Country hopping

May 20 – 21, 2013

Our bus ride to Delhi was not as pleasant as either of us had hoped. We were in a semi-sleeper, which means the seat recline a little more than a normal airline seat, but not enough to really sleep. The shocks on the bus were also completely shot and we felt every bump and dip along that road. Chandler snored softly next to me as I spent the first few hours fighting off wave after wave of nausea while the bus made its way down a very winding road. Eventually, I was able to fall asleep and happy to wake up in Delhi.

Although neither of us were well rested and it was 5am, we found our way to the metro from the bus station. Chandler handled everything and just steered me to the right train and again when to get off at the right stop. We made it to Hari’s before he had even got up for the morning. We went into a wonderfully air conditioned room and chatted about what we had done in India and what we needed to accomplish before flying out the next day.  Somewhere during the conversation, I feel back asleep, Hari left for work and Chandler found a bike shop which claimed to have the parts we needed.

We spent most of the next two days hiding in Hari’s apartment with the air conditioning blasting as it was 46°C or 114°F outside. We would shut all the doors and all sleep in the one room, so not to waste energy trying to cool the entire apartment. We even ate dinner in the bedroom when Hari got home, because the heat was just unbearable. We did manage to get our errands done with no problems or melting into puddles.

Hari and his friend from work also took us to a bar with live music one night. The band would play requested songs and sounded really great. They played anything from Guns ‘n’ Roses to Gangum Style to Lady Gaga. It was a nice note to leave Delhi on.

Finally, the time had come to go to the airport for our flight to Istanbul. While we were sad to be leaving India, Hari and all the amazing food, we were excited to be getting out of the heat. We were both looking forward to getting back on the bicycles. It was nice taking a break in India, but traveling by bus and train had really made us miss and appreciate transporting ourselves.

Hari arranged for a driver to pick us up at midnight. The driver tied down three of the boxes onto his roof rack with a very thin cord after jamming one in the back with me. I was sure I would hear our bikes crashing to the ground at some point during the ride. Luckily, everything made it in one piece.

IMG_4554

We had a little trouble checking in because our award ticket had us going through Moscow and France en route to Istanbul, Turkey. Apparently, this raised some sort of red flag and it took a supervisor an hour to get us checked in. Luckily, in the midst of the confusion, they accepted our request to check our bags all the way to Istanbul, even though we were going through so many countries and changing air carriers along the way. Once again we dodged some potentially high excess baggage fees. With everything figured out we were issued tickets. After a few hours of waiting around, we boarded our plane and I immediately fall asleep. Chan apparently tried to wake me up at one point when he notice the in flight map showed we were directly over Kabul, Afghanistan, but we were way up above the clouds and he couldn’t see anything on the ground so he let me dream away. I woke up an hour outside of Moscow.

We had our passports checked and our carry-ons re-scanned before actually being permitted into the Moscow airport. We were immediately in a cloud of smoke as the smoking area was a square of tape on the floor with a vacuum system attempting to suck the smoke out of the air. We found a café to wait out the few hours until our flight to Paris. We hadn’t done any research about exchange rates so even though there were prices on the menu we had no idea what a Ruble was worth. Later, we found out that we ended up spending over $30 on coffee and sandwiches, and chalked that one up to experience (Chandler proclaimed it the best coffee he’d had in 6 months, so maybe it was worth it). The plane took off and landed uneventfully in Paris and we started the whole process over again. Finally, at 7pm, we boarded our last flight of the day to Istanbul.

Russian smoking area

Russian smoking area

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The home of the Dalai Lama

May 12 – 19, 2013

We caught a train early the next morning to Pathankot. We ended up sitting on the train for an hour before it actually started moving. Chandler was getting really antsy but I just read my book and held a woman’s baby until we finally got going. Once in Pathankot, we walked to the bus station and got on a bus that someone motioned at said something that sounded sort of like Dharamsala. We had a moment of panic when Chandler turned on the GPS to make sure we were going the right way and found we were heading south. We decided to stay on the bus for a few anxious minutes before the bus turned back east, apparently making a roundabout circuit of Pathankot before heading to Daramasala. Once in Daramasala, we shared a taxi with two friendly guys from Wales about to head out on a 10 day trek in the mountains. They had been searching for decent hiking boots in town, but had come up empty and settled on heading out with canvas tennis shoes wrapped in tape. At the top of the hill we reached our destination, McLeod Ganj.

McLeod Ganj

McLeod Ganj

McLeod Ganj is the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. There were very few Indians around and most of the population was made up of Tibetan refugees. The town was set on a steep hillside with a few narrow busy lanes. The backdrop of a few 3000+ meter peaks made the place quite picturesque. There were so many shops full of jewelry, fake Tibetan wool blankets and prayer flags. The temperature was finally cool enough to need to carry a jacket during the day and actually wear one after the sun had set.

On our first day, we got invited by an employee of L.I.T. (Learning and Ideas for Tibetans) to volunteer for an English conversation hour with local people. We were both a little nervous to join the group, but felt welcomed the moment we walked in the room. We ended up returning every day that we were available. As English speakers, we were separated and non-English speakers would then form groups around us. The person leading the class then put three questions to be discussed up on a white board. After an hour of talking about the questions the students would then stand up and share an answer with the group. There was no pressure to talk and it was very fun for everyone. The questions were all really hard and thought provoking. The first day’s questions were about the best day of your life. We thought they couldn’t get harder after that, only to find the next day asking about the meaning of life.

There was broad spectrum of English ability and age in the groups, which made it fun to get to know each person in our group over the course of the hour. It was really interesting talking to the Tibetan refugees. Most of them had not seen their families since they escaped Tibet. When talking on the phone with relative in Tibet, they had to be careful about what they spoke of because the Chinese monitor their conversations. They all had so much hope for a free Tibet, but there was also a feeling of despair as their objective does not seem possible in the near future. All refugees also have the privilege of a meeting with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama when they first arrive to the area, and many shared this as the best day of their lived.

We went to a fundraiser for L.I.T. another night which included dinner and a talk from a Tibetan political prisoner. The man was arrested near his monastery in Tibet for distributing fliers which advocated allowing the Dalai Lama to return to Lhasa. He and his two friends were arrested and tortured. One of his friends was eventually murdered by the guards in prison. He spent a total of 5 years in jail before his release. He immediately escaped Tibet and made his way to Nepal and eventually to India. It was a sad situation he spoke of. The topics discussed were deeply personal and somewhat politically sensitive so we decided not to ask to take pictures of the talk or people we interacted with during the English conversation, so sorry to not have any compelling visuals.

One morning we spent circumambulating the main Tibetian temple. The road was lined with prayer flags and prayer wheels, and we made sure to put each one into rotation as we walked pass. We were joined by several elderly Buddhists also on their way to the temple. The temple is located right next to the Dalai Lama’s home, who just happened to the in the United States while we were there. Our walk ended at the temple, were a monks and locals were concentrated in prayer.

A monkey

A monkey

Prayer flags

Prayer flags

The largest of the prayer wheels

The largest of the prayer wheels

We spent another morning in a Buddhist philosophy class. A monk read scripture while a woman interrupted it into English. We learned about living life with patience and that the opposite of patience in anger. Even though we are not Buddhists, the teaching made a lot of sense for everyday life. We left feeling inspired to be more patient with each other. Who knows how long that will last!

I think the highlight of our time in McLeod Ganj came during our hike to Triund. The path started in town and began as a cobblestone path. There were frequent tea houses along the trail so hikers could stop and rest. The trail was well defined but really steep in several spots. We were passed by a pack of loaded donkeys at one point which I found surprising they were able to maintain balance on the rocks in some of the boulder fields. When we finally reached the top, we were offered a wonderful view of the town and some snow clad mountains. Chandler and I almost felt like we were at home.

Pack donkeys

Pack donkeys

There was a lodge at the top, but no vacancies, so we rented a tent and sleeping mats. Two young men struggled to set everything up for us as we relaxed and watched. It felt a little strange to have somebody else do the work that we could probably do in half the time. We enjoyed a dinner of rice, dal and chapatti at one of the tea houses and a bonfire with a dozen other people. Our group ended up exhausting the supply of firewood before being forced to bed. It was a great evening of socializing, surprisingly with a group almost entirely of other Americans.

The mountains at the top

The mountains at the top

Looks like a good spot to camp

Looks like a good spot to camp

The next morning we hiked down in half the time it took us to hike up. We had difficulty finding a hotel room for a decent price because there was a big Indian Primer League cricket tournament in Daramasala in a few days and the prices of accommodation had skyrocketed. We finally found something reasonable and decided that night to head back to Delhi a little ahead of schedule since we were getting kind of pinched out.

Amazing Amritsar

May 8 – 11, 2013

Chandler and I love overnight train rides for a number of reasons: the bunks are generally cleaner than the hotels we can afford, we get good food and we have a lot of time to read. On the two day train ride to Amritsar, Chandler and I were both able to get through two books, one of which was the same so we had a little book club chat over it.

We arrived in Amritsar in the evening and got a bicycle rickshaw to our hotel. I felt guilty asking the man to peddle Chandler, myself and our backpacks with a single speed bike the 4 miles to our hotel for less than one dollar. We hopped off once to walk up a big hill, but when we finally got there we gave the man a huge tip. We couldn’t help but be very impressed with his leg muscles.

Once at the hotel, we discovered that the screen to our computer had gotten smashed on the train somehow. After searching for the power cord so recently, Chandler was almost ready to throw the computer out the window. However, we found an internet café and looked up a computer repair shop nearby and researched a reasonable price for replacement screens. We went to bed, knowing what most of our day was going to be spent dealing with the computer.

The computer situation went really smoothly actually. We went to Sam’s Computer Shop where Sam the computer guy made a few calls and gave a quote within the price range we were willing to pay. He also promised he would have it done in two hours and would check to make sure nothing else went wrong.  We told him we were going to the border closing ceremony and promised to stay open until we got back. Sam also gave us a number of suggestions for good restaurants in the area. While in the area, we visited the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum. This was just a museum devoted to the local Maharajah which had a number of panoramas depicting various battles he was in and showing how he was a great guy.

Delicious meal

Delicious meal

The Maharajah

The Maharajah

After visiting Sam’s suggested restaurants, we caught a shared taxi to the Pakistan-Indian border.  Somehow the driver managed to fit 12 people into a regular sized SUV. Good thing there wasn’t much traffic on the road. The driver dropped us off a kilometer away from the border and we all went through the usual security measures of metal detector and a pat down. As tourists, we were allowed to sit in a special section while everyone else was divided into a men’s and women’s section.

Once most people were seated, a party erupted. Popular Bollywood music was played over a loudspeaker and the women moved into the road and began dancing and shouting out “Hindustan”. Eventually, an official looking man came out with the India flag which he passed off to a child. The child than ran the length of the road to the Pakistan-Indian border gates and waved the flag at the other side before returning to pass the flag off to the next person.  This occurred a number of times before two more flags were brought out some more people could have a turn.

Flag parade

Flag parade

At this point, we noticed that the Pakistani side was starting to fill up and they had begun to play music. People on that side of the border were also waving flags as someone banged on a drum. Finally, everyone was ushered back into their seats for the closing of the border. A trumpet was blown on each side and guards with big headdresses began goose stepping towards the gates. The gates were flung open as the guards on either side of the border met and made elaborate high kicks at each other. The gates were then slammed close, only to be opened again as the next guard approached. This process continued until most of the guards had had a turn, when men were positioned between the gates to take down the flags. The guards on either side of the border mirrored each other’s movements until the flags were lowered and the gates were slammed closed for the last time.

Pakistani and Indian guards

Pakistani and Indian guards

It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. Everyone was constantly clapping and shouting out for their country. Pakistan and India do not have the best relationship, but it nice to see them work together on obviously choreographed motions and good natured competition.

We returned to town in good spirits even though we were very crammed in our taxi. We got dropped off early to pick up our computer from Sam. He had it waiting for us good as new. We ended up chatting for several more minutes about Amritsar and our trip. We found out Sam is a host on couchsurfers, too bad we hadn’t looked into before we came to town.

The next day, we devoted to sleeping in and sightseeing. Amritsar is home to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the Sikh’s Golden Temple. After perusing the shops and not finding anything worth buying, we went to Jallianwala Bagh. In 1919, British soldier opened fire on 5000 Indians during a peaceful protest of the Rowlatt Act. The courtyard is walled on all sides, so there was nowhere to run or hide. Many people jumped into well, thinking they could hide there, only to be crushed by all the others also seeking refuge. A large monument has been erected in the center of the courtyard to the martyrs and there were several bullet holes visible in the walls. We try to research the significance of the areas that we are in, including reading books by famous authors and watching movies. I would highly suggest that everyone interested in a quick way to brush up on Indian history watch the film “Gandhi”. Watching the movie gave us a seed of knowledge about the life of Gandhi and the history of India during the independence movement.

Monument to the martyrs

Monument to the martyrs

Bullet holes

Bullet holes

Next, we went to the Golden temple, which was a much happier place. The Golden temple is the most holy place for people of the Sikh religion. The obvious difference between Hindus and Sikhs is that Sikhs wear turbans, usually have a beard and carry a knife (we saw a few guys with huge swords), while Hindus do not. The men and women do not cut their hair and the men do not shave their beards.

We started our tour of the temple with depositing our shoes in a locker and washing our feet. We then both adorned our heads with bandanas. Next, we headed over the Guru-Ka-Langar, the community dining area. We sat cross-legged on the floor in tight rows, knee to knee and were served rice, chapatti, dal and a vermicelli pudding with chai tea all on for free, served by volunteers. Hari told us that you will never see a Sikh begging, because they can always get food at a temple.

As it began to rain, we made our way to the central temple. We stopped to perform some seva or labor in exchange for our meal, which for us was drying metal dishes used for drinking water in a large trough of black sand. People seemed to get a kick out of two white people sitting amongst a bunch of Indian ladies rubbing metal bowls with sand and we got our photo taken a number of times.

Preforming a little seva

Preforming a little seva

Finally, we got in line to go into the Golden temple, located in the middle of a man made pond, or water tank as it was called. We were immediately befriended by two young men and an older gentleman. This worked to our advantage, as they took us up to the top floors and onto the roof of the temple, something we never would have had the nerve to do on our own. They were also able to translate some of the writing adorning the walls. After the main temple, we were led to a smaller building as priests were showing off the weapons of the former gurus.

Weapon of a former Guru

Weapon of a former Guru

Golden Temple

Golden Temple

Chandler and one of our guides for the evening

Chandler and one of our guides for the evening

We had a little trouble shaking the younger men off when we were finally ready to go back to the hotel. They wanted to know our Facebook pages, Skype usernames and any other information we were willing to give to them. They also wanted to take one thousand photos in multiple locations. It got a little weird in the end when we were finally saying goodbye. The kids knew that we are married by asked me to kiss him anyways. I laughed him off before Chandler and I ran off to the safety of our hotel.

From Pune to Mumbai

May 4 – 7, 2013

When we arrived in Pune in the late afternoon, we both wanted to leave immediately. The region around our hotel, across the street from the train station was busy, hot and filthy. We were unable to get Train tickets to Mumbai for a few days, so we were stuck. We spent most of our time either hidden away in our hotel room or searching for an internet cafe. We did sample a bottle or three of the local red wine and found it difficult to get out of bed the next day. We also experienced a peeping tom. I caught the grounds worker of our hotel peeking into our window at one point. Chandler went out to have a few words with him, to discover him waiting outside our door. The situation was extremely creepy, so we don’t have the warmest feelings towards the town and were all too happy to leave.

Local wine

Local wine

Mumbai, on the other hand, was delightful. Our hotel was in a beautiful area of town and we had an amazing view of the harbor from our room. We did the walking tour of local architecture advised in our guide book. The streets were mostly shaded from big leafy trees and there didn’t seem to be so many people around. No one hassled us and we found a great restaurant with the best chole batura!

Clock tower

Rajabai Clock tower

Great architecture

Great architecture

View from our hotel room

View from our hotel room

When we went back to our hotel during the heat of the day, we discovered that the power cord for our computer was dead. While we were in Delhi, our Nexus tablet stopped recognizing the charger, so we are currently down to one blog/internet device. Chandler opted to go search for a new power cord alone, as I am not the best companion when the heat with a mission. He eventually found a cord that worked with the computer after three attempts and almost 10 miles of walking. He celebrated his hard effort by watching a cricket game on TV.

We were out the door early the next morning to catch our train to Amritsar. We were finally headed North, hoping for cooler temperatures.

Dogs on a roof

Dogs on a hot tin roof

A day in Mysore

May 3, 2013

We got up at a decent hour to make the most of our one day in Mysore. After another breakfast of delicious dosas, we went to the market. We got there as people were setting up. This was good because most were too distracted to hassle us. There was a large vegetable and flower section, but otherwise all we really saw for sale were oils and dyes. The oils were used for making perfumes and a little too smelly for Chandler and I, but the dyes were in vibrant colors and could be used for clothing, body paint or writing. I couldn’t resist and ended up making a purchase.

Colorful dyes

Colorful dyes

Our next stop on the tour of Mysore was the Maharajah’s palace. Again, no photos were allowed inside which was really a shame. The building was fantastic, with tons of beautiful murals and architectural ornamentation. Our admission included an audio guide, which was actually really well done and informative. Hari and Venky’s grandfather was actually the court singer and their mother spent time in the palace as a child!

Mysore Palace

Mysore Palace

Delicious snack

Delicious snack

With the afternoon still ahead of us, Chandler skimmed the guidebook and suggested going to the zoo. We were both a little hesitant, considering some zoos seem more like prison cells for animals, but our fears were quickly dashed away. It was hard to pass up with a 40 rupee entrance fee ($0.80 or so).The Mysore zoo reminded me of the Denver zoo, with wide open spaces for the animals or cages large enough for even the biggest of birds to fly around in. We were only going to hang out for an hour or two, but enjoyed ourselves so much, we spent 4 hours strolling around. It was also a perfect opportunity to practice some “wild” life photography.

Chimp

Chimp

The gaur picked you a present

The gaur picked you a present

Tired Tiger

Tired Tiger

Zebra

Zebra

What balance

What balance

We had a little bit of time left before our train left, so we went to the rail museum. The guide book made it out to be some amazing free place worth spending hours and hours. We were ready to leave after an hour. There were a bunch of retired engines and cars on display. There was very little information on display, so we didn’t really understand the significance behind what we were seeing.  Either way, it was an ok way to waste time.

Choo choo Chan

Choo choo Chan

When we got to the station, we were disappointed to find that we had not been assigned seats and therefore were not going anywhere. Without internet, it was a challenge to figure out where we could go. The bored looking woman at the reservation window told us all trains today were completely booked everywhere. Incredulously, Chan asked if we could go anywhere? The reply was “all full, come tomorrow”, and his all time favorite dismissive hand-wave.  Luckily, the station had an electronic reservation checking machine and Chan was able to figure out that there were nearly a hundred empty seats on the train north to Pune, set to leave in a couple of hours. Armed with this information, Chan was able to get the reservation woman to bitterly toss us the paper forms to fill out in order to get tickets for the train. He asked her to use the pen sitting on her desk and she took it and hid it behind the shelf and said “no pen”, then waived him off. Despite all this, we managed to get train tickets and were actually going somewhere, which often felt like a major accomplishment while we were in India.

We weren’t upset about the change of plans as we figured we could jump from Pune to Mumbai which was a place we wanted to see anyways. As we waited for our train to arrive, a huge rainstorm hit. There was thunder and lightning, the wind was whipping trash all over the place. People were running around completely soaked. We were lucky to be on a mostly deserted platform and the tea stall employees while abandoning their shop offered us shelter in the train workers locker room. We huddled around on trunks with a few other people while rain poured in the tiny window near the ceiling. The power went out and we heard tiles being ripped off the roof of the main station, we all just laughed at the crazy experience. The storm let up after a while and we were able to go wait for our train without fear of drowning. When we finally boarded the train, we weren’t offered bedding as normal, because it had all gotten soaked on the platform. We managed to sleep well without it anyways as the train gently rocked us on our way north.

Elephants

May 2, 2013

After having just a tiny little chai with dinner, I couldn’t fall asleep due to the caffeine. Chandler woke up before the alarm and figured we might as well get up to ensure we had enough time for breakfast and to get to the nearby forest park early. Reluctantly, I dragged myself out of bed and preformed what needed to be done to get out the door. We went back to the same “hotel” restaurant as the previous night for idly.

We had no problem finding a rickshaw to take us to the park. It was 20km outside of town and the autos don’t go that fast, but we made it 30 minutes early. We weren’t really sure what to do after our driver dropped us off and just kind of wandered around for a little while. We had read in the guide book that there was a boat to ferry us across the river, but we saw others walking across the river on a natural rock bridge. Chandler confirmed that this is what we should do with some local river guides and across we headed.

Across the river and up a short hill, standing under a beautiful flower tree was an elephant. To our right were three adults and two babies, just milling around eating leaves. There were elephants everywhere we looked. The ones that were wandering around by themselves had chains around their feet to limit their movement, but the elephants with their mahouts, or elephant handler, had free range of motion. As soon as a few others made their way across the river, one of the mahouts brought over one of the babies for petting, feeding and photos. I had died and gone to elephant heaven. This little guy was so freaking cute.

Elephant

Elephant

After a while it was time for the bathing to begin. We followed several elephants down to the river. Mahouts across the world routinely use a bull hook for guiding the animals. This is a long stick with a sharp metal hook at the end. It can be used to gently guide the animal or for inflicting a lot of pain. We hadn’t seen anyone abusing the animals, but right when we go to the river one of the mahouts dug the bull hook into the forehead of his elephant to get the animal to back up. When the elephant was in position, the animal was commanded to lay down, which it did. As the elephant was laying in the water, the mahout began to violently beat its face with a stick until it mellowed out. Chandler and I started to leave. If that was how the animals were going to be treated, we wanted no part.

We waited around a few more minutes to watch some children begin to splash an elephant that had not been abused. The rest of the animals were guided to the water, given commands to lie down and not attacked with the sharp end of the bull hook or with sticks. Luckily, that was the only elephant that we saw getting mistreated and decided to stay and help scrub a few down. It seemed that the one abusive handler was just an impatient and callous person, as the others handlers were much more gentle and patient.

Our new pet

Our new pet

Chandler and friend

Chandler and friend

The care the rest of the mahouts gave their elephants was actually very encouraging. Their elephants were scrubbed clean with brushes from top to bottom, a few were given mini pedicures and serious tusk cleanings. We just helped out with splashing them down, a little scrubbing and lots of petting. The elephant’s skin was similar to rough elbow skin with very coarse hairs all over their bodies. They were quite intimidating when up close, especially when standing up and towering over us, but amazingly beautiful. I’ll take two.

Having a snack

Having a snack

The bathing ended after an hour and we decided to leave instead of taking part of the elephant rides offered. After the violent display earlier, we weren’t interested in a repeat and wanted to end on a high note. Back across the river we went and back to town. We caught an auto to a Tibetan refuge complex outside of town and visited the golden temple.

Candles

Candles

Inside the main temple

Inside the main temple

The temple was incredible and immediately brought us back to the Buddhist temples of Southeast Asia. There were many other tourists milling around and it was cool to see four of the major religions of the world, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, all enjoying the beautiful temple. We hung out for an hour, had an amazing tibetian/south Indian (strange combo, think momos and dosa) meal at a nearby restaurant and headed back to town to catch a bus to Mysore.

We took a local bus, which was hot and crowded but very budget friendly, so we didn’t mind it too much. When we got to town, we walked to the hotel the Lonely Planet recommended as being in our price range. When we inquired about the prices, we found they were almost double what was in the Lonely Planet. Chandler haggled as usual, but they only made a big show of knocking off the “taxes” which amounted to a 5% discount.  Frustrated we walked to the next hotel to find it also out of our price range. At that point a “friend” started following us around offering us a room for 600 rupees, a tour around town for 40 rupees and who knows what else. He was relentless and followed us for several blocks despite us completely ignoring him. His attention started gathering other people’s attention, who then also started to “help” us and we were getting more and more frustrated. Chan was on the brink of laying out the next person who called him “my friend”. Finally, we just jumped in an auto to get away from everyone and asked the driver to take us to the youth hostel which was outside of town. It turned out to be a very nice quiet area, full of boarding houses for local college students. The hostel itself was a bit militant with strict “no talking” rules and male/female segregation, but it felt very safe and was clean.

We found an internet café nearby and booked a train ticket back to Delhi for the next night. After another dinner of dosas and some nice hot showers, we spent the remainder of the night chatting (breaking the rules!!!) with other travelers staying at the hostel.

Hiking in Madikeri

April 30 – May 1, 2013

We had a peaceful night’s sleep on the train and woke up in Mangalore. The guide book said the town had some beaches, but we were more interested in hiking and headed straight for the bus station to get into the interior. We got seats on a local bus for Madikeri right as it was leaving. The local buses are extremely cheap, but not so comfortable. As we bounce along, sweating profusely without any fans, we stopped many times to drop off and pick up passengers. The ride ended up taking 3 hours, but we noticed the temperature dropping as we climb higher into the hills.

We found a hotel no problem and headed out to find a company to hire a guide. This is something Chandler and I would never do at any other time, but transportation, lunch and guide were all available for a very reasonable price. Plus, the trails around here the area aren’t not marked for tourist, so having a guide or the ability to ask for directions is necessary.

Back at our hotel, we washed up and hopped into bed to read for a bit. At about the same time, we both notice teeny, tiny red bugs crawling around which contain lots of blood when killed. Great, we’ve got bed bugs. At this point, we don’t think we can change hotels without losing what we already paid. We are not interested in just suffering through it and waking up covered in bites. As I pack up, Chandler goes downstairs to explain the situation. Thankfully, we are able to change to another room where we search the entire place for bugs before turning out the lights. Good thing we will not be staying another night.

We met the guide and ditched our belongings at the tour company early the next morning. The owner was a sweet old guy, who immediately locked up our gear for the day. We got on a local bus with our guide and headed out of town. At the end of the line, in the middle of nowhere, we got off the bus and began walking up a really steep hill. Soon the sun was blazing down on us and we were sweating. We passed by a number of tea plantations and some coffee plants scattered in the forest as we climb higher in the mountains. Finally, we entered the forest and were blessed with shade. Our guide pointed out cardamom plants and some lime trees.

Finally shade

Finally shade

Tea plantation

Tea plantation

Coffee berries

Coffee berries

The forest thinned out and the temperature became very comfortable as we reached the ridge. The air was thick with mist and we were unable to see much of a view, but it was still beautiful. We took a few minutes for a snack before continuing along the ridge. We continued to climb higher, seeing evidence of animals like wild boar and elephants. Our guide pointed out interesting features and edible plants, including what looked like white grapes but were very sour.  At one point, as we emerged from the trees we startled a wild boar, which immediately ran away from us. This animal was huge and we were happy its instinct was not to attack.

Almost to the top

Almost to the top

Misty path

Misty path

After reaching the summit, we took another short break and headed down for lunch. We wandered down the ridge and passed a few farms before arriving at someone’s home. A little lady came out and showed us to her kitchen. She served us rice with white bean gravy. It was simple but delicious. She kept trying to serve us more and more and more, we had to be a little forceful to make her understand that we were both stuffed full.

The remainder of the hike wound through a neighborhood. We stopped and smelled some blossoming coffee flowers which smelled amazing. At one point we came across a wedding and we were immediately invited to join the celebration. We were photographed with various people who handed us huge plates of food, even though we said we weren’t hungry. Our guide indicated that we needed to go, but gave us no help in how we could get out of eating the food. Eventually, we were able to get the point across and left. We arrived back in town a short while later. We had just enough time to give our guide a tip, collect our things and catch a bus to Kushalnagar. The town was a little weird, but we found a hotel no problem. The hotel was pretty creepy and dirty, but after a thorough search, we didn’t find a single bedbug. We had some dosa and chai at a nearby veg restaurant, had an ice cream and went to bed.