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February 8th: Delhi again!!!

And so it was that I found myself in the chaotic and congested city of Delhi yet again...this time for my birthday. It was a visit of mixed success - in some ways fruitful, in others exasperating...

Thanks to Anasuya of the British Embassy, I was interviewed by 'India Today,' an influential weekly magazine published all over the country in a range of local languages. A photo shoot took place to the background of the imposing Delhi Gate. Before an ever growing crowd of intrigued onlookers, I was able to recount a little taste of life on a bicycle, the work of Children With AIDS Charity and plug my sponsors. I have yet to dare see the photos...

I finally had the chance to meet up with fellow cyclists Humanpower - Richard and Andrew - cycling and canoeing their way to Australia! We poured over maps, exchanged travel tips, sampled the gastronomic delights of Paharganj and lost ourselves in the 'Embassyworld' of New Delhi. We parted with our own impromptu web site photo shoot, grinding the main bazaar to a horn blaring standstill. Like many touring cyclists, we had much in common and chatted incessantly. A shame we are going in the opposite direction!

My 26th birthday was not as lonely as I expected thanks to an unexpected dinner invitation at the opulent Oberoi Hotel where Philipa, my Godmother's daughter, was staying on a business. We ate a delicious Indian meal as attentive waiters hovered over us, shuffling this way and that. A far cry from the streets stalls of Paharganj! Overhearing snippets of business dinner power talk, I felt proud of my worn-in clothes and shaved head! Cycling 'home' through a misty Delhi Gate, my pockets were laden with gifts from the minibar. The streets were almost deserted - a few rickshaw drivers slept curled up in the back seat of their three wheelers and guards forlornly kept watch over smart houses. Lost amongst identical roundabouts, a friendly Sikh guided me home in his car - back to my two dollar a night room at the Navrang Hotel - no fax, video, bath salts and outdoor pool here!...The two sides of India...

And now to the mishaps, which sent me into a state of despair and grouchiness. A parcel, sent before Christmas from England, to await my arrival in Delhi, loaded with spare parts, maps, guidebooks and music tapes, made by my sister Holly, remain lost within the confines of the Postal system. I still await its emergence at New Delhi Poste Restante, but as the weeks go by, I fear it may have been 'lost' forever. This is the second parcel that has failed to arrive, the last, in Nepal. I do not recommend the parcel system! Catherine Wilson, on the other hand, has half a dozen letters patiently awaiting her collection, which I jealously sift through on each empty handed visit.

But particular exasperation was saved for the bureaucracy of visa chasing. Still no word concerning my Iranian telex - the Iranian Embassy here in Delhi awaits a reply from Tehran to issue me a visa. It's looking bleak - a land I so wanted to visit, more so for the wonderful stories so many travellers have recounted over the last year. It seems the days where a chap could roll up at the border, black hardback papers in hand, are over - the usual 3 day visa generally takes 2 weeks to come through for the British - in my case it has been more than six weeks (and I'm still waiting). Further to the visa fee - highest for UK citizens, needless to say - the Iranians require a formal letter of introduction. Unlike other countries, the British charge an astronomical 60 dollars US for this computer printout. To rub salt in the wound, UK citizens are singled out to pay this fee up front, with no guarantee of receiving the visa. I'm sorry to sound overly annoyed, but the world of international diplomacy was no friend of mine this week...

Much rests on the outcome. A thumbs down from Tehran and many plans are greatly changed. Two options are open to me. Either taking the Karakorum Highway through North Pakistan, China and Russia, or I will have to cycle to Karachi, fly to the Middle East and cycle through Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Syria before rejoining my path in Turkey. As exciting as this option sounds, it will nonetheless be a different introduction to Europe than I had foreseen... but one thing I have learnt this past year is that plans have a habit of twisting in the direction you least expect. If this happens, take the opportunity and make the most of it! I will keep you all informed of my route as soon as it is finalised.

So once again I head to Rishikesh, awaiting Tehran's verdict. But at least I have something else to look forward to, the arrival of my mum!! Following up her Bangkok visit, she will be joining me for two weeks in India. One limbering up in yogic Rishikesh on the Ganges, another spinning the buddhist prayer wheels in Tibetan Dharamsala. Having not seen each other for close to a year, I can't wait to introduce her to the incredible adventure of the senses that India can be; maddening yet rewarding. Whatever happens, I know it will certainly make an impression...



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