Tag: India

Indian Subcontinent – The Numbers

The numeric story of our time in the Indian Subcontinent:

  • 35 – Days we spent in India
  • 29 – Days we spent in Nepal
  • 47 – Hours spent traveling by train
  • 72 – Hours spent traveling by bus
  • 0 – Hours spent traveling by plane
  • 18 – Hours spent on our longest single commute in India (Jodhpur – Amritsar)
  • 31 – Number of beds we slept in
  • 1112 – Photos taken (and kept) in India
  • 1621 – Photos taken (and kept) in Nepal (the most of any single country)
  • 7 – Average number of times we had to say “no” before Indian people got the hint
  • 2 – Elephants we encountered in the streets of India’s cities
  • 3 – Yoga classes taken in Rishikesh, Ted’s first ever
  • 11 – Days we spent hiking the Annapurna Circuit
  • 90 – Miles we hiked on the Annapurna Circuit
  • 14,337 – Vertical feet climbed on the Annapurna Circuit
  • 15,912 – elevation of Thorong High View Camp, the highest we’ve ever slept
  • 17,769 – elevation of Thorong La Pass, our highest hike in Asia
  • $59.18 – average price per day in India (for both of us)
  • $71.55 – average price per day in Nepal (for both of us)
  • 100+ – Number of cups of delicious Chai tea

Be sure to check out our Best of India, Best of Nepal, and Annapurna Highlights albums to see some of our favorite moments of this chaotic land.

Stepping into the First World

We’ve gotten pretty used to chaotic, challenging, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes annoying, sometimes outrageously inefficient, sometimes completely unsuccessful situations and interactions during our travels throughout India and Nepal. It’s the developing world, it’s poor, and it’s packed with people struggling to survive. That’s what you put up with, but it’s a fight worth having, because the rewards, tastes, interactions, lessons, and experiences are so worth it.

When we stepped off the flight from Nepal to Thailand, we entered a different world – a world of functionality, efficiency, comfort, and relative peace and quiet. It’s amazing how you come to appreciate the little things when they’ve been absent so long. A few things that put smiles on our faces:

  • No honking!
  • Highways, with lanes that people stay in, and traffic laws that are followed!
  • 24-hour electricity!
  • Drinkable ice!
  • Air-conditioned taxis with leather seats!
  • 7-11 stores every 100 meters, full of everything an American 7-11 would have (plus alcohol)!
  • Vendors actually listen when you say “no thanks” and leave you alone, often while maintaining a smile the whole time!

While the creature comforts are nice to have again, there are some cultural trade-offs that made everyday interactions a bit more bland. White people are everywhere. EVERYWHERE! Aussies and Brits galore, complete with their boisterous (and fun) attitudes. Local people just are not as interested in us, who we are and where we’re from. Initiating interactions is more difficult, as they are a more reserved culture very accustomed to tourists.

For better or for worse, we’re happy to be here. It might take a bit more effort to get away from the crowds, but the cultural traditions are equally as intriguing, the food is equally as amazing, and who doesn’t like a little comfort after roughing it for, say, 4 months!

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!

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

The Mighty Ganga

The city of Varanasi is the spiritual headquarters of the Hindu religion. The mighty Ganga (Ganges) River flows through the city, and it is because of this holy river that Varanasi is so important.

The Heart of Varanasi - the Ganga River

Boat's eye view from the Ganga

People make pilgrimages from all over India (and the world) to visit Varanasi and to be in the presence of the mighty Ganga. It is believed that a lifetime of sins can be washed clean with a simple dip in the water, which easily explains its popularity (and people’s willingness to get in a disgusting river)! Life revolves around this river, and day or night you can find people bathing, doing laundry, leading their cows to drinks, cooling off, playing, praying, fishing, and the list goes on. Sadly, the river is grossly polluted and extremely unsafe for swimming (by our standards), however, that did not stop thousands of devoted Hindus from rejoicing in it every day.

Laundry on the Ganga

Cows in the Ganga

Trash along the Ganga

Bathing in the Ganga

Because of its spiritual importance and the fact that its waters eventually reach the sea, many Hindus opt to honor their dead via cremation on the banks of the Ganga. It is believed that if you die in Varanasi, your soul will be released from the endless cycle of reincarnation that largely defines the Hindu religion. Every day at dawn and dusk, you can see the smoke of different cremation ceremonies taking place. The cremations take place at specific ghats, or docks, dedicated to such ceremonies. Some ghats are reserved for laundry-doing, some are for bathing and still others are for cremation. The cremation ghats are easy to distinguish as the shores are packed with thousands upon thousands of logs of firewood. Photos of creamation ceremonies are forbidden.

Burning Ghat

Fuel for the cremations

Ghats on the Ganga

Though a very eerie idea for us to wrap our heads around, it is a perfectly natural and wonderful thing for many Indians. The intensity and extremes of Varanasi are a perfect representation of the eccentricity of India. It was a wonderful and eye-opening last stop for us in a country that throughout our visit, we loved and hated every day.

Scenes of Varanasi

Scenes of Varanasi

The streets of Varanasi


There is a delicate balance to be struck when taking photos of locals and their ceremonies.  On one hand, you really want to get those amazing shots.  But on the other, you HAVE to be respectful of the subjects of your photography.  This dude was way out of line at the Ganga Aarti ceremony in Rishikesh.  Don’t be that guy.

Ganga Aarti Ceremony

Animated Hindu God Painting

I see the appeal of Hinduism. Where at home religion is a part of your life, in India it is so intertwined with life that it’s hard to differentiate one from the other. There is so much color, light, music, and opportunity for celebration in the faith. Religion is part of your cuisine, your style, your friends, even your social standing in the community. For young children, there are animal gods, many dressed in different costumes and there are numerous, fun stories about their powers and various manifestations.  If I was a kid and I had to chose between dressing up, being quiet, behaving and going to church or getting to run around with all my friends while fire twirlers were performing and cymbals were gonging, it wouldn’t be hard decision.

One Hindu celebration that we witnessed in both Rishikesh and Varanasi was called the Ganga Aarti Ceremony. Ganga Aarti is performed everyday along the banks of the Ganga (Ganges) river. There were so many people and so much energy surrounding the event that it literally felt like a once a year type celebration – a 4th of July if you will. But no, this was just another regular Tuesday, or Wednesday or any day – it didn’t matter. The ceremony features priests facing the river and performing various symbolic offerings with candles, and rice, and feathers, etc. Meanwhile another man is leading the group in song or just chanting. Hundreds of people are along the riverside releasing candles into the Ganga. Thousands of others are sitting nearby watching the ceremony while still many more are just standing around talking, from what I could tell.

Nightly Ganga Aarti Ceremony in Rishikesh

Sarah participating in the ceremony

Flower boats for release into the Ganga during the ceremony

Varanasi Ganga Aarti Ceremony Madness

Ganga Aarti in Varanasi

Where in church, silence is expected, believers are attentive, and things go in a particular order, that could not be farther from the truth here. People move and listen and come and go and participate however they wish. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, it’s loud, and it’s just part of everyday life; but because it is impossible to separate religion from life, nobody tries to.

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