1. Arriving in India, and being invited to our travel agents Iffy and Joma’s home for dinner with their family. We sat on the floor, Indian style, eating the most amazing curries, rice, and vegetables with our hands. It still amazing me how hospitable locals are to foreigners.
2. Changing our flight on a whim from Leh to Srinigar with hopes of trekking and fly fishing in the rugged Kashmiri outdoors.
3. Touring Dal Lake by Shiraka, a small row boat. The lake was clear as glass, and dotted with pink lotus flowers. The mountains, trees and houseboats reflected on the lake as though they existed as their own entity and not just a double. I played music through my speakers. It was relaxing and tranquil, the ride as like a unforgettable daydream.
4. Listening into our intuition to leave Srinigar early when news of riots and protests erupted in the city center–leaving one boy dead after being hit (accidentally) by a policeman’s tear gas canister. Shops were closed and protests were suspected to continue due to the lack of support by the government to provide supplies and shelter to the Hindus during their pilgrimages. It was unfortunate to leave, but with this news as well as the upcoming India Independence day, it was not particularly safe to stay as we did not want to be caught in a wrong time-wrong place situation. Beautiful Srinigar, I will be back. One day.
5. Flying from Srinigar to Leh and glimpsing our first views of the Himalaya Mountains!
6. Lazily spending three days in Leh acclimatizing, reading books, trying different Indian cuisine, and wondering the shops and walkways.
7. Hiring a jeep with 2 other travelers and journeying to Nubra Valley, travelling alongside the cliff’s edge on windy roads and crossing the highest motor-able pass in the world.
8. Exploring a handful of monasteries. My favorite, was a giant construction perched atop a hillside cliff 100 feet away from a roaring waterfall. The sound of the rushing water and the isolation of the monastery gave the place a magical feeling.
9. Riding two-humped camels through sand dunes!!!!
10. Leaving on a trekking trip with Reme and Gabriel, brother and sister from France, and getting a flat tire about a 15 minute walk from our starting point destination. After a hilarious photoshoot, we walked the remainder of the way to our campsite where we met an Italian couple and spent the remainder of the night playing cards and speaking in 3 languages.
11. Reme and Gabriel left after 6 days, but Suz and I signed up for a 14 day trekking trip. We woke up each morning to hot tea outside our tent and a warm breakfast waiting in the cooks tent. We walked 4-8 hours a day through stunning landscape, crossing valleys, rivers, climbing 4 passes-the highest being over 4950meters high and celebrating with swigs of Chang beer (a homebrewed wheat beer made by the locals).
12. Suzanne and I nicknaming our guides, cooks, and ponymen “gangsta names”, there was G-Unit, T-Dawg, Ice Cube, Flava Flav, Diggity, Dr. Dre, Q-Diddy, LL Cool J and Snoop Dawg. Since Indian names were hard for us to pronounce and easy to forgot, we used these nicknames and it was a HUGE hit. They in turn nicked named us Indian names, Reme was Gime, Gaby was Achan, Suz was Zesma and I was nicknamed Padma (meaning flower), and called Pame for short.
13. Helping T-Dawg, our amazing cook, make Momos–a Tibetan pot sticker type dumpling.
14. Witnessing a rainbow in the dark. I would have never imagined this was even possibly, but there it was a beautiful full sized rainbow lit up by the glow of the full moon.
15. Putting together a limbo competition while listening to music from our Ipods. Our cooks, guides, ponymen–everyone participated. It was so much fun!
16. Watching the mountains change colors, from purple to yellow to green to gold over the course of our 14 day trek.
17. Washing our laundry on rocks in the river with the warm sun on our backs.
18. Taking baths in river streams.
19. Finally developing a taste, and love for tea!
20. Teaching our cook, guide, poneyman and two monks how to play the card game “Spoons” in the tent.
21. Standing less than 50 yards away from a herd of 30-40 Ibex, and after watching them graze in the grass for 20 minutes, I ran after them shouting with a Seagull voice just to see them stampede. It was remarkable watching them run.
22. Skipping rocks on Tsokar Lake with Zesma, G-Unit and T-Dawg.
23. Going to Yoga classes at a meditation center.
24. Zesma and I renting bicycles and riding out of town with a daypack, and stopping in a small village called Thiksey for the night.
25. Waking up before dawn and hiking to the top room of the monastery. We sat on the floor in a room of 30+ monks who were sitting on cushions, chanting their morning prayers and being served breakfast (tea, water and wheat flour, which they mix together to form a dough-like substance). Most of the monks were young boys and it was quite hilarious watching them play and joke while they were supposed to be chanting.
26. Riding a few hours to another small town, and instead of carrying on in the rain, we convinced a car to strap our bikes to the top of the roof and let us hitchhike back into Leh. This whole conversation was done in hand gestures as they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Ladakhi.
27. Flying to Leh and hiring a driver to take us to Jaipur and Agra.
28. Going to a Bollywood film with our driver and his friend.
29. Walking around he Monkey Temple, a temple outside of Jaipur, and taking a photoshoot with local children and women dressed in beautiful Saris and henna-painted hands and feet.
30. Walking around the Taj Mahal and taking pictures of the white marbled temple at sunset.
31. Being asked to be in photos with an Indian family (grandparents, parents, children etc.) which turned into a 10 minute photo shoot.
32. Witnessing the burning of bodies in Varanasi. 300-400 bodies are burned a day and are ignited from a flame that has supposedly been burning continuously for over 2000 years. The bodies are carried by family members on bamboo poles and weaved grass mats and are wrapped by scarves each family member gives as a final gift. The body is tipped into the Gange River, the face and body splashed with the holy water. After drying, the scarves are removed and set to the side and the body, now wrapped only in a cotton sheet, is placed on top of the wood and a man in charge places more wood on top of the body and finally ignites the wood from a neighboring fire. The cremation process takes 3 hours, leaving only the collarbone from a man and hipbone from a woman in the pile of ash. After the cremation is finished, the brother or closest relative extracts a bucket of water from the Gange and extinguishes the fire. The workers gather the ashes in a bucket and hand it to a man who is wast deep in the river. He pours the ashes into a weaved basket, filtering the ashes to salvage any pieces of jewelry or bits of gold that were buried with the deceased. These items go into the pocket of the owner of the crematory. The expense of a cremation depends on the type of wood selected, but for Iron Wood (similar to Sandlewood which is used to mask the smell of the burning body) costs roughly 250Rp per Kilo of wood. Each cremation requires an estimated 200 Kilos of wood. For the families who cannot afford this, other families chip in until enough is purchased and the body can be burned. Since Varanasi is deemed one of the holiest cities in India, the majority of people bring their loved ones here to be cremated, as they believe that here the body will be released to Nirvana. The only bodies they do not burn are pregnant women, children (under the age of 16), animals of any kind, and people with leprosy. Instead they are weighted and dropped in the middle of the river. Despite the cremation process that takes place in and around the Gange River, we rode in a boat at sunrise watching men, women and children bath and wash their clothes in the river, as they deem this water to be holy.
35. Standing on a rooftop over looking the banks of the river, while watching locals perform Puja, a type of blessing.
34. Going to a restaurant recommended by our travel agent, and ordering a South Indian dish that was similar to a crepe. We ordered the one that looked like it has the most variety of stuff in it, but turned out it just meant that it was the biggest. The crepe was bigger that my arm!