The Himalayas to the Thar desert the north of India passed in a blur, I can’t believe it was just over three weeks of travel, it feels like so much longer. Traveling India is a grind a lot of the time. The destinations are almost always wonderful but transitioning from place to place alone really wore me out.
Our first notable destination out of Kashmir was Dharmsala, home of his Holiness the Dalia Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. A totally beautiful area of Himachal Pradesh, this area is often regarded as India’s premier mountain state. It was neat to be in a place with such a blend of culture, Tibetan and Indian plus western fusion. This town is one of those traveler black holes that you can tell many foreigners get caught in and spend extensive periods of time. The temple grounds connected to the Dalia Lama’s residence are beautiful and host a very in depth museum of the struggle and occupation of Tibet. Totally brought to tears with examples of the terrible ways we mistreat each other as a human race, not to mention the fact that we can stand by and let these atrocities happen the world over, reaffirmed for me our decision to not visit Tibet through China.
On the morning of March 10th, which marked the 52th anniversary of Tibets National uprising day against the Chinese occupation, we headed to the temple with nearly every other soul in town to see the Dalia Lama speak, what an incredibly moving experience. This was my second time seeing the Dalia Lama speak and was equally as moving as the first, even in Tibetan. The speech basically outlined his plan to step down as Tibet’s political leader while pushing for a democratically elected government. I will be ever curious to follow what is to come for the Dalia Lama and his beautiful people both in exile and in Tibet.
Working our way south we hit the yoga capital of the north Rishikesh for a few relaxed days and Wes’ first series of yoga classes. I’m sure it goes without saying but I enjoyed myself thoroughly!
We were looking for a dose of nature, time was blurring between buses, cities, golden temples and holly rivers. Before heading back through sweaty old Delhi we had a quick stop over in Corbett National park, tiger reserve, where we ventured out on our second Indian safari, this one delivering on both elephant and tiger sightings! Seeing a huge sleek tiger in the wild like that is something I will never forget, even though our sighting was brief, as soon as we spotted him he stood, turned and sauntered away.
Circling half of Rajasthan in just over a week was truly a hustle. we experienced Holi, India’s color festival, without being creamed with questionable colors, but did enjoy Jaipur’s annual Elephant Parade with dozens of beautifully painted elephants. I was looking forward to Holi so much but really wasn’t feeling the vibe where we were. it didn’t feel like it was going to be very playful.
Making it to the edge of India we ventured into the desert on camels and slept under an amazingly starry sky on the desert dunes. This was defiantly a once in a lifetime experience, my bum has never been so incredibly sore! Back in the fort city of Jaisalmer we rested our aching bodies for a day pool side, somehow scoring a room in an old guest house attached to a nice hotel where we had unlimited pool access, such an amazing treat in the sweltering desert, and not bad for $4 a night.
Last stop before heading back to the capital we visited the home of India’s most renowned monument, the Taj Mahal in Agra. This city is tourist hell and in hindsight I really wish we had planned our visit as a day trip. The entire city reeks of sewage and it is impossible to take a single step without being hassled by shops, children, taxis, hotels, rickshaws, internet places you name it. The Taj itself is just how you imagine it and have seen it in countless ads and photos, it’s gorgeous! However, even showing up at dawn there was hundreds of people lined up and our illusions of a quiet morning in this historical place were abruptly shattered.
India has been a whole new bag of apples for ma as a backpacker and to be honest I don’t know that I am the right personality type to come out on the positive side of my love-hate relationship with this country. At times I have felt that maybe I have gone soft as a traveler. That I have either lost my edge or developed too much of one and as a result have only found comfort in commiserating with other travelers comparing war stories (I think this might have a lot to do with traveling at such a pace as well). Wes and I both have double entry visas for India and even if we were to spend 2 months roaming around Nepal we’d still have time to poke into India’s south for a month. At this point, however, we’re undecided whether this is something we’re even interested in, especially at temperatures of 45 degrees plus. And so, to my utter delight, we are officially plan-less and entering this next phase of travel free to do everything and anything we please, which is exactly how I like my itinerary to be.
I am defiantly one happy, super-duper grubby and increasingly thinning backpacker!