Monday, July 28, 2008

Bought a ticket to Goa, went to Mumbai instead

So Monday morning we went to the train station to buy a ticket to Goa that was departing early in the afternoon. A few hours later we decided we wanted to go to Mumbai instead, so we went back to the station where they told us we could just get the ticket extended once we were on the train by talking to the conductor. (The end of the line was Mumbai.) We also asked around at the station and were repeatedly told when we were on the train, we could just pay the Goa-Mumbai portion of the train ticket..... but that never happened... we told the conductor the first time he came around, but he told us to purchase it later... "later" never happened. From Alleppey to south Goa, where we purchased our ticket to, was about 15 hours, and we reached there early Tuesday morning. We expected someone to check our ticket on Tuesday, but no one ever did. So basically a free 12-hour train ride from south Goa to Mumbai! So, from Alleppey (Alappuzha) to Mumbai we took the Netravathi Express, and rode the train for a total of about 27 hours. Geesh!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chillaxin in Kerala (Alleppey)

Well, they say Kerala is a relaxing place to be, and we did just that--relax. Being in Alleppey, there was definitely a different kind of atmosphere than any of the other cities I had been to in India.

When we arrived at the bus station in Alleppey, of course we were approached by people wanting us to stay at their hotel. As always, this helps! We don't have to go in search of one. So we stayed at this place that had two really nice and friendly employees. They told us their names were Jay and Boney. Both of them were always smiling and had a positive attitude. They made the place feel homey, and they taught us how to play a few card games (haha.)

The one down side to the area we stayed... we couldn't really find any places to eat! So for the two days we were there, we pretty much ate at the same place for many meals--the Prince Hotel's restaurant. It was like a 10 minute rickshaw ride away.

It was rather gloomy during our stay, and we didn't do much. We did wander around a bit, and walking around, it was just different--not too many people around. We did also find some kids who seemed to be up to a whole lot of nothing, haha.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Time in Cochin... no, Alleppey instead

A few days prior Jennifer and I had discussed and discussed and decided on flying down to Kerala. It was a very early morning flight with a 30 minute stop in Hyderabad. We flew with IndiGo.

We arrived at the airport in Cochin and literally had no idea what to do. We went to the tourist counter, and of course it was an off day and there was no one there. But there was another airport employee who was kind enough to help us out. He gave us a map of the city center, along with some suggestions on places to stay. This information was nice and all, but we still had no idea what we wanted to do. So I called up Ari who had been to Kerala a few months back. He had a few ideas, and then suggested I contact Monalita, a couchsurfer in Cochin. She was also helpful and gave us some suggestions as to where to go and where not to go. Per her suggestion, which was also a suggestion of the airport employee, we chose a hotel. So we finally got in a taxi and asked the driver to take us to the hotel. I really don't even think he fully understood us or the map we showed him.

But that didn't really matter. Because once we started driving through the active part of the city, we decided we didn't want to want to stay in Cochin. We wanted to be in a more laid back place. So we had the driver take us to the bus station so we could catch a bus to Alleppey.

So we got to the bus station, and I went to the ticket counter to ask about the bus to Alleppey. He said it would be coming shortly and told us to stay put. We kept seeing buses arrive (and depart) continuously, and I kept going up to the ticket counter asking if it was our bus (paranoia?) But that was really the only way to figure it out! Eventually came a time in which I went up to the counter and he told us the bus to Alleppey had arrived. So we got on the bus and had a sometimes bumpy two hour ride to Alleppey.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More chillaxin in Delhi

Well, we were able to get train tickets back to Delhi, but Claudio and I were on different trains. Mainly because originally Claudio booked a ticket to Goa and then decided he wanted to go to Delhi... more or less because he didn't realize his ticket to Goa was waitlisted (and he was far down on the list), so he changed his plans. Anyway, his train left a couple hours before my train, but I actually ended up arriving in Delhi before he did since his train was slower, haha. But the extra two or three hours I was at the Jhansi station..... well, I think I would have rather been on the train!! There was absolutely nothing to do, and there was practically no excitement whatsoever. I was SO bored. Plus, at the station, I was the only foreigner... the only girl... the only foreign girl, which calls for many stares. Anyway, I took the Shatabdi Express from Jhansi to Delhi.

This time around, the main things I did in Delhi were check out the Qutab Minar, went to the mall and saw a movie (American of course haha), and went to a film festival. The film I saw took place in a small village in the southern state of Karnataka, and it was in the language of Kannada with English subtitles.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Quick stop in Orchha

From Khajuraho, we took a bus to Jhansi. Once we got to Jhansi, we took a rickshaw to Orchha, which was about 15 minutes away, and found ourselves a hotel.

The next day, we went sightseeing. Orchha consists of a lot of palaces and other historic buildings and such. There is so much to see, and we had a guide and went around for a few hours, but I feel like there was a lot we didn't see. There are a lot of good views to be seen in Orchha.

Afterwards, we made our way back to Jhansi, which is where the nearest railway station is.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lonely Planet warning--TRUE (Khajuraho)

Next destination: Khajuraho. To get from Varanasi to Khajuraho, you take a train to Satna, and from there you take a bus to Khajuraho. (I've heard a train going through Khajuraho is in the works, although don't quote me on that!)

Our train from Varanasi to Satna was delayed by two hours. This was incredibly difficult for me, because I didn't get too much sleep the night before, having arrived in Varanasi at 4:45am. The train was supposed to arrive at the Varanasi station at 11:20pm... didn't show up until 12:20am. I was having major difficulty staying awake. But the train finally came, and we got on to our three tier sleeper class train. Wasn't so bad. Obviously conditions in the AC cars are better, but I really didn't have a problem with it. Since it was night time, the heat wasn't an issue, and I've heard people complain about the noise since there are no windows, but I found that to be a non-issue as well.

We arrived the next morning in Satna at around 8am. The only way to know we had arrived at our station was to ask around. The signs at the station were only in Hindi, which shows that this station isn't frequented with tourists (or foreign tourists anyway). Once we got to the station, we asked a station employee where we could find a bus to get to Khajuraho. It was like 9:15 and he was telling us that the bus was to leave at 9:00, but that we could still make it... indicating that buses are never on time. We then rushed to take a rickshaw to get to the bus station, and just barely made the bus. (This seems to be a common theme for us.)

It was around a four-hour ride to Khajuraho. Immediately when I got off the bus, I heard some Indian screaming something in Japanese... it was kinda funny... not nice comments though, haha. Then we were also bombarded with people trying to get us to stay at their hotel. We ended up getting a room for 100 rupees. (So a dollar and some change each.)

After a little bit of rest, we headed out for the temples. We had an option between heading for the western temples or the eastern temples. Well, seeing as we were told there was a charge for the western temples, in addition to the eastern temples being closer to where we were, we decided to go to the eastern temples first, and decide later if we wanted to go to the other side.

On the eastern side I think there were about seven temples altogether, which we got a rickshaw driver to drive us to each of the temples for around 200 rupees. The last temple we saw was the only one on the eastern side that had Kama Sutra carvings.

So we finished up the eastern side, then went for a bite to eat at the hotel's restaurant and chatted with the hotel employees for a bit. After that, we pretty much decided we were tired, and ended up crashing early... maybe like 6pm?? haha.

Oh yeah!! And funny thing that happened as we were going around looking at the temples... There was this little Indian boy, maybe about 10-years-old... he started talking to us, VERY friendly and outgoing... such a nice kid. He invited us to visit the old village, saying how he wanted to show us the real Khajuraho... saying how he doesn't ask for money, that he just sincerely wanted to show us a different cultural aspect. And he claimed to know like five languages--English, Hindi, French, Spanish, Japanese, I think. He learns from the tourists. Again, very nice kid... I was buying his story, and after he had followed us on his bicycle for a few temples, I was actually thinking about just giving him 100 rupees at the next temple, just because he seemed really nice. But he didn't follow us to the next temple, so didn't have the chance... WELL. Look in the Lonely Planet India book. You will find a section that warns you about kids like him. It says there are kids in Khajuraho who invite tourists to the "old village" and when they get there, the classroom kids start asking for money. It was soooo funny to read, because we had encountered that exact situation!!! Only we didn't go to the old village!! Funniest part, the kid repeatedly mentioned how he wasn't there to take money... just wanted to be nice and show us around. Sigh. People seem nice, but in the end, all they want is your money. Double sigh. Unless of course, this really was a genuine kid...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ghats... and an argument with the locals (Varanasi)

So we got to Varanasi around 4:45am. We headed to Om Resthouse... which by the way, I completely recommend! Such a friendly staff, good atmosphere! They even have a friendly dog! Anyway, so by the time we got there it was probably around 5:30am. Claudio decided he wanted to take a nap until noon... But there was a Spanish girl who was on the same bus as us who said she wasn't going to sleep, so we decided to explore the area together.

The place where this resthouse is located is just so confusing. There are these narrow streets that aren't in any kind of grid format, so it's very easy to get lost... which I did, more than a few times!! Anyway, so we walked around, and ended up running into the ghats. Sat by the ghats for a bit, then went to the nearby restaurant and ate on their terrace where you could see a great view of the river. There were also three Spanish girls there, so we ended up eating with them.

After breakfast, we went in search of a place where I could add money to my phone, since I really didn't even have enough money to make a phone call. WELL. I was nearly ripped off 1000 rupees!!! ($20+) I realized what had happened after the fact. So I went to this guy and said I wanted to recharge my phone with 1000 rupees. There was a sheet a paper which you write your phone number down... well, instead of writing it in the proper place, this guy flips the sheet over, and tells me to write my number on the back. Strange, no? Why wouldn't I write my number with everyone else? Then, he "calls" someone up, and "gives them" my number and the amount I want to put on my phone. Then he hangs up and tells me that I'm all set. Now what's supposed to happen when you recharge your phone is that you get a text message immediately telling you the new balance you have on your phone. I did not get this, and I told him this. He was like it'll come in like 10 minutes. And then he waved me off. I found this to be rather strange. And of course two hours later, I still had the same very minimal balance on my phone. So I went back to him (getting VERY lost in the process, because as mentioned, the streets around the resthouse are incredibly confusing!!), now there were two people, and told them I still had no money on my phone. They say "service is down, connection is down" and that the money will be on my phone later. And again, tried to shoo me away. Of course I was not going to have any of this, and I demanded my money back. They didn't understand what I was saying (or pretended not to) and continued to tell me to go away. Then finally, the one guy just hands me 1000 rupees. Now why would he give me 1000 rupees if this money would be on my phone later? Because they knew they were trying to cheat me of money! Ugh.

Anyway, after this happened, I went to meet people for lunch. Then Claudio and I went to the train station to try to get tickets for later that day to head to Khajuraho (and succeeded, thank goodness!!) On our way back, we had our bicycle rickshaw driver drop us off at some random place, because he claimed he couldn't go any further because of a road block... and I thought I knew where we were. Of course I didn't know exactly where we were, and the rickshaw driver could have gone another way to get us to our resthouse. So then we start walking... walking... walking... nothing is looking familiar, haha. So then finally I was like, okay I'll pay 10 rupees to have us dropped by another cycle rickshaw closer to the resthouse. WELL. Problem was, the rickshaw driver claimed to know where the resthouse was, but ended up taking us further away from the direction of it!

So we got off the rickshaw, and I refused to pay him, because he took us further away from it. Well, this kind of attracted attention, and soon there were a few locals who started to crowd around us. Most who didn't really understand English. I was trying to explain that this guy took us further away, so why should I pay him. Then there was this Indian who knew a good amount of English who said that I should just pay the driver, and that he would take us back to the resthouse. So then finally I said I'd pay 5 rupees, but then I realized I didn't have the change. So the Indian paid the 5 rupees, and then started to take us in the direction of our resthouse (or maybe it wasn't the direction.)

Meanwhile, as we're walking I'm trying to explain to the guy that it was a load of crap that I should have to pay him when he didn't even go anywhere near where I wanted to go. This dude excuses him saying that he is just trying to make money. As if that is any reason. So then we're walking along, and he stops at a shop, telling us to take a look, trying to get us to buy something. (So that is why he was kind enough to take us to our resthouse... to try to make money off us.) We said we weren't interested, and that we just wanted to get to our resthouse. Well Claudio had enough of this, because he realized that they were just going to continue to take us to various stores to get us to buy things, so he wanted to ditch them. (There are two of them now.) They were walking a little bit ahead of us, expecting us to follow, so then we made our move, and started running down a random street, HAHA. Of course we had NO idea where we were, but we just kept turning down random streets. I was so scared they were going to find us! haha. Then finally, we came across the lake, and we were able to figure out the direction of the resthouse from there. And then suddenly, BAM, one of the guys that was "taking us back" appears out of nowhere, and asks us why we stopped following them. And then when we said we didn't need any more help, he demands money!!! Now, I was going to pay his friend back the 5 rupees that he paid the cycle rickshaw for me, so I gave this dude 10 rupees and said bye. And then he was like "money for my friend"!!! WHAT?! At that point we just started walking briskly in the direction of our resthouse. Then we run into the other guy who was "helping us." Then he starts yelling at us, also demanding money. Soon both of them were yelling at us, saying how they did us good by showing us where we wanted to be. We had to get past them in order to get to our resthouse, and while they were still yelling, I made an attempt to move past them in this very narrow street... I was actually afraid they were going to physically stop me to get more money out of me. But they didn't, and we started walking fast again towards our resthouse. I was really afraid they were going to follow us... but we never saw them again, thank goodness!!

And this, all over 5 rupees. But it's not about the money, it's about principle!!! I realize this makes me seem like an incredible cheapskate, but you can't be pushed around! I've had enough of that!

We finally reached our resthouse, rested for a bit, went out to eat (where I tipped this little Indian waiter boy 50 rupees--doesn't seem like a lot, but it is to them!), and then we went off to catch our overnight train.

And no, I didn't really do the typical Varanasi thing, haha.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Crazy bus journey (Pokhara - Sunauli - Varanasi)

We had a bus ticket from Pokhara to Sunauli (the Nepal/India border), but no concrete plan as to how to get to Varanasi. We figured we could find out a way once we got to the border. Of course we had some basic knowledge of how it would work out, but it didn't turn out that way at all! We were thinking we'd spend a night in either Sunauli or Gorakhpur (town not far from the border on the Indian side), but things happened so quickly, we ended up making our way all the way to Varanasi.

The bus ride from Pokhara was at times a bit scary! The roads were winding around, as we were in the mountains, and the bus driver was sometimes going a bit too fast for me! I felt like the bus was going to just tip over and we were going to go crashing into the valley. Well, here I am, so obviously that did not happen. Anyway, so it was like a 7-8 hour ride... we were like 10 km from the border, then...... encounter the effects of a STRIKE at the border. There is a major standstill in traffic, a long line of trucks and buses. So we couldn't go anywhere. Everyone on the bus got out, but I decided to stay inside to take a nap, haha.

Probably about an hour after the bus had stopped, Claudio comes and wakes me and says that we're taking another bus. Apparently he had been talking with the other foreigners on the bus, and they found another bus that would head towards the border taking another route. This was just a different bus, but with only locals... and full. So I ended up sitting in the aisle on a suitcase... it actually wasn't too uncomfortable, haha. Three Spanish guys who were on our original bus with us and Claudio sat on the top of the bus (haha) and a Spanish girl and a Korean girl were also in the aisle with me. Needless to say, it was a full bus. It took about an hour to get there... and we weren't even driven to the border. We had to take a cycle rickshaw for another half hour or so to get us to the border.

Once we got to the Nepal border, we went through immigration there... then walked right across the border into Indian territory. It was pretty sweet. Then we stopped at immigrations in India.

And then this guy comes up to us telling us he could drive us in his jeep to Varanasi. (All of us were going to Varanasi, but the Spanish guys already had train tickets booked.) We declined, saying we were going to look for bus options. Then this guy proceeded to encourage us to take a look at his jeep... we continued to decline, and then he offered to show us which way to go to take the bus. Yes, he pointed us in the direction of the bus alright, but he made us go the long way! Why? Because he wanted us to miss the bus, so we would be more likely to opt to take his jeep! We just barely made the bus headed to Varanasi! Within five minutes of boarding the bus, it was taking off. This was just a regular local bus... It was around 7pm... took about 10 hours to get there... what a journey it was. I was able to get a window seat, so I was able to get relatively comfortable to get some sleep.... but dang, there was one portion of the trip that for real, it would not have been possible for anyone to sleep! (Actually might have happened a couple of times.) But in particular, at around 2am, there were major potholes in the road... and I mean MAJOR. The ride was so incredibly bumpy, it was ridiculous... kinda funny actually haha. At one point, I was lifted so high up my seat, that when I came down, it was like BANG... hurt my butt bad! haha. After that, I adjusted myself in such a way to avoid that from happening again haha.

But what an interesting journey... Oh, and this one dude fell asleep on me for the last hour or so of the ride... He seemed like he was getting comfortable, so I didn't want to be rude and push him off... haha.

So then around 4:45am..... we reached Varanasi.... and as mentioned earlier, completely didn't expect to reach so soon... as we didn't expect to immediately find an overnight bus... But basically we were in a bus for like 20 hours... almost straight... just got out to cross the border...

It was great though, haha.

I completely regret not taking ANY pictures throughout this venture, particularly at the border!!!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On the lake... with leaches--EW!!! (Pokhara)

It was an early morning bus departure from Kathmandu, and on the way to the station we ran into an Australian girl we had met the day before in Thamel--how funny! We were walking to the station, while she was on a cycle rickshaw, so it was kinda funny watching her pass us. She was also on her way to the bus station, but headed to a national park I believe.

But the bus ride was eight hours... it was actually quite scary at times. You can see the valley below, and there are no rails. And at times the bus driver seemed to be going a bit too fast for comfort. The bus stopped for a break after a few hours, and again we saw the Australian girl! haha! At the break I found someone selling pakoras for 5 rupees--yummy!! I went back a couple of times, as it was my new favorite food. We were sitting at the back of the bus, and a guy near us had brought his adorable little puppy on the journey! Oh, and Claudio sat up on top of the bus for an hour or so during the ride... I think I would have been scared. Along the way we also saw other buses stopping to give their passengers a potty break. We also encountered a bus that was laying (yes, laying, as in on its side) on the side of the road.
Anyway, so eventually we got to Pokhara, and immediately we were bombarded with people wanting us to stay at their hotel, and we went back with one of the guys.

Well, we went to Pokhara with the logic of "you can't go to Nepal and not go trekking, it's like going to India and not going to see the Taj Mahal." So initially, we intended on doing a short 3-4 day trek. But when we got to Pokhara and asked about trekking, it seemed rather complicated (haha, probably actually not) to find a trail to do, get to the trail, having to buy a permit for 2000 rupees (would it be worth it? okay, yes, probably, but that's not the point) etc.... so for whatever reasons, we decided not to trek. And I wanted to be back in Delhi for the weekend, so we decided to dedicate the extra days to other cities in India. Not doing the trek meant being able to have time to go to these other cities!

So with the one day in Pokhara, and our hotel being lakeside, we decided to take advantage of this lake, and went canoeing! It wasn't the most ideal weather conditions, as it was cloudy and at times misty, but it still worked out well. Claudio kept jumping into the lake for a swim, so by the end, I wanted to swim too! So I ended up jumping into the lake for the swim as well. But it didn't last very long. I felt soooo out of shape!!! I HOPE it was from the altitude, but I couldn't believe it!! Really, it still boggles my mind, I haven't felt so out of breath from such a short swim... EVER! But it was still fun nonetheless.

There was an island in the middle of the lake with a temple, so we stopped to check that out as well. Ohhh... and how could I forget the disgusting leeches?!?! So I needed a potty break, so we rowed to shore, where I found a bush to pee. And then suddenly I find a leech on my leg and I started screaming. SICK. Was able to get it off me. After I finished emptying my bladder, I decided it would be a good idea for us to follow this mini path, because it sounded like there was a waterfall in the distance. Well, the path wasn't very long, and it ended after a short distance, and I still wanted to go to where the sound of rushing water was coming from. And that meant we had to walk where the water was flowing. So we walked along this miniature river, and did eventually come to a waterfall. Well I had found what I was looking for, yay! haha. So then we headed back to the canoe.

When we got in the canoe, I discovered there was a leech on me, so I started screaming again. I tried to get it off me, but couldn't, it was stuck to me. ew ew ew!!! When I finally got it off, I found yet another leech on me!!! While attempting to get it off, found another!!! And then wouldn't get off me!! Disgusting feeling!!! UGH! And then finally when I had calmed down, Claudio tells me as a joke that there's a leech on my foot. Well it turns out there actually WAS a leech on my foot, and I start freaking out once again!! Ugh, sick sick sick!!!


Oh, and stayed at Hotel Grand Holiday, recommended! Friendly staff and atmosphere.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lots of wandering (Patan)

We ended up taking a taxi to Patan which is about 15 minutes from Kathmandu. We made a lame attempt at finding a bus that goes there, but the two buses we asked weren't going to Patan, so we just went by taxi.
When we got to Patan, the first thing we did was find food. After that, we started wandering around the city, at times going to places that we clearly did not want to be. So we wandered around some more.
Throughout our wandering we came across quite a few kids playing around.
Eventually we made it to places we wanted to see, like the Golden Temple and the Durbar Square of Patan, while stumbling across other areas of interest.

We chilled out at Durbar Square for a bit, where Claudio was having fun entertaining some Nepali kids, or maybe the other way around? haha.
We then decided to go to the Patan Zoo, so we got in a taxi and headed there. Of course there were lots of cute animals! well as others, haha.

There was also a mini lake where we were able to rent a pedal boat! yay!
Shortly thereafter, it started pouring, so we hung out under shelter waiting for the rain to subside... The animals took shelter as well.

After the zoo, we made our way back to Kathmandu.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Off to Nepal I go! (Kathmandu)

I had absolutely no plans to go to Nepal. But in Delhi I met an Irish guy (with a completely North American accent) and an Austrian guy who were planning on going to Kathmandu and spending a few months in Nepal. (They had just spent six months in Hampi, in southern India.) They were staying in Delhi with a Brazilian, Claudio, who decided to go to Nepal with them. So after learning the three of them were going to Nepal, and me being unsure of my plans, I just decided to go to Nepal as well! What's better, Kaushik had an upgrade voucher, so with Jet Airways I flew business class from Delhi to Kathmandu!

Once we got to the airport, we got the visa on arrival, and headed outside the airport. Claudio and I called up Badri who came and picked us up. We then went back to Badri's house and rested there for a bit before we went out to dinner in Thamel, an area that can be called the foreigner's hangout.

From Badri's house, we took a taxi to Durbar Sqaure, where there was a good amount to see. We got a guide to show us around.

In the following days, we also visited a few temples and stupas, including the monkey temple (where there were lots of monkeys!), saw bodies in the process of being cremated (forget which place that was!)... and more. There was definitely lots to see and lots of walking to be done.

We went back to Thamel a couple of times, and we also had our first experience in a cycle rickshaw... for some reason that was quite an entertaining ride!!

And we were definitely in the mountains, everywhere you looked there were mountains, it was wonderful!