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Eudaimoniacs RTW Series: Leg 1 India (Kedarnath) Day 75 to 80 – Thosai and Chai


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Leaving our rooms at 4am, our trekking adventure began when we realized that the gate to our guesthouse was locked. Our jeep was waiting for us at 430am and we had no time to waste because the pickup point was a 15min walk away from our place, near where the rest of our crew Katherine, Camille, Philip, Ting and Shanti were staying.

Brainstorming desperately for ideas, we concluded that there was only one option-jump over our balcony ledge. Luckily, it was only about half a storey tall and with some awkward twisting and gripping, we jumped off from a safe height with minimal noise.

Leaving our main backpacks in our room, we rushed off with a small day bag customised for the 5-day trek. The hustling wind felt icy but we were well-protected with our newly bought winter clothing. Confident and enthusiastic, we reached the pickup point on time only to wait for another 30 minutes because the police would not allow vehicles to leave Rishikesh through the mountain pass no sooner than 5am.

The jeep ride was quite a torture. Being budget travellers, we shared a jeep meant for 6, excluding driver with 8 others. Yupz. That’s 10 passengers squeezing in for a 4-hour jeep ride. The fact that our route was meandering through mountain passes made matters worst for Shah who has motion-sickness.

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We reached the jeep interchange at 9am. When we stepped out, a sudden chill ran through our winter clothes and when we exhaled through our mouths, there were visible vapours. Not experiencing weather below 5 degrees celcius before, we kept exhaling vapours to entertain ourselves. =)

We had a one hour break of a quick breakfast although it was more of a snack. We sat in another jeep, still in the same overcrowded environment to head for our first trek in Kedarnath, a temple town located 3500m above sea level. The base is at 2000m and thereafter, the only available option up is either to trek a 14km inclined terrain or hire a donkey/horse. Our German friend, Philip, chose this date because he wanted to bear witness to the closing ceremony the next morning. During winter, every mid-November, Kedarnath would be evacuated because it was too dangerous for residing.

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Thank God it was cold, hence we did not suffer from stuffy air inside the jeep. Another 3 gruelling hours passed by before we reached the base. Again, this place too was cold enough to exhale visible vapours even with the mid-day sun shining above. Being a constant complainer against the hot and humid weather in Singapore, we embraced the cold with open arms.

Since this place was not engineered for tourism, there was not much of a choice on the menu. Two packets of Maggie noodles were all we fueled ourselves with before heading for the 14km inclined trek to 3500m above sea level. We started out strong and fast. Our enthusiams and excitement killed our foresights to pace evenly for the long gruelling hike. Both of us were using too much energy to take pictures and run around. Judging ourselves as relatively fit, we were complacent enough that we would be waiting for the 52-year old Katherine, 44-year old Camille and the two Taiwanese sisters, Ting and Shanti, both in their late twenties.

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You could not blame us though. Overlooking the edge of the treks were magnificent creations of God written in the poetry of Nature. Melting glaciers from the mountains formed small streams intertwining to grow bigger and bigger, to finally form an azure-coloured river. Green trees and vegetation crowded the mountain sides, providing us with a generous dose of clean air. Nepalese porters were carrying loads more than half their body weight in cheap slippers with minimal effort. Everything was a delight to our senses.

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After about 4 hours, aches were starting to accompany us. We rested for a while and regrouped with the others at a drink stall under a temporary shed. For the first time in our life, we drank ice cold Coke which required no refrigerator. That was one of the most mind-boggling and amazing feeling a boy from Singapore could experience.

It started to get dark sooner than expected. We continued to press on fast. By 6am, we needed to use our flashlights. And by 7am, stars glittered like angels from heaven orchestrating a massive play. Unfortunately we were at 3000m above sea level during that time. Our focus to appreciate beauty dwindled significantly because it went below zero degree celcius and we both got another first-time experience. This time round, it was altitude sickess.

Breathing was difficult and our hearts raced like we were running a marathon. It was not soon after that everyone walked faster than us and disappeared into the darkness. Both of us increased our pace but it made matters worst. We were panting so hard that we needed to sit down every 10-15mins. Worst still, Shah’s stomach had burnt every single gram of the Maggie noodles and he was starting to have gastric pains. Trembling with icy shivers, we had no choice but to move at a snail’s pace.

With the grace of God, we miraculously reached the top only to be greeted by a ghostly-looking town with no lights. To rub salt into our wounds, our flashlight battery went off and we had to find our group in the dark. Looking around in the freezing cold, there was barely anyone in the town. Our estimates would be that 95% of he residents have already made their way down. Approaching a group of people warming their hands at a self-made fireplace fueled by twigs and rubbish, we asked whether they saw our friends.

The people were as cold as the weather. Not feeling too positive about their energies, we dashed off far away from them feeling quite annoyed. By chance, we bumped into our group in the midst of bargaining for a hotel room. They told us that they waited an hour for us but were too cold to wait any further hence they decided to find a room first.

We got a big room in which all of us squeezed together. It was crampy and terrible but was the only option available for almost all of the hotels and guesthouse owners have left Kedarnath. The room did not have any heating system hence, we shivered to sleep using EXTREMELY thick blankets as heavy as a dumbell.

Sleeping in the freezing cold was not as fun as we thought. We were using half of our energy trying to block out the cold mentally rather than relaxing deeply. Finally, morning came and we were eager to get out of this place. For the first time in India, we were totally dumbstruck.

It seemed that the ghost town has transformed overnight. In the background, ice-capped mountains were painted on Kedarnath’s canvas. There were soldiers and people in the nearby temple, performing a ceremony where they transfer a statue of their god to a safer temple downhill. The soldiers were giving free food to everyone in town.

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Following the crowd, we headed down. This time round, we reached first as we were not affected by altitude sickness and we had enough food. Though trekking downhill was much easier, developing blisters was the sacrifice we had to make. By the time we reached the base, Shah had to endure 6 blisters on each leg.

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After regrouping with the rest, we haggled for an overpriced jeep. After another long ride (in India, everywhere is a long ride), we reached the town of Chopta at night. Same freezing cold and same ghost town except that there were only 4 lodging houses and the whole town population congregated there. Estimated population at that point of time: 20 men, 0 women.

Ting bargained for rooms like a seasoned pro and got us a superb rate. I was totally impressed by Ting’s complaining and bickering abour how bad the room was and making the owner succumbed to a low price (SGD 7 for a private resort stay in the mountain) willingly.

We went for a Thali meal (refillable rice with many vegetable dishes) cooked by the owner and crashed to bed not soon after. Waking up the next freezing morning was torturous. Even though we slept with all our clothes on including our boots, we were shivering. Forcing ourselves out, driven by hunger, we headed to the kitchen. We were quite amazed because the owner cooked using firewood. We also came to realise that they were using solar panels as their limited electricity source. Being spoilt children of Singapore, this was something new to us. The owner then warmed his hands by the fire while waiting for the water to boil. We did the same and were hypnotized by the dancing soothing flame of warmth.

Breakfast was soon over and the ever-energetic Philip was up for another trek to the top. The rest of the group refused in synchronicity, so he went up with Ting accompanying him. We were amazed by the endurance of veteran travellers like Philip and Ting. The rest of us spent the next 2 days wandering the area and were more than happy. Totally breathtaking views, long flat winding roads with minimal traffic and picnic on carpet grasses became our joyous routine.

On the third day, we finally trekked up Chopta. Like Kedarnath, the views were too spectacular to describe using words. The only difference was that it was more well-maintained and the incline slopes were much gentler. At the peak, we had a panoramic view of the Himalayas. Again, it was too special to be described with words. Such things just needs to be experienced and not described.

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The next morning, we got ready for a 10-hour ride back home, and yes Shah was feeling REALLY homesick despite the excellent views – homesick to what our hearts call Home – RISHIKESH!!

India

Eudaimoniacs RTW Series: Leg 1 India (Rishikesh) Day 63 to 92 – Thosai and Chai


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After close to 24hours of not having enough sleep, we strolled along the airport in Delhi for an hour before taking a 1 hour flight to Dehradun. Reaching there at noon, we took a prepaid taxi to Haridwar, a holy Hindu town near Rishikesh.

There, we were greeted by Rohit, an English teacher with his own English language centre. We were asked to give a 1.5hour talk about ourselves and our travels to his students. We really enjoyed it and were quite delighted that his students were very supportive and warm. At night, we tried to look around for a taxi or rickshaw to get to Rishikesh because Rohit has helped to arrange for a Czech girl to host us for the night in Rishikesh. With our overloaded backpacks in a cold, dark and unfamiliar area, we desperately succumbed to an overpriced rickshaw ride that cost us more than 10 times the actual fare locals paid.

Students from Howard Language Institute in Haridwar

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When we reached Rishikesh, I felt a positive surge of energy running within me. Crossing the legendary Ram Jhula bridge, the day’s stress just disappeared as I savoured the soothing wind scented by the revered Ganga River. We took a while to find Petra, our 26-year-old host from Czech Republic, even though it was just a few minutes walk on the other side of the bridge.

Laksman Jhula bridge

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Petra greeted us with ginger honey lemon tea for us, cooked some kind of rice mixed with spices and herbs and left her room for us to have our privacy while she slept in her friend’s room. We were really grateful to be acquainted with a hospitable individual like her.

We woke up early the next morning to start hunting for rooms. After 2 hours, we came back full circle to the ashram where Petra is staying and clinched a deal to stay 3 rooms away from her for just 200 rupees ($4.80) a day! We had a small kitchen, toilet, double bed, small hall to put our massive bags and best of all, a balcony overlooking the Ganga River!

View of Ganga River from our balcony. Watching the sunset and sunrise from here is purely a bliss.

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Ram Jhula Bridge, 3 mins away from our apartment.

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We intended to stay for 2 weeks but in Rishikesh, every single day was an adventure. We made new friends on a daily basis who will give us information on what to do or where to go. Luck was rolling its momentum for us and like in Tiruvannamalai, coincidences happened so frequently that we could not just brush it off as pure random chance.

Our best relationship was made with Katherine, a 51 year old Singaporean. She recognised our accent while we were buying bread and we became travelling buddies afterwards. Kat is travelling for 6 months in India and was voluntarily teaching in a school in Leh before heading down to Rishikesh to run away from the oncoming winter.

Katherine from Singapore (cute right?)

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Katherine introduced us to 3 Taiwanese girls – Hsiao Ting, Shanti and Camilia.

Hsiao Ting (affectionately called Ting) is a travelling veteran. An avid explorer since graduating from university, she had traveled extensively for the past 10 years only returning to Taiwan to for 6-18 months at a time to work, safe money and then set off again until her financial well dries up.

Hsiao Ting (Ting) from Taiwan

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Shanti is Hsiao Ting’s younger sister. Shy and reserved, she was the total opposite of Ting. Greatly influenced by the adventures of her sister, she decided to travel India for 3 months and from the looks of it, have been infected by the travelling bug. She will be returning in mid-December to work, save and then try for a 1-year working holiday in Australia in June 2013.

Shanti (Ting’s younger sister) and Pushpa from India =p

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Camila is a yoga teacher who looks 10 years younger than her age. Fearless and confident, she is travelling solo and looking for a suitable ashram or yoga school to hone her skills. She was an inspiration because despite having an office job for the last 20 years, she decided to quit and start afresh at 40 to follow her passion for yoga.

Camila from Taiwan

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The 3 Taiwanese girls then introduced us to Philip, an enthusiastic German trekker who was willing to guide us for a trek in Uttarakhand’s magnificent mountains for free. Because of Philip, we saved about $1000 as were close to signing up for a 6-day trek at a similar region. He guided us for 5 days in Kedarnath and Chopta, the most magnificent views we both have witnessed in our lives so far. (Details to be covered during next blog entry)

Philip from Germany

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There were other significant friends we made along the way. Sasha was a German guy we kept bumping into frequently who ended up being our neighbour in Rishikesh. Like us, he was a fan of Tiruvannamalai as well and talking to him made hours passed like minutes. He was in Rishikesh for a 21-day Panchakarma treatment (an intense detoxification program which i would not really recommend) and over the days, he grew to be a really excellent friend whom i wish to keep in contact with for life.

Sascha from Germany and Shah from Nepal or izzit Sikkim? =p

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Morena was another interesting character Linda met online on Couchsurfing. An Italian who was in between jobs exploring India for one month, she was racing to absorb different parts of India as much as possible, a task that we think is overwhelmingly daunting (our salutes to her for being efficient in travelling solo around India with minimal rest in between places). Even she agreed and told us that the next time she comes over, she will just stay in one spot and relax. We met up with her and went to Mussorie, a nearby hill station together. We grew rather fond of her energetic and positive presence and missed her company greatly.

Morena from Italy

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December finally arrived. Kat is going to Bhopal to meet her friend in a monastery. Phillip is heading north to Himachal Pradesh to conquer more mountains. Sasha is heading to the holy town of Tiruvannamalai. The three Taiwanese girls and Morena are going South to the desert state of Rajasthan. We wish to stay longer in Rishikesh (for me it is more like forever) but since my mum bought us a Desert Festival ticket in Gujarat for 15th December, we knew going with the flow would be to follow the Taiwanese girls. And so, our next adventures will be a chapter on Rajasthan – land of ancient warriors and splashful vibrant coloured artworks!

To see more travel photos, do add us on our Facebook Page, “Eudaimoniacs Singapore”. Happy travels!

India

Eudaimoniacs RTW Series: Leg 1 India (Mumbai) Day 61 to 63 – Thosai and Chai


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All good things have to come to an end. Unfortunately for us, we had to leave our paragliding family to continue our journey. We decided we needed to rejuvenate our bodies and do nothing for a while. Discussing with our paragliding mates, we opted for Rishikesh, the world capital of yoga. Unfamiliar with the complicated train system in India, we opted to pay extra for convenience by flight to Dehra Dun’s Jolly Grant Airport, 25km from Rishikesh.

From Kamshet, we had to go to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport and fly to Delhi, transit for 1 hour before heading to Dehra Dun. Our dear fellow paragliding pilot, Hemanshu, volunteered to host us for our short 24 hour stay in Mumbai before our departure. Leaving Kamshet in a jeep, we descended down from the Deccan Plateau to the most populated city in India – Mumbai.

We reached Hemanshu’s place around midnight. Stuck in a complicated avenue, we called Hemanshu for help and like a galiant knight in shining armour, he rode a scooter from behind and showed us the way to his colony (in India, residential buildings under the same management are called colonies).

There i was greeted warmly by his aunt who surprised me with my second birthday cake in India (altogether i had 3 birthday cakes this year in India when usually in Singapore, nobody cares). We slept about 1 in the morning, woke up early to catch the sunrise on his rooftop while having breakfast made by his lovely mum and then began our hectic tour of Mumbai.

First stop was Hemanshu’s office. He is a lawyer specializing in real estate and the ambience of his office really commanded respect though it was balanced by his humble character. The afternoon went by quickly with Hemanshu driving us to malls, newly developing properties in Mumbai’s ballooning real estate market and passing by some slum areas. And yes, all this while we were experiencing what driving in a gridlock city feels like and it does not feel good at all. Stress and forced patience were constant companions throughout.

At Hemanshu’s law firm

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We went to Marine Drive, home to the biggest Bollywood celebrities. By chance, it was Shah Rukh Khan’s birthday and there was a huge crowd of fans and paparazzi in front of his bungalow gates. We stayed for a while before heading off to Haji Ali Mosque.

Outside Shah Rukh Khan’s mansion. Hundreds of fans came to catch a glimpse of the birthday boy.

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Haji Ali Mosque was a sight. Even the drive there was a magnificent sight. We had to drive past a newly constructed bridge that resembled San Fransisco’s Bridge. The mosque is situated in the sea and is only accessible by a tiny road which was heavily packed with stalls and sightseers. We watched the sunset and headed back to the carpark to meet our other paragliding buddy, Husein.

Haji Ali Mosque

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He brought us to her sister’s house and we were totally shocked by the grandeur of her apartment. Being a security guard to support myself through polytechnic, i’ve seen a fair share of what a wealthy apartment looks like but this was something else. In short, her apartment was the best i’ve ever seen in terms of aesthetics, view and technology.

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After that we went off for a long savoury dinner followed by a combined cake for the November babies – Linda, Husein and myself. We spent about an hour by the coastline before Hemanshu and Husein took shifts to drive us around Mumbai covering the iconic Taj Hotel and Queen’s necklace. We had a final cup of coffee together and all of us were getting drowsy from a lack of sleep.

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Husein went home and Hemanshu painstakingly drove us to the airport punctually at 4am. In short it was a comfortable tour of Mumbai made possible only thanks to our paragliding buddies, Husein and ESPECIALLY Hemanshu. So with that, we would love to say our thanks once again to the both of them and rub our palms in anticipation of the adventures that await us in Rishikesh. Until then, we are in desperate need for sleep right now.