Central australia, Travel

Central Australia Road trip 10 Palm Valley

Imagine a primeval landscape, a forest all around you, but the trees are not the eucalypts and flowering plants of today but instead you are painfully brushing away the stiff fronds of brilliant green cycads, while ramrod straight palms tower over you and then suddenly there is the roar of a T REX. If you can picture this, you can pretty well visualise the scenery of Palm Valley. 
Mark of Sandrifter Safaris collected us at 6:45 this morning from outside our townhouse. The new moon was low in the pre dawn sky. It was chilly as we waited just off the road. Our first stop was on Larapinta drive, just as the sun rose over the gap, and the range before us immediately lit up into brilliant orange. While watching, we all enjoyed munching a fried egg and bacon rolls with some Australia Afternoon tea steaming away in our metal mugs. Yummy. Then we were on our way to Palm Valley. It’s about 120km from Alice and most of the trip is on bitumen but the last bit is a challenging 4WD including climbing over boulders, sand and river beds. There is precious little water around now but the Finke River is still very impressive. Firstly it’s wide, wider than the Sandover. Mmmm perhaps that doesn’t help. At least a 100 meters wide with immense red river gums scattered in the river bed. We cross confidently if not easily tailing briefly in sand before climbing up and out. The Land driver is a terrific car, comfortable, good take off angles, and air suspension which produces a prolonged fart when the car is stopped after a bumpy section.
We turn off from the road adjacent to the Finke , now along the road beside Palm Creek. There are some wonderful views to be had and we frequently pulled over to take photographs of the hills and river below us. The creek has carved out the granite, sandstone of this area into weird formations of abrupt stone, they stand stark and orange in the morning light. 

Mark dropped us of to walk along the beautiful Cycad Gorge. It is a space, silent and still, the cycads visible on the rock face. Pillars and immense blocks of rock, had split out from the cliff and lay shattered on the valley floor. 

We arrived at the parking area situated at Palm Creek.. There are four walks we could choose from. We opted for a five kilometre walk that went up onto the escarpment, along the cliff with views into Palm Creek , then turning southwards across the plateau, then dropping down along a narrow rocky track back down to the creek bed. We followed this circuit track with Mark, chatting as we do about all sorts of things. By now it was warmer so we had tucked away our jumpers as we walked along. It is a very beautiful walk but with slight squinting and a liberal dose of imagination, you can almost hear the dinosaurs that walked this same area, between the same species of palms and cycads we are seeing right now. The creek bed is rocky not sandy or of loose stone, it’s granite and then sandstone, the fine beds are twisted or more accurately tortured into swirls and folds by the geological forces that have made this place. Yet despite all this geological tom foolery, the Finke River and Palm Creek have had unaltered courses for 190 million years, simply eroding the rocks and even mountains that had the cheek to appear. 
After our walk we had a splendid lunch, sitting on the rock, smoothed by eons of water and tumbling stones, we each had a wrap of corn beef and salad, followed by carrot cake and monster strawberries. Above us, the palm trees, livistonias, shimmered in the sunlight. Magic.
After lunch, we drove back to the main highway, turning off to Owen Springs. This is a fascinating relic of early NT history and business enterprise. First built in 1869, it was the first homestead built in Central Australia. Early explorers had fired up the imagination of some men to become pastoralists. Gilbert built a timber structure on the Hugh River, just north of Laurence Gorge, and grew wheat on the rangelands hereabouts. He had three wonderful years, glowing reports from explorers such as Giles, seemed confirmed by the rain and resulting crops. Then ten years of drought. This was not a successful venture so the property was sold  to Thomas Elder. Yep, Elder of Real Estate fame. But is wasn’t real estate Elder was primarily interested in, it was transport. The Ghan train connected Port Augusta to Oodnadatta by 1891 but would not be extended to Alice Springs until 1929. So for nearly thirty years, here was  a situation when transport was up for grabs between Oodnadatta and virtually everywhere in the centre. The government was encouraging entrepreneurs to enter the field. South Australia still had a lot of camels left over from the ones used to explore the centre. Elder put it together, and bought a vast number of camels and used his properties to service transport needs. The camel trains went from Oodnadatta to Curtin Springs to Owen Springs, then on to Stuart ( Stuart was the name of nowadays Alice Springs until 1939)’ then everywhere else including Hermannsburg and Arltunga. There was absolutely no connection between Darwin and Alice till 1942 when American military Engineers constructed the modern extension of the Stuart Highway northwards for the relief of Darwin. 

Owen springs passed to various owners, including Kidman for a time, until in 1999, the property was acquired by the NT government. Though it was a ruin, it’s roof long gone, it remained of great interest to history buffs, and so by 2002, it was repaired and its walls resurfaced to protect them. And so it stands today, with the Hugh River behind it, and the range terminating briefly at Laurence Gorge. This route pioneered by McDouall Stuart, remained the main path for not only Elder and his camel trains, but motor cars beginning the journey in 1929. And in 1957, the first tourist bus to Alice Springs. This route to Alice via Owen Springs continued until the construction of the current Stuart highway.
Elders camels were instrumental in supplying the construction equipment and supplies for the original old Ghan railway. It was only in 1929 that the Ghan finally was extended to Alice Springs ( then Stuart…. Confusing isn’t it). The camels were also used for building the overland telegraph. No wonder Elder grew wealthy from his transport empire.  

After our exploration of the old homestead, we carried along the Owen Springs road all the way to Stuart Highway, then back to Alice. What a fabulous day, full of history, nature, landscapes and great company.

Central australia, Travel

Central Australia Road Trip number 8 Larapinta Highlights with World Expeditions

I am sitting in a camp chair beside the campfire, the immense octagonal tent that provides shelter and a place for lounging about and meals is behind me. This camp is the second one used on this Larapinta walk, it’s called Charlie’s camp after one of the first guides. But I should begin at the beginning.
On Wednesday morning we were collected at our overnight accommodation, Doubletree in Alice Springs bright and early at 7:30 am. There are sixteen walkers, and all of us have elected for the highlights version of the famous Larapinta trail. The full walk takes anything from twelve to sixteen days, and walkers have to be very well organised with food drops and equipment. We met two walkers, young men who had been walking for eight days or seven, they weren’t sure. Our little packs looked very diminutive beside their solar panel laden multi day packs, the road trains of the Larapinta trail. 

We grouped at Telegraph station on the outskirts of Alice Springs, made introductions. The walkers are from age fifty to sixty and all of them have done many interesting adventures both here and overseas. We were dressed in warm gear because of the cold. Little did we know, that it was going to get a lot colder. We skirted the old station, and commenced the first section of the trail. Cloudy, cool, mild fresh breeze and perfect weather for walking. A frizzle threatened, and over the day it grew into a drizzle, and finally rain overnight. Today, we aimed to complete the walk to Wallaby Gap. We travelled past Charles River, under the Stuart highway, then up along ridges of the ranges. The fall to the left is precipitate, a three hundred meter drop, with wonderful views of the Pattuca range to the south beyond the spinifex and mulga plains. There are many opportunities to see the orange cliffs. 

Lunches are under trees on the trail, a large black tarp is laid out, and a selection of ham, salami, salads, dips and garnishes are available for us. One does eat well on these walks. You need the energy, as the track undulates over ankle twisting rocks and gravel. I needed to stay alert despite my Scarpa boots and sticks, occasionally slipping but no harm done. I’d been bitten by a camp dog two weeks ago, and thankfully it’s well on the way to being healed, so it did not give me any problems on the walk. 
The World expeditions bus was waiting for us at Wallaby Gap, a bumpy ride to the highway, then a drive to Charlie’s camp. The tent sites are very organised and very discrete, invisible from the highway, but the orange roof of the main tent makes them very visible from higher altitudes. There are semi-permanently set up tents for sleeping, a large tent as I said before for meals and lounging. The showers are hot water, one fills a bucket with hot water from a “donkey” into a bucket in the shower cubicle , hoisted aloft then the handle is turned, allowing water to rain down. The cool breezes wafting up from the gap between floor and cubicle, means the two and half minutes shower time is ample. The soaps and shampoos used are biodegradable, to protect the environment. The lady before me, fished out a dead bird from the shower bucket, so I was pleased to be second for once.

 On this first evening, we had a real treat. Raelene, who runs and owns, a bush food cafe in Alice Springs called Kungku foods. She is an Arrente lady who has harnessed her people’s heritage of bush foods to create a business. The older ladies in communities such as Utopia, gather the bush tucker in traditional ways and get paid for what they gather. As far as cultivating these plants plantation style, this does not work, the plants and trees die after two seasons. In the desert diseases cannot easily spread. The two main challenges are the encroachment of buffel grass choking the native vegetation, and secondly, the fracturing of Aboriginal society that makes it difficult to pass on the bush food story and skills to the next generation.
The next morning we finished section one by walking to Simpson Gap. This hike followed the hills beneath cliffs and ultimately provided fine views of the gap. It was cloudy and cold but rays of sunlight struggled through illuminating the valley. Simpsons Gap is wide, beautiful and sacred. The inviting pool is not for swimming. River gums twisted by the rigours of summer floods sit in the sand and stones of the ancient waterway, a creek course that long precedes the range it breeches. Ghost gums with their bright green foliage and shimmering white bark grip the sandstone walls. After exploring the gap we bussed to Standley Chasm. This geological feature is named for Ida Standley, an early twentieth century educator who actually taught aboriginal kids. We waited for our guide, Dee, but she had been double booked so had to catch up with her after lunch. Ryan, one of our four guides took us into the chasm. It is a gorge with sheer walls of orange quartzite. The narrow passageway echoes any conversation. The air is still and cool. It is impossible not to feel a sense of awe. This chasm was made by the erosion of a layer of white dolerite, leaving the quartzite for us to see today. Or was it two euro brothers who had an argument and one split the hill apart with the downward lash of his tail? I guess we will never know for sure. On the walk, Ryan showed us spearwood. Spearwood looks like a group of thin canes but if you hold one over a fire and stretch it straight, you can create a very good spear. It’s light, and made deadly by tying on a shard of quartzite or the poisonous wood of the mulga. It’s thrown from the rear of the spear and with little practice, can prove very accurate.

Dee met us after lunch, by now the sun had come out and we were all sitting on the grass. Dee runs a business called Cultural Connection NT. This enterprise is about educating people like us about aboriginal culture and history, about things that might otherwise cause misunderstanding. Dee explained that there are hundreds of tribes, and most of these have unique languages as different as Japanese and French to us. They have different beliefs and different attitudes by which they live. So it is not surprising that it is going to be difficult to achieve a unified voice. Europe has twenty nations and they cannot work together. Skin names are separate from your family names. Different tribes have different numbers of skin names, four, eight or as many as sixteen. Only certain skin name pairs can marry. This system was invented to reduce inbreeding. A child’s skin name, and his siblings which include his first cousins, have the same skin name. This skin name is different to the parents. It sounds complex and only looks marginally more straightforward on a chart with lines going clockwise and anticlockwise depending on the mother’s and fathers skin name respectively.
Education is different from the western style we are used too. It’s a life long learning, beginning in childhood singing, chanting, dancing, and listening to stories, observing the elders, and seeing the land, skies and weather over many years. Aural traditions everywhere in the world cannot write information down so it is necessary to learn using all the senses and by repetition, and then apply it.
Most of the social problems including drug abuse, health issues, and violence, are new ones. For forty thousand plus years plus, tribal lore and community, relations between people and other tribes, were sorted out and codified. In the last two hundred years, all that has been thrown into disarray. This uncertainty about culture creates unease, it means many Aboriginal people struggle to understand who and what they are. There are no rules about drugs in Aboriginal culture because they drugs did not exist. Learning from television, books and writing is completely alien from the experiential style of Aboriginal learning. Understanding new concepts is difficult when English is your third or second language. In some schools in Alice Springs there are now textbooks in many subjects, with the majority of teaching and examinations done using Arrente language.
Many of the attitudes which are so useful living in semi-arid Australia prove problematic when interfacing with white society. White people are so obsessed with punctuality and time while Aboriginal people live in the now. If the passing of time is anything, it’s morning, noon, and afternoon based on the suns position. 

All this was done by Dee in her own style. She commented that Aboriginal people will not criticise, push eye contact or even ask questions because of their concern that by doing so, it would mean the other person lose face. This is the basis of the shyness and their reticence to ask questions.
At the conclusion of our talk with Dee, I think all of us had gained insights into Aboriginal culture and how it relates to us.
Afterwards we climbed back into the bus and were transported back to our new campsite, Charlie’s campsite. We skipped showers this evening. I played my guitar, sitting on my camp bed until it got too dark and too cold to play. The dinner was wonderful. Early to bed. I had my beanie on, thermal top and snuggled into my sleeping bag with only my nose sticking out. 
Up again in the morning, day three, up at six am for breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and tea. Today’s walk to Count point is spectacular. It’s an arduous hike along loose rocky tracks, and onward and upward to Counts junction, then after dropping packs, a short walk to the point. The walk commenced with a short walk to Serpentine Gorge which in my opinion is the most tranquil and inspiring of the many gorges on the Larapinta trail. This provides amazing views, Gosse Bluff ( old impact crater) in the distance, two long ranges below us with an almost glacial looking valley between them. The Chewing Range and the Heavitree Range. Then a three hundred meter drop to the camp site. Today’s walk was seventeen kilometres.

On day four, it had been again a very cold night, the ice in any outside bucket ample testimony of that. There are composting toilets with heavy plastic/nylon curtains and solar powered lights for necessary illumination. The washing up area, is nearby, a bucket full of fresh water, a steel cup with several holes is filled by dunking in the bucket, then suspended above the basin. 
Our walk this morning, commenced in the most magical of early morning light. You know on some special mornings, the crispness and toning of the light give a beautiful glow to the natural world. One of the guides said to look out for some unique natural rock formations on the walk. Some of us were a bit non plussed about where the artificial geological formations were. While our bags were being carried to our next campsite, we walked to serpentine chalets dam. This dam was built below a narrow Gorge and provided water for the shirt lived Serpentine Chalet. Only the ruins remain, it was constructed in the 1950s before the road was improved and the speed of travel meant stopping for a night was unnecessary. The walk to the dam involves some rock clambering. The Gorge here is very beautiful. Our guide took us on a vertical side trip, to see these formations. The layers of rock are curved, in near swirls of sandstone over a hundred meters. The forces would have been truly immense to create this amazing appearance. We walked to Inarlunga pass. The trees here can be heard, pressing my ears against the white trunk of a ghost gum, I can hear the glug glug of water moving upwards from the roots on the way to the leaves above.
We returned to collect our packs, then shed some thermal gear with the increasing warmth of the day, then carried on, meeting the Arrente track. This track connects the Inarlunga Pass (Echidna Pass) with the Ochre pits. It is only a nine kilometre walk but it’s not easy, the rolling rocks which make the track, discourage mindless walking. I needed to stop before taking photographs, repack the camera, survey where to put my next step before carrying on. The track provides wonderful views of the ranges on either side of the track. It weaves over and between the crests of a series of hills. There are occasional information stands. These describe the plants and how they were used in Arrente life. 
The Ochre pits have been mined for thousands of years, and the different colour Ochres gave been traded along song lines throughout central Australia. The ochre consists of kaolin with varying amounts of iron oxide and other minerals. Today, it is still mined by local Arrente men and used in ceremony and art. We drifted along admiring the colours and play of light on the carved-out ochre. Then a short drive to Glen Helen. This old station is now fully geared up for tourism. There is both camping sites and cabins for rent. Cheap beer but expensive diesel. Behind the lounge are comfortable seats and tables where you can relax sipping beer or eating ice creams and study the orange glow of the ranges rocks. We walked to the gorge. There is a large rock pool that spans the gorge. Some of the guides braved the cold water to freshen up for a swim. It is yet another wonderful sight to enjoy. While we were walking and exploring, two of our number enjoyed the helicopter trip to see the sights from above.
Then we drove to camp Fearless. It’s named after Sue Fear , a tribute to a legendary climber who died in Nepal. This morning, as I’m writing this, most of our number have elected to do the sunrise walk up to the south summit of Mt Sonder. Jen and I slept through the wake up call at 2:15 am and decided to spend the day in meditation and tea/coffee appreciation. 
Right now, I’m sitting on a camp chair and finally getting warm. It was minus two overnight. ( This does not encourage frivolity on mountains). The camp fire is sending smoke away from me. Lunch is cooking in a camp cooker sitting on the hot coals. Mt Sonder is looking majestic in the morning sun beyond the camp tents. A few ring necked parrots are fluttering around. 
( Dinners so far . Loin shanks. Barramundi. Chicken curry. Beef stew. Roast lamb and poached pear with chocolate and cream)

It is now five pm and I’m sitting under the big tent at Camp Fearless. Jennifer and I have had a quiet day, relaxing, talking. When the rest of the group returned from the 16 kilometre hike up and down Mt Sonder, they looked a bit battered and worn out by the adventure but were equally full of praise for the beauty of the mountain and the splendid views it delivered. Maybe next time for us, I need to be a lot fitter to have the strength you need to cope with the relentless climb and then descent. Jennifer and most of the group took the bus to revisit Glen Helen while I stayed here in camp to practice. I also went for a brief walk with two of my fellow travellers along the dry creek beside the campsite. No two river gums are the same are they? There are some great views of Mt Sonder to be had as well, its massif silhouetted by the giant gums and cork trees on and near the bank. 

We are altogether on the bus returning to Alice Springs. Today we packed up our stuff, tidied our bivies, had breakfast and sat around the campfire in the morning light. We have spent a wonderful day walking at Ormiston Pound. A pound is a plain ringed all around by ranges. Ormiston pound has three entrances. We entered the pound after skirting the range climbing and then descending via the first pass. In the distance I could see the further most band of ranges. The nearer hills bright orange and in the distance the haze fading those same colours to blue. We all walked steadily, winding our way across the pound, crossing two dry river beds. Two meters above the rivers bed and wrapped around trunks and branches was grass and foliage washed there by the last flood. 

Water still remained from those long ago floods, cool and inviting pools, reflecting the red gums and ghost gums; a all peaceful symmetry of form and colour.

Finally we entered the gorge itself. This place is beautiful, I cannot find words to express it meaningfully. Here are rich colours of the orange quartzite cliffs, soft cool shadows lying over jumbled stone and water, and the many hues from purple to grey streaking the very substance of the boulders we all scramble across. Herons careen in the air calling as they fly in the narrow airspace of the gorge. Their voices loud and clear, but almost alien in this ancient landscape. The rock pools are large and plentiful, providing too ample an opportunity for photography. The vivid clarity of the reflections, then tones blending in any subtle movement of the water. A very special place. 
We crossed the largest pool, my fellow travellers helping me across the biggest jumps. It is amazing how sure my footing is when I’m helped. Then more boulder hoping and scrambling, to reach the car park and a yummy lunch under one of the picnic shelters.
After ice creams and a photo stop, we got back in the bus and here we are.
Before I wrap up this blog, I need to record the tremendous guides who helped, fed, encouraged and well, guided all of us in this superb region of central Australia. They are Ryan, Jen, Kia and Maddie. All top blokes and Sheilas. 
The final thank you has to be to all our fellow adventurers, all of them interesting, all of them terrific people and all of them great company.

I hope to meet many of them this evening at Hanuman restaurant.

India, Travel

Day 24 exploring Delhi with a sore tummy

I am lying in bed in The Park Hotel, with a case of Delhi Belly. None the less Jennifer and I did some very interesting activities between visiting the toilet.

We met Ray at the Delhi Agrasen ki Baoli. This is a step well that was used to collect monsoon rainfall in a secure area, and the collection of water merely involved walking down to the water. It is very different to the ancient one at Abhaneri . That one is far more open and steps along each wall. The one in Delhi is very interesting, with one staircase to the water, and walls on the remaining sides. Bats roost above the lower most reservoir of the step well, their chattering in the dark recesses above us and their droppings below.

We walked to Oxford Bookstore for Chai. Ray has two Mango smoothies and a yummy cucumber sandwich, while we had chais. The glasses were supported in steel monkeys, and piping hot. The bookshop had little in the way of history books so we did not linger long. We dropped Ray off at the Rajiv Chowk Metro, said our goodbyes, then caught a tuk tuk to the museum.

This museum is great!!! It has the best display in the world of Harappan artefacts, including ancient toys, the famous bronze called the dancing girl, lots of patterned pots, some fabulous gold jewellery, and lots of reading. This early River civilisation based on the now lost Sarasvati River was vast in area, sophisticated in town planning, and the ancient origin of Vedic Hinduism. There were other wonderful exhibits of Guptan sculpture, this was the golden age of Indian figurative sculpture, then Hindu sculpture, and then Indian jewellery from Indus times to the present. The emeralds and diamonds and rubies are enormous! We admired the Mughal art, delicate miniatures of brilliant colour and precise execution. The early emperors were all fine artists and poets in their own right and strongly supported painting and architecture of a very high standard. By now, I was getting a big sore, so we left, taking a tuk tuk back to the hotel. We have cancelled tomorrow’s booked tour and I will rest up.IMG_2950IMG_2952IMG_2953IMG_2959

India, Travel

Day 23 return to Delhi

It is now 9:41 pm and we are in room 623 of the Park, 11 Parliament street, New Delhi. We opted to leave the Hotel Perfect, forgoing the cold showers, the dog chorus, and the truly average meals for something a little more upmarket.

We all took the overnight train from Varanasi to New Delhi last night. The train only stops at four stations between Varanasi and New Delhi. It also travels a lot faster. I had a top bunk ( of three) and Jennifer was in the top of two bunks opposite me. The train was much cleaner and more comfortable then the local train to Varanasi. Most of the night, I could see nothing out of the windows. In the morning, I shared muffins with Jennifer and Jennifer finished off her noodles from the previous evening. Chai walaws move down the narrow corridor carrying a steel urn and piles of paper cups, bringing along Marsala tea, and a cup is ten rupees. Jennifer had four cups in the morning. I joined her on her bunk reading my iPad, my boots dangling into the corridor. We shared the compartment with two families, that were very friendly if a little too noisy, but that’s how it works, as Api says.

On arrival at New Delhi, we were carried in taxis to Hotel Perfect. From there we went to the Park Hotel. We said good bye to Peter and Anna. This charming Canadian couple have been an absolute delight to be with, friendly, discerning and highly intelligent, and it was a true pleasure to see his paintings of the trip.

At the Park, after some misgiving we took up the offer of a buffet lunch. However, those misgivings were misplaced, the meal consisted of tiny servings of fresh or beautifully cooked meats and vegetables, and some super deserts. Yummy.
After lunch I slept for four hours, then we walked to the Lord of the drinks restaurant. It is only six minutes away and to our delight there is a underpass to avoid the traffic, hurrah! We arrived earlier, and went in to have drinks. We ordered wine and they plopped ice in the glass. No. No. Stop. Don’t do that. We chorused. Fratelli wine is excellent and particularly so without ice. We shared a wonderful meal and conversations with the remaining tour members; Anna, Joanna, Alejandro, Ray and of course Api. Lots of laughs including one about a banana. After dinner, a meal and drinks costing 10,000 rupees for seven of us ( $200), we said our farewells.

India, Travel

Day 20 Varanasi by train

We are sitting together in carriage B2, seats 29 and 30. Above me is the top bunk where I slept last night, and behind me, now folded against the wall, is the bunk below me, and I am sitting on the bottom bunk. Yes, a three tier system, on either side of our small compartment. Six of the tour group are here, George, Grace, Peter, Anna, and Jennifer and I.
We left Agra station about an hour late, the platform crowded with people even though it was 9:30 at night. When the ancient diesel train pulled in, we trundled along the platform and bustled our way in, negotiating the narrow corridors and people dealing with bags and boxes. We found our berth which is about midway along the carriage and shoved our bags under the bottom bunk. We have learnt to pack our bags flatter and it easy to slide them out of the way. We pulled out the bag chains and secured them to metal rings under the bunk.

I clambered up to the top bunk, nearly clobbering a very forgiving lady in the opposite side bunks with my boots. I needed a final shove and I was up. It was comfortable as far as bunks go, but the head end was a bit trapped and I woke up with a neck headache. Luckily getting down is a lot easier than getting up. Now to face the train lavatory, any “stuff” goes straight down and onto the tracks – this is a problem when at a station. It all adds to the aromas of India. Enough said!
Outside the window, I can see mostly farms, green fields extending to the next line of trees, and I see a farmer and his family hunkered down on the ground, cutting the wheat with small curved knives, then tying the stalks together into small bundles, which they lie on the ground. The houses are of brick, plastered with mud and a roof composed of thatch. Smoke drifts and slowly twirls up from their small campfires near their front doors. At railway crossings, motorbikes mounted by dhoti wearing farmers, and agricultural trucks, all wait patiently. The boom gates are large branches, not the processed painted, timber ones we see in Australia.
On the edge of the road are sellers, there is one selling nuts and dried fruit under a canopy suspended over his cart.
We pass small villages, some of the houses are bare brick, some were painted blue at one time but now the paint has faded, washed away by the blisteringly hot summer sun and the humid monsoon rain, leaving a mottled blue and white mosaic of colour. The rooftops are used, it’s now 10am and the men have left for the fields or shops, and only washing can be seen suspended from lines above the irregular brickwork. There is no sign of any building code, precious little sanitation, and electricity if it is available, is cobbled from the nearest node without any actual electrician or metering involved.

I think all of us are getting tired. The bubbly enthusiasm of the younger crowd is not as apparent. Alejandro had a brief bout of Gastroenteritis, Johanna badly sprained her ankle, Anna ( Banana) has had troublesome urticaria. Us older ones are just getting tired. Sleep is a resource that can be in short supply, with noise an all too common part of the Indian evening. The dog chorus in Delhi, the dog fight and howling in the villages, the Hindu weddings that go on for days without getting any quieter and the noise of traffic that thankfully drifts away by midnight.

The bustle, crowds, hawking, scamming, fields of rubbish, the sorry toilets, negotiating prices, and tipping, all test this traveller. However all these things are India or at least they are for the foreign traveller. On the other hand, I have the company of our fellow group members and leader who are truly delightful to be with, I have met many friendly Indian people especially being photographed with them in group hugs, the exotic history, the stunning food, the locales including the forts, the palaces, the bazaars, the mosques, the temples and mausoleums especially the Taj Mahal are fascinating and occasionally awe inspiring. The pluses definitely outweigh the negatives but just don’t ask me about India after a bumpy night on the Agra to Varanasi train.

India, Travel

Day 19 Agra fort

I am sitting in the lobby of Karan Villas. Jennifer is beside me reading the Age on her iPad mini. We have had a great morning. We had a surprisingly good night sleep, surprising because there was a wedding at the hotel last night. Weddings are loud and energetic affairs but with our earplugs pushed well in, the vibration of the floor and bed from the music lulled us both to sleep. After breakfast of omelette, chapatti and toast, we packed our bags for this evenings train trip. We had already planned an excursion to Agra Fort so in the morning we met the participants: Peter and his wife Anna, Ray the American Aussie, Nan and her mother Jiang. We rented tuk Tuks to go to Agra fort.
For much of the time under the early Mughals including Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, Agra was the capital of their empire; the move to Delhi was much later. The fort is a vast complex, and most of his it is exclusively used by the military. What is not used by them is still substantial both artistically and historically. We saw palaces, audience areas, harems, beautiful gardens, mosques of marble, pavilions of delicate carvings and inlaid precious stones, and in the haze and across the Yamuna River, the silhouette of the Taj Mahal. We spent over two hours walking around, reading the information of stone blocks, climbing narrow short stairs, seeing the prison of Shah Jahan, the throne of Jahangir, the towers of the the fort and so much more. It is an impressive fort and in the mornings is not too busy. On the ramparts and higher verandas, the cool breeze was refreshing. The fort is a very relaxing place with none of the bustle and pushing of the Taj Mahal.

Afterwards we had lunch at the Pushpvilla Hotel. Nan and Jiang decided to do more walking despite the dust and heat of the city. We took tuk Tuks to the hotel and restaurant. The venue is seven floors up, and is a revolving restaurant. However, we all felt nausea when it started moving around, so they kindly turned it off. It was an excellent lunch, and we took some of the leftover bread for breakfast on the train.
The train leaves at 8:30 pm tonight and arrives mid morning tomorrow in Varanassi. The train trip is 13 hours or more, and can be longer as it is notorious for a late arrival.

We will rest up this afternoon, reading and doing photo editing. I have found a new program which can shrink photos so I am hopeful that may mean I can include some images in the emails.IMG_2756IMG_2759IMG_2762IMG_2763IMG_2764IMG_2765