Monday, January 30, 2006

Keep 'em coming!!!

Hahah, Okay you guys, that made my day! That's what I like to see. Great start but keep 'em coming. We know there HAS to be more of you out there so confess it. Thank you to those of you that wrote. All 11 of you are now accounted for!!
We worry that we may have bored you and that you are no longer interested in what we're writing. We see and do SO many things each day that we couldn't possibly write every detail. We each keep a daily journal for ourselves but the blog is for everyone. If there is anything in particular that you want to hear about, let us know! Ask us about anything. There's lots to tell......

Friday, January 27, 2006


Okay folks, this is just a quick note to tell you all that we WANT/need you to leave comments! We always check for comments but most often there are none ( except for our few faithful followers). Let us know who is actually reading this. Or is anyone at all? Have we really gotten boring and old in the past 8 1/2 months that we've been here, lol? So just make a quick shout out to tell us what you think! Then we can see how many people are keeping up to date and if it's worth our paying to keep you informed. All we need is a quick "Yup still here! So and so..." Thanks folks.
We'll be back soon to write more about INDIA (only if we hear back from you)!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Camel Safari

It's seems I couldn't've come up with a better itinerary if I tried....
It seems that Alysha has never been to a desert and seen a hill of sand away from the beach. Our 3 day, 2 night camel safari started as all safaris out here start, with a 2 hr delay (welcome to Indian time). After a 1 1/2 hr (including a couple stops at temples) jeep ride out into the desert we were introduced to our camelmen. 5 of us, 5 of them, and only 6 camels. The guys doubled up on the spare or alternated walking/jogging along beside. We thought this a bit silly at first but I'm now inclined to believe that it was a carefully planned scheme to save their arses. Ours are completely pulverized. After all the horseback riding we've done we were expecting some pain but I've never been in worse shape after a few days of riding. It's not that it is due to uncomfortable seating or even a weird gait but there is something about the whole thing (possibly the lack of stirrups?) that wrecks you more. Having said that, it was worth it (although we'll be a while recovering).
Jaisalmer (beautiful town, awesome sandcastle fort on a hill overlooking everything right in the middle) is the camel safari town and although it is very small (~50,000 people) it sees tons of tourists come to ride out into the desert sunset on the sand dunes on the back of a smelly camel. Because of this it is notoriously known as a huge tourist trap with some of the worst harrassment and hassle anywhere in India. Fortunately our luck continues and we fell in with someone from a nice (and friendly) guest house which has saved us a lot of trouble. We organized the safari through them as they are the only group doing safaris in one particular area away from all the other groups and camp followers associated with them. Consequently we were very quickly out in the middle of nowhere on the back of a camel straining to hear....anything. Deserts are always cool because of that deathly silence that accompanies them. The only sounds were the crunch, crunch, crunch of the camels stepping on the dry, crusty ground or their constant chewing. Occasionally the girls would break out into a chorus (the sherpa song from Nepal) to pass the time.
I must admit though that I can no longer say "the middle of nowhere" comfortably because I have been there and it is actually somewhere in the Gobi desert. This desert (the Thar) has much more life. There are quite a few bushes and the occasional tree here and there, and often we found ourselves walking over what was once farm land, apparently they've tried to irrigate large sections of the desert but the growing season is really short and the land is just left barren most of the time. We would also come across random herds of goats or sheep watched by a shepherd trying to stay cool under a tree. From what we've been told nobody owns the land and if you are crazy enough to start building a house somewhere you can have it, so there are small villages scattered around and plenty of wells for drawing water. It was at the wells that we would attract attention and suddenly become surrounded by curious village kids. They are nice enough but wow, crazy ear piercings and massive amounts of jewelry on their mother's (gold is for married ladies only). So I guess this particular "middle of nowhere" was dry, dusty and quiet, but not lifeless.
We spent a total of about 4 hrs on the camels each day and set up camp each night right on the sand dunes that we got to just before sunset. Food was simple but adequate and the guys were really accomodating. Alysha was right into it all, wanting to help cook, clean, gather firewood and learn all she could. The rest of us just wanted to recover. We did find time to goof off in the sand and have fun too (hopefully we can get some more videos up soon). I know you guys at home are getting nothing but rain (and we haven't had any for 5-6 weeks now) but I want to complain about the weather too. It's cold! It's winter here so it's pushing 30C during the day but at night it's almost 0C and that is not cool (ah, but it is so very) when you are sleeping on the sand with a blanket looking at all the stars. Tons of stars too. Great, awesome, but not the best. The best were still in Kyrgyzstan. (I wonder if that is due to the fact that in Kyrgyzstan we were at a much higher elevation so there was less atmosphere to distort the image and thus the stars feel closer? If anyone knows, do tell.)
We will be in Jaisalmer for another day or two recovering and exploring this little city. It has tons of character and it may be the only chance Alysha has to shop for clothes and get stuff made so we are going to take full advantage.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Rat temple

I don't know how to say this but the Rat temple at Deshnok (near Bikaner) has got to be the coolest thing in all of India. Hindus consider rats to be a sacred animal (don't ask me why, but there is definately no shortage here in India) and have dedicated a temple to them. It's the strangest thing ever because it is a beautiful temple and a holy place with plenty of legit pilgrims but the place is completely infested with rats. Intentionally of course. They feed them and leave out big bowls of milk for them to drink. The idea is to take your shoes off and walk around hoping that the rats will run over your feet. It's considered good luck, but I think the best we got was the odd rat nibbling on our toes!! Actually I think Alysha had a pair sitting on top of her foot so she's really lucky now. Savannah found the white rat (also a very auspicious sign) too.
Yeah it's all pretty creepy but loads of fun, especially as none of us are afraid of rats (these ones were quite tame really) and there are groups of screaming Indians trying to do their holy thing but deathly afraid at the same time. Definately one of the best days in a while.......

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Taj Mahal

Ok, so now we've seen everything in India. Apparently you don't need to see anything other than the Taj.
After picking up Alysha, all 6 of us took an overnight trip to Agra to go see the Taj. Guess what, it looks exactly like all the pictures. It receives so much praise but with all the headache of getting to it, paying for it and fighting the crowds for the picture I'm inclined to say there are nicer spots in India. Oddly enough, the further away from it you are the nicer it is. The inside smells like dirty feet (sorry but it's true) and the outside has plenty of stains and cracks but if you are on the other side of the garden looking up at it then it is truly amazing. It's almost like looking at a mirage because it just looks so much bigger than it is and it sticks up from it's own pedastal with only a blue sky behind. I don't know, but it's a weird effect. We all preferred to stay back and look from a distance.
The following day we snuck into Agra fort. Don't ask me how we managed that. It's the most important fort in the country and a huge tourist site (and therefore way overpriced). We were enjoying the outside (always the best part of forts anyway), and had decided not to go inside, but wanted to walk into the gate as far as we could just to peek inside. Well, nobody stopped us so we went all the way in, then back out when we were done. Oops to them, I guess they thought we were part of one of the organized tour groups. Ha ha.
Back to Delhi for a day. We said goodbye to Sandra and caught the next train south west to Bikaner. It's well into the desert near the border with Pakistan. They have a great fort here and tons of carts being pulled by camels instead of the usual ox or horse. Looks great. Tomorrow we head a little further southwest to Jaisalmer where we intend to do a camel safari for a few days out in the desert and sand dunes.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sandra's view

Oh Wow ... people I am having so much fun here and feel like it was yesterday I left home... I must tell you guys instead of Ammon trying to kill me, I am successfully killing him with the girls (including Maggie the mom!) haha...I have to tell you guys they are doing great here and I don't feel I left home... To be honest, it is tough to walk 17 km a day, stay on train for 54 hours and freeze to death in the middle of the night... the only reason I manage to do this is because I am with a group of people who show no limit in themselves AND all the fun we have after the long day "HARD WORKING"...Time to tell the truth about the "REAL" life here!
Maggie the mom - She is still the maggie the mom I met 8 months ago, except she looks a lot younger and less stressed!!! She is very cute when she laugh out loud for a tiny reason!!!And when a problem comes, she always say "ah... that's easy... you can just doing this and that.." Here, I must not allow Ammon to take all the credit... Maggie the mom is doing a good job to keep everyone in good shape by constantly rehydrating us with mineral water, oranges, pineapple, and coconuts! So this explains why the girls are still living!!!! Oh another reason I love her because she broke the rules with us... we broke SOME records here, too! OK ... We had 3 ice cream cones from Mcdonald's yesterday, then pizza, and chips! Yes all in the same day! And she still having this "a pop a day" rule!
Ammon- I have to admit that he is great! I still don't know how he manages to organize this trip! You don't see fear in his eyes when he has to walk in the dark and looks for a room for us early in the morning (12:00 a.m.) ...I feel sorry for him with 4 girls and soon to be 5... I am sure we did stress him out here... We won't allow him to sleep 'til 11:00 p.m. at least, cuz we the girls keep giggling on and on at night and refuse to wake up 'til he has something planned out for the day! At one point on the train, he said "I feel like I am becoming a woman, too!"
Bre--- Still the happy girl without much change! Post cards, internet and drawing pictures! I figure out she is a good masseuse! After carrying the heavy pack for the whole day, it is always good to end your day with an hour massage by this girl!
Savannah--- ha.. this girl... changed the most! Instead of being a baby and refused to eat (months ago when we met in HK), she eats the most and laughs the most here! She talks non-stop about all the great experiences she had for the past months and how much she had learned! You just can't tell she is a 15 years girl only! I am very impressed by how much she enjoys the trip now! The only fear that she is having now is "GETTING FAT", but she is not and the locals here think she is the "Indian princess" and they love her so much! She's very pretty in her Indian outfits and you guys should take a look at the pictures!

I am very sad now because I have to leave soon... I don't know how I am going to sleep without the girls around when I go back to Vancouver...Oh well... doesn't really matter because I know I will join them again very soon!

You guys have to be here and see them in action... just so much to tell and can't really put all in words!


Friday, January 13, 2006

When Hell Froze Over......

Sorry for the delay but we've been running around at an insane speed lately. Too much to show Sandra before she leaves us. Consequently she has probably only slept in a bed half the time she's been here.
We have a few new records too. From Mysore we took the train to Delhi. 54 hrs all told. Again, it wasn't as bad as it sounds though it got progressively dirtier and colder the farther north we went. Our train didn't go all the way into central Delhi but stopped at a station farther south. We arrived around 11pm with no place to stay thinking there would be retiring rooms in the station (most major ones have them, this one did not) or a cheap hotel right beside the station that we could crash in (we were very wrong on this account too). Instead, outside the station looked like a refugee camp with homeless people and commuters sitting on rubble wrapped in dirty blankets warming themselves around open fires fueled with garbage off the street. Surprisingly, we didn't feel threatened by this only annoyed as we were followed around by lots of taxi drivers trying to cart us off to expensive hotels in the city centre. We wandered in the cold for a while before realizing there was nothing around but a couple of overpriced places to stay (I won't admit how much it was, but I will admit that the girls didn't know the exact amount either, it's all relative anyway) so it was decided to abandon the quest and join the unfortunate others in crashing on the train station floor for the night.
Railway stations all have waiting rooms corresponding to the class of travel but there are also women only waiting rooms. The ones at this station were pretty small and full but at least they were inside and therefore slightly warmer than freezing (by freezing I must remind you that we have been used to 30C+ for a couple months now so anything below 20C is cold). The girls took over what was left of the ladies waiting room and left me to fend for myself outside with everyone else. Hmm..... Well, at least if I had to be a bum for the night at least I could be a fancy one. With 5 layers (good thing we saved all our warm trekking clothes), a survival space blanket, a sleeping bag and 1/2 a dozen strategically placed hand warmer packets I was ready to face the night. Somehow I not only survived but managed to sleep a couple of hours too!!! (Note: This is probably a very bad sign that we are getting a little too comfortable with our present, miserable conditions.)
The next morning upon glancing at a local paper we learned that that night had been the coldest night in Delhi in 70 years!!! The 2nd coldest ever on record! The actual temp? 0.2C Apparently they'd been having a really bad cold spell this winter and the schools we're being closed down because of the excessive cold. Too bad it's not that easy getting schools closed at home......
We were only in Delhi for a day, visiting the embassy (the girls need new passports already), and briefly seeing a little of the old town before getting on another overnight train a little further north to Haridwar.
We finally got a bed in Haridwar (our 1st in 5 nights) but it was still just as cold..... Haridwar is a holy town (which means vegetarian food only), important because it is the official site where the Ganges river leaves the mountains and enters the plains. Tons of pilgrims come to bathe in the river year-round and light candles on little flower boats and send them down the river. They also have a little ceremony at sunset with candles and fire at the bathing ghat. Very interesting to watch though it felt a little intrusive to be there in the middle of all that taking pictures. We were the only foreigners there, which is nice, but at the same time can be bad as you are the sole target for all the beggars and "voluntary donation" collectors so you can't relax and soak in the atmosphere as well as you'd like.
2 days later we met with yet another shock as we arrived at the Haridwar station early in the morning to see monkeys, cows and dogs all sharing the floor with the commuters trying to sleep. Only in India.......
We managed to get all the way south from Haridwar to Jaipur in a day and again arrived late with nowhere to stay. This time we managed to get a room at the station (we are so exhausted we don't even notice the trains rumbling by right beside us anymore). Ran around and saw what we could of the old city of Jaipur in a day before catching another overnight train back to Delhi where we are now. We arrived this morning and are very excited to have Alysha join us tonight.
Jaipur (the capital of Rajasthan) is very much on the main tourist route and now all the stories of India I've heard are starting to make sense. It is by far the dirtiest place we've been to on this trip. Yes it has lots of forts and palaces but it is also thoroughly disgusting and I can't imagine what it would be like to go from home straight there as a tourist. We have been here too long (and slept on too many floors) to be affected anymore but it does explain a lot. Northern India in general is a lot dirtier and busier than the south. (I'll have to elaborate on that more later....)
Tommorow we are off to Agra to see the Taj as our rush around the north continues.....

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Eight months

Yup you guys, it's been eight months since we've seen the lovely land of home. Today we aren't actually doing much in the way of celebrating. We are going for pizza tonight to releave ourselves from curry hell! Yay! We sure hope it tastes like pizza. Not that it would matter. We probably can't tell the difference of real and fake anymore. I think Ammon is enjoying his anniversary more than us since he's sight seeing at a fort. We three girls decided to be lazy and do nothing. We're getting ready for our 50+ hours on the train to Delhi that we're taking tomorrow evening! We're going to be getting really busy once we get to Delhi!
Yesterday we went and saw the Mysore Palace. It was really beautiful and I really like the architecture here in India. They had elephants and camels walking around which was a bit out of place but very typical for India. Things are still good and running smoothly.
OUT from India

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hoysala temples

Happy New Year to all!
Yep, we have picked up Sandra and are back on the move. We are also trying to eat ourselves sick with all the candy, cookies, etc she brought for us. I swear our packs have doubled in weight since she arrived. Wow we've changed a lot as we can't handle the sugar at all anymore.
In true Watkins fashion we attempted to kill Sandra right away (as we did with Brittany) but she is way too tough. We picked her up at Cochin, and that night we got on an overnight train up the coast to Mangalore. Bre and Savannah had to share a bed on the train (again) because we were stuck trying to get the emergency quota tickets and they wouldn't give us 5. From Mangalore we jumped on a bus to Hassan, 5 hrs east and up on the Deccan plateau. Talk about another bus ride from hell, the only thing different between it and a rollercoaster was the lack of shoulder harnesses. It was crazy with all the turns and hills and the locals throwing up out the windows. Mmmmm..... I am also supposed to mention that we had to walk at least 3 km to the bus station (carrying our heavy packs, we are up to 30lbs now easy) and hadn't eaten anything but candy for ~24hrs. Add to that the lack of sleep and the heat and it's a wonder we weren't successful in our attempted murder.
In the towns around Hassan there are some great Hoysala temple ruins (at Halebid and Belur) with amazing stone carving decor all over the walls. I've never seen anything quite as detailed and delicate. Every pillar is different and every vertical level on the walls is a different set of images. Not many people get out here to see them and it's a pity because they are so beautiful. The surrounding countryside scenery is also great. It's still tropical but much drier now, with fields of corn and rubber plantations lined with palm trees surrounded by hills instead of canals and boats everywhere.
Today we have arrived in Mysore via yet another bumpy 3 hrs bus ride, thus we are now calling it "Mysorebutt" town. We will be here for the next 3 days seeing the palace and fort before taking off to Delhi on another very long train ride (we may set a new record with this one).