A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Evalikat

The Capital of Kerala - Trivandrum

overcast 27 °C

After being so relaxed at the beach in Varkala we threw ourselves back into the chaos that is city life in India.

Being the capital of Kerala, Trivandrum is a large city that is heavily populated but because of the milder nature of the Southerners, it didn't feel as hectic as some of the Northern cities.

There is not a real lot to do there so we only stayed for a few days.

The first day we arrived we were greeted with rain and this had us huddling in our hotel room, watching TV for the first time since we were in Mumbai more than a month ago (all our guesthouses since then have not had TV). So it was nice to relax and watch some movies.

The next day we headed out along MG Road to the very end where there is an area of museums, parkland and a zoo. We visited the zoo and saw some amazing birds, rhinos, hippos and snakes but the most awesome thing was the tigers. This zoo is said to have inspired the animals in the book the Life of Pi and I can see how this happened. The tigers were kept in smaller cages and were pacing along the edge, eyeing everyone off. We were so close to them, it felt like they were watching us very carefully, daring us to come nearer. To see such amazing animals up close was absolutely fascinating. They move so majestically. They became annoyed when the zoo keepers came into the area and started to clean around their cages, growling at them. The sound of a tiger growling is something else. It comes from deep within their bellies and carries so far. It was really exciting and a bit scary.

I feel sad for these animals kept in these conditions. I am in two minds about zoos, I can see the animals are fed and look well cared for but their enclosures do not offer anywhere near the amount of freedom the natural world does. I know it is good for breeding and conservation but I hate seeing animals kept in cages, clearly agitated. Especially the birds who have such large wingspans trying to fly around a cage.

The next day we spent wandering around the city, doing some shopping and watching a demonstration that was a march through the city and people from all over the state had arrived to participate. There were so many people!

So now we are headed back to the beach again, this time even further South (we are almost at the tip of India) to a place called Kovalam.

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Posted by Evalikat 07:42 Archived in India Comments (0)

I love Varkala

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Varkala Beach is a very relaxing place to visit. It has the beach to swim at and many cafes, markets stalls and shops to explore. The beach is set low below the cliffs which stretch along the beach. The beach is clean and you can hire umbrellas there and set yourself up for the day. There was even some surf too.

The cliff is lined with shops and restaurants that have large upstairs balconies offering fantastic views of the beach below. At night the lights make the cliff look magical from the sand. The food is very good here, a nice mix of local Keralan curries, tibetan food and continental choices. We stayed at a garden home that was very comfortable. We planned to stay a few nights but ended up being there for a week.

We met some travellers in Alleppey when we did the backwaters tour and came across them our first night in Varkala. We spent the next few days with them, meeting for meals and drinks. It was really nice to have some company each day and we became regulars at a cafe called Darjeeling that served beer. There are only a few places allowed to sell beer so the have to hide it in either tea cups or in the case of Darjeeling, in large ceramic mugs. We had to leave our bottles on the ground so that people walking past couldn't see them.

After several days lounging on the beach and eating some great food we decided to leave and explore some more of Kerala, this time heading back to the city and going to Trivandrum which is the capital of the state.

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Posted by Evalikat 19:14 Archived in India Comments (0)

Alleppey and Visiting the Backwaters

sunny 33 °C

We spent two nights in Alleppey which is the most popular choice for visiting the famous backwaters that Kerala is known for. The Backwaters is a network of rivers and small canals that run through the state and are used for farming, transport and many villages are built around the banks. The waters are very scenic and surrounded by all sorts of trees and birds. A popular thing to do is hire a canoe for the day and visit a family for lunch then get the ferry back to town. Another option is to hire a houseboat for 24 hours which take your through the main channels (but not the small canals). On board the boat is a captain and your own personal cook. We chose to visit the canals with a canoe.

We were joined by other tourists also doing the same trip and the day started with a ferry ride into the backwaters. Once there we visited a family for breakfast which was a traditional South Indian spread (very delicious) and we experienced our first meal that was to be eaten by our hands. It was really hard to eat this way, especially curry. It was really quite gross and made me feel like I was not able to enjoy the meal even though it was very tasty.

We then went into small canoes and traveled all through the waters. Along the way we saw animals, lots of plant life and other boats. There were small villages we passed where women were washing in one small area right next to an area where another woman was killing and gutting fish. It was interesting to see this primitive lifestyle where they live off the river and the land.

After a few hours we returned to the home for some lunch and again it was a dig in with your hands affair. Pretty awful but again the food was very good. Keralan food is different to North Indian curry. It is sweeter and milder. They use a lot of coconut and fresh sweet fruits like papaya and pineapple. It is really delicious.

After our day out on the backwaters we returned to town on the ferry.

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The next day we explored the area and there was a rally on where people were raising awareness of the dangers of drugs like tobacco and alcohol. It was really interesting to see so many young people passionate about this. It was a really hot day and there was not much else to see in the town so we headed back to our area where we were staying which was near the (very dirty and unswimmable) beach.

Our guesthouse was really nice run by a kind family. We spent some time talking to some of the other people staying there from different places like Belarus and France. They also had a very cute pug called Vega and I really enjoyed coming home to her excited little face each day. After missing the beach we left Alleppey to visit the quite beach town of Varkala.

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Posted by Evalikat 08:18 Archived in India Comments (0)

Beautiful Green Munnar

sunny 24 °C

We spent two nights in Munnar, a beautifully scenic hill area that is famous for growing spices, coffee and tea. The area is very green and there are lots of high vantage points to hike or trek to enjoy the view.

We decided to take a full day trek through the tea fields, uphill to several vantage points, through the overgrown forest into the spice plantations and ending at a home where a Keralan feast was provided. We started early and after walking uphill for several hours we rested for breakfast on a rock with views of the valleys below. Continuing upwards we were again rewarded with panoramic views of the green fields below. After reaching the highest point, we began our descent which was really difficult as we were trekking down slippery paths that were not cleared. We reached a village area and looked at all the spice plants and trees. We walked for a few more hours eventually resting at a home where we were given a well deserved feast of curries and rice.

It was such an amazing experience and one of the best things I have done on this journey. We were not able to spot any elephants but we did see lots of elephant poo around so we knew they had been through earlier. The next day the group of hikers doing he exact same trek were lucky enough to spot several elephants.

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We spent our second day in Munnar exploring the town and it was good that we chosen this particular day as there was a Hindu festival in full swing. There were rides, food stands and loud music. People were everywhere. We had a great time observing everything and wandering through the crowds. The locals were happy to have their photos taken and we met some of the most smiley people we had seen in India.

The rides were operated by dodgy machines that were smoking and the belts looked like they were about to break. There was a small ferris wheel which was operated by a man who literally ran around the inside like a giant mouse in a wheel. He was quite the acrobat, swinging around and doing flips. It was absolutely mental, unlike anything we ever see at our carnivals at home.

We walked through the Hindu temple and made our blessings. We were given some food to eat with the locals and made very welcome.

In the evening the real festivities kicked off with a live band and some of the craziest dance moves I have ever seen. The men are the only ones that dance and boy do they know how to throw everything into their dancing. They were so enthusiastic, flinging their bodies wildly around, cheering and whistling. Quite the spectacle.

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Munnar was an amazing place to visit, I am so pleased we decided to give this little hill station a couple of days.

Posted by Evalikat 01:40 Archived in India Comments (0)

Heading deeper South to Kochin, Kerala

sunny 30 °C

Kerala is a state known for its beauty. There is lots of lush greenery and rivers known as the backwaters run through the whole state. The reason why people come to Kerala is to visit the backwaters and see the surrounding tribal villages, go to the mountains for trekking and seeing the tea and spice plantations, spending a day at a wildlife sanctuary and for visiting the beautiful beaches.

Our first stop, Fort Kochi is a small fishing village. There are ancient fishing nets called the Chinese fishing nets set up along the water which are still operated (manually) by fishermen. It is a really cool thing to see.

Each day there is a market selling fresh fish and people an buy a piece and take it to the nearby restaurants who will then cook it for you. The waterside is the main attraction here with loads of people gathering to buy fish, relax and watch the amazing sunsets. There are other food stalls around too selling the usual deliciously naughty fried Indian snacks like samosa and pakora as well as drinks and ice cream.

Alcohol is not easily accessed in Kerala so there are some restaurants that sell is illegally, serving it in teapots to disguise the beer. The prices are much higher because of this.

The city of Kochin of which Fort Kochi is a district is very spread out and each part is different. You can access the other parts by ferry which we did one day. The people over there were very different and it was not as nice or relaxed as Fort Kochi.

About 3km from Fort Kochi there is an area known as Jew Town. There you can find lots of shops selling antiques, jewellery, pashminas, essential oils and spices. We spent some time there because the shopping was so good and we both brought lots of cool things. The streets are really easy to walk around as well because they do not allow all traffic through. Interestingly there is a 'hassle free' policy in the shops and information about what this means that said that the shop owners went on strike and shut down as a protest against the aggressive nature of some shop owners and the way that they drive tourists away. It is the first time that I have seen this. They still encourage people to come into the shop but there is definitely a less intense pressure to buy or negotiate price. It was very pleasant.

One night we saw a traditional Keralan show called Kathakali where the actors dress in elaborate costume and use only gestures, eye rolling and song to tell a story. It was a really interesting experience. We arrived early to watch them apply their makeup before the show which is quite the process.

On our last day after being asked every single day we agreed to have a tuk tuk driver take us around to some sights for $1. He took us to a local laundry where they wash by hand, some temples and several government shops that sell spices, clothing and homewares. He took us to the government shops because if a tuk tuk driver takes tourists to these shops, they give him vouchers that he can use to get petrol and rice. We only had to spend a few minutes in each shop and the driver was nice so we agreed to help him out. The whole experience was ruined however by a visit to an abandoned building where an elephant was kept captive. Evan has explained all this in his Facebook posts and has contacted four authorities including PETA to try and have someone look into this appalling situation and help the poor elephant. I don't want to explain it all again because it makes me sick but I think most people have seen read Evans post and know about it.

Overall we had a really nice time in Kochin and look forward to seeing more of this beautiful state. Next stop the mountains for some trekking to visit Munnar, a hill station that has spice and tea plantations.

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Posted by Evalikat 20:12 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Jewel of Goa - Palolem

32 °C

Our last stop in Goa was the best. Palolem is a beautiful beach, a 4km stretch of white sand and palm trees. The water is really flat and easy to swim. The beach is extremely clean and the people visiting are all here for the same reason-to relax and enjoy the beauty of the place.

It was my favourite place in Goa and possibly one of the best beaches I have seen. The vibe was so relaxed. There was excellent shopping and food. We spent one morning kayaking out to sea and saw dolphins as well as a local fisher boat full of fishermen who were pulling in the nets while singing. It was a really uniquely beautiful experience to witness these men doing their daily jobs 3km out to sea. In India it is difficult to find an authentic experience so when we see something like this it is really lovely.

We also did another cooking class. This one was better than the last one we had participated in in Anjuna because we were the only two there and the chef modified the menu so that the dishes were vegan (except for malai kofta - Evans favourite). It was our six month anniversary that day too so it was really nice to have a few drinks while cooking and enjoy a candlelit dinner of our own food after.

Our accommodation was a tree house hut which was accessed by steep stairs and had views of the water. Palolem is an excellent place to visit for beautiful beaches, food and overall vibe. Before coming to India i would never have thought of it as a country that would have some of the best beaches or as a place that you would come to relax but it is surprising me at every turn. What a diverse, amazing country it is.

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Posted by Evalikat 20:01 Archived in India Comments (0)

Five nights in Anjuna

sunny 30 °C

Anjuna used to be the party place in Goa, where hippies came to take drugs and live cheaply. Now it is more low key. There are still the odd foreigners who seemed to never want to leave but mostly the tourists that visit range between small groups to couples and families. There is a weekly Flea Market there which is massive and has been going since the 70's. The beach itself is about a 2km stretch with rocks at either end. Along the sand are restaurants and just behind that is loads of accommodation. The accommodation is mostly basic hut style places that could easily be dismantled as well as guesthouses.

We stayed right on the beach, the back of our guesthouse backed onto the sand. While we were there we spent our days lazing around, swimming and participated in a cooking class. Diwali (the festival of lights) happened during our time there but unfortunately we didn't see any celebrations. In the afternoons there were beautiful sunsets right over the water which we enjoyed whilst watching the local beach cricket matches that happened almost daily.

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Posted by Evalikat 19:57 Archived in India Comments (0)

Panjim - The Capital of Goa

sunny 31 °C

We headed further South to the capital of the state of Goa, Panjim.

It is an interesting city because it was once inhabited by Portugese who left their mark in the styling of the architecture. The buildings are old now, crumbling in part with some still maintained and painted bright colours. They are mostly apartments with large verandahs across the front of the facade.

The city itself is pretty low key and most of the activities revolve around eating and drinking. There are lots of Vegetarian places to eat at and cafes that sell beer and play music. We visited a bar that was exactly like walking into an English inn. The music choice was even something that you would hear in England. The beer was served at taps that were attached to each table and kept a running tab as you poured you own beer. The atmosphere was pretty cool here. We had not really encountered any bars during our time in India (most alcohol is served in resturants) and this was the closest thing to a good bar.

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About 3km out of the city there is a beach which is very peaceful and virtually empty until sunset when the Indian families flock to the water to spend their evening. The sun sets over the water here so later afternoon in Goa is magical for swimming and watching the giant orange sun disappear beyond the watery horizon.

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We also visited another bar around the corner from our hotel that was very different. It is basically a tiny little hole in the wall that has two chairs inside and two small tables outside on the street. The publican sits out on the road opposite the bar smiling and waiting for your next order. It was very intimate but cool, like drinking in the street just watching life pass by.

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After two nights in Panjim, we decided to head back North to Anjuna where we were under the impression the Diwali festivities would be in full swing.

Posted by Evalikat 04:17 Archived in India Comments (0)

Our little piece of paradise - Mandrem

sunny 33 °C

What a beautiful quiet and relaxing place this is. We found Arambol to be a lovely peaceful place and this is even more so, in fact in comparison, Arambol is bustling. There is literally nothing to do here apart from enjoy the beach. We have been getting up and walking or running along the beach, eating a delicious breakfast in the resorts restaurant that is right on the beach and then either lounging under an umbrella or swimming all day at the beach.

We hired a scooter and visited the nearby makets at Anjuna. They are famous flea markets that have been happening since the 70’s and have morphed from what was once a hippie exchange to full blown markets with over 500 stalls. The area is quite spread out and there are markets everywhere. There are some nice pubs and cafes right over the water at the far end of the markets where you can relax with a nice cool drink. They are probably the best markets we have visited this holiday in terms of both what they are offering, price and location. We had an awesome time there.

Tomorrow we head for the capital of Goa, Panaji. It has a strong Portuguese influence and the old quarter is supposed to be pretty cool.

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Posted by Evalikat 01:26 Archived in India Comments (0)

Goa, the beautiful beach state. First stop: Arambol

sunny 33 °C

Arambol is a really chilled out place. It is very under-developed and therefore has a really low key vibe. The accommodation is all based around a long stretch of beach and most places are either huts or apartment-style hotels with balconies.

We are staying right near the beach, about 100m to the waters edge. We have a large balcony that we relax on each day. There are lots of cafes around, some on the actual sand of the beach and others just set back. The water is the perfect temperature and there have been some days where we have had fairly decent surf for Ev to partake in one of his favourite things - body surfing.

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Wandering along the cliffs we found another beach which was more secluded than Arambol Beach, mostly because it is difficult to access when it is high tide as you need to climb over rocks that are being smashed by waves or climb high into the grassy cliffs then back down again. We chose the rock and wave option. On the way back however we made the unwise decision to climb the cliffs into the grassy hills where we were trudging along and encountered a snake! We were terrified. The poor cat that was playing chaperone was never to be seen again. We believe that the cat may have been taken by the snake. Lucky for us a guide was walking up with some paragliding clients and walked us to the nearest clearing and allowed us to follow him back down through the grasses. I fell over on the way down and cut my knee. Yes, the cliff option was very unwise indeed.

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We spend each day between the beach, markets, cafes and our balcony. This lifestyle is so beautiful. We both feel so relaxed and absolutely love this place.

We have been here for a week now and today we hired a scooter and rode along the coast to check out some more beaches to stay at next. We found a little patch of paradise about 3km down the road. It is called Mandrem and we have organised to stay in these cute little beach huts right on the beach for three nights.

Posted by Evalikat 00:49 Archived in India Comments (0)

Mumbai

sunny 36 °C

Mumbai is my favourite Indian city. In many ways it is like the other cities - huge, bustling, crowded, loud and chaotic but what sets it apart from the others is the architecture, the art scene, the kind and cultured nature of the people, the European influence and the more civilised tempo of the city. It is a really massive city and during our stay we basically visited two areas : the area that we stayed in called Colaba and the next one along, Fort. We purposely booked accommodation in Colaba as we had read that it was where a lot of the sights are as well as shopping and being on the coast. The architecture in this area is very European and the British influence is evident. There are some really nice buildings as well as museums and parklands that provide a nice place to relax and rest. The heat was bordering on unbearable and we found ourselves running out of steam during the day and seeking some air-conditioned shopping areas to catch a break.

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We spent our time there visiting the Prince of Wales Museum, wandering around the shops, watching a Bollywood movie, walking along the water and visiting markets.

The Prince of Wales Museum was a really great museum to visit, very interesting especially the information about the ancient Buddhist and Hindu art. The sculptures and stories were great. The building itself is very similar to something you would seen in England. Inside the museum there were several levels and we saw some Indian paintings, ceramics as well as some European paintings.

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Shopping in Mumbai varies greatly from cheap market stalls to high end fashion. Top designers like Louis Vuitton and Prada are right next to the street markets selling knock offs. There is something for everyone though with some other mid range shops as well like Body Shop and Levis. The shopping is very spread out across several buildings, all outdoor shopping and not in a mall.

In Mumbai, food is very different to other parts of India there is a emphasis on street food and hardly any sign of fast food joints like McDonalds (we only saw one) or KFC. The street food is different but most vendors sell three things: Frankies (a wrap with indian spiced potatoes and salad smothered in chilli sauce), sandwiches (layers of bread with chilli, vegetables, cheese and tomatoes toasted and covered in grated cheese) and Pav (anything on a bread roll mostly a samosa, pakora or potato ball). Most things cost between 21 cents and 63 cents. Bargain. Other than this there are many Western style places that sell pasta and steaks which are really overpriced and then the usual Indian diners where you can get a massive feed for about $4 for two people.

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When we saw the Bollywood movie we chose one with English subtitles. It was a unique experience. The cinema was filled with Indians, we were the only foreigners. The national anthem is played before the movie for which everyone stands and sings along. Then the movie started and during the show, people were whistling, laughing and when the female lead was shown in a bikini, went wild. They have the weirdest humour and the jokes were just plain stupid but we had a really good time, it was a laugh. They have intermission where the movie stops and everyone heads to the food stand where they are selling samosas and chips. I was really glad that we decided to see the movie - and what better place than Mumbai!

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The area where the markets are is called Fort and there was supposed to be a market that was Mumbai’s answer to Borough Market in London. This was not the case! The market was like a huge slaughterhouse and around there were some stands selling bits and pieces but nothing like the gourmet foods that you find at the excellent Borough Market. Across the street there were some good food stands and a bit of an interesting area where there were loads of locals going about their business. It was cool to see another part of the city.

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Colabar stretches along the water and you can walk the length of the boardwalk for ages. We walked several kilometres to an area where there was a beach. The beach was basically a large area of dirt that lead to water that was filled with statues of deities and gods that had been pushed into the water during various Hindu festivals. The area was kind of cool though with lots of food and markets and areas to sit and relax. Near the beach is a park called Hanging Park and that area is full of shady grass areas and park benches. We spent some time there resting before we continued our epic walk back in the extreme heat.

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There is lots to see and do in Mumbai and I think I would like to visit again and maybe try to see more of the other parts of the city. Next stop we are heading South to Goa (the beach state) for a change of pace and some R & R lounging on the beach. Just need to survive another dreaded overnight 12 hour bus journey.

Posted by Evalikat 07:56 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Peaceful McLeod Ganj

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McLeod Ganj is right near Dharamsala and many people come here to visit the place where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. Situated in the mountains, the town is a series of difficult uphill slopes and steep staircases taking you forever higher. Surrounded by pines, deep valleys and snow capped mountains the views are amazing wherever you look.

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There is a large population of refugee Tibetans who left Chinese occupied Tibet to seek a freer and better life in the hope to return to a free Tibet in the future. For many Tibtans, the fact that the his Holiness, the Dalai Lama resides here makes McLeod Ganj an appealing place to seek exile although they would all prefer to stay in their homeland, Tibet if the conditions allowed.

Because of the high numbers of refugees here, there is a lot of information in the form of free movie nights, conversation classes and literature available for people to educate themselves about the fight for freedom. We attended several movie nights which are held three nights a week in a school and show documentaries about different aspects of Tibetan life under Chinese occupation. Along with the documentary, they provide Tibetan style cooking that is prepared by the monks. It is a nice community feel and the people running it are very lovely and hospitable.

During the weekdays at the school there are afternoon conversation classes which are free to attend. At the classes Tibetan adults who are learning English converse with foreigners on a number of set topics both local and global. After discussion in small groups everyone stands up and voices their opinions on the days topics. Evan and I attended one conversation class and we both found it very rewarding. We both learnt a lot and hearing the Tibetan refugees speak is very interesting. The difference of perspective based on our lives is very different and made me think about how lucky I am to able to live in my own country and leave of my own volition. The Tibetan people are forbidden to leave and are forced to forgo their own traditions and beliefs and adopt the Chinese language, culture and way of thinking. A culture that is so ancient is dying and people honestly feel that they would rather risk dying to cross the mountains, through the snow with a chance of being shot or arrested then continue living a life that is against their very core. They are not allowed passports and not allowed to leave their country, forced to stay or take the chance leaving.

Another large part of visiting McLeod Ganj is trekking around the mountains. There are several walks to do that take to you villages, lakes, waterfalls and temples. One walk we took led us to the Dalai Lama Temple Complex and the surrounding forrest which is filled with pine trees and prayer flags. The walk is very peaceful and along the way we were walking higher and each time the trees cleared, we were able to see some amazing views. We were joined by a very friendly Tibetan man who explained different things to us. At the end of the walk we visited the Tibetan Museum which, through photos and a documentary, told the story of the Chinese occupation, the loss of Tibetan culture in their own country and the sad and desperate way that some young people set themselves alight (self immolation) in the belief that this is the only way that the world will pay attention to the Tibetan struggle.

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Walking through the Dalai Lama Complex in McLeod Ganj, I was drawn away from the temple towards the lower level where the sound of clapping filled the air. The source of this commotion was, surprisingly the usually peaceful monks. I looked around to see several pairs gathered in the gardens and around deep in debate. One person was seated and the other was standing over them speaking quite passionately and emphasising their point every so often with an animated clap of the hands. Buddhism is a religion of wisdom and knowledge. Buddhists believe that one is freed by wisdom and philosophical debate is a large part of their search for knowledge. It is believed so important that if a monk lost the debate with their opponent, they were forced to adopt the view of the opponent. If a point of view cannot be defeated, then the monk is expected to accept it.

The purpose of debate is to seek understanding of the nature of reality through analysis of the state of existence. There is a challenger who stands and asks questions and a defender who sits and answers the questions. The challenger is the monk that does the clapping which is a way of emphasising their response to the defender.

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Another day we walked to Bhagsu Waterfall. The waterfall has created a deep ridge carved into the mountain and the walkway twisted uphill towards the top of the mountain. Along the way again there were fabulous views and the landscape was very rocky. We saw lots of mountains goats up there. It is a fairly difficult walk up to the top but definitely worth it.

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We also walked a few kilometres out of town to a very small Indian village called Naddi. Along the way we climbed along a ridge and the trek was made difficult by many rocks and uneven paths. We diverted off the path into the forrest and heard children singing. We followed the voices and found ourselves at the back of the Tibetan Performing Arts School where the children were all lined up singing traditional songs. The sound was amazing, very haunting, beautiful and ancient. After this we headed towards Naddi where we found peaceful farmers and lots of calves. The village is small and built right into the mountains. On our way back down we visited a lake and the only Christian Church I have seen in India, called St John in the Wilderness. It is set in a beautiful forrest area and the name is very fitting.

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Staying in McLeod Ganj has been peaceful and soothing. I have learnt a lot during my time here and I hope that when I am removed from this environment I still remember the things that I realised about my life and apply that thinking to my day to day living at home. I really realise that others do not have it so easy.

Posted by Evalikat 07:34 Archived in India Comments (0)

Re-visting Rishikesh & still loving it

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I came to Rishikesh during my brief visit to India in 2013. I loved it then and I love it now.

Rishikesh is best known for three things: The place that the Beatles visited and wrote the ‘White Album’, one of the yoga capitals of the world and for being one of the three most religious places in India (along with Varanasi and Haridwar).

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Set in beautiful hills and next to the Ganges River, Rishikesh is a picturesque place. The town itself is quite spread out with three main areas, roughly 2km apart. The area we are staying in is called Lakshman Jhula and is the most popular place for tourists to visit. This is because there are many drop in yoga classes, music nights, cafes and good shopping. The accommodation is very cheap, 400 rupees ($8) for a nice double room with balcony and private bathroom. It is simple but clean. The food is awesome with the state being vegetarian and alcohol free there is an emphasis on organic, fresh and clean eating.

Many of the cafes offer similar menus and prices but vary in location, vibe and quality of food. We have found our favourites during our time here, in particular a bakery which serves the very best breakfast I have ever had. They offer vegan choices which makes me so very happy. For roughly $3 you can get two thick slices of homemade brown toast, honey or peanut butter, a huge bowl of muesli full of nuts and seeds and a large banana diced into it, served with soy milk and a fresh squeezed mixed fruit juice. Or two different types of vegan tofu scramble with cashew nut pesto, eggplant and pumpkin, chai tea with soy milk and toast. Ev’s favourite option, a large toasted brown roll smothered in avocado and tomato, served with home made baked beans and pan fried tofu as well as a fresh squeezed juice is also so bloody good.

All the cafes also serve sizzlers which is a sizzling hot plate of rice, vegetables, dumplings and chips, felafel plates, vegie burgers… the list goes on and on. The smoothies are so good! My favourites is almond milk, banana, peanut, spinach.

So we came here to eat really! (not really)

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Vegan Tofu #1

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Vegan Tofu #2

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Baked beans, Avocado brekkie

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Muesli, Toast Brekkie

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Felafel Plate

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This is a Sizzler

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Veggie Burger

We have also visited the Ashram which is now abandoned where the Beatles stayed and wrote the White Album. The area is now overgrown and the buildings are trashed and abandoned but you can still visit. Inside the Ashram there is a building called the Beatles Cathedral Gallery which is a large room that has been decorated by paintings done by various artists. Most of the work is dedicated to the Beatles, including lyrics and portraits but there is also reference to the maharaja who ran the Ashram and worked with the Beatles.

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Because of the religious importance, there are many gurus walking the streets and sitting by the river. They seem the real deal as they ask for nothing and appear to be content to exist peacefully. People here are really lovely, not like in the cities. We are greeted (Namaste - ‘hello’) everywhere and there are only a few people hassling us to buy things. It is a really relaxing environment.

One day we wandered along out of town and found a really nice swimming area and had a dip in the very cold but refreshing water. Then we relaxed on the rocks while we dried off. It is a really pretty place and the stretch of river is so long that it is possible to find your own private area.

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Walking along the road that follows river we came across lots of cows, dogs and monkeys. The animals are free here to do as they please and they really take advantage of that. Because of their religious beliefs that cows are sacred, the Hindus respect them and wave the cows tails over their faces to bless themselves. Most cows are very placid and like to get the odd pat. The monkeys are very cheeky and fun to watch from a distance but if they see you doing something they don’t like they will attack with bared teeth and snarling. We spent one night on high alert after a monkey made several attempts to break into our room while we slept. He was very violent, shaking the window and freaking us out. We had to hiss back and scare him away.

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We went white water rafting here as well which was really fun. We have never done this and it was such a great day, The water is absolutely freezing but that didn’t stop us from jumping in at every opportunity. The Ganges is notoriously filthy due to cremated bodies, dead bodies, trash, people bathing in it etc but here the water is pristine as it is the beginning of the river where it flows from the Himalayas. It is so beautiful just out of town with white sandy areas and secluded peaceful swimming areas.

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The vibe here is really chilled. Most people are here doing yoga or meditation courses and stay for long periods of time. Everyone relaxes by the river or in cafes which are mostly built with large floor seating areas and cushions where you can sit out over the river. Because of the great food, shopping, beautiful scenery and cheap prices it is easy to get caught here and stay longer than anticipated…

Posted by Evalikat 09:38 Archived in India Comments (0)

Haridwar - The holiest city in Uttarakhand

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Haridwar is another of India’s most important religious cities. Located in the state of Uttarakhand which is mostly vegetarian and alcohol free, Haridwar is situated at the point where the Ganges emerges from the Himalayas. People flock here yearly to witness the daily Aarti (Ganges river ceremony) and to deposit ashes, pray and swim in the ganges. The whole town is lined up on both sides of the river with lots of bathing huts, food stands, markets and stands selling floral offerings and incense. There are people everywhere, many in the amazingly coloured Ganges.

Here, unlike in Varanasi, the river is a beautiful shade of blue, reminiscent of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. The colour is where the likeness ends however and this could not be more different to Italy. The river flows quite fast here and the cleaner water is more inviting however it would still take a lot of convincing and possibly money for me to ever jump in. People light candles in little bowls that float along the river and wash their bodies and clothing there. Everyone seems to have their own private relationship with their beloved river and all over you can witness different rituals. Behind the river there are loads of markets and further along a cable car that takes you up into the mountains to a temple perched on top.

It is a very unusual temple, not exactly somewhere that you would find a peaceful moment for reflection. There are several areas dedicated to the various gods and deities that Hindus worship and priests sit nearby to encourage the devotees to make a donation. There are also flowers to buy, food offerings and beads. It also costs money to visit the temple. Seems like their religion has a large emphasis on paying your way to salvation. We avoided being blessed serval times and dodged priests who wanted to smear a red dot on the middle of our foreheads by smiling and saying that we are just watching thanks. At night about 5.30pm everyone gathers back at the river for the evening ceremony.

There are so many people gathered in a small space, all wanting to worship the river. There is singing, chanting and some clapping. The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and afterwards people are invited to approach the river and float their candles in the currents. It is a really interesting ceremony to watch, so unlike the ones we saw in Varanasi. We spent one day here checking out the only sights that Haridwar offers during our time. Most people only come here for the ceremony.

We are leaving tomorrow to travel one hour further North to Rishikesh, another spiritual centre and my favourite place I visited last time I came to India.

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Posted by Evalikat 22:28 Archived in India Comments (1)

Brief Delhi Stopover

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Unsure of where we wanted to go next, we went to the bus station and hopped on a bus to Delhi. We were given the option of a new AC bus or a non AC local bus. Guess which bus we chose? Of course the local one! Here are some pictures of the luxurious standard of bus we travel on here in India. I have also included some pics of the AC bus we could have chosen. We saved approx $6 with our choice!

In Delhi we stayed in the backpackers area where there are markets and lots of restaurants. I have been to Delhi before and find it to be a pretty uninspiring place and we only stayed two days. While we were there we visited the Ganghi Museum which was interesting and offered an insight into his philosophies and influence. He had some great ideas and was good for India but I did find a few of his ideas a little unrealistic and black and white. I think he was a great man and deserves recognition for the amazing things he achieved and the way in which he inspired people all around the world.

We also visited the markets at night and the main shopping area that is called Connaught Place. It is an area that was developed by the British and this influence is evident in the style of the buildings. The shopping was good, a mix of Western shops and Indian ones.

Continuing our journey North, we caught another bus, this one 8 hours long headed for Haridwar.

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Posted by Evalikat 22:27 Archived in India Comments (1)

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