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Saturday 27th February 2010 - Calcutta

Waking up in India is surreal. We got up and headed to the famous ‘Fresh and Juicy’ a restaurant that Megan has been dreaming about this past month. According to plan we went to get train tickets so for tonight’s train so that we would have a night in Varanisi before Holi. Unfortunately all of the tickets were sold out. Compromising we booked tickets for tomorrow night so that we arrive in Varanasi the morning of Holi. It actually works out pretty well because Calcutta are celebrating it tomorrow. Which means we’ll get to play twice.

New plan sorted we spent the afternoon shopping for Holi outfits. It’s best to wear something white and throwoutable because the paint doesn’t come out. The boys bought traditional white suits and the girls bought little tunics. As it turned out only Megan wore hers as I decided I liked mine too much and Caoimhe’s white shirt got Holied by randomers on the way home from dinner so she had to chuck it anyway.

I wasn’t feeling weel tonight, I think I got what Caoimhe had, so I went to bed early while the others went out for dinner. I heard them coming in and woke up to the fright of my life, they had been attacked on the way home with dark green paint all over their faces, I nearly died at the sight of four green monsters looking down at me!

Sunday 28th February 2010 – Happy Holi

Playing Holi is great craic. We spent the morning running through the streets covering one another in coloured water and powdered paint. It was really interesting to see the streets packed with men while the women played together in the gardens behind closed gates, and on rooftops throwing down buckets of coloured water. The best description of the day is Flinner’s video, words just can’t do it justice! After Holi we went to get cleaned up to get the train, but there was a water shortage in our hotel, no showers!  Without any alternative we did as the locals do and washed in the streets. The locals thought it was hilarious! But at least we were clean enough to catch the train.

Monday 1st March 2010 - Varanasi

Unfortunately our train arrived late and we missed Holi. On top of that our hotel gave away our reservation. If it wasn’t for our taxi driver we would have been screwed, he brought us to his friends guesthouse on the other side of town and luckily they had enough rooms for us, despite the holiday. That night we took a river cruise of the Ganges and were blown away by the river, the who city just oozes history and culture. The river cruise was nice and there was a beautiful sunset. We didn't see any floating dead bodies in the Ganges but did see them burning, they have public cremations on the side of the river.

The river itself is insane. It's a really impressive stretch of holy river, with gnats (which are steps down to the water) all along it, in Varanasi it stretches about 7km. Apparently 60, 000 people go to swim/wash/pray there in the river everyday. Along that same stretch there are 30 large sewers discharging into the river. According to the statistics the water is completely septic (no oxygen in it at all) and every 100ml has 1.5million faecal colimorm bacteria in it - in water that is safe for swimming should have less than 500. It's horrible to think that they have been dumping dead bodies in it for centuries and they just swim in it, wash in it and drink it - not a bother. Ugh, I was afraid to even stick my hand in for fear I'd need tetanus, and Flinner was there with his hand out of the boat splashing away in it!

We bought floating plates filled with rose petals and a candle. We then lit them and let them float down the river for good Karma. We were also given some powered paint on our foreheads for good karma, of course I forgot I had it on and ended up rubbing it all over my face by mistake. After our cruise we headed back to the hotel rooftop for some beers with the other backpackers.

Thursday 4th March 2010 – Agra

We took the overnight train to Agra last night so that we could see the Taj. The train was great. It is supposedly one of the most dangerous line in the country notorious for robberies. To combat it they out all the foreigners in one carriage with armed guards on the doors. It was great for us as we got to meet loads of other travellers. One legend group in particular, Kyle the Badger, Corin the Camel and Carlos aka Ignaci the Lion, helped us pick our animals.

Agra - What a great day. Everyone we had spoken to had told us the Agra was a dump and not to stay there so we literally arrived and decided to book a ticket out before we even left the station. We got in at six and since the ticket office didn’t open till eight we crossed the road and had a chi to pass the time. Not that we need additional entertainment, the establishments rats provided plenty of diversions. One fella, was trying to lift the lid off a pot so he could get in at the food, gross, I didn’t finish my food in that place.

Eight o’clock rolled around and we managed to get five tickets on the waiting list for that night. That was as much as we could do so we found a couple of drivers for the day and started our tour. First stop was a decent breakfast, sin rats.

The Taj was actually smaller than I had expected, I always assumed is was a huge palace and was quite surprised to find that in was in fact just one large room, a very beautiful room but just the one none the less. We got a guide who explained all of the different optical illusions for instance the towers one the four corners all slant outwards so if there is ever an earthquake they will fall away from the Taj.

Or that the pillar below only has three sides….. Ooou

After the Taj we headed back into town with our drivers to get some lunch. We had agreed a really cheap price with them and so they were expecting to bring us to some shops. They get tips from the shops and restaurants that they bring tourists to. First stop was a marble shop who thought us how to the panelling and mosaics in in the Tal were made. After that we were brought to a souvenir shop where I tried on a sari. How Indian women wear sari’s every day is beyond me. The one I tried on was 10meters. And it was embroidered with beads it was so heavy. To put in on you wrap it three times around the body, and then gather the remaining material into pleats, leaving a couple of meters for the final wrap. This wad is then tucked in at the front near your belly button. The remaining meter is wrapped around the waits again and then the remaining tail part is hung over the shoulder.

Once you have it on you spend the rest of the day fixing it. Even the most glamorous well turned out women spends here time putting the tail back on her shoulder or trying not to step in the wad at the front because that’s the end of her dress. It’s no wonder the women don’t work or go out.

After our stops our drivers took us to the fort, but because it was getting late we stayed in the grounds outside and played with the local children. Time was really running away from us so we had to get a takeaway dinner. While we waited we had a chi with our divers.

For us I think the best thing about Agra was it gave us a chance to meet some real Indian people. We’re only here a month so I guess we only have time to hit the big tourist spots. The real Indian experience is with the people who don’t work with tourists everyday. The Taj is a national monument and gets 9,000 domestic tourists everyday. The people we met were just normal Indians and were genuinely happy to see us. It was almost like a Bangladesh experience. They wanted to take our pictures, and chat to us. It was refreshing compared to people begging or selling at us.

Back at the train station and only three beds between the five of us!

Friday 5th March 2010 – Jodhpur

A very funny morning in the train station this morning, since the boys had no beds they decided that the best plan would be to stay up drinking for the entire night. Check out their antics in the video ‘Whiskey and Hugs’.

We arrived in the old town and booked a room for the day so that the lads could crash before we caught our next overnight train to the desert in Jaisalmer. Meanwhile the rest of us went exploring, What a place! Jodhpur is stunning. It’s called the blue city. It's got a real Moroccan feel, tall buildings stacked closely. You know in the Bourne Identity when Nikki is getting chased by the assassin through the city, well it's like that only all the buildings are blue.

The entire city sits below a huge fort which is made of yellow/brown stone. Inside the fort was, until very recently, the royal palace. Our hotel is amazing. The rooftop restaurant overlooks the city and is overlooked by the fort. From the roof everywhere you look there’s a palace, or a temples, or a fort, it was so gorgeous. The restaurant itself is really nice and the waiters, our Nepalese buddies are legends.

Flinner had a funny day today. This morning he booked the room. At 5.15pm there is a knock on our door and the owner Raj there asking when we are checking out? So I explain that we’re not getting our train until 11, so the earliest we can check out is 9. Raj looks at me and says, and says that my friend who booked the room said it was two people checking out at 5pm, not five people checking out at 9pm. Of course Flinner is nowhere to be seen, as he had gone exploring with Megan. So I’m standing there looking at Raj saying how sorry I am for the confusion but there’s just no way Flinner would have said 5pm.  In the end Raj suggested we wait for Eoin to come back! Two hours later he arrives back and was like ‘Oops sorry lads I did say five’. So he goes to clear it up with Raj, and follow suit full of apologies.

Lesson of the day; Never let a drunk person book a room!

It didn’t take us long to talk ourselves out of yet another sleeper train ticket! So Flinner (as punishment) and I went on a mission to the train station to cancel the train and book a bus for Sunday morning instead.

At the train station Flinner has another classic moment. We’re standing in line and Flinner notices that the men are skipping us and the five women in front of us and going straight up to the window. So he taps the guy on the shoulder and is like ‘Excuse me, there’s a queue here’ the guys starts laughing and like ‘Duh, that’s the women’s queue’ outraged at the inequality of it Flinner replies, ‘well in that case I’m in front of you’ and brazen as anything he skips to the front of the window in front of everyone else!

Saturday 6th March 2010 - Jodhpur

Caoimhe and I got up this morning and did a cookery course. It wasn’t great as it was a bit like learning to cook with meal makers ‘and now add the packet of tikka sauce’ but at least we got a feel for it.

We got a great surprise this afternoon when Carlos, Corin and Kyle showed up in our hotel. We celebrated with a party on the roof, and both Raj and Ram our waiter joined us. Podge was on fire last night, particularly when he tried to chat the the French group next to us. His French, unfortunately failed him but he nipped off to grab his French book and when he got back he delighted everyone with his ‘effortless’ conversation. Caoimhe and Kyle had a Whiskey-off and it was long before we cancelled the 6am bus for the morning, another savage day in Jodhpur!

Sunday 7th March 2010 - Jaisalmer

Everyone is feeling a little tender this morning, particularly Caoimhe, the whiskey-off in hindsight wasn’t such a good idea! Col and spent the afternoon in the fort which was incredible. We did a tour inside it was so beautiful, way nicer than the Taj - I know massive statement, but it completely blew us away.

That night we all headed out for dinner in the fort restaurant. It was amazing the restaurant is on the roof of the fort overlooking the entire city, and we had the whole thing to ourselves, it was like something out of a fairytale.

We’re hoping to catch a bus to Jaisalmer in the morning fingers crossed, third time lucky. Raj has booked us into his friend’s hotel so we’re looking forward to it.

Sunday 8th March 2010

We caught an early bus to Jaislmer this morning – it was touch and go wether we’d ever leave Jodhour. Our new buddies Kyle, Corin and Ignaci cut their stay short so they could come with. Raj also tagged along to visit his friend. First impressions of Jaislmer was hot, hot, hot. Not too surprising for a desert I guess. Raj had arranged for his friend met us off the bus and take us to his hotel cheap but new hotel. When we arrived we decided to go straight out into the desert on a camel safari. We all showered, ate and after three failed ATM attempts we headed off having paid half the tour price. We went for the expensive package including drinks and snacks.

The tour began with a supply run and a trip by jeep deep into the desert near the Afghan boarder. Here we met our camels and guides. We loaded up and after some brief introductions we headed off into the dunes riding close along the boarder.

That night we made camp at small but beautiful dunes, real desert style. For dinner we slashed out and bought a goat, which was walked from the local village. We named her Samantha and watched as her life was ended all in the name of dinner. Not pleasant but certainly something all meat eaters should witness at least once. That night we made a camp fire, against the advice of our guides – apperantly it attracts snakes! When we ran out of firewood Flinn started to tear branches out of a nearby shelter, which happened to be the guides. When he was told off he drunkenly replies ‘You see and you haven’t provided wood and we’re just tourists, so I had to find some we don’t know any better’.

Tuesday 9th March 2010

After a heavy night of drinking it was well past sunrise when we all started to stir. Colm, Caoimhe and I slept away from the campfire on metal beds (with mats) that the guides had provided. I was the furthest away from the group. When I woke up I was sleep ing on my side with my back to the others. When I opened my eyes I was met with the greatest expanse of nothingness. I sat up and looked left and right but there was still nothing. Whatever way I was sitting Col and Caoimhe were out of my field of vision and for one scary second I felt completely alone in the desert. Panic set in, Did they forget me? But then I found them next to me. Caoimhe had managed to curl herself around a wild dog that had befriended her during the night.

After a breakfast of toast, jam and chi we hit the road on our camels for two arse breaking hours and stopped for lunch under the very welcome shade of some trees. In the heat and fight against dehydration and hangovers we all, camels and humans alike popped a sprawl and slept as we waited for lunch, fireside chapatti and dal. After lunch and another snooze we headed off for another two hours before we made camp. We were messing in the large sand dunes before getting down to the serious job of collecting firewood. The lads took the task very seriously and came home with an entire tree. We were joined by two Japanese girls and had a quiet night by the fire underneath a stunning blanket of stars. Shooting star or satellite?

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