See you again, India: 23.09.2013

It’s hard to believe that right now we are sitting in the New Delhi International Airport, awaiting our flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. Our Indian adventures have come to an end.

Jacob and I just officially conquered two months of traveling in India; we stayed healthy and well, incident free and for the most part, unscathed by the touters: that in itself deserves some sort of traveller’s medal, surely.

This morning we woke up in our “home” in Delhi, India, and tonight we’ll fall asleep somewhere in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Somehow, I don’t think we’ve quite grasped the fact that after two months of traveling here in crazy, chaotic, exhilarating India, we are now leaving. Oddly enough, after only a few weeks ago wanting to up and leave right there and then in Jaipur, it now feels as though we are leaving India at the perfect time, and I’m so happy about that.

Will we miss India? I think, of course, there will be many aspects of this country and the lifestyle we were leading here that we will miss, but at the same time, I think we’ve grown a bit weary of so many of the constant extremes that India threw at us daily. It’s not that we can’t handle India – we have handled this country very well, I believe – but, more so, it’s that we have enjoyed enough of it for now. In my opinion, whilst India is indeed incredible, it is also a very challenging country for a foreigner to travel in long-term.

Looking back over the past two months, it’s been a whirlwind that has often been quite difficult at times to imagine, comprehend and describe. Surreal. Awe Inspiring. Extravagant. Shocking. There were places that left us speechless, mouths open in awe. Other places left us shocked, inspired and moved.
India may have been challenging at times, but it was never boring; always interesting and alive and buzzing – something we admire and love about this country.
India was everything and at the same time nothing like we imagined, expected and prepared for; sometimes it was a country we were completely ready for, and other times we were left shocked and confronted to our cores.

India’s diversity amazes me, and looking back over the last two months, it’s impressive to recall our journey…

We arrived into chaotic and bustling Chennai, where the streets were a buzz of food and chai, people and traffic, and we were high on the excitement of such a “new world” surrounding us.
From Chennai we traveled to French Pondicherry, with the help of a kind stranger who shared just a few hours of friendship with us over a memorable lunch.
From French Pondi to dusty Trichy, then our first over night bus ride to the colourful and magnificent hill station of Ooty, where we pulled out the jumpers buried at the bottom of our packs and explored Jacob’s family history in nearby Lovedale.
From Ooty to Conoor, to Coimbatore to Alleppey on another overnight bus, where we paddled down Kerala’s backwaters, got caught in monsoon rains and marveled at the beauty and simplicity of life along the water.
From Alleppey we traveled to Kochi on a vomit filled bus, where we found tourists and cafes, art and Chinese fishing nets, great people and a fascinating history.
Our first Indian Railways train then took us 16 hours north of Kochi to Goa, where monsoon season meant we came, admired the beauty and left very quickly, catching our first Bollywood movie at the cinema before the overnight sleeper bus (double bed with sheets, pillows and all!) to Hampi – a magical place with a quaint bazaar and scenery that will remain etched in my memory.
Another overnight bus from Hampi saw us rolling into Mumbai the following morning; cheating and scams were quickly forgotten when our couch surfing host welcomed us and made our stay in this big city memorable for the right reasons.
Mumbai to Udaipur on another overnight train, and we were finally in Rajisthan; looking out over the spectacular city from our rooftop balcony as we chatted with other travelers was “exactly like the India I imagined…”
Udaipur to Ajmer and Pushkar: two places we saw, and probably wont ever see again, before a nightmare bus ride to Jodhpur, where we found solace and new friends at our guesthouse near the clock tower, and admired the mighty fort on the rooftop every evening.
Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, where we enjoyed mutton curry at our couch surfing host’s home and took a memorable 2 day trek into the Thar desert on camel back: an adventure I’m still smiling about.
Jaisalmer to Bikaner: another desert town that offered up some interesting food, a very unique (rat) temple, lots of staring and mixed feelings towards India.
Bikaner to Jaipur, where we ate amazing street food and drank copious amounts of coffee, explored the mighty fort walls and booked tickets to Japan.
From Jaipur we traveled to Agra on the Shatabdi Express: a luxurious train ride (by Indian standards) that left me wishing we could’ve stayed on it longer. The Taj Mahal was spectacular, but the people we came into contact with in Agra forced us into Café Coffee Day for eight hours straight; we went into hiding whilst waiting for our overnight train.
Exhausted and anguishing about our travels, my memories of Lucknow include a filthy overnight train, horrible auto drivers and scheming, scamming cycle-rickshaw riders, impressive and delicious kebabs, kulfi, lassi and chaat, and some extremely hot weather.
With the end of India insight, feeling low and exhausted, we traveled wearily to Varanasi wondering what was in store. What we found was a city pulsating with religion, tradition, culture, spirituality, life and death. Awesome lassi and lots of poo are two other stand-out memories.
Departing Varanasi on our last overnight train journey in India (for now), we signed on the dotted line that, yes, we had been informed about common muggings, druggings and robberies on this particular train route, and arrived into Delhi, our final destination in India, planning to stay just one night. Instead, we stayed 7, and spent our time eating, cooking, enjoying, sharing and celebrating my birthday with our Japanese hosts…

What a journey. One I will never forget.

Today, we’re leaving India two weeks earlier than we originally planned, and it feels right. We go to Nepal with no regrets, after experiencing two months of massive highs, amazing adventures, fantastic people, frequent challenges, successes, some lows, and then ending on another fantastic high. India is a country we’ll come back to; a life time isn’t long enough to see everything here, but how lucky we are – and were – to have traveled throughout this country.

See you again, sometime, India.

Advertisements

A Stranger’s Offering from the Heart

I’ve always found that when travelling, people are my best insight into a country. I can’t say that about every person I’ve met, of course, but as a general ‘rule’, if you can call it that. I love to people watch, and try to go where the locals go… the kindness of strangers can be inspiring.

Whilst in Laos last year, I fell in love with the people. Their relaxed nature (even though they drive in a chaotic manner), their smiles that light up their entire faces, their generosity, and their friendliness despite large language barriers was heart-warming. We felt welcomed in Laos, for our entire stay there, and left with beautiful memories. One such memory in Laos, will remain with me forever…

An early morning in Luang Prabang, myself, Jake and a fellow travel buddy of ours hired some bikes (10,000 kip for the day! – cheap, cheap!) with the idea we would ride out of town to a wet market that was not well-known to tourists. We rode through sleepy streets and temples, waving to the orange-clad monks as we cycled in the morning heat. Jake’s bike was playing up a bit, and we occasionally had to stop so he could try to fix it. A little frustrating, but for 10,000 kip, what could you expect really?…
We rode a bit further out, and onto the main road, cycling next to tuk-tuks, motos, cars and trucks. Jake’s bike chain kept sticking, and started making it almost impossible to ride.
I always give him shit about what happened next, and for him, in hindsight, it’s quite funny… basically, he cracked a tantie, and threw his bike to the ground. Ha! poor guy…

IMG_2420

Now, for anyone whose been to S.E. Asia, you’ll know that motorbike mechanic shops and general ‘fix it’ shops line the dusty roads, with tools and tyres and spare parts and bits and pieces and fuel conveniently spread all over the place – organised chaos, really. It made the situation for Jake (for me it was simply hilarious) much easier – the first mechanic shop we saw, we rode up to and hopped off our bikes.

There were two men sitting on tiny plastic children’s stools at the front of the shop; a younger Lao guy, and an older, portly Lao man (who, instantly took his little white singlet off when he saw us arrive??). They were sitting down to eat breakfast, and we didn’t want to interrupt them too much. Jake asked if he could borrow a tool to fix his bike, which was met with a blank stare. Smiles and body language went a long way…. The portly man quickly left the front of his shop, promptly returning with a cute little tool box. Smiles all round, and the portly man went back to eating his breakfast with younger guy.

While Jake was fixing his bike, travel buddy and I stood at the front of the shop, which met with the main road, watching the passers by. I turned to watch the two men, and to look at what kind of food they were eating; a large bowl of communal sticky rice, a bowl of asian greens of some description, and a big bowl of something chunky and brown…

I walked over to the men and asked “What are you eating?” and here in lies the beauty of the story…

No sooner had I asked, the younger guy looked up at me with a big smile, and shirtless portly man was up and shoving a bowl into my hand. He put a heap of rice into my bowl, filled it some more with the cabbagy greens, dipped some chopsicks into the brown goo and shoved a piece of something into my face… I took hold of the bowl and chopsticks, somewhat shocked and amazed, while my travel buddy and I laughed. Shirtless man was busy re-arranging chairs, offering me his, and fetching another for my buddy, along with another bowl and set of chopsticks. We laughed as they pointed egarly for us to sit with them, and with no languge other than smiles and hand gestures to communicate with, we both sat down.

IMG_2422

Shirtless man was smiling, offering us more and more; gesturing with his hands, before I had even taken my first bite. I felt so guilty for intruding on their beautiful morning, but so lucky and so welcomed by these two generous strangers. I looked at the rice; so sticky and fresh, and the cabbage – coated in just the right amount of chilli… and then I looked more closely at the brown goo. I looked from the goo, to my buddy, to the goo, to the young Lao guy. He put his hand to his chest, where his heart was, and the smiling shirtless guy grinned and nodded proudly. Oh shit, it’s heart.

They watched us, almost proudly, as we sat there with our bowls. Shirtless man must’ve thought I didn’t have enough food, as he quickly came over, took my chopsticks, and quickly added 6 or 7 more pieces of heart to my bowl. Excellent, I thought, I was hoping he’d do that!…
They smiled and ate, and smiled at us some more, and as travel buddy and I anxiously looked at the heart, the supportive nods from the two Lao men told us that we were not leaving without eating some heart. So, with a foolish thought of “ah, fuck it, let’s just eat it’ (that’s not a good attitude to adopt when eating foreign foods abroad in developing countries), we put the chopsticks to our mouths, and swallowed whole, the goo-looking heart.

The two men were pleased, and chatted together. Whilst they wern’t looking, with skill and grace, I swiftly removed the other pieces of heart from my bowl, and placed them back into the communal pot of goo. I did, however, finish off my rice and cabbage. Delicious, I must say.

We continued to sit with them, eating and smiling. Jake finished his bike repairs, and we finished our rice bowls. We thanked the men over and over again, and offered them money for their generosity and food. It was met with refusal; they wouldn’t take our money. We left them with smiles and waves, and we rode away with full stomachs and full hearts… literally.

IMG_2475

We carried on our journey and arrived at the wet market, bike drama-free. Exploring the market lanes, we came accross all sorts of foods and things we’d never seen. It was amazing to see; we never get tired of visiting wet markets. The fresh produce was astounding, fruits, vegetables, dry goods, tofus, rice; such an abundance of food!… we got to the fish and meat section…. and that’s where I saw it. The heart. It was there, just staring at me… I imagined it beating wildly. I patted my stomach, which seemed to have quietly shat itself, and gently cooed to it “Shhh…It’s okay my love, mummy will get you a yakkult and an iced tea. That will solve all your problems…”

And it did.

What were you doing 12 months ago today?

The moment we set foot in Asia for the first time, we fell inlove with the place, and it’s never left us. The assaults on every sensory level, the amazing, the astounding, the surprising, and then the other bits too!..

We think about it all the time; Asia comes up in so much of our conversation and our ‘daily life’, and the memories we made whilst travelling there often offer us laughter and smiles, perspecive and insight. Fantastic, really…

So many stories, so many memories; life experiences well beyond our imagination, and some experiences we are still trying to get our head around, almost a year later…

It’s February 20th today… “What were we doing one year ago today?” For the past few weeks, and for the next 11 days or so, I’ve been trying to think back to what we were doing this time 12 months ago to the day. We spent 6 weeks travelling in S.E. Asia, and in that short time we did so much, we look back on that time as one of the best in our lives to date.
I like to remind myself, and us, of those moments in which we loved, laughed, smiled, sympathised, cried, learned, shared, gave to others, showed bravery, forgave, understood, made friends, and travelled… (and then also, some of those moments we didn’t love so much…)

So, where were we 12 months ago? Let’s go for a little walk down memory lane…

We were in Cambodia. We’d been to Thailand and Laos, and already spent around 10 -12 days in Cambodia before this date (We’d been in Asia for over a month by now). And then, at the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, just before we were about to leave and take a 4 hour bus journey to Kampot, I got suddenly sick. Not just with some little travel bug, but a big, violent one. I was severely ill, suddenly and violently. Within a few hours I’d gone from being fine to vomiting non-stop, unable to move at all without being sick. I was unable to move, unable to stomach any sort of water or fluid, and was unbelievably weak. Had I been home in Australia, I would’ve gone to hospital immediately, but in Cambodia… well, going to hospital was my last resort… and I was seriously considering it…

It was 48 hours before we could make the journey to Kampot; I needed to get away from that potent smell of polluted air, fermenting food and stale urine that was overbearing.
Weak and sick, I made it with Jake to little Kampot and then we fell inlove. With the town, the people, the green peppercorns, and a trashy Cambodian karaoke pop song (which we STILL sing all the time!)
We made the most of Kampot and spent a while there pottering around, reminiscing and hanging about, sweaty and barefooted in the scorching heat. Still so sick, my favourite thing was Oishi Iced Tea, and we spent our next few days wondering about and drinking bottle after bottle that $0.70c liquid gold.

Slowly, I got a bit better, and we continued on with the last 11 days of our Cambodian adventure together. Even sick, we managed to have so much fun and experience all that we possibly could. We ate Kep crab and carried (tried to) 50+kg baskets of salt. We met new people, shared stories and laugher, shared tears and trashy karaoke songs. Ate amazing food, swam in crystal clear ocean, drank from young coconuts, and danced around like travel-high fools.

And though I was so sick, I got through it. Largely becuase of Jake… He looked after me and made sure I was okay. He saw me at my absolute worst and loved me for it. He gave me strength, protected me, and forgave me for being such high-maintenance for those last 11 days… We had the best time together, and I realised how important he was to me, and I to him.
Without my travel, and life partner, I wonder how I actually would’ve been able to manage and survive those first 48 hours.
Travel made us strong when I was so weak. It brought us closer together in the oddest of ways, and we are so much better because of it.

Oh. And becuase of Oishi Iced Tea. Let’s not forget that hero drink…

So, over the next 11 days, I’ll be more aware of ‘where were we 12 months ago?’, and where we are today… We are planning our 7 month journey back to Asia, and I know we’ll be just as strong, and the best of friends throughout. (For the most part)

…And I seriously, absolutely, can not wait for everything it throws our way… except travel bugs. They can stay far far away.