The weather in Jodhpur was sunny and 75 degrees in the daytime, and slightly cool (55 or so) in the evening. Ideal traveling weather.
Stepping off the train from Delhi we went to our hotel for a quick wash then headed to the Mehrangarh Fort. Jodhpur is the second largest city in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It has a lively and bustling market that has flourished since the 1500s. We wandered around the market window shopping and looking at the vegetables, grains and spice for sale. Alison bought a nice shoulder bag that was made locally for like $5 USD (300 Rupees).
Another defining characteristic of this city is the painting of house walls (inside and out) with a blue color paint made of indigo. This color signifies the presence of a Brahmin househoulde, while doubly serving as a natural form of insect repellent. In the pictures below you can see the indigo hued walls scattered throughout the valley.
Mehrangarh Fort is one of the largest in India. This is also where a scene of Batman, The Dark Knight Rises, was filmed. There is a part of the film where Bruce Wayne was trapped in a prison deep in a stone lined hole. He emerged from the hole and Mehrangarh Fort is visible in the background.
Following the fort visit and a walk around town, we enjoyed lunch on the rooftop of the 18th century home of a former noble of the Jodhpur kingdom. I’ve included some shots of the meal, with a view of the fort from the roof.
It was common for ruling Maharajas to grant land and homes to ministers and other “nobels.” During the time of Indian independence from British rule (post WWII), the governing authority of kings was revoked and a democracy was put in place. At this time many rulers lost land and other structures to the government. Some, retained their property but turned their buildings in heritage homes you could stay in or dine in as means to afford government taxes. Some are exquisite 5-star palaces and others are simply ornate upper class homes. Staying and/or dining in these amazing homes is part of the fun of visiting Rajasthan.
Our hotel in Jodhpur was a 20-room heritage room of a former nobel family. The owner used to be a top ranked polo player in the world and it was located just outside the main city center. There was a nice pool (it was freezing cold though) and a pleasant yard where the only noises we heard were the parakeets and the occasional sound of a wedding party band playing in the distance.
From Delhi our tour took us on an overnight train to Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan. The Indian railway system is the largest (in terms of daily passenger load and employment) in the world. The 12 hour trip left Delhi at 9pm. We had third class sleeper tickets, which apparently were the best you could buy, but I would not call it luxury by any means. However, it was reasonably comfortable and adequate.
If you have never gone on an overnight train in India I do recommend getting the experience! People constantly come through the train offering note chai, snacks and food (everything is very cheap). You also get to see some countryside along the way in the evening and morning.
That said, you will be sharing your sleeper car with about 60 others, split into berths of 8. Smells, noises and general encroachments on personal space are bound to happen, however in the five or six overnight trains I’ve taken in my life in India I’ve never felt unsafe. Just be aware of your surroundings and use common sense. I’ve always found my fellow train passengers to be more helpful than anything else, even if they snore, fart and belch all night long (Seriously! This happens every time). It is crucial to bring an eyemask and high quality earplugs along if you want to have any hope of sleeping. I did, and slept like a baby all night.
I also recommend bringing a travel sleep sack (a sheet sewn up on one edge) and a travel pillow along (along with water and your own snacks). While they give out clean sheets, blanket and pillow on the train….I also prefer to use my own if I can for added warmth, comfort (have your ever slept in a silk sleep sack? What luxury!) and cleanliness.
We arrived in Jodhpur in the morning, made our way to our hotel for a quick wash and then ventured our for a walk around the town and a tour of a majestic fort perched on a mountain about the city. More on that stuff in the next post.
We are a few days into a tour of Rajasthan, India with a tour company, G Adventures. I’ve traveled with them twice before (in Peru and in Ecuador/ the Galápagos Islands) with good experiences. They tend to have smaller groups and promote sustainable and affordable tourism through the use of local guides and small hotels that are well situated near popular sights and shopping areas. Their itineraries also allow for plenty of free time to explore on your own.
Rajasthan is in the north western part of India, and borders Pakistan on one side and connects to Delhi on the other. The terrain ranges from desert (camel country!) to more lush river valleys and high mountain areas. It is a land full of forts and palaces, many of which were built during the 1500s-1800s. This is also where a number of Indian handicrafts are produced, such as paintings on silk, ornate furniture, fine silver and gold jewelry and marble products. There are also many temples here, including some remarkable Jain temples built of intricately carved white marble.
We we’re expecting around 15 people in our group, but it turns out we only have 6! This is surprising since this is the peak season for travel to India. We are not complaining! A small group means more flexibility and agility as we move around. The two other couples are both retired but very active and cool to hang out with. One couple is from England and the other is from Switzerland. Both have traveled extensively around the world, but never to India.
While I have been to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra several times, Alison has never been to India before. I’m particularly interested to visit some of the other places in Rajasthan outside Jaipur, particularly Udaipur.
We arrived in Delhi last Thursday from Mumbia via Indigo Air. There are a number of airline choices for inter-India travel. I remember when Indian Airlines was the only the game in town, now this is not the case. The plane was new, super clean, the service was great, the chai was good and plentiful and the snacks (available for purchase) were pretty affordable and appeared decent quality.
Our first three nights in Delhi we stayed with family. We didn’t do much in the way of formal sightseeing, aside from visiting Akshardam (an amazing Swami Narayan temple) and viewing the city by car as we drove here and there to see family, friends and such. You’ll see a photo of Akshardam below that looks totally fake, but it isn’t, the temple really does look that impressive. They don’t allow cameras so I had to photograph the shot they made of us.
We also took part in a surprise birthday party for my cousin. I included some photos of the food being prepared (including roti made in a special tandoor style oven).
On the fourth night we moved to a hotel and joined a tour group for a 15 day jaunt around Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra. Our first day of the tour we went to the Great Mosque (Jammu Masijd, made by Shah Jahan, the same person who constructed the Taj Mahal), The Gurudwara Sikh Temple (the one where Guru Nanak’s head was supposed to have fallen), Humayun’s Tomb and the Qutb Minar. At the Sikh Temple we got to see the kitchen where they prepare massive portions of food that is offered freely to devotees (anyone is welcome). Some pics included below.
Due to preparations for the Independence Day celebrations we were not able to get close to the India Gate or government buildings. Many of the museums were also closed (it was a Monday, many shops and tourist spots close on Mondays) so we will catch those sights when we return to Delhi in a few weeks.
Out of the things we saw in Delhi, Akshardam Temple and Qutb Minar were the most remarkable.
We are currently three days into the tour. More info about that in another post.
Delhi is very different from Mumbia.
* The weather is much colder in the winter. It was 45 degrees our second day there, the coldest day of the year so far. I was cold despite wearing a thin down jacket and wool sweater. Contrast this to 90+ temps in Mumbai.
* There is more stuff to see, in my opinion, with large ancient monuments, governmental buildings and landmarks, museums, etc.
* The shopping is great, as there is a wider array of Indian handicrafts and things to buy (most of which is from Rajasthan).
* Things are more spread out, and the traffic, while still terrible, isn’t quite as bad as Mumbai.
* There is a metro system that is on par with the London or Paris metros (and surprisingly clean). It’s pretty easy to get around using the Metro.
* There are waterbuffalos, and they are apt to cross the street whenever they choose (perhaps they are in Mumbai somewhere, but I didn’t see them!).
* Puppies!!! There are street dogs everywhere in India, but we saw many more puppies in Delhi, particularly around the monument areas. I think this was more due to the weather and the presence of grass and open space than anything else I’ll be including gratuitous photos of puppies on the blog whenever possible.
Below some shots of Delhi and a variety of sights as mentioned above (the first one is my cousin’s dog “Choco”):
We are now in Delhi, following a relaxing week in Mumbai. “Relaxing” and “Mumbai” may seem like incompatible words, with the incredible hustle and bustle the city is known for, but as we were staying with family our experience was surely very different than the typical tourist.
Being winter, the weather was cool by Mumbai standards, though I would consider it warm and pleasant in the morning and evenings and hot in the afternoon. We saw highs of 90+ degrees in the daytime and lows in the 60s late in the night. Humidity was sky high. On the plus side, even in the afternoon heat there was often a breeze flowing in from the sea. As long as we weren’t stuck motionless in gridlock traffic, the weather was pleasant overall.
Our time in Mumbai was spent visiting with family, eating a lot of great vegetarian food, driving around, people watching, stumbling onto the set of a Bollywood film and relaxing. We also toured around the city, seeing a few of the classic sights, like the Gateway of India and Taj Palace, and window shopping in side streets (where windows don’t exist!). We visited several modern stores and a mall that felt straight out of Bellevue, WA, USA. Anything in the world can be found here if you really want it.
Unlike many other Indian cities, Mumbai doesn’t have epic forts, ornate palaces or immense temples. I’m saying this in comparison to the ancient cities of Rajasthan or temples of Tamil Nadu for example. Mumbai is better known as a commercial and shopping hub. It has a variety of residential districts, each with distinct housing and shops. It also has miles of beaches (unfortunately most are severely polluted) and is home to a wide variety of people, cultures and religions. It is a people watching paradise.
The food here is of course AMAZING. It is heaven for a vegetarian. The default menu for restaurants is vegetarian and even non vegetarian places have enough veggie stuff to choose from. The fruits are also awesome. Bananas taste much better (sweeter and better texture). Mangoes, papaya, star fruit, guava, pomegranate, and sapote (“chiccu”) are readily available and ripe. A gastronomical highlight was a visit to the “Status” (that was its name) restaurant in downtown Mumbai for a Gujarati thali with over 15 items, served all-you-can-eat directly to your table (it cost less than $6 USD/350 Rupees).
We are now over our jet lag and enjoying Delhi a lot. The weather is much cooler (Alison and I both wore our lightweight down jackets today). In a few days we join a group for a two week tour of Rajasthan and Agra.
I LOVE Nordic Skiing. And I’m not talking about putting on classic skis and taking a little shuffle through the forest with a backpack full of hot chocolate and scones. Although that sort of skiing is perhaps a fun outing, when I mean nordic skiing I’m talking about hard hill climbs, fast twisty descents, pounding heart, strong breathing, lactic acid, and did I mention going fast? If you’ve not experienced that sort of skiing watch the Olympics next year and you will see what I mean. Nordic skiers are tough and have some of the highest VO2 max’s recorded.
I don’t consider myself “fast” these days in a racing or competitive sense by any means, but I still like to go as fast as my body will let me with only sporadic access to the sport. In many ways my brain likes to fool me into thinking I’m in much better skiing shape than I am and I start out too fast only to max out my heart rate and have to back off. There is a synapse that fires as soon as I get on the snow that tells my body “GO!” as if I am back in the high school days of skiing everyday and racing every week. Of which, I am not! Silly brain. I am, however, still rockin’ my late 90’s gear that you see at second-hand stores for next to nothing prices, but it still works just fine (in case you were wondering I have updated my clothing). Being on the trails is the place where my head clears, my worries fade, and I feel full of vitality. Cheesy sounding perhaps, but that is truly the most honest way to describe the feeling. I think Ravi heard me say “I love this” one too many times today.
Gliding through mountain trails never gets boring, the scenery is usually stunning, and dinner tastes amazing after a good ski not to mention the snacks along the way. I happened to have a piece of leftover apple strudel shoved in my waist pack today just in case and it was the most amazing tasting apple strudel I’ve ever had. “The most amazing INSERT FOOD ITEM HERE” is a common occurence either while skiing or shortly thereafter. A couple weeks ago while at Mt. Bachelor I imbibed “the most amazing Gatorade” while taking a short break between skiis. Endurance sports and in particular nordic skiing often brings out a good case of “the most amazings.” Which is not a bad problem to have. Pretty sure when I was training for Ironman a couple years I ate “the most amazing” tortilla chips, chocolate milk, shotblocks, etc. After one particularly long ride and run, on which I had not ingested enough calories, I kept running (I was doing laps on my friend’s street) past this mail box with a ginormous purple tin of Cadbury cookies and chocolate hanging off of it for the postman to pick up for the USPS food drive. Needless to say I had the most amazing cookies and chocolate after that training session. You get the picture. But I digress, back to skiing-I love drinking the almost freezing water that cools in my bottle as I ski, the way the skis are light under my feet and glide, the rhythm of the technique, narrow winding trails, cold air on my face, being warm when it is cold, the contrast of snow to trees and rocks, the time to reflect, the quiet, pretty much everything about it. I could go on but I won’t bore you with my details.
We had great conditions today at Sovereign Lake Nordic Center just outside of Vernon, B.C. I only wished I lived closer to dry snow and a big trail system like this gem. Puget Sound is an awesome place to live for access to outdoor activities, but the Nordic skiing close to our house is usually wet, the sky is usually gray, and the snow is more often than not similar to a slurpee at 7-11. I still love skiing off the I-90 cooridor but it is refreshing to come back to the car wet only from my sweat, not soaked from the outside rain. Some pics from today. We have a few more days skiing to come!
We are now in Coldstream just south of Vernon for a full week of snowboarding (Alison skis) and nordic skiing. Washington ski resorts have not had good luck in December, with low snowfall. Even the Methow Valley, a world-class area for nordic skiing, has had little snow and a ski camp Alison was hoping to attend before Christmas was cancelled. We wanted to ensure good snow conditions, and opted to head north. Vernon was an easy 7 hour drive, including rest stops and a short lunch break.
Most people opt to head to Whistler for a ski holiday, we wanted to try a different spot. Silver Star is adjacent to Sovereign Lakes, which is considered North America’s largest (and they claim “Best”, but who really knows…) nordic skiing center. There are over 100km of groomed trails across both locations in the Okanogan Valley, an area known for peach orchards and wine during the summer. The dry/light snow is very different from the heavier coastal snow that is common at Whistler or in Washington. The snow conditions are just a bit heavier than Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor in my opinion.
Our lodging is a cute little AirBNB in a small town called Coldstream about 2km from Vernon, which is about 25km (30 minutes drive) from the ski resort. We have three private rooms in a house, with a private entrance, hot tub, sitting area and two bedrooms. The view from the bedroom is remarkable. All this for less than the price of a cheap motel. Oh yeah, the dogs are here too. We prefer to stay in AirBNB’s if they are available. They tend to be good price/value, well located and much more convenient to stay in when traveling with dogs.
So far we have snowboarded/skied three days. Silver Star has a lot of terrain, and 10cm of fresh snow the day before we arrived made for great conditions. It snowed again 8cm just before our second day on the mountain which meant two great days of powder/lightly packed powder. Our third day – Christmas Day – still had great snow conditions, albeit more firmly packed. It really takes about three days to explore all the terrain, even with short wait times for the lifts. Many of the runs are super long – with the longest being 5km (it’s a long and winding cat-track, boring and not good on a snowboard) and many long enough that I had to take a break part-way down to let the lactic acid clear from my legs. After 8-10 runs we were pretty much done for the day.
If you are used to skiing at Snoqualmie Summit or even Steven’s Pass or Crystal, this is a huge step up in my opinion.
The backside of the mountain is more extreme, we checked it out but opted to stay to the intermediate runs on the front of the mountain, where the sun was shining. There are a few blue runs on the back, but is mostly black and double-back diamond, and is shaded during the midday.
There is also a cool village atmosphere at the base of the ski lifts. If you visit, which I highly recommend, there are several hotels with ski in/out access. If we didn’t come up here during the peak holiday season, with high rates and everything sold out, we would have done that a few nights. Another benefit of Silver Star is the lift lines. Only one lift, Comet Express, had any lines and it moved along pretty quickly. I was expecting some big crowds for the Christmas holiday but it really wasn’t bad.
Today we are heading up to Sovereign Lakes for nordic skiing. I anticipate to last about an hour and a half before retiring to lodge and a warm drink, Alison will surely be gone all day!
That is the number of hours I will have spent at home, or rather around Kirkland, since Ravi picked me up after my last day of work and until we return from Canada next Sunday! I’d say for my first month of being unemployed and planning to travel we’ve done pretty well. About 36 hours after walking through the door from our road trip, I hopped on a plane and spent a week in Mesa, AZ escaping to some sun but more importantly visiting my Grandma.
Leaving my job was a tough decision on many levels and as you can imagine I had my moments of questioning my decision. Surprisingly my friends and family really didn’t question my decision (well at least directly to me) and were very supportive of my husband and I taking off for a year to explore and see where we end up! There will always be work, there won’t always be this time.
Endings are difficult for most and marking them is important to me. Marking an ending doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but acknowledging the change is important for me. I admit that some endings I’d prefer to just ignore or pretend don’t matter but I’ve not found that to work out so well in the past. With my clients we exchanged stories of remembering our time and work together and perhaps a small symbolic token that captured part of the therapeutic relationship we created. Whether a story or an object the point is to be intentional and thoughtful about the way we end something, more than a status update or tweet.
So my ending was pretty simple. finishing up that last email turning in my keys, one last stop at the lunch spot near my office and meeting Ravi in our Subaru loaded to the max with camping gear, skis, and our dogs. No trip as usual back home that last day of work, but rather onto the next adventure. It really did feel surreal and freeing to get on the road. It was a goodbye and hello all marked with the blue Subaru, my husband, and two happy dogs ready to go.
It’s been two weeks on the road. Starting from Seattle and heading to the Bay Area (via an overnight in Portland), Marin County, Napa/Sonoma Valley and then on to Yosemite, Bend, Portland (again – we are currently here) before returning to Seattle tomorrow.
We’ve driven over 2600 miles in the past two weeks!
After staying in Milpitas, CA for a few days, we checked out the Marin headlands before heading to Sonoma/Napa wine country.
Our first full day in Sonoma we rented bikes and visited several wineries. It was a ton of fun, even if some of the roads were way too busy (despite it being the offseason). It is never fun to ride a bike with big trucks flying by. We followed a well documented and recommended route for cyclists touring wineries, but it wasn’t great. Next time, we will do more research to find less traveled roads.
After two nights in Sonoma we packed up our campsite at Sugarloaf State Park and headed southwest to Yosemite for more camping. The drive was fairly quick, but the temperatures were much lower than we thought, with snow on the ground throughout the campgrounds and night temperatures dipping into the teens with windchill below zero.
Instead of camping we opted to stay in a motel in Mariposa, just outside the west entrance to the park. We spent a full day exploring the park, checking out a few vistas of the Yosemite Valley, and did a short run to a nice sub-alpine lake area with the dogs. Visiting the park in the winter is nice, especially midweek. There was hardly anyone there, and the snow gave it a unique feel and made for some great photos.
After staying a second night at our motel we opted to continue our journey and head to Tahoe for skiing/boarding. Dogs are not allowed on many of the trails in Yosemite and regardless the good ones were closed for the season (as was Tioga Pass Rd. heading through the park). We had exhausted the number of things we could do just driving around the park. We plan to come back for a longer stay during the summer.
Before leaving for Tahoe, we checked the weather and a winter storm warning was in effect for the following evening. Tahoe also didn’t have great snow conditions, so we scrapped those plans and decided to make the 8 hour drive to Bend, OR – for alpine skiing/boarding and nordic skiing at Mt. Bachelor. Alison used to live there (she spent a season mushing dogs) and has a not-so-secret plan to convince me to move there 🙂 .
Things were great until we got to Mt. Shasta on I-5….the winter storm warning was legit, and we hit heavy snowfall. The trusty Subaru Outback pushed on well, but we were going at most 35 MPH in a 65 MPH speed limit area. With 3-4 gnarly snow infested hours to go on a twisty and windy Rt. 97 to Bend, we pulled off the road and found a motel for the night. The next morning we finished the drive to Bend, OR and checked into our AirBNB.
The storm left some great snow on Mt. Bachelor, even though only 30% of the trails were open. Snow there is super light and fluffy compared to the Washington Cascades or Whistler. I snowboarded and Alison skied for two days, with our friend Cassie joining for the second day. On the third day we nordic skied. Today, enjoyed a day of relaxation while Alison did more nordic and Cassie hiked up and then skied down a small mountain near Mt. Bachelor.
Tonight we made our way to Portland and are staying overnight. Tomorrow we go back to Seattle to prep for the next adventure, whatever that ends up being. The best thing about the past two weeks is that we figured things out as we went along. There was a loose plan but things changed based on the weather (where is the snow good?) or how we felt (do we ski again or just hang out?). We are looking forward to more trips like this.
Alison wrapped up her last day of work for the near future last Wednesday and we embarked a few hours later on our great adventure. I’m currently on Sabbatical and have been biding my time until Alison was done.
The first stop was Milpitas, CA to visit my brother, sister-in-law, nephew and parents who were also there. We packed up a TON of gear (XC skis, my snowboard and camping gear) along with the dogs (they get the royal treatment, taking up the entire back of Alison’s Suburu Outback!) and drove to the Bay Area on Thanksgiving day.
We stayed in Milpitas for 4 days, visiting San Francisco and enjoying the ever present sunshine that the eastern part of SanFran Bay is known for.
We are currently in wine country, and have picked Sugarloaf State Park (just north of Sonoma, CA) as our home base for two nights. On the way we visited the Marin Headlands and did some hiking on the few trails where they allow dogs (off-leash!).
Some might consider camping to be “roughing it” but we have a massive 6-person tent that fits 2 humans and 2 dogs with plenty of room to spare. Our air mattresses are plush and we hardly notice the hard ground beneath us.
Today we did a 16 mile bike ride around the Napa wine country and tomorrow we head off to Yosemite and eventually will continue to Lake Tahoe for some skiing and then to Bend, Oregon for even more skiing.