A Travellerspoint blog

All Good Things Come To An End

From Asia to Africa

Ok, so after 1.5 years I’M HOME!! WOOOHOOO!! :-) The only person in SA who knew was my brother, so my parents were really surprised to see us. When we landed I almost cried with joy! Damn it’s fantastic to be home! Never before have I appreciated space and clear blue skies and smiling fellow South Africans! Being away has made me realize that the “over there” is not greener then “over here”- so I am looking forward to experiencing my country with new eyes.

Here’s what we did in our last week in India:
From the cool misty mountains we entered hot and humid Dehra Dun, where we stayed for just one night. To pass the time we went and watched the new Harry Potter movie- great stuff! The following morning we woke up at 4am and took an early train to Delhi. We braved the crowds and touts and found a place to stay. Later in the evening we met up with Nitin and Julie for dinner and a beer. I don’t know what it was- either the food or the combination with the cheap beer- but in the early hours of the following morning everything came up and out. Amanda also got sick, but no one else. So we don’t know what was up with this….

For the next few days we just chilled. Esther (Amanda’s friend from Korea) flew into Delhi on Monday night- so it was fun to have another girl in our gang! On Tuesday we hired a taxi and went to see the Taj Mahal. Now I don’t know what it “wrong” with me, but to be absolutely honest I wasn’t that impressed with it (or should I say- I was totally blown away). Maybe it was the time of day I went, or my mood or the heat that played a role in forming my opinion of it. Don’t get me wrong- it is a beautiful architectural achievement and I am happy I went. But the overpriced entrance ticket ($18) including a scam I discovered- kinda ruined the experienced. (When we gave our tickets to the ticket-man he took all 4 of them- without tearing a part off. He just waved us on. I saw him place the brand new tickets “discreetly” under a piece of cardboard (to be resold later) - I immediately saw red and demanded him to give the tickets back. Thinking I am an idiot- he gave us back tickets that had seen better days. I begin to shout at him- “dude I can see exactly what you are doing! Do you think I am stupid?” I was so angry! He played dumb and there was nothing else I could do. I was very disappointed in India that day- that even visiting something as special as the Taj Mahal can turn into something ugly.

The next day we said goodbye to Amanda and Esther :- (they took a train to Varanasi) Angie and I took a fancy train to Mumbai. The other 2 times we took trains we were in the lower class, but this time we were with the richer Indians and the difference between the educated and uneducated Indians is as great as night and day! No one stared at us, no one tried to pinch our asses, no one gave us dirty looks! It was so normal! We got some meals served to us and were also given clean sheets and pillows.

Mumbai is also extremely different compared to Delhi. No one really took any notice of us! The guys just walked past us like we were Indians, no one hassled us to take a taxi (they asked and we said no and they walked away). I fought with no one! Yahh! :-). The architecture is so European- so I felt like I was in Paris or something. The buildings were completed and painted. The streets were relatively clean (no cows!) and people seemed more cultured and educated. The public buses were easy to use as were the city trains. We were only there for one day and so we never saw the “other side” of Mumbai, but the picture I saw was really impressive!

So this concludes my Asian life and blog. I hope you enjoyed reading and thanks for reading :-).
Until the next adventure- Peace and Love
Byeeeeee

Posted by piratejax 08:55 Archived in India Comments (1)

Crazy India

Amritsar and Rishikesh

As I step outside the stagnant heat and moisture hits me like a sauna. My brain starts to melt and I can’t think or walk straight. Men on cyclo-rickshaws come up to ask us if we want a lift somewhere; we decline-gotta save money. Instead we take a walk to find a chain and a book to read. It’s difficult to walk on the streets as cars, motorbikes and rickshaws zoom past us, almost crashing into us- I wonder when I am going to be hit….

Amritsar is the biggest city in Punjab and is loud, chaotic and so busy! The city itself doesn’t offer much in terms of tourism, besides the Sikh Golden Temple and a garden (Jallianwalla Bagh) dedicated to the terrible 1919 massacre (the British open fire on a group of peaceful and unarmed protestors, killing hundreds).
We did go and see a rather funny and interesting event: the bringing down of the flags ceremony at the Pakistan-India border.

We took a squashed minivan to the border, 30km away, and waited until the guards allowed us in. Foreigners have their own section in the stadium and it was surprisingly full. The Indian sections are filled to capacity (with more people standing outside the stadium area), with a power-tripping guard who kept on blowing his whistle at “misbehaving” people (i.e. standing). They wear the most ridiculous hats- like a chicken head, so it’s kinda hard to take them seriously.
Women were allowed to run and up down carrying the Indian flag, as the crowds shouted pro-Indian “war cries”. On the Pakistan side similar things happened too. It’s so nice to see both countries being so civil and pleasant with each other! After some time the guards (men and female) line up and do a little march, including synchronized super-high kicks and a fast walk.
Then the flags start to come down, to the background of cheering and shouting crowds.
The whole affair lasted for about one hour, before we braved the crowds to find our way back to our van.

The next day we visited the Sikh’s Golden Temple which is a really fantastic temple to see! So beautiful! A giant wall surrounds it, with a lake (small) in the middle. A temple lies in the middle of the water, where the holy book is kept. We got shouted at by a cocky-idiot who told us we shouldn’t have our photos taken here since it’s a holy place. Idiotic as he was, he failed to see that it’s not us that wanted to have our photos taken with strange men! When I told him to shout at the local men for asking to take our photo, he seemed adamant that it was our fault! I was very close to whipping out all my frustrations I have with the way Indian men treat women! (Blaming us for tempting them etc…)
He couldn’t see that we did not want to talk to him, yet he followed us around and continued to irritate us. He then told me off for showing too much of my hair (I was wearing a scarf with just my fringe sticking out). I pointed out several Indian women who had the same amount of hair showing and told him why he doesn’t tell them too?! He seemed to think that he had a right to shout at tourists, but not the locals. Dumbass!!
We had a quick look at the Sikh museum, and wow were people back then brutal! There were paintings of Sikh’s (who wouldn’t convert to Islam) being beheaded, boiled or flogged. One picture was a guy with his baby being cut up in front of him, and then the body parts were draped over him!

Later back at the hotel there was a huge misunderstanding about our laundry. We had asked the day before how much it cost and they guy at the desk said 25 rupees per kilo. This is cheap so we gave a lot of clothes to be washed. When we got the bill it seemed way too much. I went downstairs to enquire. This resulted in a little fight ;-), which I won! Hahaha!!! I got him to decrease the bill because of the misunderstanding (it was actually 25 rupees per piece of clothing). I think he eventually gave in to my demands, due to the crowd around him, and that he was being shouted at by a woman. I don’t know what has gotten into me, but being in India has given me so much confidence to stand up to the men and fight with them for what I deserve :-). So give me a call if you need a problem to be sorted out ;-P

We watched some movies on T.V. and they always seemed to cut out the sex scenes (even when the scene only suggests a hint of sex or some form or physical contact) and some violent scenes. They also have English subtitles, and they always replaced “sexy” with “hot” in the subtitles…. ?????

We checked out, and waited out the hours before our night train at a coffee shop. Again we had sleeping class tickets and it wasn’t too bad except for the heat and stickiness that engulfed every part of my body. A nice old Sikh took it upon himself to look after us. He said to Angie “you are my daughter and I am your father”. Throughout the journey he would come and check up on us, bring us chips. We got off at Haridwar (Hindu holy city) and had to wait and wait for a bus to Rishikesh. We came here at possibly the worst time of the year- pilgrim time.

Amanda, Kishan and Mayank met us here-like a mini zoo reunion ;-P. It was so great to see Amanda again :-). For those of you who don’t know- I met Amanda in Ostrava; she then came to Korea last year, where she currently lives.

Every year Hindu pilgrims come here (by bus), take a bath in the Ganges and then take some of the water back to their hometown- by walking. Some walk over 500km carrying the holy water which they then pour over their shrines (dedicated to the god Shiva). They all wear orange shirts or shorts and scarves, so are called “the orange shirts”. Everyday hundreds and hundreds of pilgrims come to Rishikesh to fulfill the traditions. Along their way back there are camps set up which offer them free food and place to sleep. All the men are from lower castes- so the water sellers, rickshaw pullers, fruit sellers of India etc. It’s actually pretty amazing what they do for their religion and their amount of devotion is startling (although many just come for the fun and free food). The unpleasant thing about this is that the majority of them are uneducated, so have no idea how to treat women, especially western women! Amanda was pinched in the ass by a guy on a motorbike as he rode past and I was pinched when we were walking in the crowds. They constantly cat call us and just hungrily stare. Being in Rishikesh was probably my worst overall experience of uneducated Indian men. We left after a few days as it became almost unbearable: every morning we would be woken up with their shouting as they bathed in the river, then we had to deal with them anywhere we went- so no peace and quiet. It’s a pity, since Rishikesh is normally a quiet place where you come for meditation and yoga retreats.
A fun fact: The Beatles lived here in the 1968 when they were in India, at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram.

We had to walk amongst the awful crowd, with our backpacks, to catch a bus to get Dehra Dun. From Dehra Dun we took an old fashioned British-like taxi up the mountain (to 2000m) to a small hill station called Mussoorie (where we are now). It’s so beautiful and cool here- lush, green rolling hills and no rude orange shirt men! It’s only us three girls now, since Kishan and Mayank left today,
I reckon we will chill here for a bit, then go back down to face the heat and the next adventure that awaits us….

Posted by piratejax 03:27 Archived in India Comments (2)

Trains are just awesome

Indian trains

We got to the train station well before the departure and so we found the waiting hall to wait out the hours. It was crowded and stuffy. Cockroaches on the floor and flies in the air.
Everyone had set up camp- shoes off and sitting on mats. Men were walking around, bare feet, in loin cloths/towels after taking a shower in the railway bathrooms. Women did the same, but inside the ladies bathroom.

We were in the sleeping class- this is how the average Indian travels and it was really ok. We had the upper and lower side berths with a window at the bottom. Since we were traveling by day (5 hours) we put our luggage at the top and sat on the bottom berth. It was great- we had room to stretch our legs out and a window to look out. So much better than a bus or car!

The scenery was really pretty- green, lush rice paddies with water buffaloes cooling off in the nearby rivers. Kids waving to the train as it rushed past. Boys swimming in a river. Men and women doing their last bit of work in the fields before the sun set. Cows sitting in rubbish dumps. A kid taking a shit on the railway tracks.

There was a creepy dude who touched both mine and Angie’s asses as we walked past him, and he followed Angie out the train when she went to buy water! Even when she sternly said to him “stop following me”, he pretended to not understand and looked the other way. Times like these are when I wish I was traveling with a guy.

We reached Amritsar in the early evening and the intensity of the heat and humidity was incredible! After spending the past 3 weeks in the cool mountains, it was a complete shock to our system. We took a cyclo-rickshaw to the Old Town and found a reasonably priced hotel and hung out in the air-conditioned restaurant. More about Amritsar another time :-)

Posted by piratejax 04:58 Archived in India Comments (0)

I am Kashmiri, Not Indian

Srinagar, Dal Lake and kind people

I had a particular vision of what Kashmir would be like and when we landed- none of my expectations initially existed. What I got was a busy and loud city, and I hoped it would get better. We caught a taxi to the centre and went to the Houseboat Association offices where we met a guy who would take us to Dal Lake to find a houseboat that suited us (and our pockets). He was about 60 years old or so- kind face and soft spoken. We took an auto-rickshaw to Dal Lake and boarded a shikara- a fancy kind of rowing boat- with soft couch-like seats for lounging and relaxing on. We rowed for about 15 minutes- through narrow canals with shops on either side selling all kinds if wares- food, shawls, meat, jewelry etc. We got off at a rather nice boat and we knew he was showing us the best boat, so we would get sucked into staying there. After some tea and toast we asked the price and kindly declined. Mr Ghulam was such a nice man that he let us stay in his house (a real house, but it sits on water, so kind of a “house boat”) for the price that we would pay for a lower class boat! I think it was his daughter’s room- so comfy bed and clean. And we could still use the house boats lounge, TV. This was only the beginning of how fantastic Kashmiri’s are! They are one of my favourite “kingdoms” in India. I can’t say they are my favourite Indians, because they don’t consider themselves Indian, so out of respect, neither do I.

Kashmir is predominately Muslim so we heard the call to prayer 5 times a day and saw many meat houses. (Kashmiri’s eat a huge amount of meat). Due to the unstable political situation here, there are military men everywhere! Soon I got used to seeing men casually walking around with huge rifles hanging from their shoulders. For those of you who don’t know about the political situation and history in this region- I reckon you should go read up about it! ;-)
Kashmiri’s in general are kind, calm, gentle and patient and seem to be tolerant of the Indian tourists that flock here. They basically just want to be left alone by both Pakistan and India- and I don’t blame them!
The women have beautiful narrow pale faces, long noses and piercing eyes. The men sometimes have blue eyes and long protruding noses. They didn’t stare with perverted eyes or dodgy looks, but plain and simple curiosity. Such a welcoming difference compared to other men from India!

We did a one-day trip to a small town called Sonamarg. The bus took 5 hours to get there! I don’t know why I am always surprised when 80km takes this long… Anyways, we only stayed there for 2 hours, and then took the same bus back. The journey itself was interesting. First I talked to Mir, a young man, who asked me strange questions: “Why do outsiders think all Kashmiri’s are terrorists?”, “Do you think Kashmir should be its own country?””Why don’t I convert to Islam and wear a scarf over my head?”…

Then I met a guy who wanted to “be just like Arnold Schwarzenegger”.. He then proceeded to show me photos of him in bodybuilding poses- he even zoomed up on his arms so I can see up close how ripped he is! I had to work on not giggling when he did this. He then asked me for my email address so he could email me photos of his progress into becoming the next Schwarzenegger.

Later that evening we caught a free boat ride back to houseboat with a rather interesting dude. He was once married to a German lady- who renounced Buddhism and converted to Islam for him! She was a Buddhist nun when she met him. They have 2 kids, which live in Germany with her. When her hair started to grow back-, “gold dust grew out. I took it to a goldsmith and he told me to bring more!”… He likes to sit on his boat and play his flute and smoke joints. He said “it was on Dal Lake when I first conversed with fairies”…. Only in India :-)

Sitting on the deck of the houseboat in the early evening was one of my best times in India- the weather was absolutely perfect (could be compared to South Africa)- not humid and with a slight cool wind. The light would turn the surrounding mountains orange, red and yellow. The birds would chirp louder and the air would just become quieter. We watched boats pass us by- most of the local tourists who would all stare and stare at us as they passed, and try to get a photo of us. I felt like I was an animal in a zoo and these people were on an evening boat-ride to see “the foreigners up close”. It was funny when they passed while we were eating dinner- because it could be likened to the “feeding time” in a zoo ;-) Soon I learnt and would duck behind my book or hide behind a scarf.

While walking around we experienced weird things. Some street kids came and asked for money; I gave them bananas and they looked so sad and again asked for money! So ungrateful! Some other kids once asked us for money and when we said no, they proceeded to pinch our boobs! I almost slapped them, but then thought it’s not their fault- they don’t know any better.

A guy walked around with us, trying to be like a guide or something. Besides the fact that he was annoying, it was funny when he would point out the obvious: “here are some children’s clothes, kitchen stuff, shoes”. I wanted to say “no shit Sherlock”… The best was when he pointed to a table with pineapples and said “that’s a pineapple and we make juice out of it”… Really? I would never have known! ;-)

I don’t like it when local men take it upon themselves to “look after us”, like we are idiots and need their knowledge and protection. This is not the first time we have been taken as fools, and I know their intentions come from a good place. But I wish they would stop it and just leave us alone!
Our “dad” (from the family houseboat we stayed on) was protective of us as well- helping us with catching buses etc. But the way he did it felt more genuine and kind. And he didn’t think we were stupid or incapable of doing things on our own.

The number of photos that we have been in is phenomenal! These days I politely say “no thanks” and walk away- even if they are begging like a dog. After 2 months of standing looking like a fool, I have had enough of it! Especially when the guys put their arms around us, or try to hold our hands! So rude!!!!! Would they ever do that to an Indian woman? I don’t know why they feel they can treat us like this. Angie and I have had so many discussions on why some Indian men are so perverted and see us as porn stars…

A funny thing happened 5 minutes ago. I went out to get some tea for us and while I was waiting for it one guy took a photo of me sitting there. In less than 30 seconds there was a crowd (a mob?) of at least 40 men- I am not kidding! They all whipped out their cameras and tried to get a photo of me. It all happened so fast. Different guys took turns in sitting next to me- one tried to put his hand on my knee. The owner of the shop shouted at the crowd to go away and told me to come sit behind him. So there I was basically hiding from the western-woman-hungry crowd who reluctantly moved away. An old sadhu also came up and in broken English told me he would not allow anyone to take photos of me. It was funny to watch him tell any man to keep walking. Even though he spoke in Hindi I guessed he was saying “move along folks, nothing to see here”. Then a policeman arrived- to ask what the commotion was about. Hahaha – it was only me being me ;-). I know I hate all of this now, but when I go back home I think I’ll miss the celebrity-ness of it all ;-)

From Srinagar we took a shared car to Jammu (10 hours; worst ride ever) and stayed the night there. We were hit badly with the humidity there and to top it off we got room service from a dodgy guy who liked to stand too close to me; hang around in the room way too long and would enter without knocking. From Jammu we took our first Indian train ride to Amritsar.

Posted by piratejax 04:04 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Land of High Mountain Passes

Leh, Hemis, Khardung La, rafting, biking

The northern high-altitude (3505m) desert region of Ladakh, which means the “land of high mountain passes”, is an entirely different world compared to the rest of India. It is the most isolated and sparsely populated region in India and is called “Little Tibet”, owing to the dominance of Mahayana Buddhism for the past one thousand years. Being there I felt like I had left India- as there were no visible signs of Hinduism and the native people living there look Tibetan. The land is dominated with Buddhist gompa’s (monasteries) built on the sides of cliffs and there are colourful prayer flags everywhere.

Leh is the capital of this region and is made up of both mud brick houses and also modern-looking buildings. All around the town are huge mountains and in the distance I could see many snow-capped peaks. Even though the town has upgraded its technologies to keep up with the times; there is still a feeling of oldness and authentic-ness of days gone by. Walking around the Old Town I could almost get stuck in what past could’ve been like.
Due to the close proximity of China and India there are many soldiers and army bases in this area. This does kind of deter the magic and mysticism of the place, but I guess the ugliness of politics ranks first in these parts.

We arrived in Leh in high season, so finding accommodation wasn’t so easy. Me, and another girl who traveled in the same van from Manali, walked around to try finding a place. We eventually came across a sweet old lady who offered us some rooms at a fantastically low price.
For the rest of our first day Angie and I just chilled and enjoyed choosing where to eat next (but when I am finished with my travels I will not step forth into a restaurant for a very long time. I am so over deciding what to drink and eat!).

Since we had limited days in Ladakh we had to choose wisely what we were going to do. We decided to not go anywhere on our first day; since we had been traveling for 2 days it was a good idea to stay away from any kind of transport for a while and just enjoy the town. The other people who traveled from Manali with us rushed off to get their permits to visit the surrounding areas the following day. Crazy I tell you! After spending 2 days in a car, they went on a one-day trip to see Pangong lake- which is 5 hours away! So they went there, saw the lake for 1.5 hours and turned around and came back! We were contemplating this, but I couldn’t see the point in just going to see a lake, even if it’s beautiful!
There was a feeling of some kind of peer pressure to see all the “must-see sights in Ladakh”. And we rebelliously went completely the opposite way. Instead of spending hours in a car just so we can say “we saw the lake; here’s a photo for proof” etc, we went river rafting down the Indus River :-)

We choose the best day- cold, overcast and raining, but this didn’t deter us from feeling excited to be going down a river with the great Himalaya’s flanking our course. We were the only westerners, so this was nice! We were given life vests and told about safety rules etc. There were 8 tourists and 2 pro’s who sat at the back and shouted commands at us. It took us a few attempts to get out, since we had to row quite hard and fast to overcome the strong currents. The first rapids were actually pretty scary- with the raft going up and down at huge angles. My feet held on tight- there was no ways I was going to fall into the icy Himalayan water! We had a few more exhilarating rapids and then it was calm. Everyone else was jumping in saying “oh it’s so nice, get in!”, but Angie and I refused to go in. I did not want to be sitting wet, on a wet boat, with no sunshine to warm me up. Ya, we looked like old boring grannies, but they were the ones who almost lost their teeth due to their incessant chilly- chattering!

Leh also brought a new batch of tourists! Unlike our previous experiences of solely Israeli’s, we now heard German, Swiss, French, American, Australian and Korean. It was rather nice to see so many Koreans :-) We treated ourselves to the Korean restaurant, which did a good, yet expensive bibimbap. I am becoming an expert in recognizing where people come from, from their height, shoes, clothes, and how they carry themselves. I was walking behind a group of people and before I heard them speak I just knew they were Czech- they just can’t hide their practical-ness to their attire ;-P.

While we were waiting for the van to pick us up to go rafting, we met two guys who invited us to tea later that evening. They were rather charming lads; one was from Germany (but now working in Basel, Switzerland) and the other from Argentina. They entertained us with funny and interesting stories of their past travels. And it seems that almost all the Germans we have met have seen more of South Africa than we have… I guess this is good inspiration for me to stop leaving South Africa for “greener pastures”.

We also had a chance to visit a famous Buddhist festival in the town of Hemis. The “Hemis Festival” celebrates the birth of some monk or something else (I forgot!). Everyone told us “you must go, it’s going to be fantastic”… Hmm… We took a local bus and walked up to the monastery along with hundreds of other people-local and tourists. I don’t know if I just can’t appreciate a cultural event like this, but I was disappointed. In the middle of the courtyard, monks donning old traditional facemasks did some dance against evil while others bonged on a drum. Maybe it was the huge crowds which took its meaning for me, but I was bored within 20 minutes and spent more time taking artistic photos of this old women’s hand while she leaned against a wall. Nevertheless it was nice to see the countryside and eat 2 minute Maggie noodles with the locals..

Khardung La is the world’s highest passable road, at a height of 5578m! In keeping with our vow to spend as little time in a car as possible, we signed up to a mountain bike ride of a lifetime! A 4X4 with bikes in the back drove us up to the top. As this is a popular spot, the place was bustling with people. They all seemed to think we had rode up to the pass, so gave us great nods of admiration (haha, little did they know…;-) ) We stayed there for a bit (in order for altitude sickness not to set in), took some photos and got excited when snow flurries fell down! We kitted ourselves up with scarves and beanies and hit the road! We were with 2 other boys from Israel who acted like 12 year olds whose voices hadn’t broken yet. Their English was as good as my Hindi so not much conversation went on. There were a number of times I almost crashed into them due to their inability to judge distances between bikes! Stupid boys! Dammit, I’m beginning to sound like an old maid!Help!!

The ride was incredibly! Besides it being downhill all the way- we had the most stunning views of Leh and the mountains around it. I felt like I was on the top of the world! My brakes weren’t the best in the world, and I had to anticipate a stoppage a good 30 seconds before the event. There mustn’t traffic, so we had smooth sailing most of the way.

We stayed in Leh a total of 6 days after which we took a short but mesmerizing flight to Srinagar, Kashmir. I am writing this on the deck of a quaint houseboat on Dal Lake, which is by far, one of the best places I have visited so far. But I am afraid that’s all for now children- as it’s time for bed. More about Kashmir another time. Good night! ;-)

Posted by piratejax 02:26 Archived in India Comments (0)

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