India – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur

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At breakfast one day my mother looked up from reading her paper and eating her marmalade on toast and instead of ‘good morning’ simply said “Do you want to go to India?”

Of course!

She would invite some friends (Jo, Barbara, Terry and Peter) and then we would discuss and organise what we wanted to see and plan it allowing enough time for us all to save up for the trip, I would do as much overtime as I could in whatever job I had at the time, which usually meant working weekends as well.

There would be 6 of us going and after some research everyone had a place that they particularly wanted to get to, my chosen interest was to see Gandhi’s grave as I have always been fascinated by him and also I asked to extend the trip and go on to Nepal to trek in the Himalayas and get some views of Mount Everest. (Nepal is written up as a separate piece.)

Delhi
Delhi is a wonderfully exotic place to visit, as soon as you step off the plane the heat hits you and the aromas of mixed spices and rain infuse the air, we arrived at midnight but the heat was still intense.

The languages spoken in Delhi are Hindi, English, Punjabi and Urdu, Delhi is in two halves of Old Delhi which is the capital of Islamic India and New Delhi built as the Imperial capital of India by the British. New Delhi is very spacious with huge archway bridges and the straight, wide roads are lined with lamp posts, it is in complete contrast to old Delhi with its twisty back streets and narrow roads.

India Gate – a reminder of the British Raj

Interesting old sign

The six of us were given a guide called Sharma, I did not care for him much finding him to be a little leery and decided I would keep out of his way as much as possible, I preferred to see many of the sights alone anyway, so tended to slip away from everyone and do my own thing as much as I could without offending anyone.

I believe that you see more on your own, rather than being rushed with a group.

I instantly liked old Delhi with the markets and old bazaars, life is obviously very harsh though as I saw the extent of people living on the streets, it was very upsetting to witness.

Man sleeping on street

It seems that life is worth very little as we found out when the driver of bus that we were on, drove like a lunatic and hit a cyclist knocking him down, I looked back at him and saw that he did not get up, running to the driver to ask him to stop the bus, I was stopped by our guide Sharma who explained that to stop would mean a fine of 6 Rupees, the driver is better off driving on.

Cambodia – Temples and Sunsets

Cambodia

Following the Vietnam Cave Expedition my friend Jonas from Copenhagen in Denmark and I decided to take some time out to fly across to Cambodia, Siem Reap, which was only 1 hour away by plane and here we experienced the impressive Temples of Angkor along with cycling to Tonle Sap, getting caught in a freak storm and seeing a memorial of the Killing Fields victims.

Here is an account of that trip, including this quick film extract below of Cambodia Water life that I filmed on a hand held camcorder:

After a transit day from Vietnam to Cambodia we arrived at the airport of Siem Reap where we had the unfriendliest Visa check from two seemingly very angry, aggressive and frustrated officials, this was not quite the welcome we had expected when entering a new Country.

We then met up with our guide and headed to the Siddharta Boutique Hotel, which was just a short drive from the airport and there we had the most amazing, friendliest welcome which more than made up for the airport officials. We were both given Cambodian scarfs in a little bag and then had a tropical fruit welcome drink, after a check in we had an evening walk around the grounds and outside the perimeter of the hotel to look for tree frogs and insects, we found some interesting orange coloured toads.

Asian Painted Frog (Kaloula pulchra)

Day 1- Wednesday 25th April
Temples
We had a superb breakfast of fruits, yogurt and toast with Dragon fruit and lime marmalade, then we were collected by the guide and headed out to see our first Temple Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat
We arrived at Angkor Wat at 7am and the sky was pink with the risen sun, this Temple was extremely impressive with a huge moat surrounding it, the name Angkor Wat means City Temple and is steeped in mythology.

Angkor Wat

Outside the Temple there are many statues of ‘Naga’ the seven headed snake which protects it and is a symbolic ‘rainbow bridge’ for man to reach home of the Gods making Angkor Wat a ‘Heaven on Earth.’
What was hilarious was that a group of monks walked past in their colourful orange robes and then stopped and all took a picture of the temple entrance with their Ipads, it looked really funny.

The Monks taking photos with their ipads

A Vietnam Caving Expedition


I wanted to create a cave expedition to look for areas that are little known and explore in the hope of finding a ‘Lost World’, somewhere on our constantly changing planet that was still relatively untouched, I filmed as much footage as I could with a small hand-held video camera and created a self-made documentary of the experience, here is a very brief extract from that documentary:


The caves and surrounding areas were stunning and had a surreal feel about it, below is a short film extract from one of the caves….

What led to this expedition was that a friend of mine (Vorsila) sent me some images of a Cave in Vietnam located at in the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park called Hang Son Doon meaning Mountain River Cave. This has taken over Phong Nha as the largest cave in the World, however it was not the cave that drew me it was what was inside it….

The cave was discovered in 1991 by a local ‘jungle’ man called Ho Khan, other locals were suspicious of the echoes from the fast river running through it and so would not go near it.

It was not until 2009 when a team of British Cave Researchers went to explore it further and breaking through a huge calcite wall discovered chamber after chamber of natural wonders including a rainforest growing in an area where the roof had collapsed producing light and it was this that drew me, I wanted to explore what I felt was a true ‘Lost World’ and document what type of insects, amphibians and birds were living there.

I invited a friend of mine Jonas from Copenhagen in Denmark to come in on this, as he is a superb photographer and would be a valued companion to have along.

I then set about contacting 11 different companies to try to get us there, but we were turned down by 10 of them, then one company, Haivenu Tours Ltd, said they could get us there, however we would need a letter of endorsement to apply to the Vietnamese authorities to get to the cave.

So I wrote to a few people, but heard nothing, then wrote a letter to Sir David Attenborough who sent me a lovely warm and encouraging reply wishing us luck, however he could not endorse it and so I eventually got my letter from a company called Care for the Wild and sent it off with a back up letter from my local Mayor as a character reference.

I also wanted to try to get Ho Khan the local jungle man to take us to the cave, this was looking very possible if we got that letter approved, however, 4 weeks prior to going (flights, etc already paid for and booked) the Vietnamese Authorities said that we would not be permitted to get to Hang Son Doon, as it is too dangerous.