Mittwoch, 27. April 2011

Pokhara and the Himalaya's

I have been to Nepal before, years ago and just for 3 days, so I couldn’t remember a thing and didn’t know what to expect and as so many other things on this trip, coming to Nepal was not really planned but just happen to happen.

I heard many good things about Nepal from travellers I met on my way but the last 2 friends who went there, weren’t crazy about it, so I went with mixed feelings to Pokhara AND luckily loved it.

Of course it is quite touristy nowadays but it is a good place to relax from the craziness of India and just enjoy a bit of comfort. 

Pokhara's main road on the lake side - book, cloth and hiking gear shops, restaurants and cafes - all you need is there.

The lake of Pokhara.

World Peace Stupa, Pokhara - my 1st hike up the mountain.

Pokhara from above, a bit like Lucerne: a lake and a small city surrounded by mountains and  forest.
Pokhara is a hub for most travellers, a starting point for many treks, like the Annapurna Base camp trek (ABC trek), the Annapurna circuit trek and the Ghorepani Poonhill trek. Annapurna is a series of peaks in the Himalayas of which the highest point, Annapurna I, stands at 8091 m (26,545 ft), making it the 10th-highest summit in the world and one of the 14 'eight-thousanders'. Pokhara is an excellent place to gear up on things you need for trekking there.
The Annapurna's
Since I didn’t have much time before my next Vipassana, I chose a 5 days/4 nights trek - the ‘Ghorepani Poonhill’ trek.

I started off with a friend of mine from Belgium but after 2 days she left to do the ABC trek and I went on my own. I had no guide or porter and didn’t need any. The hiking trails in Nepal are very well maintained and there are lots of signs and people on the way to ask and I had my map which was of good use.

At times it has been quite tough (steps up and down) but mostly amazing and beautiful. I have been walking through Rhododendron, Oak and Bamboo forests – Rhododendron is in full bloom at the moment and makes parts of the forest look pink and pretty. I walked through small villages, fields; saw cows, dogs, horses, donkeys, waterfalls, rivers, mountains and lots of prayer flags. 

I walked on bridges...

Path to heaven...the motto of this trek was: tanned and toned :)

...crossed rivers...

...walked through mountain villages.
The guesthouses I stayed in were all really nice and clean. A night costs € 1, - but the food gets more and more expensive the higher you get, since they have to carry everything on mules up the mountains.

Mules at work

Our first host at the 'Sunny Guesthouse' in Tolka.
The Nepalese are very friendly, helpful and hard-working people.

Taking it easy with a cup of coffee...
The highlights of my trek have been:

  • The hot springs at Jhinudanda – it feels really good to dive into a hot spring after a long day of walking and have all muscles relax at once;
  • The best chocolate cake made by ‘Sugar Mama’ in Chhomrong;
  • To reach the top of Poon Hill, which is 3210 meters high – even if I had to get up at 4 am in the morning to see the ‘cloudy’ sunrise J;
  • And in the end, after going 3000 stairs down – a cooling footbath in one of the many small rivers.
'Sugar Mama' and me.

Article about the best choclate cake from the 'Time Magazine'.

After 4 days of trekking - the reward: Poonhill at 6 am!

...I am sure the water temperature of this creek increased suddenly by some degrees - my feet were burning after 7 hrs downhill hiking.
On the 1st of May I will be starting another 10 days silent meditation retreat close to Pokhara – this time it’s another method than the last time in Thailand – more sitting and meditating and no yoga or chanting. I will let you know how it all went.

Smiles and sunshine greetings from Pokhara (31°C).
Namaste, Eylin

Freitag, 22. April 2011

Varanasi - where death and life come together last stop in India was Varanasi. After Sikhism and Buddhism I was curious what Varanasi had to offer. Varanasi is the oldest city in the world (more than 3000 years old). It is a holy city, the city of Lord Shiva, situated on the bank of the sacred river, the Ganga.

It is the most popular pilgrimage point for the Hindus. In Hinduism it is believed that those who die and are cremated here get an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and re-births.

Varanasi is famous as the city of temples. In Varanasi, there are temples at every few places.

Sunrise in Varanasi at the Ghats, my 1st morning in Varanasi

old man meditating on the Ganges
It's magical - just sitting at the Ganges and watching the boatmen.
The Ganga Ghats (river front) are the most popular pilgrimage spot of Varanasi and are centers of music and learning. The holy city has been a symbol of spiritualism, philosophy and mysticism for thousands of years and has produced great saints and personalities.

foot-bath in the Ganges

Daily Hindu ritual for purification and blessings at the Ganges.

Indian Sadhu

The Lassi's in Varanasi are one of their kind, specially in the Blue Lassi shop, where I went everyday.

Strolling through the streets of Varanasi I found:

Wall paintings

Sari production

Sales woman

Varanasi was a great final for my month in India - I've seen what I came for and enjoyed every single moment. first Shiva fruit, it has a cooling effect fr the stomach, much needed in 35 degrees Celsius.

With this I am saying "Good bye" to India, I will miss the people, food, smells, music, beauty and craziness of this incredible country but I am excited to explore Nepal, with all its beauty of the Himalayas and more:

Crossing the border from India to Nepal on foot - my Nepal adventure can begin - Namaste!

Sonntag, 3. April 2011

From Sikhs to Monks - From Sikhism to Buddhism

After 4 days in Amritsar, it was time to say good-bye and take a bus to Dharamsala. 

Change of scenery: back to the mountains.

Spring in the North of India.

Dharamkot - mountain village.
Dharamsala is situated in the state of Himachal Pradesh – the land of eternal snow peaks. No wonder that I got sick right away, from 30 degrees to almost 0 degrees during the nights – my body went on strike. After a few days of rest I finally was able to explore the new area I was living in. Everything here is very different from what I have seen before: there are lots of monks, prayer flags, mountains with snow peaks and wide, green grass fields. The best is, it’s spring here and everything is blooming right now. It’s really beautiful.

Prayer flags on a forest walk.

Dalai Lama temple.

Most of my time I am running in between 3 villages: McLeod Ganj (4 km above Dharamsala). It’s the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in Exile and residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (which I haven’t seen so far). The other 2 villages are: Dharamkot (where I am staying at, in a cute, little guesthouse :) and Bhagsu.

I am doing yoga almost daily with my yoga teacher from Goa, who has a yoga place here as well. And I have done a 2 days hike to Triund with an overnight stay in the mountains (2900m) and also went to the snow line.

Triund mountain

A tea shop.
In a few days it’s time to go on the road again – next stop will be Rishikesh, the Yoga Capital of the World on the banks of the Ganges. I am very much looking forward to go there…

I hope you are all well and spring has started in Europe as well.
Sunshine greetings to all of you.
Yours, Eylin

Back in India...

First stop: Amritsar and the Golden Temple

After spending two amazing months outside of India, it was time to go back to the country, which seems to be like a magnet for me. I’ve never been to the North of India before, so it was time to explore finally this part of the country.

I arrived in Delhi on March 17 and had my first couchsurfing experience; I stayed with a really nice Indian couple in Delhi for 4 days. It’s so nice to come to a big city and not to be alone. Delhi after all is not such a scary place as I first thought, yes it is big but if you stay there and explore it with a local person it is a very interesting city with lots of things to see.

But since I only have one month left in India I wanted to explore 4 more places: Amritsar and the Golden Temple of the Sikhs, Dharamsala – the Exile of the Dalai Lama, Rishikesh – the Yoga Mecca and Varanasi – the holy city on the Ganges.

So my first stop after my arrival in Delhi was Amritsar. I kind of had the feeling I would love the place but as it sometimes happens, if you have too high expectations you will get disappointed but not so in Amritsar. I arrived after a 6 hrs train journey and took a Rickshaw from the train station to the Golden Temple. 

The Golden Temple at day light

Everyone was very friendly to me, smiling and happy. I arrived at the Golden Temple and looked for a place to stay within the Golden Temple complex and was lucky enough to got a single room with bathroom for Rs 100,-/night (€ 1.50/night).

The food in the Golden Temple is for free or you can give a donation – I already loved the Sikh culture then, for a long-term traveller on a tight budget it is heaven on earth.

So after finding a room, having a free meal, I was ready to explore the Golden Temple complex and honestly, the Golden Temple is exceptional beautiful and you just want to stay there and sit and watch and sit and watch some more.

The Golden Temple at dawn

...just sitting and watching...

A Sikh warrior

I took so many pictures of the Golden Temple at different times of the day, it is just so beautiful that you can’t get enough from it. And the Sikhs, wow – they are so friendly; I was really feeling in the right place.

Father and daughter.

Taking a bath in the holy water of the Golden Temple.

The colors of turbans.
So time flew by and I learned a lot about the Sikh culture. The Golden Temple has 4 entrances: North, East, South and West – it means that everyone is welcome to enter it. The food is free, as mentioned before and you can sleep at the Golden Temple complex. If you don’t get a room, you are welcome to put your mattress for free anywhere you like to. The whole system of the Golden Temple runs by donations and volunteers. Everyone can volunteer and everyone does: men, women, children and visitors. Of course I couldn’t resist and although I favoured to put chapattis in the food baskets (I think that was the easiest job of all), I volunteered to clean the dishes with a lot of other volunteers (that wasn’t the easiest job of all and you had to be quite fast as well but I coped :). The dishes are cleaned six times, so you can be sure they are really clean. The food there, all vegetarian, was delicious and we had lots of fun while volunteering. I think not too many foreigners do it, so we were kind of an attraction to them :)

First we were trying to find out how we could volunteer until we found someone who told us, just to do whatever you like to do, there is no one who puts you in a job, you just choose something and start. The amazing thing for me was that it really works that way and they never run out of volunteers in one place. You can do so many things: cutting vegetables, preparing chapattis, giving out food and tea, cleaning the dishes and and and – it’s a big machine and it’s running 24 hrs. When you get tired, there is already someone waiting to take your place. In one day 500.000 people can get fed – it is just amazing.

...washing dishes, my job.

the chappati team feed 500.000 people a day, you need big pots :)

...everyone helps - men and women work together.
Besides staying in the Golden Temple complex, I also explored and enjoyed the city of Amritsar and the ‘closing the border’ ceremony of India and Pakistan. Every evening, just before sunset, the Indian and Pakistani military meet at the border to engage in an extraordinary 20-minute ceremony of pure theatre. It's hilarious.

Last picture before leaving Amritsar: Miguel (Chile), me and Dean (GB) in front of the Golden Temple.