Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day 15 - 18: Delhi, Mumbai & Pune - India

Having flown from Cochin to Leh via Delhi, we wanted to do the rest of the trip by train. Our itinerary was Delhi to Mumbai (Mumbai Rajdhani), Mumbai to Pune (Deccan Queen) and Panvel to Ernakulam (Trivandrum Rajdhani). Having spent many uncomfortable nights aboard Indian trains during my college days, I was less than enthused about these 3 trains we would be taking. Of all the international train travels I have done thus far, Indian trains rank the lowest for unsanitary conditions and discomfort. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the fully air-conditoned Rajdhani trains and the level of service. Each car had a service attendant providing fresh sheets, meals, snacks, tea at regular intervals, towels and bottled water. My only gripe is the toilets continue to be unsanitary, subjecting me to pretty much fasting through the train ride. The train windows had accumulated some kind of muck, so we could barely see the scenic Konkan landscape as we sped by the coastline.

Talking about trains, T attracted curious onlookers at the stations despite his wheatish complexion which I thought would make him less conspicuous. When we stepped out of the station, auto rickshaw drivers and touts swarmed around us - till the crowd became more like a mad mob. I wish I had pictures to prove it. I admit that there is some curiosity that comes from being a mixed race couple - so I wasn't too taken aback when a cloak room attendant asked me in Hindi, "What are you doing with a white man?". There seems to be so many people just hanging around without much purpose outside these stations - odd considering that there are rarely any foreigners that ride the Indian railways.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Leh, Ladakh (India) - Day 10 -14

When in India, we had shortlisted Hampi, Pondicherry and Leh(Ladakh) as possible places to visit. We finally zeroed in on Leh (a place I have long dreamed of visiting) because it was 'adventurous' enough to justify leaving our toddler with my parents for the 10 days that we would be away. At 3500m, it gave our lungs a workout and I am only too glad that we had the good sense to leave my son in Kerala.

Flying into Leh is spectacular - 20 minutes prior to landing all we saw were endless stretches snow capped Himalayas. Driving to the hotel, it almost felt like Iraq or Afganistan - swirls of dust thrown up by camoflauge military vehicles, army men walking the streets, and little shops with tin roofs. The town/market were without character or charm and there were surprisingly few restaurants serving anything authentically Ladakhi. Most of what we found was the typical Indian street fare (samosas, bhel) which caters to the army men who make the bulk of the customer base. Thick sweet Ladakhi tea (part tea, part condensed milk) can be found everywhere - and it almost feels like a regional pass-time, much like cafes elsewhere in the world.

Leh is beautifully desolate - a harsh desert spared only by the Indus river. As we drove along the Leh-Manali and the Leh-Srinagar highway, all I could think of was the sheer endless expanse of this land. Sometimes we saw no vehicle, no tree, no life for as far as the eye could see. We visited 4 monasteries in all and in T's words, we were 'Buddha'd out" by the end of it all.

Our plans to visit the highest motorable point in the world (Khardong-la) was canceled because of weather conditions. Instead. we made an impulse decision to drive to Rizong monastery - known locally for it's strict monastic practice. The road took us for through Likir Maidan, an seemingly endless orange colored desert flanked by mountains on either side. The last stretch of the road to Rizong was washed away in last year's summer floods, so we had to drive the SUV over rocks and streams till a huge fallen tree forced us to walk the rest of the distance. The last 35 minutes felt like the valley of death - steep and narrow slate cliffs devoid of any trees or shrubs. At one point during the trek we were joined by 2 young monks (10 & 14 respectively) who sprung through the terrain while we struggled to navigate it. Visitors are uncommon at Rizong which explained the welcoming party of young monks who had skipped class to see us.

I am sure Leh is beautiful year round, but I am glad I got to see pink lush apricot blossoms that dot the valley in spring. As everyone else has told me, Leh is best enjoyed driving around. If I ever come back here, it will be by car from Delhi via Manali.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Travel Product and Services

I am not big on endorsing products, but if you are ever in my position (moving, relocating, traveling), I am sure you will find these useful -

1. Used cardboard boxes is green and cheaper alternative to the other moving boxes out there. Mine arrived in exactly 48 hours and the 'Average Joe' package was perfect for all our stuff.
2. Moving companies are notorious for poor service, overriding their initial quote and shoddy packing. The crew from Hi-Touch moving was courteous, gave us a reasonable $90 an hour quote and were even fun! It was raining the day of our move and the apartment was on a busy intersection, but they got everything out of the door and into the truck in 2 hours flat.
3. Extra Space Storage has the cleanest spaces of all the long-term storage facilities we went to. I was greatly disappointed in the 'extras' that other companies throw in - moldy walls, renter's insurance, uneven floors and spaces that look like a prison cell.
4. Earth Class Mail rocks! Our mail is getting forwarded to ECM. They send us email alerts with full scanned copies of mail that we can read online. They even provide the option of shreding, recycling or archiving your mail. It is also used by active duty army officers and American expats living abroad.
5. Catalog Choice is fantastic way to reduce your catalog clutter.

1. Steripen - is a great alternative to iodine tablets, especially since the pediatrician said that Isaac shouldn't be drinking iodine purified water continuously. We are using it to sterilize hotel tap water, saving us a lot of money on bottled water.
2. Pac Safe is an expensive travel accessory but hopefully will be worth the investment for the many overnight train journeys we will be making along this trip.

Hope this helps!

You may also like -

Related Posts with Thumbnails