Sunday, April 21, 2013

Leh Adventures in the Himalayas

I have left the hot deserts of Rajasthan and am now in the cold, arid desert of the Himalayas. Leh is located at around 11,000 ft near the border of India, and the surrounding mountains are up to around 19,000-20,000 ft. I've attached some photos of the first few days but don't have time to update much more, so enjoy! It's been great thus far and I'm having a wonderful time :)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Jaipur: The Pink City

Jaipur is located in Rajasthan, one of the northernmost states of India.  Rajasthan shares a border with Pakistan, but don't worry - it's apparently quite safe and it's beautiful! The state is known for its major cities all being built from different rock types, and therefore the houses are different colors. Jaipur, the capital city where Neil's family lives, is known as the Pink City.

Our first stop was at Amber Fort, which was massive and had a wonderful view of Jaipur.
Amber Fort
The King's Garden
View from the Fort
We then stopped by the City Palace and royal astrological observatory, where they have the world's largest sundial accurate within 15 seconds. Both sites were very impressive, especially the accuracy of all the astrological structures.
Kid running in front of the largest sundial in the world
This tells you the date (I think)
City palace (now you know why it's called the pink city)
Henna at the City Palace
 We stopped by the Jal Mahal, a sunken palace with 4 floors below the water line, but it's closed for private parties now so we couldn't go inside. Bummer! We did see an awesome wild boar outside with eyes that glowed like the fires of hell... I don't like boars very much.
Jal Mahar

Our last stop of the day (and my favorite) was the Monkey Temple east of the city.  It's very run-down and only maintained by private donations, but it still felt very lived-in and many men were taking religious baths (women aren't allowed, which was fine by me because the water was GROSS).  The water for all 3 pools is brought from the Ganges, about 300 km away, so it's holy... but also old and dirty.

Religious bracelets
And of course, Monkey Temple had - you guessed it - MONKEYS! I didn't realize monkeys are such good swimmers. They were cannon-balling into the pools and swimming!

Aggressive monkey - look at those guns! 
Taking a refreshing bath

People were standing around to watch the monkeys playing.  They were so darn cute!
There are cows all over the place. They walk around the cities, block traffic, stand in the islands between lanes, eat grass on the side of the road, and generally cause minor mayhem.  That always reminds me (in those rare moments when I forget), "Hey! You're in India!"

Now we're on to Udaipur for a brief visit to see the City of Lakes. Should be beautiful!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kerala and the Munnar Hill Station

My first few days in India have gone by in a blur of driving and site-seeing. The kayaking and elephants were amazing, and that was only the beginning!

We are currently staying in the Munnar region of Kerala at ~5,000-6,000 feet in altitude. The weather is very temperate here and cools down wonderfully at night; it's the first time I've used my sarong as a scarf since I bought it in October!  The hills are covered in "tea gardens" or tea farms and there are stunning views around every corner.

We started of the day at Fun Forest, where we could zipline and do some adventure ropes courses in the trees. The views were very beautiful, which made up for some mediocre ropes adventures.  It was still fun and safe, but not quite so exciting… very funny watching Neil try to balance though!
Spider monkey

Crossing the "Earthquake"
 We then drove to Top Station, which was 1.5 hours away and took us by a massive dam and some monkeys. BABY MONKEY!!

Curious monkey


Stopping at Echo Point (it works!)

On the way, we stopped at a tea garden and went for a quick hike, where we made friends with a cow that was roaming freely through the rows of tea plants.  It was odd but awesome.

Finally, we went to Top Station to see a view of the whole valley. Gorgeous! While there, a large family asked to take a photo with me (so Neil snapped a photo too) - I guess they don't see many foreigners in Kerala.  Also, the taxi driver told me I have a passing resemblance to a soap opera star here? Cool!

Now on to Jaipur to visit Neil's family and see the desert. More later!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hello India & Meeting Up with Old Friends

Yesterday I waved goodbye to Thailand and flew off into the sunrise to India, where Neil was waiting at the airport with a sign he wrote on his iPad. Adorable! On the plane, I met a girl from Seattle and we got to talking, so she came to the beach with us and we all had dinner together. I love making friends with new people!  

I'll be in India for 3 weeks. I'm planning to go to Kerala in the south, New Delhi, Rajasthan (where Neil's family is from), and possibly Leh in the Himalayas   We both REALLY want to go to Leh, which is consistently voted the most amazing and beautiful place in India by Indians and foreigners alike, but it's at 12,000 feet and goes up to 18,000 so we need a lot of time for acclimation and traveling between the lakes and hikes. We're right now working on logistics, so check back in the next few days for a more finalized update on our schedule.

Kerala is beautiful.  Very few people come here for tourism; foreigners tend to prefer Goa, which has better beaches but none of the mountains and forests like in Kerala.  Since I've been living on fairly beautiful (alright alright, they are completely stunning) beaches, we decided that Kerala had more variety and was a better fit.  Yesterday we went to the beach, ate some amazing Indian food, and drove part of the way to a hill station called Munnar.  
Kite flying at the beach
Kochi, one of the larger cities in Kerala, has eclectic historical influences
Fun fact: Vasco de Gama built this church and is buried there.
Today we spent 4 hours kayaking around the backwaters of Alleppey. We kayaked through tiny canals between rice paddies and saw people washing dishes, washing themselves, and fishing in the canals.  It was a bit shocking; they eat, bathe, and wash clothing from the same water, and believe me - that water is NOT clean.  The kayaks were a wonderful way to experience the canals and see how many Indians live, and kayaking is not a very popular attraction; most Indians prefer to take giant houseboats through the larger canals, and even foreigners prefer the houseboats or larger motorized boats.  That means that we went through canals where foreigners are rarely seen, and as a result there were a LOT of confused stares.

Of course one of the restaurants has a pet eagle?? 

We then stopped at a beautiful tea garden for lunch and to enjoy the views.

After a few more hours of driving, we went to an elephant camp where we rode an elephant through a spice garden, learning about the different spices that grow in Kerala and enjoying a great view! We also gave the elephants a bath - and they returned the favor. IT WAS AWESOME~!  I'm loving the native animals in Asia :)

Riding Camilla, our trusty steed
Ain't she a beaut?

Bina enjoyed her bath
I also enjoyed my bath!

Finally, we arrived at our hotel and are getting a good night's sleep before our adventures tomorrow. We're planning on a hike and some ziplining through the trees. Why not?