The city of Lord Brahma

We arrived to Pushkar after a tiring bus ride, not because of the distance but because we had to change buses. The first bus took us from Jaipur to Ajmer, about 3h. Once in Ajmer we had to get the bus which would take us to Pushkar (30 mins away) and after a longish wait and a growing number of people waiting for the bus and of course because in India no one respects the queues, we literally had to fight our way into the bus.

Pushkar at first sight wasn’t what we expected, we thought we would find a quiet Indian town with few foreigners but what we found was an oasis made for tourists at the doors of the Thar desert (Great Indian Desert). There were shops everywhere, henna painting saloons, many cafes and restaurants with continental menus and the lake more than a lake it looked like a man made giant swimming pool. But as the days passed we discovered other secrets of the city that made us growing into like it.

Pushkar is a holy city in the state of Rajashtan. The Hindus believe that Brahma, one of their divinities known as the creator, released a lotus flower into the earth. When the petals of the flower reached the earth three lakes were created, and around the biggest one grew the city of Pushkar. The story says that Brahma was to marry Savitri, a river goddess, in the banks of Pushkar lake with a ceremony called yagna that can only happen on a specific astrological moment. As Savitri was late, Brahma was forced to find another unmarried woman, as without a wife he could not perform the yagna. Gayitri was the only unmarried woman available, so they went ahead with wedding. When Savitri finally arrived and saw Brahma married to another woman she was furious and coursed him saying that he would only be worshiped at Pushkar. Pushkar is now one of the few places in India where you can find Brahma temples. There are also temples devoted to Savitri and Gayitri, both of them situated on top of two hills in the surroundings of Pushkar. To placate Savitri, it was agreed that her temple was to sit on the highest hill and that she would always be worshiped before Gayitri.

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Merry Christmas!!

Queremos desearos a todos una FELIZ NAVIDAD! Y en especial a nuestras familias y amigos de los que nos acordamos mucho en estas fechas tan especiales. No os empacheis mucho y comeros un poquito de turrón a nuestra salud!

Ya sabemos que últimamente os tenemos un poco abandonados, pero prometemos poneros al día de nuestras aventuras en breve.

Muchos besos y abrazos a todos desde las playas de Goa.

We want to wish you a Merry Xmas!! Especially to our family and friends who we miss lots in this special days. Hope that Santa has been good with you this year and enjoy the mulled wine and the Christmas pudding!

We know you haven’t heard from us for a while, but we promise to get you up to date with our adventures very soon.

Big hugs & lots of kisses to everyone from Goa.

Jaipur, la ciudad rosa?

Llegamos a Jaipur con un poco de retraso y no en el mismo autobus en el que nos habíamos montado en Agra. La razón es bien simple, nuestro autobus no resistió más de dos horas de viaje y nos dejó tirados a mitad de camino… menos mal que no lo hizo lejos de la civilización y al menos pudimos llegar a la estación de autobuses de Bharatpur donde nos cambiamos de autobus. Durante los casi dos meses que hemos pasado entre Nepal e India hemos escuchado historias de otros viajeros a los que ya les había pasado esto, así que sabíamos que tarde o temprano nos iba a tocar a nosotros… y bingo! es imposible librarse cuando viajas en cuatro latas como los autobuses que tienen por aquí.

A Jaipur la llaman la ciudad rosa, porque todos los edificios de la ciudad vieja están pintados de rosa… pero la verdad es que tanto a Marta como a mí nos pareció mucho más naranja que rosa, con lo que de ahora en adelante la llamaremos la ciudad naranja!

La parte vieja de la ciudad naranja está amurallada y sorprende ver el orden de sus anchas calles, paralelas y perpendiculares, al contrario de otras ciudades como Varanasi donde la parte vieja es un entramado de callejuelas. Sorprende también los diferentes medios de transporte que te puedes encontrar en la ciudad vieja, desde tuk-tuks, rickshaws, coches, hasta caballos, camellos y elefantes! Las avenidas están repletas de negocios locales y tiendas donde comprar todos los souvenirs que uno se puede imaginar: sedas, calzados, pulseras, gorros… ni que decir tiene que Marta se compró unos cuantos complementos por allí.

Una de las cosas que más nos gustó de Jaipur es el Jantar Mantar, un observatorio al aire libre con instrumentos astronómicos en forma de construcciones, donde el Maharaja Jai Singh, apasionado de la astronomía, pasaba su tiempo libre. Entre otras cosas, se encuentra un reloj solar gigante de 27 metros de altura que da la hora con una precisión de tan solo dos segundos de error. Como en toda antigua capital de un reino Maharaja también hay un palacio, pero nosotros no llegamos a visitarlo por dentro.

Lo mejor del dia ocurrió volviendo al hotel por la tarde en rickshaw, ya que tuve una oportunidad única de llevar una de estas bicis de tres ruedas. Por un momento, y aprovechando que la calle estaba cortada para los coches en el sentido en el que nos movíamos, me cambié por el conductor y lo llevé durante unos minutos. Fue muy gracioso ver la cara de asombro de los indios por la calle al ver que un blanquito como yo llevaba en rickshaw a un pobre señor indio y a una blanquita como Marta. Tengo que decir que aunque pensaba que iba a ser duro, conducir un rickshaw en llano no tiene ninguna dificultad.

Agra, la ciudad de las sorpresas

Llegamos a la estación de tren de Agra ya atardeciendo, y nos fuimos directamente en tuk-tuk prepagado a la puerta sur del Taj Mahal en busca de alojamiento. Antes de que anocheciera totalmente, pudimos contemplar la cúpula del maravilloso Taj Mahal desde lo alto del hotel donde nos quedamos. Es una pena que el Tah Majal no esté iluminado de noche, y solamente se puede apreciar la silueta de su cúpula a lo lejos. Esa noche, también desde la terraza del hotel, pudimos ver en vivo y en directo un par de bodas indias en las que el novio montando a caballo, rodeado de su familia y amigos, y una charanga se dirigen por las calles de la ciudad a casa de la novia donde comenzará la boda. Lo que nos hubiera gustado colarnos en una de esas bodas y vivir de primera mano una boda india!

A la mañana siguiente India nos tenía preparada una de sus sorpresas a las cuales ya nos estamos acostumbrando… Fuimos a la estación de tren de Agra para comprar los billetes que nos llevarían a Mumbai, Goa y Kerala en Navidades, y la única manera de conseguirlos era presentándonos en persona en la taquilla con el pasaporte en mano y pidiendo billetes para turistas. No en todas las estaciones venden este tipo de billetes, pero ya nos habíamos informado en internet que en Agra si se podían adquirir. Pues bien, una vez en la estación de Agra nos dijo el supervisor que allí no podíamos comprar esos billetes, y que solo podíamos hacerlo en Mumbai o Delhi. Como estabamos desesperados por conseguir esos tickets, ya que en Navidades todo está vendido y las otras opciones que nos quedaban, viajar en avión o en autobuses nocturnos, no eran demasiado viables bien por su precio o por su peligrosidad respectivamente, pusimos rumbo a Delhi por la mañana en un tren de 4 horas y en segunda clase. Por suerte a uno de los revisores le caímos simpáticos y nos dejó quedarnos en una clase superior, previo pago de un extra, y pudimos ir sentados bastante cómodos todo el viaje. Una vez en Delhi por fín pudimos comprar en la oficina internacional los tan deseados billetes de tren que nos garantizaban unas Navidades en la playa! Sin embargo allí se sorprendieron de que vinieramos de Agra, ya que nos dijeron que en Agra nos tenían que haber vendido esos billetes de turista… os podeis imaginar la mala leche que se nos puso después de pasar toda la mañana en el tren, y tener que volver de nuevo a Agra! Todavía no entendemos por que no nos quisieron vender estos billetes en Agra, pero en fin esto es India y lo mejor es tomárselo todo con filosofía.

Pero ahí no había acabado nuestra pesadilla de día. Cuando llegamos al hotel de Agra, resulta que había un ruido ensordecedor de canciones musulmanas por todas las calles de la ciudad, y en concreto en frente de nuestro hotel donde habían montado unos mega altavoces. Nos enteramos que el día siguiente era una festividad musulmana llamada Ashura y que la música iba a estar encendida durante toda la noche hasta el medio día del día siguiente. No nos quedó más remedio que reirnos por no llorar e intentar dormir con tapones en los oidos, aunque no sirvieron de mucho. A la mañana siguiente al ruido de los altavoces se le unió una procesión de tambores que efectivamente acabó a medio día, cuando desmantelaron los altavoces de las calles y volvió la tranquilidad a Agra.

Después de tres semanas en India, finalmente vimos el Taj Mahal. Es un mausoleo que el Maharaja Mughal Shah Jahan termino de construir en 1653 donde enterró los restos de su mujer favorita que falleció al dar a luz a su 14 hijo. Actualmente sus restos también descansan en una tumba adyacente a la de su mujer en el mausoleo. Por algún motivo nos lo imaginábamos más grande, pero una vez dentro no lo es tanto. Parece mentira que semejante obra de arquitectura esté en el corazón de la sucia y caótica Agra, ya que una vez dentro de las puertas de acceso del Taj Mahal los ruidos y la suciedad desaparecen, aunque no la polución que es un serio problema que está afectando a la conservación del Taj Mahal.

Ese mismo día también visitamos el Agra Fort, que es una fortaleza de piedra arenisca con forma de media luna al lado del río, donde pueden verse varios palacios en su interior. Una visita muy interesante para ver como vivían los Maharajas (los antiguos reyes de India) y desde donde hay unas vistas lejanas del Tah Majal que muestran su grandeza y su belleza.

Our visit to Rajesh

We did not want to leave India without visiting my former colleague and friend Rajesh, who is living with his family in the outskirts of Delhi, Gurgaon, so before heading to Agra and Rajasthan we decided to pay him a visit.

We were very excited to spend a weekend with an Indian family, and we were not disappointed at all. Rajesh’s wife, Beena, was lovely and great host, she made us feel welcomed from the very first moment and she cooked many delicious Indian dishes for us. Rajesh’s kid, Ankit, shy at first, ended up calling us bhaiya and didi, elder brother and sister. Every day from the moment he woke up he was ready to play with us. Though he normally likes playing cricket, we got him a small football and I was able to teach him how to kick it, maybe in a few years we’ll see him playing football and not only cricket. Aside games, he loves watching Doraemon and Shin Chan, and he has become the boss of the TV, so now all the family have to watch it, which was not a problem for us as we like those too!

For two days, I had time to catch up with Rajesh while Marta learned from Beena many aspects of an Indian family. Of course, both of them were always making sure we had a cup of chai in our hands, definitely the best chai we have had in India!

Unaware as we are of the Indian customs, we were surprised when they gave us presents. It seems it is a tradition to give presents to your guests on their first visit. Beena got Marta a beautiful kurti (indian dress) and accessories, and Rajesh got me a nice kurta (indian shirt). We will happily wear them in and outside India.

Thanks Rajesh and Beena for making us feel at home for a couple of days, definitely we were treated as gods! We are looking forward to seeing you again, but next time in Spain!

McLeod Ganj, the little Tibet

We left the land of the Sikhs to enter the land of Tibetan Buddhists. The most flexible option to go from Amritsar to McLeod Ganj is by bus first to Pathankot, then change bus to Dharamsala, and finally get on a shared taxi to McLeod Ganj, 7 hours in all.

McLeod Ganj, also known as Upper Dharamsala, became Dalai Lama’s residence in exile in 1959 after Tibet’s failed uprise in the same year. Since then, and due to the issues in Tibet and the oppression of the Chinese government, this little hill village has become the home of many Tibetan refugees and Buddhist monasteries and it’s where the Tibetan Government in exile has been set.

Tibetans, Hindus and many tourists coexist here in McLeod Ganj. Most of the tourists come here to do some meditation courses or just to escape from the busy India. There are plenty of things to do in Upper Dharamsala, specially if what you want is to learn a little bit about Tibet, their culture and their current situation. We attended a couple of talks, visited the Tibetan Children’s village and the Tibetan museum, attended cooking course,…

The talk that impress us the most was given at LIT (Learning and Ideas for Tibet) by a man (former monk) who was sent to prison after just taking part in a pacific protest. He was then tortured and sentenced to 3 years in prison. He described how after finishing their dreadful time in prison all political prisoners are neither allowed to go back to the monasteries or to study and how it’s very difficult to make a decent living, so he had no choice but to exile to India. One could see in his eyes the kind of suffering he had gone through.

We read about the Tibetan Children’s village (TCV), which is an association that was created by Dalai Lama’s himself to help the children of both the Tibetan’s who had died during the conflict with China and the Tibetan’s who where living in exile and had almost no money. TCV has schools and residences in different places around India where children receive free education, food and a place to live and also where they learn how to make Tibetan handicrafts. We visited TCV’s installations outside McLeodGanj on our way to the sacred Dal Lake (really disappointing, it should be called pond rather than lake) and after seeing the beautiful handcrafts they make we had no choice but to buy a few things! The money goes to the non profit association to continue helping the children in need.

Tibetan’s medicine is completely different to our modern medicine. As we were curious, one of the days we went to visit a Tibetan doctor for a health check. On arrival, he just checked the pulse from both wrists and listened for any kind of irregularities. After a few seconds, and a couple of questions he said we were both healthy and we needed no medicines. A pity because I was really hoping to try some of the strange looking herbal pills he had.

Every evening there are many activities in town: concerts, movies, parties… We were recommended to attend one of the free concerts of an award winning Tibetan group, Culture Brothers. I don’t know why, but maybe because of the name of the group, or the looks of the singer, we thought we were just about to listen traditional Tibetan music…. imagine our faces when the guy starts rapping! Rapping stories about the situation in Tibet and how he felt about it at the sound of an electronic keyboard. Everyone in the room was astonished! After a few minutes of “acclimatization” we really enjoyed the concert, different but good fun.

Food was the missing ingredient to complete our Tibetanization, so we attended a 3 evenings cooking course at Sangye’s Kitchen. Each evening had a different theme: Day 1 – Breads, Day 2 – Soups, Day 3 – Momos. Sangye had been giving this courses for the last 13 years and he still enjoys every class and so did we! After the completion of the course we even got a certificate which recognizes our ability to cook great momos! ;)

We knew little about the past and present of Tibet before arriving in McLeod Ganj. And after what we learned during our 6 days stay, we really hope the situation in Tibet improves and that the thousands of Tibetans living in exile can one day return to their homeland.

In case you want to know more about TCV and LIT here are a couple of links, along with a good movie, Kundun, about the Dalai Lama:

Are you planning a trek around the Annapurnas?

After our trek we thought of writing a few tips and recommendations based on our experience. We hope they can be helpful for any of you who plans to go for a trek around the Annapurnas!

Getting ready

These are some of the things to have in mind before you start your trek:

  • Choose the route and get a map. There are many possible trekking routes within the Annapurnas. Select the one that you like the most and that better suits your needs and fitness level. Even though the routes are marked quite well, try to get a map of the area.
  • Permits and Registration card for trekkers. Nepali authorities require you get:
  • ACA Permit, which is a permit to allow you entering the Annapurnas conservation area
  • TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) registration card for individual trekkers

Both are obtainable at ACAP office in Phokara and cost 2000 NPR & 1600 NPR respectively. You will need to bring 4 passport size pictures and provide information about your route and the length (days).

  • What to bring really depends on the length of your trek, the route and your own judgment. This is what we brought for our trek:
  • Basics: Good trekking shoes and shocks, long & short comfortable trousers, a couple of breathable & fast drying t-shirts, thermal pants and t-shirt and fleece, hat & gloves.
  • Jackets. We both had waterproof and windproof jackets and we wondered if would need any wormer jackets. Thanks to the recommendations of a Spanish guide we meet in Phokara we decided to rent a couple of down jackets. While we really only ended up using them on the day we crossed Thorong La, I don’t regret our decision!!!
  • Walking Sticks. While it’s not a must, I would strongly recommend bringing a couple of walking sticks, specially for when you have to go down the strenuous hills. We rented and while Isma didn’t really use his one, I ended up using the two all the way!
  • Sleeping Bags. While it is possible to get blankets in the most of the guest houses & lodges, I would suggest you bring one (prepared for -5 or -10) as you will most likely need it when going higher than 4500m (we only used it 2 nights).
  • 1st Aid Kit: A must bring. Remember to include Diamox.
  • Water. Safe Drinking Stations are available in a good few villages around the Annapurnas, but not in all so I would recommend you bring some kind of water purifying tablets with you.

  • Mobile phone: except for the pass, there is only coverage with NTC all the way around the Annapurnas, so you can get a prepaid NTC sim card before the trek.
  • Others: Cards, books, head lamp or torch.
  • Porter vs Guide. While neither of them are really required for the treks in the area, we chose to hire a porter, Bishal, who also did as a guide at times for mainly two reasons:
  • To carry the extra trekking gear we rented in Phokara.
  • Because we thought we could help at least one porter by giving him a job for a couple of weeks.
  • Altitude sickness. It is really important that you familiarize yourself with what is Altitude sickness, hot to prevent it, which are the symptoms and what are the possible consequences.

In addition, we were recommended to bring Diamox with us. Not to take them as a prevention but only in case of starting to develop the symptoms.

  • Shape / training. This is just a quick note to say that it would be better to be in a decent shape before starting a trek… but even myself, who used to get tired after going up the stairs one floor was able to complete it, so you can also do it!

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