Worrall Travel R's

Worrall Travel R's
Roz and Russ

Worrall Travel R's - Kicking the Bucket List

My photo

We are the Worrall Travel R's Roz and Russ Worrall. Our goal before we "kick the bucket" is to see as much of the world as we are able, learn about world cultures, experience making friends around the world, and share goodwill and what we learn with others. WE HOPE YOU JOIN US VIA THE BLOG ON OUR TRAVELS.

We started our world travels in 1969 in VW camper van in the USA, Canada, and Europe, but didn't actively blog about our travels until 2009 aboard our sailing vessel SV Worrall Wind, a 44 ft Nauticat Ketch.  On September 5, 2009 we left San Francisco and took a left at the Golden Gate to Explore the World.

From to Sea to Land
After almost 4 years of cruising Mexico and the South Pacific, we sold our beloved boat in Australia, 2013. The Worrall Travel R's are continuing our travels around by many other means of conveyance -boats,trains, planes, sometimes camels, elephants, rickshaws, and hot air balloons.. 

Russ is a retired engineer, optometrist, professor from U.C. Berkeley. Roz is a retired computer programmer/analyst, educator, (teacher, administrator, professional developer). 

Our Mantra:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On our way home!

We are in Tokyo at airport, just about to board American Airlines 170 to LAX at 4:30 p.m. Mar 27. We will arrive today in LAX, Mar 27 about 10:30 am. We are going back in time. Travel East is so strange. Have a rental car waiting for us at Sacramento. Sooo, looking forward to sleeping in our own bed tonight! Hope to see all of you who are stateside in the near future.

All is Well with the Weary Worrall Travel Rs

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tiger's Nest

Saturday and Sunday, March 23-24, 2013

Day 7 and 8


Intrepid Itinerary:
Our trek to the Taktshang Monastery is a big highlight. The hike up to the viewing point on day 7 takes about one hour approx and the monastery that clings to the cliff face is awe-inspiring. Known as the 'Tiger's Nest Monastery', Taktsang is a sacred pilgrimage site where, legend has it, the great Tantric mystic, Padmasambhava, flew on the back of a tigress and brought the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma to Bhutan. The Monastery clings to a cliff soaring 900 metres above the valley floor. Taktsang was destroyed in a fire in 1998 but restoration works are now almost complete.

Day 7.

The iconic image of the Tiger's Nest Monastery was our draw to Bhutan. And on our trip, the best was saved for last. We started our upward trek from about the 8,000 ft elevation. Tiger's Nest is at 10,000 feet, and the tea house viewing is half way in between. Once the elevation of the teahouse is achieved, trekkers descend into a waterfall valley, cross over the river and re-ascend 1400 steps up to the monastery. Two thousand feet doesn't seem that much of a climb, but at this elevation it is.

The ascent is challenging in that it very steep and the air is thin and cold. Just a few feet forward, and I could feel my heart racing and the need to breathe more deeply and to cover my nose and mouth with a scarf to heat up my intake. We had a beautiful clear and crisp morning for our trek. I had prepared by wearing five layers of top clothing. Within 15 minutes of our cold start, I peeled off the top two layers, and unbuttoned the third, discarding ear warmers, gloves and neck scarf. I envied the people who were taking the equine taxi up the hill. I enjoy walking, but steep switch backs are not my favorite.

It took us about 1.5 hours to reach the viewing point. We had some refreshments and then could decide to stay here or continue on, first by climbing higher, then descending into a waterfall gorge and then backup to the monastery 1400 steps. Russ, my climb-every-mountain guy, chose to go ahead. I too might have considered the rest of the trek, but was informed by our guide, that the inside of the monastery was basically the same as all the others we had seen, and no cameras are allowed inside. Plus I am not on a pilgrimage with religious drive. Okay, I had enough excuses. I was content to stay at the tea house and enjoy the view from the opposite cliff. The sun was pleasantly warm, and a litter of frolicking healthy puppies kept me amused rolling around at my feet.

Russ returned about two hours later triumphant, in good shape, and had a few additional photos. Tiger's Nest is a beautiful monastery built on a cliff. Difficult to hike to with no roads, one can only imagine how difficult it was to build, the first time in the 7th century and within less r20 years ago after the first one burnt down.

In addition to viewing the monastery, we found one geocache at the tea house, and registered a "find" as well as a "did not find". Russ tried to get to the Lion Cave Tiger's Nest geocache, but our guide would not allow him to go up the steep stair path to the meditation cave, even though we assured him in advance that we did not want to enter the cave or disturb any meditations. The guides here keep a pretty tight rein on tourists. It is a confining feeling and one of the aspects of visiting Bhutan one must contend with.

Day 8 - Festival in Paro

Our visit to Bhutan and the festival was coincidental. Many tourists from around the world had come specifically for the festival, which is a time for the Bhutanese to celebrate and reconnect with the religious stories of their religion through traditional dancing. This year a new Warrior dance was introduced to honor those who fought in 2003 to help root out muslim tribes from India who were hiding out in the southern jungles of Bhutan.. Our guide grumbled that the people are traditional and that they don't like new non-religious things being introduced. The minute of silence for the warriors was completely ignored by everyone except the tourists who were being respectful guests.

The dancing was interesting and colorful, but a little slow and repetitive. Local spectators sitting in the mid-day sun without hats (considered disrespectful on Dzong grounds) didn't seem particularly riveted to the dancing. They tried to shelter the suns rays by wearing scarves or shawls over their heads. Our guide told us not to wear hats. He said if we saw others wearing hats, it would probably be okay, but if were approached by the Buddhist community police and asked to take off our hats, we were not to tell them who our guide was. He keeps a tight rein on his charges and is responsible for their misbehavior.

We saw few local people wearing hats, but most of the tourists wore some sort of hat and the police didn't seem particularly interested in enforcing the no hat dress code. Russ respectfully did not wear a hat. Instead he looked even less respectful wearing his long sleeve shirt over his head. I finally ditched the scarf and put on a visor leaving my head uncovered.

The performers were wearing hats. The jesters had long penises on their hats that they would playfully smack people. What is considered respectful and disrespectful here is confusing. There are many dichotomies in Bhutan. The Buddhist won't kill animals, but don't mind eating them. All of their butchered meat is imported. The Buddhists are peaceful and seek a peaceful way of life, but all the boys including some of the young monks on festival day seemed to be toting play guns and shooting one another. Boys with water pistols were shooting everyone. It was so warm, no one complained.

There was much visiting going on, and there was no applause or show of appreciation for the performers. I suppose in some respects it would be like applauding the choir at church.  It was interesting just watching the Bhutanese festival goers dressed in their finest for the festival, sitting in family groups and enjoying picnic lunches. They come armed with thermal pots of already cooked rice, vegetables and meat, and dig in with their hands. The royal dignitaries including the the queen mother sat in a shaded box area. I saw tea and coffee being served. There are no public restrooms or porta potties brought in for the spectators. If you have to go, you have to walk back to town or find a bush. There are no places to wash your hands either. Sanitation is not a high priority apparently.

The traditional parts of Bhutan are charming, but the growth of tourism and exposure to the world through visitors and internet is creating growing pains. The king wants to encourage tourism but keep the traditions. Finding a balance will be difficult.

Already the infrastructure of trash collection and sewage handling is not keeping up. The Bhutanese themselves are the worst offenders. Rural people who have lived remote, simple lives in the hills and have always used nature for toiletting, wash their hands in a stream, spitting red betel juice in the dirt, and tossing away bio degradable things on the ground, have moved into towns to seek tourist related jobs in guest houses, retail establishments, restaurants, etc.. Without knowing how to live in close confinement with others in a town, they continue to toilet outside, spit betel juice everywhere on sidewalks, and steps inside and outside of buildings, drop trash bio-dergradeable or not, everywhere. We have seen a lot of this in he South Pacific islands as well. You can take the boy out of the village, but not the village out of the boy.

Day 9-10 Travel Days Home to America via Bangkok, Tokyo, and Los Angeles.


We'll catch up with photos and some reflective pieces on the blog when we return, but until our next travel adventure, I'm giving myself and the blog a rest.

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's

Friday, March 22, 2013

It was a dark and stormy night...


Thursday and Friday, March 21and 22, 2013

Day 5 Gangte

 

We make the beautiful drive to Gangte (approx. 2-3 hrs) and visit the extensive 450-year-old Gangte Goemba. We also take the opportunity to explore the Phobjikha Valley region on a nature walk (approx 2 hours).

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The road to Gangte is basically a one lane road that winds and soars to a 10,000 foot pass.  Much of it is under widening construction and strewn with rubble from construction and landslides.  The inside cliffs were steep and the outside cliffs even steeper.  It was just better to trust our driver and not pay attention to how close our wheels were to the crumbling cliffs especially when making wide turns on the outside edges, wheels inches from the side and on collsion course with any oncoming vehicles.


We stopped for lunch in a little restaurant just before the summit.  There was a a consignment table at the restaurant for local handcrafts by yak farmers and villagers.  As we climbed higher in the mountains, it was getting colder and colder.  The increasing chill factor prompted my purchase of brightly colored Yathe yak wool jacket woven and made by a local.  Of course I didn't really need an excuse because I loved the jacket, but it is so special to buy it here.  I immediately wrapped my self in the jacket.


A few miles further up the road, we stopped at a 450 year old monastary. An old Bhutanese woman approached me pointing at the jacket with a grin and a gleam in her eye. I don't know what she was saying, but I think it was something like "I recognize this jacket..it was made from the back of my yak."


Later in the day, we took a lovely trek down the sides of a high mountain valley, studded with towering pines.  It felt very much like Sierra Valley.  The sky was darkening with clouds and the wind was blowing them down from the crests..  We passed through farm lands where people were hand chopping trees and milling beams and planks by hand.  There are only oxen plow trails to many of these mountainside farms, and the cows definitely have the right away.  


We arrived at the rustic guest house where we would spend  the night only minutes before the clouds opened up with a crash of thunder and a freezing sleet.  We were the only group here.  The guesthouse is only a few years old, but is quite rustic with only a wood burning stove in the dining room for heat.  We gathered around the stove and warmed ourselves with tea and coffee, and sweet biscuits.  The staff were very sweet and accommodating.


Our rooms were small, modest, and very cold. The little heater, single pane windows and lack of weather stripping did little to lessen  the chill.  When the electricity flickered off, those of us who were in our rooms getting settled, grabbed our books, ipads and kindles and returned to the dining room circling the stove.  We spent the late afternoon and early evening reading, eating, and chatting by candlelight as the storm continued.  The scene reminded me of Little House on the Prairie where the Ingalls family huddled around the stove in a blizzard.  


We talked with our guide about the beauty of the valley.  Our guide said he thought it would be a good idea to have mountain bike trails for tourists.  Bhutan is working hard to attract not only trekking tourists, but those who might have other recreational ideas.  We suggested the mountain bike trails could also be used for cross country skiing.  Yes, he thought that sounded good, but the roads are not very passable and treacherous during wintry snow season and the summer monsoon season.


When we were ready to retire, we were each given a hot water bottle filled from the kettle on the wood stove to warm up our beds.  Once we were in bed with our thermals, hot water bottles, and stacks of blankets, we didn't feel the chill at all.  It could rain or snow all night.  As I drifted to sleep though,  I couldn't stop myself from thinking that we would be back tracking down the same road we had snaked our way up, and what that might be like with snow and mud.  


Day 6 Paro


When we awoke, neither of us wanted to get out of our cozy bed nest, but we did.  The electricity had come  on during the night and our little heater had taken some of the chill out of the room.  The pine trees on the surrounding mountain sides were powdered with fresh snow.  We hurriedly dressed and went outside and down to the dining room where the wood stove was fired up and fresh pots of tea and coffee sat steaming away on top.  By 8:30, we had eaten an excellent breakfast of toast, fried eggs, fried potatoes (potatoes are the primary crop in this valley)' and lady finger bananas, and were on the road back to Paro where we had come from on our first day  in Bhutan.


It's a long slow trip, and the road is not as bad as I feared it would be, but is certainly still a challenged for our driver as he  negotiates the steep, sharp, mud slick roads in a long wheel based bus.  Everyone has been pretty quiet today, as we have each purposely either looked at the scenery or turned our back and avoided looking at the road and the rubbly steep cliffs looming up and down on either side of us.  The road is dry and untouched by rain and sleet in some places while other places are muddy and puddly.  It's been cloudy  and showery off and on throughout the day.


As we approach Paro the sun is peaking out a bit.  Tomorrow, we hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery. 



All is well with the Worrall Travel R's


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gross National Happiness Day

Punakah, Day 4

Today, March 20, 2013 - Gross National Happiness Day


It is the first day of spring and rather than the GNP, the Bhutanese have a GNH, Gross National Happiness Day.  Apparently, security from fear, security from want, and security from indignities is measured at 75%.  The people trust one another and have great faith in their benevolent monarchial democracy.


Here is our itinerary for today.


After breakfast on day 4 we take a picnic lunch and set off to visit the Khamsum Yueling Temple, north of Punakha. We walk for an hour through a beautiful pastoral setting to reach this hillside temple. This is also a lovely opportunity for some farmhouse visits and to have our lunch by the riverside. After lunch we visit Punakha Dzong (fortress), built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. This building was the second of Bhutan's dzongs and its creation was foretold by Guru Rimpoche. We explore the site and discover the story behind the tri-partitioned stairs.

 

Even today the monks of the central clergy, led by the Je Khanpo, still migrate from Thimphu to spend the six coldest months of the year at Punakha. The city is built at the confluence of the Mo Chhu (Mother River) and the Po Chhu (Father River) and is fertile enough to provide farmers with two rice crops a year.


We have had a lovely day trekking through the countryside and up the mountain to the Khamsum Yueling Temple.  It was a challenging uphill hike.  Can't say I am looking forward to the trekking part of the Tiger's Nest Monastary as it is even longer and more difficult.  This was some good practice.


The Punakha Dzong is beautifully impressive.  We loved it.  The town of Punakha looks as if iwe were in Switzerland or Austria.


All is Well with The Worrall Travel R's


Phallic Symbols

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Days 3 Punakha

 

 We drive from Thimphu to Punakha (approx. 3-4 hrs). After passing through the Honsho checkpoint, the road climbs up through maple and blue pine forests to the Dochu La Pass (3,100 m). Here, if the sky is clear, we catch spectacular views of the Bhutan Himalayas. According to Bhutanese myths, the area around the pass is holy and inhabited by a variety of spirits.

 

As we begin our descent from the pass, we can note the change in vegetation. Maples and pines give way to rhododendrons, cypress, hemlock and fir. Also prominent is the daphne, related to our laurel and used for paper-making. We will make stops along the way and stroll into the forests to identify the many regional plants.

 

Towards the evening we will visit the legendary Chimi Lhakhang, also known as the 'temple of the divine madman', after the Lama Drukpa Kunley who introduced a new way of Buddhist practice during his era and is associated with the phallic symbols used on Bhutanese houses as talismans.

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We checked out of our hotel at 10:00 a.m. and drove up the mountainside where a giant sitting Buddha (present sitting position) is being constructed., After three years it looks close to completion and is already attracting the devout and prayer flags.  It is one of the largest in the world.  To give you an idea of it's size, Russ is in the foreground of one of the photos we took and  he appears to be the size of one of the statue's fingernails.  On the inside of the big Buddha there will be 125,000 nested Buddhas.  It is clear enough here to catch some glimpses of snow capped mountains.


On Bhutan's single road from Thimpuh to Punakha, our small bus snaked up the mountains from 7,000 feet to 10,000 feet.  The road is narrow, windy, and being widened, so much of it is under construction, bumpy and dusty.  There is evidence of rock slides and there is regular seismic activity here.  


At the top of the pass where a Buddhist temple and 108 choetens - stupas, have been constructed.  The day is a bit overcast so we cannot see the mountain peaks of the Himalayas.  Nevertheless, the views are beautiful and serene.


Men and their penises - Roz's Rant!


We descend into a valley where we trek from one hillside across the valley and up the other side to the temple of the divine madman.  Bhutan's Buddhism has been influenced by By Lama Drukpa Kunley in the 14th century who believed he could subdue evil female demons with his penis..really a way to rationaliezeto womanize.  His legend continues and now phallic symbols adorn houses to keep evil spirits out.  


It is always amazing to me how men around the world have historically justified their sexual drive and uncontrolled passions to possess, subdue, and control women as a religious practice, then flaunt their appendages as bigger than life and divine.  While we are amused by some of the arts and handicrafts, I find this cultural message, that is still  a part of Bhutan today, disturbing. The alters have sculptures of this madman monk subduing the woman who is in the form of a demon.  


We are learning and listening to the stories and legends and wondering how the culture today incorporates all of this in their religious psyches.


All is Well with the Worrall Travel R's







Monday, March 18, 2013

Bhutan - Refreshing and Charming





Sunday and Monday, March 17 and 18, 2012

Itinerary
Days 1-2 Thimphu

Kuzuzangpo La! Welcome to Bhutan.

You are met on arrival in Paro and transferred to our hotel in Thumpuh (approx 1 hour). Arrival at the Bhutanese city of Paro, our entry point, located in a beautiful valley, where a warm welcome awaits. Jovial faces, prayer flags and the cool, fresh air of this high Himalayan city are immediately noticeable.

Thimphu contrasts sharply with just about every other capital city throughout the world. It is a town without traffic lights, where no cars existed until 1962 and where all stores on the upper lane are closed on a Tuesday and on the lower lane are closed on a Wednesday to give business people a rest from their capitalist pursuits. 

Although people have lived in and farmed the valley and hills bordering the Thimphu Chhu for many years, the town did not really develop until it became the capital city in 1961. Even then, population growth was not huge until it began to really increase in the 1990s.


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It took us all but one half hour of our 3 hour preflight time to check through the ticketing, bagging and security at the Delhi Airport in the wee hours of the morning when very few travelers were yet out and about.  India is worried about radical Muslim terrorists.

Our flight to Bhutan was on Drukair owned and operated by the government of Bhutan.  They have three planes.  Our flight was quite scenic as we passed by the peaks of the Himalayas, including Mt. Everest, poking through the clouds.  We approached through a small valley mountainous valley where it looked as if our wing tips could almost touch the pine trees on the sides of the mountains.  This would not be an airport we would want to fly into without excellent visibility.

We descended down the plane's steps under a clear blue sky.  Cool crisp mountain air was a welcome change to the smoke filled steamy air of India.  The plane terminal gave us a first taste of traditional Bhutan architecture and design.  An alpine flavor of hewn woods, beams and painted design are rypical of every building.

Checking into Bhutan was relatively easy.  We were met by our Intrepid Guide Tzishi, dressed in traditional Bhutan dress wear, not for show, but everyday.  The king established a national dress so that he could identify Bhutanese citizens at a glance from guest business travelers, workers, and tourists.  There is variation in colors, but the styles are standard.  The men wear a goh, heavy knee length robe tied in the middle.  The robe has long cuffed sleeves to tuck cold hands in and is tied in the middle and has large inside pouches, knee length socks and shoes.  When on government property, pashminas in various colors depending on whether one is of the general public or a ranking official.  The women wear ankle long wrap around skirts and tailored long sleeve jackets.

Travelers coming to Bhutan must make their arrangements through a Bhutanese travel guide and pay a minimum of $250.00 up front for everyday in the country.  This fee pays for a personal guide, vehicle and driver, accommodation, and meals, not including beverages.  In this way, the government can manage is tourism and control tourist movement.  Since the price to enter is steep, it also excludes people with lesser means and is quality control as well.  Smoking is prohibited in Bhutan.  There is a tarriff on travelers who bring in cigarettes for their own consumption and severe penalties for selling to Bhutanese. Bhutanese caught smoking spend three years in jail.

When we were met by our guide, we were escorted to a nice tourist bus and our driver who would be with us for the week.  One other Intrepid passenger was picked up with us.  We left Paro and Bhutan's only airport to weave our way through river valleys and cliffs to the capital city of Bhutan, Thumpuh, about an hour or so away.  Pink peach trees filled with spring blossoms dot the country side.  It is dry here and cold.  The monsoon season will start in June.

We arrived at our accommodation just before noon, met our other Intrepid travelers (7 in all-5 men and 2 women).  Three of us are from the USA, two are Brits living in France, and two are from Australia.  With the exception of the two Aussies who are younger, the rest of us are about the same age.  Our guide took us out for our first meal at a buffet specializing in traditional Bhutanese food.  Chicken, rice, noodles, buckeat dumplings, stir fried cabbage and pumpkin.  It was delicious.

After lunch because all of our Intrepid group had arrived, we toured the majestic fortress of Tashichhodzong, seat of parliament and office of the king, and then had the rest of the afternoon to explore town on our own.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Or group reconvened after breakfast at 9:00 a.m to visit more sites in Thumpuh

Our first stop was at the stupa memorializing Bhutan's third king.

National Memorial Chorten:
The building of this chorten was the idea of Bhutan's third King, H.M. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck ('the father of modern Bhutan'), who had wished to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity, but was unable to give shape to his idea in his lifetime due to pressures of state. After His Majesty's premature death in 1972, the Royal Family and Cabinet resolved to fulfill his wishes and erect a memorial that would perpetuate his memory as well as serve as a monument to peace. The National Memorial Chorten was consecrated on July 28, 1974. The finely executed wall paintings and delicately fashioned statues within the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.

Devout Buddhists visit the memorial daily spinning the prayer wheels, saying prayers, walking around the monument three times, and prostrating themselves in front of the stupa.

Next we visited the National School of handicrafts that serve 200-300 students a year in a six year program where they specialize in master one of many arts, wood carving, painting, sculpting, needle craft and embroidery.  They learn only traditional design so that they carry the mantle of preserving tradition even as Bhutan becomes more modern.

Our next visit was to the Heritage House Museum where we learned how families pursued their daily chores and lives.  For many, the old ways of doing are still a part of today's culture.

Our final stop of the day was at a small Alpine Zoo where Bhutan's National animal, the Takin lives.  Ancient Legend claims this animal was crossed between a cow and a goat.  It has a unique toxicology and is only found in Bhutan.  There are no other animals in the world like this.  Indeed it is a strange bulky, snorting, head butting animal with what appears to be a cow like body and goat's head.

We returned to our hotel after a nice pizza lunch for exploration or relaxing on our own.  I am having some difficulty with the high elevation.  Having not fully replaced all the body fluids I lost while in India, I have been suffering with an altitude headache which I hope will be gone by tomorrow.  I spent the afternoon sleeping while Russ explored town.

We are off to more rural and remote areas of Bhutan tomorrow.

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's.




















Sunday, March 17, 2013

Goodbye Delhi - India

Thursday - Friday, March 15 -6, 2013.

Deli Day 1

India is a subcontinent of which we have only touched the surface. Like any traveler there is always more to see and do - with lots of surprises along the way. For now though, we are ready to move on. Our Indian journey began in a rural, litter strewn and impoverished border town and is ending in the tree lined capital city of Delhi.

We arrived in Delhi late in the afternoon. The new freeway we took was spectacular. It is only a few years old and hardly used. For local people the road is expensive to use. What most certainly would have taken several hours by train, took only three hours by freeway. The free way is suspended above farm fields and is absent of cars, motor bikes, cows, filth, potholes, and litter. It is 12 lines wide, six in each direction. There are few on and off ramps. With so little places to turn around, it is not uncommon to see cars in your lane that have made a u- turn and are now coming at you.

As we approached the city we passed a very modern sporting arena complex and suburban and new suburban high rise apartments. Delhi is a city of trees and lovely gardens, monuments, and government buildings. It also has a subway and cows laying about in the narrow median strips between lanes of busy, congested streets.

We spent our last nigh in Delhi having a farewell dinner with fellow Intrepid Travelers who will disperse tomorrow to other places in the world.

Delhi Day 2

We made arrangements with the hotel to rent an air conditioned taxi for the day, about $20. This is a great, no hassle way to see the sites and do shopping. Our driver was a nice young man who spoke English well enough and took us everywhere we wanted to go. We bought a new little Samsung camera to take as our primary camera into Bhutan. It as a good little zoom lens and picture clarity is better than our little backup Cannon which. will be relegated again as emergency backup.

We had a wonderful late lunch at a restaurant that our driver suggested, so dinner was crackers and chips, followed by packing and then to bed. It will take 45 minutes to get to the airport and we must be there 3 hours before our 6:30 am flight. Taking all of the logistics into account, we were up at 2:15 a.m. Way too early!

We are off to Bhutan in the morning. Good-bye India!

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's

Friday, March 15, 2013

Agra - Taj Mahal


Thursday, March 15' 2013


Day 13 Agra

 

Travel by train to the Mughal city of Agra (approx 5 hrs).


Agra is home to one of the world's most recognisable monuments, the Taj Mahal.

Visit the Taj Mahal - a masterpiece of shimmering white marble set amid beautiful formal gardens. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz, this 'teardrop on the face of eternity' (as it was described by writer Rabindranath Tagore) lives up to all expectations.

Hop on to your cycle rickshaw for a tour of the city - a truly fun and Intrepid way to see the monuments of Agra. Note that during summer and winter months on days when the weather is particularly hot or subject to dense fog, the cycle rickshaw tour will be replaced with battery powered rickshaws.



Visit Agra Fort on the banks of the Yamuna River. Built in 1565 by Emperor Akbar, the fort was originally designed to be a military structure. It was converted to a palace in Emperor Shah Jahan's time and eventually became his prison after he lost power in 1658.


See Akbar's Mausoleum - a beautiful sandstone and marble tomb built for the greatest of the Mughal emperors.


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The Taj Mahal is spectacular!  Words cannot, and even pictures cannot, fully convey the magnificence of the Red Fort and Palace of Emperor Shah Jahan and the Taj Mahal which built for his queen, and where both of them are interned. 

We spent the afternoon until sunset Taj Mahal gazing as the colors changed and the sunset.  Wow, a most worthwhile experience and check on the bucket list.

We leave for Delhi and the last full day of our Nepal-India Intrepid adventure.

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's

Heritage Site of Orchha


Tuesday and Wednesday, March 12-13,


Days 11-12 Orchha Intrepid Itinerary

 

After arriving in Jhansi, travel by auto rickshaw across a classic Indian rural landscape to the picturesque town of Orchha to experience a very different side of India (approx 45 mins).


Situated on the banks of the Betwa River, Orchha has changed little over the centuries. Originally a hunting area, it became the capital of the Bundela rajas and, as a result, Orchha has more temples and palaces than any town of this size deserves.


Explore the palaces and temples scattered across the peaceful countryside, walk in rural areas untouched by modern life and meet the very friendly locals. The river water is cold but clean enough to swim in.


Experience an evening puja ceremony at the Ram Raja Temple.

See the stunning Orchha Palace, built by Bir Sing Deo for his friend Jehangir, the great Mughal ruler.


Take the chance to experience the local flavours at a cooking demonstration by our local friends.

Visit Taragram, one of Intrepid's Responsible Tourism projects. This unique papermaking plant was set up to give tribal women from the area a chance to work outside the traditional areas normally afforded to them. All the paper is made from recycled clothing and wood pulp.  In


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In Orchha we stayed in a lovely Heritage Bundelkhand property, that conjured images of what the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was supposed to be; Old traditional Indian architecture, central courtyard with gardens, pool, bougainvillea and wisteria spilling over the covered walkways in a profusion of burgundies, pinks, lavender and white blossoms, ceiling fans, tiled walkways, and individual garden patios out the backdoors of each large bedroom.  Although I couldn't fully appreciate anything much beyond the room amenities the first day, we certainly appreciated all of it the second day. About $36.00 a day.


By day two I felt well enough for a full day of site seeing after a light breakfast in the dining room.

Our first stop was Taragram, a Women's Paper making Project that Intrepid funds as a part of their commitment to responsible tourism, making places better with donations from our traveling fees.  We really like this idea and loved this project.  It was started in 1996 and has opened up an avenue of income and opportunity for tribal women to learn skills and better support their families.


It is organized to produce in a way that accommodates the other cultural responsibilities women have; itinerant, drop in workers, child care provisions, and work accounts that only the women can draw from.  At first the project met resistance from village men who wanted to keep their women home afraid they would become smarter and earn more than the men, and of course that is what is happening, but the extra income for the families has quelled the objections.  


Men and the women who have chosen to participate, now have separate income streams. The women do not have to beg for money from their husbands.  Even with both incomes ( perhaps less than $100.00 a month), families here are desperately poor with intolerable living conditions and sanitation.


Women rotate through the various paper-process from start to finish including office and sales room skills.  The project has expanded to include  cement round tiles for roofing and a radio station for broadcasting music and farm news.  The place was not littered and well maintained. Women are called in when  there are big orders to be filled.  The day we were here, we only saw 3 women in the section we were in and the rest were men about 10 or more, packing supplies, cleaning up, and operating the sales room. These men may also have been part time or full time workers.  We don't know, and while this struck us as odd, I guess this arrangement keeps things going when times are slack and women need to be elsewhere.


After our tour here, we opted to visit a tribal village and school. These tribal people go into the forest to gather wood for resale as their primary source of income.  They also gather up the holy cow poop to make paddies.  2000 paddies sell for 100 rupees, about a penny a piece. The cow chips are sold to brick factories to fire their kilns.   We don't know anyone who would make a single cow paddy with their ungloved hands, squatting in the dirt in the hot sun at any price.  Do you?  Most of the paddy makers were  women in glittery saris.  Quite a visual contrast. 


The children and adults begged for us to take their photos and show them what they looked like


Individuals often conducted their own side business of making pottery and baskets.


Our school experience was wonderful.  We didn't get a chance to stay long, but still enjoyed having some interaction with these young people.


We made a trip into the main village of Orrcha  to visit an ATM, buy some batteries and snacks, do a little catchup sightseeing for me.  In the central market a lovely twelve year old girl with surprisingly good English skills begged me to see her jewlery.  I caved, she sat me down on a stool and eventually would have sold me her store she was such a sweet and persuasive sales lady.  I was able to eventually gain control of what I was willing to buy, She would no doubt win a Girl Scout Cookie seller award.


In the evening, we visited a local family's home and our hostess demonstrated and we participated in preparing and eating an Indian meal from chai to dessert.



We leave for Agra by train in the morning to see the Taj Mahal.  We are so excited!  This is the icing on the cake.


All is well with the Worrall Travel R's


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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sail, Row, Drift Down the Ganges



Saturday and Sunday, March 9-10, 2013

Day 8 River Ganges Boat Trip

 

Transfer to the River Ganges and our small riverboats for two days of sailing. A full support crew will be on hand as we sail down river, passing village communities and viewing river life as it goes on around us. 


Our crew will cook us delicious meals and we spend one night camping on the river bank in basic twin-share tents with common tented toilets. Life on the river is much slower than in the chaotic cities, so lie back, relax and literally go with the flow. The Ganges is a holy river, so in respect of this we enjoy vegetarian food and alcohol is not available.


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It took us about an hour and a half to drive up river and a day and half to drift, row, and sail down river.  This Ganges River trip is unique to Intrepid.  We were the only boats on the river with the exception of some local fisherman.  In fact the four row/sailboats (three passenger boats and a cooking boat) are from a fishing village that Intrepid has made arrangements with for Intrepid travel traverse down the river.  They are set up with lounging mats for passengers to lounge.


This trip is probably done only a half dozen times a year, and the village fisherman rotate and take turns.  Intrepid sets them up with with the expectations, life vests, and camping gear.  The boats are quite worn.  However despite the holes in our sail,  we were one of the fastest boats going down the river.  


The food was plentiful and tasted wonderful.  Sadly though, I think I contracted ecoli somewhere on the trip, and have been suffering with it for a couple of days. Despite the anti- bacteral soaps, gels and washing our hands with bottled water, the food handlers are not doing the same. Thank goodness we brought the cipro, flagyl, and cup of soups.  Besides the latent effects of the trip, Russ sat the Kindle down, on the mat, and when I repositioned myself, I sat on it, breaking the screen.  Bummer!


As sundown approached on the first night, we made camp on a sand bar peninsula.  The sand was clean and white.  The boat crew set up a mess tent ( hoards of bugs), and infividual tents for the campers.  We fell asleep under a star filled sky and the constant, incessant sing song Hindu chanting, broadcast through mega, loud speakers mounted on every temple and shrine


Surprises..... The Ganges is cleaner looking than what we thought it would be.  Unlike the muddy Mekong in Laos, the Ganges above Varanasi  was clear enough to reflect blue. And there was no bad smell,  The river bank was clear of debris.  We can only imagine how filthy the water below the pilgrim city of Varanasi might be, with the millions of people, holy cows, defecating and urinating, cremating the dead on the banks, bathing and washing in it.  It may have looked clean, but I felt myself gagging when the boatmen were dipping their cups in the river for a drink.  


Sunday March 12, 2013

Days 9 Varanasi

 

Sail back into Varanasi.

Set off by cycle rickshaw to visit the oldest part of the city, bustling with tourists and priests, and see different rituals being performed.

Wander through the Old City with its maze of narrow alleyways packed full of small shops and stalls. See pilgrims bathing and performing rituals and ceremonies unchanged for hundreds of years; temples full of bell chimes and the smell of incense; the dhobi wallahs and the burning ghats.

Spend the evening soaking up the magical atmosphere of a candle flower ceremony, on a Ganges river cruise as the sun sets.

Start early with a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges, passing the many ghats and temples along the river.


We wanted to take an early morning photo of the Ganges, but our Cannon's telescopic lens crapped out.  This is my third Cannon in four years, and each one has had this difficulty.  This one is only seven months old. Glad I bought the replacement policy for this one, but it won't help me out until I return stateside.   Good thing we carry a backup camera, which is also a little Cannon, but the quality of pictures just aren't the same, and the zoom stinks.    We may be looking for a new camera in Dehli before we go into Bhutan.  We'll see what's available.


We reached Varanasi after lunch on the river and then explored the Ghats, bathing places with long broad steps down to the river.  Men bathed nakedly, and the women in their saris.  There are no public toilets, so men and women squat where they can.  Some early morning cremation fires had just burnt down, and cows were bathing in the river with the people as well.  Again, the incessant chanting, gongs, and bell ringing continued.  We saw several snake handlers, and pathetic beggars...little girls of 3 or 4  years carrying around malnourished infant siblings, elderly, handicapped people.


The most awful was the badly deformed man who literally snaked on his belly along the filthy road pushing a donation plate in front of him.  With so many people begging, we tried to ignore most of them, but we did donate to the man on his belly.  No wonder these people believe in reincarnation and a different new life. We worked our way to the old section of town where pilgrims often wait two days in a queue, sleeping in line on the filthy streets to get into one of the temples. Life here for most of them looks pretty grim and from the looks of things all the rituals, chanting, bathing, and superstitions does no good.  They are so steeped in their religious beliefs and have been poor for so long, they don't seem to know or expect any better in this life.


Our guide took us to an Intrepid supported shop to learn about silks, block print textile cottons, cashmere, and pashminas.  We sat cross legged on cream colored mattresses, where the propritor spread out the various textiles.  It was fascinating.


Later that same evening, we took a sunset river ride to watch the temple ceremonies, and to cast wish candles to float down the river.  I wished that no one would ever have to beg anymore.  Didn't work.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Days 10 Varanasi


Start early with a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges, passing the many ghats and temples along the river.

There's plenty to see and do in your free time here:

Visit the Ram Nagar Fort which lies about 14 km from Varanasi on the opposite bank of River Ganga. Built by Maharaja Balwant Singh in the 18th century, it's the ancestral home of the Maharaja of Banaras.


Board our overnight train for Jhansi - the nearest junction to Orchha (approx 15 hrs). Sleeper trains are usually comfortable and air-conditioned (sometimes fan-cooled), a great way to travel long distances and still get maximum time in each place. Most of the time sheets, pillow and blanket are provided but some people prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Please note you may be sharing with locals in a same/mixed gender situation.


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Tuesday, March 12,  2013

Days 10 Varanasi


A Long 48 hours


About midnight I woke up feeling sick.  By morning, I had made more trips to the bathroom erupting from both ends than I care to count.  I had a pounding headache, dry mouth, and knew I couldnt't wander too far from a restroom.  Russ went out with our guide and less than half of our group.  Can't speak for the others who didn't go, but I was "pooped" out.


Russ took some great sunrise shots, and returned by 9:00 a.m.  We had to checkout of our rooms by noon and had the rest of the day free until three when we took jeeps to the train station.   Our train, wasn't scheduled to leave until six, but because traffic can be so bad at times, our guide wanted to make sure we go there in plenty of time.  I stayed in bed with a pillow over my head to blockout the incessant music and chanting, until just minutes before 12:00 p.m. checkout.  Then hung we hung out in the lobby until three.  So much for free time.  I looked like hell and felt worse.


We arrived at the train station at 3:45.  It was teeming with hot sweaty people, moving in all directions or just sitting or squatting on the floors while everyone wove their way around them.  We could no longer hear the incessant chanting and singing, but it was replaced with a loud speaker and an announcer who was enthralled with her own voice.  She did not let up.  Please, please shut up...I know, sounds bitchy, but my head was falling off.  The part that was still attached was using all my reserve not to be sick.  There were no toilets.  Men and women were hopping down on the tracks or squirting against a wall to do their business.  The stench was awful.  Our guide and fellow travelers helped me seek out a place to sit.  I put my suitcase in front  me, bent forward with my head on top of the case and head pillow and didn't move for 3.5 hours.

The train was late.


As soon as we got on the train, Russ scoped out the bathrooms for me.  The good news, there were both Indian squat toilets and western seat toilets.  The bad news, they were both filthy.  if I wasn't gagging before I went in, I was before I got out.  We were in the first class sleeper car, too.

There were six of us in our sleep cubicle, stacked three high.  


We did have air conditioning that worked whenever the train was rolling....which for an express train seemed to stop for great lengths of time.  I think we were so far behind schedule that we now were giving way to other on time traffic.  Suffice it to say it was a long, long night for me.  Only curtains separated us from the passage way.  Travelers moving about were noisy and the several times people would walk in our compartment and look around for an empty berth.  The train was overfull.  People were sleeping in the passageways on the floor.


By six a.m. we were to have reached Orchha.  My head was no longer pounding and bathroom trips were less frequent....primarily because conditions in the toilets were deteriorating throughout the night and we were all holding it as long as we could.   


It was early afternoon by the time we arrived.  We took motorized rickshaws, to our hotel, and had until 3:00 p.m. to get ourselves rested before a walking tour of this small, quaint city.  First thing we did was laundry and I took a shower.  I've never felt so dirty.  Once again, Russ went off with the camera, and I reluctantly but wisely stayed  in the hotel room where I got some much needed rest and some quiet alone time.  So the riddle of the day....Where in the world would you rather not be if you got sick....??? Hmmm.  In our 3.5 years of cruising, I have never felt worse.


Tomorrow we will have a full day here, and I expect to be operational in the morning.


All is Well and Ok with the Worrall Travel R's