A Travellerspoint blog

Passage into India

According to my original itinerary, I should be in Africa somewhere watching a giraffe doing the Limbo. But things change in life. As Winston Churchill said, "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." I think I am on the path to perfection or a dead end, depending on how you look at it. So I am still traveling through Asia after eight months and my next stop is India. India was not part of my original itinerary (inching closer to perfection) but the more I heard about it, the more it attracted me. I realized that I was on the doorstep of the world's second most populus country and all I had to do was open the door. But it was a big intimidating door that housed one billion people, immense poverty, the hindu caste system, Ghandi, the beginning of Buddhism, and the Taj Mahal. But I was mesmerized by other traveler's experiences in India. In the same breath, they would utter the words "amazing", "life-changing", "horrible" and "rapacious." I had to see India for myself. With my things packed, a thousand pills of Imodium AD and a "Don't give up attitude" (and a credit card in case I wanted to leave immediately) I boarded my plane to India.

From the start, everything seemed to work out. On my flight to Delhi, I befriended a nice English-Thai couple who regarded India as their second home. We shared a taxi to the backpacker area of Pahar Graj. Pahar Graj is a maze of alleys filled with small shops, scooters, bikes, dogs, and cows. Walking through the main bazaar you are befriended by Indian merchants trying to sell you everything from underwear to India rugs. During the day I would explore different areas of Delhi and at night I would eat dinner with my friends, watch some cricket and chat about India.

Delhi is crowded. There are traffic jams, pollution, the relentless sound of horns and lots and lots of people. I spent a total of five days exploring the different areas of Delhi. I rode a bike rik-shaw through the narrow alleys of old Delhi to the Red Fort. I used the new subway system to jaunt around the city. I visited the numerous sites dedicated to Ghandi - a museum, his old house and the site where he was cremated. And like most developing Asian cities, the influence of the West is abound. In an area named Connaught Place, stores selling western brands like Nike and Rolex are the main retailers. A McDonald's and TGIF attract throngs of India consumers. Western companies are slowly establishing themselves in India. One of my favorite spots was a place called Jantar Mantar. It was built for astrological purposes. Amidst the hustle and flow of Delhi sits the salmon colored oblong structures that were built in 1700's. My last night in Delhi coincided with Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Everything was decorated in flowers and lights and the people lit fireworks throughout the night. It was a nice way to end my stay in Delhi as I headed to Dharmasala and the Himalayan mountains of the north.

Suggested Books:



India: An Area of Darkness - V.S. Naipal
India: A Wounded Civilization - V.S. Naipal
India: A Million Mutinies - V.S. Naipal
Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts


Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse
Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
Untouchable - Mulk Raj Anand

Posted by ejgalang 01:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

Nepal: Part 2 - Everest Base Camp and the places in between

Well since I was in Nepal, I decided to trek up to Everest Base Camp. As they say, when in Rome ... My trek totaled 16 days and it was both a fun and laborious experience. When the snow melted, I made it to Kala Pattar, a peak of 5,636m or 18,500 ft, I visited Everest Base Camp, I got stuck in a snow storm and I met a bunch of really cool people while drinking hot cocoa around a Yak shit fire.

On the peak of Kala Pattar I got a panoramic view of the numerous Himalayan peaks including the top of the world, Mount Everest. Even sitting at 5,636m we were dwarfed by the peaks around us. Mount Everest was still two vertical miles higher than us with an elevation of 8,850m or 29,035 ft. While I was at Everest Base Camp I talked with an American/Canadian expedition team who I later heard were skiing down Everest and I had tea with a Korea group climbing a peak next to Everest call Lhotse. When I was in Gorak Shep, a three guesthouse town and the jumping point to both Kala Pattar and Everest Base Camp, it snowed for 36 hours. When it stopped snowing, I built a snowman, I got into a snowball fight and we all got amazing views of the numerous Himalayan peaks. Along the way I met a lot of cool people. After a day of hiking, we wound have tea or hot chocolate, chat, play some chess and warm ourselves around a Yak shit fire, yes, Yak shit. There were no trees to burn so the locals used Yak shit as fuel. I would say that the Yak is what the Buffalo was to the American Indians, they use it for everything.

But the trek definitely pushed me both mentally and physically. On the second day of the trek, my guide and I ascended 1000 vertical meters or 3300 feet and the last 300 m were straight uphill. All this hiking while I was carrying my 14 kg or 30 lb backpack. On another day, my guide took to me to a peak at 5100m or 16,700 ft to acclimate. It was cold and while we were hiking, it rained, and then snowed. It was some miserable conditions. Also, the elevation puts a toll on your body. The elevations makes it harder to breath while we hiked and slept. One of my friend's could not sleep because when he laid down he had a hard time breathing. That being said, the trek was well worth doing and something I would do again.

In between and after my treks and rafting, I hung out in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Royal Chitwan National Park. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is crowded, noisy and dusty. In Thamel, the tourist area, there are a bevy of guesthouses, restaurants, and bars to satisfy anybody's needs. I visited a couple of temple and some of the sights but most of my time in Kathmandu was transitioning from one adventure to another.

From Kathmandu, I visited the town of Pokhara. Pokhara was a nice respite from the noise and crowds of Kathmandu. It is a small town adjacent to Lake Phewea Tal. While I was in Pokhara I kayaked on the lake, visited the numerous restaurants in town and took it easy.

Royal Chitwan National Park is a large wild life reserve southwest of Kathmandu. While I was there, I went on a jungle walk, saw a cultural show and went on a elephant safari. To summarize my jungle walk - it was two hours of walking through the jungle and getting attacked by leeches, tree branches, and razor sharp grass and not seeing a thing, good times. On the elephant safari I did see a rhino and a baby rhino which was cool but the elephant ride was pretty uncomfortable. The elephant ride was like riding a bike down some stairs for two hours. I am so done with elephant rides! My favorite part of my visit to Chitwan was seeing the Tharu cultural show. They did various ceremonies and dances which included drums, fire and a peacock.

I was in Nepal for nearly two months and it was hard to leave. If you like the outdoors, Nepal is the place to visit. There are a plethora of outdoor activities to suit anyone's needs. If you have a chance to visit Nepal, you should definitely go.

Posted by ejgalang 06:50 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Nepal: Part 1 - Langtang and the Sun Kosi River

For the fifth consecutive year, my friends, John and Parry, and I met in a country abroad. This year's destination was Nepal. Our trip to Nepal would be our longest and most adventurous trip. During our three weeks in Nepal, we trekked for 8 days through the Langtang National Park and rafted and camped alongside the the Sun Kosi rivers. During our adventures, we played cards, tossed the frisbee, dranks some beers, played more cards and just reminisced about the good `ole days.

The Langtang National Park is situated about 150 km north of Kathmandu. Langtang offered a great trekking environment and the allure of less tourists. We trekked for 8 days through Langtang. Unfortunately, for most of our trek it was cloudy and rainy. We were greeted with rain, more rain, leeches, and hills that would go up 400m and down 400m. Although the trekking was tiring, each day we seemed to be getting stronger and stronger and felt less tired. Finally, after four days of hiking, we made it to Kyanjin Gumpa with an elevation of 3870m or about 12,700 ft. For a couple of hours the clouds cleared and we caught glimpses of the peaks surrounding Kyanjim. While we were in Kyanjin Gompa, we met a South African who was training to climb a 8000m peak in Tibet. We would later meet up with him in Kathmandu where we played cards and enjoyed some "quiet" beers until 3 am. During our trek, the mountains were hidden behind the clouds. Finally, on our final day of the trek, the sky was clear and we got amazing views of the mountains.

After trekking, we went on a rafting trip down the Sun Kosi river. Over the next eight days we traveled 270 km down the Sun Kosi and we went through the gnarliest rapids I have ever seen. The Sun Kosi starts off with rapids of class I and class II and slowly works up to class V rapids. The class V rapids had names like Jaws, the Meatgrinder, Dead Man Eddy, to name a few. On our second day rafting we hit our first set of rapids. As we worked our way through the rapids, we hit a wave and Parry was promptly ejected from our raft and so was our rafting guide. After the rapids, we asked our guide the class of rapids; we surmised that they were maybe class III or IV rapids. Our rafting guide, chuckled and replied that those rapids were maybe class I or II. Oh boy! And just as advertised, the class V rapids were crazy. The waves were between 10-15 ft high and they would toss the raft around. My friends sat in the front of the raft and they squealed like pigs when we were in the rapids. Pretty comical but the class v's were a pure adrenline rush. The rapids were definitely not for the weak at heart, but they were festive! At night we camped on the side of the river, made camp, ate dinner, tossed the frisbee and talked about the days rapids and the upcoming rapids. It was a great trip. It was a good start to my time in Nepal.

Posted by ejgalang 05:11 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Singapore and the countries around it

After Sri Lanka, I spent time in Singapore hanging out with some friends and visiting some of the countries around it.

Singapore is a nice place to visit after backpacking through Asia. It is super clean, efficiently run and a master-planned community. Singapore reminds me of Irvine, California. I jokingly refer to Singapore as the Irvine of Asia or I guess you could say Irvine is the Singapore of Calfornia. There are a bazillion shopping malls and in June through July they have the great Singapore sale where every mall has a sale. But unlike other Asian countries it is pretty expensive to partake in the tasty beverages in Singapore. Beers usually cost around $10 Singapore or $6 US a pint and a glass of wine costs around $20 Singapore or $12 US. Not that I am an alcoholic but drinking in Singapore is a budget buster.

Just north of Singapore is Malaysia. I visited Malaysia twice while I was in Singapore. Just across the border from Singapore is Johor Bahru or JB. I only spent an afternoon in JB shopping. It is the equivalent of Californian's visiting Mexico for the afternoon. Only a six hour bus ride from Singapore is Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is home to one of the world`s tallest buildings, the Petronas tower. The towers are 1483 feet or 452m high. They are a magnificent work of art. Interesting enough, they really do not look that tall. I think it is because there are no other tall buildings around them.

Only an hour ferry ride away from Singapore is Bintan. Bintan is part of Indonesia and is a beach resort. I spent two days there hanging out with my friend and chilling on the beach (I guess what else is new). A cheap three hour plane ride from Singapore is Bali, also part of Indonesia. I stayed in Bali for a week and I had a great time. My friend and I stayed right near the beach and I surfed five out of the seven days I was there. Our hotel was in Legian which was just north of the city of Kuta. Kuta is the most well-known city in Bali. The city is very built up with a Hard Rock Cafe, Starbucks, and a KFC and it is home to numerous bars and clubs. Unfortunately, the past two Novembers Kuta has been hit by suicide bombers which Bali is still trying to recover from.

During my month in Singapore and the countries around it, I got to hang out with some friends, explore the numerous malls and sites, and just get ready to go back on the road again.

Posted by ejgalang 00:00 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Colombo and the Coasts of Sri Lanka

After volunteering for two weeks, I took some time to travel through Sri Lanka. First, I visited Colombo for four days then headed down the coast of Sri Lanka.

Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka. The city is crowded and traffic and pollution is a major problem. The taxi drivers were the craziest that I have used. My friends and I were nearly killed while riding in a local taxi. Other than the taxi drivers, my visit in Colombo was fun. I visited a local orphanage that my friend had worked at. We helped the kids draw pictures and I made them paper airplanes. I visited Galle Face Hotel which is one the oldest hotels in Asia and I shopped at Sri Lanka's only department store, Dell's. But like many places in the world, the local political situation has become increasing violent. In Sri Lanka, the relationship between the Tamil population and Sri Lanka government has slowly deteriorated. While I was in Colombo, there was a suicide bombing which killed the third highest ranking general in the Sri Lanka army. On the day of the general's funeral, there was a huge military presence in the city. On the street near my guesthouse, there were soldiers stationed every fifty meters armed with an automatic machine gun. A pretty crazy sight.

From Colombo, I headed south to Hikkaduwa. Hikkaduwa is located on the west coast of Sri Lanka and is a popular beach to visit and surf at. Unfortunately, I was unable to surf because of the monsoon season. But I spent my three days there checking out the many restaurants, reading and watching some of the World Cup matches.

From Hikaduwa, I took a tuk-tuk to Galle Fort. Galle Fort is an old Dutch fort built in the 1600's. The fort sits near the ocean and is surround by 10 meter high walls. I stayed in a local guesthouse which was owned by a jolly, white haired old man. For the two nights that I stayed at the guesthouse, we chatted and drank some of the local rum, anarak. I arrived on a Sunday and in the evening Sri Lanka families flew kites, played soccer and had picnics on the fort walls.

One of the last places that I visited before leaving Sri Lanka was Unawatuna. Unawatuna is a sleepy beach town with a plethora of restaurants, hotels and bars. It was a nice place to relax and just hang out. While I was there I hung out with a couple of people that I met, swam in the ocean and visited the many restaurants.

Sri Lanka was hit pretty hard by the 2004 Tsunami. During the bus ride south I saw numerous memorials for the victims and I saw the remnants of many washed out buildings. It is estimated that around 30,000 people died from the tsunami. Galle was one of the hardest hit cities. The tsunami wave was estimated to be over 10 meters high. On the train ride back to Colombo I saw a train that was wiped out by tsunami. It is an estimated that 1500 people were killed, many of them children. It was a very tragic event which the Sri Lankan people are still trying to recover from.

Posted by ejgalang 08:25 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

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