Stuck in the rainforest?

Important note: 1 hour after writing this, we were informed that our upcoming plans and adventures for the rest of the trip have been cancelled. We have now been instructed to get the next flight home… If we can…

2 hours ago, I wrote this…
Today is Monday. Actually, I just checked my phone and it is Tuesday. The last time I put pen to paper was Friday evening and so it seems about time that I shared with you, our latest story. As I write this, I am stomach face down on a little beach cove on the edge of a rainforest in Borneo. Every few words I’m plucking ants from my arm hairs and counting the 11 mosquito bites on my legs received by one angry blighter in the space of less than 10 minutes.

We are staying in a treehouse here for 2 nights and we feel like the only humans on earth. It is deserted here. I dread to think how the situation regarding the coronavirus is evolving back at home (and the rest of the world at that matter). We caught a glimpse of the UK news yesterday morning when in the city of Kuching and things were not looking good… ‘The beginnings of lock down…’

In our travelling bubble, the last few days have been jam-packed with adventures and touristy goodness. I don’t want to bore you with a ‘we did this, we did that’ type of account. But feel free to feast your beautiful self isolating eyes on some pics, showing our journey from Heathrow – Kuala Lumpur – Kuching – where my sandy little arse is sat now, on a deserted beach in Borneo.

 *apologies, will have to insert photos when at home. Jungle WiFi not strong enough!!

Of course, there have also been moments when I’m not with a camera… Either because I’m pre-occupied wiping sweat from my upper lip, I’m too busy reading out loud all the signage because mum’s not wearing her reading glasses, or, wait for it, I’m too transfixed on seeing an Orangutan IN THE WILD, in a trance, watching him as my heart dances with excitement. This morning Mum and I went on our own hike into the jungle trails and, when stopping to sip some water, some branch movement caught my eye. We both immediately froze like statues. There he was…using the weight of his glowing orange body to swing from tree to tree. He stopped on a branch high above our heads…looking at us… I wish I had got him on video…

I also wish (going back to Kuala Lumpur now) that I had videoed Mum asking where the Petronas towers were, when we were literally so close…at the very bottom of them. “Erm. They are right here, Miss.” The local man pointed upwards.

I took lots of photos at the Batu Caves and I’m so glad I did because we had an epic time gauping at rainbow coloured temples and climbing a steep set of colourful stairs to reach the temple at the top inside the caves. Monkeys pranced at our feet and we had the joy of seeing a mum and baby who hilariously was using the baby’s tail as a makeshift child leash when he tried to scramble off to do his own thing.

On our way back to the centre, we found ourselves in the ‘Ladies only’ coach on the train. No worries, we thought. We are in fact, Ladies. We do Lady things. (remember when Little Britain was a thing!?) Anyway, there we were, hanging out as Ladies do in the Lady coach, when a group of ten or so men waltz in. Some of the local ladies looked horrified. The men sat down confidently and didn’t see the sign. I hear they are speaking Spanish.

“Shall I milk this whole power thing and tell them to shift? I know it’s not exactly equality, but there is a sign… Values are different here…”

“Do it, kiddo!” encouraged Mum.

Let’s keep in mind I haven’t done Spanish since school so it’s a little rusty.

“Hi. Hola. Hello. Sorry. This is a Ladies only coach.”

They look at me with confusion as if I have just recited Shakespeare in Arabic.

“Aqui” I point to one coach door.
“A aqui” I point to the other coach door.
“Para los Mujeres…. No hombres…” I then point to the pink sign with a cross through a man.
Very roughly translated to ‘Here. To here. For the women… No men…’
They look at each other and laugh and say sorry and I laugh too. They slowly amble out and a lady, wearing a head scarf and a face mask with her young daughter sat on her lap, smiles at me with her eyes.

I have just re read that paragraph and seeing the phrase ‘epic time’ does brew a concoction of emotions. We are so lucky, so blessed to be experiencing such an amazing trip together, however…Things are changing by the hour so what’s to come is unknown and the unknown is unnerving. But as I sit here, listening to the sound of tropical bug virbrairons and the South China Sea waves, I compile a list of positve things to be grateful for.

1. Where we are is magical and we are very lucky to be here.
2. We saw a freakin’ orangutan in the wild this morning.
3. The Nasi Gorneg we had for our lunch was bangin’
4. We have each other.
5. We have managed to avoid getting the shits (hope I haven’t spoken too soon)
6. I only have 11 mosquito bites on my legs. 111 would be worse.

Another Year, Another Mother-Daughter Adventure

‘Health is your wealth’ they say.
‘Look after yourself, love’ they tell me.
‘Take it easy, Liv’ they softly whisper as they leave the room. By ‘they’ I mean family / friends / colleagues / volunteers that I work alongside / my favourite lady at the till at Tescos / or Graham – the man who I have deep life chats with every Wednesday morning at 8am in the leisure centre sauna.

‘This is serious’ she said.
‘This is critical’ she told me.
‘You are not going travelling. Going to India right now is nothing but total self destruction. What would your family say if you don’t make it home? I don’t call patients up at 9.30pm at night unless it’s really serious.’
That was my Gastroenterologist Consultant in December informing me that I was too weak and too poorly to travel. Heartbroken is an understatement. I had quit my job (which I love) for this trip, so the stakes were pretty high.

Days have been slower than slow, but, now March, hip-hip-hooray, huge improvements have been made. I still have a long way to go but each day I have been getting stronger and my bloods and biochemistry are now ‘stable.’ So my solo trip to India has been postponed, but the annual Mother-daughter adventure is fast approaching. Lo and behold – Borneo.

By being very strict with the savings pot and loosely having a ‘no online shopping / only get the necessities’ way of life, our next big trip is upon us. I will soon be able to live out one of my many life-long dreams – to see an Orangutan in the wild. Oh what a fascinating, breath-taking adventure it will be. As with most of our trips – there will be joy, beauty, a large dilemma, a possible panic attack and many unwelcome mosquito bites.

I anticipate cheeky brown-eyed monkeys, crocodiles lurking, dolphins in turquoise waters…
We’ll be slurping traditional laska (a spicy coconut soup) from the bustling food markets…
Marveling at shades of green in the rainforest that we have never cast our eyes on before…
Learning from the locals…
Having warm, relaxed bones from the hot sun and sticky freckly skin.
Hearing sounds of – what’s that? It’s Mum getting cross with me that I lied about March’s average temperature and humidity levels so she would agree to come with me.
I’ll be having a hand sanitizer pelted towards me several times a day from said cross-over-heated lady.
Forget having a massage at the hotel spa… I’ll be rubbing Mum’s back at the airport to try and calm her down about her coronavirus anxieties…
…Potentially getting quarantined. Swapping my chopsticks for a face mask…
… even if we escape the coronavirus hysteria, let’s be honest, at least one of us will get the shits.
I can’t wait.

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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“Is that noise your stomach or is that a giant sloth bear?”

We arrived safely in Habarana, although it was a little uncertain drive as our very sweet driver, Adam, risked taking an unknown shortcut, which actually resulted in us asking locals for directions on every little corner. Old school Sat Nav, ey. 

The following morning we awoke to greet the day with climbing up Sigiriya Rock – a bold statement of a 274m rock standing proud in the Sri Lankan countryside, which has gained a respectful reputation of being the 8th wonder of the world. With that kind of status = an overcrowding sea of annoying tourists. 

Why are you here. 

Why did everyone come in the morning. 

Why are you walking so slowly. 

Why can’t Mum and I have a selfie with the rock without someone else’s selfie stick poking me in the back. 

I’m a terrible person. Of course, Mum and I are also making everyone else feel that way too. 

(Note: I haven’t yet progressed to the selfie stick dark-side and I only sink as low as the classic long arm and forced grin). 

Apart from the irritating crowds, Sigiriya was a phenomenal experience. Our calves were burning from the never ending steps and our scalps were burning from the penetrating sun, but those views at the top: wow. It’s mind blowing to see the ruins of the palace up there. Imagine building that on the top of such a rock!? And what ‘King’ wants, ‘King’ gets. He even had his workers put two swimming pools up there. How the heck did they get the water all the way to the top!? What a lad. 

It was a little touch and go being so far away from the bathroom up at the top… 

Due to the nature of travelling, the way of life out here, and the exotic and occasionally risky food… Tum tum is in for a bumpy ride… 

I feel over the history of this blog I’ve already revealed too much about my bowel movements, but take a look at any of my previous India or Thailand or Indonesia posts and you’ll get the idea…We’re actually (touch wood) not too bad at the moment, but equally in a constant state of never wanting to be too far away from a washroom… 

We next made our way to a traditional rural village location. Now I’m gonna risk sounding like an awful human (again) here, but our local guide who we had leading the way did my nut in (thank goodness it wasn’t a full day tour). He was like an overgrown Boy Scout / Dora the Explorer type. The type who definitely always raised their hand in class even if they didn’t know the answer. The type that takes too many selfies. The type that says too much irrelevant information. The type that would probably make great First Dates material on Channel 4, offering high doses of cringe…

We took a catamaran across the lake to meet a Sri Lankan family who showed us how to make traditional roti and coconut pol sambol for lunch. All old traditional tools were used for making it – like an outdoor sturdy table and big rolling pin for crushing the chillies, salt and lime, and also a large old blade for slicing and grating the coconut. All very heavy equipment. They joked, “no need for the gym here!”

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We ate with our suncreamy fingers off a large banana leaf as our plate.  Warm roti (almost like a thicker chapatti made with rice flour / coconut) was so good it feels like your tummy is smiling when you eat it. And the fresh, fiery red chilli pol sambol was utterly mouthwatering. Cleanliness of the whole process: questionable. 

We rode back to meet Adam via a bullock cart and were greeted with a much appreciated air conditioned vehicle. Soon to change though. After our bad luck over the last two days with no wild elephant sitings… we have both agreed to pay for safari number 3. Thanks to making a Sri Lankan friend with local knowledge, he found ‘our guy’ with a jeep and knowledge of the wilderness tracks. (As with anywhere in the world… it’s who you know!!) 

***

Well aren’t we two lucky ladies. My dream to see one wild elephant – no fences, no cages, no vets bills, roaming free, living off the land… That dream was injected with steroids and multiplied as we were greeted with SO MANY WILD ELEPHANTS. I stopped counting at 26.

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We first cast our eyes on 3 females and a baby – no older than 6months old. Tugging at the foliage. Wandering. Who knows where. Just free. 

It was an unusual sensation I felt when seeing them. Joy. Excitement. Slight guilt. Intrigue. 

The slight guilt comes from even though these guys are wild, the fact I was there, looking at them, holding my camera, still sparked some negative feelings. 

Maybe they don’t want me looking at them. 

Maybe they don’t want their photograph taken. 

Have I gone ‘must get consent’ mad? 

Am I too sensitive? 

I tried to stamp on my niggling negativity and just embrace this moment and feel blessed for looking upon such beautiful creatures. 

We saw more as we drove deeper into the wild park land. Sometimes we were extremely close, at one point, so close I could almost lean out of the roofless jeep and touch her. 

Thank you, Habarana, for giving me my wild elephant dream! Next stop: Kandy… 

Should we go to Sri Lanka tomorrow?

GP appointment. Physio appointment. Psychotherapy. Gastroenterology. Dietician. Rheumatology. Safe to say my health hasn’t been too sprightly these past few months and life has seemed to be one big appointment, just prodded in a different place.

Now for the next appointment: Heathrow Airport. Now I wouldn’t say I’m the strongest version of my self right now… so is it really a good idea to venture to the other side of the world to camp in a tent under the Sri Lankan stars, in the hope to cast my eyes on a dream of mine: a wild elephant… Mystical. Wise. Roaming free.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” My Mum asks.

(Am I up to it?… Thing is, I’ve worked blooming hard to save up the $$$ to taste that fresh coconut fish curry & sip fine fragrant tea & feel a rich sun on my back & search for wild leopards. So yes. I’m up for it).

Yesterday I went for a stroll across quiet fields whilst listening to a podcast featuring one of my favourite authors, Matt Haig. He speaks openly about his own mental health struggles and was speaking about the power of not trying so hard. He had been trying so hard to ‘get better’ and to ‘put labels’ on his flaws, that this was actually winding him up even more, thus, making life even more of a struggle.

Perhaps my adventure will actually be an act of healing in itself?

If you’re a return reader of me ol’ blog (hi! Thanks!) you’ll know that 2 years ago I branched away from my beloved solo travel and went to India with my one and only Mum! The MamaDaughter adventures continued the following year too (India again, because we were hooked). This year I suggested Sri Lanka to use a couple of weeks annual leave. (Didn’t take much convincing, she must be addicted too now). She immediately agreed.

So now, time to pack the things that excite me the most:
Mosquito spray.
Imodium.

My stomach flutters and flicks with excitement when I think of a long haul flight. I just love it. It’s actually a length of time that forces me to slow down in life. For example, I often struggle to stay focused for an entire film as my mind will be flirting with a thousand other possibilities of what I could or should be doing in life right now that would be more productive (not a healthy trait and something I am trying to work on!) But on a plane, I’ll happily binge watch 3 films back to back. IT’S GREAT.

Also the plane food is great. I love the surprise. Even if it’s the surprise of tragic disappointment.

Speaking of tragic. I really don’t mind if I’m sat next to a complete loon. Or a heavy breather. Or someone that looks like they’ve eaten their family-size suitcase and so their stomach & side-back flop over half my seat too. You see, the weird and the distressing makes for a funny story and good writing material. I like it.

Let’s see if I get any decent writing material soon, ey? Will try to keep the blog updated. Bon voyage!

The severe dedication to avoid Delhi Belly

1st March

I’m squatting. For once, not squatting over one of India’s famous hole-in-the-ground-toilets, but I’m squatting next to an open fire, helping a lady who is dressed all in blue. I’m helping her make chapatis.

I’m outside the Judge’s Court Hotel, situated in the Heritage Village of Pragpur. My rolling-pin technique isn’t quite as speedy or efficient as the lady in blue, but her white smile is warm and her kind eyes tell me that she is grateful for my help and my company. She doesn’t say much but her aura is peaceful and content, so much so that it is contagious – whilst throwing raw dough onto the orange flame and sitting (squatting) by her side, I feel a calm happiness in my head and through my entire body.

Our dinner that evening was incredible and I definitely over did it. I waddled up to the bedroom feeling like I was about to give birth to triplets. Triplets cushioned by garlic naan and swimming in a platter of vegetarian curry.

2nd March

7 hours drive to Shimla. It’s only 200km away, but it’s all narrow, twisty roads, heading up the mountains. Jesus Christ the driving was hairy. It truly is the real life Mario Kart experience – who doesn’t love over taking on bends? But each time we overtook, we beeped the horn three times so we’ll be safe, right? My knuckles were white for most of those 7 hours (made worse by one too many coffees this morning – stay strong little bladder. Stay strong!) I feel really bad that I don’t know our driver’s name. We’ve been with him these last 5 days, but it would be too awkward to ask now.

Good lord, Shimla is cold. Much colder than I expected. Wearing practically the entire contents of my backpack in an attempt to keep warm, fashion has completely gone out of the window. I currently resemble an unfashionable 14 year old that would be found in a French GCSE text book.

Shimla is beautiful though. It’s much cleaner than any of the other places that we have previously visited. Smoking is prohibited and there is a ‘no spitting’ rule. The roads are steep, the forest trees are tall and the glowing sunset resembles an acryclic painting, painted by a talented optimist.

3rd March

Today I saw a girl get attacked by a monkey. She wasn’t hurt, so it’s OK that I laughed, right?

A temple visit and then some more monkey shenanigans, I later purchased the best thing since sliced bread – a Yak wool scarf from a kooky little Tibetan charity shop. #FreeTibet !!!

After mopping up my plate of black dahl with fresh chapati, both my tongue and my stomach reached a level of satisfaction so much higher than is possible with the foods back at home. I’m being daring with trying new flavours and spices (I love hot food), however, I’m being extremely cautious of all uncooked foods – especially fruit and veg. And even though I’m the gelato queen, after reading up on food safety in India, I’m staying away from ice-cream too. And it goes without saying – bottled water, always bottled water (and make sure it’s sealed! Sometimes they have been sneakily refilled and sold on).

Upon recommendation from a local, I went to Baljeet bakery to try one of their famous ‘Barfis.’ I opted for ‘coconut barfi.’ It was sweet and delicious but unfortunately the after-taste took a dramatic turn, resembling what I can only describe as ‘sour milk.’ I quickly rummaged for a soft mint to try and mask the taste of stale vomit in my mouth. Note for next time: BARFI = BARF. (Although I would like to brag that for someone who usually has a sensitive stomach, I manned it out, wasn’t actually sick, and therefore feel like an invincible warrior).

7 days in. Touch wood, Delhi belly has not yet arrived. However, my intestines are having a new experience. For example, they love love loved a fragrant pea, yogurt and cashew nut curry that I ate on March 1st, they loved it so much, they did not hesitate to remind me of that fragrance all throughout March 2nd. And the 3rd.

BUT I’M NOT ILL YET SO YAY ME.

Time for rest. Tomorrow is a full travel day to New Delhi. And then the next morning, I might do a half marathon. Because, well why not?

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….

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.