Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jaipur Happenings & etc

The last time we wrote was about a week ago and we were enjoying our time in Agra. Much has happened since then; we have visited Jaipur and now are in the middle of the biggest camel fair in Pushkar.

We stayed for 4 nights in Jaipur which was more than enough. We visited many sights and walked through countless bazaars while there. The most notable sights where the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal which stands 140 feet in the sky in the middle of the pink city, and the Amber fort. The views from Iswari Minar Swarga Sal were impeccable and you can see the 3 other forts in the distance.

Marsha and I have been slowly transforming into the budget travelers we set out to be. In Jaipur the rickshaw drivers were way too expensive so we took the city bus to Amber fort 30 minutes away from Jaipur. The bus was 5 rupees each and extremely packed. We really enjoyed the city buses and used them often. The Amber fort was magnificent, and if visiting Jaipur it’s a must go. The fort sits atop a strategic hill 15 Km outside Jaipur. Amber used to be the capital of Rajastan before it was changed to Jaipur. The fort is huge and really fun to just explore its several rooms and chambers.

We also decided to go off the beaten path and travel 2 hours and a half to a town called Balaji. This town which sees almost no tourists has a temple that exorcises bad spirits. There were hundreds and hundreds of devoted Indians lining up to send their prayers at the temple. People were in a trance in line and were humming together. It was really an eye opening experience. The exorcisms happen at around 7pm and can be viewed on TV screens outside the temple. (Buses come ever 30 minutes to Jaipur. )

We are now in Pushkar and it’s a mix between Risikesh and Delhi/Agra. I would estimate its half tourists and half pilgrims. It’s a very interesting mix, with a scenic desert backdrop. This is the first time that either of us has been to a desert so it’s a really amazing experience. We walked through the desert and into a maze of unhappy camels. Its really a different side of India that either of us has encountered yet.

We are now going to meet my parents which have also traveled to India and just arrived in Pushkar. They seem hesitant on eating local restaurant food but we are going to try and get them to dive into India budget travel style!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

First Indian Train Travel

4am wake up call, 430am departure from Rishikesh to Hardiwar by taxi, 5:15am arrival at Hariwar Train Station, original train departure time to Agra; 6am, actual departure time, 8:15am. This was the first Indian train experience along our journey.

Upon arrival our eyes met hundreds of Indians, all of which were camping outside the train station, a dramatic picture to say the least. As we made our way in, we were told by the "superior" train people that our train was 2 hours late. This was mainly because of the accident that occured the day before, so the trains were moving extra slow and taking extra precautions (lucky us).
After meeting a friendly guy, Javier, from Spain, we quickly taught him the card game crazy eights (loco ochos), fed some bananas to the monkeys, and watched the busy people jump from track to track.

Once on the train (AC 2 Tier), we were sitting with 2 Babas. (babas are a religious master, or a father of religion). They were very quick to stare at us, and quickly moved to the seats behind (I guess they weren't amused with our talk-a-tive-ness). On the 3rd stop (and this train stopped a lot) we were joined by a nice old Indian couple. The woman didn't speak any english, but the man spoke broken English/Hindi. They were super nice, giving us homemade Indian food that they brought along, on many occassions.

Throughout our 12 hour train journey Jeffery and I slept, ate many cookies and Indian food, killed cockroches, watched mice scurry around, played cards, read, and watched the countryside pass by. An overall fun Indian experience. Although I've heard many bad train stories, we lucked out with a great one. And although it was a dirty dirty train, we kept an open mind and made it a great memory.

Until next time...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

India Buses, Rishikesh, DIWALI

Our third destination in India was Risikesh, the yoga capital of theworld. The city of Risikesh lies peacefully on the winding gangesriver, the most sacred river in India. Millions of pilgrims arriveevery year. Here they visit the banks to bathe and send off peaceofferings to the gods, in the form of floating candles and variousother gifts. The bus left from Dharmsala which is a 10 minute taxi ride fromMcleod Ganj. We chose the luxury bus which was 600 rupees, the onlyupgrade was that you could recline your seats. The bus station made usnervous, we had read and heard horrible stories of tourists losingeverything to scammers. Marsha got two seats on the bus, while I stoodand watched our bags like a hawk. In the end it was just parranoia,and we were off. The bus was nice and it was about 1\5 full, which wasamazing because we could lie down and sleep through the 14 hourjourney. To get a real sense of the bus ride i think it would best bedescribed as a maniac on wheels. The driver seemed to not care foranyones safetly not even his own. He would fly around corners, wherethe valley floor was several hundred feet below. He didnt understandthat when there is a turn you should slow down well in advance andtake the turn nicely. He would just put the petal to the metal andwhen a turn came he would put on the breaks at the last second like hewas trying to avoid a moose. The breaks by the 3rd hour were makingterrible noises i had to hold my ears because it was so loud. We were told there would be stops for a bathroom break and to getsome food. I knew that the food would be terrible and disgusting andthe bathrooms would be less than satisfactory because of my Thailandtravels. Marsha was not on the same wave length and was horrified tofind such appauling conditions at the stops. The bus made anunexpected stop in Manali and picked up 40 or so roudy 20 orsomethings from the bus stop. Its crazy because in North America wehave working hours of 9 -5 and airports and bus stops die down around8 30 -9. In India the bus stops are at full capacity at 12 at nightand people are still working deep into the night. Its a totallydifferent way of life. We arrived at Dera Dun 1 hour and a half from Risikesh at 5 in themorning. We then had to take a city bus to Risikesh from the busstation which was a close walk from where we were left off. It didnttake long for people to show us where the bus to Risikesh was leaving.We hopped on and took the city bus with locals. It was a really greatway to see how locals get to work. The doors open as we are moving andpeople jump in, famlilies pack the bus city workers everyone justjammed on one bus. It was a really eye opening experience. Risikesh has lived up to the expectations as a beauiful yoga town.Yoga lofts and massage centers are a dime a dozen. The ganges is awonderful backdrop to the foothills that surround it and to thetemples that line the city. Its a wonderful place and a greatdestination to just hang out and meet new people. Yestersay wasDiwali, the biggest festival in India. Diwali is the festival oflights, basically its a time when firecrackers and fireworks dominatethe air and sound waves. Last night amazing firework displays werebeing viewed all across Risikesh. It started at around 7 pm and endedat 2 am. Imagine a fourth of July firework show times 1.1 billion.Thats no exaguration either. The sky was filled with fireworkseverywhere, and it lasted for 7 hours straight. We bought 35 dollarsworth of fireworks and went to our roof. We shot off around 10 hugefireworks, while others were doing the same thing. Its indescribableand a wonder to us why India wouldnt promote Diwali more. Its totallyamazing no words can describe what we saw last night.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


We had heard on twitter that Eagle Heights trekking in Mcleod Ganj was the company we should use if we wanted to go on a trek through the Himalayas. Eagle Heights had many options for us to take. We chose the 4 day trek that would take us to the Idrahar pass. This pass was above 4000 meters and half of Everest.

We started off the first day with tea which was a reaccuring theme on the trek and climbed to Triund. Triund was the first stop and the resting place for our first night. The view was spectacular and you could see the Himalayan range we were going to climb and the valley where we just came from. We slept in a tent, the temperature was hovering around freezing and needless to say we were freezing.

The second night we set off early in the morning and hiked to the snow line. This used to be the snow line in the 1990’s but climate change has now changed that and the glacier does not go down that far, but it is still refereed to as the snow line. Our guide and porters stayed in a makeshift cave that Shepherd's sleep in. We got the tent, and this time we put a 1 foot rock fort around the base of our tent so the wind wouldn't come in. That night it was negative 5 degrees. The rocks did their job and we were not as cold as the night before.

The third day was the hardest of them all. We woke up at 2800 meters and were climbing to 4250 meters approx. Our guide Paul told us that it would take us 7 hours to get up and 3 to get down. When we started the sun hadn't come over the mountains , we hiked for close to an hour with no sun which was really cold. The hike was hard and snow which had fallen 2 days prior was still on the rocks making it difficult and slippery to climb. The last 300 meters was brutal and breaks were taken every 50 meters or so. The air was thin and a deep headache set in. We both had a minor case of altitude sickness.

We finally reached the top and the view was spectacular. You could see the valleys on both sides of the mountain range and the next range in the distance. It was well worth the 4 hour hike. We rested at the top totally exhausted, and ate snacks and chatted about Sheppard's and merchants who had to pass through indahar. The indahar pass is the hardest and steepest pass in Himachal Pradesh.

One fact that may be interesting is that shepherds who pass with their livestock have a rather gruesome ritual. Once they get to the top there is a little temple where the shepherds and locals prey. The Sheppard's have a ritual where they cut off one of the sheep’s heads and put it in the temple for the god. Then they carry the body to the bottom of the mountain. Our guide didn't want us to see that so we descended before the livestock, but they caught up!!

All in all the trek was an amazing experience and we would do it again in a heartbeat. Use Eagle Heights Trekking they are a little more expensive but totally worth every penny.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mcleod Ganj

Our second leg of the jounrey origionally was going to be taken by train to Shimla, then Manali and then finally Mcleod Ganj, home of the Dali Lama and the beautiful Himalayas. In Delhi we caught the horrible "Delhi Belly" and were bed wridden for 4 days. We missed our train which would have taken 24 hours and caught a King Fisher airplane to Mcleod Ganj which took 1 hour and 30 minutes. On our arrival we met two backpackers; one from Canada and one from Australia. Josh, the Australian already had a cab waiting for him so we shared a small cab with Sahir, the other Canadian. The drive from Dharmsala to Mcleod Ganj was one of the scariest drives we have ever taken. The taxi was practically off the cliff several times, being hundreds of meters above the valley floor. We were secretly praying for our lives, closing our eyes and hoping for the best.
Mcleod Ganj became popular in the mid 1900's for tourists because of the Dalai Lama. Richard Gere supposedly used to travel frequently here because of the tranquliety and beauty of the area. The little city is nestled on the foothills of the Himilayas, the largest mountain range in the world.
Monks line the streets wearing their red robes, buying local produce and talking on their cell phones. Free Tibet stickers and clothing are littered everywhere, and the Tibetan people are peaceful and extremely friendly, the complete opposite of New Delhi.
We visited the temple of the Dalai Lama, our Australian friend accompanied us as well. The temple was beautiful and full of monks walking peacefully around. We were told their was a mile walk around the temple called the CORA. The CORA is used for monks to prey and worship in the nature. It is truly a world apart from anything we have experienced.
Mcleod Ganj and its surrounding areas are breath taking. Words cannot describe the Himlayas with their snow covered peaks at 4000 meters or the peaceful culture of the Tibetian people, you must visit to fully comprehend the serenity and vibe of Mcleod Ganj.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Delhi, As you Like

HONK! HONK! BEEP! HONK!Welcome to the noisy, dusty, crazy city of Delhi. First step off the plane and we could already smell the difference. A mixture of curry, dust, people, and sacred cows meant we had arrived in New Delhi, India. This new smell brought butterflies of excitement and anticipation of our India adventure about to begin.

Arriving very late at night (after midnight) there wasn’t much to see, but as soon as the staff of Ajanta Hotel greeted us with a bindi being marked on our foreheads, we knew we were in India.

The follow morning, we woke up to the busy sound of New Delhi. Hustle and Bustle was already happening on the streets of Pahar Ganj. We ate a quick breakfast and were off on our first TUK TUK adventure. Wow and what a crazy experience those means of transportation are. In and out of traffic, almost crashing every 5 seconds. Our first stop was Connaught Place; a common spot for shops of all kinds. Thanks to our Lonely Planet book, we were well aware that almost 99.9% of TUK TUK drivers would take tourists to the same shops where they make a small commission (and funny thing, each time we’d ask to go somewhere for authentic clothing, we were brought to the same 3 places). And they were all over priced for us “tourists” of course.

Day 1 and first stop we were brought to a nice carpet shop where they say us on comfy sofas, brought us delicious Kashmir green-cinnamon tea, and explained the making and history of each different type of carpet. Once we came to the prices (he of course left this until the end of the speech), we kindly got up and left. Had we stayed, I’m sure we could have bargained for a much lower and more affordable price. But our first day in India on a 78 day planned trip, dropping Rs 13000 (approx $330 Canadian) wasn’t part of our budget plan.

We also saw the Red Fort (located in Old Delhi), and had dinner at an OK touristy/Indian restaurant called Splash.

On our 2nd day, the 2nd of October, Gandhi’s Birthday & National Holiday in Indiam we set off to Raj Ghat. This is the exact location to where Gandhi was murdered on January 30th, 1948. Although we missed the ceremony, there were still many people there praying and paying their respects.

Having the full afternoon free while in Old Delhi, we bumped into a very nice girl, who is actually the vice president of Delhi University. She asked us if there was anything she could do to help us. (We were hungry at the time so we asked for a good place to eat). We then headed by TUK TUK to a busy place called Karim’s Restaurant, which was right in the heart of a Muslim Bazaar. It was so busy in there Jeffery and I didn’t know which way was up or down. After sitting beside a nice Indian couple from Mumbai, we were off to see what the side streets had to offer. Even with this day being a holiday, the streets were still so packed and crowded. I don’t even want to imagine walking down there when all the stores are open. All and all, Delhi is overwhelming but very interesting. You have to come with an open mind, being ready to experience the unknown and to try new things. Constant noise, dust, people and culture, I still need to take it in small doses.