Monday, January 28, 2008

Ahmedabad sucks

We were forced to stop twice in Ahmedabad (on our way to and from Mandvi). We barely made it out of the train station - it took us ten minutes to cross the first road, filled with a relentless stream of cars/trucks/buses/rickshaws/carts piled with vegetables/wood/parcels/etc going in every direction at once. We hated it!

Eventually, we did escape the train station, and visited a couple nice sights: we took a "Heritage" walk through some interesting small neighbourhoods, we visited a Ghandi museum and we had a buffet meal (on banana-leaf plates) at a (re-created) traditional village. Still, we wouldn't recommend visiting Ahmedabad unless completely necessary...

Saturday, January 26, 2008


We decided to escape the tourists and touts in Rajasthan, by heading south to a remote beach in rural Gujurat (still in NW India, near Pakistan). We basically spent two nights and a day on the train to get there, but it was worth it.

We stayed in a small town called Mandvi, whose economy is based on ship building and windmills (kinda like Denmark...). The harbour was filled with beautiful (and huge) wooden ships being constructed by hand. We lazily walked around (and biked - just like Denmark...), talking to the ship builders and lumber yard workers. Enormous logs are imported from Malaysia, and manhandled onto sawmills. Then, the huge boards are carted to the ships and carried up rickety scaffolding. It was all very impressive. One ship takes two years to complete.

We spent the rest of our time relaxing on the local "Windfarm" beach. It was a perfect 'vacation' from the rest of India.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bikaner Camel Festival

After the camel safari, we were still in the mood to see more camels, so we headed to Bikaner for their annual camel festival. Here are some of the highlights:

Decorated camels on paradeCamel dancingCamel fur-cutting competitionCamel racesDesert wrestlingMr. Bikaner competition (the man with the biggest moustache wins)Fire dancing

And one last photo of interest: the nearby temple filled with holy rats...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Camel Safari

When we signed up for a "camel safari" into the Thar Desert, small alarm bells should have gone off in Anthony's head. About six years ago, he took a short camel ride into the Sahara and after about two hours in the saddle, he swore never to ride a camel again.

Unfortunately, we had to learn this lesson again: camels are not comfortable! They are awkward creatures that are poorly designed as modes of transport. But, the experience was still worthwhile - dinner cooked over a campfire in the desert, sunset in the sand dunes, and a night beneath the stars...

How to get on a camel:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jaipur Kite Festival

We had semi-rushed to Jaipur to attend the annual Kite Festival, as advertised on the Rajasthan Tourist Office's website. As expected, the skies were full of kites. Although the kites were much smaller than ones back home, everyone was flying one.

However, no one had heard of a "Kite Festival." It's just windy in Jaipur and everyone likes to fly kites. Still, we enjoyed watching the kites fly (and fight) and we walked around to see some of the city's museums and temples. Wandering the streets, we stumbled upon a small banner stating "Kite Festival" - we had found the Rajasthan Tourist Office. They informed us that the festivities were over for the day, but that we should head to the city stadium the next day between 11am-3pm.

We showed up to the stadium about noon, and found it practically deserted. It felt like this stadium was the only place in Jaipur where no one was flying a kite. After a while, the official events began, with several photo ops with prominent politicians and a few demonstrations of traditional song and dance. Then, an announcement asked "all foreign nationals" to come forward and collect their free kites.

As soon as were handed a kite, we were mobbed by about twenty local boys, eager to "show us" how to fly it. Basically, they would fly the kite for a few minutes, before handing it off to us, just in time for a quick photo of foreigners flying kites (and for the kite to plummet to the ground). After losing about six kites to kite-fights (the goal is to cut other kites' strings with your own), we left the festival, feeling like we had been the main "tourist attraction" there.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Taj

No trip to India is complete without seeing the Taj Mahal. So, we left Varanasi and set off for a Agra - a pretty crap city which has nothing going for it except for the Taj Mahal and a fort.

But Agra knows how to make the most of it... You'd figure that for the largest tourist attraction in India, you wouldn't need to have an exorbantly high admission price, but I suppose they know what they're doing. We weren't sent packing at the $20 admission price - equivalent to all of our usual daily budget. I mean how could you not go in?

We spent the entire afternoon admiring the Taj from different angles and in different lighting conditions, and it is a truly amazing site...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


So now we're in India, in a city called Varanasi. Let's just say we're glad that we're traveling overland... otherwise the culture shock that we are experiencing in India would be so much greater.

Our first experience with a new alphabet was three months ago in Russia; our first squat toilet was in China (and we've been carrying around our own t.p. ever since); we first encountered cows on the street in Tibet; and we were first overwhelmed by touts in Nepal. We overcame each of these 'shocks' gradually. If we had flown straight to Delhi, we would probably find it all overwhelming.

Still, India has provided a few new shocks. Rickshaw drivers take you to the hotel with the biggest commission, instead of the one you asked for. There are cows everywhere! And people, dogs, pigs, goats, monkeys - as well as their respective wastes. And there are beggars on every street corner - often young children...

Despite all of this this, our first few days in India have been really good. We escaped the hectic streets and just walked along the (concrete) banks of the Ganga river. Locals use the water for bathing and laundry, and it is also a very holy river. If you die in Varanasi, and are cremated on the banks of the Ganga, then you stop the cycle of reincarnation and automatically go to nirvana, regardless of your past sins. So, there are two sites along the river where cremations are held - 24 hours a day. Along the banks, there are also innumerable temples, palaces and water buffalo.

A few days in Varanasi has helped ease us into our travels in India.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Our last stop in Nepal was Lumbini, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

After having seen the different types of Buddhism in China, Tibet and Nepal, it was really great to finally see the place where Buddhism originated. Lumbini isn't actually a real town, but rather an area with monasteries and temples. The main area is allegedly the exact point of where Lord Buddha's mother, Maya Devi, gave birth to him while holding the branch of a tree. The area was filled with plenty of pilgrams, from all over Asia and from around the world.

Lumbini covers an area of 1.5 x 5 km, most of which is home to monasteries that Buddhist nations around the world have built. It was really interesting as many of these monasteries have been built quite recently and they all seemed to reflect the style of each country and how Buddhism is practiced there. We were able to rent bikes from our hotel so we were able to see most of the area (a number of the monasteries were under construction) in one day.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Buses in Nepal

Nepal has no trains, so to get between cities, you have to take the bus. They leave very regularly (every few minutes) to local destinations, but can take two hours to cover 30km as they make continual stops.

We would arrive at the local bus park, ask for our destination and be shown to an empty bus. A few minutes later, the driver gets on, starts up the bus and starts honking (bus horns sound like clown horns). The bus does not begin to fill up until it starts to move, when suddenly people rush up and jump on board. The bus seats quickly fill up, but the driver keeps stopping for more people. The whole journey is cramped, often draughty and very loud (bus horns are loud - louder even than the ambulance sirens). If the inside of the bus is completely full, people climb up and ride on the roof. As we were often the first people on the bus (we always headed to the bus park to start our journeys), we thought we would never have to do that...

We were just getting comfortable in our seats on the bus from Chitwan to Lumbini, when the bus stopped. The road was being blocked by a local village, as a toddler had just been struck and killed by a bus about a kilometer up the road. The villagers would block the road for several hours, to try to arrange compensation for the family. After about three hours, our bus driver negotiated a solution - we would walk past the blockade and board another bus for the rest of the journey.

However, it seems several other drivers also negotiated this deal - with the same ongoing bus. It was full. As there were no other buses leaving, we had to ride on the roof. As tourists, we were given priority and allowed to sit at the back, as opposed to on top of the pile of luggage at the front of the roof rack. The back was less comfortable (directly on the metal rack), but felt much safer. In the end, about twenty people rode on the roof - including several young children - for about three hours. We realized more than ever how reckless the drivers are, swerving in and out of their lane and constantly accelerating or slamming on the brakes. An experience we hope never to repeat!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Chitwan National Park

After a few more days in Kathmandu's tourist district, we felt like seeing a bit of nature again. Luckily, Nepal provides diverse landscapes for outdoor activities. Near the Indian border is Chitwan National Park - a tiger and rhino reserve.

We opted for a three-day jungle walk, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive wildlife. About 20 years ago, the jungle walks were only a few hours, with guaranteed sightings, but the animals have now moved further away from the park entrance. We were accompanied by two guides - to show us the way and protect us from rhino attacks...

On our first day, we were able to see some large crocodiles, a small deer and a few monkeys. The second day took us further away from the 'jeep safari' tourists (who scare away most of the wildlife), and we spotted a black bear and two tigers - albeit at a distance of 50m and only for a fleeting moment, but still... Tigers! We continued to search for rhinos on the third day, but the jungle was full of local people illegally cutting down grasses and trees (and scaring off rhinos).

Even without a rhino sighting, the walk was fun. We covered about 20km each day, through constantly changing vegetation - grasslands and 'sal tree' forests. We also saw a crocodile breeding centre, a caged tiger (found as a orphaned 'man-eater' cub and too weak to return to the wild) and petted an elephant (unfortunately not wild...)