Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Breathtaking Nepal.

It’s been said that visiting Nepal once is never enough. I have to agree. I left Varanassi, India with big expectations. My excitement though soon turned to despair as a ten hour bus ride turned to nearly twenty-four! What a long ride. It was worth the wait as soon as I saw Nepal’s famous White Mountain tops. Wow. What an unforgettable view! 

Boarder entry to Nepal.

Sunset on the mountains.

Mountain views on while on the bus.
Kathmandu was pretty chill compared to India—literally. I had never been to a climate below ten degrees. I whined a lot, but heavy clothes and warm socks kept my pulse going. Luckily enough I knew a friend from way back who helped me settle in quickly, so navigating wasn’t stressful.

With not much time in Nepal I decided to take it from the top and signed up for a three-day trek to Poonhill, a peak 3210 meters high. My trek to the peak began in the lovely town of Pokhara, a picturesque place ideal for recharging your batteries. 

Lake Pokhara

I had saved my money for the hike but my budget couldn’t take a guide carrying my items to the top. I was disappointed. There was no way I could get all the way up there by myself, I thought, but was soon motivated that it could be done if I followed an alternative route.

I got up early the next day and caught a bus to the nearest town named Kimchi. The drive was about three hours with roads becoming more treacherous the more we ascended the mountain. While on the bus I met two girls who were going my same route. 
The morning before I took my bus to Kimchi
View on the bus
Day one of the trek from Kimchi to Gandhruk was not too bad with the hike taking only 1 hour. The mountains looked so great and the views from above were excellent. We searched for accommodation found a good deal. I should note though that food is way more expensive than accommodation in the mountains because of the labour it takes to transport the food up the mountain. No car or motorbikes can access the mountans. Our hotel had a great view but still, I was so cold!

The next day was an early morning with a long hike planned and the girls were taking another route.

In awe of the mountain views.

The girls on the first day trekk.

The first Nepalese mates I met on my route.

The views during the trek
This smile means I was almost there.

I was a little scared to go alone, and I got lost for a bit but soon met some Nepalese men who were headed my way. These guys were clearly experts; some wore jeans instead of hiking pants and didn’t even carry a walking stick. The path to Gorephani was so steep, you earned every step. The temperature was quite cool with barely any humidity. We stopped for a break to grab something to eat but the men still wanted to rest so I continued on the trail by myself. There were times when I unnerved, but I knew I would encounter no wild animals.

I kept pushing harder though I was really getting tired. The gorgeous scenery kept me motivated with flowing water falls and luscious emerald green forests. I would just sit sometimes for a rest and enjoy the nature. Nine hours later I made it to Gorephani. My knees and tendons had given way, it was too much walking. I had to stretch before bed because I had to reach the top the next morning. By 5 am we were up on the way to Poonhill which takes roughly an hour. It was such a struggle to go up the steps and also on the way back. I made it to the top. The sunrise and the view of the surrounding mountains were mesmerizing! Going back down the steps with my bad knee was the worst, from Poonhill on the way down to Gandaki there is a millennium trek of 3500 steps. It was six hours of agony, but I made it to the jeep to Pokhara. I was so relived! I spent one extra day in Pokhara, I had a trekkers massage, went to visit the Tibetan refugee camp and also did Paragliding. This is one of the best places to do it in the world because of the scenery.

We made it so early to catch the sunrise

Yippie! On the peak on Poonhill trek.

My new trek mates I met on the last day.
Made it to the top!

Views from Poonhill

Paragliding above Pokhara lake

Excitement in the sky.

I spent my last days in Kathmandu sightseeing, shopping, and sampling delicious food. It was really wonderful to visit Bhaktapur, one of the biggest and oldest towns that were hit by the 2015 earthquake. It was sad to see some of the temples that were built in the 14th century being destroyed, however they are trying to reconstruct these temples though they will need more funding. Don't miss out going here. This is the same thing that happened to the Kathmandu Durbar square which is a must see. I also visited the Pashupatinath temple which is located on the Bagmati River, it was really big and good to have a walk around. My favorite place to visit was The Boudhanath stoupa, it was near where I stayed and it gave me chance to see the Buddhists worship while going around the stoupa of which I myself took part in. The stoupa is very impressive, it was also recently renovated after the earthquake had left a crack in it. It is also one of the biggest stoupa in the world.
Boudhanath Stoupa.

Grabbing a coffee out of my busy day.

Pashupatinath temple.

Ruins at Bakhtapur

My time in Nepal ran so quickly but I enjoyed every bit of it. The people were so nice and friendly, I felt their warmth despite the chilly temps. The food was great (don't forget to try momos, South Asian dumplings) and the spectacular Himalayas left me speechless. I'm not surprised Lonely Planet voted it one of the top five destinations of 2017. I'm definitely hoping to return. Visiting once is not enough! 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Out of Africa - Discovering India

Last fall I took my first steps outside Mama Africa. I was looking for magic and mysticism, so I decided to explore South Asia and the wonder of India and Nepal.

As my plane touched October 15, I was so nervous. The city was big and unfamiliar yet intriguing. I hailed down a taxi just before dawn and came in contact with a driver who was overly friendly—read: harassing. Not the type of welcome I was expecting to say the least. Soon after he dropped me off at my hotel, I learned that my reservation did not exist. So, I reluctantly got back into the taxi with the “friendly” driver who took me to another spot. As I exited, he asked for a hug. I brushed off his unwelcome advances and soon came to learn the first rule of travelling in India if you’re female—sexual harassment is sadly not uncommon. From the metro, to the streets, to inside taxi cabs and from people you’ve trusted, it happens. Travel with a friend and keep a discerning eye. 

India Gate

With the boys having our own street food tour.

Busy Bazaar in New Delhi.

New Delhi was an assault on my senses. People scattering everywhere at different speeds, with cattle and bikes and cars competing for the road. My ears buzzed from the bustle and I experienced culture shock. For two days I did a lot of sightseeing since traffic jams are a way of life. Commuting anywhere is at a snail’s pace. I used the metro quite a lot.

India’s temples are breathtaking. I visited some of the famous worship houses like the Juma Masjid, The Lotus, and The Arkshardam Temple and so on. The architecture is so wonderful and anciently mysterious. The Taj Mahal was quite a place. I recall a kind guide who gave me a free tour because my budget was running low after the entrance fee.

Juma Masjid

Juma Masjid, one of the seven wonders of the world.
I have great news—It’s possible to explore India on a budget! The food was delicious and reasonable priced, but watch out where you eat to avoid stomach problems. And of course Indian food is notoriously fiery, so if you don’t like chili mention it.

Exploring India’s mountains were so refreshing. I took an evening bus to Rishikesh, the famous town known for spirituality and yoga. It felt so organic. The mountains were glorious. The Ganges River looked so beautiful and the people were very friendly. It’s also a good spot to buy souvenirs as it’s cheaper than other towns. The atmosphere was humbling because there’s an air of spirituality. I was able to partake yoga for the first time and since I got back home, I haven’t stopped. I joined a yoga class and love it! If you ride motorbikes, it’s possible to rent a bike and ride up the mountains and around the temples.

Ganges river straight from the Himalayas

Scooter adventure in the mountains.

I didn’t want to leave but the road beckoned. I had options to go further in the mountains to Old Manali or Dharamsala but the distances were too long for me and it was getting colder in high altitudes and I did not dress warmly. I decided to head to the state of Rajasthan (“Land of Kingdoms”) and the cities of Jaipur and Pushkar.

Jaipur turned out to be busier than I expected but I was glad to be there because the architecture was amazing.  Every museum, temple and palace was beautifully constructed simply because the Kings were very rich and their palaces reflected that. There was a water palace in Jaipur which had 5 floors underground. So impressive. The Wind Palace (Hawa Mahal) was built for women royalty who could watch street festivities without being seen, complete with 953 small windows. The Amber Fort and Palace is absolutely a must see! Very incredible views and architecture. It took us about 2 hours or so to finish the tour inside. The city Palace is also not to be missed because there is a fascinating history museum inside.

The Hawa Mahal

The water palace

Amber Fort and Palace

Beautiful doors at the City Palace

Pushkar  is a chill town if you’re looking to avoid the hustle and bustle. There are many temples there and Pushkar Lake is too beautiful for words. Shopping here is way cheap as well. I went here with a friend on his Tuk tuk which was quite adventurous though a bit tiring. 

Tuk tuk ride from Jaipur to Pushkar

One of the beautiful temples in Pushkar

Pushkar lake
I also had a chance to celebrate Diwali (“Festival of Lights”) while in Punjab. Punjab is home of the Sikh religion. The people are very warm with strong faith. While there I visited the Wagarh boarder ceremony, an event which recognizes the closing and opening of the Indian/Pakistani boarder. Soldiers on each side display their strength and pride. The crowd was electric! Music blared and people danced to the rhythm. It was such an interesting ceremony to see, don't miss it!

My other highlight was witnessing the famous Golden Temple. While on tour they welcomed us with tea and treats. They serve food to thousands of people everyday and also offer free accommodation. We were able to witness the Diwali fireworks that night and the mood was great because everyone was in a joyous mood. My sari I had worn that day was hard to keep up with but I had a good time. My friend and I decided to go enter the golden temple where they keep the holy books and it took us about an hour to go in because of the crowd but we were happy we made it. It was spectacular. 

Wagar boarder ceremony

Diwali in Amritsar

The golden temple.

My last stop in India was Varanasi, the oldest inhabited city in the world. The buildings were weathered and the vibe was very busy. I had a boat ride with my friends at the Ganges River because we wanted to see the sunrise. There was a ceremony that day and this was an opportunity to see what goes around the river that millions of Indians depend on. I witness people dipping themselves in the river to get blessings, other were having a bath, washing their clothes, and I witnessed for the first a dead body being burned. I enjoyed having a stroll in the small streets of Varanassi near the river while witnessing life. It is from here that headed into Nepal. 

Festival at the Ganges River

Sunrise over the River Ganges.

India definitely had its challenges, but despite the congestion and overly friendly males, it’s a wonderful country. I met memorable people who were helpful and I’m blessed to have met them. Going to South Asia was a life changing trip! Book your ticket!