A Travellerspoint blog

Rajasthanis, Sikhs, and the Dalai Lama!

Hello! Well, since the last time we've chatted I've left Mumbai and have traveled through the oh so picturesque Indian state of Rajasthan, as well as to Amritsar - the home of the Sikh Golden Temple - and to the home of His Holiness The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exhile, Dharamsala!

Beautiful landscape, colorful saris, and friendly faces made the trip through Rajasthan an amazing experience. I started out in Udaipur where the James Bond film, Octopussy, was filmed.
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Udaipur city is situated on a lake where floating palaces are strewn across.
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We took a sunset boat trip around the lake to get up close and personal with the floating palaces.
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The Rajasthanis are very friendly and photogenic people with vibrantly colored turbans and saris.
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From Udaipur I went to Pushkar, which is a holy pilgrimage place for the Hindus. It was a quiet place to hang out and chat with fellow travelers. I slept in a tent on top of a hotel during my time there and had an interesting experience when we were invaded by the local monkey.
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After Pushkar it was off to Jaipur where I celebrated the Hindu festival Holi - celebration for the start of Spring which consisted of throwing colored powder and water at each other - and to see the annual elephant festival.
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The golden city of Jaisalmer was next destination on the list to catch a camel ride into the Thar Dessert. A night sleeping under the stars while being entertained with traditional Rajasthani music was a much needed change in atmosphere.
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From the golden city it was off to the blue city of Jodhpur.
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After a day in Jodhpur I caught the train to head north to the home of the Sikh Golden Temple, Amritsar in Punjab. It was in Amritsar that I was able to come close to crossing into Pakistan, but decided to sit back and watch the gate closing ceremony instead.
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I'm now chilling out in the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile, Dharamsala. Surrounded by snowcapped mountain peaks and green forests it feels like I left India and went back to Nepal. Breathing fresh air again and escaping the heat was a much needed change.
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Posted by benji2020 02:18 Archived in India Comments (2)

Incredible India

Hey all!

Sorry, again, that it has taken me so long to post another write up on this blog :(.

Since I've parted ways with the Nepali kids I have bummed around in Goa on the beaches for several weeks with one week in Hampi exploring the old architecture of a lost Hindu empire. Hampi also turns out to be Mecca for rock climbers with it's landscape of boulders and and rock cliffs. I ended up getting food poisoning in Hampi, the first experience with food poisoning since the start of my trip. It wasn't fun :(...but I survived. Spending time on the beaches of Goa was something that I wish I didn't have to leave. The people, food, parties and scenery were brilliant and I could have ended up stuck there if I would have allowed myself to do so. Riding scooters around the countryside was phenomenal and I think I may have come up with a new activity for when I return home: motorcycles!

I'm in Mumbai presently. I arrived several days ago by train without a hitch except for having to spend the first night in the train station because we arrived late and there were no available hotel rooms within my budget. After waking up the following morning I was able to find a bed in the dorms at the Salvation Army Guest House. Decent accommodation for cheap and great for meeting other backpackers. I'm staying in the Colaba district of Mumbai or in other words the tourist area. I didn't realize it at first but after a walk around I figured out that my guest house is situated directly across the street from the Taj Mahal Palace, the hotel that was bombed in 2008. Sorry Mom...I promise it is safe right now.

One of my favorite books that I have read while traveling in Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It takes place mainly in Mumbai and I have been able to visit the places that I read about in that book such as Leopold Cafe, where there are still bullet holes in the windows from the shootings that have taken place back in the days of the mafia.

I've been able to hook up with friends that I've met along my travels here in Mumbai. Two guys that I met in Kathmandu, Saket and Shaym who live in Mumbai, have been awesome and have taken us around the last couple of days. A friend from Germany that I met in Xiamen, China back in October is in Mumbai and we've been touring Mumbai together as well.

We celebrated my birthday last night by going out for a night of clubbing! Saket and Shaym showed me the Mumbai nightlife and it definitely exceeded my expectations!

I leave Mumbai on Tuesday to go northwards to the Indian state of Rajasthan. I'm not sure how long it will take to experience Rajasthan but If I like it then maybe I will be in Rajasthan the remainder of my time in Inidia.

I just booked my ticket home for May 1 out of Delhi and will arrive in Omaha on May 2! The time is dwindling here in Asia and I still have so much that I want to see. But I have to keep telling myself that India will always remain and I can come back as often as I would like. Maybe buy an old Royal Enfield and cruise around the country for a year?

I hope everything back home is going well with everyone at the moment and that the weather isn't too cold.

Talk to you all later!

Posted by benji2020 21:41 Archived in India Comments (1)

India with 43 little rug rats

A brief overview of my experiences while traveling and volunteering with Happy Home Orphanage from Kathmandu, Nepal, across India.

Nearly one month has passed since I've left Nepal and have been traveling around India. The past three weeks have been unbelievable spending time with the kids from the Happy Home Orphanage and my friends: Jessica, Christina, and Scott. Long hours on buses and trains have proved to be taxing both mentally and physically. I would never have imagined that sleeping a night in the Bombay train station was possible with 43 little rug rats. At the least, the children were all able to fall asleep. Us adults, however, were watching over them like hawks to make sure no one snatched one up from under our noses. Some said that we were crazy for taking these kids on a trip like this, but it all worked out in the end and we had a hell of a time doing it.

The first destination of the trip was the beautiful Portuguese colony of Goa. The kids loved the beach, and proved to be fearless of the vast Arabian Sea. Playing lifeguard for the days spent in Goa was challenging at times. A friend that we met in Goa who also volunteered his time said it best, "You are constantly counting their little heads in the water. As every wave crashes the kids fall over and you have to start the count again, 1...2...3....4." We tried our best to teach the non swimmers how to swim, and towards the end of the week we saw progress! We met some amazing people in Goa who selflessly spent time with the kids and bought them ice cream, fruit, and even a cake for one of the girls' birthday. It was special to see everyone take time from their relaxing vacation to help out. We even had the opportunity to set up a mini photo shoot for the kids on the beach. The pictures came out great and we printed them off for each child to take back to Kathmandu to remember the great time they had while in India.

One week in Goa went right past us and it was time to catch a train for Puttapharti, home of Sai Baba and his Ashram. My only exposure to Sai Baba was from spending time with the kids in Kathmandu and attending a couple of their prayer sessions (Darshans) at the home. Sai Baba has declared himself to be a sort of avatar, Godman, and miracle worker. His teachings include a mixture of Hindu and Muslim beliefs. The kids practice his teachings and, therefore, have dreamt of seeing him personally. I had never been to an ashram. I tried keeping an open mind as much as possible to harness an understanding of why so many people flock to this small city and participate in his teachings. It turned out to be one of the strangest experiences of my life.

We arrived in Puttapharti in typical fashion: late, tired, and hungry. We spent a couple of hours on the street while Bishwah, the Happy Home founder, tried to find a solution to our lack of accommodation for the night. We arrived late so our initial plan of staying in the Ashram itself was not going to work. However, a miracle occurred as fourty three children sitting on the side of the road, with luggage in hand, attracted an older Indian fellow to offer us a free place to stay for the night. I never would have thought that a group of over 50 people could find a place to sleep, for free, without reservation! We slept in a big hall with no beds. The males were in one hall and the females in another hall, and this segregation would be the same inside the ashram restaurants, foreign living quarters, and during darshan.

I didn't much care for the Ashram. The people who worked there abused their power to the point where you thought you were a prison inmate. If you sat down anywhere they would probably tell you to sit somewhere else, and then they would tell you to move from there. If you were wearing the wrong type of clothes they would let you know. Being told that you can't do something became irritating and took the fun out of the experience. Supposedly you weren't even allowed to take photos while staying inside the ashram. On the plus side, food at the ashram was amazing and extremely cheap!

Another positive note was that the ashram had a hospital where all of the kids got to see the doctor and dentist for their various ailments. Ear infections, chest colds, warts, and bad dental hygiene were the common problems. It was a great thing to accomplish as most of the kids have never seen a doctor. Hopefully they now know that doctors take care of them and aren't there to hurt them.

Towards the end of the trip we noticed the kids were becoming tired and less obedient. The change was completely understandable as they were getting to bed late and waking up early. I would have been the same way if I were in their shoes. The last darshan that we attended was a perfect example of this change in behavior as the kids were sleeping on the floor while everyone else was sitting upright and praying. I looked over at one of the little boys, Bishant, laying down and noticed a puddle developing around him. I couldn't believe it and immediately I jumped and grabbed him before any of the older gentlemen sitting around us made a scene. I cradled Bishant in my arms and felt the warmness of urine trickle down my arms. I ran him to the bathroom but he was still half asleep. I had to take him all the way back to the dorm to shower him and to change his clothes. This wasn't the first time this had happened and it probably is the best birth control a guy my age can ever receive.

The week at the ashram ended in typical style as the kids were late for the bus to the train station. A nice man that had been helping us out during our stay at the ashram had contacted the bus station to have the bus wait for them. The bus waited for an hour. The other passengers, who were also on their way to catch their trains, were very pissed off by this. After we got the kids loaded onto the bus with all of their baggage they left in a flash. The good bye wasn't quite what I had envisioned, but I should have known better because it summed up the trip perfectly.

So, that was a brief summary of the three week trip with Happy Home Orphanage. I could write forever it seems as the experiences I had during that time were many. I will never forget those kids. I'm certain I learned more from them than they learned from me. Each child is something special. Every child's story, although sad and tragic, will make each one of them a better person down the road and I know their experiences in India will do the same.

I've been in Mysore for the past several days. After my stay here I will be heading back to Goa for a week or two to relax for a bit, and then plan my next leg of the trip. Once I figure out those details I will let you all know. Until then take care and talk to you soon.

Posted by benji2020 21:06 Archived in India Comments (2)

The holiday season in Kathmandu!

The holidays were a success here in Kathmandu! I hope the same was true for everyone back home!

I went out with friends on both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, treating ourselves to a great time. We even got creative and decided to jump into the new year by standing on chairs and jumping into the air as the clock struck midnight.
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I will be leaving Kathmandu, finally, Monday evening for India! I won't be by myself, but with a couple friends and 30 little Nepali orphans from an orphanage that I've been volunteering at since Christmas day. The kids are really something, and they are extremely excited for their trip to Goa to see the ocean for the first time!

There is something very special about every single child in this group. The majority have come from families that didn't want them anymore, and abandoned them entirely. For each child's story please visit the main website: http://www.happyhomenepal.org/.
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I could go on and on about these kids, but this post would turn into a novel. If you take a look at the website, and you think that you might be interested in helping in any sort of way please let me know. I can talk to you about what can be done and what is needed the most.

That's all for now. My next post will hopefully be from India!

Take Care!

Posted by benji2020 10:30 Archived in Nepal Comments (1)

Annapurna Circuit 2010

Beni or Bust!!

First of all I want to thank everyone who has been following my blog and encouraging my travels. It really helps to know that I have friends and family supporting me back home. I wish all of you could be with me during this experience and hope that you all have a Merry Christmas!

The past three weeks have been nothing but adventure for me. Three weeks ago I was at the starting point of one of the most popular and beautiful treks known around the world, The Annapurna Circuit. For those of you who aren't familiar with this trek here is a map of the journey and a link for more information:
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The trek started by boarding a bus with my friend, Melanie, to part from Kathmandu to Bessisahar. It took around 5 hours to arrive in Bessisahar, and after checking in at the police post as a registered trekker we started the first leg of our trek. The trek is said to last anywhere from 11 to 22 days depending on the individual because of all the side treks that can be taken. For me, the trek took 16 days. That included a couple break/acclamitization days in Manang, a larger village before the notorious climb to the Thorong La Pass, the world's largest pass which reaches an altitude of 5416 meters (around 18,000 feet). The trek was considered to be medium to hard which is very true. You start at around 800 meter elevation, which is tropical/jungle like climate. As the days progress you make a gradual increase in altitude. Over the 16 days on the trek I hiked through lush green jungle, evergreen forests, barren sandy desserts, and around snow capped peaks and passes. The trek for the most part was relatively easy with the occasional steep climbs and then, of course, the mega climb up to Thorong La Pass which was the most difficult day of the trek. It was the day every trekker on the circuit was looking forward to. However, some of those trekkers may have been a little too anxious and pushed themselves too fast, which caused them to turn around and descend due to acute mountain sickness or food/water poisoning. One gentleman actually ended up with pulmonary adema at the base camp of the pass. Fortunately, I didn't have any problems and the friends I made along the trek didn't have any major problems either.

After we climbed Thorong La Pass we were relieved to make to Muktinath, the next village, for the night.
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The day was long and hard and everyone was a little sick from the altitude (headache, nausia, dizziness, etc.) That, however, didn't stop us from celebrating that night. We ended up in a hotel called Bob Marley Hotel. It was a great place to have the post Thorong La Pass party, and we needed it. for some people the trek could be considered over once you climb over the pass. It is after the pass that you start descending in altitude and the options of taking a jeep or bus are aplenty. However, it is expensive and sometimes dangerous to take those modes of transportation because of the poor roads. The next way out is to continue trekking down to Jomsom, the following town after Muktinath, and book a plane ticket. Some of my friends decided to do just that and pay $80 for the 25 minute flight. I, however, was not ready to quit and wanted to finish the circuit. I was able to coerce a few other friends to join me as well. So, we took off for Beni, which is the last town on the circuit. The trail after the pass had begun to acquire a reputation as not being trekker friendly as it was primarily a dirt road. Trekkers were deciding to forgo this part of the trek because it was supposedly boring, and the dust from trucks, jeeps, and buses were too much to deal with. Well, the last part of the trek to Beni was probably some of the best times of the entire trip. It was me, Peter from Sweden, Moira from the USA, and Amanda from Canada. We had a hell of a time trekking to Beni. It's too bad that the rest of our friends decided to end their trek early. The views were some of the best of the trail and it was nice easy downhill walk to the bottom. There weren't too many buses and jeeps to cause dust problems, and there were hardly any other trekkers along the way. It felt like we were the only ones on the trail and that felling made it special. Plus the company I had along the way made it even better. Here is a quick shout out to the three of them:

- Peter, Moira, and Amanda: I don't know if I could have finished that trek without you. I mean I could have, but it definitely wouldn't have been as much fun....lol. I'm going to miss playing euchre at night and watching Peter's face turn to disgust because he hated the game so much. It's too bad you both had to leave because Christmas would have been crazy with all of us here.

Peter and I took one day to do a side trip to Dahlaguiri Ice Fall which was a 1200 meter ascent in one day.
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From there we attempted to trek 10 hours to another village called Tatopani which has several hot springs. We failed miserably in that attempt. We decided to take a trekking trail instead of sticking to the nice, flat, dirt road. We had to cross a large suspension bridge to get to the trail, and as I walked off the suspension bridge when fell straight to the dirt and sprained my ankle. I yelled and luckily Amanda heard me and came to my rescue. We decided to end the day at nearby village because we were all pretty tired and some of us were injured. The next day we finally made it to the hot springs of Tatopani and they couldn't have come at a better time. After a day of relaxation we made our way for Beni.

Once we arrived in Beni we were rudely awakened by the noises of the "real world." We had been secluded for soo long from the honking of car horns and shouting of street hawkers. The life that we were living for those 16 days was of simplicity; no cars, no pollution, and at times no electicity was even available. The trek was starting to become an addiction that we didn't want to quit. However, we could all feel our bodies give in and tell us it was definitely time to do so. We could only adapt to our surroundings and reminise about what we had just accomplished. We finished the Annapurna Circuit. As the four of us had preached to one another during the last stretch, "We ain't no pussies."

From Beni we then took a bus to Pokhara, the third largest city in Nepal. The bus ride turned out to be one of the most hellacious trips of my life. The road from Beni to Pokhara was terrible. I already knew that riding buses in Nepal could be a dangerous thing at times, but I hadn't experienced the real danger first hand. The dirt road zigged and zagged alongside the mountain cliffs. You can only do one thing during this time and that is trust your driver that he will do his job: get you to your destination alive. Well, I think our driver had one too many cocktails for breakfast. On top of that we witnessed the aftermath of a fatal bus accident. It was terrible thing to see, but the worse part was that we couldn't do anything about it. Our bus just kept going along the narrow road. The next day we read in the newspaper that seven people lost their lives in that very accident. We eventually made it to Pokhara, alive. But, before we finished the journey our bus driver had to engage in a race between another bus driver, again putting our lives at risk.

We spent several days in Pokhara just relaxing next to the lake and enjoying the fact that we didn't have to trek up steep mountains in the near future. We also enjoyed some real beef steak at the Everest Steak House.
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After we spent a couple amazing days in Pokhara we booked a tourist bus to Kathmandu instead of the public bus. The agency told us that their company hasn't had an accident in 30 years and their drivers don't drink on the job. We were sold and the ride was amazing. I actually fell asleep.

I'm back in Kathmandu and have been able to see all of my friends from the trek. Several friends have left already to continue their travel plans. That included Moira and Amanda who both left yesterday to go back to their hometowns. It looks like I will be staying in Kathmandu for the holidays with Peter and another Swedish friend of mine from the trek, Jessica. After New Years I think I will be moving into an orphanage for a couple of weeks with Jessica to volunteer my time for the kids. I'm really excited about this and will keep you posted on ways that you might be able to help. Hopefully after that I will be heading to India!

My plans have changed so much since I left the states that I'm just going to continue living in the moment. It seems to be the best thing to do while travelling the way I am. My initial plan when I left the states was to go to Southeast Asia. Instead, I've gone from China to Nepal and soon to India. I guess we will see if I make it to my original destination because I've had some strong thoughts to go to the beautiful land of Pakistan!

Here are some photos of the trek. There are a bunch more photos of the trek in my photo gallery on the right side of the screen.

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Posted by benji2020 10:18 Archived in Nepal Tagged trek himalayas circuit annapurna Comments (1)

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