Monday, September 29, 2008

To our family and friends,

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pictures Manali/Vashisht/Chandigarh

Read the post HERE

hiding from the rain in Vashisht

breakfast at Maa Sharada

celebrating first snow on the roof

the waterfall in Vashisht

rock garden in Chandigarh


So you know how when you get on a local bus at home, it takes 3 times as long as just driving there in a car because the bus keeps having to break to pick people up and drop them off (think line 4 in jerusalem)? Well, we got on a bus from Mcleod Ganj to Manali, in the mountains, in India, where the street only fits a lane and a half, traffic includes bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws, cars and cows and I'm not sure they've heard of driving school. And it was a local bus. It was a 12 hour journey of screeching brakes, sharp turns and general stench. But we made it to Manali. The views were nice too.
hiding from the rain with cows
We only were in Manali for about 15 minutes until we ventured up the hills to a small village called Vashisht. It was getting dark so we settled for a cheapie guesthouse. Morning came, trying to rain so we rustled around the alleys of Vashisht until we stumbled across Amer. Not my friend Amer but the guesthouse. It was a new and nice room complete with a balcony and a view, and the hardwood floors were a luxury. Vashisht is a little one street town with a Hindu temple at the top of the road. There are some hot springs inside the temple and around which locals and tourists bathe and wash clothes in. There is a town elephant also, that makes random appearances with his owner, a baba.  Once we got settled in it started to rain, and didn't stop for the next 3 days.  The next couple days we kept busy with chai, cards, chai, tasty food, and hot chocolate.
in Old Manali
 Then depsite the rain, we walked down to the Manali's (Old and New) for some exploration. New Manali, the transport hub of the area is full of hotels and restaurants found in the valley close to the apple orchards. Old Manali, just up the hill from New Manali is where the "lalies" hang out. it was Satruday and we found a restaurant that serves chunt (chamin) on the sabbath. well, we ordered it and it wasn't too bad. We walked around Manali and up to the Manu Temple while digesting the chunt.  On the way down we stumbled upon a "german bakery". German bakeries are everywehere but this one had a cheesecake that had just come out of the oven and we were adventurous. As we were heading back the rain stopped, some sunlight broke through the clouds and we finally were able to catch the view of the newly snowcapped mountains. It was beautiful. We rushed up towards our guesthouse to get a front row seat on our balcony in time for the sunset.  it turns out that the torrential rains in the area caused a road closure on the highway south of Manali. We were stranded. Luckily, the roads opened the next morning and we bought a bus ticket out of town for the following evening. We spent our last day enjoying the views and took a short walk to a waterfall half an hour away. Even the lalies make it to the waterfall.
newly snow-capped mountains
We took our first deluxe AC bus to get from Manali to Chandigarh. It only runs at night, is full of middle-class Indian tourists and lots of luggage. The seats are almost as comfortable as Egged. With snacks and blankets in hand we boarded the 10 hour bus. Surprisingly it wasn't that bad and we even dozed off a bit from time to time. At 5 AM the bus stops in Chandigarh. Drowsy and disoriented we disembark and go to leave our bags at the left luggage so that we can explore the city. It goes well; then we realize we are not at the city bus stop but at a stop on the highway. We retrieve our luggage, take a nice empty local bus to the city bus stand and re-deposit our bags at the left luggage ready to start the day. After successfully finding breakfast (it's not easy to find anything open at 8 AM in India), we walk to a hotel a few blocks away (yes blocks, Chandigarh has blocks!). And many different excuses later we come to the conclusion that the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus, that we were planning on taking for the day, is definitely not going.
rock garden, Chandigarh
So we take a rickshaw up to the rock garden. It is a rock garden created by Nek Chand, that is a maze of structures and characters, very a la Alice in Wonderland. After our stroll we went to the see the LP recommended High Court. Apparently there was fascinating architecture. We only saw a concrete building and an almost interesting museum on the history of India's judicial system. From there is was off to Sukhana Lake, a very nice artificial lake with a boardwalk along it. Perfect for our chill afternoon.
at the lake
 Chandigarh was India's first planned city, and we were super-impressed by the wide grid like streets and the general order of the place. Even the policemen seemed to have a handle on the city (being helpful when we asked, shooing away beggars and vendors from the bus station, and directing traffic). This is a miracle in India. We ended our day with an afternoon coffee at another hotel near the bus station, after which we retrieved our luggage and headed off to the train station. That evening we took yet another Shatabdi Express. The appetizer juice and biscuit, first course soup, main course thali, and ice cream dessert don't leave you with even a second to think before you arrive at your destination. So we were back in Delhi, and it would be just a day and a half of errands and shopping before we continued on our journey south.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Trivia #3

What do Himachal Pradesh and Kibbutz Yiftah have in common?

Please respond by posting a comment. As always, the correct answer will be rewarded. d&m

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pictures McLeod Ganj/Dharamkot/Bhagsu

Read the post HERE
Unity Pizza, Bhagsu

view from Dharamkot


at Snow White guest house

on the way to Triund

sabich at Milky Way cafe

Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj, Dharamkot)

So a 4 hour train and 4 hour bus ride later, we arrive in Dharamsala. It is too late to go up to McLeod Ganj, where the exiled Tibetan community resides, so we crash for the night in a horrible guest house and go up the next morning. After a delicious breakfast of hash browns, sauteed veggies, eggs and toast; we set about to look for a place to stay. Michael walking accidentally down the wrong road, and after asking a shopowner was lucky enough to be tipped that if we keep heading up, we will arrive in the quiet village of Dharamkot. Sounding like it's just what we're looking for, we climb up and over to the other side of the hill with our packs and stumble upon one of the nicest guest houses we have stayed at: huge windows all around overlooking the village and a balcony of our own.

Happy to be in the mountains again, we set about exploring, walking across to the neighboring village of Upper Bhagsu and working our way down to Bhagsu Nag- where we found out where all the Israelis have been hanging out. From there is was a walk around to the other side of the hill and we were back in McLeod Ganj. This is the walk that would frame the remaining days of our week, as we embarked on a cooking course and a massage course.

cooking class, working on the palak
The following morning, I went down to a yoga class in Bhagsu where the teacher proceeded to fold me like "cloth". Then it was time for cooking class with Rita. First day, we learned to make a Thali (the Indian dal bhat that consists of lentils, curry, rice and chapati). In the next couple of days we also learned how to make Malai Kofta (potato cheese kube-like balls in sauce), Alu Paratha (potato stuffed flat bread), Samosas, and Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cheese). Yummy! We ended the day back in Dharamkot where Michael took an Ayurvedic massage course. Needless to say I was not complaining about having to be the model for the next 5 days!

temple in Mcleod
In between cooking in Bhagsu and massaging in Dharamkot we had some time in McLeod Ganj, where we discovered the Tibet government bakery and a Momo shop making delicious chai, perfect for our afternoons. We got to see the main temple area, the Dalai Lama residence, and the Tibet museum- telling the story of the Tibetan exile, which was quite profound. Another day, we got a tour of a hand-made paper factory run by the Tibet welfare office, by a young Austrian volunteer. It was really interesting to get some insight about how the exile government is run.

So today was a surprise. after a relaxing morning we walked down to milkey way cafe for brunch. they make delicious sabich pitas,shakshuka, hummus, etc. After our meal as I walked along the path down towards the massage school I see Dru and Amy, a buddy of mine from home and his sister. we knew we were both in the area, but hadn't connected by email in a few days. we spent the afternoon all together, chatting and a short walk around Dharamkot. We planned hike for the next day up the mountain to Triund for a view of the other side. With a clear and sunny morning we started off up the mountain. A pleasurable hike with beautiful views above dharamkot and bhagsu we kept climbing. After just over 2:30 we were at the top. Just as we were approaching the clouds had begun to roll in and our view of "the other side" was covered in thick clouds. We enjoyed a chai before heading downhill. In  the last couple days it had begun raining quite early in the day so we made our brisk return. Daphna and I had a delicious sabij sandwich each and then enjoyed a well deserved rest.

hike to Triund
The next morning the four of us met for breakfast. With full bellies we headed down to the Tibetan complex housing a cultural museum, a medical institute, the supreme justice, a library, and other Tibetan government related buildings. Some interesting things we saw included hundreds of samples of Tibetan herbs and minerals used in Tibetan medicine, ancient buddha statues and textile arrangement, among others.

After building up an appetite at the complex it was time for lunch. We walked the 2.5 km to Bhagsu, not a big deal, for a special pizza. Best pizza on our trip so far. Then it was a good-bye to Dru and Amy as it was our 8th and final night in Dharamkot. The next morning we would be off to Manali-Vashisht area on an early bus...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Delhi cont./Rishikesh/Haridwar/Amritsar

We ventured to Old Delhi by metro and wandered the streets of the bazaars. We had some delicious snacks and sweets at Hardiram's after following the crowd inside. It turns out that it is a huge chain around the world. Eventually we made our way to the Jama Masjid, a huge muslim mosque. We didn't enter but sat for awhile on the steps just outside having a rest.  After continuing our walk we made it to the Red Fort, a massive fort, and one of the main attractions in Delhi. But, since we had just been in two other forts in the last 2 days we decided the view from the outside was sufficient. Then we caught a local bus down to the Ghandi Museum, which had some great pictures, memorabilia, and explanations of Ghandi's life and events. We crossed the busy intersection and entered a beautiful area Raj Ghat, where Ghandi was cremated. After a light snack we jumped on another local bus back to our neighborhood to prepare for the night train ahead. We had dinner with a couple Chileans that we met earlier that day and then took a wild ride on a rickshaw to the old Delhi train station.

Our train bound for Haridwar arrived the next morning where we promptly hopped on a bus to Rishikesh. Our guest house in High Bank, up a hill above the city, was a nice place to relax from the big city for the next couple days. After getting settled we explored the area. We walked down to Lacksman Jhula, crossed the bridge and walked down the river to Swrag Ashram area. We were less than impressed by Rishikesh but we enjoyed our time at the guest house with our eclectic neighbors and great views, not to mention delicious potatoes.  Rishikesh is the Yoga capital of the world and so the next couple mornings we started our day in a yoga class, Daph's first yoga ever. Michael even ventured across the river again to visit the ashram that the Beatles had stayed at. A 50 rupee bribe is all you need to see the crazy meditation huts in the abandoned ashram...

The next day it was time to leave our quiet abode...we took a bus to spend the day in Haridwar before our next night train. Haridwar is a Hindu holy city and so we went up to one of the main temples there. Please no-one take offense, but getting there on a cable car was like a Hindu-temple Disney style ride. We waited in a long line, then went on the really fast cable car up the mountain, where we were shuttled from the taking shoes off station to the give offerings station back to getting shoes and directly into the line to go down the mountain. It was all a very crowded and surreal experience. From there we walked down to see the evening river ceremony at the ghat, that was very short and modest compared to Varanasi, and then it was time for dinner and a train. We took a sleeper class train (like the ac class but no ac,  no linens for the "beds", doors that are always open, people walking around and general stench). As you may imagine we didn't sleep too much and were happy to disembark in Amritsar.

So we arrive in amritsar and discover that yet again, the lonely planet recommended hotels are dumps. So after some searching and bargaining we leave our things and decide to begin exploring the new city. We attempted to see a "must-see" museum that is under construction and probably has been since it opened. From there is was off to the newer area. The main road there is a mishmash of old buildings and attempts at new buildings (a la Kiryat Shmona). Deciding that we would not stay too much longer in town we went to see the main event: the Golden Temple. This Sikh temple was absolutely amazing! The temple was beautiful (in gold) surrounded by water and marble all around. You go in barefoot and circle it, and the place is very peaceful despite the swarms of pilgrims. After enjoying it for a while we got some really bad Indian pizza and then returned to see the temple after dark when it was all lit up. We waited in line on the bridge and entered the temple seeing the various floors where scriptures are kept in elaborately decorated rooms and people singing and playing music as pilgrims give offerings. The next morning we couldn't help stopping by one more time at the temple before heading north.


Pictures Delhi/Rishikesh/Haridwar/Amritsar

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pictures Trek Part 1


india it is! varanasi, a holy and spiritual city sitting on the Ganges river was the perfect place to begin our journey through India. The many ghats(steps leading into the Ganges where ceremonies and holy rituals are performed daily by the multitudes of residents and pilgrims of India and beyond) form the center of life in the city. We chose to stay on the river in the old city where narrow alleys leave even the most competent navigator disoriented. The traffic of cows, holy men, pilgrims, beggars, touts, children, and the occasional yet common transport of a dead body headed towards cremation at a ghat occupy every alley. We spent the majority of our time exploring the city by foot. Sunrise provided us with the nicest view from the hotel courtyard where we could see the men and women bathing in the river. Later we walked to one of the two main burning ghats, where cremations are taking place continuously. The body is first walked through the streets on a bamboo stretcher covered with colored cloth, then it is dipped in the river and finally placed on a pile of wood and set ablaze. The burning is done on a platform above the river and the ashes are then dumped into the river. Witnessing the burning taking place is rather disturbing and after several minutes we headed back to the alleys. On our evening boat ride we observed floating ash in the river and were reminded of what we saw earlier that morning. Every evening at the main ghat a ceremony performed by 5 young men is done to praise the river. Drums, singing, fire, flowers, incense, food, all play a part in this elaborate ritual. The next day we checked out Benares Hindu University in the south of the city. Inside we visited a museum and a large temple. This was the first Hindu temple we were permitted to enter, as the non-Hindus that we are. On our final day in Varanasi we found where all the Israelis had been hiding. A small, dirt cheap cafe called MonaLisa.  Good shakshuka, rice pudding, pastries, ice coffee, macaroni, and cheap coke made for a good time as we were waiting for the rainy cloud to pass. All in all we really enjoyed our time in Varanasi and were quickly adjusting to life in India. Our two delicious Thali dinners (dal, kofta- a fried potato cheese ball in sauce, veg curry, rice, parathas-bread filled with potato mash and spices, curd, and custard) were enjoyed overlooking the imposing Ganges. This view made up for the lack of AC in our room and the shared bathroom that was in the courtyard where we would have to walk amongst dinner-goers to get to our shower. Having bought our train tickets to Agra the day before we packed once again and caught a rickshaw for our first sleeper train in India.  After the unreserved train debacle, we decided to upgrade to an AC class, not the best class, but the third best.

Our train tickets came from the tourist quota and so the other people in our berth were also foreigners. 2 koreans and a japanese. A local befriended us and we spoke with him at length about things we had been curious about for the last couple of days. Particularly food related questions and some other Indian habits we had the benefit of observing. We arrived in Agra early and caught a ride to our hotel, 200 meters from the Taj Mahal! Climbing up to the rooftop of the hotel we were greeted with a blue sky and the massive Taj Mahal directly in front of us, with no obstructions of our view. We just sat there in awe, taking pictures, and giddy that we were here. The Taj was closed for a prime ministerial visit so we found a place to eat. A lovely "hole in the wall" cafe called Joney's. Somehow this Joney guy pops out delicious sandwiches or jaffles as he calls them. It is basically a grilled cheese with whatever you want inside and an extra slice of toast in between. He also makes a killer shakshuka and ice coffee with ice cream. As you can see we have recently been spoiling ourselves with delicious food. But, hey that's what traveling is all about! On to Agra fort, a huge Mughal design fort built by Akbar where he was later imprisoned by his son. The fort is made of red sandstone and sits on the Yamuna river. We spent the morning walking around it and then headed to a local market that was not that great. We went back to Joney's for refueling and then went into the Taj, around 4 pm. Inside is as impressive as you would expect and met every expectation we had. The beautiful white marble with red and black inlays in perfect symmetry make for quite a site. We couldn't get enough pictures. As the sun began to set it only got more beautiful and we stayed in the complex until closing.

Our negotiating skills have been improving ever since day 1 in china. We had a few sites we wanted to see and so propositioned the rickshaw drivers to take us to each and wait at each site. The commission driven world of India resulted in the deal of 3 sites for 50 rupees plus stopping at 2 shops, "just to look". This was a bargain but in the first shop we had to listen to the rug dealers story of how the rugs are made, etc. Anyway, we began our tour at the Mughal Gardens where you can see the Taj from across the Yamuna river. Next we visited what is known as the "Baby Taj". This was built before the Taj and for the Wazir of Akbar, his right hand man. It was smaller but the entire structure was decorated with inlays. Then we went to the bus stop and caught a bus to Fatehpur Sikri, a city destined to be the capital but was abandoned after the lake dried up resulting in a severe water shortage. The structures were similar to Agra Fort in appearance but more buildings to explore. The Jama Masjid, an enormous mosque, was just beside and our volunteer guide showed us around passionately. After our second batch of samosas for the day we jumped on an Agra bound bus and had one last Josey meal before going to the train station for our ride to Delhi. Our train was the luxury of India. We booked the fast train for a slightly higher price but were greeted with uniformed attendants and a warm thali meal aboard. They even brought us ice cream for desert. Arriving in Delhi was a interesting affair, with thousands of people around, most trying to sell you something. Our hotel was a short walk from the station and we stumbled into the Cozy Place Hotel. Clean, quiet, hot shower, and cable. We were even able to catch some live tennis matches from the U.S open.

We are now writing from Pahrganj in Delhi. It has been nice being in a huge city for the last couple of days after more than a month of being in smaller, quieter places. We spent most of our first day wandering the area surrounding Connaught Place in central Delhi. We checked out a couple markets, one with mostly clothes, and the other, an underground one with electronics, clothes, and lots of people. Our haggling skills were tested again and our first day in Delhi left us exhausted. The following morning we ventured out to the Lotus temple, A Bahai temple in southern Delhi. An extraordinary structure shaped like a lotus flower. The museum was very informative and the people working there, volunteers, were friendly. Not to mention the admission was free. We tried an Indian McDonald's where NO BEEF IS SERVED. After a few mcveggies and ice creams we checked out India Gate, a memorial for soldiers. We walked in the "government building" area and then called it a day. Part of our evening was spent uploading our tons of pictures for your enjoyment!

Here we are now....


Pokhara/Lumbini/Road to India

we returned to pokhara dirty and tired. the next couple days we took it easy. some laundry, internet, good food, and leisure walks near the lake in pokhara. pokhara is made for relaxing and refueling after a trek. we enjoyed it by going from one restaurant to the next. a short day hike up to the world peace pagoda reconnected us with our old friend the leech. coming down into pokhara town we saw one more beautiful waterfall. now re-energized we planned our voyage towards india.

We headed towards lumbini, a small town on the nepali side of the nepal-india border. it is special as it is the birthplace of the buddha. the bus there was supposed to take 7 hours but in actuality, after the many stops and the breakdown, it took about 10.  on the bus exchange we met a couple traveling in the same direction. abby and briel had been on the road for almost a year. together we searched lumbini for a place to stay but there was nothing even close to decent. eventually we agreed to go with an old man who had a guest house in the old lumbini section. we decided to stay the night, since it was getting dark but moved to a slightly nicer place the next day. the next morning the four of us rented some bikes, and began exploring the sacred garden. inside are temples from different buddhist countries, in particular the maya devi temple, surrounding the actual place of birth, and an ashokan pillar. the garden is a work in progress as temples are still under construction. riding on our haphazard bikes was fun and basically that is all there was to do in lumbini. the next day was more of the garden touring on our bikes and an evening of watching the stars and fireflies surrounding us. our next stop would be india!!

the morning started off with a fun ride on the rooftop of the bus to bahairawa, our first bus change of the day. we'd seen this done by nepalis many times on the always overcrowded local buses. the ride was great with the wind blowing in our hair. only at the end did we start ingesting dust and fumes and then it was time for our second bus to sunauli. we arrived at the border town and just had to walk right through. by this time it was midday. i didn't really know what it meant to be profusely sweating until we were sitting on the bus to ghorakpur. as we were awaiting the bus to leave, beads of sweat formed on my face and trickled down. a mere 4 hours later we were at the ghorakpur train station. faced with a choice between a train that would get us in to varanasi at 11 pm or a later one that would get us in at 4am, we chose the former and ran to the unreserved train to grab seats. the  train was a disaster- hot and crowded, every time we stopped moving tens of cockroaches would come out and swarm around us. and the train stopped a lot. what was supposed to be a 6 hour journey, turned into 10, and we made it to varanasi at 3 am...