Monday, October 26

Delhi to Kachuraho

Well we're officially one week into our tour but it might as well have been a month as  we've seen so much and met so many people. After Monday in Delhi it was an early start on Tuesday morning to catch the 'Taj Express' to Agra. 'Express' turned out to be a bit of an exaggeration as we were delayed by three hours. There had been a train crash on the same line earlier that morning, with several fatalities. Policemen were escorting a criminal who, under the pretence of needing to use the toilet, tried to escape and so the policemen ended up pulling the emergency brake. Several minutes later a train behind - which must have missed a signal - crashed into the back killing about 20 civilians. The policemen are in big trouble as you can imagine. Once we were on our way we passed the wreck. By that stage there had been some tidying up but it still looked pretty messy.

So our trip was off to an exciting start, but we made it safely to Agra. After a nice lunch we headed off to the Red Fort where we joined another Intrepid group for a guided tour. The guide was great - an old chap who'd been showing people round for decades and has even been on telly several times. The architecture was interesting incorporating muslim, christian, hindu, jewish and jain elements. Apparently, the mogul that built it was of the view that all religions should join to worship one god.

Then on we went to the Taj Mahal. The setting is most impressive, overlooking a massive bend in a riverbed, and the use of pearlescent marble and symmetry is amazing. The tomb inside was not quite as interesting but we spent some time just oggling at the outside.

Next day it was another train ride and jeep transfer to get to the remote medieval town of Chanderi. We met a young indian girl - Shilty - and her dad and brother who were on a 24 hour train ride to Mumbai to attend a cousin's wedding. We had to tell her everything about NZ and she took great delight in listening to all the 'western' music on my ipod (particularly Enrique Eglesias)and reading the Lonely Planet. We also learnt about indian weddings, indian cricket and bollywood stars so our four hour train journey went by quickly.

In Chanderi we were greeted by local guide Kalley Bhai. This friendly man showed us around the 'village' (with population 30,000 it would classify as a city in NZ) and into his home where we had dinner on the terrace under the stars. Chanderi was once a large and strategically important city of the muslim Mhoguls who built a fort with numerous karawansereis and mosques in the area. Today there are muslims, jains and hindus living side by side. Even the population exchangs after the Indo-Pak war did not affect this. The next day Khalle Bhai took us for an orientation walk and we got to visit the local school where the pupils asked us about our jobs and it took some time explain what a town planner does. In the afternoon we headed 25km out of the town to look at some prehistoric rock paintings which Kalley Bhai stumbled on about 4 years ago. He has been lobbying the government to protect them (as well as the Mhogul ruins in Chanderi) but until now they have shown little interest in his cause. It was interesting to meet someone so passionate about preserving and promoting his local heritage. The people in Chanderi were amzingly friendly, open and inquisitive because Intrepid groups are pretty much the only tourists which come to this remote area.

The next day we proceeded to Orcha. An even smaller town this place was home of the hindu Bhandela dynasty who built several massive palaces and temples in the area by the Betwa river. Here we got to witness Hindu celebrations down by the ghats and the daily prayer in the Lord Rama temple. We also took a cooking class with a local lady called Vandana. We've got the recipes so we'll be trying them out back home!

Today we had a three hour drive to Kachuraho, again famous for its temples, this time built by the Chandelas from about 900AD. They are famous for their many tantric and erotically themed rock carvings of men and gods practicing various positions from the Kama Sutra,. As our guide put it these carvings were intended to illustrate the union of opposites (men and women) to make a whole. Despite these carvings only constituting about 2% of the temple sculptures, Sex sells and these carvings have certainly put Kachuraho on the tourist map and bought a lot of traffic to the town.

Today we caught up with another traveller - Mike - who we had met back at the Delhi hotel and who was two days ahead of us on the same tour but with another group. Due to illness he sadly has had to discontinue his trip and is heading back to Oz tomorrow. So we caught up with him while Ruby organised a local doctor to see him.

Tomorrow we are heading off to Panna National Park where hopefully we'll be able to  go for an elephant ride!

We're staring to feel at home in India and can say with confidence that the people we have met are some of the friendliest we have met anywhere. Many Indians do not have much but they are amazingly hospitable people. We've been treated like celebritys in the smaller towns and at the Taj with many photo requests.


F & G

Tuesday, October 20


Well here we are in India and still can't quite believe it because we are too busy trying to register all that is going on in this busy, bustling yet ordered chaos! We got here very early morning on Saturday which also happened to be the day after the opening Friday of the Diwali festival - the festival of lights which is celebrated by all Indians regardless of their religion and which features candles, fairy lights and all kinds of fireworks - the louder the better!

So our trip was off with a bang! We met some other Intrepid travellers at our hotel - Mike, Sarah and their leader Karni - and had dinner with them the first two nights and got in the Diwali spirit by lighting some sparklers. On Sunday we took the brand new Delhi metro into the town centre and checked out the national museum, the Rajpath and Connaught Place.

Yesterday we met our leader Ruby who will be our guide for the next two weeks. It turns out that there's just the two of us on this trip but that's probably good for Ruby as it's her first time guiding (although she has done an understudy trip before so knows the places we are going to). It's great getting an insight from a local and we keep bugging her with questions.

Today, via rikshaw bike, we explored the largest mosque in Delhi and then the big Sikh temple which also runs a 24/7 soup kitchen feeding thousands daily. The Jain temple was closed but we had a snoop around the grounds.

Our hotel is in Karol Bagh which is south west of the town centre and a air-conditioned haven which presents a parallel universe to the street reality outside.

Tomorrow it's an early start catching a train and seeing the mighty Taj Mahal which we are really looking forward to.

Not sure what else to report, there are not enough words to describe the many impressions we've had in just three days!

Thursday, October 15

A day in Athens

Santorini and Athens

We arrived in Santorini at nightime so missed the spectacular view of the cliffs upon arrival. However we made up for this with a half day sailing trip to the volcanic islands the next day and the caldera is stunning, formed by what must have been the mother of all explosions about 1000 BC (although not quite up there with the much earlier Taupo eruptions back in NZ, as I just read on Wikipedia).

One of the islands in the centre of the caldra is still active and we took a hike over it. Then it was back to the old port from where Graham took the gondola up the hill and Fran a donkey up the 300 or so steps up the cliff face. A mad racing donkey as it turned out, kept trying to cut off the aussie ladies on mules, so there was a bit of competition going on amongst the friendly chit chat.

The island was a lot quieter than expected and I guess this may be due to the unpredictable weather this time of year which was proven by the dust storm, 13 degree temperature dive and rain we had the following day. All the ferries in the greek islands were apparrently cancellled due to the wind, so we were already making contingency plans should that affect our ferry booking to Athens the next day. Armed with a mini (two-stroke) Chrysler instead of scooters, we missioned it up a steep hairpin road to the ancient settlement of Akrotiri from where there were magnificent views out to sea and into the eye of the storm. That evening we drove to Oia for the sunset, dinner and a stroll around the clifftop village.

Yesterday it was an eight hour ferry ride to Athens, the weather was back to normal and we were sad to leave, for one can get quite used to the island life.

Today we have been roaming the new Akropolis museum (and getting annoyed at Lord Elgin's senseless destruction of many of the sculptural elements), the majestic Akropolis itself, a walk down through the Agora and associated museum, lunch and then the Archaeological Museum - all awesome. It is mindboggling to see so much very old stuff in just one day - its like w roamed about 6000 years in one day, what a privilege.

Off to dinner now and very hungry.

Tuesday, October 13


Donkeys on the steps down to the old port at Fira

On the boat out to the volcanic islands in the caldera

Overlooking the caldera just after sunset


Crete photos

At the start of the Samaria gorge track

Graham at the narrowest point of theGorge

Hania boat

More photos - Germany

The four dutch guys we shared a table with in Oktoberfest

With Philipp

With Fran's Oma at her cousin's wedding

Saturday, October 10


Just a quick post to say we made it safely to Crete where we've spent the last three nights in Hania and are now in Iraklio from where we are catching a ferry to Santorini tomorrow afternoon.

From Hania we hiked the Samaria gorge which was a gorge-os (he he) 16km walk through some amazing rock formations. The hard part was the bus ride from Hania to the start of the track up a very steep, narrow and winding road with lots of goats who were not one bit bothered by the bus!

Today we saw Knossos, the former Minoan capital of Crete, largely recreated (with some imagination) by british archeologists.

Looking forward to more sunshine and chilling on Santorini where we've just booked three nights in a place with a pool :  )

We haven't learnt much greek yet but we'll have some time on the four hour ferry ride tomorrow.

Halfway through our trip already, cant't believe it!!

Love to you all,

F & G

Saturday, October 3


We´ve been here for a week now and it´s gone super-fast catching up with Fran´s family and friends. But weve been enjoying the german hospitality and managed to survive Oktoberfest despite bomb threats, bag searches and large quantities of beer this entailed.

Christoph is kindly letting us use his computer, so here (finally!) are some piccies from the last few weeks:

Camping in St Emilion

Sunrise at the Pont du Gard

Pizza and beer dinner on the beach at Les Issambres on the French Riviera

The superyachts in Cannes

Walking the Cinque Terre

Graham and Mt Vesuvius from Monte Santo in Napoli