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1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

Kathmandu, Nepal, November 17th!

Well, it's been a good 3 months since the last installment. Most of that I've spent here in Nepal but in between Pakistan and Nepal I was 5 weeks in the north of India.

Entering India was a little stressful, the Pakistani border guards put me through my first ever full baggage search and they found the powder! Yah, they refused to let me carry a small bag of pink laundry powder over the border so that was the end of my nose candy!! The Indian border guards tried their best to separate us (us being Dave "Hello Cleveland" and I) from any Indian rupees we possessed but my rupees were safely tucked into Dave's underwear (not my underwear since I was wearing boxer shorts!) so no worries there (well, not till I had to get the money back off Dave, euugghh).

First stop was Amritsar, the mecca of the Sikh religion, Sikh men being the turbaned dudes with big beards that are seen all over India. Amritsar is famous for the Golden Temple where we stayed for a couple of nights. The temple has several guesthouse that accomodate pilgrims free of charge as well as having a massive 24 hour canteen that feeds people, again free of charge! Now, I'd heard India was cheap but this was beyond my wildest dreams of scroungehood! Okay, our bed was just a mattress on the floor and the food most unexciting but, hey, scroungers can't be choosers! The temple is a great place, beautiful to look at and with a great atmosphere.

Next we decided to head north to Kashmir, scene of much unrest in the last 8 years (war, kidnapping, terrorist bombs, usual stuff) but we'd heard of quite a few travellers heading that way so we endured the 2 day bus ride to the capital, Srinigar, and landed ourselves in the plushest accomodation I've seen in a year. A well-furnished room on a houseboat on Dal Lake, the houseboat being a permanently moored barge decked out in copious quantities of ornately carved wood. The room on the lake included 3 tasty meals, all for an even tastier price of $3.50 (2 quid) per day! I was getting a little worried about how in the hell I was going to actually spend some decent money in this country!

Luckily the Kashmiri craftsellers helped me out with this problem. Sitting out on the houseboat verandah we were constantly regaled with various goods from traders passing by in shikaras (type of canoe) and over the 5 days on the boat I was at last able to dispose of a healthy wad of cash. Phew, now that was a relief!

As for the supposed troubles in Kashmir, on our last night in Srinagar machine gun fire could be heard from the top of the houseboat and periodically the hills nearby were lit up with the glare of what could only be explosions (mortar fire?). Presumably the Indian army was engaging the rebels not too far away! I was blissfully asleep while all this was going on, I only found out about it the next day.

From Srinagar it was another 2 day marathon on one of the most beautiful bus rides I've been on yet into the Ladakh region at the very north of India. This place resembles Tibet very much, it borders western Tibet and is populated mostly by Tibetan Buddhists. Stayed 5 days in the capital, Leh, enjoying eating at the Western-style bakeries and visiting nearby monasteries. The Dalai Lama of Tibet was visiting the area but he obviously didn't know I was in town 'cos he never dropped in to say hello, strange!

Southwards from Leh it was time to leave Dave behind and go for yet another 2 day bus from hell ride, this one on what the Indians claim to be the world's second highest road, close to 18,000ft high. It's only open a few months of the year, most of the time it's closed due to avalanche danger and the long winter weather. Eventually made it to Manali, specifically Vashisht, set in a nice valley where I took a few days to recover from the bus ride.

Next stop Dharamsala, home of the exiled Dalai Lama. News of my arrival must have reached his Holiness this time because it wasn't long before I was over at his house shaking his hand and exchanging a "Tashi Delek" (Tibetan for hello) with him. Okay, so there was another 300 Westerners there doing the same thing but I'm sure it was my visit that he appreciated most ..??

It was hard to leave Dharamsala. Apart from being in a beautiful (though wet) spot the influence of many Western visitors and residents had led to numerous restaurants dishing out cheap, commendable attempts at Western food and cakes, a great relief from standard Indian fare. Also, a bunch of mini video cinemas showed a host of pirated videos every day so I was able to catch up on some movies I'd missed in the last year.

A week here wasn't enough but I headed onwards, on my way to Nepal. An overnight bus brought me to New Delhi where I zoomed around taking care of business (extending my passport, buying traveller's cheques, picking up mail & e-mail, replacing my old AmEx card etc.), spent one night there and then hopped on a night train to Gorakhpur, then a bus to the Nepali border, entered Nepal no problem and then it was a night bus to Kathmanda, pant pant .. time for a rest!

I'll leave the story of Nepal for later, I haven't time right now to regale you with stories of Everest treks, whitewater rafting, seeing wild rhinos from elephant back, awesome scenery, awesome food and some scary shopping! Right now, this very morning, I'm off on what may prove to be my strangest and most exotic journey yet! Yes, a journey to the inner reaches and cesspools of my own mind, nyeeargghhh! I've decided to incarcerate myself for a 10-day course of Vipassana meditation (the method used by Lord Buddha himself), a course Dave described as the hardest thing he's ever done! Oh well, it's about time I did some penance for the last year and a half of arsing around!

1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

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