A Travellerspoint blog

Incredible India

Northern India

sunny 25 °C

India has been a kaleidoscope of sensory input – sights, sounds, colours, tastes, textures – that have kept us in a state of surreal existence. We were very glad to have had 6 days in relatively subtle Hong Kong to transition before landing here. On our first day in Delhi, we saw extremes of every stereotype… from elephants, monkeys and cows walking the streets of the city, to crowded, narrow lanes in the bazaar of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, to ancient tombs and ornate temples representing Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Christian, Jewish religions, to people of extreme wealth and abject poverty, to the contrast between modern architecture and cell phones everywhere to people harvesting sugarcane by hand and transporting it on ox-drawn wooden bullock carts. We were bombarded by the sounds of horns, vehicles, people talking, animals, birds… the scent of exotic spices, incense, animals, exhaust and the ever-present undertone of smoky charcoal…

We moved on by train to Haridwar, one of the most holy cities in India for Hindus, situated north of Delhi on the Ganges River. Here we wandered through the crowded markets and strolled along the Ganges, watching life on the ghats (steps down to the river). Life in India is very much lived in the streets, which pulse with energy. We have drawn much attention and constant stares as we have seen few Westerners, but the stares have been transformed to wide smiles in response to our greetings of hello or Namaste. People have been very friendly, and we are often asked to allow our photo to be taken. We have begun to indulge in the street food (cautiously – we are remaining strictly vegetarian) and have been pleasantly surprised by how incredibly cheap (and delicious) it is…

After 2 days in Haridwar, we headed on to Rishikesh, further north and just into the foothills of the Himalayas. Much growth and development has taken place since Lee-Ann was here 3 years ago… the popularity of yoga in the west is apparent as the development is all based around yoga-focused resorts and ashrams for Westerners. Rishikesh has a much more laid back vibe than Haridwar – at least the area of town along the Ganges River. We have been staying at a resort on the outskirts of town with a stunning view of the mountains, and have taken advantage of its tranquility before we head west towards Rajasthan.

Already we have more memories, images and stories than we can begin to share in this blog… the beautiful and moving aarti ceremony at sunset on the Ganges; the monkey attacking Lee-Ann to try to steal her puja bag on the climb to a hilltop temple; a horse lying dead on street while life goes on uninterrupted around it; the sadhu living in a tiny cave on the side of the road; the huge smiles on the faces of the children, lepers begging as beautiful city women from Mumbai stroll by in their wildly colourful saris… However, those who know our tendency to excessive photography when travelling will be very proud of us as we have been very selective with the photos we have taken and kept. We will find a way to share these photos eventually without subjecting anyone to a marathon slideshow…

Posted by Baxters 08:10 Tagged india Comments (2)

The Seductress

sunny 18 °C

Waiting in the late night taxi queue – excited yet somewhat punchy after our 15+ hour travel day - we struck up a conversation with a fellow traveller. After the briefest of chats, our new friend hopped into a cab while issuing a warning: “Be careful – Hong Kong has a way of seducing you”. Wise words from someone who came to HK 37 years ago and never left.

To say we were in awe of Hong Kong is an understatement. What can never truly be understood without visiting HK is its sheer scale... it is massive. Everyone has at one time or another seen photos of its famous waterfront, with immense skyscrapers towering over Victoria Harbour. That is but a drop in the bucket of the type of density that actually exists throughout Hong Kong Island and across the harbour into Kowloon. Yet this enormity works. At its busiest, we never found the streets more crowded than a Saturday afternoon on Robson St. in Vancouver. This is even more astounding when you consider the amount of business – of life - that takes place right on the street. In the shadows of the soaring towers of the financial district, on the main streets and tucked into the alleys, every aspect of life is being lived with boundless energy. We explored the street markets of Kowloon, watching business being conducted for every conceivable good and service imaginable; flowers, birds, fish, clothing, fruits, foot massages, vegetables, meat, jewellery, electronics, pets, toys, food…oh, yes…the food. In a word, simply delicious (okay, two words). For $10 (including ice-cold Tsing Tau beer), we were happily stuffed.

The cost of things was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. Yes – the tales of freakishly expensive real estate are true. And there is no shortage of opportunity to spend as much cash as you can produce; designer labels, Italian sports cars, yachts and posh restaurants abound But Hong Kong is a very affordable place to visit (in fact more than one “local”, when learning where we were from, commented how expensive Vancouver is in comparison). Our hotel room was twice as big at half the cost of London. Food of all ethnic varieties comes in at a multitude of price points. Beer is about a buck each at the 7-11. And transportation – not only is it cheap, Hong Kong has it down to an art.

We went anywhere and everywhere on Hong Kong’s integrated transit network. Subways, streetcars, buses and ferries will get you anywhere using the Octopus card (a preloaded debit card that not only works for transit, but at many stores as well – including buying beer at 7-11!). On a couple of days, we took full advantage of the region’s transit system as we jettisoned the city for the ex-pat community of Stanley and beach village of Shek O. In less than 25 minutes, the double decker buses wound us up and over the lush green mountains and deposited us on some pretty spectacular beaches (one of which came with a great selection of British pubs right on the ocean). On yet another occasion, we jumped on the ferry to visit one of the many neighbouring islands, Lantau.

Lantau is the perfect example of the extreme contrasts that live and thrive side by side in Hong Kong. We arrived in Lantau by high-speed catamaran ferry. Once on Lantau, we hopped on a bus and headed up into the mountains to visit the Tian Tan Buddha and mountain top monastery, enjoying a quiet walk through the grounds, a climb up the 200 steps to pay our respects to the Big Guy and a simple yet delicious vegetarian lunch. Leaving the grounds, we did a quick round of the tourist village (complete with a Starbucks – yes we indulged, and yes Warren says that it tastes burnt on this side of the world too). Departing the mountains, we took a bus to the fishing village of Tai O – a short 15 minutes to a very different world. In Tai O, despite visits from tourists like us, life continues in a very simple manner with people making their living from the sea. Much of the village is built on stilts over a small inlet. People live in homes constructed of metal-clad boxes, many not more than 300 square feet, washing dishes outside on the street from a tap as they have no running water inside. And the term street is used liberally, as the few streets never exceed more than 6’ – 7’ in width; perfect for a village where the only form of ground transportation is bicycle. Most important though is we again witnessed and felt the energy that vibrates throughout Hong Kong, comfortably embracing all avenues of life.

We took the opportunity to sample a bit of the social scene as well - we are the Baxters after all! We spent a rousing good night making the happy hour rounds in Soho, an area just outside of the financial district (and part way up what has to be the world’s longest elevated walkway/escalator). We also had a pint or two in some of the less touristy areas (the bar girl scene is alive and kicking in HK, overseen by some rather scary looking madams). But regardless of where we went, people were friendly, it was amazingly clean and we felt safe and welcome.

Hong Kong has proven to be the perfect starting point for our adventures. And it’s certainly set the bar high. While we were excited about visiting HK, with some pretty mac-daddy cities under our belt such as Paris, New York and London, we did not expect to be captivated the way we were. We understand now why our globe-trotting daughter places it among her best of the best. As we write this, somewhere over Laos on our way to New Delhi, with months of travel ahead of us, we’re feeling quite sad to leave Hong Kong behind. While we were only there a week, we saw and experienced and lived so much in those few days that we fell in love with Hong Kong.

Somewhere out there behind us in the dark is an ex-pat of 37 years saying “Hey…I warned you”.
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Posted by Baxters 18:23 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged hong kong Comments (1)

…GO!

It feels as if we’ve been living in parallel universes over the past two months: one that has moved at a snail’s pace as the days inched towards our departure date; and the other, far more scary universe that has moved so fast we didn’t know if we’d get everything ready in time. We prepped, planned, programmed, purchased, but the list never seemed to get any shorter…until finally, this morning, we checked off the last thing on our never-ending list. Which is rather good timing because we’re on our way. Now.

As soon as this is posted, we’re out the door – on our way to Hong Kong and beyond.
To our family and friends - thank you again for the tremendous support as we set off on this adventure. We couldn’t have done it without you.

See you from the flip side,
Warren & Lee-Ann
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Posted by Baxters 08:14 Comments (2)

Stuff: Less is More

As we’ve been preparing for our upcoming adventure (one week to go) and making the goodbye rounds, one of the questions everyone asks is how much “stuff” are we taking?’ The short answer is as little as possible. All in all, we’ve done a great job paring down our packing list – and we expect to remove a few more things before we leave. However, going through the packing exercise has in itself been quite eye opening for a couple of reasons…

The first is the realization of how little we actually need. When we look at what we’re taking to keep ourselves clothed, connected, healthy and comfortable for a year, it’s really not much. And it could be less but we refuse to give up some of the electronic gadgets that bring both ease of connectivity (i.e. netbook) and creature comforts (i.e. iPods). With our current loads, we’ll be heading out with approximately 55lbs split between our two packs. While this isn’t much, we are very aware that in many of the places we are intending to visit, the load on our backs will far exceed the assets of entire families, which makes our second reason a little humbling.

We are leaving a lot of stuff behind. It might sound like a silly statement, but it is actually a little surprising to stand back and look at all the stuff we won’t need for the next year. This caught us a little off guard. You see, for quite some time, our focus has been to reduce the amount of stuff we have based on our desire to adhere to the simple, if not clichéd, premise that “less is more”. There was a time not that long ago when we owned two homes full of stuff. Today, we have one home… half the size of our last home, with half the stuff (we’re making progress). Several sailing trips over the past few years have taught us to be quite comfortable with a very limited amount of stuff in a very small space. But looking at what we truly need for a year brings our awareness to a whole new level… which we are now fully embracing because it fulfills – at least for the immediate travel future –our goal of “less is more”.

By the way, our personal definition of “more” is “freedom”.

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Posted by Baxters 17:22 Comments (1)

Timing Isn’t Everything….

When we posted out first (and only) blog entry a week ago, it was with the intention that we’d be done until mid-January when our departure date was upon us. A big part of that thinking was we wouldn’t have time. Well… time is an ever-present factor in our lives at the moment – looming over us as we attempt to get ready for Christmas while checking off the seemingly never-ending list of items required to get ready for our trip. It’s not only the number of items, it’s that so many take longer to complete than we originally imagined. For example:

With our current plans in hand, we made our requisite visit to the travel clinic to get pumped full of whatever vaccines we need to stay (reasonably) healthy. What we hadn’t planned for was several of them required a series of shots, necessitating 3 separate trips to the clinic for Lee-Ann and 4 for Warren (which is funny in a twisted sort of way as the guy absolutely loathes needles).

Or…

Finding a pack for Lee-Ann. Warren was not a problem – 2nd store we hit, first pack he tried - sold. Since Lee-Ann herself is “travel-sized”, we knew we would have to put a bit more time into finding the right pack. What we didn’t know was that the pack industry had decided that for someone of Lee-Ann’s size, there were two choices: something so ridiculously small, it would only be of use for an afternoon picnic; or so big, Lee-Ann herself would fit inside it.

However, we continue to make good headway and will be ready for both Christmas and our departure on January 20th. Most important though, is that as we have been working through all this craziness, we have been overwhelmed by the encouragement we have received. And that is the true purpose of this posting today. We want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of our family, friends and colleagues who have shared their enthusiasm for our adventure. As we prepare to step out and see the world, your support means the world to us.

Thank you so very, very much!!

Happy Holidays,
Warren & Lee-Ann

Posted by Baxters 13:40 Comments (1)

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