A Travellerspoint blog

India by train

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Sitting on a 3AC bench in the 12996 Bandra Express from Udaipur to Mumbai (formerly know as Bombay), I'm watching India flow by. Seen through a train window, India is a dirty place. In cities the shanty towns tend to be built next to train lines. A woman, doing puja at a miniscule shrine at a corner, dirty childreen playing cricket in streets that look more like dumps. That is, in their freetime. At other time they are busy going through the dustbins, begging, trying to convince me, that my flip flops are in need of their shoe shine service.
In the countryside (which is uniformly flat around here), in between dry fields, you can see a solitary hut from time to time. After a while a farmer with a pick, a guy releasing himself in a trench. And cows (well, there seem to be more cows in the city streets than in the countryside...).
Inside the train the air is cool, on the verge of being cold: we're travelling in the cheapest of the AC sleeper classes (3AC, for some pics of diefferent train classes and a comprehensive beginners guide for train travel in India visit www.seat61.com/India). We share our compartment with an elder couple and their grandchild (I assume) and a varying portion of a wedding party on their way home to Goa. The two elder men are nice examples for two stereotypic Indians. The first is heavy set, with a big white moustache and coloured, orange red hair, reminding of an orang utan. He is noisy, taking up a lot of place, seeming totally inconsiderate of the people surrounding him. He seems to emit a certain agressiveness: Whenever he speaks, he makes sure to be heard. Every sentence sounding like an accusation or complaint. But then again, that might only be my total lack of understanding of his language. Just a few minutes ago, seeing me pointing on a train next to us in the station, he smilingly explains: "Local train, Surat. Local", before messing up his granddaughters hair.
The other elder man is thin, ever smiling and nearly sittng on my lap right now. He has some words of english and is happy to try and chat away. Surround by about a million family members running up and down the aisle, he invites everyone to sit with us, as soon as a few centimeters of bench are free. This Indian family travels in style and excellently equipped. For breakfast about 5 of them walked down the aisle, each with a box full of something to eat, handing out rotis and dosa, curries and pickles, idlies with coconut chutney, ... The only thing they are missing is tea, but that is no problems thanks to the chai wallahs walking up and down the train and selling milkey spicey massala chai for 5 rupees (7cent) a cup. Right now one of the younger men gave me a sweet to try. A sticky green triangle, tasting of rese water and mint, filled with honey and nuts. Nice. And VERY sweet.
And in this mood our 16 hour trip swings by. The nice thing is that so far every train ride was a different experience. From a quiet and uneventful night in a two bed private (with a door!) first class trip to Varanasi, an interesting trip from there to Agra, sharing our compartment with a cultivated middle class couple, who seemed slightly embarassed, whenever Indian poverty, dirt or general train travel chaos appeared in our vicinity, to this very entertaining if slightly tiring trip to our final Indian destination, Mumbai.

Gorakhpur

Just a short stopover on our trip to Varanasi. We didnt see anything but the bus- and train stations.
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Varanasi

One of the holiest cities in India, people from all over the country come here to die or at least be cremated. A funeral pyre on the ghats of the Ganges consumes about 200kg of wood, costing, depending on the quality of the wood, around €400 (and thats only for the wood...) so many people opt for the cheaper "electric" cremation in a crematory next to the river.
We went on a 6am river cruise to watch Varanasi waking up, with people taking their morning baths just a few metres from the funeral pyres.

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Agra

Not much to see here. Oh yes there was one thing, the Taj Mahal!
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Rajastan

We where really looking forward to visting Rajastan with it's colourful cities and deserts. But the weather changed our plans: With Temperatures of up to 46° in Jaipur we cancelled our trip to Jaisalmer, where it was around 49° at that time.
So we only went to Udaipur instead, beautfully situated next to a lake, allegedly the most romantic city of India (and the place where Octopussy was shot!).

Jaipur
The main sights here are the palace of the winds...
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...Amber Fort...
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...and the world famous polo player (he won the world cup with India in 1933) and last Maharajah of Jaipur, Sawai Man Singh II:
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Udaipur
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Mumbai

South Mumbai (the old part of the city) is quite different to anything else we saw in India. No Tuktuks (aka, Autos or Threewheelers) here, nearly no beggars, clean(ish) streets with sidewalks(!!) and lots of Victorian buildings the British left behind.

Victoria Terminus (or "VT", nowadays know as Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus), Mumbais main train station
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The Indian Gate, facing Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where the 2008 terrorist attacks took place
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And, well, Mumbai Skyline, as seen from Haji Ali Mosque
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And after having seen the newest Bollywood blockbuster "Ready" (in Hindi, well it was fun anyways...:)) we are now looking forward to seeing Sri Lanka!

Posted by MyriandKodi 03:02 Archived in India Comments (1)

Bye bye Nepal

Hello India!

sunny 38 °C
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After four wonderful weeks we left Nepal and arrived at Varanasi, the holiest city of India. And probably one of the hottest.
The last two days and nights we spent about 14 hours in travelling in niceeee "local" buses, 8h in a first class sleeper train (First class? "If there is no AC in your class name, there's no AC in your compartement...") and a night in the dorm of a Korean monastery (well, no AC here, either).
And believe it or not, all of these where rather nice experiences:-). The people in the buses where friendly and helpful, the landscape VERY diverse and beautiful and who needs AC if you can turn on the ceiling fans full blast!

Well, seeing that we didnt post anything since returning from Mt Everest it seems to be time for a little wrap up (not too much happend anyways, but thats what we had hoped for, after the hard weeks in the mountains).

Boudha

Originally we had planned to stay in Boudha for only one night, but the peaceful atmosphere, nice coffee places and a bandh (general strike) kept us for a few more days. We spent them lazing about, having tea with Dani (of www.responsibletreks.com, a huge thanks again for a great trekking experience, lots of tips on what to do in Boudha and, well, all the tea!) and doing small walks to the nice monasteries out of Boudha. After three days of this, the bandh was called off and we could board our bus to Pokhara. As the roads were rather empty and we were travelling on Nepals biggest highway, it only took us about 7h for the 200km...
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Pokhara

Situated by beautiful Fewa Lake, Pokhara is the starting point for the Annapurna Circuit (Nah thanks, no more trekking for us...), far less busy than Kathmandu and a great place to hang out and do not too much (just what we asked for!).
The first two nights we spent in a guesthouse in the busier (and very touristy) center of the Lakeside strip, then we moved to a much nicer and cheaper place in the north of the strip, with a wonderful view of the lake.
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In Pokhara we continued our lazy relaxing scheme. Hanging around at the lakeside, short walks (nothing longer than 4 hours...). On a very late saturday evening (kickoff was after midnight) we reconnected with Europe by watching the CL final. With many locals, Ron from Canada and a few other tourists on a big screen in a nightclub by the lake. Other highlights included a visit to the bat cave (we dont know how we managed to squeeze out of the tiny exit, see pics below), a one day excursion with a rented scooter and a visit to the world peace pagoda.
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After about a week of relaxation we decided it was time to move on and got on a bus towards the Indian border, with a one night stopover at the Buddhas birthplace, Lumbini.

Lumbini

About 2500 years ago (the different dates we saw lay somewhere between 350 and 650BC) Maya Devi, an indian queen, gave birth to one of the worlds most influential men: Siddhartha Gautama, nowadays simply called The Buddha. Around 1900 british archeologists have rediscovered the place where this happened: Lumbini, in southern Nepal, close to the Indian border.
Since the 1990s a lot of countries have started building temples and monasteries there, as they're still at it (and probably will be for the next 10-100 years), Lumbinin looks like the biggest holy construction site in the world. The nice thing is the surrounding, as the comlex really is a 1 by 3 mile large park.
We had the good luck to meet some nice Koreans on the bus to Lumbini, who invited us to stay with them in the Korean monastery. While nobody really seemed to speak english at that holy place, we still managed to end up in a dorm only for the two of us. And so we spent a night in very simple and quiet surroundings. Without gambling, smoking and dancing, which seem to be forbidden in Buddhist moasteries. Well, that was ok for us.
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Quite to our suprise we found, nested between the Chinese and Japanese monasteries, a huge German monastery, still on works.
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The trip to Varanasi was quite tiring. We travelled by bus to Bairawa, took a jeep to Sunauli ("A dusty hell hole.", Lonely Planet Nepal), where we crossed the border on foot and took a bus to Gorakhpur, from where the night train took us to Varanasi!
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So, here we are now, enjoying the AC in our room, getting ready to see some burning corpses later today!

Posted by MyriandKodi 03:47 Archived in Nepal Comments (4)

Bistari Bistari!

Climbing Mt. Everest

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Where to start... Maybe at Lukla airport?
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After two weeks of hard work we're back from our trek to Everest Base Camp. Two weeks of walking 6 hours per day on average (on one of our 'rest days' an easy climb from 4400m to 5050m and back...), impressing views of the Himalayan (glaciers and peeks above 7'000m in abundance), no shower, sometimes no water to wash your hands, impressive Buddhist Monasteries, lots of yak, Sherpa and Rai (the happy looking inhabitants of this rough and beautiful land) and one of the greatest experiences of our life!
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The hardest day was the day we climbed up to the highest point of our trek, Kala Pathar Peak, at 5550m. We started at 4am, climbed for two hours through the fog and enjoyed a sunrise over Mt. Everest. Then we went back for breakfast and another 7 hours of hard but nice walking through all types of weathers from snow to sunshine.
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We met a lot of people on the way, one Puerto Rican, some Europeans, many Canadians and Aussies and lots of Americans. Many people get altitude sickness on their way up (some get over it, some turn back and some have to be rescued by helicopter, the only way to get down quickly). Happily we both where OK, except for a light headache, which bugged Andreas on a few days.
And then there where the locals, Sherpa and Rai, many of them carrying huge weights on their back. Often 60-80kg, we even saw one porter, burdened with 84 liters of water, walking slowly up the mountain...
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And then, at the Base Camp, very much to Myriams delight, we had a chat with the world famous bask climber Edurne Pasaban (the first woman to climb all eight-thousanders), getting ready to climb Mt Everest the next day!
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The great thing about base camp was the friendly atmosphere: looking for German Climbers we found a Nepali, who invited us for tea ("or rather a coke?") and a nice chat about life at the camp.
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The dark side of Mt Everest showed itself, when we heard about the death of a Japanese climber and his Sherpa companion. On their way back from the peak an avalanche had prevented them to get down to base camp and they both died of altitude sickness.

Bistari, Bistari...

...means "slowly, slowly". This was our motto and the really great thing about this trek. To avoid altitude sickness you have to take your time climbing. Due to the hight, you (well, we) can only climb very slowly, taking one small step after the other, in a nearly meditative way. You have to stop every now and then to catch your breath. And take in the breathtaking views.
It was a wonderful experience and our first success at really disconnecting from the rest of the world.
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PSssssssssss... If you like to see more pictures (with descriptions) click here: Flickr

Posted by MyriandKodi 20:58 Archived in Nepal Comments (6)

Himalaya calling

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At the moment we are in Boudha, close to Kathmandu. This is a place where lots of Tibetan refugees live. Therefore there is plenty of Budhist Monasteries and Monks. The latter are currently walking rounds and rounds around the giant stupa a few meters from our guest house.
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And then, finally, we are heading to the highest mountain in the world. We are off to Mt. Everest!
Tomorrow we take a flight to Lukla, supposedly the most dangerous airport in the world (Jose, you can track that flight: tomorrow 6:30am, KTM-LUA, air nevercomeback...). We'll be trekking for a total of two weeks to Mount Everest (well, actually not the peak, only to the base camp at approx 5'500m), waking up 6am, starting the trekking at 7 until approximately 3pm, when we call it a day.
Looking forward to: Great views, incredible landscape, monasteries, blisters and hopefully no altitude sickness!
So dont worry if you don't hear from us in the next weeks. No reception, no internet, no electricity. No blog :-). We promise to tell you all about it when we're back!

Posted by MyriandKodi 07:54 Archived in Nepal Comments (4)

Kathmandu

Tranquility and a living Goddess

semi-overcast 30 °C
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We arrived the day before yesterday, on Baishak 21st of 2068, in Kathmandu. Yes, 2068! The Nepalese obviously live in a different age. We first stumbled over this when, visting a museum, we saw very old black and white pictures dated from the year 2007 and it took us while to realize why...
So Nepal is 50 years ahead. Well, it feels more like beeing 50 years back in time. Then again, there is free wifi everywhere, so maybe we are in 2068!
The people here all seem very happy and relaxed (as long as they are not riding their motor bikes). Lots of smiles and laughter everywhere, it's easy to start a little chat anytime, anywhere. People seem very content with their life, even if they don't own an iphone.
The last two days we spent exploring Kathmandu. We saw some cows (holy), lots of temples (more holy) and even a living Goddess!!! Kumari Devi is a 4 year old (at present) girl, possessed by a Goddess. She lives sheltered from life in a big mansion in Kathmandu, appearing on her balcony from time to time, bringing her blessings to the mortals. She is so holy, she cant even touch the street with her feet, so whenever she leaves her house she is carried around in a palanquin. When she has her first period, she becomes mortal again and a new Kumari Devi is selected.
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Posted by MyriandKodi 11:12 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

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