Adventures in Amritsar

25th Feb

It was an early start, departing Delhi and catching the train, heading North to Amritsar.

The station was crowed Indian mayhem and even with all the hundreds of bodies, we certainly don’t blend in. Our white skin seems to glow even brighter than the colourful pashminas that surround us. Everybody is staring.

I liked the train. It had a rustic ‘old school’ charm about it. A little man in a green polo shirt made his way through the carriages with complimentary refreshments such as lime water in a yogurt pot and India’s version of a rich tea biscuit.

Both me and Mum were speechless as the train tracks made their way through miles and miles of total poverty. Words struggle to explain. Old men, twice as thin as me. How is that even possible? Thousands of people were squatting, pooing by the train tracks on the heaps of waste. Do you look away? I didn’t want to stare but at the same time, you can’t ignore it. You can’t pretend that it’s not happening in the world – people behaving like animals because they have no choice. People in agony from starvation. Neither of us wanted to speak for a while. We stared out of the train window onto the rainbow of litter and pain. A hard hitting reminder how blissful our lives are and how any problems we have back at home, really are quite trivial.

After about 5 hours, we arrived in Amritsar. Today the driving experience was less Mario Kart, more Dodgems. Cars pressed up against tuk tuks, against bicycles, against scooters against, oh – yep, it’s a cow. There are no rules in the carparks, no rules on the roads. The beeps lack any form of meaning because everyone just does it constantly. Beep! Beep! Beep!

26th Feb

My oh my. Today was quite something. I’m actually feeling quite a lot of pressure to write about it because it was nothing less than extraordinary and I fear that my diary entry won’t do it justice.

As a memory of the day, I bought a Sikh bracelet. It is a silver bangle that now hangs on my right wrist and the idea is that it is a reminder to ‘always do the good thing, the right thing.’

70% of the population in Amritsar are Sikhs – the highest Sikh population in the world. We learned a lot about what it means to be Sikh from our amazing guide for the day – Gobind.

Gobind himself, identifies as a New Sikh. New Sikhs are generally quite relaxed and just live by the rule of being a good, kind, compassionate, respectful person.

Sikhism in general is an incredibly loving and understanding religion and this is shown in the principles of The Golden Temple. The fact that it has four entrances means that they welcome everybody – whatever skin colour, gender, religion or sexuality.

To visit The Golden Temple, out of respect, you must remove your shoes and cover up bare skin, including wearing a headscarf of some sort.

The sky was bright blue and the colours around us from the people and their attire – my goodness, it was electric. And when I say people… Tens of thousands of people. Crowds. Crazy crowds. And yet, somehow, I felt peaceful and safe.

The temple was grand and proud and at the same time, humble and inviting. It felt like the world was going in slow motion – it was just so, so different to anything I have ever seen before now.

Next to the temple is the communal kitchen. Run entirely by volunteers, they serve free food to over 30,000 people every single day. It was manically busy but ran like a well oiled machine. Groups for washing up, groups for chapati making, groups for stirring the mammoth bowl of dhal: jam-packed with lentils, kidney beans and warming spices.

Thousands of people sit on the floor, all together and consume the free food. Sikhs believe in togetherness. We are all equal. Show love for everybody, care for everybody. We sat amongst some of the fast working volunteers and helped to roll out some dough for the chapatis.

Gobind then took us into some sacred private rooms where readings of The Holy Book were taking place. I don’t think we were allowed in here, but Gobind believes in ‘good intentions’ so even though it was technically ‘not allowed,’ because we were doing no harm, all was OK. The same goes for taking us onto a rooftop to see the most incredible view – the blazing sun shining over The Golden Temple and the sea of multicolour surrounding it.

We then visited the historic Jallianwala Bagh, which commemorates the hundreds of Indians killed or wounded by British bullets in the most notorious massacre under their rule. It caused a lump in my throat to see the sign “shots started to fire here X” and to see the bullet holes through the wall.

After taking some time to rest, and filling up on fresh naan, brown grain rice, paneer masala and fragrant dhal – we were ready for The Golden Temple adventure 2.0. This time, under the moonlight.

As we made our way there, me and Mum joked what would happen if we photo-bombed someone’s photo. They’d probably love it! We’d make their day! I mean, everyone wants a photo with us anyway (we’d been pestered as though we were celebrities all day), so imagine how thrilled they would be if we just jumped in to surprise them.

Behold, two young men with turbans were taking a photo. All of a sudden, we were both overcome with confidence. Without any real consultation we just ran in and did it – cheesy grin, thumbs up, we sprung in between the camera and the two men.

Oh dear. They’re not laughing. They don’t get it. Sense of humour failure. They’re angry. Abort! Abort!

Like two naughty school girls, the sudden seriousness of it all made it even more hysterical. Run away!!! Howling with laughter, we ran through the crowds. I ran, cradling my backpack, still laughing, but also scared, hoping they wouldn’t be chasing us. I don’t think I’ve ever known my Mum to do something so juvenile and silly. She’s pretty cool, I thought to myself.

Jokes aside, we were seconds away from seeing the temple now. Sandals off, through the water, under the arch and…

Speechless.

My eyes flooded with I don’t know what. Emotion? Awe? I was transfixed. I’m not sure if I breathed for a while.

If you imagine the colour gold in your head, but a gold that is golder than gold – a gold that is dazzling. A gold that even in the pitch black, would still be gold. A gold that brings every man, every woman, every sound in nature to silence. A gold that is so gold, it doesn’t truly exist.

But, it does exist. In the state of Punjab, the city of Amritsar, it exists and it’s called The Golden Temple.

The countdown to India

For the last few years I have fantasised about India. The fragrance, the textures, the tastes and the noise. The decadence and the dirt. I knew that one day I would do whatever I needed to do in order to visit the country that was a mysterious, enticing dream to me.

Cue January sales.

It’s happening. Last minute deal. Absolute steal.

I’d happily go and travel alone again, I thought (much to my parents’ horror). Or – do any of my good friends want to go with me? ANY TAKERS? That would be cool. I knew as soon as I saw that deal online that I was definitely going to go (subject to work giving me the OK, which luckily they did!)…But I knew the chances of any of my friends also wanting / able to jet off to New Delhi in a few weeks time was pretty slim.

Alone it is.

I thought I should be a good daughter and keep my Mum in the loop. I sent her a text message.

 “Hey Mum. I’m going to book a trip to India tonight. Wanna come?”

I smiled to myself at my hilarity. Of course Mummy Mulligan won’t want to go to India. Carolyn Routine Mulligan. Carolyn Everything Must Be Clean Mulligan. Carolyn The Biggest Worrier In The World Mulligan.

Beep Beep. My phone buzzed.

Hey Mum. I’m going to book a trip to India tonight. Wanna come?

“Yes.”

I’m sorry, what?

Of course, I gave her a call to clarify that she meant to agree to something else. Such as Dad wanting confirmation that dinner would be at 6pm like it has been every evening for the past 30 years of their marriage.

To my disbelief, my Mum wanted to travel to India with me. And not just lie on a beach and be served cocktails (she wouldn’t like that anyway because she gets sun stroke really easily). But she actually wanted to travel through the North of India with me, exploring, travelling by train, making our way to the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.

I am beyond excited! I know I make fun of Mummy Mulligan, but she knows I love her dearly and she knows she is one of my best friends.

MUM AND DAUGHTER ADVENTURE.

But now the departure date is very fast approaching, I think it has dawned on her what she has signed up for. When I was trying to explain to her what the humidity would feel like – she gulped and her face turned grey.

She has turned to buying Yakult drinks and over-priced probiotic tablets in an attempt to prepare her stomach for what’s to come.

Her Google search is an obsessive repetitive list of ‘Weather in Delhi’ / ‘Tourist scams in India’

She is losing sleep at night at the thought of not being able to drink Yorkshire tea.

“I’m taking my own teabags.” She told me.

I’m going to just let her be and do her thing. But I can’t wait to see her face light up as we sample chai tea together. The real deal.

The countdown to India begins!

 

!!! I feel I must mention that whilst writing this blog post my Mum text me. I’m not even making this up. Do you know what she sent?

“Shame weather is terrible. How is your foot? Have you been taking Yakult?”

“I want to travel, but…”

Absorbed by a new job and the bubble of London, the travel blog has been somewhat neglected. A few people have asked me to write new posts and quite frankly I have ignored these requests. Why would I write about the ordinary? This morning I had toast instead of porridge. Wow.

However, I have also received some messages from people asking for ‘travel advice.’ I’m no travel agent but I’m always thrilled to speak about travelling and my experiences – some of the things that I got right… and about some of the things that I got oh so very wrong. What should I pack? Do you think this will be a good route? How do you make friends? How do you budget money?

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have now written a travel book. It is half journal and half advice for first time solo travellers. Amongst some words of encouragement, it’s full of light-hearted anecdotes, all written in a tell-it-how-it-is fashion. (It ain’t all pretty). The advice chapters are as followed…

Should I leave my job?

What countries should I visit?

How long should I go away for?

Should I travel alone?

Top safety tips for solo travel

Travelling alone as a woman

What to pack?

What not to pack

Planning versus spontaneity

How to make friends

How do deal with your own company

Mind over matter

Learn to say yes

What to do when you miss home

What to do when you think ‘This isn’t for me…’

How to budget

What I wish I’d have known

How to avoid the travel blues?

What do the others say?

 

A part of me wants to just post all of it now, but I’ve got to be strict with myself and continue to edit and continue to sweet talk publishers. Hopefully one day it will be on the shelves and part of the E-book family. One can dream.

I think it is allowed that I share the title with you though. ‘GO.’

Because that really is the advice in a nutshell. GO. If you are considering some kind of adventure, however big or small, just go. It’s always easier to think of a million reasons not to do something.

And for the messages that I have received from people either considering going, or about to jet off, I will happily share with you the advice that I collected from some of the friends that I met whilst backpacking this year…

Jackson, 22 (Somerset, UK)

Don’t travel to find yourself, travel to find everyone else.

 

Jade W, 25 (London, UK)

Backpacking is one of the most exciting experiences you will get in life, and whether you realise it or not you’ll be growing and changing as a person with every encounter you make. So whether it’s trying exotic food, talking to people you don’t know, or solo travelling for the first time, throw yourself into every situation and really push yourself, even if it’s completely outside your comfort zone, because you will get so much more out of the experiences you didn’t know you could do.

 

Hannah, 25 (Leamington Spa, UK)

Always take a pack of playing cards.

 

Harry, 23 (Leicestershire, UK)

Live in the moment and absorb all that you can.

 

Sophie, 22 (Leicestershire, UK)

Do things that scare you.

 

Annie, 22 (Worcester, UK)

If there’s something you really want to do while you’re travelling don’t let anything stop you from doing it- whether that be fear, money etc, etc. For most of us travelling to these places is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you don’t want to come back with any regrets.

 

Georgia, 22 (Melbourne, Australia)

Wherever you go, don’t leave without a bottle of water and a lip balm. There is nothing worse than feeling dehydrated and having dry lips!

 

Brit, 22 (Melbourne, Australia)

Always travel with a power board. That way you only need one travel adapter but can charge multiple things from home at once.

 

Matt, 27 (Birmingham, UK)

Speak to everyone you can, you never know who you might meet and who could become a friend that you will keep in touch with forever!

 

Emily, 21 (Surrey, UK)

Never buy the backpacks that only open from the top.

 

Jess, 24 (Peterborough, UK)

Embrace whatever seemingly strange situation you will often find yourself in as they create the best memories to share with people later on.

 

Margaret, 22 (Nova Scotia, Canada)

Keep your plans flexible because some of the best memories come from the things that you never expected you would do!

 

Martin, 25 (Carlisle, UK)

Make damn sure you never come away thinking, “I should’ve done that.”

 

Aimee, 30 (Manchester, UK)

Things never quite go the way you expect – be open to following wherever the path wants to take you.

 

Sarah, 28 (London, UK)

No matter which country you go to, always take an umbrella! It doesn’t only get rainy in England.

 

Maja, 22 (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Go to the rainforest in Australia. Stay there for more than just one night, so you really get to experience being away from the world and all it’s stress and social media.

 

Fred, 24 (Surrey, UK)

Don’t do too much coke. It’s all fun and games until the heart palpitations kick in.

 

Robin, 23 (Sheffield, UK)

Never sleep in too late. Get up and do things. You can sleep when you’re old.

 

Daisy, 29 (London, UK)

Invest in a decent bag – it’s basically your life-line for the trip. Make sure it’s not too full when you leave home as you’ll want to buy things on your travels.

 

Jade R, 24 (Stratford-upon-Avon, UK)

Never trust a fart in Asia.

Connie, 22 (Durham, UK)

Just wing it.

 

Dirk, 30 (Germany)

If you are in love, never talk to an amazing girl who will confuse you as much as hell.

 

Marvin, 20 (Switzerland)

Don’t plan too much. Let it happen.

 

Eilidh, 21 (Scotland)

Don’t follow the same trip everyone does just because it’s seen as the ‘normal’ backpacker route. If you want to go somewhere, GO. If there is somewhere you don’t fancy, ‘DON’T GO.’ It’s your trip, so follow your heart. Also, don’t get drunk and ride horses.

 

Luke, 28 (Hertfordshire)

Keep putting yourself in new positions to make new memories.

 

Christopher, 24 (Wirral, UK)

Remember, you can always come back!

 

Anne, 19 (Winnipeg, Canada)

Imodium is NOT a solution or cure; is it merely a final, desperate act for survival.

 

Jade E (Neath, Wales)

You’re never truly alone.

 

 

When 4 months becomes 7

For some reason, over the last few years, saying ‘yes’ became increasingly difficult. ‘Buy the expensive dress’ – no. ‘Have a one-night-stand’ – no. ‘Go on a walk instead of a run’ – no. For many things, it’s always easier to come up with a thousand reasons not to do things.

Before I set off from home, back in January, one of my goals when travelling was to say ‘yes’ to more things. Being a stubborn little sod, it was difficult at first, but as you can imagine, the power of saying yes became addictive. Each time, endorphins exploded, new adventures were had and new stories were to be told. By saying ‘yes’ you begin to see more, feel more – live more. You realise how narrow-minded and silly you were before.

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity to do something and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.”Richard Branson

Saying yes can open doors. Not only does it allow for a fantastic experience, there and then, but it can allow for a snowball effect of positive outcomes. You will probably have hundreds of examples when saying yes to a certain thing, meant that you had a string of good things happen after that. Maybe it was that by saying yes to go ice-skating with your cousin, meant that you met Derek who became your friend and helped you get a job, and at that job, you ended up meeting the love of your life at the company’s Christmas party? My most recent example, started with a certain ‘yes’ last year, but I am still reaping the benefits. Last year I had planned to spend some time in LA. Unfortunately, I felt that I didn’t fit in there very much. A friend, Joe (who, at the time I barely knew) kindly offered that I stay with him, up in the mountains in Mammoth Lakes (near Yosemite). As amazing as that offer was… I couldn’t leave L.A. I had planned to spend 2 weeks there. That was my plan. I couldn’t stray away from the plan. But the reality was, my plan wasn’t right for me. After lots of mmms, errrs and maybes, I eventually said yes to going to the mountains. Guess what? I fell in love with Mammoth and Joe is now one of my best friends. So, fast-forward a year and I am staying with him in Mammoth Lakes for 3 months – writing and altitude training. I am, quite literally, living my dream.

But like all dreams, there comes a point when you have to wake up. And guess what? I am almost at that point. I have been away from home this year for almost 7 months, and in less than a week, I will be flying away from the mountains, towards Leeds Bradford Airport. I’m feeling a mix of emotions and struggling to articulate my current thought process regarding the situation. I think because I feel so at home out here, the concept of leaving for home feels a little unsettling. And it’s a blooming long journey: I will leave Monday evening and not reach Leeds until midday on Wednesday. I repeat, Wednesday.

However, I am comforted by something that Joe said to me: “You’ve got to go in order to come back.”

In addition, never will I forget what my Canadian soul-mate (Anne) who I met in Thailand said to me: “Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened.”

 Happy is an understatement. Amongst writing, altitude training, endless hiking in the mountains and stage management, I have also been privileged to try the ‘grapple’ (a grape flavoured apple). Thank you California, you’ve been “totally awesome, dude.”

 

 

He has herpes!?

Visiting the states, or even watching American TV shows back at home, you come to realise that we often have different ways of saying things – whether that be the accent, or because we use completely different words. Of course, we all know the obvious ones – trousers are pants (hilarious), petrol is gas, queue is a line and route is pronounced ‘rowt.’

However since my time here (2 months so far, only 1 month to go!) there have been a few little awkward mishaps, ones that nobody prepared me for, regarding the British / American differences…

Take a dinner party the other week… Now I know that a ‘Pot Luck’ party is where you each bring a dish without conferring, so it will be ‘pot luck’ what you end up eating for dinner. My British ears, however, instead of hearing ‘Pot Luck Party’ heard, ‘Padlock Party.’ My mind was going mad, confused by the concept, worried about being locked up.

Things got worse the other day… I’ve been helping out at Kids’ Summer Adventure Camp for the last month, and the other day, little Landon and I share a special moment. Landon is five years old.

Landon sits next to Kelsie and he shouts, “I’m going to give her herpes!!!”

My eyes widen.

“Excuse me, Landon! What did you say!?” I yell back, horrified.

“I’m going to give her herpes!” he repeats.

Oh. Her piece. 

 He was referring to the biscuit. Or should I say, ‘cookie.’

How amusing. I have enjoyed spending lots of my time with the little ones, more than I thought I would. Before, (in all honesty) I didn’t hate little kids, but I didn’t really like them much either. How things have changed. Now, I’m fascinated.

The conversations you have with them can be comedy gold. Take Sylvie (5): little Sylvie who resembles a miniature Lindsay Lohan (Parent Trap Movie) intelligently picks up that I speak with a different accent. “So where are you from?” she asks.

“I’m from England.”

To which she goes, “Oh! My Aunty Sue is from England. We’ve been to visit her before. Her name is Aunty Sue but, but, but, her friends just call her Sue. Do you know her?”

“Well where in England is she from?”

“She’s from England.”

“Ok…”

“Did you know that we went to England and Bristol and then back to England again.”

“Sylvie, Bristol is in England.”

“We went to both.”

“Just like California is in America, Bristol is in England.”

“No, you weren’t there. We went to both.”

“Ok.”

 

Or I love how they speak about the past sometimes. Here, Landon features again.

“A long time ago, when I was really little. I was really small. I tripped over a soccer ball and I hurted my knee. I was only 4 years old.”

“Really little, huh? How old are old are you now, Landon?”

“Oh, now I’m 5. In three months I’ll be 5 and a half.”

 

Maybe Canada next year?

I have a tendency to be as awkward as a cow on roller skates. I’m too quiet. I laugh at things that aren’t funny. I have a resting bitch face. I always look lost. I say, ‘pardon?’ too many times and if I were given a pound for every time I waved at somebody when they were waving at the person behind me – well, I’d be a millionaire.

The other day in fact, I joined a new running club. A woman just behind me said, “wow, sweetie! You did so well!” I quickly turned round, smiling like a Cheshire cat, and said, “Aww thank you! My quads was hurting a bit, but I really enjoyed it.”

Guess what? She was not talking to me. She was talking to her dog.

Sometimes you can run away from feeling so awkward by thinking, ‘ah well. I’ll never see them again.’ But that option doesn’t look so likely for me right now, as I am living here, in Mammoth Lakes, for 3 months. It’s quite a small town and you bump into the same people quite a lot.

NOTE: Mammoth Lakes is in California, not Canada. I’ve had quite a few messages lately asking me how Canada is. Or telling me that it looks like I’m having an incredible time in Canada.. AM I!?!?!

I am so grateful to be living in Mammoth (California) for the summer. It’s my favourite place in the world. I quite often have to pinch myself. Last week for my birthday, I climbed my favourite mountain to 11,000 ft and enjoyed some squashed birthday cake at the top.

This week I kept up with my altitude training, helped out with the Summer Mini Adventure Camp and did some babysitting. I spent 5 hours yesterday with a 6 year old boy who repeatedly told me that I had small boobies.

I’m tired from the altitude and feeling a little deflated at my slower running times up here. But I’m determined to keep working hard and hopefully see the benefits when I’m back in the UK. At sea level. With all that beautiful oxygen.

So, folks. I’ve been here one month now. Two more to go! Maybe Canada will be next on my list?