I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been heavily slacking on keeping this blog up-to-date. I’ve got two excuses for this and I hope they are sufficient. Firstly I can not describe how overwhelming the Indian subcontinent is. Just as a good Indian curry has an abundance of flavours, so does traveling in India offer you a never-ending array of powerful impressions. I went from the simmering heat of Goa’s beaches to the ski fields of Kashmir where we were overwhelmed by a snowstorm; I saw cathedrals in Old Goa, a giant mosque in Old Delhi and Hindu temples all along the road; I ate dosas, samosas, kachouris, pav bhujis and every other type of street food I could find till I started sweating and my nose started running; I slept in a mice-infested dharamsala in Mukundgargh, next to a bonfire on Gokarna beach, in the crowded train station of Vasco da Gama, in the palace of Mahansar that was slowly losing it’s glory; I spent some of the happiest days of my life with amazing friends, I was raging in anger when we almost got robbed, I was utterly humbled when the police had to come to my rescue, I almost lost my nerves with the never-ending stream of touts.
All along it has been a rollercoaster of emotions that normally would have inspired me to write a long-drawn blogpost as a way of reflecting and processing it all. However, there is a second excuse. I’ve spent the last six weeks in the company of some amazing people, with whom I had great conversations and who made this trip so much more enjoyable. First off there was my lovely sis who had sent herself as a christmas gift to Mumbai, after which we traveled together to the beaches of Goa and Gokarna while we did some ruins spotting in Hampi in between. Next up was Flavio, a great Swiss whom I had met in Nepal, with whom I met up in Udaipur. My dear friend Jeroen followed shortly after and together we cruised through the magnificent state of Rajasthan. Finally there was a top-level reunion with Travis, my American buddy from the Annapurna Circuit, in the snow of the Kashmiri mountains.
Let me warn you, India will give you an epic sensory overload and not every tourist coming here is as smitten with it as I am. When you hear all the horror stories, please take them with a grain of salt and assume things are only half so bad. The positive stories on the other hand can only partly describe how beautiful this country can be. The aspect I loved the most about India in the end was how it keeps surprising you. Time and time again I’ve run in to places and views that I had never imagined when I was thinking about India. It would be impossible to describe everything I’ve seen and done, but I’ll give you a hint by describing the emotions I have experienced.
First thing on my Indian agenda was a reunion with my lovely sister. Ever since we left the brother-sister fights of puberty behind, the two of us have been getting along great. After missing each other for nine months, the reunion at Mumbai airport was pretty emotional (there were some tears of joy involved). Then we set off on our big adventure together, a little anxious since we had never traveled together and I’d been going solo for the last couple of months. It couldn’t have gone better however. Wether we were just chilling on the beach or visiting temples in Hampi, every time we had a blast together.
Also: having a great lunch in Jodhpur with Jeroen, Flavio and Cristina; gazing at the stars in the freezing cold desert near Jaisalmer
The trip with my sis was not without any accidents however. On our trip to Goa the bus driver tried to steal her wallet (and thus also her passport, which would have ruined the trip for us). Long story told short: I put our backpacks upfront near the driver and just out of our sight (stupid me, I know), when we wanted to get it back the wallet was gone. There was no other explanation then having a malicious driver, who when confronted denied everything. After pleading him just “find” the passport and keep all the money turned out to be useless, we went for a more direct attack. While my sis was trying to convince him to give our stuff back, I stepped in front of the bus and tried to block it in true “Tiananmen protest” style. It worked slightly when we made him drive us to the local police station, where they were not particularly helpful. Making no progress, I asked to once more look through the driver’s cabin in a last desperate attempt for success. After thorough inspection I all of a sudden found a hidden hole below the carpet, where luckily enough I found everything back. And thus we were back to Joy.
Also: the police refusing to let us file a report afterwards; the constant flow of touts offering rickshaws, accommodation and hash
One evening in the beautiful surrounding of Hampi, we decided to climb up to a viewpoint. After seeing a glorious sunset, we headed back down again for dinner. Being slightly reckless I decided to skip on the flight of stairs going down and instead went down jumping from boulder to boulder. Pretty exciting, untill … I got stuck. With a vertical, flat rock behind me and three steep 20 metre drops on all other sides I had no way to go. While a group of inquisitive monkeys slowly came closer (for a second I was afraid I had invaded their territory), I finally managed to signal my sis and Daniel (Spaniard who had joined us) about my uncomfortable situation. After getting together a troop of local policemen and a sturdy rope, they came to my aid. By this time a crowd of people had gathered below and were watching my rescue.
Also: practicing yoga and realising I might be the least flexible person in the world; playing beach volley-ball and not being able to return any of the spikes by the impressively strong ladyboy of the other team (Thailand).
Exhaustion but loving it
I found out about snowboarding in India when I met Travis in Nepal. We decided to meet up for this once we both got there. After some logistic optimisation work we both arrived in Kashmir. First off, forget all the prejudices you might have about the insecure situation this close to the Pakistani border. The area is wonderful, people are super nice and there is so much to do I’ll definitely come back (driving a motorcycle over the world’s highest motor road pass towards the Buddhist monasteries of Ladakh has gotten high up on my bucket list). After spending a freezing cold night on a living boat in Srinagar, we set off for the ski resort of Gulmarg. Famous for its backcountry skiing and abundance of powder snow, we found ourselves among a nice mix of skibums spending the winter there and backpackers who found out about this skiers’ dream location on the road. I spent four days carving my way along steep slopes, through narrow gulleys trying to avoid the rocks that sometimes peeked out. Compared to Europe’s perfectly groomed slopes, this was true adventure and I have never enjoyed snowboarding that much. At night we’d be tired, but a great cup of Kashmire kava would send us to sweet dreams in our stove heated room.
Also: crossing a shoulder-high sea to reach our remote beachshack in Goa every night; hiking with our heavy backpacks from haveli to haveli in Shekhawati; taking night trains across the subcontinent in the sleepers compartment; riding our camels and trying to forget the horrible saddle pains.
I’ve seen some great beaches on this trip, but for me nothing compares to Gokarna and it’s three lovely strips of sand: Om, Half Moon and Paradise beach. Heavily recommended by fellow travellers, we decided to change our plans and spent some time in this town just two hours south of Goa. Arriving in the middle of the night wasn’t the greatest starting point, but we set up a campfire with some companions on the beach and awaited sunrise. At that moment we saw the true beauty of Om beach. A long semi-circle beach with tons of palm trees waving towards a cristal blue sea and hardly any buildings to be seen. Each morning we’d set out on a short hike along the coast to one of the several beaches and just relax while enjoying the sun, the sea and the great indian food.
Also: sunset over the blue city of Jodhpur; sunrise, sunset and once more sunset over the impressive Taj Mahal; picnicking on the walls of the old fort of Chittaugargh.
India for me was about going to unexpected places and traveling with great people. To realize how amazing this has been for me, I just have to think about how sad I was every time I had to leave a person or place behind. All my fellow travellers were just amazing: Ruth, Jeroen, Flavio, Travis, Daniel, … and so many more. I’m utterly determined to see all of them again, which might be easier in same cases than others. India itself was just as brilliant: I hated leaving the relaxed beaches of Gokarna and Goa, I wished to stay longer among the rocks and ruins of Hampi, I hoped to continue visiting palaces and forts in Rajasthan, I could have continued gazing at the Taj Mahal, I would never grow tired of having more curries, naan, parathas and samosas… There is still so much left to discover and so many places to visit again, that I’m surely coming back. But for now I felt sad leaving it all behind.
Meanwhile I’ve started the last days of my amazing trip here on Koh Tao, surrounded by once again great friends I’m trying to enjoy every last bit of it as much as possible.
Take care and hope to see you all soon,