I’m moving to Koh Tao!

Koh Tao is one of the worlds most popular dive locations. The extraordinary diversity of Koh Tao’s underwater world coupled with the reputation as the cheapest place in the world to dive, is undoubtedly drawing a crowd. Koh Tao boasts between 35-45 dive sites (depending on who you ask and who you know) so despite it’s popularity it hardly ever feels busy. The same applies on land too, with the laid-back atmosphere only an island of scuba divers could pull off, you never feel in too much of a hurry to do anything.

Heading out to the dive boat.

Heading out to the dive boat.

With that being said, I planned on visiting for around 5 days, just enough time to do my Open Water diving course and then I would farewell the islands of Thailand and head north. Only, Koh Tao doesn’t actually let you do this. I started chatting with the instructors and ex-pats that had moved to the island and the funny thing was that most of them had a similar story. They planned on staying for a few weeks or a month and here they were a year later with no plans on leaving.

So, there will be no surprises when I say I’m moving here for a couple of months too. I had been looking for somewhere to lay low somewhere for a while, catch up on a lot of writing and work for this blog, but mainly I was looking for somewhere that I could unpack my bag. Here’s how it happened.

I like long walks along the beach, as long as they go to a dive boat.

I like long walks along the beach, as long as they go to a dive boat.

The Open Water certificate was another bucket list item. Koh Tao was on my radar, so I hopped on a boat from Koh Phagnan with my full moon party hangover and went in search of a dive school. I’d been recommended Sairee Cottage from a good friend of mine so I headed that way. They were about 1000 baht more expensive that other dive schools, as a budget backpacker this is usually the point where I walk away but there were a couple of things that swayed my decision.

The dive office, pool and surrounding bungalows looked immaculate and there was a friendly group of staff hanging around to help me out. I was shown the complimentary dorm room and on the walk up the instructor let it drop that there was plenty of bar work available for westerners and this is what sparked the idea of a long-term stay.

That afternoon I began the Open Water course which was just a couple of videos and an orientation. Walking out from the classroom, I crossed a small road and was at the beach just as the sun was making it’s way for the horizon, showcasing a sunset that I’d rarely, if ever, seen beaten. Yeah. I could probably live here.

Sunsets on Koh Tao.
The following day was divided between the classroom and the pool to learn the basics of diving and the two days after were when the fun was to be had. The course takes you on 4 dives to a depth of 18 metres and we saw blue-spotted rays, barracuda, yellow box-fish, huge groupers, puffer fish and a whole lot that I can’t even begin to name but I’ll be exploring more of the underwater world in the next couple of posts. It was stunning enough that I decided to back it up with an Advanced Open Water course which meant wreck dives, night dives and chance to learn the basics of Navigation.

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So where has this taken me? Well, it all amounted to convincing me to complete my Rescue Diver and Emergency First Responder training and I’ve signed up to spend the next 2 months training as a Divemaster which will mean some opportunity to work once I’ve finished.

I’m on my way to Kuala Lumpur for the weekend to extend my visa and then I’ll be back to diving. Watch this space, exciting things to come.

Bucket List #5: Train Muay Thai in Thailand

Another tick off the bucket list as I signed up for what promised to be a gruelling week of Muay Thai in Phuket. Muay Thai is the traditional martial art of Thailand and combines punches, elbows, knees, kicks and clinching and the Thai’s are brought up on it. From the moment they can walk they’re trained in the art of Muay Thai and often by their mid-twenties they’ve had well over 150-200 fights. If they weren’t so strongly Buddhist, it would be easy to call Muay Thai their religion.

Training Muay Thai at Phuket Top Team

Knees for days!

I checked out a few of the gyms in Phuket and with the help of a recommendation from a friend who has fought in Thailand for the past 2 years I settled on Phuket Top Team. I won’t bore you with the details but PTT have fighters in the biggest organisations of the Muay Thai and MMA world. As well as that the trainers their are a mixture of retired champions and some of the elite fighters still in competition. It was safe to say I’d be in good hands there but it also meant they would take no excuses.

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I had trained back at home for 2 years but it had been at least 18 months since then and the past 6 months of travel had taken a toll on my fitness. I secretly hoped my treks in the Himalayas would provide me with some fitness but it didn’t prove to help me all that much.

It was 2 x 2 hours sessions a day for 6 days and most of the sessions went down in more or less the same way. Skipping, stretching, sparring and clinching with other people of a similar skill and weight, bag work, 1 on 1 pad work in the ring with a trainer (this involved the trainer calling out combinations of kicks punches, knees and elbows for you to throw and occasionally throwing some back at you to block) followed by a warm down with a couple of hundred push ups and sit-ups.

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Fifteen minutes into my first training session the mouth guards were in and I found myself behind a pair of boxing gloves facing off with an Italian guy in our class. It was the first time back at training for both of us so we stuck to light sparring, moved around a bit, traded some punches and had some fun with it.

The trainers in true Thai-style weren’t so forgiving when my lack of fitness showed up during the pad-work. They’ve been training since they were 2 and excuses never worked for them so they expect the same out of you. In fact, the more you shut up and try to get it done, the easier it’s going to be for you. I saw people learn this the hard way, if you’re the type to whine and complain well guess who’s getting extra push ups.

Phuket Top Team Muay Thai

It’s all smiles for the camera.

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As the days went on my fitness was slowly coming back as was some of the technique I had hidden away from a few years ago. I was sore just about everywhere and spent my time in between sessions either in the pool, in bed or at the massage parlour up the road all of which seemed to make the after sessions that little bit easier.

trainers at Phuket Top Team Muay Thai

The Trainers at PTT

The week came to an end and I had to move on as I have the full moon party booked in on the 9th but I will most definitely be returning to train with the team again only next time I’m hoping to stay for a month.

Have you ever trained in a traditional martial art somewhere? What was your experience like?

Dear India: It’s not me, it’s you.

Dear India: It’s not me, it’s you.

Okay, it’s not you either it’s actually a pesky little thing called a visa. Something I know deep down you won’t take to kindly if I was to ignore the stamp in my passport telling me it’s time to leave.

The captivating Himalayas of Kashmir

The captivating Himalayas of Kashmir

Lunch break on a trek out of Manali

Lunch break on a trek out of Manali

It’s been a strange 6 months to say the least. I could never have dreamed up the surprises you were to deliver. Arriving in Fort Kochi at midnight amongst the smell of the streets which consisted of anything from burning rubbish to delicious street food I was excited and already a little overwhelmed. In the 6 months since, your assault on my senses hasn’t stopped. I’ve been shocked, disgusted, hungry, happy, speechless, frustrated, in fits of laughter but most usually overwhelmed.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

While I found you to be amazing in so many ways, it was often the case that you completely polarised your visitors’ opinions, while I loved one place a fellow backpacker hated it and vice versa. This is the kind of diversity that seems to attract so many of us. 

India's attempt at road safety was a good laugh.

India’s attempt at road safety was a good laugh.

Ahh yeah, about that road safety.

Ahh yeah, about that road safety.

The friendly locals.

The friendly locals.

From paragliding off the cliffs of Varkala, learning to sculpt in Mamallapuram, exploring the absurd landscapes and ruins of Hampi, riding camels through the deserts of Jaisalmer to hiking the Himalayas of Kashmir it seemed that everywhere I turned a new experience was lurking.

Sculpture in Mamallapuram

Learning to sculpt in Mamallapuram

The kindness of the small percentage of your 1.2 billion I’ve had the chance to meet has been amazing and I no longer find it unusual that someone would take the time out of their day to walk me across the city just to make sure I get on my bus safely. Sometimes your eagerness to help went a little too far and on more than one occasion rather than have someone admit they don’t know where something is they’ve pointed me in the completely wrong direction but as with all things it’s the thought that counts.

 

Udaipur, Rajastan

A local man in Udaipur, Rajasthan

Laxman from Rishikesh - a retired trekking guide in the Himalayas now spends his days meditating under a tree.

Laxman from Rishikesh – a retired trekking guide in the Himalayas now spends his days meditating under a tree.

The food! Well what can I say, it was a long way from the westernised version of Butter Chicken that had kicked off my love of Indian food long ago in fact it couldn’t have been more different but all for the better. Out of all the beautiful meals it will be the thali and masala dosas I miss the most.

Indian Food, Thali, Rajasthan

The most unbelievably all you can eat Thali in all of India

Pushkar, Rajasthan

Pushkar, Rajasthan

It’s simply not a country I could ever hope to discover on one 6 months visa which is evident from the people I met returning for their 3rd or 4th or 15th time. It’s a country where no one, no matter how long they’ve lived or travelled there can confidently say ‘I know India’.

It’s confusing and chaotic and often doesn’t make much sense even to the locals but there’s a charm in that.

Early morning fishing in Manali

Early morning fishing in Manali

With that I will board a plane to Thailand taking comfort in the fact you’re still close by.

Goodbye India!

Goodbye India!

Partially Yours Forever,

Nick

Photo Essay: Trekking the Markha Valley

After attempting to tackle the Himalayas only to be turned back a couple of weeks ago I know had the Markha Valley firmly within my sights. The Markha Valley Trek is perhaps the most popular trek in the Ladakh region and can range from 4-10 days depending on your starting/finishing point and how fit you are.

We started at Chilling and ended at Chokdo 4 days later. We had orignally allowed 6 days for the trek but we put in some serious hours of trekking each day and managed to race through the trek in time for the Kalachakra Festival back in Leh.

Guides aren’t really neccessary on this trek as it’s quite well marked but I would highly recommend  a book with a basic outline of the route and homestays available. Camping is also available. In saying this we got lost on day 1 of the trek and a leg that should’ve taken 1.5-2 hours took us 4 and had us sliding down a rocky slope, wading up a river knee-deep in water and pretending to be native trackers tracing out old footprints but we got there!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves as the scenery was simply amazing.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

There was only one way day…

River crossings became normal on day one

River crossings became normal on day one

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

Prayer Wheels

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Wunderschön

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The two Swiss girls that dragged me through the trek – Team WunderSchnell!

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The beautiful lady of the homestay in Hankar

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Multi-coloured mountains.

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

It snowed on the way to the pass at 5200m. Naturally my beard was good at catching it.

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Have you trekked the North of India before? What has been your favourite place?

Trekking the Himalayas in the North of India

Trekking in the Himalayas of India was always going to have it’s surprises. The mountains of the Himalayas is home to some of the most unpredictable and arduous terrain on the planet. India itself also has the reputation of unpredictability. No matter what you do in India, there’s always the ‘Indian Surprise’ – a little curveball to keep you on your toes – and eight days of trekking the Himalayas would be no different.

Taking a break during the trek

Taking a break during the trek

I had just enjoyed 3 weeks in Manali – a welcome to the Himalayas I wouldn’t forget and after tearing myself away I soldiered on north to Kashmir. The trek was supposed to begin in Sonamarg and finish 7 nights later in Naranag passing through some of the great lakes and mountain passes of Kashmir.

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We were greeted with bad news on the first night. Kashmir had record snowfalls this year and was a little delayed in melting, we would have to keep an eye on conditions. The second day was meant to be a move in camp to Nichnai however the group leader had decided it would be best to leave the camp where it was and we would head towards Nichnai on a day hike as part of a reconnaissance trek.

The freshest drinking water going round.

The freshest drinking water going round.

Reaching Nichnai we saw first hand what we faced for the next few days. There was a lot of snow and no way around it. 

Returning to camp we had decisions to make – well kind of. I was happy to put my trust in the expertise of the two trek leaders, they proved to be very knowledgable and safety was clearly a priority of theirs. They had decided it was safe to go ahead for the next couple of days although they admitted at some point we may have to turn back. I’d come all this way, I was willing to give it a shot. The rest of the group – all 20 of them – were not as easily convinced. At one point it was looking as if it would just be me and trek leaders. Eventually 9 others came to their senses and jumped on board. It’s a shame the remaining 10, when faced with challenge and adversity let their fears overcome their logic.

We pushed on to Nichnai (3600m) the next day and set up camp, arriving just before a brief afternoon shower. Ironically enough, even though everyone had been afraid of the snow it was the mud that proved most difficult.

Looking back from Nichnai

Looking back from Nichnai

From Nichnai we headed over the pass – which would end up being our highest point at 3900m – and descended into Vishansar. We set up camp on a beautiful open meadow just 150m from the Lake. Vishansar Lake was still half frozen nestled in-between a horseshoe ring of mountains around one side. A semi-nomadic fisherman who had set up camp by the lake for 4 months invited me in for tea and watermelon (god knows where he got watermelon from).

Sharing watermelon with the local fisherman

Sharing watermelon with the local fisherman

The next pass through the mountains is where  we would run into trouble. The trek leaders, guides and helpers all trekked up to the pass that afternoon and set about clearing a path for the mules. They spent hours up on the pass and returned at 9:30 bearing the bad news that there was just too much snow for the mules to get through. We would have been fine but without our mules it was pointless. We had to go back.

Hiking through the snow

Hiking through the snow

We spent the next day at Vishansar playing soccer, frisbee, horse riding and I went for a short hike with one of the guides in the afternoon. It was good to relax for the day and enjoy the surroundings. We pushed through a huge day of trekking and skipped the Nichnai camp heading straight back to Sonamarg which gave us time the next day to explore the glacier across the valley before returning to Srinagar.

Sunsets at Vishansar

Sunsets at Vishansar

Although we didn’t complete the trek I had an amazing time the scenery was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and I can’t count the amount of times I stopped, looked around and said ‘Shit, this is ridiculous’. The nights were equally impressive and I thought I’d been treated to an interstellar show on the desert safari but the Himalayan skies blew that out of the water.

Have you trekked the Himalayas before? What was your experience like? 

Escape to Manali

The constant and endless movement around the country that had once excited and inspired me was starting to make me grow weary. Apart from a few longer stays in places like Mamallapuram, Pushkar, Hampi and of course the Vipassana retreat I had barely stopped moving in the past 4 and a half months. The summer in the south was slowly creeping north and making itself known with the mercury regularly hitting 47 degrees in Varanasi when I decided I was done with the Indian summer. The Himalayas were calling my name and I dragged me and my sweat-soaked shirt into the travel agent and pleaded for a train ticket north. The agent told me there was one ticket left but it was in the more expensive AC carriage – like I was going to choose anything else at this stage.

Beautiful old houses of Manali

Beautiful old houses of Manali

I stopped in Rishikesh (more to come on this shortly) and met up with some friends I’d met in Pushkar and spent a week exploring the Ganges, the waterfalls and The Beatles Ashram, it was cooler but still a little toasty – roll on the Himalayas.

Before I managed to completely escape the chaos, India had one more surprise in store for me and that was the trip from Rishikesh to Manali. It all faded away like a bad nightmare when I rolled into Manali.

My friends from Rishikesh had arrived the day before and I sent them a message as I got off the bus – ‘Brew some coffee, I’m 5 minutes away’. Sure enough, they greeted me with hugs and coffee and I relaxed into Old Manali.

Old Manali is a cliche mountain town only this time a little different. Where most cliches leave you feeling a little lacklustre through expectations, Manali exceeded all of mine and I knew I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.

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The surrounding mountains are covered with pine forests that only give way to the snow line at the top, the rivers at the bottom and the waterfalls that connect the two. The mornings and afternoons are cold enough to warrant a beanie, scarf and hot coffee while the days are warm enough to consider a dip in the icy melt-water.

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While Manali lends itself to the peace and quiet it would be hard to get through a trip here without doing at least one of the adventure sports on offer. I took a few days out of my calendar of R & R and went rock-climbing.

The trekking around Manali is world-class and even if you don’t choose to go on the multi-day treks that are offered everywhere there’s plenty of treks that you can do by yourself (the companies and guides will tell you this isn’t possible but a bit of exploration will prove them wrong). After rock-climbing with the guys at Himalayan Caravan I had a chat with them about potential treks and they gave me plenty of ideas on where to go, they also gave me their mobile number incase I got lost. Walking in any direction will take you somewhere pretty special.

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Three months of vegetarianism would also come to an end in Manali. The Lamb burgers at Shiva Garden Cafe were just too good to pass up for $3. Manali may just have the best western style food in all of India as well as delicious Indian, Tibetan, Nepalese and Chinese dishes. Although being a melting-pot of tourists it was still possible to find some cheaper restaurants ($1 dollar momos became a staple).

The rest of my days there were spent reading, writing, fishing, hiking and sitting in the hot springs in between catching up with the constant flow of travellers through the town.

A spot of early morning fishing.

A spot of early morning fishing.

Eventually the time would come where I would have to re-pack my bags that had exploded across my room and make my way to Srinagar, Kashmir in preparation for an 8 day trek. I had made a lot of friends in the town and left knowing I would be back one day.

Have you taken a break from travel before? Where did you stop and relax?

How I Became a Sculptor in Mamallapuram

The main street of Mamallapuram is lined with countless stalls selling immaculately handcrafted sculptures and most of the shops owners spend there days working on new pieces in front of their store. I was in the rare mood for shopping probably because I had a good reason this time, my dads 50th birthday was coming up and I wanted to send something home for him.

Wandering through a few different stalls nothing seemed fitting, I got chatting with a local sculptor out of the front of his workshop and he downed his tools and invited me in for chai. I was asking him about getting a small piece custom made and engraved when he suggested that rather than pay someone to make it he’ll teach me to make something myself. The idea sounded great except for one small thing – my discernible lack of artistic talent. He was persuasive enough that I agreed to come back and start Sculpture 101 with him the next day.

Sculpting away...

Sculpting away…

Venkat – my new sculpture instructor – was patient, persistent and extraordinarily resilient, nothing was a better example of this than his story of losing his home, store and complete collection of his work and tools to the 2004 tsunami. An event tragic enough to floor even the strongest of characters didn’t seem to deter his spirit and with the help of the community he managed re-open his shop not long after.

I walked into his shop at 9:30 the next day and he was eagerly awaiting with the tools laid out and a cup of chai and biscuits. We shared chai and looked through some of his work while I decided what I wanted to make and the type of stone to make it out of. I started carving away at big block of greenstone with the idea of a lizard perched on a rock, this was to be my first piece and more of a practice piece than anything too serious.

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The next two days were spent drinking chai, going out for lunch and sculpting in-between. It was awesome I began to make friends in the town and despite my now sore and calloused hands my lizard was starting to take shape.

Then it all came crumbling down.

I was starting to put the final details on the head of the lizard and must have hammered a little too hard into a fault line in the stone and a huge crack ran through – off with the lizards head! I was pretty disheartened, my hands were killing me and a day and a half of work had just gone down the drain. In hindsight, it seems petty to have become upset at losing one piece when Venkat had lost so much more in the tsunami 9 and half years earlier.

Out came a new block of stone, this time I was using a stronger stone which would be harder to carve but also harder to break. I chose a seated Buddha in the palm of a hand. This piece was literally make or break.

The days rolled on in more or less the same fashion – lots of sculpting and lots of chai. Venkat gave me a little help here and there with some of the finer details (I was still a little rattled about breaking my last piece) and my Buddha was starting to take shape. Four days of sculpting and polishing paid off, I had completed it and couldn’t have been happier.

The finished piece!

The finished piece!

In celebration I took Venkat out for dinner that night at a little local restaurant where we feasted on lamb thali. As with all celebrations in India they never just last one day so the next morning we went to the market to pick up some fresh fish, lamb and beer. Venkat invited his friend, a chef of 15 years at Mamallapuram’s nicest hotel to come and cook for us at Venkat’s hut. Venkat lived in a village about 15 minutes away in a hut with a tiny kitchen and no electricity. That didn’t stop his friend serving up 4 amazing dishes.

Cooking up a storm.

Cooking up a storm.

I’m glad to have made such a great friend in Venkat and it is a true example of his genuine friendliness that during my 6 days of sculpting not once did he ask for a fee or a tip for his services and was reluctant to take my money when I offered it. Mamallapuram is a place I will hold in high regard for a long time to come.

Video: Rock Climbing in Manali

Manali is home to a whole different bunch of adventure sports, something I didn’t quite expect to see in the calmer Himalayan region of India. Although I’m using Manali as a place to rest up after a chaotic 4 and half months in India (not to mention the ride here) I figured a little bit of adventure wouldn’t hurt. Walking into the booking office, I had a choice of of canyoning, trekking, white-water rafting, snowboarding, mountain biking, and paragliding. I’d already taken on paragliding in Varkala and White-water rafting in Rishikesh so I decided to tick off another item off my Bucket List – Outdoor Rock Climbing!

I had done a little bit of indoor before but that’s a whole different ball game. I ended up in a group of 6 plus our two instructors Ravi and Vikram. They seemed very experienced and took the safety side of things very seriously which was re-assuring as some of the rock faces were as high as 30m.

They ran us through a few warm up climbs and gradually stepped up the difficulty teaching us different techniques along the way but they were clearly saving the biggest climb until last.
Check out the video below and see just how big it was for yourselves (there’s a language warning on the video).

If you’re considering taking on any adventure sports in Manali I would highly recommend Himalayan Caravan, their guides were excellent and they even let us climb for 2 hours longer than we had paid for. (I’m in no way sponsored by them but was so happy with the service that I thought I’d share it).

Have you rock-climbed before? What was your experience like?
Is it something you would consider doing?

Indian Transport: The 24 hours from Hell

It was meant to be so simple, the plan was to leave Rishikesh and head for Manali. It was a rickshaw ride, a train and then an overnight bus into Manali that we could sleep through at least that’s how the travel agent had sold it to us. I had met 3 English lads to share the 18 hour journey with and we assumed it would be a breeze. As with everything in India, nothing is quite as simple as it seems as we were soon to find out. 

We get to Haridwar Railway Station and ask the Station Master when and where our train was leaving from. Platform 4 in half an hour. A train pulled into the station at around the time our train was due but it didn’t have either of our two carriage numbers on it and it was the wrong train number altogether. We could only assume it wasn’t our train right?

Wrong!

An hour later we went to check with the Station Master and only then did he bother to explain that the train had two different numbers and two different names. Well that was a good deal of help now.

Never trust the train numbers!

Never trust the train numbers!



We picked up a kiwi guy who had also missed the train and decided to split a taxi for the 5 hour trip instead of missing our connecting bus. This should be easy there was a plethora of booking agents nearby and we split up and checked out two of them. We got quoted 4500 and 5000 rupees, we decided to go with the cheaper offer, we went back and suddenly he had a change of heart and now wanted 5000, safe to say he lost our business.

Another agent told us he could have us in a taxi within 5 minutes, we would happily pay the 5000 this time to get on the road. We were in a taxi within 5 minutes but that’s when he added ‘We have to go change taxi’s because this one isn’t licensed for interstate travel’ More wasted time. We get to the new taxi about 15 minutes out of town and now that we’re away from the rest of the booking agents he decides he wants 6000 for the journey. Things get heated, we’re arguing back and forth and end up deciding we’d rather miss our connecting bus than pay this scumbag (it’s the only appropriate word for him). We walk away and he calls us back for 5000, we load up our bags and he now demands 5500. We were running out of time and he knew it.

The taxi is on its way and apart from the 3 fatal accidents we see along the way, it’s smooth sailing, that is until we actually get to just outside Chandigarh, the driver starts yelling at us in a mixture of Hindi and English and from what we understand (which wasn’t much) he’s not licensed to drive into the city. We rush out of the taxi and in our haste one of the English lads leaves his iPod.

We pull over a rickshaw and the 5 of us (the other 4 guys over 6 foot) pile in with our backpacks, we’re lying on top of each other with limbs hanging out the doors and window. Cue another argument. We have the destination punched into the GPS on the phone but the driver refuses to follow our directions, instead he pulls over to get directions from another driver who is trying to send us to the public bus station. He’s shouting in Hindi, we’re shouting in English. He drives off and our driver reluctantly follows our directions.

Rickshaws weren't made for 5 people with backpacks

Rickshaws weren’t made for 5 people with backpacks

The others guys bus leaves at 11:30 and we arrive at 11:15 – perfect! As for my bus, well it was due at 9:30 and you would think I would have well and truly missed it. A nightmare experience of Indian transport finally swings in my favour, my bus was late and due any minute now. Well any minute now turned into 1:15 in the morning before I sleepily boarded the bus, it was absurd to think that this was only the halfway mark.

There was to be no sleep on the bus, it raced through hairpin turns on the skinny mountain roads at 60km/h narrowly missing the buses and trucks doing the same in the other direction. This was going to be a long 9 hours I’m just glad that no one was vomitting – just kidding! Wouldn’t have been a trip from hell if the two people next to me didn’t spend the last 5 hours vomitting into a plastic bag. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I talked about the Ten Year Holiday.

Himalya view from manali trek

The views from Manali were definitely worth it.

What seemed like an eternity later the bus finally rolled into Manali, All around me, the snow-capped Himalayas stretched up towards the blue sky with only rivers and waterfalls splitting them. Everywhere I looked seemed like a postcard picture, the air was clean and fresh and only then could I begin to laugh about the last 24 hours.

Have you had any horror transport trips? Let me know in the comments below, it would make me feel better!

The Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh

Rishikesh was a little known village on the bank of the Ganges River in India’s north until early 1968 when a visit by The Beatles propelled Rishikesh into the western limelight. While in Rishikesh The Beatles stayed at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi‘s ashram and undertook a course of transcendental meditation. The Beatles wrote over 40 compositions at the ashram, many of which went onto be released on The White Album later that year.

The ashram closed in 1997 and has since fallen into a state of disrepair but that hasn’t stopped it being a major drawcard for tourists even if entry is illegal and punishable by a 5000 rupee ($100) fine. The ashram is surrounded by a stone wall that holds signs warning you of the potential fine but abandoned buildings with such a history just hold too much temptation for the signs to be taken seriously so off we went looking for a low point in the wall to jump over.

The entrance to The Beatles ashram

The entrance to The Beatles Ashram

The second I got inside I felt as though I’d been taken back in time, the complex was huge and slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. The glass windows had been smashed and graffiti marked some of the buildings. Despite the damage it was very surreal to be inside this huge complex. I let my imagination wander as we entered the different rooms and meditation pods, it was easy to picture The Beatles walking around in between meditations or John and Paul writing tracks together in the now over-grown gardens. We excitedly speculated over which Beatle would have stayed where and later found out that Lennon’s room and meditation cell was rumoured to be building No.9 (one of the buildings pictured below) and supposedly where he got the inspiration for the repetition of the number in Revolution 9.
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The main meditation pods are housed in a huge building with over 100 separate rooms, most of them had their walls and ceilings covered in the river rock and they seemed like beautiful places for meditation.

The entry to the meditation pods

The entry to the meditation pods

The real highlight of the ashram is the meeting hall which has become a guerrilla art installation – The Beatles Cathedral Gallery. Every wall and most of the floor of the huge room was covered in murals, lyrics, quotes and poems as a tribute to The Beatles and other spiritual teachers. Perhaps it was the mixture of spirituality expressed in modern day art in a derelict building with a history of housing the greatest musical talents of all time that gave this place its electric atmosphere.

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

It was a truly amazing experience that I won’t be able to do justice with my writing or photo’s. The fact that it’s all a big secret and we weren’t really meant to be there definitely added to the allure of this place. Get here and see it before the nature and time completely reclaim it.

theboywander