Sunday, September 1, 2013

Day 10 - Varanasi and Kathmandu, Nepal

I actually slept alright last night. I mean, I woke up a lot because I was on a bouncing around and loud train that stopped a bunch. But it could of been worse! The lady I thought wasn't so nice last night turned out to be super sweet. Her name was Brithey (or something like that).

I woke up around 7 and realized it was light out and we were stopped. I totally freaked out and thought I overslept. Although it wouldn't of mattered because Varanasi was the last stop on the Shiv Ganga Express. It sits there all day and leaves this evening again to head back to Delhi. Turned out we were 3 hours delayed and just chilling on the tracks in the middle of nowhere India because we didn't have a "clear signal" I guess. Brithey pushed the call button to get an update from the guy working in our coach. 

So I got up, rinsed my face off, put on a little makeup...and started stressing while I somehow managed to get everything in to my giant backpack. I was worried because I just didn't have three hours to waste today! Not if I wanted to get to Kathmandu! I got myself all worked up and started not feeling well. (I'm good at doing that to myself.) So I tried to relax and drank my orange juice and ate about half of my egg and cheese sandwich from Starbucks last night. Probably not the best idea, but trust me, a better option that eating the Indian food on the train.  (Turned our fine, for the record. My intestines are back in business.)

We had some time to kill, so Brithey and I talked. Well, she talked ... and talked. :) She has a daughter that works for Ernst & Young and a son who is a pilot. She and her husband run a business. Her good friends run an upscale travel company all over the world and she helps out with that when they send people to Varanasi. She also informed me that the Ganges river - and the ghats I just rode 14 hours to see - are completely flooded.

Not. Cool. 

 I turned on the data on my phone (I don't even want to see this months bill) and emailed my guy at Groovy Tours to let him know about the train and ask about the ghats. He wrote right back. My guide would pick me up right outside my coach ... And yes, the ghats are flooded. UUIGGGHHHH. 

Anyways, Brithey and I talked some more for the next couple of hours, and we finally pulled in to Varanasi around 9:30am. We must of made up some time somewhere. I grabbed my bag and hopped off the train...and no one was there looking for me. I kind of started to get a sick feeling in my stomach. I walked to the other end of the coach...and nothing. People were running around on the platform. Sea of people. And I just stood there wondering what to do next. 

Reflection in the train window. 

Brithey finally came out - with her son and another man carrying all of her luggage. I told her my guy wasn't there, so she called him and have him an earful, haha, she's awesome. He assured her my guide was there. Somewhere. So I told her to go on and I waited longer. 

Finally, this little Indian guy came sprinting up to me, out of breath. I guess there was some confusion on the order of the coaches on this train.  My first class coach was actually right next to the tier 3 non ac cars that just had people piled on. I didn't care that I had to wait a few minutes. I was just glad he was there to lead me out of that train station!

Now since I knew the ghats were flooded, I definitely wanted to  keep it short in Varanasi and head to Kathmandu. So I asked Rajan (my guide) about times - how long to the ghats, how long to the airport, etc. Indians seem to be so vague about time. "Yea, yea. Maybe 15-20 minute no problem." Ha - I've heard that one before! 

I had looked on a map and new the ghats weren't very far away - and the airport was only 16 kilometers. So I was trying to figure out why he said an hour to the airport. Well, it takes that long because the roads are awful and traffic looks like this: 

And this is "very good" traffic because its Sunday morning! 

So we say in that for about 30 minutes, maneuvering cows and motorcycles, and then pulled over. No cars allowed any further. We had to walk the rest of the way to the mighty Ganges River. 

The road turned in to a dirt path through a market, my guide chatting all on the way about different facts of Varanasi. I couldn't keep up...with the pace or the facts. 

The "two minute" walk was closed to 10, and, you guessed it, I was a hot sweaty mess again. Even though it was overcast a d somewhat cool for Indian standards, the humidity is brutal. 

We finally got to the river and went straight up to the best observatory for viewing the river. Boat rides weren't happening because the current was too strong, so this was the best way to see what there was left to see. 

Up lots of steep stairs to the top, and the view was pretty cool. I can't imagine what it would be like in the early morning when people came to bathe on the hundreds of bright colored steps leading to the ghats. I just had to use my imagination because all I saw was dirty brown water, mammoth sized  dragonflies, and a small gathering of people bathing down below. (I know the river is holy and all, but why you would bathe in polluted water with dead bodies in it is a little beyond my understanding.)

My guide, also sweating from practically running to the ghats and up all the stairs, was still spewing information. One I remember is that Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world, and that 55,000 people come to the Ganges to bathe every day. Now that's just gross...

We weren't there too long. Not really all that much to see. So we began the race-walk back to the car. I still couldn't believe this was the "calm traffic" day. Holy cow. Oh - saw a street performer with a monkey who had a mustache drawn on him. Only in India..

I commented on the way about how hot and humid of was, while wiping sweat off my face. He said he was actually thinking how nice I was out this morning. We were just sweating because we were running, haha. Hey, that's how I operate. In and out. I've got too many places to see!

Back in the car, my guide laughed and said he had never met a tourist as crazy as me, only coming to Varanasi to see the ghats for less than an hour and then leaving. I'll take that as a compliment. ;) And it would have been for more like three hours if the stupid train hadn't been delayed!

Anyways, we had some nice long conversations on the way to the airport - which did take almost an hour to go 10 miles. Rajan was hilarious. He told me American girls were all crazy (we are compared to Indian girls).  We talked about religion - he tried to tell me all about Himduism and about his "strong spiritual life." He is a palm reader but couldn't read mine because it was covered in henna. And he informed me how "unclean" my left hand was and that I shouldn't use it for anything. I informed him I didn't wipe with my left hand. He looked at me like I was crazy, haha. But it's true! Why do Indians not use that hand for anything?? I don't get it. 

Next he asked me about my religion and if I was allowed to eat non-veg (ie if I could eat meat).  He was shocked when I said I did. Even cows! I told him. He gasped. Cows are so sacred to Hindus. He was enthralled and wanted to know the last time I had had non-veg, as he called it. I laughed and said probably the day before I left for India. He just kept saying, "OH MY GOD!!" Ha, hilarious. :)

I don't remember what all else we talked about, but he was great. Very entertaining. And he tough me my first Hindi words. I can now say, "My name is Terri" in Hindi and have the video to prove it. :)

I had asked Birthey about the airport here - if it was big and if I really needed to be there early. She said it was "very big."  So you could imagine my surprise when we pulled up to this:

I guess I didn't get a pic from the outside, but it was one little building, just like all the other airports in India! Definitely did not need to be there an hour early. Oh well. 

Got checked in and got another compliment on this camel bone necklace from the fort in Jodhpur! Everyone loves it! Something else random that everyone loves is saying my name. Everyone from airport security to check in workers and guides. They all pronounce it "killer" and then laugh.  ??

Of course I couldn't move on through the airport without at least looking in the gift shop. I hem and hawed over a small silk scarf, and then a bigger wool/silk mixture one, and then a purple elephant thing.  Jeez - I seriously have a problem and want one of everything! But I am proud to say, I walked out of there empty handed! I don't have that much cash (or room) left, and I'm not sure what I'll need (if any) when I fly back through Delhi tonight. 

I hit the bathroom (western toilet with tp!) and then went over to Customs/ Immigration.  Which was a disaster. There were three old men working the desks, and of course the one I went to couldn't even figure out how to turn on the computer. No joke. So I was about the last one through the other line. Once they stamped our passports, we had to go to another customs desk where a lady hand wrote in a notebook our names and how much money we were carrying with us. A little behind the times with the pen and paper, but whatever works I guess. (It's a very slow process.)

There were literally 12 of us - all foreign tourists - sitting at a gate waiting to board the flight.  I broke down and bought a Twix for lunch. I was over granola bars and my other options were Oreos or a cheese (and probably pepper) sandwich. No, thank you. I can't believe the crap Ive eaten this trip! So unhealthy!

I noticed the USA passports of a young couple with two small children (a toddler and a baby) and offered them the rest of my target bag of snacks I brought. They are living in Varanasi for a couple of years to learn Hindi! Just packed up and moved over here. Wow - I thought they were pretty much the coolest couple ever. I hope I can do that someday. :) I talked to them for awhile. She talked about how the kids adjusted quickly to everything and why they love India. He wants to do business here someday so that's a big reason why they're learning the languages and culture. Just awesome!

When they had the plane ready, we took an elevator up and walked on to the plane. Obviously boarding was quick, and they let us sit wherever we wanted. Took off at 12:30 on the dot. 

They definitely lost money on this flight!

A guy came around with a little snack box shortly after we took off.  It had some sort of bread in it and a pastry. I thought the pastry looked plain, so I took a decent size bite out of the middle. Big mistake. Pretty sure it had liquid fire hidden it. I was gagging and fanning my mouth...making sure my lips didn't just singe off. What the heck! Come on! Shouldn't these things come with a warning label?! 

It may look harmless, but that thing packed a punch. I passed on trying the bread after that. 

The flight was a quick 40 minutes in to Kathmandu, Nepal. It was kind of surreal that I was actually almost there! I've always wanted to to there for some reason! It looked so green from the sky!

We took a very interesting bus to the rundown airport, and of course I had to get a picture by the first Nepal sign I saw!

I knew I had to get a visa upon arrival and actually came prepared with a passport size photo. They didn't pass out the customs/immigration forms on the plane, so I had that form to fill out, plus the visa application. I swear, you have to fill out so many forms to get on to and out of any country these days! At least I have all of my passport info memorized now so I dont have to pull that out! 

The whole area was kind of a zoo, but I grabbed cash (Nepalese rupees) from the ATM and went to wait in line for the visa. 

I heard the guy in front of me with a problem. They don't accept Nepalese currency for the visa. You have got to be kidding me. What country doesn't take their own currency?! Oh, and to top it off, they don't take Indian rupees either - not even at the currency exchange place. But they literally take every other currency in the world. No joke. Just ridiculous, but I had to go wait in the long and slow moving currency exchange line to get USD. Ha, I still can believe it. I had to exchange the countries currency back to my own just to get in! 

Anyways, I did all that, and as I was waiting in line for the visa, I noticed the young guy in front of me had a US passport. So I asked him where he was from. You'll never guess where. KANSAS! I about died. I think he is the first person I've met from Kansas...outside of Kansas! Okay, kidding, but for real, I've never met anyone from Kansas on any of my travels! His name was Dylan and he was from Allen County (SE Kansas). He started teaching with the peace corps several years ago and just never went home. He taught in Nepal for awhile and was just going trekking now. So awesome! Sometimes I wish I wasnt the responsible one who rushed through college early to get a job and make money and buy a house. Sometimes I think I should have traveled and done something cool and worthwhile with my life...  Anyways, he and his girlfriend (who was in front of him) offered me a ride and to hang out for the day, but I had already arranged for a guy to pick me up at the airport and be my guide. Too bad. Would have been fun with them I'm sure!

Okay - got the visa - through a weird process of shuffling desks and people. Didn't have to wait in the line at customs at all. The guy couldn't see my backpack and didn't think I had anything so he just waived me through - in front of a lot of people. :)

As soon as I got outside the airport, there was a row of people lined up across the road holding signs. And right in the middle was my guy, Babu! I found him on some random website and emailed him. Hope it turns out well!

Babu looked pretty Indian, but a lot of the other people in Nepal looked more Chinese? Or Thai? Just more Asian - less Indian. Kind of surprised me. And they even had more of the Asian accent instead of the Indian one!

Anyways. We set off through Kathmandu for my afternoon of fun! Monkey temple and Darbar Square (and maybe Thamel area) were all I really wanted to see. So that's what we did. 

Traffic was a little Mumbai- esq but with motorcycles instead of  taxis. It wasn't near as calm as I thought it was going to be. I had heard it was way less crazy than India, but I don't know about that. The air pollution was terrible and most people had masks on riding down the street. I could feel my throat getting sore. I wonder how much damage Ive done to my lungs on all my travels??

One thing the some between Indians and Nepalese is the sense of time. 10-15 minutes was more like 45 to get to the monkey temple. Babu was full of information, but I kind of tunes him out. I've heard all I want to hear about Hinduism on this trip, and my brain is getting tired of transiting the broken foreign accents. So I just say back and took it all in.  And snapped some pictures, of course.  

I think I underestimated how poor Nepal is. I had heard it was one of the poorest countries in Asia, and I believe it. All the buildings were literally just crumbling.  Maybe that was partly due to the earthquake they had there two days ago? I'm kidding, but seriously, no one told me about any earthquake! Why can't we get some national news coverage in the states! ;)

Pulled up to Monkey Temple. Cue Babu speaking 90 mph and me ignoring him. Or just smiling and nodding and pretending to listen. Info overload! He was so sweet and a great guide - just trying to do his job, but my little brain couldn't retain any more info!

It was a cool place though. Great views of the whole Kathmandu Valley and monkeys and lots of temples and candles. Babu took plenty of pictures for me, too!

Prayer flags galore (yes, I bought some there)

If you make the coin in the gold bucket, then you are lucky. I am apparently not lucky.

There was a lot to see and we were up there awhile. I also bought a Nepal t-shirt. I had to! I've always wanted to go to Nepal. I needed a tshirt. ;) Ha, actually typing out everything I buy makes me realize just how much I've gotten on this trip! It's all been so cheap though. Oh, and remember how at the airport they wouldn't buy or sell Indian rupees? Well they accept them all over Nepal just like their own currency. It's all so weird. And the math to convert from Nepal to Indian to USD to figure out how much stuff is is not easy!

After I had had my fill of Buddhas and temples, we set off for Darbar Square - the place I wanted to see! It didn't disappoint and I thought it was pretty awesome. The pictures don't do it justice at all. There were awesome temples everywhere you turned. (I have at least 100 pictures from here!)

Babu took me in to the courtyard of one building called the Kumari Ghar and was explaining something to me about these little girls they take from their families and they live in this room, not allowed to talk to the public or something like that? I wasn't really getting it all, but I'm definitely going to have to do some google research on Kumari in Kathmandu...

The streets of the square were lined with shops, like a market. Shops means I shop. I got a hand painted Hindu chart thing. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to email Babu or just use google for what all exactly it means. It's got a lot going in and I couldn't remember it all, but it's pretty awesome looking!

These things were all over and will definitely remind me of Nepal. 

With time to spare, we hit the Thamel (tourist shopping) area. I could have spent some time on those streets! They had north face stuff galore. Probably all knock off, but who cares, haha! They actually had just about everything imaginable in the road side shops. 

I ended up with a beautiful Nepalese yak wool blanket. Going to keep me warm on the flight home...if I can find a way to get it on the plane! ;)

It was time to head back to the airport from there. The traffic was crazy again, and this time I used my new tshirt to cover up my nose and mouth from all of the black exhaust pouring out of everything. I don't know how people live in places like this without being sick all the time. Or have permanent lung damage!

I rolled my new blanket up around my new artwork amd sttapped it to the side of my ever growing backapck. Perfect! We pulled up to the airport just on time and Babu walked me up to the gate to make sure I made it off okay.  He really was so nice and I'm glad it worked out to have him show me around. Even though I clearly stressed him out running around snapping pictures and not paying enough attention to his wealth of knowledge. He was a good guide!

Inside the small airport, there wasnt one person in line in front of me to check in. And somehow, I got upgraded to the "premium seats" in row 2! Yay! Pays to be nice and strike up conversations with the check in guys!! :)

I was on the verge of passing out from not eating pretty much all day, aside from a couple of granola bars. I was fading. So I went straight up the stairs and ordered a chicken pizza and some sort of chicken puff thing. I handed the girl all the cash I had left - Nepalese and indian - and was 5 ruppees short. Thats like pennies, so she just said it was fine and gave me the food and water anywaus. So sweet! (Bad news is I now have zero foreign currency to bring home, and I always like to keep some as momento!) The pizza was a little rubbery, which was to be expected since I'm sure I had been sitting there all day.  The other thing was pretty good. I was just happy it didn't burn my face off like the other thing I had on the plane this afternoon. 

Charged my phone for a few minutes on the free charging station, and failed again at connecting to the free wifi. I have yet to by it to work at any airport! So frustrating, so just went through another security check to the gate. 

Hardly say down when they called us through another check and in to another room. It was all so weird. Then we boarded a bus to literally take us like 50 feet across the tarmac to the plane. Was that really worth it?! Before we could get on, they checked us all again. Three times they checked me and my stuff all over. Holy cow. A bit excessive, yes?

Once on the plane, I swear half of the people on there hadnt flown before. They all came in and looked dumbfounded and counted rows, etc. So funny! An older man was supposed to sit in my row, and he wouldn't sit by me! I couldn't believe it! He asked the stuartist if he could move a row back and across the aisle. The gender inequality is really something here. Or in India, really. Not so much in Nepal at all. He must of been Indian!

We took off a few minutes early. Wasnt a full flight so boarding went quickly. I flipped through the SpiceJet magazine and found an article on the Ganesh festival going on!

I really wanted to buy one of these masks to bring home, bu I seriously jut didn't have room. Especially after the elephant table I got yesterday! 

The 1.5 hour flight went by quickly, and the beautiful sunset turned in to night as we flew over Delhi. 

Now I had three hours before my flight left for Newark, but I wanted to be sure I didn have to completely exit the airpor (ie to through immigration and customs again) and re-check in. I actually called united from the airport in Varanasi this morning, but they were completely unhelpful and just told me to check in online (which I did). 

I found the international transfers desk, and tried to just walk through with showing them my boarding pass on my phone. No, no. That does not work here in Delhi, I was told. 

So I went back out to the desks just I front of the security check, but there wasnt a united sign. I asked a group of workers sitting around chatting, and they said they would call someone from united to come check me in. 15-20 minutes  I was told to go sit and wait. So I did. 

I eventually moved my stuff over to the other side of the waiting area so I could charge my phone. And after about 15 minutes when no one had showed up, I went back up. 10 more minutes, they said. Siigghh. Finally, a guy and and said he would take my information and get me a boarding pass. He just needed to see my passport. Sure, no problem. Except my passport wasnt where it had been the entire trip. I've always been so careful with it and put it back in my little fanny pack thing in my bag (I don't actually wear it). It was no where. I seriously started to freak out. And so did the guy. He ran back up to the desk where I last had it while I dumped out my entire bag. No passport. My heart was about to beat out of my chest. No passport means you're stuck in that country for awhile. Days. Weeks? Ugh. No okay. I ran back over to the other spot I had been sitting, and sure enough. Just left my passport sitting right there on the chair. Jeez!! What a disaster... We were all relieved!

I asked if it was a full flight or if I could move my seat to a spot without someone next to me. Full flight. No luck. Dang it! Got my boarding pass and went through security. I like that there are separate lines for ladies and gents for everything in this country. And there are hardly any females anywhere, which means no waiting for me!

Grabbed a wrap and some water from a little shop inside the terminals, and also bought a book that looked interesting. Sat down at my gate to eat and wait. 

See the henna tattoo on my hand?! :)

I really didn't have too long to wait after that. Had to go through another security check - they're very thorough here - and started boarding just a couple of minutes later. Thank goodness I made it all the way around India without one airline checking the size or weight of my backpack. It wouldn't have passed either check. :)

Sat down in my window seat, with an Indian girl next to me (who had some serious B.O.) and an American college kid next to her who had been studying abroad in Delhi. 

I snagged an extra airline pillow and blanket, got out my new blanket, got my socks on and sleep sack, my earphones and headband to cover up my eyes out in the seat, and I was set. It's a whole process, haha! But I've got to be comfy for the next 14 hours!

Took off right on time and I shut my eyes ASAP. Worn out from all the traveling today... Hopefully the flight isn't too brutal!

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