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Archive for September, 2009

India is crazy

It’s time to play catch-up.  We have only posted twice about India since we’ve been here, and we will be departing a little more than a week from now to come home.  We are obviously excited to come home and see everyone, and we’re ready for the comforts that come with being at home.  In fact, we’re really ready for those.  But when we take a step back and think about everything, it’s really weird to think that this journey is coming to a close.  But let’s save that for another post, because we’re not home, yet, and we still have plenty to share.

India.  Oh God, India.  We started off by doing a few “easy” things (at least “easy“ as far as traveling in India goes).  Trekking and yoga.  They were both great, and while they are both tiny parts of India and what India is all about, I am afraid that we haven’t really given you an accurate depiction of what this country is really like. Before we came here, everyone we talked to who had been here before agreed on a few things, whether they loved or hated India.

“It’s crazy.”

“It’s mad.”

“It’s intense.”

“It’s unlike anywhere you have ever been.”

Crazy?  Check.  Mad?  Uh-huh.  Intense?  Yep.  Unlike anywhere we have ever been?  You betcha.  It’s actually difficult to really describe India.  Upside down crazy would be my best short description.  But since I’m, well, me, I’m also going to describe it a little more, shall we say, descriptively.  Also, I’m going to let everyone know a bit of what we’ve been up to this last month in India, our last destination, and what we’ll be doing until we fly back home to St. Louis on October 8.

Just to let everyone know, we are going to devote more, longer posts to many of these, complete with photos, when we get home and have a better internet connection.  After leaving Rishikesh after the trekking and yoga, we headed back down to Delhi, the capital and probably most upside down crazy place we’ve been in India.  It’s the most intense of all India when taking into account all the wacky things about this country (all of the following wacky things occur in every city we‘ve been in, to varying degrees).

It’s really dirty.  Seriously, there’s just trash everywhere, which I frankly just haven’t gotten used to.  There’s lots of cows everywhere.  I’m talking in the middle of major roads in a city of, according to Megan, 375 jillion people (actually it’s about 14 million, but it sure seems like 375 jillion sometimes).  They like their cows here, and I truly believe, no, I don’t just believe, I know, that if me and a cow were walking down  the same street (which happens often), and a car was coming towards us, he or she would most definitely hit me before the cow.  Kinda sucks.  There are some “interesting” smells everywhere (I’m going to let you use your imagination here).  And the people, well, yeah, there’s lots of them.  And they like vying for the attention of western tourists.    All the time.

“Yes!!!  Sir, come look my shop!!”

“Sir, where you from?”

“What you looking for?”

“You need sarong?”

“You need cushions?”

“You need hash?”

“You need bedspread?”

“You need t-shirt?”

“You need water?”

“You need chai?”

“You have good Indian hair.”

I know it sounds kinda bad, and a lot of the times, it can get pretty tiresome, but sometimes it can lead to awesome experiences.  And yes, the last one is absolutely true.  In fact, I have been told, several times, by men, straight Indian men, that I have great hair or that they like my hair, which is well…..kinda weird…..and, well……honestly…..kinda cool?

We didn’t stay in Delhi long, and we headed south to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, one of the coolest man made monuments we have seen, and home to the Red Fort, which was stunning in it’s own right but overshadowed by the Taj.  Unfortunately both are in one of the most wretched and horrible cities we have seen (all of which will be the topic of another post).  After Agra was Rajasthan, a state in India where we initially planned on spending most of the rest of our time.  Rajasthan draws the most tourists in India, both Indian and western.  Which has its upsides and downsides.  While we really liked one of the places (Jodhpur–where one of the coolest experiences we’ve had on the trip occurred–another topic for its own post), we also really disliked one (Jaipur, just ugh, not a good  place–maybe a topic for its own post), and we were a bit ambivalent towards another (Udaipur–we liked it, it was nice, the people were fine, we took an awesome cooking class there, but it was just kind of “meh”).

With only a matter of weeks left in the trip, we were torn on what to do.  We liked India, but I have to admit, its chaos was taking its toll on us.  In hindsight, and if we had to do it over, we probably would have not saved India until last.  We are just kind of exhausted from traveling.  I know it sounds weird saying traveling can be exhausting, but trust me, after this long on the road, everything that goes wrong just seems magnified.  We know how to deal with it, but we’re sick of dealing with it.  And saying that things go wrong or traveling can be difficult in India is a vast understatement.

Looking back on many of our experiences here can actually be quite funny because it’s just so weird here.  We have both said, on many occasions, that it seems like it’s always “Backwards Day” here in India.  And logic, as we know it, forget about it.  India makes the DMV a worry free, smooth running machine.  Take this encounter at the Jodhpur bus station for example:

Megan and I, going up to the “Enquiries” counter at the bus station:  “Hello, we want tickets to Udaipur.”

Attendant:  “Yes.”

Us:  “We want to go tomorrow.”

Him:  “Yes.”

Us:  “What time do buses go.”

Him:  “5:30”

Us:  “5:30?”

Him:  “Yes.”

Us:  “Any other times?”

Him:  “Yes,  7, and 8, and 9, and 10:30, and 1, and 2, and 3.”

Us:  “Great, can we get tickets for the 8 o’clock bus.”

Him:  “Yes.”

Us:  “Here?”

Him: At this point he points over to a building across the parking lot and says,

“Advance booking over there.”

Us:  “Over there, in that building over there”  We point.  He nods.

We walk over there and go to the one window that someone is standing behind.  He’s counting money, with two glasses of chai on his desk in front of him.  We walk up and stand there, and he completely ignores us and continues counting his money.  I walk to a different window and finally Megan gets his attention after saying “Hello” a few times.

Megan:  “Hello, we need tickets to Udaipur at 8 tomorrow morning.”

Him:  “Chai?”

Megan (bewildered):  “No, no, I couldn’t possibly.”

Him:  “Chai?”

Megan (guessing that she wouldn’t get an answer to her question until she accepted his chai, accepts his chai):  “Thank you.  We’re trying to get to Udaipur tomorrow morning at 8.  Can we buy tickets here?”

Him:  “No, over there.”  He points back across the parking lot in the vicinity of three buildings, one of which is the building we came from  “New building.”

Us, to each other:  “None of those three buildings look new.”

Us, to him:  “Thanks”

We take the chai and walk back across to the first building we were at.  We go to another window, not the “Enquiries” window.

Us:  “Hello, we’re trying to get to Udaipur tomorrow morning.”

Attendant:  “You need to go to the window down there.”  He points to a window at the other end of the building, right next to the very first window, “Enquiries”.  So we go there.

Us:  “Hello, we’re trying to go to Udaipur tomorrow at 8.”

Attendant:  “You need to go next door, to that window.”  He points at the “Enquiries” window, of course.

We knew that was going to be the case, so we go next door, to the very first guy we talked to.

Us:  “Hello, we want to go to Udaipur tomorrow at 8, and the guy next door said we need to talk to you about purchasing tickets.”

Him (mind you, the first guy we talked to, only about 10 minutes prior to this):  You can only buy advance tickets to the 5:30 bus.  If you want to go on the 8 bus, come here at 7:30 tomorrow morning.  You can buy tickets then.”

Us (shaking our heads in disbelief, muttering):  “Thanks.”
We walk away, me throwing out a few choice words while just shaking my head back and forth, Megan just kind of chuckling.  And that’s the best description of this crazy ass country that I can give.  As I said, it can be quite maddening here.  And while I wasn’t exactly having the time of my life during the above ordeal, I was laughing at it shortly afterwards as we were recounting to each other and then shaking our heads while saying, “India.”  That one word has been our explanation for many things over the course of this past month.  Or it’s variation, “It’s India.”

So we decided that we wanted to make the best of the rest of our time here.  We had many more places to see and things we had in mind, but we (me, in particular) were just kind of done being tourists and seeing touristy things.  So we thought long and hard about it, and we decided to head down to Goa, India’s most popular beach area, for the last two weeks of our trip.

And that’s where we’ve been for the past week, and where we’ll be for the next week.  It’s still India, but it’s India light.  Still crazy, still mad, still intense, and still unlike any other place we’ve been, but just on a lighter scale.  We’ve been spending our time around the pool and riding motorbikes around from town to town, mainly just relaxing and taking a vacation from the trip before we come home.  After this we have a few more days in Mumbai before flying home next Thursday.  I truly can’t believe that it’s only a little more than a week away.  It’s almost surreal to think about.  I’m not 100% sure that we will be updating anymore before we get home, but there will be lots more posts after we get back, so make sure to keep visiting even after October 8.

Until next time…

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Monkeys, Cows and Yoga

Rishikesh, in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, provided the best of both worlds for Adam and I.  Since the very first time we considered coming to India, I knew that I wanted to do some yoga.  Ideally, I wanted to go to an ashram.  While I’d never been to an ashram, I envisioned it as somewhere that I could stay on-site and be involved in an intense program of asanas (the physical postures of yoga), meditation and instruction on yoga philosophy.  The catch was that Adam wasn’t interested.  He, being convinced that he is the least flexible person in the world, thought that committing to more than an introductory yoga class could really end up badly.  I didn’t really feel like it would be fair to leave him with nothing to do for a week or two while I enjoyed myself at an ashram.  So I put that out of my head early on.

Adam, ever resourceful, and knowing how much I would have liked to spend some time intensively practicing yoga, took to the interwebs and found a place that would satisfy us both:  Rishikesh, the self- proclaimed “World Capital of Yoga” that also happens to be located just on the edge of the Himalayan foothills (and lest you think foothills means small, this is a place that causes mountain guides to proclaim “If it’s not 7000 meters, it’s not really a mountain.” hmmm, whatever you say, crazy man!)

So the yoga search began. In my search for the perfect ashram for me, I found a school located well outside Rishikesh (about a 7 hour bus ride) near a small village called Netala, Sivananda Kutir.  It offered a ten day “yoga vacation” that appeared to be far more structured that the term vacation would make you think.  The days began at 4:30 am with meditation and were scheduled pretty much straight through until about 10 pm:

0520 hrs WAKE UP BELL
0600 hrs SATSANG
0730 hrs TEA TIME
0800 hrs ASANA CLASS
1000 hrs BRUNCH
1100 hrs KARMA YOGA
1230 hrs COACHING CLASS (optional)
1330 hrs TEA TIME
1400 hrs LECTURE
1600 hrs ASANA CLASS
1800 hrs DINNER
2000 hrs SATSANG
2200 hrs LIGHTS OUT

It sounded intense, but I was intrigued.  What better way to really be immersed in yoga practice and philosophy than an intense program?  Nonetheless, I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to ten days of such an intense schedule without having met any of the instructors or seen the facilities–I think that compatibility with your teachers is a huge part of being able to learn.  I had also heard horror stories of teachers in India who didn’t quite understand that their western students hadn’t grown up doing yoga and probably couldn’t sit down and drop into lotus pose with no problem.  The remoteness of the kutir, while providing the kind of serenity I was looking for, also meant that if, for whatever reason, I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be anywhere near any other schools/ashrams.  I hemmed and hawed, and finally, three days before the program was scheduled to start, decided to take the plunge.  One short phone call later, I was back to square one–the program was full.  [Travelers be warned–low season in India does not necessarily mean that you don’t need to book in advance!]

As we were already in Rishikesh by that point, I went to visit the ashram that had been number two on my list, Anand Prakash.  Despite having good reviews online, this ashram had not been my first choice because it sort of struck me as ashram-light.  The only scheduled classes were two hours of practice in the morning and two again in the afternoon.  After seeing the example of the kutir’s schedule above, I was wondering if I would just be sitting around bored to tears.  Nonetheless, I went to visit the ashram to get a sense of it in person.  I was greeted very warmly by the staff and was happy with what I saw, so I decided to give it a try, keeping my options open as there were plenty of other places in town I could go. 

I started my visit on a Sunday afternoon, so no classes.  I got settled into my room– a triple room, which I ended up having to myself all week (bonus!)–and got started on what I found to be my main activities for the week while I wasn’t in class: reading and journaling.  Despite my initial misgivings, I ended up being very pleased with Anand Prakash and decided to stay on there, even after checking out several other places.  The staff was extremely friendly and the teachers very knowledgeable (the owner and his wife, mentioned on the website, were not there while I was staying there).   The facilities were beautiful (and far more modern than I expected of an ashram), and despite there being ongoing construction on both sides of the ashram (!), it was still far more peaceful than the area we had stayed the night before. (We had been in the Hotel Ishan, just on the banks of the river Ganges, directly above the Laxman Jhula suspension bridge. The bridge, despite only being about six feet wide, is used by people on motorbikes with absolutely deafening horns.)

Classes started at 6 am, but the ashram encourages residents to go the morning yoga hall as early as 5 am for individual meditation. I really wanted to get the most out of my experience, so my days started at about 4:45.  Those early peaceful mornings ended up being one of my favorite times.  The morning yoga hall is on the roof and has a lovely view of the valley around the ashram–it’s so beautiful to watch the rays of the rising sun come through the mists hanging around the hills. Best of all is the breeze.  Because of the location of the ashram, it is very windy in the morning.  That means that the air coming through is cool and so fresh and clean–you really get a sense of mountain air while still being in town. (And when you’ve been traveling in places where there is no such thing as emissions testing, you really appreciate clean air!)

Ultimately I would recommend Anand Prakash.  I stayed one week and really loved my time there.  The opportunity to spend a full week focusing on an activity and way of life that you love, is in itself, a gift.  The amount of free time you have means that no one is holding your hand, forcing you to learn.  If you want to get more out of it than simply taking yoga classes twice a day, it’s up to you.  But the key is that if you do want it, you have the perfect place to do it.  They have a small but certainly sufficient library with plenty of texts on yoga philosophy, meditation, ayurveda, general spirituality and even a section of what they term “spiritual fiction” (the Eat Pray Love section :-p).  The ashram is peaceful and conducive to individual practice of meditation as well as all the navel-gazing you could ever want (I wrote over 60 pages in my journal in the 6 days I was there!)  So I would say if you’re self-motivated or are just looking for a peaceful and inexpensive place to stay, Anand Prakash would be a good choice. If you are really looking for intensive instruction or lots of group meditation, you may want to look elsewhere.

A few things I haven’t mentioned. 1) The food at Anand Prakash was good (the price of your room includes your yoga classes and three meals a day).  It was simple vegetarian food, and some people who had been there longer than me were lamenting the lack of spices in the food, but I was fine with it.  2) The silent time specified on the website (9 pm to 9 am) is not observed.  I was a little disappointed in that because I thought that silent mornings sounded interesting and even kind of nice, but none of the staff enforced or even encouraged some of the chattier guests to zip it.  3) Chanting– A group ceremony called Kirtan (loosely, the chanting of the names) is offered two or three nights a week after dinner.  While I was there it was led by a lovely man who played a drum and had the most beautiful singing voice.  He would sing a line of a mantra and we would sing it back as a group.  While it can be a bit challenging to follow along with the mantras in Sanskrit, it can also turn into an amazingly joyful community experience.  I highly recommend attending. 

You may have noticed that I don’t have a single picture of the ashram–I let Adam take both cameras with him on his trek (and I’m glad he did–the photos and video in the previous posts are amazing!).  Anyone who wants to see the ashram’s photos can click here, and for anyone contemplating a visit, you can rest assured that the photos on the website are accurate.  I did manage to wrest the camera away from him when he got back, and here are a few shots of Rishikesh. 

The Ganges is a holy river, meaning that Hindues come from all over for the chance to bath in the holy waters.

The Ganges is a holy river, meaning that Hindues come from all over for the chance to bath in the holy waters.

The eastern bank of Rishikesh, along the River Ganges

The eastern bank of Rishikesh, along the River Ganges

These ladies, despite looking at the camera like it's on fire, had actually stopped me on the bridge and asked me to take their picture.  That, along with people asking us to pose for pictures with them, is becoming commonplace for us!

These ladies, despite looking at the camera like it's on fire, had actually stopped me on the bridge and asked me to take their picture. That, along with people asking us to pose for pictures with them, is becoming commonplace!

These guys were everywhere.  Including inside our room one night.  That's right, we woke up in the middle of the night to find a monkey digging through our stuff.  Lucky for me though, Adam screamed like a little girl (his words) and scared that monkey off.  My hero :-)

These guys were everywhere. Including inside our room one night. That's right, we woke up in the middle of the night to find a monkey digging through our stuff. Lucky for me though, Adam screamed like a little girl (his words) and scared that monkey off. My hero 🙂

This one may have been the perpetrator.  He looks surly.

This one may have been the perpetrator. He looks surly.

Local ladies waiting for the train

Local ladies waiting for the train

Temple on the banks of the Ganges

 

Cows are everywhere.  Seriously, everywhere.  This cow was grazing on the tiny bits of grasss that were growing on the edge of the suspension bridge.

Cows are everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. This cow was grazing on the tiny bits of grasss that were growing on the edge of the suspension bridge.The Ram Jhula suspension bridge

Somehow I do not think that OSHA would approve of this ladder.

Somehow I do not think that OSHA would approve of this ladder.

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(Author’s note:  Remember that the majority of this was written immediately after hiking, so my emotions were fairly strong at the time.)

Holy s**t!!  The Himalayas are no joke.  We’ve done some pretty intense hiking and gone on some tough treks on this trip, but they honestly pale in comparison to today’s hike.  This was honestly one of the most physically demanding days ever.

First off, the weather gods can kiss my ass on this one.  It rained pretty much all afternoon and evening yesterday.  We did wake up to no rain, but the sky was ominous.  We had breakfast and took off at about 8:30.  Almost immediately it began to rain.  It didn’t stop until about noon.  Yeah, it sucked, and it was definitely a huge factor in why the hike was so difficult.

I don’t want to whine and cry about the rain though.  We’re in the freaking mountains during monsoon season.  No shit it’g going to rain.  And while this was really difficult, it was also incredible.  I summitted a freaking 5000 meter (16,400 foot) peak in the Himalayas.  I’m gonna go ahead and pat myself on the back (seriously, I just patted myself on the back).  Never mind the fact that I pondered quitting on the way up every five minutes, or that I was cursing the mountain a good portion of the way up, or that I was schooled by the 47 and 58 year old men in my group.

Another thing that made this so hard was that there was no trail.  After the first hour or so, we looked up and saw the summit.  No grass, no trees, no dirt trail ahead of us.  Only rocks.  Big rocks, set there by God (hey Buddy, could you maybe try to be a little more organized next time you create a mountain range?).  Because of the rain, the rocks were really slippery.  the next three hours consisted of climbing, jumping, and traversing these huge, slippery boulders to the summit.  It sucked.  At times I swore that I would never do something like this again.

Then about 12:30, we made it to the top.  Despite the fact that we couldn’t see a thing (which is the main reason I did this trek-to see 7000+ meter snowy peaks and panoramas of the Himalayas), my mood changed.  I was standing at 16,400 feet, in India, in the Himalayan Mountains.  That’s pretty freaking cool.  And to see the looks on Mike and Vick’s faces, two guys who live in and love the mountains, and to hear them talk about this dream of theirs being fulfilled, it was pretty powerful.  I felt shameful for cursing the mountain.  I can’t believe I almost quit.  We chilled, ate a bit, took some pictures, and congratulated each other.  Then we took off.  Oh shit, we still had to go down those huge, slippery, steep rocks.

A Himalayan lotus flower that one of our guides brought up (it was his first time climbing this particular mountain) and placed at the summit

A Himalayan lotus flower that one of our guides brought up (it was his first time climbing this particular mountain) and placed at the summit

Me at the summit

Me at the summit

Mike, Vick, and our guides at the summit

Mike, Vick, and our guides at the summit

Me and the guides at the summit

Me and the guides at the summit

My legs were hurting-tired, jello-y, without energy.  It was very nerve-wrenching, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t really scared.  One slip could mean serious trouble.  Thankfully it wasn’t raining anymore.  After about 45 minutes we veered off the rocks and went a different way down.   Thank God!!  While it was still slippery, it wasn’t too bad, and it gave my morale a boost.  The sun also came out some and provided some good photo opportunities (I took none on the way up).

View back up as we were on our way down

View back up as we were on our way down

The rocks we had to climb on the way up

The rocks we had to climb on the way up

The way down

The way down

Examples of rocks we climbed to get to the top (3)

View from on the way down (1)

Examples of rocks we climbed to get to the top (4)

Examples of rocks we climbed to get to the top (5)

View of the summit

View of the summit

Another view of the summit

Another view of the summit

View from on the way down

The hike back down was difficult, but mainly because I was beat.  We finally got to the top of the hill above camp at about 3:45.  There were great views of our camp, and the sun peeked out a bit again.  We got down to camp and had another delicious meal, and then I came back to my tent to  get my wet, smelly clothes off and rest.

Sheep on the  hillside

View of camp through the fog

View of camp through the fog

We have a 5-6 hour day tomorrow, but it’s all downhill.  We then take a car to the town of Joshimath,, where we’ll stay in hotel and sleep in a bed and take a shower.  YAY!!!!!

Then Friday it’s a long 9-10 hour drive back to Rishikesh where I can’t wait to see Megan again.  While I’ve missed her a ton these last few days and wished she was here, it was probably better she wasn’t here today.  The rain was a killer, and it nearly broke my spirit, and she hates the rain.  On the other hand, it would have been nice to be there for each other.

Day 4

What a difference a day makes.  While we were eating dinner last night, it was raining…hard.  Thunder, lightning, the whole nine yards.  I went into my tent after dinner, and it was leaking a bit because the rain was so fierce.  It continued to rain…hard.  I was not optimistic for today.  I eventually fell asleep only to wake up about 2am having to pee.  I instinctively reached for my headlamp, then I opened my eyes.  It wasn’t pitch black like the last two nights.  In fact, there were these illuminating beams shining in my tent.  It couldn’t be!  I got out of my tent and sure enough, there was the moon!!  And stars!!!  And a clear sky!!!!  Could our fortunes be changing?  I was cautiously optimistic for the morning knowing how easily things could change.

I eventually fell back asleep, and then I was awoken by Mike’s voice a little after 6am.  I jumped up out of my tent and turned.  This is what I saw:

I knew there would be something behind all those clouds, but I had no idea I would see a panorama of 7000 meter (almost 23,000 feet) peaks right in front of our campsite.  Now that’s what I’m talking about!  What a morning.  We were all on cloud nine, and we had a perfect day of hiking in absolutely perfect conditions.

(Author’s note:  Seriously, if someone would ask me to describe the perfect weather to hike in, this last day was it.  Sunny and perfect temperatures.  I didn’t break a sweat once and was never the least bit chilly.  It was truly perfect, and I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever had a more perfect day in the outdoors, weather-wise)

Views from camp-day 4

Views from camp-day 4 (1)

Views from camp-day 4 (2)

Views from camp-day 4 (3)

Views from camp-day 4 (4)

Views from camp-day 4 (5)

Views from camp-day 4 (6)

Views from camp-day 4 (7)

Views from camp-day 4 (8)

Views from camp-day 4 (10)

Views from camp-day 4 (11)

Views from camp-day 4 (12)

Views from camp-day 4 (13)

Views from camp-day 4 (14)

Views from camp-day 4 (15)

It was all downhill with spectacular views of the mountains for the first hour or so.  Then we entered a forest for the better part of the rest of the hike.  It was a nice leisurely hike, which was a welcome respite after yesterday.

Views from the hike down-day 4

Views from the hike down-day 4 (1)

Views from the hike down-day 4 (2)

Views from the hike down-day 4 (3)

Views from the hike down-day 4 (4)

Views from the hike down-day 4 (5)

Views from the hike down-day 4 (6)

Me on the way down-day 4

Views from the hike down-day 4 (8)

Views from the hike down-day 4 (9)

Caught up with the sheep and goats

Caught up with the sheep and goats

Views from the hike down-day 4 (10)

Views from the hike down-day 4 (11)

When we got near the bottom, we passed a village and a few houses and came across some local children.  They were eager to get their pictures taken and then see themselves on the screen afterwards.  They were very friendly and smiley.  We ended in a little town before hopping in our waiting car to drive about an hour to a town called Joshimath, where we checked into our hotel for some much needed showers.  I can’t wait to sleep in a bed tonight and head back to Rishikesh tomorrow.  I really hope Megan hada  great time doing yoga, but I do hope she’s had enough because I’ll be sad if I can’t see her and have to sleep alone again.

Local people we met close to the end

Local people we met close to the end (1)

Getting closer to the end

Getting closer to the end (1)

The final few kilometers

The final few kilometers (1)

(Author’s note:  Megan was in fact finished doing yoga, and she had an absolute blast doing it, which will probably be the subject of the next post.  Just to catch you up a bit as it’s been a while, we stayed in Rishikesh for one more night then went back to Delhi for a couple of nights.  After Delhi we went south to Agra where we saw the final of our five must sees, the Taj Mahal, which was spectacular–the town of Agra, not so much.  We are now in a city called Jaipur in Rajasthan and are getting ready to hop on a bus to Jodhpur in a few hours.  We plan to spend the majority of the rest of our time in the state of Rajasthan, but obviously our plans can change.  The one certain is that we have to be in Mumbai on October 8 for our flight back to St. Louis.  There will be tons more stories and pictures for us to share in the near future, so until next time…)

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We have now been in India for about a week and a half.  It’s an interesting place to say the least.  At times maddening and overwhelming, at times beautiful and exciting, which are exactly the emotions emitted during my recent trek in the Himalayas.

We arrived in Delhi, the insanely busy and chaotic capital of India before heading north to Rishikesh, the so-called yoga capital of the world.  Megan was excited about staying at an ashram doing yoga all day long, which isn’t really my thing, so I decided to take advantage of our proximity to the Himalayas and go on a trek.

Luckily I found Red Chilli Adventures, which I cannot say enough grea things about.  They are based in Rishikesh, and they were absolutely amazing from my first email contact to them through the trek and until the very end when we arrived back at their office.  Top notch company from top to bottom and start to finish.  I can’t recommend them enough.

So we took off last Sunday and were gone until Friday night.  I decided, for the first time in my life, that I would keep a journal on this adventure since I was by myself (there were two other men in  my group, Mike and Vick, both Americans, who were awesome; we had a fantastic time together) in my own tent and without Megan for the first time in over 10 months.  I wrote in my journal immediately after getting in the tent after each day of hiking to express my thoughts on the day, and I thought it might be cool to copy those thoughts, with plenty of pictures of course, into the next two blog posts.  I will add some “author’s notes” along the way.

Mike, Vick, and me at the beginning of the trek

Mike, Vick, and me at the beginning of the trek

Started off on the trail about noon.  The first hour or so was a really steep ascent, starting from about 2000 meters (about 6500 feet).  Lots of lush green around.  Saw the very top of my first 7000 meter peak.

You can barely see the very top right in the center of the picture.  Don't worry, there will be more to come.

You can barely see the very top right in the center of the picture. Don't worry, there will be more to come.

Very cloudy-great temperature though.  Stopped for tea and eventually entered a forest.  Came upon a small, Hindu temple and a crowd around it.  Women and children sitting off to the side dressed in brightly colored clothing.  They were very curious.  Men were off to the side cooking chapati and rice.  There was a lamb off to the side.  Found out later he was to be sacrificed, cooked, and eaten.

Small Hindu temple in the forest

Small Hindu temple in the forest

Local women and children

Local women and children

Kept walking up and out of the forest  a beautiful meadow, very much like New Zealand.  Had lunch there.  We continued going up and down, then through some shady areas.  Very muddy and slippery with long drop offs to one side.  Rained off and on; not that bad and temperature was find, so it was no big deal.

(Author’s note:  The rain did become a factor as the days went on, and it did become a big deal at times)

Hike-day 1

Hike-day 1

Another company's camp

Another company's camp

Hike-Day 1 (1)

Hike-Day 1 (2)

(Author’s note:   We had some difficulty finding our first camp because we got separated from our cook, porters, and mules.  There was a mule injury that prevented them from overtaking us and beating us to camp.  It got a little scary because it was starting to get dark and they had all the tents, food, and the bulk of our stuff.  We eventually met up and made camp elsewhere, not in the forest as originally planned.  As you will see in the pictures, it worked out to our advantage)

We set up camp somewhere else and the sun was setting and sky clearing to reveal a horizon of snow covered peaks, ribbons of clouds, and lush green grass in the foreground.  Wouldn’t have seen it if we camped in the forest like we were supposed to.

View from our camp-night 1

View from our camp-night 1

Sunset-Day 1 (1)

Sunset-Day 1 (2)

Sunset-Day 1 (3)

Sunset-Day 1 (4)

Sunset-Day 1 (5)

Sunset-Day 1 (6)

Two guys I’m with are great.  Super cool guys both working for the government in the field of geology.  Megan would love chatting with them about all the rocks.  Both are very well traveled and have tons of stories.  Should be a great few days (please Pachamama, no rain, my feet can’t take it).  “Easy” day tomorrow.  Going from 3000 to 3500 meters tomorrow.  Wednesday’s the tough one.  Up to the top of a 5000 meter peak.  Thursday back down.

Miss Meg, wish she was here with me.  Looking forward to the next few days but can’t wait to see her again Friday.

Oh yeah, I’m in the F’N HIMALAYAS right now, and that’s pretty awesome.

Day 2

Nice, leisurely morning.  Good breakfast (author’s note:  The food was AWESOME all week long; they did a fabulous job).  All after a good night’s sleep; kinda loud with dogs barking and mules’ bells ringing, but OK overall.

Started hiking at 9:30.  First part was through a forest, probably about an hour or so.  Temperature was nice; sky was very  foggy though, so we couldn’t see anything.  Once we came out of the forest, we came into a meadow and hiked up for a while until we were on a ridge.  The clouds were moving really quickly and it provided some good photos.  It was very mystical, and the scenery was literally changing by the second.  The sun would  come out and move some of the clouds away, then as quickly as that happened, it would start raining again.

We hiked on the ridge for another hour and a half or so, and it was a beautiful hike.  Lush green everywhere,  big trees, rocky outcrops as  we were nearing the tree line.  I had my ipod on, and it was a very nice, beautiful, peaceful walk.

Hike-Day 2

Hike-Day 2 (1)

Hike-Day 2 (2)

Hike-Day 2 (3)

Hike-Day 2 (4)

Hike-Day 2 (5)

Hike-Day 2 (6)

Hike-Day 2 (7)

Hike-Day 2 (8)

Hike-Day 2 (9)

This dog, whom we named Jackie, joined up with us on day 1 and followed us the entire trek, including to the summit of the mountain and all the way into town the last day.  She was awesome.

This dog, whom we named Jackie, joined up with us on day 1 and followed us the entire trek, including to the summit of the mountain and all the way into town the last day. She was awesome.

Me during hike-day 2

We stopped about ten minutes shy of where we were supposed to be  camping to wait for the mules.  We were in a nice spot, so we decided to eat lunch.  No sooner did we get everything out than it started to rain.  We ate quickly.  Mike, Vick, Bobby (our guide), and I all under Vick’s one umbrella.  Soon after the mules showed up, and we hiked the rest of the way to camp.

It was raining pretty hard as Bobby, the cook, our other guide, and porters quickly set up the “kitchen” and” dining room”.  Then suddenly the sun came out, and it stopped raining.  We scramble to get our three tents up, so we could put our packs in before it started raining again.  We made it just in time.  We have the rest of the afternoon (it’s only 2:30), but the weather is quite unpredictable, so I doubt we’ll do much.   Hopefully it clears up at some point because it’s one of, if not the prettiest place, I’ve ever camped.  If we could get some views of the peaks, it will be amazing.

Dining and kitchen tent at camp

Dining and kitchen tent at camp

Dining tent at camp

Dining tent at camp

View from camp

View from camp

Me in my tent

Me in my tent

Tomorrow’s the tough day.  Hiking up to 5000 meters (16,400 feet).  Easily higher than I have ever been.  I’m praying for good weather, but if not, what can you do?  We are in the Himalayas at the tail end of monsoon season, and we’ve been pretty damn lucky with weather on this trip.

I guess I’ll rest and read as I’m lonely, missing the wife, and there’s really not much else to do in the rain.

(Author’s note:  I’ll continue with the next two days in my next post.  We hope everyone is having a great Labor Day weekend.  We’re currently back in Delhi and leave Monday morning for Agra and the Taj Mahal before heading into th Rajasthan area.  Our time on the trip is really winding down.  For those of you who haven’t heard yet, we officially booked our flight home for October 8.  Back to St. Louis just in time for the arrival of our niece and some playoff baseball.  We are super excited and can’t wait to be back home and see everyone again.)

So until next time…

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