This honeymoon has its own anniversary. And now we are celebrating six months.
Countries Visited This Quarter: Cambodia, Thailand, Bhutan, India and Sri Lanka (we arrived in Sri Lanka March 25, so we won't mention it much in this report.)
Sunglasses Replaced (six month count):
Hotels used this quarter: 29
Hotels used to date: 67
Longest Stay: Varanasi, India: nine days.
Highest fever recorded: 103 degrees. The honor goes to Mark. Nicely done, Mark.
Types of Animals Pet/Handled (to date): 14
(cow, dog, cat, rabbit, toad, fish, hawk, buffalo, pig, chicken, goat, elephant, pigeon, gecko)
Hours Spent on Trains in India: 102 ("Groooooaaaan" --Mark)
Miles Traveled in India: 3,160. (please note that total mileage was calculated "as the crow flies." actual mileage may be greater.)
see the google map for route details.
Juliah: Ganpati Guest House, Varanasi. We had a simple room on the top floor overlooking the Ganges. It was the best people watching on earth. At sunrise, boats of pilgrims took to the water. At night, crazy tourists swam. We spend a week on the top balcony, practicing Hindi with the hotel staff and eating pomegranates.
Mark: Gantey Palace Hotel, A former prime minister slept in our bed. Hotel staff provided hot water bottles under the sheets, and the room was enormous, if freezing. We had a killer view of the Paro Valley just outside our window.
Juliah: I had fallen asleep in a Jeep Taxi on the way down the mountains from Darjeeling. It was a share taxi, the kind that works like a public bus, picking up people along the road and cramming them in wherever they fit. I was wedged between two Indian men when I fell asleep. I woke up to something wet on my hand and realized that it was saliva. I had drooled all over myself and was ultimately woken up by my own spit. Of course, my fellow passengers were too polite to let on that they had noticed.
Mark: After a 9 hour overnight train to Kolkata, we were woken by the sound of yelling and clapping. In my groggy state, I thought it was a conductor coming through to kick us out. When I looked again, I saw it was a hijra, an Indian transvestite, also known as the "third gender." Hijras come through trains and harass male passengers for money. I later saw a man refuse to pay one, and she flirted with him, brushed his cheek, and tried to touch him while other passengers laughed and the man fumed.
Favorite Act of Kindness:
Juliah: Leaving the Capital of Bhutan for the Indian border, our bus made a routine lunch stop at a small restaurant on the side of the windy road. We marched in to the restaurant with the other passengers and found a seat next to the fire. The Bhutanese woman sitting across from us helped us order Tibetan dumplings (momos) and two cups of tea. When it came time to pay for our food, the woman told us that she had bought us lunch because otherwise they would have overcharged us. She refused to let us pay her back. When we reached the border town, her son climbed on top of the bus to retrieve our bags and the two of them took us to our hotel in a taxi to make sure we found our way. The taxi dropped us at a hotel and we waved good bye to the woman and her son as they crossed the border to the Indian side of town where they lived.
Mark: These are almost too numerous to count, but met some very kind Kashmiris in Varanasi who chatted with us for 10 minutes, gave us free breakfast from their food stand, refused our money, and insisted we come visit them in their home someday. People say many terrible things about India: that the country is filthy, the people are obsessed with money, that locals are rude; but the opposite is also often true. Everybody bathes, even if they do it in the streets from public pumps. For every 10 people who harangue you for baksheesh, one will buy you a meal, a train ticket, or a cup of chai. Leaving Chennai for the airport, we met a man headed for work who asked me in all seriousness, "What is your nice name, sir?"
Juliah: On our first Saturday in Bhutan we climbed Tiger's nest. It was a a very steep climb in high altitude that lead to stunning mountain views laced with prayer flags and clean mountain streams. At the top is a cold little monastery build against the cliff. Most folks save it for their last day when they are good and used to Bhutan's altitude, but not us. We climbed Tiger's Nest on our second day in the mountains.
After the hike, we went to Yeshi's house for dinner. We sat next to the fire and ate all sorts of amazing Bhutanese food with the Dorji clan and their friends. It was so nice to be among friendly people and eating good food in a warm home after our harrowing hike.
Mark: Nothing beats Thai cooking, but India put up a fierce competition. We had some very fresh, 5-cent cauliflower samosa in Varanasi that were out of this world. I had them once and could never find them again. A hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Mysore served us a set menu on a banana leaf. The menu was different everyday, and as soon as you'd finish with one item, a man would come by and replenish your curry, dal, or vegetables from a bucket, as often as you'd like. You could stay for hours, and each meal was under a dollar.
Juliah: Bumthang, Bhutan in February. We put all our cloths on to have dinner next to the stove. After dinner we thought it would be nice to wander around town. After passing two store fronts, we decided instead to head back to the hotel where Mark and I feel asleep in one twin bed, huddled together for extra warmth.
Mark: Agreed. There were wide spaces between the wooden slats in the wall, and at night Juliah would say she could hear the glaciers moving outside. Under 4 layers of clothing and 5 blankets, I could still feel my extremities going numb.
Allepey, Kerala, India in mid-March. I started sweating around 9:30 am. I was standing in the shade next to a canal waiting for a ferry and I couldn't stop the sweat from dripping on to my book. When we reached the homestay, our hosts told us they only did tours at 7:30 am and 5:30pm as it was too hot for them to go out at any other time of day.
Favorite New Thing:
Juliah: Prayer wheels. There is nothing like turning prayer wheels as you walk clockwise around a 7th century Buddhist monastery as the sunrises over the snow dusted Himalayas. In Bhutan we went to Buddhist temple after Buddhist temple. While they were all very beautiful, with large gold buddhas, murals and offerings, temple fatigue quickly set in. Prayer wheels became a nice way to experience a religious site without glazing over.
Mark: Eating with your hands rocks! The trick is to make a little shovel with the fingers of your right hand and then spoon it into your face. It's a little messy but a lot of fun, and you'll notice that Indians wash their hands more often than any other people we've met.
Mark and Juliah