Thursday, 31 May 2012

Amritsar, Atari Border

By Mark

As our time we had alotted for ourselves in India was drawing to an end we made our way back south west for the city of Amritsar which was our last stop before crossing the border to Pakistan. The main draw card to the city is the Golden temple and also the closing of the gates at the border crossing to Pakistan. It was hard adjusting to the hot weather again and within a day of being here Sanne thought it was time to get sick again. This time round she did a real good job of it. As she spent the next few days sleeping, spewing and with very regular visits to the toilet she missed seeing a few of the city's attractions. While Sanne stayed in the comfort of our room I had a look around the city to see what it had to offer, apart from being hot and dusty. The Golden Temple was quite beautiful and I enjoyed a little time to myself, when not being harrassed by a few locals who were not the typical friendly curious people that we had come to enjoy about India. For some reason I was surprised by the amount of people here and slowly made my way round taking in the sights, all the time wanting to jump into the water surrounding the temple but not wanting to join Sanne and fighting for the toilet I decided against it. Who knows what I would have picked up in the water. Each day I would have a wander about until the heat would get too much and I would retreat back to the comfort of our room and of course check on the sick one.

After a couple of days however Sanne did manage to make it out to the border ceremony. This would have to be of the most amusing things we have ever seen. It is such a spectacle and over the top. It all starts out as a bit of a street party with people dancing, waving flags and being revved up by an MC just like you have at live filming for tv shows. On one side of the border there is a huge crowd of Indians, on the other a rather smaller number of Pakistanis.
After the street party the main reason for being here kicks into action. I mean KICKS into action. After some chanting/singing the guards make their way out onto the road where they begin to do a couple of crazy kicks into the air, one guy almost kicking his hat right off of his head (I wonder how many of these guys pull their groin muscles). After this a few hard stamps down with their feet, 180 degree spin and a march at warp speed straight for the border gate where it is repeated right in front of the Pakistani guards and vice versa trying to intimidate and out march one another. It is hard to take it serious really. After this spectacle we headed straight back to the guesthouse with Sanne's health going downhill faster than the guards could march.

Before we could even get on the bikes she was curled up and ready to throw up. Somehow she managed to get on her bike but within 5 kms we were stopped by the roadside for her to blow chunks. Again like a trooper she got back on her faithful steed but again within the same amount of distance she had dismounted and had run for cover of some small bushes, this time needing a little more privacy as now it was coming out of both ends. I stood guard by the bikes and tried to keep the ever curious Indians from getting too close. They were quite nice though, offering to take her into their homes until she was better. Sanne opted against it and with great determination and will power got back on her bike again and rode back to our room where she spent the next 2 days until I could eventually drag her out to see a doctor. A very helpful rickshaw driver took us to his doctor where his quick verdict was to take her straight to hospital! So off we went, within no time at all Sanne was lying down with an IV drip hooked up. For the next hour or so she was stabbed with quite a few needles and filled up with about 3 different types of fluids via IV. Wish we had done this earlier as Sanne had a noticeable change in her health straight away. All the time our rickshaw driver waited for us and took us back to our guesthouse when we were done. One more day of recovery and we were ready for our next destination - Pakistan!

India was at times hot, crazy on the roads, overcrowded and noisy but these are the things you just put up with here the best you can because the positives far outweigh the negatives and we will miss India for its ever curious and friendly people and also the great vegetarian food which we already miss.

 A local chap who followed us to our guesthouse, he then returned an hour later with lunch for us!

At the border ceremony - loving the getup!

Go patriotism!

The Indian side supporters

And the street party begins!

The MC hard at work

A fight even broke out during the proceedings between 2 Indian women, quite amusing

This guy is in the zone!

Take that!

I'm going to show these Pakistani's how to march!

Looking through the gates to the Pakistani side

The lowering of the flags

Probably the last time we'll see women soldiers for a while

The Golden Temple

What a hot look for me!

This is where it all ended for Sanne, she was on the mend in no time after this though

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Gulmarg and Sonamarg, Kashmir

By Sanne

To be honest we were a little disappointed with the rest of Kashmir. Gulmarg and Sonmarg are described as the “Switzerland of India” but I really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Yes, they have snow clad mountains, yes they have pine forests but that’s really where the resemblance ends. What really lets it down is the development of tourism – it hasn’t been done very tastefully. It’s a shame because you have this beautiful valley but it’s all scattered with ugly hotels. It’s all a bit tacky really. Hordes of Indian tourists roam around here, all dressed up in rented snow suits and pimp fur coats.

We found the driving in Kashmir to be some of the worst we had seen in all of India. It was really aggressive and careless, many people would drive up the side of us and start talking to us and wanting us to pull over all the while stopping traffic behind them and almost causing us to have an accident.

As a woman, I personally felt rather uncomfortable in most places in Kashmir. It is very obvious this is very much a male-dominated muslim society and even when I was fully geared up in my motorbike clothes the looks I would get from young guys definitely had a sexual undertone. On top of that no one spoke to me, it was like I was invisible. All conversation would be directed at Mark and only Mark’s hand would be shaken. It was a really strange experience for me as I am used to interacting with the locals wherever we go, be it men or women. Having that taken away from me quickly made me feel very isolated.

In general we felt people to be slightly hostile to us, charging us way over the top for items, withholding change from us and just not being very friendly. I know this is a bit of a negative rant but this was our experience. Others may have better experiences than us. I hope so.

Traditional house in Gulmarg

Cable car to the snow fields, hope it was in better shape than the chairlifts that were falling apart

Some local dudes we met, trying our bikes

The view from our room

Dal Lake, Srinagar

Heading towards Sonamarg

Sometimes all we want is to be able to look around without being asked a million questions 
and having numerous photos taken, today is one of those days!

Outside our cabin in Sonamarg
 The roads here this particular morning were very quite and it was nice to be able to take in 
the spectacular scenery without the fear of being run over

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Pahalgam (Aru Valley) Kashmir

By Sanne

We were weighing up whether or not to go to Kashmir. Our government websites advised us not to but when we spoke to Indians they told us it was actually very safe. So with that in mind we headed off. The first thing we noticed was the huge military presence here which worried us a bit and made us think if it really was such a good idea to come here. In Aru Valley just outside Pahalgam we got the chance to air out our tent. Little did we know that this was the spot where 5 foreigners were kidnapped in 1995, 4 of them never seen again. Had we known this beforehand we might not have set up our tent in the middle of a field but as it turns out we had no problems at all. Our campspot was one of the most beautiful places we have camped, down to a river and views on three sides of the Himalayas. Some curious sheppherds stopped by in the afternoon to take a look at us and we shared some of our cookies with them but after that we were all alone in the wilderness apart from a flock of horses hanging around. It was so nice to be camping again, it got a little cold in the night even with all our clothes piled on but the next morning we woke up to a glorious sunny day.

The ever-curious crowd of onlookers

Our great campspot in Aru Valley

Our wild neighbours

Enjoying a warm campfire in the cool night

And some warm porridge in the cold morning that followed

White-water rafting on the river

I get flat tyres and Mark gets to fix them!

Our great host Mehraj in the centre at the Beach Resort, Pahalgam