And sure enough, another month has passed!
Writing these reports is always quite fun, because it blows our minds how long ago the things we did at the beginning of the month seem! April was a bit more of a struggle for us, as we started experiencing a bit of illness, fatigue, and general malaise with travel in India. Despite that, it's definitely held some highlights for us. We completed our fourth month of travel, our third month in India, and just squeaked in to our fourth new country this year, Nepal, on April 30th!
Where we've been
We started April in Agra. Technically we visited the Taj Mahal in March, but we were still lingering in one of our least favourite destinations in India as April appeared. A traumatic train ride took us nervously to Delhi, where we got our first taste of India's capital - and despite our trepidation, we loved it. With an unexpected couple of weeks up our sleeves, we decided to follow the advice of lots of locals and head North to escape Delhi's oppressive heat. Manali offered us our first breathtaking views of the Himalayas, and a welcome respite from the scorching sun. Shimla had a distinctly European feel, and while it didn't wow us as much as Manali, it was still a huge change of pace from much of India, and we very much enjoyed our time there. From Shimla we caught the 'toy train' (a narrow gauge railway) to drab Kalka, where we spent a night before catching the normal sized train back to Delhi. After a night in an airport hotel (which we accidentally left without paying - oooopppppssss...), we fly to Hyderabad to meet up with our friend Cads. We spent some time seriously luxuriating, and even managed to make it to an IPL cricket match! From there it was back to Delhi for a few days, which we mostly spent preparing for our travel to Nepal (and paying the money we owed from our last stop in Delhi...), and then on to the US. On 30th April we bid a fond farewell to India, our home for the last three months, and travelled to Kathmandu, Nepal, ready for a new adventure!
This month we've travelled:
- 1626km by plane (bringing our trip total to 15,335km)
- 592km by train (trip total 2,204km), and
- 813km by automobile (trip total 4,227km)
- The Delhi Metro
Boring, I know. But after nearly a month in Rajasthan, with temperatures soaring, we'd become accustomed to being unable to walk anywhere. We relied on Uber to get from place to place, and it left us feeling lazy and blah. Being able to use the metro in Delhi to get around allowed us a refreshing level of independence, without having to rely on anyone to get around. The Metro system was fantastic - clean, fast, reliable and cheap, it was an absolute dream. In fact, when we caught the metro to the airport before flying to Nepal, we were even able to check in for our flight at the main metro station. They took our bags, so we didn't need to cart them on the train), and when we got off at the airport, we could go straight through immigration without having to queue up to check in. What a dream!
- Delhi Modern Art Gallery
While this massive collection of art was impressive in its own right, by far the highlight of the gallery was our accidental free private tour of the gallery. The guide was fantastic and engaging, and we were able to appreciate the artworks in a way that we never could have without him.
- Accommodation dogs
We've had some great success with accommodation dogs this month. From Trumpf at our accommodation in Delhi, to the two incredibly cute and friendly dogs at our accommodation in Manali who would run up to greet us when we got home (not to mention the great cafe dogs we met in Manali too), we've enjoyed some quality scruff time this month.
I know I keep going on about this, but Manali was amazing. Getting up into the mountains and being able to get out into nature was exactly what we needed as we were starting to grow weary of travel in India. The temperature, the surroundings, and the all around good vibes in Manali have made it not only a highlight of the month, but a highlight of the trip.
- Catching up with Cads
Opulent accommodation aside, it was a definite highlight to catch up with our friend Cads in Hyderabad. Not only is it a great feeling to see a familiar face after being away from home for so long, Cads is based in the US, so we rarely get to see each other at the best of times. And again, although our time together was brief, it was so nice to feel a connection to home (even though he's a traitorous expat at the moment).
- Going to an IPL match in Hyderabad
Despite coming from a relatively cricket mad nation, neither Zev nor I have ever really fallen in love with cricket. Perhaps it's that there's so many rules, or that the scores don't instinctively make sense, or maybe it's because a match can take 5 days - who knows. Regardless, we decided that while we were in India, it would probably be rude not to attend a cricket match. The dates worked out for our time in Hyderabad, so we joined Cads and his work team at an IPL match. It was a great night out, and the crowd were right into it! It came down to the wire, and the home team pulled out an impressive win, beating the team who were leading the competition. Most exciting!
- FInally getting to Kathmandu. I think this post will speak for itself. We're both so excited to be here!
We've had a few this month, so buckle in!
Agra was definitely one of the lowlights of the month, and really of all our time in India. While the Taj Mahal was an incredible showcase of Indian opulence at its best, the rest of Agra exists in stark contrast. It was dirty, noisy, and was one of the only places where we experienced the truly in-your-face poverty that we had come to India prepared to see. With one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world, it was heartbreaking to see that Agra's citizens aren't benefiting from the tourist dollars that it's bringing in, and that the potential that this city has to capitalise on tourists is being squandered.
- Agra part 2: the train debacle
Getting stuck in Agra for an extra 5 hours due to a train delay, and arriving into Delhi for the first time ever at around midnight rather than 7pm was definitely not our favourite part of April...
- Jama Masjid, Delhi
While the mosque was beautiful, being forced into a polyester muu muu in 40 degree weather, despite being covered from ankles to elbows and having a scarf to caver my hair was absolutely ridiculous. While I totally understand cultural differences, and will do my best to abide by local norms (even when I completely disagree with them), I firmly believe that choosing to draw attention to, and embarrass people who are trying to connect with a different culture serves only to alienate them further. Add in the fact that there were local women inside wearing far less clothing than me, and that we were constantly stared and and photographed without our permission regardless, and I find the idea that wrapping me in a flammable turquoise tent was about respect and modesty absolutely laughable.
- Credit card scammed - again
Last time, Zev's card got done for nearly $9000, and this time, mine got done for nearly $2000... And before anyone decides to lecture us about credit card safety, yes, we know, and yes, we've been careful. We've just been unlucky. While Zev's credit card debacle was painless and easy to sort, mine has been an ongoing nightmare (that, over a month later, still isn't resolved). Kiwibank have been absolutely useless, to the point where I've now cancelled my credit card with them, and closed all my accounts. Well - I've tried to anyway. Not only did they not alert me that they'd put a hold on my card due to 'suspicious activity', so my card just started declining, they still haven't actually cancelled the card that's been scammed. I've been contacting them for over a month to resolve it, and their average response time is about 10 days. It's ridiculous.
- The bus to Manali
Our 18 hour 560km overnight bus ride from Delhi to Manali was a new level of bus ride hell. We switched buses THREE TIMES, and spent more time bouncing out of our seats than sitting in them...
- Getting sick - a lot
Both of us had some brushes with illness this month, but Zev's god awful food poisoning in Manali was probably the worst. A brief relapse in Delhi before our flight to Hyderabad made for an exciting plane ride too...
While we only spent a night here while waiting for our train back to Delhi, that was quite enough for us. A one horse town that's missing its horse, Kalka didn't do much to capture our hearts, and our accommodation certainly left a little to be desired (more on that later)...
- Forgetting to pay for our accommodation in Delhi
Before flying to Hyderabad, we spent a night in an airport hotel in Delhi. We arrived late at night, quickly checked in and went to bed. Overnight, Zev had a relapse of his food poisoning/gastro awfulness, so we weren't having a great time.
The next day, we grabbed our bags and headed to the airport. While we were standing in line to check in, my phone started ringing - it was the owner of the hotel. She informed me that we hadn't paid her! I thought we'd paid online, but apparently we hadn't. She had thought we would come and find her before we checked out. She wanted me to pay by international bank transfer, which was a massive pain in the ass, and was going to cost us a fortune.
While I was talking to her on the phone, we were queuing to check in for the flight, and we were running late since it took so long for us to find an Uber. We hadn't had breakfast because Zev was feeling sick, so I was starving, and I ended up telling her that I'd sort it out when I got to Hyderabad. We basically ran through the airport, with me grabbing a muffin as we dashed past a cafe, before Zev had to make an emergency pit stop before getting on the plane. He told me to meet him at the gate, and I went to the wrong bloody gate.
We finally got on the plane and made it to Hyderabad. When I attempted the international transfer, it wouldn't work, because my bank couldn't 'find' her bank.
In the end, when we went back to Delhi after Hyderabad, we ended up catching two metros and walking half an hour in the blazing heat to deliver her payment. She was delighted, because I'm pretty sure she thought she was never going to get paid. We felt terrible about the whole thing, and would never have left India without making sure she'd been paid, but my GOD was it a pain in the ass!
- Backpacker Panda, Manali
Aside from the stunning views and amazing dogs, these guys were so nice to us when Zev got sick. They offered to arrange a doctor if he needed it, and even went into town to get him some oral rehydration salts without us asking. They were excellent, and if we ever find ourselves back in Manali, that's where we'll be staying!
- The Taj Deccan, Hyderabad
We got upgraded to the Presidential Suite. What more do you need to know??
Although not actually bad accommodation (on the contrary, it was really nice!), it was certainly a little strange. We arrived to find the entire extended family celebrating some kind of religious festival in a small room between the entrance and the stairs up to our room. Once we got into our room, we were trapped in there for hours, waiting for them to finish. In the end, our hunger got the better of us, and we snuck out as quickly as we could in search of food. Luckily, by the time we got back, the ceremony was over and the family had dispersed, meaning we were free to come and go as we pleased!
Again, not bad, just weird. The family who owned the guesthouse we stayed at clearly loved their business, and were very proud of what they offered - and with good reason! Unfortunately, that meant that most of the time, our conversations revolved around them telling us how good their guesthouse was, and showing us the good reviews people had written on TripAdvisor, while pressuring us to write reviews. It was a little uncomfortable, and completely unnecessary. They were doing a great job, and if they just relaxed and let people enjoy themselves, instead of feeling like they had to impress people, it would have been a much more enjoyable stay.
Okay this one actually was shit. While the room was 'clean' (the sheets were clean, the bathroom had been cleaned, and the floor was clean), the room was filthy. The lightswitches were covered in black grime so thick that you didn't want to touch it, the walls were dirty and there were cobwebs all over the ceiling. While waiting for our train on the second day, we found a mouse. Awesome. Luckily we only stayed there for one night...
- Monkey Bar, Delhi
While the food was excellent, the decor at Monkey Bar was what really made it stand out. Housed in a glass pyramid reminiscent of the Louvre, we had a great dinner and drinks here with our friend Meghan, even when the live music got so loud that you couldn't hear anyone talk!
- Orange Juice, Manali
We had the best orange juice of our lives in a little stall on the side of a path, staring up at the Himalayas in Manali.
- Breakfasts at Drifter's Cafe, Manali
This place served the most amazing potato rostis - they were so good, we went back a second time. The relaxing, laid back atmosphere and board games were a nice touch too.
In a month with some pretty average meals due to a resounding lack of interest in ever eating any more curry, there can be only one worst meal.
On our first day in Manali, we went to a cafe for 'breakfast' (although it was much closer to lunch time). Zev ordered a BLT. I ended up having to order three times, because none of the things I ordered were available. Eventually, I just ordered the BLT with no tomato. 45 minutes later, our meals arrived. I opened the sandwich to find mayonnaise, half a rasher of bacon, and a measly portion of shredded lettuce. Zev's was the same. I declined to eat my mayonnaise sandwich (although I'll own up to picking out the half rasher of bacon and eating that). Later that night, Zev got sick. Was it the mayonnaise sandwich? Who knows...
Despite our credit card scamming woes, we're still ticking along nicely on the finance front. Certainly Nepal will have a big impact on our cash situation, but we'll talk about that next month since we'll have a clearer idea of what the damage will be then.
Since we had a relatively quiet month in April, going to places where we spent time just hanging out and not going to many tourist attractions, it was definitely a cheaper month than March, where we were paying lots of entry fees to forts etc in Rajasthan.
While we were in Hyderabad, some incredible generosity from Cads also went a long way to saving us some cash, which was much appreciated.
Most of our expenses for April went on organising all of our travel within India for the rest of the trip, and accommodation (as we chose to stay in slightly pricier places in Delhi so that we could stay in nicer areas and stay close to a metro).
Where to next?
Tomorrow, we fly to Lukla (weather permitting), and start on what we think will be a 17 day hike to Everest Base Camp, returning via the Cho La Pass and Gokyo Lakes. We're unbelievable excited, and can't wait to get on the road!
Due to questionable internet connections, charging difficulties and pack weight concerns, we're won't be taking a laptop and are unlikely to be posting anything from the road, so this will probably be our final post until we're back in Kathmandu!
After the hike, we fly to New York on 29th May, where we start the next leg of our adventure!
Lots of love,
S & Z