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India: here we come!
Mt Manaslu (Nepal) to Kolkata (India), November 2010

After reaching the Larkya La pass of more than 5100 metres, we descended in seven days to an altitude of 600 metres. The “Around Manaslu” trekking is very diverse. On one day we broke up our camp in the shivering cold surrounded by bare rocks, ice and snow. The same day, we had lunch in a pine forest and we slept in a village where the corn harvest was in full swing. From that night onwards we didn’t need our long underpants anymore. From all the 16 days that we spend walking in this area, there weren’t two days alike. The last few days overlap with the famous Annapurna trekking. It was a strange feeling to be back on the main tourist trail again. We have said the picturesque villages with waving children goodbye in exchange for villages with hotels and bakeries selling apple-pie. We are glad that we have had a little taste of this way of trekking in Nepal, because now we know for sure that we prefer a less busy trekking route. The crew that accompanied us during this trip was amazing. Porters almost ran from the steepest mountains while carrying a load of 30 kilograms and the guide helped us wherever it was necessary. The cook appeared to be a real chef who made every meal a pleasure. He really could make haute cuisine on a kerosene stove. So, at the end of the trekking there was more than enough reason for a farewell party. Fuelled by Rotchi (local spirit), Bagpiper (whiskey) and Cola the festive atmosphere was soon there. Two of the porters turned out to be excellent singers and soon everybody was dancing. A very nice way to end a great trekking! (see also the photo impression and video of the Manaslu trek)

When back in Kathmandu, we could pick up our Indian visa and extend our Nepalese visa, as we needed some extra days in Nepal to visit Chitwan National Park. After all, Chitwan is a place not to be missed as it is one of the last strongholds of the one-horned rhinoceros. Every day that you spend in Chitwan you are surprised by the beauty of nature. We saw over 100 species of birds, several kinds of deer and monkeys but also rhino’s, marsh muggers and gharials (two kinds of crocodiles). A sloth bear was too close to make a picture, but the rare king’s cobra posed patiently for our lenses. The four of us (Edwin, Ivonne and the parents of Ivonne) spend two days walking without a guide in the area surrounding the park. On one of these days we say two male rhinoceros at a distance of less than 30 meters. An amazing experience! (see also the video of Chitwan NP). After five days we reluctantly left Chitwan, but there was a new adventure awaiting us: India.

Posing on the 5135 metres high Larkya La pass
This will be our third visit to India and we have mixed feelings about the country and Indians in particular. However, we have the intention to explore India once again with an open mind, as we also remember India as a beautiful country where there is always something to see of to do. Maybe, the Indians have lost part of their hunger for money in the last two years and perhaps this means that they don’t try to rip you off that often. As soon as we had crossed the Nepali-Indian border we saw the difference in busyness. In India, there are people everywhere. Honking busses and trucks are forcing the motor rickshaws and cycle rickshaws to make way. The only ones that don’t mind the loud sound of the horns are the holy cows. These cows are the only reason for a bus driver to use his brakes. Via Gorakhpur we travelled to Varanasi. Varanasi is said to be one of India’s worst places for tourists in terms of hassle, because of its notoriously persistent touts. However, Varanasi is also the city of the holy Ganges River where Hindus bathe and people come to die. By dying in Varanasi and by being cremated here, “heaven” is within reach. Varanasi has left a good impression. The number of touts and their persistence wasn’t too bad and the city is very interesting. Believers are bathing in the river, marriage ceremonies are held at the gaths (plateaus on the river bank with steps leading into the river), holy men are giving their blessings in exchange for money and every evening there is a huge ceremony at the most important gath. The sound of bells and drums is overwhelming. The colours are mystical because of the huge amounts of burning candles and the smoke that comes with this. Our hotel was near the main cremation gath and therefore we saw many dead bodies being carried through the streets on bamboo stretchers while the family and the carriers of the corpse were shouting out loud. Varanasi is definitely not a city that we will easily forget (see also the photo impression, the video and the article about Varanasi).
Wild one-horned Rhinos in Chitwan NP

From Varanasi we went via Bodhgaya (the place were Buddha got enlightened) in the province Bihar and the provinces Jharkhand and Orissa to the city Bhubaneswar. These provinces are, with the exception of the pilgrimage place of Bodhgaya, not really popular with tourists. Therefore, these are good places to observe the daily Indian life without any hassle. We travelled in local busses where we experienced that the word “full” has a very different meaning in India. This is also where one of the good characteristics of the Indians is easily observed. Most people are taking life the way it is, even if the bus ride is very long and uncomfortable. A man shares his seat with a six year old girl who he doesn’t know and when a mother who stands in the aisle hands over her baby to him, this also isn’t a problem. The only disadvantage of travelling in these areas is that some beautiful places aren’t accessible. For instance, we were at Chilika Lake only half a kilometre away from large breeding colonies of migratory birds, but because the boats aren’t suitable for the shallow water we had to turn around without being able to see the birds clearly. That is also part of the charms of travelling.

The friendly people where children are still happy to see a foreigner is a big advantage of travelling to less visited places. The colourful and hectic way of life is everywhere in India and in these places you are the only one who is looking. From Bhubaneswar we travel via Baripada to Kolkata. Kolkata is the city from which Ivonne’s parents are flying back to Europe after a visit of two and a half months, but that is something that we don’t want to think about at this moment. First we want to enjoy the things that Kolkata has to offer.


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