July 4 & 16 to 18 – Delhi
July 18 to 22 – Mumbai
Combined New Delhi and Mumbai have a population greater than that of Canada. What that means is these are two very dense and crowded cities. There's not a whole lot to say about Delhi that I can't say in the pictures so I'll let them tell the story.
On the train way back in the day going to Delhi from Agra. We didn't get to Delhi until late afternoon and we were staying by the airport for our 5AM flight to Leh so besides signing up for an Indian cell phone number we didn't do much.
July 5 to 16 (July 10 & 11 at Pangong Lake)
We ended up spending more time in Leh than anywhere else on our entire trip. We thought since we were flying and spending the money to get up this far north we may as well spend some time here, we were able to hang out and relax in the small town 3500 meters high, tucked away in the Himalayas. It was a true vacation away from our vacation.
Leh is not like the rest of India, it actually felt like a completely different country. As soon as we arrived one of the first things we noticed was all the military and police all around. The state borders Pakistan in the northwest and China in the east which probably explains the high security. The locals were predominantly buddhist, many of them coming from Tibet as refugees. The Dali Lama lives in a town not far from Leh and has a house here as well. He is planning a visit at the end of this month, too bad we’ll be gone by then. The Leh locals are extremely friendly, always saying julee (hello, goodbye, good day etc…) as we walk by and we don’t feel like we are getting taken advantage of or ripped off at every given chance.
July 10 & 11
Pangong Lake (aka Pangong Tso). I've known for years that I've wanted to come here. Years ago, before Johnny and I were a couple, we heard about this Bollywood movie from our friend at work. At the end of the movie, Three Idiots, the cast go to the most picturest lake ever high up in the Himalayan mountains. It was stunning and I knew I wanted to go there (Johnny is now telling me we were dating when we heard about the movie from his colleague when we were not working together but I like my version better so lets stick with that). In fact, Pangong Lake had some influence as to why we're not in China right now. The road passes (several above 5000m/16,400feet) are blocked by snow in the winter so the only time to visit is in the summer months of July to early September. If we went to China before going to India we'd be pushing it really close if we'd make the window before the roads became blocked by snow.
The lake is about 5 hours from Leh up rocky roads over a 5300m pass (17,300 feet) in the middle of nowhere at a dead end road next to China. The only way to get there is to hire a car and driver to take you. Luckily Leh is filled with travel agents all selling a “jeep” ride up and they'll find other travellers to fill the jeep to share the cost. Every travel agent had the same tour to sell so we went with the agent that seemed to be the most honest and the most forthcoming with information about the trip. It all went so smoothly until we actually got in the car and then we were in for the ride of our life.
Spoiler... we made it to Pangong Lake
July 1 to July 3
There really isn't much to say about Agra so I'll let the photos do most of the talking. We ended up spending 2 full days here when 1 day would have been plenty. It was actually nice getting the extra day, our hotel was the nicest to date in India and it was situated away from the chaotic streets. The one downfall from being away from the action were the clueless tuk tuk drivers having no idea where our hotel was and driving us to the other end of the city instead of asking for directions. Our hotel was called the Taj Homestay so he automatically assumed it was beside the Taj Mahal. We showed him the map on the hotel card which he ignored and instead we got a ride all around the city for a dollar. This happened 3 times in Agra, good thing we negotiate a price before entering the tuk tuk.
Of course there's only one reason to go to Agra and that's to see the Taj Mahal. It was truly stunning and a must if you are in India and I see why it is listed as one of the 7 wonders of the world.
The beautiful Taj Mahal
June 26 to 30
I'll summarize for you what the Lonely Planet India guidebook says about Varanasi.
Varanasi is one of the most blindingly colorful, unrelentingly chaotic, unapologetically, indiscreet place on earth. Varanasi takes no prisoners.
Yeah, that pretty much sums up Varanasi (and India) but the experience is amazing and even with all the bad I wouldn't want to pass it up.
Washing away their sins in the Ganges River
I wrote not long ago that many bicycle tourists consider Laos to be the preferred destination for touring. Unfortunately Johnny and I didn’t get to spend too much time biking Laos but the parts we did bike we really enjoyed.
Immediately on entering Laos it was evident how little traffic there was. In most of Southeast Asia we always had to watch over our shoulders whereas in Laos it felt as if we could control the whole road without worry of being run over. Laos is noticeably poorer than most of the countries we’ve been to but thankfully they didn’t skimp on the roads; the roads were nicely sealed though there wasn’t always a shoulder (not that one was needed) and on the occasion we were on a bumpy road it’s because the Chinese are investing big bucks to upgrade it (China is investing a lot of money to upgrade the infrastructure in Laos so China will have better access to the other economies in the rest of Southeast Asia). And perhaps most importantly the scenery is Laos was fantastic. No emerald blue ocean but the karsts and mountains are spectacular. Just be prepared for some major climbing!
June 24 & 25
After a comfortable train ride from Kolkata we arrived in Gaya tired at 6AM but ready to move. Even before we got off the train we were rushed by a crowd of people begging to drive us in their rickshaws the last 13km to Bodhgaya. We told the driver where we were going and then we were on our way cramming in any stragglers along the way so the driver could pick up a little extra coin. It was crazy busy as we crawled through the city of Gaya but soon we were out of the city and flying down the road with the horn blaring as we dodged bikes, motos, cows and trucks.
As we got close to Bodhgaya the rickshaw driver turned around and said how our destination was really far away from the center of Bodhgaya, we’ll have to pay double. This might be believable except that Bodhgaya is a tiny town you can walk across in 3 minutes and we wanted to go to its center. He later argued that Johnny and I have rich jewelry, have you seen any photos of us wearing jewelry, so we need to pay him more. How could we refuse, especially since we didn’t have exact change and he refused to give it back.
We were lucky enough to go to a school today
June 22 to 23
As we were flying to India I was excited but nervous, I had no clue what to expect from India. This was the start of a new trip, our backpacks were packed and we were ready to take on India.
As we were flying over India, getting ready for our landing Houston mentioned about how green it was as we were flying past all the patches of farmland, it seemed very calm. Minutes later we landed in Kolkata which is India's second largest city with 14.7 million people.
Arriving in Kolkata, look at the old school cabs.
Spending over 6 weeks in Vietnam and cycling up about 3/4 of the country, we were able to see the beauty this country had to offer. Scenically it was probably my favorite country, and I’m not being biased, it had the most diverse landscape. Along the Mekong we rode around all the green rice fields and agriculture, the south coast we had beautiful hilly coastline and sand dunes, heading along the central highlands we were surrounded by mountains and a nice cool air, and in the north approaching the Laos border we had the largest climb of the trip which resulted with some stunning views.
June 12 – Bangkok
June 13 to 19 – Phuket
June 20 to 22 – Bangkok
Ah the joys of backpacking. One of the many advantages to bicycle touring is the freedom. Want to go somewhere? Just point your bike and go. Sure it may take longer but the ride, even in near 50°C heat, is arguably more comfortable and provided you don't have a major mechanical breakdown, it's hassle free. On our first day of backpacking after ending the bicycle tour we were both missing Roland and Brodie for without them we had to endure the nightmare that is a tourist bus in Thailand.
After rushing back to Khao San from across town in heavy monsoon rains we stuffed down dinner, grabbed our bags, and hurried to the travel agent where the bus to Phuket would pick us up at 6PM. We didn't wait there long until we were ushered around to several hotels picking up other passengers along the way. After walking around for half an hour with our backpacks we were escorted to another hotel only a couple blocks from our hotel. We then waited until 7:30 before finally being loaded on the bus. By this point I was missing Roland but it only got worst.
Now that's multi tasking. Combing my hair, brushing my teeth, taking a photo, and dancing all at the same time. Check out my new shirt :)