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Rob Williams 'a year in the making'

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Xi'an and Juizghou National Park

Xi'an, China

So I say goodbye to Om in Hohhot...with the idea of meeting up again in Chengdu...

and my farewells to Hohhot and the Anda Guesthouse...and board my second train in China, an overnighter to Xi'an, the home of the Terracotta Warriors...!

I'd seen pictures and documentary by Dan Cruickshank in his 'around the world in 80 treasures' series, (recommend watching). From what I remember they looked about a meter tall and pretty cool...
I arrived in Xi'an with a bit of time to kill before meeting up with Yuan (my host)...you could say I liked Xi'an from the off with it's bustling city center, food market, Bell and drum towers and pagodas and not forgetting it's nightlife...

Half way through the week I met up with another CS Leon who along with Yuan made my experience in Xi'an pretty awesome...! Enjoy...!

The Warriors turned out to be much more than I expected...after walking around the huge excavated pits the final (pit 3) below was most impressive...i didn't realise the warriors would be almost life size and that there would be literally hundreds of them accompanied with horses...!

Xi'an and the traditional Bell tower dancer/musicians...

some afternoon groovers in the park...

Some restaurants would have staff relay races as means of 'team building' mmm...how would that go down in the UK...?!

The Big goose Pagoda...

a brilliantly funny tranvestite street entertainer...even though I couldn't understand him/her, he/she was hilarious...! and kinda cute...?!

a song to ponder...

Jiuzhaigou national park...

I'd read about Jiuzhaigou in my guide book and seen some unreal pictures of marine and turquoise coloured still lakes with lush surroundings...it was on the way from Xi'an to Chengdu and so I thought...

why not..?!

That question has often led me to some problems along the course of this trip...however fun and exciting the outcome turned out to be...!!!

So I planned to get the overnight train to Guangyuan then a bus which I was expecting would take a few hours at the least...
To summerise...the journey turned out to be one of the best surprise routes of my trip... The train from Xi'an to Guangyuan was as always, relaxing and enjoyable...
So...I get off at Guangyuan, and make my way to the bus depo...some how managed to get my ticket...I met this lady, who went out of her way to help me...only she was speaking Chinese the whole entire time..! pointing and showing money was my only form of comunication....!
So I'm waiting on the bus which looks pretty run down, the everyone nods at me and exchanges a few words amongst themselves to acknowledge that yes I am a foreigner and that I speak no Chinese... but this doesn't bother me as I've come to realise language is just one form of communication and as a result I have become a master of reading body language and gestures...or so I think...

we set off and as always in countries where there are a bazillion people, people frequently boarded and got off the bus all along the way...The road starts to deteriorate and this is where it starts to get interesting...I have no fear as the 40-50 year old driver is a pro and has probably driven this route his whole life...we rise and fall on snake like roads swooping in, out and around the valley floor, through crumbled old villages with residents who have probably never seen cities like Beiijing and have lived in this remote valley their whole life...at one point we stop when the narrow single lane road is congested by oncoming traffic...a work man looks up and with complete shock mouths the word laowai (a derogatory term for a foreigner), I smile and wave to him, hesitantly he responds...

(I'm always shocked to see that multi-coloured tracksuit bottoms can be worn by the youths of today even in the most remote parts of the world...!)

Down below is an intro to the mysterious blue waters I'd be seeing in Jiuzhaigou Park, with odd shaped boats and locals going about their business, fishing and farming...

(check out some of the pictures in 'photos' for this).

The road begins to flatten out and we start to approach a town near Jiuzhaigou in the dark, it's 11 hours since I left Guangyuan, nearly there...
The driver says goodbye and mentions something, but what I don't understand is that I'm still about an hour from where I want to be...I try to explain my situation to the car park attendant who is there with his wife and two very cheeky but adorable daughters...as I tell them it should be a short taxi ride costing around 2 pounds they tell me it's more like 12 pounds...I gesture with my hands that the journey and should be short and that what their suggesting is a 'looonnnngggg' journey...I say the word long in this way...as I do the two girls start giggling and repeat this word with the hand gesture over and over again...each time it gets funnier and we re all laughing at the absurdity of the situation I've got myself in...
I walk into town to confirm and get some clearer info and directions...meanwhile the girls follow me and blurt out all the broken English they know from movies and things they've herd...I walk back with them, giggling along the way...this takes my mind of the fact that I m totally knackered from the two days of traveling...their father calls me a cab and as I pull away...with the window down, hands waving the little girl in the yellow jacket starts crying and tells me she doesn't want me to leave (or something similar)...after the day I've had I start as well...a very special moment, one of many I was so fortunate to have on my journey...

As for the park words can't describe as I seem to prove in the video below...check out how times I say the word 'Amazing'...ridiculous...!

permalink written by  willrob on March 28, 2010 from Xi'an, China
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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just a little update

Xi'an, China

Reading the weather forcast in the Central Control Tower Beijing

Hey everyone...!

Just a little reminder that I'm still alive and well...in Xian, China at the moment, I leave to Jiuzhaigou National Park today (5/4/10)...

as You tube and Fb are out until I get to Hong Kong I'll wait until then before I get back to the blog...good news is that India is fininished with...well the pictures anyway...

love to all and thanks for all your well wishes..it makes a difference, thank you.

R x

permalink written by  willrob on March 27, 2010 from Xi'an, China
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ok, Mongolia was never planned but as always the best experiences never are...It was down to Om, (That handsome chap I met in Hohhot) why I had such a precariously awesome time in a country full of wonder, tiny horses, beautiful women, a harsh climate and once home to the great Genghis Khan and of course V O D K A…!

So I managed to get the fastest ever Visa (30 minutes) for 2 weeks…our route was a bus to Eren Hot a smallish border town then catch the Trans Mongolia-express which starts in Beijing and ends up in St Petersburg…! Along the way met some interesting characters…from the dodgey men in the 4x4 that ripped us off at the border crossing to the strange drunk who followed us to our cabin on the train and demanded money from us...to Suhne and Baggi who were the best drinking partners anyone could have hoped for…!

Mongolia was by far one of the best 'off route' countries I visited and mainly because we had to be on the look out for most of it...! We spent quite a bit of time in the hostel in fear of our lives as the Capital is ‘no place for old men.’ Pick pocketing happened on a regular basis, drunks and taxi drivers who pulled a guy out of our hostel and beat him up...plus it was minus 0 C for most of the time…However I don’t want to paint a bad picture…it’s just with a harsh climate life is hard and it proved to be for many of the Mongolians at that time…well the ones we encountered...!

Approaching the border crossing...was the best Introduction to Mongolia we could have hoped for...literally as we made it to the border between China and Mongolia a huge sand storm greeted us...along with a giant artificial rainbow...! (you can't make this stuff up...)

I ve tried to let the videos do most of the explaining...although the train into Ulaanbaatar was definitely one of the highlights....!

We soon hooked up with Suhne and Baggey who offered Vodkha, arm wrestles and were such great company...thank you guys...!

Beginning of our little expedition into the Mongolian countryside...We teamed up with Canadian Chris...who we met at the hostel...he also managed to survive the Vodka..! cheers !

As you can see in the Pic below we enjoyed ourselves but it was exhausting...I have to say nothing happened to us...we weren't robbed and and I survived the most amount of Vodka my body has and will ever consume...EVER...
The only injury I incurred was running into a post when a wolf/dog growled at me and I got scared and ran from it...(check the scar-wound on my forehead in th epic below) other than that not a scratch...

permalink written by  willrob on March 19, 2010 from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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Beijing & Inner Mongolia... 8th Mar to 20th April

Beijing, China

Towards the end of my time in Beijing I visited the 'Summer Palace' (above) and the 'Temple of Heaven,' they were great places to walk around and discover...but I just can't fit it all in...!
(I've choosen to mention the Summer Palace as more happened for me there...although the Temple of heaven is a must if you go to Beijing...!)

...around the grounds of the Summer Palace there is a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures...otherwise known as the "Gardens of Nurtured Harmony" it is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill (60 meters high) and the Kunming Lake. The central Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometers was entirely man made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. The Hill of Longevity is where the video below was shot...

Dancers from the Summer Palace...Check out that Moustache...! male or female..

While wondering the Summer Palace I was in search for the Mable boat which sits on the water almost like any other boat would only it s made from stone...! i asked a random kite flyer who ofcourse didn t know what I was talking about...and then a hansome young Chinese dude, David...who like me turned out to be a tourist and spoke good english (although he would probably disagree...!) We found out the rough direction and headed towards the boat checking out all the sites on the way...he turned out to be great company and not such a bad singer too...! (marble boat in the background)...

As I was running short on time I didn't get to see the Temple of Heaven that day, however I took up Davids suggestion of vistiting the Central Contol Tower (CCT) which was a few metro stops away...we sang, laughed and had a blast...!

on another cold and snowy day...


And if i can squeeze it in...
From Beijing I said farewell to the steamed dumplings... the friends I'd made and ofcourse Fei...THANK YOU for having me...!
...and so onto 'Hohhot' the Capital of inner Mongolia...about a 10 hour train ride West of Beijing... interestingly it is nationally known as the home of China's dairy giants Mengniu and Yili, and as a result was named the "Dairy Capital of China"...! by the China Dairy Industry Association and the Dairy Association of China in 2005...mmmm?!
Anyway...I was greeted with open arms by the staff of the Anda guesthouse who really coloured my experience in Inner Mongolia...I can t say how much I appeciate everything you did for me and sincerly thank you for your hospitality...especially the tradional songs you sang for us on Om s birthday...beautiful and effortless...I think we both had a tear in our eye...truly memorable.

And ofcourse I can t forget it was to be here at the Anda Guesthouse that I was to meet one of the key figures of my travels in China...my good friend and travel companion Om...AKA...Ommy the hommy from the U S of A.

permalink written by  willrob on March 12, 2010 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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With money you are a dragon; with no money,a worm 8th Mar to 20th April

Beijing, China

nǐ hǎo...! Everyone...!

That was to be my first word in what turned out to be my favourite country. I hope over the next few blog entries I can show you why..!

There's a lot to the China blog entries...but...I promise they'll be of interest...! So lay back with a Jasmine T and let me transport you to the wonderful world of the orient...

First up...It was March when I arrived...which meant my T-shirt and vest was a bad choice of atire on arrival and would get me about as far as a Panda on Valium...it was about sub zero or felt like it outside the airport...!!! burrrrr

For most of my stay in Beijing (1 week) I stayed with Fei who was a great host...!(and I'll be expecting you in Edinburgh at some point within 5 years...I'm counting the days!!!) A big thank you to Leng as well... cheers for all you help and the Intro to Beijing!)

First stop...The forbidden City...!

Managing to avoid the Chinese T scam where attractive local girls come up and say they want to practise there English in a T house where the cup of T ends up costing anywhere between 50 and 80 pounds...! they bring out the bouncers if you don`t pay up...!

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Located in the middle of Beijing it now houses the Palace Museum. (which in itself was a spectical!) For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government. Its also where they filmed ´the last emperor´

Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms[1] and covers 720,000 m2 (7,800,000 sq ft). The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture,[2] and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. It also has the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

Afterwards I walked staight out of the Forbidden city and into Jingshan Park... a very layed back park that had a great viewpoint back over the Forbidden city...The park was dotted with mucians and interesting groups of Jianzi players...some of whom were easliy in their 70's and were arguably more skillful than Ronaldo...! (doesn`t matter which Ronaldo!)

And then onto the Great Wall where I was to be Scamed...! bloody taxi drivers...!

The bus was to take 2 hours to a small town where I would then take a bus costing 15 RMB (1.5 pounds) to the wall...What actually happened was after about an hour the bus stopped, a random guy came on and pointed to me to get off...I must also add the driver agreed with this gesture...! having to put my shoes on as I`d taken them off for comfort...and tidying up my lunch which was a desginer ´pot noodle´ with tubs of sauces...nightmare...! I stupidly got off the bus where I was confronted by a swarm of taxi drivers (quite literally buzzing all over me) giving me different prices....! B#$&*+s!!!
I had to take one of them in the end feelling cheated I payed him half as much as they had originally offered...I Later met some American guys who I climbed part of the wall with...one of them could speak chinese...and translated what the driver was trying to tell me...

"there aren´t any buses for your return jounrey so I´ll meet you back here at 6pm"?!

This was a lie..! again...! could you believe it...! anyway the Wall turned out to be more than worth it...!

The Great Wall of China "long fortress" is a series of stone and earthen fortifications, located in northern China, built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups.
Several walls have been built since the 5th century BC that are referred to collectively as the Great Wall, which has been rebuilt and maintained from the 5th century BC through the 16th century.
One of the most famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains; the majority of the existing wall was built during the Ming Dynasty.

The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. The most comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has recently concluded that the entire Great Wall, with all of its branches, stretches for 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi). This is made up of 6,259.6 km (3,889.5 mi) sections of actual wall, 359.7 km (223.5 mi) of trenches and 2,232.5 km (1,387.2 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers.

Ofcourse I remeber all the figures above... I started and ended at the `Sumatia´ gate one of three...although I really didn` go that far...I could appreciate just what a Marvel this man made structure is...the surrounding lanscape was truly blissful...

(it cannot be seen from space for those of us (me) that thought it could...)!

permalink written by  willrob on March 8, 2010 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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Japan 24th Feb - 8th March

Narita, Japan

And so onto Japan…but first I must tell of my departure from Sri Lanka….

So I turn up at the airport in time and queue up…I tried to get the remaining Rupees changed so I could get something to munch on but everyone keeps changing their money before I get the chance to ask..!

Anyway…I’m next in line at the check in and have become pretty used to the procedure by now…a Sri Lankan girl calls for me and I present my passport after a while she stops fumbling through and looks at me unsure and say’s:

‘and your Visa for Japan…’
I say: Em…?! I’ll pick one up when I get there…?! (first thing I could think of…?!)

She looked at me with the same blank expression and then back to her computer…
Meanwhile I’m thankful Sri Lanka hadn’t given me the farewell runs as I would have had no hope in hell of stopping them…! you know that feeling when, when you’ve been caught red-handed doing something you shouldn’t or missing some event that is too important…! It feels like your organs have turned to lead and you could easily be pulled down to the floor with the weight…!

Half a minute passes and I think I even began to sweat a little thinking what the hell am I gonna do in Sri Lanka for god knows how long…?!

And then she brings out the stamper…! Ha ha…boy was I relieved…!

My arrival at Narita airport (Tokyo) was the most effortless I had on the trip…most of the staff were wearing those little face masks to prevent the spread of flu and reduce the effects of hay fever from the cherry blossom (maybe). It does not mean that Japan has highest number of Doctors (as I was later told…!)

So as always I look at the prices of the vending machine and a Mac d’s coffee to gauge if the countries gonna to take a huge bite out of my wallet…turns out I was going to get eaten alive by Japan…(I was told by some brits in the Narita area where I was that the cheapest place they could find to stay was 60 pounds…!)

So I get my bearings…everything’s well labeled, tidy, clean and I don’t have much problem finding where I need to go…I head to the subway as it’s about lunchtime and I have until about 5pm before I meet up with my host.

As I’m getting my ticket for Narita Temple on the (subway) where I planned to do a spot of sightseeing…a Japanese man in his 40’s asks me if I need some help with the ticket…turns out we were heading the same way and we chatted for a while before boarding the train together…His name was Nobu and he was in the area visiting his parents (who didn’t speak any English). It must have been about 15 minutes before I got off…I thanked him for his help and went on my way…

The streets were spotless…the air was cooler…the prices off the chart…and all this alien food…strange smells…it couldn’t of been further from Indian life… It really was a joy just being there walking around and although I couldn’t understand the symbols and conversations…it didn’t matter I was in JAPAN…! YES…!

Narita-san Shinshō-ji (Narita-san = ‘Narita mountain,' Shinshō-ji = 'New victory temple') was quite simply out of this world. It is a Shingon Buddhist temple located in central Narita, the suburbs of Tokyo. It was founded in 940 by Kanchō Daisōjō. It comprises of a large complex of buildings and grounds, and is one of the best-known temples in the Kanto. I was fascinated by the good condition of the temples their colors and appearance…many of them had scripture carved somewhere and the designs were so elegant and impressed me no end. I later found out that it would be the surrounding gardens or grounds that were the marvel I'd come to see…just a perfect balance wherever I looked. Simple. Beauty.

On my way out of the temple I’m walking back up the road (around 4pm) when I hear this cry of “ha I found you…!” I turn around and see a very out of breath Nobu who looked like he'd just run a marathon…! My first though I have to admit was get the hell out of there…a crazy Japanese man wants to eat me…!!!(or something similar!)

Nobu finally caught his breath back and told me that because I was new to Japan he should take care of me (his Mother and Father had asked him to). What can you say to that…I’d met him briefly at the airport and now he’d probably been running around the temple grounds for a good hour or so trying to find me so that he could welcome me to his Country…
I could feel my eyes welling up and was blown away by his generous offer…of course I said yes….

Not sure if this is a worldly view other countries have of foreigners from Britain but Nobu thought we should go have Dinner in an Irish Pub…I told him I was up for sampling the Japanese culture and wasn’t into that ‘Britain away from Britain’ idea. However within half an hour we were sat with a Guinness (6 pounds!) and a plate of fish and chips…it was memorable…!

We chatted all evening and I soon came to be very found of Nobu he was a great man and I couldn’t wait to meet his parents again and thank them for their kind offer…They were quite simply the loveliest people and went above board to make me feel at home…

Ok a bit of Japanese culture shocks I found…

Toilet seats are furry and heated…and I’m sure if you tried hard enough you could have a conversation with the toilet while sitting there.
The ‘TV Times’…yep its part porno mag.
Coffee in a can from vending machines is WARM. Not cold as it is everywhere else.
You feel like a total outsider if you cross the road without the green man showing.
There are people with white gloves that ‘Push’ people onto the trains when they are nearly full.
Everything is on time…trains quite literally TO THE SECOND…!
Everything’s packaged…!

So the four of us sit at Nobu’s parents house sipping T and watching the Winter Olympics…supporting ‘Mao’ Asada the Japanese entry for the female ice-skating…I was getting well into it…!
Nobu was interested in lots of British music including the Beatles and we chatted about our interests and general stuff…I was lucky enough to hear him play and sing ‘Imagine’ which was enough to move anyone…here it was my first day in Japan what an impression…I was moved to tears and this was day one….!

I woke to a Japanese style breakfast...mmm...Nobu and I headed off to the train station where we met his mother who had cycled there with my backpack..! She was a wonderful women with a great concern for making my short stay as comfortable as possible...I was a bit upset waving her off...

We headed into the centre of Tokyo which I should mention is huge..it's got a population over 13 million and is spread out over a fare distance to Narita...

We walked around and it was pretty much what I imagined and one of the first really 'big' cities I'd seen since I'd left the UK...we saw some interesting naked toys...and visited one of the infamous maid dreaming cafe. It's a popular new trend from 2006 in Tokyo's Akihabara district. It's a manga-stocked cafe where girls dress up in french maid outfits and act more submissive than usual. It's supposed to be a dream world for nerds who live for manga and video games, otakus. The girls say things like "i put extra love in your coffee today" and similar.

We took the elevator up a few floors where we were confronted quite literally with 'human' cartoon everything seemed plastic and superficial...a girl who must of only just of entered her teens...grins wildly at us shows us to our table, talking the whole time. We order a slice a of cake and a coke each...she brings out the coke...just as I'm about to take a sip she stops me and says something in Japanese...Nobu translates this for me...turns out we have to make a wish before we drink or eat anything..this involved making a heart shape with your hands and bobbing them from side to whilst saying a little jingle...! I couldn't make this up if I tried...there was also a do's and don'ts list...you must not touch the girls or take photographs..>?! it was a bizarre experience one I'll never forget...below is the picture they took for us...a very memorable moment and one never forgotten...!!!

We continued to Shibuya crossing...a famous crossing used in such films as 'Babel' and 'Lost in translation'...it was somewhere I really wanted to visit while i was in the city centre...

We chilled out in this area for the rest of the day, before Nobu sent me on my way helping me experience my first Bullet train...Smooth...lightening fast and like no other form of transport I'd experienced...I can't thank Nobu and his family enough...I really hope I can repay the favour one day in the UK...Thank you friend.

My next step was Aino...Shizouka...I had an awesome time with Yoshi and Sergul...excellent food and even better company I saw the local area and made a new friend...

Plum blossoms in Aino...

Kyoto...big thanks to Hitomi...who helped me out with writting my name in Japanese and kaito for being a dude...!

Towards the end of my time in Nagoya (before I moved onto Kyoto) I quite literally ran out of money...(ok I hadn't exactly told my bank I was in Japan using my card, however they did know I was away for at least 3 months...and...they allowed me to withdraw 3 times while I was in Japan...! anyway) I ran out of cash.

This really was an eye opener to how much you pretty much can't do anything without having a little bit $. So there I was about an hour’s walk from the centre of the city, raining (of course) the evening before I was leaving to Kyoto...not a cent...
I tried asking everywhere (for use of a phone), car companies, anyway where I could think...(problems with the dialing code) I ended up stopping a random guy on the street...John C from Kentucky (that's what his name badge said) we spoke for a while...I explained my situation...(I wasn't into begging at that point)... he walked me in the direction of town...and started down some stairs to the subway...I immediately said I couldn't afford a train in...he offered to get me a ticket...and gave me the change for some food...(which ended up being some prawn crackers...the cheapest filling food I could find for around 5 pounds...!)

...it doesn't sound like much but 'John C from Kentucky' was quite literally my life line at a real time of need...!

From here I headed into town with a tear in my eye and some hope of sorting the situation out...! I recreated some scenes from 'Lost in translation' while speaking to locals for directions to ATMS before finally finding my salvation in the form of an 'Irish bar' run by Japanese who gave me a phone card...when I heard the customer representative on the other end say...'well...it's going to take around...ten minutes?!

I knew it was over...

The video below is my withdrawal...a momentous point of the day...I must of walked about 10 kms over the city...and nearly fell asleep into my soup as a result...it was now 2am...I spent that night on the street outside the train station waiting for the bus to Kyoto...leaving at 7am...what a day. (but BIG thanks to 'John C from Kentucky')

slot machines in Kyoto...

And finally to my departure of Japan...I'll let the Video do the talking...

Until my next up date which I hope will be pretty soon...Take care...everyone...!

Rob x

permalink written by  willrob on February 26, 2010 from Narita, Japan
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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India's little island in the south

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Hey Bloggers...

Sorry I've taken a very long time to write this entry I've been caught up in the world...(Literally).

When I left India, I was given the best leaving present I could of wished for...the runs...Let me just say having the runs when in transit is about as fun as eating blue cheese...(I don't like blue cheese).

So on to Sri Lanka...I loved my time in Sri Lanka very much and it will always hold a special place somewhere deep inside. For me it was a down scaled India on a more manageable scale...with beautiful and friendly people, hot weather…and lots of interesting sites to see…

Getting there…
I tried to book a bed in a hotel at Delhi airport before departing and thought it was sorted. On my flight over I started chatting to a lovely guy who's name will be lost forever as I never wrote it down and we never exchanged emails, for arguments sake, lets call him Mr S Lanka. He was a boss in a pharmaceutical company and told me many interesting places to visit while in his country…

He offered to give me a lift from the airport to the hotel along with his co-worker/driver…on the way, we found the Hotel I’d booked was full and I had to find somewhere else…between Mr Lanka and his driver they phoned around and sorted another Hotel out in Colombo City which, was a fair drive from the airport…on the way we dropped Mr Lanka off at home where his wife made some tasty Sri Lankan Tea and sent me and the driver on our way with a pack of Tea…Sri Lanka apparently has some of the worlds best Tea… After about 40 minutes we arrived at our destination (I transferred to a taxi)…and arrived at the hotel knackered but beaming from the hospitality and generosity of the Mr Lanka and his driver.

India was in the past and I was recharged and ready to take on this smallish island even if I only had 5 days…! (I never intended to visit Sri Lanka…it was a free stop over with my flight to Tokyo… so I took it…!)

First Stop after Colombo (capital) which I didn't really see much of was Galle...
After a speedy bus of a couple of hours, snaking from side to side with blasting music I arrived into Galle. Galle was the main port on the Island before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century.
However, Galle is unfortunately best known for the massive Boxing Day Tsunami in (2004), the Indian Ocean earthquake that occurred a thousand miles away, off the coast of Indonesia. Thousands were killed in the city alone. It was hard to realise this even though I remember seeing the pictures on the news. The Galle that I had now arrived in was a very picturesque seaside town with the largest remaining fort in Asia by European occupiers and cricket ground...(below).

Cliff Diver’s of Galle

From Galle I caught a brilliant little train to Kandy, a town in the heart of the Island…the videos below show some of the surrounding scenery as the train passes through the Kandy valley mountains.

The Journey to Kandy 'the hilltop capital of Sri Lanka' was excellent the train managed to keep a sluggish pace up through the Kandy valley surrounded by tropical plantations mainly Tea... Kandy itself was set in a valley surrounded by hills overlooking the town...Some with beautiful gardens and the pretty impressive white Bahirawakanda temple Buddha statue...below.

And lastly I have to comment on the beauty of the women in Sri Lanka...
I remember waiting at Kandy station for my train back to Colombo...I was drying my socks in the sun (as you do when your backpacking...?!) and making a few friends with a group of school boys who thought I was 'cool' tried on my sunnys and practiced their English etc...this caught the attention of a girl on the opposite platform...she was amused by the whole thing and when her train came she mouthed the word 'bye' smiled with the brightest white teeth and disappeared...I melted instantly and took a long time to come round, it left a lasting impression on me...many of the girls/women in Sri Lanka had this same trademark smile...it was hard for me to leave...!

Me and the Buddha.

permalink written by  willrob on February 25, 2010 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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The Taj Mahal

Agra, India

You can’t really visit India with out seeing the wonder that is ‘Taj mahal.’ From Jaipur I hopped on an over night bus to Agra, with help from Girish, of course… I managed to sleep a little…woke up and we’d arrived in the dark around 6am…with hope of catching the sunrise…after waking up some more from a sweet cupper, I boarded a rickshaw and off we went…I’ve got to say I was excited…I remember seeing the Taj ever since I was little in picturesm TV etc…but here I was on my way for real…!

For some reason they didn’t less us into the grounds before sunrise which was disappointing…around 7am a group of about 50 tourists including myself made our way to that classic gate way viewing point where you climb a few stairs full of expectation and there it was a magical building with faultless symmetry, white marble pillars reaching up into the sky and a presence unlike any man made building I’d ever seen, magic.

The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Sha Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal and apparently they used 100 elephants to transport the white marble stones! It’s, one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture, style that combines elements from Islamic, Indian and Persian architectural styles.

While the white domed marble mausoleum is its most familiar component, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures. Building began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, and employed thousands of artisans and craftsmen.

I was amazed by how many additional buildings were in the grounds. On either side of that classic postcard photograph lies two identical red stoned buildings with wonderful arches and intricate design’s…it really was something special, I’ll never forget my visit to the Taj.

permalink written by  willrob on February 24, 2010 from Agra, India
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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2 Day Train To Jaipur and Jaipur City

Jaipur, India

The Train back up to Jaipur was a couple of days and as there were no 'Sleeper' tickets available my only option was a first class one...as traveler I've learned that these random set backs or 'problems' are often the best experience's you have and the ones you remember...! as it happened I ended up sharing a carriage with Abraham (dude) and was looked after by Loken and his team...(pictured) These guys were awsome company and made the journey memorable...! Thanks Guys! :-)

The train journey up was fantastic and showed me just how beautiful India's countryside is...with farmers, Villagers and children playing there were lots of thoses 'Zen Moments'...

(Videos below)
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, (to the west of Delhi), the city is marked for its grand palaces, massive forts, museums and lush green gardens. In 1853, when the Prince of Wales visited Jaipur, the whole city was painted pink to welcome him during the regime of Sawai Ram Singh.
When I herd this I had to see this for myself...! Although the pink wasn't as 'pink' as I had imagined... Jaipur's many street's and avenues were a joy to walk around and it definitely changed my opinion from Delhi...!

I met a fellow a traveler, a name obviously so complicated I can't recall it...?! We walked around the city and managed to see a couple of Forts and from Nahargarh Fort we just caught the sunset...! After demanding a biker loose two of his passengers and assist us in getting there before sun down...! the race was on but we made it...! Definitely a highlight of my trip in India... At sunset...this was the only city in the world where you could here the people even though they were so far away...!

I was Greeted in Jaipur by the infamous Girish...Who helped me around the City and took me to some Royal Weddings with whole families and friends marching through the city streets with the Groom riding high on horses or elephants...booming Music...Stunning dresses and stick lights it... provided a real spectacle...! at one point I got pulled in to the crowd... it was crazy and I loved it...! Thanks Girish, you the man..!

permalink written by  willrob on February 18, 2010 from Jaipur, India
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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Fort Cochin, India

Cochin, India

After Hampi, Randal and I left Hospet and headed south to Fort Kochin, Kerla...with a day spent in Bangalore...
I found Fort Kochin to be a colourful place with one of the main events for us watching the local fishermen bringing back the days catch...Kerla is an area made up of many small islands where the estuary divides up the land in the bottom South West corner of India.... Again miles of beautiful warm beaches, festivals...and a noticeable mark-up in the weather...extremely humid at times...!

permalink written by  willrob on February 17, 2010 from Cochin, India
from the travel blog: Rob Williams 'a year in the making'
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