Varanasi Day 3 and Khajuraho

What a wonderful day! An early morning wake up call took us through empty streets to  a drop off point about a 10 min walk from the Ganges. The walk down through the foggy streets just waking  up and getting ready for the day was magic. Cooking fires being lit, stalls opening, people and dogs stretching and the occasional sleepy cow to dodge in the road. The Ghats on the shore of the river were alive when we arrived. Holy men (or wanna bees) , hustlers, buskers, sellers of every piece of junk imaginable, hand massagers, tea sellers, bell ringers and more crowded the steps.

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We enjoyed a cup of chai tea while watching yoga practitioners as well as the bathers in the Ganges engage in their purification swims, before heading down to our boat in the thick fog.

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Although the sunrise was absent , we were serenaded by two young men on the sitar and drums with a morning Ragga as our boat drifted quietly through the fog.

The morning ended far too soon as we headed to the Varansai airport for our noon flight to Khajuraho. The flight went seamlessly and we landed in clear skies, no pollution, 26 degree centigrade temps and a gentle breeze. Time for sandals 🙂

Khajuraho is home to the western temple complex. UNESCO World heritage site – parts of which are 1600 years old. Although most have been looted, one well preserved temple remains and others are equally impressive.

The main claim to fame are the erotic sculptures found on the outside of the temples depicting the Kama Sutra. Based on what we saw the models were either the most flexible people that ever existed or the sculptors had imbibed on a hefty dose of the local hallucinogen while completing their work. The temples themselves are gorgeous, as are parts of the interiors which are illuminated by cleverly placed openings in the walls.

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Our time there with our excellent local guide passed way too quickly. We ended the day with a group shot and then headed back to the hotel.

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An early night is planned as we leave for Agra and the Taj Mahal tomorrow.

 

 

Delhi -Day 2

 

Today was spent in the rabbit warren like alleyways  and roof tops of the vegetable and fruit markets, cameras at the ready, the objective to capture street life and record some of the faces of Old Delhi. A photographers dream ….. . A perfect photo shoot was followed by an incredible lunch at the house of my guide, Drhuv Gupta. Drhuvs family has lived in Old Delhi for over 100 years. The respect for his family among the community is obvious and helped me get some photo opportunities which would have been impossible without his presence. If you are ever in Dehli I wholeheartedly recommend Dhruv as a resource, both for his knowledge and keen photographic eye. He can be contacted through Trip Advisor or at http://www.toursbylocals.com.

I shot over 300 photos this morning in a little over two hours and will let the photos tell the story.

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In Transit – Vancouver to Delhi

 

Travelling karma is an interesting phenomenon. The ferry trip to the mainland was over calm seas under a moody winter sky in the company of Pacific White sided dolphins surfing on our wake.

The young Indo-Canadian man who piloted my taxi to the airport became incandescent (in a very positive way 🙂 )  when I told him where I was headed. He immigrated to Canada from the Punjab in Northern India and has whole heartedly embraced his new country – Canada rocks! I emerged from the taxi ride with a list of survival tips in Delhi, ranging from which brand of bottled water to buy to how to negotiate streets filled with cows, pigs and other interesting items. We discussed food and the food supply links in the city. Refrigeration is uncommon and many city dwellers grow produce in small areas around their dwellings for their own consumption and to sell at the many markets in Delhi. I was told that I would eat better than anywhere I have been. Once at the Fairmont, an upgrade to to the Gold floor with a member lounge, outstanding view of the runway and strait of Georgia was the icing on the cake 😀 to a very good day.

Next day. After a nominal departure delay caused by offloading the bags of a male passenger whose VISA wasn’t in order :-(.   , our heavily loaded 787 taxied and just got off the ground before the runway ended at Georgia Strait in the heavy rain. The passenger left behind turns out was in the seat next to me. The luxury of two premium economy seats to myself was a real pleasure for the 14 hour trip (sorry dude) . Time was spent enjoying excellent Indian meals and snacks, as well as a very nice Syrah, reading and catching up on movies. A couple of them were duds,  but Victoria and Abdul (starring Judi Dench) is a gem and highly recommended. The Indian subcontinent greeted us at dawn with a magnificent vista of the Himalayans bathed in a icy blue glow.

Shorty thereafter (in airplane time 🙂 )  – Delhi became apparent on the horizon as an orangey brown cloud, rapidly enlarging into a massive urban sprawl housing 25 million people.

Security was a breeze. Watching people ahead of me in line get fingerprinted and grilled had me ready for a lengthy stay at the customs and Visa check points. A Canadian passport works wonders here, no fingerprinting or grilling, immediate passage through other check points. Just lots of smiles and welcome to India. My minder greeted me at the Exit, along with another Canadian couple on the same G Adventures tour as me. We hit it off right away and spent the hour or so waiting for our transport chatting, exploring how the local payphone systems work

(you use one and the charges get spit out on a tape below which you then take to the attendant and pay him) and trying to stay awake after 24 hrs without sleep. Our ride to the hotel was provided by a group called Women with Wheels. An all girl taxi service catering specifically for female travellers.

The term “assault on the senses” categorizes the trip into Delhi to our hotel. A cacophony of horns, cars and scooters going all different directions at once, smells (good and bad :-))), yelling, music, cows placidly eating garbage in the middle of the road. Dust and fumes everywhere, open air stalls full of fruit, roasting peanuts, and some interesting looking mystery meat….  Love it!!!!

After an hour we arrived at the hotel which is perfect. I have a pool view room on the inside of the hotel, just had a fabulous mulligatawny soup and a glass of Cabernet – life is good.

Tomorrow on to street food and my first foray into the city!

San Jose

The non-stop rocking of the plane on the tarmac before we left Toronto was an indication that our journey was going to be interesting. We were right in the tail section of the flight. The old bucket of bolts vibrated all the way to San Salvador and landed with a grumble and shudder to the applause of the crew in the tail section – not very confidence inspiring. My two seat mates popped pills and drank wine through most of the flight – I guess they knew something we didn’t :-))) The plane from San Salvador to San Jose was about 50 years newer and the flight a smooth one. The service and food on both Avianca flights was excellent – North American airlines could learn a few things from their foreign counterparts.

After arriving at our hotel late last night, Carol and I were fortunate enough to secure two spots today on one of the Barrio Bird walking tours of the historic part of the city, plus visit to the main market and an excellent local lunch. Our email to the tour company owner at close to midnight was immediately answered and we were booked. The taxi from our hotel to the starting point of the walk was our first introduction to driving in San Jose.

imageNavigating in San Jose is an art form. Street addresses mean nothing. Landmarks are used to find locations- kind of like the directions you can receive on the Canadian prairies. My heart always sinks when some one says just go down past the green building on your left, behind the slough a few kms past that and turn right – you can’t miss it… We managed to get to the meeting point with the help of a very understanding taxi driver, whose use of a translation app that fed audio through his cab speakers just about put us through the roof of the vehicle when he used it the first time. But it worked and we could communicate 🙂 One tip – use only red taxis with meters if you go and do not want to haggle over the fare in advance.

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Our walk started in the Parque Morazin which used to be a favourite hang out for the ladies of the night. The bandstand in the park has also served as a dance floor for courting couples in the past. Its main use now is as a nice shady spot to while away some time people watching.

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We walked the main historic streets, saw some amazing street art,

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checked out historic buildings, museums and had some very interesting people watching sessions. Our walk ended in the Mercado Central – a warren of alley ways full of everything from an extensive apothecary, to flowers, to all types of meat, produce, textiles and some excellent restaurants. We had lunch at one, splitting a tamale and an enchilada -washing it down with Cas – a Costa Rican fruit smoothie. Lovely way to end the trip.

We were very impressed with Barrio Bird walking tours. You can find them on the web at http://www.toursanjosecostarica.com. Our guide Carla was excellent and we recommend the company and Carla whole heartedly as a resource during a visit to the city of San Jose.

The weather is perfect, mid 70’s. We have a room over looking the inner courtyard and swimming pool. The louvered windows are open and a nice breeze is coming through the room. We meet our other group members this evening and leave for the Carribean coast of the country tomorrow morning.

 

 

Siem Reap to Bangkok

Another long day by bus. Interesting views along the way. One thing we learned today is that recycled glass soft drink bottles are used to hold gasoline for selling to  motorbike owners. We had wondered what that yellow fluid in the bottles was. There are official service stations with pumps but the majority of the bike owners fillup at the small roadside stands. Also passed spirit house manufacturing central 🙂

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The Thai border went relaitvely smoothly. Some tips if you go. An extra $15 “tax” will get you through the border without waiting in line.  Our crossing went well, despite me getting into the wrong line at the final check point.  Apparently there is a ladies line and a men’s line. I went into the mens line – chaos ensured with officials waving at me and shouting – I froze and did my  blond deer in the headlights routine – worked well – a line of people was building behind me and I got waved through along with all of my group 🙂 without the final check.

The scenary changed dramatically once we were in Thailand. It seemed like one long  strip mall until we reached Bangkok – which is huge. Very western and very boring after the colour and acitivity in the Cambodian countryside. Bangkok did greet us with a spectacular sunset.

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We fly home tomorrow. It has been an intense trip and a life changing one.  Thanks to you all for following along and see you next time!

 

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Angkor Wat Day 2

This place is immense. 100,00’s of thousands of steps and a couple thousand photos later here we 🙂 temples visited included Angkor Wat., Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, Ta Prohm and East Mehon. I have included a schematic of the complex below.

 

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They ranged from 1900 to 600 years old.  The speed at which the jungle takes over the temples is amazing – most are under restoration by foreign agencies working with the Cambodian governemnt. We managed to cover a great deal of ground today.

 

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Tonight we visit the night market in Siem Reap.