Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Daytrek to the Dhauladhar: Prelude to the Himalayas

My first taste of the Himalayas was, in fact, not in Nepal, where I am now. No, I saw my first snow-capped peaks in the Indian Himalayas—the Dhauladhar Mountains. And this was a good thing. It was some sort of a prelude for what was to be one of the most rewarding and most breathtaking experiences, literally and figuratively, of my travel life. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Dhauladhar Himalayas in Dharamsala, India

Let's begin with our accommodations in Dharamsala, where the Dhauladar Mountains can be viewed and accessed from. Our hotel on this leg of our Indian journey was one that was a above the Tibetan town center of McLeod Ganj. Technically, it was not even part of McLeod Ganj, but rather in a village above it. We can either get a cab to get to our hotel. Or walk up to it, an effort which took 30 minutes as the trail was all uphill. The first time we did walk the trail was at night, which I was not a fan of. Night-trekking, I mean. But again, that's alright. It was beneficial, in fact. It gave me a taste of what it was like trekking in the cold air of the Himalayas. Also, have I mentioned it was all uphill? It was.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: the Most Beautiful Plane Ride in the World

(Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves.For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the most beautiful plane ride in the world: one long uninterrupted wall of the snowy mountains of the Himalayas.)

View from the plane flying into Kathmandu, Nepal

It was to be the third country in my six-month backpacking adventure and I wanted to do everything right. I read in Lonely Planet that when flying in to the Nepali capital Kathmandu from Delhi, India, request a window seat on the left-hand side of the aircraft, which was precisely what I did. When I got to my seat, however, someone was already occupying it requesting that I transfer to his seat by the aisle. Normally, I’d concede. But not this time. Which is a good thing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had that shot. Or that experience for that matter. We flew right along the highest mountain range in the world and it was all we could see for most of the one and a half-hour flight. It was amazing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Keeping a Candle Burning for Tibet: the Norbulingka Institute

Preserving a culture's heritage is very important, especially now that the west seems to penetrate every modern city in the world. Preservation becomes even more important, I think, when the culture in question is exiled in another country. Fortunately, for the Tibetans exiled based in Dharamsala, India, they have the Norbulingka Institute.

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

The Norbulingka Institute, named after the Dalai Lama's summer palace back in Tibet, is a learning institution dedicated to Tibetan studies, which includes the preservation of Tibetan arts (painting, embroidery, literature, etc.). The institute also has two guesthouses, a cafe, shops and a temple which houses a 4-meter high gilded copper statue of Sakyamuni Buddha.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Finding Tibet in Dharamsala, India

“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”
~ His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

And so it was that we missed our train to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India. I was really looking forward to seeing a real desert town and from the pictures I have seen of Jaisalmer, the huge stone fort and the town that surrounds it, it looked straight out of the Arabian Nights. Like at any moment, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves would come storming over that mound of sand in the distance. But we all knew we had to let go of it. Something else was planned for us. We talked and hashed out a couple of places (Goa, Ladakh, etc.) until we agreed on Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India. The name alone sounded something else. And it was. I knew that it was a part of India that was completely different from the rest of it. I didn’t realize it until I got there.

McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Singapore Challenge Won

(Editor's Note: Post is in response to a challenge posed a few weeks back: The Singapore Challenge.)

We were sitting at the table inside this small kitchen with dirty white tiles, semi-new furniture, and a variety of food right in front of us. Our hosts, in true Filipino fashion, bent over backwards preparing and cooking just so they would have a nice meal to serve the new arrivals. It was our first time in Singapore and we were looking to make the most out of our four-day stay under a very limited budget. Almost inevitably, the conversation got to costs and how expensive things are in this city. So we asked, "What we can see in Singapore?" One of them, a Filipino-born Singapore-bred, replied, "This (pointing to our small kitchen) is Singapore. You want to see the rest, you pay."

At the back of my head, I knew he was right. But I was there to prove him wrong. And I did.

The total money I spent to get my *ss from Manila to Singapore and stay there for 4 nights and 3 days is:

7,626.38 PHP

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Jaisalmer Misfortune

Finally getting out of the city. Finally seeing a real desert, a bona fide sand dune for the first time. That’s because today, we are heading to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. But before all that begins, we needed to sort out all our other train bookings in India. Best to reserve them early as the Indian transpo system gets extra congested this Diwali season. So we thought, why not get our tickets at the New Delhi railway station today while we wait for our train to Jaisalmer. Not the best plan, looking back.

New Delhi Railway Station
By dlisbona | CC BY

We went to the New Delhi railway station at around 1 in the afternoon, four and a half hours before our scheduled departure. Seeing as we arrived pretty damn early, we went ahead and dropped by the foreign tourist ticketing office (second floor, Pahar Ganj side, New Delhi Railway Station). There was a long queue but hey, we had a few hours to spare.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Best Mystery Meat in Delhi

(Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features my first Anthony Bourdain moment on this trip: the Best Mystery Meat in Delhi.)

Karim's in Delhi, India