Ah, that’s the India I remember

I said goodbye to my friends in Delhi, and took a taxi to the bus station. The taxi driver had been asked to help me find a bus to Rishikesh, but little did we know that there’s a system in place: one usually takes an AC bus to Haridwar, then catches another bus to Rishikesh, an hour away. Unarmed with such info, I ended up on an old, non-air conditioned, crowded public bus for the seven hour ride to Rishikesh. Well, I did want the experience of India.

The bus idled at the station until the driver felt there were enough people to make it worth his time. We pulled out and crawled eastward out of Delhi traffic at an inchworm’s pace until we reached Ghaziabad. After squeezing through, traffic opened up a little bit, and more greenery appeared by the side of the road, increasing as we headed north until we got to Haridwar. 

Here are some of the things one sees on a north Indian road trip:

Punjabi dhabas: the original McDonald’s, Indian style, at which one can expect to find tea, biscuits (cookies or crackers), bottled water, and all manner of Indian snacks and fried food. There are probably millions of dhabas in existence.

Houses in varying states, ranging from palatial to merely consisting of a tarp stretched over poles, all mixed higglety-pigglety with stores.

Cows, donkeys, chickens, goats and dogs. 

Trash thrown about. There are no collection bins to speak of, yet there is a system, as the loose garbage provides food for the wandering animals, and a livelihood for those who go through it for recycling, cloth, metal, etc.. Garbage processing happens in India , it just isn’t hidden away like it is in the west.

Oh, and of course, the thousands of buses, lorries, cars, rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians all with somewhere to go.

So add plenty of dust, the smell of burning things, open toilets and who knows what else, and plenty of honking, and you have the basic North Indian driving experience.

Having done that on a crowded, vibrating bus for seven hours, I disembarked in Rishikesh with my luggage, 85*F temperatures, and 95% humidity. I soon felt like a used washcloth, and after walking for about a half hour, waved the white flag and hired a rickshaw. Since I never would have found the hotel I was looking for, and it was up on a hill, I’m glad I did. It was definitely worth the $1.20 I paid. 

The town of Rishikesh itself is a bit run down, dirty and crowded. The nearby Lakshman Jhula area just north of Rishikesh, is nestled between the banks of the Ganges and forested hills. It holds most of the ashrams and is slightly more appealing, but still has a little bit of a seedy aspect to it. I tried a hotel on the first night, and the Shri Sant Seva ashram the next. My rooms at both places were pretty sparse and the bathrooms were a bit dingy. But my room at the ashram is right next to the river, and if I jumped over my balcony railing, I could go swimming (I wont). I was looking at how to move on at first, but after spending the first day recuperating from running around in the heat with luggage, I feel much better and think I’ll stay for a while. 

My room at the ashram

The bathroom. eek.

But check out these views!

Yup. Its the monsoon season.

So long, Ladakh

Our original plan of going to Pangong lake came to a screeching halt when the bridge to that area collapsed. Pangong is renowned for being a very beautiful place and is featured in many movies. It would have been nice to see, but travel is like this. One has to be content with changes in the plan.

 So we went to castles and various other monasteries over the last two days. All of these places are set high up on hills, and bestow wonderful views on those who make the upward effort to visit them. Most of the monasteries prohibit photography inside, but the views outside make up for it. The architecture is quite unique, and I found myself fascinated by the various doorways.

I’m afraid I focused more on just exploring these various places than reading or remembering much of the history. Now that I’m back in Delhi, the Internet is a bit faster, so I can share a few more pictures of the beautiful places I visited.

Tomorrow I’ll part with my Bengali family who have been traveling with me, and venture out by bus to Rishikesh on my own. The adventure continues.


After an adventurous flight, I arrived intact in Delhi. 

The last time I went to India, I had lunch with some friends at an Indian restaurant, and became suddenly ill at the end of the meal. Emerging from the bathroom 45 minutes later, I told my friends, “I’ve got Delhi belly, and I’m not even in India yet!” Yet the event seemed to cast a protective spell over the trip in terms of gastrointestinal fortune. While on the flight, I had a similar but shorter episode. I’m hoping it’s my good luck charm. In Ajahn Sucitto’s book “Rude Awakenings”, he refers to having such episodes as meeting the goddess Kali, who gets her say about visiting India. So Kali and I have definitely had a meeting, and I imagine we’ll be chums by the end of this trip.

I met my friends in Delhi, and we flew to Leh the next morning. It took two approaches to land within the lunar landscape. Tall, stark mountains surrounded us with snow covered peaks in the distance. The valley, an oasis of grass and green trees, provided a striking contrast. We were escorted to a lovely hotel (part of a package tour that my friend arranged) and advised to take rest to adjust to the breathless altitude of 10,000 feet. I could definitely feel it while climbing the stairs.

Ladakhi building

The local greeting is “Julley” (pronounced Joo-lay), which serves for hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. All of the Ladakhi people seem very friendly, and are easy to speak with. Most seem to speak Ladakhi, Hindi, and English, so it’s easy to find common understanding.

In the evening we went to the marketplace in town to look around.

“Madam…madam…pashmina scarf, good price”. 

While the shops had a variety of beautiful things, I wasn’t ready to shop yet. I find the Indian shopping experience to be a bit intimidating. I don’t haggle well, and I’m not a fan of being swarmed by salesmen. I get used to it in a week or so, but I’m not there yet. What I did find though, was a Tibetan vihara with a temple. I ducked inside and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere that was better than any shopping experience.

The next day we headed northwest along National Highway 1. We stopped at Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, a Sikh temple that has a boulder with the imprint of one of their teachers. When one visits a Sikh temple, one covers one’s head and removes one’s shoes, stepping through a shallow area of water to clean ones feet. Sikh devotional songs were playing, and tea was served to visitors. I’m hoping to visit the main Sikh temple in Amritsar in a few weeks, so this was an enjoyable preview.

Tea at the Gurudwara

 The roads are smoothly paved, yet have no shortage of overhanging (and sometimes falling) rocks and hairpin turns. Our driver negotiated it all with great skill, so that we could enjoy the scenery of lunar mountains and ribbons of green along the Indus River.

We continued on to Lamayuru monastery. Lamayuru monastery dates from a cave that was used by the Tibetan teacher naropa in the late 11th century. I’m not sure exactly when the buildings were constructed, but they blend into the landscape well. Tall, shallow buildings with flat roofs and ornate window frames, and whitewash walls that blend in with the rocky slopes they’re built upon. There were also caves, which looked like great places to meditate. Sadly, no accesss.


Today we returned from Ule and visited the Alchi and Thiksey monasteries. Thiksey resembles the Potala palace in Tibet, and both places are awash in intricate carvings, colorful wall paintings and low doorways. The view from Thicksey’s roof was incredible, and definitely worth climbing the stairs for.

It was quite tough to whittle through all the pictures I’ve taken in the last few days, and even tougher to upload them. Internet moves at a glacial pace here, so I’m afraid my visions of sharing lots of pictures on the road may not be a reality. I’ll end with a few more and try to add some later.

Oh, for peats sake!

I left Inverness by bus up to Ullapool, then took a ferry to the Isle of Lewis. As the bus headed north, the forests took turn with heather, and green rolling hills became mountains. I could definitely tell now that I was in Scotland. Ullapool arrived on the horizon, with rocky cliffs on one side of a dark gray fjord and windswept hills on the other. The sun would occasionally break through the clouds to create sparkling diamonds on the water. The beauty literally brought tears to my eyes.

The ferry slowly made its way north, over a two and 1/2 hour journey. I did manage to see a dolphin on the way. I made it into Stornoway around noon, and had the afternoon to explore the town and do some much-needed laundry at the hostel.

The next day was Sunday. For the island, that means that nothing except churches are open. No buses, no restaurants, no grocery stores. Nothing. Luckily I had been warned, and I got groceries the night before.

Having nothing open was a perfect opportunity to walk around nearby Lews castle and the extensive grounds around it. This had the main forest of the nearby area, which was a beautiful place to walk. Further afield I walked along green open hills. I smelled an aroma that smelled a bit like the sage found in the desert. Later I realized it was the peat soil, to which I would quickly become accustomed. I also followed a river with water that looked like Guinness. I later realized that this also was from the peat soil.

I returned around noon having walked ten miles. Enough walking, I chatted with the other women in the hostel in the afternoon. The hostel experience is great, but it’s nice to have a private space to retreat to as needed.

On Monday I made it out to the Port of Ness, which is at the northeast corner of the island. There are remains of an old Clan Morrison stronghold called Dun Eistean there, although not many remains remain. Mostly just a small hill with surrounding lumps in the ground. But being near the shore, the cliffs behind the remains were spectacular, and I spent until the afternoon roaming about.

Today was spent in a whirlwind tour of four other ancient sites on the island. Each one of them warrants at least a full day’s visit, but someone at the hostel had worked out a schedule for the buses in which all four could be visited in one day, so there I was.

The first was Carloway Broch, the remains of an ancient structure once used by the Morrison clan. It’s along northern coast of the island, which is more rocky and hilly than the flat interior of the island. The broch was a round structure, with passages within the walls and wee doorways to duck through.

Next stop was the Callanish stone circle. Think Stonehenge, without the horizontal lintels on top. No one really knows why it was built, but the when dates back to 3-4000BC.

The next stop, Garynahine village, was an open air museum of old crofters cottages. Exhibits included a working loom, furnishings typical of the houses, and a peat fire going. Behind the village were stunning vistas with cliffs venturing towards the sea.
Last was Arnol Black House. Black houses got their name from the lack of windows, and because their lack of chimneys meant that smoke from the peat fires would accumulate on the ceilings. They also had half of the house designated for animals and half for people. I’m sure the animals may have contributed to the grime as well.

Tomorrow I’m off to Ireland to visit another friend for a few days. Since I’m limited to about a dozen pictures per post, I’m working on putting together a slideshow on YouTube. There’s just too much beautiful scenery here.