Mittwoch, 30. Oktober 2013

Day 124 - 137: Leh - Pushkar: starting the way "back home"

view from the palace in Leh
The first hotel we found in Leh was extremely run-down and dirty, but we stayed anyways because they promised a hot shower in the morning (guess what happened the next morning – still in India). After that we looked for a nicer place to stay to get rid of our cold and sore throat. Samrolee was one of the guest houses still open in the end of the season, they had nice and clean rooms with a view to the mountains and space to park Kalimero in the garden. We spent 3 days in Leh, mostly with getting better and walking the town a bit. As more and more clouds came into the Ladakh valley and it grew very cold, we finally skipped any hiking plans and started our way to Srinagar. 

Momos are a Tibetan specialty, you frequently find in Leh

our neighbor turning the prayer wheel

the newly built part of our guest house with traditionally carved  window frames

the newer and the old palace

view from our window at Samrolee

white and blue

green Leh between mountains


one of the rallye cars

"this is a special breed of horses, very small"

The upcoming passes were, compared to the Manali-Leh-highway, a piece of cake, but we figured it might be smart to plan ahead and know where we can spent the nights: in the end we were still in a very disputed part of Kashmir. The small town of Kargil, though beeing directly at the line of control, offers some small hotels and restaurants, so we planned our overnight stay there. Kalimero was feeling a bit more comfortable at the maximum of a 4000m pass, and despite the cloudy weather ,we had some impressive views of the Kashmiri mountains. 

Stupas in Ladakh
moonish landscape again, but water

Yaks and Stupas

Welcome to Kargil

girls on their way to school in Kargil.


 In Kargil we found "our" hotel in the city center and were allowed to stay within the courtyard, but getting food was a more difficult task, very uncommon in India. The next morning was sunny again and we enjoyed the last stage of our mountain tour until we arrived in Srinagar. Here again, we picked a place to stay in advance, the beautyful and quiet "Oasis guesthouse" run by a charming Kashmiri family. There is no secret that we had our problems getting warm with Indian cities and the incredible noise and stress they spread. With "safe havens" such as our guest house, it appeared more bearable. In Srinagar, we even sat down in a park watching chilren playing cricket for the first time after we strolled the streets of Hazeratbal (a quarter of Srinagar north of lake Dal), where people were preparing for Eid. Here for the first time we could see more people walking than riding a motorbike and more voices than horns.
A very relaxing way to get around the city and see some fishermen neighborhoods and vegetable plantations on the lake is by taking a shikara. These are a bit like the venetian gondles but thank god nobody sings.
We visited the "Pashmina museum" which was recomended at wikitravel - but as somehow expected, we came into the entirely dark show room and a young guy agreed when we asked whether this is the museum. He did not explain anything and spoke no english and just offered us some incredibly expensive shawls. As we were not exactly well prepared for buying pashmina and did not know the prices, we soon left again. We more and more came to the conclusion that the open-source internet principle does not really work out in India.

After climbing the fort in the middle of the city (which is mainly used as a military outlook and you have a very nice view over the city with its lake and mountains) we took a rickshaw to Hazeratbal again to get some deep-fried street food (they fry EVERYthing, we for example also had lotus roots).
Eid is of course celebrated in Kashmir by most families and we even got invitations for the next day. The recommendation to avoid certain cities during mayor islamic holidays in mind, we left the next morning after getting only a few impressions of THE biggest islamic holiday.

Srinaga-Leh highway: "very good road condition"

After being questioned about his favourite Bollywood actor, Michi found three new best friends. Did the homework, "Shahrukh Khan"!

Lining up the British way: Meat for Eid.

The capital of the state "Jammu and Kashmir" is moved from Srinagar to Jammu - which lays 300km to the south - and back twice a year. We needed alomost 10 hours driving for this distance, and the rest of the second day to get to Amritsar. There we watched the border ceremony at exactly the border we did not get to cross.
In the evening hours, we visited the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib), the most prominent sanctuary of the Sikh. Sikhism is the 5th biggest organized religion of the world, with 30 million followers, most of them in Punjab, India. It was founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century and was from that time on attacked by Hindus and Muslims likewise.
During our travels we learned to respect and appreciate the benefits of a religious society, but now in Amritsar for the first time we could witness pure altruism by a whole community. In the Golden Temple they have a kitchen, where random people volunteer to chop onions, wash dishes and serve food for everyone. We also had some food there and left a small donation. All kind of people, rich - poor, dark skin - light skin, men – women – children, everyone was sitting on the ground site by site, getting the same food. We thought this is a rare sight in India and were sure that sikhism might be able to convey some important values to this society. (as a note: the common Sikh last name "Singh" exists for exactly this principle of equality: there is no justification for a cast system, and so are no cast-defining family names).
As we were, once again, the only obvious non-Indians present, we were asked to take some pictures again – we are ALL equal, but some are a little bit more equal!

a soldier (?) at the border




the golden temple Harmandir Sahib

"one  photo please miss"

"one foto please mister - possible one photo?"

volunteers washing dishes for the kitchen

impressive guy washing dishes

"excuse me, can we take a picture with you?"

When we left our shoes at the shoe counter they thanked us by touching our shoes to their forehead. They thank everybody, by the way.

Amritsar still lies in the very north of India and about 2500km away from Goa. As the last 500km took us two whole days of driving we decided to plan our next stops very carefully. We will only look at sights and stop at places near a two-laned highway. Still, these are mainly used by tractors and donkey-/cow-/camel-carts, but depeding on which lane they use we are most of the time able to pass by. This doubles the average speed from 30km/h to 60km/h!

our host for one night, he showed us his roof top terrace and his cow

left: chef de saucier; right: chef de cuisine

caution wide vehicle

caution opposing traffic

a city bypass near Bikaner

grocery store

interested in groceries
one of the road tankers

Another big advantage is the frequency and appearance of the dhabas at the national highways: you are mostly able to choose from different meals, and sometimes even get a menu in English.
Short anecdote: near Bikaner, we started early and at about 10:30am we tried to get a late breakfast. We asked for parathas (or pranthas as they are sometimes called too) at several dhabas (we did not want to have the plain Dal for breakfast). At the third dhaba we were successful: "Yes Sir, we have, come in!" We ordered two tea and two aloo parathas and sat down. After a while two local guys next to us offered us some of their dal. We rejected with thanks and told them that we will get some parathas very soon. Another 10 minutes later the owner of the dhaba came by and asked if we wanted to have some food at all? We again asked for parathas, and now he told us it is "not available". OK, we had some tea after all and relied on the cookies we still had in the car later on. These kind of stories make travelling even more interesting and of course we do not expect everybody to read our minds or serve all our needs. It is just an example that in India, where many people claim to speak English, communication is even more complicated than in regions where people do not speak English at all. "Yes Sir, no problem Sir, ok Sir" is a just too common answer, regardless if the request is to buy two teas or, which of the 2 roads to take to city XY.

Our next stop was Bikaner - one of the three major desert towns in Rajasthan which is sayed not to be as nice as Jaisalmeer, but accordig to our self imposed km-limit we thought it might do. We called Vino, a guy offering desert safaris in Bikaner if we could stay at his desert camp. He was very friendly and generous and we were not only allowed to stay at his camp and use his facilities, he also sent a coworker to show us the way and pick us up at the "camel research center" we were just visiting.
At his camp we spent two wonderful quiet days. The main season was just starting, and besides us there was only a family from the nearby village busy with refinishing the camps plastering and fence.We exchanged some tea, they roasted fresh peanuts for us and we gave some colored pencils to their children.

the camel research institute

buying chicken for our barbeque

Vino's desert camp

camels are "steered" with pins in their nostrils

chef de peanut

Our guidebook said that the pilgrimage site Pushkar is a "highlight" we shouldn't miss and it is near our objected route south, so we went there. But after having a snack amidst bulks of stoned and annoying pseudo hippie tourists and some wandering around trying to aviod aggressive souvenir dealers, we took our leave to Udaipur. Clearly we did not have enough shanti to stay at the highlight any longer.


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