Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

India 1


So, another day, another newsletter. Not a lot of news at the moment, but thought I might as well keep you informed of what's going on.

I got to India a couple of weeks ago, the journey from Nepal to the border was pretty uneventful and the border crossing took very little time. Then got a bus to Gorukhpur, the bus was mainly filled with Tibetan refugees whom the Police and Customs enjoyed harassing and demanding money from at the check points en route. When I got to Gorukhpur the plan was to get straight to Delhi, where I would get some stuff sorted out (details below). However, all the sleeper space was taken and even with the offer of bribes there seemed no way to get to Delhi except general occupancy, which is not pleasant, especially not for thirteen hours. So I booked a ticket for the train the following day and stayed in Gorukhpur. It was rather nice actually as I had a TV which had several English channels, which made a change, so I watched various bits of crap on TV. When I got the train I was pleasantly surprised how nice it was, after some of the stories I had heard about Indian trains. The people I shared the carriage with were friendly enough, all in all not a bad journey.
The first thing I set about doing in Delhi was try to arrange flight tickets. The reason for this being that as many of you already know my parents have decided we should have a family holiday, so we are all off to Miami over the festive period and then my brothers and I will celebrate new years eve in Miami (my parents are returning home on the 30th) before they go home. Then a couple of days later David, a friend from home, is coming out for about a fortnight, where we plan on doing all the cheesy things in Florida like Disney, Epcot, etc. and with a bit of luck get to see a shuttle launch (as there is one scheduled for 18th January). I will then be spending a little more time in North America, possibly going up to Canada, before returning back to India. So arranging flights was obviously important. This took more time than I would have hoped as first I had to find a reasonable price, then get the tickets sorted. That bit should have been pretty painless, but the woman who was sorting them out booked the flights from and returning to Delhi, which would have been a real pain as I will be in or around Bombay at the time I plan to go, about thirty hours by train away. I did a little sight seeing in Delhi, however, my timing in India is not good as the prices of most of the tourist sights have been adjusted by the government to quite ridiculous levels. Even the mediocre sights cost ten US dollars entry for foreigners, far too much. With a couple one could see them well enough from the outside (and therefore free). Otherwise there wasn't much going on in Delhi, but waiting. Eventually all was sorted, so I managed to leave Delhi after nine not very exciting days.

I headed out to Amritsar, the Sikh capital, to see the golden temple there. This is the centre of the Sikh religious world and the temple is rather impressive, a huge complex, much of which is marble and the centre piece being a small lake with the Golden Temple in the middle. There not being much else in Amritsar I went from there to Dharamsala, where I have been for the last few days and will be leaving this evening. Dharamsala is home to the Tibetan Government in Exile and HH the Dalai Lama. It is quite high up in the foothills of the Himalayas, so rather cold. Essentially it is just a chilled place and as I have seen Tibet itself has limited appeal aside from its relaxing air. Many folks come here from around the world to learn about or practice Tibetan Buddhism, as it is rather fashionable these days. It is rather odd to see these Westerners who dress as Tibetans traditionally do and many joining the monastery/nunneries. The strangest thing is that probably more Westerners are dressed in traditional Tibetan garb, than Tibetans who wear western clothes.
Anyway hopefully off this evening, as previously mentioned. First I get the bus to Delhi, which I plan on leaving immediately for Agra to see the Taj Mahal, a rather expensive but necessary sight to see in India.
Hope you are all well. Keep in touch Raph


So, I'm about to leave this country for a while so thought I should tell you all what I've been up to in the past couple of weeks. Back in Delhi I managed to meet up with Lisette and Oliver, who I first met six months ago in Esfahan, Iran and travelled on and off with through Iran and Pakistan. It was nice to see them again and we fell back in to the friendship and rhythm of travelling together as though there had been no break. From Delhi we got a bus that evening to Pushkar, home of the famous camel fair, which ended a few weeks ago, otherwise it is unlikely we would have been able to get close to the place as millions of buyers, sellers, tourists and media take over the area. When we got there it was all rather mellow, it is a real backpacker place and not too bad, but rather too touristy. We went on a day trip to Ajmer a larger town about half an hour away where there are some interesting sights, including Arhai-Din-Ka Jhonpra mosque, apparently one of the holiest sights in Islam and the tomb of a Sufi saint. From there we went to the Nasiyan Jain temple which cost all of three rupees and a guy who decided to show us round repeatedly told us that this was the greatest sight in all of India and that after having paid nine hundred and sixty rupees to see the Taj Mahal, we would feel that was entirely money wasted and that we would be thinking this is the most incredible thing I've ever seen in my life. He was wrong. It was nice though, it had models of all the major Jain sights and temples in the world made of pure gold, there were diamonds and solid silver baubles and other extravagances, it was impressive, but I still think the Taj was more so. The last stop on our little tour was to be the Akhbar fort but it was closed so we headed back to Pushkar followed and harassed constantly by a fake Saddhu (holy man), he followed us on to the bus and just incessantly demanded money and annoyed, to the point where an older Indian man gave him a bollocking telling him that people like him gave tourists like us a bad impression of India and Indians, when the fake Saddhu tried to make the point that he was a holy man the Indian guy really opened up on him, probably as he thought he was being sacrilegious or simply because he was a conman. It was nice to see someone sticking up for us and shutting the idiot up, something one rarely gets anywhere, especially in India.

From Pushkar we went on to Jodhpur, also known as the Blue City as to try and control their termite infestation the locals brew a copper sulphate solution that makes there buildings go a light sky blue. It actually looks rather attractive from the fort. The place we stayed was very nice, it was a home stay that had only opened a month previously and Narendra the owner was incredibly enthusiastic (sometimes overly so). The food that they made was excellent and the quantities more than enough. When someone asked him what bahty were (as there were adverts around the town for them) he told us his wife would make us some for lunch the following day, which she did. This was despite the fact that she had never done so before and had previously only watched her mother-in-law make them. After going to the fort, the park, the clock-tower and just generally around town we decided to move onto Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer is a fort town (most of the towns in Rajasthan have forts, this one though is largely inside the fort) surrounded by desert. Our first evening there was also the anniversary of my flight to Cape Town a year ago that started this trip, so we had some beers, something I had previously never done with Lisette and Oliver as we had been in Islamic countries. With our beers on the rooftop of the hotel, we watched a lovely sunset across the desert and then were joined by someone who came to sing some traditional songs that were not really our taste and I ended up in hysterics as the guy tried to explain the meaning of the songs, which sounded more like a cat being both strangled and castrated simultaneously. One of the most popular things to do in Jaisalmer is a camel safari which we booked ourselves on. So, we went off to meet our camels and drivers and climbed aboard. Camels are not particularly comfortable animals to sit on for longer than a few minutes. So, when we stopped to look around villages en route or to have lunch it was very welcome. In the evening we had a camp fire and one of the camel drivers, or villagers that turned up would sing a few songs. Otherwise the nights were spent on the sand dunes, under the stars and an extremely bright moon. They were also rather cold and I was rather pleased to have my sleeping bag with me, the only problem with this being that as the dunes aren't particularly flat and the sleeping bag has a water-resistant sheen to it, I would invariably awake several feet lower down the dune than I had started with the blankets I had used as a mattress out of reach above my head. On the first night the camels came sniffing around at about two in the morning which woke me. It is not a particularly pleasant thing to look into a camels face at the best of times, let alone when one is woken by one of these big brutes. On the last day we apparently had a lot of ground to make up, which meant trotting along on our camels. By this point we had all just about got used to the walking pace and the discomforts of that, trotting was an eye opener as to what muscles we could feel pain in and at times felt more like an eye waterer. Unlike a horse, which has a rhythm to it, so one can raise oneself on the stirrups to reduce the discomfort camels are flopping backwards and forwards and side to side all at the same time, so there seems no way to avoid the discomfort. When we stopped for lunch that day we extremely pleased to be off the things and then we only had a short walk in the afternoon to get to where we were to get our ride back to town. The high point of the trip was when we stopped in a small village and the kids were gathering for school. We took the opportunity to have a look at some of their English books which included useful vocabulary such as:- traitor, torture, pain, anguish, prison. Apparently useful words for a ten year old, in a small Indian village, in the middle of the desert. When their teachers eventually arrived the children all got into about eight different lines, apparently by age. Then they all sang the national anthem and then some Hindu song, despite the fact that most of them were Muslim. They then had an English spelling test, which involved the child standing up and spelling the word the teacher said. It appeared that all the lessons were done with all the years in attendance, sat out on the sand. One thing we noticed before leaving was that although there were young girls in the younger classes, there were no older girls, probably married already. When we returned to Jaisalmer I had a much-needed shower and we had a couple of nice cold beers. The following day we got the bus back to Jodhpur where we stayed with Narendra again and booked a bus to Udaipur for the following day.
In Udaipur went and saw the City palace and can see across to the Lake Palaces (featured in James Bond - Octopussy). Inside the City palace there are a couple of museums, one of which (the government museum) has a small collection of very badly stuffed animals. These include a kangaroo, that appears to have been stitched back together a few time already; a pair of Siamese calves joined at the hips; but best / worst of all (depending on your sense of humour) was an almost entirely decomposed Ostrich, whose beak was barely staying on and had about three dishevelled feathers in total.
Whilst in Udaipur, we decided it was time we went to see Mohabbatein. Mohabbatein is currently the biggest and best Bollywood film around. It stars the two biggest stars of Bollywood: Amitabh Bachchan, the most famous actor on the planet according to the BBC (Madame Tussauds has recently unveiled a waxwork of him) as the one and a half billion people on the sub-continent all know who he is; and Shah Rukh Khan, the second biggest star in Bollywood. It was good fun to go and see and for a Bollywood film, rather good. There were only about five song and dance routines, no real violence and it had a story. It was also fun to watch the audience members shouting and whistling and generally getting rather involved with the whole thing. The only downside was that it was rather long at four hours.
We decided to go to Chittaugarh for a day trip. This being another town with a fort, but also in possession of a couple of impressive old towers. We wandered around looking at the old palaces and fort, as well as a couple of temples and particularly the victory tower, an eight storey high tower to commemorate a victory several hundred years ago. The whole place was rather nice as we were the only whites around. There were none of the normal hassles of a tourist site.

Now, I'm back in Udaipur, said goodbye to Lisette and Oliver yesterday and am flying off to the States from Bombay Tuesday Morning. So that should wrap most of it up for now.


I just realised that I did not mention in the newsletter that I went to the Taj Mahal, I did and it was very impressive, as opposed to many sights that one sees so often in the media, this one really lives up to and surpasses expectations.
Also went to a cultural show that was entertaining and interesting although generally not for the right reasons, the singers were of varying quality and some of the things they did during there performances begged the question, Why? An example of this being the women who used themselves as human xylophones and then decided to do the same thing with swords in their mouths and pots on their head. Impressive for its stupidity.

Anyway, just thought I should keep the record straight. In Bombay now, off to the airport for my flight tomorrow.



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