Monday, 28 January 2008

Day 250 - Pokhara

Oh its refreshing to be in Nepal.

I set off from Mahendranager in the western Terai which is very flat and agricultural, just south of the Himalayas and really only a few kilometres from India, but it is a world apart. It is a very poor country for a start and life here is very basic, I never expected it to make India look wealthy by comparison. But the cycling was just wonderful as there was nothing on the roads apart from a few pedestrians and cyclists, very peaceful. All the young wave and call out "bye bye", blimey, I have only just arrived. Progress was much quicker than I expected too. I worked out roughly where my stops would be based on the distances stated on the map, but they are way out, so I reached Lumbini with 2 days in hand. The map is double sided and has an overlap and even the distances on either side dont match. One section I will be travelling on is 73k on one side and 133k on the other. That makes the kilometre stones really important to me, but to start with they were useless as the Nepali numbers are different to ours, but I got somebody to write them out for me, so now I have learnt them the stones are once again very useful.

Being a non tourist area I had no idea where I would find a room, but I have always been lucky, not that they are easy to find as some only have Nepali signs, but by asking around I am normally pointed in the right dirction. But accommodation is very basic too, but so long as it is reasonably clean I like it that way. Restaurants too are basic. When I say restaurants you can forget your waiter taking your coat and showing you to a laid table with wine glasses and table cloths, they are more thatched huts with just holes for doors and windows, long old wooden tables and wobbly wooden benches, the kitchen is normally at the front and the stoves fuelled by firewood causing wood smoke to come back into the restaurant and make your eyes sore. I try mot to look at the kitchen too much as I keep hearing myself saying "ooh, that's not very hygenic". Occasionally a goat will wander through and if it times it right it gets to lick the pots and pans clean, "ooh, that's not very hygenic!" The only similarity to home is the candle lights on the tables, but thats only because in the Terai the electricity is cut every evening between 5 and 8 pm. They sell their electricty to India and don't have enough for themselves. My headtorch has become invaluable and I never stray to far without it and always make sure I can find it.

I was latched onto by a student the other day and he showed me around the village school, which was empty at the time. He showed me a piece of paper that had all his exam marks on and at the top was his date of birth. I was somewhat surprised to see that he was born in 2046! I asked him who won the Grand National in 2008 as I wanted to put some money on it but he couldn't help me. It is now the 10th month of 2064, I think its the 12th with the date being written as 064/10/12.

I also have a new record for the number of people I have seen on a single motorcycle, 6. There was the rider, 2 little kids in front of him and another 3 behind. We should be doing that at home to save on fuel and traffic congestion.

Fuel prices have risen here recently and a couple of days ago I passed a protest against them that was blocking the road. They had set fire to some tyres and blocked the road causing massive tailbacks, 3 buses on one side and 2 lorries on the other. It all seemed very light hearted to me, less of a protest, more of a sing song around a camp fire. There have also been a number of army roadblocks too, aimed at combatting Moaist Rebels, but I am always let through with a smile.

Travelling through the Terai was a bit boring at time. On one day it was almost entirely through forest which reminded me of the New Forest. I was a bit concerned about the size of a poo I saw at the roadside. It would have been a bloody big cow that dropped that one and as I didn't know what was out there I didn't hang about to find out. After a few hours it became a bit of a drag and so I decided to see how many calories I used per kilometre, 25 at a steady rate on the flat. It was 40 into a headwind. Like all cyclists I hate a headwind but I shall now take comfort in the fact that at least I can eat more at the end of the day. On Friday I turned and headed into the mountains and I seemed to be using around 55, not that I was bored, the scenery was fantastic.

I stopped a couple of nights in Lumbini. The village is tiny but it is well known as it is the birth place of Buddha, a stone covering the exact spot. A large Developement Zone has built up around it and monastries from countries all over the world have been built. The Chinese one was like part of the Forbidden City and right opposite the Koreans are building one to surpass it. The most pristine and colourful one was German, and I didn't even know there were Buddists there. It was interesting to see them all with their cultures showing through in the designs, though there is alot of ongoing construction which made me compare it to Dubia. Sabastian, a Frenchman that I met in the evening said he thought it was a Buddists Disneyworld and I could see his point.

Saturday was spent in Tansen a hilltop town with a maze of steep cobbled streets. I chose the wrong day though as everything was closed on Saturday and the weather was bad too so no point going in the countryside to see the views of the mountains. I had a great view down the valley from the hotel I stayed at but at times you could see nothing, just white cloud. I ordered food in the hotel restuarant, they had a fine selection on the menu, but everything I chose was either not available or would take 1-2 hours to prepare. I only quick option was chowmein. Noodles seem to be their staple diet here along with rice. As I pass through little towns and villages I see a number of painted adverts on walls from various companies, my favourite being Shaka Laka Boom, which reminds me of a Saw Doctors song and starts me singing. On Saturday evening 17 cyclists turned up at the hotel, a group of Italians on a 2 week holiday, they had just come over from Lumbini, the same journey as I made the day before. Only a couple spoke English so conversation was limited, but they were also heading for Pokhara on Sunday. One of the women wore a Paris-Brest-Paris cycling shirt and she finished in time, some going as it was the wettest event for 30 years.

Sunday morning was just perfect. I have been staying in Hotel The White Lake (photo), so named after one of the valleys that can be seen from the hotel terrace. Each morning there is a low covering of cloud across it that make it look like a white lake, and it certainly did on Sunday morning, really beautiful. I set off at 7:30 for a long ride through the mountains and it was absolutely glorious and the scenery fantastic. I kept expecting the Italians to pass me as they were setting off at 8. I passed there support team at lunchtime preparing a meal for them. The afternoon scenery was not as good, but there was plenty of land terracing cascading down the hills like molten lava. It might not have been as good as in the morning, but it was never dull. With about 15k to go 4 of the Italians caught and passed me. The day had clouded over and it looked threatening. It proved not to be an empty threat as it soon started to rain, then turned to a hailstorm, I was going to get seriously wet and the first time it has rained whilst cycling since 28th August, whilst in central Turkey, so I can't complain. Thankfully there were only a few k to Pokhara, but I soon heard shouts from the Italians who had been sensible and stopped at a little cafe and soon they were filling me with tea and busciuts, so much better than getting bombarded by hail. About an hour later once the rain had stopped and all the others had regrouped we set off for Pokhara. I had no intention of staying with them as they would fill a hotel. Pokhara is a major trekking centre and is cram packed with hotels, lodges and guest houses, restaurants where tablecloths are in and goats are out, internet cafes, trekking shops, travel agents and gift shops. I made my way up a quiet street off the main drag to a guest house, it looked far too posh for me but I would check it out as a bench mark for others. It had large rooms spotlessly clean, crisp clean sheets, even a carpet, a really nice bathroom with hot water, pure luxury compared to what I have been used to this last couple of weeks, it even had comfy chairs on a terrace surrounded by well kept large pot plants and a well kept and attractive garden, but I couldn't believe the price, just 2 pounds. I couldn't turn it down, especially as I would be here for 3 nights.

I suppose I ought to let you know that I am now back to normal healthwise and my fitness has returned thankfully as I will be in the mountains for a while now. A cold is still hanging on though and occasionally I cough, but otherwise I am 100%.

Every now and then I am overcome by guilt for doing this trip. I felt it the other night as I lay on the bed in Tansen, feeling totally content in the basic room that has just a bed with a desk and chair, the roof being corragated. I think, should I really be doing this, checking into yet another hotel. Shouldn't I be at home looking to start a new career and trying to earn a bit of money. The other night I was reading my book be torchlight, the electricty went off at 5 came back at 8 for half an hour, never to return, when a quote leapt out at me. It a fascinating book about womens life in Iran before during and after the Islamic Revolution and it has really given me an insight into life there that I could never find out just by travelling through it, I just wish I had read it before I had been there rather than after. Anyway, the auther was quoting from a book by Henry James, Ambassadors, and it was as follows: "Live all you can: It's a mistake not to. It doesn't matter so much what you do in particular so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that, what HAVE you had?" Well it's pretty obvious to me that you can't always live the life you want to, I can't, I am not in control of my first choice, but as a second choice I think I have got it about right. I have no doubt that the guilt feeling will return many a time, but I shall remember that quote and try and live life to the full.

Tony, I have cycled up THAT hill once. I hate cycling down it as it is so long and steep I feel I wont be able to stop at the bottom, but I hate riding up it even more, far tougher than anything I have ridden on this trip I can asure you.

Oh, and I have managed to upload a number of Nepal photos for when you are looking for something to do!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Day 240 - Mahendranagar (Nepal)

Leaving Delhi was tough, even though I wanted to get out of the place, I think it had become to familiar and easy, even seeing a few western faces and talking to people in cafes made it feel like a home from home. But get away I did and finding my way out was really easy despite the lack of a map and any useful signposts, I suppose I just got lucky. I did have a distinct lack of energy though and it was all I could do to turn my legs, so I was thankful it was flat the whole way. The only 'hills' were flyovers and they reduced me to a crawl. I stopped at Hapur after just 67k. I had intended to go further but it became apparent very early on that I shouldn't go too far so I was sensible.

The following day I aimed for and got to Moradabed at 103k, I felt a little stronger and by the time I got there I had a tailwind and was fairly racing along, again flat the whole day.

Yesterday navigation proved to be interesting. I reached Rampur easily on the main road but needed to turn off on to a minor road. I think I turned too soon and ended up just following my compass through the busy bazaar streets of a town that was much bigger than I expected. I passed an area of butchers where meat was being hacked about in the open air. Thankfully I have become vegetarian for the last 2 months in India. I had meat about 3 times but each time I might as well have been eating veg as there was no meat in any of the dishes, just a pile of bones in a sauce. I eventually assumed I was on the right road as somewhere was 25k away, about right for Bilaspur, but Rudrapur was signposted as 40k away. I was on the right road but my 2 photographed maps showed different place names, Singh Nagar on one, Ramspur on the other, but when I got there it was in fact Radrapur. Lots of adverts by the roadside showed a modern city with new houses, cinemas and hotels, but it was just another decaying old town, may be I had just arrived a couple of years too soon! I reached Kitchha, signposted and on the maps, but then it all went wrong. I should have continued east to Sitarnagar, but there was no road going east, or at least it had been closed for some years. Roads heading north and south were definately not wanted. I asked and each time I was directed south then told to turn right, i.e. west, back the way I came. I ignored the advice and checked out all the other possibilities before giving up and following the locals advice. I ended up on a main road heading south, but it was the best of my options, then I at last reached a turning to Sitarnagar, so they had been right the whole time. Oh well! All that added quite a few kilometers on and I ended up going 123k, far further than I had wanted in my condition.

Today I made a short day, just 57k, then relaxed for the afternoon. My legs are feeling really stiff, like when you are unfit and then go running, and I still lack any real power in my legs. But today the main task was to cross the border into Nepal. I reached the Indian border town of Banbasa and expected to see buses and trucks crossing, but it was all most unconvincing as a little lane led away from the town, just used by bike and motorcycling. The route then crossed over a large river via a single tracked bridge and sluice gates. At the far side was an immigration office with one guy sat outide. I did the paper work and waited for him to do his official bit. Whilst I waited I ate a snack attracting the monkeys which he scared off from his neatly kept garden. I took over that job as I had encouraged them in the first place. Then there was a rough track and rough road leading into Nepal where I found their immigration post. I was the only person at both of them so passage was nice and quick. It was also the quickest and easiest visa I have obtained with the 3 guys there all very friendly and helpful and all too keen to relieve me of 20 pounds for a visa. That done I was on my way with a short stop at the bank, well little hut with a bank sign and a few rupees in cash, then about a 6km ride to Mahendranager, ridden with locals on either side chatting away to me, the first town with a good choice of hotels. Its too early to notice any real differences, but the changes are there but subtle. I have had a wander around town, nothing special, but lots and lots of bikes and very few motor vehicles...great.

I feel tired again today so I was glad of a shorter day and restful afternoon. It feels as though I am having to build my fitness from scratch. I am glad to inform you that I have no pictures of my new sleek looking body. Actually it doesn't look that sleek, more like a pile of old clothes with a had sticking out of the top!

And hello to you Blondebutbright. Now if we met in Chandigarh that narrows it down a bit. Your hair looks a bit too long for you to be Anthony, and I am guessing you don't have a beard so that rules out Narinder and anyway you are not wearing a brown turban. So that leaves Janelle and it looks as though your photo might have been taken at the Taj Mahal, but I am probably wrong. Its always good to hear that people are reading this trivial stuff. As I have said before, it makes it all the more worthwhile.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Day 236 - Delhi, still!

When I set off on this trip 7 months ago I was reasonably fit but somewhat over weight, as I had been for about the last 25 years. I had expected my body to change shape pretty rapidly, afterall it always changed due to weight loss even after one of my 3 week cycling holidays. But it never did change. I reached the Alps and thought "That'll sort it out"...nothing. I was a bit despondant but took consolation in the fact that I must be eating well and keeping in reasonable shape. Through the hills and mountains of Turkey I think I toned up a little, but before I entered Iran I teamed up with Judith and Andre and consequently put on weight. I think there were 3 reasons for that, I cycled less distance each day when I was with them, I cycled slower and finally Andre's excellent cooking and the quantity he cooked. So I put on weight, not that I complained, I had a great time in good company. But now when I stand infront of the mirror I am still amazed at just how different I look and how quickly it happened, but then a bit of illness always does have immediate impact. I don't know how much I weigh, but to me I look just puny, not an ounce of fat and my normally ill fitting clothes have room for 2 people, as well as me!

So I am on the mend, but weight doesn't seem to be coming back very quickly to me. Days are monotonous and repetative, but for some reason it doesn't really bother me. I still haven't strayed much more than a couple of hundred metres from the hotel and my days have been spent watching films and sport, on the internet, reading and socialising in cafes, it's not a bad life.
Having said that I am still looking forward to moving on. To be honest I have had enough of India and I feel a need a change. So what are my plans when at last I get away from this place. Originally I had intended to go to Calcutta via Varanasi, but that is a long way through Northern India, so I had decided to take the shortest route from Delhi to the Nepalese border. On reflection that has proved a good decision as with my prolonged spell here I don't know if I would have reached Calcutta before my Indian visa runs out. Before Christmas I aquired my visa for Bangladesh, that was fun. Visa applications are dealt with outside the main consulate at a little kiosk. When I eventually got to the front they said "You fly in", "No, I cycle in" I replied, "You fly in", "No, I cycle in", "You fly in", No, I cycle in, look, there is my bike over there, see", "Oh" he said and made a phone call. I was instructed to go inside where I was questioned about why I wanted to go there and the route I would take. I negotiated a 20 day visa as I was cycling as they normally only give 14 day visas. Excellent, sorted. No not excellent as when I picked it up I had 30 day but had to fly in and they wouldn't change it. They are strict on their borders and I know they wont let me in by road on my visa, still as least I wont need another Indian visa. So the upshot of all that is that I will be in Nepal 4 days after I leave Delhi, cycle to Kathmandu via Pokhara, then take a flight to Dhaka in Bangladesh, tour for 2 or 3 weeks then take another flight to Thailand, probably Bangkok. Easy!

On Sunday I ventured out on the bike for the first time, having done some maintenance the previous day. The new chain and cassette made the ride feel great, lovely and smooth. I also felt a sense of freedom and I suddenly realised I was singing as I rode along. People approached me, talked to me, begged, I was living again. A guy said something to me, aiming for a sell I guessed, "Pardon" I replied not catching what he said, oops, missed it the second time too, but on the third time it was loud and clear "I specialise in cleaning out ears", "No honest, I don't need mine doing, bye".

Well today is Monday and I am to push on tomorrow. My intention was a leisurely breakfast, then a bit of sight seeing on the bike that would have covered about 25km. The first part went well i.e. the breakfast but then I was overcome by apathy and just moved to another rooftop cafe, read a book and people watched for a while. Then I thought, is it apathy? To be honest I couldn't face the traffic, the constant squeeze at junctions (photo), the constant noise, what I really want is peace and solitude, fresh air, space and a quiet road leading into the mountains, leading into Nepal, tomorrow will be a new dawn. I have also thought about my time here in Delhi. I haven't done much, not strayed far as most of the time I couldn't, but it is the longest time I have spent anywhere, people in the hotel and in the streets recognise me, people at stalls I frequent say "see you tomorrow" and invariably they do. Delhi as unwittingly become the nearest thing I have to a home...crikey, it must be time to leave!

It's now 7pm. Normally at this time I feel as though I have an age ahead of me before I set off the following morning, but tonight is different, tomorrow morning feels so close. I don't know if I am ready but I am going anyway, if I don't move soon I feel I will become stuck here. I still don't feel physically strong, bu there I haven't done much exercise for the last 3 weeks so why should I?

So what of Caroline? Well she as last got to see a doctor on Friday, not that they could be bothered to come out mind you. She is now on medication and is making a very slow recovery. I feel somewhat bad about it to be honest, she has now been at home ill longer than she was out here with me. I wish her a speedy recovery.

All being well you wont hear from me for a while as it will bhe 3 or 4 days before I enter Nepal, then a good few days before I reach anywhere big anough to have an internet connection, but its flat for the first few days giving me time to build up a bit of strength before the mountains. See you soon.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Day 231 - Delhi again

First of all, it's a bit late, but happy New Year to you all.

Well it has to be said that the holiday wasn't entirely successful, but it was enjoyable. Just 12 hours before the arrival of Caroline I managed to a aquire a sore throat that was very painful and took hold very quickly, so that when she arrived I had an unwanted gift for her. Unfortunately she accepted it but it seemed to affect her far worse which she left to get to its peak on New Years Eve, then she mucked about with it, mashed it up and passed it back to me. We seem to be bouncing it between the pair of us getting worse each time.

But Caroline is a tough character and she didn't let it bother her too much so we managed to do a fair bit of walking around Old Delhi before taking cycle rickshaw to Raj Ghat, the spot where Gandi was cremated. She didn't go too much on the cycle rickhaw ride there though, I think she didn't take too kindly to going the wrong way down a busy dual carriageway, but I admit it takes a bit of getting used to.

We then had to get to Agra by public transport, something I had been dreading as it is so much easier at your own pace and time on a bike. We opted out of the 6am tourist buses, and then out of buses altogether as I didn't realise that Caroline suffered from travel sickness on them, nor did she fancy the crowds on the "black holes" as she called them and I have to agree it wouldn't have been exactly comfortable, so we aimed for the train station. These too are really busy but made easier for us by having a foreigner's booking office. There were lots of people sitting around but no queue, until we discovered the queue was sitting around and that it would take about one hour twenty minutes to reach the front. Still at least that gave us time to work out which train name and number we needed, then to find out that you cant go on that train as booking closes 4 hours before departure. So we ended up on the 17:30 train, but at least booked our onward journey from Agra, a 06:15 train, Caroline wasn't there so I had to make the decision and once again she took it well despite not relishing the prospect, not that I did either mind. We spent the rest of the day looking around New Delhi, spacious and relaxed compared to old Delhi, we even sat on the grass and enjoyed the sunshine for a while. The train journey itself was great. They are big trains, 20 carriages plus, and you have a coach number and seat number, made very easy to find as the coach numbers appear on electronic boards on the platform well before the train arrives, made slightly more confusing by the train turning up on a different platform. The train was going much further than we were so it was a sleeper with a bed each that converted into seat which meant just 4 people per compartment, we shared ours with Adam from Canada who had booked his seat a month ago, and Ankit from Delhi going to pick his wife and car up from the in-laws in Agra. It made for a sociable journey though Ankit painted a rosy picture of India. He was well educated and obviously had a very good job and said was surprised when we said he spoke good English. He said that all Indians did and that they nearly all had a car. Most Indians speak no English in my experience, very few as good as his and if all Indians had cars then the roads wouldn't be as congested and polluted as they are now because nothing would be able to move. A nice man though and as we left the station on a cold evening he was there waiting for us prouding holding his year old son who he had been telling us about and introducing us to his wife. We took an auto-rickshaw for the 9km ride to the hotel but the ventillation was just a bit too good for a cold night.

We changed rooms after the first night for one with a Taj view, a little way off, 600m or so, but still a classic view across the tree tops. The following day was Sunday, the Indian's day off and we walked past the Taj which had massive queues at the West Gate when I had seen none on my previous visit, they must have been 200-300m long so we were thankful we were heading for the Fort. The Fort was busy, but no queueing involved and far more interesting that the Red Fort in Delhi. There were wonderful pillar supported hall, palaces, and ornately covered quarters, added to that views along the river to the Taj. We then walked back to the Taj hoping the queues would have died down, not at all, the heavy traffic gave the game away and the queues were even longer. Having decided our stratergy over the next days we had to bite the bullet and go for it. The West Gate seemed to be where all the Indians came in on coaches, the East Gate had shorter queues of tourists from coaches, so we went through the little lanes to the South Gate which has a queue of about 20m, so we were soon being searched by security and in, until I was told to leave my bag behind in a locker room that closed 2 hours before the Taj did, then I had to queue again to be searched which took much longer, I wasn't best pleased as I only had an hour and 3/4 there. Once inside, yes it busy down the central paths, but the outer paths were empty. Leaving shoes and getting up to the next level was a bit more challenging, though once up you again had some space. The mosque was also wonderful, the beautiful architecture only spoilt by the addition of a very out of place electronic noticeboard. Time was running out so we tried to get up the steps to the Taj level, people going up and down the same staircase. It was a horrible struggle as it ground to a halt, people start to push. We inched our way up to find just a small gap at the top with the same happening on the other side from an identical staircase opposite. We could only get out by going on a small ledge with a tiny foot high railing to a drop straight back down, this is how disasters happen with crowds of people. Thankfully by the time we went down police had arrived and implemented a one way system giving easy access. We didn't get to see the tombs as we were running out of time, despite our attempts to go in the wrong way. It was then time to make a dash for the bag before the kiosk closed so I left Caroline to take her time. I enjoyed being there, its a wonderful place, but because of time I always felt rushed and on edge, I would have liked to and wandered around relaxed, reflecting on the place and taking more time with my photos, nevermind.

I don't know if I have got my dates right, but I think the following day was New Years Eve. Caroline had gone downhill health wise and had a fever so decided to stay in bed, but the plus side was that it was a great place to be ill and look out of the window at the Taj. After a trip to the pharmacist to buy anything that might be useful, also calling in at a herbal shop to see what they could offer. I bought a remedy for coughs ad cold and jar of honey for making hot drinks but declined his sales pitch on the remedy for hair loss. By the afternoon Caroline was feeling a bit better so was got a tuk-tuk to the baby taj, probably mentioned in an early posting, but a lovely peaceful place and a fantastic little building with serene gardens where we sat and relaxed a while in the sunshine. Its construction was completed just 30 years before contruction started on the Taj and whilst different you can certainly see alot of similarities in it. I suspect Old Money Bags who had the Taj built for his 2nd wife who died during childbirth of their 14th child said to his architect "I want one like that, only bigger, MUCH bigger...and better. I've got wads of cash just burning a whole in my pocket". We returned to the hotel to watch the sunset for the final time of 2007 from the hotel rooftop, through sadly not behind the Taj. Entertainment was provided from the very posh Hotel Amas Vilas next door, for too posh for me with prices from $500-2400, but the entertainment was missed by those within. They employed somebody to keep pigeons of the roof, his only tool a flag on a long pole. He wasn't you average Indian though, he was really up for the task in had and having seen him I would employ him. I would have employed that last pigeon as well mind you as there was a long lasting battle of wits between man a very persistant bird. He would chase it off, then it would do a lap or two, land else where, only for our intrepid hero to come running along to see it off again, and so it continued for over 30 minutes. Sometimes it would land below the rooftop but he would track it down and the game continued, great to watch and all for free. Caroline was feeling rough again so we had a early night but a bit wasted as very loud music was being played from across the road. When I went to see what a great party it was there were all of about 6 people there! I settled down knowing I would get much sleep but 2 minutes later I was fast asleep, not even woken by the fireworks!

The New Year started early, too early, 4:45 to be exact to catch that 6:15 train, which was not feeling such a good idea now. By 5:30 we were in reception and our ordered taxi was waiting for us to whisk us through the empty street to the packed railway station. There must be a mistake, it says on the board that it departs at 8:55. I checked, it wasn't a mistake, just very late. Great. We had got up early when Caroline needed rest, not that she had slept much, and skipped breakfast to sit on a cold unwelcoming platform for 3 hours. How is that that I have to rush around the Taj yet have as much time as I would possibly desire at this place. We tried to make the most of it by having hot tea and talking the time away, then after about an hour and a half I discovered a waiting room which was a bit warmer, then our departure put back to 9:15 then 9:30. At 8am we went for a walk to get warmed up and outside was once again buzzing. We got back to find at 8:45 to find it was still scheduled for 9:30 but when I wasn't looking they put it back to 9:45, then 10. We seemed to constantly have 45 minutes to wait, they were just teasing us a sort of "please don't go it will be here in a minute". Finally it went back to 10:10 and they even announced that it was incoming so we stood be our coach number, but still it didn't arrive. At last to turned up at 10:25 but its 5 min stop turned out to be 20 minutes so at 10:45 we had been waiting 5 hours, oh joy. But at least it was another sleeper and Caroline made the most of it and got a little rest as there was nobody with us. We arrived at Jaipur at 15:20, longer than scheduled, so it was slipping further and further back. We were both tired so we just rested making the most of the nice relaxing rooftop area covered in pot plants.

The following day Caroline had picked up somewhat despite another restless night and we got out to see the Pink City as it is called, vistiting a good tower for some wonderful views, the city palace and Jatar Mantar and area full of large astrological instruments, really interesting but impossible to understand and therefore to explain to you. We saw one in Delhi to but the instruments were far bigger than here and had become little more than a kids playground. During the night it was my turn to go downhill. Whilst I was lying down I didn't feel I wasn't right but I needed the loo. I sat up and felt worse, stood up and felt worse still but thought I could make it, I couldn't. I couldn't work out where I was going and felt very faint and found a wall to hang on to and asked for the light to be turned on. I remember nothing for the next few seconds but it felt like an age then I heard "John, are you alright", "I need the light turned on" I said and was surprised of the answer "It is". Then things became clearer and I made it to the loo and slowly recovered enough for the return journey. The following day was pretty much a write off.

Just ordering breakfast and heading up to the rooftop made me feel a little feint so I was relieved to sit down. Caroline was feeling reasonable but there was no real chance of doing any site seeing. Having been given a web address for the online booking of train tickets I used the internet in the Guest House to try and book them. What a stange site it was too! Sure enough it was for Indian train booking but the sub menu gave about 6 option, all of which sounded like the one I need such as "e-train ticket", "train reservation" etc, but go into any of these and the best I could get out of it was to book a flight. Finding a wife was another option, so whats that got to do with trains. On reflection perhaps I should have given it a go. So we had the only option of going back to the train station and fighting the masses. I did my best at queueing but was struggling to stand up so good old Caroline queued whilst I sat down. Once we had our train details, 05:05 or 17:35, we had to queue again to get the ticket but at least there were seats right next to that queue. At last we got to the front and up went the Closed sign, deep joy, but thankfully only for a 15 minute shift handover. Once tickets were in hand we returned and relaxed in the sun on the roof. Caroline went downhill then and neither of us fancied eating out in the evening.

The following day we both felt rough. I had hoped we would both be on the mend and get the bus to Amber Fort, but none of it. All we could managed was a tuk-tuk to the Palace of the Winds and back, then just waiting for our evening train, a long wait. The train was not an overnighter so had ordinary seat. Once away we were given a litre of mineral water, a nice bonus. That was followed mango juice, a light snack, a flask of water to make tea, bread stick, soup, a very good full meal, yogurt and finally icecream. Caroline gave up early on but I boldly fought my way through the lot, and some of hers. It was 5 hours of eating.We got to New Delhi at 22:45 and had to fight through all the hassle of the tuk-tuk drivers in their bid to rip us off. We were both feeling rough and just needed to lie down and I was getting irritable with them but Caroline just told me to calm down, nothing seems to bother her, she seems to have embraced India better than I have.

Thankfully we both felt much better the following morning, the day for Caroline to return. There seemed a lot to due such as giving her all my unwanted things to take home, before we departed for the airport at 10:30. We said our farewells for the last time as distances will be too great now. As I left the airport building I was called back, "You can't leave the building" he said, "Why not I am not on a flight" I replied. I guessed I shouldn't have entered as he checked everybodies tickets and passports except mine, but I got away with it as I was carrying Caroline's rucksac. He got a bit stroppy and I thought he was going to send me off for questioning, "Who let you in?" he asked, "You did" I said which was true. That changed his mind for him he didn't want me to being questioned if I was going to tell them that he hadn't been doing his job properly, so he let me go. I enjoyed her being here, she is a great companion and a good person to travel with apart from the facts that she wont stay in crappy hotels that you have to at times and she doesn't ride a bike. Never was there a word of complaint, she is just great, but before she left she gave me her best parting shot of the bug we had been passing back and forth (I don't really blame her at all, it just sounds good). On the my return to the hotel the taxi driver who had been silent on the way out now let his personality flow to the extent that he was singing to me, thats no way to get a bigger tip in my opinion! I moved from my nice comfortable hotel to my cheap shabby hotel, back to reality. My bike had been in the clean and tidy reception area and had been cleaned before I left, but was now covered in a layer of dust. By about 5pm I could feel myself going downhill again, so I lay down. The only way I could stop myself coughing was to lie on my front and that is pretty much how I remained for the next 48 hours.

The night was long and tough, I felt very ill. I kept nodding off and having the same abstact dream over and over again. The were 2 sets of parallel lines forming a V shape. Between those line were grey circles or spheres to the right and pale red to the left. For some reason there seemed to be an Indian connection and they appeared to be route, the grey being the easier. I tried both constantly but never got top the end, all very strange. I felt slightly better during the day but couldnt even face watching the live FA Cup matches on the television, how bad is that? I remained very thirsty the whole time and just couldn't drink enough.

The following night wasn't quite so bad, but far from good. I got up to have a shower in the morning and looked in the mirror, but who the hell was that looking back at me. I looked terrible, no, even worse than usual. I looked incredibly thin, my stomach seemed to have fallen off since I last looked, my face was long drawn and thin, wrinked with big bags under the eyes and a dark red mucas on my lips, some of which had been deposited on my teeth. Even my hands look so thin, I didn't know they could do that! For the first time in my life I felt I needed to put on a little weight, if only to stop the trousers falling down. After a shower I called reception and asked for a doctor. Within minutes I was talking to one on the bedside phone and having told him my symptoms he said he would be around in half an hour, such a relief as I had expected to have to wait all day. Sure enough he was bang on time and after a brief checkup and gave me a variety of pills to be taken at various time of the day over the next five days, some had to be taken after food. He also gave me a perscription and told me there was a pharmacist around the corner but I told him there was no way I could get there, I had hardly enough strength to stand up, so he arrange for the hotel staff to sort it out. Once he left I ordered some porridge but could only manage a few spoonfuls, took my pills and lay on my stomach again. I don't know how long I slept but when I woke up the top half of my sheet and the whole of the pillow were covered in sweat, not just damp but sopping wet. There wasn't much point in drinking water I might as well have thrown it over the bed. I called room service and they changed the sheets. When they turned the mattress over the sweat had already reached the other side.

Yesterday I felt a lot better and got up for a few hours but have no strength what so ever and struggle to walk let alone go up the stairs. This thing has hit me hard this time that is for sure. I gave Caroline a quick call before she went to work to let her know I was ok, so imagine my surprise when I heard that she is suffering even worse than me and can't keep any liquids down. She called the doctor for the first time in years and they advised her over the phone but seem to have the attitude of "If you can not be bothered to come into the surgery, you casn't really be ill". Third World India with 1 billion people can manage it in 30 minutes and we even have a load of their doctors. Well done Britain!

Last night was slight worse. The number of blankets I used went in the sequnce of 1-2-3-2-1-0 in the space of 90 minutes as I froze then sweated it out. Today has been much the same as yesterday, sadly no improvement. I think this will take a while to get over, I could be in Delhi for some time.

A note for Audax cyclists reading this. Yesterday I enjoyed reading your comments and reports on the Poor Student from last weekend, it brought me right back home to the countryside on my own doorstep and having ridden it a number of time I could relive it all again. But what is this ice thing that you all talk about? I can tell you it get down to a bone chilling 7 or 8 overnight here at the moment and struggles to make 23 during the day but I haven't seen any of this ice stuff that you talk about. I read that a number fell, so I hope your are all alright, well done to you all. I hope I don't meet such conditions on this trip.

Lorna, you say you have just caught up with the photos, but I have just put another 60 odd on there, sorry, but it keep you on your toes.

I will post again in a few days all being well, not that I will have much to report but it will let my family know that I am fine. And I am fine fine, if I wasn't I probably wouldn't have told you.