Friday, June 30, 2017

A Mountain Pass And a Couple of Avalanches.

Back at Nyamgal Guesthouse, we said our goodbye's to Tsering and wished her much success in finishing up with her college degree.  We then rushed back to our rooms and quickly repacked our back packs.  Of course, Chantale....with all her gear, had the most stuff to pack up but in no time, we were ready to hit the road with Dorje.

For the Kids.

We awoke this morning to the news that heavy snowfall had fallen over night in the area around Khardung La Pass.  For safety reasons, the road was closed.  Dorje was in contact with the office as well as several of his fellow drivers.  At best, we could begin to make our way back around noon so for now, we were stuck in Sumur.  Not idea but nothing anyone can do so we just had to be patient.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nubra Valley. Lunch in Sumur & Samstaling Monastery.

With young boys (monks perhaps?) at Samstaling Monastery.

Technically speaking the Nubra Valley actually comprises two valleys: Nubra and Shyok, each sharing the name of the river that flows through the valley.  Hundur and Diskit Monastery are in the Shyok Valley. The two valleys and the two rivers join in the region’s heart near Diskit before flowing westwards into Pakistan to eventually join the mighty Indus.

Nubra Valley. Panamik Springs and Yarab Tso.

At Yarab Tso.

From riding bactrian camels our trip through the Nubra Valley took us to a hot spring and a lake. But first, we had to get there. More dreary views of sand that is already gray in color.  I was trying to stay positive but seriously, it's just gloomy here today.  I really want the sun!

Nubra Valley. On The Backs of Camels.

After breakfast at the Hotel Snow Leopard, in Hundur, we packed up our bags and met back up with Dorje.  He looked well rested which is good though since we're staying in the Nubra Valley for a second day, it will be easier crazy mountain passes!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nubra Valley. DIskit Monastery.

After arriving in the Nubra Valley and having a quick lunch, Dorje took us to Diskit Monastery.  Founded in the 14th century by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism, it is the oldest and largest monastery in the Nubra Valley.  It also happens to be where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be coming to in the next few days.  He will be arriving into Ladakh tomorrow for a one month stay.

The Nubra Valley Via Khardung La Pass

At Khardung La, one of the world's highest motorable mountain passes at an elevation of 5,359 meters (17,582 feet). Not easy to breathe!!

Today was the start of another road trip.  We brought our suitcases from the room and handed them over to the front desk guys who took them back into storage.

Although Dorje had given us enough time for breakfast, we quickly downed it and were ready to hit the road bright and early at 8am.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Road Trip Back to Leh. Likir Monastery.

We reached Likir Monastery shortly after 1p; it was barely a 20 minute drive from Saspol village.  By now I've realized just how much there is to see, in terms of monasteries, on the relatively short stretch of road between Leh and Lamayuru.  Aside from the Indian tourists that have ventured into this region, it is predominantly if not wholly occupied by Tibetans.  My friend Shaz told me that Ladakh would remind me more of Tibet than India and indeed it does.

Road Trip Back to Leh. Village Unknown.

Door leading to Saspol Caves. That tiny blue dot in the middle of the picture is Chantale's hat.  Dorje is standing next to her.

From Rizong Monastery, Dorje took us to a place that I can only describe as a teeny, weeny, itsy, bitsy village in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  The ride to the village took us through more of the spectacular landscape of Ladakh.  For Dorje, this is every day scenery.  For me, it's special and so my eyes don't leave it unless they have to.

Road Trip Back to Leh. Rizong Monastery.

Like yesterday, today was another day of destinations unknown meaning we had no clue where we were going until we got there.  Typically, I have the day's itinerary fully mapped out in my head....bit of a control freak.  So, I've had to let go a bit and in many ways, it's been fun traveling without a clue as our day is filled with surprises.  So far, they have all been good! 

Road Trip Back to Leh. Temple Unknown.

Dorje was waiting for us as we opened the front gates to the Moonland Hotel.  Today is another road trip day and by the end, we would be back in Leh.  That meant, we would essentially be driving back on the Srinagar-Leh Highway.  When asked, Dorje indicated we would be seeing....get ready for it....more monasteries today! I'm guessing we missed a few yesterday.

With the Monks and Nuns at Lamayuru.

We woke up with the chickens this morning.  Okay, maybe not that early but it was early.  6a to be exact.  Last night, we had agreed to get up early and head back to Lamayuru.   On our visit there yesterday afternoon, we bumped into the yogi who invited us to come back today for meditation services.  Of course, we jumped at the opportunity.  Not to mention that the temples were closed to visitors yesterday as we had arrived too late so it was a good chance to see a few today as well.  That was the plan for this morning.

Monday, June 26, 2017

First Views of Lamayuru Monastery.

It was about 5:30p when we left our hotel to head out to check out Lamayuru Monastery.  I had tried to Google for the monastery visiting hours but the speed of the link was so slow (too many people using it), I could not pull up the information which I just found on line.

On The Road to Lamayuru. Lunch and Alchi Monastery.

Our next destination unknown on today's roadtrip to Lamayuru was the small village of Alchi where we had lunch.  It's also home to a monastery by the same name.  More of pretty Ladakh scenery along the way.  This has been such a refreshing change of view from the chaotic and congested cities we've spend the past two weeks in.

On The Road to Lamayuru. Basgo Monastery.

Leaving Phyang Monastery behind, we continued our road trip.  At this point, I realize that the itinerary that I had gotten from Stanzin was not as detailed as I ordinarily would expect to receive.  Lucky for him, I am a go with the flow kind of girl who has a very open mind about travel.  Whatever place we were going to next was in the hands of Dorje, our driver.  Even if he had told me the name of the place, I would not have had a clue about what it was as I only researched the main destination points so I knew about Lamayuru but nothing between Leh and Lamayuru. 

On The Road to Lamayuru. Phyang Monastery.

It was an early wake up call this morning.  When I was reviewing the itinerary, I knew we would be seeing Lamayuru Monastery today but for some reason, I never checked to see its distance from Leh so I didn't realize that it was not in easy driving distance of Leh.  We would actually spend the night in Lamayuru village.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Greetings from Leh!

We're finally in Ladakh and for the past few hours, I have enjoyed some wonderful cool air and the girls are discovering a very different side of India.  I had told them to (virtually) close their eyes when they left Delhi and then to open them when we arrived into Leh.  They will feel like they traveled to another's that different here.  I don't think they believed me at first but they do now!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Back in Delhi.

Hard to believe that our visit to the Taj Mahal is over.  Although we had seen it twice at sunset and once at sunrise, all from the vantage point of the Yamuna River, nothing compared to seeing it upclose as we did this morning.  I always say it's a place that you have to visit in your lifetime.  For me, I've been lucky to see it twice and maybe fate will bring me back yet another time.

The One And Only.

I don't know that any of the three of us slept well last night.  I know I was too excited for today because I was up before the alarm went off and it went off 3:30a early.  Saeed and Dinesh would be picking us up at 4:14a.  I had told the girls we wanted to be the first in line to get into the Taj Mahal and there was no objection.  So we hustled and by the time we closed the front door of the Aman Homestay behind us,  Saeed was there waiting.  Dinesh was parked nearby.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sunset Views of the Taj Mahal.

THE Taj Mahal at sunset. Not a bad way to end the day, not a bad way at all.  This morning, Chantale had asked Saeed if we could return to the Yamuna view point for a sun set view of the Taj so that's we headed to after visiting the Baby Taj, which so beautiful, I can understand it's comparison to the Taj Mahal which was built later.

A Daughter's Homage. The Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah aka the Baby Taj.

The Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah is a Mughal mausoleum that is commonly called "Baby Tāj" as it is often regarded as a draft of the Tāj Mahal.  I will just call it Baby Taj - easier to type out 😁

Akbar's Resting Place. Sikandra.

We kicked off the afternoon with a visit to Sikandra, the resting spot of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. I had also visited this site on my 2007 visit to Agra.  After visiting Fathepur Sikri yesterday afternoon and Agra Fort this morning and feeling like we had been shortchanged because parts of both sites were closed for renovations, I had low expectations for Sikandra.  In the end, it was exactly the opposite!  I actually saw more of Sikandra on this visit than in 2007 so I left very happy today!

Where Mughal Emperors Called Home. Agra Fort.

From Jama Masjid, we wound our way, through the chaotic streets of Agra, to Agra Fort.  I was lucky to have visited in 2007 and was very much looking forward to returning.  Sadly though, I'm quickly learning that one of the downsides to traveling during the low tourist season is that this is also the time when landmarks like Agra Fort are being renovated.  Makes sense to do this when fewer tourists are around but for us tourists, it means that we don't get to see the entire site.  Such was the case today.  Still, it was nice to be able to revisit this place which is one of my favorite tourist sites in India.

Agra. Jama Masjid.

Today is the Friday before the last day of Ramadan which ends at sunset tomorrow. Up until she arrived into India, Ayşe had been fasting. I think she had hoped to continue while she was in India but that was just not practical especially considering that on her first day here she spent a good part of the day in a cooking class.  But it was close enough to the end of Ramadan that she felt okay not continuing with the fasting.

A Most Memorable Way to Begin a Day!

It was an early wake up call this morning. I was the first one out of bed followed by Chantale. I had to rustle Ayşe out of her deep sleep. I thought she had slept well but apparently, it was a very restless night for her so poor thing, she woke up tired. I know she'll push through but I know she will crash one of these nights.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ending Our Day With a Magnificent View.

Saeed was hustling us to leave Fatehpur Sikri and it wasn't until I arrived our destination, Mehtab Bagh that I understood why. Mehtab Bagh are the Mughal era gardens that are situated right across the river from the Taj Mahal. People come here for the view of the magnificent landmark.

Akbar's City. Fatehpur Sikri.

On my 2007 trip to Agra, one of the places I fell in love with was Fatehpur Sikri.  On that day, it was blisteringly hot.  I remember having to dart from one place to another, on my tip toes, to avoid having to fully plant my feet down on the super hot stone pavement.  I had warned the girls that we might have to do the same today.    I came to Fathepur Sikri after I had been to the Taj Mahal and Red Fort and the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri could not have been more different and yet just as beautiful in its own way.  I had a really good guide that day.   I remember him explaining to me about how the emperor had built palaces for each of his three wives, reflecting their religious backgrounds - Hindu, Islam, and Christian.  I remember him taking me to Diwan-i-Khas and pointing out the massive center pillar.  I remember paying my respects at the mosque.  I had high hopes that the girls would have a similar if not better experience but sadly it did not turn out that way.

On Our Way to Agra!

I'm back in Agra!  I always had a feeling I would come back to this city.  I was also here in 2007 and of course, it was all about visiting the Taj Mahal.  Back in those days, I never really did much pre-trip research so I had little idea about what to see or do in any of the places I visited.  I was pretty much focused on hitting items that most travelers have on their bucket list.  Of course, for Agra, there's only one highlight and that is THE Taj Mahal.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Not Just a Minaret. Qutb Minar.

Today is our last day in Delhi as we travel to Agra tomorrow.  When I came and left Delhi in 2007, it was a bittersweet departure as I didn't know if I would ever be back.  Then I returned in 2012 and again was sad to leave thinking it would be my last time here.  Now, I am back and again, I get to return to seeing the sights I saw in 2007 but with the eyes of a seasoned traveler.   And....there will be more return trips in the future.  I love this city too much to stay away for too long.  Not to mention that I have barely scratched the surface of all there is to experience here.

Happy International Yoga Day!

We woke up this morning to discover was a special day in India.  Who knew there's such a thing as International Yoga Day but apparently there is.

Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word ‘yoga’ derives from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolizing the union of body and consciousness.  Today it is practiced in various forms around the world and continues to grow in popularity.   Recognizing its universal appeal, on December 11 2014, the United Nations proclaimed June 21 as the International Day of Yoga by resolution 69/131.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That.

The Lotus Temple.

We ended our first day of sightseeing Delhi with no sightseeing.  It did start with lunch though.  Our guide wanted to know what kind of food we wanted to eat and of course, we told him Indian.

Mughal Beauty. Humayun's Tomb.

This afternoon,we got to visit one of my favorite places in Delhi - Humayun's Tomb.  I will never forget my first impressions of this place.  Even though I had yet to stand before the incomparable Taj Mahal, this place evoked images of that grand mausoleum.

Paying Our Respects to Gandhi. Raj Ghat.

After spending much of the morning in Old Delhi, we made our way by car to Raj Ghat, a memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. Unofficially known as the Father of the nation, Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948) was the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. The honorific term, Mahatma, (Sanskrit: "high-souled", "venerable") was first applied to him first in 1914 in South Africa and is now used worldwide.

The Sights of Old Delhi.

Avisit to Delhi cannot be complete without a visit to Old Delhi.  And you cannot see Old Delhi properly unless you either go on foot or by cycle rickshaw.  That's in my humble opinion.

Sightseeing in Delhi. Jama Masjid.

Ayşe standing in front of Jama Masjid.

We kicked off our day with breakfast in our Airbnb apartment. Our hosts had kindly stocked the refrigerator with a few items. There were eggs, bread, butter, and a carton of juice to which we added the mango shake that we had bought yesterday afternoon. In the cabinets, there was tea, coffee and sugar.  We also shared some mango - also bought at the market yesterday.  We made ourselves a simple breakfast and got to enjoy one of my favorite benefits of staying in an apartment rather than in a hotel - we get to eat breakfast in our pajamas!  The kitchen is small but well stocked in terms of dishware, utensils, and cookware.  The only thing we couldn't figure out how to do was turn on the oven so we had to call down to Keshap so he could come up and turn it on for us.  Otherwise, no toast.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Shopping, Marketing, And Eating With Jyoti!

Mango shake in one hand, picking up some bhel puri in the other. 

Ater stuffing our faces over lunch at Jyoti's house, we headed out to spend the afternoon doing a bit of shopping, marketing, and snacking.  Before we left her place, Jyoti handed us each a sealed package of several spices that she put together.  It was a parting gift that she hands to each of her clients when they finish with the class.  Each packet contained a spice  that we used in our class today. Thankfully, she labelled each one so we know what they are later.

Cooking With Jyoti.

I met Jyoti Agarwal back in 2010 when I took two cooking classes from her as well as spent the better part of half a day sampling street foods and doing a market walk with her.  You can read about my time with Jyoti here and here and you can get more information about her classes on her website.  Back then, Jyoti's cooking classes were something that she was just starting up and even then, I had so much fun spending time and learning some basic Indian cooking skills from her that I offered the girls the opportunity to do a cooking class with her.   They both enthusiastically leapt at the idea so I signed us up for a half day cooking class and a half shopping/market/snack tour.  I also had Jyoti arrange for transportation to pick us up outside of the PVR Rivoli Theatre, take us around with Jyoti and then drop us off at the theatre at the and of the day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

First View of Delhi. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib.

Chantale, with her imitation GoPro in hand, talking with a super friendly Sikh gentleman and his cute daughter at Bangla Sahib.

Original Post Date: June 18, 2017.

It was mid afternoon before Chantale and I ventured out on to the streets of Connaught Place. We, okay me, needed time to chill off from our walk from Shivaji Stadium Metro station. Admittedly, it wasn't a long walk and we even took an ice cream break along the way, it was just enough time spent in the sweltering heat of summer in Delhi to wilt me.

On Our Way to Delhi! Yay!

Chantale and I left Jaipur behind today. I feel like I had just arrived. No doubt our time here was far too short but I do know that I will return to Rajasthan one day and so a trip back to Jaipur is definitely in my future.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Jaipur Comes to an End. Galtaji.

At Galtaji Temple Complex.

It took a few hours of resting in an airconditioned room to cool me off. I tell you, the summer heat in Jaipur is brutal. Yes, it's a dry heat but it's still hot!!

Wandering Through Johri Bazaar.

Chantale leading the way.  Does she know where she's going? :-)

From Hawa Mahal, Chantale, Simpy and I made our way to Johri Bazaar. By tuk-tuk of course.  Good luck brought Simpy into our lives that day because with her, we had a native Hindi speaker by our side.

Hawa Mahal.

Today we finally made it to Hawa Mahal! I have seen so many images of this incredible structure that I am still pinching myself recalling the fact that I actually made it here.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Jaipur. Afternoon of Day 1.

The camel whisperer :-)

On the way back into town from Amer Fort, Amar made a quick pitstop at Man Sagar Lake.  He had pointed out the lake on our ride to Amer and I immediately recognized as the lake where Jal Mahal (Lake Palace) is located.  I had wanted to see the palace so I was looking forward to stopping here.

Incredible Amer Fort.

We spent this morning visiting Amer Fort.  I had also planned for us to visit Jaigarh and Nahargarh Forts but we didn't make it to either.  Sadly, the combination of jet lag and heat did us in.  In any case, Amer (also known as Amber) Fort was worth battling the heat and humidity of summer in Jaipur to see.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

First View of Jaipur. City Palace.

Diwan-i-Khas, City Palace.

We spent our first afternoon in Jaipur exploring City Palace.  After having taken in the grandeur of the place, all I can say is that it deserves a much more elegant name than just City Palace.  Something like Royal Palace of Rajasthan would be more befitting in my humble opinion.  It needs a name that does it justice!  Be sure to check out the official website for more information about the palace.

To Jaipur.

At Jaipur Airport waiting for Rohit and Ritu to come pick us up.

The alarm on my phone went woof at 6:15a. I barely slept three hours last night. I think I finally dozed off shortly before 2a and pretty much woke up at 4:20. I was still feeling exhausted by the time the alarm went off. I peeked into Chantale's room and she was already awake. Apparently, she had been up since 2a dealing with an issue related to her daughter's schooling. We're both going to be dead tired tonight and I hope we can finally get a good night's sleep to quickly get over jet lag.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Namaste India!

Welcome to Delhi Chantale!

I'm back in Delhi! It's my fourth trip to India and my third time in Delhi. This time I did not arrive alone; I flew in with Chantale. We're actually only here one night as we fly to Jaipur tomorrow morning. So, we are literally spending the night at a hotel near the airport.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Spectacular Ladakh.

Leh Palace.  (Photo by Rayan Naqash. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Some people would think that I am crazy to organize an entire trip around two days of festival but that is exactly what I am doing for this trip to India.  Another reason was that it would take me to a part of the country that I have longed wanted to visit - the area known as Ladakh.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love to travel to remote destinations and if you can throw in some mountains, that would be ideal.  Ladakh checks both boxes.  I don't know how I managed to convince Ayşe and Chantale to come along with me but they are and I think we will have a fantastic time. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Sights of Jaipur

Amer Fort.
(Photo by Kuldeepsingh Mahawar. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

It seems like I've been planning this trip forever but it's really only just been a few months but in a very short while, we'll be our way to India and Nepal.

Our first destination in India will be Jaipur and Chantale and I will be there; we'll meet up with Ayşe in Delhi a few days later.  The parents of a friend of Chantale's daughter have kindly offered to pick us up from the airport and take us to our Airbnb apartment.  I don't expect them to take us around so we'll have to figure that part out.  There are plenty of options to consider.