Thursday, February 14, 2008

Trip Statistics

Today is Day 151 of our trip (the last day)! Here are some other statistics about our trip (for our nerdier friends)...

Distance covered overland from Copenhagen to Delhi: 27,000km
Time spent in-transit (overland): 512 hours (21 days)
Average speed: 52 km/h

Inter-city transportation
5 day trains, 16 night trains (mostly in India), 23 day buses (most in Nepal), 3 night buses (only in Europe)

Inner-city transportation
Public bus (too many to count), metro (in 4 cities), mini-bus (in 3 cities), tram (1), tempo (2), taxi (6), shared jeep (3), private car (2), tour bus (1), auto rickshaws (6), cycle rickshaws (2), motorcycle (1), bicycle (3), row boat (1), ferry (1), camel (1) and walking (everywhere)

Hostels (37 nights - in Europe and China), hotels (59 - in Nepal and India), night trains (22), night buses (3), friend's houses (10), ashrams (4), monastery/nunnery (3) and in the desert (1)

222 in total: 12 in Europe, 70 in China, 40 in Nepal and 100 in India

Budget (per person)
$40/day in Europe (including Russia), $30/day in China (including Tibet), and $20/day in Nepal and India

Maximum temperature: 22°C (in northern India)
Minimum temperature: -15°C (in Tibet)
Number of times we did laundry ourselves: 6
Number of times we did our own dishes: 40
Number of mosquito bites: 10 (approx)
Number of outbreaks of food poisoning: 4 (Marieke: 3, Anthony: 1)

Yes, we know we're nerds.

If you have to visit Delhi, go see the toilets

Our impression of Delhi from our first three days here was that it was a place we did not want to be. Our flight home leaves from here, and we had purposely avoided Delhi until we couldn't put it off any longer. Before coming to India, several people warned us that we would not enjoy ourselves - "It's not if you get sick but when," "rickshaw drivers won't take you where you want to go," "all official government tourist offices are fake," "the traffic is nuts" and "the hotels are filthy and infested with bedbugs and cockroaches." Luckily, we found that most of India was very pleasant and we thought that these warnings must be exagerations. Then, we came to Delhi. It is easy to understand why someone wouldn't like India if they started in Delhi. The whole tourist industry here (shops, sights, hotels, rickshaws) seems intent on getting the most money possible from you now, with no consideration that you might ever return.

Still, if you are ever unlucky enough to spend time in Delhi, we have a few recommendations. Visit Old Delhi for a taste of local life and an escape from the hassles of tourist markets (Marieke especially recommends the wholesale spice market).

Go see the Lotus Temple, a beautiful Bahai temple.

And, go see the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. Seriously. The museum itself was well-run and interactive, but the most interesting part was learning about the works of the Sulabh charity. They are dedicated to improving the designs of toilets in India, for many reasons. They are improving sanitation and health. They are reducing pollution. They are creating low-cost alternatives so that even the poorest villages can have toilets. They are reducing water consumption. They are improving the lives of over 600,000 "scavengers" - members of a lower-class (called Untouchables) who clean out pit-toilets and transport the waste. They are generating electricity from biogas and using composted waste as manure. All this, just by rethinking the toilet... It was a humbling experience to think how much waste our toilets back home actually generate.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Rishikesh is most famous as the village where the Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and took up transcendental meditation. For us though, it was just another peaceful place to sit back, relax and get used to the idea that our trip is almost over (less than a week left). We wandered along the banks of the Ganga river (the same holy river that later passes through Varanasi), hiked in the Himalayan foothills and did a bit of yoga.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


After a couple days of Delhi, we had to get out! We headed north to Amritsar (our original destination after Pushkar) - home to the Sikh's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple. It is truly beautiful - simple, but ornate and somehow not gaudy (despite a lot of gold). It sits in a pool of water (err... nectar of immortality), surrounded by white marble buildings. To enter the complex, you have to remove your socks and shoes, and wash your feet. The marble floor is very cold! You must also cover your head.

People of all faiths are allowed to enter the temple (unlike many Hindu temples), so we crossed the bridge to have a look inside - more gold! With music filling the air, standing in line with hundreds of pilgrims was a really "spiritual" experience.

The real highlight for us though, was the meal in the community kitchen. Everyday, thousands of people visit the temple for a free meal of dal (lentils) and chapati (bread). Volunteers prepare the food, serve it and do the dishes. The idea is that everyone sits side-by-side, regardless of caste, religion, gender or race. It was another amazing experience.

Amritsar is also very close to the only entry-point to Pakistan. The nightly flag-lowering ceremony is somewhat of a spectacle and attracts hundreds of tourists (mostly locals). While the guards on both sides of the border march about (like John Cleese at the Ministry of Silly Walks), the crowds cheer and chant patriotic slogans. As the gates slam shut, everyone rushes in for a photo. It seemed more like a sporting event than an official ceremony.

Friday, February 08, 2008

How to take a rickshaw

Delhi is a large, sprawling city, with poor public transportation and roads that are actually hostile to pedestrians. So, we have been forced to take several rickshaws (little three-wheel taxis).

Here's what you have to do:

1. Approach a group of rickshaws (near a train station or major intersection). A lone rickshaw near the hotel will demand a very high price and won't negotiate. Alternatively, stop a passing rickshaw on the street. Other rickshaws should also stop to see what's going on.

2. State your destination to the driver. They will agree and tell you to get in.

3. Ask the price (say "Rupees").

4. The driver will eventually state a ridiculously high price.

5. Walk away. Sometimes, the driver will offer a lower price. Sometimes, other drivers will offer you a lower price. Sometimes, all of the drivers form a cartel and claim that is the only price (in this case, you must walk off and find another group of rickshaws).

6. Keep stating the price you want to pay (we generally stick to what the guidebook recommends as there can be huge differences between cities).

7. Eventually, someone will agree to your price (or close to it).

8. Get into the rickshaw. If you are lucky and the driver is honest, you will soon arrive at your destination. Depending on the city and the traffic, you may fear for your life for the next few minutes as the rickshaw weaves its way through traffic, narrowly avoiding hundreds of collisions.

9. If you are unlucky, this is where the scams begin:

a) You can be taken to the wrong hotel or restaurant - often with a very similar name, and always with inflated prices to cover the driver's commission.

b) You can be taken to shop along the way. Sometimes you agree to the detour, in exchange for a reduction in fare (the driver will get a commission just for taking you). The stores always have inflated prices and poor quality, but you can always
walk out.

c) The driver can attempt to change the fare en-route. He can pretend that the fare is per-person, or say that 15 is really 50...

d) The driver can leave you in the middle of nowhere. This happened to us once when we took a cycle-rickshaw - he took us to an expressway and said that he wasn't allowed on and this was as close as he could get and then demanded full payment.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Hindu pilgrims head to Pushkar for a dip in the holy lake and to visit on the only temples to Lord Brahma the creator. However, even more hippies now head there to "get away from India." It is a small town, with plenty of cheap guesthouses and restaurants serving "multicuisine" and nutella-mars-bar-pancakes. It was a great place to visit for a couple days, to sit back and do nothing (and eat nutella-mars-bar-pancakes!)

However, we couldn't settle in (like many of the hardcore hippies do) and we were glad to be moving on. At least until our train was three hours late - meaning we missed our connection, almost stranding us in (hellish) Jaipur again, and so forcing us to detour to Delhi. But hey, only one unexpected detour in India - not bad...

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Our experience in Chittaurgarh was quite representative of our time in India. We were approached by aggressive "touts" at the train station (often rickshaw drivers interested in commission from hotels or restaurants). We managed to escape them and find a guidebook-recommended place, which was surprisingly nice (we haven't yet found the bedbugs or grime that we were expecting). There is an impressive fort overlooking the city, and it is full of temples (officially 113, although some are hard to spot). And, in general, we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the locals (in our restaurant, a young man was celebrating his birthday and he bought us ice cream sundaes!).

Friday, February 01, 2008

Cooking in Udaipur

Our plan for Udaipur was simple: to take cooking classes. Our guidebook recommended a couple places, but upon arriving in Udaipur we realized that every restaurant and spice shop in town offered their own courses. Luckily for us, this meant that we had plenty of options... We ended up taking four classes, in a very-packed three days. While there was some overlap between the dishes that we learned, we definitely benefited from seeing the different styles and techniques that each cook used.

The first class was with a mid-thirties man who owned a spice shop. He did a really good spice demo, gave us recipes to make our own spice mixes and taught us some of the more time-consuming curries like malai kofta.

The second class (by far our favourite) was taught by a late-thirties widowed woman. Her overall personality and the quality of her cooking and food were fantastic. We also learned some different things like chutneys and sweet coconut parantha (which is SO tasty). Unlike the other classes, we got to actually get involved in cooking.

The third class, wasn't a complete course. We had amazing banana and pumpkin curries at a small restaurant, run by a charming elderly couple. They were so good that we HAD to learn how to cook them.

The last course that we took was with the wife of the owner of our guesthouse. She also taught us a number of dishes, mostly focusing on Rajasthani specialties and desserts.

We made enough food at each class to cover breakfast, lunch and sometimes even dinner that day. Mmmmm...Tasty food...We wrote down all the recipes and so we hope to be able to put on a fantastic Indian feast when we get home!

Between classes, we also managed to see some of the city, including the City Palace and an old haveli (mansion) that had been converted into a museum. We also watched Octopussy, which was filmed here (and shown nightly at every restaurant). In the mornings, we attended a drop-in yoga class, which felt really great. All in all, we had an incredible time in Udaipur.