India

India Illuminates

I had a great time in India. As we travelled up north, I loved how the people, language & food changed. On the Indian train, we befriended some locals & they offered us food. People were friendly & warm. The multitude of different cultures which unites India makes it beautiful & unique. I loved the music & there was a rhythm to India.

Poverty was a novel & difficult experience which made me feel helpless. It was hard to see child beggars & groups of children picking up rubbish at the crack of dawn. It made me think of my grandparents & the reason they left India for Malaysia to seek a better future. I loved my grandparents & they always spoilt me even though they didn’t have a lot. I thought of my mother & how life was difficult for her. My life is a stark contrast to everything they had & I have grown up knowing this. I suppose, the extent of poverty never really registered in my life in such close proximity until I saw it in India. A mother came up to Subhen, asking him to buy her milk for her child. He went to the shop with her & was surprised to find that milk formula costs a lot of money. Although he put on a brave face, I know poverty affected him equally. Most of the time, I was handing out biscuits & sometimes money. I don’t know if what I did was right, but what stayed with me was their faces. I still remember them: that girl who boarded the bus asking for money.

I am usually an extremely paranoid person but I felt safe in India. Probably due to the fact that I had Subhen for company who sometimes joked that he was my body guard & occasional bag porter. I am grateful to have found an awesome travel companion. I could not have asked for better. I learnt about Indian culture history & Hinduism from him. He taught me how to hike by telling me to “trust my feet”. Encouraging me to go white-water rafting when I was having doubts. Making me eat when I really didn’t feel hungry because I was scared or exhausted. He was always there, keeping me grounded & taking perfect care of my well being. Such a friend is hard to come by & I remain grateful.

awesome friendship in jeep to Leh singing Hindi songs.

Awesome friendship in jeep to Leh singing Hindi songs.

Travelling India was a revelation: different facets of my personality I never knew existed surfaced. I learnt that I often underestimate my abilities, I love the thrill of bargaining, I enjoy hiking & that I am tough. I can deal with dirt as long as I have antibacterial wipes. I wear a hoodie in public transport because I don’t want to touch anything. I only sleep in my sleeping bag or cotton liner. I don’t use any pillows. I deal with uncertainty by laughing it off. Hiccups are part of the journey. I can be present & look for beauty in unexpected places. I’m great at packing & organized. I always have food, a head torch, chapstick, plasters & perfume with me.I am brave & real growth happened when I stepped out of my comfort zone. I am finally moving towards the things that I wanted to do, disregarding fear.

Heroine seeking adventure.

Heroine seeking adventure.

A random stranger I met before my trip said, “India beckons when you need it the most & it will be revelatory”. He was right.

India illuminated my life- gave me perspective about myself & the lives of others. I felt connected & curious about the culture. Since then, I have read a short book about the brief history of India & I am completely fascinated with Indian history, art & culture.

Book: 

A far cry from learning repetitively about  “Tamadun Islam” also known as Islamic Civilization & only 1 year to learn about world history. Don’t misinterpret, I do not mind learning about Islamic civilisation but we spent a disproportionate amount of time on it. Ah, I’m just pleased I’m free from mental torture, time to educate myself about the world.

Malaysian History Syllabus.

Malaysian History Syllabus.

After travelling India, I felt ready to start the next phase of my adventure, to travel solo in Europe.

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Delhi: Goodbye India

Our time in Delhi was short, so we decided to hop on the metro to Akshardam temple which is an opulent temple. We sat a boat ride which gave us some strange commentary & irregular facts. It was good to visit for a few hours.

That evening, Premji taught me to cook a chicken curry, unfortunately I misplaced the recipe! But I remember that he put Amchoor powder (mango powder) in the delicious salads he prepared. He makes the most refreshing Nimboo pani (lemonade) too. They had adorable dogs in that house.

Thumbs up delicious!

Thumbs up delicious!

After dinner, we went to India Gate to hang out with the locals. There were a lot of families.

Subhen loves dirt, coke & kids.

Subhen loves dirt, coke & kids.

Subhen left early the next day for his flight to South India & I decided to go shopping alone in Janpath. I bargained for the auto price & I eventually found an elderly auto driver to take me home for a fair price but I had decided beforehand to give him more money. I just like the thrill of bargaining and this elderly driver delivered me home safe. I was grateful for that & really, a few rupees contributing to someone’s income in India would make a bigger difference to him than to me.

Kashmir, Srinagar

Me sleeping in car.

Me sleeping in car.

It was a long overnight journey in the car. This was when I learnt that I could sleep anywhere & in any position when exhausted.

When I woke up, I saw paddy fields, hungry I was craving for basmati rice.

Famous Dal Lake

Famous Dal Lake

In Srinagar, we visited Jama Masjid which is a mosque built in Kashmiri style.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

Shah-i-Hamdan

Shah-i-Hamdan

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We visited Shah-i-hamdan & Shankacharya Hill too.

Srinagar is a city of Mughal Gardens. We visited Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh & Pari Mahal. It was very relaxing.

Mughal Gardens

Mughal Gardens

We had the best biryani rice I’ve ever tasted. I broke my paranoid vegetarian fast & had meat. I had been having meat cravings for weeks!

Best Biryani! Yum.

Best Biryani! Yum.

We took a domestic flight to Delhi. There was an insane amount of security checks, worse than Heathrow.

Leh, Ladakh : Hemis Festival

We attended the Hemis festival which is a celebration of Lord Padmasambhava or representative incarnate of Lord Buddha.

Hemis Festival

Hemis Festival

The Hemis monastery, rooted in Mahayana Buddhism was founded in the 13th Century & today is headed by Gyalwang Drukpa.

Cham Dance

Cham Dance

Colourful dancers don masks & put on the Chams performance to the clashing sounds of cymbals, drums & deep mellow sound of the long horn. It is based on sacred plays to dispel evil & welcome harmony. The colourful costumes & buddhist complexes are beautiful contrast to the desert surroundings.SONY DSC

Leh, Ladakh: 3 day Hike from Spituk->Zingchen->Stok

The next day, we started our 3 day hike from Spituk->Zingchen->Stok.

Day 1 to Spituk was a 12 kilometer walk in arid desert conditions for 6 hours.

walk..walking

walk..walking

Desert walk

Desert walk

We were walking alongside horses.

Pretty horses!

Pretty horses!

We arrived at a little village & lived with an elderly lady & 2 elderly men.

Home stay in Stok

Home stay in Stok

On day 2, we waded through rivers because some of the bridges had been washed away. This was a fun obstacle course!

streams to wade through

streams to wade through

Most of the terrain was rocky & we clocked in about 9km of uphill and downhill. The weather was pleasant like spring.

Onward to Zingchen

Onward to Zingchen

As we were reaching Zingchen village, I had shortness of breath & was breathing heavily. My guide was concerned about me.

Zingchen is such a beautiful oasis of calm. I enjoyed my time in the fields, walking around & absorbing the views.

Zingchen

Zingchen

I was so nervous thinking about the last day because I knew it would be tough, I could hardly eat dinner. Our guides were so friendly & reassured me that we should be alright. I really didn’t want to be a burden or a quitter. I wanted to finish it but I just didn’t know what lay ahead or how to go about the hike.

Persevere!

Persevere!

The final day was the journey from Zingchen to Stok. We started our hike early. I noticed I had shortness of breath & the feeling of pins & needles in my hands. I didn’t want to make a fuss & I thought that if I ignore it & persevere it would go away. I really wanted to enjoy the hike & finish it. So I shut up, focused & persevered. Thankfully, those feelings subsided after 2 hour. I think my body acclimatised to the altitude in the mountains. The journey up the mountain was tough & it felt like a long time before we reached the summit. The more I thought of reaching the summit, the longer it felt. I decided to be present & focus on each step. Forget about feeling self-conscious if I was slow. It wasn’t a competition & the most important part was staying safe & focused. After a while I got better. As Subhen says, “Trust your feet”.

I really enjoyed the journey & by lunchtime, we reached the top. 1000ft up! We went from about 3o00ft to about 4000 ft. Absolutely spectacular!

Yay!!!!

Yay!!!!

We were reaching the end & we had the option of walking down or sledding down. I wanted to walk but was so tempted to sled. So I held onto the guide for dear life & sled. I was laughing a lot & it felt pretty magical.SONY DSC

It felt really trippy because the mountain was a multitude of iridescent colours.SONY DSC

We continued our hike & there was one section that was really scary, I had to jump down to cross a gap & if I missed my landing….that would be the end of me. I was terrified but there wasn’t a way out so I jumped. Quite remarkable what I can do in gun to my head situations.

Majestic view!

Majestic view!

Towards the end of our hike, we could see the Himalaya’s at a distance.Unbelievable! This image is real.We took the longest time, I was taking too many photos & I wanted to enjoy the walk. At one point, Subhen was so embarrassed he told everyone that I was a ‘professional photographer’.

I was exhausted but happy. Thrilled that I did something unbelievable & pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it.

I did it! AWESOME!

I did it! AWESOME!

Leh, Ladakh

The Manali-Leh route was a beautiful scenic drive although it was a gruelling 24 hour jeep journey. We started the morning in freezing winter temperatures.

Freezing!

Freezing!

There was ice when we looked out of the window.

the drive

the drive

This soon changed to spring weather and then arid desert climate.SONY DSC

I was awake throughout the journey because I love watching the changing scenery. It was stunning & unbelievable. Beautiful! It felt like heaven on earth.

Rambo our hero driver

Rambo our hero driver

We had the coolest Rambo Ladakhi driver. Subhen & I were in awe of his stamina to drive with hardly any break in a cramped jeep. Killing time, we were dancing to Rambo’s catchy Hindi music on repeat. I was miming Hindi songs & giggling all the way.  Other people were not having such a great time, suffering from acute mountain sickness (AMS) & vomiting all the way, I felt sorry for them. I’m so glad I took Diamox in advance.

Hindi music rhythms

Hindi music rhythms

Being female is bit tricky on long journeys without toilets. My first pit stop was behind a straw pen of braying goats. It was strange peeing outside the pen with a goat staring at me braying. I told it to shut up. Second place, I had to play hopscotch over rocks to get to the blue shack!

Hop-scotch over the rocks to the blue shack to pee.

Hop-scotch over the rocks to the blue shack to pee.

Finally, there was the great challenge of peeing by the road in broad day light with passing trucks. ARGH! I had an umbrella open & tried to relieve myself as fast as I could! Lesson: Never fear, You can pee under my Umbrella ala Rihanna.

Leh is uniquely situated 3505m in the mountains & accessible only from July to October making it quite remote although it is busy during tourist season. Ladakh was a popular trade route on the Silk road. Consequently, Ladakhi people have Central Asian or Tibetan features. Buddhism travelled from India to China through Ladakh. Leh has spectacular sceneries with magical colours.

Jama Masjid was the first stop when we arrived & we made our way to the Shanti Stupa on a hill. It felt never ending but was worth the climb.

Shanti Stupa

Shanti Stupa

The next morning, I was so nervous because I was signed up for my first experience in white-water rafting, Subhen coaxed me to eat eggs on toast & walked with because I probably looked quite pitiful. He went mountain biking in the highest pass in the world, Khardung La. Click here to read his account. He had fun. It was the Zanksar River from Nemo to Chilling, Grade 3.Once again, the scenery was spectacular. We were given instructions,wet suits & the right gear. It was very professional & I highly recommend the company I went with especially as I saw firsthand how other companies didn’t even provide wetsuits to their customers. I had great team mates & we all took turns at the helm.

I was the last person at the helm, obviously the most nervous. Everyone was really supportive. Towards the end, the raft came to a corner of a hill & there was an opening towards the mountains. It felt like curtains drawn revealing the spectacular mountain range. I was overcome by the beauty of the mountains, that precious moment & happy tears streamed down my face. That feeling & image is immortalised within me.

forever in my heart

forever in my heart

It started to rain & we sang “Singing in the Rain”. Everyone was friendly & fun.

Manali: Vaishisht

The car park was pitch dark in Manali. I was ready with my head torch beaming in the dark. We didn’t know where we were & it was too early for taxis so we waited for an hour. Locals flock to the hills in Manali during the peak of summer and accomodation seemed difficult to find. We decided to head to old Manali, Vaishisht. We found a hotel with a balcony & a nice view facing the mountain. The temperature was cooler & pleasant.

Manali

Manali

We waved at our American neighbours across the balcony. We spoke to them daily & they would point towards the mountain indicating that their intention to hike. The American gentleman seemed to be reading the same book & staring into space daily. In his hand was a spliff – I could smell charas a mile away. It was amusing. Manali is well known for good charas which grows everywhere.

Hot spring temple

Hot spring temple

I think it was the Temple of Lord Ram where I bathed in hot spring water daily. There are separate baths for men & women. I recommend bringing a bikini because I didn’t & my bra doubled up a bikini top. I felt embarassed at the prospect of being topless & surrounded by other women. On the last day, I realised that I had to have a dry bra for the journey ahead. I undressed facing the wall, shielding my breasts with my hands. The other women started talking to me in Hindi & smiled. It was obvious to everyone that I was shy. The showers were busy with people & a nice lady beckoned me to share her shower. She spoke a little English & we exchanged pleasantries. She said “ Oh, there’s no need to be shy, its only ladies here” by this point I got over feeling self-conscious & spoke to her. Strangely, it felt nice being in the presence of other ladies & bathing together.

Among the things I did was my first swim in a waterfall & hike to the top of Jogini waterfall in Manali. Warning: watch out for cow dung when walking, its everywhere! We walked & swam a little in the water fall. It was my first time swimming in a waterfall: loud gushing sound & numbing cold water. I was a bit scared & glad Subhen was there.I had so much fun & loved it. I was happy. We met a group of Indian guys & they wanted to walk uphill to get to the source of the waterfall. I didn’t want to be left behind on what could be fun but I am terrified of heights. I summoned the courage & decided to hike up with them. This was my first mini hike. I focused on the road ahead, turned on my ipod, wore my hat to give me a tunnel vision & repeated the mantra “I can, this is easy” in my brain.The path wasn’t very clear & it was uncertain where it led but we kept going. The Indian guys were happily singing Hindi songs all the way & doing a little dances. It was hilarious.

Jogini Waterfall.

Jogini Waterfall.

When we reached the waterfall….it was spectacular! For me, it was better than Niagara Falls. Water cascaded from a ridge of rock down onto the ground where it flowed into a stream downhill. We could feel the wind & water spray on our faces. Magnificent! The fact that I faced my fear meant a lot to me too. I felt really taken care of by everyone. It was great meeting them & chatting to them over a cup of chai.