Might need another chance to properly recreate this photo.
Astrid sure looks like her mom.
Might need another chance to properly recreate this photo.
Astrid sure looks like her mom.
We’re 10 days into our new lives as parents, and it’s time to document what we’ve loved about these early days with our newborn daughter. I think we’ve been pretty lucky so far. She has her fussy moments, but she’s pretty easy to soothe and rarely cries for more than 10 minutes before we figure out what she wants. We’re definitely sleep deprived and beholden to her whims, but we’ve learnt to nap when she naps. At night she’s been sleeping well between feedings with a two or three long stretches (2-4 hours) most nights. By most accounts, we’re doing ok.
After 4 months backpacking through India, we have a lot of fond memories and unforgettable stories. We did our best to see as much of this amazing, diverse country as possible. We took dozens of trains, buses, and shared jeeps, covering more than 13,000 kms (further than the distance from Vancouver to Delhi) traveling between 35 destinations. There are individual blog posts about each stop on our trip, which you can read if you have hours of free time. Otherwise, here’s our recap.
We spent four days exploring the massive ruins around Hampi and the boulder strewn landscape. We could have spent more. Every day was special, but there were two very memorable moments. On the first day we hiked over a ridge and found ourselves alone with a sprawling ruins below us just begging to be explored. On our last day, we rented a motorbike and explored the north shore. We got lost on small dirt roads amidst rice paddies, hiked up to a monkey temple, and ate lunch at a packed, chaotic restaurant where no one spoke English, there was no menu, and the only thing they had was an unlimited thali with the tastiest food served on a banana leaf – no plates or cutlery.
Indians know how to party and we got to celebrate a few big festivals. We were lucky to celebrate India’s most colourful festival, Holi, in its most holy city, Varanasi. It was a riot of colour – fun but intimidating too. We brought in the New Year in Kochi with elephants, fireworks, and burning Santa Claus.
Camel Safari in Jaisalmer
Riding a camel might not be the most comfortable or fastest way to travel, but it sure is memorable. We slept under the stars at night and played cards under a shade tree during the day. Our camel ride left from Jaisalmer, one of the most relaxed and picturesque towns we visited in Rajasthan.
Yoga in Pushkar
Yoga in India is much more spiritual than the purely physical form you find in Vancouver. We really enjoyed many of the classes we took and our excellent instructors, but the highlight was meeting Swamiji in Pushkar, who we formed a deep personal connection with during our short stay. He really impressed us with his teachings on the fundamentals of yoga and his wisdom. We plan on making yoga part of our daily routine in Vancouver.
Beach Time in Goa
Far way from the chaos of India’s cities, the beaches of Goa and Gokarna are in a different world. For 10 days we slept in dirt-cheap huts and spent our days doing yoga, hiking, and reading on the beach. It was a great opportunity to recharge our batteries after our first month in India.
Our first attempt to hike the Himalayas along the Singalila Ridge didn’t go as planned, but we knew there was something special about the worlds highest mountains and signed up for another trek. The second time, Dan joined us for an epic 3-day hike to the top a snow-capped Chandrashilla Mountain. It wasn’t easy, even with porters carrying our gear and cooks making our food, but we survived and were glad we did it.
Karma in Kolkata
We met a lot of fascinating people throughout India, both locals and other travelers. In many ways the people we met were more memorable than the sights we saw. In Kolkata we were lucky to meet Karma and his friend Priya. We spent two days talking with them, sharing stories, and talking about our hopes for the future. They also showed us a part of the city we would have never found on our own.
Udaipur and Krishna Ranch
We spent a whole month in the Rajasthan, a state rich with history. After a while many of the cities started to blend together. Every one had an imposing fort, and ornate palace, and divine temples. But Udaipur really stood out from the pack with its beautiful setting on a lake with floating palaces. We also spent 3 relaxing days just outside the city at Krishna Ranch, enjoying the tranquil setting and doing some adventurous hiking/bushwhacking.
The northern state of Sikkim, next to Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan was another unique Indian gem. Rich in Buddhist culture, we loved the views of the towering Himalayas, ornate monasteries, Nepalese food, and our epic shared jeep rides between towns.
The tropical, jungle atmosphere of the Kerala backwaters in South India stole our hearts. We stayed in a lovely guest house on Munroe Island and enjoyed exploring the canals that connect the local villages by canoe. We also stumbled upon a Hindu festival with drummers and actors dressed up like gods and demons from the Hindu scriptures.
Monkeys in India are like racoons in Canada – cute but mischievous pests. But monkeys are not afraid of people and are active during the day. We lost count of the number of times got close to an adorable monkey, smiled (big mistake), and ran away when it bared its teeth and hissed at us. On Christmas morning at Karuna Farm, monkeys stole food from our outdoor kitchen while I was cooking breakfast. In Varanasi, one tried to pee on us from a rooftop. And in Hampi, we sat and watched monkeys jumping from roof to roof and making a mess of clothes lines and water barrels.
We’re one month into our 4-month trip through India and we’re getting into a good routine. We’ve figured out how to order South Indian food and eat it with our hands and how to walk down the street without being hit by a bus or stepping in cow shit. We’re used to sleeping on the hard beds and ignoring the aggressive rickshaw drivers and touts. And I’m getting better at walking by cows and monkeys without having to snap a picture, but it’s not easy – they’re so cute.
Our daily routine has been pretty relaxed. It may look like we’re doing a lot, but it is much slower pace than we’re used to. Our days start with a leisurely morning with an Indian breakfast. After that we will check out one sight or neighborhood and then grab lunch. Often we’ll retreat from the heat back to our hotel in the afternoon for a rest. After that we might check out another attraction before grabbing a late dinner. Indians tend to eat their meals later than Canadians and we’re starting to do the same.
We eat Indian food for most meals. Our favourite breakfasts are dosas or idlies with sambar. I’ve lost count how many dosas we’ve had – easily over 50 (including 6 today between the two of us). For lunch we often get thalis – cheap, vegetarian combo meals involving rice, bread, rassam, sambar, curries, and a sweet served in small silver bowls that waiters will often refill as you empty them. For dinner, we’ll either have more dosas or get something adventurous. North Indian food is easy to find the south and very tasty. It is also the closest to what you would find in Canada, but much better. You can’t go wrong with dal (lentil), aloo (potato), bhindi (okra), bharta (eggplant), or gobi (cauliflower) dishes. We’ve also discovered gobi 65 (a deep fried cauliflower dish) and gobi manchurian (like cauliflower buffalo wings), sambar vadai (donuts in a savory sauce), stuffed paratha (like an Indian quesadilla), and chana bhatura (chickpea curry with puffy bread). There’s enough variety within vegetarian Indian food that we’ve rarely felt the desire to eat Western food, although we did enjoy a burrito and falafel while we were in Bangalore. In most cities it is common to find reasonable facsimiles of Chinese, Italian, and American fast food (minus the beef).
The food sometimes meses with our digestive system. We’ve been sick a few times, food poisoning and vomiting for me, traveler’s diarrhea for Emily, and a lingering cold for both of us.
We have a rough itinerary of places we want to visit and have been reserving accommodation and transport about a week in advance. Now that the Christmas/New Year holiday season is over, it has been easier to book trains and hotele on short notice. During Christmas, train reservations are impossible and we had to rely on buses. We found handy websites to book our transport online – trains through cleartrip and buses through redbus.
We have been spending 2-4 days in most cities. Long enough to see all the sights and have some downtime. We often hand wash clothing when we arrive in a new city so it has time to dry. We’ve tried using laundry services, but they charge per item, so it is not worth it for underwear or socks.
Of course, everything hasn’t gone smoothly. There have been frustrations along the way. Technology tends to break just when we need it. I’m on my second cellphone now. It’s taken a bit of detective work to disable all the cloud syncing on the iPad so it doesn’t grind to a halt. Most of our accommodation has had free WiFi, but the signal is either weak or the connection to slow to use. Google Maps has lead us astray a few times.
Getting around in general has been the most frustrating. We’ve had a number of angry encounters with rickshaw drivers trying to screw us over. The buses are confusing with little English signage. Google maps has transit directions in the big cities, but it has been more detrimental than helpful. We tend to walk a lot, even though there is rarely sidewalks.
We don’t understand why Indians want to take their picture with us. The first time it was amusing. But some days we can be asked 50 times for a photo and some of the young men can get aggressive when we say no. It’s annoying, creepy, and borderline racist. It makes sense when it is someone we’ve talked to or had some interaction with, but usually it’s complete strangers. It makes it hard to enjoy some of the more popular sights when you’re being hunted by groups of paparazzis.
We’re slowly learning how to order food, but Emily was often frustrated early in the trip with large menus and no information about what the options are. At pure veg places we knew we could eat everything, but when we tried to order anything beyond the set meals or thalis we rarely had a balanced meal. Asking the waiters never helps because they just nod their heads.
Lots more pictures on Flickr.
Emily and I spent the Canada Day long weekend in Kamloops enjoying the awesome company of my sister Kelsey and her partner Matt. Even with the intense, record-setting heat (hitting +38 C), we spent a lot of time outside. We did some hiking, we picnicked at Paul Lake, we played bocce ball, and we checked out Canada Day festivities.