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Nindia 2013

Nindia is short for Nepal and India, a 20 week trip we did in the first half of 2013.

We started and finished in Mumbai, travelling via Karnataka, Hampi and Hyderabad to the shores of Orissa before heading North to Nepal where we stayed 2 months, with a long trek in the Everest region.

From Kathmandu, we toured Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh before catching our plane back home.

A vibrant and tiring trip, full of impressions and memories.

Full map of all Nindia 2013 pages

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Tags: Nindia  2013

Email Updates English

 

Following is the full text of all English email updates we sent during this trip. The texts are original copies, shown here as sent: typos, errors, warts and all (the same in French).

We've also included the pictures attached to the mails. Clicking a thumbnail will open a bigger version and use the left and right cursor keys to navigate from one picture to the other.


Subject: Xmas, India etc.

Date: Mon, 24 Dec 2012 11:21:23 +0000

Dear all,

first of all (and just about in time!) we wish you a Happy Christmas
and a Great New Year, happiness and, above all, health, wherever you
happen to be!  (This year's SeasonsGreetings pic comes from Kuala
Lumpur.)

Second, we are preparing another trip eastwards. Mid of January, we'll
fly to Mumbai and then travel around middle India through loads of
places we've not yet seen, like Hyderabad, Hampi and Orissa. Then, end
of February, we head up to Nepal. We'll do a long trek (you knew this
was coming, didn't you?), probably through the Everest region and then
on to Makalu Base Camp (this part will be a new experience for us).
After that, we'll slowly trundle back to Mumbai, via Allahabad, Bhopal
and Indore. And end of May we should be back in good old Blighty.

As usual, we will send travel emails to our two mailing lists (English
and French). These lists keep growing, so if you'd rather be taken
off, please do us a favour and drop us a quick note, preferably before
we leave.

Instead of telling you exactly where we intend to go, we refer you to
the very thorough travel itinerary Vero has prepared:
https://trvl2.com/=ni13a

This is an extensive Google Map with all the places we'll see and lots
of background information (again, in English and French), including
links to many interesting websites. Vero has spent weeks doing this
map... but then again, she really enjoys doing that sort of thing!

On our website there are also already a few bits and pieces re this
trip (codenamed "Nindia13", by the way). There's some background about
our travel budget, again mostly done by Vero (she just can't leave an
Excel spreadsheet alone...!) and some information about planning the
trip.

We'll put on some further pages about this-n-that during the next
weeks. There will also be another mail, very shortly before we leave.

Last but not least, here's a an absolutely amazing webpage for those
of you who'd love to see Mt Everest in all its glory but just can't
make it to Nepal and up to Kala Patar. This is a giant zoomable
picture of Mt Everest (shameless plug: you have seen our own
collection of Nepal panorama pages on
https://trvl2.com/Nepal10/photos/Panoramas_2010 , have you?).

This image has four billion pixels (!), was created from 477 separate
photos and, to quote the site, "lets you zoom in as if you were
actually there on the mountain". Well, having been there already a few
times, we can vouch for that description: the effect, especially on a
bigger screen, is dazzling. This page is really the closest you can
get to Everest short of sweating up the hills yourself. The tent city
of EBC (Everest Base Camp) is clearly visible, as is the fearsome ice
fall and the route up to the South Col. Not to talk about the summit
itself! Plus there are many climbers trekking up the mountain hidden
in that image, searching for them is great fun as well!

The page has even more: there are many other interesting images and
links about Mt Everest, so please have a look! Highly recommended:
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2250676/Mount-Everest-The-incredible-interactive-BILLION-pixel-image-created-David-Breashears.html

(If this link is broken by your email client, simply click this
shortcut: https://trvl2.com/=mtev4b .)

Well, that's it for the time being. We'd be very happy to hear from
you, what you've been up to during 2012, what's on the cards for
2013... so please drop us a quick note if you find some time!

Again, Happy Xmas and a Happy 2013!

Thomas + Vero

PS: If you like surprises, open a big browser window and click here:
https://trvl2.com/=wbynight

That's another amazing interactive site well worth some investigating!

A camel in Kuala Lumpur? A camel in Kuala Lumpur?


Subject: Nasik, Aurangabad

Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2013 11:25:37 +0530

Dear friends,

we are now in Aurangabad since last Saturday, after having spent three
days in Nasik. Both cities are quintessentially Indian, but where
Nasik is pleasantly so, Aurangabad is a rather unpleasant place:
dirty, dusty, incredibly noisy and polluted, an urban desert. Nasik is
a pilgrims' city, with ceremonial bathing ghats (ghats are the banks
of rivers or lakes, used for washing, bathing and sometimes cremating
people). The city was interesting, with something to see all the time:
the holy ghats (see Pic 1), the markets, the many temples and old
shops, the ancient city with its brick houses (which reminded us a
little of Kathmandu). And the people were very friendly to boot.
Altogether a very nice introduction to India.

In Aurangabad itself there is not much too see: a Jama Masjid, the
tomb of the queen of Aurangzeb (after whom the city is named), a few
dusty city gates. The main reason to come here are the man-made caves
of Ellora and Ajanta (both World Heritage Sites). Both are worth a
trip though we preferred the monumental size of Ellora. There are 34
caves there, all cut into the bare basaltic rock. The whole is not
dissimilar to, say, Petra (Jordan) but the latter is a whole town,
whereas Ellora was just a collection of Buddhist (12), Hindu (17) and
Jain (5) monasteries and chapels.

However, the scale of the biggest temple, Kailash, is really out of
this world and nothing in Petra even remotely compares to it. Imagine
a large wall of rock and then mark a space of 50 by 33 by 30 metres.
This space will be the new temple and everything has to be carved out
of this immense block. Add to this that the carving is extremely
ornate, that the temple has big halls with many sidechambers and
chapels and you begin to realise that you are looking at a wonder of
the world (see Pic 2). We were flabbergasted! The other temples are
smaller but many show similar craftmanship and we spent a whole day
exploring the caves and the surrounding landscape.

Ajanta, by contrast, is on a much smaller scale. It boasts 26 caves,
all Buddhist and all man-made, but none is nearly as vast as the
Kailash temple. Ajanta has some nice carvings of Buddhas in all
possible positions, but the main highlight here are the wall
paintings. Alas, because they are so fragile the lighting is rather
subdued and one can't get near them anyway. So while they are clearly
very impressive, we were still left with a certain sense of
disappointment. The paintings are marvellous but one can't really see
(and appreciate) them. In fact, you will probably find better
representations on the internet than what we saw in situ! There are a
few sites linked on our travel map.

This night, we will board a decrepit MSRTC (Maharashtra State Road
Transport  Co) bus which should bring us to Bijapur. We are looking
forward to this trip with a certain apprehension... it will probably
be one of those epic journeys which are much better in the recounting
than in reality:-)

Weatherwise, foodwise etc. all is well. We have seen, on BBC World,
that Western Europe is under snow and also that there are huge
problems at Heathrow. It seems we made our escape in time!

Next mail will come in eight days or so, probably from Hampi. Till
then, take care!

Thomas + Vero
--
Follow us on ~ Suivez nous sur https://trvl2.com/=ni13a

Click on a picture to view the whole gallery of pictures attached to the mails and navigate from one picture to the other using the left and right cursor keys

Maharashtra, the holy ghats of Nasik Maharashtra, the holy ghats of Nasik Maharashtra, the Kailasa Temple in Ellora built in 760 AD Maharashtra, the Kailasa Temple in Ellora built in 760 AD


Subject: Bijapur, Badami, Hampi

Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2013 14:25:05 +0530

Dear friends,

we are now in Bidar in the state of Karnataka, after our second night
bus ride, this a really horrible one: noisy, dusty and totally bumpy
(roads are in really bad shape in rural India, 2013 notwithstanding).
By comparison, the first night bus ride from Aurangabad to Bijapur was
relatively better where we could actually get some sleep!

Ok, back to the sights. Bijapur is a very nice, if somewhat scruffy,
town. It used to be the capital of a Muslim kingdom around 1500 to
1600 and that shows: there are a few fine mosques and quite a
collection of tombs, the two biggest ones being the Ibrahim Rauza with
its many minarets (which apparently inspired the Taj Mahal) and the
Gol Gumbaz with the second largest dome in the world (unsupported by
pillars). Both are quite some sight, though the Ibrahim Rauza is much
finer and has much more sculptural detail. However, the Gol Gumbaz
dome has a "Whispering Gallery", where the sound of a whisper is
transported across the whole dome to the other side (around 40
metres!) and there can be heard. Well, in theory at least... in
practice, the Indians in the Gallery shout and wail and scream at such
a level that it's deafening... perhaps there's no word for
"whispering" in Hindi?

Bijapur was also nice as a town, not much traffic, loads of small
monuments, mosques and interesting nooks and crannies. After Nasik
another highlight.

Next was small Badami, more a village than a town. In the train we
took to Badami we learned that there's a huge festival going on, with
about 1 lakh (100,000) people expected. We already saw our chances to
find a hotel room vanishing... all the more as the train started to
fill in a crazy way that is only possible in India. When we arrived in
Badami, complete bedlam broke out. However, to our surprise we learned
that there were rooms available... overpriced of course but still
available. It turned out that the pilgrims almost all sleep at or near
the temple where the festival is held... quite a melee!

Badami's main sight are the four man-made caves. These are very finely
carved with utterly amazing sculptures (we'd like to include a pic but
the internet cafe allows no USB; please check the links in our Google
map, link at the end). The caves compare very well with the caves in
Ellora and they have another fascinating feature which reminded us of
Petra: the sandstone shows the most incredibly coloured erosion
patterns, not quite as varied as in Petra, but still highly
impressive. There are also many small, deep gorges (very much like the
famous Siq in Petra). An enchanting place to wander around. The
pilgrims were always easy to spot: they all had yellow or red powder
liberally sprinkled all over the face and hair (from the puja
ceremony) and they were also quite cheerful.

We also did a day trip to a place called Aihole, which is famous for
its 6th to 10th century Hindu temples. These are among the first
temples to be built and not carved into bare rock and they allow to
follow the development of the various temples styles in quite some
detail. Again, some very fine sculpture at hand.

Then we took a day bus to Hampi, THE traveller centre in central India
(mostly overflow from the Goa scene). We expected many Westerners (so
far we hadn't seen more than 20) but the reality was, as so often,
even starker: Hampi, the "village" is a travellers' ghetto par
excellence, full of ancient, middle-aged and young hippies. It was a
real shock. (Indians stay in 15km distant Hospet with its better
facilities and do a daytrip.)

Nevertheless, we stayed for 4 days... because of the utterly amazing
ruins of the empire of Vijayanagar (a World Heritage Site dating from
around 1400 to 1650). The core zone is slightly bigger than 2x2 miles
(3.5x3.5km) and it is covered by mounds of huge brown-pink boulders
(Hampi being the bouldering capital of India) and the ruins of the
city itself. The temples, bazaars, bathes, palaces etc. are stunning:
though the site is much smaller than the whole of Angkor, the amount
of sculpture here easily outdoes all of Angkor's temples combined. And
much of the sculpture, mostly hard granite, is well preserved and of
outstanding quality and fineness. We strolled left, right, up and down
for the whole four days and it was really worth it. The blight that is
Hampi village was almost forgotten:-)

Well, and yesterday eve we took that famous night bus from Hampi to
Bidar (another ex-muslim stronghold), where we are now, slightly worse
for wear. The joys of travelling...

A general remark about the people here in central/southern India: they
are way more friendly and welcoming than those in the north. This has
probably to do with the fact that there are not so many tourists
around (disregarding Hampi, of course). They are also quite curious
and always ready to ask some questions and enter a conversation.
Another thing is that, compared to 2009, there are way more Indian
tourists around, all with smartphones, Samsung being king (we estimate
that 99.2357% of all Indians have a better mobile than the Alcatel
clunker we have). And many of these Indians come from rural locations
and are totally keen to take a picture of Western tourists, complete
with grandparents, in-laws, kids and the occasional cow in the
background! It is not at all unusual to get a dozen requests per hour
and we have now taken to grant them only when we are resting,
otherwise we would never get to see all the sights!

Otherwise all is well, weather is nice and hot by day, cool by night.
We are in quite good shape and so far, no problems!

Next mail will come in about ten days, perhaps from Visakhapatnam.

All the best

Thomas + Vero
-- 
Follow us on ~ Suivez nous sur https://trvl2.com/=ni13a

Subject: Pics for Badami and Hampi

Date: Sun, 10 Feb 2013 11:14:43 +0530

Hi folks,

a quick mail to deliver some pictures we couldn't upload last time. No
1 is a sculpture from one of the caves in Badami showing Trivikrama, a
incarnation of Vishnu, fighting a demon (the demon's face is to the
right, above the door).

No 2 shows the inside of a Badami cave with many fine carvings
(perhaps the resolution is not good enough). Note the erosion patterns
on the wall.

No 3 shows a few happy pilgrims with yellow powder liberally sprinkled
over face and clothing.

No 4, finally, is from Hampi. It shows a wall in the Hazara
Ramachandra temple with very detailed sculptures. Note the guys aiming
at each other with bow and arrow and the wheeled war chariots.

You may have wondered as to why we couldn't upload pics from an
Internet cafe in a country supposedly so much on the IT and Internet
frontier. Well, things as they are in the hitech towers of Bangalore
or Hyderabad (where we are currently) and things on the street are
most emphatically not the same. "Normal" India is far more backwards
than the exuberant articles and shiny features in Western media about
its IT industry make you believe. In many smaller towns we (and worse,
the inhabitants) regularly experience many lengthy power cuts
(sometimes up to six hours (!) per day, for instance in Bidar, where
we had two during our internet work). Also, wifi in cafes (of course,
we're not talking about the latest hypertrendy Mumbai cafes here) or
in cheaper hotels is practically unheard of. By contrast, in Thailand
and even Cambodia, even most budget hotels (80%+) have a router with
wifi these days and other premises offer wifi similar as in the west.
Not to talk about the crappy keyboards, not working mice and other
things you'd normally not even think about.

Anyway, more about Bidar, Hyderabad and Vizag will follow in the next
mail, due in four or five days.

All the best

Thomas + Vero
-- 
Follow us on ~ Suivez nous sur https://trvl2.com/=ni13a

Badami: sculpture from one of the caves showing Trivikrama, an incarnation of Vishnu, fighting a demon. Badami: sculpture from one of the caves showing Trivikrama, an incarnation of Vishnu, fighting a demon. Badami: inside of a cave with many fine carvings, note the erosion patterns on the wall Badami: inside of a cave with many fine carvings, note the erosion patterns on the wall

Badami: a few happy pilgrims with yellow powder liberally sprinkled over face and clothing Badami: a few happy pilgrims with yellow powder liberally sprinkled over face and clothing Hampi: bas relief in the Hazara Ramachandra temple with very detailed sculptures. Note the guys aiming at each other with bow and arrow and the wheeled war chariots. Hampi: bas relief in the Hazara Ramachandra temple with very detailed sculptures. Note the guys aiming at each other with bow and arrow and the wheeled war chariots.


Subject: Bidar, Hyderabad, Vizag

Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2013 13:58:15 +0530

Dear friends,

it's our last day in Vizag (short for Visakhapatnam); we'll take the
night train to Bhubaneshwar later.

Back to Bidar. This is a small, enjoyable town in northeast Karnataka
with a big fort, mostly in ruins but, as these Indian forts go, still
very worthwhile to explore. The imposing entrance gate (see pic 1)
still shows traces of the original colourful tiles. The fort is vast
and some palaces are still in relatively good shape with nice carved
wooden ceilings and mother-of-pearl inlays around the doors.

The two other big sights in Bidar are the tombs of two ruling Muslim
dynasties (15th to 17th), one less impressive group west of town,
another with 8 big onion-style domes, to the east. The eastern group
was very good, not least because of the very well-executed interiors.

Next was Hyderabad, a huge city with 5.5m inhabitants. Sadly, we
didn't like this city, as it is, like Aurangabad, dusty, dirty (some
parts seriously so), noisy and incredibly polluted. Anyone who has
read Dalrymple's White Mughals about J A Kirkpatrick (highly
recommended) will appreciate our disappointment: this book was one
reason why Hyd jumped into our itinerary.

There are some sights, the famed Char Minar (see pic 2), the
Chowmallah palace, and of course Golconda fort (pic 3), but on the
whole we were quite disappointed. The saving grace was that we could,
after some searching, locate Kirkpatrick's old Residency. Poignantly,
this was in a sense the greatest disappointment of all: a grand old
building in the grounds of a Girls' school, unused today, still with
its big Durbar Hall and its great chandeliers, large mirrors and
painted ceiling; the grand staircase; the plastered ceilings... all
covered with dust and a layer of bird excrement and feathers. The
building (still with the Royal Coat of Arms outside: Honi soit qui mal
y pense....) is slowly crumbling and going to ruin.

From Hyd, we took a night train to Vizag, an enjoyable coastal town
with a few beaches and not much else. We spent 3 days here, two on and
around the beaches (watching locals bathing (or trying to...) is great
fun indeed) and the ports (commercial and fishing) and one day with an
excursion up Araku valley, into the Eastern Ghats, a mountainous
region around Vizag. This could have been a great outing but the train
(5 hours up) and bus (4 hours down) were so slow and overcrowded that
we didn't enjoy the scenery much. Still, some very nice views and all
in all, not too bad: at least an unforgettable experience:-)

Healthwise, all is OK with the exception of Thomas' left foot. He
bought some new sandals in Bidar and, as usual, got some blisters.
Normally these disappear within a few days and all is fine. However,
this time, don't know why, two transformed themselves into a bloody
wonderful mess. Plus there must have been some further infection
because Thomas came down with a fever and utterly incredible
whole-body joint/muscle aches (even moving the little finger hurt, no
kidding). The fever and the aches are gone now though the joints are
still swollen. The blisters though are still there and currently
Thomas' left foot is no high altitude trekking material. We shall
see...

Next mail will probably come from Bodhgaya, where the Buddha achieved
enlightenment (perhaps the vibes are good for blisters...?)

All the best

Thomas and Vero

-- 
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Karnataka, Bidar: the imposing entrance to the fort Karnataka, Bidar: the imposing entrance to the fort Andhra Pradesh: the famed Char Minar in Hyderabad Andhra Pradesh: the famed Char Minar in Hyderabad Andhra Pradesh: Golgonda Fort near Hyderabad Andhra Pradesh: Golgonda Fort near Hyderabad


Subject: Bhubaneswar, Puri

Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2013 18:15:23 +0530

Dear friends,

we are now in Bhubaneswar, in the state of Orissa. The plan was to
stay here for five days, visit old Bhubaneswar and its famous temples,
the man-made Jain caves in the vicinity, the town of Puri and the huge
temple of Konark, a World Heritage Site. Alas, during yesterday and
today, there was a nationwide strike, with all public transport except
trains ceasing, and so we were stuck here in Bhubaneswar for full two
days. (The sight of a broad Indian street without almost any traffic,
no fumes and no honking is eerie: something feels very wrong but also
very enjoyable.)

So, we have seen every single temple here, we've done Puri and also
the caves, but unfortunately, we have not seen the main highlight
planned for yesterday: Konark's sun temple. Well, that's life, perhaps
next time round. This evening we (have to) take a night train to
Gaya/Bodhgaya (that's one of the problems with these trains: you have
to book them weeks or even months in advance and you can't move the
reservation).

Bhubaneswar is two towns: the new, typically graceless Indian town,
and to the south, old Bhubaneswar with its dozens of temples around an
ancient man-made lake. These temples are quite impressive, finely
sculpted (see pic 4) and in the typical Orissan style. In a sense,
they are well-preserved miniatures of the giant Sun temple in
Konark... so we can console ourselves with the fact that we have seen
all the architecture if not the temple itself.

The Jain caves, 6 km to the west, were cut from sandstone in the 1st
century BC (!). Given that age, they are simply amazing. Some carvings
are almost as fresh as if done yesterday (see pic 1).

Puri is a strange town: on the one hand it has the most important
Jagannath (Lord of the Universe, a Vishnu incarnation) temple in the
country, a great pilgrimage site (see pic 2, showing a seller of puja
powder); on the other it's a famed beach resort. We had high hopes for
this strange combination but we found the place a bit disappointing.
First, the temple is for Hindus only. Second, the town is quite dirty
and smelly (think many, many cows and even more cowpats, even on and
near the beaches). Finally, the beaches are in no way as good as those
in Vizag, the last town we came from. They are shadeless, with
run-down or even derelict hotels along the sea front and not at all
inviting. In fact we found the idea that someone would use Puri as a
holiday base rather strange. But apparently, West Bengalese,
especially Kolkatans, do so in their thousands...

Well, that was Bhubaneswar. Here's another remark about Hyderabad:
during Friday prayers the Muslim quarter was turned into a virtual
battle zone, with hundreds of riot police around the Jami mosque and
the Char Minar, with water and tear gas cannons and so on. The
atmosphere felt a bit strange, to say the least. The Muslims seem to
be rather austere and "hardnosed" in this country (we had some not
very friendly encounters in some of the mosques though most Muslims on
the street are friendly enough if a little more reserved than the
easier-going Hindus).

Though the Muslims are currently vastly outnumbered by Hindus, they
"breed" much faster. The demographics will slowly change, like they
did in Lebanon, and then, in some 30 or 50 years, we think, there will
be trouble. Not the sort of trouble that flares up every now and then,
but real trouble, fanned by irresponsible Hindu and Muslim
"politicians", perhaps even along the lines of a civil war. Hopefully,
there may emerge a uniting leader, someone like Gandhi, who may change
this situation but given the ever more fragmenting game that is Indian
politics this looks unlikely.

We are okay, two blisters on Thomas' left foot are getting better. The
third, alas, is more stubborn and we will have to wait and see how it
all feels in Kathmandu. One thing we have learned to appreciate is the
relentless fight Indian doctors have to wage against all sorts of
dirt: keeping a wound clean is almost impossible here and it must be a
hard job for the docs to keep up with the dirt and keep their patients
infection-free.

Next mail should come from Kathmandu in about a week!

Almost forgot: pic 3 shows Vero in the bus to Puri, next to two drunk
Indians who had a strong tendency to fall asleep on their neighbours'
shoulders.


All the best

Thomas + Vero

-- 
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Orissa, Bhubaneswar: detail of the Jain caves in Udayagiri and Khandagiri Orissa, Bhubaneswar: detail of the Jain caves in Udayagiri and Khandagiri Orissa: seller of puja powder in Puri Orissa: seller of puja powder in Puri

Vero in the bus to Puri, next to two drunk Indians who had a strong tendency to fall asleep on their neighbour' shoulders Vero in the bus to Puri, next to two drunk Indians who had a strong tendency to fall asleep on their neighbour' shoulders Orissa: fine sculpture of a dancer on one of the temples in Old Bubhaneshwar Orissa: fine sculpture of a dancer on one of the temples in Old Bubhaneshwar


Subject: Bodhgaya, Patna, KTM

Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 15:31:26 +0545

Dear friends,

we are now in Kathmandu. All is well, even Thomas' left foot is on the mend.

From Bhubaneshwar, we took the night train to Gaya and a bus to
Bodhgaya, the place of the Buddha's enlightenment. We really liked
this town, as it was relatively quiet and didn't havethis polluted,
noisy Indian feel. There's a big, peaceful temple next to the Bodhi
tree under which the Buddha meditated. And, like in Lumbini, his
birthplace, there are many Buddhist monasteries around but more
compact and easier to visit than in spread-out Lumbini. Three very
enjoyable days in Bodhgaya.

Then we took a bus to Patna, the capital of the state of Bihar, one of
the poorest in India. (In the train to Gaya, we had so many beggars,
even small kids... incredible. Bihar really feels poor, neglected and
badly governed .)

There's nothing much to see in Patna beside an old British granary, so
next day we took an early bus to Raxaul, the Indian border town. The
ride there was probably among the two or three worst bus rides we ever
had (many years ago we had a similar one in Laos). The roads in Bihar
are notoriously potholed --> very bumpy ride and for about 50 km,
there was no road at all, just an ongoing road-building project -->
very dusty and even more bumpy. We needed 10 hours for 200 km... even
the buses in Nepal are faster.

Well, then we crossed the border w/o a hitch, took a night bus to KTM
(relatively OK, this one) and now we are here. It feels very quiet and
"undusty" after six weeks in India... when we arrive from Europe we
always think Nepal is a little dusty and noisy. Arriving from India
corrects this impression:-) Even the pollution gets better every year.
The municipality also has introduced new strict parking measures and
fines (and, importantly, these are enforced!). This makes for a much
quieter feel because the roads are less congested.

We will leave for the mountains in two days' time and we think there
will not be much connectivity (internet and mobile) before we reach
Namche, around the 11. or 12.3. We will send another mail from there
before we actually go up into the high mountains.

All the best

Thomas + Vero

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Subject: Jiri to Namche Bazar

Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2013 14:26:57 +0545

Dear friends,

we are now, after nine days of leisurely trekking, in Namche. All is
well, and all of Thomas' blisters are gone. We had no problems along
the trail other than the weather which has been disappointingly cold
and the mule trains. Weatherwise, we even had three days of rain so
far... almost unheard of for this period. At least, here in Namche
it's sunny if cold. It is also rather quiet which may have to do with
the relatively bad weather: bad weather always means that there are
not many, if any, flights to Lukla (20 to 25 per day is normal), and
so there are fewer tourist around. And it's of course early in the
season.

As for the mule trains (bringing up provisions like rice and gas etc),
these have at least doubled in number since 2010... they now destroy
the stone trails, they shit without end (parts of the trail are now a
mixture of mud and mule shit) and they are a general nuisance.

But other than that, the mountains are as enticing and beautiful as
ever. The six weeks in India with loads of walking in the cities and
around sites have prepared us well, so we are fitter than if we would
have come directly from England to Nepal.

For those interested here's our route so far:

1. Bus KTM to Jiri, walk to Shivalaya
2. walk to Bhandar
3. walk to Sete
4. walk to Junbesi
5. walk to Trakshindo La (horrible weather)
6. walk to Khari Khola
7. walk to Puiyan (more bad weather)
8. walk to Chaunrikharka (got soaking wet)
9. walk to Jorsalle (Mt Everest National Park Entrance)
10. walk to Namche (short day)

We will now stay a couple of days in Namche and then go up to
Khumjung, a rather nice and unspoilt village (unlike Namche which
resembles Thamel more and more with every passing year). Next we head
up the Gokyo valley, then to Chukhung and perhaps also up to Ama
Dablam Base Camp. This will take around 16 or so days and we will have
no net access during that time. For those who might want to reach us
via mobile phone, coverage is quite patchy too, but we will check our
SMS whenever we can.

(Ben+Donna: Miss Smelly Fridge is still around and fighting fit. We're
staying in her Sun Site lodge again. The fridge, though, is gone for
good!)

We will send the next mail in about two weeks, once we're back in Namche.
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Subject: Back to Namche

Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2013 12:03:26 +0545

Dear friends,

we are now back in Namche after 12 days in the high valleys, mostly
the Gokyo and Chukhung valleys. We are fine, with a deep tan and quite
a bit thinner than two weeks ago:-)

During the whole of the time up there it was cold. Of course, at an
altitude of 5000m it's bound to be cold at times but compared to
earlier treks we found it especially cold. There was also an
incredible amount of snow, of which more later. The weather, however,
was the biggest drawback: normally there's the occasional day with fog
or snow in the afternoon. This time round we had 4 or 5 days with
mixed or even really bad weather, an unusual pattern. The only
advantage of the bad weather (for us, not for other tourists!) was
that many flights to Lukla were cancelled and there were and still are
astonishing few tourists around.

Gokyo valley was a bit of a disappointment, as we arrived with very
bad weather, fog and snow which made us feel like real alpine
explorers:-). The next day was much better and we did Gokyo Ri, one of
the premier viewpoints in the high Khumbu. Alas, the trail up to the
4th and 5th lakes was reportedly completely snowed under (snow up to
the hip and it took one guy more than 4 hours just to reach the
midpoint between the 4th and 5th lake, normally an easy 2 hour
stroll). So we refrained from even approaching the lakes. The path up
to Renjo La was also not in good condition, so after only 2 nights
(normally we spend 4 or so) we left Gokyo for the Chukhung valley.

There, we again had a really bad day before a couple of good ones. We
did Island Peak Base Camp and explored the Imja Glacier (there's a big
GLOF there and it was pretty interesting to look at the lake from the
immediate vicinity). Next day, with glorious weather, we climbed
Chukhung Ri, at 5546m the highest point of this trek.

For us, it was quite interesting to see the whole of the high Khumbu
so snowed in, with many peaks and ridges looking completely different.
However, many other tourists were bitterly disappointed, as many of
the high peaks and passes (notably the Cho La) were closed or at least
not without some danger.

Day after tomorrow we will start the long trek down to the Arun
valley. We have no idea when or where we will have internet access for
the next time; perhaps in 10 days when we get to the start of the
Makalu Base Camp trek. If not, it will be at least another 10 days,
when we return from Makalu.

For those who have to get in touch via mobile and SMS, NTC (the
Nepalese carrier) is quite unreliable. Please send two or even three
SMS's if it's really important.

Once in Kathmandu, we will also send some photos, to give you an
impression about the scenery!

All the best

Thomas + Vero

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Subject: Janakpur

Date: Tue, 9 Apr 2013 11:47:55 +0545

Dear friends,

just a quick note to tell you that we are now in Janakpur, in the
eastern Terai (the lowlands). We have left the mountains yesterday,
about 2 weeks earlier than planned.

Unfortunately, we couldn't do the Makalu Base Camp trek, mainly
because the Shipton La, a high col (around 4200m) into the Barun
valley, is still closed because of the masses of snow. We had hoped
that the Makalu expeditions would clear the trail in time for us, but
these wimps chickened out and took the easy route: they ferried all
(!) equipment with helicopters to MBC, down to the last potato. Alas,
that meant that nobody would do the trailblazing work... bad luck for
us and a few others who wanted to do MBC. (Even if the pass were open,
we would still have had some problems, as we rely on lodges all the
way to MBC. So even one location without an open lodge would have
meant turn-back.)

We'll spend a few days here in Janakpur, there's a big festival
upcoming, before heading back to KTM. Internet (and electricity) is
rather unreliable from here, so there will be a much longer message
with the promised photos from KTM in about a week.

We are fine (though thin and hungry after that long trek), no health
or other problems. The weather here is hot and sunny, a good
introduction to the even hotter climate of Uttar Pradesh in May. (Hard
to believe that just 5 nights ago we were freezing in our sleeping
bags...)

All the best

Thomas + Vero
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Subject: KTM, photos

Date: Sat, 13 Apr 2013 16:09:35 +0545

Dear friends,

we are now in KTM, after a few very hot and sweaty days in the Terai
where temperatures reached the low to mid-40s. KTM is much cooler and
breezier and though there are now loads of tourists, it's quite
enjoyable.

We will stay here for a good while, taking in the fine food and
(re-)visiting all the temples and monasteries etc. in the Kathmandu
valley, before setting out to Pokhara.

A few words about the trek. As ever, despite the Makalu disappointment
and the strange weather patterns, we think this will the highlight of
this trip. The Khumbu is really unbeatable for mountain lovers and,
believe it or not, there are always new places and new vistas to
discover and to explore. We enjoyed the walk-in not as much as we did
before -- mostly because of these horrible mule trains. The walk-out
was again great though the first mule trains are appearing there as
well:-( We think that in 10 years time, most transport in the remote
regions will be done with mules.

As nice as KTM is for most tourists, it always amazes us how patient
the Nepalese are with their government, the electricity company, the
state of the roads etc etc etc. Since the Maoist insurrection broke
out in the late 90s, the country has been inexorably sliding
downwards. The biggest problem is the government and the politicians:
corrupt, always bickering and not the least interested in bettering
the lot of their voters. If you were to design a government to torture
the Nepalese you couldn't do better. Latest case in point, the
election date. Since months the parties are bickering about that...
result so far nil. But this works in the other direction as well:
people here are so used to shrug their shoulders and grin and bear it
that they perhaps deserve this political scene.

Now a few words to the attached photos.

1. Kang Tega mountain, Vero's favourite peak.
2. Thomas training as a water porter for our lodge in Khumjung. The
lady is the landlord, she's carrying 20 litres; Thomas is carrying 35
(and it was darned heavy). Porters routinely carry 80 to 100 kilos.
3. An early morning view of Cho Oyu and the top of the Gokyo valley.
4. Vero snowed in.
5. Chukhung ridge at sunset.
6. Rock re-painting in Puyan. Message: Peace on Earth.
7. Farewell to the Khumbu region before going down: last pic of a stupa.

The next mail should come from Pokhara in some ten days or so.

All the best

Thomas + Vero

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Kang Tega mountain, Vero's favourite peak. Kang Tega mountain, Vero's favourite peak. Thomas training as a water porter for our lodge in Khumjung. The lady is the landlord, she's carrying 20 litres; Thomas is carrying 35 (and it was darned heavy). Porters routinely carry 80 to 100 kilos. Thomas training as a water porter for our lodge in Khumjung. The lady is the landlord, she's carrying 20 litres; Thomas is carrying 35 (and it was darned heavy). Porters routinely carry 80 to 100 kilos. An early morning view of Cho Oyu and the top of the Gokyo valley. An early morning view of Cho Oyu and the top of the Gokyo valley.

Vero snowed in. Vero snowed in. Chukhung ridge at sunset. Chukhung ridge at sunset.

Rock re-painting in Puyan. Message: Peace on Earth. Rock re-painting in Puyan. Message: Peace on Earth. Farewell to the Khumbu region before going down: last pic of a stupa. Farewell to the Khumbu region before going down: last pic of a stupa.


Subject: KTM, Pokhara

Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2013 14:15:05 +0545

Dear friends,

we are now at Lakeside in Pokhara, after 8 days in KTM. And guess
what... it rains. It started two days ago in KTM and now we have a
solid 3-day run of rain. Early monsoon, perhaps:-)

We visited so many temples in the Kathmandu valley that we started
showing the first symptoms of temple lassitude but then again, where
can you find such an amazing  concentration of temples? (One answer
may be "In Angkor Wat", but that's a different story and a different
country.)

We also attended the Seto Machendranath festival in KTM. This is one
of the most important festivals in the valley. The God, Seto
Machendranath (Seto means white), is moved in a huge and heavy wooden
chariot through the streets of Old KTM which is an amazing feat given
the narrowness of the alleyways. The chariot is moved by two bands of
men with big ropes; they shout and sweat and stagger along, with huge
crowds around them. Accidents (even deadly ones) are not rare and now
we know why! We have done a few videos which we will upload once we're
back in B'stoke.

We also had our fill of steaks and other nice food (Thai, Middle
Eastern), makes for quite a change after more than five weeks of dal
bhat and boiled potatoes!

The attached photos:

1. This shows people waiting for water at one of the traditional
tanks. Water is scarce in the valley and as you can see there are long
queues of all sorts of containers, waiting to be filled. Tourists in
the hotels of course have no such problems... water there is delivered
by big water trucks. Our friend Mukhiya with his Ganesh Himal hotel
goes through 18,000 litres PER DAY! Saving water should be a priority
also and especially in hotels but sadly it isn't, partly because
tourists are left in the dark about this problem.
2. Details of a wood carving from a temple in Patan's Durbar Square.
The original is about one foot big, to give you an idea of the
intricacy.
3. Again Patan. The front of the Rato (Red) Machendranath temple. Note
the colourful struts, all carved many centuries ago from wood.
4.The White Bhairab in KTM Durbar Square. This menacing figure is
normally hidden behind a wooden screen and only shown on a very few
special days in the year (in almost 20 years of visiting Nepal, we had
so far not seen it!). The two Bhairabs (there's also a Black one and
both are aspects of Shiva) are fearful, terrible gods who devour
everything they can lay their hands on. The little girl in front,
though, doesn't seem to mind:-)
5. A Hanuman in Pashupatinath. Hanuman is a famous Hindu god (see the
Ramayana story for details) and this guy has put together a pretty
good costume with which he even outdid the numerous saddhus who grace
the Pashupatinath temple.

We will spend a few days in Pokhara and will next go to Tansen, a nice
and interesting town nearer to India. Afterwards, we'll visit Lumbini
(Buddha's birthplace) before finally re-crossing into India. We have
decided to add Varanasi to our itinerary because we have a few days to
burn. That's also a good occasion to mention once again our Google map
which, we are sure, you have followed religiously:-)

So the next mail will come from either Gorakhpur or Varanasi.

All the best

Thomas + Vero
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Kathmandu: people waiting for water at one of the traditional tanks. Kathmandu: people waiting for water at one of the traditional tanks. Details of a wood carving from a temple in Patan's Durbar Square. Details of a wood carving from a temple in Patan's Durbar Square. Patan. The front of the Rato (Red) Machendranath temple. Patan. The front of the Rato (Red) Machendranath temple.

The White Bhairab in KTM Durbar Square. The White Bhairab in KTM Durbar Square. A Hanuman in Pashupatinath. A Hanuman in Pashupatinath.


Subject: Tansen, Lumbini, Gorakhpur, Varanasi

Date: Mon, 6 May 2013 15:52:13 +0530

Dear friends,

we are now in Varanasi, at the banks of the mighty Ganges. It is
incredibly hot here in the plains but at least there are no mosquitoes
in V. We have learned that the state of bliss for a traveller here is
no heat and no mosquitoes. Hell 1st degree is heat > 40C and some
wind, but no buzzies (Varanasi). Hell 2nd degree is heat > 40C and no
wind, still no mosquitoes. Hell 3rd degree is no heat, but a bunch of
mosquitoes. And the worst hell of all (Lumbini) is heat and a
seemingly endless supply of these pesky beasts.

Coming from Pokhara, we stayed three days in Tansen, did some walks
and enjoyed the laid-back, untouristy atmosphere. A nice, cool place
(at an altitude of 1350m) before Lumbini.

Lumbini is the birthplace of the Buddha and, after Bodhgaya, the 2nd
of the places we visited on the "Buddhist circuit". We had been there
before, but wanted to visit all the four places in one journey. In
Lumbini there are just a few ruins left but no big deal. The real
attraction are the many monasteries from Buddhist countries all over
the world, with their diverse architectures and styles: a real world
tour of Buddhist architecture. There are many more monasteries (and
bigger ones) in Lumbini than in any of the other three places. Lumbini
was very hot and very humid but the real PITA were the mosquitoes (see
the hells above).

After 2 days, we left Lumbini (and Nepal) for Gorakhpur (and India).
Gorakhpur was even hotter than Lumbini but there was a hot and dry
west wind which, despite being sauna-like, makes the sweat evaporate
nicely, so overall hot but bearable. Gorakhpur itself is of no great
interest but there's Kushinagar in the vicinity, the place where the
Buddha died (our No 3 in the circuit). This village is pretty sleepy;
there are no great ruins but a very beautiful 6-m statue of a
Reclining Buddha. There are also a few monasteries but by far not on
the Lumbini scale.

From G. we took the train to Varanasi, where we are now for four days.
Here, it's again quite hot but with the Ganges there's always a breeze
around, so it's not too bad. This is our 3rd visit to V. and the old
city is rightly famous for its extended ghats (for bathing, washing,
Hindu pilgrimage and also to burn the dead). However, we had forgotten
how dirty the old city really is. We sure knew it was dirty but we
were still surprised by the amount of rubbish, cow shit, mud (and
more), all rolled into one smelly potpourri, enhanced by the
relentless sun. Still, it's a place that has the power to move you and
we rather enjoy our days here (1st time, Jan 2004, with dense fog and
Delhi Belly for the two of us, we didn't like it one bit).

Near V., there's also Sarnath, the 4th and last place on our Buddhist
circuit. This is where the Buddha gave his first sermon, after
enlightenment. It's even more sleepy than Kushinagar and there is not
a great deal to see: a few ruins, a few nondescript monasteries.
Still, it was nice to visit all four places during one trip. In case
anyone now assumes we're Buddhists, no, we're not. There are many good
ideas in Buddhism, if seen as a philosophy of life (as the Buddha
intended) but there are also some things, like the karma bit and
reincarnation, which we do not accept.

Tomorrow, we'll bus it to Allahabad, where the recent Kumbh Mela took
place. Then Lucknow and Bhopal. The next mail should arrive from there
in about ten days.

We are fine, the heat is not as bad as feared though we sweat
profusely. The sensation that everything, literally everything, you
touch is significantly warmer than you, is quite new to us and still a
bit irritating. The wind is hot, the water is hot, the bedsheets and
pillows are hot, Vero's daypack (pitch-black, to boot) is superhot...
But it's an interesting experience and so far, we are resisting the
siren songs of the AC malls, the AC restaurants or indeed the numerous
AC hotels:-)

All the best

Thomas + Vero

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Subject: Allahabad, Lucknow, Bhopal, Mandu

Date: Tue, 21 May 2013 15:25:29 +0530

Dear friends,

with a delay we return to the keyboard: we changed plans in Bhopal and
didn't directly go to Ujjain as previewed, instead went first to
Mandu. Alas, there's no internet there so we were unable to get in
touch.

Anyway, from Varanasi we went to Allahabad, the scene of this year's
Great Khumb Mela. We of course visited the super-holy spot where the
Ganges and Yamuna meet and indeed waded to the confluence though we
didn't do a full dip: doing this apparently removes the sins of a
lifetime. The pilgrims around were very visibly moved and it was a
rather interesting, atmospheric experience that will stay with us for
a long time. Other than that there are two big houses in Allahabad,
connected with the Nehru family, today two museums. In one of these
houses we saw the room in which Indira Gandhi (daughter of J Nehru,
1st Prime Minister) was born.

Lucknow (capital of Uttar Pradesh) was a pleasant surprise: a nice,
lively old city and broad, modern avenues with many art-deco buildings
and not too much traffic and noise. We visited the ruins of the
British Residency (of 1857 mutiny fame where it was under siege for
more than 6 months, with all British soldiers, civilians, wives and
children inside). We also saw most, if not all, of the medressas,
tombs, mosques etc built during the last 3-400 years. There's a
distinct stylistic similarity between these buildings and the great
Iranian and Central Asian mosques.

Bhopal (capital of Madhya Pradesh) was also more pleasant than
expected. It's a Muslim place but for a change the Muslims there were
very friendly and welcoming. We also did a daytrip to the Buddhist
remains in the village of Sanchi, a visit that will definitely be one
of the major highlights of this trip. Very intricate sandstone
sculptures around the big stupas, especially when one remembers that
the place is more than 2000 years old!

Mandu has many ruins (15 to 16th century) extending over a vast rocky
plateau with splendid views all round. There are royal palaces (from
the Sultans of Mandu), mosques, temples, tombs, towers, water tanks...
enough to keep us busy for a full three days. Mandu would also be a
great destination for some serious walks, but with the searing heat we
didn't manage to do more than 12 or 15km per day. By the way, Mandu is
also one of the very few places in India where the baobab tree grows.
Amazing trees and we tried the white seeds (in hard green shells)
which are a local specialty: a bit sour but nothing to write home
about.

Well, and now we've just arrived in Indore; tomorrow we will go to Ujjain.

It is very hot again, after a cooler interlude with 42 to 43C in
Lucknow and Bhopal. The highest temp we had was around 48C but it's
not as bad as it sounds. The hotel rooms can be a problem if they are
stuffy and the fan is not performing (not to talk about problems with
power cuts... we had some in the night and then it gets REALLY
hot:-)).

All is well, another week to go and we'll be on the way back! Next
mail should come from the UK... no more crappy Indian
keyboards:-)

All the best

Thomas + Vero

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Subject: Melting in Mumbai

Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2013 12:06:57 +0100

Dear friends,

we are now back home for some two weeks and are slowly
gaining some much needed weight: on arriving here, Vero had 45kg and
Thomas 69kg (see https://trvl2.com/Nepal10/blog/The_Doctor_Lauer_Diet
for details).

Back in Mandu/Indore, with temperatures hovering around 47C, we were
expecting to have some nice and cooler days in Mumbai where the
temperature is around 33C, a 14C difference! Well, we were utterly
mistaken. Although Mumbai is indeed much cooler than the Indian
plains, it is also much, MUCH more humid. The moment we left the night
train from Indore at Mumbai Central, 6am, we started to sweat.
Pro-fu-se-ly.

We have probably never in our lives sweated so much. Sodden T-shirts,
sweat dripping from all ten fingers (and the tip of the nose), the
camera wet and starting to malfunction... well, you get the idea. We
can definitely tell you that visiting Mumbai in late May, just before
the monsoon strikes, is not a great idea.

Nevertheless, we kept to our program and visited all the sites we
wanted to see: Colaba, the Fort area, Chowpatty beach, the Elephanta
Island caves etc.

Colaba is the southernmost part of Mumbai proper and the main sights
are the monumental Gateway of India (see pic 1), most impressive from
the sea, and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel which we found a little
disappointing. It's a luxury hotel and it does look great, but there's
so much hype about it in the guide books and on the web that we found
the real thing a little underwhelming. But Colaba is nice for a stroll
because the sea is never far, it's not overly congested and there are
quite a few shops and restaurants.

By contrast, the Fort area, to the north of Colaba, is more densely
packed and there is a lot more traffic. But there's also the greatest
collection of British Raj buildings anywhere in India, including
Kolkata and New Delhi. A veritable cornucopia of Victorian buildings:
the world-famous Victoria Terminus (aka Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus),
the main train station, and an impressive building that looks the
result of a monumental collision between a great Victorian Hall and a
huge Mughal Palace (see pic 2, an attempt at a night shot). We found
it, even during the rush hour, a lot less busy and overcrowded than we
thought (or perhaps we were by now simply used to the relentless
Indian bustle).

Then there's the University which looks like an oversized and
over-the-top medieval French castle; the neo-Gothic High Court (pic 3)
which apparently was modelled after a medieval German castle (but then
was paired with a Big-Ben-like tower, complete with Big Ben
chimes...); the old GPO (Post Office) and so on. However, beyond all
these well-known edifices, there's a wealth of other Raj-era
buildings: the Municipal Halls, many grand schools and colleges, the
Public Works Dept, the David Sassoon Library etc etc.

Yes, strolling through the Fort area is a great way to lose an
afternoon or two, not least because of the churches: St Thomas
Cathedral and other churches are (relatively) tranquil places where
the weary, sweating traveller can sit for a while, try to catch his
breath and perhaps dry out a little under the slowly turning fans. (A
thing SORELY missing in ALL Indian cities are places to rest: parks,
benches and the like.)

And if British Raj edifices are not your cup of tea, the Fort area is
also full with impressive Art Deco buildings: cinemas like the Eros or
the Metro, a few hotels, and many streets full with 1930s residential
buildings. Then there are the Maidans, great public "gardens". These
are mostly shadowless expanses of dust but that's no problem for the
many Indians who play cricket there. At any given time during the day,
there are art least six or seven matches going on (see pic 4).

The drawn-out sea front is not bad for a stroll as well, with
Chowpatty beach, a wide, sandy stretch looking somewhat out of place
in such a bustling metropolis. However, the sea itself is dirty to an
extent that is hard to believe: a smelly, brownish-black slurry mixed
with bits and pieces of plastic waste and other garbage. Not inviting
at all.

We also visited the manmade caves on Elephanta Island, about 10km off
the Gateway of India in the middle of vast Mumbai harbour (with more
dirty water). The main cave is a huge Shiva temple cut out of the
sheer rock and it's a quite famous site, but we found it rather less
interesting than the truly amazing Ellora caves or the beautiful,
underrated Badami caves.

Alas, the one fly in the Mumbai ointment (other than the exhausting
humidity) was that poor Vero somehow caught a nasty stomach bug...
three days before we were supposed to fly back! It wasn't too bad,
just the occasional bout of diarrhoea plus a sudden and strong dislike
of the smell and taste of Indian curry. Luckily, it went away a couple
of days after we came back to the UK. Nevertheless, that didn't really
help to make Mumbai an endearing place:-)

Well, and that was India/Nepal 2013! We will send another mail (or
perhaps two) with some general observations (mostly about India and
our impressions) during the next weeks. We'll also upload more photos
and some videos to our website but that will have to wait until we're
back from France and Switzerland where Vero will celebrate her 50th
birthday in style, together with her cousins.

All the best

Thomas and Vero

Mumbai: Vero and Thomas in front of the monumental Gateway to India Mumbai: Vero and Thomas in front of the monumental Gateway to India Mumbai: the world-famous Victoria Terminus (aka Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), the main train station Mumbai: the world-famous Victoria Terminus (aka Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), the main train station

Mumbai: the neo-Gothic High Court Mumbai: the neo-Gothic High Court Mumbai: playing cricket on the Maidan Mumbai: playing cricket on the Maidan


Subject: Some thoughts about this year's trip to India, Part 1

Date: Fri, 9 Aug 2013 12:15:54 +0100

Dear friends,

we're now back from our jaunt in France and Switzerland (very nice,
especially when it stopped raining). Vero had a superb birthday party
in Switzerland, thanks to her cousins who managed the occasion with
great aplomb and all the other people who were around to help get over
that "50" mark. See the first two pics to give you an idea about the
proceedings. The first picture shows the arrival of the sensational
birthday cake, with Vero and her godfather (who celebrated his
birthday at the same time) looking on expectantly. The second is the
cake in all its glory, with the green Himalayas in the back, a bemused
Buddha and a nice pair of walking boots. It was a great occasion and
we enjoyed it very much.

With some distance now to our India/Nepal trip we thought it might be
a good idea to step back a little and to talk about some of our
thoughts and impressions. This first mail mostly deals with some of
our Indian impressions, while the next (and final) installment for
this trip will talk about some general issues.

So, for those who've never been to India or those who fondly remember
their visit there, here is a not-at-all-complete list of specifically
Indian peculiarities:

1. The Indian head wobble
This is hard to describe. It is a little like a head shake but less
pronounced and more wobbly, hence the name. For some examples see
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrmDo52NnTY -- you can search on
YouTube for "Indian wobble" to watch more samples: the head wobble
"diversity" is huge.
Indians wobble their head in this rather strange fashion if they want
to indicate (a sometimes reluctant) assent or if they want to signal a
"yes" but perhaps mean a "maybe" or even a "no". It's a quick, simple
gesture which can convey surprisingly complex intentions.
See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_bobble .

2. Roadside dentists, doctors, barbers...
You'll see these people in every big town or city, squatting on the
kerbside with their tools lined up on a rug or a plastic sheet and
waiting for customers (or should we say victims?). If you're patient
enough and not of the squeamish sort, you can actually watch a tooth
extraction (no anaesthesia) or the deep cleansing of an ear canal (and
some other things we won't go into here).

3. Motor bikes loaded with whole families
How many people can go on a motor bike? That's a little like the old
question "How many people go into an Indian bus?" (The answer to the
latter one is easy: an Indian bus is never full.)
We have seen mopeds with six people on them: father, mother, two
adolescents squeezed behind the mother, one smaller kid crouching down
in front of the father on the tank and the mother holding a baby. All
that plus a bit of luggage thundering down a crowded street where no
traffic rules whatsoever are observed. (However, it has to be said
that for all the imagined or real chaos on Indian streets there are
relatively few accidents: we have seen a lot more accidents in five
weeks in Iran than in all our time in India, totalling around six
months).

4. Whitening cream vs being tanned; thin vs thick
Westerners tend to think that having a nice, healthy-looking tan is a
good thing, and many prefer being svelte rather than being fat.
Indians like their skin white while being rotund is seen a sign of
good health and great well-being.
Watch a Bollywood movie and marvel at how pale all the actresses
appear in comparison to their real-life compatriots out on the
streets. In India, there's an unending stream of ads for various
whitening creams and other potions that promise to whiten your skin
(and other bits: see the BBC page at
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18268914 ).
Indeed, this is but one of the many disjunctions in India. Here's
another: in ads aimed at middle-class families (say, for Japanese cars
or a new home in a housing estate) there is never any rubbish on the
streets, there are no honking cars or trucks and certainly no cows.
The air is clean, the trees are green and the air-con is humming along
happily because power cuts don't exist.

5. Chapatis for cows
Everyone knows that cows are holy in India. Sustaining these cows is
an important duty and brings great merit. So at certain times of the
day, you can see people actually feeding stray cows. We have seen
restaurants giving out heaps of fresh chapatis to small herds of cows
patiently waiting in front of the restaurant entrance. See pic 3, from
Indore.

6. Indians recycle everything
It's amazing what Indians will recycle; indeed, sometimes we think we
should take a leaf out of the Indians' book. They make brand-new pots
and pans out of deformed bits of scrap metal; they take vegetable oil
containers and produce new chests and boxes; they take three broken
bicycles and make two new ones... you get the idea. If you hear some
hammering or heavy pounding in an Indian town and follow the sound to
its source, you're bound to find some sort of sweat shop where they
make new from old.

7. Sweets, not rupees
If you pay for something and the shop owner doesn't have small change
he will wobble his head (see point 1) and then give you a few sweets
or some chewing gum instead.

8. What have shampoo, washing powder, tobacco and Horlicks in common?
Well, these and similar things are available in tiny, tiny plastic
packs. A shampoo or washing powder pack costs one or two rupees and
it's enough for one or two washes. We always buy a dozen of these
packs before we set off into the mountains as they are handy and very
light. See pic 4.

9. Bangles and bangle shops
An Indian woman without bangles is like a Brit without a cuppa (for
non-Brits: cup of tea). The bangle shops (there are zillions in India)
are full with all sorts of colourful implements, many made of plastic,
others of wood or metal. Women can spend hours (and loads of money) in
checking out, comparing and playing with bangles. See pic 5.

More about our Indian trip in the next mail, in a few days.

All the best

Thomas + Vero

Vero and her godfather celebrating their respective birthdays Vero and her godfather celebrating their respective birthdays Vero's 50th birthday cake Vero's 50th birthday cake

Indore: cows waiting patiently in front of a restaurant for their daily chapati Indore: cows waiting patiently in front of a restaurant for their daily chapati Shop selling among other things a multitude of individual packs of washing powder, shampoo, tobacco. Shop selling among other things a multitude of individual packs of washing powder, shampoo, tobacco. Bangle shop Bangle shop


Subject: More about India... the final bit!

Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2013 17:05:52 +0100

Dear friends,

here's our final email installment for our Nindia13 trip. In our last
mail, we forgot to mention another, slightly offbeat, thing about Indian
peculiarities. So here comes point #10:

10. Urinating in Public
When we're in Europe, one thing that never fails to bring back India in
a flash is the acrid smell of a well-used pissoir. Wherever you are in
an Indian town, you're never far away from the next "public toilet" and
its gut-wrenching stench. Indian railway stations and their surroundings
are especially "interesting" in this regard.
In Vizak, for example, there's a whitewashed brick wall on the other
side of the station extending for some 200m. The whole length of this
wall is used by Indian men as a public toilet, to such an extent that
the lower part of the wall is now visibly decaying. And although the
wall is regularly cleansed, the stink is unbelievable, all-pervading.
Unfortunately, there's a bus stop near the middle of the structure. If
you unsuspectingly leave a bus there, the resulting olfactory assault is
quite impossible to describe.
The fact is that there are simply not nearly enough real toilets in
India for the daily flood of urine which 1.27 billion (!) people[1]
produce. The solution for men is obvious but we've more than once
wondered how women deal with that problem.

[1] https://countrymeters.info/en/India

Okay, let's move to other interesting questions. As we have been to India
for three lengthy visits now (2003, 2008 and 2013), we've been asked by
some of our friends how we think the country has developed over the years.
Well, that's a hard one. India can't be measured by Western standards and
while this is, up to a point, true for many Asian countries it is
especially true for India: what we think of as a slum may be something
entirely different in Indian eyes. What we think of as extremely gross
behaviour may be completely acceptable by Indian standards. In other
words, all such appraisals have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The middle classes have taken giant strides: depending on whom you
believe there are now between 200 and 300 million middle-class people in
India: that's roughly 4 or 5 times the population of the UK! And all
these people expect a living standard not far removed from what we in
Europe take for granted. All forms of infrastructure, whether physical
or digital, have seen enormous development. The country is much more
open than it was ten years ago: things like corruption in the political
system, the treatment of women across all strata of society, religious
or tribal troubles, are much more widely discussed. (Corruption on a
personal level, which pervades India, is a lot less in the public eye --
not least because almost everyone is involved in it.)

On the other hand, the poor are still outnumbering the "middle classes"
by a factor of 1 to 5. And if, for want of a better word, we say poor we
do not mean people without money or with no jobs. Most people can feed
themselves and their family; they have a roof over their heads and one
or more ways to make a living. And yet, the majority of these people
still live from hand to mouth. There's no social security, no safety
net, no health insurance. One hitch can threaten a whole family's
existence.

We think that the almost unchecked population growth in India eats into
all efforts by politicians, religious leaders and society as a whole to
"abolish poverty". If we look at a place like Cambodia (to take another
country we know quite well) and how it has developed over the last
decade, there's a palpable feeling of improvement in the air. Sure, the
rich in Cambodia get richer quicker than the poor get less poor. But
still, the lot of the "average" Cambodian has improved by leaps and
bounds in the last ten years. Not so for the "average" Indian.

A succinct one-sentence summary might be this: India is currently
running to stand still.

Here's another observation about India (and the West) we found quite
fascinating. You would think that in India most stuff you can buy on the
market or in a shop is cheaper than in the West. That's not necessarily
true. Vegetables tend to be somewhat cheaper and rice is also less
expensive but not as much as we would expect. However, almost everything
that's manufactured or produced in a factory is at least as expensive as
its counterpart in the West.

In fact, many own-brand supermarket products here in the UK (from Tesco,
ASDA etc.) and also for supermarkets on the continent are significantly
cheaper than anything comparable you can buy in India. Examples? In the
UK, a 400gr own-brand pack of rich tea biscuits can be had for around
35p. A comparable pack in India is at least twice the price. Same for
soft drinks, toothpaste or any type of tinned produce like fish and most
other products. We suspect that this amazing fact is mostly due to the
ruthless way in which Western supermarkets (and Western companies in
general) have optimised, and are still optimising, their supply chains.
Nevertheless, it somehow feels "wrong" that we pay significantly less
for something here in the UK than we would in India.

Another questions some people have asked is whether India is really such
a "hard" country to travel in. Well, it depends:-) In one sense India
is, hands down, the best country in the world for discerning travellers.
The variety, the colours, the smells (though not always rosy), the food,
the amazing pressure of people and level of general activity around you,
wherever you are, the sheer number of sometimes vastly different and
strange cultural traits still manage to surprise us on a regular basis.
(We'll provide an example further down.)

Then again, there's no other country in the world with such a great
potential to make you pull out your hair or bang your head against the
next available wall. Alas, many of the things that make travelling
through India so worthwhile do have a flip side: the incredible press of
humanity means that, often sooner than later, there comes a point where
all these people and their relentless staring at you begin to get on
your nerves. Not to talk about Indian bureaucracy or indeed the fact
that if you ask three people in a bus station about bus schedules to
Hyderabad you will receive at least six different answers. And so on...

However, these things are relatively small annoyances which only appear
big the moment they happen to you. On balance, India is an incredibly
rich and utterly fascinating place: even when it's bad it's good.

Here's something we saw this year in Varanasi (if you don't like grisly stories
about bones and suchlike perhaps you may want to stop reading here).

There are a few ghats (places along the bank of the river Ganges) where
the bodies of dead people are cremated. These ghats are a well-known
attraction that draws many tourists, Indian as well as foreigners. Rumour
has it that sometimes a partly-burned arm or leg is floating down the
river with all the ash and other debris that simply gets swept into the
Ganges once the cremation is finished. We have seen such things but
honestly, it's quite hard to discern, from a distance, whether something
floating over there is a charred arm or just a half-burned log.

Now this time in Varanasi, we saw something floating down the Ganges
that was clearly a full human corpse, a complete cadaver, bloated and
all. At first, we wouldn't believe our eyes, especially as nobody in any
way paid any attention to that floating apparition. Boatloads of
pilgrims going to the other side of the river would pass it, people
would bathe some twenty, thirty metres away from it and they all
pretended that this thing was not there. It was as if this corpse were
not visible to them.

Well, after some initial disbelief, we decided to investigate this
matter, so we asked a couple of locals about that corpse and the lack of
any reaction by the locals. It is never hard to find an Indian who is
keen to practise his English, so this is what we learned: corpses do
indeed float down the Ganges (or, for that matter, any of the other big
Indian rivers) on a regular basis. These are simply the bodies of people
who don't need to be ceremoniously cremated because they are already
deemed to be pure and clean. There are six groups of inherently clean
people whose bodies are never burned but instead entrusted to Mother
Ganges or another river:
1. Children below the age of six or seven (though our informants were
not quite sure about the age limit)
2. Pregnant women
3. Those who've died of a cobra's bite
4. Saddhus (holy men)
5. Lepers
6. Those who've died of smallpox

Everyone in India knows this and nobody thinks it in any way special
that the bodies of such people should float down the Ganges. (When we
remarked to one of our informants that the Ganges would be a mighty good
place to get rid of someone you've just murdered, he just smiled and
nodded. Apparently, this does happen as the police also will not
interfere with corpses floating down the rivers.) Sooner or later birds
of prey will take care of the dead body and all is well.

Well, India is really one heck of a country, isn't it!?

All the best

Thomas + Vero


$updated from: Email Updates.htxt Mon 03 May 2021 16:08:31 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$