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Travelling the world, hopefully with a cuppa in hand

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We're in Nepal!

I still can’t believe that we’re in Kathmandu!!  How incredible is that!

We arrived late last night with no hotel booked after a grueling two day journey from Varanasi in North India. We thought we’d make better time, but by the time we got to the border it was already dark, and so we made the decision to sit out the night on the Nepalese side of the border in a hotel.  The next day it was another longer-than-expected 11 hour bus to Kathmandu due in part to broken down trucks on the hair-raising, mountain-edge, single-carriageway roads that lead to Kathmandu.  The bus stopped in a few places to allow us time for lunch and refreshments but always a bit of a guessing game as to how long we were stopping for.

We still didn’t have a guide book for Nepal so ended up wandering around about 10 hotels which were either full or noisy or not that clean or too expensive, until we found an ok one set back from the street.  The two days riding on buses on dusty roads hasn’t done either of us much good health wise and unfortunately Kathmandu itself is known for its air pollution so we’ve been resting up today, and plan to stay only long enough to arrange our Tibet trip and visas for a few weeks time and Nepal trek and equipment (Probably to the quieter Gokyo lakes near Everest, or else to the popular Annapurna sanctuary).

Next weekend is also a festival here for Lakshmi goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Tihar which is the festival of light (called Diwali in India) and also when sisters wish long life to their brothers (Laurina and Karin please note!) so we could stay around to see that or try and see it in Pokhara, another city that loads of people we’ve met have recommended to us.

We’re both really excited to be here – and we have around five weeks here split with Tibet till our flight out to Bangkok on the 9th December just after my birthday.


A few of our favourite ‘India’ things

Hotel – The Mowgli guesthouse in Hampi in an idylic setting with swing bench on the porch.

Sight – A tie between wild elephants in Kerala and the majestic Ellora cave temples.

Drink – Before today it was a good fresh lime soda (from Kerala) but it got trumped by our banana lassis from the Blue Lassi shop in Varanasi, completely changing our idea of what a lassi should be.

Meal – Beena’s homemade Keralan fish curry with mashed Tapioca in North Kerala.

Snack – A common snack is a mix of puffed rice and bombay mix with onions, coriander and fresh lime squeezed over the top that we really like but don’t know what it’s called.  We’ve had something similar using sprouted chickpeas called chana gram.

Breakfast – It’s not very Indian, but we loved the banana porridge from the dolphin bay cafe on Om beach, Gokarna. Closely followed by the spicy scrambled eggs with chapati we had for breakfast in Mumbai.

Purchase – Lou’s Hampi baggy pants (in EMBL petrol)

Simple pleasures – Riding in trains with our heads sticking out the doors; Sitting in chai stands looking at the world go by; and learning about Indian life from the people we meet.

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Chess and fortune telling in Varanasi

Chess on the Ganges

Of course there’s more to being in Varanasi than chess and palm reading but these have been two of our favourite moments here. Others include a local boy showing Jon how to tie my scarf into a hat before amusing us by diving into the Ganges, our street-stall breakfast after a dawn boat trip on the river this morning and a refreshing stop at the Blue Lassi shop, hidden away in the backstreets and serving the best lassis we’ve ever had.

Walking along the river and past the different ghats, we’ve seen people’s interaction with it, from everyday bathing and washing to the final stage of life at the cremation ghats. The feeling here is very different to any funeral ceremony we’ve experienced, maybe because people who die in Varanasi are freed from the cycle of death and rebirth so their family is happy for them even though they may be sad at the loss of a loved one. It’s very public though, in addition to curious tourists there are always spectators, so death is part of everyday life rather than being hidden away. You can even buy chai!

We’re staying at the Shanti Guesthouse following Becca’s recommendation.  While walking back along the river last night, we saw a group of chess players and Jon played for a while. Unfortunately he lost his first match but we later found out that he was playing a guru! He did better when playing the man’s student. While Jon was playing chess, a Baba (religious man) read my palm. Apparently I’m going to live to be a ripe old age and have two children, a boy and a girl. Older life didn’t sound too bad, he said a change of country was on the cards. I guess we’ll have to wait until the kids are grown 🙂

We haven’t taken too many photos here, preferring to watch and experience rather than snap away. We’ll upload photos from our stay in Uttar Pradesh once we’re in Nepal. We’re heading there tomorrow so this is our last post from India.


The Taj at dawn

Yes, we know it's cheesy

Today we’re on our way to Varanasi, our last stop in India. We woke up early yesterday to get to the Taj Mahal for the 6am opening. The local muezzin calls to prayer (at about 5am) helped make sure we got up in time and made for an exotic start to the day.

It was good to get there early as the crowds quickly accumulate. We took the opportunity of it being quieter to take lots of photos before looking around, although it’s difficult to capture its full impact. At dawn, the exterior marble appears soft grey which lightens to a pearly white as the sun rises.

The Taj Mahal lives up to expectation; its scale is staggering but there is beautiful detail at every level. The guides enjoy showing how some of the inlaid semi-precious stones used in the walls glow when you hold a light to them. Despite the crowds, I found it peaceful and was happy to sit in the gardens and admire the view. We’ve been used to a few full-day visits but exploring the Taj Mahal didn’t actually take that long, we spent about 3 hours there and were out in time for breakfast just after 9am!


The Ellora and Ajanta caves

The unbelievable Kailash temple at Ellora

The Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temple caves of Ellora and Ajanta are some of the most amazing sights we’ve seen.  If you’re near Mumbai or Agra then they’re definitely worth a detour for a few days.  Staying in Aurangabad, we started early and went to see Ellora on our first day, getting there before all the crowds and in the cooler part of the day.  We saw the most impressive cave first, called the Kailash temple. The whole temple is a monolith, hewn out of a single piece of solid basalt rock including all the ornate statues and decorative carvings. It was truly amazing; unbelievable in its scale and detail.  Built on multiple levels the whole thing literally emerges from the rock cliff face.  It was our favourite sight to date.  There are lots of other, simpler caves as well, Lou liked cave 10 that echoed with the om chants of other visitors.  At times the caves felt to me like something out of the Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones, with oversized statues, high ceilings and massive columns inside a mountain.

We took loads of photos so will choose a few to include in our final India photo album of the Maharastra and Uttar Pradesh regions after visiting Varanasi.

The next day we went to see the Ajanta Buddhist caves.  These are in a spectacular horseshoe-shaped ravine setting and are best known for their ancient religious murals showing the life of Buddha.  If you visit,  take a torch and fast camera lens as the caves are dimly lit to preserve paintings and no flash photography is allowed.  Our Rough Guide was really useful in pointing out the highlights to look for but there were also official guides offering tours.

From visiting temples we’re gradually learning a lot more about the Buddhist and Hindu religions and to help us we picked up a guide to Hindu iconography from the wonderful Strand bookshop in Mumbai.

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