A Travellerspoint blog

To Shimla and our palace


We arrived into Old Delhi train station early in the morning and were met by a Rimo representative who took us to his car and drove us the 1km to New Delhi train station. After we had confirmed that yes we could get onto the train and find our seats by ourselves we were left to wait the 2 hours for our train. While we were waiting a guy came over and started drawing a picture of Amy, adding huge boobs and writing "I love you white girl" underneath it. Then he tried to charge us Rs100 for it. Ha! Our train arrived and we found our seats and settled down for the trip to Kalka where we transferred to a narrow gauge train that wound its way up the hairpins (yes a train track with hair-pin bends!) and through 108 tunnels giving us awesome views of dramatic scenery before reaching Shimla. As we rolled into Shimla we saw a man with a sign with our names on it and followed him to a car stuck in the traffic jam that is Shimla train station. We escaped and drove across town to our palace that will be our home for the next 2 nights. It was very grand and very English country housey. We were shown to our choice of suites, past photographs of Maharaja's, princesses and hunting scenes, where we showered and headed down for tea in the restaurant. The food took ages to arrive but we weren't particularly hungry so enjoyed chatting to an Indian family on holiday while we waited. Then it was time to explore the corridors and landings of the huge building, finding huge Bison heads, tiger skins and lots of pictures of film stars and other famous people.

After a breakfast of stale cereal and omelette we met our guide who took us to see the viceroy's lodge; the building from where the whole of India was ruled from during the summer months of the British Raj. It is a huge, beautiful building which looks like a Scottish castle with towers and carved stone work. We had a guided tour of the ground floor of the building (which is now used as the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies) and as we walked in the entrance way we were greeted by surprisingly plane wood pannelling which stretched up 3 floor, with balconies running round at each level. We were shown the novel sprinkler system where, if there is a fire, the wax on the nozzles melts and the water starts flowing from tanks stored in the highest tower. Pretty clever. One room had a lot of photographs of the building and powerful people from India's past and another was now a library, although you could definately see it was once a ballroom. After we had been shown around the lodge we headed across town to the military museum as Shimla has a strong military presence and supports the smaller bases closer to the disputed borders with Pakistan and China. It was quite interesting and explained about the long military history and how the fighting code has developed, as well as some hilarious outfits and a whole wall of guns. After the museum we met the Rimo boss for the area who checked how we were doing before lunch at a nice restaurant 2 doors down. Then it was up the hill (in the car - we aren't allowed to walk any more) to the monkey temple, dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman, aptly named as it is surrounded by aggressive monkeys. Luckily our guide had a stick and we looked around unscathed. We studied the dioramas on the walls, crafted from the great Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, before going to feed the monkeys some blessed nuts. We were dropped off in town after persuading our guide that yes we can walk and no we wont get lost on the way back to the hotel, and did a spot of browsing before walking back to the palace for dinner and bed.

Posted by SamAmy 02:55 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

2 nice days in Binsar


Good news :) Mum and Dad have organised another trip to India and will be here on the 10th May :) Very exciting!

Anyway, back to the blog...

Amy woke me up at 6am with the exciting news that the Himalaya were visible. I got up and went to see for myself. They were indeed in full view. An absolutely astounding sight. I thought we were high already but they just towered above us. It was very humiliating to be so close and feel so small and insignificant. They were amazingly beautiful, lit up by the morning sun. We went to see if our driver would take us to Point Zero, reputedly a good point for a great view as it was another 10km closer. Luckily he was awake and 15 minutes later we were dropped off at the base of a 2km walk to the viewpoint. An Indian gentleman and his 12 year old son had joined us and we had a nice chat as we walked up, stopping to take pictures of the blossom on the trees and glimpse the view as the path twisted and turned up the hillside. They were from Mumbai and the son was a keen cyclist. He would get up early at the weekend and go riding before the traffic got too hectic. That's dedication, and bravery after seeing India's roads! We reached the viewpoint and it was definitely worth the climb. The peaks were very clear and spectacular as the sun caught the snow and left the valleys in darkness. We took a lot of pictures before heading down a different route past a little village and back to the car. We stopped to admire the view into the valley as we were still high on a ridge before getting back in time for breakfast. An Indian family or 3 had arrived late last night and were now making a lot of noise, as is typical of large Indian families. Such a contrast to the peace and serenity of yesterday. At breakfast we met an English guy called Matt who is a teacher but before that he had helped to set up "Village Ways", the walking holiday for middle-aged Britishers where they walk from village to village. Matt had returned to see how the project was coming along and, as he had helped find the different routes from village to village, he knew the area quite well. He was planning on walking to the next village and back before lunch and asked if we would like to join him. It ended up being 5 of us including the couple we met yesterday and we set off through the calm woodland following little village paths. We reached the other village and were welcomed by a family who had helped build the tourist lodge. They were very proud of it and showed us round, the lounge and bedrooms upstairs and kitchen and toilet downstairs, with an outdoor staircase. It was very nice and obviously a lot of time and effort had gone into it. After they had shown us round they invited us back to their house, very similar to the tourist lodge but with a stable and tool shed downstairs and living quarters upstairs. They gave us chai and biscuits as fuel to get us back up the hill to Binsar. We thanked them and headed off a bit further downhill to a place renowned for its wildlife. It was a steep sided valley with a stream in the bottom and the animals came down to drink. We crept quietly along so as not to scare anything that might be there but couldn't see anything. Just as we had turned and headed back we saw 2 or 3 deer on the opposite hillside, half hidden by the bushes. They saw us at the same moment and bounded away over the horizon. We walked back to Binsar and arrived in time for lunch, although we did get partially deafened by the screaming, shouting and arguing from the other table. We had a relaxing afternoon reading on the veranda with regular tea refills before the Indian family decided to play cricket. It was very entertaining to watch and whenever an argument broke out we were always asked to pass judgment. We watched the sunset and the cricket game culminated in a big cheer by one side and arguing from the other. Typical! It was soon time for tea and then to bed.

We woke leisurely and had a lazy morning watching the Himalaya slowly disappear into the mist and haze until you wouldn't believe they were there at all. We had lunch before saying thank you and goodbye to everyone and getting into our car to head to Kathgodam train station. A long drive down hill and we arrived in time for tea at a nice restaurant before thanking our driver and catching the overnight train back to Delhi.

Posted by SamAmy 02:50 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Corbett, but no tigers, then on to Binsar


We woke at 5:30 and headed out to our awaiting jeep. It was a bit misty and cold but the best time to see tigers is early morning after they have been hunting all night and come to the river to drink. We headed upstream first, along with everyone else staying in the lodge - it was a lot busier than yesterday. There were a lot less deer and elephants about than yesterday but when we turned off the main track and headed towards the river we came across a huge owl perched on a low branch of a tree. It looked quite sleepy and only afforded us a quick glance before closing its eyes again and ignoring us. We reached a bridge across the river with a good view of the banks in both directions. We parked up and waited in silence for a few minutes, only for another jeep to arrive, turn off its engine and sit in silence for a few minutes, then another. If any wildlife was out there it kept getting alerted to the presence of humans in the area by the continual arrival and departure of jeeps at the potentially prime location. We headed off ourselves seeing that waiting was futile and came across some tiger tracks in the sand at the side of the road. They were huge paw prints. A bit further on was the impression of where it had lain down and it was 6 feet long! We saw a few peacocks, some Samba deer (which gave us a little hope of seeing a tiger) and more boar but nowhere near the numbers of last night, and no tiger. We reminded ourselves we were lucky to have seen one at all, even if it was a long way away, and headed back to the lodge for breakfast. After we had eaten we took our books to the veranda and sat in the morning sun reading until some little Indian children came over and started chatting to us. We were soon playing games with them and the morning passed really quickly. We went for lunch, expecting to see them there too but they didn't arrive. When we met up again in the afternoon we asked if they had gone for lunch. They had - in the cafe! So when we were really hungry when we had first arrived and asked the restaurant owner if there was another place to eat he had lied! We vowed not to eat in the expensive restaurant again. We had a fun afternoon playing card games before it was time for our last jeep safari. This time we headed into the jungle because tigers use the paths and tracks to travel noiselessly and keep cool in the shade, and if we were lucky we might come across one relaxing in the road. We saw some deer and an elephant, and even a couple of monitor lizards, but no tigers so headed back to the river to try our luck there. Almost straight away we heard the alarm call of the monkeys so we cut the engine and waited. Another alarm call further away so we raced along the tracks to the other side of the patch of woodland hoping to see it as it crossed the road in front of us. We sat in silence with a good view up the road but a few minutes later we heard another alarm call from the other side of the road. It appeared we weren't quick enough and the tiger was well on his way. It was getting dark again so we headed back to the lodge, thanked our driver and guide and headed back towards our room. We were just in time to see the working elephants return from their safari and I asked if I could feed one. I was given a huge, round chapatti and had barely picked it up when the elephant was reaching for it with its trunk. He knew who's food it was and he wasn't letting me keep it from him. He delicately took it from my hand and directed it to his mouth with his trunk, obviously happy with his meal. Then it was time for our meal and we went to the cafe for the first time. It was much better food and much cheaper; I can see why the restaurant owner didn't tell us about it. He would never get any business otherwise. A few more games of cards with the friendly children and then time for bed.

A "lie in" till 7, breakfast, then into the car and we head out of the park. We follow the same road we came in on and come across a jeep sitting in silence at the side of the road. We instantly cut our engines and coast down til we are parked next to it. They signal they have heard an alarm call and are hopeful there is a tiger in the area. We wait a tense few minutes until they frantically beckon to us. We know we are not allowed out of the car in the park as we can face a hefty fine but we risk it and quietly move over to the jeep. They point up a small ravine and it takes me a few seconds to realise what they are pointing at, but then I see it. Five metres away - a fully grown leopard staring straight at us! He doesn't hang around long once he realises he's been spotted and with a flick of the tail he silently disappears into the bushes up the ravine. Amazing! Such a beautiful creature and so close! We hurry quickly back to the car for fear of a ranger finding us outside the vehicle and carry on out of the park in high spirits. 2 big cats in 3 days! We are very lucky. We settle down for a long drive into the mountains, only breaking the journey for a cup of chai, the sweet, milky tea that is found all over India and is so tasty. After we have been climbing solidly for 2 hours up steep, twisty mountain roads we reach the town of Almora - a busy, bustling place that we pass right through. We carry on up, though the gate into another wildlife reserve and on to Binsar mountain retreat, an old colonial bungalow used as a retreat for the gentry during the Raj. The staff are really friendly and showed us to our amazing room before showing us to the restaurant for a late lunch. A good meal later and time for a explore of the place. It is a country estate on the top of a hill with forest all around and apparently, on a clear day, great views of the Himalaya. Unfortunately not today. It is a quiet, relaxing place; a world away from the rest of India. The drivers and hotel staff were going to play cricket and invited me to join in. We had a great game and a good laugh and I even hit a couple of 6's. No idea who won but everyone seemed happy. Maybe it didn't matter; I certainly didn't care. The game finished a few minutes before sunset and Amy took me out of the gate and down the hill to a gap in the trees on a little rise with a perfect view of the sun disappearing beneath the horizon. We headed back up to the house for a brief history of the place before tea. It turns out to have been a retreat for many different influential people including British military officers and an Indian Prime minister before it became a yoga retreat and then the mountain hotel it is today. It is also part of a new enterprise set up to help villagers in the newly formed wildlife park make some money from tourism. The idea is middle aged British people come for 5 or 6 days to go walking from village to village through the beautiful forest, guided by local villagers and staying in purpose built rest houses, built in the traditional village style by the villagers themselves. The hotel we were staying in was the start and end point for the treks as it was one of the only places with road access. After the history lesson we had another wonderful meal with our fellow students who were a couple from Delhi. She worked for the Swiss media as their Asian correspondent and he had quit an investment banking job to set up his own company selling solar powered lights and water filters to villages with no mains power. After tea we headed to bed for a good nights sleep in a comfy bed.

Posted by SamAmy 02:45 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Goodbye Delhi and on to Corbett Tiger Reserve


We head down early for breakfast and just as I ordered coffee Pawan arrives and tells us we should leave early as the guide is expecting us. No coffee for me. We head into town and meet our guide who was studying for a phd in Indian history and museums. We started our walk down the main street taking us to the place where Nader Shah ordered the sacking of Delhi and stole the Koh-i-noor diamond and the peacock throne, and to the famous "street food" back-street where famous people from all over the world have come to get Delhi-belly. The walk finished at a famous spice market with smells so pungent it made your eyes water, you cough and sneeze and nose stream. We climbed up onto the roof where thankfully the wind caused the pungency to abate and we got a nice view over a slightly hazy Delhi morning. After the walk she kindly offered to take us to the Railway museum in her car which was to be our next destination but we quickly hit heavy traffic caused by political demonstrations by the opposition party. We decided we didn't have time to make it all the way across town and back so we stopped at the crafts museum instead which was a demonstration of all the different crafts from all over India throughout the ages. It was surprisingly entertaining and we spent quite a while there. After we had finished we got auto rickshaws back to the hotel where we packed our bags and checked out. We decided to go and see how the political rally was going and followed the route the demonstrators had taken but all we saw were flags and hundreds of policemen sheltering from the sun. We headed to a shop to buy Amy a new Shalwar Kameeze before wandering back to the hotel. We picked up our bags and headed to the train station and caught our train to Ramnagar. On the train we met a guy who was the guide for 2 girls who was very loud and brash but relatively nice. He offered us a drink from a dodgy looking plastic bottle wrapped in paper but we declined, and he proceeded to drink it all. It smelt foul! Just as the lights went out he went from being relatively sober to outrageously drunk and throughout the night shouted obscenities interspersed with "I love you", presumably directed to one of the girls he was with.

After a horrendous nights "sleep" we got off the train at 5am and met our driver (how strange to have a driver!) who took us to the office to get passes for Corbett Tiger Reserve. Unfortunately the office didn't open until 8:30 so we went for chai before going to the river for a walk amongst lots of local men exercising and stretching. We got our passes and drove into the reserve, excitedly looking out for wild animals. We saw deer and wild boar and even the back end of a wild elephant as it wandered into the bushes. We reached the lodge in the middle of the park surrounded by electric fences and checked in to our room before going to ask if we could get some food. The restaurant didn't open til 1 and when we asked if there was anywhere else to buy food they said no. We went for an explore of the compound instead. It was in a beautiful setting, perched on the clifftop above a wide flat river valley with forested mountains in the background. We watched the wild elephants in the river spraying themselves with water, then climbing onto the bank and spraying dust and mud over their backs. A beautiful sight. A hungry 2 hours later and the restaurant opened and we had lunch. At 3:30 it was time for our first open topped jeep safari into the reserve. We followed the wide flat valley down river and soon came across a huge herd of elephants, very elegant and graceful, eating their way down to the lake at the end of the valley. We parked up and switched off the engine to watch them pass, not minding that we were there at all. We carried on, espying some spotted "bambi-style" deer, huge 6 foot Samba deer (the tigers' favourite food) and reached the lake caused by the construction of a hydro-electric dam. Down on the mud flats by the river we saw a huge crocodile basking in the sun and 2 storks searching for food. We turned around to find the elephants splashing around in the water and generally having fun. It really was a beautiful spot with wildlife all around. We headed back across the wide flat plains by a different route and saw a huge eagle perched in a tree just above our heads, his eyes firmly tracking us deciding if we were potential prey. Fortunately he must have decided we weren't tasty and we passed safely, reaching the gate to our compound and carrying on past, the other way along the river. We came across some spotted deer and stopped to watch them. Just then a huge Samba deer stag with gigantic antlers approached from the other side with 2 of his harem following closely and came really close, completely unafraid. Just as we got over our surprise a herd of elephants came down the bank and out of the bushes, crossing the path just in front of us. We were surrounded! Magical! Just as quickly as they arrived the elephants proceeded on their way and the deer slowly dispersed and we carried on our way. We reached a little rise overlooking the river and could see 2 Samba deer on the opposite bank, both quite alert and looking upriver. I could see nothing but our guide gave a start and pointed. He passed over his binoculars and we focused them in the right direction - and there it was! A Tiger! Basking in a natural pool at the side of the river, just his head out of the water and looking this way. It really was a beautiful creature, so elegant and quite at ease. As we watched it slowly climbed out of the pool it was using to cool off from the heat, stand on the bank for a few moments contemplating and drying off and giving us an indication of its size, before turning and moving off into the bushes. Very elegant and graceful, big and powerful. The deer on the opposite bank relaxed and started eating but we had different ideas. We followed the dirt track to the other side of the bushes that the tiger had just entered and waited in silence, listening for an alarm call from the other jungle animals. The birds went crazy, followed by the monkeys a bit further off to the right, so we headed in that direction and found a long strip of cut grass stretching to the river where we hoped the tiger would cross and we would get a good view. We waited for a while but no more alarm calls and no tiger. Maybe he was put off by the sound of the jeep, or found something more interesting to stalk. By now it was almost sunset and time to head back to the lodge as no-one is allowed out in the park at night. Just as we were approaching the lodge we came across some wild boar, one with huge tusks, rooting in the leaves at the side of the road. We got back in high spirits after spotting the elusive tiger on our first ever safari and arranged to go out again early tomorrow morning, before going for tea and then bed after an exhausting day.

Posted by SamAmy 07:20 Archived in India Comments (0)

Rimo and luxury, but Delhi is not all good


We got up early as we were meeting a Rimo representative at the hotel at 9:30. Mum and Dad had insisted that we do the 2 week holiday they had planned as they wouldn't get all the money back and they wanted us to have a bit of luxury in our travels and enjoy the holiday. Rimo was the travel company they had booked with and it was one of their representatives we were meeting. Ryan (who had worked through the night as usual) joined us in the rickshaw and jumped out at a busy road junction to meet one of his class mates. A hasty "thank you and goodbye" and we were whisked through the rush hour traffic to the hotel. A porter came down from the hotel and before I had even paid the Rickshaw our backs were carried up the steps for us and the door to the air-conditioned reception held open in anticipation. We are definitely not used to this! I know my parents said "a bit of luxury" but this is much more than I expected. While we were checking in we got "welcome drinks" and, feeling a bit like tramps because we hadn't had a chance to shower, followed our bags to the room. I tipped the guy (the first time I have had someone carry my bags - I felt a little foolish) and then marvelled at our room. It was amazingly nice! Not at all like we are used to. A chance to freshen up and then a phone call saying Pawan from Rimo was in the lobby. We headed down and introduced ourselves before Pawan went through the itinerary for the next 2 weeks with us.
We agreed to meet at 8am for a historical walk of Old Delhi and then we had the day to ourselves. We had collected a few souvenirs in Rajasthan and, including the stuff we left with Ryan, we decided that posting a box home should be our first job. We caught a cycle rickshaw who nodded when we said where we wanted to go, then proceeded to ask everyone where it was. He got directions and set off but halfway there he gave up and palmed us off on an auto rickshaw. He then tried to charge us the full amount! Cheeky! We paid more than the fair price for the distance and then got in the auto. We arrived at the post office queued started to fill in the necessary forms (in duplicate), queued again before getting our bag of stuff boxed, then sewn into a piece of white cloth then we took it to the counter to get it weighed and then paid our money and it was on its way :) Then off into town to see some more sights of Delhi. On the way through Old Delhi Amy got groped by a passing cycle rickshaw wallah (who she slapped) but (understandably) it put her in a bad mood. When we got to Jama Masjid, the largest Mosque in India, a guy was selling tickets. We knew it was free to go in but he was insistent that we had to pay. It turned out they were camera tickets (which is common) but by this time Amy was really mad. The ticket man didn't know we had a camera and the fact that he tried to charge us for 2 implied he was just trying to get money from us. We walked away and went to a different gate where a much nicer man asked if we had a camera, which we paid for, then gave Amy a shawl to cover her bare arms. This didn't help with the bad mood as all the Indian ladies with bare arms didn't have to wear one. However once we were inside the Mosque it was all worth while. It was a huge, beautiful building with lots of worshippers washing their hands and feet in the pool before going to the arches on the Western side of the Mosque (Mecca is West of India, not East like in Britain) to pray. The whole building was made of sandstone with white marble decoration. Very beautiful. We spent a while walking round the large courtyard taking in the beautiful place before climbing one of the minarets for the awesome view over the city. After we had climbed down and collected our shoes we wandered trough the back streets in the vague direction of our hotel intending to get back to air conditioning before it got really hot. We stopped of for a customary cup of sweet milky chai before exploring the delights of Indian bakeries. Feeling decidedly sick after an overdose of sweet sugary goodness we relaxed in the hotel and arrived back just in time for a phone call from Dad. He explained that they both want us to have a good time and that they are still planning to come out to India, just a bit later than planned, and they want to treat us to a bit of luxury. We both feel a bit happier after the chat and are getting excited about leaving Delhi again. We walk down the street to buy cinema tickets to a Hindi blockbuster showing that night before deciding it was still too hot and sheltering in the hotel. Once it had cooled down we went for some really tasty street food cooked on a hot plate heated by a wood fire before watching the film "Prince". It was an action movie that was as predictable as it was cringe-worthy, but hugely entertaining non-the-less and surprisingly easy to follow, even in Hindi. Lots of explosions, singing, dancing and plot twists later we headed back to the hotel for bed.

Posted by SamAmy 07:15 Archived in India Comments (0)

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