Snap shots from our travels in Uttarakhand

We went to Ramnagar because of the easy access to the Corbet National Park,  a large, beautiful wildlife preserve just a 15 minute drive from town. It’s home to well over 100 tigers plus deer, monkeys, bears and tons of different bird species. We stayed at two different hotels: first the waaay overpriced Hotel Corbett Kingdom (after the bus ride I wasn’t willing to be picky 😉 ) and then the much-more-fun Motel Corbett.

Hotel Corbett Kingdom

  • The hotel dining room was just bizarrely tacky, with very poor lighting, wonderfully hideous fake plants everywhere, a good sized, elaborate buffet set up but completely devoid of food, and a waiter who had no qualms telling us all the items on the menu that we couldn’t order (Me: I’d like palak paneer please. Waiter: No ma’am. Me: Okay, um, in that case, I’ll take alloo gobi. Waiter: No ma’am – and so on. 😉 )
  • The hotel was partially under construction and we woke in the morning to the sound of drills and hammers coming from the rooms down the hall. It was the weirdest sensation – the smell of wet paint in the air is the first thing since I’ve been in India that has strongly and viscerally reminded me of the west. Specifically, for some reason it made me think immediately of Manhattan?? Funny and very random! 🙂

Motel Corbett

  • Much cheaper than the first hotel, this place was lovely – set in a grove of mango trees, half the rooms were actually tents! There was a simple but great restaurant with some tables set out under the trees. As far as we could figure, there was an outdoor Tandoori oven – our first afternoon there we went out and there was a thick, fragrant layer of smoke hanging over the outdoor tables coming from a small building next to the kitchen. The food at this place was great!
  • Lovely was waking up in the tent in the pitch dark to go on safari the first morning. Just five minutes after my alarm had roused us, we heard the call to prayer start from first one, then two and three different mosques in the city. A sound both beautiful and somehow eerie, but I loved the thought of people so devoted to their beliefs that they would start their day at that dark hour giving time and attention to God. I have practiced yoga Sadhana that early in the day a few times in my life and it is incredible, to start the day with so much peace, intention and inspiration.
  • There were some lovely, sweet dogs living at the hotel including a couple of older puppies. One female dog, a mutt, spent some time following us around. She was different shades of brown and had the most beautiful, melt-your-heart golden eyes.

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Tents among the trees at Motel Corbett

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Yummy veg pakoras – just one of many delightful things eaten there

Corbett National Park

  • The subsequent safari was also great. The feeling of cold air on our faces as we drove in the open jeep into the park, the smell of green everywhere, the transition from grey morning to bright day – all that I just loved. It was incredible as well to see such clean streams and paths after all the gulleys and streets congested with trash everywhere else in India.
  • We didn’t see any tigers, but we did have some evidence of the big cats. Plenty of tracks along the water and at one point across a valley we could hear a peacock calling out in warning; our guide said that it was likely he had spotted a tiger. We did see three different types of deer, two species of monkeys (cool to see them in trees rather than ambling along rooftops in the cities), many different types of birds and tons of termite hills – apparently a favorite place for bears in the park to snack.
  • Along the jeep path there was evidence of many small fires – cold ashes and blackened rocks. The guide told me this is where the park rangers would stop and make their tea during their rounds.

Travel in Uttarakhand

  • The first bus driver was a young Sikh in jeans and an ancient wife beater. He was a stoic driver, calm and quite, intermittently chewing on tobacco and constantly skipping between tracks of incredibly loud Punjabi music blasting from the jerry-rigged speakers at the front of the bus (directly in front of us 😉 ).
  • We passed through numerous villages on the bus ride from Haridwar to Kashipur. Dirty, dusty and not always attractive were these places and the roads that connected them but the women were amazing, like exotic flowers in vibrantly colored saris and salwar kameez. The contrast was lovely to see.
  • At one point during the bus ride I looked down at the side of the road and saw the carcases of an adult and two young cows (perhaps buffalo?). They had been skinned completely so there was just flesh and bone. Strange, like cuts of meat at the grocery store only these were the entire animals. There were crows sitting on them, picking at the flesh. I’ve seen dead horses, dogs and pigs since being in India but they were just ‚standard’ road kill and I know that cows are sacred here… so I wonder what the story was with these cows.
  • From the train: Thousands upon thousands of dung patties laid out and stacked against each other to dry in the sun. They are used for fuel. Striking on some of them to see the hand print in the middle were they were last pressed into shape; some sort of anonymous signature.
  • From the train: First ever glimpses of water buffalo actually in water – it was a pond covered in green and they were in it up to their broad, black shoulders; you couldn’t see anything below because of the algae. Beautiful.
  • On the train: A man with a handgun and extra bullets in a holster on his belt (!!). His was the top bunk in the sleeper compartment across from us. He lay up there people watching for a while and I tried not to feel nervous about it. After a while he tired of lying in the small space; he climbed down and in body language asked if he could sit on my bench with me by the window. I smiled a welcome of course – you don’t say no to a man with a gun! 😉
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Me and Miss Swiss; reflections from Delhi

The breeze coming through the open window is cooler after the thunderstorm – the first we’ve experienced in Delhi. Although the daylight had been coming to an end anyhow, the darkness grew thicker and faster than normal and a breeze began to rise, stirring up the leaves on the trees and the dust in the street; from a distance the thunder began to grumble. I could hear and smell these things through the window’s screens in our cozy room. Now the wind and rain and hail have come and gone. The city’s dust and heat are tamped down for now and the darkness outside feels peaceful as I’m writing.

Tomorrow will mark my seventh week in India. Our little tour in Uttarakhand is feeling ages away. I’ve been basking in the comforts of Delhi. On this, my third visit, the city – or at least parts of it and certain aspects of it, are starting to feel more familiar. We are again tucked away in the generous hospitality of my friend’s family home in south Delhi. And, the biggest comfort of all: this time my friend Ritu is here. During our last stay, she was away on business. It’s feeling like heaven to have time with her. Beyond being an incredible boyfriend, Roman is also a great travel companion: relaxed, fun, supportive; he is my prince. But boyfriends are not the same thing as girlfriends and the company of a dear friend is simply irreplaceable. So it’s just great to see her and to have time to catch up; it’s helping me to relax and get more grounded on this trip.

Even nearly two months in, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to discover I’m still unravelling knots of past (and perhaps even more recent) stresses, still letting go of my corporate, ‘need-to-be-productive’ habits and easing into and discovering myself within this new lifestyle. Seems like there are layers of this stuff to move through and discard. For the most part, I’m able to maintain a sense of humor during the process, which is helpful. I was able to laugh at myself for the trip from Rishikesh to Ramnagar for example. The control freak (let’s call her Miss Swiss 😉 )in me was squirming like crazy at the prospect of such a loosely formulated journey.

The guy at the hotel in Rishikesh had been able to tell us in broken English that there were a couple of buses a day to Ramnagar from Haridwar, the next major town over from Rishikesh, but details such as when these buses might run, how long they’d take, etc. were not forthcoming. That was enough for Roman – I pretended it was enough for me too and watched little Miss Swiss inside me have a bit of a freak out. As a last ditch effort at organization, a.k.a. control, I started taking photos of the maps in the area so that we would have some sort of back up in case the whole direct bus thing ended up being just a myth.

We took a cab down to the bus station in Rishikesh and as luck would have it the man hanging outside of the first bus we came to was calling out ‘Hardwar! Haridwar’ (two equally recognized pronunciations for the place). We climbed right in – easy peasy – and the bus was off shortly there after. I was feeling pretty confident and started to relax, until I noticed that the bus was heading off on a completely different route than the bus that had brought us from Haridwar to Rishikesh a few days earlier. Last time we’d driven through small towns to get there. This time, we were seemingly driving through the middle of nowhere – skirting a river, moving across empty plains and wooded areas with not a person, dwelling or town in sight. What if we mis-heard the destination? What if we were on some sort of scam bus? What if we ended up in the middle of nowhere with no way back?? My inner control freak started spinning out of control. I did my best to bat back paranoia and enjoy the absolutely beautiful landscape that was rolling by outside the bus window and of course, eventually we arrived without incident at the center of Haridwar. Sit down Miss Swiss!

The bus station at Haridwar was awesomely obscure. I sat down with our luggage and diligently put Miss Swiss in the corner while Roman did the leg work of trying to find out what bus might get us to Ramnagar and at what time. Every single person he spoke to had a different answer for him. My map photos ended up coming in handy after all (score one for being paranoid! 😀 ) – the best information we received involved taking a bus to Kashipur and changing there for Ramnagar, and the map corroborated this logic. After waiting around for a couple of hours, we crammed our stuff and ourselves onto the most ergonomically awful seats ever invented and hunkered down for the six-hour ride, which, aside from resulting in two very numb derrieres, was very enjoyable between the incredibly loud Punjabi music the driver was playing and the striking scenery along the way. We were instructed to disembark in Kashipur; by this time night had fallen and so had Miss Swiss! Good thing too, because finding a bus in Kashipur was much dicier than in Haridwar.

Inquiries led to the discovery that there were no more scheduled buses at that time of the night. All we could do was stand along the side of the road leading to Ramnagar, wait for a bus to pass, and call out to the ticket collector to see if they happened to be heading in the right direction. This technique was explained to us (in even more broken English than the guy at the hotel) by a slightly tipsy, older gentleman who was apparently also waiting for a ride in to Ramnagar. Roman shared a cigarette with him and that was enough to cement a temporary friendship and even get me adopted as the guy’s new daughter! It took over an hour of standing by the side of the buggiest road I’ve ever encountered (this was one of the few in town with a proper lamp post, which attracted literally tens of thousands of harmless but very active bugs that kept landing and crawling all over us) until a bus arrived that would take us. With barely any space left, we perched on the metal mound housing the engine; I had to keep moving my knees so the bus driver had room enough to shift gears, and we barreled into the dark night (outside of town all street lights disappeared) for about an hour until we arrived in Ramnagar.

All in all, it was relatively straight forward – people were more or less happy to answer our questions – even when the answers were in Hindi or contradictory it was heartening to see how willing they were to help out complete strangers. And we didn’t end up having to spend a night sleeping in a bus depo or getting dropped off at a completely obscure, random destination in the middle of a desert, as Miss Swiss had been contemplating in the morning. In fact, we made it to Ramnagar in really good time, all things told. That being said, I was very happy to check into the very first hotel we found – and so was Miss Swiss! 😉

Pics from Uttarakhand

We spent a few days in Rishikesh, of Beatles/Maharishi fame

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Stalls outside a temple

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Building detail

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Cool cow graffiti

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Shadows at sunset

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View from the bridge

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Monkey sentinels on the bridge. Very cool – but after hearing stories from two people who had been bit by monkeys in India, it was a bit nerve wracking to pass within swiping distance of them. 😉

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Beautiful Ganges and mountains

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Cheeky monkeys trying to break into a temple

We left Rishikesh, traveling by bus from Haridwar to Kashipur, and from Kashipur on to our next destination, Ramnagar.

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Waiting in the bus station in Haridwar

The reason for going to Ramnagar was access to the Corbett National Park, a large reserve for tigers and many other animals. We didn’t see any tigers on our safari, but enjoyed it very much none the less. 🙂 Pics from the jeep safari:

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Spotted deer crossing the stream

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Spotted deer

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Crossing paths

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Termite hill against a tree. These hills were everywhere. Apparently they double as bear buffets.

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Safari elephant being taken for a breakfast walk

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Langur monkey

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Roadside shop in Ramnagar

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Marigold wreaths

Notes from Rishikesh

It’s our last night in Rishikesh. Tomorrow we will attempt to get to the Corbett National Park. I say attempt because we are assuming we will be able to get a bus there, but this is based on the fact that Lonely Planet mentions there is a bus connection from Haridwar (an hour’s bus ride from the main station in Rishikesh); the guy at the hotel said that there are no fixed times for this bus but it goes a few times a day. So, we’ll go to Haridwar tomorrow morning and see what we can figure out. 😉

The night train

I loved the mountains and landscape in Mcleod Ganj so much, and was eager to get back into a less urban setting and check out more of India’s outdoors. The state of Uttarakhand seemed to have a lot on offer in terms of amazing nature and I thought it might be neat to check out the yoga scene at Rishikesh. We arrived here by night train from Amritsar, travelling in AC3 class – basically the best class there is for over night travel in the standard trains.

The first night train experience during the group trip was a bit of a shocker – we’d had our expectations set for something à la the ‘Orient Express’ and had been imagining private cars, chic on-train dining, something pretty swanky. Instead we discovered that there was no dining car at all – just chai, soap and playing card wallahs who roamed the corridors between the bunks constantly hawking their wares. And during the ticket collection, the train official made us sign what was basically a waver saying that we understood the risks of train travel and the importance of keeping an eye on our things, etc. Very reassuring before settling down for a night’s sleep. 😉

In the end, the journey was just fine and actually lots of fun. Nevertheless, it was nice to see just how much more relaxed and easy it all felt this time around, now that I knew what to expect. (This time there was also no official giving us a warning about thieves) Like the bus ride to Amritsar, we arrived at our destination quicker than I could have imagined – and having gotten some solid hours of sleep to boot.  🙂

Rishikesh

Similar to Mcleod Ganj, Rishikesh has a good amount of Western tourists. This seems to have a bit of a demotivating effect on Roman, so we’ve had a pretty lazy stay here. It’s not as high up as Mcleod Ganj, but the hills and mountains are lovely. As is the Ganges, which is broad and fast moving here – we’ve seen white water rafting groups meandering down the river every day. And every night after sunset, this amazing, strong breeze kicks up that makes a gorgeous sound as it moves through the trees outside our hotel.

For me though, it doesn’t compare to the rugged mountain beauty of the area around Mcleod Ganj, and I found I haven’t had such a strong connection to the vibe of the town either.  It’s been cool to see all the Hindu temples and Ashrams, and we’ve had some nice walks in the area, but the best part for me has been enjoying the hotel, reconnecting to yoga and time with Roman.

Accommodation

We’re staying at the cheapest place so far; at R350 a night, our room at Bhandari Swiss Cottages is actually one of the more expensive ones on offer, because we are on a higher floor and have more of a view of the Ganges. For a true budget hotel, this place is pretty darn nice.

Room is a good size, simple but relatively clean. The bed is not super comfortable and could smell a bit better, but it could also be a lot worse. 🙂 Very few bugs and none that are too disturbing or invasive. This may be due to the fact that we have some gecko friends living in the room with us – very cute and very welcome if they are in fact eating bugs! 😀 Another one of those ‘the bathroom is also the shower’ deals, but this one comes equipped with a squeegee and while I have yet to perfect my technique, squeegee-ing the floor after showering is for some reason becoming a random thing I am loving about the India experience.

The outdoor café is a lovely bonus. The Indian food is the worst I have ever had (including outside of India), but they do killer muesli with yogurt and fruit, great fresh juices (lemon and mint is my favorite) and decent brown bread. Pretty good Nutella crepes as well! And it’s just a great setting to hang out in. All sorts of beautiful foliage growing all around, full of butterflies and birdsong. There are a few sweet dogs that I think belong to the hotel that hang out, you can see cows ambling down the street and today there was even a monkey having a snack in the woods by our table as we were having breakfast. (I love the monkeys! Although after having met two people since being in India who have been bitten by monkeys here, I’m also kind of scared of them. 😉 ) Eating our last dinner there this evening was fun; there must have been a festival going on in the town below because there was music floating up – male vocals and instrument accompaniment (maybe some sort of organ?). Not sure what sort of music it was or what the guy was singing about, but to our amusement, it sounded like an Indian take on the Macarena – pretty awesome mood music!

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Our room at Bhandari Swiss Cottage

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Gecko friend. 🙂

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The bathroom – check out the high tech plumbing on the sink – a tube leading to a drain in the floor. 😉

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Lovely muesli!

Nice things

I’ve been attending the hotel’s yoga classes as well. Taught by a young, nice Indian named Arvind; it’s different from the sort of yoga I usually practice. It’s a very simple class of pretty basic, classic asanas with more of a focus on stretching than strengthening – I haven’t even worked up a sweat once. But as always is the case when I come back to it, I am amazed and grateful at how good it feels to reconnect with my body, with my breath in that conscious way, with yoga. Even seeing how flighty my mind is during class – a clear sign that I am way out of practice – that bit of broader perspective that allows even that simple observation feels like such a relief. I love yoga! And will have to try to get a ‘home’ practice going from on the road.

I can feel that Roman and I are settling a bit more into this travel thing. I’m realizing that we’re still really at the beginning of this thing and still have a lot to figure out about traveling in general and traveling together specifically. He and I are still ‘arriving’ in some ways – still adjusting to the reality that we no longer live in Switzerland and that our time is really our own. I am still trying to get my head around what that really means. There is a bit of internal pressure about what we ‘should’ be doing, and sometimes I feel a bit restless, thinking that we should be doing more (more what, I don’t entirely know). So far I haven’t felt inspired towards volunteering, taking courses, etc. but I can see myself doing something more structured/active like that at some point.

But knowing how long we intend to be on the road, I’m happy that we are pacing ourselves and taking it easy right now. We talked about this a bit today. In general, Roman tends to be a more chilled out person than I am, so we’re trying to keep that in mind and intend to look for ways that I can be more active when I need to without necessarily being dependant on him (i.e. having to drag him along to stuff because of safety issues for a woman doing something on her own – we’ll have to see how this develops; perhaps we are being too paranoid and in a few weeks time we’ll have forgotten that this was ever something we considered). It’s feeling great that we are able to look at and talk about these things together – so far he is a really great travel partner and I love being able to explore not only a new country together but also new aspects of our relationship. 🙂