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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Final remarks about Nepal

Nepal was all we needed to recover from the stressful Indian experience.

First of all, I was able to breath again and stopped coughing. There's still a lot of traffic and some garbage and pollution in the big cities but nothing comparable to India. The landscapes are fantastic and the treks compensate the difficulties with the beauty surrounding them and with the casual meetings on the path and in the shelters.

The thing that impressed me the most was the hope in people's eyes! In India it seemed like people didn't dream, they had no hope in a better future. In Nepal, which is a much poorer country, you see people smiling all the time. Children also do some work, but you also see them playing around. Talking to locals gave us the impression that Nepalese really love their country and like receiving foreigners. It is not uncommon to find Nepalese trekking as well.

The worst things about the country are the roads, communications and lack of electric supply most of the day. Adding to this the social and political instability are present in the Nepalese daily life. Nepal is now a constitutional democracy. The former terrorists, the maoists won last year elections and are now ruling the country. There's a lot of hope in the new leaders, and the youngest seem to be the more enthusiastic. Communism really is quite attractive for a teenager (been there done that), lets just hope their revolution works and the worst of the communist regimes around the world doesn't get to Nepal... So far, according to our nepali friends from Kathmandu they are trying to exert more control on the society and some repressive measures in the name of morally acceptable conduct have been adopted. One example is the closing time for bars and clubs which is now 11.30 pmnow and there are rumours it can be even more restricted.

It was great to have met and lived with a Nepali family. We learned a lot about Nepal from them. They are quite progressist for the society they live in, furthermore, Seema is quite involved in the women's rights issues. We enjoyed a great night at their place drinking beer and discussing everything. It felt as if I was back home with my friends just sitting down and discussing the meaning of life! And the food they prepared for us was delicious! We got the recipe for the Dhal Bat and the pakoda. Lets hope I can find all the ingredients when i'm back and get a taste of Nepal at home.

Once again I followed my budget and spent 20 EUR/day. We ate well and partied a little and we slept in better places than in India (appart from the trekking week, but the shelters were very cheap).

I particularly enjoyed the Pokhara valley, the Hymalayas, the trekking and the company. Thanks for joining us girls :) Hope we'll meet again. I hope everything worked out fine in the end for you Kara. And to Sophie and Aurora, good luck for the rest of your trip.

And, finally, coming back? YES!!! This is one of the most beautiful countries I've visited and it's worth visiting it before massive tourism takes over and destroys its authenticity!

Kathmandu

Breakfast, saying goodbye to the girls, getting our laundry back, packing and finding a bus that would take us to Kathmandu, were our morning duties.

We took a small bus to Kathmandu. The seats seemed like they had made for dwarfs... Tiago had to keep his legs on the corridor and mine were on his place. I only cross my fingers for a nice road otherwise I'll get a lot of bruises on my knees.

Kathmandu
After a 6h journey we arrived in Kathmandu. Some years ago it was a mythic place for hippies. Now it's just as touristic as any other place.
We call Andre when when we arrive. His father works with Tiago's mother and he is living in Kathmandu with his girlfriend. We meet them an hour later in Old Banashwa, the part of town where they live. We all go for coffee together after we meet. They are both really nice and when me and Tiago say we have to go and look for a hotel, they invite us to stay with them.
Their place is 5 min away. Besides Andre and Seema, her sister Shandru and her boyfriend also live there, an indian guy who is working in Shandru's company, their brother and OD, the dog, who, to their surprise welcomes us as if we were part of the family.

We sat down talking a little and then went out to Club Insomnia where a friend of Seema is playing as a DJ which entitles us to a free entree. We don't stay long since everyone is tired but still laugh a little and dance at the sound of electro and techno music, which seem to be the music Nepalese appreciate the most.

After that we have three more days in Kathmandu. The only problem is, we don't feel like doing much... I guess we're still recovering from the trekking. And the traffic, noise, confusion and pollution almost make us feel like we're back in India. We visited the temple of the Three Goddesses, Durbar Square, wander around the narrow and crowded streets of Thamel, the tourist ghetto, went up to the Buddhist Stupa and I also went to Pachupatinah, a complex of Hindu temples and ruins of temples on the outskirts of the city close to the airport. It was before going to Pachupatinah that we accidentally meet up with, the girls! First Kara, and later that day with Sophie and Aurora. As they were going to Pachupatinah I decided to join them.
We visit the temple in a holy day for Hindus: Sheeva's day. There's thousands of Hindus that go there on pilgrimage. As we get there we start passing by several barriers and check points. Apparently tourists get a green card and can pass the crowds and move around almost freely. This makes me feel bad since that is not our party or celebration and we pass in front of devoted people that go there just for that occasion. As we move along the complex we see people dancing, singing, others are paying promises. It is also a free day for smoking pot. Specially Hindu priests smoke a lot. The worst part comes when we reach the crematorium. There's thousands pushing each other trying to pass through a narrow bridge. On the other side of the margin we are facing the cremation of people. The air smells like burned meet and I tell the others I don't want to stay there. Sophie leaves with me and since we lost the others we spend the rest of the day wandering around the complex, sitting with locals that are enjoying their drug free day and talking. It was quite a pleasant end of the day. To get back to town we had to make a detour because of the crowd and just followed a local who offered to help.

I go looking for Tiago who stayed at the hotel resting (we decided to spend one night in Thamel just see how it was like) and then we get ready for dinner with Andrew and Seema. We go to a really nice pizzeria in Thamel. We hang out together the rest of the evening, go out to club Maya and enjoy the happy hour which entitles to get 2 drinks for the price of one.

Our last day in Kathmandu was spent in Thamel in the morning, then we went to Seema's place where they prepared us lunch. We get really, really stuffed first with chicken pakoda and after that with the chili chicken rice. In the middle of the afternoon we say goodbye to the whole family. We felt really welcome there and really felt like we were part of the family.
We had dinner with the girls and said goodbye once again. Unfortunately Kara was robbed yesterday and besides being out of money is also out of passport. She has decided to go back home because the process of getting the temporary passport and visas takes around two weeks and the situation also made her loose all the motivation.

Problems at the airport
It was good we arrived at the airport 3h before the departure time. We paid the tourist tax and when we prepared to drop our bags they tell us they are not able to find our tickets. They find our names but not the ticket numbers which makes us confused and angry. After all we are used to showing only the passport when we check in... We go to the main office of the company, try to find the tickets in different ways, until Tiago remembers to check our old reservation, from when we were on the waiting list for this flight. The booking reference is not the same, and the old one happens to work and solves our problem... As we entered the duty free area we tried to spend the remaining rupees. This proved harder than one can think, as we didn't want food, and apart from that the options weren't many and the few available were quite expensive. In the end we spend them in sweets. The last thing was moving to the waiting room. While there we experienced a 30s blackout... Unthinkable! Finally right before we bordered the aircraft we were searched for the 4th time. Fantastic control they have here or just a way to entertain themselves......

Trekking in Nepal - up till the ABC

It's hard to express all the sensations felt during the 1 week trek we did to the Annapurna base camp (ABC). The landscapes are astonishing, which makes the effort more than rewarding. The climbing demanded a lot of physical and mental strength. The tea houses where we stayed are meant only to provide shelter to trekkers, and nothing else. The comfort stayed down at the Pokhara valley. I didn't have any problems going uphill, but downhill my knees and my right foot Aquiles ligament swelled, which made the return to Naya Pul feel almost like a nightmare! And up at the ABC I experienced some altitude related problems: lack of breath and high heart beat rate.

But it was more than rewarding, and all the difficulties faced are part of the experience of trekking. I'll now briefly summarize our journey.

Day 1 - Pokhara - Naya Pul - Ghandruk
We took the 7 am bus to Naya Pul where the trek is supposed to start. After 1.30 h driving through breathtaking mountains and valleys the bus suddenly stopped! The impossible had happened... We ran out of gas in the middle of no where. Nothing to do except wait 30 min for the next bus and transfer some diesel from it to ours in the old fashioned way: rubber tube, bucket and sucking... After that we continued our journey, until suddenly the ticket collector starts looking at me and looking nervous... He soon tells me we should exit in the next stop. As we leave the bus we decide to eat something before starting trekking. 10 min later a guy asks where we want to go. We answer ABC and he tells us we're in the wrong place... The bus guy had forgotten to warn us when we passed Naya Pul... So we take a shared taxi and 15 min later we are finally starting our trek!
On the way to the check point where we have to stamp our permits we pass by two Norwegian girls, their porter and their yoga teacher. A couple of days later we were trekking all together. In this first day there weren't many difficulties. The climbing to Ghandruk was long but not so hard. We arrived there around 4.30 found shelter at the Mountain Lodge (300 Rupees), which has an amazing view from its rooftop. Dinner, relaxing, preparing the next day and sleeping were our activities for the rest of the day.

Day 2 - Ghandruk - Banawa
This was probably the most complicated day. First a steep climbing till the top of Ghandruk, followed by a very steep downhill by sand treks mostly used my mules until Khimrong. From there a long 600 m ascent to Chomrong where I completely lost track of the others and had to wait for them for almost an hour. Kara decided to leave some of her stuff here because she was having some difficulties, specially when going downhill. It was here as well that Aurora's and Sophie's (the norwegian girls) porter felt sick, said he couldn't make it further and left. We would meet them later in the tea house where we decided to spend the night. After climbing up the mountain to Chomrong we had to climb it down, which is a really steep way, by huge steps until we reached the river. The final part of the day was another stip climb uphill until Banawa (lower Sinuwa). We stayed at the Sherpa Guesthouse for 200 rupees. Here we met Peter, an Anthropology professor in Seattle, and his son. The two norwegians and their yoga teacher joined us later. And a Canadian who is just wandering around looking at birds from Nepal was also at the table with us. We had a really interesting conversation during and after dinner.

Day 3 - Banawa - Deurali
15 km overall was the distance covered today. I started feeling the first altitude problems, but they disappeared after a rest. We climbed 1200 m today and are now at over 3000 m. Some snow also fell on the mountains surrounding us. We hope that won't force us to change our plans of reaching the ABC the next day. The temperature is really low and since we are weak and dehydrated we feel it even more. We have to ask the shelter guys to turn on the heater and end up sleeping in the dining room with all the other personnel, just because it's warmer there.

Day 4 - Deurali - ABC
The big day finally came. We will reach our objective today. First we need to reach the MBC (Machhapuchhre base camp) 500m higher than Deurali at 3720 m and then another 400 m ascension. All this in 3,5 km. The first part went fine and everyone reached the MBC with a nice face. The worst was climbing to the ABC. My muscles were asking me to stop most of the way. The air is quite rare, my heart is going quite fast. But as I felt that if stopped I wouldn't make it I just kept on going.
We are all exhausted but extremely happy when we reach the top, at 4130 m. Up there the mountains are beautiful and peaceful. There's some fog than soon changes to a ice and snow storm that forces us to stay in the dining room of the shelter most of the time. We occupy the time up there playing cards, talking, resting and reading. I let myself go with the poetry of Caeiro.

Day 5 - ABC - Barawa
The morning brings up a clear sky which allows us to truly appreciate the views the base camp has to offer. We are surrounded by mountains, white is the colour that covers everything. The temperature is still very low which prevents us from staying too long outside. Before joining the others for breakfast I still see an avalanche far away in one of the mountains.
We went down at a great pace. We covered in the first day downhill the same distance it took us two days uphill. This was when my old injuries decided it was time to add some suffering to the experience. At the end of the day i'm exhausted, in pain, but at least my breathing got back to normal as well as my heart rate.

Day 6 - Barawa - Kyumi
My first objective of the day, given the circumstances was just to be able to move. I have a lot difficulties going downhill but when climbing to Chomrong i'm able to make my ankle work decently again and get back to my normal pace. I catch up with the others in Chomrong, where Kara had left part of her cargo and just move on to my second objective of the day: the hot springs in Jhinu. Diving in the hot springs and just relaxing there for a couple of hours felt like the price for all the effort and energy spent in the last days. After two hours it's time to go. There are two plans now in the group: try to make it to Siauli Bazaar and from there take a taxi to Naya Pul and transport back to Pokhara; or staying another night on the treks. When we get to kyumi and the Bright Guest House it's almost impossible to proceed... The place is so beautiful, there's a special aura in the place. There's blooming flowers around the rooms, a quiet waterfall on the side of the complex that goes all the way down to the end of the valley, joining the freezing river that is inviting me for a dive, which I eventually go for.

Day 7 - Kyumi - Naya Pul - Pokhara
This is the last day. The first part is the most difficult up till Siauli Bazaar and from there it's just following the road to Naya Pul... The problem is, there's a lot of downhill, although not so steep, which makes my knee swell making me limp for the last 4 km. I arrived in Naya Pul exhausted and mentally down. But after resting some minutes the energy came back again. And of course, I was already imagining the warm shower that awaited me, clean clothes, shaving and a decent meal!
After doing all the things I had been so eager to do, it was time to do some laundry, return the rented stuff and rest. We met the rest of the group in the Love Kush restaurant, had an amazing dinner (after eating so many garlic soups because of the altitude, the pepper steak tasted like the best I ever had) and then went out partying. We tryed Club Amsterdam but the live band was too noisy, so we ended up in Club Paradiso, and we danced until they sent us away - the doors closed at 11.30 but party continued for another hour inside. We were so energetic that it really didn't look like we were tired and had walked over 80 km in the last week. In the end we plan on having breakfast the next morning to say goodbye. We probably won't see the girls again in the next few months and their company on the treks made the experience much more enjoyable than if it had been only the two of us.

Pokhara

The guy from the reception didn't wake us up, so we missed the taxi to Bhairawa, although Kara got to the reception on time... I suspect he arranged things with his uncle so that he would drive us to Pokhara by an alternative way. We have to take is offer and accept their deal: his uncle will try to drive us to Bhairawa, if we can't make it there or if buses are not going, he will drive us to Butwal for 2000 Rupees, Tansen for 5000 or Pokhara for 7000.

Halfway to Bhairawa he receives a phone call. There's a road block. He changes road and starts driving north to Butwal. The main road is also blocked so he goes through something I wouldn't call a road that ends up in a walking bridge. We put the side mirrors inwards and cross the bridge... I kind of freaked out a little!

In Butwal we try to withdraw some cash, but, since there's no power the ATMs are all down...

There's a road block about 500m from the place where we are. We ask him if we can cross it walking and since he said yes we ask him to drive us as close as possible to it. We pay, grab our stuff and walk normally through it. Everything went normal and after some meters we find a bus going to Tansen, which is on the way to Pokhara. We almost hop in, but another guy came saying that 5 min ahead there was a bus going to Pokhara. Finally things seem to start working out fine.

The Himalaya and Pokhara
As we take our seats on the bus we realize that a special passengers is going to make the trip in the best of the sits, the roof: a goat. Actually roof topping is a national hobby and there are always people sitting on the roof tops of buses, although it can be a dangerous "sport" due to the way bus drivers drive.
The beginning of our journey finally brings us the beautiful Himalayas. As we start ascending we start crossing beautiful valleys, amazing stepped fields that are as green as a cultured field can be, and rivers that run downhill on the opposite direction we are taking. The first hour is amazing, as Kara keeps saying. Then we kind of get tired or maybe just dizzy from all the curves, road bumps and the altitude. Or maybe we were saving ourselves for what was about to come. A bit before we started descending to Pokhara the ticket collector calls the roof toppers inside. We soon understand why... The driver then begins a crazy downhill race. We are jumping all over our seats, we get scared each time a curve comes and we see the abyss just there (sometimes with some crashed buses down on the valley some hundred meters bellow us). The goat, the only roof top survivor is screaming desperatly. This lasts for over an hour, and it's with great relieve that we reach Pokhara and leave the bus.

In Pokhara we take a public bus to the lakeside. I ask the driver to leave us in a place where it is easy to find cheap accommodation, and so he does.
We stay at the New Friendly Home, for 400 Rupees per night. On one side of the hotel we have the beautiful lake and on the other side the beautiful Himalayan mountains make us feel small.

We have dinner at the Love Kush, a bit more expensive than we're used to, but the personnel is so nice and the food so good that we don't really care and end up going there a few more times.

After a good night sleep we prepare for what brought us to Pokhara: trekking. I rent a down jacket and a pair of gloves. Next we bought the trekking permit - 2200 Rupees - and then it was mostly shopping and relaxing. Me and Kara spend the afternoon paddling in the lake. It's a beautiful place, quite relaxing. Pokhara is definitely the place to go and charge batteries before the trekking.

Lumbini



It's with a bit of relieve that we arrive in Nepal. We don't know exactly if the things we didn't like in India will still exist here but we really hope not!

Border crossing
We crossed the border in Sunauli, a dusty road with a constant movement of trucks where all the locals are wearing face masks to protect themselves from the polluted air. We buy the visa at the border for 25 US$. We planned on taking public transports to Lumbini but since we arrived after 5 pm that wasn't possible anymore. We were then approached by the shared taxis guys and ended up sharing a taxi with another portuguese couple, Bernardo and Mariana, from Porto, for 150 rupees each. After waiting for almost an hour under a cloud of dust we finally started our journey.

Lumbini
After some detours we finally arrived at our destination. It was already night and the street was dark and quiet. We stay in the 2nd hotel we visit (the first was really bad...) - Lumbini village lodge, 700 rupees for a double room. Only after checking in and resting for a while we realize what we are going to face for the next couple of weeks:
- electricity, there are only 8 h of power per day and the light periods aren't always at the same time
- communications, there is no roaming service with our providers in Nepal. And since there's hardly electricity the internet is down most of the time
- no electricity means no TV or other forms of entertainment. Everything closes at 10 pm or earlier, even the hotel reception and the restaurants
- hot water in a bucket delivered in your room on demand and loads of mosquitoes are minor worries
- and probably the worse part, Nepal is going through a lot of political changes, which results in a lot of social instability and, as result, strikes, demonstrations and, the worst for us, road blocks!

Stuck in Lumbini
The original plan was to visit Lumbini during the day and then take a night bus to Pokhara. Unfortunately there are road blocks due to politics and the buses are not going from Bhaurawa.

Lumbini is the birth place of the man that later became Buddha. The ruins of the temple, where the stone marking the birth place was found, are now UNESCOs world heritage. Surrounding the ruins there's a huge complex still under development where Buddhist communities from all over the world have built their temples. On the opposite side of the complex lies a huge piece pagoda.

We spent the day walking from temple to temple. We've visited most of them and when we're back in the starting point we are tired of Buddhist temples...

The rest of the day is spent reading, talking and trying to organize the next day. We agree with the hotel owner that he will call us at 5.30 am and we'll share a cab to Bhaurawa with two japanese.

After dinner in the great Three foxes 20 m away from our hotel (we ended up having all our meals there) we went back in the room and realized that none of us was sleepy... We decide to get a beer frrom the reception and play some cards. It's 9.30 pm and the hotel is already closed. There's no one in the reception and Tiago has to wake one of the small kids that works there to get a beer... As soon as we start playing cards we hear noise ib the upper floor. It's the portuguese couple. We join them in the upper terrace and spend the rest of the evening playing cards, drinking beer, talking about our trips (they were in Thailand last year so we asked for some advice) and laughing, under the light of candles, flash lights and of course the many stars of the clear nepalese sky. This lasts until 1:30, a more suitable time for a portuguese to go to bed :) .

Friday, February 27, 2009

Final remarks about India

India is a quite mysterious country, different from any place I've ever been to. It's an ancient civilization with loads and loads of history that 3 and half weeks just left me more curious about.

But India is not an easy place for a westerner. There's a lot of people everywhere. And a lot means really a lot! The streets are extremely dirty, the same streets that are shared by humans and animals during day and night - there are homeless people everywhere. Furthermore, the noise, garbage, pollution, traffic, mess, street sailors, taxis, rickshaws, beggars, etc, make it hard to be relaxed and enjoy the great things India has to offer. And, to finalize this paragraph, the notion of space - there's always room for one more - and the absence of rules, with the traffic rules being the first one notices, are things I cannot understand and get used to!

I particularly enjoyed Ellora and Ajanta, Goa, Udaipur and got quite curious about Delhi. If/when i'm back, I want to go back to Delhi, see what's missing in Rajasthan (and maybe go back to Udaipur), go back to Goa and most of all explore the South from which i've heard great things. I also enjoyed the sympathy of people (appart from Varanasi I felt welcome everywhere) and the food. We both left India without having experienced any stomach problems and had food in all kinds of places (we just avoided most street food).

On average, and subtracting some extra shopping I did in Agra, I spent on average 20 euros/day, which was the budget I had planned. If we had slept in the cheapest places and eaten on the streets this value could have been lowered to at least 15 euros/day.

Going back to India, yes or no? Definitely Yes, but with at least one week of vacation in the many great beaches (many still quite unexplored) that India has to offer.

Hong Kong

Arriving in Hong Kong immediately made us feel like we were back in the western world. Organization, decent transportation systems, cleanness and of course all the international food and shop chains.

We arrived early in the day and kind of woke up Adler, a former member of the Stockholm portuguese community. It was great meeting him again, specially because I am also going to miss his wedding later this year. We had to leave most of conversation for dinner since he had to go to work and we had to get some sleep.
Later in the day we went out for dinner in fantastic roof top Thai restaurant. The food was fantastic, not only for the food itself, but also because of the trays in which it was served: carved pieces of food like pumpkin, coconut and pineapple. Beautiful and tasty! After that we went to the bar district. Apparently there is also something to do in this city, 24h a day 7 days per week. We decided to go to some quieter places this time and leave the crowded places for another opportunity. So the perfect conditions were set for talking a lot and the night ended a bit later than we had planned!

Our plan for this part the trip was quite simple: first day rest and relax, second day visit Macau, third day shopping and resting and fourth day, sightseing, relaxing and partying!

Hong Kong is made up of a continental part and the islands (the original Hong Kong is an island with the same name). We stayed in the continental part in Hung Hom. Very close by we had the train/subway, ferry and bus that could take us to any part of the city. The skyscrapers are everywhere. It is a beautiful image and mysterious image to watch the skyscrapers covered in fog with the mountains on their background and in front of the waterfront.

The shopping day was spent in the shopping district of Chong Hom. Literally a whole neighborhood, where some streets are specialised in electronics, others in clothing... and there's also the womens market, where one can buy all sorts of imitations imaginable, from the latest models of Pumas, to the most expensive watches.

In our last day in Hong Kong we finally decided to do some sightseeing. But a small crisis of laziness made us take the tram up to Pick Hill, get a glimpse of the city from the highest point in the city and come back home to prepare for dinner. It is really beautiful the view from the Hill Top. Walking around the area is also supposed to be a good activity and relaxing but we weren't able to do it...
At night we had dinner in a small traditional chinese restaurant in the city center with Adler and Antje (his future wife). It was really nice, the food was great and we tried something new: donkey meat. After that we went out for some drinks. Me and Tiago stayed a bit longer than them and ended up the evening partying with two really nice and funny portuguese girls from Macau and their group of friends. What a coincidence meeting portuguese people in the only bar we decided to enter after we left Adler and Antje!

We didn't see much of the traditional Hong Kong. After a month and a half of sightseeing and rushing from one place to another I guess it was time to stop and relax and prepare for the first week in Thailand. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Hong Kong and will consider a future visit, maybe in a stop over to another country in the region.

Macao

We got up quite early and took the ferry in order to get to Macao around 10.30 am, where Ze Carlos, an old friend from Coimbra, living in Macao, is waiting for us.

As we arrive he takes us to the huge Macao tower where are introduced to the local delicacies (similar to some we have back home) and have the chance to drink an almost decent espresso! As he drives us through the city before dropping us to go to work, we get really impressed with the buildings from the casinos. The Grand Lisboa is by far the most impressive!

This former portuguese colony was the last province of the old empire to split appart (in 1999). It has now a similar autonomy as Hong Kong, a status which will last until 2049. But Macao is now most well known for its casinos. It is the biggest gambling place in the world, bigger than Vegas! The casinos are everywhere and later in the day we pass by some of the international groups that have been investing strongly in Macao.

We leave Ze in Radio Macao and start walking around the city. We enter the Grand Lisboa just to look how it looks like. It's huge and a really beautiful building. We then decide to start the cultural part of the day and walk towards the old town. As we get closer and closer the feeling of familiarity gets bigger and bigger. All the names (streets, shops, banks, etc) are written both in Portuguese and Mandarin, the side walks are built in the portuguese traditional way, some buildings hold the traditional blue tiles on their walls. And when we reach the "Largo do Senado" we are back home! We start taking the lonely planets walking tour, which takes to the Cathedral and as we are about to leave the downtown we spot a portuguese library and decide to enter. We spent too much time there (I bought a poems book from Torga, one of my favorite writers) and Ze calls us saying he is ready to pick us up for lunch.

He drives us to the islands, a beautiful journey through what, according to him, will soon become a natural protection area. Great news I think. In a territory with so much construction and hardly any green areas it's good to have a place where you can relax and enjoy nature. Our destination is Fernando, a typical portuguese restaurant, settled by the sea. I don't think a dish of grilled sardines ever felt this good. We've been hardly eating any fish in this trip. Mostly vegetables, some meat and sea food and some chicken. We keep on talking about Macau, present and the future during the meal. It's great to get an inside view of the political situation and of the daily life conditions.

In the afternoon we visit the Farol da Guia (the first Lighthouse of southeastern Asia) and the fort around it, and also the ruins of St Pauls Church and the Museum of Macao. Our pace is a bit slower than usual maybe because we are not used to this humidity conditions. After the museum we get back to downtown and meet Ze, this time for a walking tour over some of the city characteristic squares and streets. The mixture between the new and the old is constant in this city. We eat a fantastic dinner in Restaurante Litoral, which serves traditional food from Macao. We say goodbye to Ze and thank him for using his free time for touring us around the city and get back to Hong Kong. The next two days will be spent exploring it.

I felt great in Macao. I found the mixture between the chinese and portuguese cultures quite interesting. It's almost 450 years of common history that are present in the streets of Macao, as Macao was only a small fishermen's village when the portuguese arrived. Now it holds 500000 people, of which only around 2000 portuguese are left. It's location, just an hour boat from Hong Kong, makes it an interesting place to visit.

Varanasi

Again, we went on sleeper class which is like a jungle, where people just enter hoping that they get a seat without a ticket. A creepy old man with a filthy blanket and a filthy look and another guy were comfortably installed in our seats. As soon as the train left, we run them out of there so we finally could get our places. Next to us, 6 beds where 11 people tried to manage as they could...at 9h30, time supposed to arrive to Varanasi, we woke up to the sound of these annoying tea salesmen that get inside the train with their parrot voices waking up everyone screaming "CHAI, CHAI"... Anyway, we looked outside and we didn´t see anything that resembled a city... to our surprise, we stopped in a place that was still...5 hours away from Varanasi!!!...once again, the efficiency of the Indian train system...We arrived in Varanasi 6h late and we went to the customer office asking if there was any kind of compensation..."no, we don´t have that system here"...great!Varanasi is a sacred city for Hindus, bathed by the Ganges river and known for its ghats, basically staircases that go down to the river where people "wash" away their sins, and believe that filthy water is holy... There is a part of the city where no rickshaws or cars can go since the streets are really really narrow... our hotel was quite close to the river, and we took 10 minutes to reach it walking through these streets where we often found cows, goats, and of course, cow and goat shit...sometimes, human as well... we were quite concerned about leaving the hotel at night since there was no lights in those streets...We left the luggage in our hotel, Ganpati Guest House, went to the roof-top restaurant with a magnificent view over the Ganges to have lunch, and decided to take a walk while we still had natural light. One step out of the hotel and immediately a kid "offered" his services as a guide.. we decided to take it as the city seemed a bit confusing with all the confusing labyrintic streets.. he took us to a Kamasutra temple (Nepal Hindu temple), and then to a ghat where people are taken to be cremated and their ashes thrown to the "holy" river. There were a lot of people, cows, fires, an unpleaseant smell in the hair... we were approached by a man that immediately started explaining the procedure, and bla bla bla since we both disconnected due to his lousy english and his pushy approach... it is forbidden to take pictures in that site due to the respect for the dead...however, it captured our attention a white guy standing quite close to the fires with a huge camera without anyone telling him anything... apparently, that respect has a price in the form of a "donation"... so much for their credibility... we decided to leave and as we did it, the old guy started asking for a contribution for the old and poor people that cannot afford the wood where they will be burnt (yes, for each person 250Kg of wood is necessary for the cremation, where 1 Kg is worth 100 rupees). we said that if we would give anything we would decide and not him as he was asking a minimum of 750 rupees... we said no and we started walking away, while he began to insult us saying we were selfish and made him waste his time, and bla bla bla... when he saw we wouldn´t be back, he "threw" this"pearl" " If you come back, i will throw you to the fire"...Next day, 9th February, we started the day with a breakfast to the rays of light on the rooftop of our hotel. During that time, a girl who was seated next to us started talking to us about Nepal, as she was going there...since we were leaving the next day, and she planned to do the same, we proposed to go together. Her name was Kara, canadian 23years old, white skin painted with frackels, blonde-orange hair and blue eyes. We talked a bit and we decided to meet later on so we could go...We took a boat that would take us around the Ganges for one hour and see the several ghats. our boatsman was a little kid, a skinny 14 years old boy named Raol. He was very nice, we get along quite nicely with him, talking about his life, football, his friends, as he was also explaining several things we were seeing as we were asking him. at a certain point, we spotted Kara in one of the margins and we stopped a bit to chat, as she showed us a big hole filled of mud where 3 persons were collecting mud as if they were searching for something... apparently, there is a legend that says that a God let some golden amulet fall in there,and therefore the ritual...we left Raol with the promise of sending him a football ball, and we went to take care of other things, as ricardo wanted to send some package home...it was desperation in the post office, as we waited and waited, filled a form, then waited waited, weighed the packaged, waited waited for the guy to finish his lunch, weighed again the packaged, waited and waited... 2h and 30 minutes in total! we had 3 hours to visit Varanasi but the confusion that is that city didn´t really makes enthusiastic in doing so... we jumped on a rickshaw and went to take pictures of some temples that were not that impressive.

At 3h45 am we were up to meet Kara and go and take the bus that would drop us at the border with Nepal, a city called Sunauli. Again, the guide information was wrong and there were no buses before 7h30... we had heard about a train going to a city called Gorakphur, and that from there we could take a bus... that information was true and we jumped on the train... the trip was going to take 6 hours and it was one of these trains where... anyone could go (2nd class)... it was a struggle to get in and everyone wants to get a seat...we didnt take one! still, after 2h, we managed to be the 3 comfortably seated... during that trip, an indian guy starts talking to me, asking normal questions, nationality, where we were going bla bla bla...time passed as again he approched mer and asked to read my hand...HE claimed to have a PhD in Ancient civilizations, that palm reading was his hobby so he was not going to charge for the reading :P he started talking about the lines and mounts and then started reading it: that I had an artist hand, a very good hand, confident, logical intelligence, would have a wife and a lover, 2 kids, boys, and a lot of success after 30, was going to be a government official, live until 85, and that attracted women... of course we almost bursted into tears. To Kara, the reading was: she was a very emotional person, was going to be successful after 27, 4 kids, she was a person with high education, that she had 2 brothers (true) and was going to live until 90. Ricardo, emotional person, confident, with a lot of women, success in the business field, live until 80, artist hand, good hand..uhm... i wonder if all the hands tell the same thing...
We finally reached Gorakphur, had lunch and got into the bus to Sunauli... Nepal was getting closer!

Written by Tiago

Agra

We arrived in Agra by train from Delhi, around 9 in the morning after a "race" from New Delhi station to Old Delhi Station, on one of those funny vehicles called rickshaws.. in Agra, as usual, harassed by dozens of "horny" indians who wanted to rip us off in taking us to the Taj Mahal for 200 rupees when a few meters ahead there was a pre-paid counter saying 100 rupees for that trip... Since we were told the best view of the Taj was in the early morning and especially since it was Friday and the Taj is closed on Fridays (restoration day), we used that day to see what else Agra had to offer. There was the "baby" Taj, a few mausoleums and we ended up the morning having the first view of the Taj from the back, since the river now has very little water and we can come very close through the sand banks and take nice pictures. After lunch, we headed to Agra Fort, which is a huge building where we found a mix of sandstone structures and marble, which were added by Shah Jahan, the guy that order the Taj. The building is like a labyrinth, many rooms and passages and a very nice view over the river and the Taj. Ironically, Shah Jahan was later imprisoned by his son in the Agra Fort, from where he could see the beautiful masterpiece he had ordered. Later, on "advice" of our rickshaw driver, went to a typical marble factory, where we spent most of the afternoon listening a weasel marble salesman with his very "eloquent" english on how the Taj Mahak was built..it is in fact a very meticulous work, where the marble (white) is first dyed in a special ink so that the contrast is bigger. Then, drawings are made using different stones like tiger-eye, lapis-lazuli, shells, and each stone of the drawing is carefully shaped. After that, the marble is carved, the stone is glued with a special glue, then the marble is washed so that the contrastant dye is washed away, and the final piece is polished... of course we didn´t leave the shop withoutsouvenirs, which took us a considerable time to choose, bargain and pay...

Next day, like crazy tourists, we woke up at 6 am to go to the Taj. It was still dark when we arrived to the ticket office but we found an already considerable queue. Tickets for foreigners cost 750 rupees and included a bottle of water and shoe protection, while indian citizens pay...10 rupees! Of course, it didn´t open in time, but at 7a.m. and we had to first get through the control check where Joao was sent back because he was carrying a... battery charger... The first view of the Taj is truly spectacular...but disappointing at the same time due to the now increasing air pollution which fills the air with smog... At the same time, it borrows a sense of mystery to the structure... maybe because we heard so much about it, saw it in thousands of pictures and postcards, we were not so surprised...took some pictures, walked around... besides, we are not allowed to take pictures from the inside of the Taj, although indian people do it... maybe to scam foreigners so then we pay some huge fine... Historically, it took 22 years, 20000 slaves so that the Taj would be completed..beside, says the legend, their hands were cut off so that no one could be involved in the building of similar masterpiece...Our afternoon destination was a city called Fatehpur Sikri, a ghost city just for the reason it was abandoned after 14 years due to water shortage...however, since its a touristic destination, it´s no longer "ghost"... The most impressive in that was a little boy, in his 13 years old who was selling wood miniatures of chess and gammon, that could engage in an almost correct conversation in either italian or spanish...in the end, he "took" a pen for his effort!

-"-
Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal empire for just 14 years. As we arrive we face a huge street market, in the middle of the main road. There's loads and loads of people, so the concept of ghost city is a bit awkward... We walk uphill trying to ignore the guides who want to show us around. They are very pushy in this place according to the lonely planet guide. The mosque on the top of the hill - Jama Masjid - is an impressive structure. There's a huge staircase to access the main entrance. Inside, the same quietness feeling I always feel in mosques. They're quite harmonious structures. Me and Joao lost Tiago in the mosque. We still searched him for half an hour, but as we didn't see a sign of him we decided to move on and visit the old palace which is now part of the UNESCU world heritage sites. The palace is in fact a complex formed of many palaces. It's huge and each palace has it's own particular architectural details. We spent the rest of the free time we had wandering around the complex. Not many people were visiting it, so we finally got the feeling of being in a "ghost city". Around 3.30 pm we moved downhill and met Tiago waiting for the bus. The group was together again and it was now time to catch the bus back to Agra because Joao had to catch the 6 o'clock train to Delhi.

-"-

The trip back to Agra was supposed to be at 16h, since Joao had to take the train back to Delhi... however, we were soon told that contrary to what the guide said, there were no bus schedule from there to Agra... we waited and waited, Joao was getting desperate because time was passing by and we was almost sure to lose the train... we decided to take a rickshaw to the main road where a bus took us after 15 minutes...it was a race against time, with a horn-crazy driver, for 1h20m...as soon as we arrived (5m before the scheduled train departure time), Joao grabbed his suitcase, said goodbye, and went to the station... 10 minutes later, we got an sms saying that he was on the train and that he only had time to throw his bags and jump on it..fortunately, the train was delayed... Later that night we took the train that took us to Varanasi, our last stop in India before Nepal.

Text written by Tiago. Part written in Italic written by me.

Delhi and The Corbett National Park

The trip to Delhi was the best so far. A nice train, we took CC class (sitting in air conditioned). Besides being a quieter atmosphere and only people with a ticket being allowed on each coach, they served us food, 3 times! Well worth the money I must say.

We arrived at the New Delhi train station and were dealing with some rickshaw drivers and taxis to take us to the hotel we had booked when Tiago spotted a pre-paid rickshaw counter. In the end we managed to get a rickshaw drive for 3 times less then we would have paid if we hadn't taken a pre-paid rickshaw. After a 30 min drive around the dark and ugly streets of Old Delhi we managed to arrive to the hotel we had booked in the morning. It was quite close to the Jama Majid which is quite convenient given the short time we have to visit Delhi.

Once we enter the hotel New City Palace, we are informed that they do not have any rooms left. We reply with the booking we had made in the morning. They wake up the guy the supposedly had taken our reservation and the impossible had happened, they had lost our reservation and they didn't have any rooms left. We are offered a place in the mess with the personal. A place in the last floor, without any type of door, where a bunch of people are sleeping all together. We reject of course, they argue with each other in front of us, almost ignoring our presence, we still manage to ask them to try to go and find us a place to stay. In the end, I have to make a few phone calls to some of the lonely planet numbers I have and manage to find a room at 1 am in the Paharganj. We take the first rickshaw we find. It was interesting riding a rickshaw through the streets of Delhi with a drunk driver... The guys at the New city Guest house offer us a room that was not clean, we complain a little (although we knew we would have to take if they didn't have anything else) and in the end they manage to find us a clean room in a close by hotel. Time to rest and prepare for the next day.

Delhi
We decided to take a more relaxing day. After the previous day events and after the rhythm we had in Rajasthan we kind of needed it. We checked out from the hotel and went to Conaught Place, where Joao wanted to book his flight to the place where he is going to work. We ended up spending the rest of the morning and the beginning of the afternoon there. Since we hadn't heard anything from the agency we had contacted regarding the safari package at the Corbett National Park, we decided to call. The guy is in Delhi and wants to meet us so that we can pay a part of the safari in advance. It was nice conversation and me and him almost set up a travel business. Let's see if I want to focus my career in tourism!

Finally at 3 pm we manage to do something in Delhi. We rent a taxi to drive us around for the rest of the day. The driver is quite nice although he hardly speaks English. He drives us to the Gate of India, where we just take a few photos and later to the mausoleum of Humayun. We couldn't have chosen a better place to visit in Delhi. We are amazed with the beauty of the place and the peacefulness and quietness we find there. We wander around the complex until the sun almost sets.

After that there is not much time left to see anything in Delhi. The driver still drives us to the Rajhgath where Ghandi and some other important people were cremated, but it is already closed. All public places close at 5.30 pm. It's a pity because it looks like another quite nice place to spend some time.

We ask him to drop us at the station then, so that we can book some of the train tickets we need for the rest of the Indian journey. On the way to the old Delhi station we get a glimpse of the Red Fort. An astonishing monument, that we have to leave for another time.



Corbett National Park
We spent the night in the train to Ramnagar and after showering and relaxing a bit at the hotel (quite luxurious for the standards we got used to in the last few weeks) we were ready for the day.

The package we chose included, a 1h walking tour through the park and surroundings, 1 jeep safari and 1 elephant safari, among some other things. We chose to do the walk in the first morning, the jeep safari in the afternoon and the elephant safari the next morning.

We walked through the outskirts of the park, spotted a couple of deers, some birds, termites nests, and the local vegetation. We saw some tiger footprints, according to the guide they were fresh and he was not far away. We next went pass a local village and relaxed a little by the river. After this, time for lunch and to prepare for the jeep safari.

As we entered the limited access area of the Corbett National Park, one of the guards joins us in the jeep. It is mandatory apparently. As the journey starts he points out all the animals we see. It's amazing how easily he can spot some animals, like the lizard you can see on the picture, which would have gone unnoticed otherwise. We kind of got tired of seeing deers (different species) and monkeys. We saw a snake eagle, some birds and not much more, until suddenly Joao asks the driver to stop and drive backwards. He had spotted something. He uses the binoculars and screams "it's a tiger. He's looking at us". With all the excitement he is not able to explain us exactly what he is observing, so only later me and Tiago understood that we had also seen its head between the trees. Joao took a picture of it, but it was too far away, so it is quite hard to distinguish it from the vegetation. But the event brought some excitement to the afternoon and we leave the park happy and hoping that the next day in the elephant safari we will be able to see some more rare animals.

In the evening as we prepared to sleep, the bad news came. A tiger attack had happened and all elephants had been called by the guards to go catch the tiger. We went out to the reception and were told that the elephant safari we had planed will not happen and that we can take a different jeep safari instead. We don't feel like doing another jeep safari and tell them that. The only solution discussed they come up with is returning the safari money (2000 rupees). I don't think that's enough and decide that I'll speak to the guy from the agency the next morning. As we get back to bed, we hear gun shots quite close by.The shots continue as we fall asleep.

The morning after we got some more details about what happened. The tiger attacked a villager that was grabbing some wood. The attack occurred less than 1 Km from the hotel and...it was the same tiger whose trails we had been following the previous morning! They caught the tiger and will now send it whether to a different national park or to a zoo. I speak with the guy from the agency and the best he can do is offer himself to pay for the extra meals we were not told about when we bought the package. As for the rest of the day, well we spent it in the hotel, doing literally nothing...

Jaipur

The so called Pink city was our last stop in the Rajasthan. We had one day to visit the city and so decided to rent a rickshaw for the whole day to drive us to the biggest attractions.

Crazy Raja was our driver for the day. He told us all about his personal life and sex dreams during the day. The first stop of our trip was the monkey temple - Galta. The temple is located on the top of a hill, overlooking the city, a 10-15 min walk to the top. On the way up we are amused by the hyper active monkeys, that gave rise to the name monkey temple. On top of the hill we have a great view over the city. The temple itself is not that special (or maybe we've seen too many temples already!).

From there we moved to the water palace. We can only observe it from the distance. It's a beautiful palace located in the middle of a stinky lake. We don't know much about it, since it is not mentioned in the guide and Raja also doesn't know much about it. It was now time to visit a silk factory. That's what happens when they make cheap prices for guiding you during the day. They bring you to shops because they get a commission for taking you there and a percentage of the shopping you make. After the visit to the shop we tell him no more shops. I don't think he liked it, but we don't have time to loose and money to spend...

We finally came to the famous city palace. This palace and all the buildings that surround it are built with sandstone(or they're just painted in pink). It's a beautiful complex, the audioguide (included in the ticket) helps you get a global vision of the story of the maharajas. The collection of clothes and rifles presented during the tour and the sports stories could be a bit better and interesting, but it is enough to provide us with some insight of the Jaipur history. A climb to the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal gives us a closer vision of the pink city and surroundings. Our last stop for the day was in front of the impressive Hawa Mahal-Palace which we don't have much time to visit (and according to Raja it's not worth the visit).

It was then time to, once again, put "our home on our backs" and take the train to Delhi.

Jaipur is a nice city, but as any big Indian city it is too crowded and messy. One more day would have allowed us to see things more carefully but it wouldn't have added much to what we saw.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ajmer & Pushkar

Ajmer
We seem not to learn with mistakes and arrived to Ajmer early in the morning (3.30 am), sleepy and cold. We had nothing to do, and since it's a quite small train station we had to hang around the station with all the homeless and amusing ourselves with the people forcing their entrance into the trains.

When the darkness began to fade away, we headed on towards Ana Sagar, a lake north from the station. The 15 min walk in the cold and the 4 hours wait in the station to start actually doing some sightseeing were compensated by the fantastic scenery that we encountered once we reached the lake. Pink was the colour of the Snake Mountains as the sun rose in the horizon and the reflection of the mountains on the lake created a beautiful atmosphere. Around us there were a few dozens of people exercising, whether by running, doing yoga, meditation or even group laugh therapy.

As the city woke up, we went towards our next objective, which was the Old City and the Dargah,a Muslim pilgrimage site. I bought a hat to cover my head inside and went inside with Joao, while Tiago waited outside keeping an eye on our stuff. We had a guy that spontaneously offered himself to guide us through the temple. Of course in the end his objective was to ask us to make donation to the Trust they run at the temple. And of course our contribution was by far, lower than he wanted, but similar to the one most pilgrims offered. Inside the temple there is the Mausoleum where everyone is pushing each other in order to get as close as possible to it and pray and make the offerings they brought. The definition of sacred place is a bit different from mine, mostly due to the noise they make and the mess around it. I quickly step aside and look around the rest of the complex.

After giving Tiago some time to visit the place himself, we headed towards the ruins of the Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra mosque, which according to the legend was built in two and a half days. Although it is a bit degraded it is still a beautiful monument and a very peaceful place (reminds me of the mosques I visited in Istambul, many years ago). It must have been an impressing place.

After wandering around the centre in the search for the palace of Akbar (without much success) we went to the Red temple (Nasiyano temple) which we had already passed by in the morning on the way to the lake. This time we entered and were simply astonished with what we saw. In front of us there is a huge room with the representation of the Jain Universe in gold. We slowly move around the golden room, trying to get a full image of it through the dirty windows. After that we try to visit the rest of the temple, but they don't allow us, although our objective was just to take a decent picture of the red temple, which is impossible from the street (it's quite a beautiful structure all built in sandstone).

Pushkar
Ajmer is not a big city, we could have stayed a bit longer and walk uphill to the fort and get a nice view over the city, but instead we decided to spend our time and money in a bus drive to Pushkar, a sacred site in the Hindu mythology. After a quiet 30 min trip across the snake mountains, we arrived in Pushkar. According to the legend, lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower in the lake Pushkar and Pushkar floated to the surface. We walked towards the lake, and then around it, through hordes of shops selling the same things. We visited some of the ghats, the places where people dive in the lake in order to clear away their sins. Besides this, Pushkar is famous for homing one of the only Brahma temples in the world. I walk up the stairs and go around the temple watching people praying and making offerings to the gods. I don't find it such a special place, but the views over the city are pretty nice (it's a pitty cameras are forbidden inside).

Taking the bus back to Ajmer was quite an adventure. The first one was already full when we arrived. When the next one arrived we saw people throwing their bags inside, entering through the windows, pushing each other to enter the bus in first place. Well I can just say that I was one of the first to enter the bus and couldn't find a place to sit. As I found my place on the back of the bus, I started talking to one of my travel companions. He was an astrophysics teacher (or something similar). The conversation goes from the differences between our cultures, to understanding the meaning of life. Given the circumstances it was actually a quite enjoyable ride, mostly due to his company.

Departure to Jaipur
First thing to do after we got back to Ajmer, was finding a way to get out of there and preferably to Jaipur, the next place on our "race" through Rajasthan. We managed to find a tourist bus for 90 rupees which departed within an hour. Enough time to grab our stuff from the station, buy some food and get on the bus. The bus trip was a nightmare to me... I hate travelling by bus, and I get extremely annoyed when around me there are people making a lot of noise, smoking pot and the driver seems to be more interested with speed than with safety and comfort. The journey took around three hours, plus 45 min that the rickshaw took searching for our hotel. But these 45 min were well worth it. 1000 rupees divided by three, and by far the best place we got in whole trip till now - Hotel Atithi Palace. Cleaner and more comfortable for such a price is impossible in India (and by clean I mean almost like western standards!).



We all felt that Ajmer and Pushkar were a small delusion. Maybe the comments from other people that had been there and recommeded us not to miss them (specially Pushkar) created some false expectations. Ajmer has a few nice places, I liked it better than Pushkar. Pushkar is mostly a place to learn and observe a bit more of the Hindu culture and traditions.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Udaipur

The trip from Goa to Udaipur was another nightmare. All the trains were fully booked, so we had to try the buses again. We decided to try sleeper class from Goa to Mumbai. A huge mistake... Two people per tier, we were given a tier at the back of the bus, which on the one hand gave us more space, but on the other hand made us roll around and jump with every curve or road-bump the bus came across (and they're many, trust me...). After 12h where we experienced extreme heat, extreme cold, cigarette smoke, etc we arrived in Mumbai... First and only thing to do was buying a ticket to Udaipur. After 21h in a semi-sleeper bus, we finally arrived in Udaipur, completely exhausted and just walked towards the city centre searching for the hotel we had booked the day before.

Udaipur and a new member in the group


We stayed at The Lake View GuestHouse very close to the impressive Jagdish temple. The first thing to do was to climb all the way up to the roof top restaurant, which offered us an amazing view over the lake, the temple, the city palace and have something to eat.
In the afternoon and after a power nap a short journey exploring the city we met Joao. He had arrived the previous day in India and is going to work here for a couple of months, but before that, he decided to travel with us and have some company exploring this country.

The first group sightseeing experience was watching the sunset from the Monsoon Palace. A long journey in a rickshaw awaited us. The machine was too old, we were three plus the driver and... it felt like it was faster to climb on foot than on the rickshaw... Half-way the rickshaw had to stop in order to rest the engine. There was a lot of smoke coming out of it already. The driver tried to make it seem like all the rickshaws had to stop there but it really felt like his vehicle would explode if it didn't stop. When we finally arrived on top (some minutes after all the other vehicles that passed us on the way up) we could at last enjoy the beautiful view over the lake and the city. This vision just left me more eager to explore the city. As for the sun set, well, there was a cloud that almost ruined it, but in the end it cleared a little bit and we enjoyed another beautiful sunset...

Back to town, we booked the train tickets to Ajmer for the next day and had a surprise waiting for us from our rickshaw driver. To compensate for the lack of a radio he offered to sing. I'm not going to discuss his singing qualities, but it was a quite enjoyable journey we had before we paid him and left for dinner.

007 - Octopussy

The hotel roof top restaurant offered us a beautiful view over the city and the lake palaces. In addition, we had to watch the 007 - Octupussy, that was recorded in one of the lake Palace-hotels. We later realised that almost (if not all) all bars and restaurants show the movie between 7-9 pm 7 days per week!

City Palace and lake Pichola
The beautiful and huge complex of the city Palace was our first destination the next day. We spent the whole morning going around the palace and visiting the museum (which is not that special, but from where one gets great views over the lake and its palaces). After that we took the boat cruise around the lake until it dropped us at the Jagmandir island, where we wandered around the gardens and just relaxed before the boat took us back to the city.
There was not much left to see after that. We got lost in the narrow streets of the old city, shared the streets with cows, pigs, dogs and goats when we were trying to find some gardens that we never found until we finally decided to relax in a terrace before having dinner and getting our bags from the hotel and catch the night train to Ajmer.

The restaurant we had planned to have dinner on was closed so it was by chance that we ended up in Maxim rooftop restaurant. Besides the food, which was great (one of the best restaurants we went to in India for sure) we had a pretty good time with Elia, a basc girl who was travelling around India on her own.

Udaipur is quite an enjoyable city. I really enjoyed my stay there. It was a pity it was so short because there were some other things around the city that would have been worthwhile exploring.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pictures

I added some pics to the previous two posts. In Hong Kong I'll update the blog. Which means two weeks without any news. Sorry