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Pangong Lake

Leh is a hot spot for starting epic treks and home stay experiences in an extremely remote part of the world. However we spent most of the time in one homestay in Leh itself, venturing only as far as our moped skills/bravey/gas would take us into the immediate surroundings, and eating a lot of momos with some friends back home who we quite literally walked into on the street. The 1 real excursion we did was to visit Pangong Lake, and this was one of the most incredible trips I have ever done!

Pangong Lake is incredibly large, very high up (4,250 ft) and otherworldly beautiful. It borders China and India, with one third of the lake in India, and the rest in Tibet (controlled by China). You drive for about 6 hours from Leh, which is an experience in itself and involves crossing one of the highest motor passes in the world (although on this trip we seemed to come across quite a few of these!). As you drive, the roads get rougher, the landscape bleaker, the temperature plummets, and the military presence increases.

I suffer altitude sickness very easily and classic me, actually fainted in the back of the car at one point. Excellent stuff. The driver had oxygen in the back ready for this kind of scenario, and we were with 2 South Koreans with an huge amount of medicine on them, and an Israeli doctor who all fussed over me a fair amount. The only place to stay are a variety of tent camps and the odd cheaper concrete bungalow. As a group we opted for a fairly nice tent camp with attached bathrooms. I spent a fair amount of time asleep wrapped up in the tent whilst Charlie skimmed stones, but did recover enough to spend a good amount of time staring at the lake and wandering a little way around its shores.

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When you are actually there, it does not look like a lake. You cannot see the end of it, (its 100kms long) and even if you did want to walk and walk, at some point you reach the Chinese border and can’t go any further anyway. The landscape around is utterly bare, making the blue all the more vivid.

Just watching the clouds and their reflections was mesmerising, and the air that high up (whether because I was so light headed or because it was so clean and crisp) makes everything look and feel incredible.

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We had dinner with everyone else staying in our camp – dal and rice – we were famished and seriously relieved when they brought out a huge slow cooker of food.

Full of hot food, we wrapped up under the many blankets provided in the tent, + our double sleeping bag we had brought with us in addition. Waking up the next morning and venturing outside was even better than our first impressions upon arrival. Cue lots more pictures and stone skimming. My memory is a little hazy, as its been a few years now, but at some point we all set off back to Leh, and I am fairly certain I slept the whole journey back.

To anyone in that part of the world, absolutely do this trip!

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Floating in Srinagar Part 1.

We spent our first two days doing not much at all apart from some meandering around Dal lake (the big main one) and all the gardens. Having thus recovered fully from the journey there and the initial shock of just how unlike anything else the scenery is, we ticked a massive keen offbeat tourist box and went to the floating vegetable market on our third day. This entailed getting up at 3.30am and walking in the dark and rain from the home stay to lake Nigeen. This is a smaller lake which is connected to Dal through a myriad of waterways. (Such a guide book phrase that). We drifted off in the darkness on a shakira with the sounds of morning Ramadan prayers hitting from several directions.

Sadly the rain did not let off but this provided great entertainment as sellers fought to get spots under the occasional bridge. The shakira are fairly substantial canoe type boats with seating and a raised canopy. The boats the merchants were on were tiny little planks of wood in comparison with no shelter or seating. The mean sat cross legged at the end with their one oar bunched up incredibly small as they navigated their way.
The market was really great to watch and smelt amazing. All the merchants were joking away whilst weighing and measuring using simple rock weights and exchanging beans, coriander, mint…. And not falling out of their tiny thin vessels!

Another tourist shakira boat was nearly less fortunate. Packed full of Chinese tourists, one of whom was especially large, the whole thing nearly tipped over when the man in question leans right over the edge with an enormous camera to try get the perfect shot….

A man about 50 years old whose name we never actually got was our *oarsman*. He was so great, very calm but with a wry sense of humour. He also told us about his british girlfriend who lived with him for 6 months when he was 21. A Charlotte something who lived in Parsons Green! We had a good ponder over whether any of our friends’ mothers were the right name and age…

From him and several other Kashmiri people we spoke to we got a sense that they were not keen on the domestic Indian tourists. In his opinion, for example, they ruined lake Dal with noise and litter. And it’s true the littering and cavalier loud posturing we saw in a lot of cases seemed very disrespectful of this beautiful and also conflicted place. Perhaps those behaving in this way (although not all by any means do obviously!) see it as just another part of India whereas as international tourists we have a certain amount of awe and also trepidation about visiting what for us is so far flung and recently dangerous a place.

We are in Leh now but more to report on Srinagar to come!
Xxx Fabia

P.s for any concerned readers we found Srinagar to be incredibly safe and welcoming and the Kashmiri people have some of the most genuine smiles I have seen!

First stop – Amritsar

Hello!
So we are in Amritsar pretty much just to see the Golden Temple and then head up to Kashmir.
It is SO hot but no signs of the monsoon in sight! The skies are clear and there is even an occasional breeze. We went this morning at 5.30 to to see the temple for the first time. It sits in the middle of a lake connected by a narrow bridge. All the way around is a marble walk way full of people. It’s a huge site but very simple. I think we caught the end of the morning prayer session. Everyone was so helpful and pointed us towards the place to dump our shoes… The communal eating area… We also had the inevitable photo demands. Not just cute children but entire families.
So after feeling like minor celebs we left. It was only 7am when we got back to the hotel but even that early the heat was exhausting!
After a snooze we headed to a recommended hotel with a bar and wifi. Was heavily looking forward to a cold beer but as we had accidentally forgotten most our money, had a tough decision between that or a coffee and my caffeine addiction won out. We basically copped out of any sight seeing and took advantage of aircon and wifi inside to do some planning for Turkey and kindle downloading.
After being incredibly lazy we ventured back out this evening and were welcomed by a breeze and temperature drop. I excitedly shouted I have not even sweated a single drop yet!!! – as we wandered down the Main Street of the old town. Luckily English speakers are few and far between. To make up for our lack of culture in the day we sampled a sort of deep fried potatoes saucy burger thing from a street stall and made a prayer to the god of travel germs. Families with kids were eating there and the food was being made continuously on the spot which according to the holy grail that is our lonely planet travel guide (semi-sarcastic) means such a spot is a fairly safe bet.

We then returned to see the Golden Temple. It looks completely different at night. I can’t really think of a better description than so shiny and glowy…
Charlie spent ages perfecting his camera settings. As a post oxford well done for surviving gift he has a brand new Cannon dslr and I am already feeling jealous of it.

The beauty of the temple was heightened/ became a bit apocalyptic when huge lightening bolts began appearing in the sky. As the first rain drops began to fall we hot footed it like the cowardly westerners we are to the local Dominoes. Not feeling too good about our hardy travel credentials right now but at least we have pizza.

Tomorrow we are getting the train to Jammu which will also be sweltering but from there onwards we shall be in the cool gorgeous more mountainy areas.

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Jaisalmer

Our final stop in rajathstan (the nort of India) was jaisalmer- a beautiful sandstone city that seems to rise out of the desert itself. The journey there was far less picturesque, comprising of a 12 hour overnight bus. Our seats had been marketed as ‘sleeper class” but as we were buffeted around our coffin-like compartment we started to think that something may have got lost in translation.. having deeply repressed my memories of bus travel from south east Asia it is hard to measure how the indian experience compared- the latter certainy scores higher in the sense that a Vietnamese air conditioning unit did not explode all over me, but it is not an experience I will be clammering to repeat.

So we arrived into jaisalmer at 830AM in need of both sleep and and a chyropracter – luckily Fabia had booked us a beautiful haveli to stay in. Having rested up all lunchtime we felt strong enough to swap the air-conditione comfort of our hotel and beds for the desert and a camel’s back. We hopped in a jeep and 30 minutes later arrived at the Sam sand dunes. I had never been to a desert before so was really wowed by the dunes. We hired a friendly camel called ‘Michael Jackson’ for an hour and a half and set off the explore the dunes. Michael certainly possessed the dancing hooves of his namesake although trying to get a camel to moonwalk proved a bit too ambitious.. Obviously recognising fabia’s horse-riding prowess, our guide relinquished the reins and we had a great time trotting around. he also proved a worthy competitor in an impromptu sand dune long-jump competition. I emerged out of the sand victorious but with what felt like half of the Sahara caked onto my body. Despite multiple showers and much scrubbing I can still feel like I am shedding sand. I guess all great victories come at a price..

Sent from my iPhone

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Jaipur and Bundi

Hello,

I’m writing this, my first post on this blog, from a delightful restaurant in bundi. It’s run by two brothers called Tom and Jerry whose cat and mouse cartoon counterparts lend their names and faces to the restaurant and its menus. We originally only intended to pop in for a quick drink and bite to eat but a local monsoon had other ideas.. Umbrella-less we decided to sit it out . 3 hours, 2 pizzas and many milkshakes later we are still waiting for the rain to stop.. All the food has been super tasty though so we are not complaining. it was really nice to have some western-style cooking. The Indian cuisine is great, especially the rich and creamy paneer curries which is like melt in the mouth tofu, but after a week of complex textures and spices we were both craving something simple and familiar.

Before stopping of at Tom and Jerry’s we had spent a few hours exploring the local fort and palace. Kipling described the latter as “the work of goblins rather than men”‘and with its decaying rock-hewn grandeur you could certainly imagining it in a lord of the rings film! The Taragarth fort also had a great sense of adventure to it- set on a hilltop above the palace, it is a collision zone between man and nature; wildly overgrown trees and shrubs do battle with 700 year old stone arches and walkways. As you explore the dead ends and deserted hallways you half expect indian jones to suddenly burst through a wall, ancient artefact in hand! On the way back down we encountered some of the local makaws we had previously been warned about. Although we had heard horror stories of them swinging down to steal phones out of pockets, and we had even been armed with a large stick “for our own protection”, the ones we met were perfectly well-behaved and fun to watch. Maybe a few bad apples with kleptomaniac tendencies have spoiled their reputation. They are incredibly agile and I think graceful creatures. The controlled way they use their momentum to propel themselves first-time from rooftop to rock to tree at great speed is a great sight.

This rugged hilltop taragath fort had a very different feel to it than Jaipur’s pink city and amber Fort. Although we greatly enjoyed the elephant ride up to the latter, once inside I was somewhat underwhelmed. There were some very nice views and architecture but it seemed to lack a bit of character. Maybe this feeling is a natural product of seeing the Taj Mahal a few days earlier. Perhaps this also explains why I particularly enjoyed exploring Taragarth today; With its crumbling defences, deserted towers and overgrown courtyards it feels completely different from the taj’s white marbelled symmetry. Getting lost within its claustrophobic walls, as makaws tracked our every move felt like an adventure and it was a far cry from some of the more tepid tourist and tout-filled sights we had visited earlier in the week. Exploring Taragath felt genuine and exciting and it was an experience I hope to recapture when we visit the famous chittaughar fort tomorrow.

Charlie x

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