Having conquered Annapurna (well, the Base Camp!) we were pretty exhausted to be honest. Originally we had planned to go to Chitwan National park, which is kind of on the way back to India, but we'd enjoyed our one evening in Pokhara so much before the trek that we tempted ourselves into just staying there for a couple of days and then heading back to India.
We had lazy mornings in coffee shops. We sat around and read books. We laughed at people getting caught in the afternoon thunderstorms. It was, to use one word, relaxing. Just what was required!
People who know either of us will know though that we can't do sitting around for too long. So one day we decided to take a canoe out on the lake that sits next to Pokhara. We bought some of the now infamous pastries, some fruit and off we set....
Canoeing can be hard work. We made it look especially difficult! To start with we couldn't stay on a straight line. Plus there was a head wind. After 10 minutes I was knackered! We spent 3hrs or so on the lake, pulling in and out of the shore-line, eating our snacks, surveying the scene. It was good fun.
Some of you will know that Suzie used to be a bit handy with an oar in her hand. She was part of a crew that got a Bronze medal at the British Rowing Championships. Allegedly. I say allegedly, because I didn't see any evidence of it in this boat. Most of the time she just sat back and let me do all the hard work (more fool me, I guess). Don't be fooled by her pic on Facebook of her with an oar in her hand. It was the only time it touched the water!
Anyway, we called it a day after a few hours, partly because I was definitely slowing down, but mainly because we could see the afternoon storm approaching and boating on a lake is definitely more fun with the water beneath you rather than dropping onto you!
The next day we visited the Mountaineering Museum, which was pretty awesome actually. Loads of memoirs of the people who first conquered the tallest mountains in the world. You see some of the equipment that the first people used and you just think “How the f&^k?”. We were freezing at 4000m, with modern sleeping bags, loads of thermals, etc. Those people are seriously impressive, if I had a cap, I'd be tipping it to them.
Oh, and if you do happen to be in Pokhara, make sure you go to the Tibetan restaurant there. Absolutely fantastic. And Tibetan bread? Wonderful stuff – made a brilliant change to the flatbreads of India :-)
Unfortunately every holiday has to come to an end eventually. We had train tickets booked from Gorakhpur on Tuesday night. Those of you with good memories might remember I've been there before – it was one of the stops on my last trip back from Nepal. Last time though we just turned up hoping to catch a bus to Hazaribag and had to wangle our way onto a train. This time I was a bit more prepared!
Unfortunately we had to catch a bus to get there. Two buses actually, one to the border with India, then another to Gorakhpur. 6Hrs, we were told. We left at 7.30am, we arrived around 4.30pm. Quelle surpris! To be honest, I was getting a bit worried towards the end of the journey, trying to add up the rest of our trip in my head. We were getting tight for time. When we finally made it to Sunauli I started to relax. Far too soon as it happens....
You see, when Suzie arrived in India she'd spotted something she hadn't noticed in the UK. Her visa, although a multiple entry tourist visa, said if she left India she had to stay out of the country for 60 days. We'd been out for about 12 days. For those of you who's maths GCSE was a few years back, I can confirm that 12 is definitely not 60. It's actually quite a lot less.
So we went onto the Internet. Lots of people with the same problem. Lots of people saying it's not a problem any more and they're getting the thing fixed. Don't worry about it. Someone posted about a week ahead of us that they got through fine. Nice.
Except we didn't get through fine. They kicked up a bit of a fuss. We should have gone to the Indian Embassy (that's in Kathmandu by the way) etc. etc. Apparently we'd have to pay there for a letter of approval to get back into India. Hmmm. Or, we could just pay the officer at the border and he would pass on our payment for us. Of course he will ;-)
I hate admitting that we paid this, but we did. We had to. Suzie had to come back into India with me. We needed to get our train. She was due to fly out of Kolkata on Sunday. There wasn't another option. Sometimes things suck. That's life. Anyway, we got into India. We got to Gorakhpur with plenty of time and caught our train. The rest of the journey to Hazaribag was surprisingly pain-free to be honest.
Hazaribag, as you'll have gathered over the previous 6 months (yep, that's how long I've been away, do you miss me? :-p) is not a Mecca for tourists. There's nothing to do. It's hot (40C at the moment) too, so walking around in the day isn't really an option either, so we kept our activities to a minimum!
Had a fantastic meal in Mirci (chilli in Hindi). It's a vegetarian-only restaurant, but fantastic. Thanks to Efren for taking me there before! We had a couple of morning walks around the Jheel and Suzie got to try some Indian breakfast foods – Chole bhature. Imagine a flakey pancake and some curry and you're most of the way there!
We also took a stroll up to Canary Hill for the sunset. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy so we didn't see the sun actually set, but Suzie did get an introduction into the life of a celebrity in India - must have had twenty photos taken of us by random people! We'd also decided to do a bit of home cooking. Chicken curry to be precise. Buying chickens in India is always an experience, so I thought Suzie should get to see it for herself. Unfortunately, to see these things you need to take your hands away from in front of your face ;-)
I'm not going to lie – the curry was a bit of a disaster. You see, when you buy chicken here, you buy a chicken. Not a chicken breast, not some wings or legs. A whole chicken. It's alive when you pick it. Of course, the swift separation of it's body and it's head tends to take care of that. Most people in India don't cook for just themselves. It's normally a big group of people. With that being the case, buying a whole chicken isn't an issue. I therefore asked for the smallest chicken the guy had. He picked one. Did his stuff, bagged it for me and off we went....
When we got home I looked at what we had. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a chick that we bought, but it can't have gotten through puberty, or whatever chickens go through, yet. If there was meat on it, I think it got washed off when I ran it under the tap! What was on there was ropey to say the least. Not our finest meal of the trip!
On Friday we caught the overnight bus to Kolkata. I have to say, this was easily the best bus journey of the whole trip. The bus was good. Comfy seats. The road, NH-2, is brand new, runs from Delhi to Kolkata and is quick. We did 400km in 8hrs, including getting out of H,bag and into Kolkata and a stop for food. That's lightspeed in India! The journey got us to Kolkata in 8.5hrs, so we arrived by 6am.
Amazingly our hotel let us check in there and then – brilliant. Shower, bit of a nap, then off for breakfast. Having done a lot of Kolkata on our first visit we had a lazy morning, followed by a great lunch in Bar-B-Q. Ignore the name, this place was really good Indian food. No idea where the name comes from!
Then it was IPL time. We met some of the other VSO volunteers and caught a taxi to Eden Gardens. The game was Kolkata Knight Riders vs Chennai Super Kings. Big names like Brett Lee, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Jacques Kallis on show!
Ridiculously they won't let you take cameras into the ground. 95% of Indians have mobile phones. Most phones now have 2-5 megapixel cameras. Pretending that no-one is taking photos is sticking your head in the sand. Unfortunately I had my camera with me. You'll have to leave the battery at the gate I'm told. With who? On that table over there. Will someone look after it? No. Awesome. Thanks. Can't I just promise not to use my camera? No. Stupid. Stupid IPL. Why do you not want me to take photos and advertise the events for you? Just dumb.
Anyway, rant over! Unfortunately the game wasn't a classic for the neutral. Brett Lee (playing for Kolkata) had an amazing game and after 4 overs Chennai had 9 runs. Not 90. 9. Nine. Ridiculous, I've seen England score faster in test matches! Anyway, they got to 120, which was probably 30-40 short of what they needed. Then about 5overs into Kolkata's reply the heavens opened and the match was abandoned. Kolkata winning on the D/L method.
So not the barnstorming game we'd hoped for on our last day of the holiday, but still a great experience. The crowd was great fun, especially the never-ending Mexican wave (8 loops, never seen anything like it. Probably would have been more, but there was a wicket which had everyone cheering!)
The next day Suzie's flight was early in the morning and, after a day spent in coffee shops checking emails, I got another overnight bus back to Hazaribag to get back for work on Monday morning. It was really bizarre trying to get back into the swing of work again - the whole holiday was an amazing experience, too many highlights to choose from!
So now it's back to the grind. The good thing is that I came back refreshed and full of ideas for the 2nd half of my placement. I've got 11 weeks until I'm back in the UK for Mr Paterson's wedding and I'm going to be really pushing Srijan in that time. We've got a load of really exciting new projects to work on and I'm really positive that we're going to make some good changes.
Hope everyone's well, wherever you are. Take care and see you soon.