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Backpacking India: Trip Summary

India - Jaipur - Amber Fort
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.

The Highlights:

Hampi Ruins
Hampi
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.

India - Holi in Varanasi
Festivals
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.

India - Jaisalmer Camel Safari With mystic tours
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.

India - Pushkar yoga Swamiji and us
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.

India - Gokarna
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.

Chandrashila Trek
Himalayan Trekking
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.

India - Calcutta
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.

India - Udaipur
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.

India - Tashiding, Sikim
Sikkim
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.

India - Munroe Island - backwater canoe tour
Kerala Backwaters
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.


Mischievous Monkeys
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.

Bonus Photos
India - Jodhpur - Mehrangarh Fort

Rafting the Ganges
Continue reading Backpacking India: Trip Summary

Backpacking India: Rishikesh and Haridwar

Rishikesh
Rishikesh is an eclectic city that attracts an interesting mix of tourists – including yogis, adrenaline junkies, foreigners, and middle-class Indians. The city is located at the foot of the Himalayas and along the banks of the holy Ganges River. It’s the epicentre of India’s yoga scene, with dozens of ashrams and hundreds of yoga instructors. It’s also a huge adventure sports hub, with river rafting, trekking, bungee jumping, and zip-lining all available.

Rishikesh

In early April, the weather is perfect (just when Delhi is getting hot and the hill stations are still cold). We were there for the Easter long-weekend, which we didn’t think would be an event in India, but apparently it is one of their busiest weekends. The streets and hotels were packed with thousands of Indians from Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana. When we got back from our trek, we had a panicked hour while we struggled to find a hotel, but eventually found a great place in the quiet Swiss Cottage neighbourhood.

Rishikesh

We squeezed as much into our time in Rishikesh as possible, but still left wishing we could have spent a few more days. It would have been nice to check ourselves into an ashram, do yoga, and explore the city at a leisurely pace, but we only had a few days with Dan’s tight schedule and the city was too busy with Easter crowds. In our short time, we managed to take a cooking class, raft down the Ganges, and do three yoga classes. When we did find time to wander, the city rewarded us with many interesting temples to explore, really good restaurants (including a cafe with vegan pizza), cute souvenir shops, and great views.

Cooking Masala Class
The cooking class was really good. This was our third cooking class and we got to choose the menu, so we focused on simpler recipes that we would be more likely to cook at home. We learned how to make aloo gobi, baingan bharta, dal fry, parathas, and a simple chutney. After the class, we went and bought a number of the masala spice mixes so we can hopefully replicate the recipes at home.

Rafting the Ganges
River rafting was a blast. The rapids were pretty tame, but we still had fun. We were able to jump out of the boat and float down the river for stretches. It was cold, but not unbearable. We also brought our leftover dyes and played Holi in our boat. It left a real mess, but I was happy our guide and the other tourists in our boat enjoyed it too.

Rishikesh
Rishikesh
One of Rishikesh’s claims to fame is the ashram that The Beatles stayed in while writing the White Album in 1968. It’s now abandoned, but you can bribe the security guard (we paid 50 rupees each) to let you go explore. It’s a cool space, with Beatles-themed graffiti everywhere and funky buildings slowly being taken over by the forest.

India - Haridwar
Haridwar is just downstream from Rishikesh and is one of the 7 most sacred sites to Hindus. We spent a day there checking out the temples and ghats. Skillfully turning away the priests who kept trying to bless us (and ask for money), we made our own aarti ceremony and offered a prayer to Mother Ganga while floating flowers down the river.
India - Haridwar

More pictures on Flickr: Rishikesh and Haridwar.

Backpacking India: Pushkar

India - Pushkar yoga Swamiji and us
Pushkar is the holiest city in Rajasthan, and although the ghats and temples didn’t impress us, we had our own spiritual encounter with Swamiji.

India - Pushkar Fancy hotel
Pushkar is a small town but it has over 500 temples and attracts a lot of Hindu pilgrims. We expected a lot of Indian tourists, but the center of town is surprisingly full of foreigners, tourist restaurants, and gift shops.

India - Pushkar
As a holy town, meat, eggs, and alcohol are off limits in Pushkar, which makes it one of the most vegan friendly places in India. Tofu, falafel, and rare cheeses were very popular. We ate world class vegetarian at Cafe Nature’s Blessing and amazing Tibetan food at Tyagy’s. I could have stayed in Pushkar for a few more days just for the food.

India - Pushkar Lake
The center of Pushkar is a small lake, believed to have been created by the Hindu creator god, Lord Brahma. It is surrounded by ghats (steps) where Hindus bathe to wash their bodies and souls. It also has the reputation for pushy priests asking tourists for donations. We never had any problems, but we only visited in the middle of the day when it was quiet and stayed away from the popular Brahma Ghat.

India - Pushkar
Other than eating, visiting temples, and a few hikes there wasn’t a lot to do in Pushkar. Emily found a yoga course offered in the old temple near our hotel by Swamiji Kapri. It was more than we ever expected. The yoga was traditional ashtanga with a lot of focus on breathing and concentration.

India - Pushkar yoga
But the real highlight was our instructor and the sage advice he gave us during the theory and chanting classes. It was the first time we’ve really come to understand the full breadth of what yoga is about, including guidelines for how you treat others and maintain your mind body and soul. The ultimate goal is happiness (can’t argue with that), but it needs to be worked at with a plan. We’ve started laying out some things we want to do when we get home, like morning sun salutations and evening stretching and meditation. We also had a guest visit from a sadhu who is over 100 years old. He shared his secret to long life with us.

India - Pushkar yoga
Swamiji is an amazing man. 70 years old and full of old-world wisdom mixed with new-world pragmatism, and always brimming with happiness and joy. Truly an inspiring man to just be around. He would quote ancient Sanskrit texts and then take out his cellphone to snap pictures of us. We have promised to keep in touch with email and Facebook.

Marathon Training – Week 8

Sunny Sunday Seawall
More running. No injuries. All is good.

On Sunday, Erica and I (both recovering from injuries) only did 15km instead of the 26 the rest of the group did. I felt ok (other than the nipple chafe from the rain), but didn’t want to push it.

I was disappointed when the Vega rep cancelled his guest lecture for our running group on Tuesday. I showed up early all set to get some sweet samples and impress him with my knowledge of the Thrive Diet. But the rep got the flu. Obviously he’s not a real vegan, as real vegans are immune to disease.

Instead we went out and did a hard hill workout at Queen Elizabeth Park. I killed it. Not only did I run them quickly, but more importantly, consistently – my 6 reps up the hill were between 2:02 and 2:05.

I’m really enjoying the runner’s yoga course. Lots of stretching of the hamstrings, strengthening of the core, and the dreaded plank position.

Day Distance (km) Workout Time Pace /km
Sunday 14.8 Long 1:29:20 6:02 map
Monday Yoga
Tuesday 12.7 Hills 1:14:14 5:49 map
Wednesday Off
Thursday Physio
Friday 8.3 Tempo 0:38:20 4:38 map
Saturday Off
Running Total 35.8 3:21:54 5:38

8 week done, 9 more until race day. Almost half way there. Last weeks results are here.

Marathon Training – Week 7

Running along the Seawall
I’m slowly ramping up my marathon training to the level it was when I hurt my calf. This week I added some speed work and was able to run 10 km without any pain. In addition to running, I went to my first runner’s yoga class on Monday. There was a substitute teacher, so I’m not sure what it will be like when Mike Dennison is there, but I’m going to continue going to the course. I need the increased flexibility and core strength.

Day Distance (km) Workout Time Pace /km
Sunday 7.9 X-Country Skiing 1:27:26 11:01 map
Monday 6.0 Tempo 0:29:59 5:59 map
Tuesday Off
Wednesday 10.4 Steady 0:54:39 5:16 map
Thursday Off
Friday Off
Saturday 5.2 Fartlek 0:24:47 4:48 map
Running Total 21.6 1:49:25 5:04

7 week past, 10 more until race day. Last weeks results are here.