Imagine arriving in a small dusty town. It’s dark, you’re alone. A man, dressed all in black, offers you a ride on his motorbike. Your instinct tells you to say ‘no’, so you take a rickshaw. The rickshaw breaks down and the man on his bike appears, twice. This is when the rickshaw driver tells you that he is a ‘bad man’. You panic. The man knows where you are heading. The rickshaw doesn’t move. There is danger in the air, and you haven’t stepped into the jungle yet.

To say that our journey to the small town of Sawai Madhopur was smooth would not be true. To say that the small town of Sawai Madhopur was worth the stress, discomfort and, frankly, raw fear was worth it would also be a lie. Still, the murals around the train station reminded us of why we came to the place. Sawai Madhopur is the nearest town to Ranthambore National Park; one of the best place in India to see tigers in the wild.

We booked a jeep as soon as we checked into our back alley hotel and it picked us up fairly promptly at dawn. We slept quite well considering we half expected the bad man in black to be standing outside our window/kicking down our door/robbing us and leaving us as tiger fodder.

Welcome to the Jungle

Sitting at the back of an open top jeep was exhilarating. Driving through forests with the dust kicking up behind us added to the thrill. Slowing down the ride with our eyes peeled for predators was the closest I think we’ll ever get to being in Jurassic Park.

There were distant boar, antelope, deer, peacocks and monkeys, but no tigers. Abby saw something crawl low under some bushes at one point. It could have been a leopard. The elusive striped cat was hiding for us that day. At the time, we did wonder if they ever saw them considering the noise created by the jeep. Our guide maintained that it was down the season, which is the hottest winter I’ve ever known.

While Ranthambore didn’t deliver the animals it was still a privilege to have been so close to them, in their natural environment. Nothing can take away the sense of peace that is in the Indian forest. Until the jeeps start their engines again.


From the heat of the desert it was refreshing to reach the lakeside city of Udaipur.

There’s no denying that Udaipur has a cool, young, buzz about it. Boutique coffee shops, juice bars and funky rooftop restaurants are smattered around cookery schools and artist houses. A sprawling palace overlooks a swish hotel and some kind of restaurant, which are islands on the water.  Every evening James Bond’s theme can be heard echoing around the narrow streets – pride that this city features heavily in Octopussy.

As the sun goes down Udaipur seems to come into its own. Orange beams illuminate the city and reflects the lakes that it is built around. Manmade lights show off the opulent buildings. Even some search lights, more associated with major Hollywood events, wave across the night sky.

Town and Country

From Udaipur we managed to see a bit more of Rajasthan. I had no idea that it was so mountainous. In parts it reminded me of Northern Italy. But the vision of women in bright coloured saris walking around with bricks/grass/pots on their head, sometimes with a baby in their arms, brought my thoughts back to India. On that note, hats off to the women I saw. True grafters and always looking amazing.

We motored through villages and country to reach a place called Kumbhalgarh, home of the second longest wall in the world. More about this trip can be found here.

I liked Udaipur, and it seemed that Udaipur liked Nechronicles. Flyers are available at Yummy Yoga, and look out for a little mention at Grasswood Cafe. Udaipur truly has taste.


52 miles north of Udaipur is the fort of Kumbhalgarh. While forts seem to be all over Rajasthan, this was the one that I was looking forward to exploring the most. The fort of Kumbhalgarh is home to the second longest wall in the world.

While it is a fraction of the size of its Chinese counterpart (around 20 miles compared to 5,500 miles. Blimey) the wall is something to behold. It curves around the landscape almost like a rollercoaster.  It sometimes disappears behind hills and shows itself again at a different level that runs down along the landscape.

Inside it houses an entire community of a long gone era. There is a palace, temples and even some step wells or baolis. Mausoleums dedicated to its ancient leaders are smattered around the space, while nature has reclaimed most of the central area. There is a sense that this would have been a mighty town in its day.

Lord of the Geeks

After a heavy-going walk to the palace we were rewarded with stunning views across the Rajasthani countryside. From on high, the vastness of the space the walls protects can really be appreciated. The palace itself is a feast for the inner geek.

Structurally it reminded me of Gormenghast. Tall towers house chambers for the staff and royalty. Steps run up and down and along to places of worship and peace. Unassuming corners lead to breathtaking views. Merlin Peake aside, I think I bored our fellow explorers Riley and Paul with my continuing quotes from Labyrinth and making Abby pretend that she’s Daenerys Targaryen. Sorry about that.

Kumbhalgarh is really worth the 2 to 3 hour drive from Udaipur. It is the kind of place that ignites the imagination and makes you marvel at the power of mankind. And dragons.


Around 300 years ago, a new Diwan took control of the desert town of Jaisalmer. With a new ruler come new rules. Salim Singh raised taxes in the villages that fell under his control. Wealth disappeared from the villages as quickly as respect for the new leader.

However, it wasn’t until Salim Singh demanded the hand of the daughter of a village elder when troubles started. Not being a man who makes demands lightly, the village had ten days to hand her over or face even higher taxes.

85 villages turned their backs on the Diwan as a result of his audacity. Within ten days the villagers had packed up and moved on to new settlements. To spite Salim Singh, the elder of the village of Kuldhara placed a curse on the area. No one should settle in the village until the end of time.

Or so the story goes.

Bhooty Call

As we passed through a modest settlement we took a dusty road before arriving in a square. There were a couple of tourist buses but its passengers had since dispersed into the ruins ahead of us. We were in Kuldhara, a place notorious for being the haunted cursed town of local legend. Bus loads of national tourists come here on a daily basis in search of Bhoot and a cheap scare.

We crossed a sandy square and were left to our own devices. Kuldhara, like most attractions in India, has no limit to where you can go. I stepped past a dome, presumably of historic importance, and into the shell of a home. Through the entrance room and into a walled space it doesn’t take long to appreciate that you are standing inside someone’s home. There are steps, crumbling doorways and painted window frames.

From the higher levels the expanse of the village is apparent. Ruined abodes still try to cling onto the present next to forgotten roads. There is a central temple, complete with handprints and intricate carvings that I can only assume is no longer in use.

For 500 years Kuldhara was a living village. It had seen wealth and trade but in a short space of time its residents abandoned it. Some say it remains abandoned as the result of a curse. Realists say that it is because of the unforgiving environment; water simply disappeared.

Either way there is a sadness to the village. Centuries of life have been left to crumble as tourists run around making loud noises in dark rooms. Bats guard cellars. Newer villagers are trying to rebuild the road and break that curse. Whether it is haunted or not, Kuldhara’s desperation can easily be felt.


Situated close to the Pakistani border stands a mighty golden fort. In and around the walls of what may be the oldest living fort in the world is Jaisalmer, a town that feels like it is on the edge of India.

Like a giant sandcastle, the palace looks over a nearby lake and far off into the Thar Desert. From the highest point you can look down into the meandering streets of the fort and the impossible bazaar below. Cows, dogs and pigs battle for floor space with buses, tuc-tucs and jeeps. Yet, despite the unforgiving heat (it reached 35°C while we were there, and that’s the cool season) Jaisalmer is a lively town full of friendly faces.

To find out more of this ancient town – the fort was built over 800 years ago – we decided to take a wander around the palace. The history was fascinating. Centuries of rulers are all recorded and have left their individual marks on the place. We saw the palace of the Maharajah, and the palace of the Maharani. We learned about how water was kept in such an arid place and how art was brought in from the Mughals. But mostly, we will take away the distinct smell of bats.


With an aroma caught somewhere between sweaty hair and urine, every dark corner in Jaisalmer Fort is infested with bats. From the main archway under the palace to the ornate courtyards within it, there are bats. There are so many in fact that our tour of the palace turned into a walk through a ghost house. Between rooms and sculptures of the fort we walked quickly as flying rodents darted along corridors. As with most attractions of this nature the tour ended with a run down some dark steps with a ceiling thick with bats, that led straight to a giftshop.

As horrendous as I may make the palace sound it really was a thing of beauty. It set the scene for our stay in Jaisalmer and the surrounding area. Like the stuff of fiction, we went from an ancient, bat-infested, palace to a cursed village which has remained uninhabited for the last 200 years. All this before we spent the night in the open desert air as wild dogs fought each other. Jaisalmer really was a wondrous place.

Read about our visit to Kuldhara here.

Agrasen ki Baoli

First things first, I am fully aware that an entrance to the underworld does not lie at the end of every dark path. But when hundreds of intricate steps lead to an abyss in the heart of Delhi, and you face constant barriers to get to the bottom, the mind can’t help but wander.

A baoli is a well. Back when freely running water was not so readily available, a baoli was built to pool the precious liquid from any source. As with most ancient architectural feats, beauty meets practicality. The result is an intricate stepped chamber that leads underground. Naturally, we wanted to explore.

Agrasen ki Baoli can be found fairly easily. It is central in Delhi, just south of Connault Place. Around some backstreets and past some stunning street art there is a small doorway. It is at the end of a vast wall and up a few steps. The extent of the structure beyond is extraordinary.

The first thing that got me was how high up we suddenly were. I have no idea how many steps were before us. There seemed to be levels as they led the way down. This would be, presumably, how the water could be accessed at varying depths.

Behind us, hidden under some trees was a long forgotten mosque. Opposite the triple arches that I have come to associate with ancient places of worship, sat a security guard. As is the case with most of these men dressed in blue at tourist sites, he didn’t seem too concerned about the droves of visitors. Now was the time to engage our inner Indiana Jones/ Lara Croft.

Well wishes

We walked along one of the platforms that lined the baoli. There were alcoves and a barred space ahead. The further into the well we went, the more we realised quite how high up we were. Bats chattered in the dark chambers ahead. Below, other visitors ventured down the steps and into what lay beyond. In my mind I made an itinerary. We will walk to the end of the platform, peer beyond the bars and figure out the engineering and marvel at the architecture. Then we would go to the bottom of the steps. Who knows what we would find in the darkness there.

A couple more meters along the platform and a piercing whistle echoed around the space. It was quite a sound, as though the Indian equivalent of a banshee had been disturbed. We turned around and saw the unenthusiastic security guard. He blew on his whistle like he was on some kind of commission. He frantically waved his hand at anyone who would look at him. Sheepishly we walked back – perhaps we weren’t allowed on the platform after all. But the guard was keen to stop the visitors who were venturing further into the baoli.

Despite his calls we followed other visitors down the steps. We had to see what was at the bottom, hidden in the darkness. Was it a further labyrinth of architectural wonder or simply a dark pit? The guard stopped us before we could really tell. He had something to hide and we weren’t allowed to find out what it was. We were asked to leave. Perhaps twenty-to-six is a normal closing time.

And so the baoli is left to our imagination. The vast steps, ledges and alcoves, in all its manmade grandeur can only hide a grand secret. Perhaps there is an entrance to Patala hidden in Delhi after all.


The democratic capital of India and home to over 25 million people, Delhi is every bit as chaotic as you’d expect. But still, the madness comes as a surprise.

After the quiet order of Amsterdam, in it’s cool European Autumn hitting the hot dusty streets of Delhi turned our world upside-down. Fortunately the city is vastly populated by good natured people – from the security guard at the airport who sorted out our transfer driver to the student from Jaipur who advised us on what not to eat on our first day. It would appear that everybody in this city is up for helping the tourists out. Sometimes it leads to a direct sell to join them in their tuc-tuc but mostly it’s for the self-satisfaction that they did a noble deed.

Beyond the death-defying drivers (our first tuc-tuc driver actually drove the wrong way down a main road at one point), constant smog and inescapable dirt, Delhi has its charms. Like most Indian cities its rich history still shines through historical colonial rule.

Delhi Counter

We explored Humayan’s Tomb, which has stood for centuries and even influenced the Taj Mahal. Allegedly there are 100 tombs within this beautiful monument, although we could only find 25. It does beg the question, what else is hidden within those ancient walls?

On the way back to Connault Place, Delhi’s answer to Picadilly Circus, we stumbled upon the inspiring Agrasen ki Baoli (more about the Baoli can be read here).

It’s almost ironic that we walked around ancient monuments in ‘New’ Delihi but found the “Old’ Delhi near the Red Fort to be a condensed version of modern India. It is fast paced, hot and loud. Pedestrians take no notice of the traffic, while each car, motorbike and rickshaw is looking out for itself – or the odd tourist to whisk across the city.

Delhi, for all its flaws, has given us the perfect introduction to India. Our senses are ignited and we cannot wait to see what the next town brings.

Atlas Mountains

It’s always good to step out of the bustling city and run to the hills for some fresh air every once in a while. I suppose it stands to reason that when the city is as bustling as Marrakech the hills must be equally extreme. And so, Abby and I ventured into the Atlas Mountains for the day.

We were driven across the not so spectacular land that stretches between the city and the countryside. Soon the building developments and vast empty spaces gave way to more fertile land and impressive red hillsides. Up in the hills it’s easy to remember that you are in Africa.

Through berber villages and past stalls that seem to sell the same trinkets seen in the souks (competition must be fierce) we came to a valley 1,300 meters into the range. Water straight from the icy peaks coursed its way at one side. The river was lined with restaurants, each tightly packed with bright leather sofas. Prospective diners could enjoy their tajine while the water ran over their feet. We laughed to each other at how weird that would be. Little did we know that in a few hours time we couldn’t think of a better way to spend an hour.

Rock and roll

In the Ourika Valley there are seven waterfalls. Our guide told us that we would only be visiting five that day. We weren’t too disappointed, five waterfalls in one afternoon are plenty. In fact, as the day wore on I don’t think we even noticed the waterfalls.

Across a driftwood bridge, and through stalls that lined the rock path we started our ascent. Charming ‘natural fridges’ kept drinks cool as fresh spring water splashed along little water ducts and mills made out of old cans. Propellers spun as the water ran past them, spraying cold water over the beverages.

The start of our walk was fine, if a little unexpected. Steep steps soon turned to well trodden grooves between boulders. Well trodden grooves turned to streams. Streams turned to rivers with make shift bridges. More than once our guide turned into a device that helped launch us across the fast water.

The cascades were beautiful. Foamy white flumes poured into a crystal pool below. More of the ‘natural fridges’ lined the willow covered banks. The water was refreshing after our scrambled climb. Cold water rinsed sweat from our faces. But still, we climbed.

A short distance up more boulders, an old berber man stood next to a solid ladder. The top of the ladder rested against, what looked like from below, a sheer rock face. Water glistened on the stone surface from where other intrepid (or unsuspecting) explorers had part climbed/part slid their way along. Once again, our guide positioned himself in a position that rendered him more of a means of survival than a man. He reached down a hand and helped figure out the best way to the top of the rock.

It was at this point we decided that we would indulge in a sugary drink from a conveniently placed ‘natural fridge’. With shaky hands from where our bodies tried to adjust after the unusual contortions, we greedily downed the drinks.

The hills are Alive

The setting was stunning. Willow trees reached over the rock, as though they tried to mimic the waterfalls around them. Villages made of square buildings hid in the distant rocks.

As we made our descent along a more straightforward path we longed to be back by the water. We needed to plunge our feet in the river while we sat on bright coloured sofas.

The Atlas Mountains are well worth the visit from Marrakech. Even if you forget that the mountains are what remain of the son of a Titan after a brief encounter with Medusa’s head, the excursion certainly added a taste of real adventure to an already exciting trip.


In the middle of a hot wasteland, where distant peaks rise out of the barren landscape, there is a restless city surrounded by ancient walls. While it may sound like the stuff of a fantasy book (which, conveniently enough, you can buy here) this is a real place called Marrakech.

In the heart of the souks senses go into overdrive as bright colours pour through handcrafted lanterns, carpets and clothing. Smells of spices and sweetness mingle with sewage and sweat. Drums are banged around an unknown corner. Motorbikes swerve around you as traders and ‘guides’ call out for your attention. All the while you’re trying to take in the beauty of the architecture and wonder how such an impossible place can only be a three hour flight from the cotton-wool-bubble of England.

souk Close, Souk Far

We found our way around Marrakech much faster than we thought. After our taxi from the airport tagged out for an old man with a wagon in the heart of who-knows-where. We followed said man through narrow streets where kids bang drums and seem to always be playing with matches to our riad. We wondered how we would ever make sense of this place. From the comfort of our riad (and with a little help from Google) we decided to brave the madness.

As we negotiated our way through the maze of Marrakech, Abby drew a map. We followed our instinct and made more than a few wrong turns. Soon it all became clear. Turn right by the fruit and veg stands, straight on under the tunnel, left by the ceramics, and another right past the place full of shimmery clothes. Straight along that road we should come to the famous Jemaa el Fna. This massive square is full of food, snake charmers and henna women. Chants from the minarets echo above the sound of pipes, hawkers and percussion.

Meanwhile the imagination runs wild. Somewhere, hidden down some unassuming alley must be an ancient person, who remembers Ali Baba on a personal level. Or a tatty old scrap of paper that points to hidden treasures, perhaps even a genie in a lamp. In the heart of the medina, magic never dies.

About an hour away from the madness of the Medina are the Atlas Mountains. Read about our Atlas Adventure here.

Palace of Knossos

One of our first trips together was spent in Crete. It seemed like the ideal location. There was glorious sunshine, a warm sea and the opportunity to walk down a busy road crying “Ooh ah Malia” with a belly full of overly sweetened alcohol, if we so wished. It also had the added bonus of being the birthplace of Zeus and home of the minotaur.

We caught a local bus from our the resort, through Heraklion and on to Knossos. There were stalls selling faux artefacts and general tack. Tourists were lapping it up. It was all King Minos would have wanted and more.

While the palace itself isn’t quite what it used to be, the grounds are vast. There were chambers and rooms, and areas still being excavated. What I was intrigued by most was what should have been underneath us. Where was the labyrinth?

Grates covered the lower recesses of the palace, and more than once I made Abby stop and stare down them with me, looking for any sign of sacrifice or bull-headed man. I can only assume that the fabled labyrinth that has spooked me since I was 8 years old is buried further underground.

We came away from there without any evidence that the minotaur existed but I had the foundations of Parcae in my mind. Red walls for some reason, stand out in my memories of the palace.

As we walked away from the palace, along a long forgotten road covered in grass, I couldn’t help but think of the horrors that the palace implied. Monsters that lurk in darkened mazes, feeding on innocent children. It’s the stuff that kids books should be made of…


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