Our last night in India

We flew to Delhi from Amritsar this afternoon and checked into the Novotel Airport hotel. We had a nice room but it was way over priced. What really pissed us off was the blatant and obvious gouging of the tourist dollar that is taking place in India now. One example, two 1 litre bottles of mineral water cost $9.80 CAD. GIVE ME A BREAK! A little more on this later.

Tomorrow we fly to Bangkok to start the next leg of our adventure where we’ll first spend a few weeks in Myanmar followed by a month in Thailand where our beautiful daughter and granddaughter, Kristina and Lucy will be joining us for 16 days.

India, the land of worship, harmony, dysfunction, beauty, sadness and joy.  

        And a great place to lose weight!

Where to start our summary of India? We drove independently without hotel reservations and only a general itinerary in mind in 3 different vehicles with three different drivers with three different personalities through three quite distinct sections/regions covering a land total of 6,301 km’s. We flew 5 sections covering a total distance of 2,969 km’s. Total distance covered in India, 9,269 km’s. I guess it was okay to start feeling a little tired near the end of our Indian journey…..

I’m a little ticked off because since I was forced to upgrade my iPad iOS the map tracing function I became used to suddenly changed. It pisses me off royally when Apple adds or takes away stuff without letting you know. It really bugs the hell out of me. Anyway, below is the area we covered by car in black and by air in blue. Yes, I figured it out.


In India the food is advertised as “Pure Veg” but chicken, mutton, lamb and fish are available but definitely no beef. We did have mutton once at the best Kashmiri restaurant in Delhi and we believe the best Indian food in all of India at the Choc Bizarre (yes bizarre, not bazzare) at our hotel in Delhi. We had veg appies followed by a Lal Masa, a Kashmiri mutton dish with a superb cornucopia of very fresh spices. This style of cooking and the beautiful fresh spices and herbs they use was a style that would be difficult to tire of. The predominant Northern/Southern/Punjabi/Goan food that was available was all very delicious but to be very honest became tiresome. We’ve always loved Indian food but the menus all became a blur of sameness after 2 1/2 months. There were some fast food joints like McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and KFC but the Big Mcvegie and the Whopper Tikka just didn’t cut it. There were two notable copy cats on the block as well. KFC or King Fried Chicken and, I kid you not, Burger Singh! We didn’t try either.



The air quality in India is not good however it was significantly better in the north in the mountains but there was still the ever-present haze which made taking photos of distant mountain ranges and villages difficult. In India the primary source of cooking fuel is wood and dry cow dung patties which we think tended to add a certain fragrance to the lingering haze that existed throughout the country.


The people of India are, and we’ve said this about other countries as well, the friendliest. I guess this goes back to our original post where we quoted “ To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries”. EVERYONE smiled back if we smiled at them. Everyone said “you’re welcome” if we said thank you. Everyone said “yes” even if the answer should have been “no”. Their only objective was to please and be seen as being helpful. The wobbly nod of their heads was a challenge. Was it a yes or a no or a maybe. We learned to rephrase questions because if we gave the slightest indication of our expected answer, we would get the answer we wanted and not necessarily the right answer. It was a challenge and could be frustrating at times but it was fun. The men in India found Joyce to be fascinating based on the constant, without blinking stares she received. If we were a in a Tuk Tuk, motorcycles would speed up for a second look at her. If a bus loaded with men pulled along side of us heads would strain out of the windows to have a look and Joyce would totally disarm them all with her beautiful smile which would make them all blush and smile back and giggle and laugh. At times the staring was a little much but that is the culture however, due to past (and probably present) sex selection procedures being done during early pregnancy, India, like China now suffers a huge, unnatural and socially destabilizing male/female population schism. This seems to be reflected in the high number of rape cases that are reported. I’m not an expert in this field and I’m in no way defending the situation but when you have too many men chasing too few women and the numbers are out of whack males resort to unspeakable crimes. What was blatantly obvious, and we’re sure partly cultural was only men participated in daily out of home routines. At times you wondered if there were any women in this village or that. Rarely did you see any congregations of women. It was men only at the tea stalls, men only serving in restaurants, men only having a drink in a bar, men only eating in a roadside food stalls. Yes we saw women. Carrying loads of firewood on their heads walking along busy roads, babes in arms. Women dusting the streets, but rarely anything coming close to social integration. Very sad but when speaking with some of the younger newer families this might be changing as the fathers seem to be content with daughters only and the focus now seems to be more on their education and inclusion in everyday Indian social fabric and the days of 5, 6, or 7 children seems to be fading into the past. I must however add that this is not the case with the Muslim population and the Hindu population has a real issue with this. They say they don’t educate their children and are not a part of the New India so we foresee further social instability between the majority Hindu and minority Muslims.

India seems to be one big works in progress. There is construction and infrastructure projects going on everywhere but they mostly seem to be just a works in progress. Nothing makes sense. Roads are partly paved or re-paved for small sections then the project ends with endless partially graded areas full of pot holes and debris. Buildings are half built and then left decaying. So many times we said “ this should be nice in a few years if they ever complete it”. Maybe in 10 years all of the pieces will magically come together.

The garbage problem in India is huge. Some villages seem to care and are relatively clean, most don’t care and garbage is left strewn down riverbanks, streets, alleyways, well, everywhere. The cows and goats eat some of the food wastes but there is a very high mortality rate among these animals because they ingest all of the plastic refuse along with the food refuse. This is a huge problem, not just here but everywhere, PLASTIC BAGS!. Some places we visited in India have now outlawed plastic bags. It’s a good start to a huge problem and one can only hope that the next generation will be smarter than the last. So much to say on this topic but we all know the plastic  situation throughout the world so time to make a change.

There are no traffic rules in India. The car horn is used incessantly and sometimes it seemed without reason. The driving culture relies on the horn and the constant honking can literally drive you nuts. There were times, especially with our 2nd driver travelling through Rajasthan that we were ready to strangle him and jump out of the car and raise our arms and yell “enough is enough!”. It was very grating on the nerves, especially after 5 or 6 plus hours of driving. On separated 4 lane highways there were always cars and trucks and motorcycles heading towards you on the wrong side of the road. In the city intersections it was a mass tangle of honking vehicles of every description vying for a small opening to continue into a further mass of soot belching trucks and people crossing and chaos and smog and smoke and cows lazing in the middle of the road and no one seemed to be very bothered. The honking became deafening and we wondered how the hell do you know who’s honking at you? In all of this mass mess of traffic madness, we did not once see any accidents. There is a method to the madness however road fatality statistics tell a different story. India is home to the worlds most deadliest roads. One person dies on the roads every 4 minutes. Delhi records an average of 5 deaths per day. Every year there are over 500,000 accidents leaving 150,000 people dead. More people have died in road accidents than in all the wars India has fought. India has witnessed 5 wars where 10,253 casualties were reported. There is huge volume of motorcycles in India. Some are used as family cars carrying 3 passengers and we saw up to 5. Three per cycle was not out of the ordinary. About 28 two-wheeler riders die daily on the roads. When you drive in India, the stats although unfortunate are not surprising and the thought always crossed our minds if this would be our last day. It really is that bad.

India is no longer a cheap country to visit but is generally inexpensive. I guess it depends on your age and what you are willing to accept but accommodation is significantly higher than when we were there about 8 years ago. A reasonable room, clean (can be a challenge) with a shower and AC runs about on average $60.00-$80.00 CAD per night. Food is still very reasonable but you must be very careful where you eat. Stick to hotels and nice clean-looking restaurants. Transportation by auto rickshaw/tuk tuk and taxi is cheap. Usually about $1-$3 for a ride. Beer is expensive except in Goa where a 650 ml bottle of Kingfisher Lager costs $2.00 otherwise look at $4-$6 for the same and in many cases $4-$5 for a 320 ml bottle. It’s much cheaper to buy at an “English Wine Store” although they are few and far between and then you basically have to drink in your room which is not the point of having a few drinks but common among Indians. The drinking culture in India is like nowhere else. There aren’t “Pubs” to speak of except in high-end hotels otherwise only very dark and dingy “Bars” that are generally attached to shady hotels or “Bar” means they sell alcohol in their restaurant. People/men in India like to drink in the dark and you never see females imbibing. There are very few if any social bars with music etc. outside of Mumbai and Delhi. This is fine but outside of Goa, don’t expect to go out for an evening for a few drinks and meet people. You’ll need night vision glasses to see who is sitting next to you and the beer will be warm

We saw the true India by driving the main roads, side roads and everything in between. The way of life is like nowhere else. The villages hum with an ancient tribal existence that hasn’t changed much in centuries. The dress is colourful and beautiful and extravagant while the children parade down dusty streets donned in their clean school uniforms, the girls with braided hair with flower garlands tied to the ends swinging as they laugh and talk and the boys with vests and ties and backpacks, all of them showing the world change is coming. Education is important in India and it was wonderful to see so many children making their daily pilgrimage. Sadly however, there are still untold thousands who work the streets selling knick knacks to support their families and education is a far off dream. Some villages have resorted to fining the parents if their children do not attend school. School is free and meals are provided at no cost so there really isn’t an excuse to not attend but unfortunately the realities of poverty and desperation dictate the future of these many poor children. India is an enigma. There is vast wealth and potential among it’s 1.3 billion people and Prime Minister Modi is trying to position India onto the international stage. We think there is great potential for this country and we wish them well. We loved our time here. It was a challenge at times, heart breaking at times, full of laughter at times and always an eye-opening experience that words cannot truly describe. We paid for a 10 year visa so who knows, we may be back and if so we hope to see that the seeds of change planted thus far will have borne fruit in the future.

The Golden Temple

Yesterday the 13th we took a tuk tuk to see the Sri Harmandir Sahib also known as the Golden Temple and the Darbar Sahib. This is the holiest gurdwara and the most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism. The temple is built around a man-made pool where pilgrims come to bathe. In the early 1980’s the temple became a centre of conflict between the Indian government led by Indira Gandhi and some Sikh groups and militants seeking to create a new nation named Khalistan. In 1984 Gandhi sent in the Indian army which led to the deaths of over 1,000 militants, soldiers and civilians as well as causing much damage to the temple. This military operation eventually led to Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguard. Over 100,000 people visit the holy shrine daily for worship.


Yesterday we experienced something we won’t forget and feel so fortunate to have witnessed. It is called “Beating Retreat Ceremony” and it is a joint Pakistan Rangers and BSF-Border Security Forces border-closing ceremony that has been held daily since 1959 between the Pakistan border crossing of Wagah and the Indian crossing of Attari. Crowds of 20,000 plus per side are not unusual and the pomp and ceremony is an energy filled electrifying experience that spans 45 minutes. The crowds on both sides compete with deafening sound levels of music and cheers trying to out do each others show of patriotism. The well-trained and practiced soldiers, decked out in their flamboyant uniforms march towards each other’s border gates, stilt walking, high kicking and then muscle flexing in front of the gates that separate the two countries. Armed soldiers stand facing each other, steely eyed and motionless as the ceremony unfolds behind them. Finally, after great fanfare, cheering and ear blasting horns, chants and cheering, the gates are swung open and a soldier from each side confront and face each other and then give a very large swinging handshake. They turn and both proceed to their respective countries flag poles which are side by side, and proceed to lower their flags, the Pakistanis lowering the Indian flag and vice versa in an X of flag rope. Once lowered, a salute and the border gates are slammed shut. This part of the border is now closed until morning and then at 4:30 the next afternoon the whole affair will repeat with thousands more spectators showing up to experience this show of patriotism. Unfortunately, and always on our minds while we travel in countries where stability is fragile there was a serious incident here in 2014 when a suicide bomber on the Pakistan side killed 60 people and injured 110. There have been smaller and not fatal  incidents at the border but you never know when, where or how the next hit will come. Pakistan and India are not the best of  friends and we read about cross border gunfire and attacks on a regular basis. The issue here unfortunately is religion as far as we can tell. We could see and practically taste the difference between the crowds on the Pakistani side versus the Indian side. There was a very palatable difference in the way each side behaved with the Indian side inviting the girls from the crowd to dance to Bollywood music in the border area. The Indian side was full of people wearing  baseball caps emblazoned with “I love my India” while the other side wore burka, hijab and niqabs and seating was separated by male only, female only and  family sections. Both sides waved their countries flags.

After watching this border extravaganza our driver, Jespal Singh drove us back to our hotel where we bid our farewells. We spent 13 days with “Paul” and we enjoyed every moment. He is a great guy and we’ll miss him.

Thanks Paul for keeping us safe through all the crazy mountain roads we travelled.


Amritsar, Punjab

After a short jaunt into Jammu & Kashmir and an expensive hotel in Jammu last night we did a U-turn and headed back to our final destination in northern India, Amritsar, Punjab. The change between the landscape of JK and Punjab is striking, at least along the road from Jammu to Amritsar. Punjab is agricultural. Green fields of new wheat spread out as far as you can see through the ever-present haze of fog and wood smoke with a good dose of smoke from the burning of dried cow dung patties which are used for heating and cooking. The wheat will be ready for harvest in May or June and then we’re told the fields will convert to rice-growing. Jammu and  Kashmir, at least what we saw was dusty, dirty, grey and drab. We know the north of JK is beautiful but we’ll have to save that trip for another time.

There are many military bases around India and in Jammu and Kashmir in particular and all are heavily fortified and guarded. On our way out of Jammu we came across large crowds gathered outside the entrance to Sunjuwan Military camp. Several helicopters circled above and we saw two fly quickly into the compound. Something was going on but we could only speculate. The next day the below front page headline donned the Hindustan Times.


So as we were driving by there was a major special forces operation going on to purge any remaining militants that had not been killed earlier in the day. Today, the 12th, the papers reported 6 people dead.

Below is what the border crossing looks like on the JK side. There was nothing to speak of on the Punjab side.


Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir

Today we left the clean crisp and cold mountain air of Dalhousie and descended the mountains of northern Himachal Pradesh entering the plains of Punjab and then into the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Our original plan was to spend the night in Udhampur but decided to cut the driving time a little and instead stop for the night in Jammu. There was very little to see of any significance but we did stop into a small temple within the walls of Bahu Fort. There is a long bazaar that runs along a small road leading to fort/temple. The Hindu temple must be popular at times because there were a lot of vendors selling the same things however it wasn’t crowded when we visited. The primary items for sale were flower garlands and other religious nick knacks used as offerings to the Hindi deities.



Okay so finally WordPress has defeated me. I did this below post yesterday from Dalhousie and then didn’t publish it so I thought I lost it. I did another post today from Jammu in Jammu and Kashmir State and then my iPad battery died. Usually when I screw up like this WordPress magically saves all the dribble I’ve written. Not so today but it did save yesterdays draft and today I was on a roll! Damn! So, tomorrow I’ll do a today post and today is yesterdays post which I don’t think was completely saved because I’m sure I wrote a lot more because I was in the restaurant drinking Kingfisher STRONG beer which tends to make me go on and on. Yesterdays post is below which I’ll add to in the next day or so once we have reliable wi-fi;

It’s really freezing here at 1,900 meters, 3 degrees and the thing that boggles the mind is all of the doors to hotels and restaurants are left wide open. This has been the case so far in the mountains and we can’t figure out why. The hotel rooms are freezing but they do supply passive heaters which pretty well do diddly squat to warm a small room.

Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj

McLeod Ganj is located about 3 km’s from Dharamsala and is the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and is also home to a large population of Tibetan refugees. The Tibetan government-in-exile is located just down the hill. In the 1850’s the town began as a civilian settlement outside the British garrison of Dharamsala. McLeod Ganj was devastated by an earthquake in 1905 and after independence it sank into obscurity until the Dalai Lama arrived in 1960 after fleeing persecution in Tibet. Since then the area has grown into a vibrant centre of Tibetan culture and Buddhism.

The primary draw to McLeod Ganj is the Tsuglagkhang Complex which houses the Tsuglakhang, an equivalent of the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, Tibet. The complex also contains a monastery and the Tibet Museum.  As photos are prohibited in most of the temple areas there was little on the outside to photograph. Below is a monument to the martyrs who have given their lives in the struggle to free Tibet. The museum offers an excellent exhibit documenting the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1949 and which continues to this day. Hundreds of photos of monks who immolated themselves in protest of the occupation line the walls. Excellent narratives and photo collages describe the religious, cultural and environmental destruction wrought by the Chinese occupiers. Today, over 60% of the population is Chinese with Tibetans reduced to below 40%. Poverty is rampant among the Tibetan people, job opportunities are scarce and what is available pays almost 50% less than a Chinese worker. The struggle continues and the hope is one day the Chinese will allow the culture and religion of the Tibetan people to once again flourish.

Below is a sign where you remove your shoes to enter the temple. Hmmm.. Me thinks there must be a few bad Buddhists building a budding business bartering Bata made shoes stolen from the Buddha temple and sold straight back to you!




Without really realizing it and a bit of a smear on my trip planning abilities we really lucked out so far with our travels in the north. Little did we (I) know that this time of year there is typically a lot of snow where we are and have been. Lots and lots of snow but this year has been an anomaly. The temperatures dip below zero in the night but warm up nicely during the day. There is only snow in the higher altitudes so we have been lucky to see this area without snow and without tourists. Come late April and onward the northern areas start to fill up with Indian tourists, first the out of school kids and family crowds and then in June and July the rest of the Indian tourists from Delhi head up to escape the sweltering heat. The roads and towns become packed and the traffic is supposed to be horrendous so although it would have been nice to be here when it was warmer I think we were able to see the best without the crowds and without freezing our butts off too but best to ask Joyce her opinion about the freezing our butts off part!

Today we made our way out of the Himalayas. It was another long winding drive through steep mountain terrain, switchbacks, road construction and an average speed of 35 km/hr (if we’re lucky) so rather than driving in the dark, which is not recommended, to our original destination of Dharamsala we stopped in the very picturesque town of Palampur, the tea capital of northwest India in the Kangra Valley surrounded by pine forests and snuggled up to the Dhauladhar mountain ranges.

The town derives its name from the word palum which means lots of water and the surrounding greenery and tea plantations are an obvious result of the numerous streams that flow from the mountains however the snow pack is extremely low this year and if there isn’t any rain or snow within the next couple of months things may be quite different this year. The mountains themselves are very impressive and we have a great view of a massive ridge of snow packed peaks from our hotel room balcony.

Below is a map of our journey thus far starting in Chandagarh. I skipped the Delhi-Chandarh portion. The stars on the map that are present to the West and are not connected by lines or dots are our next destinations with our final destination being Amritsar. I cheated and used Google Maps to plot our course this time.




Only about 46 km from Kullu, today the drive to Manali still took several hours. As is common in India, there was massive road work going on and it often seems that they get to a certain point in the project and just stop. You then eventually hit some good pavement then inevitably another section of road rehabilitation or lane widening. It makes for a very slow journey to cover relatively short distances. This is not just the case in the North but everywhere we have travelled through India.


Manali and the towns we have visited so far in Himalcha Pradesh are cleaner and less frantic than all of the other states we’ve travelled through. All of them have lovely pedestrian only malls, usually in the middle of the town where crowds gather and stroll through a myriad of shops, restaurants, food stalls and independent sellers lining the sidelines selling pretty well anything you can imagine.

The next morning I left Joyce to nurse her cold and or flu and drove to the Rohtang pass. Well, my driver actually dropped me off about 2 km’s below the pass so I walked up the winding road to the end of the line and the entrance to the Rohtang pass where to venture further you need a government pass and a good vehicle.. The Rohtang is a high mountain pass on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas around 51 km’s from Manali and connects the Kullu Valley with Lahaul and Split Valleys. At close to 3,978 metres I was a little winded but I exaggerate. I was only at an altitude of about 2,800 metres so wasn’t too bothered by the thinner air. The pictures show, obviously, some of the scenery but the car wreck is something you see throughout India. These wrecks are left intentionally throughout the Indian National Highway system to remind drivers to take it easy and be cautious. They also have a lot of great road signs to remind drivers of the perils they face in their day-to-day get to your destination at any cost mentality. To quote a few signs.. “better to be mister late than late mister”, “love your neighbour but not while driving”, “drive on horsepower, not on rum power”, ” not a rally, enjoy the valley”.

After my high altitude workout I wandered into the village of Vashisht and stopped in to the hot springs temple, Vashisht Mandir, for a sniff of hot sulphur air and a tea with the bunny ladies.

The next morning before heading to Dharamsala we stopped in to see the Hadimba Devi Temple. Constructed with wood and stone in 1553 it stands in a beautiful cedar forest and is built over a huge rock jutting out of the ground. Like many temples in India, photography is not allowed within the temple walls so we could only get exterior pictures.

En route to Dharamsala we made a short pit stop to Naggar Castle. Built by the rajas of Kullu this fort, now a hotel is a great example of the earthquake-resistant alternating stone and timber style of architecture. There is a small museum in the basement of the castle cum hotel and the photo turned out great. Along the way we took a few photos of our journey through the mountains.


The Kullu valley extends along the Beas River which winds north through the Himalaya mountains and the road follows a deep gorge. The road eventually leads 600 km’s later to Ladakh. It would have been nice to go to Ladakh but the roads are only open from July to September. The drive from Shimla to Kullu took 7 hours to cover 250 km’s through mostly very good high altitude roads consisting of switchbacks, amazing scenery and pine forested mountainsides. The air is hazy so we haven’t yet seen the snow-capped peaks that draw the hikers and climbers to this area. River rafting is a big draw here but there aren’t any rapids at the moment so the area is quiet. We’re told that only 10% of tourists that come to this area are foreigners and the rest are Indians  So far it looks like we are the only white people here and I don’t think we have pictures.

Have to check the iPhone for pics. We must have some! Stay tuned