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Why, India?

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#WhereInIndia #HowToIndia

Just because its #IncredibleIndia šŸ™‚

India is more than just Taj Mahal. It is a vast challenging land and culture that overflows with adventure suited to different personas of the world. No wonder, women solo travelers flock to this tricky country. Yes, despite being tagged as one of the most menacing nation, we have come to accept the challenge; to survive and enjoy India. More so, with its socio-philosophical diversity (in all its superlative form), it is home for the important archaeological and religious sites in Asia. And infinite reasons to uncover the reality beyond the realms of what the television and internet show us.

The Taj Mahal Photo by: Fanni

The Taj Mahal
Photo by: Fanni

VISA

As of April 2015, the one month Tourist Visa on Arrival for all Philippine Passport holders have been lifted. Prior to arriving in India, one has to obtain a valid tourist visa. In my case, I applied when I was in Nepal. It was hassle free.

  1. Go to the Indian Visa online application website http://www.indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa.
  2. Fill out and print the form.
  3. Bring the form with your 2×2 picture and a photocopy of your valid passport and Nepal Visa (Nepal Visa should be valid until the tentative release date of your Indian Visa)Ā at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu located in Lainchur Area (walking distance from Thamel) just a few meters away from the British Embassy. Line starts at around 7am while the office starts accepting application from 9am to 12NN.
  4. Visa fee starts at $50 for 1-3 months single entry. Pay the required amount based on your desired length of stay.
  5. The officer will give you a receipt and the tentative date of the release of your visa. Claim your passport and Indian visa on the said date from 4:00PM-5:00PM.

** steps 1-2 can be skipped. Just go directly to the embassy, there is a small shop that can arrange this for you. Come early so the submission will be on the same day for a fee of $6. Would like to recommend that if you plan to visit India after Nepal, upon arrival in Kathmandu, apply for an Indian Visa immediately. Processing may take 10-15 days.Ā Also the validity starts upon the approval (not on the day of arrival in India) of your visa.

Crossing to INDIA

Sunauli Border, India

Sunauli Border, India

The easiest way to cross to India is thru a flight which can cost around $70-120USD. The cheapest to do this is crossing the Nepal-Indian border in Sunauli.

  1. From Kathmandu, take a bus to Lumbini. For local bus, we paid $8 that takes 8-9 hours. Leaves at 7am.
  2. Get down at Bhairahawa.
  3. Take a shared jeep to the border, Belahiya (Nepal side).Pay 50 Sri Lankan Rupee
  4. From the terminal, walk towards the border (just follow the crowd) and have your passport stamped.
  5. Literally cross towards India!!!

From Sunauli, buses travel to Gorakhpur (nearest train station) and Varanassi. Less buses travel after 1PM. I would suggest to take this route in the morning.

MONEY TALKS

The Indian Rupee is more expensive than Nepali. Its literally twice the former.

Current Exchange rate: $1USD= 66 Indian Rupee

Food: literally a dollar per meal is possible. Fruits are cheap. 1 liter of bottled water cost 20 rupee.Train stations provide free and clean drinking water (experienced and recommended by my friend theBernTraveler).

Experience the Dal Mania

Experience the one Dollar Dal Mania

Accommodation: can be free up to couple of days provided by Sikh and Buddhist temples. Most of these temples accept dana or donation. A decent room or dorm bed can start from $3 to $5 per night.

Transportation: depends on preference. Commuting around India is cheap. For inter-state travel, trains are preferred. Check the Indian railway website for the complete schedule and prices http://www.indianrail.gov.in/train_Schedule.html. It is advised to get an Indian sim to be able to use the railway online booking. Or one can use the Tourist booth in the stations. Please book in advance to avoid hassle and extra fees.

Safety: Surprise surprise…just be extra careful with luggage and money. For women, I would like to suggest not to wear revealing clothes to avoid those scary stare. Most of them will just look at you.Some will try to talk or touch but its always avoidable. Walk away from touts. Bargain decently. And be selective. Instinct helps.

Silk Saree day with Pooja

Silk Saree day with Pooja

Shopping: The Indian women have the most colorful wardrobe that I have seen. I fell in love with their stuff. Cheap and comfortable. Mostly made of cotton. Best place to shop would be the local markets. Do not bring too much clothes to India:-) because I bet, you will have to either suffer from over baggage or trading them to the lovely sarees.

Itinerary

India being an enormous area to immerse, it is good to plan the journey based on the length of stay, weather, current events and budget. For me, India was both a spiritual jaunt and an adventure. I even prepared a checklist (apart from the yoga teacher’s training I intended to attend and finish):

  1. Taj Mahal walk
  2. Watch a LIVE Cricket Game
  3. Attend a Real Indian Wedding
  4. Watch a Bollywood movie (with English subtitle)
  5. Trek to Dharamsala
  6. Complete the Buddhist Pilgrimage
Buddha Statue Bohdgaya, India

Buddha Statue
Bohdgaya, India

Oh dear, India, why have you done this to me? You have changed my perspective. Two months with you was too short. Maybe its your way of telling me, “hey solewanderer, you ought to come back, very soon.” While the rest will tell me, “you are crazy!” I say, Namaste!

Nepal: Drive to Memory Lane Part 3

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Holiday-ing Pokhara

#NotSOsolewandering #JustChillCheap

So ten days of silence, what to do? Time to take things slow and practice meditation, at least not ten hours of sitting. Where to? I know, touristy places are not my thing, but who can resist this trekking town? Nah, I mean just trying to trek again to get a closer look of the Himalayas. By this time, my Nepali Visa was about to expire. Hehehe, just another reason to visit Pokhara (this town has immigration office for visa extension, more relax place than the Kathmandu office). It was also a perfect getaway to wait for my Indian visa approval.

 

So Pokhara is just 8 hours away from Kathmandu in a winding and rough journey accompanied by scenic view of the countryside. Upon arrival at the bus station (tourist bus station is located near the airport and Fewa Lake, whereas the local buses only stop at the town center), there are auto rickshaws and a bus that goes farther to the mountainside that pass through Fewa Lake and the backpacker area. Or if you are up for an adventure, go for a walk, like we did.

View from Angel Hotel, 800meters from the tourist bus station.

View from Angel Hotel, 800meters from the tourist bus station.

The plan was to spend a weekend but we ended up staying for a week?! We did not even trek,lol! What happened? We just fell in love with Pokhara and each other, lol! We as in Me, Ville and Yan Ga. Yes we.

FEWA LAKE

Nothing beats the morning walk or sunset stroll in this place. Just bring your drink and sit down, watch people and time go by. No swimming allowed. But we were not contented, we decided to take a day to cross the other side to see the World Peace Pagoda. Which meant paddling our own boat and a little bit of trek.

Sunset at Fewa Lake. Not in the picture...San Mig Beer

Sunset at Fewa Lake. Not in the picture…San Mig Beer

Our Captain ready to take us to the otherside

Our Captain ready to take us to the other side

So we rented a boat around 500 Rupees for half-day use at the south side of the lake, which meant paddling all the way up for almost 20-30 minutes,normal speed. No problem, our captain took control, and we (the girls) just sat back and relaxed. Coming back though was not easy. It was another adventure. We were about to cross back when it started raining. I mean thunderstorm. The calm lake became a ferocious beast, with waves trying to devourĀ us. Yan Ga, being a non swimmer, was agitated. The waves were bigger and stronger and I felt bad. I was starting to worry…about my GoPro, lol! Anyway, I had to step up and help Capt Ville to paddle, to use the waves to our advantage (thank you surfing and diving for this). It was not easy, every paddle came with a prayer. I mean, people can rescue us, but no way, there’s no way we were allowing the waves to beat us. Seated in the front, while Ville was at the back, I found myself pouring all the courage and strength to every paddle and shout “to the right, or now left, paddle hard.”Ā It was exhilarating but, hey, we made it to the shore, just next to the original boat parking. Whew, that was close.Or not.

the Calmness before the storm

the Calmness before the storm

WORLD PEACE PAGODA

After 30 minutes of paddling, we parked at the foot of the hill where the short trek starts. It was a thirty minute steep climb passing through the forests and a cafe. The view was stunning in with its pure simplicity. But the walk was just not for me, hahaha! By this time, I have convinced my teammates that trekking was not for me.

Fewa Lake view half way to the World Peace Pagoda

Fewa Lake view half way to the World Peace Pagoda

We were just so unlucky that we came just before the thunderstorm. It was cloudy but the pagoda itself showed important facts about the life of Siddharta Gautama Buddha. A good place for a short meditation.

World Peace Pagoda View Point

World Peace Pagoda View Point

WORLD PEACE PAGODA

WORLD PEACE PAGODA

the cloudy trek to the pagoda

the cloudy trek to the pagoda

SARANGKOT

Okay fine, being a team player, I have decided to do a one day trek with Ville and Yan Ga. Just one day, no more. As advised by our hotel, this trail was the easiest, easier than the World Peace Pagoda and no chance to get lost. The reward of this trek was a view of the whole town with the Himalayas. So I had to go. I went.

Start of the trail, Fewa Lake

Start of the trail, Fewa Lake

End of Fewa Lake

End of Fewa Lake

The trail started at the Fewa lake going north. Just follow the lake and then ask around. Yeah, we just did what the hotel staff said. Until we met a Nepali who was running an orphanage and offered us ride to see his place and promised to give us the short cut direction to Sarangkot. We gave in, only because of the orphanage. We spent time playing with the kids as well as helping generate ideas for fund raising to support the education of the children.

View from the orphanage

View from the orphanage

A cute student at the orphanage

A cute student at the orphanage

the prabhat orphanage

the prabhat orphanage (if interested to help, please zoom the picture for the contact details. Donations are very much appreciated.

After a few hours, it was time to bid farewell to our friends. And started a “short” trek. But who said it was short? We ended up in local villages with only students spoke English. What a way to get lost in a hot afternoon with no lunch. We just walked towards wherever the locals told us to.

Walk to nowhere

Walk to nowhere (photo by: VK)

The trek included walking through the gates of the local villages, who helped us

The trek included walking through the gates of the local villages, who helped us. Photo by VK

Although it was a fun trail, I would say, it’s not for everyone. It was still a steep climb to 1592 meters high. Nonetheless, worth the pain. It was such a relief to see how simple the life of the villagers. They gave us drinking water and directions with a pure smile. It was almost late afternoon when we had a glimpse of the destination.

Almost there Photo by: VK

Almost there
Photo by: VK

It was yet again another unlucky day as the Himalayas were too shy for our cameras. The clouds were too much but then again the view of Nepal towns were enough to quench our thirsty eyes. No sunset view either. But we were still happy we made it alive and hungry.

Sarangkot View point

Sarangkot View point

Common you Himalayas come out!

Common you Himalayas come out!

Yan Ga with sincere happiness

Yan Ga with sincere happiness

And so after so much picture-taking and late lunch,we had to rush going back. By this time we were exhausted and decided to take a bus. Too late though, the last bus just left. What a luck! So we started walking going down and met another tourist. I was so curious about the trail back, so I asked him. Wow he answered with weird expression, 1.5 hours to reach where we were which was just 200 meters below the view-point (from Fewa Lake). Short cut it was. Because of this, I tried to convince my friends to trek down. Both declined and decided to hire a taxi instead (10USD). No way! It was then an old pick up truck passed by and I immediately flagged it to ask if we can hitch. The driver agreed as long as we pay 100 (1USD) rupees each and we will stay at the back of the truck. Both disagreed but I jumped in already, lol! Not bad for a one dollar bumpy and fast ride šŸ™‚

Hold on tight!

Hold on tight!

So what happened to the other days we spent in Pokhara? Well, we just walked around the lake, relaxed and played. Yes to playing like kiddos. It was a shame that we were not able to see other beautiful places nearby. We just loved waking up to the cold breeze, ateĀ and just chill. We were not bored at all. Sometimes we would walk to the end of the lakeĀ and ended up shopping lol. You know, hemp stuff!

at a nearby park

at a nearby park

kiddo

kiddo

okay we're just kids trying to be adults lol

okay we’re just kids trying to be adults lol

oh another playmate

oh another playmate

A week in this lovely place and we did not even do much because we were too busy being happy lol! In its simplest form. Sometimes, wandering is not about the journey nor the destination, it’s the moment. Every breathing moment may it be alone or with company.

Team Pokhara Photo by: VK

Team Pokhara
Photo by: VK

Nepal: Drive to Memory Lane Part 1

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#PharpingRumblings #OverpoweringDeathlyCliffs

Its been a month since that 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit my beloved Nepal and 38 days since I crossed the border to India but “the heart can’t forget what the mind may.” So here I am, reminiscing the beautiful six weeks of being Nepali.

After enjoying the hustle of Kathmandu, it felt that a much needed stillness was my next destination as preparation for the ten-day Vipassana noble silence retreat. Which means, non-touristy, quiet, localish yet interesting but not too far place. Pharping. Just one hour drive from the capital where the definition of mountains suddenly became hills with at least three Buddhist monasteries that made the place known as the Buddhist village. Organic cheap food, cool weather (hot by day, cold by night), friendly locals and with unexpected infamous personas.

safe and sound in my room

safe and sound in my room

Yes to the personalities who surprised and star strucked me. In ways that my mouth dropped and my brains stopped. Heard of Tibetan medicine? It is almost equal to Dr Sherab Tenzin who has been practicing for more than half of his existence. Bhutanese by origin, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer (which required operation) when he was a teen (16 or 18, forgot the number) by the Indian doctors in Delhi. Went back to Bhutan after refusing to undergo operation and met a Tibetan doctor who prescribed him capsules for his disease. A year afterĀ taking these capsules alone, he went back to the same hospital and was declared cancer free. This life-changing incident inspired him to study and practice Tibetan medicine. In between his occupation, he went meditating in the cave for a time where a team of National Geographic researchers found him. Now, he is running a healing center and clinic to help people through his profession and personal experience. The same place where the kind staff allowed me to use its wifi without anything in return. Who would have thought that while we were looking for internet, we found a life teacher. And yes, even though I am nobody, and there were two people interviewing him and that he just came from Russian business trip, he was kind to answer my biographical questions (which is available in his website –that I had no idea at that time! #nakakahiya).

dr sherab

my only memento from him

Sometimes, the web is useless when there’s one person who can answer all the doubts in our mind without even knowing the specifics. It was like mind reading kinda thing with the Swiss Radical Buddhism monk conversation, in one lazy afternoon that lasted until night. He was just saying the answers to my inquiries as if talking to my consciousness. He was drinking beer, smoking and was wearing the robe of a monk while i was in complete awe. He has been studying Buddhism for a long time and from all of the things he said, one that struck me was “perfect timing.” “Do not look for whatever that is bothering you, not even enlightenment, it will just come with your practice. Stop looking and enjoy the moment. Live now, don’t worry about the past its gone and the future will never come. And when your time is over, do not be afraid to follow that light and leave your body even if the path is unknown.” Needless to say, he does not believe that Buddha existed. hashtagNgaNgaMode

first cliff

first cliff

one wrong step and im...

one wrong step and im…

And the best way to apply the knowledge from previous meetings came as a surprise from an unlikely activity—-trekking the hills (I swear those were mountains!) to get a good view and meditation spot. My friend Ville told me it was an easy trail as he has done it already (at leastĀ  half of it). Being naive made me decide to take the risk. Halfway through the trail, the cliffs emerged. And he assured me that it will be smooth afterwards but it was getting even harder and steeper. “Few more cliffs, common it will be better then,” were his words. Until that moment when I was slipping down, crying and seeing my almost deathbed. The faces of my loved ones emerged, shedding tears and in pain,holding to whatever I can grasp. I was going to die, but not at that instance. Fought back and reached Ville’s hand for help. My body was shaking, but I was alive, I was breathing. Living at the moment, not the future nor the past. I was just there watching the grass, observing my heartbeat while munching carrots and apples. Alive and happy. But no more trekking or more of a rock climbing with no safety gears. Thanks to the wall climbing training from sushi kitchen , it saved my ass. And so, how did we make it back? Guess what, there was a trail on the other side with no cliffs to conquer!

think of...miracle

think of…miracle

look, my almost deathbed...

look, my almost deathbed…

so we reached almost the top...of the hill!

so we reached almost the top…of the hill!

It has never occurred to me how happiness can be so simple. The sweet hello from strangers who turned out to be our kind friends. Help was unlimited and overflowing with compassion from the passersby to the guesthouse owners, even to the restaurant and fancy hotel workers. My heart was crushed as the earthquake hit home. I am praying for their safety and strength in this unlikely event. Stay strong my dear Nepal!

food prepared with love and compassion from the locals!

food prepared with love and compassion from the locals!

the culprit and the owner of all the photos used in this article

the culprit and the owner of all the photos used in this article–Ville K (while going down in the known trail) while enjoying the view of Pharping Valley

Kathmandu: The Ninja Geste

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#FreeTouristStuff #EatLocalPayLess

Okay, so landing in Kathmandu after days of being stranded in KL felt like, whew totally unfamiliar zone. Some things were common to other countries I’ve visited like the old local city buses reminded me of Indo and Burma. The faces of the strangers in the street, smiling with red dots in their forehead felt like a warm welcome to this wanderer with a coward smile lol. Then all of a sudden headache came in, fever followed. Another disadvantage of a traveler with bad lungs and heart that came from a low altitude world (the beach life), who flew to a place at least 1000m above sea level. Altitude sickness.

with my dear brothers

with my dear brothers

Anyway, stayed in a local family, the Sharmas made it easier. Instant love, compassion and kindness to these people I only met for the first time. I was thinking, they liked me so much because of my cuteness, lol.But as the days and weeks went by, it was not really about me, it was just them. Every Nepali was just so nice and kind. My brother Saurav, walked us around his village which has a local market that sells cheap fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and even clothes and jewelry. Just the perfect place to be for a poor packer.

tea time with local friends

tea time with local friends

On the second day, despite being sick, Daddy Sharma brought me to a big and one of the most important temple in Kathmandu, Pashupati Temple. This is sacred place to Hindus but also very touristic which reminds me of, entry fee for foreigners, priced at 1000 Nepali Rupee or $10. Well well well, not at that moment. Daddy brought us to a secret (but not so secret) passage that saved us that money. We went backdoor, avoiding the guards but walking to not so clean path. After a few minutes, we were already enjoying the good view of the temple, watching the Hindu cremation from afar. Something new in my freaking brain, dead bodies being burned in the open just beside the river. Few days later, Saurav brought me back to this sanctuary where another holy tradition took place that involved singing and dancing from the priests and at that moment, we were seated in the main temple. It was in this adventure that I had to pretend to be Nepali (easy for me) by wearing a mask, my UP jacket but showing the other side, and not talking to Saurav and his friends. When we were seating, his friend pointed to me an area, maybe three meters away from us, where sick people were waiting for their last breath, something like a death bed. Only for Hindus, and they can stay there as long as they want or died. Slowly, my consciousness fading away, no way. Anyhow, it came back after a few seconds when our group decided to leave. As we were exiting the area, I experienced something new. Getting a face to face encounter with a dead Hindu being brought to the cremation area. She was an old woman, and her sort of deathbed was decorated with beautiful flowers and her hands were folded facing down to her chest. She looked so alive. Saurav explained that she might have died few hours ago. Yes, they do cremate the body after death, no wake what so ever. And there were tons of police cars, so we assumed that she might either be a dignitary or her family plays an important role in their society. But as we walked farther, her face did not fade from my brain. Never had a nightmare though.

Pashupati Temple death bed on the left  side

Pashupati Temple death bed on the left side

Pashuati Cremation site

Pashupati Cremation site

Pashupati with daddy

Pashupati with daddy Sharma

The advantage of staying and acting like a local, is saving so much unnecessary expenses but still enjoying the touristy stuff. For example, going to a big Buddhist temple, Boudanath using again, the backdoor. I went here the first time with Saurav and Chitis to meet another local friend, Peter for dinner. The place has various restaurants, shops and then a holy temple for Buddhist to meditate and worship. The second time I went by myself to get some free wifi. Used the backdoor passage again to save entry fee and looked for the restaurant where we ate dinner. Unfortunately, I can’t find it, so decided to walk around with some tourists and monks. After half an hour, my legs were so tired and it was time to sit in a comfy place. Chose a decent one with a roof deck for some good view and wifi. All the money I saved for entry fees though, went to the food I ate, a glass of Lassi (local sweet milk/yogurt drink) and french fries all at $5. Later that night, SauravĀ gave me the name of that restaurant we visited to meet Peter, Tibetan Kitchen which had Lassi for $0.90 and plate of onion rings for $1.5 that comes with a fast wifi too. So much for unnecessary expenses.

the five dollar view

the five dollar view

Boudhanath temple

Boudhanath temple

Chabhil, the area where I was staying has everything. From the local market, to the bus that goes around the city, banks, supermarkets, cheap restaurants and even cinema. One late afternoon, I was walking back home, passed by a new building and saw this Cinderella movie poster. Wow, coincidently, I had a facebook conversation with one of my friends about this movie. I inquired and the next show time was in 15 minutes, no time to go back home and asked Saurav to go with me. So, well, just watched it by myself. Just like watching any other movie back in Manila, in a cheaper way, $3. Hahahaha cheaper than what my friend paid!

One of best thing about living in Kathmandu is the foooooooood! It was easy to find vegan menu in almost all restaurants and cheap. Start with rice and dal (beans) or for breakfast toast, omelette and coffee for $1.5. Or for detox, grab some fresh fruits and vegetables from the market. Carrots for $0.40per kg, bananas $0.08 per piece, grapes and apples for $1.20-$1.50 per kg, and oranges for $0.80 per kg, not to mention that these are in good quality. Meat meals are a bit expensive, minimum $2. Cold drinking water is at $0.25 per liter, canned juice starts at $0.50, milk tea on the street in a small glass $0.15 while in restaurants $0.50.

fried vegan momo (Nepali dumplings)

fried vegan momo (Nepali dumplings)

My favorite buttered Tandoori

My favorite buttered Tandoori

Most of all, Kathmandu has given me a sense of home. The love I have received in this place is much more powerful than the dust, crazy traffic and dirt that the city is known for. Crossing the streets is always an adventure, or just even walking. But nevertheless, just like Leo, Raphael,Donatello and Michaelangelo this is also home for ME.

Mommy at the nearby Hindu temple for the early offering

Mommy at the nearby Hindu temple for the early offering