Monthly Archives: March 2013

Trekking in the Annapurnas

It took a lot of effort and convincing ourselves to go on this trek. Not because the scenery isn’t beautiful, but because we had become so comfortable with Pokhara. We knew if we didn’t go we’d be really upset with ourselves for missing the chance to hike the Annapurna Circuit Trek-I’ll call it AC from now on. So, after two strike days and one additional day to recover from a stomach bug, we headed out into the mountains again!

The AC trek starting point is in a city called Besi Sahar. The bus ride to Besi Sahar was a little more enjoyable than the bus ride to Sayafrubensi-the start of the Langtang Trek-because it was shorter, we had the front of the bus, and we were not scaling a mountain.

Back a couple of years ago all people walking the AC had to start in Besi Sahar, but in recent years, Nepal has started building a road connecting the villages along the original AC trail. With this and because of our delays in Pokhara we decided to take a jeep from Besi Sahar to Syange. Essentially, our 3 hour jeep ride to Syange took 1-2 days of walking off the trek. So our AC trek started in Syange.

Below is a recap of the days we spent trekking in the Annapurna mountains:

Day 1: Bus from Pokhara to Besi Sahar took about 4 hrs. Jeep from Besi Sahar to Syange took about 3 hours. We arrived still pretty early so we decided to walk a little up the path and stopped at Jagat. The walk took us only 45 minutes and we could have walked longer but it was raining so we decided to stop. We’re glad we skipped from Besi Sahar to Syange. All of the hikers we passed were constantly covering their faces from the dust the jeeps kicked up and the path isn’t that interesting that low in the mountain. We met our first group of trekkers this night. Some of them had already been on the trail for a day or two. But all the people we met this night we bumped into every so often for the rest of the trek.

The start in Syange.

The start in Syange.

The hotel the first night and our map.

The hotel the first night and our map.

Day 2: Up early, of course because Dave is involved, and on the trail at 7:15 am. We stopped for lunch in the village called Karte and then continued to Bagachhap. We arrived in Bagarchhap at 2:30pm. We decided to call it quits here because it was raining again. Bagarchhap was not the prettiest village on the trek, but they had a bed and food and those were our only needs. If we were to do it again, we’d go to the next village of Danaque or Timang. There are more guesthouses in both. Timang has some pretty awesome views as well.

Starting the trek early so we have it all to ourselves.

Starting the trek early so we have it all to ourselves.

There are many waterfalls along this whole trek.

There are many waterfalls along this whole trek.

Road construction. Some of the places they were jack hammering where pretty scary.

Road construction. Some of the places they were jack hammering where pretty scary.

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The city of Tal.

The city of Tal.

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We don't know how this cow got stuck on this rock, everywhere else around it was very steep.

We don’t know how this cow got stuck on this rock, everywhere else around it was very steep.

Checking our progress.

Checking our progress.

View from our lunch spot

View from our lunch spot

The Tibetan bread on the annapurna trek is different from the langtang trek. Here they make fried dough. Very yummy.

The Tibetan bread on the annapurna trek is different from the langtang trek. Here they make fried dough. Very yummy.

One of many bridges for crossing the rivers.

One of many bridges for crossing the rivers.

A lot of the villages have their power from hydro plants not far from the village.

A lot of the villages have their power from hydro plants not far from the village.

Day 3: We got a little surprise in the morning. The previous afternoon it was pouring, sleeting, and snowing for a majority of the afternoon and evening. We were thinking it might continue into the following day, but, we walked outside and had clear skies and our first high mountain views. We had another early start and were on the trail by 7 am. We both like starting pretty early for two reasons; 1. the trail is empty if you’re the first one on it. 2. it’s cooler in the mornings. We stopped for lunch in Chame, which is the last big village for many miles so we had a tough decision. Call it quits early, it was only 12, or have a long day and make it to the next large village. We were feeling good so we when for it. Almost 5 hours later we reached Dhikar Pokhari at 4:45pm. That was a long hall between Chame and Dhikar Pokhari. Overall we trekked 10 hours this day, with an hour break for lunch. I didn’t want to do that again. Also, Dhikar Pokhari was cold. We had gained a lot of elevation and now had some really cold nights.

Clear sky and no more rain.

Clear sky and no more rain.

Heading out

Heading out

This water fall was huge and in two parts, this is the lower part

This water fall was huge and in two parts, this is the lower part

Upper part of the falls

Upper part of the falls

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Timang village. if only we could have got here instead. beautiful.

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Little did we know how much better the views get.

Little did we know how much better the views get.

This is a good shot of the road trekking.

This is a good shot of the road trekking.

Dave found a tomato on the road from one of the jeeps. Bonus.

Dave found a tomato on the road from one of the jeeps. Bonus.

Snow capped peaks

Snow capped peaks

One of the villages with some really green pastures and snow capped peaks.

One of the villages with some really green pastures and snow capped peaks.

Even though the road is connecting a lot of the villages, there are still a lot of transport by donkey.

Even though the road is connecting a lot of the villages, there are still a lot of transport by mule.

Lunch of fried noodle and spring rolls.

Lunch of fried noodle and spring rolls.

Also still carrying things up by man power.

Also still carrying things up by man power.

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At some point there was an avalanche here. Glad it happened before we arrived.

At some point there was an avalanche here. Glad it happened before we arrived.

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More road construction.

More road construction.

Probably the creepiest place to work. That edge is a drop off and those are ladders leaning against the rock. No thank you.

Probably the creepiest place to work. That edge is a drop off and those are ladders leaning against the rock. No thank you.

Finally arriving at camp with some tired legs.

Finally arriving at camp with some tired legs.

Day 4: Our previous long day essentially put us a whole day ahead of our fellow trekkers we’ve met along the way. Most of them stopped in Chame or one of the single tea house villages between Chame and Dhikar Pokhari. So, we headed out at 7:15 again, had lunch in Mugje, and arrived in Manang at 2:30 pm. Manang is one of the largest villages on the trek and the largest village before the ascent to the pass. They even have a movie theater in Manang. It’s not more than a projector and some old movies, but we hadn’t seen a movie in many, many months so we had a date night. We went and saw 7 Year in Tibet with popcorn and tea included! It was cool.

Soaking up the sun in the freezing morning

Soaking up the sun in the freezing morning

The saw mill. Yes, they cut it all by hand. It's exhausting watching them.

The saw mill. Yes, they cut it all by hand. It’s exhausting watching them.

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Mountain dog, one of the cuter ones we saw.

Mountain dog, one of the cuter ones we saw.

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Always stopping for the mules.

Always stopping for the mules.

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Seabuckthorn juice. This juice is from a fruit that grows only at higher elevation. It was yummy.

Seabuckthorn juice. This juice is from a fruit that grows only at higher elevation. It was yummy.

Our view for lunch.

Our view for lunch.

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Large streets of Manang.

Large streets of Manang.

Date night.

Date night.

Day 5: Most people have an additional day in Manang to both rest and help with acclimatization. Manang is at 3500 m (11,545 ft). We did that. We did some short day hikes to also help with acclimatizing. We even had enough time to clean some of our clothes. I think it was the best location I’ve ever done laundry. They also have a couple of bakeries in Manang that make some good pastries, cakes, and pies. We really enjoyed the apple crumble pie.

Day hike towards Gangapurna glacier and peak.

Day hike towards Gangapurna glacier and peak.

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Manang from the day hike.

Manang from the day hike.

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Coolest place i've ever washed my clothes

Coolest place i’ve ever washed my clothes

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Much deserved apple crumble.

Much deserved apple crumble.

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View from our room.

View from our room.

Day 6: We departed early again and were on the trail at 7 am. Since we were now so high up in the mountains we were moving pretty slow. We didn’t have a long day either. They recommend to go up slowly and stay over night to help your bodies adjust to the elevation. We only hiked for 4.5 hours and arrived in Ledar at 11:30 am. Ledar is at 4200 m (13780 ft). We had plenty of time to hang out, read, and enjoy the scenery. We even got to watch a snow storm. Normally, we love snow and would welcome it (I know all you New Englanders are thinking we’re crazy) but we were afraid the snow would stop us from being able to go over the pass. If there is too much snow you can’t see the trail and it becomes dangerous. We also shared the tea house with a big group of people from Israel. I think Israelis win for having the most people on the mountains. We didn’t know this before, but they all love trekking and we met and saw many on the trail. Anyway, the big group hovered around the wood stove and therefore we were freezing. We opted to sit under the blankets in our room to stay warm. It sure is chilly up at 4200 m.

Tharong La is the name of the pass.

Tharong La is the name of the pass.

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Snacking on peanut butter crackers.

Snacking on peanut butter crackers.

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Soaking up the sun and reading my book.

Soaking up the sun and reading my book.

Sleepy, bored Dave. The short days are hard for him. Too much sitting around.

Sleepy, bored Dave. The short days are hard for him. Too much sitting around.

Blizzard.

Blizzard.

The yak doesn't mind.

The yak doesn’t mind.

Trying to stay warm while everyone else hogs the wood stove.

Trying to stay warm while everyone else hogs the wood stove.

Day 7: We were on the trail at 7 am again. We were freezing and had to layer up. It was a very cold morning, but, so very beautiful with the snow covered mountains. Thankfully, there were only a couple of inches of snow on the ground and the trail was still visible. We took our time to the next village and enjoyed the scenery. I think this was our prettiest day. We even got to see blue sheep-not sure where the name comes from, they look like goats to me. Anyway, we arrived in Thurong Phedi at 9:30 am and I wasn’t feeling like myself. We had just passed a huge portion of the trail that warned you to watch out for landslides. The snow was melting and I was a little freaked out by the prospect of a huge boulder taking me out-a side note here, while we were in Manang we overheard a guide tell their group that a horse in this area was split into two from a boulder that had come down-so I briskly walked through the landslide area, which made me lightheaded. I was feeling a little lightheaded, had a minor headache and felt dizzy so we weren’t sure we should continue up to the high camp at 4900 m (16076 ft). We had met a couple in one of the villages on our way up, their way down, who had altitude problems to the point they were thinking of calling a helicopter, so we were ultra aware of the symptoms and what we should be looking for. Anyway, we decided that we should try to go up to high camp and see how I was feeling. If I was feeling bad we would head back down. It was only an hour away and it was only 10 am, plenty of time. Well, I had to stop every 5 minutes to stabilize myself. I was feeling very dizzy and didn’t want to fall down the mountain since it was quite steep. We decided to head back to Tharong Phedi and spend the night and see how I felt the next morning.

The snow from the previous night made everything so beautiful looking.

The snow from the previous night made everything so beautiful looking.

Blue sheep

Blue sheep

Male blue sheep.

Male blue sheep.

Perfect weather.

Perfect weather.

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Mountain dog

Mountain dog

This poor dog had dreads. I'm not sure how he could see either.

This poor dog had dreads. I’m not sure how he could see either.

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Annapurna Panoramic_12

Day 8: I wasn’t feeling any better. I was actually feeling a little worse so we decided to go back down to Manang. We were undecided if we wanted to retry the pass in a couple of days or just head down the mountain.  It only took us 5 hours to get down to Manang. We got to see another movie and eat more apple crumble. I think those two things were keeping us in better spirits. I was still not 100%, but on top of that I was feeling pretty disappointed in myself for not being able to head over the pass. We were higher in Peru and I had no problems! We were in Langtang a few weeks ago and I had no problems. No to mention Dave was disappointed as well because he was feeling good and could have gone over no problem. Anyway, we got over it, as it was the correct decision to be safe rather than risking altitude sickness and the views up to Tharong Phedi were amazing. We had decided to just head out. Both of us were a little sore, tired of being cold, and had our Himalaya fill from both treks. Besides, this gives us a reason to come back and try it again someday.

Mountain goat

Mountain goat

The horses have a layer of fur on them to keep warm.

The horses have a layer of fur on them to keep warm.

Day 9: Left Manang early and did the walk of shame down to Chame. It was funny chatting with other trekkers heading up. They all were concerned the pass wasn’t open and that is why we were headed down. And then once they found out I showed signed of altitude sickness they wanted to know how I knew. Everyone is concerned for the same things. Anyway, it was a very long haul back to Chame. It only took us 7.5 hours, but the distance was our longest yet and we were tired. The good news was we could take a jeep from here thanks to the new road.

Since we headed down, we got to take some better pictures of the road construction. Pretty crazy.

Since we headed down, we got to take some better pictures of the road construction. Pretty crazy.

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This is a picture of the typical nepali food, daal bhat. Which consists of a lentil curry, rice, and some sort of vegetable. You usually get two servings of everything as well, which is good for hungry trekkers.

This is a picture of the typical nepali food, daal bhat. Which consists of a lentil curry, rice, and some sort of vegetable. You usually get two servings of everything as well, which is good for hungry trekkers.

Day 10: The jeeps they use to drive people back and forth from Besi Sahar are 9 passenger jeeps. They fit 12 people in these things, four people per each seating row including the front with the driver. We wanted the front because we thought we’d have better luck with space, but turns out they fit four there too. The driver had to shift between myself and the other women next to me. But, with all those people in the jeep you don’t move much when you hit bumps or take corners. The jeep ride took 6.5 hours and it wasn’t that comfortable, but it was either that or walk another two long days out. We arrived in Besi Sahar early enough to take a bus back to Pokhara. Whew, it was nice to be back in our spot. That’s the longest trek I’ve ever done and it sure was beautiful, but I was glad to be done.

Waiting for the jeep.

Waiting for the jeep.

Mules waiting for their luggage.

Mules waiting for their luggage.

Four across.

Four across.

Waiting for our bus back to Pokhara!!

Waiting for our bus back to Pokhara!!

For those curious to what we brought if you’re planning on trekking in March-we were there from March 9-17th.

1 – sleeping bag – We opted for one sleeping bag, but ended up using blankets. All of the guests houses we stayed at gave us extra blankets if we asked. The sleeping bag was more for if something happened and we were stuck on the trail not near a tea house.

2 – down jackets – We had rented down jackets again, which were very useful. Once you go higher than Dhikur Pokhari it is very cold at night.

3 – rain gear – jackets and rain pants

4 – thermal underwear and wool sweaters

5 – One pair of quick dry pants, two t-shirts, one long sleeve shirt, three pairs of socks, and 2-3 pairs of underwear

6 – winter hats and gloves

We opted to go light as we had no porter or guide. Both of those are not necessary, but if you can afford it a porter would have been nice. Dave, who was my porter, didn’t really enjoy the heavy bag.

I think that’s all. We love you Himalayan mountains and we will meet again someday!

Until next time...

Until next time…

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Categories: Nature, Nepal, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sittin’ and Relaxin’ in Pokhara

Dave and I had talked about finding a place to stop for awhile. We had become a little road weary and India was not helping us become un-road weary. We heard some good things about Pokhara and decided to go there and see if it could be our place. We ended up staying a whole week and half, turns out its pretty relaxing.

Lakeside Pokhara

Lakeside Pokhara

What did we do in Porkhara for a week and a half you might ask? Nothing, absolutely nothing. There was a lot of waking up, going to breakfast, napping, going to lunch, browsing the web, going to dinner, and of course hanging out with Jorge who also joined in our laziness in Pokhara.

Boats on the lake.

Boats on the lake.

On our afternoon walk.

On our afternoon walk.

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Beautiful sunset on the lake.

Beautiful sunset on the lake.

Trying Tuborg beer

Trying Tuborg beer

Yummy breakfasts

Yummy breakfasts

Ice cream every other day

Ice cream every other day

Another beautiful sunset

Another beautiful sunset

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We might have woken Jorge up early for breakfast everyday. Sorry Jorge.

We might have woken Jorge up early for breakfast everyday. Sorry Jorge.

Movie night!

Movie night!

Jorge and his nutella. He might have got us addicted when he bought us one for an engagement session. It lasted about 3 days. ha.

Jorge and his nutella. He got us addicted when he bought us one for an engagement present. It lasted about 3 days. ha.

Movie setup.

Movie setup.

Out of the week and half we did actually do two things; we took a 4 hour stroll to the peace pagoda and we tried paragliding.

The hike to the peace pagoda was very rewarding with some great views of the Annapurnas in the Himalayas. All three of us had just come back from the Langtang trek so we were still in walking shape which made it not that difficult to head up there. I think it was one of the best views I’ve had for lunch.

Peace Pagoda

Peace Pagoda

View for lunch. Awesome.

View for lunch. Awesome.

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Namaste

Namaste

Annapurna range in the Himalayas.

Annapurna range in the Himalayas.

Pewa lake with the annapurnas in the back.

Pewa lake with the annapurnas in the back.

The paragliding was also somewhat unexpected. Our friend Jorge really wanted to do it and was trying to talk us into it the whole time we were there. Pokhara is titled “the best place to para glide in the whole world.” It gains this titled because of the Annapurna peaks in the background. Jorge had finally talked us into going and all we had to do was wait until the paragliding competition was over. We had decided to go the day before we left for our next trek. That day turned out to be hazy so we opted not to go. We told Jorge we’d go when we got back from our trek. Oh well, we tried.

The following day when we were supposed to leave but there was a transportation strike and all buses and public transportation was stopped. This forced us to stay in Pokhara another day, shucks. And it also gave us a chance to do some paragliding with Jorge.

Excited before we head out to do some paragliding.

Excited before we head out to do some paragliding.

How paragliding works: 1. start from a pretty high location and run off the mountain side. 2. catch a thermal using a gauge that beeps like crazy when you’re in hot air. 3. circle over and over again while you gain some altitude. 4. Glide to wherever you want 5. repeat steps 2-4 until your time is up.

Dave and his pilot getting the gear on.

Dave and his pilot getting the gear on.

Pilot making sure he's safe.

Pilot making sure he’s safe.

Chute setup and untangle.

Chute setup and untangle.

Walk/run until chute opens, pulls you back and then forward off the mountain

Walk/run until chute opens, pulls you back and then forward off the mountain

Soar towards thermal...

Soar towards thermal…

Up and away. Good job Dave.

Up and away. Good job Dave.

It was pretty awesome. We opted for the 60 minute ride. I had an avid paragliding pilot from France. He really enjoyed paragliding and couldn’t resist the urge to go up higher whenever we reach a thermal. My pilot and I had reached the height of 2100 meters (6,890 ft) and we started at 1592 m (5223 ft). That’s a total height gain of 508 m (1667 ft) just by hot air in a matter of minutes. Now I understand why birds do it so frequently, in fact there were some birds right along with us.

Jorge and his pilot.

Jorge and his pilot.

Dave and his pilot.

Dave and his pilot.

Me and my pilot.

Me and my pilot.

circling in the thermal

circling in the thermal

Clouded peak with paragliders

Clouded peak with paragliders

That's Dave below. My pilot and I were at 2100 meters here.

That’s Dave below. My pilot and I were at 2100 meters here.

Jorge gliding.

Jorge gliding.

View of the lake from the sky.

View of the lake from the sky.

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As part of the flight, my pilot asked if I liked tricks-we had seen many of the pilots perform tricks while they were in the competition. From the ground it looks rather frightening. They make their chute go almost vertical on one side and then do the same thing on the other side-it looks like the chute can fold into itself. They also spin like a crazy person, which looks like they are spinning out of control from the ground. I responded to my pilot with a big fat maybe?? Which he took as a yes and responded with “tell me to stop if you don’t like it.”

Well, the chute almost vertical trick is pretty cool. You go almost vertical and then while switching to the other side you get the free fall, roller coaster feeling in your stomach. He did the back and forth a couple of times and then he switched to the spin like a crazy person. I didn’t like that one so much. All you see is the earth underneath you spinning out of control which makes you really dizzy. I politely asked him to stop that one. Dave on the other hand knew he wouldn’t like those and didn’t try them. In fact, he felt like he was going to throw up 2/3 of the whole ride. And then, surprisingly, when all of us landed we all felt nauseous. I don’t know, someone explain that one to me.

Dave and I both enjoyed it, Jorge loved it. We’re glad we did it, how often to you get to feel like a bird?

Anyway, we love Pokhara. It was a well deserved rest and we couldn’t wait to come back after our second trek.  Also, this is when we said our “see you later” to Jorge, who we hope to meet up with again in Southeast Asia or Brazil someday.

You will be missed.

You will be missed.

Categories: Cities, Nature, Nepal, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

A Trek and a Proposal

Ah yes, the Himalayas. We’re so happy to see you.

Hiking in the Langtang Valley in Nepal.

Hiking in the Langtang Valley in Nepal.

Sarah and I had been excited for some time about making our way to the Himalayas in Nepal. We both love hiking and what better place to do it than there. We didn’t climb any of the high peaks, nor did we want to, but being in them and standing below them was surely good enough. The mountains have always captivated me and I’m always happy to be in them, no matter their size. But being in the Himalayas definitely felt different to me than any other mountain range I’ve visited thus far.

Trekking in Nepal is much easier than most people would assume. Most of the popular treks combine amazing scenery with visits through mountain villages and best of all, all of your food and accommodations are available throughout the trek at conveniently located tea houses (guesthouses). So there’s no need to carry your own food or shelter. The biggest challenge is acclimatizing to the high elevation and avoiding accidents.

Our plan was to do as much trekking in Nepal as time and our bodies would allow. To start things off we decided to do a short trek, at about 6-8 days, in the Langtang National Park, which is relatively close to Kathmandu. The Langtang Trek, as it’s called, is not as popular as the Annapurna Circuit and the Everest Base Camp treks but was described to be equally as beautiful. Doing this trek first allowed more time for the weather to warm and clear some of the snow in the higher passes of the Annapurna Circuit trek, which we planned to do after the Langtang trek. The shorter trek would also allow us to gauge our fitness level and try out the rental gear available here in Nepal.

Since we’re traveling for so long we opted not to lug our backpacking gear along with us because we’d only need it here in Nepal and none of the other places we were visiting. So we left home all of our fancy smancy gear like lightweight sleeping bags, down jackets and comfortable backpacks. We spent a few days hanging around Kathmandu scoping out gear rental shops and to buy the permits we’d need to go trekking.

On the day we chose to buy the permits we stopped at an Indian restaurant (we were having withdrawals from lack of Indian food) on the way to the permit office. While sitting and eating I had a view of the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. To my surprise I saw two faces passing by that I recognized. Because the facial recognition part of my brain works much better that the name recollection part I could only mumble to Sarah that there were two people in front of the restaurant that we knew. Just as I was mumbling, Giselle, one of our Brazilian friends we met on our way to Nepal from India, looked into the restaurant and saw me pointing at them. Giselle and Jorge were also in Kathmandu and happened to pass us on their way to one of the nearby attractions.  We chatted for a few minutes and shared our plans to trek in a couple of days. Jorge was immediately intrigued and asked to meet up later to learn more.

After our meeting with Jorge he was easily convinced and excited to join us. Our last day in Kathmandu was spent with Jorge getting the necessary gear. Trekking was new to Jorge and so he had to rent what he could, same as us, and buy anything he couldn’t, mostly clothing. Nepal has tons of knock-off gear and much of it is pretty good quality for about a 1/3 to 1/2 the price. With gear in hand we were ready to head out the next day.

According to our guidebook, the worst part about the Langtang trek is the 120 km bus ride you have to take from Kathmandu to Syafru Bensi (small town closest to the trek). It’s 120 km of extremely bumpy roads mostly paved with dirt and gravel. The morning of our departure there was a bit of confusion between us and the cab driver resulting in us being dropped off at the wrong bus stop. The time it took us to sort out how to get to the correct bus stop meant we arrived only minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart. Unfortunately, and likely due to our late arrival, the only seats available were those in the rear of the bus. As everyone knows, the rear of the bus is the bumpiest most nauseating place to sit. The ride to Syafru Bensi was by far the worst bus ride we have ever been on. Sarah hit her head on the roof of the bus no less than six times.

The first of many checkpoints we'd go through during the bus ride and the trek.

The first of many checkpoints we’d go through during the bus ride and the trek.

The mini-bus that took us from Kathmandu to Syafru Bensi.

The mini-bus that took us from Kathmandu to Syafru Bensi.

Click on image to watch video of our bumpy ride.

Click on image to watch video of our bumpy ride.

After spending one night in Syafru Bensi we started the trek early the next morning. The trek in all took us six days–three days to reach the small village of Kyanjin Gumba, which lies at the end of the Langtang trek, one extra day there and finally two days to hike out. Part way through the first day of the trek Jorge shed as much weight as he could at the first guesthouse we stopped at for lunch. That night Sarah I did the same at the guesthouse where we slept for the night. Sarah’s knees were giving her problems so we needed to lighten her load. After dropping as much as we could at the guesthouse I put as much of her heavy gear as I could in my pack. Losing the weight worked and Sarah’s knee recovered. Unbeknownst to Sarah and Jorge, it was very important to me that we finish this trek. I had special plans a-brewin.

Sarah and I discussing the route.

Sarah and I discussing the route.

Jorge and Sarah at a restaurant in Syafru Bensi. we found out afterwards that it's frowned upon to eat at some place other than your hotel. Oops.

Jorge and Sarah at a restaurant in Syafru Bensi. we found out afterwards that it’s frowned upon to eat at some place other than your hotel. Oops.

The queue for the ATM in Syafru Bensi. Crazy chickens.

The queue for the ATM in Syafru Bensi. Crazy chickens.

Check the gear the night before the trek.

Check the gear the night before the trek.

Up early and on our way out of Syafru Bensi.

Up early and on our way out of Syafru Bensi.

The first checkpoint on the trail.

The first checkpoint on the trail.

About half of each day was spent on the trail and the other half at the guesthouses, reading, talking and relaxing. As we climbed further and further up the valley the scenery became better and better. The valley opened up more and more to expose the high peaks surrounding Kyanjin Gumba, our final destination. Trekking in February meant that we were on the trail during the off season and didn’t encounter many other trekkers, but it also meant that it was colder than during the peak season and that there was more snow on the ground. Fortunately for us a few groups preceded us and created a well packed trail in the snow.

Some of the many porters we encountered along the way. All of the supplies available at the guesthouses, e.g. food and beverages, are carried by porters. These guys are amazing.

Some of the many porters we encountered along the way. All of the supplies available at the guesthouses, e.g. food and beverages, are carried by porters. These guys are amazing.

The guesthouse we stopped at for lunch on the first day and where Jorge dropped off some of his gear to lighten the load.

The guesthouse we stopped at for lunch on the first day and where Jorge dropped off some of his gear to lighten the load.

Inside of the black fabric around my waist is a flip flop. The aluminum frame inside of the backpack was poking through and digging into my back.

Inside of the black fabric around my waist is a flip flop. The aluminum frame inside of the backpack was poking through and digging into my back.

First dinner on the trail. We discovered that the food prices on the trek were very high compared to in the cities below.

First dinner on the trail. We discovered that the food prices on the trek were very high compared to in the cities below.

The owners at the guesthouse cooking our meals.

The owners at the guesthouse cooking our meals.

Sarah and I still with heavy packs.

Sarah and I still with heavy packs.

The first guesthouse we stayed in. Pretty comfy place.

The first guesthouse we stayed in. Pretty comfy place.

Catching some our first views of the high peaks.

Catching some our first views of the high peaks.

I think this was day two. Still hiking through forest at this point.

I think this was day two. Still hiking through forest at this point.

Starting to see snow and better views of the mountains.

Starting to see snow and better views of the mountains.

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I was trying to get a better view of the valley.

I was trying to get a better view of the valley.

We saw many yak along the way but none as pretty as this one.

We saw many yak along the way but none as pretty as this one.

Yak caravan.

Yak caravan.

We witnessed this woman tossing rocks to keep her yak in line, literally. She would be awesome and cornhole.

We witnessed this woman tossing rocks to keep her yak in line, literally. She would be awesome and cornhole.

A little bitty we saw along the way. Adorable.

A little bitty we saw along the way. Adorable.

More snow!

More snow!

Langur monkey.

Langur monkey.

More Langur monkeys. These guys don't try to steal your food like other monkeys we've come across.

More Langur monkeys. These guys don’t try to steal your food like other monkeys we’ve come across.

Water powered Buddhist prayer wheels.

Water powered Buddhist prayer wheels.

At one of the security checkpoints we came across this fabulously dressed guard.

At one of the security checkpoints we came across this fabulously dressed guard.

This guy was posing for us, clearly proud of himself.

This guy was posing for us, clearly proud of himself.

We met the owner of this guesthouse at lunch earlier that day. He convinced to stay at  his place by offering us a free room and tea. We ended up staying at his sister's lodge further up the mountain for the same deal.

We met the owner of this guesthouse at lunch earlier that day. He convinced us to stay at his place by offering us a free room and tea. We ended up staying at his sister’s lodge further up the mountain for the same deal.

The guesthouse we stayed at on night two.

The guesthouse we stayed at on night two.

Women drying and collecting hay near our guesthouse on the second night.

Women drying and collecting hay near our guesthouse on the second night.

Keeping warm by burning yak dung in the stove.

Keeping warm by burning yak dung in the stove.

This chicken spent the night with us and kept warm in his box.

This chicken spent the night with us and kept warm in his box.

Sarah the morning of day three. We dropped on of our sleeping bags at a previous guesthouse. It was her turn to sleep with the blankets.

Sarah the morning of day three. We dropped on of our sleeping bags at a previous guesthouse. It was her turn to sleep with the blankets.

The owner's son hanging out with us at breakfast.

The owner’s son hanging out with us at breakfast.

Sarah and the owner's son doing squats I think.

Sarah and the owner’s son doing squats I think.

Click on the image to watch a video of the little guy chopping wood.

Click on the image to watch a video of the little guy chopping wood.

Warming up with tea on day three.

Warming up with tea on day three.

The owner of the guesthouse we stayed at on night two offered to carry Sarah's bag. I was carrying the rest of her stuff so she had to carry nothing at all that day. How'd she swing that?

The owner of the guesthouse we stayed at on night two offered to carry Sarah’s bag. I was carrying the rest of her stuff so she had to carry nothing at all that day. How’d she swing that?

We didn't stay here but passed through Langtang village on our way up the valley. It was the biggest village in the valley, boasting a cheese factory and bakery. It gets its power from hydro and solar.

We didn’t stay here but passed through Langtang village on our way up the valley. It was the biggest village in the valley, boasting a cheese factory and bakery. It gets its power from hydro and solar.

Panoramic of Langtang village.

Panoramic of Langtang village.

Ah, I can't remember our friends name. Anyway, the owner of the guesthouse we stayed in the night before. He was walking with us to his sister's guesthouse in Kyanjin Gumba to make sure we found it.

Ah, I can’t remember our friends name. Anyway, the owner of the guesthouse we stayed in the night before. He was walking with us to his sister’s guesthouse in Kyanjin Gumba to make sure we found it.

Along the way there were these walls dividing the path. I'm not exactly sure what they're for but we were supposed to walk on the left side of them. Many of the stones have script carved into them.

Along the way there were these walls dividing the path. I’m not exactly sure what they’re for but we were supposed to walk on the left side of them. Many of the stones have script carved into them.

Our friendly volunteer guide/porter playing in the snow.

Our friendly volunteer guide/porter playing in the snow.

Panoramic of the village of Kyanjin Gumba.

Panoramic of the village of Kyanjin Gumba.

Finally, we'd arrived at our final destination in Kyanjin Gumba. It was a bit chilly that day so we were soaking up the sun.

Finally, we’d arrived at our final destination in Kyanjin Gumba. It was a bit chilly that day so we were soaking up the sun.

Jorge was hungry after our third day of hiking.

Jorge was hungry after our third day of hiking.

Once the clouds rolled in Jorge went inside to warm up under some blankets.

Once the clouds rolled in Jorge went inside to warm up under some blankets.

The extra day spent in the village of Kyanjin Gumba allowed us to do a day hike to a high peak right behind the village. The peak was called Kyanjin Ri and it stood at around 4500 meters (14,760 ft.), which is higher than any peak in the contiguous 48 states. We set out early in the morning in order to give ourselves plenty of time to reach the peak, take in the view and finally make our descent. I was especially eager to make it to the peak. Remember, I had special plans for the day.

The weather that day could not have been any better. Seriously, it was perfect. The day before the valley was full of clouds, obscuring most of the mountains surrounding us and we were worried that the next day would be the same. The night before the skies cleared and those clear skies carried over into the next day. There was not a single cloud in the sky for the entire hike to the peak.

Hiking to the top was slow going. The terrain was steep, covered in snow and rocks at times, and we had thinner air to breath at the high elevation. For most of the hike I was at the front with Sarah and Jorge following close behind me. As we got closer to the top I tried to put more space between Sarah and I and Jorge, resulting in Jorge being a few minutes behind us most of the time, but still within sight. At one point Sarah asked me if we should wait for him, to which I responded, “he knows the way”. Now, I’m not usually this inconsiderate with my fellow hikers. But I wanted to be at the top of the mountain alone with Sarah. She didn’t know what I was up to and thankfully agreed to keep moving with me.

Almost to the top of Kyanjin Ri.

Almost to the top of Kyanjin Ri.

Sarah and I making our way up to Kyanjin Ri.

Sarah and I making our way up to Kyanjin Ri.

A view of the village of Kyanjin Gumba from the trail up to Kyanjin Ri.

A view of the village of Kyanjin Gumba from the trail up to Kyanjin Ri.

At this point I think we were about 1/3 of the way to the peak.

At this point I think we were about 1/3 of the way to the peak.

The views at the top were amazing. We had completely clear skies in all directions. As soon as Sarah and I reached the summit I decided it was time to do what I came to do. I grabbed her hands, expressed my love and desire to continue this awesome journey with her for the rest of our lives, knelt and asked her to marry me. To which she initially responded, “are you serious?” To which I said,”would I joke about this?”. After reassuring her that this was really happening, she finally said YES! Nice.

Sarah and I have been together for nearly five years and it has been an amazing five years at that. My life is truly enriched by her and I only see it getting better. I’m happy she said yes and I couldn’t have asked for a better place or day to have proposed. (I apologize for the high level of mushiness in this part of the blog.)

On the peak of Kyanjin Ri.

On the peak of Kyanjin Ri.

Clear skies with great views.

Clear skies with great views.

Soon after the proposal Jorge reached the top and had no idea what had just happened. We spent about an hour on the peak soaking up the sun, drying our socks and shoes, and taking in the the amazing views. On one side of us were two receding glaciers and on the other a long line of amazing mountain peaks and the valley below.

Shots of the two glaciers.

Shots of the two glaciers.

Langtang Valley, looking north from the peak.

Langtang Valley, looking north from the peak.

You can see the path that the glacier created while it was still moving downward. It's pretty amazing to see the power that a glacier has.

You can see the path that the glacier created while it was still moving downward. It’s pretty amazing to see the power that a glacier has.

Jorge representing Brazil and making is friends back home jealous at the same time.

Jorge representing Brazil and making is friends back home jealous at the same time.

Soaking up the sun.

Soaking up the sun.

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An avalanche off in the distance. Don't worry mom, it wasn't anywhere close.

An avalanche off in the distance. Don’t worry mom, it wasn’t anywhere close.

Many hikers know that going down a mountain is sometimes the most difficult part. This proved to be the case that day. The temperature had risen to soften all of the previously crunchy snow we had hiked up on. This meant that going down was slippery and at times a bit scary, especially for a our new-to-hiking friend Jorge. But after a few slips and falls, some hard decisions about which path down the mountain was the least dangerous, we’re happy to announce that Jorge made it down safely. The only casualty was one of his poles. Luckily for him, he found a pole at the end of the hike that someone else had lost. A  couple days later that pole met the same fate.

Jorge making his way down the mountain by any means possible. Sarah are I were scared for his life several times. Nice job Jorge. :)

Jorge making his way down the mountain by any means possible. Sarah and I were scared for his life several times. Nice job Jorge. 🙂

The Sun: 1, Sarah: 0. We purchased sun screen in India that didn't quite do its job as the store owner told us it would. India: 50, Sarah and Dave: 3.

The Sun: 1, Sarah: 0. We purchased sun screen in India that didn’t quite do its job as the store owner told us it would. India: 50, Sarah and Dave: 3.

Jorge recovering from the day hike.

Jorge recovering from the day hike.

It took us two days to make our way back to Syafru Bensi. The days were a lot longer because we could cover more ground going down hill. We spent one more night in Syafru Bensi before heading back to Kathmandu on the same dreaded bus we took there.

My favorite breakfast of porridge and honey. I was able to turn Jorge onto this amazing dish but not Sarah.

My favorite breakfast of porridge and honey. I was able to turn Jorge onto this amazing dish but not Sarah.

This guy makes the best veg and cheese momo on the mountain, possibly in the world.

This guy makes the best veg and cheese momo on the mountain, possibly in the world.

We left early this morning so we didn't have to hike through slushy melted snow.

We left early this morning so we didn’t have to hike through slushy melted snow.

Click on the image to see a video of Sarah hiking in the beautiful Langtang Valley.

Click on the image to see a video of Sarah hiking in the beautiful Langtang Valley.

View of the valley on our way down early on day one.

View of the valley on our way down early on day one.

These porters are amazing.

These porters are amazing.

This little guy and his brother were doing some sledding a small patch of snow.

This little guy and his brother were doing some sledding on a small patch of snow.

We passed these ladies along the way. They appeared to have some sort of work party/gossip session going on.

We passed these ladies along the way. They appeared to have some sort of work party/gossip session going on.

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Most people carry heavy loads with straps strung across their heads.

Most people carry heavy loads with straps strung across their heads.

Cool little group of houses we passed through on our way in and out.

Cool little group of houses we passed through on our way in and out.

This is one old tough dude. He looked like he was in his 60's. He had a traditional Gorkha (?) knife strapped to his waist.

This is one old tough dude. He looked like he was in his 60’s. He had a traditional Gorkha (?) knife strapped to his waist.

A bridge decorated for the Tibetan New Year. There's a large Tibetan population living in these mountains.

A bridge decorated for the Tibetan New Year. There’s a large Tibetan population living in these mountains.

Some of the guesthouses make handy crafts to sell as another source of revenue.

Some of the guesthouses make handy crafts to sell as another source of revenue.

Another guy carrying a heavy load. I didn't happen to catch any woman porters but they were out there as well carrying heavy loads.

Another guy carrying a heavy load. I didn’t happen to catch any women porters but they were out there as well carrying heavy loads.

This guy is a pro bumpy-bus rider. He strapped himself in so that he could fall asleep without falling out of his chair. Smart.

This guy is a pro bumpy-bus rider. He strapped himself in so that he could fall asleep without falling out of his chair. Smart.

One of my favorite quick eats in Nepal. It consists of chickpeas, potatoes and beans. Yummy.

One of my favorite quick eats in Nepal. It consists of chickpeas, potatoes and beans. Yummy.

Tightening the lugs on the wheels before our long bumpy descent back to Kathmandu.

Tightening the lugs on the wheels before our long bumpy descent back to Kathmandu.

A funny sign we saw in Kathmandu at one of the shops. Nepali people seem in general to be good humored.

A funny sign we saw in Kathmandu at one of the shops. Nepali people seem in general to be good humored.

The Langtang trek was amazing and surely exceeded all of our expectations. Sarah and I were very happy to share the experience with our friend Jorge. It was his first time hiking, seeing real snow, and being in the mountains. Nice work Jorge. And best of all Sarah agreed to my proposal. I knew she’d say yes.

Categories: Nature, Nepal, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , | 15 Comments

Elephant Safari in Chitwan National Park

We decided to stop in Sauraha before our visit to Kathmandu since we would be so close coming from India. Sauraha is the town near Chitwan national park in Nepal. They have similar animals as India, but they also have one horned rhinoceros and elephant safaris. We wanted both of those things so we decided to go.

Chitwan Panoramic_01

We got an added surprise when we arrived in Sauraha-a food festival! The beginning of the food festival started the very day we arrived. They kicked the food festival off with a parade of elephants and local groups of people competing by performing traditional song and dance. We were in Nepal now and there are many differences we’ve seen compared to India. One that we noticed during this parade was being able to see the parade and not getting pushed out of the front. Granted, there were way less people for the food festival versus the new year parade, but still.

Nepal also included a lot more elephants versus one.

Nepal also included a lot more elephants versus one.

Decorated elephant.

Decorated elephant.

They played traditional music and dance.

They played traditional music and dance.

These women were dancing with pots on their head. Amazing.

These women were dancing with pots on their head. Amazing.

They couldn't compete with the dancing pot heads.

They couldn’t compete with the dancing pot heads.

There were only a few little ones.

There were only a few little ones.

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They had a lot of different local cuisine at the food festival. The very first place we went to had local dog meat for sale. We opted to try the egg. We also tried some grilled chicken marinated with nepali spice and a very tasty nepali potato salad. We then rested for awhile, watched the sunset and headed back for some more tasty food, Nepali beer, and live entertainment.

Dog meat was on the left, second from the bottom.

Dog meat was on the left, second from the bottom.

Yummy boiled, battered, then fried egg.

Yummy boiled, battered, then fried egg.

I don't know why Santa was there...it was February.

I don’t know why Santa was there…it was February.

Grilled chicken.

Grilled chicken.

Dug out canoe on the river at sunset.

Dug out canoe on the river at sunset.

We've seen so many beautiful sunsets on this trip.

We’ve seen so many beautiful sunsets on this trip.

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Hanging out listening to the local music

Hanging out listening to the local music

Gorkha beer and pakora.

Gorkha beer and pakora.

They also had traditional and not so traditional dance performances.

They also had traditional and not so traditional dance performances.

The next morning we woke up real early to catch the first elephant safari. We got up before the sun and headed toward the elephants in the fog. They have platforms the height of the average elephant and instruct the elephant to back up as close as he or she can to the platform. You step on the elephants back and then into the howdah (or passenger seat). There were four to a howdah so two other people joined us. We literally were the first elephant to start that morning. It was still foggy when we started and very cool to see the park-well, technically, it’s the buffer zone-in the morning with all the mist. Elephant riding isn’t the most comfortable ride, but it wasn’t uncomfortable either. It was more comfortable than the camel safari for sure, but maybe that was just because I didn’t have a camel sak in my face.

Anyway, we road around the park looking for animals, specifically a rhino, for about an hour and half. We saw many birds and deer just as we had in India. We must be very lucky when it comes to nature and animals in the wild because we came upon a rhino eating his breakfast-thankfully they only eat leaves. Because we were on an elephant we pulled up right next to the guy. He didn’t even know we were there until the other elephant came beside us. He went from calmly eating his breakfast to agitated very quickly once he realized we were there. So we left before he could charge. I’ll apologize for our pictures in advance. It’s hard to take pictures of moving animals. It’s even harder to take pictures of moving animals when you’re on a moving animal.

Early morning jeep ride to the elephants.

Early morning jeep ride to the elephants.

Elephant platform

Elephant platform

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Elephants in the mist.

Elephants in the mist.

Each elephant has his own driver for his whole life. They use a spiky metal rod and rope to keep the elephant in line.

Each elephant has his own driver for his whole life. They use a spiky metal rod and rope to keep the elephant in line.

He drove the elephant with his feet.

He drove the elephant with his feet.

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Unaware rhino

Unaware rhino

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Finally noticed two big elephants right next to him.

Finally noticed two big elephants right next to him.

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Check out the rack on this deer.

Check out the rack on this deer.

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Peacock.

Peacock.

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It was a short glimpse into the park, but it was all we could afford. We then headed to kathmandu and celebrated the rest of valentines day very romantically with chocolate and a beer.

Horse and cart ride to the bus.

Horse and cart ride to the bus.

Feeling the love on valentines day

Feeling the love on valentines day

Our second nepali beer, Nepal Ice.

Our second nepali beer, Nepal Ice.

Very romantic!

Very romantic!

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Categories: Nature, Nepal, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Goodbye India…Hello Nepal

Sarah and I have long awaited our trip to Nepal. The biggest reason being the great trekking that the country has to offer. I’m not talking about the crazy mountaineering that involves hiking to extremely high elevations, for instance, climbing Mt. Everest. Nepal is well suited for amateur hikers as well and provides relatively easy access to the amazing Himalayan mountains. Beyond trekking, Nepal is known for its great people and other natural attractions like low land wildlife and forests. The other reason we were so keen to get to Nepal was because we’d grown a little road weary from our two months of travel through India. Don’t get me wrong, India is AMAZING! But, it’s also an exhausting place to travel. We’ve related some of the challenges in previous posts.

Before heading to Nepal we spent our last couple of days in India in its capital city, Delhi. We’d already been to Delhi briefly in order to catch a train east to Agra (Taj Mahal), but had to make our way back in order to catch another train that would take us close to the Nepal border. We didn’t do anything noteworthy with the rest of our time in Delhi except for some minor sightseeing, eating some of the tasty street food and lounging around in one of the city’s parks.

We've seen these open barber shop stalls all over India.

We’ve seen these open barber shop stalls all over India.

Shot from outside the gates of this Fort on a very hazy day.

Shot from outside the gates of this Fort on a very hazy day.

This guy was repairing and ironing money. Does this count as money laundering?

This guy was repairing and ironing money. Does this count as money laundering?

There was a Valentine's Day promotion going on. If you buy one Love Nut donut you get the second for free. Sweet. By the way, the coffee tastes just like it does in the U.S.

There was a Valentine’s Day promotion going on. If you buy one Love Nut donut you get the second for free. Sweet. By the way, the coffee tastes just like it does in the U.S.

Lounging in the park. This is where all of the love birds hang out. Here is where we saw the most contact between the opposite sex. In this case they were all young, mid 20's or so.

Lounging in the park. This is where all of the love birds hang out. Here is where we saw the most contact between the opposite sexes. In this case they were all young, mid 20’s or so.

There aren't many green places to hangout so the park gets pretty crowded. This the security checkpoint to enter.

There aren’t many green places to hangout so the park gets pretty crowded. This is the security checkpoint to enter.

The line to enter the park.

The line to enter the park.

Yummy street food. Potato sandwich with a side of potatoes.

Yummy street food. Potato sandwich with a side of potatoes.

The potato chef at work.

The potato chef at work.

The omelette chef at work.

The omelette chef at work.

Happy customer with her bread omelette in hand.

Happy customer with her bread omelette in hand.

Though we didn’t take in many of the sites during either of our visits we did enjoy a couple of fun conversations, one of them with a group of touts “working” the New Delhi train station. I decided to interview them to better understand the scams they try to run with tourists. Surprisingly, though slightly reluctant at first, they were willing to share, and even let us observe, as long as we didn’t warn the unassuming tourist.

Here’s what they shared. A group of about eight of them work two shifts during the day. They stand as a group at the entrance to the parking lot of the train station, perched on the highest platform they can find in order to spot their prey as he or she approaches (prey being anyone that looks like a tourist). One of them leaves the group and starts walking in pace with the tourist, almost as if they are stalking them like predator with prey, and eventually meets them at their side to tell them one of many lies in order to divert them from their intended task of either buying tickets or entering the train station to board their train.

If the tourist is trying to buy tickets the tout will pretend to be someone official or just a friendly citizen and tell them that the foreign tourist ticket office is closed or provide some other reason why they can’t purchase tickets at the station. The tout’s goal is to take the tourist to one of the many private ticket reservation offices nearby to purchase their ticket there. If the tout is successful in this endeavor he will share a portion of the profit made from the tourist buying their ticket. This profit is then shared with the rest of the touts working that shift. So it’s both fair and unfair at the same time, I guess. I wanted to stay longer to ask more questions and observe a few more hunts but one of the touts was being a little to “friendly” with Sarah so we had to move on.

Another scam we were not told about but encountered on our way to Agra during our first stop in Delhi went down like this. Our train was scheduled to depart very early in the morning. So early that there weren’t the usually crowds of people hanging out near the train station. We entered the parking lot without encountering any touts–we assumed that they didn’t start “working” until later. But upon entering the train station through the security checkpoint a man greeted us with a clip board and pen, reviewed our tickets, and then told us that the tickets were not valid and that we would have to purchase new ones. Sarah and I immediately realized what was happening, took our tickets back and entered the station. As we passed the man Sarah yelled, “you suck!”. After determining which platform our train was located at we made our way towards the raised walkway that would take us there. To our delight there was yet another official looking guy with a clip board and pen in hand ready to check our tickets. This time we didn’t bother handing him our ticket and walked right passed him, again, sharing our disdain for him. We were slightly concerned that this guy did actually work at the train station. But it turned out we were correct in assuming that he was a tout.

Aside from the touts, the other fun conversation we had was with a retired U.S. citizen that was born in the northwest region of India, near the modern day states of Kashmir and Ladakh. Ifty is his name. We ran into him while trying to buy grapes from a fruit stand at the market near our hotel. He had been traveling through India for a few months at that point. We exchanged stories of our experiences in India and he shared what he knew of the history of India and his opinion about the changes taking place in the country. He loves India and is proud of the progress the country is making. Because he can speak Hindi so well he was able to ask for recommendations on where to get the best masala chai. It turned out that the best place was at the market where we met. Sure enough, it was most definitely the finest masala chai we had in all of India. We spent another 30 minutes or so with him chatting before we parted ways.

Best masala chai in India!

Best masala chai in India!

Our friend Ifty and us. Great guy!

Our friend Ifty and us. Great guy!

The master at work. Really, this was the best masala chai we had. He would change the intensity of the flame from time to time and watch the foam on top. Though I tried, I couldn't figure out his secret. Guess we'll have to go back some day.

The master at work. Really, this was the best masala chai we had. He would change the intensity of the flame from time to time and watch the foam on top. Though I tried, I couldn’t figure out his secret. Guess we’ll have to go back some day.

Later that night we caught the last train we’d take in India on our way to Gorakhpur, the nearest train station to the India/Nepal border crossing location where we chose to cross. During that trip we met a fellow long term traveler from Brazil, Jorge (George). He was also on his way to Nepal and after a couple hours of chatting we all decided to make the trip across the border together. Little did we know that we’d run into him again in Kathmandu, Nepal and travel with him for a few more weeks still. More on that in later posts.

To see a funny video of people frantically trying to board the train to Gorakhpur, click on this link or the image below to be taken to the YouTube video.

Mad dash to get a seat.

Mad dash to get a seat.

After arriving in Gorakhpur we had to take a bus to the border town of Sunauli. The experience boarding the bus was one last reminder of the joys of travel in India. When boarding a bus in India with no assigned seats you have to get on the bus as soon as possible to try to procure decent seats, i.e. not over the tires or in the back of the bus. So Sarah and I agreed that I would take the luggage to the back of the bus while she got in line to board the bus and save our seats. As the bus pulled into the pickup location it had to turn around. But a moving bus does not deter people from boarding. Sarah knows this and attempted to board the bus but was stopped by the attendant who asked her to wait until the bus was fully parked. Sarah being the polite person she is obliged and waited at the door of the bus, being sure to stick close to the door as the bus moved in order to save her spot in line.

The request of the attendant may have been followed by Sarah but fell on the deaf ears of the rest of the passengers trying to board the bus. So after returning from the rear of the bus where I had stored our luggage, I found Sarah physically pushing people away from the door to defend her place in line. While pushing them she was also yelling at them to stay back, all the while her mouth was full of samosa, which she had just taken a bite of moments before. With samosa flying through the air and Sarah continuing to push the assailants away, I approached her to lend a hand. Before I could get there another attendant jumped in to save Sarah by forcefully pushing the crowd behind her aside. Thanks to this guy and Sarah’s bravery we were secured four seats, two for us and two for our friend Jorge and his friend Giselle. Too bad I didn’t have the camera handy to capture all of this.

Last train in India. So sad. We love the trains.

Last train in India. So sad. We love the trains.

Sarah soaking up her last ride.

Sarah soaking up her last ride.

The last bus to the border was a little tight. Good thing Sarah fought for our seats.

The last bus to the border was a little tight. Good thing Sarah fought for our seats.

Hello Nepal!

Hello Nepal!

Once in Sunauli the border crossing was pretty straight forward. We got our exit stamps from India and paid for our tourist visa for Nepal and were free to roam. But we weren’t yet at our final destination. We had two more buses to catch before we could settle in for the night. Jorge took the lead on finding the next bus and also securing our seats. Thanks to him we got a bus and the best seats we’d gotten thus far on any bus we’d taken. For the short right to the next bus station we were given the privilege of riding on the top of the bus. It was a great welcome to Nepal and a fun experience to share with our new Brazilian friends.

On top of the world/bus in Nepal with Jorge, Sarah and Giselle (hiding behind me). Oh yeah, the sun was in my face. Give me a break.

On top of the world/bus in Nepal with Jorge, Sarah and Giselle (hiding behind me). Oh yeah, the sun was in my face. Give me a break.

Jorge and Giselle were off to Kathmandu and Sarah and I were off to Chitwan National Park, so we split ways at the bus station–or so we thought. It turns out that Nepal is fifteen minutes ahead of India, so Jorge and Giselle missed their bus due to the time discrepancy. Because of this we all ended up on the same bus one more time, though, they were dropped off an hour or so later at another bus station to find a bus to Kathmandu. Sarah and I continued on with what turned out to be a less than desirable bus ride to Chitwan that arrived at around midnight. The bus stopped and the attendant told us that this was our stop. Seeing no one on the streets and no hotel signs we were hesitant to exit the bus before he showed us where the hotels were. We spotted a hotel sign and reluctantly left the bus, hoping that someone would open up for us. We stopped at the nearest hotel we could find, banged on the door until someone answered and finally settled in.

Welcome to Nepal!

Categories: Cities, India, Nepal, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The only way to visit the Taj Mahal…Indian Style

The Taj is always worth a visit. We had met many people in India who either had bad experiences at the Taj Mahal or knew someone who had a bad experience and said it wasn’t worth it. So, expectations were set low for us and maybe that’s why it was so great-or maybe it’s so great because it’s so beautiful.

We arrived in Agra, the town where the Taj Mahal is located, on a Friday. The Taj Mahal is closed on Friday, but, thankfully, we did research ahead of time and knew this. Because we arrived Friday, we had time to plan which entrance to arrive at and what time we should arrive. We did this so we could be first in line and potentially get the best shots of the Taj without people in it. We had our plan all sorted out.

So, we woke up early Saturday morning, which was right about 5:30 am. We got some chai and cookies on our way to the entrance for our breakfast. We arrived at the entrance around 6 am where there was one group of French guys and a Chinese family. The French guys recommended that one of us wait in the Taj Mahal entrance line while the other waits in the entrance ticket line. Yes, they are at different spots and you can’t be in both at the same time if you’re one person. So, Dave got in the ticket line while I waited at the entrance.

Chai and cookies

Chai and cookies

The ticket booth opens at 6:30 am and the entrance doors open at 7 am. So we had 30 minutes for Dave to get back before the doors opened. And, surprisingly, it worked. Dave got the entrance tickets and came back to the entrance line, where I was waiting, and essentially cut everyone. It was perfect because the line was huge by 6:45 am.

Dave getting back into line after getting our entrance tickets.

Dave getting back into line after getting our entrance tickets.

The very long line at 6:45 am.

The very long line at 6:45 am.

Then, slowly they added more railings to keep the lines in check and each time they added more people inched closer and closer to the door. I was in the ladies line, which was shorter than the gents line. So Dave and I decided that I wouldn’t wait for him and I would just go to try and get the best shots. At some point, not sure if it was 7 am or not, they told the people to go ahead.

I was the first woman through the security and started walking briskly towards the Taj along with the French guys who were also briskly walking toward the Taj. At some point shortly after starting to walk briskly-like .2 seconds after- I decided “what the hell, I’m in India” and started a full out run. I sprinted ahead of the French guys yelling “Indian Style!” (Side note-for reasons unknown to us sometimes Indians run or sprint to everything.) With my lead, the French guys started running also. The both of us got there about the same time, but it did give us a couple of minutes before everyone else arrived.

Worth it.

Worth it.

The fruits of my labor.

The fruits of my labor.

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We decided to stay a couple of hours and see how the light changes on the Taj and then we had our fill and say our goodbyes. The place is very beautiful and ALWAYS worth a visit. We didn’t have any bad experience with touts at all-which might have been the only place in India where we didn’t have tout problems.

I would recommend to anyone to stay the night before, get up early and enjoy it for 30-60 seconds before anyone else. Completely worth it.

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Categories: Architecture, India | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

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