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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

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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)

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)

Sent from my iPad

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

Ganges and Ghats

If you haven't read the post on our first thoughts of India- I suggest you do. It will help frame a little more of our story from there...

After an early start (we are becoming Creatures of the morning... 630am dance parties and all) we decide to venture out to find out what India is all about. After a bit of a detour (we zigged when we should have zagged) we finally got to the ghats (Ghats are stairs which lead down to a river, and the ghat on the banks of the Ganges are quite significant as they hold spiritual meaning for life and death for the Hindu people. Many people will come once in their lifetime to take a Holy Dip in the Ganges to wash away their sins).

Much like the streets, anything and everything imaginable is on the ghats. Cows, dogs, beggars, goats and street children alike. Newly married couples are being paraded down the ghats by drums and dancing. New wives shrouded in red hooded saris, adorned with gold and jewels, are tied by a long scarf to their husband who leads them to the Ganges to be blessed. The three of us watched, confused, until we are told by a passer by what was going on (it's always so awkward staring at things that you know are being done for a purpose but you're not sure what).

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We wandered the alleys for the afternoon, trying to keep our bearings. Honestly the spidey-sense just could not kick in in this place. Once in the alleys by the ghats there are no panoramic markers to help aid your wandering. After weaving and hopping our way through crowds, mud and cows- we stopped and had a reprieve at Cafe Sala. It was a lovely bakery hidden away in the ghats. If I knew how we got there I would say, but there is no way I know how we got in- or out- of those streets! We enjoyed scones, boiled eggs and masala chai before deciding we should make our way back to the hotel to meet the group for our sunset flower ceremony and evening prayer.

Spidey-sense- fail. B and I picked a landmark to remember our turn home, and it turns out (we found out later) there are two identical "Baba Blacksheep" signs in busy intersections near the ghats. Predictably we got lost again, heading in the opposite direction of our hotel. We'll get this figured out eventually. We did however find a restaurant for some chai, which had our favourite breakfast items and chana masala and palak paneer on the menu... We vowed to go back.

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Our group took an evening boat ride on the Ganges to witness the evening prayer and flower ceremony. As I mentioned previously, the Ganges holds significant meaning for life and death. Many people are cremated on the shores of the Ganges, and then their ashes are sent into the river. It was a very different sensation to observe the cremation of life on open fire at the banks of a river which holds so much more meaning to a culture than it does to us. The ghat was piled high with wood and bodies cloaked by orange tarps lie in waiting nearby.

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The evening prayer was a spectacle. From the river, boats upon boats lined the shore to observe the evening prayer from the water. Spectators at best. On the shore- mass amounts of people packed into the open square we had witnessed the marriage ritual earlier in the day, together in prayer. Young children carrying large pots of hot chai hopped from boat to boat, serving us all steaming hot cups of magical goodness. Oh how we are starting to love our chai!!

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The Ghats during the evening prayer

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Chewy, lighting our candles for the flower ceremony

After the ceremony, we headed back to the hotel (Hotel Pallavi) and had a late dinner of Thali (basically a variety of veg curries and roti/chipati/naan). The hotel is in a decent location (off the main street, about a 15 minute walk to the Old Town and the ghats). It is relatively clean, they offer laundry service (which we took advantage of and were very pleased with), and has a wicked little restaurant on the corner beside the gate to the hotel which serves fantastic Thali. The beds are however reasonably uncomfortable- but when in Rome, right?

Another unforgettable day-
The Creatures of the Morning

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Posted by ellie nicole 12:01 Archived in India Tagged sunset flower hotel river varanasi ghats ceremony evening prayer pallavi 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!!

Sent from my iPad

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

We're not in Kansas Anymore

16 °C

Turns out not even strangers think that the three of us should be in Nepal. We met a fellow on the plane from HK to Kat who was shocked we were there, and who's parting words were "just be careful... Seriously"

Getting a visa was easy, all we needed was a passport photo and USD$40... Thank you visa on arrival. We considered doing this before we left, however I would recommend just doing it when you arrive- it was pretty seamless.

Leaving the airport we walk through a gauntlet of local military (with large guns and sticks which I can only imagine are for some type of physical punishment) into  a sea of taxi and rickshaw drivers all more than willing to take us on an adventure of Kathmandu at 11 pm on a Sunday. Luckily our driver is there to pick us up (A godsend really, for all you female travelers-swallow the CAD$20 and get a ride to your hotel...) after being harassed for a tip from the porters, we were on our way to our hotel. (Side bar: we get into the car, and get asked for a tip. I have just changed CAD$200 at the airport, Ging and B have had an unfortunate disagreement with the ATM, and are left without any Rupees. The porter is aggressively asking for a tip- another rogue male has blatantly opened the passenger door to grab for cash... So I hand him 20 rupee... He is unimpressed, so I panic and hand him 100 more. We start driving away when I realize why he was so unimpressed.... 20 rupee is CAD$0.25. I'd be annoyed too)

The streets are dark, for a city of 7 million it is poorly lit, but there are people everywhere. The roads are lined with rubbish- bricks, trash bags, refuse- we are driving pac-man style, mid road with out concern- packs of young males line the streets, hoarding in droves enjoying the night. Occasionally there are women, but they are sparse. Buildings are showing the wear of years of neglect. We are nowhere I have ever been before.

The hotel is hidden in a labyrinth of brick buildings and mismatched streets. We are not finding our way here even in the middle of the day. But when we arrive, it is gated, guarded, and clean. We have three single beds, a door with a deadbolt and a hot shower- its really the best we can ask for (Hotel Fuji, Kathmandu). 

So here's the good news Mom & Dad, Merv & Lauren, Jenny & Lynn... We have made it to Nepal.

L, Ging & B

Posted by ellie nicole 03:42 Archived in Nepal Tagged hotel on visa nepal kathmandu arrival Comments (0)

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