From January - July 2010, we are roaming the Indian Subcontinent (and beyond, as it turned out)...

...during that period, this blog page is the temporary home of

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Leh is Closed"

Greetings. This is Brian again. I know that I promised that Rebecca was writing the next one, but she didn't want to, so it's boring me...

Mt Abu, that hill station we were just heading to after our last posting, was a dive. I liked it; Rebecca didn't. It was full of holidaying Gujarati males. Minnesotans: it was like an Indian Wisconsin Dells; Brits: it was like an Indian Blackpool. Kitsch, photo booths, horse rides, a decent climate, lots of restaurants, and even a lake with cheesy plastic paddleboats for rent. Only two nights there.

Then: Jodhpur, our final stop in deserty Rajasthan. We loved it. Got an A/C room. Had makhania lassis (saffron-flavoured yogurt shakes) each day, I worked, Rebecca went out for takeaway lunches and fruit. Life was good.

We got back to Delhi just two days ago. Logistics: picked up our passports (they were at an embassy these last weeks), bought some cookware and housewares, posted a large box home, and...that's it. Mixed between all this, I got to see some cool new neighborhoods I'd never seen on my previous four visits to the city. It's a fascinating (if incredibly crowded/polluted/filthy) place.

Tomorrow bright and early, we fly to Leh. This is a Tibetan town far in the north, a region called Ladakh. When we arrived at our hotel in Delhi, the receptionist enquired our next stop (something that must be filled in each time you check into a guesthouse here). When I said, "Leh," he said, "No. You cannot. It's closed."

OK. So Leh is "closed." He was referring to the fact that all roads to Leh are snowed in for eight months of the year. Most travellers heading there go via Manali; the road this way takes 3-4 days from Delhi and usually doesn't open until June sometime.

Thus, Leh should be empty of tourists. And quite cold. We'll be showing up in the mountains in flip-flops, fingers crossed and recrossed that our shoes and warm gear (that we purchased before our trek in Nepal) are there - we posted this stuff to Leh once we crossed back into hot hot hot India several weeks back.

So, soon off for one last North Indian dinner, and an early night before a 4am taxi to the airport. That's it for now!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rajasthan, Etc, According to Brian

I (Brian) am writing this one alone. Rebecca's doing the next...

Okay, here we are in Udaipur, India's "most romantic city," southern Rajasthan. Yes, it's hot here. The lake, part of Udaipur's ambiance, is almost entirely dry. We see animals grazing there (even two elephants yesterday), and in the mornings and evenings Indian youth play cricket in what used to be lake. Gone is the Udaipur I saw 7 years ago - colorful women washing laundry and people bathing on the lakeside ghats, water everywhere.

All of this we can see from our lakeside room, which has nice ceiling paintings and stained-glass and A/C! Being off-season, we got a steal on the place. Still a splurge, but a reasonable one: Rs600/night ($14/9 quid). Mornings here, we alternate who goes out for a quarter-litre of fresh, cold milk from a corner shop 200m up the road. Then we sit on the divan next to our lakefront window, set up our bowls on the squat wooden table between us, recline on pillows, and eat our cornflakes (North India lacks the nice un-fried breakfasts of the south, so we've opted for this lighter option...ah, to have idli -fermented steamed rice cakes - again!).

And that's Udaipur for us. Since the city's a travellers' hub, it was a good place for us to swap books, replenishing our supply. Far from the tourist zone, we have a place we go for fantastic Gujarati thalis. The palaces, the lake - all secondary, I suppose, a nice backdrop but not a reason for being here.

Other recent destinations have been like this, too. In Orchha, we skipped the central sights. Instead: a walk, find an abandoned chhatri to climb, sit on the roof and watch riverside bathers and colorful kingfishers and bright green parrots, and vultures perched atop the other chhatris (temple-like monuments) surrounding us.

In Delhi: the procurement of train tickets, applying for Chinese visas (for later - I guess we won't be the whole half year on the subcontinent after all). In Agra: the Taj Mahal, of course. And it was wonderful. But too, we mixed in other things: I filed my US taxes, we found the best banana lassis (yogurt shakes) in India.

In Bundi, a slightly off-the beaten track destination in Rajasthan, we hung out for five days, spending our nights in an old haveli (mansion) converted to a guesthouse. There, I worked a lot on editing my book and we did walks in the early mornings when the weather was tolerably cool - walking up to a hilltop fort devoid of tourists (or ANYONE, for that matter), wandering alone among crumbled palace ruins amid pools and pavilions...bat guano, marble columns, paintings, tilework, stunted trees, metal-studded wooden gates still hanging from their original hinges. Very atmospheric. Lunches there in Bundi were mangos and almonds and raisins and grapes and bananas bought from the market.

These last few destinations have been good to us - 4-5 day relaxed stops instead of the relentless grind of the road.


We are now past the halfway point of our trip. There was never any danger of a repeat of 2002 - when I departed the USA for "a year" and didn't ultimately return until the latter half of 2006. Maybe because I'm older, I don't know. Travel seems less monumental than it did then - not as heavy or life-changing. Fun, good - yes - I don't mean to downplay it at all. It's a great way to give you perspective, solidify desires...but in the end, travel is a temporary indulgence from which you know you'll return.

Rebecca and I continue to learn how to deal with each other (and with India). We get weary of Indians some days. There's a shirt on sale in Delhi that says, "No rickshaw, no hashish, no rupees, ..." The list goes on. A hundred or a thousand times a day you're approached, hassled. It can be so tiresome, but it's part of the whole experience. Dealing with it is a challenge, an opportunity.

Travel for us is more about adapting to a different type of life than about sightseeing: how best to fill a day, to enjoy life, to find the proper mix of movement and relaxation. We haven't kept up with the yoga - rooms too small, days too hot, or simply that we're too lazy? All goes up and down; two weeks ago, Rebecca was just barely tolerating India. Today, she's loving it more than me.


For better or worse, life beyond the trip is never really far away. We still have to deal with logistics (Australian and US taxes, for example, and bank accounts and interviews), and we're still dealing with post-trip plans. In fact, just two days ago we had a celebratory dinner. I've been offered a spot at grad school for September, in a country Rebecca's never visited, a place that I went to once 15 years ago on one blurry day. So there's that - and soon (no decision yet made) maybe finally we can answer the question, "What are you guys doing after the trip?"


That's it. Tonight is our last in Udaipur. We're taking a four-hour cooking class. We both absolutely love the food in India (aside from the slight tedium of all the North Indian deep-fried snacks), and are excited to learn a bit more! Tomorrow, we're off to Mt Abu, a 1200m/4000' hill station. Though not originally part of our plan, it was a heat-inspired decision; daily temperatures these last few weeks has seen temps of mostly 40-44C (104-112F). It's meant to be cool there.

We're excited! And not long after, we're heading into mountains once more. But that will be another story...


"...the blessings of leisure - unknown to the West, which either works or idles..." (EM Forster)

Friday, April 9, 2010

India's (Really) Hot

Man, we're melting here. If I keep this update to the point, the following items are the main things on our plate right now:
* Northern Indian food doesn't touch that of the south
* Mangos are just coming into season
* It's hot

Since our last update (Varanasi, where it was hot) we've generally headed west. To Chitrakut (just a night's stop to recover from a day on the bus), then another day on the bus to Khajuraho, where it was hot. We stayed there and visited its famous temple carvings - 10th century, lots of creative sex scenes including acrobatics and even animals. Then to Orchha, a small village with very little to do. Loved it here so stayed longer than any of our previous stops. It was hot here, too.

Then, off to Delhi. We had to visit some embassies to take care of logistics. Delhi was hot.

Today, we traveled to Agra. In the morning, we're going to drop by the Taj Mahal. It's pretty hot. In the evening, we're off on a night train into Rajasthan. Time for some good old Mughal palaces, hilltop forts, etc. Not sure, but my guess is that it will be hot there. We're slowing down our pace for the next couple weeks.

That's all for now.