Saturday, October 30, 2010

The First Dumbass Move

So I did it. I pulled my first (and hopefully last) dumbass move of the trip. Right before I was going to leave Amritsar I plugged my IPod in to charge it so I could listen to music on the train. I went for lunch and was delayed, which caused me to be running a little short of time to catch my train. In my haste, I grabbed my bags and not my IPod. Good for the traveler who will find it and relish the huge amounts of music and movies I spent so much time loading it up with. Not so good for me for being such a stupid ass. That's the shitty thing about losing things without them being stolen, you only have yourself to blame. Now I can shame myself everytime I turn on my newly purchased, $300 Sony Walkman. Now I'm really happy that my holiday pay from CP Rail was more than I thought.

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

Wonders of the Golden Temple

It really hit me today that after six months of researching and seeing pictures of places I wanted to go, I'm finally seeing them with my own eyes and taking my own awesome pictures. Originally I hadn't planned on heading to Amritsar because it's so far north, but I'm really glad my path crossed this place. The Golden Temple is the best sight I've seen in India so far. The Taj Mahal was cool, but it's just there. The Golden Temple is bursting with culture and interest. And a sweet ass perk about it: It's free to stay and eat there! The Sihk's are so generous. Foreigners are put up in a dorm together and everyone goes into a big hall to eat, where you sit on a long wicker mat and are served chapati, rice and a couple kinds of Indian curries. I plan on giving a donation tomorrow to do what I can to return the favor.

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

Chillin In the Dalai Lama's Hood

After the chaos of Delhi and that horrendous bus ride I definitely needed a few days to chill out and re-align my Chi. Bhagsu was happy to provide. This small little town 2km outside of McLeod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama, was a great, quiet little place to chill out, read a book and meet people. The latter is definitely the most interesting part of this place. The McLeod Ganj area attracts the hippiest of the hippies, spiritual people seeking life and spiritual answers. Just last night I was involved in a deep, hours long discussion with a few people about one world government conspiracies, astral plane travel and psychedelics. One of the guys was incredibly knowledgeable about the one world government conspiracy (if you can call it that), which is right up my alley. It became a little overbearing this morning when he spotted me at a cafe and we conspired for a couple more hours before he left to get breakfast, and then returned again to talk more, which was thankfully brief due to his breakfast getting cold in his absence.

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

To Hell With Indian Buses

I thought the bus from the border to Varanasi was bad, but apparently not as bad as it can get. The night bus from Delhi to Dharamsala was shit, plain and simple. First of all, I booked the bus the same day with my hotel, the guy I booked with (who had been pretty trustworthy so far) said I didn't need a ticket, a guy would come to the hotel and make sure I get on the bus ok. The first part happened, but after I got on the bus an argument with the bus staff (I'll call them my captors) ensued. Apparently me not having a ticket meant I had to ride in the cab with my captors. I argued up and down, got a tour company official involved (who promised me I would change buses at the next stop and get a seat, didn't happen) but to no avail. I was stuck in the cab. FML. Luckily for me they overestimated the number of passengers and I was able to get a seat in the back row.

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


So I made a pilgrimage to one of the greatest sights of the world: The Taj Mahal. It was pretty amazing, the white marble architecture is very impressive and well crafted. I don't want to be a downer but I have to be honest and say it really didn't leave me awe struck. I can't explain why, I guess maybe all the hype it gets for being one of the unofficial wonders of the world set it high on a pedestal for me, higher than it deserved.

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 Wrap Up

So now that I finally have the means and time to total up my ATM costs from Nepal, I figure I'll do a finale post about Nepal.

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

Train Station Joys

Indian trains: Decent. Indian train stations: Not so much. The biggest problem with them are the well-dressed, legit-looking touts that pollute the steps of these facilities, spreading disinformation and becoming a general pain in the ass. I found this out today when I went there to get train tickets for a day trip to Agra tomorrow. They basically try and tell you that there is no Tourist Bureau at the train station for foreigners to reserve tickets, instead you have to go to the Indian Tourist Information Centre at Connaught Square. It actually looks legit on the map too, but when you get there it's more of a booking office. The agent even told me there were no tickets to Agra available for tomorrow, thankfully I'm smart and went back to the train station, found the Tourist Bureau, and got my tickets to and from Agra tomorrow. The trip to Connaught Square wasn't a total waste though, I finally managed to find a book store and pick up a blessed Lonely Planet guidebook. And I tried an Indian soda called Thumbs Up. Definitely a thumbs down.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On the Rails to the Indian Capital

My first experience with train travel in India: Not too bad. Expecting to be stuck in a quiet and isolated situation in a sleeper with a ton of other Indians, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that whenever foreigners book train tickets, they are grouped up with other foreigners, which is a great way to meet other tourists. Ironically the person in the sleeper that I talked to the most happened to be another Indian man who was traveling with a couple Polish girls, and he turned out to be a wealth of information for my next possible destination. The train itself was decent. Overnighters seem like the best choice, the trip went by quickly. Sleeper class itself is fairly packed with locals that make it on the waiting list. Waiting for a seat that is, so until one presents itself, they're left to littering the hallways and any available space they can make comfortable.

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

Cruising the Ghats

Yesterday evening was interesting cruising around the Ghats along the Ganges river. We started pretty much in the middle (where all the boat and massage touts are) and worked our way north to the cremation Ghat where we sat and watched the cremations for almost an hour. Then we worked our way back to where we started to see a ceremony for the dead. It was a pretty long and amazing spectacle, and even more amazing in the fact that it's performed every night. Thousands of people gather to see it, and it was absolutely worth it. When I get a chance I'll attach a picture of it to this post.

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

Ignition India

Here I am, finally in India. Made it to Varanasi at 5:30 this morning after a shitty 23 1/2 hour bus ride. Hopefully that is the worst one I will encounter, because it was a total nerve grinder. After hopping on the bus at Kathmandu at 6am, we arrived at the border and almost immediately jumped on another bus bound for Varanasi. It was a total beast of a bus, the rear axle had no shocks whatsoever and we were lucky enough to be sat right on the rear wheel. Just imagine a machine that stirs up cans of paint. Add to that Emin and I were both sick. I was the better of the two, with a bad cough and head cold I haven't been able to shake for a few days. I felt sorry for Emin who'd had a stomach bug the past couple days that culminated in him barfing out the window of the bus near the border. I'm sure it's not the first time the populace has seen a tourist do that though.

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

The Trek of a Lifetime

We dodged a bullet last night and finally escaped Lukla. A little background info on Lukla: it's a small mountain town built around a very busy airport that services the region and tourist industry. The only problem with this airport is that during the monsoon the clouds can get very thick, making flights impossible. We arrived on Sunday hoping to fly out the next day, but the clouds rolled in and didn't clear up until Tuesday morning. Luckily we had an Irish Pub and a good coffee shop to help us out on our stay. When the clouds broke on Tuesday, everything looked good until one of the planes crashed into the end of the 18 degree sloped, 400 meter runway (very minor, no injuries). After they cleaned it up we fought the mayhem of hundreds of angry and stressed backpackers and got out on one of the last flights.

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

All Over! ...Again

Well this is the end of a kick ass trek. But we're seemingly stuck at the end...with flight problems...again. Lukla airport is socked in with cloud and all flights delayed, so Lukla is accumulating angry backpackers itching to get back to Kathmandu and catch their flights back home. Luckily we're early and have some leeway. Once I get back to Kathmandu I'll post a detailed description of my trek, but for now I'm stuck safely in limbo.

Now I should get off this internet, it's ultra slow, and at 10 rupees a minute, I can't type much.