Trek to the Himalayas
On the way to India and Nepal, I stopped over in Amsterdam for 2 days. Amsterdam was exactly as I heard; bicycles everywhere and one of the most liberal cities in the world. I visited the Anne Frank House is a very moving historical site dedicated to human rights. In my short time there I found the people very helpful and willing to help orientate tourists to their city.
IndiaIndia is the world's second most populous country and the world's largest democracy. India has been an integral part of world history. India was where Alexander the Great finished his quest for world domination. It is the center for several major religions and the birthplace of Hinduism, Sikhs, and Buddhism. India is a diverse country famous for its silk and spice trade. Politically, India is most famous for Mahatmas Gandhi who is the father of the non-violent movement and secured freedom from the British Empire. India and China are two rising Eastern powers who could become the world's two superpowers by the end of the century.
I read as much about India and Nepal before the trip but was still stunned with the cultural shock. My first day in Delhi there was no ATM in the hotel and I had to walk outside the hotel to find an ATM. The part of the city I was in, there was not an abundance of ATM's and it took me 30 minutes to find one. In my walkabout in Asia, several Indians asked me for money, tried to sell me stuff, or just wanted to talk to me. Most random moment, an Indian getting off his dirt bike to shake my hand, saying, "Welcome to India" and hopped back on his bike. As I arrived back at the hotel I had a crowd of 20 people following me.
Once, the tour started we took a quick tour of Old Delhi and traveled their in their newly constructed subway system. We were jammed in the train and the tour guide had a verbal altercation with an affluent Indian woman who insisted the tour group should be separated in male and female sections of the train. The debate started in Hindu and for our entertainment she switched to English, and other passengers started to intervene against her. Old Delhi is an old Indian marketplace where the roads are multipurpose with cars, rickshaws, and tuk-tuk's (auto-rigshaw). The two notable sites we saw were the Jama Masjid mosque and Gurdwara Shish Ganj Sikh temple. The Sikh temple we saw feeds all the people in the city once a week and we saw the food production and the giant pot where the food was stirred.
The next day we took a train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and the Agra Red Fort. Three-hour train trip was interesting as we saw various Indians on the train. In Delhi, we saw poverty but also well dressed Indians who were proud of their appearance. India is a rapidly developing country and the development of their rail network and modern technology shows there is great promise for this nation. Traveling on their trains is unique; chai (coffee/milk) and treats are available to be served by employees walking through the carriages.
Agra is a tourist trap. As soon as I left the train, it seemed every beggar in India was at the station. The average tourist stays in India less than 24 hours because their tourist sites have been mismanaged and allowed touts to flood the city. The Red Fort was impressive and it seemed that its past rulers were more concerned with designing residences for their concubines than governing. Later that day we saw the Taj Mahal. Despite all the hassling from touts, seeing the Taj Mahal was more than worth it. The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building in the world I haven't been that awestruck by a site since I saw Milford Sound in New Zealand. It lived up to its hype; its size and its symmetry arguably make it the most beautiful building in the world.
Orchha was the next stop on the trip. Its unique aspect was its ordinariness. Every other destination on the trip was flooded with tourists and in Orchha we saw an ordinary Indian village. Orchha had several temples and at various points in its history was a regional capital. We also were able to freely walk through the town markets where I went to a barber's to get a shave and my first head massage. Most of the temples we saw as a group but to give the group more freedom, the tour leader gave us a pass to older ruins on the outside of the town to see when we wished later. When I walked to the ruins I turned to early and went to the wrong temple. The people in the temple didn't speak English and gave me a blessing. I knew that was the wrong temple because there was nothing picture worthy. I had a red marking on my forehead and the Indian who gave the blessing pointed to a moneybox and said, "Shiva Shiva ". I put some money in the box. Also, in Orchha I went whitewater rafting. There were hardly any rapids but the trip was great because the river guide gave us historical information of the sites and we had great views of the temples from the river. At the end, the river guides served us sandwiches and chai. To finish off the trip in Orchha we saw a woman's paper factory where paper is made from old clothes donated by factories. Also we had a homemade Indian meal in an Indian household.
En route to Varanasi we traveled on a river boat trip and by overnight train. The river guides served us food cooked by the river Ganges and we camped along the river. After the daylong river journey we traveled on a overnight train to Allahabad then to Varanasi. The overnight train was supposed to be uneventful but throughout the night one of the beds was switched four times. The guy at 2 AM was disruptive who tied his bags with a noisy metal chain to the bed and insisted we turn the fan off. It started a heated argument with our travelers yelling "fan on" and he responded with "fan off ".
Varanasi is the holiest city for Hindus. The sunrise ceremony had thousands along the river praying and some were in the river praying. I never saw any religious event as intense as this. It is the oldest living city in the world and was the biggest cultural shock of the trip. Outside of Varanasi, Sarnath is one of the holiest sites for Buddhism. It was the site of Buddha's first sermon and has a tree grown from the Bodhi tree, Buddha gained enlightenment from.
NepalNepal has the good fortune to have highest point on planet Earth- Mount Everest. Conversely, the world's highest mountain chain has limited the land that can be used for agriculture and put a cap on their economic potential. For this reason, Nepal is dependent on foreign aid and tourism to survive.
Arriving in Nepal was tense. It was the first time I crossed the border by land. Nepal was instantly different. It is less chaotic, there was less touts trying to sell something, and the land is untouched. At the border office, the Nepal border agent joyfully said, "Welcome to Nepal". That greeting made me realize that I was in Nepal. Nepal is on the other side of the Earth from Edmonton. It's famous for Everest and the Sherpas, and now I arrived in Nepal. The first stop was Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha where I saw hundred of Buddha monks attend a pilgramage.
Chitwan Park was one of the main selling points of the trip. The pictures I saw of Elephants walking through the mist motivated me more to take this trip. The picture looked mystical and from a land not from this planet. The first elephants I saw were in the Elephant Breeding Centre. I was horrified to see the Elephants are chained to a post for the majority of the day in order to increase their numbers. Chitwan was humid and the walk was excruciating for me but worth it. The Rhino I saw on the hike was huge and the scenery was magical. In the morning, I saw the mist cover the jungle of Chitwan. The Elephant Ride was disappointing but I was still able to see several spotted deer and crocs.
Kathmandu was the last major spot of the trip. Kathmandu is famous as a major backpacking destination in Asia, and a departure point for Mount Everest climbs. Kathmandu's markets were what I expected. The constant bartering at every shop was tiring but a part of life in every city I visited. It was great to visit the Monkey Temple and other Buddhist temples where many climbers and Sherpas have visited for blessings before their Everest climbs. Outside of Kathmandu, I visited Bhandipur. It is a small town with many temples and a World Heritage town square. For this trip I took a small inflatable tiger I received as a birthday gift to take gag pictures of. Almost every kid wanted it and a father came up to me see his kid needed it. Madness and something that I didn't think would occur.
From Kathmandu, I saw Mount Everest on a scenic flight. The plane was old and noisy. I was terrified. But there couldn't have been a better ending the trip to see the Himalayas Mountain chain from the sky and being able to see Mount Everest was inspiring. Before I left I received a blessing and a scarf for my long journey back. The trip has made me more culturally aware and given me direct exposure to the developing world.
New York 2009