Month: October 2017

Rest in Peace Roger

IMG_0929We went to Orchha, a mediaeval town with derelict palaces, havelis and sandstone cenotaphs floating amidst the jungle. Roger wrote in his diary that “Orchha is better than the Taj Mahal”.

Tragically, Roger fell from the second floor of the Laxmi Temple onto a stone floor on Friday 13th whilst taking photos. He was rushed to hospital but they couldn’t save him.

See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-41621452

This was the best year of our life together and he died a happy man doing the thing he most loved, photography.

I have been so lucky and privileged to have been married to him for 23 years.

 

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At the Taj Mahal

At the Taj Mahal

Surrounded by the cacophony, squalor and chaos of New Delhi station, Roger turned to Hilary and said “I can’t believe later today we are going to be seeing one of the most beautiful buildings in the world”.

We reached Agra in time to stand at sunset on the riverbank across from the Taj Mahal. It seemed the perfect place to celebrate Hilary’s birthday.

With a hotel just yards from the ‘wonder of the modern world’, we were then through the segregated gates (by race and gender) at dawn. Even though we’ve seen it in so many pictures, it was amazing to be here. It simply is sublime, and much bigger than expected. Also, to be here is to appreciate for the first time, the Taj Mahal’s place within a wider complex of other Mughal temples, the gardens and the Yamuna River.

And you have to remind yourself, it’s essentially an Islamic mausoleum for a favourite wife who died shortly after giving birth to her fourteenth child.

Constructed by a workforce of some 22,000 labourers over 21 years, the marble came from Rajasthan, and the inlaid semi-precious stones were brought to Agra from Persia, Russia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China, and the Indian Ocean.

Our final country

Our final country

Potentially our toughest travelling will be the gap year finale. Our 22nd country is a travellers’ enigma.

India is the stuff of dreams, colour, smells, extremes, contradictions and sacred cows.

English authors and historians have been trying to sum up the country for the last 300 years, never quite capturing it. We are looking forward to our own individual experience. What will the next three weeks hold for us?

To help our planning, on our last afternoon in Kuala Lumpur, we popped out to get a guide book.

Meeting up again with Julissa

Meeting up again with Julissa

We met Julissa and her boyfriend Graham back in March on a hike in Banos, Ecuador. They were vibrant, career young and so positive about life, it was catching, so we were delighted to have dinner with them.

Six months later we sat in a cafe in Central Kuala Lumpur with Julissa enjoying a great catch-up, all thanks to Facebook. Julissa spotted we were in KL, sent us a message and three hours later we were having a long breakfast which rolled into lunch.

Julissa is travelling the world with a new start-up called Remote Year. In return for a fee, she and her cohort of about 60 digital nomads get accommodation and business centres in 12 different cities around the globe for a year, so they can carry on their job, with the added benefit of a global perspective and personal networking. Julissa was totally loving it.

We talked about everything and anything to do with travel. Even to the extent that Julissa gave us both a lesson on how to take the perfect selfie.

Shame Graham wasn’t there too, he’s back in the States teaching at school. But we hear they’ll be living together next year, and planning future travels. Hopefully, they’ll look us up in England.

Food street

Food street

A few minutes walk away from our hostel in Kuala Lumpur, there is a Malaysian food extravaganza.

Plastic tables and chairs, food frying in large pans, waiters thrusting menus into tourists hands. This is Jl Alor, better known to the tourist community as “food street”. It came alive well before dusk; a cacophony of smells, sounds and sights, eating at its most authentic.

Food is cheap here. Tourists tucking in. Washed down by beer. Attentive waiters taking your picture. A few drops of rain? Don’t worry we’ll simply put up a parasol before the downpour.

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We invited Brian, a young financier from Hong Kong to join us. What an impressive young man. He was off next week to climb Mount Kinabalu in Borneo
Back to hosteling

Back to hosteling

We had been in hotels for the last couple of weeks – since very cheap and excellent value – but now we wanted to be more sociable and interact with some young people.

So we booked up Special Bedz Hostel right in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. Hostelworld described it as a clean, great location with a friendly atmosphere. The entrance was not promising, with a dark stairwell off a very busy, not very affluent street, with a band playing loud music outside.

However, once up the flight of stairs and having taken our shoes off, we were made to feel instantly at home with the two receptionists, fun and friendly Fatin and Iera, who couldn’t do enough for us.

The communal area was full of a multinational group of young people, mostly conversing in English about their travels past, present and future. This is what we miss at hotels;  the fascinating exchanges with lots of very positive young people, many at the start of their travelling lives.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

In 120 years Kuala Lumpur has grown from a Wild West tin mining town into an affluent Asian capital. The skyline testament mainly to the economic boom of the 1990s.

Without question this is the most diverse city we have been in, probably ever. Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Malayans all mixed up. A busy, chaotic city saved by an incredible metro system.

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Here is the Jamek Mosque built in 1907 at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. This is the point where Kuala Lumpur’s founders set foot and where supplies for the nearby tin mines were shipped
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When completed in 1998, the Petronas Towers was the tallest building in the world. The floor plan is based on an eight sided star echoing the patterns of Islamic art
Melaka – the history

Melaka – the history

What makes Melaka interesting is its privatol role in the history of SE Asian colonialism. In 1511, the Portuguese arrived and displaced the local sultans. 130 years later the Dutch evicted the Portuguese and imposed a trade monopoly. And then in the late 18th century the British took over the administration.

The prize was a port bridging the east and west, a trading post between the spice islands and the European markets, ensuring Melaka, during the Dutch period, became one of the wealthiest ports on the planet. Today, it’s hard to believe. Melaka is a city of 0.8 million people, but looked to us like an industrial and trading backwater. It’s a tale of two cities; the British always preferred their other port down the Malacca Straits – Singapore.

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This is the only bit that remains of the A’Famosa Portuguese fort. Much of it was blown up by Farquhar, the Scottish rival of Raffles, until the latter stepped in to stop it
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Up on the hill, the Portuguese built church dating back to 1521, still evokes colonial splendour. But it’s now just a shell and fronted by a British built lighthouse
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We enjoyed going around a distinctive Straits Chinese (or Baba-Nonya) home. These Chinese first settled in Melaka back in the 1400s, and have added many Malay customs to their heritage
Melaka – a tourist trap

Melaka – a tourist trap

As it’s called a highlight of Malaysia in the Lonely Planet guide, we stopped for two nights in the historic port city of Melaka (also known as Malacca).

In the past decade, there’s been an attempt to transform the town centre and its riverside into a tourism destination. There’s charming old streets and buildings for sure, but generally the place feels a bit run down and tired, with lots of unloved hotels. There’s a sense the tourism push hasn’t delivered.

Melaka’s an enjoyable place to wander around, sit in a riverside restaurant or take a short trip up the river, but with the sea now removed from the historic centre (due to land reclamation) it’s hard to picture the historical importance of this place. We’ll cover this tomorrow.

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Roger and Hilary take the tourist boat up the river – a south east Asian version of Venice or Amsterdam
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Almost unique to Melaka, the trishaws (bicycle rickshaws) are bizarrely tarted up in garish colours with their own sound systems playing loud music
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The main tourist area centres around the Stadthuys. Built in 1641-1660, it’s the oldest Dutch building in eastern Asia