A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

First thoughts of Incredible India

27 °C

How do you put into words an experience that cannot be compared to anything else you have ever encountered in your life? Emotions, smells, sights- all of these things which are used to convey a message- when everything is so raw it is impossible to lead a person to vicariously experience something through your words. That is India. Unless you have been here, you won't understand. And if you have- remember that feeling of awe and bewilderment you experienced the first time you encountered this shear mass of culture. How would you explain it?

Varanasi is dry and dusty, the buildings are all mostly a shade of brown or grey. Whether built that color or faded by the sunlight over time, the city is monochromatic. Cows are in every ditch, corner, sidewalk and street- completely unaware of the swarm of activity going on around them. The roads are lined with moto-rickshaws, pedal rickshaws, pedal bikes, motorcycles, scooters and people. People are everywhere, some in traditional Hindu or Muslim dress, others in Western wears, and they are mostly men. They are sitting in small open store fronts or crouching in the street having their hair cut and a blade shave. They are carrying crates of chickens or pushing carts full of fresh vegetables. Those not doing anything are watching. Patiently observing everything that is going on as they appear to be somehow isolated from the intensity buzzing around in front of them. The streets are dirty, paper and plastic garbage mainly, fresh and dried cow dung scattered through the street. In the base of the 5 to 10 story buildings are store fronts which seem barely large enough to fit whatever goods may be for sell or trade. Every third or fourth shop is selling cooked food from large metal pots over propane stoves- bright yellow curries, fried goods drenched in honey syrups or pots full of lentils and thick vegetable gravies. The air is filled with the sound of the traffic- horns from cars, rickshaws and bikes, the shouting of neighbors passing across busy streets, the crackle of food frying and the rampant clatter of feet in every direction.

We are being watched by every person in the street. Some curious, others friendly and a few judgmental passers by. We are a strange sight in a sea of Pan-Asian faces. Our light skin, different colored hair, our clothing, our laughter and chatter all attracting the attention of those who had not noticed us passing through their World. And we are passing through their World- we are staring as much as them- but less at their physical appearance and more about the way of life in a country of 1.25 billion people.

Side streets are narrow and dark, even in the day light. Monkeys scurry along the balconies unphased by anyone else. The city is one of the oldest living cities, streets are not built in uniform fashion; they wind left and right at a whim. Parts are muddy and wet from water being thrown from a nearby food stall, the signs for local business appearing possibly to have been completed 10-15 years prior- and neglected ever since. The alleys are as wide as your arms splayed open, and barefoot laborers are pushing carts full of bricks, and the smell of musk hangs in the dusty air.

And so this is India. I can't believe we took so long to get here.

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Speechless and excited,
L

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Posted by ellie nicole 22:06 Archived in India Tagged india varanasi impressions Comments (0)

Travel (down) Time- Chitwan to Varanasi

The one thing we have learned is that infrastructure in this part of the world severely impacts the transit time between destinations. We are getting into a good van (now bus) routine- an hour or two of music/napping, 20 minutes complaining about needing to use the toilets, an hour of the question game and in between I write our blog posts and the girls read. Efficiency in motion (literally).

We left Chitwan early Thursday to head to Lumbini. Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddah, and as such it holds significant meaning to Buddhists and Hindus alike. En route the roads were busy- busses filled with people all dressed up, singing and cheering- Chewy informed us that it was a day that marriages were allowed to occur, based on the blessing of the priest and the astrology (and likely many other factors I am completely forgetting/unaware of). An interesting fact to ponder nonetheless for a girl who only knows weddings on Saturdays and destination nuptials.

Our hotel in Lumbini was Hotel Budhhamaya, a 15 minute walk from the Mayadevi Temple and a 45 minute drive to the Nepal/India border. The hotel is fine, definitely the least comfortable of the places we have been so far, but given there isn't much in Lumbini other than the Temple, it makes sense.

Mayadevi is the Mother of Buddah- so the Mayadevi Temple seems to make sense at his place of birth. The Temple was not open to the public until 2003- relatively recent. Scattered through the courtyard there are signs with Buddah wisdoms written on them. Under the shade, the Aussies and Canadians all sat in sight of the Bodhi tree and pondered life and religion. I figure we are a week in- you can have those chats now.

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After the temple we headed into "town" which was just one street with a handful of hotels and stores lining either side. As it got darker we decided to grab some food at one of the hotels (we thought we spotted a rooftop patio, so naturally we investigated). The place was empty, but was as good as any. Feeling adventurous we ordered a few different dishes- veg thupka (soup), veg chow mien and veg biryani (rice dish). Of course black tea (chai) and momo landed on the table as staples as well.

After a long (but inexpensive, Rs450) dinner, we had to walk back to the hotel. We had completely disregarded the fact that it was going to be pitch black as we had to walk on the road back to the hotel. Funny how the road seemed 10 times longer in the dark. Without fail, the second we walked into the hotel we were spotted by Chewy- who just wanted to make sure we were safe and had full bellies.

This morning we were up early to head to India (!!!!!). The process couldn't be easier- drive to the border, get out of the van, get blessed by a Brahman (strictly involuntary), walk across the border and get in your next mode of transport. It seemed the second we crossed the border however that things instantly got more hectic, busy and loud. Chewy has warned us several times that the Nepal part of our journey is the easy piece- and that Incredible India is next. Honestly- I can't wait.

Bring it on-
L

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Posted by ellie nicole 20:26 Archived in Nepal Tagged temple border nepal lumbini Comments (1)

Rhinos, Bears & Peacocks- Oh My!!

Ging has been a little kid in a candy store since the moment we got here about riding an elephant. She is grinning ear to ear as we enjoy a breakfast overlooking the pastures- the usual, boiled eggs, banana (and cinnamon) porridge and banana pancake (oh and copious amounts of coffee too) spread across the table.

When we "board" our elephant we are instructed to hop into what can only be described as a giant shipping box, only without a lid, and without solid sides- and is strapped in the back of a giant mammal. There are 4 of us per elephant and G6 has drawn the lucky card today. The 4 of us are to put our legs straddling the corner of the box (so we don't fall off of course!), we all have our backs to one another and are getting cozy, bouncing around on the back of the largest elephant in this herd.

Seeing the jungle in the morning was spectacular- it was cool and hazy when we headed out in the morning, but the clouds began to burn off as we moved further into the jungle. B is the designated spotter- even without her glasses the kid seems to locate animals like a pro. I am fully equipped with an unnecessarily large camera (which I cannot operate well), so I am the photographer. Ging is the question asker, and G6, well he was just lucky to be with 3 beautiful Canadians I think. We were lucky enough to see (in no particular order): spotted deer, monkeys, peacocks, and the highlight- a rhino and it's calf. They look so archaic that describing them as descendants of dinosaurs is the best I can do.

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After we finished on the elephants, Ging and the Aussie triad had signed up to wash elephants... Which turned to more of them being tossed off elephants into a river.... Very entertaining for B and I!!!

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All that before lunch!! After scarfing back (more) dal bhat and paneer masala we headed out on our jungle safari which departed from Chitwansari (cost is Rs 11500 for the jeep, split between how many people are in the jeep, so for us it was split between us and the Brits). At first, I will admit it was a little slow. It was midday, so many animals are likely having an afternoon siesta or are far enough into the jungle that we were not going to spot them. By the time we reached the Gharni (alligator) breeding centre, we had seen a (read: one) bird, and two monitor lizards. In two hours. Ging had a nap in the jeep, while B convinced me that standing up and having the wind blow through your hair makes you feel like you're in Jurassic park. Trying not to fall out of the jeep helped pass the time.

Post gator stop- things got more intense. Coles notes: we drove off the road to track down a rhino, a black bear jumped out of a ditch, a leopard ran across the road in front of us, we spotted Rhesus monkeys doing their thing, and rounded it out by chasing more black bears through 8 foot tall bamboo while our guide hollered mating calls while wielding a large stick. Needless to say we were back to Chitwan much later than the other group- with a much broader list of animals spotted. Full props to B for spotting the leopard (by yelling "what the hell is that?!!")

When we got back to Sapana we were starving- and predictably ordered the same three Nepali dishes we had for lunch (dal bhat and paneer), an order of momo (veg dumplings- so amazing) and a big pot of black tea with milk (chai). Apparently we were getting a bit of a reputation as the waiter first guessed our order and then second asked why we weren't having any drinks with dinner...

We have been playing the question game a lot since being away- some "would you rather" questions, but mostly open ended questions geared to spark conversations. We continued the tradition by sitting cross legged on small benches under the stars with Skinny, Curly, G6 and Chewy and a few large pots of tea. Who knew tea parties in the jungle could be so much fun?

That's all for this jungle book-
L, Ging & the Animal Spotter

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Posted by ellie nicole 20:26 Archived in Nepal Tagged elephant village safari rhino chitwan Comments (1)

From Mountains to Jungle

The Ging and I woke up in a bit of a panic as I had set the alarm but had failed to turn it on... So instead of having piles of time to get ready we had about 20 minutes. This compounded with the fact that the electricity was out when we woke up made our early morning routine quite difficult- so we improvised and got ready by candlelight, quite romantic. We both know as we're struggling in the dark, B will be cruising around with her headlamp- and will be more than happy to let us know how functional it is when we see her (it was the first thing she told us actually!)

After having to scale the marble stairwell in the dark, we headed off on our 20 minute ride to Sarangkot to catch the sunrise over the Himilayas. Sarangkot is on top of a hillside with a great vantage point of the mountains. I believe it is about Rs25 to enter, however Chewy takes care of those details so I'm not sure.

As we enjoyed a cup of coffee while the sun came up we couldn't help but talk about how amazing it is to watch the sun come up in the Rockies in the winter when you're headed to the hill, or what it's like to drive through the Okanagan Valley in the summertime. Funny we can be so far away from home but still be reminded quickly how beautiful our home country is. The sunrise over the Himilayas is quite spectacular- and although the Rockies are home- the Himilayas are impressive.

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After sunrise we enjoyed a lovely spread of coffee, mixed fruit porridge, boiled eggs and banana pancake at OUaT... We are pretty much regulars now, and we have all found our item of choice for breakfast. No sense in messing up a good thing.

After breakfast, we left Hotel Stupa behind and hit the road again to head to Chitwan, south of Pokhara by a 5 hour drive. Goodbye Pokhara- we'll see you in couple of weeks.

We are staying at Sapana Village Lodge in Chitwan, and it's gorgeous. It is set at the boarder of Chitwan National Park in south east Nepal. The scenery (and temperature) is vastly different then in Pokhara. It's jungle, wetlands and agriculture. The balcony of the restaurant overlooks the river and onto the green space behind the village. The sky is a beautiful blue and there is a calm peace here. Love.

We were invited on an orientation walk through the village in the afternoon. After learning that the average income in Nepal is around USD$450, you start to appreciate that the Nepalese people are very self sufficient, however have a different quality of life than we do in Canada. Our guide was very busy giving the group information about the houses, food and people when the three of us started spotting the women and children...

The difference a smile and Namaste will make. Children were curious about us- the three of us girls in particular as we were waving and saying hello to as many as we could. B & I encouraged the Kitten to go give a Canada pin to one of the littlest girls we had seen running through the street. Watching Ging have that experience for the first time- putting a smile on the face of a child who speaks no English, who will likely grow up in this village and who might just keep that maple leaf beside her bed until she is watching her own daughter run into the road towards smiling strangers. It's so much more rewarding to experience this part of culture. The information is interesting, and important- but the people are what makes Nepal.

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The three of us enjoyed a spread of dal bhat and a couple bottles of red wine for dinner back at Sapana. We have all been quite surprised how every restaurant seems to offer so many types of cuisine- Italian, Mexican, Chinese. We all seem to immediately flip to the Nepalese/Indian part of the menu. Ging and B are teaching me their ability to translate food items- dal, paneer, palak- are all now part of my food vocabulary.

Chewy sat with us for an hour answering our questions about Indian culture, tradition and customs. About his family and how the caste system works (or used to work). All while enjoying a couple of rum's- he's an intelligent and quiet guy- who has been keeping his eye on us since the moment he met us.

Tomorrow morning is our elephant ride and our jungle safari... No big deal.

xo
The Tender Trio

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Posted by ellie nicole 20:26 Archived in Nepal Tagged sunrise nepal chitwan sarangkot himilayas sapana Comments (0)

A day in Pokhara

16 °C

We'll call this our first full day in Nepal. We had a free day today as Chewy thought it would be unfair to expect everyone to get up at 5am after spending the entire day getting to Pokhara yesterday... I agree.

We're staying at Hotel Stupa, a little off the main road, it's a nice place with decent sized rooms and a restaurant. B is bunking with Poutine, as the hotel has no triple rooms. Unfortunately both B and I were up at the crack of dawn today but didn't want to wake each others roomies in order to have company over coffee. When we all finally met up at 745, we walked down the road to Once Upon a Time for some breakfast... The dieticians were craving oats and I was on the prowl for banana pancakes... Yahtzee. This place had large pots of black coffee and steamed milk and everything we were after for breakfast (not to mention free wifi).

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Being our free day we were the masters of our own destiny. We headed down to Lake Fawa to figure out what we could get up to. The Kitten had her first paparazzi experience at the water, as we're discussing what we should do

We had the option of doing several things- hiking to the World Pagoda, canoeing on Lake Fawa, paragliding (was our #1 choice, it was unavailable today), renting bikes or scooters to head to the caves and waterfalls, or just relaxing in town. For Rs700 we rented a boat and paddled ourselves across the Fawa so we could walk up to the World Peace Pagoda.

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The hike wasn't too strenuous- but it was awesome to be able to get some physical activity in considering we'd been sitting for a majority of the past three days!! returning to town we stopped in at the hotel and dropped a few things and then headed back to Once Upon a Time for some coffee and free wifi. We are all a little (ok, a lot) excited to have a few emails from our families asking how our adventure has been so far... I am trying to articulate as much as I can through this blog- but there really are not enough words to explain the experience we are having.

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Almost all hotels and restaurants in Pokhara have free wifi- not an essential service considering we could all do with being a little more disconnected from society (says the girl online with an iPad in Nepal). I am however taking a 6 week hiatus from Facebook, a social reprieve if you will. That combined with me not bringing my blackberry from work has been a welcomed relief from the world for me. But an hour or two and a few pots of black coffee with steamed milk on the side, discussing all of the little things we have seen and experienced in two days has been nothing short of a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.

B & Ging packed in when we got back to the hotel as we are getting up at 5 tomorrow to go to Sarangkot to watch the sunrise. I rounded out the night with a dinner with G6, Skinny and Curly. Lots of green tea, naan, curry and chats. A nice way to end a pretty fantastic day.

Nested in Nepal,
L, B & Ginger

p.s
Uploading pictures is tending to take longer than expected... When we get a solid connection and some free time- I will add photos in here!!

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Posted by ellie nicole 03:26 Archived in Nepal Tagged hotel eating canoeing pokhara Comments (0)

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