Thursday, August 25, 2005

Almost over

Mim and I are back in Delhi. She flies tomorrow and I fly the day after tomorrow (why does English not have a word for that?).

We've spent most of her trip in the mountains. It was quite a journey from Delhi but every step was beautiful.

Our first stop out of Delhi was Nainital, a popular Indian holiday spot in the mountains. The lake is set among steep hills. It was misty for the whole time we were there but stunning nevertheless.

From there we went to Kausani, a favourite holiday spot of Gandhi. Again, clouds blocked our view of the Himalaya range but the sunsets were incredible.

We had a whole day free in Kausani so we walked down through into the valley below, through some farms and small villages. This tree was a perfect resting spot.

From Kausani we took another couple of buses, climbing further up to Guptakashi. This was just a place to stay overnight, a little village stuck on the side of a mountain. Still, the view from our 100 rupee hotel window was good value!

Early the next morning we got on a bus for Gaurikund where the road stops. From there we did the 14km trek up to Kedarnath on foot, stubbornly refusing offers of porters and horses. It was misty most of the way up and I was worried that I'd dragged Mim such a long way without yet seeing any snow capped mountains.

I needn't have worried because when we woke at sunrise the following morning the view was stunning.

Keen to take advantage of the good weather I scouted around for a guide to take us on a day hike even further up the mountains. We found one named Raul and started off, loaded up with biscuits and water.

We were heading for a mountain lake called Vasukital at 4,300m. As we climbed, it begain to cloud over and we ran into a Sadhu who shared his appropriately coloured supply of orange lollies.

When we finally made it to the lake we were exhausted. We had climbed 800m on a goat track in very thin air. It doesn't show in this picture but the lake had an incredibly eerie beauty.

We didn't stay long because Raul (aka Mountain Goat) was worried about the weather turning bad. He raced back down the mountain with us struggling to keep up.

Mim and I then did the 14km trek back down to Gaurikund and managed to find a shared jeep to Guptakashi where we had left most of our belongings. After a night there we caught a couple of buses back down the mountains to Rishikesh.

Our last couple of days have been filled with sightseeing and shopping in Delhi. At a pavement stall selling old coins we met a hero, a short old man without any fingers. We were browsing coins when he started to yell and scream at the crowd that had gathered around:

"Look, if any of you are going to buy anything step forward. Otherwise please get lost. These people are nothing different from you, infact he probably speaks Hindi better than you do. There's absolutely no need to gawk, you've all seen white people before and these ones are fully clothed. Now get lost all of you before you scare away my customers and ruin my business"

So many moments to treasure!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The condensed version

After several blogging attempts have been foiled by powercuts I've given up hope of writing a long narrative (yay for you all). Thus the following lists, highlighting the most memorable moments of the trip so far.

Best transport moments:

- 19 people in a regular 4WD on a very precarious mountain road. Okay, actually 16 people and 2 small children in a 4WD and one man standing on the the ladder at the back.

- Missing the bus from Rishikesh to Delhi and then chasing it on my friend's motorbike wearing all my luggage on my back. I've noticed that many of my friends with bikes have been influenced heavily by 'Dhoom', the Hindi motorbike version of 'The Fast and the Furious'. Some Indian girls seem to have been influenced by 'Bride and Prejudice', judging by their increased confidence in approaching foreign male tourists.

- Catching the above mentioned bus and then having to sit virtually on the dashboard for seven hours, centimetres away from the front windscreen.

- Watching a landslide occur in front of our bus on a mountain road with a several hundred metre drop to the Ganges. The bus stopped and I tried allay my panic by contemplating the karmic value of death at that particular juncture. It was then that a local entrepreneur arrived crying 'softee, creamy icecream, softee, creamy icecream'. I didn't feel like one.

Best overheard Hindi conversations

- (a restaurant owner chatting up European lady who was showing off her stilted Hindi)
'Actually, your Hindi is better than Sonia Gandhi's'
"Thank you"
'Have you been to Nepal?'
"No but I hear it's quite beautiful"
'You are quite beatiful too'
(It was then that I snorted and betrayed myself)

- 'Quick, he's getting away! Quick, try and think how to say tea in English, I'm sure he wants to drink tea. English people like tea'

- (one guide instructing another on how to deal with foreigners) 'He's English. To English people you should say "hello". It's better if you say it loudly "HELLO!", and you should say it at least three or four times "HELLO, HELLO, HELLO!", then you can be sure that they have heard you. They like it when people say hello to them'

Pilgrim toughness rating on the 14km hike to Kedarnath

1. (you rule) Walking barefoot and carrying your luggage on your head
2. (yay me!) Walking and carrying your luggage yourself
3. (mild blessings for you) Riding on a mountain pony
4. (shame) Being carried by four boys/men on an open palanquin
5. (may you be reincarnated as a working mountain pony) Walking burden free while your exhausted wife carries all your luggage on her head. Telling her she can stop for a rest and then asking her to make you lemon water with the lemons she has carried from your fields. Showing off to a foreign tourist 'look how well she serves me'. Oh the shame, for I also partook of that lemon water. It was very good.

Tranquility moment

- Staying two nights in a 'Lord of the Rings' style mountain village with no electricity. Getting into my warm sleeping bag exhausted from walking after a glass of warm buffalo milk.

Sister's first day in India

- We step out of the hotel and she sees a malnourished baby cow. 'Oh, it's so cute!'. We then see a dog eating a smaller dog. It's already finished on the head and it making a go of the neck. I'm glad she could see the humour of the situation.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

My yatra

So much to write but it will have to wait till I get a good computer and net connection in Delhi tomorrow.

I feel like I've been to heaven and back in the last few days. And almost died in the process.

I spent two nights in a 3,500m high village without electricity at the foot of a 7,000m mountain. Getting there involved a ten hour bus trip and 14km walk.

Incredible. I go to Delhi tomorrow to pick up Mim and will write more then. I've warned her not to panick if there seems to be a high level of security in the airport - it's Indian independence day on Monday.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Return to Rishikesh

After a frantic departure from Hong Kong I spent two nights in London and then arrived in Delhi at noon on Monday.

Delhi airport hadn't changed since I was last here and I knew how charge through all the taxi drivers to find the local bus to get to the long distance bus terminus.

That bus broke down after ten minutes but our 'conductor madam' didn't listen to any complaints and marched everyone on to a replacement. I then got on a bus to Rishikesh which took 8 hours instead of 6 because we got stuck in a road block and had to take a dirt road for several kilometres.

I'm glad to report that India is pretty much the same except that there are a lot more mobile phones, plastic bags and t-shirts with Britney Spears (in her previous more glamorous incarnation). And Delhi has a fantastic looking new metro.

I finally arrived in Rishikesh at 10:30pm and headed straight for my usual hotel. One of my friends recognised me in the dark and came running down the street with her new baby. When I got the hotel the staff were about to eat so I bought some extra curry, rice, chapatis and kheer and we had a celebratory meal.

I got to sleep about 1am and was planning to leave early on a bus to the mountains. That didn't work out and I was woken at 10am by Nandu who works in the hotel:

'Joe, I don't think you're going to Rudraprayag today. It's late and Ashu and Goldie are waiting for you in the hotel lobby. Come fast because there is chai and hot hot parathas.'

It's nice to be back here in Rishikesh :)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

So I'll go but I know...

Many people are expressing their upset about my departure and I've been very touched.

The Nepalese clients at work are convinced that I'm leaving Hong Kong so that I can get married. They've made it clear that they could easily arrange a wife for me should I decide to stay.

Several of the Congolese have taken a different angle. Someone brought a greatest love songs CD today. 'I will always love you' and 'Sacrifice' were played repeatedly as different people took turns at karaoke.

One person couldn't follow the words but did actions instead. The song finished and we then had the following conversation, in front of a very amused audience:

Joe, you bring my hat
You, you bring my hat
You need a hat?
You go, you bring my hat (with a 'tearing chest open' motion)
Oh! You mean 'break my heart'
Yes! You break my hat
No! Break my heart!
Yes, you break my heart. Je t'aime.

I'm looking forward to my leaving party tomorrow. I know that a dance item is being prepared and I'm sure there will be more singing!

In the meantime, it's late at night and I'm at work wondering how I'm going to finish everything necessary before flying on Thursday night. And also wondering why I'm blogging!