Days 603-605: The Lost Weekend

28.08.10-30.08.10: By 11am we had arrived in Kathmandu.  The bus ride had tested my X-Men power to the extreme (that power with which I can sleep anyplace, anywhere, anytime) but I had still managed a decent amount of shut-eye and was raring to go.  Dawshan had arranged for me to be picked up by the hotel I was staying with – by the brother of the owner, no less.  But on arrival at the Khangsar Guest House, I met up with the owner himself, Raj.  But, alas, he had bad news – because my bus was late getting in, he doubted if I could get the Chinese visa I needed quick enough to get on the tour for Tuesday. But Raj wasn’t giving up hope just yet.  After a few phone calls, he asked for my passport and said he’d see what he can do.  It…

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Day 602: Easy Peasy Nepalesy

27.08.10: Duff information can be a real pain in this line of work, but it’s hard to know who you can trust.  Yesterday’s taxi driver was right about getting to the borders of Bangladesh and Bhutan, so when he told me that buses left from the Nepalese border for Kathmandu in the morning and would arrive in the evening, I saw no reason to doubt it. I wasn’t too happy with having to drag my arse out of bed at 6am, but, well – if I meant I could get to Kathmandu before midnight, I was game.  I grabbed by backpack out of the NJP station cloakroom and jumped onto the first shared taxi jeep to the border.  We got there so quickly it didn’t even occur to me that I might have to go back a kilometre to get my passport stamped out of India.…

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Day 601: I Feel My Luck Could Change

26.08.10: Today started with a bit of a disaster when I awoke to find that my new laptop, Sony Jim, that I had cunningly placed between me and the wall the night before, was a lot more delicate than my old laptop, Dell Boy.  The screen had cracked in the night (I must have rolled over against it).  This was not a good start to the day and I was determined to not let it overshadow the rest of today’s shenanigans.  I had two – maybe three – countries to reach before the end of the day and a cracked laptop screen was the least of my worries – I had no visa for any of the countries I wished to visit. The train pulled into New Jalpaguri station in Northern West Bengal at 8am.  After throwing my bag into the station cloakroom and a bit…

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Day 600: Bad Day At Black Rock

25.08.10 SIX HUNDRED DAYS ON THE ROAD!! Do I win a fiver? And so the train pulled into Calcutta’s Howrah train station around 11am.  The plan was to head to the border with Bangladesh, do a quick border hop and then come back in time for tea and a train up towards Bhutan and Nepal. However, my first problem was that (after queuing up a five different booths) the guy in the ticket office told me that the late train that left at 11pm was full.  I would find out later this was a lie, but never mind, I’m getting used to it now.  Therefore the only option was the Darjeeling Mail train which left at 7.35pm.  This meant my trip to Bangladesh was going to be a bit of a race to say the least. Sonu accompanied me across the Hooghly River that runs through…

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Day 599: Chai Chai Chai

24.08.10: Bright and early for the 27 hour train journey to Calcutta and it was indeed sweet to be back on a train again after the horror that is an Indian night bus. I had gone for Air Conditioned class this time, the ticket cost twice as much (something like a tenner) but even though it’s not hot enough at the moment to make AC class strictly necessary, the prospect of a working plug socket next to my seat/berth filled me with glee. The train was, predictably, a monster: at least 35 carriages long, it stretched for over a kilometre.  I made a bunch of friends onboard including a nice Indian kid named Sonu, who not only worked out why my mousepad wasn’t working (110v is not enough!) and was mad keen on helping me get to Bangladesh tomorrow.  I could do with some local assistance,…

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Day 598: Never The Twain

23.08.10: Arrived in the town of Salem at some disgraceful hour of the morning – it wasn’t even light yet.  The bus was an old rust bucket held together with gaffer tape, but I did manage to get a few hours shut-eye.  The bus station, like everything in India, was TEN TIMES everything, so there was possibly 200 buses crammed in there, all tooting their horns like it was Eid in Rusholme.  Which is wasn’t, it was four in the morning and damnit, I’m convinced that Indians drive by means of echolocation, because they seem to think that pressing a button that goes PARP! every two seconds is more important than, I don’t know, TURNING YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON AT NIGHT, or maybe DRIVING ON THE CORRECT SIDE OF THE ROAD.  I’d love to see an episode of Indian Top Gear where they slag off the Bugatti…

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Days 592-597: Now Then, Kerala

17.08.10-22.08.10: Well it was another frustrating (but remarkably pleasant) week in Kochi spent contacting shipping firms, tour companies, even the head of the Sri Lanka tourist board in the UK, but it looks like hopping over the 15 miles from India to Sri Lanka is going to be more difficult than balancing an elephant on your head. While on a unicycle. In a hurricane. The mad thing is that it will probably be easier to take a ship from Malaysia – 1000s of miles away.  It’s like the only way you can get to France from the UK is via America.  But I didn’t waste my time in Kerala, I made a lot of new friends (including three different people all called Anthony) and I got my story published in The Hindu newspaper. On the Wednesday, me and my new chums Anthony, Anthony and Louise (all…

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Days 585-592: The Boat Race

09.08.10-16.08.10: “I always like going south – it feels like walking downhill” – Treebeard India, being the awkward bugger that she is, flips the usual northern charm/southern coldness idiom on it’s head and gives us a country in which, in no uncertain terms, lures wayfarers down south to the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and then refuses to give them back.  After the frantic, pestering, unrelenting hustle and bustle of Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and Varanasi, the soothing backwaters of India’s most laidback state are more welcoming than a home-cooked meal and a cuddle on the sofa. It’s tidy too - for India! All of Monday was spent on the train heading down south, not much to report except that the train was remarkably cheap (less than a tenner), it was comfortable and (most importantly) fun.  One of the joys of Indian trains are the chai…

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Day 584: The Bombay Boo-Boo

08.08.10: Grr.  Sometimes your Lonely Planet can literally save your life, other times it can make your life a misery.  Today it was a case of the latter.  I got up, it was a nice quiet Sunday – well, quiet for Bombay – and I thought I’d have a nice little meander around Colaba, down to The Gateway of India and then up to Churchgate station – the place I needed to buy my train ticket for tonight’s train. It would be midday before I got to Churchgate, but there was no hurry – according to the Lonely Planet, the train I wanted left at 11.40pm. According to Indian Railways, however, the train I wanted left at 11.40AM. I looked at my watch.  Half an hour ago?  You HAVE to be kidding. Luckily there was another train heading down to Kerala state (the very south west…

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Day 583: Flashback

07.08.10: So it was a cloudy, overcast day on which I returned to India after an absence of eight years. Not much has changed since then, but then I didn’t really expect it to: India is India is India and will be until the end of the world. A frustrating, intoxicating, bewildering blend of noise and nonsense with a few increasingly perplexed cows thrown in for good measure. But I can’t help liking the place, possibly more than India likes me. I said my goodbyes to the captain and the crew of the CMA-CGM Jade (a few times, as it transpired) and just six and a half hours after we arrived I was finally allowed to leave the ship with a couple of the crew who were leaving for Burma after a good ten months at sea. Customs took its time, and my bags were sealed…

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