Sunday, April 30, 2017

India and Nepal. A Happy Return.

Hemis Festival.
(Photo by rajkumar1220. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license).

My first trip to India and Nepal was back in 2007.  I had signed up for a 10 day overland tour of Tibet.  The starting point was Kathmandu, Nepal.  In researching flight options to Kathmandu, I came across flights leaving from Delhi.  That got me thinking that I could tack on a few days at the front end of my trip to visit Delhi and of course, Agra.  I also added a couple of days to Kathmandu so I could explore the city both ahead and after the tour.

Standing next to the locomotive of the Darjeeling Toy Train just before going for a ride.  Hard to believe this was in 2010!

I've been back to India two times since 2007 - once in 2010 as part of an overland tour to Bhutan.  We visited Darjeeling, Kalimpong in West Bengal and Gangtok in Sikkim.  On that trip, I also made a side visit to Amritsar. Two years later I returned again but this time on a work assignment that took me to Kochi.  I got to spend some time in Mumbai, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, and Allepey.  In Kochi, I met with my colleague, Smitha who was on vacation with her family.  She's from a town near Kochi.   I was able to spend time with them at their home as well as take a day trip with them to Munnar.  It was a fun trip!

On the backwaters near Thiruvananthapuram in 2012.

There's so much to see in India that I've always known that I would be making multiple trips to cover it all.  In particular, Varanasi, Rajasthan and Gujarat had been high on my list.  I've also had the Hemis Festival on my India bucket list for quite some time.  My cousin Yim attended the festival in 2015 and had an amazing time!  She thoughtfully bought me a book that explains all about the festival and that has been sitting on top of my desk for the past two years - a constant reminder that I have to get to the festival myself.

I fell in love with Kathmandu the moment I stepped foot in Patan Durbar Square, the first place I visited in town.  Ever since then, I've always wanted to return to the city to spend more time there as well as in Nepal to visit other places.  With the city still recovering from the devastating earthquake in 2015, I don't know how much what I saw in 2007 remains standing today.

In Patan Durbar Square in 2007.  I looked so much younger :-(

I don' remember exactly how a discussion of going back to India came up but I think it revolved around the Hemis Festival.  I'm pretty certain I mentioned to my friend Chantale and she immediately expressed interest in going.  I can't tell you the number of people who express wanting to go on a trip with me so I dismissed her at first until the topic kept repeatedly coming up.  I also mentioned it to my friend Ayşe whom I traveled with several times before - to Mexico, Quebec City, Puerto Rico, Thailand and Myanmar.  She wanted to come along and I know her well enough by now to know when she's serious and she was.  So, I introduced Chantale and Ayşe to one another and we all get along - we're all very easy going.

I'm thrilled to be going back to Delhi, Agra and Kathmandu.  On the 2007 trip, I had my little Canon point and shoot camera and absolutely no idea how to take a decent photo.  This time, I go back with better equipment and far better photo taking skills.  I'm really going enjoy snapping away!  Chantale is the photo geek - the kind with multiple cameras, lenses and accessories.  I've already warned Ayşe that she will have to people wanting her to pose for photos!

   My photo of the Taj Mahal taken back in 2007.  I know I can take a better photo now.

It was months back that we agreed to do the trip and since then, I've been busy planning it.  Chantale is also the techno geek so we're collaborating via a document in Dropbox.  She's much more into helping out with the planning than any of my other travel partners so I don't mind using Dropbox.  Pretty much the exact same thing I have been doing all along using MS-Word but this time it's with an online tool.

I've gotten very good at trip planning so it's not longer as challenging a task as it used to be.  It was pretty easy coming up with the itinerary.  Initially, we would all be traveling together at the same time but since Chantale and I are both retired and Ayşe is still working, we have added days to our trip.  Ayşe will be along for the Delhi, Agra and Leh segments while Chantale and I have tacked on Jaipur and a week in Nepal to our itinerary.  Here's how the full trip lays out.


For Jaipur, Chantale and I will be staying in an Airbnb apartment and she has an acquaintance that has offered to show us around town. If that does not work out fully, we can easily get around on our own - plenty of rickshaw and Uber rides to be had.

For Delhi, all three of us will be staying in an Airbnb apartment.  I have booked us for a day of cooking classes and visiting markets, one day of conducted tour and then a free day to do whatever we want to and I have plenty of suggestions that will keep us busy.

I have hired a driver, guide, and car to take us from Delhi to Agra, take us around the sights in Agra and then return us to Delhi.  We'll be flying to and from Leh.

In Leh, we have a 10 day conducted tour that will include a two day trek which could be too challenging for several reasons so we may have to change the itinerary at the last minute.  Should not be any problem doing that.

We'll also be attending the Festival.  Chantale and I will be there for both days; Ayşe just for the first day.

Next, it will be onto Kathmandu where one of Chantale's friends is hosting our visit.  Our last three days in Nepal will be spent in Pokhara.
I just have a couple more small tasks to take care of and the trip will be finalized.  All we need to do is get our visas, money, pack and fly off!  Can't wait to land in India!