Shall we just not go back?

Ever had a panic attack in a Buddhist temple? Me neither, but boy, I was pretty close. 

We visited the sacred ‘Temple of the Tooth’ in Kandy. The temple protects Buddah’s tooth in a phenomenal golden casket. The crowds cluster and swarm to see such a spectacle. Adam encouraged us to push and shove. “Push past, stay with me, otherwise we will never see it!” I did my best to obey and queue jumped like I’ve never queue jumped before. I actually quite enjoyed being rude. It felt very unnatural but reminded me of my theatre days. It’s just being another character. Yes Mum, that’s the spirit! Elbows out! No sorrys here! We’re here for the tooth! 

Hi tooth. 

I only saw it for a second and then the crowds got so bad out of no where I suddenly found myself in what can only be described as a mosh pit at a rowdy music festival. A large boob hit me right in the face. I got stuck under someone’s armpit. Still giving it my best efforts to get a photo of the tooth casket, someone fell into me and I lost my balance, accidentally hitting some poor woman really hard on the head with my phone. 

I got the photo. Just. Blurred though. 

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Then the heart palpitations started. I needed to get out. And fast. 

***

We arrived safely in Nuwara Eliya. A beautiful town, up in the Sri Lankan hills, 6,000ft above sea level. 

Sri Lanka is such a luscious green country, and here in particular, the greenery really glows.

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We left the hotel at 6am to take on a hike in Horton Plains. The route was about 9k and allowed us to see an amazing view called ‘World’s End’ and a waterfall called ‘Bakers Falls.’ The whole way around it sounded like a wooden xylophone remix… Frogs. 

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The climate is more like Britain here. Fresh. And of course, rain. Luckily the sun shone for our hike, but in the afternoon back in Nuwara Eliya, the heavens opened. 

Speaking of British, are we Brits comfortable making complaints? Goodness no. Well actually, we moan all the time, but just to ourselves, or just to our friends or partner. But making a formal complaint? That would be far too uncomfortable. We’d rather just act polite and continue to be miserable.  

Must say, much to my Mum’s (and my boyfriends!) disappointment, I buck the trend here. I really don’t mind complaining. Of course, I would never complain for ‘complainings sake,’ but if I strongly believe something is not right, or something is unfair, well then, that ought to be put right. Now I don’t generally expect luxury (unless I’m promised it), and my standards are actually generally pretty low as I enjoy ‘roughing it.’ But my standards are extremely high in how people should be treated – manners, respecting others, keeping promises etc. 

Mum and I specifically requested a vegetarian breakfast picnic to take on our hike. I didn’t request it as a joke. I requested it because we are vegetarian. So when we were promised cheese sandwiches but served salami, I believe we had every right to complain. Mum cringed and creased. “No it’s fine! We’ll just buy something else! Don’t create a scene.” 

Didn’t listen. I sought out the hotel food manager. I politely told him I was very disappointed in the service provided when we had made a specific request, having to go on hungry on our hike. (Ok, I exaggerated here: we were also given croissants, muffin, yogurt, cereal bar, banana, orange and an apple so we weren’t exactly going to starve). But anyway, he was very kind and apologetic (he probably sniffed the risk of a bad trip advisor review!) We had only paid for Bed & Breakfast, but he made it his priority that we were treated like queens for the rest of our stay, and were offered an excellent vegetarian dinner which happened to include, quote Mum, ‘one of the best desserts’ she’s ever had. All complimentary. 

“Thanks Liv…”

“You’re welcome Mum…”

***

Why don’t we have hoppers in the UK? They’re so yummy! Super thin pancake cups made of rice flour. Either with an egg in the middle or just plain, dipped in spicy chilli. Salty, zingy, delicious! The Sri Lankan’s sometimes have it with their breakfast, or as a mid morning snack. Or an afternoon snack. Or maybe as a snack before dinner on their way back from work. We also tried a savoury jackfruit snack. YUM again. All yum. Always yum. Maybe if I lived here I would start to crave one of our classics: choccie digestives dunked in a cuppa. But not yet. Sri Lanka is too great. 

***

Spent 7 and a half hours in a car today. That was shite. But all part of travel. 

Nothing else to report. 

***

Last day spent on Beruwala beach. It’s been a quiet one. I’ve felt a little under the weather, perhaps prematurely feeling the end of holiday blues. Swollen glands too. Goodness knows why. 

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It’ll be a full day of travel tomorrow. More than a full day in fact. Probably consisting of worrying about the work inbox, reflecting on the cultural whirlwind we have experienced and also giggling at some of the classic moments we have had. A couple which I missed in the blog and just must share; 

Before climbing Sigiriya, when at the entrance and getting our tickets, a loudspeaker announcement startled us. Then loud music began to play. It was upbeat. Jolly. We joked and laughed and bobbed up and down doing silly dance moves. Then to our shock horror, we see 100s of others around us, respectfully stood tall, silent, hands behind their backs. It was the Sri Lankan national anthem!!! We must have looked so disrespectful! (lol though). 

Another moment of hilarity was trying some of the traditional Sri Lankan foods. One caught my eye. Didn’t know what it was but it was wrapped up in a leaf and looked exotic. 

“Vegetarian?” I asked. 

The lady nodded her head. I gestured to buy one. 

I assumed it would be salty and spicy. Wrong. It was sweet as sweet can be, like treacle, but grainy and coconutty. I bit straight in. Chew chew chew. 

Our new Sri Lankan friend, Adam, burst out laughing when he saw me. “You don’t eat the leaf!!!!’ 

So lessons learned: 

Sri Lanka is beautiful. Genuinely beautiful. The scenery, the food, the sweet smell of cinnamon. 

The people are warm, kind, and many are blessed with gorgeous smiles. 

I would love to return one day. I encourage you to visit if ever you get the chance. But remember, don’t eat the leaf. 

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Visiting Home from Home

My tangled mind woke up at 3am this morning. PANTS. I forgot the pants.

I’m flying to California in a matter of hours and my dearest friend and occasional worst enemy, ‘Life’ has certainly been at a record breaking ‘MANIC’ these last few weeks. My head has been mangled and then buried into thousands of brain compartments – moving house, increasing workload incl evenings and weekends, triathlon training, trying to visit friends but probably failing because everyone else’s heads seem to be playing this juggling (more like ‘struggling’) game of life too…

I digress. My point was I remembered to pack the Tiger Balm (used to soothe sore muscles) yet I forget the very essential – pants.

Now I’ve arrived at the airport, this is the first time I’ve managed to have the time and space to feel excited. Mammoth Lakes (a small mountain town near Yosemite) is my Home from Home. Probably my favourite place in the world. The mountains and the wilderness allow for excitement, danger and physical adventure. Yet it is also the mountains and the wilderness that allow for stillness, peace and adventurous thoughts…

When I’m not hiking or sat outside admiring a tree or a mountain or a bear, I’m lucky enough to be staying with one of my best friends who lives in Mammoth – Joe. (Even with a lovely roof over my head, will still probably be found gazing out the window admiring a tree or a mountain or a bear).

It’s my dream to one day hike the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from Mexico to Canada). The PCT would take about 5 months to complete. Mammoth is in fact part of the PCT! I’m only here for two weeks, but hope to have a few days taster of the PCT experience. Maybe in the future I’ll be a super fit Granny and complete my PCT dream during retirement.

Damn it. Forgot the mosquito spray.

But passport, purse, visa is in check. Let’s go!

 

Top tip for cheap travel: check flight compare sites regularly and be beady eyed for deals. My RETURN flight to California was purchased about 3 weeks before. I’m flying direct from Manchester with Thomas Cook and direct flight back too. The grand total was £369 incl 23kg bag allowance and 2 in flight meals. That’s cheaper than a lot of return flights in Europe and it’s over 20hours of flying!

Top tip: try find a hobby you enjoy that’s free. I’ll be spending most of my time out there hiking. Happy days.

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 Mother-Daughter adventure to India

24th Feb, 2017

I’m sat in a King-sized bed next to my Mum, sipping on chamomile flower tea. (Apparently we are Mr and Mrs on the reservations and there are no twin rooms left). The tea tastes delicate and sweet – far from the adjectives that I would use to describe New Delhi. But before I tell you about our Indian adventures, let me tell you about our journey here – how it’s been a bit mad from the start really…

23rd Feb

“Our flight is cancelled!” My Mum screeched down the phone to me before 8am.

Well, it’s not is it.

London Heathrow are cancelling ‘some’ flights due to the bolshy nature of Hurricane Doris – but we cannot assume that ours will be a no go.

Convinced that we won’t be flying tonight, Mum still gathered up her bags and made her way to London from North Yorkshire. The plan was to have lots of reunion hugs, laughter and excitement over a leisurely dinner, before making our way to Heathrow Terminal 3 together. Wouldn’t that be boring and predictable though? So instead, the world decided to invent hurricane Doris which blew a factory roof onto the train tracks, which meant Mum almost got to London, but then had to turn back to Peterborough, catch 3 separate trains, be given false hope about a replacement bus service, follow a strange man because he told her he knew the quickest way across London, then not even be able to get off the train at one point due to the amount of human beings bunched up shoulder to shoulder, boob to boob, armpit to face.

She wouldn’t have made it in time to come to my flat first, so instead we met each other at Heathrow. Seeing as her blood pressure was already at a sprinting pace, it makes sense to just keep that running on a role, right? She had got one of those silly combination locks for her suitcase (I told her not to) and already she had locked herself out. Classic. Then, during security, she set off every beep possible. So many beeps – she’s practically released her own electro / techno album. She then had a heated discussion with a security guard as to whether the toothpaste in her clear cosmetic bag was the 100ml limit?

1) Hurricane Doris
2) Locked out of Suitcase
3) Security nightmare feat. Carolyn’s Rave mix

They say bad things come in threes. Maybe they (whoever they are) are right. The flight was ever so smooth and the 9 hours went by very quickly (literally quicker than Mum’s journey North Yorkshire — London).

New day, new rule. The queue through visa control was pretty painful – about two hours, moving slower than a snail. I saw a sign saying, “New Delhi, World’s Best Airport for the last two years.” Yeah, Ok…

Through security, we had to get readings of our fingerprints from the germ scattered / hand-sanitiser-sticky screen. Mine didn’t read too well and the security guard was not happy about it. “WOT IZ DIS!?” he yelled in a thick Indian accent as I tried to push my left thumb into the screen for the sixth time. He also aggressively quizzed me on my whereabouts. “Why you come to India? How long you stay? Who you come with?”

Then I thought he asked who my Professor was, to which I replied, “I don’t have a professor, but I work in a university.” Then I realised that he was asking me, “what’s your PROFESSION?” So even though he did not care whether I have a professor or not, I still technically answered his question.

The man waiting with the sign “Carolyn Mulligan” was a little annoyed that he had been waiting, getting a dead arm holding up that sign for over two hours.

On our way, on our way! When people tell you about the traffic and the noise in India being manic and insane, they do not lie. It was like Mario Kart, scoring extra points if you don’t hit the goat.

The hotel we are staying at is quite luxurious but in a very busy area that feels quite unsafe. A lovely girl, Leena, with a beautiful smile and kind eyes showed us to our room and treated us like we were precious jewels from a far away land.

No matter how much others warn you, we were still overwhelmed by the busyness of it all. Just at the right time, as our blood sugars reached a low point, we came across a kiosk serving chai tea, surrounded by locals. I ordered a ginger chai, jam-packed with warmth and flavour. I savoured every sip. We found a clear spot – sat, drank and listened to the music.

My dinner also received a gold star for flavour. It was a cauliflower curry from the ‘Medieval Delhi’ section of the menu. The popadoms were served with a chutney that – I can only describe as hot. I actually felt my stomach burn a bit. But that might be due to the fact that we haven’t eaten much today. Where did today even begin?

Which brings be back to the here and now. Somewhere in the last few paragraphs it became 24th February. So here I am: the evening of 24th Feb, in a king sized bed, drinking chamomile tea, wondering what the exciting, scary, enchanting India has in store for us….

“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.