Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The city of tourists.

Pokhara, Nepal was our first major city we came to in Nepal. Apart from the border town which we were stuck at overnight because we had missed the bus just a few minutes before we crossed the border.  The town was nothing special and we were sent on a wild-goose chase to find an ATM that would take our cards. Three towns and four banks later we managed to find a Bank of India that worked for Heath. My card was still inoperable and it was several weeks later when I found out that Nepal is a "high security" country and my bank does not allow transactions from there.

On the bus searching for a valid ATM.

We arrived in Pokhara on a rickety old bus with a derelict driver that took 13 hours.  Of all the buses we have been on through-out Africa, this one was the worst.  At every bump and turn all the seats and windows would shake and creak.  My window was barely intact and kept flying open.  I really thought it was the end for us.

Pokhara took us by surprise.  Aside from Mumbai, it was the most western town we've been to in India and Nepal put together. The "lakeside" section where our hotel was location was strickly built-up for tourists. There was an abundance of bars, restaurants and trek shops. We moved ourselves into the nicest hotel on the strip and for about $5.00 per person we had a top-notch room with WIFI, a proper bathroom with a western toliet (a very desirable novelty) and a view of the lake from our balcony.

Alright, so there was a family living out in the field in front of the lake but they were quite and harmless.

The lake was beautiful. We rented a boat and rowed ourselves across to hike up to the Peace Pagoda (Buddhist Stupa). It was built by a Japanese man in 1947 but was tore down mysterously by the government only to be re-erected in the 90's.

The views were incredible.

We spent the next three days exploring the city and stuffing our faces with $2.00 pizza and beer, the best we've had on this journey by far.  The start of the Annapurna trek was delayed due to the city going on strike which shut all the taxi's and bus's down enabling us to leave.  Nepal was in the middle of polishing up it's consitiution and all politicial party's were in an uproar.  Unfortunately their tourism industry suffered greatly as a near 90% of tourist canceled their trips.  Turns out it was a great and cheap time to come to Nepal. 

Soldiers patroling the streets on strike day.

A wedding party of females dancing in the street for hours.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Best of India.

Darjeeling, India

Lying in bed with the blankets pulled up and tucked under my chin, my nose is the only cold extremity left.  After months of sweltering heat the cold is a welcome reminder of home. My body has been rejuvenated by the cold and participates happily in climbing the streets of Darjeeling, an incredible city built 7,000 feet up in the Himalayas with tea plantations crawling all over the mountains.

We climbed to the toppling height of Darjeeling in a shared jeep taxi and I was squished against the far back window with a lever jabbing my right shoulder at every bump along the way. The main road was closed due to a landslide and all vehicles were routed to the steeper (but shorter) route. 

As we piled into the jeep at the New Jalpaiguri train station in route to Darjeeling, I honestly didn’t think my body could handle any more rides like this. New Jalpaiguri was the stop-over city we came to from Varanasi and was about equal to the heat of it as well.  After a few harsh words to the driver and his helping touts when they squished four people on the three-seat bench in back, I realized that, again, I could do nothing but bear it without a grin.

That was the tail end of a horrific journey from Varanasi which tested my patience and tolerance. Our train was scheduled to leave Varanasi at 6:30 pm and once we arrived, happy to be leaving, we were hit with a six hour train delay. ‘What could we do? Where could we go?’ we thought. After a search through the station we settled in the second class waiting room with fans to help better the humid heat. All along the concrete floor, the locals had strung out blankets and were sleeping, which made me think delays were a regular occurrence.

Being a western tourist, you seem to attract other western tourists and we befriended an Italian girl, upon our arrival to the station, who was sick with a virus that left her incapable of helping herself.  It just so happened that she was booked on our train as well so we took the liberty of making sure she was settled and comfortable with plenty of water and a promise that we wouldn’t leave without her. She was so ill that she puked behind my bench in the waiting room catching the attention of everyone who then scrambled fast away. Their lack of concern over her vomiting led me to believe that this, also, was a regular occurrence among westerns.

Six hours turned into twelve and we finally caught the train at half past 7:00 the next morning. Heath and I sat on hard, metal benches for those long hours in the station, numbing our behinds and trying to deaden our sense of smell, as the only benches left were next to the bathrooms. Luckily, I had bought Jane Eyre at a book store in Varanasi which mentally took me away with its 509 pages.  The book was finished within 24 hours.

All this trouble and pain disappeared when we finally threw our bags on the floor of, yet, another hotel room. Victory comes at the finish line.  I was mentally depleted and landed face first on the bed but that still didn’t take away the feeling of success. We made it, finally.

Darjeeling’s beauty overwhelmed me. We spent our sunny, brisk days visiting the Zoo, the Tibetan Refugee Center, walking the steep and windy streets and eating delicious Tibetan Momos and Thupka (steamed pot stickers and noodle soup). It was a welcome change from the overly spicy Indian food and didn’t have monstrous side effects.  

The three days in Darjeeling was our prize for such a treacherous journey and it was well worth it.

A kid sweeper taking a snooze at the train station.

Tea planation

Darjeeling market and a guy moving electrical wires out of the way.

A very happy snow leopard at the Darjeeling Zoo.

An Indian family wanting to take a photo with me.

A foggy day in Darjeeling.

On the way to the Tibetan Refugee Center.

More tea planations.

On the Darjeeling Toy Train.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Trekking in Nepal

Will be back in a few short days to post several blog. As you can imagine, internet is hard to find on the Annapurna Circuit. 

Stay Tuned!!!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Varanasi, India

My liking of India is burning off in the immense heat, along with the liters and liters of water I’ve been downing.

We made it to Varanasi by taxi from Tala which totaled an 8 hour drive. The roads were missing huge chunks of concrete causing the taxi to bump and jerk its way along, making all of us nauseous. The trains have been jammed-packed due to summer vacation for schools and all of India is traveling right now. To avoid staying any longer in Tala we managed to talk a taxi driver down to a bearable amount and shared his car with a French couple who kept us entertained the whole way.

Varanasi lies on the Ganges River and is considered to the Hindu the holiest river in the world. It’s so holy that it hovers, along with the city, above the earth, one local explained. To me it is the filthiest place I’ve ever been too. The streets and alleys are littered with cow and dog shit and general sewage. It’s impossible to walk and look at the sights at the same time because you constantly play hop-scotch along the paths to avoid all the garbage. I stepped in a hole with black, murky sewage water and felt instantly ill. This place is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. I have to walk around with my scarf covering my face because of the smell.

Not only are the streets filthy but the river also. At one end you have the “burning ghats” where, those who can afford it, get burned at the edge of the river and then pushed in the water (no photos allowed).  The burning never stops. There is an eternal flame that all the bodies are lite from which has been burning for 3,500 years, they say. After they get pushed into the river they are called River Souls. We saw half lumps of dead bodies floating in the river on our boat tour. Birds use them for rest breaks. What is even worse, not 100 meters away people are swimming and bathing in the same river!

Just to show us how “holy” the water was our boat guide reached his hand into the water and took a big gulp.  ‘How do they not get sick’ you might ask. Their bodies build up immunity to it after decades of bathing, swimming and drinking it. People can live in this filth because it’s inside of them. They consider themselves holy to be able to withstand the pollution. The city has the same population of Los Angeles so the streets are swarming with bicycles, taxi’s, rickshaw’s (three-wheeled motorbikes) and people.  All are either honking their horn at you or running into to you. It’s madness that I cannot tolerate. 

Hindu’s believe that cows are sacred and that they carry human souls. They are free to roam the streets as they like and live off the garbage people throw down for them. The dogs, on the other hand, are the souls of the sinful people reincarnated. These dogs are sick, hurt, mangy, starving, wounded and often bleeding. I can hardly walk down the street without tears in my eyes seeing these poor creatures knowing that I can’t do anything for them.

Varanasi is the holy city of garbage. No matter what someone tells me about India I will always remember this city and immediately feel sick.

I think 48 hours is a good amount of time to spend in this city. That gives you a chance to browse their beautiful silks and get a feel for the city. We spent four days here. After the second day it took all of my strength to leave the hotel. Food was the driving force and we, unfortunately, didn't stay at a place with a restaurant.

Cows feast on garbage and throw it right back onto the ground.

Bicycle rickshaw's waiting for a fare.


Always in the way.

Cow dung and motorcycles. These bikes tear up and down the alleys, honking angrily at people.

But they have really beautiful silks.

This photo is a bit too small to see the wound. His front leg is very hurt. This is one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of sick dogs on the streets.

Friday, May 6, 2011

India hit me.

I was always very curious why people would tell me, before this trip, that three weeks in India is not enough time.  Was it because of the size? That it would take you longer than three weeks to do the route we chose? Or was it because India is just so beautiful that a few days to a week in one destination is just not enough time to experience what that city has to offer? Being in India now, I’ve finally made sense of that statement and all the above questions have an answer of no.

The real answer is: sickness. You have to plan for some time to be stuck in bed, in a non-air conditioned room, in the middle of their summer (lucky me) with a stomach virus from hell and a headache that lasts 4 plus days.  My illness only lasted a week and didn’t put us off schedule too much but still inflicted tremendous amounts of pain on my mind, body and soul.

The great town I was stuck in is about a kilometer long just outside the Bandhavgarh National Park (a tiger sanctuary), called Tala.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the staff of the hotel were patient and understanding.  They didn’t flinch at our 5th toilet paper roll request and were sincere in their concern of my health.  The lack of AC was the biggest problem and not having the strength to put on proper clothes to enjoy the slight breeze outside, I was stuck in the sweltering hotness of our hotel room.  We did have a fan, which was lovely when it worked. The electricity was usually out between 8-11 every morning and in the evening from 3 until whenever they decided to give the poor town more electricity.   Tala is in the state of Madhya Pradesh which does not have their own power plant therefore they must rely on the state next door to fuel them.  So, I suffered.

Between the Indian headache medicines which actually worked better than the German stuff I brought and some codeine that a friendly guest gave me and some rehydration salts that his travel partner threw in, I was on my way to perfect health….eventually.

Who’s really to say what actually made me sick, there’s no way to know (it wasn't the brains!).  And to be quite honest, this amount of time in India (almost two weeks) has really done me in with their food.  How someone can eat curry that much in one day is beyond me.  What is also surprising is that India was a British colony for a long, long time and yet there are no reminisces of British food like there is in Africa.  Not that English food is the greatest but after this long with curry you would kill for a sausage roll.

Indian’s eat Indian food and that is all.  We tried “Italian” one night which was just pasta with India spices.  I honestly cannot eat anymore curry, plain and simple. 

Hopefully, the next city has more of a selection.

Here is a couple of photos I took when I did manage to peel myself off the bed.

A view from the rooftop of our hotel "Royal Guest House" in Tala.

A very bumpy (ouch) jeep excursion through the national park. Here are some guards on their preferred method of transport. We didn't see any tigers.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

India begins.

Mumbai, India

There’s no telling how hot the streets get during the day. The humidity is soaring and the crowds of chaos only make the streets more dense and make the sweat drip out fast from every pore. Once you accept and deal with the heat you can turn your focus on the beautiful life buzzing around the streets. People of all ages, all classes, swarm the narrow alleys, walking in and out of traffic with no regard to rules or stop lights. That is something a tourist will have to get used to. You will be the only person left standing on the street corner waiting patiently to cross. Even the cars will slow down to stare at you with astonishment that you are actually waiting your turn to cross.

For the most part street vendors and beggars leave you alone, unlike major cities in Africa. Only on occasion you will find dressed up women in colorful robes with their children in their arms who run up to you begging for money or food and will grab your arm if you try to walk away. They live on the streets and sidewalks with their entire family.  It’s difficult to see but that is just life here. These families depend on hand-outs and by rummaging through garbage’s.  I do my part with a couple of rupees here and there, as I can do nothing else.

The constant noise of blowing horns will drive you mad if you let it. Every few seconds a horn goes off either at other vehicles, pedestrians or just simply because they want themselves noticed. You will get honked at by taxi’s to let you know they are available. Which is great if you are looking for one, annoying and horrible if you are not.

It took me a solid day to realize that when I tell someone “no” with a shake of my head that it actually means “yes” here. People would look at me confused as if I really did want to buy those clothes, that watch, that book, those purses. Shaking your head back and forth means okay or yes in the Indian culture. Let me tell you, it’s really hard to get used to.

To beat the mid-day heat, Heath and I decided to see a movie. We were in luck when the premiere of Dum Marro Dum was playing. A great mix of a seventies porn meets Hawaii 5-0 and filmed Guy Ritchie style. Throw in a couple of music videos, which the main characters break out in, and you’ve got yourself a fantastically awesome film. I recommend it to anyone. It was such a great experience we went to another air-conditioned movie the next day. This one was not as good, with absolutely no English, but still worth every Rupee, all $3.00 of them.

We have been on a culinary adventure this trip. Someone would make a fortune if they wrote a guide book to Indian food especially for travel junkies like me. The menus are in English but the names of all the dishes are impossible to understand. The waiter usually just says “chicken with liquid”.  That helps.  I did manage to find something that I’ve wanted to try ever since reading Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall food memoirs from the River Cottage food program (BBC), who swears by this dish. 


I ordered Brains Masala. It was excellent. The soft, squishy brain was almost tasteless but added a great texture to the spicy curry dish. Hugh recommends it lightly breaded and fried in butter with sage. If I can’t find that here I will definitely be cooking it at home. Hopefully it will not be too hard to track down sheep’s brains in Portland.

I love Mumbai and its madness. I love the bright colors draped around the women. I love the 50’s style dress all the men wear. I adore the thick black mustaches which is more common than jeans. The people are beautiful with their perfect complexions and tanned skin. Everyone seems to take pride in their dress and style but not in a “Hollywood” glamour sense. Women don’t need to wear make-up here and most don’t. They accentuate their beauty with brightly color dresses with sparkling bead work. You truly step back into time in this city.

The short four days we spent in this city is not enough and I look forward to the day I can come back and eat some more brains.

People live everywhere and anywhere.

A normal method of transporting of goods.

Small shop man with storage in the ceiling.

Just another street in Mumbai.


Getting blessed...

My bag did fit.

The spice Market in Agra.

Eating a stolen lunch on the train tracks.

Agra train station.

Goods Carrier

And finally, Brains...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

They have money, lots of it.

Doha, Qatar.

For some unknown reason Qatar Air, the airlines we decided to use to get us to India, changed their Johannesburg to Mumbai flight which left us stuck in Doha for 21 hours. When I called Qatar Air expecting a major hassle to sort out the issue, I was shocked. Not only did they apologize for the change, they booked us a hotel room plus our visas to explore the city for those short hours. An all around applause for the greatest airlines in the world.

Our hotel was the Moevnpick situated downtown across from the Four Seasons. Moevnpick might not have the fancy name of it's neighbor but it sure compares in quality.  In our 5th floor view, in a 25 story high-rise, we gazed out the window to a magical high-rise heaven. The hotel room was fancier and just about bigger than any apartment I've rented. It had a kitchen, king-size bed and a small living room.

Did I mention that all of our meals were free?

Money and style oozes out of the buildings and immaculate streets.  Coming from Africa, this was shock to my system. A good shock.

Standing outside theMuseum of Islamic Art.

Warrior of ancient (unknown) times.

The most beautiful jewerly I've ever seen.

The Museum is on the right, our hotel was in the mix of high-rises in the distance.

Minaret in the center of town.

The Souq (market) guards. Times haven't changed for them.