September 14, 2019

Return from my travels

Earlier this year I spent six months travelling the length of India and then two months in the mountains of Nepal. Heading out via Belgium, Holland and Dubai I arrived in Trivandrum at the southern tip of India, bought a little scooter and gradually worked my way north up to Rishikesh.

Beaches, backwaters, waterfalls, hills and lakes - I spent my first month exploring the incredible landscapes of Kerala. I’ll never forget lying in my hammock on the edge a huge lake in Munnar when I suddenly hear some crunching noises coming from the woods next to me. Intrigued, I tentatively grabbed my camera and edged my way closer... Two wild elephants! Less than 20 ft away and slowly making their way through the undergrowth. A magical moment for sure.

I head back down the coast to spend Christmas at Amritapuri Ashram, home of the hugging Hindu saint Amma. I hear stories from people about the power of her hug and how some had even left their lives back in the west to live full time at Amritapuri. After 5 days of Ashram life and some beautiful festive celebrations I finally get my chance to meet Amma and receive a hug of my own. How was it? Just like a regular hug to be honest. 🤷

Next, I have 3 days to race up the coastline and make it to Goa in time for New Year’s Eve. Driving my scooter for around 6-8 hours per day in the stifling heat, I arrive in Arambol just in time for the fireworks. After a month of driving from spot to spot, I decide to stay put and enjoy the beach life for the rest of January. Lots of yoga, meditation, reggae music and ecstatic dances under an ancient banyan tree. 

In February, I learn about a huge Hindu festival taking place in the north of India - The Kumbh Mela. With an estimated 150 million people attending over the space of 2 months, it was set to be the largest human gathering of all time. I decided I simply could not afford to miss it and proceeded to catch a flight up to Allahabad. 

Upon arrival, my first glimpse of the Ganges - and the thousands of pilgrims who had attended to bathe in the holy river to cleanse their sins. It was an incredible and vast sight - a city within a city and a curiosity on every corner. Performing Elephants, fortune tellers and elaborately dressed holy men who would have you come sit while they impart their wisdom. 

Everyone had warned me not to bathe in the Ganges. It’s supposedly one of the most polluted rivers in the world, full of rubbish, human waste and god knows what else. But I had come all this way and I wouldn’t want to pass up on the opportunity to cleanse my worldly sins, would I? I stripped down and joined a group of lads taking a dip, dunking my head enthusiastically. Needless to say, I spent the following 3 days bed bound and more ill then I’ve ever been in my entire life. 

From Allahabad I catch a bus over to Varanasi - one of the holiest and most revered cities in India. Situated on the banks of the Ganges, beautiful Indian buildings tower over narrow, winding alleyways and a character stands on every corner. At dusk, the sky turns a deep orange and a thousand kites fill the sky as children play among the rooftops. Varanasi was one of my favourites. 

I catch a flight back down to Goa, pick up my scooter and make the long drive through spectacular scenery up to Pune and a few days at the Osho Ashram. From there, across to Mumbai and a week exploring the bustling streets and back alleys. I continue to drive up the coast through Gujarat and pay a visit to the Statue of Unity - the tallest statue in the world. Completed in 2018 in the image of politician and independence activist Sardar Vallabhai Patel, it was an impressive sight - towering above the trees and appearing as a giant on the horizon. 

The next months I spend exploring the beautiful palaces and lakes of Udaipur, Jaipur and Jodhpur, have a wild tiger sighting in Ranthambhore National Park and head up to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. I spend some time in Delhi before reaching my final destination Rishikesh in the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas.

After 6 months of travel, it’s my final drive back down towards the airport and part of me can’t wait to leave India. The roads are pandemonium and the horns hurt my ears. Piles of stinking rubbish line the roads. 40-degree heat is burning my face and the fumes drench me in thick pollution. I’m tired. 

But then I pull into a small village to stop for a bottle of water and I’m reminded of why I love India so much. The whole village is pleased to see me. Everyone is smiling and wants to say hello. A man sitting outside a small shop insists I come sit and drink chai with him and his friends. We take a couple of selfies and I tell him all about my travels across India. 

As I get out my wallet, he insists I don’t have to pay while looking back at me with a big smile. My final chai in this incredible country.

Thanks for everything ✌️🇳🇪❤️

Into the mountains

I get word my good friend Ben is flying out to Nepal and I decide to extend my trip and join him. Upon arrival in Kathmandu I’m a little jarred by the change in surroundings after so long in India. Everything seems a little bit calmer, cleaner and quieter. After a week of settling in and a few mini hikes in the surrounding hills, I decide to enrol on a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation course. I knew it would be hard, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how hard!

As part of a group of around 20 people, we would rise from our simple dormitory rooms at 5am daily and begin 10 hours of sitting in total silence, with short breaks for lunch and dinner. The initial problem was simply the physical pain of being sat for so long in the same position - fidgeting and constantly changing position. On top of this, your mind becomes extremely restless, with thoughts popping in and out at 100 miles an hour. This goes on for around 3 or so days and gradually, as you exhaust things to think about, your mind begins to settle and your body becomes accustomed to being still. Practicing the Vipassana meditation technique, I was eventually able to sit without issue for hours in complete stillness and without movement. Overall it was a worthwhile experience but not something I would want to repeat for quite a while. It was arduous to say the least.

I meet my friend Ben and we travel to Pokhara lake which would become our base for the rest of the trip. For our first big adventure, we embark on a 7-day trek to the base of the Fishtail mountain in the Annapurna range. Simply breath-taking and otherworldly to be walking among the giant mountains of the Himalayas. 

After a number of other mini treks and adventures we decide the grand finale of our trip should be a motorcycle ride through the Mustang Valley towards the Tibetan Plateau. There was only one glaring problem with this plan - I didn’t know how ride a motorbike beyond the automatic scooter that had gotten me across India. A couple of back-alley lessons from Ben later and I found myself straddling a Silver Royal Enfield 350 Bullet and on route to the mountains. 

8 days of traversing the long and very rocky roads of the Mustang Valley with the backdrop of the Himalayan range was possibly the highlight of my whole trip and the perfect note to end my travels. An amazing adventure!

Check out some of my photography from the trip Here

And also on my Instagram

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Published by: aricarthur in Work updates, Uncategorized

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