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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!

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Drivers in India

Easily the most obvious sign to us once we left the airport that we were in India were the road laws/ lack of any.
Today we had our most crazed driver yet. We were on our way to the station to catch a train for Kota (where we got a car to Bundi)
We were taking a tuktuk which is a sort of camped up colourful go cart mixed with a golf cart but more rattly and with correlated metal forming a wall around you. Firstly our driver refused to say a word merely gesturing for us to get on and nodding when we suggested a price for our journey. As soon as we started moving he started cackling, loudly, to himself and making crazy signs with his hands and muttering. This progressed to shouting at the people we passed, most of whom we nearly crashed into and culminated in a high speed crossing where we narrowly avoided smashing into a bus we were under cutting and then witnessed a motor bike crash which the driver gleefully screamed and pointed at. I have never been so relieved for a journey to be over!
The day before we experienced another odd Jaipurian (made up spelling) – the grumpiest tuktuk man EVER. We met his brother the day before at the pre paid taxi booth at the station when we arrived. His name was Ali, he spoke English and showed us a book of testimonials of people he had taken round the city in everything from Polish to Korean. We were impressed and agreed to meet him the next day for a reasonably priced half day tour of Jaipur. Shockingly Charlie was ill the next morning (I 100% thought I would be sickly first) so we had to cancel on happy Ali and said we would take his brother later in the day instead.
His brother was nothing like him and I doubt related – he was genuinely a very angry man and huffed and puffed the entire journey. Normally people are over friendly and helpful as they have a tip in mind, but this guy grunted his way through our day. Then asked for more money. Then bullied us into taking him the next day too for a ridiculous price. We later called him to say we were ill and would not be needing him. We booked a tuktuk through the hotel instead and had to stick our heads round the corner in case grumpy had in fact turned up anyways having refused to accept a phone cancellation. Luckily he seemed to have got the message and a nice friendly normal driver took us to the Amber Fort (which was awesome)
Now that we are in a much more rural area, the roads are far calmer but have a new obstacle – cows every few meters, often just lying down in the middle of the road whilst lorrys inch carefully around them. It’s the funniest and cutest thing. The cows are small and have dark eyes and long lashes and are all clean and adorable looking h like the giant ones which always seem to be covered in flies in England. There is so much open grassland around yet they persist in hanging around in the roads. I think maybe they like the breeze of cars going past them?! Maybe they are conducting their own silent west side sorry?! They are everywhere will try take pictures on our way back to the station and just so chilled. By road I don’t mean country lane I mean India’s version of an A road.

Our driver from Kota to Bundi was in a big four wheeled drive which had .. Suspension..! A welcome change. He was good natured and pointed things out to us and laughed when he saw us looking at the cows. Crucially he did not try get more money for this extra friendliness – which is very rare!
We are now staying in the cutest Haveli and have had a free room upgrade. So happy to be out of the big cities! I look forward to more cow spotting tomorrow..

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Agra

Yesterday we took our first train journey (5.30 am wake up call…) and arrived fairly hassle free in Agra a few hours later. We were in an air conditioned train class with a guard for the carriage and I dozed the whole way, but we were super early for the train and waiting for an hour on the platform was not pleasant at all. It was boiling and a slight breeze wafted fairly vile scents from the on platform toilet towards us.

Straight way we could tell Agra was far more chilled than Dehli! We are staying right by the East Gate to the Taj Mahal in a fairly decent place. It is set back in lovely gardens but has been our first experience of a less than western standard toilet. The room its self is nice with killer ac luckily.

We snoozed again and then headed to Agra fort. It was very impressive and had nice views of the Taj Mahal from a distance.
We had dinner at another Lonely Planet recommendation,
Shaniya Princess Hotel which it said had the best roof top views of the Taj… It definitely did! We were the first people up there and but by sunset it was packed. A large school trip came in from Manchester who had a teacher with them who was incredibly annoying but funny to listen to. One of those people with a really loud self important voice correcting everyone and telling the whole terrace how she was going on a run that evening when clearly she had not jogged any where for a while..
More interesting were 3 gorgeous French men who wanted to compare food and travel tips. Charlie insisted they were gay and over weight but I think he is wrong personally.
We attempted to walk back and got a bit lost but saw non touristy streets where everyone was friendly and just getting on with their evening and didn’t try sell us anything (welcome break).

This morning we were up at 5.30 again to see the Taj Mahal close up finally. It seems silly to say it was beyond beautiful, as obviously it is… Our favourite bit of the trip was sitting on the marble behind the Taj and looking out over the river. It was so serene and breezy and perfect blue skies. On our way back to the hostel (all 50 m of the walk…) we bought some trinkets. Tiny elephants and beautiful stone candle holders which I plan to bury safely in my laundry!

We are now in our room waiting to transfer to catch our bus to Jaipur. The Taj Mahal is so amazing it already feels a bit like a surreal dream! When I first saw it properly I was reminded of all the films where CGI has made other worldly buildings using special effects. Imagine before cinema etc it would be so hard to hold any notion of such a building in your head and seeing the Taj would probably have been even more awe inspiring.

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Too hot in London

This was one of the first days of the current heatwave. Was brave and decided an attempt at tanning was in order. Slightly regretted this when by the evening I was bright red and seriously considering calling in sick to work to avoid the humiliation I would suffer at the hands of my gorgeous part Bolivian friend in my suite (working at Wimbledon). Luckily many freckles have the effect of making me seem less burnt than I actually am, as the red bits are merely the skin behind my 100000000s of browny  merging splodges.

Back in Farringdon we felt it was our duty to explore local park options. Favourite so far is definitely Spa Fields.

However, despite Spa Fields doing a pretty good job of helping us imagine we were in fact in a shady breezy country park, when it is so hot that even a gentle walk brings out a sweat I can’t quite cope.

Exceptions to this are:

1. Sightseeing in a foreign country so am at least partly distracted by the heat/feel it is worth it

2.  Being by a pool or the sea

3. Preferably a combination of 1 and 2.

This is where shady courtyards and iced coffee come to the rescue.

A great thing about Farringdon is that it is so central but in the evenings, and especially the weekends, it is fairly empty. So after a day of hiding inside, in front of a fan and crunching ice cubes (not my most ladylike habit…), you can still feel you are taking advantage of the weather with a nice evening stroll.