Saturday, March 27, 2010

The last few days have been spent relaxing and exploring Darjeelijng. Travis and I went to the local zoo and saw some animals found in India. Some favorites included the Indian Tiger, Asiatic Bear (very furry), and the Red Panda. We also visited the Himalayan Mountain Institute and saw the gear used in many Everest expeditions. The sherpa who accompanied Hillary on the first summit of Everest, Tenzing Norgay, lived near Darjeeling and founded the HMI so much of his gear was in the museum - very cool! We also went to the Happy Valley Tea plantation, tried out some of "best quality" tea and took a tour of the factory where they dry and process the tea.

We have made a number of observations while wandering the town... Travis noticed that here, and even in the much busier cities, there are no to-go coffee cups or places to get them. Everyone may be rushing around in a hectic manner, but they always take the time to squat down with their friends and drink a cup of chai. A less quaint habit is that of the morning phlegm. Each morning you can hear everyone deeply clearing their throats and hacking up phlegm that is then spit at random all over the street and walkways. This is definitely an hazard to watch out for when walking to breakfast!

The book "Holy Cow" has made the rounds from Leslie to Travis to Sarah and we definitely recommend reading it! Anyone who wants to get an idea of India should read it. The author describes the life and culture vividly. Over our time in India we have experienced the first 100 or so pages first hand - crazy traffic, beggers everywhere, all manner of vehicles and animals in the road, the inability for locals to say "no," fantastic chai tea, the paradox of generosity and swindling foreigners out of money, and delicious spicy food.

If anyone knows of a similar book relating to Thailand, we'd love to know about it!

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Sad Parting of Ways...

Today Travis and I said a sad goodby to Leslie, Eric, and Carrie. They headed down the windy road from Darjeeling to Bagdora and then boarded the first of many planes that will take them back to CT. We were sad to see them go, but we all had an incredible time over the past few weeks. The trek was a great time to strain the body instead of the mind - lots of strenuous hiking, but plenty of quiet beauty. We spent 4 nights, 5 days in the foothills of the Himalayas and didn't see much but fog - despite multiple 5:30am wakeups to try and have a clear view. One morning we jumped out of bed, ran up a hill, and were rewarded with a few glimpses of the elusive and beautiful mountains - spectacular and huge!

Travis and I are enjoying a couple relaxing days in Darjeeling and then head to Thailand on April 1st. We are wishing Leslie, Eric, and Carrie a safe trip home and will try to post pictures over the next couple days - send us speedy internet wishes everyone!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

a whole new world

It would seem like there's not much to say after a day of flights.  There flights work like local buses.  I think if they could find a way to keep the plane moving and drop people off, they would do it.  To catch a bus, you simply jump does slow down...and the same for getting off.  so we went from Udaipur to Jaipur in 35 minutes, then Jaipur to Delhi in another 35 minutes, then in delhi we had 15 minutes to catch our next plane.  They got a shuttle bus just for us and moved us directly to our next plane without leaving the tarmak.  where in america do you get that kind of service.  Then our plane from Delhi was direct to Bagdogra...That was the calm part of the trip.  The 3 hour car ride to Darjeeling was wild...they make our switchbacks look like a straight line.  and we went straight 7,000 ft.  AND it is a whole new world.  there are many nepalese and tibetians.  the driving reminded us that we were still in india.  But our lunch was full of dumplings and noodles with a dash of indian dishes.  So its 9pm and the gang is all asleep.  We did get up at 5 am to catch our flights.  We've repacked our bags and we're ready to go. we love our guide who speaks excellent english.  The weather is refreshing...warm during the day and cool at night.  We have a guide and porters so we're in for a treat.  We'll be huffing and puffing with our day bags.  its alot of ups and downs.  so this is really it for a while on the blog.  we'll be back on thursday night...or whenever the 25th is. 

the himaylas from the plane were we are fogged in but as we go up in elevation he said it will probably clear...hey, if we never see the mountains then it only means we HAVE to come back.  the rhodendrons are in full bloom and they are pretty spectacular. 

with love from  India and soon to be Nepal...we found out that we actually hike back and forth between the two countries. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

feet, friends, and festivals

march 19, 2010  Leslie writing;

Its mid afternoon in Udaipur and the group is all taking a rest from the intense heat of the day. Me, I am raring to go.  I have gotten more sleep on this trip than I have in many years.  But you would never recognize me on the streets...slow paced walk...strolling would be how some would describe it.  That's just the pace around here.  As a matter of fact the one time that I walked briskly an indian man made a comment to me.  And that explains the feet part in the title.  First our feet are flithy by the end of the day.  but don't worry they get a good scrubbing each night.  Next since we arrived in Udaipur 3 days ago, we have not been in a car or a tuk tuk once. The Rajasthan part of our trip has been alot of driving.  We were in Delhi for a total of 14 hours (10 of those asleep), then we had a day in Agra where we were truly moved by Agra fort and the Taj Mahal.  Next onto to Jaipur for 2 nights, then Pushkar for one night and then here to Agra.  lots of driving in between.  So you can imagine how thrilled we were to land in Udaipur on use only our legs for transportation. Its a great  place to wonder around.  our hotel is smack in the middle of everything so its easy to wander around on our own and use the hotel as a meeting place.  Except that we really have our "gang' as the meeting place.  on the first day, walking down a street we saw 2 guys playing cards.  We asked them what they were playing and that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.  I went in the shop to buy an ankle bracelet and next thing we know carrie is outside learning the card game...From the card game we joined them for Chai...that's the tea with milk and spices that is drunk all day long...We spent the last 3 days hanging out with these friends.  they are shop a jewelry store, Babu is the owner of journals and other handmade books, and Akshay is a tour guide.  They all speak very good english and they have offered us many wonderful tips for our stay in udaipur.  They found us a lovely woman to give us a cooking out we can make a mean dal, purri, pakoras, and chappatis.  Babu sent eric and travis to his must see eric in order to understand but it was a great experience.  These barbers have one up on the american ones...travis and eric got head, shoulder and arm massages along with haircuts and shaves.  of course i can't forget the sitar lessons eric has taken.

Udaipur is a lovely place...but i guess our timing was pretty special unbeknown to us. They are celebrating the Mewar Festival for 3 days.  It is a festival for woman to get all decked out in their brightest colors.  now Rajasthan is known for the bright colors of the sarees so you can only imagine the ocean of brillant colors that bathed our  eyes yesterday.  It is also the festival celebrating the mother goddess and it only happens here and in jaipur.  We finally finished with the festival at 8pm and sat down at the restaurant on the roof top (which around here is everywhere) and as soon as we sat down the fireworks from across the lake started. what a show...what a view...the sliver of the moon, the white palaces, the lights and the fireworks...i don't know, but it was a pretty impressive festival...

oh i guess i should add the game of cricket that travis joined in the middle of this festival. That was his second of the day...the first was with 3 little kids who also gave him a run for his money.

Cant wait for tonights part of the festival...

It has been an eating delight all the way.  Tonight's thali meal which means "all you can eat" recommended by Babu as his favorite place should be quite the experience.

We leave Udaipur tomorrow morning for a day of travel...up to Darjeeling.  Cooler and very different.  But you will probably not hear from us for the next week because we begin our trek on sunday morning.  We have a fabulous trek planned from village to village with views of the highest peak in india as well as Everest.  But what's the difference - all those peaks are going to seem other worldly.  We will be staying in tea house and although cell phones are EVERYWHERE here and used by everyone we don't really expect to see a computer for the week.  Then it will just sarah and travis who will take over the blog because carrie, eric and i will be on our way home.  We are so looking forward to sharing stories and pictures with you.

Everyone wants to know when we are will happen...this place is contagious...

Perhaps we can get some more photos up for you before the end of today


Monday, March 15, 2010

Picture At Last!

We finally have a moment to breathe and are taking the afternoon to relax in Jaipur and load some pictures, send some emails, take a nap...

We spent the morning touring the palaces and forts of Jaipur - what beautiful architecture and sculpture work! We have also been doing some shopping at the local markets and working on our bargaining skills. Jaipur is known as the "pink city" because all the buildings in the old, original part of town, are painted pink. Everything was painted pink about a hundred years ago when the king wanted to welcome the Prince of Wales to the city - pink is the color of hospitality - and the color stuck.

I'm keeping the post short today and am going to work on posting pictures instead.... Just click on the mini-slideshow to the right and it will take you to an online album. The internet is a bit slow, so there aren't tons of pictures, but we'll keep posting as we go...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

An Average Day with Eric

March 14
The temperature reached 100 degrees today, which led me to wonder: what's the hot season like? 

Lets do some math.  9,000 people a day visit the Taj Mahal.  Figure that they take 20 photos each.  The Taj Mahal is open to the public approximately 300 days a year. That's 60,000,000 photos every year. Not for lack of talent or trying, but not one will capture the beauty of the place.  Kipling, who had a way with words, wrote that words could not describe the Taj Mahal.  You just have to be there.

Mungo Jerry's 1970 hit song "In the Summer Time" has always been the go-to song in my head when I am daydreaming, getting chewed out by a boss or being lectured by Leslie.  A line in the song goes like this..." when the sun goes down we can make it, make it good in a lay bye".  I never knew what it meant until today. A lay bye is a truck reststop.  I guess I have to thank India for that insight.

They drive like madmen here.  Or, it seems that way.  If it truly was however, you would see accidents or the signs of previous accidents in the form of dented fenders, broken headlights and so on.  But you don't.  Why?
In economics, a moral hazard is a situation in which a person will take unreasonable risks because they think they will be bailed out of their troubles by insurance, by lawyers, by their moms and dads. In India, those safety nets can be safely assumed to be non-existent.  And so while their seemingly madman-like behavior appears to be unsafe, they may actually be some of  the safest drivers on the planet.  I will take my chances on the roads of India than on the streets of New York any day.

Left to their own, without silly breeding by humans for silly characteristics, I have learned that all dogs basically end up looking the same:  short hair, 40 lb range, shepherd-like snout, droopy ears.  A no-frills smart as heck creature.  And it makes me wonder.  If humans ended up loving and having offspring without regard for their mate's skin color, ethnicity or social rank, what look would we tend towards?  Your ideas are welcome. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

kerala, the land of coconuts

The slow life of Kerala is coming to an end.  This morning we joined the naturalist who took us on a bird watching expedition. The kingfisher is one of more magnificent birds I've ever seen. Take a moment and google it to see a picture. we saw at least 3 varieties.  The 28 different birds that we saw were all beautiful so it was a lovely morning.

We leave again, (5 hotels in 5 nights) to go to Cochin...a real city with lots of people. We will be coastal for one more night.  I believe Eric has already got the name of a music shop for us to in Kerala the smell of coconut is everywhere.  we wear it, we eat it, we drink it, you name it they do it. Did we tell you that Sarah and I had a massage which was basically a coconut oil bath...

time to check out...i promise I'll get sarah to post some pictures since I Know you want to see what its all about.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

still in backwaters

march 10th.  we're back on land but continue to be surrounded by water.   We've just watched another incredible sunset wondering whatever happened to eric.  Last thing we knew he was playing the tabla and getting a lesson.  We imagined that he went home with the instructor.  But that's just us having fun.  Actually he went out on a sunset cruise with the Tabla teacher.  Meanwhile Sarah, travis and I went down the path along the canal and went back to the home to get our fabric fitted.  Let me explain...earlier in the day on a similar walk down the path, we said hi to everyone and talked to a few.  One woman was cleaning her fish and happy to talk with us.  Next thing we knew we were invited into her house.  We were seated, given fresh coconuts to drink and learned about her life.  All the while she continued to cook and care for her 3 year old son.  She excused herself for a moment to take a bath in the canal since her husband (by arranged marriage) would be home shortly to go off to temple.  After her bath, she dressed herself in a beautiful outfit which we of course, complimented.  And then came the offer to buy us fabric in town and her friend could sew us an outfit tonight.  So we went for our fitting and tomorrow we'll get the finished goods by 9am.  At first she said come back at 10 but then remembered that she had to be in the fields working at 10am.  so after a sunrise birdwatching expedition we'll go back to her house and get our outfits.  meanwhile Eric will be taking another tabla lesson. 

To back up just a drop...we had 24 hours on a houseboat through the backwaters of Kerala.  These are people who live among the rice paddies.  this is considered a rice bowl of india.  And I agree with the locals that these are the friendliest people.  We have slowed our pace considerably...yes, this is true for even me.
I can't post any pictures at this moment...but stayed tuned we'll get to it a bit later. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

First Days in India!

Well, we made it! We entered the totally new and incredible land of India last Sunday and have been loving every minute of it.

After days of flying, including a layover in London where the flight information system had failed, we finally arrived in Bangalore, India early Sunday morning. We were lucky enough to meet up with our new friend Raju, who has helped us to plan the details of our trip over the last few months.

After a few hours in Bangalore, we boarded another flight to Kochi. At the Kochi airport, we met up with our driver for the week, Bijou. He took us to our first destination, a homestay in the country. It was a beautiful house with a lovely family.

After too little time at the homestay, we got back in the car with Bijou and headed to the "small town" of Allepey. This bustling city has been great to explore for the last 24 hours and we are staying right next to the Arabian Sea - beautiful and so warm! We spent a couple hours on the beach last night and met some great new friends who are striving to break the world record for frisbee - for speed and distance throwing.

I am frantically typing as we have to go pack up and head to our next adventure: a 20 hour houseboat ride down the backwaters of Kerala (the southern area we are in now), which is one of the top 100 places to see before you die.

More details and pictures to come, but we are posting a few now....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


New pictures have been posted and a text update is coming soon! Travis and I have arrived back in CT safely and are frantically unpacking, laundering, repacking, and doing last minute errands in an effort to get ready for India (our flight leaves in less than 48 hours!) We promise to try and keep the blog updated as we travel and love that you all are out there reading it!