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Pangong Lake

Leh is a hot spot for starting epic treks and home stay experiences in an extremely remote part of the world. However we spent most of the time in one homestay in Leh itself, venturing only as far as our moped skills/bravey/gas would take us into the immediate surroundings, and eating a lot of momos with some friends back home who we quite literally walked into on the street. The 1 real excursion we did was to visit Pangong Lake, and this was one of the most incredible trips I have ever done!

Pangong Lake is incredibly large, very high up (4,250 ft) and otherworldly beautiful. It borders China and India, with one third of the lake in India, and the rest in Tibet (controlled by China). You drive for about 6 hours from Leh, which is an experience in itself and involves crossing one of the highest motor passes in the world (although on this trip we seemed to come across quite a few of these!). As you drive, the roads get rougher, the landscape bleaker, the temperature plummets, and the military presence increases.

I suffer altitude sickness very easily and classic me, actually fainted in the back of the car at one point. Excellent stuff. The driver had oxygen in the back ready for this kind of scenario, and we were with 2 South Koreans with an huge amount of medicine on them, and an Israeli doctor who all fussed over me a fair amount. The only place to stay are a variety of tent camps and the odd cheaper concrete bungalow. As a group we opted for a fairly nice tent camp with attached bathrooms. I spent a fair amount of time asleep wrapped up in the tent whilst Charlie skimmed stones, but did recover enough to spend a good amount of time staring at the lake and wandering a little way around its shores.

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When you are actually there, it does not look like a lake. You cannot see the end of it, (its 100kms long) and even if you did want to walk and walk, at some point you reach the Chinese border and can’t go any further anyway. The landscape around is utterly bare, making the blue all the more vivid.

Just watching the clouds and their reflections was mesmerising, and the air that high up (whether because I was so light headed or because it was so clean and crisp) makes everything look and feel incredible.

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We had dinner with everyone else staying in our camp – dal and rice – we were famished and seriously relieved when they brought out a huge slow cooker of food.

Full of hot food, we wrapped up under the many blankets provided in the tent, + our double sleeping bag we had brought with us in addition. Waking up the next morning and venturing outside was even better than our first impressions upon arrival. Cue lots more pictures and stone skimming. My memory is a little hazy, as its been a few years now, but at some point we all set off back to Leh, and I am fairly certain I slept the whole journey back.

To anyone in that part of the world, absolutely do this trip!

India to Istanbul

Hello from Istanbul!

…The Asian side to be exact. We arrived at our hostel (the well known hush moda which is fab) at 11 last night and promptly went to the first restaurant for some kebabs and lots of refreshing melon. We’ve had a lovely morning wandering around getting excited by how calm and full of ice creams the area is compared to our last few days of travelling and the ever hectic Delhi.

Our mission to get here started with a less than pleasant 16 hours bus from Manali to Delhi. Our homestay in Delhi was lovely and we had a much better experience of the city than we did last year. We were only there about 24 hours before we left for the airport, experiencing a final classically indian ridiculous traffic jam. We flew to Kazakhstan and from there to Istanbul. The flights were fine, all ran smoothly but each was 5 hours or so long (we were getting very confused about changing time zones etc) and we were zonked by the time we got to Istanbul.

We are leaving on a bus to Canakkale in a couple of hours and starting a loop of turkey returning back to Istanbul in two weeks to rent a flat with two of my flat mates from this year.

I can’t wait to see more of Istanbul when we do, but in the meantime, bring on the beach!

Here are some photos of our amble around the Asian side. So much food! After buying fresh orange juice, a magnum, and loads of cherries I am very very happy!

Xx Fabia.

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Hello from Manali! (Via Leh)

Long time no post.
This is mostly as we spent ten days in Leh being super relaxed and without a consistent internet connection!

Leh really is like nowhere else. It’s a desert mountain climate in the summer, yet the mountains always visible from every direction ringing in the horizon are still topped with snow. These mountains are barren rock faced, as is the majority of the land until a bright green pocket suddenly appears where glacier water has enabled the growth of a village.
Leh itself is built under a ridge with a place and fort complex on top of it. Outside of the main roads, the streets are tiny, stone wall lined, and have bubbling streams running along them with frequent stepping stones – part of an elaborate irrigation system to ensure Leh does not dry up.

The mix of people in Leh is quite bizarre. The locals range from looking Tibetan to Indian and many walked around in the heat in heavy wool shawls and over coats one might associate with Sherpas in Nepal! Then the tourists – vast numbers of Israelis! To the extent that most restaurants offered Israeli food billed first or second after Indian or Tibetan. Then there were a lot of walking holiday types in pro boots and north face kit, many fairly elderly but very tough looking from across Europe. A large number of Tibetan monks thronged the streets too, and we discovered we had accidentally times our arrival with that of the Dalai Lama! Thus Leh was packed to capacity and after our two nights pre booked in a hotel were up we were hard pressed to find somewhere to stay.

Oddly, despite tourism in these summer months being crucial to Leh, many people owning guesthouses or tour shops were oddly useless when it came to business. On our first day we wandered round looking to find a cheap nice home stay/ guesthouse for two days time (when we would have checked out the hotel). Yet the concept of not tomorrow/ Wednesday/ two days time, was greeted with bewildered silence. Additionally, often we would wander off a little cobbled street, past a few cows and donkeys, into an adorable looking guesthouse only to find it devoid of anyone at all who could tell us if they had a room spare.
At last we found space at a place which, as often happens, was right at the beginning of the route we started along yet which we had missed. This was ideal as we moved our stuff across in three lazy 100 m journeys, and meant we could easily go back to the hotel to use their excellent travel desk, quiet roof restaurant, and sofas and chess board.

Our new home – Jamspal guest house – was also home to the fattest most amusing Labrador ever called moti! 20140721-093555-34555264.jpg

After a few days our friend Cam joined us with three of his friends too and stayed at our guesthouse. Cue lots of lazing around, eating momos (Tibetan dumplings) and messing about with baby donkeys at the local sanctuary.

We also visited Pangong Lake, which was otherworldly and probs deserves a post of its own. Half the group braved white water rafting which was epic but that was the one day THE ONE DAY it was not blazingly sunny which was a shame as my wetsuit was a bit big and I managed to single handedly attract most of the waves…

On Friday morning we departed at 4am for the infamous Leh-Manali journey. This is a two day (or one 24 hellish single run through for the demented) journey through the mountains and over some of the worlds highest motorable passes.

To be honest.. The lifeless mountains blended into one and I found the scenery more impressive on the second leg on the descent down into Manali with looming steep green mountain slopes, waterfalls, and wild ponies out of the windows, as opposed to barren barren barren… Snow! Barren barren.. Motorbike!

So now we are in Manali which is perched surrounded by lush greenery and full of yet more Israelis! We haven’t had enough time here to do more than have a brief wander. Tonight we get the sleeper bus to Delhi but first, and finally after nearly two months accumulated travel time in India, we are doing a cooking class!

Got to go xxx Fabia

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Floating in Srinagar Part 2.

We then spent a day and a night on a ‘house boat’ although this term scarcely does it justice. fitted out with chandeliers, ornate wooden carvings and bathtubs it was positively palatial in style and the prowd owner insisted we referred to it as such..

Me- ‘This is a lovely boat!’
Him- ‘No, no no…this is not a boat; this is a palace!’

We had stayed on a houseboat last year on the backwaters of Kerala, but the H.B Floating heaven ,quite literally, blew it out of the water. It even had a satellite TV which meant that I could watch/Fabia could endure the World Cup quarter final between France and Germany. The son of the owner excitablyWatched the game with us. I have to admit that I am surprised by the level of interest in football in India, seeing as the country only boasts one professional player in the whole world. Last summer on the beaches of goa I had a kick around with some mercurial teenage talents, but away from the south coast (and it’s legacy of French and Portuguese influence) the majority of balls have been of the cricket variety. Nevertheless it seems that an Indian interest in football is certainly growing. Earlier in the week I chatted with our aptly named taxi driver ‘Ronaldo’ over the merits of different players. His lack of English didn’t prove a problem as we would fire different players names at each other and gage the others reaction. ‘Messi’ and ‘di Maria’ both received enthusiastic noises although the same could not be said for any of the English players I named.. Football then truly is an international language.

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Floating in Srinagar Part 1.

We spent our first two days doing not much at all apart from some meandering around Dal lake (the big main one) and all the gardens. Having thus recovered fully from the journey there and the initial shock of just how unlike anything else the scenery is, we ticked a massive keen offbeat tourist box and went to the floating vegetable market on our third day. This entailed getting up at 3.30am and walking in the dark and rain from the home stay to lake Nigeen. This is a smaller lake which is connected to Dal through a myriad of waterways. (Such a guide book phrase that). We drifted off in the darkness on a shakira with the sounds of morning Ramadan prayers hitting from several directions.

Sadly the rain did not let off but this provided great entertainment as sellers fought to get spots under the occasional bridge. The shakira are fairly substantial canoe type boats with seating and a raised canopy. The boats the merchants were on were tiny little planks of wood in comparison with no shelter or seating. The mean sat cross legged at the end with their one oar bunched up incredibly small as they navigated their way.
The market was really great to watch and smelt amazing. All the merchants were joking away whilst weighing and measuring using simple rock weights and exchanging beans, coriander, mint…. And not falling out of their tiny thin vessels!

Another tourist shakira boat was nearly less fortunate. Packed full of Chinese tourists, one of whom was especially large, the whole thing nearly tipped over when the man in question leans right over the edge with an enormous camera to try get the perfect shot….

A man about 50 years old whose name we never actually got was our *oarsman*. He was so great, very calm but with a wry sense of humour. He also told us about his british girlfriend who lived with him for 6 months when he was 21. A Charlotte something who lived in Parsons Green! We had a good ponder over whether any of our friends’ mothers were the right name and age…

From him and several other Kashmiri people we spoke to we got a sense that they were not keen on the domestic Indian tourists. In his opinion, for example, they ruined lake Dal with noise and litter. And it’s true the littering and cavalier loud posturing we saw in a lot of cases seemed very disrespectful of this beautiful and also conflicted place. Perhaps those behaving in this way (although not all by any means do obviously!) see it as just another part of India whereas as international tourists we have a certain amount of awe and also trepidation about visiting what for us is so far flung and recently dangerous a place.

We are in Leh now but more to report on Srinagar to come!
Xxx Fabia

P.s for any concerned readers we found Srinagar to be incredibly safe and welcoming and the Kashmiri people have some of the most genuine smiles I have seen!

Arrival in Srinagar

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Hello!

Charlie here. I am writing this from our room in a lovely homestay in Srinagar. We are staying with a very nice Muslim family who are providing us with a delicious breakfast and dinner each day, which must take a impressive self-restraint as they are fasting for Rammadam!

However the 12hr trip from Jammu to our homestay was far less idyllic. The journey can be described in terms of a twisting mountain drive up to a ski resort, but replace snow with sand, wooden chalets with metal shacks and the Highway Code with utter roadside anarchy. Many times I attempted to escape from the chaos unfolding outside our window into a peaceful slumber. However this proved very difficult as, squished in next to the driver, I was periodically greeted by the thwacking of the gearstick into my legs.

Luckily regular signs which warned drivers that ‘After whiskey driving risky’, and ‘if married, divorce speed’ kept us chuckling for most of the journey.

Given that we had spent most of the previous day hunched up and sitting down, (and most of the day before that on a heavily delayed train from Amritsar)
we decided to go for long walk around lake Dal this morning. We spent around 2 hours skirting around admiring it’s beautiful silver mirrored surface which reflected both the imposing mountains which looked down onto it and the colourful local boats dotted along the water front. The walk and scenery gave me a good chance to practice with the canon dslr I bought in the airport. It still feels strange having moved from the 1980’s Minolta (which takes film) of some many past trips to a digital model. With the Minolta you had to be certain that each shot was ‘right’ before you pressed the shutter button as you didn’t want to waste the film. In contrast my new digital companion allows you to be far more ‘trigger happy’. At the same time I do miss the tactile satisfaction of rolling on the film reel after each shot. Anyway that is probably enough niche camera chat for now so back to our day… Throughout our walk around the lake we were engaged in a one-sided war of attrition with local hawkers who were offering (in the strongest sense of the word) paddle boats trips across the lake for varying prices. Hardened from our experiences in India last year we politely refused again and again yet as time passed and we grew increasing tired our defences were finally worn down. However the excursion proved to be far more relaxing and enjoyable than the hawkers methods of selling it. The scenery was beautiful (esp the water lillies) and our boat driver was nice, talkative and funny. A personal favourite was him joking, after having a go with my canon, that he was going to immediately quit his lake job and become a cameraman when we landed back at shore.

We are staying in Srinagar for a few
more days so are looking forward to spending more time on the lakeside and hopefully in a houseboat for one night!

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First stop – Amritsar

Hello!
So we are in Amritsar pretty much just to see the Golden Temple and then head up to Kashmir.
It is SO hot but no signs of the monsoon in sight! The skies are clear and there is even an occasional breeze. We went this morning at 5.30 to to see the temple for the first time. It sits in the middle of a lake connected by a narrow bridge. All the way around is a marble walk way full of people. It’s a huge site but very simple. I think we caught the end of the morning prayer session. Everyone was so helpful and pointed us towards the place to dump our shoes… The communal eating area… We also had the inevitable photo demands. Not just cute children but entire families.
So after feeling like minor celebs we left. It was only 7am when we got back to the hotel but even that early the heat was exhausting!
After a snooze we headed to a recommended hotel with a bar and wifi. Was heavily looking forward to a cold beer but as we had accidentally forgotten most our money, had a tough decision between that or a coffee and my caffeine addiction won out. We basically copped out of any sight seeing and took advantage of aircon and wifi inside to do some planning for Turkey and kindle downloading.
After being incredibly lazy we ventured back out this evening and were welcomed by a breeze and temperature drop. I excitedly shouted I have not even sweated a single drop yet!!! – as we wandered down the Main Street of the old town. Luckily English speakers are few and far between. To make up for our lack of culture in the day we sampled a sort of deep fried potatoes saucy burger thing from a street stall and made a prayer to the god of travel germs. Families with kids were eating there and the food was being made continuously on the spot which according to the holy grail that is our lonely planet travel guide (semi-sarcastic) means such a spot is a fairly safe bet.

We then returned to see the Golden Temple. It looks completely different at night. I can’t really think of a better description than so shiny and glowy…
Charlie spent ages perfecting his camera settings. As a post oxford well done for surviving gift he has a brand new Cannon dslr and I am already feeling jealous of it.

The beauty of the temple was heightened/ became a bit apocalyptic when huge lightening bolts began appearing in the sky. As the first rain drops began to fall we hot footed it like the cowardly westerners we are to the local Dominoes. Not feeling too good about our hardy travel credentials right now but at least we have pizza.

Tomorrow we are getting the train to Jammu which will also be sweltering but from there onwards we shall be in the cool gorgeous more mountainy areas.

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Over half way

Our trip is 34 days long. We left Majorde for Hampi on early on the morning of our 17th day in India. Since then time has just flown by. Even though we have slowed the pace a lot (5 days at Palolem beach have whizzed along as a lazy blur) and now suddenly it is just over a week till we fly home!

We initially considered skipping Hampi as it was a full days journey inland and we were loathe to leave the beach. Luckily the monsoon and the advice of our guest house prevailed and the timing worked well as a trip to Hampi and back meant we could meet our friends who were heading down to Goa too but were a few days behind us.
We arrived in Hampi and my first thought was how small it seemed. It really is tiny. The bazaar is dwarfed by the huge sites around it and has only a handful of places to stay and stalls. We later learned that recently whole streets were given 10 hours notice before being bulldozed to preserve this world heritage site. Considering the huge amounts of space everywhere this seemed very extreme!
Lonely Planet recommended hiring bikes to get around the Hampi. This seemed hugely over ambitious once we took one look from our guest house roof at the dramatic hilly landscape around us and the number of km between sites on our map. Instead we paid a fiver each for a tuktuk for a day and met our favourite driver yet. He was hilarious in a non creepy/ are you on something way, and whenever we came back to the tuktuk he was surrounded by fellow drivers engaged in anything from a bear hug to arm wrestles. We felt like we were the looser kids he was showing around the school as he had to..
The various old palaces and temples at Hampi are fab but generally what makes it special is the unbelievable landscape of boulders who look like they have been plucked from mountains and carefully balanced at crazy angles by some meticulous giant all over the place. This, lush greenery and a meandering river and two great sunsets made Hampi one of our favourite places to just amble about and relax. Even in the heart of the bazaar everything is so chilled and we met lots of other tourists as much in love with the place as we were.

The best bit of Hampi we found by accident. It was not in our guide book! The holy grail that is our jumbo India lonely planet book let us down! The best way to find out what to do and where to stay will always be word of mouth. This was how I found myself climbing to monkey temple. About a gazillions stairs later we reached a plateau with said temple, the most amazing view and monkeys EVERYWHERE! Baby monkeys playing and being dragged along backwards by their tails by angry parents was hilarious to watch. It was absolutely worth the sweaty climb and the Indian men who stop on the stairs to walk behind western women. Honestly they constantly find new ways to be gross.
Looking back at our golden happiness once we had reached the top, I do now wonder if It may have been a side effect of a combination of stairs, exhaustion, thin air and not enough breakfast. Honestly it was ‘magical’…
Cringe moment aside, the next day us and nearly all the other English people in Hampi gathered in the streets at 5am for our lifts back to the train station. We had made friends and everything with some of them (nothing like a mass game of uno to bring strangers together) and it turned out most of us were heading back to Margoa and then on to Palolem.
However our plans of a drink by the sea that evening were scuppered by a 4 hour train delay. Nevertheless we made it in the end and immediately bumped into our friend we had arranged to meet. Lack of Internet or reception had made planning this pretty haphazard so it was a great surprise to see him! Sadly the guy he was travelling with had to go home but it was good to find just the one familiar face still.
We leave Palolem tomorrow and it has been amazing. A group of about 6 or so of us have stuck together which takes stress out of activities as you know someone is watching the bags etc. We rented motor bikes which was the best fun but felt secure with a few bikes infront and behind. Alone on the road we would not have risked I don’t think!

Palolem is a gorgeous crescent beach over a km long and bordered by palm trees. When we rented the bikes we also checked out Agonda beach which was totally deserted and eerily beautiful with mist in rising from the trees at its corners. Ofc there were still a good few cows and dogs padding around however…

We will be sad to leave Goa behind but have to scoot down the coast to Kochi in Kerela to meet our two friends Harry and Abbie for our last week!

With our flight home looming nearer for all of us here ATM everyone agrees they want to come to India again. Some people have already been here for months and months and they have the most incredible stories.

I have to go now for another attempt to beat Charlie at chess. A game I really do not have the concentration discipline for but I am determined to crush him just once!

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