Friday, 28 August 2009

Himalayas & Mountain Camels - Leh

Early start to the day with a 6am flight from Delhi to Leh. I was hugely impressed by the revamped domestic airport, which really does look world class. The 90 min flight was the best I have ever taken, purely for the dramatic scenery. I was able to see the magnificent Himalayan mountain range with its snow-capped peaks, barren landscapes, jagged columns of rock, all set against a perfect blue sky and clouds.

On arrival, I checked into the hotel, which had a serene Tibetan feel. The room was comfortable and I was given strict instructions to only rest for the best part of the day due to the altitude of Leh, which stands at 3500m above sea level. Seeing as I hadn’t slept the past week this was no problem! Come late afternoon, I made a short trip to Shanti Stupa, a Buddhist shrine, which offers breathtaking panoramic views of Ladakh, which looked especially spectacular with the setting sun.

Leh has a vibrant feel about it, which was apparent when walking through the bazaar. The region is known as ‘Little Tibet’, so it’s no surprise to find that many of the souvenirs and goods for sale are Tibetan influenced, although there are also plenty of other handcrafted items from other parts of Kashmir.

Tomorrow I should be fully acclimatised, and look forward to a day of white-water rafting on the River Indus and checking out some of the nearby sights.

- Rahul

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Bye bye Serbia

So I met up with Mikica for one last coffee in Belgrade. She invited me to visit her relatives for a big BBQ (she just came back from have a spit-roasted pig with her family) next time I came back, offered me the use of her beachside appartment in Montenegro and anything else she could think of. I was sorry to say goodbye but anyway she insisted on driving me to the airport the following morning. She arrived on time as ever and as I drove out to the airport I felt sure I will be back in Serbia and before long. Ziveli Serbia!

- Dave

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Lake Paliċ and back to Belgrade

This morning started with an early visit to the much-hyped Lake Paliċ. Apparently it is very popular and a lot of money is spent on promoting it as a destination. On first glance it was hard to see why. It was a lake with a promenade full of cafes, a few boats and bikes that could be rented and a few kitschy building. On closer inspection… well, there was not much more really. I guess it’s probably a nice place for a relaxing half-day, a place to take the kids and swim in the lake but I felt a bit disappointed though Snežana, our guide of choice had warned me. Then it was time for the bus back to Belgrade, where, on arrival, I had to fill in a list of all the places I had been, on which night, in which hotel, etc etc. A little paranoid, the authorities, I think. Anyway tomorrow is my last full day here, so a couple of meetings, check a couple more hotels, buy a souvenir perhaps and then back to the UK on Monday morning. I will be sad to leave and I will mostly miss the great Serbian people and the very warm welcome I received throughout this lovely country.

- Dave

Further North: Sremski Karlovici and Subotica

This morning started early with a cab ride to the small town of SremskiKarlovici about 10km from Novi Sad. Travelling without Mikica was testing my basic Serbian to the extreme but I had a decent conversation with the taxi driver via hand signals and my basic Serbian. He seemed to have a high opinion of Irish people as so many seem to have here. A coupleof days ago in Belgrade we met an old man who spoke only basic English but on learning that we were Irish wanted to give us a litre bottle of plum brandy! We still had more than half a bottle left from Mirko so we politely declined. Anyway I digress. When I arrived the town was still sleeping so I wandered around and took in the lovely central square, unusually for Serbia named after a Romantic poet, Branko Radecevic, who was a son of the town.

After a coffee in the square I wandered around a little more, caught a taxi back to Novi Sad and then a bus to Subotica, a town near the border with Hungary. The Hungarian influence is even stronger here and many signs are displayed in both Serbian and Hungarian. The architecture is also more in the Hungarian style with bright colours and dashing patterns. The town hall is a riot of styles and one of the museums looks positively Gaudi-esque. The food too is heavily influenced by Hungary with menus heavy on Paprika and Goulash ubiquitously available. The Synagogue is pretty impressive too though fairly run down. Tired after a long day I spent the evening watching Sopranos on Fox Crime!

- Dave

Up North: Novi Sad

After a couple of relaxing days in Belgrade I said goodbye to Andy who headed back home and I hit the road again, this time by public transport. After an hour’s bus ride North, I arrived in Novi Sad, the capital of the Northern semi-autonomous province of Vojvodina. This province is quite different from the rest of Serbia - in population, history and geography. The bus ride passed along a rod-straight road through the great Pannonian Plain, vast flatlands, that contrasted starkly with the windy mountainous terrain of the rest of Serbia.

The region looks more to the North and West whereas the rest of Serbia looks East and has stronger historical ties with Hungary as opposed to Turkey and the difference was immediately obvious when I arrived into Novi Sad with its refined cultured central square and its mixed population of Serbian, Hungarian, Croat and Roma. I spent the day wandering the streets, absorbing the lively atmosphere with its abundance of street-side cafes and pedestrianised streets. After an excellent dinner and some tasty local wine I had an early night to get ready for the early start the following day.

- Dave