Since this blog is a part time diary in addition to its day job of letting me vent out my frustrations and excitements, I thought that I should write down how we got to where we are right now. After we started our RTW trip in Kathmandu, we spent six nights in Pokhara, then three nights in Lumbini, and finally four in Chitwan. All of those have had their own blog entries so far, so we're up to speed there. After Chitwan we went back to Kathmandu for two nights, we stayed in Thamel again, in a guesthouse called Om Tara. The place was nice enough, 1000 rupees per night. The room was big, but very damp, since the attached bathroom didn't have a window or any kind of air vents, so the moisture came straight to the room. Also, everything leaked there, including the faucets to the sink and the shower, and the toilet tank!
It was hard coming back to Kathmandu after a couple of weeks out of the big city. We arrived by bus and even before we got out of the thing there were dozens of taxi drivers offering us their services. And the thing is, you can't say no to just one of them, you have to make eye contact and say the word to every single one of them individually. It's hard work. Our Danish comrades were with us on the bus and since we had some money things and addresses to work out, we were stuck with the taxi drivers for quite a while. They are persistent, I give them that… However, they can't read maps and were of no use at all as I tried to ask them where we were on the map, since our bus had dropped us somewhere else than the bus station. By the way, the bus was 600 rupees per person, we got the tickets from Evergreen Ecolodge in Chitwan.
We said goodbye to the Danish couple there and walked to Thamel. Outside of the damp room we saw the Boudnath Stupa, which we missed on our first visit in Kathmandu. We also walked to Freak Street and tried to sneak in to Durbar Square, where they really charge all foreigners 750 rupees per person just to walk the street. Money was running low, we decided to skip it entirely. For the second time on our trip, we took our clothes to a washing machine for 50 rupees/kilogram. They came out mostly clean, but my gray Hard Rock Café Singapore T-shirt was covered in reddish brown spots, probably from the tainted hot water (as I write this it's drying after hand washing, it seems to have cleaned out again.) A happier story was a one of our Lonely Planet-Nepal, which we were able to sell at a book store. We had paid 1450 NPR for it in Pokhara and got 1000 NPR for it in Thamel. After getting the money we found a little damaged Footprint-India from 2011 that was on sale for 800 NPR, so we ended up with a new guide book and more money than we came in with!
After that we left Nepal for good. We took a taxi to the airport, where we were padded down at least four times regardless of what the metal detector said. I lost my lighter (I use it to light candles and stuff), but Sini was able to bring the one liter water bottle, which she had forgotten in her carry-on bag, all the way to Delhi. At the Delhi airport things went surprisingly smoothly, we had filled and paid the online applications for Visa on Arrival, and everything was OK. Except when it was Sini's turn. She had been feeling a little ill on the flight and started to get a light headed as she was trying to get her fingerprints scanned. I had to help a little and see she didn't fall, but we got through. Then it was time to get a pre-paid taxi, as our Footprint told us to do. Firs we needed cash and withdrew some from an ATM that forgot to give us 400 rupees out of our 10 000! It was the same amount we paid for the taxi, the driver of which knew only vaguely where he was going. To make matters worse, Barack Obama had decided to visit India at the same time with us, so one of the freeways leading to the city was closed for three days! Even better, our natural gas-powered taxi died on us. Fortunately (or so it first seemed), we happened to break down right next to a tourist information center. A local guy told us to go there to find out the right address for our hotel as our driver was fixing his car. We had the address from Booking.com, but apparently that wasn't accurate enough (seem to me that they don't do addresses around here, in Pokhara every building's address was Lakeside 6, Pokhara).
So, we got into the tourist information center. If you've read the entry "Everybody Lies", you can guess what that was all about. It was a travel agency and they wanted to sell us all kinds of things even before we had seen our hotel. We just wanted to know how to find it, but they told us that it was in a bad neighborhood, a slum even... We would be better off with a hotel they had in mind. We didn't want to hear it since we would anyway have to pay the first night, all we wanted was an address, or even just a map. We didn't get those, instead we got a guy to show us the way. We were both a little dehydrated and hungry, Sini was starting to feel sicker, and the guy was the slowest walker ever. They told us it would be a walking distance, but we knew we would have to pay the guide something if we ever were to make it there. Luckily, the taxi (for which we had paid for in advance…) started working again and the driver caught up with us, sweeping us away from our slow motion helper. Luckily so, since we drove for another two kilometers or so, it would have taken us forever, with our backpacks and all. The driver asked around some and finally found the Amax Inn in Pahar Gang.
We had been a little unhappy with our choice of hotel in Delhi. I made the reservation months before in a burst of travel excitement, only to find out later that there would have been cheaper options as well. We paid 950 rupees per night plus 10% service charge. Even more annoying was that we had only a standard room, when on the web page it said that standards go for 850, and deluxe is 950… However, we ended up being very happy with the hotel. It was clean, comfortable and they had room service with the same prices we found on the street. That turned out to be very helpful as Sini got sicker…
Without going to the details of that, I wandered the streets of Delhi on my own for a couple of days. I saw the Connaught Place, the Main Bazaar, Chandi Chowk and the Red Fort, among other things. Not only was Obama there to close things down, it was also the 26th of January, India's Republic day, so I didn't need to bother thinking about going in to the Red Fort. Main Bazaar and the park at Connaught Place were open as usual though. You can read about my adventures and feelings about Delhi in the "Everybody Lies" entry, but I will say this: Delhi is not my favorite city in the world. Our hotel was on Arakashan road. Whether it had pavement or not, I do not know, because it was covered in mud. As were a lot of the other streets I ventured on. And it's not just the mud, since they have the cows too… And the dogs… And the homeless… The stench of the city was not pleasant, I can only imagine what it will be like in the summer, when temperatures rise to 40 degrees Celsius. There's other crap on the streets as well, since it seems to be customary to throw your garbage where ever you see fit. I passed four different stalls where they were giving out free food or drink samples, each and every one of these was surrounded by hundreds of plastic cups or whatever dishes they were using. They just throw them on the ground and as a result, there is garbage everywhere.
This is Delhi as I saw it. Someone else might have had it completely different. But the thing is, on day two I saw all of five Caucasians there and one of them was me in a mirror. I walked around, I didn't take a taxi or even a rickshaw. I walked in places where people were staring at me with faces asking "what is that guy doing in here". I ended up on some street that was two meters wide, had mud for pavement, mopeds going both ways and more people than I cared for. Note to self and others as well, they told us to avoid crowds while in Asia. Seriously, the only time you're really in trouble is when you find that you're alone… Back to the point, I really didn't see any other tourists until we had the driver to take us around after our little visit to the travel agency (still pisses me off, read about it elsewhere…). For example, Humayun's Tomb was crawling with westerners. It was a nice place and all that, but if that's the only thing you see in Delhi, you might as well stay home and google it. Then again, I got a little too much of it all… It's all about the famous middle way I guess.
After Sini got better we fixed the train tickets and other transportation for the rest of our stay in India. I'm not going to tell how much we paid for those. I was just glad to get out of Delhi and be on our way again. We took the train to Haridwar, it took six hours to get there, we got tea, breakfast and tea again on the way. From Haridwar we took a tempo (at least I think that's what it was, a noisy three wheeled thing bigger than an auto rickshaw) to Rishikesh for 300 rupees, after considerable negotiating from 450 rupees. We didn't have a reservation in Rishikesh, but we had looked at a hotel on line. It was in Lakshman Jhula and after some walking around we actually found the place. A double room was becoming available later so they put us in a single room to wait for it. The single had a double bed also and even though the room was small, it seemed big enough. The single was 350 rupees per night, the double 650 rupees. We thought we'd see the double first, but we were already plotting to stay in the cheaper one. However, the double didn't become available after all. The owner felt bad for us, so he gave us the deluxe room (1250 rupees per night) for the price of the double he had promised us! Truth be told, in western standards the deluxe is pretty basic, but seeing it here made us feel like we got the penthouse suite! It even had a heater! Even better, as we were supposed to downgrade to a normal double room the next morning, the doubles turned out to be still occupied so we got a second night in the deluxe for still the same price.
And now we're up to speed again. Rishikesh seems to be a very nice little place, at least here in Lakshman Jhula. We haven't done yoga yet, even though this is "the world capital" of it. Maybe tomorrow… We're staying a few nights, after which we go to Jaipur. I'll try to keep my stress levels down as we pass through Delhi, where we're supposed to change from train to a car. I guess I'll need to work on my breathing before that.