Chandigarh is the cleanest by far

After a brief stop in Lucknow we hit the road again (over night train) to make our way to Chandigarh further north. After 12 hours and a good nights sleep we arrived. First impression once at the station was “Here we again, more vultures for their prey”. After riding out the wave of touts, beggars and bummers we made it to the auto rickshaw stand. Once again we were almost taken to some other area of town , not the sector 22 as stated in the “Where do you want to go??” We ended up bailing out and walking the streets instead. A blessing in disguise.

Chandigarh was like a place we’d not seen before in India. The streets were clean, the people looked clean, the traffic didn’t constantly beep and try to run you down, the air was breathable and the beggars had designer clothes on. We felt like we were in a 70’s Arndale market.

We checked into a slightly expensive budget range hotel and made our way to the Sukhna lake. It was very beautiful. The water was clean and the hills were the perfect backdrop. There were loads of people, families enjoying the walks, food and other exercise activities. It was most peaceful. The layout of the town was in a grid, lots of straight lined roads. The traffic was quieter and lots and lots of Royal Enfield motorcycles.

The smallest police car in the cleanest city of Chandigahr

Had a good nights sleep once again (pretty tiring doing nothing but sitting in the sun) and made our way to the Rock Garden. We’d read about this place and said that it was worth coming to Chandigarh just to see it. It didn’t let us down. We both were amazed to pay only the sum of 10 rupees each to get in. Normally a tourist has to pay 20 to 30 time more than an Indian.

Once inside the garden had lots of scenic pockets of rock structures, separated by lots of tunnels. There was something new to see round each corner. The site was very big. We also felt like celebrities, around 100 to 150 Indian people kept asking us if they could take our snap (picture). It was good fun but my jaw started to ache after 4 hours of constant smiling.

Celebrity Posing

The best was still to come. We left the garden and took a seat to regroup our next plans. A lovely indian girl came and sat with us and started to chat. She had 2 other sisters and there mum, aunty and cousin in tow. The next thing we knew we were round at their house having freshly prepared Indian food and dancing round the front room. Rachel taught them how to belly dance whilst Andy recorded the incriminating evidence. Dad came home after working at the restaurant and cracked open the Bacardi. 3 large glasses of Bacardi/sprite and we were having a great time.

With the Luthre Family

The family were all so friendly. We also got invited to a traditional wedding in November in Mumbai. That night will stay with us for a long time. Got back to bed around 12.30am.

Slept well ready for our next trip up to the hills in Shimla.

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The Varanasi Chill…

What a difference a day makes! We finally escaped from Agra on our very first sleeper train…. an experience to remember…. not easy to sleep when the tracks are rough… but we managed to get some kip on the 12 hour journey and watching the green fields roll past was amazing. Train food however… not so good! Vegetarian breakfasts was pink rice and pickle… which seemed to attract the hidden cockroaches from under the seating…. mmmmm.

Now we had heard that Varanasi (the most holy city in India) was full of hassle, dirt and was in the grip of something called Indian Eye Flu…. so can’t say we thought we would stay long… after our getting stuck in Agra, we had already booked our train out… lesson learned the hard way – as this would have been a great place to spend a few days.

When we arrived, we found a labyrinthe of lanes and shops something like an Indian York, a lovely hotel right on the holy Ganga-Ji (ganges)… and some great people. We started with a sunset cruise on the Ganges, something not to be missed… beautiful temples, incense burning and the Ganges at its highest in many years. We got to see the burning ghats where outdoor cremations take place… Andy got a bit closer than me… I was feeling a bit strange about it so hung back on the boat. We spent the evening with some spiritual Americans… who tried to convince us to swim in the river – something which quite a few of the travellers in our hotel did…. but we just weren’t quite feeling it – maybe the threat of illness, bacteria and pollution… or the fact that it is full of bodies… even a comment about lovely ganges dolphins failed to convince me! So sadly, we will not pass to Nirvana in the next life… coming back as a cow hopefully… they are revered in India… although there was a grumpy one in Varanasi which tried to gore people as they went past!

Andy wanted to know who had turned the chaos dial down 2 notches… such a chilled out place! So we decided to indulge in a spot of Yoga… a two hour lesson for 5 quid… bargain! We are paying for it today though with serious “yoga legs”.  The weather was just too hot for us to go out in the day so we chilled out until it cooled down and then Andy went off for a Sitar lesson – he reckons he  could play it quite well given a bit more time – so Yoga and Sitars are on the itinerary again hopefully.

Andy on the Sitar

We are now in Lucknow and leave tonight for Chandigahr in the north… gateway to Shimla and the mountains. The people here are lovely and we have had a lot less hassle… although we did get thrown out of the botanical gardens for sleeping and visited the zoo and museum that time forgot!

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Birthday at the Taj Mahal

It’s a birthday to remember. 32 ain’t that bad when at 6am in the morning you’re looking at the Taj Mahal.

A very wet Taj Mahal.

Slightly wet but still our spirits haven’t been dampened (till later). The Taj Mahal does look just like the pictures you see all over the TV/ magazines. It looked more like a painting than a building. Truly awesome.

So far Agra has shown us a fair comparison of what a major tourism city has to offer.

  • No reliable or punctual bus service.
  • A welcoming tuc-tuc driver who doesn’t want to fleece you.
  • Food that isn’t prepared in grandad’s old underpants.

Apart from that we’re having a great experience.

Travelling on public buses. The easy way or the hard way.

We took the advice of another travelling couple and decided to head out for the day to a fabulous old ruins in a town called Fatepur Sikri. Couldn’t be easier (so they say). Hotel next to the bus station, camera and water in day pack. After a long wait of around 1 and half hours for the bus that was every half an hour we finally boarded what could only be described as a the carcass of a rotting bus. The funny thing was that it was raining pretty hard but it had no wind screen wipers. A guy at the front had to wipe with a rag. Driving through the Agra streets to the sound of horns and rickshaws we finally hit a barrage of water. The bus redeemed itself by grudging through whilst mere mopeds sank. We were finally on our way.

Looking through the round window

Once arriving at Fatepur Sikri we felt a sigh of relief. But only temporary, as a soon as we walked to the entrance a familiar sight of young boys wanting coins or cash engulfed us. For almost 1 hour of constant hassle we made it round to a more peaceful spot where we could absorb the sights. The return bus was due at 5 so we decided to go there for about 4 and have a drink so we didn’t miss it. The hour passed. No bus. 30 mins…….still no bus. No bus coming now said the indian boy at the counter. We walked to the end of the road to find a bus, our luck was falling, so was the sun.

Lets hit the road

Hurray, a new air con bus from no where pulls up. We can’t believe our luck. Only 25 rupees. Even cheaper than before. We decided to play cards and chat as our drive back to Agra should be straight forward. No, an overturned lorry and a buffalo had had an accident. The road is blocked. 2 hours later the carnage has been cleared and we finally got moving again. Luckily we still had our cards. Got back to Agra just in time for tea and had a lovely curry. Happy ending.

That’s what makes this trip so interesting.

Incredibly Infuriating Indian Fun

At India's largest Mosque in Delhi

Hey! Well we are here! and boy oh boy… does nothing prepare you for this place! Its hot, humid, smiley, smelly, friendly and furiously mad.

We are now in Agra where the pace of life has slowed down somewhat… Delhi was a different matter all together. Talk about a learning curve.

Delhi is smelly! We spent day one avoiding being conned (just about) it took 2 hours to get to the correct place to get tickets for a train! Then we got lost in the land of no tourists and ate some seriously good street food… had chai in the backstreets and a vegetarian feast in the evening. Our hotel might have been a little above our budget level…. but it was worth it for a cool place with helpful staff.

We did quite a bit of sightseeing, in between dodging the dodgiest traffic in the world…. we know the knack….. be fearless, close your eyes and listen for the beeps!

Here we are at the Red Fort… where sadly the famous light and sound show was not working…

At Humayun's Tomb... shadow lifting

Andy gets very distracted by Indian welding!

We have made some friends who we will be having dinner with tonight on a rooftop in Agra…. and tomorrow we are off to the Taj for Andy’s birthday…. which will be surreal and fantastic….

Love to all and keep in touch…. you can comment on all our posts here but if you want to private message – use or

Words of Wisdom from Traveller Shaw

As a beginner traveller, my approach is to sit back and take an easy cruise around the world…. this means ignoring Rachel’s, some could say, slightly obsessive approach to research and planning.

All I need is the time that the transport is leaving and the rest will work itself out.

Famous Rachel pre-departure Quotes:

  • Have you sorted out the council tax yet?
  • Have you got your passport photos yet?
  • Have you packed your bag yet? (this from the girl who has packed and unpacked hers everyday for the past 6 weeks)
  • How can you not read anything about the places we are going to? (when secretly I am an expert in every country we are going to!)

It’s too late to be worrying now… this time next week… we will be in Delhi! But the first and most dangerous bit of the trip is Rex driving us to the airport ( 🙂 thanks Rex, you are a star)

And so ends the wisdom of Traveller Shaw

Me at Pleasantfest 2010