A Travellerspoint blog

On top of the world in Nepal

We were on our flight from Dehli to Kathmandu when Ger nudged me to look out the window of the plane. I looked and said 'what its just clouds?'. On a second glance I could see what he was taking about. Peering up above the clouds we could see snow capped mountains of the Himalayas. What a sight! While I will never be a mountaineer, I can totally understand why people climb everest. It must be so amazing to be standing on top of the world.

We stayed in Kathmandu for a few days before beginning our 1st trek in the Annapurna range. We didnt get a chance yet to do some sightseeing in Kathmandu but we will on our return. I am prepared to give Kathmandu another chance but the first time around I wasnt overly impressed by it for one simple reason -the air pollution. I suppose im a bit sensitive to it giving the recent bout of chest problems. Apart from that, its a lively spot with good some good bars/restaurants. There are also millions of trekking shops selling fake trekking brands, Northface, Mammut etc. It is hilarious as the 'fakes' are so like the original that it can be very hard to tell but the shops dont lie about it so you know what your getting (its obvious from the price anyway). The quality varies though from shop to shop. Even though we had most of our stuff for trekking, we still had to do a bit of shopping which after 3 months of hardly no shopping, i was super excited!!!! The reality was that there was so much choice in gear that shopping actually became a bit of a headache. In the end we got all our stuff in a well known shop 'Shonas'. We did get some fake stuff and so far they seem good enough quality so happy with that.

From Kathmandu we met our trekking company and made arrangements for our trip to pokhara to begin the trek. Our guide was called Chandra and our porter was Diprecht. They were very nice and professional and we knew we had chose our trekking company (Jagat Lama) well. Chandra went over our itinerary of the Poon Hill trek and we headed for Pokhara. We ended up getting a flight to pokhara which was interesting. It was a small plane and it was recommended to us to sit on the right hand side so we could get the views. The trip is only 30mins and the recommendation was correct, there were stunning views out the window of the various Himalayan ranges.

The trek itself was amazing but tough going. The trek we done was in the annapurna range called the Poon Hill trek but we did extend it into Annapurna sanctuary too.. Its a very popular area as the scenery is very varied and then of course you reach parts where you get stunning views over the himalayas. The top of poon hill is approx (3200m) .and it is one of the best places for viewing the different ranges. The scenery was just spectacular and it was a sight I'll remember for the rest of my days.

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A bit like the mountains, the trek itself had a few up and downs. The main one being that after the first day, i got sick with dehydration. It was unfortunate but these things happen and I recovered fully by the end of the trek. It just meant that we had to rest for complete day, drink a lot of electrolyte fluid and then after take it slowly until i regained strength. Ger was a brilliant nurse though so i was back to normal in no time. Apart from that minor set back, all went well. The trek itself was physically tough but we were both fit enough so we were able for it. Every day we probably trekked the equivalent of up and down carrauntoohil (sometimes more, sometimes less). We had the option of trekking to annapurna base camp (4100m) but we decided against it for two reasons. The first was after the dehydration, i was a bit nervous to put the body under more strain. The second reason is that I struggled a bit with the heights so heading further up wouldn't have been a good idea. While i loved the trek, we can now confirm that i have a slight fear of heights and that i will be be sticking to lower heights from now on. Unfortunately for Ger it means that we wont be able to do another high altitude trek on this trip. I felt really bad as I knew he was really looking forward to it but we both realised that I would not be a suitable partner for the higher altitudes. The guide also agreed with us. Hopefully he can come back someday and do Manaslu with some other people. We are both delighted that we got to see what we did so neither of us are too disappointed.

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Now were are back in pokhara and its the perfect spot for relaxing. We have already changed our flights back to Kathmandu as we dont want to leave here. We were staying on one side of pokhara which wasn't that interesting and very touristy but we moved across town and its a lot better. There are lots of really great cafes/restaurants where you can sit out and watch the paragliders fly around. The weather here is fab too, not too hot but still in mid twenties. The great thing about Pokhara is that while at the moment its full of tourists & backpackers, there are lots of cool things to do. They have endless companies organising paragliding/rafting/kayaking etc. They also have yoga classes so we are attending them. (i am trying to pick up as many tips as I can from different teachers and get the flexibilty up). I think in the coming weeks we hope to do a short 'low altitude' village trek and some rafting but at the moment we are feeling rather lazy so we will see how that plan goes!!

Dodging Mosquito Status: They too seem to prefer the lower altitudes and are lurking about pokhara. I have spotted and been attacked by some but thankfully they are not as plentiful as India. Perhaps there is just more choice here as its full of unsuspecting trekkers.

Posted by ofenelon 18:47 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

Cochin and Summary of India

We finished off our days in Cochin which is a very big town in Kerala. It is divided up into an old and new town. The new town is just a very busy Indian town but the old town is very pretty and its where most of the tourists stay. The main reason is that is very picturesque, its very relaxing and has lots of good restaurants etc. It was touristy but we didnt mind that and we just relaxed in a lovely homestay, done a bit sightseeing and as usual, we ate. There was one restaurant in particular that i had the one of the best meals of my life in. I went back a second time and ordered the same thing and this time i couldn't resist but tell the waiter how it was one of the best meals of my life!!! (both ger and the waiter were very amused at my excitement). We also went to see some of Keralas famous traditional dance Kathakali which was very interesting. Kathakali performers train for 9 years in the different aspects of this tradition such as the dancing, acting, drumming, make- up. While it was a little difficult to understand, it was fascinating none the less. After a few lovely days in Cochin we said a fond farewell to Kerala and headed for Kathmandu, Nepal.

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India Summary

India is so big and each state varies so much from one another so this is a summary about Kerala, India as we weren't in any other states (except Mumbai for 2 days). Before I started the yoga course, a past pupil advised me to approach the course with an open mind and you will love it. I think this the advice I would give to people about Kerala. It was a wonderful introduction to India.


Food

As you probably have guessed from the blog entries, we enjoyed the food. The local food is mostly vegetarian although there are meat/fish dishes too. We ate mostly vegetarian though as it was so good. Most of the food we ate was in the local restaurants and it was very cheap. At the beginning we didnt know what we were ordering but I would highly recommend this method. I use to just randomly ordered veg dishes and not once was I disappointed. After a few weeks, I came to know what the dishes were. The most popular dish is the kerala meal which consists of rice and about 6 different sauces, chutneys, veg. Its served a lot a lunch times and we use to get it every day at yoga for lunch. Once thing to note about the local restaurants is that people eat with their hand so its something to get use to.

Transport

In the towns, the traffic is crazy and people beep all the time so for the first two weeks, I was nervous even walking around but I soon got use to the mayhem although i would never attempt to drive or cycle in a town in India i think. We use to get rickshaws around which were great and cheap. For longer journeys we used the public bus mostly. Ger used some trains also. The public bus looks kind of run down from outside but its actually fine on the inside and most of them are comfortable enough. They also dont have windows (just plastic shutters to pull down if it rains) but its great because it never gets too hot as a result. The public buses are really cheap too and always leave on time. On long journeys, they stop so you an use the bathroom, stock up on food etc. They aren't luxurious but everyone uses them and I was a big fan of them after a few journeys.

Accommodation

There are lots of options but we stayed in homestays mostly with the odd exception. Homestays are like B&B's and sometimes they quite large so are like a mini-hotel/guesthouse. Generally they are very reasonably priced and you can check the rooms on arrival.
All of the ones we stayed in were great, some were realy nice and they were about 12 euro per night including breakfast but you can get much cheaper. Here is a list of the ones we stayed in.

Kollam: Astamudi Villas (http://shtamudivillas.com/index.html)

Kumily:http: Greenview homestay www.sureshgreenview.com/

Munnar: Greenviewholiday inn http://greenviewmunnar.com/

Munnar:Kaivalym Retreat http://www.kaivalyamretreat.com/

Cochin: Heavenly Homestay http://www.homestayfortcochin.com/

Weather

Kerala was very hot and humid in most places but if you want a break from the heat then head for the hills of Munnar. It's a lot colder. The heat for us was pretty bad by the time we were leaving. but its manageable once you avoid activities mid day. If anyone wants advice on the best suncreams, message me as i think we are the best endorsement of the creams - we are still pale!!!!

Dodging Mosquito Status: Not too bad here in Nepal, i dont think they are great mountain climbers!!!! although i see a few lurking in the lowlands.

Posted by ofenelon 18:04 Archived in India Comments (0)

A few recipes from Kerala, India

yum yum

Hi all,

Here are just some recipes from our lessons in India. I havent tried these again yet so let me know if it works out. I think it will. You can try use sunflower oil if cant get coconut oil but should be able to get all in indian shop. The egg and bean curry are very easy to make, very healthy and good for you. I have put up the parotta recipe too. Its a bread and very simple to make but technically its a little harder to explain so send me a message if you have any hassle. Here is a you tube link to making parotta where they use a rolling pin so it might be a little easier to follow. Kerala parotta... happy cooking :)

Bean Curry

Ingredients

3tbsp Coconut oil -
1 tbsp Mustard seeds -
Curry Leaves - handful
Green Beans (500g) finely chopped
1 small onion finely chopped
2 tsps salt
50ml water
Grated Coconut (1 full fresh)
1 green chilli
1 clove garlic
1 tspTumeric
1 tsp cumin

Method
1. Heat coconut oil
2. Add mustard seeds to hot oil until they dance
3. Add in curry leaves
4. Add in beans, onion, salt and water and simmer for 15-20min
5. Crush the coconut, chilli, garlic, tumeric and cumin into a paste (blender) and stir into bean mix. 6. Ready to eat.

Variation: Can be repeated with any chopped veg. Could use carrots, cabbage, beetroot or beans. Can use shallot instead of onion. If using beetroot dont use tumeric in the paste.

Egg Curry
Ingredients

3 spoons coconut oil
1 tsp Mustard seeds
Curry leaves handful
Garlic and ginger paste
1 small onion chopped
1 tomato chopped
1 tsp salt
coriander (handful)
1 tsp turmeric
3 tsp masala spices [cardomom, black pepper, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise] can get this pre-mixed in indian shop.
chilli powder 1 tsp
5 hard-boiled eggs
200mls of coconut milk

Hard boil the eggs in advance.

1. Heat coconut oil
2. Add mustard seeds to hot oil until they dance
3. Add in curry leaves, garlic and ginger paste, onions and stir.
4. Add in coriander and tomatoe and stir-fry until everything is a soft paste
5. Add turmeric, masala spices, chilli powder and salt along with 200ml water. Leave to simmer.
6. Add coconut milk to mix, chop boiled eggs in half and add.

Kerala Parotta Very common bread served with meals.

Ingredients

1kg white flour
300ml water
1tsp sugar
1tsp salt
Sunflower oil

Method
1. Mix water, salt and sugar.
2. Sieve the flour, make hole in the middle to add water mixture
3. Gradually add water mixture to the flour
4. Once added, knead the mixture well to form a dough. Knead for about 10 min.
5. Add a little sunflower oil to the dough and divide into small balls (can use flat of palm for this)
6. Drizzle sunflower oil over the dough balls, flatten them slightly and leave for 5 mins.
7. To shape, use the base of the hand an flatten edges. Then holding the shape, gently slap mixture off worktop and stretch (tip: use four fingers of left hand above mixture and four fingers of right hand below mixture.
8. Once stretched, hold mixture up and twirl into the palm of the hand (like a walnut whirl). When finishing tuck end in underneath.
9. Heat oil on pan, flatten out the twirl and add to hot oil. Fry each side until lightly browned.
10. Remove from pan and squeeze together firmly to give a battered appearance.

Posted by ofenelon 19:34 Archived in India Comments (2)

Mountains, Spices and Tea

These are a few of my favourite things!!!!

After Trivandrum, I fancied a bit relaxation and a bit of comfort. The guesthouse that I was in for a month was fine but the bed was made entirely of wood with no springs and just a skinny mattress so needless to say i was on the look-out for a decent mattress again. Also, since leaving ireland hot showers have been very rare so that was high on my priority list too. Bearing that in mind, i wasn’t exactly hard to please when locating a nice destination for our travels again. I found my luxury at the lakeside in kollam. Kollam is a town in the famous backwaters on Kerala. We decided to stay in lovely bungalows beside Ashtamudi lake. It was great place to chill and we took a canoe boat tour around the backwaters. The backwaters are very famous in Kerala and are basically waterways that weave though villages eventually ending up in the sea. They support a lot of local villages through supplying fish, sand, transport etc. and are very peaceful to travel around. Many people rent the famous Houseboats and spend the night on the backwaters. We decided not to as it’s expensive and not that very environmentally friendly. The trip on the canoe boat was 3 hours long and was really beautiful and peaceful. It was enough to give us a good idea of life around the backwaters.

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After Kollam, we got a bus back to Kumily where Ger was previously. He suggested we go back as he thought I would like it there and he was right. Located in spice country, kumily is home to lots and lots of spice shops (plus delicious homemade chocolate :)) and is a very peaceful village. It is geared up for tourists as its popular with Indian tourists, its not hard to see why. Its very scenic, its doesn’t have the noise of the cities and you can get tours of the spice gardens which are very interesting. It is also famous for Periyar Tiger Reserve. It’s a massive national park home to tigers, monkeys, elephants, giant squirrels etc. It also has a beautiful lake. There are lots of activities inside the park and we done some bamboo rafting in the hope we might spot some of the wildlife. The rafting was good but it was very slow, Ger and I were hoping for a little bit more activity. There was also no shade on the raft so we very very hot. The scenery was breathtaking though so it was worth the visit. We didn’t see any wild tigers or elephants but saw some giant squirrels, bison, langur monkeys and some cool birds. The tigers are very rarely seen (probably for the best!!). I think the highlight of the trip to kumily was watching the langur monkeys from our guesthouse. They are meant to be quite shy but they appeared in the trees just beside our balcony and they are class. They are black, quite big and so human like. They are also quite rare outside of kerala so it was it was really amazing watching them hop from branch to branch. One other highlight was that i got some cooking lessons and learnt how to make my new favourite indian dessert - payasam. Its a rice dessert made on coconut milk, cashew nuts, cinnamon, jaggery (a natural sugar) and ghee (indian butter). It is quite sweet but yummy. (Dont worry mum if your reading this- your apple tart still wins out as my all time favourite)

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After Kumily, the next obvious stop was Munnar. It’s quite a famous area located high in the Western Ghats and home to thousands of acres of tea and spice plantations While the town is a just a busy market town, the surrounding areas are jawdroppingly beautiful. High rise mountains with tea plantations growing all over them. Munnar is quite high – 1500m so the weather is cooler and due to the mixture of the weather and mositure, Munnar rivals Ireland in its greenness. There is lots to do also with trekking being the most popular due to the variety of landscapes. We stayed in a guesthouse that organised mountain trekking trips so we done a full day trip with them trekking across the mountains, teas plantations, cardamon forests to arrive at their sister cottage located in the hills. It was very tough, took around 7 hours and a night in the cottage but it was worth it. The views were spectacular and it wasn’t hard to see why Munnar is a popular honeymoon destination. After this I had booked a place called Kaivalam Retreat that was meant to be a peaceful haven tucked away in the middle of the plantations and specialising in yoga. It sounded perfect but I was a bit apprehensive that it wasn’t going to be all it promised. It was also more expensive but I was hoping it was worth splashing out. We found our way to the entrance laneway of the place and gave them a ring. They picked us up in a jeep and drove us down into the plantations. When we finally arrived, i knew it would be money well spent. I felt like I was on honeymoon again, the place was so idyllic and peaceful. One whiff of this luxury and it didn’t take me long to abandon my harderened traveller ways. In my best spoilt brat voice, I proclaimed to Ger that I was staying there until next June and that was it :) After two wonderful days of yoga, amazing food and scenery, I knew i had to say goodbye to my paradise! We boarded the local bus and left the mountains to continue our journey to our final stop in India – Cochin.

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Dodging Mosquito Status: surprisingly good, i think they dont like our blood as much any more- serves them right!!!they took enough of it earlier on in the trip.

Posted by ofenelon 02:17 Archived in India Comments (1)

What happens when the girlies hit the streets of Trivandrum!

Hello again. I’m back in the world of blogging. Many thanks to my wonderful hubbie Ger for his accounts. I think he will be a regular addition to this blog. Well the month of yoga is finished and while I’m sad, its good to be back with Ger on the road again. I had an amazing month. I wont pretend it wasn’t tough at times, the heat & humidity added an extra dimension of difficulty but it was worth it. It was a great course, the food was amazing and I learnt so much in the month. I think people can sometimes have a bit of perception that yoga is quite ‘airy fairy’ but through the classes we had, we could see that its actually a very ancient practice with precise goals and tremendous health benefits. Hopefully I will keep up yoga in my daily life. At the moment, Ger is my student so he will judge if I’m any good of a teacher. He’s a critical student so I wont get away with many mistakes :)

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Yoga aside, living in Trivandrum was a very interesting experience. Myself and another girl Suzie from Australia went for dinner in the evenings and we seemed to create quite the scene when we hit the streets of Trivandrum. Oh it was nothing that we done on purpose, we always were respectively dressed and were out and about at acceptable times (apparently if women are out after 8.30pm, you can be considered a ‘woman of the night’ ). Still, just the fact that Suzie was a blond and I was a pale freckly girl, we use to get lots of stares. I should clarify that none of the attention was ever threatening rather it was hilarious. People would just stare at us everywhere we went and if we stopped at a tea stall or something, a crowd tended to gather. Sometimes they started conversations with us which was good and made a change from the staring. We had some very funny conversations. The most recent one was an extension of my tale of the freckle. I was in getting an aruvedic massage for my shoulder as it was giving me a bit of trouble. Aruvedic medicine is the traditional medicine in Kerala, they have lots of aruvedic hospitals where you can get massages, treatments etc. It very good and cheap. When I was in clinic the aruvedic doctor pointed to my arm and asked ‘what is that discoloration on your arm?’ , from previous experience I knew what she was talking about. My response was, ‘ its not a discoloration, they are freckles’. She then asked me if I used cosmetics for it (I think she meant to help clear up ‘my problem’ ), I laughed and said, no they are just freckles, lots of people have them. She was perplexed for a few seconds and then just continued about her business. Luckily I don’t take offense too easily and I saw the funny side. I think she thought that I was the result of a skin whitening treatment gone wrong or something. I was always told freckles are a sign of beauty, was my mammy lying to me? :)

Even with the constant stares, I have to say that the people we met have been lovely and always welcoming. They seem to appreciate the fact that we eat in local restaurants and the food is amazing. The veg restaurants were our favourites and I always loved having my after dinner Chai tea. Luckily near the end of the course we discovered a local tea stall that served the most amazing bananas fried in batter. They are divine. The batter is so light and fresh. The people at the tea stall were quite amused by our excitement over them. I have since spotted them in various teas stalls but am trying to resist as while they might be good for the taste buds, they are not so good for the waistline.

While the Indians were busy watching us, I was also busy observing them and it is such an interesting culture here. In many ways its similar to home. There is a good sense of community and family and they enjoy the big get togethers with lots of food etc. In other ways, its v different. Marriages are mostly arranged (not all) but a lot of them. I got invited to a wedding of one of the girls on the course but unfortunately we will be gone so I cant make it. She is marrying her 1st cousin which is common here I think but for me it just seems so strange. Also it is noticeable here that women don’t appear to have the same kind of freedom as we do at home. It seems to be a cultural thing but you don’t see women out late at night and on several occasions we were the only females in the restaurants. Kerala isn’t as bad as other states but from talking to some Indian women, there does seem to be an major social issue across India concerning women and the decline in the population of women due to a preference of males being born. Its seems quite a complex social issue. That aside, one of the noticeable things about the women here is that they are always so beautifully dressed. The clothes here are really lovely with beautiful fabrics and colours. I’m tried my best to stay out of the shops although myself and suzie did manage some sneaky shopping trips :)

Now that the course is over, I have left city life and am back in holiday mode exploring the other towns of Kerala. Yes there are lots of people about, the roads are crazy and quite scary at times but otherwise it is easy to travel around and its an unbelievably beautiful state. We just got back from canoe trip on the backwaters of Munroe Island which was stunning but more on that in the next blog…..

Dodging Mosquito Status: I’m afraid that they teamed up with their comrades ‘The Ants’ and seem to launch several attacks on me daily. I still try to fight them off but have lost the battle in India I fear. I will try reclaim my title in Nepal as I’m sure they wont like heights of the Himalayas.

Posted by ofenelon 02:00 Archived in India Comments (1)

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