I completed my sabbatical with a brief stopover in Qatar’s capital city; a chance to experience a new culture and my first stay courtesy of a http://www.couchsurfung.org host. I arrived early enough to see much of the city in my first day. There are countless skyscrapers with more half-built, as the desert state aims to compete with Dubai in the coming years. Qatar has the highest average income per person in the world, with little taxes, meaning that the Qataris benefit from sizeable disposable income. Doha is a city where consumers are king and queen, with several enormous malls housing designer labels and everyone driving around in the latest luxury 4×4 Land Cruisers. Continue reading
Tour of Sri Lanka – Sigirya, Anuradhapura, Colombo & Negombo
Julia, my new travel buddy, and I continued our sodden tour across Sri Lanka’s ‘cultural triangle’ with a visit to the 1st Century BC rock caves at Dambulla and then Sigirya, an expected highlight of the trip. We witnessed the floods from our bus and then via a tuktuk that was on its last legs. Or maybe that should be last wheels… Whatever, it let the rain in, wouldn’t change gear unless the driver used two hands (!) and had a manual windscreen wiper. Surprisingly it made the journey intact and we took advantage of a break in the rain to climb the 1500+ steps to the summit of Sigirya rock. Unfortunately it started to rain again as we approached the first steps; the rain water cascading down the steps in a waterfall. Let’s get wet again then… It wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be, and the rain clouds cleared when we were at the top, Continue reading
Tour of Sri Lanka – Dalhousie (Adam’s Peak) & Kandy
I have a confession to make. There I was, complaining about the poor internet speeds in Sri Lanka, when it becomes apparent that I had actually picked up a virus on my memory card whilst in India and transported it on to unsuspecting Sri Lankan computers! Sorry about that.
On my travels I had been persuaded by other travellers to take the 7km hike up Adam’s Peak, one of the foremost pilgrimage sites for Buddha fans in Asia. The sunrise looked amazing from the video footage that I saw, making the tiring 5500+ step climb a worthwhile experience. Continue reading
Tour of Sri Lanka – Tissamaharama and Ella
I left Galle on a local bus, after having politely declined the offer of a long distance tuktuk ride to my next stop at Tissamaharama (Driver: “It’s only six hours by tuktuk”!). Even though I had to take two roughed-up local buses, it would still be more comfortable and faster than a bloody tuktuk! I say comfortable, but that’s misleading, as there was no air conditioning and the driver was clearly crazy; seemingly surprised when cows failed to move out of the way, causing him to brake sharply. On top of this, the bus soon started to fill up, meaning that I was forced to sit with my legs across my luggage, folding them into numerous yoga positions whilst attempting to meditate myself to Tissamaharama. Unfortunately a local weirdo sat next to me, Continue reading
Tour of Sri Lanka – Kalutara and Galle
After the challenging tour of South India I landed in Sri Lanka to find, with some relief, that it is positively different to India. They actually bother to collect rubbish on a regular basis, which is always nice, plus there is a genuine warmth and laid-back attitude in the locals. The driving is quite bad, but nothing compared to India’s roads. They actually stop at pedestrian crossings! Sometimes. I was met at the airport by Tumee, a friend from Travbuddy.com, who took me to his recommended first destination of Kalutara. Although he is biased, as it’s his hometown! It’s a pleasant, but slightly dull seaside resort with a notable landmark of the Gangatilaka Vihara buddist temple. And that’s it. Continue reading
A trip to India is an all out assault on the senses and intensely challenging at times for the lone traveller. There are massive gaps between the super-rich and gutter-poor, seemingly justified by ancient cultural hierarchies bound by religion. Life sometimes seems to have little value, especially in the big cities. Begging is commonplace. Religion is an integral part of Indian society, with several different religions often co-existing peacefully alongside one another, something that India should be commended for, although there are still occasional fundamentalist attacks.
Tipping is virtually mandatory (well, to foreigners, anyway) and is usually accompanied by my favourite phrase: “Whatever you like sir” followed by hurt puppy dog eyes if the tip is too small. Continue reading
Tour of South India – Kochi and Tiruchirapalli
After another tiring overnight bus journey (but at least I had a bed on my own this time!), I made it to Kochi in Kerala. Kerala is modestly refered to as ‘God’s own country’ by the locals. Parts of the state have beautiful tropical beaches and mangrove-lined backwaters, but Kochi itself is a laid back fishing town, with picturesque old colonial architecture and a stunning view from the jetty of the massive Chinese fishing nets used by local fishermen. And of industrial silos and cranes from the nearby port. But it’s still a worthy addition to the tour schedule. It has a distinctly un-Indian vibe; for example, it has a huge Christmas tree and it’s the first place that I’ve visited in which no-one complains when they have to give me change. Continue reading