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Finally made a start – first stop Mumbai!

Wednesday 25th September
You feel the impact of Mumbai even before the plane lands. The ground around the airport is rough, hilly and overgrown but as the plane approaches the runway you can see thousands of shacks and makeshift dwellings just clinging to every piece of available land. For us the impression of teeming humanity was emphasised on the long drive into the city in a very old and rickety cab. We came past the Dharavi slum and the railway tracks where many families seemed to be living along the sides of the street just under pieces of polythene tied to the walls and railings. Loads of scabby dogs and cats and Paul also spotted a fat rat! A pretty big culture shock compared to Wokingham!
Lucky for us our hotel is really comfortable with many helpful staff who really do everything possible to help their guests. Last night we managed to walk out to The Gateway of India and the famous Taj Palace Hotel on the waterfront. After that we were super tired but got directions to a great restaurant where the prawn and chicken curries were fabulous – much better than at home! However we spent nearly 30 GBP and will have to find cheaper in future.

Ali at the Gateway of India

Thursday 26th September
This morning was all about walking and walking around Mumbai. The city feels like a mad onslaught of extremes. It’s massively noisy as there’s building work everywhere and the cars, motorbikes, buses and taxis all sound their horns at every opportunity. You take your life in your hand every time you try to cross the road!
We visited Leopold’s Café made famous by Gregory David Robert’s book Shantaram (don’t particularly recommend it having got to the end!), then went on to Colaba market. That was great but we then proceeded to get ourselves lost in the dark, maze like back alleys behind the market. Don’t think they often see many westerners in that area. We didn’t feel too threatened until we set the dogs off. Lots of barking and growling so we beat a hasty retreat with Paul bent double under the strung plastic roofs, awnings and drying laundry!

Paul at Leopold’s Cafe
Lady selling fish in Colaba market – they were selling prawns too, but given the heat we really didn’t fancy them.
Google earth image of the slum area where we got lost – we actually came out by the sea but just had to turn back around and go through the alley ways again.

House sitting

We had some idea that we might need to move out a few days before leaving the country. As we are far too mean to want to pay for a hotel or Airbnb for 4 weeks, we decided we might try house sitting and stay for free! Dear reader, we can heartily recommend it as a brilliant win-win for everyone concerned! We got to stay in some lovely houses and looked after some cute animals, and the homeowners had the confidence of knowing mature and responsible individuals (natch!) were keeping everything safe, clean and tidy.

Gary Barlow you were meow-tastic! We just want you BACK FOR GOOD – Groan!
Cuddles with cute Daisy-Mo
On our second house sit we looked after 2 Jack Russells. Their names were Arthur and Albert but we called them KING Arthur and PRINCE Albert! to help us tell one from the other.
Prince Albert was a cheeky chappie
And King Arthur was old and a bit whiskery but very sweet.

There was some additional method in our house sitting madness as we’ve heard that accommodation in Australia and New Zealand is very expensive, but they also seem to love their pets and travel.  There are lots of house sitting opportunities being offered down under, so we thought if we already had some experience and some 5 star reviews we could care for some lovely Oz and Kiwi pets and stay for free.  Will let you know if that works out!

Preparations didn’t exactly go to plan….

Where do we start here? The idea was that we would rent our house out around the beginning of October and head straight off just after my birthday on October 6th. What happened in practice was that we enquired with the rental agency in July and almost immediately got into a sort of bidding war with two families, both of whom wanted to move in during August, ahead of the new school year. The great thing was that they were prepared to pay our asking price. As the opportunity seemed too good to pass up, I handed in my notice from work early and we basically found ourselves homeless from 21st August with a month to fill before flying out on 24th September.

Goodbye to our lovely house – for a year at least!
Farewell to my garden and beautiful roses, sob! sob!

The planned itinerary

The road goes ever on…

24th September 2019
Today we will be jumping on the plane at Heathrow to fly out to Mumbai for the start of our big adventure. To prepare ourselves we are both reading “Shantaram” which is a great book that I can highly recommend, but we have to hope that it’s not as exiting as all that…

So, we kick off our voyage with nearly 4 months in India – neither of us have been there before and everyone says it is very “full on”. I am hoping this will be in a good way and not in a completely freaked out, anxiety ridden, ongoing “Delhi belly” sort of way. We shall see!

Itinerary for India
25th September – 5 nights Mumbai
30th September – Up at 4;30 to catch the Jan Shatabdi Vistadome train down to Goa – views should be great!
30th September – 8 nights staying in Vasco de Gama, Goa. We have booked a lovely looking place on the beach; it’s also right at the end of the runway for Goa International Airport so might be a bit noisy but, hey, we have earplugs! I also get to have my birthday here so lets hope it’s good!

6th October – ALISON’S BIRTHDAY
8th October – 5 nights at a Yoga Ashram in Mandrem. As friends and family know this could be challenging
for both of us, but especially for Paul as it’s really going to play up his sciatica! However it should be nice as it will give us a chance to meet other travellers and it’s all inclusive (albeit strictly vegetarian with no alcohol!) We should be able to manage this for a few days, shouldn’t we??
13th October – We are kicked out of the security of the Ashram and head off across country to the World Heritage Site of Hampi. Unfortunately it doesn’t look as if the trains run on that route today, so we have to negotiate a car and driver for the 8 1/2 hour journey. Paul needs to get his haggling head on!
13th October – We plan to stay in a Farm House Homestay in Hampi. They offer breakfast, lunch AND dinner for 430 Rupees each. This is about a fiver so let’s hope the food is good.
19th October – Heading to beautiful Agonda beach in Southern Goa for a real veg out in the sun. This time we are hoping to make the long journey from Hampi (Hospet Junction) by train.
25th October – The start of Diwali. How lucky to be in India at such an auspicious time!
28th October – Travelling from Goa to New Delhi. Haven’t booked that flight yet – definitely on the must-do list. We are staying at an Airbnb in the area of Defense Colony, New Delhi. It is described as a “Safe & Cosy B&B” which is encouraging, but I suspect also means small! Anyway hosts seem welcoming and helpful going by our contact via Airbnb
2nd November – Kicking off our GOLDEN TRIANGLE TOUR
We have booked a car and driver for 6 days and nights to take us from New Delhi around Pushkar, Jaipur and Agra then back again. On Day 1 we will be picked up from our Airbnb in New Delhi and driven to the ancient town of Mandawa. Here we’ve booked room in a haveli hotel which is like a grand old family home for 2 nights
4th November – Travel to Pushkar for the start of the CAMEL FAIR, https://www.pushkarmela.org/ which is famous and sounds like a big deal with thousands of tourists travelling in for the event. Lots of people seem to stay in tented camps for the fair, but we’ve wimped out and booked a room at another old haveli in Pushkar town.
6th November – This morning our (hopefully lovely and helpful!) driver will be transporting us to the beautiful “pink city” of Jaipur. Looking forward to seeing the Amber Fort and Hawa Mahal or “Palace of the Winds”. You can take the city tour by Segway which sounds intriguing!
8th November – Okay, so today we head off to what should be one of the highlights of our amazing India experience; the beautiful Taj Mahal, which IS reputed to live up to all the hype when you actually get there. In addition, we have blown the budget on 2 nights at the upmarket Tajview Hotel which does actually have a great view of the Taj! Plan is one day doing the sightseeing and the next day sitting checking out the view from the pool terrace, gin and tonic in hand.
10th November – This is going to be a busy day!!
We plan to ask our lovely driver to pick us up from the Tajview Hotel mid-morning and drive us straight to New Delhi Airport, a drive of 3 1/2 hours according to Google maps. At around 6.00 pm we will jump on a flight to Varanasi arriving at 7.30 in the evening. Stay over at the airport that night. Hope all this works out according to the plan!
11th November – We arrive in the holy city of Varanasi (also known as Benares) on the great mother Ganges river. Will be needing our resilience here as it is apparently the craziest, dirtiest and most testing of Indian cities. Moreover it’s the first of our hostel stays. We’re only in a four bed dorm – I am so looking forward to seeing the look on the faces on the (presumably) young couple when they find out they will be bunking with the old folks!
12th November – The festival of Dev Diwali when all the temples and river steps down to the Ganges are lit with millions of lights – sounds awesome.
16th November to 30th November – Our travel plans become a little more fluid here, as from Varanasi our thought is to head off by train and possibly bus across Bihar which is India’s poorest (and until quite recently most dangerous) state. We may visit Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha found enlightenment under the banyan tree) and the city of Patna. From there we head to Darjeeling in the eastern Himalaya, and eventually to Guwahati, the capital city of Assam, which is the gateway to the north eastern states of India.
30th November – Train from Guwahati to Dimapur, the main city of Nagaland; around a 5 hour journey up into the mountains. Stay overnight in Dimapur.
1st December – Try to organise a shared taxi from Dimapur to Kohima, the home of the famous HORNBILL FESTIVAL – http://hornbillfestival.com/ for which the tribes of Nagaland get together for 10 days of singing, dancing and cultural events. We have the whole 10 days of the festival booked at a pod hostel in Kohima – very cheap and should be quite an experience!
10th December – We are hoping to organise a driver and car to take us around some of the sights of north east India. Highlights could include seeing the rare One Horned Rhino at Kaziranga National Park on the mighty Brahmaputra river, visiting the “Scotland of the East” at Shillong and crossing the “double decker root bridges” at Cherrapunji in the state of Meglayhaya.
18th December – Fly from Guwahati down to Kochi in mainly Christian Kerala to spend the Christmas holiday on the beautiful and serene Marari beach.
27th December – A couple of days drifting on a houseboat through the Kerala backwaters – it’s a tough old life!
30th December – Spending New Years back in Kochin in Kerala. Bet you thought we’d book something glamourous for New Years Eve? No, we’ve opted to spend it staying at THE BUNKIE BONGO HOSTEL!! Really hoping that some of the young people there will let us hitch up with them to local bars and clubs. Need to be on the waterfront at midnight though to see the firework display over the sea.
2nd January 2020 – Plans a little unclear here. We’ll either head up to the hill stations in the Western Ghats or straight across country to Pondicherry (of Life of Pi fame), and then on to Chennai and the airport to say goodbye to India and HELLO TO BANGKOK AND THE START OF OUR SOUTH EAST ASIA ADVENTURE!
Itinerary South East Asia

Around 11th January – fly from Chennai to Bangkok and 4 days exploring the city
15th January – night train to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. The adventure capital of the country – how will I resist the opportunity to fool around with white water rafting and zip lining over the jungle canopy? Just can’t risk the possibility of another torn retina though!
18th January – According to the YP (young persons!) backpacking sites you can get a minibus through the mountains to Chiang Khong from where you take a tuk-tuk to the border with Laos. Somehow get across the border!
19th January – Overnight in the Lao town of Huay Xai.
20th January – Take the slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang which is apparently super uncomfortable partly because you sit in old car seats! Anyway it sound like too much of an adventure to pass up on.
22nd January – Minibus to Vang Viene
23rd January – PAUL’S BIRTHDAY!! Definitely a day to go river tubing between bars down the mighty Mekong river.
24th January -Bus / Minibus to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos
27th January – Fly from Vietiane to Hanoi in Northern Vietnam
29th January – Take the train from Hanoi down the coast to Dong Hoi then on down the coast to Ho Chi Minh City
7th February – Cross over the border to Cambodia. A couple of difficult but important days visiting Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields.
10th February – Travel Phnom Penh to Siem Riep to visit the incomparable temples of Angkor Wat.
14th February -Cross the border back into Thailand and head back to Bangkok to pick up the:-
15th February – Train to the beautiful islands of Krabi and some well earned rest on the beach as we will surely be completely knackered by now!
19th February – After a break take the ferry down the west coast of Thailand to the island of Koh Lipe. We’re planning to spend a few days on the island as it’s off the normal tourist track and should be a quiet and beautiful tropical paradise.
22nd February – Hop back on the ferry which will take us down past the Thai/Malay border to the island of Malaysian island of Langkawi and then on to Penang, the “Pearl of the Orient”.
23rd February -Arrive in Georgetown on the island of Penang and a few days to check out the city and island before:-
28th February – DARCIE AND JOE ARRIVE!! going to be so excited to see them after a whole 6 months!!! Looking forward to spending 8 fantastic days with them in a lovely condo on Batu Ferrenghi beach.
3rd March – DARCIE’S BIRTHDAY. Penang is famous for it’s amazing food so we will definitely need to book a fantastic restaurant for a special evening.
7th March – All heading off by coach or train down the west coast of Malaysia to the ancient World Heritage city of Malacca where we’ll spend 1 night.
8th March – Train on to Singapore! A few days sightseeing, has to include Gin Slings in Raffles Hotel Long Bar and afternoon tea at the Goodwood Park Hotel.
11th March – Completely blowing the budget on a couple of nights at the MARINA BAY SANDS HOTEL. We just couldn’t give up on the opportunity to experience that massive infinity pool overlooking the bay area of Singapore. Just might be the most expensive couple of days of our entire trip -yikes!
13th March – A sad day as Darcie and Joe will head off from Singapore’s Changi Airport for home. However we can’t let ourselves be downhearted as tomorrow we will:-
14th March – Catch a slow boat from Singapore to Jakarta
16th March – Arrive in Jakarta where we plan to spend some time before heading off across country towards:-
22nd March – Arrive in Bali – ready for a few more days on the beach
25th March – Off to the airport. Goodbye to South East Asia and hello to PERTH, AUSTRALIA

The plans for Australia are a little less developed at present. Just how long we spend will depend on how the budget is stretching. 5 weeks is the thought, but there is so much to do. Getting the timing right to move on to New Zealand is also important – too long in Australia gets us to New Zealand in the winter.
The idea is to start in Perth, and maybe do some Housesitting, for a week or two – by this time we will need a break!
From Perth we will head to the centre of the country to see Uluru (Ayres Rock). There is some interesting trekking in the nearby in the McKenzies which may mean we need to buy / hire a tent and spend a few nights in the great outdoors.
From the centre of the Red Centre it looks like a train to Adelaide, and then on through Melbourne (picking up a few trips to local vineyards) and on to Sydney. From there the Gold Coast and Great Barrier Reef beckons, finally ending up in Cairns.

After returning to Brisbane it is time to fly to New Zealand. A couple of weeks on North Island and the same for South Island. Just how we will get around is to be worked out. A camper van gives freedom and flexibility.