A Travellerspoint blog

Nepal (part deux)

The difference two weeks make. Arriving back in to Kathmandu, our second impression is so much different than the first. Instead of the dirty, scary, desolate city we arrived into February 19, we are greeted by a welcome calmness compared to India. The city is alive and bustling, and much cooler than the sweltering heat we had experienced in Delhi the day before.

For the next seven days we are in the hands of Shorty- a lovely Kathmandu local who will be leading us through our Annapurna journey. It's just the three of us now- and our porter An-the-man and another who will join us in Pokhara.

A few observations... We are realizing how adapted we have become to our lifestyle while traveling. There are many things which were novel (or bizarre) at first, which are now not of much concern. The top ten:

1. Military with guns and sticks. Whenever you spot them, they are always carrying a mean looking stick and some type of rifle. Not a completely foreign sight, however we are getting used to seeing them pretty much everywhere we go, through India and Nepal.
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2. Garbage. Obviously our ability to ignore the trash speaks volumes on how the locals likely feel about it as well. By far the worst was in Varanasi, but it's hardly noticeable any more.
3. Dirty feet. Regardless of what we do, all three of us have ridiculously dirty feet by the end of the day. The dirt tan has become embraced in our Trio as a thing of beauty. I unfortunately never seem to get the best dirt tan- I think it might contrast better on alabaster skin tones.
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(please note the dust in the picture...)
4. Cows. Our first day in Pokhara we saw two cows walking on the sidewalk and we chased them down to take pictures. We could really care less about them now, as they're not going anywhere fast, and aside from trying to eat off our plates at lunch in Orchha or hip check is while we're running through Varanasi, they are no longer getting much attention from us.
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5. The beds: our first night at Hotel Fuji, we thought the beds were hard and uncomfortable. Round two? They might be some of the most comfortable we have slept on in weeks.
6. Everything about using the toilet facilities. The squatting, the dark, the smell, the occasional splash back. All pretty much par for the course. We will say by far the worst was the train station in Jhansi (Orchha) however.
7. Cold showers. B is having the toughest time adapting to not having warm showers- but I'll give credit where it is due, she's a trooper. Sometimes we get warm water, but not too often. But when you're covered in dust and dirt- you gotta do what you gotta do.
8. Sporadic electricity. This one applies more to Nepal, but sometimes the electricity cuts out. In Delhi the power went while I was showering, and B came to the rescue with her headlamp so I could finish shaving my legs. This is what best friends are for.
9. Street chaos. Not even an issue after Varanasi. We're pretty much local now, jumping in and out of traffic, always walking on the streets, side stepping the occasional cow patty or stray dog.
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10. Not having to carry a purse. Ok this one only applies to me, as B suggested I ditch my ratty black purse back in Chitwan. I have been purse free for almost 2 weeks, while B and the Ging carry my life around. It's just so liberating.

Now time to get out of the city and into the mountains.

A little wiser now-
The Traveling Trio

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Posted by ellie nicole 04:56 Archived in Nepal Tagged military india dirt nepal showers kathmandu toilets cows electricity Comments (0)

Famous Last Words

The good news for Chewy is that up until now, everyone has been accounted for (even when the Aussies were lost, we sort of knew where they were). We get to the train station and only have a few minutes before the train leaves. Seeming as we are always well fed and hydrated, we were not in a hurry to get food- but Skinny and Poutine were. So, off they go to find train platform snacks... Skinny is back rather quick with some random packaged food (quite the change from the white starch he's been eating since Varanasi). The train starts moving... Chewy casually walks back to come play cards with us and we realize- no Poutine. And the train is off the platform on its way to the next station. What a stressful mess!! After watching Chewy run up the train a few times, she randomly surfaced from another carriage. Dodged that bullet.

I'm starting to like the trains, and have managed to restrict my fluid intake enough before train rides that I haven't had to use the toilets once (thank you dinosaur bladder). We are traveling in first class air conditioned cabins mostly, and they have been quite nice (nice is a relative term here). My favorite part has been being able to buy hot chai in tiny cups while we're sitting playing cards or while I'm writing to all of you out there. It's actually very relaxing.

When we arrive in Delhi the three of us had to get to the airport to finalize changing our tickets. G Adventures only uses 2 or 3 taxi drivers in Delhi, because they are very reliable and honest, we're told. Chewy hooks us up with a lift to the airport and we're off. Without being long winded- we had a minor catastrophe with changing our tickets. We ended up with tickets to Kat on March 8 (instead of March 5), and there were absolutely no seats left on any of the Jet Airways flights on Sunday or Monday. So frustrating! But when you get lemons, add some vodka and power through. We ended up buying three new tickets on IndiGo for March 5. We'll deal with trying to get a refund when we have more time.

When we left the terminal- we had one of the most intense paparazzi moments yet. People with camera phones multiplied rapidly- taking our photos, some posing with us, others just trying to get as many photos as possible. At the point Ging yelled "uh, that one's got a video camera!" we took off across the road to try and find our driver. 15 minutes of fame- check.

In the afternoon we went to see the India Gate, a monument in memory of the soldiers who gave their lives in battles for India. It is likely the most touristy space we have been to, with street vendors everywhere, children peddling handmade bracelets and even suave looking Indian men boasting to take your picture for you. We found out from G6 a bit later that he had been harassed by a young girl to buy a bracelet, and the entire altercation garnered a bit of an audience... The poor kid even turned on the water works. Note to the wise: just say no, and keep saying no. Poor G6. Big heart and wants to help everyone (he had his change for the poor in his pocket), but is just getting hassled by the aggressive ones here in Delhi.

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For our last supper, the group went out together to a restaurant called Spicy by Nature in Karol Bagh. It was hands down the best meal we have had in India so far. All of the dishes had a unique flavor- and the Mushroom Dhingri was amazing!!! We had a stock standard share fest again- palak paneer, chana masala, tandoori kadai gobhi and tandoori roti. A perfect meal for the three of us. Skinny and G6 went to town on the menu- consuming copious amounts of food (and the girliest drinks on the menu). I am honestly shocked to watch how these kittens eat!!

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G6's dinner

After dinner, we wanted to round out our trip with a night on the town. Now you think it would be easy to convince the Aussies to come out- but it was like pulling teeth! They finally caved and joined us for a drink at Jade Garden... Let's just say that none of them are winning any awards for their drink choices. Chocolatini? Way to do Oz proud boys. After one drink, the boys called it a night. The three of us walked another half block before deciding that Delhi at night was not where we should be by ourselves.

Sunday was our last day in Delhi. Naturally, we ventured out to check out the Meena Bazaar in the city. Delhi has one of the nicest metro's I have been on, is quite easy to navigate, and accesses many parts of the city (airport included). As the capital of India, the city is beginning to become more evolved in terms of cleanliness in comparison with the rest of The country. There were trash bins (and recycling bins) for once! Because of this- the new, very modern metro is actually clean and comfortable. Interesting fact: there are women only cars on the metro. Food for thought I suppose.

The Meena Bazaar was intense. Not only was it scorching hot outside, the market was crowded with men, all shuffling through, purchasing jeans and shirts and such. This was actually only our second experience with groping in public. Nothing serious, just a bum grab, but it's disturbing nonetheless as it is definitely nothing that any of us expect/welcome. The only solution is to try and avoid crowded places- which can be difficult depending where you are. After about 20 minutes of being hassled and harassed at the market, we ducked out into an open courtyard to make a decision about how we were going to get ourselves out of there and to somewhere to have lunch. Even sitting outside the chaos, within a minute we had an audience of about 15 men, just standing and watching us. Chewy- if you ever read this- at that moment we appreciated how much having you around deterred this from happening during the trip. Luckily, a kind old gentleman yelled at the crowd and they scattered. We all really wish we knew what he said.

After a disgustingly large lunch of masala dosa and poori, we headed back to the hotel to meet the Aussies. Holi (the festival of colors), is on Thursday. Basically: food, drink, water balloons and colored powder. So much fun! The kids are getting prepped for it already, and on our walk back, B gets ambushed by 4 little boys with water balloons! Her entire back was soaking wet and the three of us giggle our way back to the hotel. I hope we get to play Holi in Annapurna.

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Too much for the 3 of us!

Skinny is down for the count again- poor kid has just not had great luck with India. So G6, Curly, the Norwegians and the Trio had a nice last meal together at Spicy by Nature. Being the last night, we thought we'd have some fun, so after dinner we decided to enjoy a few pops on the roof of our hotel... Dear Aussies: I talked some smack and then Karma got me. You can count that one- thanks for being fun on our last night in India!

We're back in Kat now to start the next part of the adventure: trekking Annapurna. It's going to be a massive change from what we've been doing- but we're all stoked about it. Our 15 day jaunt with our group was fantastic. Great to get to know some new people from around the world in your travels. We'll miss the Norwegian Boy sneaking up on us and scaring us, the cuteness of the Brits holding hands everywhere we went, the watchful eyes (and card cheating eyes) of Chewy who always had our back- and I suppose hearing about the HHH's and the BT Combos from the Aussies (FYI we have been spotting lots of HHH today kittens). But on to the next chapter. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of this story.

We'll miss you India,
L, B & the Ging

Sent from my iPad

Posted by ellie nicole 09:46 Archived in India Tagged nature india hotel metro sunrise garden by delhi gate jade spicy karol bagh Comments (1)

Back to Busy

Another train ride, another game of cards, and we're now in Jaipur. Our hotel is a beautiful old palace (Bissau Palace), carefully decorated and preserved, it is a romantic little spot hidden in the alleys of Jaipur.

After getting in quite late last night, B and I sat up and had a few Kingfisher's with Chewy and his cousin (who is also a tour leader). We chatted until 2 am, asking Chewy questions about Indian culture and his life as a man in India. Talking about these things spurs so many different thoughts, and challenges you to understand your own traditions, customs and way of life. Religious or not, we all have beliefs that we feel strongly about- these conversations have helped us better understand our values, and appreciate the fortunes that are afforded to us as women living in Canada.

We have also decided that we are going to stay an extra night in Delhi. Skinny, G6 and Curly are in Delhi for four nights after the tour ends, the Norwegians leave Monday to Bangkok, and Chewy will be on a 15 day break starting Sunday. Needless to say we have a few cats to chill with, and it will be nice not to have to be in Delhi for an afternoon and then have to pack up and leave first thing Sunday.

So, Jaipur. To start the day, the Ging left our lovely room for three to have coffee while we finished getting ready. B and i went to leave.... And Ging had locked us into our room! After some confusion, then pushing and banging and yelling for someone to come open the latch that had us jailed in- B jumped out the window into the alley and saved the day. Oh Ging Cat.

After an orientation walk in the morning we headed off to the City Palace. Jaipur is known as the "pink city" as pink is considered a welcoming color, and a previous ruler made the call to make everything pink. It isn't super noticeably pink, but after being told this little tidbit I can see what Chewy is saying. We toured the Palace with a local guide- who spoke the fastest, most mumbled English we've encountered... So unfortunately the only interesting fact I have about this spot is that one of the Rulers was 7 feet tall and 250kg. His robes were on display and looked more like table cloths than clothing.

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After, we headed to the Amber Fort, about 10km from the city. Considered to be "old Jaipur", the Fort is surrounded by a 12km wall. G6 claims it looks like the Great Wall of China (however he has never seen the Great Wall, so this is obviously unconfirmed). Although the Fort was impressive in size, structure and decor, by far the best part was our guide. A tiny Indian man who spoke clear and slow English. The catch was that he would pick one person for each explanation, stare directly at them and ask (repeatedly) if you understood/see what he's pointing at or want your picture taken. The Brits were in stitches about it, and just watching them try not to giggle about this little man was enough to put everyone into a bit of a laughing mood.

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The Amber Fort

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The "picture in the mirror" ha!

We had lunch at Moti Mahal with the Brits. It was a delightful meal- the food is getting a bit spicier, which is fantastic. Thali has become one of the stock favorites for us because it is easy to try and comes with several different curries and naan/roti/chapati/rice.

The Cricket has been on and the Aussies have been chirping at Chewy about the Indian team. Tonight is a big game between Australia and Sri Lanka, and in order for India to advance, Australia needs to win. Needless to say the banter was slower today- as they were cheering for the same team. Driving back to the hotel in our tuk tuk, men are crowded around any shop front with a television, watching the game and letting out the occasional cheer (or fist pump). Some things are the same everywhere- sport has the ability to bring a nation together, no matter what the game.

The three of us discovered the abandoned rooftop restaurant at the hotel, and had a bit of a dance off as the sun went down. G6 and Skinny were quite resourceful in getting us some evening pops, and the group of us sat around outside enjoying the fresh air, good music and great conversation.

Tomorrow is the train to Delhi... Our last stop in India.

Wishing time would slow down,
The Three Monkeys

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Sent from my iPad

Posted by ellie nicole 07:37 Archived in India Tagged fort palace city mahal jaipur amber moti bissau Comments (0)

Trio at the Taj!

Ok so Ging was pumped about elephants in Orchha. B and I are little kids going to Disneyland this morning. Today, we knock off another Wonder of the World- the Taj Mahal.

We have been rotating who stays with Poutine. The system appears to be working- but when we arrive at the hotel in Agra, we are pleasantly greeted with our rooms- the bed(s) are actually two doubles pushed together, which are clearly marketed as two singles or one double depending who is looking (Hotel Amaryatriniwas, 5 minutes from the Taj). You know what that means?? Slumber party!! We took the chance to stay together for the night, all three of us curled up together to cram in a little sleep between midnight and 6am.

Agra is the most Westernized city we have been to so far, there is a Costa Coffee shop above our hotel, there are more cars on the streets and even (wait for it...) traffic lights! Ok well they weren't on, but they were there.

The system for the Taj seemed to be slightly complicated- but as per usual, Chewy had our back. The ticket counter is 1km from the east gate of the Taj. You buy your tickets (INR750 for the Taj and Agra Fort) and then you can walk, or take small bus to the queue to get in. There are many items not allowed inside, so we elected to leave everything at the hotel. There are free lockers if needed (bring your own lock), but to save the hassle- just come with your camera and some change for a chai if you want one (or you can just have Skinny loan you some money for a much needed coffee, right Ging?!)

Back to the Taj- we had a guide to take us around the grounds of the palace. I believe you could rent audio guides as well, which would likely be a good investment. As we're standing listening to the intro about the Taj, B was doing a little urban spotting. Parading through the courtyard is a Caucasian girl with bottle blonde hair and a bad spray tan, in a denim mini skirt and heels. Really? Who let you do this to yourself this morning, and where are they so I can shake my head at them? Ladies- fashion don't. The Taj is the World Wonder, not your little-too-short-leaves-little-to-the-imagination skirt. Sheesh.

When we finally got through the gates- it was spectacular. It is majestic and awe inspiring. The grandeur of this giant structure, built of marble and precious stone from around the World, sitting pristine in the well manicured gardens of the palace. Protected by the Indian Government in the 1950's (compare to the Orchha Palaces, only protected in the 1970's), the Taj is an important icon for the country. Once up close to the palace you realize the detail in the structure and the decor- which explains why it took over 19 years to build. The Sanskrit around the main entrance is crafted from single pieces of black onyx, two inches thick. The panels with intricate florals leading into the palace have been made from single slabs of white marble and carved by hand. It is splendor and luxury melted together.

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Taj at first sight

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Details in design: marble carvings

This afternoon we went to the Agra Fort, about 2.5km from the Taj. The Fort is more or less a mass walled city, which has been around since the 1600's. It was an impressive structure, and with a view of the Taj to boot.

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The group enjoyed a wicked meal at Maya Restaurant, on the rooftop patio in the March sunlight. I would recommend visiting this place just to sit on their patio- it really feels as though you have been picked right up out of the busyness of the streets and are in a pocket of the city that is hidden away (Thali is great too!).

And here we are again- on another train, sipping chai (INR5) and writing about another day which we will never forget. The days have been going faster in India- maybe because of the number of things we are seeing and learning every day. Our understanding of the people and culture is growing and expanding by the minute- one of the largest benefits of spending time in a culture you have little intimate exposure to in your home country. We are beginning to understand what life is like here, Chewy has been more than happy to answer any question we toss his way. Another little life lesson- everyone has a story.

Til next time
The Taj Trio

photo (from email)

photo (from email)

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Posted by ellie nicole 02:06 Archived in India Tagged hotel fort mahal taj tickets agra entry impressions Comments (0)

Chai And Biscuits

We are starting to get quite the reputation as a traveling trio. We are constantly buzzing around at all times of the day. Busy going on excursions, or leading ourselves around town, to find new restaurants or to just explore. The three of us work well together too, always taking initiative and being open minded and flexible. Super chill and fun lovin' if you will.

Yesterday after the tour of the palace, we arranged to do a sunrise walk with Indu (INR 350 each, I am waiting for Indu to send me his contact info as he was terrific). We met him at 615 and we set off to watch the sunrise over the countryside. It was a brisk morning however- we were even able to see our breath... Nothing like home however!!

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Indu- is a birdwatcher. He has identified over 70 types of birds in and around Orchha, so needless to say, on a morning walk he was busy spotting everything from owls to vultures to parakeets and kingfishers. We were walking through fields of mustard and wheat, just peacefully enjoying a morning walk. We had chai and biscuits on the banks of the Betwa River, which runs south to north through India. Indu tells us stories of how they spend time on the banks of the river in the hot summer heat, eating and enjoying beer as it is too hot to do much else (at 45C I would have to agree).

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Walking through the fields

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Chai on the Betwa

As expected- we needed some breakfast after our walk and we headed straight back to Ram Raja. The breakfast assortment was good, but the pancakes were the item that stood out because of the delicacies of the ingredients... peanut butter and nutella!! Ging was super pumped for the PB. We spotted G6 half way through breakfast eating by himself- apparently he had ordered multiple kinds of pancakes (nutella and peanut butter!!) and decided that he would join us after he had enjoyed a gluttonous morning feast.

This afternoon, we went to Indu's home to learn from his wife how to cook several Indian dishes: masala chai (!!!!!), aubergine curry, potato and pea curry, raita, chutney, spinach and potato curry, veg biryani and chapati. We sat patiently on the floor as this lovely young mother recited from memory, the full recipes for each dish as she casually made them in front of us over a propane stove. Well worth the INR500 to learn authentic recipes and enjoy another Indian lunch.

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Cooking up a storm

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The final product

We're on the train now- headed to Agra... After a few poolside Kingfisher's before departing, we're all in very good spirits for this short ride to our next stop. We have been playing cards on every train ride- mainly "Asshole." Chewy's a cheat, the Norwegian Boy is a sneaky one and Skinny likes to talk smack whether he's winning or losing. Just for those who care- we are always winning.

Orchha was a little slice of slow quiet heaven in India after being in Varanasi. I could have had a few more by the pool this afternoon and been quite alright with that...

Eating our way around,
L, B & the Ging

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Posted by ellie nicole 01:51 Archived in India Tagged food palace sunrise tour cooking class orchha Comments (1)

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