Google Map It

Even though 2 months may sound like a long trip, it's not. We have an ambitious route planned - one that would have us encircle nearly the entire country. Though plans are going to change and destinations will be added and subtracted, we've mapped ourselves out to have some sort of reference. So Follow Us

Friday, April 24, 2009

Going Home

So we've been tying up loose ends in Israel, but we haven't forgotten our promise to get more stories and more photos and more video posted here - in due time. I just zipped my suitcase for the last time as I begin to accept the reality of my return home starting at 530am tomorrow. I haven't seen the states since May 2008 and I haven't seen my family home in Pittsburgh since November 2007. It's an odd feeling returning home after so long, when you've changed so much and you understand that home isn't a stagnant pool either. Misha and I will say our goodbyes as she leaves in a week. Change is all around. We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

We're Still Here, for now

Been on the run after some last minute ails in Rishikesh, hitting public bus after public bus, 7hrs after 7hrs after 15hrs and sadly going nowhere far - no one promised smooth running asphalt veins in India. Ddin't expect them either. Briefly, I'll say, to whet your appetites, that we shocked our droopy postures and kicked the ground for some last minute adventures. I'm talking braving the tumultuous glacier fed waters of the younger side of the Ganges River in a white water raft then scouting the terrain by jeep and elephant back for tigers and like wild beasts in the wilds of the Corbett Tiger Reserve. Adventurous? Yes. Currently we've settled into luxury, shopping the final days in Delhi.
We'll write you soon. Upon return we'll throw up some slide-shows of the best pics and videos.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Don't Disappoint Me Now

Days fade quietly to night as thoughts only now begin to fall on what it is we've experienced. We wake with morning lacking ambitions, no longer craving to wear shoes thin, but simply to revel in a dreamer's life that has become our own. Four feet drag along taking in the sunny hills of Rishikesh, but hearts and minds rest elsewhere and a complete experience here is not to be. With all but one slice of the pizza gone, who can stuff it down? It's how you feel at the end of things; a calming acceptance of the inevitable and oh, what a fight it was! Not of fear, not of failure, nor of success - but questions to be understood when bags unpack and clothes lay folded. An adventure stands to be ended and what was once life, passion, awe, morning, night - slowly ages, becoming sepia projections of fireside tales. I've got some slides of my India trip from 20 years ago, have a beer and I'll fill you in. Facts, thrilling and mundane, slide haphazardly into the pit of memory to be jumbled and forgotten, remembered and created, told straight then fictionalized. "My fish was 13 inches no 2 feet no a whopper that pulled down the ship on that stormy sea, lucky I made it." Impossible stories for the habitually dormant. Still at the end, knowing what is to become of your reality, even seeing ghosts of it emerge as you frolick in graves, you find yourself not regretting times passing but admiring how it did.

The Taj Mahal.
It's funny how certain images defy ignorance and permeate the collective subconscious. Though you've most likely never seen the pyramids or studied Egyptology, you know they stand, where they stand, who built them, etc. They're a memory you have without ever experiencing them. They're built for the stuff of legends and like all legends uncovered they may just disappoint (they don't, but they could).
I've known of the Taj Mahal as far as I can remember. I don't know why. My father wasn't telling me stories of fanciful India, he was busy trying to remember the story he began to tell me, that he's already told me 20 times, that if I hadn't the patience I'd sit him on my lap and tell him the story of his youth. No, I knew of the Taj Mahal before I knew there actually was an India. Why? I don't know, I just did. And, having known about it for so long, knowing vaguely of "love's greatest triumph", I reluctantly train'd to Agra from Varanasi expecting the nastiness of disappointment.
It was dawn and I hadn't slept. The sky was clear as the sun rose promising 3 hours of perfect photos. If I was to be shattered than through my camera I'd make it seem that legends live.
When I stood before it, after paying that outrageous foreigner entrance fee, I found myself not as a hero maintaining a child's belief in Santa Clause but irrelevant and unable to capture the reality of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal isn't just seen, it is felt. I was awestruck, like some teeny bopper tongue tied and tearing when Johnny Cool Guitar gives her a kiss. Nothing I can do here, no photo, no anecdote, will ever have you understand the presence of the Taj Mahal. The only advice I give you is to go. Sorry, but there's no other way to understand.

Of Course!

Varanasi Ghats

Oh, Jerusalem





Friday, April 10, 2009



Loaded Gorkhaland

Half There

It is because we say it is so!

Brother Gorkhas

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Darjeeling Death Drive

There is always a price to pay!
India has taught us that lesson well, and we have learnt that the nicest things come at the highest price.
Darjeeling has been our favorite part of India by far, and with good reason, the Darjeeling district in the Shiwalik Hills at an average elevation of 6,982 ft offers the best views, smells, air, & teas. It's height truly separates it from the rest of India, making it feel like a country of its own, but the downfall is that getting there is always tricky!
We had to ride the narrow, rocky, unmaintained, steep mountain roads to Darjeeling three times, in a jeep FULL of people. Every single time I almost pooped my pants, literally these were the most terrifying road experiences I have ever had.
Trip 1:
Our 1st jeep experience was on the way from New Jalpaiguri Train station to Darjeeling. Practically everyone that visits Darjeeling come via this train station and takes some form of vehicle (jeep, car, bus) up the hilly mountain roads. The 1st trip actually wasn't that bad in comparison to the other trips to come, but at the time I didn't know that and I grabbed the seat in front of me the entire 3 hour ride up. Now it should be noted that it is only 80 km/ 50 miles from the train station, but it is important to drive very slowly when you are driving on the edge of the scariest cliff, on a road that looks like it was constructed in 1918, with a jeep carrying 12 people. So I held my breath the entire way, didn't look out the window, and tried to forget I read in the lonely planet that 100, 000 people died in car accidents in India last year.
Trip 2: Here is where things get crazy!
The last day of our trek put us in Rimbick, which is where all people end their trek. After that you all jeep back to Darjeeling together, I just had no idea we were all going in one car. We rode a jeep the size of your average mini van with 16 on the inside, and 8 on the outside. By the outside, I mean exactly that - well mostly they stayed on the roof, but there were a few just kinda dangling off the side. In total we had one jeep carrying 24 people, plus all our bags, on the skinniest road (clearly designed for one way, but people drive whatever way they want) on the edge of a mountain cliff. I kid you not there were some corners where we came way too close to tipping right over. The engine sounded like it was having a heart attack, and these Sherpas on the roof are just dancing around up there, or just climbing around the outside of the car while it was moving. One guy almost stepped on Sam's hand because it was resting on the window ledge and he decided to take a walk around the car, using the widow as one of his steps. At one point we were driving through one of the many villages and one of the roof Sherpas kicked some guy on the side of the road in the face, I am not sure if it was an accident? Anyways the guy who got kicked decided to grab the Sherpa by the leg, and try to pull him down... Not really a good thing to do on a moving vehicle...???
This all sounds crazy, but don't worry we at least figured out this kind of nonsense car loading is illegal, when the police showed up the Sherpas just took off and hide in the trees and the driver stopped at this random spot down the road to pick them up, they all hopped back onto the roof and away we went.
Trip 3: Was from Darjeeling back to New Jalpaiguri and would have been fine cause I was getting quite used to feeling my heart in my throat, but they go ahead and put a frigging teenager in the driving seat! A teenage BOY I should add, he couldn't have been more than 18 - MAX! And he drove like a teenager too, way too fast, and way to close to hitting all the other cars. I wasn't even scared for myself this time, but could not get over the fact that the front seat passenger was a husband and wife holding there 1year old daughter in their arms. I mean it's bad enough that none of us have seat belts, but at least give the child a car seat for the love of cheese!
Very lucky for us! We made through all of this alive, and I hope hope hope it is a long long tie before I go ahead an tempt fate that much again.
More stories to come, don't do what we would do...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dry but use the Imagination

Trekking is the name of the game when it comes to backpackers making their way to Darjeeling, 2100m (meters) up there.
The former northeastern hill station of the British empire, recognized early on as the perfect place for a sanatorium, hosts the highest altitude tea plantations in the world and breathtaking views of the Himalayas - if you're granted clear skies. Oddly distinct from its fellow West Bengal city, Kolkata, there's little left to wonder why the majority population in the hills seek separate statehood. Sharing little in common, if anything at all, with the Bengali majority of West Bengal, the Nepalese centered culture of the Hills has sought political identity through the Ghorkaland movement leading to civil unrest that sadly lead to violence on more than one occasion. Fueled by Nepali immigrants via the Indo-Nepali Treaty of 1950, the distrust of their Bengali statesmen in Kolkata, and the flexible histories of the Hills, Darjeeling, along with surrounding areas, have become a hot bed of political unrest that perennially try the Democratic ideal of Self Determination. Despite the controversies, Darjeeling remains a vacationing spot for the socially elite as well as a convenient starting point for adventurers seeking the awe-inspiring Himalayas. Enough of the pamphlet talk...

The Singalila Ridge Trek has become a favorite for those willing to try the elements for 5 days. After getting the run around by every travel agency in Darjeeling, Misha and I opted to skip the "organized" trek for the seemingly more adventurous mode of the "unorganized" trek...cheaper too. We're not so naive to believe we could handle a 5 day trek on the Nepali border, averaging 3000m plus, without a guide, but the porter/cook didn't seem necessary.
After a 6am wake-up we hopped some local shared taxis and rode them through the fog and rain and ominous heights leading to Manay Bhanjang, Singalila's starting point. There we logged our passports with the Indian Army, a task frequently required throughout the hike, and hired a Sherpa through the Singalila Park.
I'm not going to give a play-by-play of the rest, but the first 7km were straight up and both Misha and I were having second thoughts. From there on we got the pace of the trek. We walk, mostly climb, for 4 hours, then stop in a small village for tea/lunch, then continue on for the 2-3 hours, until dinner. The trek is set so every 7km-15km there is a small town, either to eat or sleep in. Our days went as followed:

Day 1: Jeep from Darjeeling (2100m) to Manay Bhanjang (2134m), hike to Tumling/Tonglu (3070m)
Distance Covered by foot: 17km (all climbing)
Surprise of the day: We were well aware that the trek follows the Nepali border. We were not aware that we would be crossing into Nepal on more than one occasion. We spent our first night of the trek in Nepal. No, we didn't need visas. Yes, it's legal.

Day 2: Tumling to Sandakphu (3636m)
Distance Covered: 24km (some flat, lotta climbing)
Sandakphu is the highest point of the climb and offers amazing views of the Himalayas, alas the fog/clouds didn't clear.

Day 3: Sandakphu to Molley (3250m)
Distance Covered: 15km (short day)
In the morning I was lucky enough to glimpse Kangchenjunga and Everest, but minutes later the clouds rolled back in.

Imagine yourself 3000m up, thin air, and for 3 days straight skim milk fog fading to 2% at the worst with a constant stream of cold mountain rain and cold mountain air and only occasional fires to get you through the night. It's not a pretty picture and seeing as Day 4 was the last chance to get some views, we were increasingly nervous to be in the precarious position of hiking the Himalayas without ever seeing them.

Day 4: Molley to Sabargram (3536m) to Molley to Sri Khola (2450m)
Distance Covered: 20km (down baby)
Surprise of the Day: After spending the night without ever seeing a fire and constantly waking with pain because wood is hard and some creature out the window wouldn't leave us alone, Tserdin (our Sherpa) woke us at 430am with the news of clear skies. We dressed and backtracked and feasted our eyes on 4 of the 5 tallest mountains in the world, Lhotse (8516m), Kangchenjunga (8586m), K2 (8611m), and Everest (8850m). It was a sight no picture could describe.

Day 5: Sri Khola to Rimbick (2286m) to Darjeeling
Distance Covered by foot: 8km
Surprise of the Day: An 80km jeep ride to Darjeeling, that took 5hrs, and held 25 people...with only 16 inside. More on that later.

On the trail we were surrounded by yaks...not much to say about it, except I couldn't stop taking their photos. Yaks, cool.
Some would complain about the bad weather, but waking up for sunrise after 3 days of seeing only footsteps in the mud then finally viewing all that was always before us was a gift worth waiting for.

Sorry for mostly business but it seemed the best way of tackling our favorite 5 days of the trip. I'll put as many photos as a can throughout the next couple of days and when I develop the 35mm film I'll get it on here too.

The Hampi Disaster

Hampi was my worst nightmare. I guess all trips have to one bad point and I definitely found mine! The first day was actually fairly nice, we rented bikes and went around to all sorts of different temples with palm trees, huge rocky boulders, and endless rice fields as our backdrop. The view reminded us of the set of Jurassic Park, and the entire day we were humming the theme song tune as we peddled. The day was long and sunny, and we stupidly brought only 1 litre of water between the two of us, so the nice day ended with an exhausted, sun stoked Misha. But we made it back alright and we ended our evening with a nice mango lassi and a game of shebesh, at one of the local Israeli hangouts called "Shesbesh".

Day two was the beginning of the end...
I woke up still feeling naseous from the day before and had some breakfast at the restaurant in our guest house. I had no desire to eat, but forced myself to get it down... and that was the last meal I was to have for a week. by 12:00 I was unable to move from the bed, and by 2:00 p.m. the vommiting started. I threw up consistantly every 20 minutes from then onwards, and by 8:00 p.m. I reached a point where I was throwing up consistently for 20 minutes straight with no break... this is when we called the doctor. He came, gave me a shot, and gave me some pills and powders to take in an hour or so and took off. The shot made me fell better for probably half an hour, and then I was back to feeling the worst nasea of my life. I had to play the don't move or I will throw up game, so I laid still until 10:00 so I could take the pill the doctor left for me... I tried with everything I had to keep the pill down, but it was up 15 minutes. I eventually fell asleep and only woke up 3-4 times to throw up in the night.

Day Three...
I woke up hoping I was better???
I sat up slowly, and..... VOMIT.
I knew it was time to go to the hospital. The Killer Indian Sun makes dehydration very dangerous threat, especially for a whitey like me:) it took all my courage to stand up, and I had to walk 1 km in the heat to the boat to cross the river. Then I had to wait for the boat to have enough people to go... it is a very small motor boat ... so it barely took anytime but still I was kinda in a hurry:) Then I had to get in this rocky boat, with a plastic bag around my mouth and the worst nausea in the world. Once we crossed the river I had to walk up this huge ancient flight of stairs carved into the rock to reach my rigsaw. We had to drive 10km to reach the hospital but it took us 30 minutes because rigshaw's don't go fast! The entire time I have a vomit bag around my mouth, and I was "using" it.... the hospital was in Hospet and this city honestly had some of the nastiest smells I have come across in India.
When we reached the hospital the doctor just kept saying "She is in very bad condition, she is in very bad condition."
But I was hooked up to an IV and given lots of anti nausea medication and eventually I was able to drink some water and keep it down. I was in the hospital 1night 2days, and was very weak when I left. The doctor way over charged me for my medical care, and the entire thing cost mee like 300$... which is nothing at home, but very expensive for India. I am defiently a "Budget" traveller, so the issue of paying the doctor became a huge nightmare, we couldnt get money out... and we couldnt go to a bank because it was a holiday... which they neglected to tell us the day before when we arrived at the hospital...actually at first we thought we could pay with credit card because that is what sammy was told. SO I had to leave my passport in some sketchy desk door until the next day when we could produce the cash. I had to call my mommy like a baby and ask her to send me some money, and I cried on the phone like a 2 year old. :(
When I was discharged we had to faces the harshness of India once more, the sun, the constant hounding for money ( either in the form of a tip, charity, or just being grossly overcharged) ... we missed our train so we had to spend a minimum of 2 night/ 3 days in hospet, and this place was butt fuck nowhere India. The only way to leave when we wanted was by plane, but considering how shakey my tummy still was, it was much better than the 30 hour train ride we were trying to take.

I was so miserable and home sick and I can't explain it. Even though I was no longer loosing fluids I was barely able to drink anything, and defiently was not able to eat. The many smells of hospet were like an attack on my stomach, and I couldn't even be near food with out that vomit feeling coming back. Sam and I almost killed each other as we were trapped in the awful place, with nothing to do and a very grumpy, exhausted, crying misha. I was so desperate to go home, because the thought of having india food again made me just want to die... but luckily I was just too far away, and it would have been next to impossible for me to get to Canada. So I had no choice but to wait it out... and so glad that I did!

We ended up spending a lot more money than we intended on that week, in hopes to make me slightly more comfortable, and it was well worth it. Once we reached Beautiful Darjeeling I was a new person... and we rested here for 2 days, until beginning the greatest adventure of my life - Our Trek on the Himalayan Mountains! It was even sweeter because we both felt like we earned it! Sammy did a very good job of taking care of me the entire time! And he called my mom lots of times to make sure she wasn't too worried about me. THOUGH - I really think I owe my recovery to ENSURE though, it was a miracle when we found that beautiful tin of vanilla meal replacement powder, and it was truly my saving grace!
More craziness to come...

5 Days and 4 Nights: Himalayas


"Welcome to Nepal" - really?

Chicken Fat

Mornin' Yak

Kangchenjunga Panorama

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Just for Now

Very little time to fill the avid readers in on the happenings over here, so this will have to suffice until a more extensive update is posted in the coming week. I also promise an uplifting tale written by Misha in the next week or so. Please allow us this absence for now.
For fear of stepping on Misha's toes I'm not going to touch on our trying experiences in Hampi and Hospet. Instead I'll write quickly about how we got where we are and offer an explanation for the prolonged absences.
We left Hospet (the transportation hub for Hampi on the 30 of March). After a purposeful miss of the 38 hour train ride booked to Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) we allowed ourselves to experience the multitudes of transport modes India has to offer. First came the 12 hour night bus from Hospet to Hyderabad - a no thrills ride with AC and pushback seats only *sigh for the forgotten comforts of our favorite sleeper buses. Dropped off at the crack of dawn on the highway nearing Hyderabad, a auto-rickshaw or tuk-tuk swung by and took us to the new airport. Yes, we bit the bullet and flew. Indigo airlines, oddly similar to Jet Blue, landed us safely in Kolkata after a pleasant 2 hour flight. Having 7 hours to kill in Kolkata we opted on not whittling away the time in the overly crowded and quite unpleasant scene of Sealiad (wrong spelling but no time) train station. So we took a taxi, a car from the 50's to the nearest...Pizza Hut. Yes, I was guilty of the following phrase while looking for the Hut with a cabby that didn't know the way and tried to convince us that the previously agreed upon fare was not fair...hmmm...the phrase "There's a KFC and a Domino's...that's a good sign!" Ouch. (in the context of digesting fish filet sandwiches from McDonald's in the Hyderabad airport...ouch). I promise an explanation of our odd diet later though I'm sure some picture must be coming clear. From the wonderland of Pizza Hut we rickshaw'd back to the train station, human walking powered rickshaw. Sweat it. Took the train to New Jalpaiguri. Halted there the next morning then jeep'd it up the bumpy and cliff-hanging insanity two lane road to Darjeeling. Tea anyone? I'll write about it as time comes my way, but none for now.
What's up with the disappearance? Well tomorrow morning we're embarking on a 5-6 day trek along the Nepali border. The Singila Trail promises views of 4 of the 5 tallest mountians in the world including Everest! We're packing light and pumped to go. Got to run but I promise pictures and stories to have the envy of you.