Before I get started on this post, I need to give you all a little bit of background information. As a young girl, I had dreams of traveling the world. I loved studying the ancient history of the world and concluded at age 11 that I wanted to travel to see the Colosseum in Rome, Great Wall of China, and the Acropolis in Athens. When I was 14 years old, I took my first trip to China and stepped foot on the Great Wall. At age 17, while attending college, I worked as a waitress on the weekend to save up enough money for a two week trip to Europe where I was able to see the colosseum, walk down ancient streets, etc. The last thing on my childhood bucket list was Athens. Athens, oh Athens… I had read about this great city in my history books, and gazed at the magnificent Acropolis in travel magazines for hours. For 13 years I had dreamed of going to Athens, and as we were leaving the island of Santorini, this dream was finally going to come true. But to be honest, we left Santorini with variety of emotions… we had fallen in love with that little island, and if time had permitted it, I think we would have stayed for several more weeks. Oh well, the theme of our trip had been “we can’t do everything.” We put it on our mental list of places we’d love to visit again and boarded our evening ferry to Athens. We arrived in Athens late at night and barely caught the last subway ride to our hotel. The next day we set out to explore the city. We slowly made our way to the Acropolis… passing ancient ruins tucked away in the bustling city. We eventually made it to the Acropolis… Apparently around the same time everyone in the city decided to visit it. And then we saw it the beloved Parthenon Temple… Wait, no, that’s what I imagined I would see… this is the scene that greeted us: “What happened to the beautiful postcard-perfect Parthenon Temple from all of the travel magazines?” I was so disappointed… Ugh, stupid scaffolding! Well it goes to say that we tried really hard to get photos without a million medal bars cluttering up the pictures… We discovered that the backside of the Parthenon was nearly scaffolding-free (nearly!). Greek yogurt does taste better in Greece, just trust me on that! Athens is a mixture of the old and the new. While we enjoyed our time there, it didn’t meet our expectations (which goes to say that it is far better to throw your expectations out the window before traveling… if you do, you’ll never be disappointed). Actually, I should say that Athens didn’t meet my expectations. Jared didn’t come to the city with expectations and ended up enjoying it more than I did. The city had some really nice areas, but also some rough parts… We didn’t get any pictures of those areas though; I guess we were just too concerned for our lives to even think about photos! Oh, and trying an authentic Greek salad is a must! Mmmm… Delicious! Well, after I got over being disappointed in my not-so-perfect Acropolis experience, I was really happy that we had made the trip to Athens and that I could complete my childhood bucket list. Next up is our road trip through the United Kingdom!
We had read that the town of Bodrum Turkey was a quaint seaside town. While the outskirts of Bodrum were quiet and nice, the central part of the city was bustling. After a bit of wondering around we managed to find a local bus going in the direction of our hotel. Our little hotel was quaint and the beach was just down the street. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and exploring the coast. This little kitten decided to join us for lunch. Our stay in Bodrum was short and sweet. We headed out the next day and caught a ferry to one of the most beautiful islands in Greece–Santorini!
After our layover on Kos, we boarded our ferry in the evening and finally arrived in Santorini around 1am. As promised, someone from our hotel was waiting to at the port to give us a ride to the southern tip of the island. To our surprise, the lady who owned the hotel stayed up until we arrived and warmly greeted us and gave us a bottle of wine from her husband’s winery.I don’t think I can come up with the words to express our stay in Santorini. Neither Jared or I were expecting to fall in love with that little island… but it stole our hearts away. The breakfast provided by our sweet host was something we started looking forward to every morning. Beautiful Greece… beautiful Santorini! The volcanic island of Santorini is known for many things, one of which is it’s unique black sand beaches.We were able to save money by shopping at the little local market, and eating Gyros the rest of the time!For only 15 euros a day, we could rent one of these bad boys!We had so much fun exploring the island on our little motorbike. Folks, welcome to Santorini!Can you imagine living here? We felt like we were walking through a postcard.Of course, stopping by the local gyro shops was always a must!We had originally only planned to stay in Santorini for two days… but two days turned into three, which ended up turning into a whole week!
In between laying on the beach, we tried to see and explore as much as we could of this little island we didn’t want to leave.We hiked up the mountain to explore Ancient Thira…Of course, every acti We also learned that the ancient ruins of Akrotiri were on the island. Supposedly Akrotiri is the ancient city Plato had in mind when writing his tales of Atlantis. It was only in the late 1960’s that ancient Akrotiri was discovered… and archeologists estimate that they’ve only uncovered about one third of the city. The entire site is covered and indoors to help preserve this ancient site. We filled the rest of our time on exploring the island, watching sunsets, and relaxing on the beach. Finally the sad day came for us to leave… and mixed feelings we boarded our ferry and headed to mainland Greece!
After another delicious Turkish breakfast, we boarded the bus that took us to Selcuk, the town located nearest to the ancient Ephesus ruins. Three hours later we arrived in Selcuk. Our hotel was nice, and they had a great deal on an Ephesus tour. When we calculated the cost of seeing all the sites on our own, we found that the tour was actually going to save us a lot of money.
After a decent breakfast provided by our hotel, we headed out on our tour. Our first stop was at the House of Virgin Mary. It was a very busy site. We actually had to wait in line for about 30 minutes before we were briefly escorted through the small, two room home (no photos were allowed in the house). It was neat that we got to visit what is believed to be the last home of Jesus’ mother. After Mary’s house, we went to see the remains of Ephesus. Unfortunately, Ephesus happened to be extremely crowded as well. Below is a picture of an ancient public men’s restroom. Running water under the stone toilet bench would keep the room smelling good while musicians would play live music in the center of the room. Talk about royalty! On our way out of Ephesus, we stopped to see the remains of the Church of Virgin Mary. The last stop on our tour was the site of the temple of Artemis… one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the Ancient World. This was especially significant to me because I have been fascinated with the wonders of the ancient world since I was a small girl. The only ancient wonder that remains standing to this day is the Great Pyramid of Giza. The rest of the ancient wonders are all but history.
Below is an illustration of what the temple looked like at it’s prime. For what used to be a magnificent structure, there really wasn’t much to see. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed walking over the grounds of this piece of history. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped by a local shop where the store keeper was trying to sell us some jewelry. He was particularly keen on selling us a silver ring with a precious color-changing stone set in the middle that he claimed came from a special mine in Turkey. The color of the stone changed beautifully depending on the light if reflected. Inside is was a mossy green, and outside is was an enchanting plum. I instantly fell in love with the ring, but wanting to find more options and do a bit of research, we said no and moved on.
After going back to our hotel room, I couldn’t get that beautiful jewel out of my head. I wanted one. We did some research and found that there is indeed a color-changing stone called Zultanite which is only found in one mine in the world–located in Turkey. Zultanite changes color from kiwi to champagne, as shown below.However, we found that there is another imitation gem that Turkish jewelers like to pawn off as the real thing (they look similar, but the imitation gem isn’t nearly as valuable). It is known as Zandrite, which after doing some research and color comparisons, we realized Zandrite was the jewel that was in the ring I fell in love with, as shown below.Knowing this information, we were able go back to the jeweler, tell him we knew it was an imitation gem, and walk away with a great deal (we researched the price of buying a silver ring with a Zandrite gem, and got it for a fraction of the price it’d cost back home). And to say the least, I couldn’t be more happy with my beautiful Turkish souvenir! A huge thanks to my amazing husband for all his research and landing me with a beautiful gift.
After a long (but decent) eleven-hour overnight bus ride, we arrived in Denizli and easily found a mini bus to take us the remaining 20 kilometers to Pamukkale. Our hotel was really nice. The breakfast was fantastic and just a stones-throw away from the hot springs. After breakfast, we rested for a bit before heading out to explore the hot springs.Pamukkale means cotton castle in Turkish, and it’s easy to see where the name comes from while approaching the ever famous hot springs.In order to help protect the site, no shoes were allowed awhile walking through the springs. Yes, after trekking to the Mt. Everest Base Camp in Nepal, we sent our hiking boots home which left us with one pair of shoes for the remainder of our trip–our chacos! Which, for those of you who don’t know, leave a “Z” tan line on your feet. The hot springs are just amazing. Pamukkale has been on our bucket list for so long… It was very neat to walk through the hot springs and experience this natural wonder for ourselves. Before visiting the hot springs, I always wondered, can you swim in this natural wonder? The answer is yes, and no. Tourists are no longer allowed to swim in the natural hot springs. This change was made to preserve this beautiful place. However, off to the side of the real hot springs are man-made terraces where the natural water flows through. These are the springs that tourists are still allowed to enjoy. The view of the town from on top of the hill was gorgeous. After wandering around the hot springs, we decided to check out the ruins located on top of the hill — the ancient city of Hierapolis. A storm started to roll in while we were exploring the ruins, and while it scared most people away, we waited it out and just about had the place to ourself! Jared and I didn’t expect much from the “ancient ruins above the hot springs,” but we were surprised at how vast the ruins were and we enjoyed our time there just as much as exploring the hot springs. Hierapolis is also the city where St. Phillip was martyred and buried… below is a picture of his tomb. This is believed to be the site of St. Phillip’s death. The ruins on the site are what remains of a church that was built after his death.
Wow, Istanbul is an incredible city! Neither of us had been to Turkey before, and we really didn’t know what to expect. I think what surprised us the most was how “western” it felt. We had been in Asia 1.5 years and it just felt amazing. Our flight arrived on time, and we easily made our way to a bus that would take us into the city. Unfortunately, we ended up getting ripped off by our taxi driver who claimed we had given him a “five” bill instead of a “fifty.” He did this by showing us the “five” bill we had paid him and insisted that we were wrong. We fought with him for awhile before giving up (it was in the middle of the night, and we were exhausted). Sadly, we were too tired to realize that we never had a “five” bill in the first place (we had withdrawn only 50’s from the ATM just minutes before) and by the time we realized we had been cheated, he was already zooming down the road. This was the first time we had been ripped off on our trip, and it made our blood boil. Especially since we had felt like we were back in a “trusting” western country. We learned the hard way to never put our guards down. After a good night’s rest we awoke refreshed and excited about exploring a new country. We immediately fell in love with Istanbul. Winding stone streets lined with cafes and boutique shops really set the mood for a relaxing honeymoon-like getaway. As we headed west in our travels (leaving Asia behind), prices of everything steadily climbed higher. Lodging in Istanbul was expensive, and we just weren’t ready to pay the price tag attached with private room lodging, so we opted for dorm lodging… 30 bunk dorm lodging. And to our surprise, it was very pleasant. We’ve had so many great experiences at hostels during our travels, and our stay at the Orient Hostel in Istanbul did not let us down.Breakfast was included and it was basic, but nice. The espresso machine was a great. It felt so nice to have hot coffee and french toast while gazing out over the city. We had met some people the night before while we were trying to find our hostel. They joined us for breakfast, and then we joined them for sightseeing later on that day. We went to see the Blue Mosque, which was just a few blocks down from our hostel. It was a sight to behold. I’ve seen the Blue Mosque is so many pictures, it was really neat to be there in person. After our trip to the mosque, we wandered around and did some more sight-seeing. D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S.!!!We eventually made our way to the Grand Bazaar… shopping galore! Over the next few days, Jared and I spent quite a bit of time at the Grand Bazaar. I was looking for the perfect Turkish coffee set to take home, and Jared was looking for an authentic Hookah. We came across a cute café and stopped for some coffee. Turkish coffee takes some getting used to, but it is definitely worth the experience. It’s very thick and the bottom half can be scooped with a spoon. We we came back through town, the sun was setting and the sky was beautiful. After a great stay in Istanbul, we were ready to see some more of Turkey. Our next stop was Pamukkale!
We arrived in Dubai around 3:30am and found a corner in the airport to snooze for a few hours before heading out to explore the city. We left the airport around 7am and somehow managed to find the metro station (which isn’t easily accessible from terminal 2). By 8:30am, we had made it to the Mall of the Emirates, also home the largest indoor ski area. The slopes didn’t open until 10am, so we decided to grab some breakfast. We fully intended on sticking to a strict budget, that was, until we rounded the corner and saw an IHOP! No, this wasn’t a knock-off version, this was the real deal! We hadn’t seen an IHOP since we left home almoner 1.5 years ago. The thought of an all-American breakfast with bottomless hot coffee and steaming buttermilk pancakes was too much to resist! It was the perfect pre-snowboarding meal. After we filled our bellies, our meal came to $35.00 including a 20% tip. It doesn’t seem too bad looking back, but at the time that was more than we would typically spend over the course of a full day in India!
We then headed downstairs to hit the slopes! Yes, this meant we were going snowboarding inside a mall when it was a scorching 110F (43C) degrees outside. The total for our clothing, locker, and gear rentals plus our lift tickets came to $50/person! (Tip: We received a 20% discount for paying with a Mastercard!) It was a lot of fun to go boarding at an indoor mall. More for the novelty of it than anything else. There were multiple slopes ranging from green to blue, but to us, it felt more like several bunny hills. It was fun, but not enough to keep us entertained all day (which was a good thing, because we were on such a tight schedule). After a few hours of playing in the snow, we headed out to our next destination: Burj Khalifa–the world’s tallest tower. While it’s awesome to say we’ve been in the world’s tallest building, we both felt like the tickets were over-priced at $35/each. However, we did enjoy the On The Top tour.It was a bit windy that day which meant the view from the top wasn’t grand due to the sand limiting our visibility. Burj Khalifa is located in the Dubai Mall, and after we were done with our tour, we did a little window shopping and exploring. After a full day of sight-seeing, we were exhausted and headed back to the airport to catch our overnight flight to Istanbul!Prior to our flight, I couldn’t help but sneak out my phone to snap a photo for the “safety” video. It was one of the most creative and interesting pre-flight safety videos I’ve seen!
Below we’ve included our budget for India. We hope this is helpful to all who plan on traveling or backpacking through India. We managed to average less than $50/day while in India. Some days it was significantly less than that, and some days it was higher. We did a lot of sight seeing, souvenir shopping, and traveled all over northern India.
Bus from Kathmandu, Nepal to Sonuli (boarder town): USD $23.20
Bus + Taxi to Boarder: USD $1.37
Bus to Gorakhpur INR 184
Dinner INR 140
Lodging INR 500
Total INR 824 ($14.05 USD)
Train Tickets to Varanasi from Gorakhpur INR 150
Lodging 2 Nights w a/c INR 1,000
Total INR 1,150 ($19.61)
Chai Tea x4 INR 40
Water x3: 100
Boat Tour 300
India Rough Guide: 900 ($15.35)
India Map 100
Total INR 1,940 ($33.08)
Water x3: 75
Dinner (Tali) 200
Total INR 411 ($7.00)
Chai Tea 10
Water x4: 85
Ice Tea 65
Club Sandwich & Chips 210
Samosa x8 w/ sweet 38
Auto Rickshaw to Bus Station 80
Chai Tea 8
Total INR 709 ($12.07)
Train Tickets to Agra from Varanasi INR 1,580 ($26.90)
Lodging 2 Nights w a/c 1,400 ($23.83)
Chai Tea 20
Post Cards (10) 60
Mango Juice 60
Total INR 1,050 ($17.87)
Taj Tickets 1,500
Agra Fort Tickets 500
Postage for 16 Postcards 240
Auto Rickshaw to River Taj View 200
Water x2: 30
Lg. Mango Lassi x2: 120
Total INR 3,321 ($56.53)
Train Tickets from Agra to Jaipur: 760 ($12.94)
Lodge 1 Night: 400 ($6.81)
Chai x2: 14
Samosa x4: 30
Samosa x2: 20
Local Bus to City Palace : 20
Oreo Frapè 118
Local Bus: 14
Total INR 846 ($14.38)
Ranthambore National Park
Train Tickets from Jaipur to SWM: 800 ($13.60)
A/C Lodge 2 Nights: 1,600 ($27.19)
Extra, late checkout: 500 ($8.42)
Total INR 609 ($10.36)
Tiger Safari: 926 ($15.74)
Guide & Vehicle Fee: 740 ($12.58)
Mango Juice: 80
Water x2: 40
Total INR 2,183 ($37.12)
Water x3: 60
Total INR 595 ($10.14)
Train Tickets from SWM to Udaipur: 660 ($11.25)
A/C Lodge 1.5 Nights: 1,000 ($17.04)
Rickshaw to Hotel: 60 ($1.02)
Coffee Pot: 100
Mango Juice: 40
Leather Wallet: 200
Lunch US Pizza: 450
Water x3: 45
Total INR 995 ($16.96)
Eggs, Toast, Cappuccino x2: 260
City Palace Tickets: 230
Sandwich & Pancake: 150
Watch Battery: 75
Brass Earrings x11: 1,000
Water x2: 30
Rickshaw to Bus Station: 60
Total INR: 2,305 ($39.12)
Overnight A/C Bus from Udaipur to Jaisalmer: 1,800 ($30.67)
Lodge 1 Night A/C: 500 ($8.50)
Camel Trek 2 Days/1 Night: 3,000 ($51.00)
A/C Lodge for the Day: 250 ($4.25)
Total INR: 5,550 ($94.34)
Indian Street Breakfast: 30
Cold coffee x2: 90
Water x2: 30
Elephant Pillow Case: 100
Scarf x2: 180
Total INR: 875 ($14.87)
Banana Lassi x2: 60
Tea x2: 25
Total INR: 185 ($3.14)
Room for day: 250
Total INR: 935 ($15.89)
Train Tickets 3AC from Jaisalmer to Delhi: 2,400 ($40.79)
A/C Lodge 2.5 Nights: 1,650 ($27.77)
Water x3: 45
Large Frappè: 264
Deluxe Thali x2: 140
Ice Cream: 70
Total INR 679 ($11.43)
Street Breakfast 60
Water x2: 30
Starbucks mug: 500
Starbucks drink: 170
McDonalds Snacks: 160
Water x2: 30
Total INR 1,135 ($19.11)
Mango Juice: 60
Street Breakfast: 90
Chai x2: 20
Tandoori Boneless Chicken: 100
Water x2: 30
Post Office 5.2 kg: 3,211
Tandoori B/L Chicken x4: 200
Bar date night: 556
Taxi to Airport: 350
Christmas Ornaments (4): 400
Mango Juice: 60
Total INR 5,197 ($87.48)
17 Days in India + 2 People = $779.61 ($45.86/Day)
I’m going to share a snippet of a journal entry I wrote prior to arriving in Delhi, India.
Saturday, May 31st, 4:45pm:
We are now boarding the train to Delhi. It is scheduled to depart at 5:15pm, and arrive late tomorrow morning in Old Delhi. It’s hard to believe we are on the last leg of our travels in India. And that this is our last train ride. I hope we do many more trips via train in the future. It is quite an amazing way to travel! I am really going to miss this… the cool air blowing on my face, letting my feet dangle in freedom over the tracks, the chai tea vendors coming through every half hour… A month ago I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve really fallen in love with India… and I already want to come back.
When we arrived in Delhi, we had already been traveling through India for quite some time, so I feel like we were more prepared to face this bustling city. Since our train was arriving at the station in Old Delhi, we wanted to sight-see this part of the city first. The train station was just a kilometer away from the Red Fort, so we decided to head there on foot (which of course, lead to disappointing many eager tuktuk drivers). After admiring the Red Fort, we realized that Jama Masjid (a very large mosque in Old Delhi) was just 1.5 kilometers further down the road. Not wanting to hassle with a tuktuk driver over such a short distance, we set out on foot again. When we arrived at the mosque, we were met with a bit of a surprise. The staff at the entrance almost wouldn’t let us through because we were foreigners and they wanted us to pay. Entering the mosque is free, however, they charge a “camera” fee to all tourists. We said that we were not going to take any pictures, and that we just wanted to take a look around. This caused quite a commotion, but the eventually let us in. So you can have a visual, below is a picture of the Mosque by India Africa Connect…We eventually made it to a hotel recommended by our guidebook in Main Bazaar. We knew finding inexpensive lodging in Delhi was going to be difficult, but after some bargaining, we landed a deal at Hotel Namaskar. It wasn’t the nicest place, but it was air conditioned and inexpensive. We did more exploring, sight seeing, and souvenir shopping in Delhi the next day. I added another Starbucks mug to my growing global collection. We were able to meet up with a missionary family during our visit. Jared had known Pastor Abraham and his family for years. Since he was a young boy, Pastor Abraham had spoke at his church each year when he visited the States. It was amazing to hear about the work God is doing in India. We had many mixed feelings as were were leaving India. We had both grown to love the country, and we were sad it was time to move on already. However, we were also very excited about our layover in Dubai. As we boarded the plane, we were already dreaming of returning to this amazing country.
After our romantic getaway in Udaipur, we headed to the golden city of Jaisalmer for a different adventure–camel trekking in the dessert! c We took an overnight bus from Udaipur to Jaisalmer, and to our surprise, it was quite nice. We paid the extra money to get an air conditioned bunk, and while we enjoyed laying down, it was freezing in our a/c cubical. We should have unpacked a jacket from our bags before storing them below. After some bargaining, Jared landed us a great deal on an a/c room in a 300 year-old palace hotel. We met some friends along the way, Guillermo and Mariana, and stuck with them for the duration of our stay in Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is a neat city. All of the buildings are old, and you definately feel close to the desert. The Jaisalmer Fort is also a sight to see. It was built in 1156 AD and is one of the largest fortifications in the world.That evening we toured the town and made our way inside the fort to explore. The fort is surrounded by lights that illuminate the outer walls of the massive structure.Our tour of Jaisalmer certainly set the mood for our up-coming adventure. On the way back to our hotel room that evening, we stopped by a shop and bought some scarves to keep the desert sand out of our faces. The gentleman at the shop was kind enough to show us how to wear scarves in the desert. The next morning, we made it to our booking office and set off in a jeep towards the desert to fetch our camels and guides. On the way, we stopped to see Kuldhara, an abandon city about 15km west of Jaisalmer. Back in the 18th century, a powerful man started abusing the women of the village and planned to attack the chef’s daughter next. Everyone was terrified, and as the story goes, the entire village decided to abandon their homes overnight. After everyone left, a holy man cursed the village and it has remained a ghost town since then. It was surreal being in such a large village with finished homes that has remained empty for such a long period of time. After another half an hour drive in the jeep, we pulled off the road and met our camels. And that is when I fell in love with camels! I had only seen them in zoos before, and I had never paid a great amount of attention to them. As I climbed on my camel, I couldn’t believe we were really going to ride these massive animals! The trek was amazing. I was in awe of the way God created camels, and I throughly enjoyed the entire experience. Riding a camel felt similar to riding a horse, but the stride of a camel is much longer. I loved how high they held their heads, and how they always held their nose up as if they were proud.We rode for about two hours and then stopped for lunch. Our guides prepared a delicious lunch for us. To start with, they built a fire, milked a desert goat, and made us some delicious Indian chai tea. For the main course, they made us chapati, veg curry, and rice. A simple but very tasty Indian meal.We rested in the shade of a large tree until the heat of the day was diminishing. We trekked for another two hours before we reached our camp. We had a wonderful night we had sleeping under the beautiful stars of the Thar desert. I was awakened by the light of dawn. Jared and I sat up in bed to watch the sunrise over the desert. It was amazing! It was very neat to wake up and see our camels standing 3 yards away from us. A little later that morning, we packed up camp and headed back across the desert. Overall, we had a fantastic experience, and we highly recommend camel trekking next time you are near a desert!
Stay tuned for our next adventure–exploring India’s capital city!
Udaipur, often called the City of Lakes, is a romantic city filled with stunning views and historic architecture.We took an overnight train from Sawai Madhopur to Udaipur and arrived at 7:30 in the morning. We bought overnight bus tickets (since there wasn’t a decent train route) to our next destination, and then headed into the city to find a hotel.
After some bargaining, Jared found us a very nice and spacious a/c room at a beautiful historic hotel next to Lake Pichola. After eating breakfast at the café in our hotel, we went for a stroll down at the lake.The Gangaur Ghat was beautiful, and it had a terrific view of the lake. That massive building is Udaipur’s City Palace. And that’s the Taj Lake Palace… and very fancy hotel with suites starting around $6,000/night. By lunch time, Jared was craving pizza. We got online and found a pizza restaurant that was across town. They were running a special, so we decided to give it a try.
We love going places by foot, even if it’s a few miles walk. It allows us to soak up the culture and the surrounding better. On the walk back, we came across a park called Sajjan Niwas Garden. It was gated, but there were no admission fees. As we strolled through the park, we were so glad that we had decided to walk. It wasn’t just a park, it was a beautiful walking park with gardens, ancient buildings, and a miniature zoo. At sunset, we headed to the other side of the lake to catch some different views and to get a better view of the City Palace. The next morning, we headed out to tour the City Palace. Unfortunately, the ticket prices were double if you brought a camera with you, so we didn’t take many pictures. Our tickets allowed us to enter the courtyard and Palace Museum. The museum, which was in the actual palace, was very nice. We enjoyed learning more about Udaipur as we strolled through the old corridors of that ancient marble mahal. We spent the rest of our day getting some souvenir shopping done. Jared did some great bargaining and landed me some really great deals!
We left that night on an overnight bus to the desert city of Jaisalmer. Stay tuned to hear about our camel trek in the desert!
Ranthambore National Park was our next destination. After touring the Taj Mahal, spotting a wild tiger was next on our list for India. India is one of the only places in the world where tigers still roam free, but even in India your options are limited. There are several parks and reserves dedicated to protecting wild tigers, and Ranthambore is one of them. The tigers at Ranthambore roam in and out of the park, but due to the amount of water sources and food population inside the national park, many of the tigers stay for years, or even their whole life.
After touring Jaipur, we caught a train to Sawai Madhopur, the town closest to Ranthambore National Park. We were shocked when we got off the train that we weren’t greeted by loads of rickshaw drivers fighting for our business. Actually, there wasn’t a rickshaw driver in sight. We just headed in the direction of the town on foot while hoping a hotel wasn’t too far down the road.We passed several hotel options until we came across Ranthambore Palace, a hotel recommended by our guidebook. It looked new and modern, and above our price range. However, Jared walked up to the front desk and bargained them down until we were in the high-end of our budget ($13/night). My jaw dropped open when I saw our nice A/C room equipped with wifi and a flatscreen TV. It was clean, tidy, and so peaceful. Actually, we were the only guests in the hotel for our entire stay. The bathroom was the best part–white and sparkling with a rain shower. It may not look like much to you, but as backpackers traveling through India, this was luxury.We wondered around town later that day and stopped in at a restaurant for some more delicious Indian food…We got some rest that night and headed out on foot early the next morning to get our safari tickets. When we arrived at the ticket office at 5am, there were several other Indian men getting tickets for clients. We got our tickets, and then headed outside to find our safari canter and guide. Our guide met us at the canter, and then headed towards the park. He stopped at various hotels along the way to pick up guests who had pre-booked their safari. The safari started out with an abundance of deer, peacocks, and monkeys. We kept a sharp eye out for a tiger, but didn’t see one.
We stopped at the lake towards the end or the tour in hopes we would see a tiger coming out to cool off or get a drink. No such luck. Our tour time was about up, so we piled back into the canter and started heading back to the entrance of the park. And that’s when we saw her. Our guide told us her name was Machli. She was the most famous tigress in all of India. She had just caught a deer and was mulling it apart. It was amazing to watch a giant cat in the wild. We were very luck to spot a tiger on our first tour. We thought about going out for a second tour, but Jared became ill that afternoon and we took the next day to rest and recuperate. Remember that food from earlier? We are pretty sure it’s what made him sick. But thankfully, that was the first and last time one of us got sick on our trip.
Aside from seeing the Taj Mahal, our next priority in India was to see a wild tiger! After some research, we decided to head to Ranthambore National Park where many tourists have caught a glimpse of a wild tiger. Since Jaipur was between the two destinations, we thought we’d to take a day to see the “Pink City.”
Our first priority in Jaipur was to find a place to stay. We went to a few different places in our guidebook, but none of them would bargain down to our price range so we headed off in search of lodging on our own. The first hotel we came to seemed decent and the manager arranged accommodations that suited our budget ($6.50/night). The roof-top restaurant seem nice, but we opted to dine at a local place instead.We left our bags in our room and headed out to catch a local bus into the city center. While we were walking to the bus stop, an auto-rickshaw driver came up to us and wanted us to hire him to take us around. We refused and told him we were going to take the local bus. “Local bus not for tourist. You must take auto-rickshaw. Local bus very hot and many many people!” We ignored him and kept going. He finally gave up and shouted at us as he drove away. After our chat with him, I was thinking that the bus would probably look more like a pickup truck with twenty people packed in the back of it. But, we were pleasantly surprised when our bus pulled up. It was large, air-conditioned, and spacious. Plus, the bus tickets only cost $0.16/each on the way there, and $0.11 on the way back!So, why is it called the “Pink City”? I was wondering the same thing until I actually saw the city… The majority of the city has been built using a pinkish-red sandstone. Hawa Mahal, Palace of the Winds sits in the middle of the city. The streets lining the city are packed with vendors selling various goods. For dinner, we ordered special thali, an assortment of different Indian curries. We finished our sight-seeing, and then headed back to the hotel to get some rest before catching our train the next morning. Jared made a new friend along the way… We rested up that night and headed out on a train to Sawai Madhopur the next morning. Stay tuned to hear about our tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park!
India, oh India…
Before I begin this post, I’ll give you a little background on our decision to go to India. It’s always been a dream of ours to see the Taj Mahal, but other than that, India didn’t rank high on our travel list. In our minds, India wasn’t a vacation destination… It was a cultural experience; and one we weren’t sure we were ready to embrace. We’ve had a handful of friends who have had negative experiences in India, and we had other destinations we wanted to see.
With that in mind, we originally didn’t plan on visiting the country at all. That is, until we met Michael and Julie. Do you remember the Scottish couple we met in Thailand? Yep, they had just traveled to India and convinced us to go.
After hearing the amazing tales of India through Michael and Julie’s experience, we decided we must go. We were definitely excited about going to India, but we entered the country with extremely low expectations (which is probably the best way to approach India; your experience has no where to go but up).
After obtaining our Indian visas in Kathmandu, we caught a bus down to the boarder town, Lumbini (also the birthplace of Buddha). By the time we crossed the boarder, it was nearly 7pm. We knew we needed to get to Gorakhpur, the city where we could catch a train to anywhere else in India. We caught the 8pm bus and arrived in Gorakhpur at 11pm… with nothing pre-booked. Normally, if we knew we would be arriving in a city late in the evening, we would book something in advance. But since we had changed our plans around so much, we hadn’t even thought about it. Oh well, it’s India, right? We should be able to just walk around and grab a room.
We went into the first hotel we saw and were astonished when the owner informed us that they were completely full. What? Okay, so we went to the next place, and the next… all full! Thankfully the fourth place we tried had a room left–yes, one room. We looked at it and then turned around. Surely, we can do better than that. With no internet, and no guidebook, we wandered around the streets for the next thirty minutes before realizing that we only had one option. That dirty hotel room. With a sigh, we welcomed ourselves to India. Thankfully, we only had to stay there a few hours. We woke up at 3:45am and went outside to try to find a way out of Gorakhpur. With a little stumbling around, we ended up finding the train station. And that is when we realized we had no idea what we were doing.
There were people everywhere… sleeping on the ground, and standing in lines. We finally found the signs that said “Unreserved Tickets.” That was us, and my goodness were the lines long! I spotted a shorter line over on the side and noticed that there were only women in the line. Is that where I get my tickets, and Jared stands in another line for his ticket?
We gave it a shot and thankfully the “women’s only” line went fairly fast. When I went up to the window, the man asked me in broken English how many tickets I wanted. Two? Can I get a ticket for my husband here? I thought to myself. I guess so. “Class?” he asked. I knew the answer–2AC or 3AC. “No” he said. Hmm… it must not be available. “Only 2nd Class or General Class.” Which class was the better or the two? I couldn’t remember. “Umm… General Class, please.”
I didn’t realize that I had made a huge mistake until we found the train cars marked “general.” They were the last two cars on the train and they were absolutely packed. Even the luggage bins were completely full–of people.
Yes, people were sitting up in the luggage bins, in all of the seats, and all of the floor space was also taken. We found a man who looked like he worked for the station and explained our situation. We asked if we could sit in 2nd class and pay the difference. He seemed to think that was okay. Thankfully, 2nd class was nearly empty. We ended up having a great train ride, but the entire time I was worried we would be kicked off of the train in the middle of India. Let’s just say that we learned the class system of India really fast after that!One interesting thing about the trains in India is their toilets. The hole in the bottom of the squat-toilet leads straight down to the tracks below!We finally arrived at our destination–the holy city Varanasi. In Hinduism, Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities. For that reason, Hindus from all over the world flock to Varanasi on pilgrimages to become more holy, or in many cases, to die in the holy city. Sacred cremations are held 24 hours a day along the holy Ganges river.
Upon our safe arrival in Varanasi, we hired an auto rickshaw (motor-cart taxi) to take us to a decent hotel that had a/c rooms. We were very disappointed when we booked an a/c room only to discover that is was water-cooled. And if we left the water cooler on too long, it was steam up and turn our room into a sauna. (The temperature outside was around 100-110F.) Anyway, it had a TV and was much better than our previous stay. That evening, we decided to take a boat out on the Ganges River at night to watch the ceremonies. The river is considered holy and the more river water you are in contact with, the better. So each morning hindus will bathe in the river, brush their teeth with the water, drink it, and wash their laundry in it. Sewage and waste pipes lead and are dumped into the river. And dead people who are already “holy” are dumped into the river without being cremated. It was a nice peaceful ride on the river. Under each fire along the river is a body being cremated. The ceremonies performed each night are blessing ceremonies to bring the people good luck. We explored the city the following and we were pleasantly surprised with our experience. Varanasi was full of color and life. There was a bakery of sorts down the street from our hotel where we decided to try an Indian breakfast. At first, I was very against trying curry for breakfast. I love my american-style breakfasts, and I didn’t want to give that up. But I decided to give it a try–just once. Not only did I end up liking the breakfast, but I ended up craving Indian curry for breakfast for the rest of our time in India!
The bakery was just a hole-in-the-wall sort of a place, but we fell in love with the delicious breakfast they served us. I wish I knew the name of the meal, but I never caught it. It was some sort of fried bread that you dipped in a delicious curry. The meal was finished with something that sounded exactly like “jelly bean,” although after looking up the word, it’s actually “Jalebi.” It’s some sort of sweet (honey-flavored) fried batter.
Our breakfast cost us about $0.20 each, but we would normally get a large bottle of Slice (mango juice) to share which added a hefty $1.50 to the cost of our breakfast. Since we didn’t eat any fresh produce in India, we splurged on bottled juices.Are cows really everywhere in India? Yes, they roam the streets like kings. Everyone pets them, gives them the right of way, and feeds them as much as they can eat. Sunset on the river was beautiful. It was a perfect way to end our time in Varanasi. Both Jared and I agreed that the best way to describe Varanasi was not a tourist destination with “sites” to see, but rather a place to be. The culture and vibrant color of Varanasi cannot be grasped through photos and words, the only way to truly experience the city is by physically walking through the streets, smelling the the smells with your own nose, and seeing the city with your own eyes. Next, we were off to Agra to see what is known at the most beautiful building in the world.
After we returned from our Everest Base Camp trek, we took a few days to explore Nepal’s capital city. We hired a cycle rickshaw, but as it turns out, I don’t like to ride in the back of a cycle carriage. Especially when the cycler can’t even make it up the slightest of hills and demands that Jared get out to help push the cart. Most of the time he would insist that I stay in the cart unless the hill was rather long and then he would tell me to get out as well. We went to Monkey Temple which was completely crowded. We found out later that it was Buddha’s birthday. What a bad day to pick for temple sight seeing! We also walked around Durbar Square, a historic area with beautiful old Nepalese architecture. We had a great month in Nepal, but by the end of our time there, we were extremely excited about moving on to our next adventure — India!