Goodbye Steve……Hello Seoul

What Korea?!? That doesn’t make sense! How can you drive from India straight to Korea??

Well, as regular readers will know, due to the risk of kidnapping by the Taliban we decided we didn’t want to take the girls through Pakistan. Whether the risk is real or just perceived is a whole another discussion but that is what we decided. However the truck still needed to get to out of the Indian subcontinent somehow and since our routes through Nepal and Myanmar closed off (see our earlier blogs), Pakistan was the only non-shipping route. So feeling like a good mother but terrible wife, we waved goodbye to Steve in Amritsar. Having already taken the train from Amritsar to Delhi a few months ago with my Mum, it was really easy getting back to Delhi and jumping on the metro to the airport. A few hours sleep in an airport hotel and we were good for the 2am flight to Seoul. 

Seoul was such a world away from the craziness of the Indian sub-continent. It hadn’t been our first choice when we were looking for a place to wait for Steve to drive through Pakistan. Unfortunately China was out because we plan to use up our visa time in the truck and nothing else fitted well with the weird flight combination to get from Delhi to Kashgar. It turned out Seoul was a perfect spot to send 12 days. We had booked an studio apartment in the centre of the city, right next to one of the Royal Palaces. Our time coincided with both Buddha’s birthday and the Royal Culture Festival, a big series of events in the palaces, so there was plenty to do.

The Lotus Lantern Parade is held the Saturday before Buddha’s birthday, a hundred thousand lanterns are paraded through the centre to Jonyesa Temple. Huge, intricate sculptures made entirely of paper lit up the night sky. They were followed by thousands of people in groups dressed in matching flowing silk traditional Hanbok carrying smaller lanterns, the affect was breathtakingly beautiful. Each group was lead by a monk or nun, the symbols and messages were all of love to the world. At the temple were thousands of other lanterns lighting up the sky.


The following day we returned to the temple where the street was closed for hundreds of stalls, you could meditate; eat temple good; there was dancing; singing; stalls from other Buddhist countries; and loads of activities for children. So many things in fact that in the 5 hours we were there we only saw half of it. It was incredibly welcoming and inclusive, even for us non-Buddhists who don’t speak Korean. They even had a big cordoned off area, only for foreigners, marshalled by kind English speaking volunteers who showed us how to make the Lotus Laterns, the special symbol for the celebration. It took us an hour and a half to stick on the delicate petals onto the frame, we loved it though and were very happy with the results. 


After school each day we explored the city, especially the Palaces where we part in all the different activities for the Royal Festival. Everywhere we went people where so kind and helped us understand what was going on and helping us to join in, even if we didn’t share a language. 


The girls were given a leaflet on the street advertising a Cat Cafe, where you can go and have a coffee surrounded by 40 different cats. How could we possibly pass by? As you can imagine they absolutely adored it and insisted we returned for another couple of hours on out last day, after my “treat” an English church service. Korea has its own quirky cafe culture, we felt we had to try out the Poo Cafe for a chocolate ice cream its own squatting toilet. It’s hard to believe it is only 2 1/2 weeks since we were faced with some of the worst toilets of the trip halfway up a mountain in Nepal and now we can make jokes about it.


Sushi and ice-cream, were the things that the girls were most looking forward to when they got to Korea. Their 2 favourite foods have been off the menu recently, since we’ve been in countries with regular power cuts (I know, sushi! I didn’t try it till I was 26 but this is a different generation). I tried reminding them that sushi was Japanese and told them about the similar Korean gimbap (seaweed rolls filled with rice, vegies and other good stuff), either would be good they reasoned. Within 24 hours of arriving we managed to find all three and kept them up as a regular fixture in our diet. Without Steve’s influence there was no fine dining but lots of little local cafes and quick healthy eats at the food stalls in the bustling local market as well as cooking in the apartment.


Driving through the city on the airport bus we were amazed to see hundreds of people dressed in Hanbok, traditional Korean dress. We assumed it was some special event or festival but no, it’s just a really, really popular thing to do. Hire a gorgeous dress and take a turn around town in it, taking thousands of selfies as you go. The Royal Palaces are so keen on the outfits adding atmosphere, they even give you free entry of you are dressed appropriately. It seems a particularly popular thing to do for a date, with the couple choosing matching outfits. Just how British teenage boys would react if their new girlfriend asked them to wear matching dusky pink silk baggy pants; with a matching embroidered jacket; and a natty black mesh top hat, I can only imagine! The girls of course loved this whole idea. The choosing and trying on at the hire shop was part of the fun, with the lady offering style advice, doing our hair and adding the accessories. Looking like glamorous ladies of the Joseon Court we promenaded to Gyeongbokgung Palace dressed in the finest pink, green and blue silk gowns. It was great fun. 


Apart from missing Steve, it has been a great 12 days here in Seoul. Ideally we wouldn’t have felt the need to separate but it all worked out well and it’s been a good time away from the trip doing something completely different. The next part of the drive looks like it will be amazing but also very challenging. We are ready……now we have had our fill of sushi and ice cream. 


Here’s what the girls thought of Seoul:


Lucy

I spent the first few days going over to the window to look out at the traffic. I couldn’t believe it all the cars were lined up neatly in the right lanes, there was no noise either. No horns, nothing! We couldn’t believe it. A lady said to us when we were crossing that weren’t we scared walking around a new city just the 3 of us. Alisha just looked at her like she was crazy because we came from India we found Seoul very clean, safe and orderly. 

The Lotus Lantern Parade was great fun to watch. I got given 2 lanterns, a paper flower and some sweets from the people in the parade. After the parade we walked up to the end where there was a stage and we danced two Korean folk dance with everyone, it was a bit like the doing hokey-cokey and the conga line. The next day we went back to the main temple and we made lotus lanterns, there was a competition and us kids got a notebook and stickers. There was a lot of other things to do I made a pot; did some printing; ate lots of interesting vegetarian food and played lots of games.

All week we saw ladies in Hanbok traditional dress with puffy skirts and little jackets made out of colourful silk. Eventually, we had worked hard enough at school that Mummy said we could dress up in them. Mine was a pink dress with a green jacket, it wasn’t that easy to walk and especially run. Going to the toilet was a bit of a fix. We were worried about spilling stuff, so we only drank water. But I still loved wearing it, it made me feel like a real lady. We went into the big palace and took lots of photos. Alisha pretended that she was the Empress and I was her lady in waiting, helping her gently lower herself onto the ground.

There was a special Royal Festival on near our apartment, there were a lot of activities but my favourites was the reinactments. Actors dressed up in proper costumes and told the stories of when the newly married princess came to visit the ancestor’s shine. The princess and the empress had amazing head dresses with every type of hair ornament you can imagine. They were so big when they bowed they nearly fell off and the needed 2 maids to help them. 


We had been looking forward to Kidszania for ages but it was so crowded we only managed to do 3 activities for the whole 5 hours we were there but that was the only bad things about Korea. 

Alisha

When we arrived in Seoul we where flabbergasted by the temperature and the calmness of the city us just coming from India where it had hit a high of 42 degrees and it is completely nuts. We stayed in a loft apartment, although it was only one room it was a very large one and very modern although we customized it a little when we brought back 8 different lanterns from the lantern parade (I’m sure mummy will elaborate on that).


I enjoyed doing all the cultural things like the lantern parade and making our own lanterns, mine was striped all different colours. In Korea children are very special so when we went places like the royal palaces there would be activities for children so like in one palace there was Korean knot making where they taught you how to make a special knot. It was called a cross knot because the string crossed over to make the knot. I liked doing all the cultural things where we did interesting activities.

What kept on making us laugh was the amount of make-up shops there where in Seoul. In fact there was probably more cosmetic shops in Seoul then the there are in the whole of Australia. They gave you free face masks for going in the shop, I’m not sure I face the brussels sprout one or the snail slime one they gave mummy. What we all loved was a cat cafe in the middle of a shopping street it had over 40 cats and we loved it so much that we went there twice. Lucy has been making me tell her yet more stories, this one is about the cat cafe she wants us to have when we grow up. 

Reflections on Nepal


Lucy
Nameste Nice Nepal. 
Nepal is full of exciting and interesting culture and many different nice people. 
We went for a 12 day hike into the mountains. We walked many, many, many kilometres; ate many chocolate bars; and told many, many stories. 

When we returned back to Pokhara, Daddy had to leave to get his Pakistan visa just before his birthday. We made friends with two other sets of Overlanders, it was good to meet other people driving around Asia. I loved going to the cafe next door, The Bee Charmer. Upstairs there was a little boy called Babu, he had the sweetest baby chicks and everyday we played with them together. I went to Babu’s birthday party. There were 3 sweet dogs nearby. One was a stray dog we named Foxy because of her ears were like a fox and she had the nicest orangey fur. Alisha and I wanted to adopt her. 


Bye bye Nice Nepal. 
Alisha 
Nepal was an instant relief after crazy India. We found that Nepal was less nuts then India but a bit far off a European country. Kathmandu is about four notches less on the crazy scale then Varanasi, an Indian city. (To be honest it might of been five but who cares) but the rest of Nepal was pretty (it was more than pretty actually but I can’t spell baeutiful or is it beautilful you see, I can’t spell it).
The Himalayas were awesome. I know most people say ” Oh the only reason I went to Nepal was to go trekking” but there is a lot more to Nepal then that. It’s a whole form of culture on it’s own. Most people look over Nepal, they prefer to go to Tibet for the Himalayas. Even if they go to Nepal they only look at the mountains not at the culture but they should it is really interesting. I bet Mummy or Daddy will write about the amazing mountains and the scenery and blah blah blah. I enjoyed meeting all the different people on the mountain, there was a lot of people who where all very friendly and I beat a lot of them at cards;)

When we spent two weeks in Pokhara that was fun I got to go and buy vegetables on my own (when you don’t have a permanent address and you can’t go anywhere without a grown-up it’s a big deal) the local shop owners got to know me and always smiled and waved as I walked towards them. They where always super friendly and never once called me baby (whooooohooo).

Gilly
We only left the mountains a couple of days ago and already I miss them, especially as it is 38°C in the lowlands. Our two treks in Nepal: up the Kalaigebdiki Valley and up to Mardi Himal Base Camp, were all we had hoped for and more. Both teahouses treks, the first gave us not only amazing mountain views but also a glimpse of village culture. The second was mostly through uninhabited forest but the highlight was the final days views from above the tree line and Steve and I getting up to the Base Camp. It would have been nice to have done it together but I’m so pleased we were able to do it, and we didn’t have to drag the girls up that high. I’m amazed at how much they enjoyed the trekking too, they deserve credit for how well they did. They rarely complained about the walking and loved the novelty of sleeping in new places, meeting new people and hours of telling and hearing stories. 


The big earthquake, 2 years ago, has left it scars. We saw lots of rebuilding in Kathmandu which added a lot of dust to the already horribly polluted atmosphere. The Nepali people stoic, warm and welcoming and everything was working although sadly for them tourist numbers are way down. Education seems to have a big focus with kids smart in the uniform setting off every morning for school. The children who lived around the area we stayed in Pokhara, were all enthusiastic and spoke some English. Although sadly, we did see some instances of child labour, many were just helping their parents out but some appeared to be working independently in businesses. 


We loved our 7 1/2 weeks in Nepal so much that we have already decided what to do when we come back, another trek into a more remote region. We would have happily stayed for longer but after so long in one place the road beckons.

Steve
I loved Nepal. It’s a friendly country with some of the most amazing scenery on the planet. After the chaos of India, Nepal felt so much more relaxed. Not that it didn’t have it’s own chaotic places such as the traffic in Kathmandu but once out trekking that all just faded away.
The culture and the sights of the Kathmandu valley made for an interesting week but the highlight for me was the two treks we did that took us high into the mountains. It was good to see we were all pretty fit and that we managed the altitude well so that we could enjoy the breath taking scenery. I just could not get enough of the views and I am keen to come back to do some more trekking. Heading up to Kagbeni and glimpsing into Mustang has me eager for more.

Pokhara was also a pleasant relaxed place to hang out and a great place for the family to stay while I had to head back to England for a visa. We have a lot of driving in front of us so it was nice to leave the truck parked up for a while and to use our own two feet to get around.
The treks were amazing. It was not just the scenery but the simple life of moving from tea house to tea house. Meeting other interesting travellers as well as engaging with the owners of the tea houses. We soon settled into a daily rhythm and the worries of the wider world just faded away. Sitting looking in awe at the mountains just seemed to make everything so insignificant.

Reflections on India

Lucy

We entered India in Manipur and we had to be very careful for 2 days because there had been riots. When we drive along we saw some burnt out trucks, it was quite scary. Then we went to Kazaringa, we saw loads of rhinos while we were riding ELEPHANTS! There was a little elephant, just 10 months old, walking with the adults, he was adorable but very naughty and kept on trying to trip up the adults who had people riding on them. We saw a tiny baby rhino only 3 days. We then went to Varanassi, where we saw bodies burning which scared me a bit. But the people who died would have been happy as Varanasi is such a holy place. We bought a candle and flowers to float down the Ganges River, it looked like it was a reflection of the stars.

We’ve seen some amazing animals in India. Indian ground squirrels are absolutely adorable, they are everywhere and I love to watch them and I communicate with them by twitching my nose. Cows in India are holy, so we saw them everywhere milling around. You are not allowed to eat beef, Daddy had to be very careful as they always stand in the middle of the road causing traffic jams. We saw 4 tigers in the national parks, one female tiger was being pursued by a male tiger when we saw her. She was wasn’t very happy because he was big, we saw them cross the road together.

Indian sweets have enough sugar in them to made English dentists faint but I LOVE them, they are absolutely delicious. My favourite gulub jammu, is a spongy cake ball swimming in sweet syrup. If you eat 2 you start to feel a bit sick because they so rich. I liked all the other types of sweets I tried too. Some of the Indian foods were a bit spicy but I loved butter nan, lassi and butter chicken.


India was such a lovely place with such lovely people, they were kind. The men in Rajasthan had amazing moustaches really long and curly. We had a competition to spot the best one.

Alisha
If you like crazy drivers, spicy food, constantly loud horns, stunningly beautiful buildings and friendly people then India is the country for you. Like most countries, the good outweighs the bad.

In India though the roads are goodish-badish but the driving is atrocious. My opinion is the worse the road, the worse the driving. Can you imagine walking across a crowded street dodging cycle rickshaws and tuk-tuks and then getting to the other side to check everyone else is following you. Its absolutely conkers and almonds and hazelnuts and pistachios and every other nuts you can think of.

India though has many nice features, one being the many clothes and trinkets that are on sale. I really enjoyed looking at all the different patterned saris and scarves and I bought some lovely material to make some clothes with. The colours are amazing.


It put me off sometimes, that every time you went anywhere near someone’s shop they would leap up and say “Come into my shop” or “Many things cheap” or some thing along those lines and then when you went into there shop they would spread everything out and even if you didn’t want those things you would feel bad that he had got them all out and buy something you didn’t want or need. I really enjoyed bargaining with stall holders the trick is to start walking away and then they are eager to sell it to you.

There are many beautiful sights in India. One being the Taj Mahal in Agra and seeing all the beautiful jewel flowers set into the marble walls. I also enjoyed the many different forts and palaces scattered throughout the country. After a bit they started to get boring but I turned them into stories for Lucy so she was happy.


It was lovely to meet Granny and show her some of India and to meet Pratibha and Vineet who explained lots about India.
I enjoyed and disliked India in turns but one way or another India is exhausting no matter which way you look at it.
Gilly
India, Oh India – you’ve made me laugh; you’ve made me cry; you’ve titilated my senses with your sights, smells and tastes; you’ve introduced me to amazing ancient cultures I’d never heard of; and you turned me into a foul-mouthed navvie. India is incredible, to quote their tourist office, but not always in the positive sense and definitely the most extreme country we’ve overlanded through.
After backpacking in the country for many, many months years ago thought I would be less sensitive to the culture shock many foreigners experience. But I think it was the driving that tipped me over the edge, the chaos on some of the roads was shocking even for us. Frequently the actions of the road users prompted streams of incredulous expletives from Steve and I. It was like playing the most extreme driving computer game ever invented – cars; motorbikes; trucks; bikes; people – all in their thousands, funnelled into a narrow market with goods cluttering the sides of the road. Now add in the crazy bits: cows; naked monks; a corpse on a stretcher covered with balloons; camel carts; a wedding procession with the groom on a horse with uniformed men with load speakers and lights balance on their heads and the rest of the family Bollywood dancing behind – if you can imagine it, we have probably seen it on the road in India. Everyone jostling for prime position, no one ever giving an inch, even if their progress slightly forward completely blocks both sides of the road so now no one can move at all. Amazingly though, this is generally done with no malice and general good humour, apart from by us, the incredulous foreigners who seem to think that driving should have some rules. Now imagine having everything that can honking their horns constantly and you start to get the idea.


However, all in all the positives far outweigh the negatives. The friendly people, people all over the country were welcoming and curious about us. Even on Delhi’s modern metro on every journey we had people striking up conversations and checking we knew where we were going. London Underground commuters could definitely learn a thing about being friendly to visitors from Delhi’s riders. However we had to get used to getting stared at, wherever we went a group of men would gather around to watch our every move. It was a little disconcerting to start with especially if they didn’t respond to a friendly “namaste” and just continued to stare but we soon got used to it. It was just genuine curiously as we saw groups gather around anything interesting. I think Steve got the worst of it whenever he was doing anything mechanical, he would emerge from the truck’s underneath to find a group around him.
We were lucky enough to visit some of India’s best religious and historic places. I think my favourites were the caves at Ellora and Ajanta, amazing feats of faith and engineering from a time with little technology, and the forts of Rajasthan that rose from the surrounding desert and glowed orange in the setting sun.


It is a country of huge diversity in our last week in the country in Delhi we saw modern, urban India with IT companies, women in good jobs and global connectivity. To huge areas of rural areas where small holding framers worked in their fields with their oxen and the women almost invisible in towns but constantly seen toiling in the fields. Homes are often without any toilets, so we frequently saw people defecating in the fields. However, even in the poorest rural areas we always saw the majority of kids very smart in their uniforms going off early to school. I think the times the variety surprised us the most was when they were side by side, juxtaposed next to each other – the large family living, cooking, sleeping under a makeshift shelter and begging on the traffic island on a multilane highway going to modern office blocks.
Steve
India – what can you say? It’s crazy, chaotic and can drive you mad. But it’s also beautiful with ancient cultures and wonderful (when they are not driving) people. India assaults your senses in every way and at every turn. The colours, the smells and the sights both beautiful and unbelievable. There is no escaping it and you just have to plunge right in and hope you come out the other side.
We only realised after we left just how exhausted we were from our 10 weeks in India. In that time though we saw some amazing things from the cultural icons to amazing wildlife. From the floodplains, to the jungles, deserts and the mountains. From rural villages to cities of 20 million people. Who can not be impressed by the jaw dropping beauty of the Taj Mahal or the exquisite Golden Temple. The forts and history of proud Rajahstan were also a highlight. And seeing a tiger close up in the wild, well it doesn’t get much better than that. India has it all and we didn’t even get to explore the South of the country.


The food was fantastic, we already loved Indian food before we arrived but experiencing it in India brought a whole new range of flavours to our palate.
And the people, they are everywhere, but most of them are helpful, genuine and interested in what we were doing. Yes there are the touts and rip off merchants but you soon learn to see through them and even those interactions can be amusing.
There is one thing I won’t miss though and that’s the traumatic driving. 7010kms of pure hell. Well maybe not all of it but it was certainly the most challenging driving we have done so far. Whilst the roads varied in quality it was the other drivers that were the biggest challenge most with no regard to their own safety. It certainly brought a new meaning to a Hazard Perception test.


It was great to spend our last week with friends showing us their country. It meant we left on a real high with batteries recharged for the journey ahead.
India is certainly incredible – in many different ways. It brings out all the emotions in you even ones you didn’t know you had!