Friday, May 30, 2008

Alive in Pokhara

I completed the trek in the hope of replacing emotional pain with physical.
I am back in Pokhara, I will see a doctor for my lungs in Kathmandu. The hot springs at Tradapani have helped to release a bit of the lime green gunk. I am coughing but a storm but at least it is more rewarding.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Himalayan SOS

Well I am currently on day three of my 7 day trek. I am in Ghorepani at the moment.
I am not having the best time of it here, I have to say. When I signed myself up for this trek I was worried about my knees, my still healing ankle, my lack of fitness, and the general rigor of a week long trek through the Himalayas. It never entered my mind (as I suppose it should have) that my chest infection that I had fought in India was going to rear its ugly head. To put it strait, I can't breath. Each day has gotten worse. At least none of the other trekkers that are staying in the same guest houses as myself question my illness, I keep all of us up at night with my coughing. Sometimes I am alright, then I have a coughing attack, the wheezing comes, my lungs contract in pain and I fight to breath.
Yesterday morning I thought I would have to turn in, I just couldn't bare the pain but I kept going and the walk was amazing! After the initial hellish climb, we stopped the steady upwards assent and walked more or less around the side of the mountain. Ups and downs of course, but nothing like the first day's 3000+ steps and 2000 meter assent. The forest I walked through was breathtaking. Ethereal in every way. I kept my eyes pealed for gnomes and fairies but they kept themselves hidden. The clouds had rolled in and the damp green forest was alive with birds and soft moss that covered all the trees. It was so magical. It rained in the afternoon but my spirits were high from my surroundings. If I wasn't liable to laps into a coughing fit I would have skipped my way through those windy mossy paths.
Yesterday evening, as the cold air set in, my coughing worsened. Even my darling Lenard was not able to sing me to sleep. Now if Mr. Cohen can't calm me into sleep what am I suppose to do?!! At 2am I awoke again with a coughing fit that lasted about an our, occasionally I got a 10 min break when I just felt like crying but couldn't because I didn't have the air support.
This morning I was awoken at 4am to climb Poon Hill to see the amazing views. For days it has been too cloudy to see anything but at 4am the sky looked promising. I headed out, tired and drained from all the coughing. I got part of the way up and had to stop. I just didn't have it in me to suffer through another 30mins of climbing. My guide and I found a nice place to watch the view. It would have been more spectacular from the top but that was just not possible for me. The view I did have was stunning all the same. I have the pictures to prove it.
I told my guide that I didn't think I could continue, that I just couldn't breath. He said "everyone has this problem". I was so angry that I almost lost my temper. I tried to remind him that I was not just out of breath, I had a chest infection, my lungs were tightening in on me, I was in pain, I didn't just need to catch my breath. I need to be able to breath!!
The idea of turning back is almost as painful as pushing onward. I feel I have failed. My dream of being in the Himalayas is slipping from me. I almost broke my ankle in India, China shut Tibet's borders, I can't breath in Nepal, and on top of all this my parents are selling our cottage. I am not one to feel sorry for myself. I lead a wonderful rich life, I am in an amazing relationship, but right now my spirit feels utterly broken. Tears ran down my face the whole walk down Poon Hill. This was not how it was suppose to be.
I don't know what I am going to do.
Do I press on?
Do I go back?
Which would be more painful?
I have to decide soon. My guide is pressing me for an answer.



Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chitwan National Park

There was a bit of an upset in my plans and I am currently back in Kathmandu. Today I was supposed to start rafting but my bus driver failed to drop me off, and since I did not know what the place looked like I did not know we had passed it until we arrived in Kathmandu. I was disappointed and annoyed but all is not lost, I will head out tomorrow for one day of rafting. At least I have Billy. Billy is an Australian girl that I met in Chitwan and we have gotten along very well and are sharing a room for the night.
Chitwan National Park:
My few days in Chitwan were really nice and relaxing. My guest house was along the river and reminded me of Hippo Pools (a guest house in Zimbabwe along the Zambezi). Yesterday I woke up at 6am to go on a dug out canoe ride down the river. The river is crazy shallow and I could almost always see the bottom. We saw some beautiful birds and come crocodiles, but mostly it was just a peaceful ride in the cool morning air. After an hour we docked the boat and made our way through the high grasses and into the jungle. We didn't see much wild life, but at the watch tower we did see a wild elephant which is really rare and felt special. I was glad we saw it from the watch tower and not at eye level as this elephant is know to be very aggressive and dangerous. No tigers, snakes, or rhinos on this walk.
Then we (a German couple and myself) watched the working elephants bath in the river. For a small fee you can join them and play on the elephants. It looked like fun but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Perhaps if I had stayed another day I would have. I had a few hours on down time and then I went on an elephant safari. The seat wasn't exactly comfortable but the fantastic jungle atmosphere and seeing eight rhinos certainly made up for it. The baby rhinos are soo cute. Being around these great creatures in this setting felt very "Jurassic park". We were able to get so close to them! We also saw several deer and monkeys.
After the elephant ride I sat and watched a gorgeous sunset as I shared a beer with another German guy who was on my elephant with me. All very relaxing.
The cultural show (where I first met Billy) and the guided walk through the village were also really nice. It was really funny to see all the wild marijuana growing by the road. My guide expected me to get more excited than I did, but inside I was giggling at the thought of it just growing wild.
I am working on managing without Javed, it's difficult but separation is something both of us are going to have to get used to.

So tomorrow I go rafting and then I am off trekking in Annapurna.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kathmandu and beyond!

Hello from Kathmandu!
I just arrived today and I am going to be very busy here. Through Great Adventure Treks & Expedition I have booked up almost my entire time here in Nepal. Tomorrow morning I head to Chitwan National Park to see some Nepalis rhinos, ride some elephants, do some bird watching, some jungle treks, and some elephant bathing! Then I am off to Charaudi to do two days of intense white water rafting. Fabulous! That will also evolve some camping under the stars. Then I head to Pokhara to start my 7 day trek around the Annapurna Circuit. I will be hiking through towns and villages with the names of Tikedhunga, Ghorepani, Tadapani, Ghandruk, Tolka, Saraugkot, and Pokhara (for those of you who would like to follow where I am going on the
I will most likely be out of contact until I return to Kathmandu around the 31st of May. I may have internet access in Pokhara.

I am very excited about the next two weeks.
It will be just me and my guide for the trekking portion, but the national park and the rafting will be with other people. Well, I think I will be with other people in the national park. Highly unlikely there will be no tourist there doing what I am doing, even if it is low season.
My trekking guide will also fulfill roll of porter when my bag gets too heavy for me. The tour company is also supplying all the equipment, they are giving me a smaller bag for the trip and a sleeping bag. I will be staying in tea houses along the trek and a hotel in Pokhara.

Jen- good news and bad. The bad news in that Kathmandu is just as dirty as India. Good news is that the Pumpernickel Bakery is still in existence (bad news is that it was closed for renovations when I tried to go, hopefully it will be open when I come back to Kathmandu).

I went to a Japanese restaurant tonight for dinner. SOBA!!! TEMPURA!!! MISO!!! It all melted in my mouth. I know I love food from everywhere, but sometimes you just need a bamboo plate of cold soba!

Kathmandu is pretty cool. Like Koh San but better! The choice in restaurants and guest houses is overwhelming!!! Everything looks amazing!

Loving life.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Getting ready for Nepal!

Today will be my last day in Udaipur for a while. Tonight Javed and I will catch the sleeper train to Delhi, and then on the 19th I fly to Nepal to do some white water rafting and hiking in the Himalayas while Javed leads a tour group through sweltering Rajasthan. That's right folks, it is REALLY HOT here. Today is one of the worst, last night their was hardly any relief from the heat. Udaipur with its mountains and lakes is one of the most comfortable places in Rajasthan during these months, but not today! I can't wait to get into the Himalayas!!!
Tomorrow, during my day in Delhi, I will meet with the family of a colleague of my father's. I am looking forward to seeing another Indian family home.
Javed's mother is unhappy I am leaving, she tells me she will miss me. Her kindness touches me deeply. I have promised I will return in a few weeks. I will miss her.
After Nepal, Javed and I plan to head to Shimla (north India, Himalayan foothills) on the "toy train". The Toy Train is a narrow gauge train that is slow but historic and passes through beautiful country. ( Then we plan to go through Punjab and visit the Golden Temple (the most important Shikh temple. ( Then return to Udaipur for my last few days before I fly to Mumbai and then to Paris.
I am excited to be on the road again!
I can't wait to update with pictures of the Himalayas!!!


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jaipur bombings


I am safe.

I watched the news about Jaipur last night from the safety of my hotel room in Udaipur. Javed started getting calls from friends to make sure he was safe just after the news broke and we turned on the tv right away. It is so scary. Javed says he doesn't know why this group has done the bombings. The English news channel was not saying anything as to why these would happen either.

The Palace of Winds where the bombs went off is very beautiful and I could not get the faces of the shop keepers and tuk tuk drivers out of my mind. I spent a good deal of time wandering the exact area where the blasts went off. I am so sorry this has happened, at the same time I am glad I am safe in Udaipur and Javed discouraged me from going back to Jaipur because of the heat.

Javed tried calling his friends in Jaipur but the networks were overloaded and he couldn't get through.

My heart goes out to the people of Jaipur.

A colleague of my father's has family in Jaipur. I hope they are alright. I am sure they are as it was a touristy part of the old city that was hit and it is unlikely they would be anywhere near there. I am also grateful that this is the low season for tourists. There are only a handful walking around these days. Everyday the heat increases here in Rajasthan and all over India.

I know that those at home are thinking about the people of Jaipur.

Such a tragic waste of innocent life.


Monday, May 05, 2008

My Life, Their Life, and Culutre Shock -An Indian Wedding

Back in Udaipur!
The city is quite and clam. The tourist have almost entirely disappeared, it is considered too hot. I love it.
My days are relatively slow here. The past few nights have been really late ones with the wedding parties so my mornings have melded into afternoons. I am currently sipping my third glass of chi (I have been up for 5 hours and I am only on number 3!) The people here could and probably do, mark their day with these tiny cups of chi. It is yummy and nice even in the heat.
Javed's cousin's wedding was not what I expected. I thought it would take up our days and nights and be some huge crazy party. Not so. It was relatively subdued. I have instead spent many hours of the day at Javed's family's house with his mother and brothers. There are around 68 people in Javed's extended family and they all live in the same house. The house is more of a complex than a home as we know it. Each individual family has a room and a cooking/washing area. Javed's family's home is a room about 10 by 7. They have a few built-in shelves on every wall which is where all clothing, pots, general things are stored. Everything they own is in this room included a tv (always covered by a cloth) on a small table and a large 'bar fridge'. Javed's family is not poor. They are solidly middle class, all five brothers either went or are going to university. Each has a fancy cell phone, and nice cloths. They seem to want for nothing but in comparison to a family of the same status at home, they have nothing, and would appear impoverished.
Javed's family has opened their home to me. I am welcome anytime and his mother is always happy to feed me whatever curry she has going and fresh chapati. Her food is out of this world and she has started to teach me which is very exciting. His parent's English is minimal but we do alright, the brothers on the other hand are almost fluent. They youngest (16) is particularly chatty. I was a little shy and nervous and cultured shocked at first but I am quickly becoming very comfortable in their home.
Yesterday was the day of the wedding. Javed had left me at his home for the afternoon. I sat their on the floor a little bored and a little uncomfortable in my skin while is mother did the washing (man that woman works hard!) and his brothers came and went not doing very much. I did not want to be rude and leave. I hated that I felt dependent on Javed to "come and get me", but I was worried I would offend so I sat their bored until his mother motioned for me to follower her to the brides house. We went down the stairs and entered the bride's family's home (same set up) where there were about 30 women crowded in around the bride who was sitting on the floor in a beautiful mustard coloured sari. The women were singing as they took turns dipping leaves into a turmeric and sandal wood mixture and smoothing this mixture on the bride's cheeks, hands, and feet. A few of the women help a sarong sized cloth over her head, and a man with a high-wattage light and video camera filmed the ceremony. This was cool. The bride smiled up at me (she is stunning), the children stared at me, and the pushy Aunties laughed and scolded the women to keep singing whenever the repeated chant would die down. (Oh how colourful all the women and children are in their saris! I always feel so drab in thier presence.)
This ritual is something that is repeated everyday for the week leading up to the wedding. I was there for the very last one. The turmeric mixture is supposed to cleanse the bride and make her skin nice and shinny for her husband. I wish I had had my camera with me.
Did I mention that this is an arranged marriage? Javed was not sure if they had even met before! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH culture shock!

The wedding.
Well the wedding was interesting. I was dressed up in an outfit of one of Javed's cousin's. I was a bit of a disco ball, I am not going to lie. Why did it have to be white with multi coloured beds? The thing weighed a tone and white is NOT my colour. All I could think off is the white dress with white beading I had tried on in a store a few years ago and how my friend Ani and I lovingly referred to me in that dress as a snow-beast. How I wished I had my midnight blue sari that I sent home a few weeks ago. Well whatever I might have thought of myself in this dress, those feelings were not shared by those I met at the wedding. I was much stared at as I followed Javed's mother through the crowd of 1200 invitees. I should probably have mentioned to Javed that their is another reason Deathe's shouldn't wear white. I was paranoid to eat dinner. Yes it was buffet style and we sat on the grass, and yes, I did drop food on me....I was trying soo hard not to! Many women crowded around me, stared, smiled, spoke in Hindi, and pinched my cheeks. The only word I recognized was Javed's name. At one point someone told Javed he had chosen well. That was all that was translated to me. My face must have been five different shades of red most of the night. I greeted the bride and had our picture taken, Javed and I on either side of her, very formal. (the picture was taken by the wedding photographer so I do not have it) Then another picture with some of the Aunties, the bride, and me. The bride herself was soo much more calm and happy looking than I would have been. She told me I looked beautiful, but who are we kidding... next to her, in her beautiful burgundy and gold sari, I was most definitely a snow-beast. After the groom arrived I joined the bride in her tent enclosure. The bride and groom are not to see each other or to be together when they are married. This is a Muslim Indian wedding, not a Hindu wedding one. I watched as the bride's lovely face was covered with flowers and her head covered with a white cloth. The Imam goes to both the bride and groom separately and asks if they agree to the match and asks the bride if she agrees to a sum of money payable to her from the groom. It was lost in translation if this sum is a gift from the groom like a dowry, or a kind of pre-nup. The woman guiding me through this ceremony moved on to say that no price is enough for a person's life and that she is not happy in her marriage and that she envies my freedom. (what does one say to this?) I told her she has a beautiful daughter. She smiled and shrugged. I fell deeper into culture shock.
After the Imam had gone back and forth a few times they were married. I watched as the groom was congratulated by a massive group of men. Each was hugged three times (kind of like the French kiss for each check but no kisses). He was then taken to eat, the bride remained in her tent. It was time to leave, everything was finished. Those who hadn't eaten would eat, those that had would go home. There was no dancing. No singing. So not bollywood, even if music was playing in the background.
All the women at the wedding looked lovely and were dressed up in their finest. I can't say the same about the men who mostly wore jeans and a new shirt. I went over to say goodbye to the bride and take a few last photos (really just taking requests by elderly women and children). I wish I had taken more photos, but I was shy at first and I didn't want to draw more attention to myself, I also didn't realize it would be over so fast!
Javed's cousin has now left her family. She can visit them, but they no longer play an important role in her life. She has most likely been "adopted" by a male relative of the groom who is given the authority to interfere in the marriage if their are any problem. This adoptive father is the only security she has should things go wrong in her marriage. Her family has no say, no power to protect her. When Javed told me this I felt like I was five years old again and watching The Little Mermaid - crying uncontrollable with my inability to understand why Ariel would want to leave her Daddy. I curled up in my hotel room, hugged the pillow for a long time and told Javed I missed my family, and my Dad.
Javed's mother was married at the age of fourteen. His cousin is about twenty-six, she is university educated. Things do change, but customs are customs, this is their culture.
After the wedding, back in my hotel room, I told Javed that it was so strange and funny to have all these women around me talking about me, pointing to me, and that the only thing I understood was the mention of his name. He told me that they, all this family and relations, thought we were married. That is where the 'he had chosen well' comment came from. SHOCKER! I was so not prepared for that. I burst out laughing. For him this was obvious. I was with him, I was with his mother all night, his mother never goes out to events (her husband does not like it, he did not come), and I was dressed up all fancy. This is the second time I have been married off without my knowledge. At least I got a good reception, and a good report card from the family. I suppose I look like the good quite girl when I am overwhelmed, culture shocked, and I can't speak the language. I know all you who know me well are getting a good kick out of this. Can you picture me? Eyes low, blushing, smiling, and silent? At least Javed knows me for who I am.
I paced the roof of my hotel for hours last night, my inner feminist not knowing how to absorb all I have been witness to and having no outlet, no sisters with me. Javed pushed me to talk about it with him, but he can't imagine what this is like for me. He can't help me process it, he can't relate. I miss my sisters and my strong women friends and when I get home I am sure we will sit down and hash my experiences out.
The reception was the day after the wedding. We all got to greet the bride and groom, eat, get stared at (maybe taht was just me and the newly weds), and go home. Again no dancing. Bollywood let me down yet again! The groom looks a bit hard and unfriendly, I hope this is not the case. Javed shares my thoughts. All we can hope for is that he is good to her and they are happy.
I see all these experiences as a gift and I will take them in and try to process them for the time I have left, even if it does mean very long blog entries.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Himilayan foot-hills

Up in "the hills". That would be the Indian term for my trip into the Himalayan foothills.
Javed, my good friend from Udaipur, met up with me in Delhi after I returned from Varanasi and we set off into the hills with another couple. Six hours north of Delhi we arrived in Rishikesh. As I said in my earlier blogs, Rishikesh is know for its Ashrams, yoga courses, and as the place The Beatles went when they came to India to stay at an ashram.
Rishikesh is a nice city but it is clear spirituality is on sale here. Everywhere you go there are sadus and swamis (monks of sorts) asking or money or offering to bless you. There are posters and banners for yoga classes and meditation courses. It is kind of a New Age Mecca. I did not participate in any of these things, but if it hadn't been for my sprained ankle I would have done a yoga class or two. I did attend an evening Puja which was great. There were so many people there praying and singing. 99% were Hindus, but a few foreigners were scattered around. The pictures of the people on the steps are from that Puja, as is the statue and the kids playing in the water.
While we might not have taken time out to work on our inner selves we did work on the physical. That's right, I went white water rafting down the Ganges! It was amazing fun. The rapids put me into hysterics as we were plunged into walls of water and sucked and rocked over massive rapids. Well I can't say how massive the rapids were, I am sure there are much lager, but they are the largest I have ever experienced. At one point we were given the option to jump into the Ganges. Javed was in the water faster than I could take off my shoes but I also dropped myself into the freeing glacier water. Why not? I got to cleanse myself of all my sins of this life time, AND I got to get the closest thing to icing my ankle as one can in a burning hot country. We also went cliff jumping. FABULOUS! Should I have done these things with an ankle I can barely walk on? Probably not, but I have no regrets. My only wish is that I'd had my camera. A man took photos of us and I have copies but they are not very good and you don't see us white water rafting or swimming.
Rishikesh despite the fun, was still not a break enough from the heat for me so we four headed north again. We went to a small village another four hours north of Rishikesh. Here it was cold! Well the days were nice, mid-high twenties, but the evenings were very chilly. Despite my still sore foot, I took off for a walk around the twisty hill top road to take in the scenery and enjoy the fresh air. The pictures of green hills and tress are from this area. There were also irises everywhere! fields of them! Irises are one of my favorite flowers. The smell of pine needles, and the fresh unpolluted air were very very welcomed.
From here we moved on to Moosurie. Javed and I did not stay there unfortunately as we had to return to Rishikesh and then back to Delhi in order to get to Udaipur for his cousin's wedding. Mossurie is an absolutely beautiful tourist town. It mostly just attracts Indian tourists, I was the only western that we saw. Mossurie is probably the cleanest place in India. WOW was it clean! signs everywhere told people to put their rubbish in the bins or pay a fine. The streets where lined with rod-iron fences and street lamps. Very Victorian British. Very beautiful. We spent about an hour wandering around this town and I wished we could have stayed a week. Everyone was so kind and friendly, it was nice to see Indian couples taking a romantic holiday and poses for pictures with the mountains behind them. Mosurie also boosts a Domino's, Baskin Robbins, and a Coffee Day (Indian coffee house chain). I was shocked to see these chains in such a relatively remote hill town. Even Rishikesh does not have any of these.
So a few days ago we boarded a morning train from Rishikesh to Delhi, (on the train a sweet elderly Indian couple mistook Javed and I for a married couple, after letting them think this for a few hours and taking all the wife's "advise" Javed corrected her and said we were not married but engaged. I was downgraded and I didn't realise since the conversation was in Hindi! The whole thing made Javed and I chuckle to ourselves for the good 5 hour ride. I got all the pointers on what to do and not to do as an Indian wife, I love how she proceeded to tell me this after saying she refuses to interfere with her married children's lives. They were very sweet and blessed us with a long and happy life together when we parted.

So here I am in Udaipur and oh do I have stories to tell!
More later.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Rishikesh- shamefully short update

Sorry I have no time to write. The Internet cafe is closing.
I will update with pics and lots of stories when I get to Udaipure.
Basically Rishikesh has been nice. We went north to a small town for a few days. The pine trees there reminded me of my favorite place in the whole world and almost made me homesick but than I looked up and saw the snow peaks of the Himalayas and got over it.
I am excited to return to Udaipur, and excited to get back to the hills after that!
My Himalayan Loop trip with GAP has been officially cancelled. Another year.

Next up: Indian wedding!

Javed is taking great care of me. He spoils me rotten but also teases me endlessly. He would totally fit in at my family's dinners at the cottage.

Very happy.
Don't want to leave India. Well I will go to Nepal and then come back!

More from Udaipur.