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India, Days 28-29: Delhi = Crazy

On Wednesday, we took Jet Airways one way from Leh to Delhi. It was a pretty uneventful flight (save that it was an hour late – which no one really seemed to notice). The view of the Himalayas was wonderful as we flew by.

For our two nights in Delhi, we are staying at a nice hotel for a break and a rest before we begin our journey into Rajasthan for the last two weeks of the trip. It’s a nice break to be in a very comfortable hotel and we spent the balance of Wednesday just relaxing, reading, and watching Animal Planet.

Today, we decided to venture out of the oasis of the hotel and visit the National Museum and some of the government shopping emporiums. The Museum had a nice collection of various pieces of art from throughout Indian history. However, as are many things in India, the museum looks like it hasn’t really been updated since the 60s.

Next we went to the first government emporium and did a little bit of browsing. We will probably come back before we leave for home. After the first shopping stop, we decided to go to another government run emporium and here is where things started to get crazy. We hopped on a rickshaw and the driver took us to the “government emporium”. The trouble with being a tourist in Delhi is that it is basically impossible to navigate. There are no street signs, all the streets pretty much look the same, and you can’t really ask anyone directions because they are more likely to misdirect you to a “tourist office” that gives them a commission.

This is what our rickshaw driver had in mind when he dropped us off at the “emporium”. As soon as we walked in, we could tell is wasn’t the right place. We were immediately pounced on by a bunch of staff asking what we wanted, and that we’d get a good price. Sure we would.

We got out of there as fast as we could practically needing to push our way out the door. We tried to look around for the right place, but like I said, it is just about impossible to ascertain where you are. We decided to give up and just head back to the hotel as we had already had a good day.

We hailed another rickshaw driver, who when we showed him where our hotel was, decided it was too far and drove off. Okay, we’ll try again. We hailed another guy who was driving around with a friend. He said he would take us there, but not before asking if we wanted to go to every other tourist attraction, mall, and train station in the city. After saying ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’ about 50 times, he finally said okay – 200 rupees. Probably about double (or more) what it should actually cost, but at this point we just decided to go for it.

The streets in Delhi are totally crazy right now (and probably always) as a result of the preparations for the Commonwealth games in the fall. Practically all the sidewalks are ripped up and “construction workers” (just a bunch of men, women and children moving dirt around) are busy trying to fix the roads. As our rickshaw driver got closer to our hotel, it became apparent that he didn’t really know where he was going, so we pulled over a bunch of times so he could ask.

Thankfully, we eventually got back and are now relaxing again before an early morning train to Agra. I have a feeling that Agra will also be crazy, but I think ‘delhi crazy’ is hard to beat. Hope all are well.

India, Days 26-27: Back in Leh

Monday was a pretty chill day back in Leh. After staying up to watch the world cup final the night before, we slept in and spent the day reading, relaxing and catching up on email. The only sightseeing we did was later in the afternoon.

Out behind the city of Leh, there is a big stupa built into the hill that overlooks the whole city. Sarah was feeling a bit under the weather, so she decided to rest while I undertook the short hike to the top. The view was grand from up there, but unfortunately, it was a bit overcast when i was on the top. It was quite peaceful up there though.

Later that night we met our friends again for dinner. Sarah and I decided to split a very good lamb dish since we have been eating mostly vegetarian for that last week and a half. We had another nice evening discussing our treks and stories from travels through India. It was Gjs and Mona’s last night in Leh so we bid them farewell at the end of the evening. It was wonderful getting to know them.

Today (Tuesday), we hiked to the the two “main attractions” of Leh. We visited the ancient palace and the mountain monastery. The palace was quite simple inside and was constructed in a very similar was to the way that homes are constructed in Ladakh. It had a wonderful view of the city below and we enjoyed hanging out there for a while.

After the palace we headed up to the monastery. It also had a wonderful view of the city, but the most memorable part of our visit was sitting with Buddhist monks as the chanted prayers in one of the monastic shrines. It was a very peaceful experience. The monks chanted, but also played several instruments including a drum, cymbals, and horns. The mood was somber, but also full of energy and life (particularly when they were playing the horns right near my ear!).

The way down the hill was quite steep and unfortunately, both sarah and I took a spill. I scrapped my knee and sarah bruised her behind. Our first Indian injuries. Not so bad i guess.

Tonight we will meet Adi for dinner since we are leaving first thing tomorrow on a flight back to Delhi. We’ll be in Delhi for a couple days and then on to the Taj Mahal! We’re excited for the next leg of our trip, but it is crazy to think that we are just about 2/3 of the way through the trip. It’s one of those weird things where the time moves both quickly and slowly at the same time.

We’ll update again with news from Agra!

India, Days 24-25: Shingo, Chilling, and Leh

I’m picking up where Dante left off in telling about our trek. The fourth day of our trek we hiked from Shingo to Chilling, where we could catch a bus back to Leh. Fortunately, Adi woke up feeling much better that morning, and I’m pretty sure our hostess took full credit (after force-feeding Adi the night before). It was a long and tiring day, but again through some amazing scenery. The most exciting part of the day was crossing the Zanskar River, which you do in a little basket attached to a cable that goes across the river. There is no bridge at the moment, so the basket is your only option! When we finally found the place to cross, there was no one on the other side to pull the basket across. We weren’t sure it would be possible for someone inside the basket to pull themselves across, and we weren’t sure what to do! We didn’t want one of us to get stuck out in the middle of the cable hanging over the river. We finally managed to flag down a construction worker from the other side of the river who helped us over.  I was the first person to get in the basket, and although I was nervous at first, I quickly realized the basket was pretty sturdy and quite enjoyed the ride!

On the remaining part of the walk to Chilling, we met a woman with a young son who said she had a homestay, so we followed her to her house. Although it was probably the “poorest” family we stayed with, based on the size of their house (primarily the size of their kitchen), our room was still comfortable and dinner (dahl, greens, rice, and a delicious cheese/mint sauce) was delicious and offered in larger quantities than we could eat. Breakfast was also generous portions of roti (bread), with a curd-tsampa (barley flour) mix to dip it in. Maybe not something I’ll eat back home, but certainly an authentic Ladakhi breakfast!

It also happened that Saturday was Adi’s 30th birthday, and Chilling had a small store selling drinks. We bought a Godfather beer (an Indian brand that is not too tasty, but better than nothing!) to share among the three of us to celebrate her birthday. We also lit a candle and put it on top of a chocolate bar we bought, and sang to her. We really had a great time with Adi on the trek, so it was fun to celebrate with her in whatever way we could.

The next day, we caught the bus back to Leh, and managed to stay awake long enough to watch the World Cup final with our Dutch friend Gijs. It was a crazy night (no restaurants were serving beer, and we were told it had something to do with the phase of the moon, but that they could also get in trouble with the police…still haven’t figured out what that was about), but fun to watch with a rowdy crowd, even though the Netherlands lost.

Even though we have now covered the main events of our five-day trek, I think this is one of the parts of our trip that will be hard to adequately describe in words (or even show in photographs). The Markha Valley in Ladakh is truly the most amazing place that I have ever been. The natural environment is absolutely stunning. Having grown up in Tennessee, I’ve always had a preference for areas that are green and lush in spring and summer. Yet this high altitude desert is beautiful beyond description. The rocky mountains are so colorful – mineral deposits create splashes of purple, turquoise, and red. Wild roses grow along the snow-fed streams, and small plants and flowers take a stubborn hold in the dusty soil. And towering just beyond, in all directions, are breathtaking snow-capped peaks (literally and figuratively, being over 3500 meters in altitude). Given the altitude and the lack of pollution, the sky is a deep deep blue.

In addition to this natural beauty is the amazing Ladakhi culture that exists in the Valley. Dante mentioned “towns” in his post, but the small inhabited areas are really villages at the most. Rumbak, the largest village we stayed in (other than Chilling, which is a little bigger because a paved road goes there), consisted of 9 houses. As he said, the Valley is not accessible by road, has no running water anywhere, and no phone service (either land or cellular). Electricity is provided mostly by solar power, which heats water and lights a few small bulbs. To western eyes, the environment might be considered “inhospitable,” yet these people have lived a sustainable life off the land for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. Their clever use of mountain streams in summer to irrigate their fields makes each village a green oasis in the middle of the arid mountains (a very welcome site to any weary hiker). Ladakhi houses are built of bricks, made on-site with mud, and are large and comfortable. Soft rugs line the floors of the kitchen and bedrooms, and there is lots of room (and endless cups of tea) for guests. Ladakhi toilets are dry composting toilets, which not only don’t smell much (not nearly as bad as portopotties in the states), but also result in fertilizer to use on the fields. Every Ladahki house has a beautiful vegetable garden, in addition to their fields and livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, etc).

Ladahki culture is primarily Tibetan Buddhist, so you see signs of the religion everywhere (stupas, mani-walls, monasteries, prayer rooms in each house, pictures of the Dalai Lama). It is hard not to feel a sense of spirituality when passing these sites, in such beautiful settings. Ladahki men and women work side-by-side, both in the house and in the fields. In each home we stayed in, both the husband and wife helped fix dinner, and were also out in the fields or garden during the day. Although it can be easy to idealize such cultures when looking in from the outside, everything we have learned about the Ladahkis shows that they are also a happy, fun-loving people. They live physically difficult lives in some ways, yet have built a culture and society that incorporates lots of time for fun, including festivals, relaxing with family, playing games, and chatting with friends. They are clearly happy people, who welcome guests into their homes with incredible hospitality and generosity.

Dante and I are off to meet Adi for dinner in a few minutes, since we fly out of Leh tomorrow. I feel that there is so much more I could write about our time here, but I will have to save it for another post or conversations once we get home. Julley! (Ladakhi word meaning hello, goodbye, thank you, you’re welcome…) :)

India, Days 21-23: Markha Valley Hike

We began our trek on Wednesday morning by meeting up with Adi (one of our friends from the bus ride) at 8:00 AM. We filled up our water bottles and caught a taxi to Zingchen which was the beginning of our hike (and also the last place that cars can travel to inside the Markha Valley). As is typical in this area, the “road” was unpaved and full of rocks and potholes. The 5 mile journey took about and hour and a half.

Once we reached Zingchen, we set out towards our first destination: the town of Rumbak. The hike to Rumbak follows a stream through a gorge. They scenery is quite rocky and there are some interesting looking rock formations along the way. The rocks are also different colors varying from a deep red to almost purple – probably from varying mineral content. This area was pretty arid except for the banks of the stream which had some light trees and brush.

After about 3.5 hours we arrived at a tea tent where we stopped for a break. As we were relaxing, two Austrians also arrived at the tent. We started talking, and it turns out that after their trek they were headed to Bangladesh to do an internship at the Yunus center. What a coincidence for me since I was planning on looking into that exact internship when i return! I got their contact information and hope to learn about their experience.

After the tea tent, we continued the last .5 hours to Rumbak. When we arrived in the village, we were greeted by our homestay host. Her name is Tsering and has a truly happy, generous, and bubbling personality. She welcomed us into her home and gave us tea, cookies, and Ladakhi bread to snack on.

Tsering’s home is a very typical Ladakhi house. The largest room is the kitchen which is decorated with many ornate copper pots (we read that these pots are a traditional form of wealth for Ladakhi families). In her home there was also a smaller kitchen, which had a simple stove and simple “everyday” type pots. On the roof of the home there was a small meditation room. We did not go in, but it looked like it contained a small shrine and candles.

The town of Rumbak itself is simply stunning. It sits in a small valley shadowed by snow capped mountains. The land is naturally arid, but thanks to some clever irrigation, Rumbak is a green oasis full of flowers and vegetables. The growing season in Ladakh is only 4 months, but we have learned that this is enough time to produce ample food for the rest of the year (which is quite cold). The staple food here is barley and it is used to make breads, beer, and other everyday food items.

That night we were invited into the kitchen to help make dinner. We made a traditional ladakhi dish called chutagi. chutagi is a type of thick vegetable soup. It has a lot of greens (similar to spinach), and contains a sort of wheat “pasta” that is rolled out and formed into a boat like shape. It was very good, and it we are ever feeling ambitious, we do have the recipe.

There is no power (or phones, or running water, or…) in Rumbak, however, there is a power generator that runs for 3 hours from 7pm to 10pm. After dinner, we did a little bit of reading and waited for the generator to quit so we could take a look at the stars. Unfortunately, at 10 it was still not quite dark enough and clouds were obstructing our view. We turned in for the evening.

The next day (day 22) we were destined for the town of Yurutse, but it is only a 2.5 hour hike, so we decided to first to in the other direction toward a mountain pass near Rumbak to see if we could get a good view. The hike was nice, but we didn’t quite make it all the way to the top of the pass. We made it to the snow line, but decided it would be better to save our energy and head to Yurutse. In retrospect, we probably should have saved even more energy than we did, but i’m glad that we got in some extra hiking.

The path to Yurutse, was not long, but it was quite hot. The sun is quite intense at this altitude and it is easy to get drained of energy very quickly. We did see a yak (or what we are pretty sure was a yak) on our way to Yurutse, and we also walked pass some large herds of goats and sheep.

When we arrived in Yurutse, we found out that all the homestay rooms were full (there is literally only one home in Yurutse that has 4 rooms). With no other options at our disposal, we opted to just sleep on the floor of the kitchen. We didn’t really have much else of a choice.

The home in Yurutse was similar to Rumbak, but had a very different feel since we were not the only travelers there. The was a group of Spaniards who were on an expedition to see a snow leopard (the Markha valley is the snow leopard capital of the world). I’m not sure if they were successful in their attempt. snow leopards are quite rare.

Day 23 was the by far the most exhausting, but also the most rewarding. We hiked up and over the 4900 meter (> 16,000 feet!) Ganda La pass on the way to our 3rd homestay in the town of Shingo. The hike was positively exhausting. the path was steep, and the air is thin up there. We walked very slowly and took many breaks. Once we reached the top, the view was stunning. Sarah and I agree – it is the most amazingly beautiful scenery we have ever scene. Although we saw a few other trekkers and some porters on our way, it is often easy to think you are the only people up there in they beautiful, snow topped mountains. Really amazing.

At the top, I caught a glimpse of an eagle circling around looking for some easy prey below. When Adi and Sarah joined me at the summit we celebrated our ascent with our packed lunch and some Mars bars we packed. Adi exclaimed “this is the best mars bar i’ve ever had!” it really was. The pictures will have to speak for themselves later on. I think (hope) we got some good ones.

It took about 2 hours to descend to the town of Yurutse. Adi was feeling a bit ill from the altitude, and our host, became quite concerned, she kept trying to get her to have more tea and some Ladakhi bread which was supposed to make you feel better. Adi went to sleep early and Sarah and I played cards. The grandma of the household was particularly interested in what we were playing and stood watching us for a while. It was nice to have some company even if we couldn’t communicate.

We ended our most strenuous day and had a good night sleep. At this point i’ve been writing for a while, and will have to continue the story of our trek later, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the story so far and will update more soon!

India, Days 19-20: Leh

Hello from 11,000 feet! After a day in bed and another day taking it pretty easy, I am finally feeling (mostly) normal again.

As I said, yesterday we took it easy, enjoying the laid-back atmosphere of Leh. I bought a yak wool sweater in anticipation of our 5-day trek (it gets cold up here, particularly at night!). We also had lunch on a rooftop restaurant that provided almost a 360-degree view of Leh. The city is surrounded by mountains – on one side, you see an old palace and fort that dominate the hillside just above town, and on the other side, the stunning snow-capped peaks of the Stok Range. This area is a high altitude dessert, so the landscape is very stark in some ways, but also incredibly beautiful. A big bowl of thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup) was the perfect mountain lunch (not to mention soothing for my recovering tummy).

In the afternoon, we visited an organization called the Women’s Alliance, where we watched a film about development in Ladakh (the region of which Leh is the capital) and efforts to preserve the culture and traditional way of life. The movie was made almost 20 years ago, so it is interesting to experience today how these efforts have been carried out. Traditional Ladakhi life is very ecologically sustainable, and Ladakhi men and women are considered equals (unlike gender relations in many parts of India). This is really the first place we’ve been in India that has emphasized sustainable practices (for example, many places offer water bottle refills of filtered water, and really encourage people not to buy plastic bottles). Despite the pressures of modernization and development, it is clear the Ladakhis understand the value (both intangible and monetary) of maintaining their culture, even as they improve their education and health systems. For example, we set out tomorrow on a 5-day trek, during which we will stay in homestays rather than camping. We will be in a region that is accessible only by foot, with no telephones or internet. Homestays provide tourists the opportunity to experience Ladakhi life and get to know Ladakhi families, while also providing the Ladakhi families with income and also motivation to preserve their way of life and protect their environment (because it attracts visitors). We are really looking forward to the experience, and are trying very hard to be respectful of and genuinely interested in the culture. Some westerners we have seen here treat the area and the local people almost as if they are in a zoo or a museum. We saw several westerners with huge cameras taking pictures, without asking, of women washing their clothes in a stream.  It’s not hard to imagine how that feels from the perspective of those women – as if they are curiosities or quaint but backwards people, rather than human beings to be respected.

During our time in Leh, we’ve also spent time with the friends we made on the bus from Manali. The town is pretty small, so we have run into them many times, sometimes planned and sometimes not. One of the women, Adi, who is from Israel, is coming on the trek with us. The others we have met are from the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Britain, and they all seem like really interesting and intelligent people, with the same attitude towards travel in India as we have. It’s been fascinating to hear about their experiences on their travels throughout the country, as well as their perspectives on politics in their own countries and around the world. One thing we discussed is why we haven’t seen too many Americans during our time in India. Most of the westerners we’ve met have been from Britain, Canada, Israel, Australia, Korea, and other European countries, but not too many Americans. We have a few guesses as to why this is the case, but anyone out there have thoughts on the matter?

This afternoon we are headed to a town a few miles away to attend a celebration of the Dalai Lama’s 75th birthday. We’re not really sure what the celebration entails, but I am sure it will be a fun and interesting experience. Then tomorrow we set out on our trek and will be off the grid for a while!

A funny side note (Dante has a lot to write about our ride from Manali to Leh, so I’m helping out a little): All along the Manali-Leh road, there are signs imploring drivers to drive safely. It’s certainly a worthy message, as the road is very bumpy and narrow, so you would not want to drive carelessly. However, the signs sort of take on the tone of life advice, rather than just street signs. There are so many, but I’ll try to remember a few:

“Safety on the road means “safe tea” at home.”

“Peep peep don’t sleep.”

“Be gentle. Mind the curves.” (More innuendo than I would expect from street signs in India)

“Save driving is more horse sense than horse power.”

“Heaven, hell, or Mother Earth: Your Choice”

“A cat has nine lives, but not the one who drives.”

“Be Mr. Late; Better than Late Mr.”

“Don’t be a gama in the land of lama.”

“You may not be superstitious, but believe in traffic signs.”

And my 2 favorites (and by that I mean least favorites):

“Don’t gossip; Let him drive.”

“Darling, do not nag me, as I am driving. Instead, turn your head, and enjoy the nature charming.”

— Adding more on the Dalai Lama’s party —

Okay, so it’s many day’s later now, but we still haven’t talked about the party. It was basically a big picnic in a large open field. Families set up tents, were playing music (some of the teenagers were playing very loud american rap. oh well), and generally enjoying the afternoon. The site of the party also had a home where the Dalai Lama stays when he visits Leh. For the occasion, they opened up the house and we got to walk around inside. It had a nice collection of paintings and statues and many locals were walking around paying their respects.

On the way back our group (the friends that we made on the bus up to Leh) was trying to catch a bus, but it wasn’t coming. We were sitting there looking confused and a monk with a pickup truck asked us if we were going to Leh. We said we were, and he told us to hop in back. So, all 8 of us packed into the back of a small pickup truck and were driven by a monk the 5 Kilometers back to Leh. It was pretty fun… since we made it back alive :)

That night all of us went out to dinner and later in the evening watched the Netherlands beat Uruguay.

India, Days 17-18: Bus through Himalayas and Leh

A few days late, but now we have time to catch you up on our trip from Manali to Leh.

Day 17 started very early in the morning – 2 AM to be exact. There are a few different options to make the journey to the Himalayan town of Leh. In order of descending expense (and comfort) you can hire a 4WD jeep, you can take a minibus, or you can take the government bus. We opted for the middle option and hoped on a minibus at 2 AM to begin the 18 hour journey to Leh (the government bus would have taken about 25 hours of driving 32 hours of elapsed time). After a few stops around town to pick up our 8 other companions, we actually embarked on the journey around 3AM.

Surprisingly, Sarah and I both were able to sleep for about 2 hours at the beginning of the journey. This is surprising given the amount of bouncing around you are doing. Calling the path that cars take from Manali to Leh a “road” is a rather generous. I would say that it is more potholes, large rocks, eroded soil, with a little bit of asphalt ever hundred meters or so. They road is only open for about 3 months out of the year. The rest of the time it is buried in deep snow. Naturally, (especially at the beginning of the season which is right now) the road is in really bad shape and nearly impossible to maintain. So, we bounced our way up the first mountain pass which is called Rohtang.

We woke up just in time to watch the sunrise at the top of Rohtang pass. The driver took a quick break and we all got out to admire to amazing view over the Himalayas. It was truly breathtaking. Every directly you look, you see nothing but snowcapped peaks and deep valleys. Herds of goats dot the scenery as you look across the hillside. It was the first of many amazing views on this beautiful (but exhausting) journey.

Since the journey was 18 hours long, it is going to be impossible to describe each range or each mountain pass that we went though. I’ll pick two that stand out in my mind. About 2/3 of the way through the journey we reached a plateau that must have been at least 400 square miles. In contrast to the snowy peaks, the climate here was quite arid with sparse vegetation. It was almost desert like. Huge herds of goats, sheep, and horses, were calmly grazing the greenery usually tended by one or two shepherds. We found out later, that the job of shepherding is usually a shared responsibility among the Ladakhi (the local culture) people. Families combine their sheep and goats into one large herd and then the young men of each family take turns tending to the combined flock. It was quite a sight.

The other moment that stands out is final mountain pass that we went over. When we reached the top, we found a Tibetan shrine with a sign that read: “You are passing through the second highest pass of the world. Unbelievable is not it? Altitude: 17,582 ft.” Unbelievable indeed. We had an amazing panoramic view of more ranges, frozen lakes, and deep valleys. There were patches of wonderfully white snow dotted along the ridge. It was amazing. However, after about 5 minutes of walking around, I soon developed a bit of headache. Time to head down – the air is quite thin up there.

By the end of the trip everyone on the bus was exhausted. A British girl on the bus started getting car sick and I don’t blame her. We needed to make a few stops for her. After 18 hours, we finally pulled into Leh, got off the bus and made it to our hotel. An exhausting, but truly spectacular day. One which I think neither of us will ever forget.

The next day was pretty low key. Unfortunately, Sarah was not feeling well and spent most of the day in bed. I ventured out around noon to meet up with an Israeli girl we met on the bus who was interested in trekking with us. Her name is Adi and she is quite an experienced trekker having been on trips in New Zealand, Nepal, Peru, and Chile. We grabbed some some food and started exploring the trekking options offered by the many agencies here. We settled on a 5-day homestay trek that fits exactly what we are looking for. We start on Wednesday and are really looking forward to it.

Later that night we met up with some of the others who we met on the bus. There is a couple from The Netherlands, a couple from England, Adi from Israel, and a girl from Denmark. They are all really nice and we enjoyed hanging out and watching a few of the World Cup match recaps that we missed (because we were on an 18 hour bus ride).

I hope that gives a little flavor of the Himalayas. I apologize for not posting pictures, perhaps we’ll get around to it soon. Please leave us a comment and let us know how you are. We really enjoy hearing from you all!

India, Day 16: Manali Hiking

I know there is more to share than just day 16, and a lot has happened since then, but unfortunately I’ll have to write about the rest of the cool things that have been happening at a later time since i’m a little pressed for time at the moment. Suffice to say, we are now in Leh, Ladakh and i’m writing this post from 11,000 feet deep in the Himalayas – more to come later :)

So, day 16. Back in Manali we started our day with a nice cappuccino from a popular backpacker/climber cafe in old Manali. Manali has a big climber/hiker/hippie vibe to and and we might have been the only people in the place without dreadlocks or tattoos. It was a pretty good cappuccino though.

From there we started a hike to Solang Nulla, which (according to the signs at least) is about 11km from Manali and located deep in the valley. Just as we were starting, we made a new friend, a surprising nice street dog who apparently decided that we were interesting enough to follow around. For a little while at least he acted as our guide along the trails of this valley. About 20-30 mins in, the was a fork in the road. The dog went one way, but we saw another hiker go the other way. We paused for a minute and decided to follow the hiker — that was a mistake. We ended up in this dry riverbed rather than a trail and when we turned around, or friend the dog was looking at us like: “I told you so”. So, we turned around and followed the dog this time :)

The path that we were on were quite pretty and had a great view of the entire valley. After a while, we came up on these big apple orchards that covered the hill. Ultimately, the trail led us down to a road that (at least theoretically) led to Solang Nulla. As we walked along the road we passed men and women working in the orchards, tilling the fields and working outside their homes. It was all a very picturesque rural scene. At one point an older couple called us over to an apricot tree that they were sitting under. They offered us some apricots and we gladly indulged. They were good, but in retrospect, it might not have been the best choice…

We continued on our trek to Solang Nulla and were starting to get pretty tired. We knew the general direction, but there are very rarely road signs in India (or at least ones that are helpful), so were basically just picked the direction where we thought we had to go and went there.

Just as we were approaching our destination, we made another doggy friend. He followed us along the road for a while until we came to a bridge over a ravine. Solang Nulla (or what we thought was Solang Nulla) was just over the bridge. It turns out the street dogs in India are quite prescient. When we got to the town, we found a beautiful little spot on top of a hill. It had a great view, and some very colorful homes, but we quickly realized that this was not Solang Nulla. There was no bus station, no shops, no anything really.

At this point we are pretty exhausted and desperate to get some food and drink. We make our way back down the mountain and try to find a bus/taxi/anything to get us back to Manali. We asked a shopkeeper about a taxi and he said in slightly broken english “no taxi here. wait 30 mins for bus”. So we waited, and waited, and then finally a bus came… but it didn’t stop. Perhaps it wasn’t the right bus, i have no idea. Anyway, luckily a few minutes later another bus came and did stop and we were able to make it back to Manali and mere 30 minutes of being tossed around with in a bus packed to the roof with people.

All in all, it was a very fun – but exhausting – day. We were happy to make it back to the hotel, take a shower and then grab a pizza at a place called “Pizza Olive.” This place actually had basil (as opposed to the last “italian” place we went to that gave us lettuce), and they even had a brick oven. Pretty sweet!

Okay, that’s all i have time for now. We’ll have to give a more complete update of or journey through the Himalayas later (hint: it involves a very long bus ride).

India, Days 14-15: Bus, Manali

The past two days have been somewhat uneventful, which has been a good thing overall! Yesterday we took a 11-hour bus ride from McLeod Ganj to Manali, which went much better than our first bus ride. The outside temperature was relatively cool for the entire ride, which made a huge difference in how we felt. Also, no barfing this time! Now that’s what I call a successful bus ride! I did have to hold my bladder for about 3 hours longer than I wanted to, because my only option at one rest stop was to squat over the side of a ledge with dozens of other buses and men eating at snack stands only a few feet away. I probably don’t even need to say this, but there was no way that was happening. I’m not too picky, so I don’t mind being outside, but having a large audience is not really up my alley. And that’s all I have to say about that, I guess. We felt much better at the end of this bus ride than we did at the end of our last ride, but we still fell asleep soon after dinner and slept for about 11 hours!

Here in Manali, we are staying in a cute hotel/guest house with a beautiful garden (actually in Old Manali, about 2km outside of the main town). Manali is very green and lush, and it is really the first place we’ve seen gardens with flowers. The snow-capped mountains are also much closer than they were in McLeod Ganj, which makes for stunning scenery. Today we did a little souvenir shopping, made plans for a yoga class and renting mountain bikes tomorrow, reserved seats in a van to Leh on Saturday, and enjoyed a little time relaxing in the guest house garden.

And that’s about it for now! Oh, and happy July everyone!

India, Days 11-13: McLeod Ganj

We have now spent 3 full days in McLeod Ganj, and it is quite an interesting place. I agree with my friend Marjie, who said she saw more white dudes with dreadlocks in Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj than she had ever seen in her life. There are definitely a lot of westerners here, doing yoga, meditating, drinking coffee (this is one of the few places in India you can actually find good espresso drinks), calling each other “brother” and “sister,” and smoking who knows what. While we’re not exactly part of that crowd, we’ve enjoyed our time here a lot. The scenery is beautiful, with green mountains just above, and even higher snow-capped peaks in the distance. There are lots of nice cafes and restaurants that are peaceful places to sit with a book and enjoy relaxing.

Our first day pretty much consisted of trying to go to places that ended up being closed. In our wanderings, we did stumble upon a beautiful Buddhist temple in the woods, with hundreds of prayers flags hung in the surrounding trees. We did tour the Dalai Lama’s home complex, where his private residence and two temples are located. There was also a moving museum detailing the history of Tibet and the Chinese occupation. For dinner, we ate in an Italian restaurant that had been recommended by some Canadians we met in Amritsar. They told us it was fantastic, which in our opinion after eating there brings into question the quality of Italian food available in Canada. Oh well. And they pronounced pasta with the “a” sound that we would use in “rag”, so “paaaasta,” which we thought was pretty funny. They were very nice, though. :)

Our second day, we hiked for several miles outside of town through towering pine forests, through two smaller towns and then up to small village with just a couple of cafes and hotels. From there, we followed a trail into the woods, which a sign said would take us to the waterfall cafe. After about 30-40 minutes hiking along this trail (which was very beautiful, but seemingly leading to the middle of nowhere), we were beginning to think it was all a ruse. We were convinced that at some point we’d reach a sign that just said, “Haha, joke’s on you!” Yet we continued following the white arrows that were painted on rocks every few hundred feet, and we did finally reach a little cafe that was situated above a small, but beautiful, waterfall. The waterfall pooled in several places, resulting in beautiful swimming holes with absolutely clear, and absolutely freezing, glacial runoff. We stuck our feet in, but that was as far as we went.

That afternoon, we started a two-day cooking class being offered by a local woman named Nisha who also runs a restaurant. We watched her and took notes on the recipes, ingredients, etc, and the end result was several wonderfully delicious dishes that we had for dinner: aloo gobhi, malai kofta, palak paneer, dahl makhani, and chapatti. This afternoon we go back for one more session to learn how to make samosas, kheer (rice pudding) and other deliciousness. If we can make the dishes even half as good at home as this woman made them, we will be very happy! Let us know if you’d like to be our guinea pigs. It will be interesting to see if we can recreate the recipes, though, given that her “teaspoon” was closer to what we’d call a tablespoon, and she used a “serving spoon” to measure the vegetable oil that she cooked with.

This morning we bought a beautiful Tibetan rug from a co-op that employees local women who are Tibetan refugees, and we actually got to watch the women in action in their workshop. The rug is being shipped back to the states, so we hope it makes it safely!

The biggest event of the day, even though it was very short, was seeing the Dalai Lama! His private residence is here in McLeod Ganj, and he was returning home from a trip to Japan. He passed in a motorcade made up of several cars, which were going fairly fast (probably for security reasons). However, we did catch a glimpse of him as he passed, which was pretty awesome! It was also neat just to sit and wait for him with several old Tibetan women and men who were praying as they waited.

Tomorrow we head farther up into the mountains to Manali, and then on to Leh (at 11,000 feet) from there. It means a few more long bus rides, so I’m sure we’ll have more funny stories to tell in a few days!

India, Days 9-10: Amritsar, McLeod Ganj

Okay, we’ve fallen sufficiently behind in blogging that we’re splitting up the work this time, and now I get to post.

We woke up the morning of the 25th feeling much better after our exhausting bus ride to amritsar (we slept like 11 hours – which is a lot for me!). We caught an auto-rickshaw to the golden temple and joined the crowd of sikh pilgrims making their way to the golden temple. As is the sikh tradition, i needed to buy a cloth to cover my head – a sort of makeshift turban. With our wardrobe in tact, we deposited our shoes at a check, and entered the golden temple.

The golden temple is truly breathtaking. We obviously haven’t been to the Taj Mahal yet, but i’m surprised at how (relatively) little people talk about the golden temple. It truly glistens in the sunlight and this effect is magnified by the reflecting pool that surrounds it. We spent about an hour just walking around the reflecting pool (and taking pictures with sikh children who were thought we were pretty funny looking).

Next, we took advantage of the free kitchen at the golden temple. The kitchen servers between 20k – 60k pilgrims per day! We joined the crowd and had an nice brunch of dal and roti. Nothing spectacular, but a great experience being among so many sikhs (we were the only white people in the room – and it was a big room).

After our morning visit to the temple we rested in the afternoon before we joined an evening tour offered by our hotel. The main attraction was a trip to the pakistan border to witness the border closing ceremony. We arrived pretty early, and therefore got to witness the “pre-game” festivities. I say pre-game, because honestly, that is what it was like. there were big grandstands on either side of the border indians on one side and pakistanis (separated in male and female sections) on the other side. Before the event, the were playing music and, spontaneously, a bunch of indian women started dancing in the street. After a slight hesitation, sarah decided to join in the fun and danced to Jai Ho! (i guess it is as popular in india as it was at home :) ).

The ceremony itself was pretty funny. We watched the indian equivalent of the british beefeaters wear ridiculous hats and do silly walks back and forth. In the end, they lowered the flag, the border was closed and we headed home. One the way back, we made a night visit to the golden temple. It is just as amazing at night. we brought the tripod and have (what i hope are) some really nice pictures. Once we are back, we’ll be able to post them and share.

This morning we woke up and took a car to McLeod Ganj (the home of the dalai lama and the tibetan government in exile). We opted for the car this time rather than the bus given my last bus experience :/. The ride in the car afforded us an opportunity to take some more pictures of the country side. It really is interesting the contrasts you see in india. It’s hard to describe other than saying that the the last two millennia of human history are all readily visible on a short drive through country.

We arrived in McLeod Ganj about 2 hours ago and plan to spend 4-5 days here. We hope to take some cooking classes, and perhaps we’ll be able to share some of our skills with you!