Archive for August, 2011

Himalayan Porters

The Annapurna Circuit is made up of a series of dozens of villages that line the Marsyangdi and Kali Gandaki river valleys. Access to these towns has traditionally been by donkey and foot only, though the construction of the new access road up each valley is slowly changing this way of life. Despite these new developments, hauling supplies to these upper villages is big business in the Annapurna, and thousands of people earn their living moving extremely heavy, awkward loads up steep rocky paths at high altitudes, and doing so in flip flops. We passed (or were passed by) dozens of porters each day, and we were continually awed by the loads they managed to carry. For instance:

An average load

Note the head strap, where most of the load is carried

It's not always the men! These women can carry quite the load

Sometimes, porters would travel in groups

An awkward load

A skinny load, but NO SHOES!!!

This one looks particularly heavy

Creative packing


At one point, I attempted to lift a porter’s load, which is carried largely on the head and neck.

You can do it!

Unsuccessful.  Mad respect for these guys, some of whom are carrying over 150lbs, well more than their own weight.

No, no you can't... Shiba, quit laughing!

After seeing everyone else’s loads, we didn’t feel so bad about the bags we had our porters carrying.

Easy loads!

Other trekkers, not so nice to their porters:

You're supposed to pack your stuff in a backpack, but they'll make any bag work

I was blown away by the amount of manpower we witnessed.  I was also rather surprised not to see more of these animals, which seems like a lot easier way to carry all that weight!


Day-by-Day-by-Dave – Hilarious Accounts of our Himalayan Adventure

Check out this amazing map created by our trekking partners, Jesse and Dave. Blue Pins are where we slept; Green Pins are places of interest; Forks & Knifes are where we ate, and the Blue Line is where we drove. Each pin has some information and a link to the post about that day. View Annapurna Circuit Trek in a larger map

Dave is a funny guy and a great photographer. Someday, he might be a great trekker as well. Check out his hilarious daily blog posts of our adventure across the Annapurna Circuit. Really, these are all worth reading.

Himalayan Happiness

Our next 10 days involved nearly one hundred miles of beautiful, glorious mountain scenery. The weather was fantastic, our group was so much fun, our guide was amazing, and the variety of landscapes and trail was a treat. We walked through charming villages (and exchanged dozens of namastes with the adorable children), past hundreds of local porters transporting goods on their backs from village to village, over roaring rivers of glacial melt, along the sides of cliff edges, up steep switchbacks, down into picture-perfect valleys, and through all of this the Annapurnas continually graced us with their presence.

Gorgeous, or what?


Wicked peaks like we've never seen!

Lots of glaciers means turquoise glacial lakes

Our idyllic trip was made even easier and better with the help of our guide and porters. Each couple had a porter carrying their bag of gear so we were only schlepping our day pack on our backs. Our guide Shiba was exceptional and we learned a lot from him while having lot of fun. He took care of everything from picking our accommodation each night, helping us to order food, teaching us some Nepali words, filling our water bottles, taking our pictures and answering our millions of questions (How high is that peak? Tell me again which mountain is Annapurna IV? When will this uphill be over?). At the same time he was taking care of us, he also knew how to sit back and relax and hang out. He was a rockstar guide and we would happily recommend him to anyone who is headed to Nepal to do some trekking – Look him up! (email:


Our porters, Sunkar, Mila, and Krishna

Shiba and the crew

Annapurna or Bust

There are a lot of different hikes to do in Nepal – Everest Base Camp being the most popular – but we opted for the famous Annapurna Circuit. What was once a true ~21 day circuit has been shortened significantly by the creation of a road part way around the range. Though the road is a huge bummer for tourism and outdoor enthusiasts, you can’t fault the local people for wanting to have access to their town. We tourists like the idea of being out in the middle of nowhere for a few days, however, if you live there and your child is sick and there is no road access to get them help – that changes your perspective a little bit. The road has cut the trail down to a 10 day trek, and in a few years, only 4 days of walking will be off the dusty road. We were glad we got to do this hike when we did, and if you want to trek the Annapurna Circuit, you’d better get here soon.

Really? You're putting a road in there?!?

So after all my bitching about said road, we took full advantage of it to access what would be our trailhead. After a bus ride in excruciatingly small seats, we arrived in Besi Sahar. Some people start hiking from here, but our guide (and soon to be best friend) Shiba recommended we go a little bit further by Jeep. So that is how the six of us, Shiba, our three porters, and half a dozen other locals found themselves crammed into a Jeep that shouldn’t hold more than 10. It was half hilarious-half miserable. The ‘new’ road that we drove on was the bumpiest, dustiest, never-been-grated dirt road that we have driven on, which made our trip that much more exciting/uncomfortable.

Bus from Pokhara to Besi Sahar

We soon came to realize that this bus was actually empty by Nepali standards

The Jeep seemed like a welcomed escape from the crowded bus

Until we realized that 16 people would be riding within, with a few extras on the roof

When we finally arrived at our destination, we were anxious and ready to get some walking in that day. A couple hours later and the discomfort and chaos of the transportation-filled morning was behind us. We were officially on the circuit and amongst the Himalayan mountains – life was good and getting better by the step.

The first steps of the trek

Nepal, Sweet Nepal

After an amazing and trying 5 weeks in India, we were looking forward to heading to Nepal for a change of pace. We’d been told that Nepalese folks are much more chill and the pace of life is a welcome relief from the intensity of India. Indeed, there was a significant reduction in hassling and haggling immediately upon crossing the border. After two back-to-back days of 10+ hour bus rides on local transport (read – made for small people, dirty as all hell, lacking any sort of suspension) from Varanasi to the Nepal border and from the border to Pokhara, we were very happy to arrive. Not only were we happy to be getting off a bus in one of the most picturesque mountain towns in the world, but we were meeting up with some of our favorite old and new friends.

The Annapurna trekking crew unites at the North Face Inn

Our great friend Charles and his girlfriend Kate flew over from Colorado to meet us for some Himalayan hiking and we were so excited to see them. They earned the title as first non-family visitors on our trip and it was such a treat to arrive at our hostel and hear Charles’ booming laugh from the rooftop. And to make life even more fun, our fellow round-the-world trippers, Dave and Jesse, who we met in Argentina and rendez-vous’d with in South Africa also wanted in on the Annapurna action. Woohoo!

Hanging with Dave and Jesse by Pokhara's lake, Phewa Tal

Pokhara vistas with aptly named beer

We had a day in Pokhara to enjoy the overly-priced Western food and to purchase Chinese North Face knock-off gear and other supplies for our 10+ days of trekking in the mountains. We also met our guide to make sure we liked him and that he spoke English – we did and he did. Everything was in order and we were off!

Picture of the Week

Welcome to the Himalaya.  Check out the awesome Annapurna range, towering over Pokhara, the trekking hub of central Nepal.  Over the next 2 weeks, we’ll be walking around, over, and through these mountains.

This pointed mountain is known as Fishtail Peak, or Machhapuchhre to the locals

India Wrap-up

Time for another wrap-up. Normally we do a Top 10, a Bottom 5, and our 5 Favorite Food and Drinks. However, wild-and-crazy India needs a Top 10, a Bottom 10 and a 10 Favorite Food and Drinks. We’ll try and keep it short as this is a lot to cover. Here we go!

Top Ten

  1. Holi festival with Sasank

    Staying with Sasank in Delhi – Great guy, generous host, wonderful apartment. Lucky us.

  2. Holi – A holiday like no other. Kinda like dyeing Easter eggs, but with us being the Easter eggs.
  3. Rooftop sitting – Drinking chai, escaping the insane streets and enjoying sunsets.
  4. Udaipur Cooking Class – First cooking class experience was both informational and a lot of fun. Who wants to taste what we learned when we get home?
  5. Meherangarh Fort – We can confidently say that this is our favorite fort in the whole world.

    The Taj at 6am

    One doesn’t usually have strong feelings about forts, but this fort just knocked our socks off.

  6. Camel safari sunset – How could you not love a beautiful sunset over rolling hills of sand that you arrived at by camel?
  7. Sikh Love – Didn’t meet a Sikh we didn’t like!
  8. Border closing ceremony antics – Though it might have been wrong to laugh so hard at something not aimed to be funny, we did and it was.
  9. Taj at sunrise – She’s a beaut and at that hour we had the place mostly to ourselves.
  10. India’s unbridled energy – Though a vague concept, there is no place else like India. Its uniqueness and intensity are at times overwhelming, but ultimately that’s what makes it so rewarding.

Bottom Ten

  1. Delhi belly – We’d toughened up our stomachs a little bit before arriving, but Delhi/India toughened them up a bit more.
  2. Obnoxious salesmen who won’t take no for an answer – Rickshaw? No, thank you. Rickshaw? No. Rickshaw? NOOO!!!!
  3. Salesmen that blatantly lie – Did you know that Richard Gere has visited this hole-in-the-wall textile shop in Jodhpur and that Giorgio Armani sources his fabric from this same place?
  4. Salesmen that are syrupy sweet nice when they are trying to make a sale that become rude or hostile when they realize that you aren’t going to buy anything.
  5. Filth – Really gross stuff. I don’t even want to write some of it down because it’s so gross. But imagine garbage, cow poo, public urination and the smells that go with it.
  6. Horn honking need not be encouraged

    Poverty – There is such a gap between the Haves and the Have Nots and it’s unavoidable to see. People literally live in improvised dwellings on the sidewalks of streets while others are driving by in their Audis. It’s just brutal to see with your own eyes.

  7. Car horns – Though the horns make lots of different clever sounds, they are all loud and all overused. A walk or a bus ride on any road is hard on the ears after about 5 minutes.
  8. Everything is a negotiation/nothing is straightforward
  9. Different prices for foreigners – This is institutionalized. Sure our rickshaw drive will be pricier than for the locals, however, everything from the Humanyan’s Tomb to the Taj Mahal has a significantly higher sticker price for us non-Indians.
  10. Staring – Unnerving, to say the least. I know most folks don’t mean any harm, it’s just weird to be brazenly watched for no particular reason.

Favorite Food and Drinks – We primarily ate vegetarian in India as Hindus don’t eat meat, thus it is a very easy thing to do. However, once in awhile a chicken curry was in order!

  1. MMMmmmmmm - Chai!

    Masala Chai – Or simply chai tea, if you will. It’s prolific, it’s delicious and it’s cheap. We drank some every day.

  2. Lassis – Pretty much a yogurt milkshake. I particularly liked banana lassis for breakfast!
  3. Aloo Parantha – Speaking of breakfast, this is what we liked to eat. It is an Indian bread stuffed with seasoned potatoes served with curd (yogurt) and pickles (chili sauce) for dipping.
  4. Naan – Or roti or parantha. At home we always ate garlic naan with our curries but we found out in India that naan is usually only served for special occasions. For everyday eating it is either roti or parantha (same thing but called by different names in different regions).
  5. Thalis – A medley of different curries, if you will, served with rice, bread and sometimes a dessert. Most restaurants serve unlimited refills, however, we usually split one between the two of us because it was so much food.
  6. Sarah and a dosa

    Butter Chicken – Chicken in a creamy, tomato curry. Mmm!

  7. Masala Dosas – Super thin pancakes/crepes wrapped around some curry.
  8. Curries in general – So many options and oh-so-good. Even mediocre food in India is better than most great Indian food at home.
  9. Gulab Jamun – Pretty much a donut hole soaked in a sweet syrup.
  10. Pakora – Deep-fried battered pieces of vegetable. Hard to not like.

Don’t forget to check out our Best of India photos.

Slide Show – Best of India

Check out our favorite photos from the craziest country on earth:

The Quirks of India

It is impossible to come to a country like India and not want to take note of everything you hear, see, taste, and smell (this can swing from flowery fragrant to wretched in one inhalation). During our 5 weeks here, we have accumulated a list of the highlights, interesting observations, ironies, hypocrisies, anomalies, and oddities. This post was inspired by (and partially copied from, with permission) a friend and fellow traveler who was generous enough to share his list of the idiosycracies and excentricities of India. We added a few of our own and mixed them up to give you a snapshot of the craziness that is India. Here are a few:

  • The first, and most important, lessons I learned about India were “you cannot generalize about the people of India” and “India has A LOT of everything.”  I did not fully appreciate these two statements before coming here and now that I am, I concur.  I would describe India like I would Europe – a collection of countries and cultures, each with their own language, food, traditions and nuances.
  • Dirtiness – Yes, it is very dirty here, even filthy, in lots and lots of places. Trash all over (though they do recycle here quite a bit – very surprised to find that there is enough incentive for people to collect plastic, glass, etc), cows shitting all over, dirty water in streams, rivers, etc. Showering at the end of each day is essential, even if you just go out for a quick errand during the day. I’ve never had to wash my flip flops daily, but just about every day, they come into the shower with me. But surprisingly, people’s BO here is not as bad as it is in Africa!
  • Chillin on rooftops (particularly in Rajasthan) has been awesome. Hostels/hotels generally have a restaurant on the roof, and drinking chai, looking at the fort that looms overhead, or the lake that lies in the valley, is killer.
  • Women here really wear the traditional clothes most of the time. And it is so pretty – bright colors and so many of them. Bangles on their wrists, nose rings, saris, etc.
  • Hocking loogeys:  Expect that people are comfortable clearing their throats with a loud open mouth cough in the unlikeliest places (perhaps while taking your order in a restaurant), spitting excessive amounts of chewing tobacco (missing your arm by a few inches while in the back of their rickshaw), or spending the first 20-30 minutes of their day hocking a symphony of gutturals for all to enjoy.  Also, loogeys are not differentiated based on sex.  While it would be rare to see a women chewing tobacco, she may have no qualms about spitting on the sidewalk in front of you.
  • Travelers here embrace the local dress more than anywhere we’ve noticed. Saris, to Ali Baba pants, to shoes – this is the place to dress the part.
  • Men are in the 70s, with AWESOME huge mustaches. Pants and shirts are pretty 70s style as well.
  • All the buses (and some of the cars and rickshaws) have crazy horns. At first it’s cool to hear the chorus of different “get out of my way” sounds, but then it wears on you. People honk EXCESSIVELY here, for anything and everything, and it gets loud and old real quick. Excessive honkulation is an addiction in this country and it needs to stop.
  • Cows really are chillin everywhere. Nobody pays them much attention. Sometimes store owners will push them away from their storefronts. It’s pretty funny when they get in the middle of the small lanes, already congested with rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, and people. Quite the mess.
  • The Indian culture is the strongest we’ve encountered – by far. Indians have their own music, dance, film, TV, fashion, food, etc, and as a result, people are less influenced by American/Western culture. People know much less about the US than others we’ve encountered, probably largely because they don’t watch nearly as much of our media or listen to nearly as much of our music. It’s very cool to see the pride people have in Indian culture, and while I don’t love the music (lots of minor and dissonant progressions with a sitar-y twang), their food and dress are bursting with flavor and color.
  • Queuing: I was warned in advance to sharpen my elbows…but when you are at the window (which was a battle to get to) and engaging in a conversation with the attendant to figure out which train ticket you need, how is there a guy sticking his hand in the glass booth still trying to cut me off?  Then, when ignored by the attendant he tries to fit his head in the hole as if this will surely make his voice heard. There is little regard for lines in India so you just have to be aggressive and deal with it.
  • Many of the places we visited in India are also domestic tourist destinations, which made for some really interesting interactions. In a country where most people are either poor or extremely poor, a holiday is a big deal, and generally these holidays are reserved for religious pilgrimages. In places like Amritsar, Rishikesh, and Varanasi, people are sometimes making the trip of their lifetime to the Ganga, and many of these folks are from rural areas. As a result, they aren’t used to seeing white people, and many are excited to be in photos with us. Sometimes, we feel like B-level celebrities, which is kinda fun.
  • In Ted’s opinion, this is the most fascinating place to travel on the planet. It’s certainly not all good, but the rewards are well worth the challenges. Not my favorite country, but definitely the most interesting.
  • In Sarah’s words: “Every day, I love and I hate India”. So true – the rewards here are tremendous – from the history and architecture, to the spirituality and food – but the requirements are high, and you have to walk out the door ready for battle every time you leave the hotel. As one Israeli traveler said, “you have to pump yourself up, get ready to go out and kick some ass (while doing a boxing motion with his fists) – I’m coming to get you India!”

Spontaneous Party in Varanasi

On our 2nd night, we were headed to dinner along the primary street to the main ghat, when we passed a big commotion in the roundabout. We attempted to see what was going on, and gathered in the cluster that had choked up the roundabout as the spectacle moved through. There was loud music, costumes, and dancing, but we couldn’t see too well, so we moved on towards the ghat. A few minutes later, the spectacle moved in our direction, and perching on the road divider, we witnessed a crazy impromptu celebration in the street. First, a few flag bearers led the charge.  Then, a truck with huge speakers blasting dance music rolled through, followed closely by a mobile dance party. After, the main event decided to make a stop right in front of us. A few costumed dancers in huge head-dresses and waving swords (entirely too close to by-standers) performed a mock-battle. 1/2 way through, the main swordsman lit his swords on fire and continued the battle. After more than 5 minutes, the party moved on towards the ghat. For some reason, we didn’t think this random celebration is so random in Varanasi. We’d already witnessed parades of musicians and dancers throughout the day, never sure of what they were celebrating or mourning. Crazy sh*t must happen here all the time.

Flag bearers lead the procession

Then the mobile dance party rolls through

Then the performance begins

Now, it's time to light those swords on fire

Finally, the rest of the party rolls through

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