19 May 2012

Delhi, Old and New

8-9 April

This morning Sean and I flew into Delhi from KL, where we had been visiting my long-lost best buddy Natalia. We are pretty excited but somewhat nervous of what India will inflict on us. We're taking part in photography tour with Paul Parin from http://studioreddust.com.au/ , a photographer I have admired for a long time. Although it's an expensive way to travel, being part of a tour is the only way I was prepared to go to India. I think it's the only country I'd say that for! The tour includes regional guides at each location, accommodation each night and a cool little 8 seater bus with an experienced Indian driver between places that greets us at the airport. Sean and I happen to be on the same flight as Paul and his friend Mike, so we all share some surprise to see heavily armed guards hanging out at the airport, firearms casually slung over their shoulders.

The scooby bus takes us to our first hotel, past an alarming number of army personnel manning the streets. Not knowing what to expect from the tour accommodation, I am pleasantly surprised when it is a flashy 4 star place close to the centre of the city. We drop our stuff and wander out onto the streets to Connaught Place park, just nearby. We have been preparing ourselves for plenty of beggars and faeces but it's not bad at all in this part of the city. April is within the dry season heats up over a period of months until the monsoons break. So it's hot and sunny - much like the long summer we left behind in Perth. Like many busy Asian cities you have to be trusting when crossing the road - just step out into the constant stream of traffic and walk at a constant speed so that everyone weaves around you. I am not good at this - I remember being stranded on the side of the road for ages in Phnom Penh trying to look like I wanted to be casually strolling along the gutter!! At the park we get put through a metal detector (first time for everything) and check out the hideous display of painted bear statues, one for each country of the world. The Australian one was done by Ken Done. Gross.

This is the point where I realise in hindsight that I was not suitably aware of my surroundings and guarding myself as a naieve white tourist. Sean and I are set upon by some "ear cleaners" in the park, one of whom manages to distract me long enough to put some kind of gunk in my ear. The other is attempting to climb up Sean's shoulders to do the same to him, so I swear and say Let's Go! I am not completely sure why they felt it was a good idea to do this to another person, but I assume it's similar to the "throw shit on a tourist's shoes and get them to pay to have it cleaned off" scam. After a day of discomfort and finally losing my hearing in that ear, I call the hotel doctor who refers me to an ENT doctor and he vacuums the gooey substance out. Both of them tell me "you shouldn't let people put things in your ears"... thanks, I know!

Onto more pleasant things. Back at the hotel there is a stream of men in flash open top audis depositing scantily clad women who dash off to the sounds of dance music eminating from the Pool area. We chat to the security guards who tel us there's a "summer pool party for Delhi A-listers" happening at the hotel today. We catch up with Paul and Mike and apparently we can go to the party, if we want. Imagine our surprise to find hordes of ex-pats and rich offspring of India's elite swanning around in bathers, with hotel staff scurrying around to serve them free drinks and delicious platters of food. Well. This is not exactly the poverty stricken surrounds I had been preparing myself for.

Mingling with the Delhi locals.

We meet Mark and Tracey, the other couple in our tour group. I'm quite pleased it's such a small group! And what a way to start, with free food and beers in a flashy hotel pool party. How surreal.

"Welcome to India!" Sean, Mike, Paul, Mark and Tracey.

The next day, with slightly sore heads after all the free beer, we head out with our first guide to see Delhi's Jama Masjid, the so called "Friday Mosque" and then explore the streets of Old Delhi. The mosque, built in the 17th century, is the largest and most well known in India. It is closed to tourists on Fridays as this is the day for Muslim congregational prayer. There are thousands of pigeons in the centre square, attracted by the corn and wheat that is thrown out for them each day. Two guys spend their day sweeping up all the pigeon crap. This puzzles me.

 Out onto the streets of Old Delhi, occupied by every form of transport that will fit through the small streets. These are occasionally punctuated by wider streets that cars and carts can fit through. Our guide walks us through alleyways and across a manic main street for some excellent 20c samosas. It is definitely the most hectic traffic I have ever experienced, there are hundreds of vehicles of all kinds going in all directions, all beeping at one another. There must be some form of order in this apparent chaos because nobody has a bingle and (surprisingly) we don't get run down.

ready, set, cross....

In the afternoon we visit Humayan's Tomb and Qutab Minar, both UNESCO world heritage listed sites. When things are built out of sandstone, they are built to last - these are both more than 500 years old. Qutab Minar is a patchwork construction made of the bricks and pillars of 27 Hindu and Jain temples that were destroyed by the Turkic king. Ornamental pillars have had all the faces broken off because the king was of a different religion. In a strange twist of justice, he apparently died by being impaled on the pommel of his saddle whilst playing a game of Polo.

Qutab Minar
Humayan's Tomb

Sean and I opt out of the $40 a head hotel buffet and decide to find some cheap local dinner. Here is the fortuitous and delicious result :)

$3 Thalis, a little taste of everything with rice and bread. A fantastic option when you can't read the menu ;)

15 December 2011

Day 6 - Overland Track, Tasmania

Bert Nichols' Hut via Narcissus Hut to Lake St Clair  
Distance to cover: 9.5km walk, 16km ferry ride
Forecast: Fine and sunny   
Dinner to look forward to: Rehydrated Indian takeaway - Goat Masala and Dhal Makhani!
Socks and Boots: Still wet but I have decided to treat myself with the pair of clean fluffy socks I have been saving!! <3

another scenic water bottle refilling point
A pretty easy walk today, it looks flat and boring on the map but we are fine with that! The forest we are going through today is much lower altitude than we have seen previously. It looks very familiar - similar to drier Karri/Jarrah forest in the south of WA. Just replace karri with gumtop stringybark, splendid fairy-wren with superb, golden whistler for olive etc.

Olive Whistler in a silver banksia
By this point, Sean has twitched all of the Tas endemics except for 40 spotted pardalote. For anyone interested, this has included; Tas wedge-tailed eagle, Tas native hen (Hilarious, noisy, looks like a giant moorhen), yellow-tailed black cockatoo, green rosella (which is actually yellow??), Tas scrubwren, Tas thornbill, Tas scrubtit, yellow wattlebird, yellow-throated honeyeater, strong-billed honeyeater, black-headed honeyeater, dusky robin, grey shrike-thrush, black currawong. Plus some other cool non endemics such as the pink robin, olive whistler and swift parrot.

I love this button grass! And also boardwalk!
We have been slightly concerned about missing our bus tomorrow, it is due to pick us up 5km south of the end of the track tomorrow. So if we stay at the next hut tonight (Narcissus), we need to cover 20km by 11.30am. After talking the options over with a few of the other hikers, we decide it would be a better idea to skip Narcissus, catch the ferry across Lake st Clair to the end of the track this arvo, and camp at the visitor centre. Then we only need to walk 5km in the morning to be at the bus stop.

Narcissus River crossing

Some dead people I found

At the ferry pickup, there are a lot of exhausted hikers soaking up the sun. On the right are the 3 guys we spent the most time with - Nick, Pat and Peter. They kindly donated us some spare vitaweets for lunches when I realised we had miscalculated and only had enough for half the journey!! This worked out OK for them too, as they had spent a few days arguing about whose fault it was they had bought too many, and their packs were overflowing with vitaweets...

View from the Narcissus Hut Jetty, north end of Lake st Clair

Everybody else who finished the track today opted to stay in the caravan park cabins or hotel down the road. Not us!! We have one more day to go so we will tent it at the free campsite!! Also, there's no point having a shower now when we have no soap or clean clothes to get into. Our little suitcase with clean clothes for the conference, shampoo etc is waiting for us just 5km down the road, at the bus pickup. Yay!

We have been told that this is a good place for platypus and quoll spotting, so after the cafe has closed we take our trusty trangia and dried food supplies over to the picnic tables and set up. Sean spots a furry echidna but lost it before I got to see it. There was another awesome black tiger snake curled up in the sun right about 3m from the sign that said "Beware - Tiger Snakes in this area". There are more friendly pademelons grazing nearby, as well as some cute fat skinks on the rocks. A persistent currawong is disgusted to have only stolen our box of matches rather than something delicious.

Ocellated skink - Niveoscincus ocellatus
Zen - Hugel River
It turns out to be a very social place to stop, Sean's PhD supervisor just happens to drop by (he is in Tas for the same conference Sean is attending), as well as several of the people we have been walking with for the last week.

When it finally gets dark, they all head off looking for platypus. We pack up our stuff and are surprised by some small hissy shadows scampering around - eastern quolls!!! Two are pale, one black. Awesomely cute.
Zen II - Lake St Clair
Well, that's the end of the walk! Tomorrow we have a casual 5km stroll on a road, down a hill, with a greasy fry up at a service station to look forward to. Whee! And clean clothes, and a shower. I feel quite a sense of achievement at having done this trek- especially when we got up the top of any of those peaks that looked back toward Cradle Mt, our start point, getting further and further away.

Next time... Walls of Jerusalem. http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=3904
Who wants to come? :)

Hot chocolate on the jetty, looking for Platypus

13 December 2011

Day 5 - Overland Track, Tasmania

Kia Ora Hut to Bert Nichols' Hut
Distance to cover: 10km
Forecast: Fine and sunny
Dinner to look forward to: Chilli con Carne
Socks and Boots: Ridiculously muddy. I have given up hope of them drying.

Not so many photos from today - I think it's because I was on Struggle Street for the day and just wanted to get to the next hut and rest. After yesterday my feet feel sore in a bruised sort of way, perhaps from clambering on the rocks of Mt Ossa yesterday. But worst are my achilles - I guess I must have strained them sometime yesterday. After about an hour of pathetic hobbling in my boots I have warmed up and can soldier on.

About 4km down the road we pass an old hunting base camp, Du Cane Hut. There are photos on the walls of guys with hog-tied wombats, skinning quolls, etc, from around 1910. They used the biggest (now threatened) King Billy Pine in the vicinity to build the hut. The last entry in the visitors book for the disused hut says "i had sex in this hut". Hm. Perhaps it is just a place of self indulgence?

There are a few waterfalls that we visit as side trips. Again this means putting the packs down (yay!) and going on a couple of km loop. The sun is out again and I see a healthy sized black Tiger snake basking on the path. I make a rugged sort of "Eep" noise and jump to the side. How exciting!

D'Alton Falls
The falls are lovely, thundering white veils of water crashing down the rocks. It's hard to comprehend these sorts of volumes of water in summer. We talked about how the large rushing creeks we were passing didn't even have names on the map, whereas if they had been in WA they would have been major rivers.

Hartnett Falls

Unnamed falls near Ferguson Falls

Hartnett Falls

Next we struggle up the shoulder between 2 hills, called DuCane Gap. It's not the steepest hill we've climbed, but we are both a bit over it today. It's easy to just look at your feet but we are actually in some fabulous forest. Down another tree-root covered path and into Bert Nichols' Hut. This one has been newly rebuilt and is MASSIVE. It takes a while of wandering around in amazement before we realise it's probably been built with school groups in mind. Instead of being a big open plan hut with bunks like the others, this one has a drying room for stinky socks, a big dining area and 3 separate rooms with bunks. If you were coming from the south end of the track, it's only 1 or 2 days hike in so would be perfect for school camps.

We have too much chili con carne and trade some of it with the French couple we have made friends with. In return, they made us some delicious garlic flatbread in their frypan. How awesome - I didn't even think of carrying flour and yeast for damper.