continued and eventually found a signpost. From there it was 25km to Mcleod Ganj (3rd photo), uphill all the way, steep for the first 12k, then a gentle climb for the rest. On arrival I met Anthony who I had seen in Chandigarh and I also met Dan from Oxford who knows Combe very well through playing cricket there. A small world indeed.

Breakfast was taken with Anthony and Dan and today has been spent at the temples and monasties of Mcleod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama and a little bit of Tibet in India. It certainly doesn't feel like India, almost everybody is Tibetan and they look very different to the Indians. There are still beggars here, but some are better dressed than me, not that that is saying much.
So I feel much better than at the time of the last posting, but I have always said that when travelling alone the highs are higher and the lows lower.

It's good to hear from you John and that another reader is on board, and welcome back Harpo, I thought you had forgotten all about me. In answer to your question about the roads Aaldrik and Sonya, yes they were the yellow roads. They seem to be the most obvious to take to the Nepalese boarder, but they are not much fun. Hopefully I will see you in Nepal, you never know. It would be good to ride together for a few days.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Day 202 - Chandigarh

Thanks for all you comments, they are good to read and I will try to answer a few in a mo.

Well I managed to choose a really bad route from Agra to Chandigarh and I think I saw all that is bad about about India compressed into 4 days. There are supposed to be a billion people in this country and I think I have seen most of them in the last few days!
I left Agra with Judith and Andre heading north. Soon the road surface was terrible and the traffic heavy. We had to weave about the road just to select the smallest holes to cycle through, whereas in some of the villages they were just rough tracks. It made the going very slow and far from ideal for anybody with a bad back, so if you read this Sonya, take note. Also you couldn't look at the surroundings as you had to concentrate on the 'road' the whole time, far from enjoyable. We split up at Hathras as J & A were heading for Nepal, I felt sorry to be leaving them for the last time, they have been good fun and company over the last 3 months, friends for life I am sure. At the junction there was a level crossing closed for a train, but being India there is no waiting in an orderly fashion so the traffic was stacked up the whole way across on both sides. I suspect it would have taken an age to clear so I just went underneath the barriers before the train arrived and made a get away. I stopped the night in Aligarh, a dump. The first 4 or 5 hotels I tried were full or at least they didnt want me to stay there for some reason. In one a fat slob lying on a grimey sofa asked "A/C or non A/C". "Non A/C" I said to which he answered " We are completely full, no rooms available at all". They charge substantially more for air con room so I suspect he couldn't be bothered to move his fat arse for anything less.

The next couple of days were more of the same, just worse, passing through filthy villages and polluted rivers (Photos). The weather was cool and overcast which probably made it feel worse. I stopped in Saharanpur which was really chaotic and walking along the street was like playing some sort of computer game as I constantly had to leap out of the way of motorcycles as they came at you from all angles, and that was just walking along the street not even trying to cross it. The Hotel a chose was a very bad choice. They had a power failure when I looked at the room but when it was restored I could see just how bad it was, dirty sheets, distgusting dirty carpet and a bathroom that I really didnt want to go in, let alone use. I asked them to change the sheets but I just got a different dirty set.

The following day was as bad as it gets from beginning to end. During the night I was constantly bugged by mosquitos so that every hour or so I had a swatting session. I ended up leaving the light on as I thought that might attract them, then the power went and the noisey generator was outside the window, not that the light came back on. At 5am there was a knock at the door which I ignored, then they kept pressing the buzzer so I told them to go away, but they persisted. I eventually opened the door and 2 staff tried to walk in without so much as a word until I stood in their way. "There is a leak in the bathroom" they said, "If there is I suspect it has been there for the last 6 months" I said "You can sort it out at 8:30 when I have left" at which I shut the door. They persisted with the buzzer but when I answered they got the full force of my angry voice, not often heard, and a very loudly slammed door. I didn't hear from them again. As I packed my bike in the morning, they stood there and watched me, so where had the urgency gone? It was an easy route out of town but after 30k I passed through Yamunanager, the dirtiest, most polluted, shitty town I have seen so far in a country full of filthy towns. This is supposed to be an emerging nation, a developing nation, but not from what I have seen. It might be in cities like Mumbia and Bangalore, but for the rest of it it will take generations and a completely different mind set and to be honest I cant see it happening. It took me an age to get through the place due to the congestion not help by yet another toppled overladen vehicle. At last I was on smaller roads but I started the day not feeling too well and by now I was going downhill and I still had no idea how far I had to go. I was heading for Chadigarh, built from scratch in the 1950's and supposedly the greenest cleanest city in the country, not that that is saying much. Route finding was difficult as there were no signs in English so at every junction I had to stop and ask the way, then stop again and ask somebody else for comfirmation. Before long I hit a completely blocked road, but thankfully I could walk my bike around it all. I never did see what was the real cause but I guess it was a couple of broken down lorries. In true Indian fashion vehicles in each direction filled both carriageways and the verges and with their organisation skills I could see it taking hours to sort out as vehicles were still queue jumping when I left. To make it worse the plonkers had completely blocked a level crossing as well, so a train was stuck too. A good example of the Indian stupidity and ignorance that I see every day. Oh dear, this isn't sounding good is it? As I eventually neared Chandigarh the road was closed and a diversion was in place which I took and soon saw signs for different sectors, part of the 1950's town planning. So I followed them with the only thought on my mind of getting to a hotel and going to bed, I felt bad. I couldn't make the sectors fit in with the map at all so I kept asking for sector 22 which was never signposted. I gave up trying to find 22 and asked a policeman where the hotels were and he told me there were none. "There are loads marked on my map in sector 22" I said. "Yes" he said "but they are in Chandigarh, this is Panchkule". Oh shit! That was the last thing I needed but at least it explained why I was lost! It was another 10k to Chandigarh, oh joy, and to make things even worse it was getting dark and there were no signposts. The place was a massive grid with roundabouts, a sort of Milton Keynes without signposts. It took an age but at last I found some shops and things, I even found the bus station and a hotel that was marked on the map. I still couldnt understand the map though and later realised the hotel was marked in the wrong place. I tried one or two hotels but they were very expensive. I almost took one as I felt so rough, but I carried on cycling around in circles until I found another which was still expensive but much cheaper than the others I had been to. Had had ridden 153k feeling bad for the last 100k, and not seen another hotel before this place. I turned off my cycle computer and the screen went blank. It's not supposed to do that, so a fitting end to the day. I got to my room having carried all my stuff up a long flight of stairs at 18:15 and didn't leave it until 13:00 today.

I feel a bit better today but still not great so I spent the day here. It is very different to anything else in India, no cows, pigs, or monkeys, more jeans than saris and only a few people urinating in public. A badly decaying Milton Keynes should paint a pretty good picture.

Ok, now to answer a few comments. Its good to hear from you Richard and that and your colleagues you are still reading this stuff. Punctures are a bit of a sore point. I had expected no more than 3 or 4 on the entire trip but I guess I have had about 15. I cant say that anything has gone through the tyres, most of them have been caused by poor components. The rim tape on the back wheel came adrift way back in France and that caused 4 before I could get it replaced. Then I had a series of slow punctures on the rear caused by a faulty seam on the tire, but it took an age before I could get the sharp bit out. That's all cured now. Then the rim tape came unstuck on the front and has been replaced, but then I had problems with innertubes. I assume they were affected by the heat as they were "falling apart". In Yazd I had 2 punctures in a day and didnt even ride the bike! Later I cut the tube open to see what was happening and it had a split that just kept getting bigger. I bought new tubes in Dubai and since then I have been trouble free, but I shouldn't really say that.

Tony, I haven't read "Blue Remembered Hills", but I need more books to read and I will look out for it here, though I suspect you are being far too complimentary. Thanks anyway.

Pete, I am surprised to hear that you are still reading this, but that's good too. Glad to hear all is going well. It sounds as though we are all enjoying our different routes since we have left Cap, but reality will hit me when I return, I am sure. I have always thought of your rocks and had been collecting them, I even slipped a few into Judith's and Andre's bags to slow them down. Now they have left it just too heavy, so I have ditched the lot, sorry.

Thanks for your kindly comments too Nick. I am not that tight really, but going into the Taj twice at 10 pounds a throw seems a bit extravegant to me, especially as that is much more than I spend mosts days here.

Crikey, I have wriiten alot. Thats what you get for me stopping in a day in a boring town and not wanting to do anything too physical.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Day 197 - Agra

Well we have been in Agra for 4 days now so there is little to report as to be honest we have not done a lot. I have only visited one sight, a tomb that I cant remember the name of but is know as the Baby Taj as there are striking similarities, so no I have even been in to the Taj as it is too expensive in my opinion. Having said that I plan to return here at the end of the year so I will go in then.

The days have passed quickly and sociably. We have enjoyed the company of Sonya and Aaldrik, the two cyclists from Holland who are also staying in our hotel, and yesterday we met Geoff from Australia, who is a another cyclist and also going to Australia. So that makes 6 cyclists that we know of in Agra at the moment.

Tomorrow we go in different directions. Sonya and Aaldrik will be here a little longer, Geoff heads off in the direction of Jaipur, Judith and Andrea towards Nepal and I will be heading north to Mcleod Ganj, home of the Dali Lama and then on to Amritsa. It is in totally the wrong direction, so for the next 10 days or so I will be heading towards home, but I have always wanted to go to Amritsa and I feel if I dont go there this time, I will never go there. Then I plan to be cycling into Delhi on Christmas Day, now that is bad planning as I cant think of anything I would rather do less!

The temperature here has dropped dramatically over the last week and it will not be long before I start to wear shoes for the first time since day one. In Jaipur I put the washing up to dry and it was almost ready after one hour, here it has taken two days.

See, I told you there wasnt much to report.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Day 194 - Agra

Boy it is flat around here!

We left Jaipur for Bharatpur and the bird sanctuary. The route was a busyish road and once again lots of roadworks. They are making it dual carriageway and bits are finished, but traffic seems to go in both directions on both carriageways, very confusing. We chose the smoothest road, but every now and then we notice that everybody has gone back to using it correctly and we are in fact cycling down the outside lane in the wrong direction. On one occasion we did that for 7km, but nobody bats an eyelid as there seem to be few rules of the road. We passed big groups of about 50 camels, probably heading back from the camel fair, where we saw none. Between the towns it is very rural and cow poo is used for fuel and left out to dry, pancakes as Judith calls them, poocakes as I call them. There are also alot of monkeys, they seem to be picking things out of the fields and must be a real nucance. We needed to break the journey up, but had to go a little bit further than we wanted to to find the worst hotel I have stayed in. The shower was useless. If you waved your arm under it for long enough you could just about feel it getting wet. The promised hot water was very cold. The restuarant was terrible, in fact they took our order and went of into the village and bought it off the streets. We could have done that for about a tenth of the price. The naan was so small I was convinced it was a chapati and refused to pay for it.

We were glad to leave the following morning, but the ride to Bharatpur was uninspiring. We booked in at a nice little Guest House with a nice lawn and garden, so much better than the previous night.

We then visited the bird sanctuary, it was a bit like the camel fair with no camels as it was a sanctuary with no birds. They visit the wetlands here each year, but with two very poor monsoons there is precious little here. We did see a few birds (photo), but not many. We also saw turtles, deer, antelope and alot of jackals.

We then rode to Agra via Fatehpur Sikri, that was really good, but really busy. It is a deserted palace built in about 1550 and very much intact and well maintained. There are wonderful building carved inside and out, large courtyards (photo), one with a pool, and a five story building, each supported by a decreasing number of columns, 84 at the bottom. Next door to the palace is a mosque that is still in use, but boy do you get a lot of hassle there. Everybody wants to sell you something or offer a service, postcards, jewelry, wooden games, guides, people to look after your shoes to name a few. As we were going out a different way we carried out shoes and Andre was stopped from going into the tombs as he was carrying them. He wasnt best pleased especially as the man stopping he was spitting on the floor, so it is ok to spit in the tomb, but you cant carry your shoes. Spitting here seems to be a national problem, most people chew a red tobacco and spit long squirts of spit out, its disgusting and I fully expect to get a direct hit from a passing bus at some stage. But it is not just saved for outside. Inside some buildings you see the lower part of the wall covered in the red stuff dribbling down the walls. Going to the toilet anywhere also is a problem. Today was passed a man peeing outside of a toilet block and clearly he wasnt the only one. Inside it looked quite clean.

So we have arrived in Agra and have a room in a quiet hotel with a shady garden on a street where traffic was barrred. We stopped outside the Taj Mahal to get out bearings but were moved on by aggitated guards, then I remembered that a little over a week ago there were bombs in three towns in the state of Uttar Predesh, the same state we are in now, killing about 9 people. They had all been bike bombs and judging from the amount of baggage we are carrying we had the potential to do even worse, well it would do if everybody pees outside.

We have met another couple of cyclists from Holland at the hotel. They have been here for a month as Sonia has had a trapped nerve and couldnt even walk for 2 weeks. It is impossible to walk about the town without constant hassle, but it is nowhere near as bad as when I was last here.

Last night it rained for the first time in months, not that we saw it, though yesterday was overcast and threatening all day and dropped to a wintry 22 degrees, but thankfully it is warmer today. How do you all survive at home, its winter there you know.

I have managed to loose 3 things since Dubai. I left my mits at the port, a pair of underpants in Udaipur, the worst of it was that I had just washed them, and last night I discovered that I left my head torch in the grotty hotel of a couple of nights back. It has really pissed me off and I am not sure why. May be it is because I know I will not get another one out here and I need it to camp as the nights are long, but may be it is because my daily outgoings are very low here and in contrast it now seems even more expensive. But dont worry, I will get over it