Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Oh well, I'm in Koh Samui now, and accommodation has been found. A cheap dorm room for 200 Baht was definitely fine with me, and it's a pretty decent place. Except for the 30-something man in my room that needs to sleep with the light on. I finally managed to eat some McDonald's last night, and it tasted all the better with a few beers in my stomach too. Maybe now I'll go another four months without eating it. No alcohol tonight too, I need to be ready for the Full Moon Party tomorrow night, mentally as well as psychically.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Today I went out on a 4 island speedboat tour, my substitute for not being able stay on them due to the high prices. The first part was snorkeling at Koh Ngai, then to the Emerald Caves at Koh Mook, pictured below. Heading into the caves was pretty cool, at one point it becomes completely pitch black. The lagoon beach inside would have been much cooler had there been much less people. Then we went to Koh Kradan where we hung out on the beach and had lunch. This is where the weather turned to shit. One more stop for snorkeling at an island with a name I can't remember was the best part of it, with tons of colourful fish and jagged coral.
Tomorrow I do a ten hour journey to Koh Samui in hopes of finding some accommodation so I can use it as a base to hit up the crazy New Year's Eve party on Koh Phangan, which is supposed to be attended by thirty to forty thousand people! It's bound to be a gong show.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
As fun as the partying has been, I have to extricate myself from it. I find I get caught up in that party groove, where its party until late in the night, sleep half the day away, nurse my hangover on the beach, eat, then repeat. I don't do much when this happens, nor see the sights I should be seeing. Partying wasn't the objective of this trip, so I shouldn't be letting it become a priority. Some friends have invited me to the New Year's Eve party of Koh Phangan but I'm not completely sure about that yet. My first objective of seeing the small islands in the south is something I really want to do and heading back north would nullify that.
Now I head to Koh Lanta to hopefully get some full nights of non-alcohol fueled sleep.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
After that was all sorted out, I opted for going the Rai Leh way, which takes less time, something I didn't have much of. On the way the boat man reeled in the anchor right into my leg, cutting my foot. I finally got a boat to Krabi and managed to get a ticket for the boat to Koh Phi Phi, which was at 3:00, not 2:00. After all this shit mess I am finally in Koh Phi Phi. It's beautiful here, and I've managed to score a nice 300 Baht dorm, which is pretty cheap for this place. This day will be definitely put behind me and logged into the travel books. Hopefully tomorrow will be sunny so I can get some long overdue beach time.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I can't be too upset about the latter though, it brought me to this kick ass place called Ton Sai! It's totally awesome here, it's a climbers paradise, and there are tons of them. And they are totally chilled out, friendly people. I've met quite a few cool ones, and even took my own rock climbing course today! For less than $30 a guide took another German guy and I across the bay to a wall where we scaled three climbs, roughly about sixty to seventy feet of vertical. I did a lot better than I thought, finishing all three climbs without having to stop to rest. Apparently that's not bad since I've since heard of people not finishing them at all.
The weather here has been overcast and sometimes rainy the past few days so beach time has been a lost cause. I invested my money in a hammock that I strung up on my balcony and have been lately also investing my time in it. The place I'm staying has been great, my semi-outdoor bathroom seems to give me a story every day, whether it be the elf-sized toilet or killing cockroaches the size of the palm of my hand. Today took the cake though; I walked inside to have a post-climb shower. I turned my head to see a three foot Monitor lizard perched on top of the concrete wall about three feet from my face. I said 'oh shit', it said 'fuck this', and we parted ways. For anyone that doesn't know what a monitor lizard is, they basically look like small Komodo Dragons. I had a good laugh about that afterwards.
I'm off to Koh Phi Phi Don tomorrow, right next door to Koh Phi Phi Leh, the beach they filmed 'The Beach'. I'll stay there for Christmas, a few people I met there will be there as well so I'll have some people to hit up the reputable parties with.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
It's very isolated, the only way to get in is by boat or a treacherous walk through around a limestone cliff. An ankle breaker to say the least, I might stay away from that one after walking it today. I didn't really notice, but decent, cheap internet access there could be hard to find so I might be posting from the next island I visit.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
I'm now in Thailand after a hard 24 hours of traveling, including a red eye to Bangkok, a flight to Phuket and a bus to Krabi. I met up and am traveling with my friend Katrina, and in T-minus 1 hour we're going to make our way to a beach for some much deserved Thai beach time. Even after I left India it still wouldn't take it's slimy tentacles off me, the fast food I ate in the Delhi airport came up about an hour after I landed in Bangkok, immediately after a ninety Baht muffin at Starbucks. It's definitely a relief to be in a country with some order, and I'm glad I've only heard a couple horns honk in the time I've been here. Oh, and I took a bus here. And it was great. Booyah, India.
Monday, December 13, 2010
What I liked: The people. Despite the bad things I will mention in the next paragraph, the people here can be extremely friendly. You can be taking a walk down the street, and some random guy on a bike will give you a friendly hello and a big smile. I found Goan's to be the friendliest people I came across in India, especially the bar staff at the Opinal Beach Shack. I thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of India, every region holds a new type of architecture and a new type of mentality among the people. While it's always India, every place feels so different. The amount of colour here is staggering, my camera has never been put to work like it has here. The roads here are always a good laugh. Imagine a two lane road (what's a lane in India?) jam packed with trucks, buses, cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, cows, push carts, cars, people, and the occasional street dog and you'll have a view of the roads in India. Or seeing three people on a little motorbike, carrying sheets of plywood or whatever, always made me laugh. I never had a bad experience with the trains, so I must note this as the way to go in India. I'll also make mention of the food. The curries and samosas here are amazing, but I do have to say after two months of it I'm done for a while. The weather was great here, I enjoyed sunny skies and warm/hot weather %90 of the time. Definitely in my highlight list are the Camel Safar in Jaislamer, eating in the mess hall of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the views of Udaipur from Sunset Point, chilling on the beach in Goa.
What I didn't like: The buses! BURN IN HELL, INDIAN BUSES! The pollution. It seemed like every street was lined with every kind of garbage imaginable, and whatever wasn't lying around was being burnt, plastics included. The air pollution gave me a cough that never left me the whole two months, save for a few days in Goa. The amount of shit and piss everywhere (not an understatement). The touts here are a pain in the ass, they can be incredibly persistent, and almost always try to rip you off. I'll die a happy man if I never have to hear a car horn again in my life. Or a guy trying to sell me hash! Seeing the diseased and disfigured people was never fun for me, I don't particularly enjoy seeing Human suffering, especially in that form. The efficiency of everything here is appalling. I'll use a restaurant as an example: for a ten table restaurant, there will be literally six people serving them. While I might say this is a bad thing, maybe it's good, because their laziness and ineptitude keeps everyone employed. Getting food poisoning and the shits sucked too, and the latter is not an uncommon problem.
Despite all the bad things I've mentioned, I did enjoy my time in this country and do not regret it one bit. Will I come back? It's a question I'm not sure if I can answer yet. Definitely not North India, I feel I've experienced that enough. While it's not high on my priority list at the moment, I would like to check out South India in the future. After two months here enduring everything that India can throw at me, I am ready to leave. Next stop is Thailand. I'm glad to be returning to a country with some hint of order, but leaving here I can confidently say traveling in India has left me a grizzled veteran traveler, ready to take on anything Southeast Asia can throw at me.
Days spent in India: 60
Money spent (minus gifts, books, etc.): Roughly $1465
Daily Budget: Roughly $24 per day
I could have done India cheaper. I was traveling alone for most of the time so that doesn't help things, and I never really cheaped out on accommodation. Food in Mumbai and drinking in Goa are what really blew my budget apart. A budget of $20 a day is very doable if you're willing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
The train ride up here wasn't too bad considering the amount of mice that were constantly running around and over the feet of everyone in my compartment. When I got to my hotel I was happy to discover the only thing that made a home in my backpack during the trip was a giant cockroach. That was the last mistake it ever made. Now I'm back in limbo again, this time in Delhi waiting for my flight to Thailand on the 14th. I'm hoping to get caught up again on my picture uploading, but the wifi at my hotel is pretty spotty thus far. I'm seriously itching to get to Thailand, I've had my head in my computer for the past few hours looking up stuff about Thailand in an effort to make a plan with a friend that's already there. With a little bit of luck, and a bunch of Baht, I'll be on the white sand beaches of Thailand within a week.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
I found out the Ajanta Caves are actually three hours one way from here, so I'm going to scrap my plan of visiting that, given my track record with Indian buses and the prospect of a six hour round trip. I found a movie theatre I might go catch a flick at tomorrow though. I'll probably stick to my room and the tv most of the day though, I've found Aurangabad really isn't that great of a city. It's kind of an anomaly actually, the service here is the worst I've had anywhere in India. I don't get it, but it actually is amusing how pitiful it really is.
I'll post an Ellora picture when I get to my hotel in Delhi, where I'll have wifi access.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Aurangabad seems like a typical Indian city so far. I'm in limbo today since I booked a tour to the Ellora Caves tomorrow that includes all the sights in Aurangabad too, so today I'm just going to wander around and hang in my hotel. Speaking of my hotel, I seem to have stumbled upon a gem. It's relatively cheap, just under $10, but very not bad by Indian Standards. It even has a modernish gym! I'll definitely put that to use in the few days I'm here, and try to get the bod back in shape.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Speaking of which, my last train ride from Goa to Mumbai convinced me that I should note the effeciency of the rail system in this country. My train was scheduled to depart the station in Goa at 10:40. It was a single track line, and both trains pulled into the station at almost exactly the same time, a completely perfect meet. And we departed at exactly 10:40. I must say I am impressed on how timely things have been on my train travels. Hopefully this doesn't jinx me.
I finally managed to shake my food poisoning ailment, but still have to yet recover my full appetite. It's been a decent couple days in Mumbai. Two girls I met in Goa (one American, one Canadian) happened to be here too, staying right across the hall in the same guest house, so I've been hanging out with them. Today we went to the Hanging Gardens in Chowpatty. I'm not sure why they call it the Hanging Gardens, nothing was really hanging, just laying. It was nothing spectacular, but was something to do outside on a nice day.
I'm definitely happy to be making my last hurrah through India. Getting food poisoning definitely made me feel like it's time to leave India. Hopefully my last 9 days in India go smoothly and leave me with a smile.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The last few days have been good times, hanging out with a friend from Brazil, getting drunk and attempting to chase women in the lame nightlife that is Arambol. I took a hike in the jungle with some German people to see the Smoking Baba, a holy man that sits under a big tree and just gets stoned all day. I guess being religious in this country has it's benefits.
I'm very anxious to head to Thailand, it's something I've been waiting for for a long time. Hopefully I'll be able to fill the next two weeks with some sightseeing, as I definitely do not want to spend a large amount of time in Delhi.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
So I'm going to continue my beach bum crusade for the next few days, and after I ship some stuff home hopefully my lighter backpack will motivate me to get off my ass and start heading north to catch a flight to Thailand. The good news is I found out flights out of Delhi are just as expensive as in Kolkata, so that cuts my train ride in half. The bad news is the price is double what it would have been in January. I guess I'll have to fork out some extra cash for a Christmas in Thailand, but I'm confident it will be worth it.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Individually they seem like very nice people and are easy to make conversation with, but small talk will be as far as it goes, getting in ring with an Israeli group is next to impossible. Even if you do end up hanging out with a few, they'll conversationally abandon you and let you sit there while they banter back and forth in Hebrew. They usually stick together in packs, it's very uncommon to see a solo Israeli traveler. It's a very odd style of travel, they'll stay in one place for a long time, getting stoned and sitting in the same restaurants every day. This concept is lost on me, I get too bored if I'm in one place for too long, save for the beach, where there is a lot to keep me occupied.
Overall there's a very ignorant attitude among these people, it's hard to watch them treat the Indian hotel and restaurant owners like servants. The ignorance even extends to other travelers, last night I had to listen to a group of them carrying on in the hotel restaurant (right next to the rooms) until 1 am, with no regard for the other guests or the hotel staff that sleep in cots on the edge of the restaurant. The general concensus among other travelers are that Israeli's are best avoided whenever possible. I wouldn't be too mad if I never had to encounter these travelers in quantity again.
And if I've been insulting in this post, I apologize to the nice Israeli people I've met here, you know who you are.
Last night I ventured out of Arambol with some people I met to go partying in Calingute for the night. Calingute is another beach south of Arambol, and twenty times more busy. Being there made me glad I chose the serenity of Arambol. What surprised me most was the modernity of Calingute. The bars and restaurants there are very trendy, mostly because Goa is a beach resort for Russians, much like Mexico is for Americans and Canadians. Excellent night overall, the bars go all night. I rolled back into Arambol at 6am.
Tomorrow I'm renting a scooter and heading out with a Czech couple I met to Panaji, where a big film festival is happening. Hopefully I'll get to see some cheesy Bollywood action flicks...
Sunday, November 21, 2010
The bus ride itself was another typical Kyle experience. I almost got left behind at one of the stops when I was in the bathroom, and I'm almost positive the seats had bed bugs because my arms and stomach are covered in bite marks that itch like hell. Next time I come to Goa it will be in a fighter jet, loaded with bombs to drop on the first Indian Bus Depot that I see.
Anyways, fuck it, I'm in Goa now. We rolled into Mupasa at 10am and caught another local bus (much better ride) to Arambol, a beach community in the north of Goa. First impression: Beautiful. It's exceeded my expectations so far. The beach is better than I thought and lined with palm trees. The beer is cheap (less than $1), there are plenty of beautiful women, and the weather is amazing. Speaking of cheap, I'm staying in a beach hut with a double bed and a common bathroom for $7. I love it here.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I was hassled a few times for taking pictures of some things, it actually turned out to be pretty comical. I tried sneaking into a university (the most beautiful one I've ever seen) to get pictures but was busted by security guards. I finally got in a gate in one end of it and convinced some other security guards to let me take a couple pictures. Then another guy gave me shit for taking a picture of the Bombay Stock Exchange. I'm not really sure why, he couldn't speak enough English to explain. I didn't delete it though...
Oh and I can't seem to find a cafe with wifi here, they're all not working, so pictures will have to come later. When I get to Goa. Oh yeah.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Mumbai: Definitely a different side of India. It's noticeable that the average income in Mumbai is three times the national average. This place has more of a feel of Bangkok than any other India city I've been too. It's tropical, there are actually street lights, traffic lanes and sidewalks! I took a stroll around this afternoon and did some shopping to prep my wardrobe for Goa, and saw the India Gate and the illustrious Taj Mahal Hotel. I had to settle for something a little cheaper, the Taj is a little out of my budget range. Speaking of my hotel, it was definitely a good find. Thank the heavens for the random girl I met in an internet cafe in Udaipur that recommended me to it, it's the same price of the rest of India, in a city where rooms can run you four to five times the standard prices. And it's a nice place, with the most modern bathrooms I've seen so far. And I've already been asked to be an extra in a Bollywood film! Hopefully tomorrow I'll be feeling well enough to take that on...
Monday, November 15, 2010
The past two days have been really laid back and relaxing, exactly what I needed. I've been filling my time hanging out on rooftop restaurants, catching an evening screening of Hitch at a local restaurant and basically being a bum. Last night I went to see some live Indian music at a hotel across the street from mine. The Soufi genre is definitely in the extreme easy-listening circle, and wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but it was still a good night out. Out of the blue a guy I was sitting beside asked me if I was from Calgary. A close guess based on my accent, I didn't realize I had such a noticeable one.
Today so far has been filled with organizing a hotel in Mumbai and a bus ticket from there to Goa. Prices seem to be pretty steep for this leg, I'm paying almost three times what I was in the North. I also had my first shave at a barber, straight razor and everything. With that and a new haircut, I feel like a million bucks.
Next stop: Mumbai. One step away from the beaches of Goa!
Friday, November 12, 2010
Yesterday was a total relax day, but today I ventured out and did some sightseeing. The Udaipur City Palace took up a good portion of my afternoon. Some of it is typical Indian palace scenery, which starts to all look the same after you've been to enough, but the views are amazing, as is the stained glass windows carved out in the shapes of trees. Unfortunately this place is popular enough to attract a large crowd of Indian tourists, which can be one of the worst parts of India. All of the people basically trying to butt in front, push or dry hump you in the lines starts to wear on a person's nerves, and it's hard to leave there not feeling like you want to clock somebody in the mouth. Still worth the experience though, and I have some really great pictures to upload when I get wifi access again.
The other part of my afternoon was spent walking to a sunset point south of the city, which had great views of the lake. I ended up walking another couple km's past that, meeting up and having a drink with a cool old French guy. Then the rest of the day was greatly spent on top of a rooftop restaurant eating pizza and enjoying the great view of the lakefront. This place seems like a great opportunity to balance out and drive the Pushkar from my mind.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The start of all this bad luck was at the guesthouse I checked into. It looked not too bad, an okay room for a good price. That went for shit with the army of ants and some unknown, giant-ass black insect I had to kill. Then the trouble I had/having finding a room. At one hotel the owner actually told me he wouldn't rent me a room because I was only staying for three nights, he wanted to save it for people staying for the whole week of the camel fair that's about to start. Then I had to fight with the owner of the shithole hotel when I checked out.
I finally found a really nice place to stay, but can only get a room for tonight, everything is booked, I have to find another hotel tomorrow. And I couldn't even do any sight-seeing today, partly because it's raining, in the desert...And partly because of the fact that because of the rain, I horribly biffed down the slippery stone staircase at this new hotel, bruising my pelvis. Pushkar is seriously about to break my spirit. I think I'm going to blow this popsicle stand tomorrow. Fuck Pushkar and it's fucking Camel Fair.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Today I walked to and around the Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest in India. It's perched high on top of a rock plateau, the walls almost seem to form right out of the rock itself. It looks impregnable, and it is. Nobody has ever breached the walls to sack it. It's obvious people have tried, there's giant dents in the walls near the gate, made from cannonballs fired from invaders. The fort itself is pretty impressive, with a few very nicely decorated palaces inside.
Walking back to my guest house was an adventure, the streets of Jodhpur are pretty chaotic, with a ton of narrow alleys offshooting from the main streets. Sometimes getting lost is fun though, it allows you to see India beneath the surface, away from the noisy bazaars and roads. I finally got fed up and took a rickshaw back though. One can only be lost for so long before it starts to become annoying.
Dust! Holy dust! The problem with taking sleeper class in the desert is that the windows don't completely close, and that tiny, centimeter wide crack is enough to let in a whole sand dune. As you can see by the picture above, from a 5 hour journey enough dust came in to allow me to write my name on the table. It's very unfortunate too, the desert sunset is amazing to watch from the train, but as soon as any high speed is reached, you'd better be slamming that window shut. A bandanna or some type of cloth to cover your face is a must. I can imagine inhaling a desert isn't particularly good for the lungs. I think next train trip I'm going to try the AC Class, where the windows are sealed shut, hopefully keeping the car interior dust free.
Friday, November 5, 2010
I was lucky enough to be invited to celebrate Diwali with the owner of the hotel I'm staying at, at his house. Once again, I have to recommend the Roop Mahal Hotel in Jaisalmer, this place is nothing but great. I spent two hours at his house drinking beer and shooting off fireworks with his family. They splurge, about the equivalent of $100 on fireworks, which is a lot in Indian terms. The funniest part is the fireworks themselves. I'm sure Indian quality control isn't very effective, so some of the firecrackers will go off almost as soon as you light them (I almost blew my eardrum out with one), and we had one of the fountain fireworks blow up unexpectedly, a piece of it's glass urn cutting one of the boys. After the fireworks I was served traditional Indian food and went back home for the night. All in all, amazing hospitality.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Camel Safari! I finally did it. Totally worth it I must say, I had a great time. To anyone reading this that's planning on doing a camel safari, I must recommend booking through the Roop Mahal hotel in Jaisalmer. It was a little pricey but worth it, we went way out past the tourist area to start our trek with the camels. We only ran into one other group of tourists the whole three days, but they were from the same company.
Riding camels is definitely an experience. It's a ass-bruising, ball-crunching experience ride on top of the saddle. While it was definitely bearable, as I sit here typing this I can't help but notice the soreness in my legs. Camels are pretty cool animals, they're assholes in their own way, they're bellows of protest when the riders try to sit or stop them always made me laugh. I liked the camel I had, Heliah. He seemed to warm up to me and by the third day he was listening to my commands and my kicks in his side actually generated speed.
The tour itself was pretty cool. It was me, two other Canadians (Rob & Heather), and two girls from Holland (Romina & Wendy). The staff were good other than some creepy incidents with one, but we were well taken care of and fed. Sleeping on the dunes under the stars was a highlight. I wasn't expecting to be woken up to the sound of the heavy tread and breathing of a big animal, which scared the shit out of everyone Canadian. In the morning we discovered the wild dog prints about ten feet away from us, and three feet away from my bed. The Dutch girls slept soundly through it. The next night the prints were even closer, but thankfully no wake-up call. The chirping of the crickets was definitely a nice break from the honking horns of the city, as was the noticeably reduced amount of pollution. While you never totally feel like you're in the wild (no wilderness with 1 billion people), it's still a peaceful experience.
The two days before the camel safari were spent walking around the Jaisalmer Fort. It's a really impressive place, the biggest living fort in the world. I took a tour of the palace, which included an impressive audio tour. The architecture in the fort is amazing. There's so much contrast between buildings, where you'll find a simple brick structure next to a stunningly carved doorway that looks like something straight out of a palace. I had a great experience in the Jain Temple I'm thankful for, one that brought my views of India more into the positive. Being in India and at the mercy of the touts, you begin to harden up towards the people that talk to you in public. It's a natural defensive reaction, tempered by people constantly trying to scam you or hawk their wares on you. Outside the temples are many tour guides offering you tours, and they can be very pushy. Walking through the Jain temple, I had a man in a robe start to show me around the temple, ignoring the Indians to explain to me the specifics of the temple. I explained to him a few times I wasn't looking for a guide, laying to groundwork to make sure I wasn't going to be forced to pay for it later. "No problem, sir", the classic response. He showed me around the whole temple, a lengthy tour, and at the end I was impressed enough to give him some money. He declined, saying it was his pleasure, and offered for me to take a picture of him. It reminded me that not all Indians are trying to rip me off and I should open myself up a little more. I'd like to thank that man again and post the picture I took of him on my blog.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
At least the train to Jaipur was a decent one, one that didn't necessitate noise canceling headphones, like the ones I left in Amritsar. I shared a sleeper cabin on a nearly empty train with a really nice Indian family, killed off a book and slept soundly in the cool desert air. And cool it gets, I was really surprised when I woke up in the middle of the night and had to bury myself as far into my sleeping bag liner as I could. Jaipur is nothing to brag about, it's a big, dirty, semi-desert city that has a bad case of urban sprawl. It's expensive, and not righteously so. The sights I saw today were mediocre, and I spent a decent amount to see them. I'm happy to be leaving on a train tonight.
On the more positive note, I'm heading to Jaisalmir tonight on a sleeper train to spend a few days kicking back in the desert, and doing a Camel Safari. I'm sure I'll be there for Diwali, the biggest festival in India, since the trains and buses are booked solid around the holidays.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I also took a taxi with some other travelers to the Indian - Pakistani border to see the ceremony for the changing of the guards. It happens every day in the evening and is an interesting show of the culture of the rivalry between the two, because the exact same thing is happening on the other side of the border. Living in Canada I'm used to a border that has no soldiers at it and is open and friendly. Basically this ceremony shows the national pissing match between the two nations. There's a huge feeling of nationalism, and one can't leave without feeling impressed by it.
Tomorrow afternoon: Sleeper train to Jaipur, the start of my Rajasthan leg of India.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Now the plan is to catch a bus tomorrow to Amritsar. Thankfully this bus ride is only about seven hours, and during the daytime so hopefully it should go by quicker.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
All and well? NO. I learned the back of the bus is still the bounciest part (no matter what kind of bus it is) and the most susceptible to G forces. This became more apparent on the windy mountain roads that start four hours before Dharamsala. I must have been pulling about 9 G's around those bends. Mark this as the first time ever Kyle has got motion sickness. Thankfully I kept it together and held it down until the bus stopped.
On the more positive note, I'm not free of the noise and pollution of Delhi, in a small, quiet community 2km outside of McLeod Ganj. For some background info, McLeod Ganj is the current residence of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government In Exile, so there is more of a Tibetan feel here. Tomorrow I'll head down to McLeod Ganj and explore some of the Tibetan Gompas. Oh, and they have momo's here!
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Unfortunately the day was really hazy (I'm not sure if it's the normal Indian pollution or a forest fire) so my pictures didn't turn out too well, especially the shots of the Taj from Agra Fort. Speaking of the Fort, that was impressive. It's huge. I spent 2 1/2 hours walking around the half of the fort tourists are allowed into. I thought the coolest part of it was the ruined section, where there were absolutely no tourists walking around, leaving me to my devices. It felt the most like exploration than any other parts of the fort. Doing this as a day trip from Delhi turned out to be a good way of doing it. I caught a 6:15 train on an AC Chair Car, got to Agra at 8:30, saw the Taj and Agra Fort and still had four hours to kill, which I used to kill two Kingfisher beers and some food. Then an 8:30 train back to Delhi, done and done.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Nepal was an amazing country, I'm sure it will remain in my top ten list for a long time if not always. My experiences in the Everest region will be incredibly hard to top. I think I made a very wise choice chronologically by placing this as my firstish destination. The stopover in Bangkok gave me enough experience to know what to watch out for as far as being a tourist, and Nepal has seasoned me enough to be able to handle India. I would recommend anyone going to India for the first time spend a week or two in Nepal, particularly Kathmandu, to get set in that mode. Like I said before, it's India Lite.
The Nepali people are amazing, I never had a problem dealing with anyone. Everywhere I was greeted warmly and never left a place with a frown. The sights are unique in their own way, full of character and culture. Patan, Bodhanath and the Teej festival at Durbar Square were the touristy highlights for me. And of course I'm going to miss eating plates full of momo's, oh how I loved those little pork filled dumplings.
Of course as with any developing nation, Nepal has it's problems. The garbage and various forms of pollution in Kathmandu are a nuisance and a problem. The infrastructure is in shambles, mostly due to years of neglect from an unstable government. For instance, a bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara, about 180km's, took over 8 hours.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this little country, and will hopefully return one day and explore more of it.
Total days: 35
Money spent (roughly): $1150
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
My first visit to the capital of India is nothing short of shocking. I've never seen so many people in one place before, it's like perpetual rush hour everywhere. I find it amazing that with so many people utilizing infrastructure that's stretched to the max, that the whole rotting structure doesn't implode on itself. The Red Fort and India Gate (pictured above) were impressive. India Gate is really it's own city, a falsified sort of Delhi if you will, free of the slum and scum of the rest of the city, most likely engineered for prestige. Wandering around the park (and a 5+ star hotel for a drink) you can still note the evidence of bad habits in the form of trash strewn around the park vicinity of India gate. It begs me to ask the question: If a society can't yet grasp the environmental consequences of their actions, is it so hard to think that you might want to keep the beautiful things you have beautiful?
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Unfortunately it seems like the same old story of whenever we want to go somewhere, there is no means to do it. We couldn't get a night train to Delhi tonight like we wanted to, so we have to wait one more day in Varanasi to catch a 7pm 12 hour train to Delhi tomorrow. On the plus side, it seems my sickness is rebounding so hopefully by the time I get to Delhi I'll be back in action.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Nepal is totally India Lite. It's exponentially crazier here, Emin actually hit the nail on the head and described it as a set from the moive Land of the Dead, if anyone has ever seen that. All it needs is Dead Reckoning to pull up and launch a couple rockets. First impression is this is not a country you would want to come have a relaxing holiday in.
We're going to do a couple days here in Varanasi and see the Cremation Ghats along the Ganges River, then we'll catch a night train tomorrow to Delhi. I was happy to get through the border without having to provide proof of an onward flight, now I can keep my options totally flexible.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Now for the trek: Excellent. I'll divide it into a few categories: The Terrain, The People and Places, The Effects on Kyle's Body.
The Terrain. Like I posted before Namche, everything is a tough hike. The grades are very steep and the lack of oxygen at the higher altitudes definitely makes things difficult. I ended up starting the trek with a girl from Chicago named Heather and a guy from Germany named Robert. Robert ended up taking a different route about three days in, and we ended up grouping with another hiker who split with his partner, Emin from New Yawk, and we continued together for the rest of the trip. We put in some hard days, hiking over difficult terrain. The most noteworthy of these were the day of Gorak Shep (the town right before the Everest Base Camp, at 5100m), where we hiked two hours to Gorak Shep, then hoofed it up to the peak of Kala Pattar (5500m), where we had amazing views of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. Then there was Cho La Pass. That was the bear of them all. We started at 6:30am, climbed up to the pass through a scrambling route, onto the glacier of the pass, then back down a steep snowy slope on the other side, up a valley, down another one, ending up at a small town. Then the hike up Gokyo Ri was a tough 600 meter vertical gain to supposedly amazing but cloudy views that day, but still was awesome (pictured below). The peaks of the Himalaya's are nothing but amazing, the majesty of the Rockies cannot even begin to compare. At about 4000 meters you're above the treeline, and at about 5000 meters there's hardly a plant or shrub around, and it gets cold.
The People and Places. The Sherpa people are an amazing people. Everyone we met was very friendly, all the Guest House owners we very hospitable and helpful, notably one Guest House owner in Gorak Shep that was nice enough to check up on me when I was sick. The Porters are beyond insane. I couldn't believe it when I first arrived and was being passed by these 130 pound men carrying over 100 pounds of gear on their backs. We even saw one guy hauling a heavy cabinet on his back! And the loads are usually suspended by a strip of cloth around their heads and waists. Not anything you would call ergonomic. The towns are usually pretty simple places. Namche (pictured below), the trekker hub and capital of the region, is full of Guest Houses and services for the trekkers. The higher up you go, the more simple the Guest Houses become. Namche you could expect a nice cozy room with a bed and an end table with a seperate bathroom with a western toilet and sink. The higher you go, it turns into small rooms seperated by the thin plywood, hard matresses and a bathroom with a squat toilet and no sink. I was lucky enough to find a gas fired hot shower in Pheriche, but in Phortse it was a bucket of hot water and a cup. After a week of not showering, that bucket of hot water was better than sex. After a hard trek, time is usually passed in the dining room of the Guest House, where everyone socializes and plays cards around a stove usually fired by yak shit. The food is hit and miss, lot's of dishes are centered around yak cheese, which is a potent dull flavor (if that makes sense). Spaghetti and French Toast became a staple for me.
The Effects on Kyle's Body. Thanfully I didn't really have any bowel problems on this trek, which could be very bad at high altitudes. The altitude did hit me though, and only me out of the three of us. I started getting bad headaches in Pheriche. After a semi-acclimatization day at Dingboche (100m higher than Pheriche) they seemed to go away during the day but would return in full force during the night for the rest of the trip. At Gorak Shep I was the worst, I had the sit out the trek to Everest Base Camp and try to rest because of a fever and loss of appetite due to the steep ascent to Kala Pattar the day before. I was kinda bummed out about not making it to Base Camp, but my trekking partners told me it wasn't worth it, and I'm more than satisfied with the views of Everest from Kala Pattar. The descent to Louboche helped a little but I ended up vomiting the next morning, which drained me for our plan to cross Cho La Pass that day. Luckily that wasn't possible and the next day I was feeling ok enough for it. It wasn't until we crossed the 4000 meter mark that my body finally righted itself and I was back in full action. This trek was definitely the hardest I've worked my body in succesion. And it shows; I've dropped probably around 10 pounds and gained a couple of belt notches. The beard: I went for 15 days without shaving, but sadly my beard didn't end up looking that great. Damn did it feel good to shave. I'm still sporting the goatee though!
All in all, I had a great time. I tested myself and my limits and came out ahead. We finished a seventeen day trek in thirteen days, climbed two 5500 meter peaks and crossed a 5300 meter glacial pass. We kicked ass and took names. And I have one huge bragging right over anyone: I did it with a pack second only to the Sherpa's in terms of weight (heavier than any other trekker we met), no Porter or Guide, and I did it with Acute Mountain Sickness. I made some good friends along the way, one of which I'm about the head to India with tomorrow. Kyle came, saw, and conquered.
*Apparently I forgot the SD card that has my Everest pictures at my hotel, so I'll edit one into the post at a later time. Here it is! The view from Kala Pattar! I tried labeling the mountains, but in case it's not clear, Nuptse is the main mountain in the picture, and Everest is on the left shoulder of it, the peak with a skiff of clouds blowing off it.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Now I should get off this internet, it's ultra slow, and at 10 rupees a minute, I can't type much.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
On to Pashupantinath. This is the temple complex that has mainly to do with the life and death cycle. In word word: Deep. People come here to cremate their family members and deposit their remains in the Bagmati River, Nepal's holy river that flows into the Ganges. This continues the cycle of life to death, death to life. The only people that don't get cremated are the holy men, who are instead buried, stopping the cycle. It was pretty powerful watching the cremations, and a Buddhist family performing a ritual on the one year anniversary of their family members cremation. I finally caved and hired a guide for this one.
Today I made a trip to Patan, to go see the Durbar Square there. To avoid confusion, Durbar Square is a universal term, there are many of them around the Kathmandu Valley. It was a pretty cool, medieval looking place. Lot's of old architecture and an impressive array of temples in the square. I was hoping for a clear day to shoot some good pictures, but no such luck. The sun here is so intense and the clouds are so gray it's difficult to shoot against, and a lot of my pictures don't end up being as nice as they should be.
I'm typing this on a computer at an internet cafe, the internet at my guest house has been down for a day so I am unable to post any pictures, but hopefully soon. Tomorrow I go finalize my Indian Visa and get the last minute things ready for my trek on Saturday.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The ball is rolling for my trek, which I will be departing for on Saturday. I had to hang around Kathmandu for most of this week waiting for my Indian Visa to push through, due to Indian beauracracy. I picked up some layers for the cold weather today, and found a decent travel agent to handle my flight and paperwork.
Yesterday I headed to Swayambhunath, aka the Monkey Temple, due to the sheer amount of monkeys that call it home. It is definitely a must-see of Kathmandu, with it's incredible views of the city, the giant Stupa, all the cool temples, and of course, the monkeys.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
My five days in Pokhara could have been better, between being sick and all the rain, but it was a beautiful place and I can imagine a visit there in the dry season would be ten times better. I'm sure the owners of Hotel Crown will be happy that at night they can finally listen to the peaceful sound of the insects chirping without being punctuated by my violently loud bowel movements.
Now I'm back in the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. Things are noticeably busier now, the streets are crazy and the restaurants are full. What a difference one week closer to the dry season makes. I'm hoping to have my Indian Visa process underway tomorrow so I can start trekking right away and get it when I get back. If everything goes without a hitch tomorrow and I get lucky enough to score a last minute flight, I could be trekking by Tuesday. Right now Wednesday looks more realistic though.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
I hadn't talked to anyone from North America in almost two weeks, and it was a great relief to finally have a fluid conversation with someone where I wasn't breaking through language or accent barriers. When I arrive in Kathmandu tomorrow I'll have to start my quest to find a decent trekking partner for my journey to Everest Base Camp. I'm thinking it'll be a great asset to have someone around to watch each others backs and belongings.
I took a taxi up to the Bat Cave today to test out my claustrophobia. Good news, I don't have any. I hooked up with a few other Nepali people, crawling around the wet muddy rock and squeezing through spaces I didn't think I'd fit. I saw one damn bat the whole time, and didn't even manage to get a picture of it. It was fun as hell though, I'd definitely recommend it. An expensive cab ride (almost $10 there and back), but at 20 Rupees (about 30 cents), it was worth it.
Tonight I'll hit up the Old Blues Bar for a beer and pack my bag for the bus ride to Kathmandu tomorrow. That's if the mudslide that hit the highway is cleared by then. Cross your fingers for me.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
I'm sure the hike to the Peace Pagoda yesterday didn't help things. It was my first taste of hiking in the rainforest, I got poured on the entire way up. Luckily it stopped when I got to the top so I was able to take some pictures. I also went to Devi's Falls, which was pretty cool. It plunges around some cool rock formations into a chasm where it disappears underground, unfortunately the way the footpaths are set up doesn't really offer a really good picture opportunity.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Caught the 0700 bus to Pokhara in the morning, quite the experience taking a public bus cross country in Nepal. It really shows a person a lot of the problems with the infrastructure here, partly due to the civil war that ended a few years ago, weak government and poverty. The road we took is the major one between Kathmandu and Pokhara, a city of lower elevation near the Annapurna Mountain and gateway to the Annapurna circuit trek. What they consider their highway would be a semi-paved forestry road in Canada, complete with tons of buses, trucks, broke-down trucks, people and motorcycles. Life here in Pokhara seems way more laid back than in Kathmandu, and thankfully there's less pollution and noise here.
This morning I woke up feeling pretty ill, I'm pretty sure the cause is a bottle of water I drank that had the seal tampered with. It was a brand I hadn't tried before and the seal wouldn't break in two places opposite from each other. I figured it might be just the brand but I bought another one today that unscrewed fine. Thankfully by afternoon, and after a good nap, I felt much better. I'm hoping this means I'm somewhat resistant to the bacteria here. On the good note, I found an awesome little blues bar last night, I'm definitely going to check that out tonight.
Monday, September 13, 2010
I headed to the Immigration Office today to get my Nepali visa extended, which went without a hitch. While I was waiting I cruised around the city and ended up in a nearby hole in the wall restaurant where I ended up meeting two other travelers and having lunch, a plate of chow mein complete with a small, dead cockroach on the side of it. I guess for less than a dollar you can't have high expectations. Thankfully I didn't get sick.
I have a bus ticket booked and tomorrow morning I will be off to Pokhara. Just in time I think, the pollution of Kathmandu is starting to get to me, I've developed a slight cough and sore throat that I'm sure isn't sickness related. I think in the long term sense, smoking would be a better choice than breathing in this smog.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
The Bodhnath Stupa was very impressive, it stands about six or so stories tall and is draped with prayer flags. The best part of the day was when I stumbled upon a Tibetan Monastery and was invited in to watch their prayer ritual. And they actually let me take pictures! I consider this a major stroke of luck since I read everywhere that you're not supposed to. The prayer ritual was incredible, seeing the young Buddhist monks in the flesh doing what they devote their life to is something I will never forget. Hearing the the three foot long Tibetan horns and the deep sounding drums played in movies does not come close to doing them justice to what they sound like in real life.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
It was also pretty funny moving through the jam packed crowds, at 5'11" I'm a good head taller than everyone else, save for the occasional tourist, so I had the birds eye view of everything. It's quite the change of pace for me to be one of the tallest and heaviest people around.
As for food, banana pancakes could become my new favorite breakfast. Eating those while sitting on the rooftop garden terrace was definitely a great start to the day.
Friday, September 10, 2010
One word to describe Kathmandu: Heavy. The air is humid and there is quite a bit of pollution, which makes it a little thick to breath. There's sound everywhere, honking (lots of honking), people talking, motorcycles, animals, birds, you name it. The streets are very narrow, roughly the size of our alleys back home, and they're full of people. It all sounds like a bit much, and it sometimes is, but it's still a really cool environment. There's never a shortage of things to catch your eye.
And thankfully the touts are not nearly as bad or as plentiful here as they were in Bangkok, that makes me really happy.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
I learned a couple hard lessons about Thailand today. First, I am not used to this heat. Carrying a backpack to the Grand Palace was a huge mistake, one I’m not going to repeat again. Another lesson is anytime a conversation with a Thai starts with a handshake and “Sir, where are you from?”, it’s not in your best interest to talk to this person. I thought Mexico was bad for people trying to sell you tours or lure you into their shops, but Thais make Mexicans look like pre-school. It’s downright devious, on the walk to the Grand Palace, which is about 3 km from my guesthouse, I encountered about six people who tried swaying me from my destination. It goes like this: “Today big Thai Expo, you go see Standing Buddha first, 50 meter tall! Then Sitting Buddha next, any other day 40 Baht, today no Baht. Special day. Grand Palace closed sir, Thai’s having ceremony. You come back in two hours when done, after you go see Standing and Sitting Buddha. Tuk Tuk cheap.” Then he hails a tuk tuk for you, and now you’re arguing with two people. It’s plainly obvious that the informative tout is making commission from the tuk tuk drivers for giving them business, and the 40 Baht you’re promised will likely turn into 400. Fortunately for me, I’m smart and can see past their bullshit. Unfortunately for me, I’m a solo tourist, which is an easy target for these fuckers.
The Grand Palace was amazing, so much beautiful Thai architecture in the Buddhist Temples, and amazing rich, golden colours. It was pretty cool going inside the temples and seeing the Thai’s praying, as well as the young monks in training. Tip: Pack cheap shoes, you are not allowed to bring shoes inside the temple, and I did not want to leave my expensive North Face shoes outside (the only reason I was glad I brought a backpack).