Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Naggar, Mateura and Mcleod Ganj

View from the bus to Manali:
I don't remember how long ago it was now, maybe a week or so, we left Vashisht and went by taxi to Naggar. It's a village which a 2 km up from the main road along the Kullu valley ( a little bit south of Vashisht)

It was a nice place, but we couldn't find a room that we really liked, so we only stayed there for 2 nights. One site of interest in Naggar is the castle, which used to sit on top of one of the surrounding hills, but was moved stone by across the valley by the villagers some hundreds of years ago (sorry,forgot the details). Some of the views were really incredible from parts of the town though, and so we enjoyed that of course. I also got an Ayurvedic massage, which was both relaxing and necessary (Ayurveda - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda). The next morning, we left all of our stuff with a travel agent, and went fishing along one of the tributaries of the Beas River. We spent like 4 hours fishing, but didn't catch anything! This made us feel pretty pathetic, but we still had fun hanging around the river and trying to catch the trout. I was also a little upset because I was hoping to catch my dinner. A taxi picked us up later in the afternoon (with our stuff) and took us to Jari, small town along the Parvati Valley.
We didn't actually stay in Jari though, we hiked up from the road for about 20 minutes until we came to the village of Mateura, which was much more quiet. The population couldn't have been more than 100 people. We got a room at a small guesthouse, which seemed to be the nicest in the village. None of the rooms here had an attached bathroom though, so we had to settle for a common one (a bathroom has been one of our musts for rooms, when it's possible). It was perfectly clean though, because we were sharing it with the family who owned the guesthouse, so they kept it up for themselves. The family had 5 cows, so we were living next to them as much as we were the people. The walking trail that we took to get to Mateura continued on the other end of town and a couple of the days we went for hikes. The second hike we did was to a village on the other side of a valley from Mateura. As soon as we got into the village, a man approached us and offered a cup of chai. So we went with him, back to his house and had some tea and talked for a little while. He was a farmer and his main crop,like so many in the state, is apples. While we've been walking on these trails for the last couple of weeks, you often see people with big baskets on their backs, taking some kind of crop from the hills to where it needs to go. So, recently these baskets were always full of wheat. In August, they are full of apples. The man (his name was Krishna) also told us what he pays these people to carry his apples. 1 Rupee for kilo. 37 Rupees is one Canadian dollar. A couple of the days we also had to go into Kasol to run a couple of errands (only internet in the valley). It was a boring place, full of Israeli's and not much else. There was more Hebrew than Hindi to be found in the town, and it was easier to get a felafel than some Indian food. But it's location was still beautiful, so it wasn't a complete waste.

We stayed in Mateura for 4 nights. We then took a night bus to Mcleod Ganj (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharamsala) , close to where we are staying now. Mcleod Ganj is the home of the Tibetan Government in Exile and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. As well being the home to the big DL, Mcleod Ganj is also home to many Tibetan exiles and the town is said to be more Tibetan than Indian (we've eaten momo's off the street a couple times already, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momo_%28food%29). You also see many Tibetan Buddhist monks walking around town in their red robes. Typical of us lately, we are actually staying in a guesthouse, 45 minutes uphill from Mcleod in a village called Dharamkot. The view is great, we are actually in the clouds most of the time, so there is plenty of moisture here. It's fun having to walk to get anywhere, although a little tiring at times. But living in these villages and walking everywhere is a good warm up for our trek, which is coming up in a couple weeks.
We purchased our flight tickets from Delhi to Kathmandu today, so on June 30th, we leave India for Nepal.
Funny observation about myself in India: Whenever we walk by other white people on the street, I find myself unsure if I should say hello (because here, we are brothers!) or just keep walking like they were like anyone else. I think the other whities have these mental arguments as well, because whenever I end up nodding hello, they have the same funny look on their face.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Shimla and Vashisht

We took an overnight taxi ride from Rishikesh to Shimla on Sunday night and arrived pretty early in the morning. The ride wasn't the most comfortable, so for the first few hours in Shimla we just slept to catch up. Shimla was really crowded with Indian tourists, there for partly the same reason as us, to get away from the heat of the plains. There wasn't a lot to see, but it was still nice for a couple days. The town used to be the summer capital if India, when it was still run by the British, until 1947. So because of this some of the buildings, particularly the town hall, are built in colonial British style. There is also the second old church in India. And a monkey temple, Jakhu Temple. We walked up a steep path for 30 minutes, seeing some monkey's on the way up and of course at the top where the temple is. The highlight was when of the first monkey's we passed started to run up to Tara, she had been holding a bag with some lychee in it. She got really scared though, and quickly through the bag off to the side sop the monkey would leave her alone. Outside of that we had no issues with them, it was fun to watch them run around the temple. The Indians would give them some food so they were quite close to us for most of the time, even though they scared us a little bit. There are signs saying to keep your glasses in your hands, but this was a little difficult for us, since we're both a little blind. Basically whenever a monkey came close to me I would reach for my glasses for fear of losing them. But like a true warrior I would keep them on to watch how cute the monkey's were.
That night we took a night bus north to Manali, almost at the end of the Kullu Valley, at an elevation of over 2000 m. The peaks of the Himalaya are around us, just beyond the hills of the valley. There is also the Beas river which flows through the town and is good for rafting (although we aren't going rafting here). We are staying in a nearby village named Vashisht, which is nicer because it's much quieter and less like a town. Vashisht is based around the hot springs which flow here, and there is a public bath at the end of the main road. However, it's still a little crowded and noisy for us, so we are heading in a couple of days to an even smaller village, where we plan on keeping this relaxation thing going, but mixing in a little fishing as well.
One interesting thing which we weren't expecting is the large numbers of Israeli's that are staying here and in the surrounding towns. Almost all of the tourists that are here now with us are Israeli, many of the signs have Hebrew writing on them, and all of the restaurants serve Israeli food (along with the other tourist food like Italian and 'Continental').
Thankfully the weather is in the 20's here and we are very comfortable and have our appetites back.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

sorry for going AWOL, we are great!

really sorry for the big gap between posts. At first my reason was slow internet and too much relaxation to have time to write these things. then it was just slow internet and laziness towards having to write such a long post to update everyone.

I am not exactly sure where I left off, but I think it was after our first full day in Mumbai. On the second day, we didn't do as much sightseeing, because we saw most of it on the first day. We walked around a really busy market area for a while, bought our train tickets to go south to Goa and went to see a Bollywood movie. It was in Hindi of course and we didn't understand most of the dialogue (the odd line was in English, making the movie actually in Hinglish). But if you know anything about Bollywood, almost every movie has the exact same plot: boy meets girl, then there is some troubles and in the end they end up happy and in love, so we thought it would be fine. We got the gist of the movie, but it was a little boring at times not knowing what was being said. and weird when everyone would laugh at a joke and we had that same blank look on our faces.
The next morning we took an 11-hour train ride south to Goa. There was no A/C either, we thought we would see if we could survive in the heat for that long (it was about 35 degrees). Plus it was a third of the price. It was definitely a hot ride, pretty tough at times, but it wasn't the worst thing in the world. One thing we really didn't like about it was how readily the Indians throw their trash out the window. No one even thinks twice about it. I cried myself to sleep that night...
When we finally arrived, we took a taxi the rest of the way to the town we wanted to stay in, a small coastal village called Arambol. We didn't make any plans as far as how long we were going to stay there because we didn't know what to expect. But we really loved it and ended up staying there for 8 nights. We stayed in a nice guesthouse by the main 'road' and spent each day sleeping in, eating, reading, swimming in the Arabian sea and... that's about it. A couple of the days we walked about 30 minutes into the jungle and hung out underneath a huge banyan tree. It really was paradise. We miss it now that we aren't there anymore and we were sad to leave it.
After Goa, we took a flight north to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. It was about 45 degrees there, probably hotter. And it's a pretty large city, so it's got plenty of cars and of course lots of pollution in the air. Jaipur is known as the Pink City, because in the old part of town most of the buildings and the two palaces are painted pink. It was okay, but to be honest we were a little underwhelmed with the place. Plus, that kind of heat makes any place hard to enjoy. That being said we did have a good experience there. While walking around the bazaar area in the old town, one of the shopkeepers started to talk to us (he sold kitchenware so there was no ulterior motive). He really wanted to take us to see his guru. We weren't really sure what to think, but he assured us it wouldn't cost anything, and he seemed like a nice guy, so we said sure and gave it a shot. We took an autorickshaw (three-wheeled motorised buggy) together to see his guru. We were both skeptical and sort of thought we would end up paying a bunch of money for the meeting, but it didn't turn out that way at all. We spoke to the guru for about 30 minutes and he told us about our energies and chakras. He also made some incredibly insightful and accurate comments about us, our families, and our lives. We were pleasantly surprised by this and actually enjoyed the experience. I don't really know what else to type out about it, so if you want to know more, email us or just ask when we're home and we can articulate a little better.
We didn't do much the next day, on account of the heat, outside of going to run a couple errands and going to meet Krishna (the shopkeeper) for a beer. He was a really nice guy, so it was nice talking to him again.
AND we were in the newspaper! On our first day in Jaipur, two guys approached us, saying they were reporters and asked a couple of questions about what we thought of the city. They then took our pictures and said we would be in the paper the next day. When I asked for the paper the next day at our hotel, I was told it was a Hindi paper, and because I wasn't going to understand any of it, I said not to bother. But when we met Krishna later on, he brought us a copy of it. So we have a little article with us now (in Hindi) with our pictures next to it from one of the Jaipur papers.

After Jaipur, we took the bus to Agra. it had A/C, but it was hard to tell because we were still hot and sweaty. But when we got off, the heat hit us like a punch in the face. We were already sick of the heat and had changed our plans to get into the Himalaya as fast as possible, so Agra was going to be just a day trip. We stored our bags at the train station and hired a rickshaw driver to give us a 4 hour tour of the city, most of which was spent at the Taj Mahal. It was really beautiful. It's one of those things that when you see it, you end up taking over 10 or 15 pictures, and most of them look almost the same, but that's just the way it goes with things like this. Also being in a place where so many Indians are at once, with cameras, made us very popular. We got tons of long stares (apparently no one told them it's rude) and some picture requests. It's funny to think that some family will be going through their pictures from the Agra vacation, and we will be a part of their memories.
We boarded a train that night for Delhi, where we had no intention of staying for longer than the night. We got to a hotel, slept, and then the next morning took a bus to Haridwar, a Hindu pilgrimage sight on the banks of the holy Ganges river. Unfortunately AC buses weren't available at the time we got to the station, so that was a really hard 7 hour trip (over 45 degrees). We couldn't drink enough water and were really gross by the end of it. We thought that it was going to be cooler in Haridwar than it actually was, and also that it wasn't going to be very commercial due to the religious significance. But it wasn't very exciting for us and it was very hot still, so we got out of there pretty fast. It was really busy though as these months are a part of the Hindu pilgrimage 'season', and seeing that many people at the ghats (steps into the river) bathing in the waters was a cool thing to see.
Right now we are in a town called Rishikesh, which is the self-proclaimed yoga capital of the world. There are a great number of temples and ashrams here, so there is lots of yoga and meditation going on around town. I think we're going to try one of the yoga classes tomorrow morning, but we aren't staying here long either... still not cool enough. Our next stop will be Shimla, in the state of Himichal Pradesh, which is basically all mountains. It sounds like an incredible place... and a much cooler place... so we are very excited to get there.