Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 119 - Kathmandu to Pokhara

Another early day wakeup to catch a tourist bus to Pokhara. The ride was bumpy and the bus had weak suspension as we climbed up and down the mountains and valleys to Pokhara, which is lower in elevation compared to Kathmandu. The drivers here are pretty fearless as they pass each other on the roads, and I saw a couple accidents on the ride there.

Upon arrival in the city, we met with a guy from Finland who was also planning on doing the Annapurna Base Camp trek. Since he was alone, we asked if he would like to join us. Other people on the bus were already in groups or had hired their own porter and guide. We were told we wouldn't need a guide on this trek since it was fairly easy to navigate and the locals were more than happy to help us with directions.

The city of Pokhara itself was a lot more calm compared to Kathmandu, as expected. It is located next to a huge lake called Fewa, where most of the tourist area is located. Similar to Thamel, there were tons of trekking shops, restaurants, and guest houses, but since we came right before the busy season (which starts in October), there wasn't much activity in the shops.

We spent the day relaxing before having dinner at a Japanese restaurant, which was a little pricey, but it was the first Japanese meal I'd had in a while. We met up with our new trekking buddy, Aki, who was in a similar situation as both Niels and me. We all quit our jobs and were on a 6-month traveling excursion. Niels was nearing the end of his trip, with Nepal being his last stop, and Aki was just starting his own journey in southeast Asia, with Nepal being his first stop. Tomorrow we'd all get our Annapurna Conservation Permit and TIMS (Trekkers' Information Management System) Cards before we begin our trek.

Early Morning in Durbar Square

Drink like a Gorkha Soldier?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Day 118 - Swoyambhunath and The Kumari

I woke up this morning at 7am to a rat crawling on top of my body. Now I know how I would react to a situation like this, and no, I would not scream like a girl. I left the window open through the night to get some air flowing, and the rat managed to climb through the window on the fire escape. My bed was right next to the window, so the rat naturally crawled on the bed...and on top of me. When I woke, I quickly pushed the rat off me, and it ran back through the window, or at least I hoped it did. I searched the room to see if it was still there, but I think it was gone. Luckily, after I calmed down, I was able to go back to sleep. What a great first experience in a Nepalese guest house!

I met with Jonas and Rachel in the morning to head to the Swoyambhunath, which is another stupa also nicknamed the “monkey temple” because of the numerous monkeys that hang around the area. We climbed the steep steps to the top, and the stupa looked very similar to the stupa I saw at Boudhanath yesterday. Maybe this is what a typical Nepalese or Tibetan stupa looks like? We saw the whole of the Kathmandu Valley from the top, which provided panoramic views. I ended up running into a friend I made while traveling in Myanmar, Niels, from Holland, who just arrived in Kathmandu yesterday. We got in touch through facebook and planned on doing a trek in the Annapurna area together. Small world? We didn't even plan on meeting here, and I wonder if we would have bumped into each other even if we hadn't contacted each other through the internet.

The four of us walked around Thamel, which is the major backpacker/tourist area. There were numerous trekking shops scattered throughout the area, along with many different restaurants and Nepalese souvenir shops.

Afterwards, we headed back to Durbar Square to catch the festivities. We met up with Sophie, who was hosting another girl from the United States who just arrived as well. She was from Maine, and had just graduated from high school and was going to volunteer in Nepal for a while – such a rarity for an American to do that! We also met up with another Cser from Austria who I had kept in contact with over the past few months because we both planned on being in Nepal around the same time. Funny how I was alone in India less than a week ago, and now I'm in the company of some great people from all over the world.

We sat on top of one of the temples to watch the Indra Jatra festival, which seemed very unorganized. We must've waited for about 2 hours before the Kumari showed up in a wheeled cart. She was whisked through the city so everyone could see her. It wasn't much of a festival in the end, but more of a showcase of the little girl.

Niels and I decided that we would head to the city of Pokhara tomorrow to plan our trek in the Annapurna area. We would hike for around 12-days to the Annapurna Base Camp, which would be at its highest around 4,100 ft. The weather is perfect right now to trek, and it is a couple weeks before the real trekking season starts, and when more tourists will come.


Touristy Thamel

A Tiny Glimpse of the Kumari in the Wheeled Cart

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 117 - Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Sq and Boudhanath

Sophie has many different Couchsurfers' belongings at her home, and people come and go at random times, usually when they start a trek and also before they leave the country. They leave the things that are unneccessary for a trek with Sophie. I think it's so great how open she is with her home, to be so trusting of everyone. If only the rest of the world was this way.

When I arrived back at her place last night, a German couple, Rachel and Jonas, came back from their 5-day trek in the Annapura trekking area. I ended up tagging along with them today to sightsee in Kathmandu, saving on taxi fare to the different places we visited.

The first place we visited was the Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square in Bantapur. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and is a concentrated area of both Hindu and Buddhist temples. One of the more interesting structures in the area is the Kumari-ghar, which is the home of the 'kumari' or living goddess who is considered to be the incarnation of the goddess Taleju. The little girl has spent her whole live pretty much imprisoned, only being shown to the public twice a year. We came at a good time because tomorrow is a celebration, and one of the days that the Kumari would be shown. The festival is called Indra Jatra and it marks the end of monsoon season. There are activists that believe it is child abuse, to keep the Kumari locked up and unable to have her own genuine childhood, or even a life of her own because everyone looks to her as a goddess. I think the different lamas in Tibetan culture also end up having their lives chosen for them, but I wonder how much freedom they have in their lives compared to this little girl...

Afterwards, I headed to the Boudhanath, which is a huge stupa in Bouda, an area with many Tibetans. The stupa was in the center of a touristy Tibetan-inspired area, where many people visited, walked around the stupa, and spun prayer wheels. I walked around the stupa three times, and noticed the way the people prayed to the stupa. They had wooden boards on the floor, and when they prostrated, they placed pieces of cloth under their hands to slide forward until they were fully lying down towards the stupa.

At the end of the night, I headed back to Durbar Square to check into a room there, since I would already be there for the festival tomorrow and rooms were so cheap. It would have been cheaper to stay there than to get a taxi from Sophie's place the next day. For dinner, Jonas and Rachel joined me at a local Indian restaurant, where I tried the dal bhat dish, which is very popular in Nepal. It consisted of rice, lentil soup, some curry, and some vegetables. I ate with my hands the way the locals did, and I think it pleased the restaruant workers. Good to know I was doing something right!


Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Sq

Dal Bhat

Day 116 - Arrival in Kathmandu and a Live Cremation Ceremony

Things have really gotten better since arriving in Nepal, but one last rant about India! The process of leaving the international airport in Delhi was quick, with a lot less security checkpoints compared to Srinagar. One thing that didn't make sense was exchanging currency at the airport. Apparently, it is illegal to bring 500 and 1,000 Indian rupee notes into Nepal and they could get confiscated upon arrival if they are found. This is due to recent counterfeiting of these Indian Rupee notes in Nepal. But for some reason, if you are travelling to Nepal, you cannot exchange your Indian Rupees to US Dollars, or any other currency for the matter... How does this make any sense? We can't get rid of these notes, but could possibly get them confiscated upon arrival! I ended up just changing my larger Indian Rupee notes to smaller ones to avoid the confiscation...

Upon arrival, I was picked up by a couchsurfer who offered to house me for a couple days. He took me to another couchsurfer's home, a French woman named Sophie, who was so kind and accommodating! We talked a little about her work at an NGO, and some of her experiences traveling the world. She has been living in Nepal for the past two years, and Kathmandu is one of her favorite cities to live in. She lived in Los Angeles for a year, but didn't like it too much.

She took me to Pashupatinath, which is the largest Hindu temple in Nepal. The Bagmati River runs through it and flows to the Ganges River in India. The water was filthy, where people bathed in it, used it as holy water, and also dumped cremated bodies into it. We witnessed a couple of public cremation ceremonies while we were there, with different platforms used for the different castes the deceased were a part of. The whole process was shocking to watch, and I got a little emotional just watching the people mourning. But then again, Sophie and her friend John told me that they sometimes hire mourners for these ceremonies. Sophie also told me that the priest who performs the cremations has to eat a part of the dead body as a part of the process. I didn't get a chance to witness this, although I don't think I would want to. It was also noted by a tour guide that kids 5 years old or younger who have died do not get cremated, but get buried at the bottom of the river because they don't have the opportunity to achieve nirvana because they didn't live long enough in the world...

There was a bull statue is in the middle of the temple as well, and legend has it, that the God Shiva and the bull agreed to have sex with each other, first Shiva would “have sex” with the Bull, and then in return, the Bull would “have sex” with Shiva. When it was time for the Bull to “have sex” with Shiva, the God ran into the temple complex, and now, the Bull waits outside for the God to come out... Interesting how some of these stories come about...

We headed back to Sophie's place, but not before having some delicious Tibetan Momo's (Buffalo Meat Dumplings). They reminded me of Chinese dumplings and I look forward to more of these in my travels through this country.

At the end of the night, John and I headed to Thamel, which is the big backpacker area for some really good sirloin steak! It would be the first time I had a western steak in my entire trip, and every bite was savory and mouthwatering! I already love the food available here too! I ended up walking back to Sophie's place alone and in the dark, and it took about 30 minutes to get there, but was so easy because all the locals were so helpful when I asked how for directions.

Swimming during Cremation Proceedings

Cremations on Platforms for Different Castes

Day 115 - Layover in Delhi

I spent a night in Delhi on layover before heading to Kathmandu. I managed to save about 450 rupees to the Srinagar airport by taking the public bus there. SCORE! On the bus ride there, I met a couple from Mumbai who worked in the financial industry. We talked a little about the accounting profession and the transition to IFRS (international accounting standards). It made me wonder where my old firm was in regards to training the associates on these new standards...

The security at the Srinagar airport was tight! I must have gone through 5 different checkpoints, all checking the contents of my baggage. Luckily I arrived at the airport 2.5 hours before departure or I don't know if I would have made my flight. The security was probably a lot tighter here due to the conflicts that had occurred in the region recently. Most of the security checkpoints were separated for different sexes and for once, the female line was a lot shorter than the male line, probably because less females travel in India?

The flight was painless, and when I arrived, I took a prepaid taxi to my hotel, but not before getting lost a little because the taxi driver didn't know where my hotel was, even though I had the address, and a printout of the directions from the airport to the hotel from googlemaps...

I pretty much stayed in the hotel the whole time, not really brave enough to explore the area. I ventured out just for dinner, but that was just about it. I really feel lonely here in Delhi, and so many thoughts went through my head to just head home. I really want to see friends and family and familiar faces from people who I trust, and who care about me. I skyped a few friends, who told me to just venture on, because I would regret it later... I don't know why I am letting this short trip to India get to me, but hopefully things get better, because I feel a little discouraged from continuing...

Indian Dessert Shop

Street Vendor making Samosas

Day 114 - Lazy Day in Srinagar

My last full day in the Kashmir State of India was relatively stress-free, as I spent most of the day just relaxing and researching on my next few travel destinations. I booked an airport hotel in Delhi for my one night layover before flying to Kathmandu. It's amazing looking at some of the ratings for the cheaper hotels on booking websites. User ratings were mostly in the 2-3 star range (out of 10) which made me fearful about what I'd expect when I'd arrive.

I would avoid the city and probably just hang around the hotel area for the day tomorrow. I managed to get a couchsurfing host for my first few nights in Kathmandu, so hopefully I'll be able to plan my whole trip in the country during those first few days. I also contacted a woman who ran an orphanage there, so I may do some volunteer work there if it is available!

I also pre-planned my travels to Turkey, where I would visit Istanbul and Cappadoccia. I do NOT want to be stuck in a country without any help like I was in India, so I messaged a good amount of people asking for advice on travels, what to see, and if there were couches I could crash on. Hopefully Europe will be a lot easier to find hosts...

Chicken Muglai

Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 113 - Mosques in Kashmir

I started the day walking around the town for the first time since arriving in Srinagar to get a sense of the daily life of the Kashmiri people. I stopped by a “Star Bucks” restaurant for lunch and had some Aloo Gobi (Potatoes and Cauliflower) with some Chapati. It was a little too spicy for my taste, but I should expect that with most Indian cuisine.

Afterwards, I went to the houseboat owners association to inquire about the prices of the houseboats, and they quoted prices that were way too high compared to what other foreigners had paid when I asked them. Again, I felt the pressure to rent a houseboat when I was there. I told them I would come back later at night because I wanted to think about it, but they kept insisting that I put down a deposit.

I wanted to check out some of the mosques in the city and thought to hire another taxi from the unionized taxi stands like I did yesterday. This time around, there were no fixed prices, and again, I had to deal with negotiations. I thought for once, I had something figured out...that a unionized taxi collective would have set prices at all of their taxi stands, but that's not the case. I managed to negotiate a taxi ride to three different sights, for the price of 700 rupees, when they originally quoted 1,200 rupees... I'm sure I still paid more than I should have, but at least I got it lowered.

The thing that frustrates me the most is how easily you could get ridiculously scammed, even by people you think you can trust! The houseboat association quoted a room for about 1,600 rupees when I knew some foreigners who got the same accomodations for 450-600 rupees. And again, I was easily able to negotiate a taxi ride from a unionized taxi collective down more than 33%...

I visited these three sights – The Makhdoom Sahib shrine on Hari Parbat hill, Jama Masjid (the principal place of worship for locals), and the Khanqah of Shah-i-Hamadan (the first mosque built in Kashmir). I still don't know too much about the etiquette when entering a mosque, but I was sure to at least take my shoes off and just observe what other people were doing to make sure I wasn't committing some sort of disrespectful act inside.

At the last two sights, I again met with curious children who wanted to play with my digital camera and take pictures with it as well. I also met a group of anthropolgy students from Berlin who were traveling through India and had finished their travels in Nepal and I got some advice on where to go and what to do.

After arriving back in town, I tipped the taxi driver 30 rupees, and he had the nerve to ask for another 20, since he initially wanted 800 for the taxi trip, and I negotiated it down to 700. He wanted to split it in half at 750... I refused and walked away. I should have taken the 30 back too...

Within 30 seconds of walking away from the taxi cab, a shikara driver came to me to try and sell me an hour-long ride through the Dal Lake. I got a pretty good deal on it, down from 300 to 180 rupees and took a lazy and slow ride along the lake, seeing the various houseboats sitting throughout the lake.

For dinner, I went to the same restaurant I went to in the afternoon and tried some Kashmiri Wazwan. I ordered Rista (meatballs in curry) with basmati rice. It was probably the best meal I'd had in all of India so far and I may go back to the restaruant again since the people there seemed genuinely willing to help me and suggest different dishes that I may like...

I've been going back and forth about taking a day trip up the mountains since I've only visited some of the more nearby attractions in the city, but I think in the end, I'd save the money to enjoy Nepal, and some of the other sights in India. There's way too much to see here that I don't think I should see it as a lost opportunity when there are so many other opportunities to see different things everywhere...

The Makhdoom Sahib Shrine

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid with the Hari Parbat Fort in the background

Khanqah of Shah-i-Hamadan

Day 112 - Mughal Gardens in Kashmir

So I successfully escaped the houseboat ordeal in the morning, but not before one last attempt by them to offer me a deal to go to another houseboat so they could get commission. They just wouldn't leave me alone! Another man from a different houseboat came by my room and talked to me, asking me what my budget was again, and tried to entice me by saying that there was a couple from the United States who were also on the boat. I'm pretty sure that was a lie. Of course his deal for a “deluxe” room on the boat was ridiculously cheaper than the one I was on. Funny how prices change so quickly. I declined the offer, grabbed my belongings, and headed back to land on a shikara by myself, without being followed. SUCCESS!

I may have been a little emotional when writing my last post, because today was definitely better and I met some nice people in the area, exploring places with my own freedom. I decided to book a guesthouse room on land so I could have access to internet whenever I wanted. I may decide to book another houseboat in my last few days here, but this time on my own terms.

I took a tourist, unionized taxi ride around the Mughal Gardens in the area. Conversations with the taxi driver were pleasant and I didn't seem pushed to go anywhere I didn't want to go. I stopped by three gardens – Cheshmashahi, Nishat, and Shalimar. There were plenty of Indian tourists at the gardens, and very few foreigners, but everyone was friendly, and I got a lot of stares from everyone, especially the school kids who were visiting in groups, and in their different colored school uniforms. They seemed fascinated by my digital camera and wanted their pictures taken, so I took some and showed them to them.

I met a 17-year old student at the last garden who came up to me to chat about his love of Bruce Lee and kung-fu. He assumed correctly that I was Chinese and asked me lots of questions about Bruce Lee and fighting, two things I didn't really know much about. It did give me an opportunity to ask him about some of the issues in the Kashmir area. I asked him if he identified himself as “Indian” or “Pakistani” but he said he didn't believe he was either, and instead was “Kashmiri,” probably somewhat to keep himself safe from any sort of military violence. I asked him if there were any recent protests but he only mentioned the 2-day employee strike that I read about in the news. He also said that stone pelting by youth against the police happens everyday, and that he didn't believe their methods were effective, but instead there should be some sort of dialogue to address concerns. These were things that he didn't feel too comfortable talking about since there was a military presence almost everywhere in Kashmir. I see soldiers with guns patrolling on every sidewalk. He did mention that there were crimes that occurred against women and children in the past, but didn't really go into detail about it.

Most of the people in Kashmir speak the Kashmir language, instead of Hindi, so there could be a potential language barrier for Indian tourists who come to these areas to enjoy the weather during the summer. My friend spoke Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi, and English. Again, I'm in awe at all the languages everyone else can speak! I can only speak one fluently...

On the way back to the hotel, the taxi driver pointed out a group of gypsies that were walking along the road with their cows and goats. They are forever wanderers, without a permanent place to stay, and currently are headed to the city of Jammu for the winter to stay warm. Once spring and summer arrive again, they head back to Srinagar and the Himalayas.

Tomorrow, I plan on taking an hour-long shikara ride on the Dal River to see if I can negotiate another houseboat to stay on for the last two nights of my stay here...

Shikara Ride to Freedom

Mango Shake

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 111 - Hostage on a Houseboat

I should have done research in my Lonely Planet, and heeded the advice of friends I'd met so far on my travels...in the end I think I got what I deserved when I booked a houseboat room on the Dal River in Srinagar in the Kashmir area. The travel books clearly stated that I should NOT book a room in these houseboats while in Delhi, and that I should arrive here and inspect the rooms myself. I guess I was so desperate to get out of Delhi that I just followed the advice of the travel agency I stumbled on when I explored yesterday.

The morning was sketchy as I had an early 5:30am flight out of Delhi to the northwest of India in Srinagar. I checked out, and tried to negotiate a lower price on my bookings because 1)I was given a shitty room without a private bathroom in a shitty hotel (Hotel Hindustan) due probably to overbookings in my hotel of choice with private bathrooms (Kuldeep Guest House) 2)I was relocated after my first day to their other hotel, still never getting a room in my hotel of choice. The second hotel was decent, but I felt I should still get some sort of discount for the trouble. I ended up accepting a 50 rupee discount ($1), even though I wanted a better deal.

Because everyone is trying to make a buck here, I was told by the travel agency not to tell my hotel that I booked the flight through them, to avoid them having to pay some sort of commission. They told me to wait outside the hotel after I checked out for a taxi to the airport, so I stood in the darkness of a narrow and dirty alleyway spilled with trash and stray cats and dogs. I stood there for about 15 minutes, feeling completely uncomfortable, until finally the driver came.

The airport process was painless, although there was continued heightened security due to the recent bombing. The flight on Go Airlines was maybe 60% full, and it took about 1.25 hours to get there.

I researched last night about potential conflicts in the region due to the political instability between Pakistan and India in the predominantly Muslim area. There had been riots at the end of the prior year, but flights had increased in the summer this year and things were relatively safe. I did read though about a 2-day employee strike (curfew) that ended a couple days ago. They were protesting the release of jailed youths who were being detained for no transparent reason, but probably due to their involvement in rallies against the government. I read stories about protesters pelting stones at the military at different demonstrations and it was advised that I stay away from these areas at all costs.

Upon arrival at the airport, all foreigners were required to fill out notification forms. I felt a little more at ease by having something filled out that showed where I was going to stay. I met my driver, who immediately asked me what I told the airport officials. I told him that I let them know where I was staying, and he was a little disturbed by that, saying that I shouldn't have said anything because the government was corrupt and they would also want to ask for some sort of commission. WTF? Who am I supposed to trust?

It was nice to see the river and all the houseboats fixed throughout. These English-style boats were built when England controlled India, and they were not allowed to purchase land in the area, so they built their own houses on water. The houseboats remain in the area, owned by different people who rent them out in the summer to Indian tourists, who call this area the summer capital due to its pleasant weather.

I arrived at my houseboat on the Dal River after taking a shikara (gondola style boat) to get there. After a shitty breakfast of Kashmir tea, toast, and two hard-boiled eggs, I took a long nap to catch up on lost sleep. Waking up after the long nap was when I felt somewhat like a prisoner or hostage in my own houseboat.

The whole idea for the houseboat company was probably to sell me a trekking tour in the Himalaya mountains at prices that I didn't want to pay and probably couldn't afford given the fact that I still had a couple months left to travel. I sat in the houseboat for a while with one of the employees who sort of interviewed me in a friendly manner, asking me how long I was staying, what my other plans were, what my occupation was. I tried to be curt in my responses and give the idea that I was only going to stay in the area for 3 days and I couldn't afford a trek since I was just a “student.”

He told me that his manager would come after the Friday's lunchtime Muslim prayers were over. It seems like everyone says something will arrive in “5 minutes” but it can really mean anywhere from 20-30 minutes, so I waited for about 30 minutes before he came and tried to sell me his spiel about how amazing the treks in the Himalayas would be. I thought hard about doing it since I might never get another chance to do this, but I also felt that I trekked other areas and will be going to Kathmandu so I would get to experience different environments that were equally special, and cheaper. He quoted around $350 for a 4 day, 3 night trek, which I declined. After a little more negotiation, he lowered it to $300, which I also declined. After he realized that I probably wouldn't budge, he shook my hand and said thank you, wanting to leave as quickly as possibly. This is one of the things I really hate. It's all “brotherhood” and “friendship” when they try to initiate business with you, but when business is off the table, they couldn't care less about who you are. There is no compassion or care for the tourist or foreigner at all unless you bring some money on the table – NONE WHATSOEVER.

After he left, I felt stranded again, since I didn't really know if I should wait for another employee to take me on the shikara back to the city, or just hail my own. I waited for another 20 minutes before another employee came and asked me what price I could offer. I HATE THAT TOO! If I don't want to do a damn trek, then no deal will persuade me to do one. It was already decided on my part that I didn't want to do it, so I don't want to negotiate again. Once that failed, one last employee came and offered me another trekking deal for just one day, instead of four. Again, I declined, and said I wanted to visit some of the Mughal gardens instead. He quoted me a ridiculous price on a taxi to the area, and again, I declined, saying I would book it myself when I get back to the city. At this point, we get into an argument and he insinuates that I am accusing him of being a “cheat” because I didn't want to book with him. He was right, but I didn't want to tell him that. And I'm sure all these Indian salespeople are “cheats” and they know so too, or else they wouldn't assume that tourists think that about them. Everyone has been so confrontational and argumentative when I decline an offer for business. And everyone has fibbed about what is included in everything purchased. It seems they say whatever they can to seal the deal, whether it is the truth or not, from hotel lodgings, to food offered, to services included in prices, to distances that treks are, etc...

We arrive back on land where he pressures me to take his taxi ride to the gardens, and I tell him that I'll think about doing it tomorrow since it is already 4pm and the sun would set in a couple hours. Instead, I tell him I want to use the internet, and he ends up staying with me for 2 hours while I book my flight out of India and to Kathmandu... It was frustrating that he was with me the whole day. I wanted to explore the city myself, look for another houseboat to stay at, or at least another hotel on land. Not once all day had I been left alone, except in the houseboat with no means of communication to the outside world. I figure I would get out of the country by plane since no one would be willing to help me book trains through the country without first booking some other tours with them. I'd travel Nepal first, and decide whether or not I would come back to India to finish my tour here, after getting some advice from other travellers.

That is another thing...there weren't many foreign tourists here, which is something I value in certain situations, but I feel that in India, it is best to be with someone, anyone you trust. I couldn't get any advice from other tourists on how much to pay, where to go, how to book trains, etc. Never have I been so distrustful of people on this entire trip, and it has taken a toll mentally and emotionally on me in these past couple of days.

The night was spent on the houseboat again, where I got into another argument with the employee who called me “un-American” for not booking anything with him, even after I explained that I was on a budget and couldn't afford it. I was left to eat dinner on the houseboat, who knows how the food was prepared, and stayed there all night, drinking shitty beer called Hayward 5000, which I was overcharged for after one employee purchased it for me, and I asked another employee how much he gets the beer for. I was quoted 175 rupees when it should have been around 70. One of the employees told me the others were crazy, but I think all he wanted was to hint at me giving him a tip for all his “good service” as a cook.

Hopefully I lose these people tomorrow when I get off the boat and back on land, and hopefully they don't follow me, trying to “help” me find another hotel...

Day 110 - Quick Tour of Delhi

I woke up in the morning and was transferred from my shitty hotel to another hotel, with a private bathroom this time, and a more spacious living area. I spoke with the receptionist about information on where to get a sim card, what places to go, and how to book train tickets. Each time, he would mention a specific tour office that he kept insisting of taking me to. I read the reviews of these hotels and they said to avoid going to this tour office because they would charge you more for everything you book. I got in a little heated discussion with him after I said I would figure it out myself, and he accused me of thinking he was trying to cheat me, which he was.

After walking around the crowded, chaotic street, I stumbled on a tour agency and ended up booking a private car for the day around Delhi and a flight out of Delhi into the mountainous region of Kashmir the next day. I wanted out ASAP and the flight was not too expensive and included a one night stay on a houseboat there.

The driver took me around Delhi, where I stopped at a couple of the major attractions – the Red Fort, the India Gate, and Akshardam. I also wanted to stop at the High Court, where there was a bomb blast yesterday, killing around 10 people and injuring almost another 100, but the driver said it probably wasn't possible.

I met an English girl at the Red Fort, who had been traveling in India for about a month and was leaving tomorrow. She gave me some advice on where to go, how much to pay for transportation, and told me to keep positive despite my initial feelings about the city.

I visited Akshardam next, which was recommended by a friend back in California, which is the largest Hindu Temple in India. It was magnificent, grand, ornate, intricate, and everything amazing! I was really in awe when I stepped onto the grounds. It was recently built in the span of five years, and I felt everything was in it's right place. The architect really put much thought into the layout of everything, including the small designs on many of the marble and pink stone used throughout the area. I was bummed I wasn't able to take any photos inside since everything had to be checked into a cloak room and we were checked my metal detectors upon entry. Not even mobile phones were allowed inside. My words and pictures really don't do it any justice, and I think anyone in Delhi should make it a point to stop here!

At the end of the night, I walked around the market and had a quick dinner before retreated to my hotel room. Early wake-up at 3am for an early flight the next day..

Inside the Red Fort

Suspects from Yesterday's High Court Bombing
Outside the Red Fort

Akshardham from a Distance

India Gate

India Gate

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day 109 - BKK to Delhi, India

Spent the day getting everything settled before heading to India. Spent the morning deciding what to bring with me and what to ship home. I ended up shaving 5kg from my backpack but it cost an arm and a leg to ship stuff back! Afterwards, went to a pharmacy to get some more malaria pills for the rest of my travels in the less developed areas.

I would arrive in India at 10:30pm so I booked a hostel and airport pickup beforehand so I wouldn't have to deal with it when I arrived. The flight ended up taking about 4.5 hours, which was more than I expected, but it was due to the 1.5 hour time difference that I didn't account for when I looked at my itinerary. It's interesting how India and Myanmar have times that are 30 minutes off from the rest of the world on the minute-hand.

The flight was probably 50% booked, and I managed to get a whole row to myself. It also kind of smelled like baby poo at the beginning and end of the flight.

Going through immigration at the Delhi airport was quick and painless, and there weren't too many people there at night. People have told me that it would be a culture shock, and I braced myself. The ride from the airport to the hotel was interesting. It just seemed really dangerous and chaotic driving through the city. There didn't seem to be any method to any of the driving, and I saw many instances that could have potentially ended in an accident (i.e. cars parked on the side lanes, that could easily get hit by oncoming traffic) This was at night too, when I suspect the traffic is less congested.

I arrived in the neighborhood where the hostel was and I could see the sheer poverty of the country already, with many, many people sleeping on the floor and in the streets. Dogs and even cows were also scattered around the roads. Garbage was littered everywhere. I don't know why, but it just reminded me somewhat of what my perception of a warzone would look like in a city. Definitely the worst place I've seen so far in my travels, and this was the area where tourists were! I was scared to leave the taxi, since there were scarcely any streetlights, and I had to walk through dark and narrow alleys to get to the hostel.

There was an earthquake when I was in the taxi on my way to the hostel measuring 6.6, but I didn't feel it. People were talking about it at the hostel though, and it was covered on the news, showing footage of all the locals congregating outside. The hostel ended up transferring me due to some sort of “earthquake” issue to another guesthouse. It was basically a room that I suspect used to be the kitchen. Pretty shitty conditions for my first night in India.

I met an Indian couple who was on their honeymoon at the guesthouse and we talked for a little bit. They informed me that there was a bomb that went off in Delhi earlier today killing around 70 people. I'll have to check the news later to see what that was all about...Hopefully India gets better...People have told me to get out of Delhi and into some of the other parts to really have a pleasant experience. I should follow their advice..

Indira Ghandi International Airport (Delhi, India)

Last meal in BKK

First night's accommodations in Delhi...