Long distance (night) trains and the impossible slumber 

I arrived in Varanasi the ancient city, the sacred city after a bumpy, cold and sleepless night ride.  It seems I’m not getting much sleep anywhere these days. As usual the bus stopped in the most unlikely place and from there we had to find our way into the city.  Of course there were plenty of tuktuks waiting for us but I tried to book a Ola cab (the Indian version of Uber).  When it works Ola works pretty well but when it doesn’t…. Well you can imagine.  I booked three times a cab and one of them cancelled on me,  the other two didn’t show up.  In India money is apparently not an issue.  If you feel like working you do,  otherwise you don’t.  So in the end I had to resign myself to share a tuk tuk with a guy from Belgium that was in my same bus.  We agreed on a price but arrived in the city the tuk tuk driver told us to get off as he “couldn’t go any further “. There is apparently a restricted area in Varanasi,  but from where we were many tuk tuk went further… Anyways… So me and Belgian guy had to take a rickshaw,  that dropped us 5 minutes away… 

We got off pretty angry and parted our ways.  I had booked at Chatter box hostel and he was going some place else.  I started to walk and found out that there is a “pedestrian area” in Varanasi where cars and the likes cannot enter as the alleys are very narrow.  But motorbikes are of course more than welcome honking their way through the maze.  And cows of course are welcome (gigantic cows),  and stray dogs and their puppies are welcome so you have to walk your way skipping motorbikes,  cows and their enormous  dumps, dogs and vendors.  

The entrance to Chatter box is pretty dodgy and there’s no sign to indicate that the hostel is there but then the place is pretty neat and very quiet and I was,  at least for a few hours,  alone in the dorm. As I was tired from the previous sleepless night I took a nap and then decided to go out for lunch.  Following the directions and suggestions of “Happy cow” and went to Nyiati cafe.  The place is very small therefore usually full but the food is very good,  fresh and inexpensive. 

Satisfied with my lunch I went back to the hostel to find out that I had a roommate, Angel from Madrid.  We started chatting and had a good connection straight away so we decided to stick together for a few days. In the evening we had dinner next door , in this pretty famous place called Brown Bread Bakery (not to be mistaken with the one of the same name located close to Golden Temple,  pretty horrible place).  I had enough of thali,  rice and fried food by then so I tried my luck and ordered a pasta with walnut sauce and a salad to share with Angel.  The salad was OK,  the pasta not so much but hey,  this is India,  you’re not supposed to eat pasta!!! After dinner we went to the banks of Gange river to assist to a very strange ceremony of dances,  songs and fire.  Very complicated and really interesting.  They perform a lot of acts of devotion to whatever god they have and then in the end they wash their heads with the river waters…. when in the meantime a few blocks down they wash and burn dead bodies or else in some case they drown them with a stone tied to their feet. 

The following morning we went again back down the river banks to assist at the washing ceremony when people take a plunge in the Gange before going to work and so use the same plunge to wash themselves.

  

The following day Angel and I boarded a train,  my first train!!! headed to Khajuraho to visit the “Kama Sutra temple“.

While walking around the city I realize how good it was to have Angel on my side as he was showing off his muscles – he’s a PE teacher – and so people,  men to be precise,  were intent to check out his body and I was the invisible side kick.  

The night ride on the train was far better than the one on the bus but I still couldn’t really rest.  Indians can be very noisy, many snore (I’m not being racist,  it’s a fact confirmed by locals) and the berth are not extremely comfortable.  Moreover as it happened in the bus,  I got frozen by the gusts of cold night air coming in from everywhere.  On the train,  thanks to his “good body,  good muscles” Angel made friends with this local guy who at some point got stuck something in his teeth.  As he was trying to get it out with a piece of paper I offered him my dental floss only to discover that he had no idea what that was. So I told Angel to teach him how to use it… and Angel told me he had no idea either!!! 

Arrived in Khajuraho we took a tuk tuk to our hostel called Prem’s home stay that a girl from our Varanasi hostel had talked about with much enthusiasm.  Prem’s place is a bit far out of the city but it is a very pleasant place,  quiet and peaceful.  The room we got was nice and clean and Prem is extremely helpful and friendly.

  

The morning after our arrival we rented  bicycles and went visiting the famous Kama Sutra temple.  The complex is pretty impressive,  in the very center of the city,  clean and well maintained.  In the area is possible to visit some 6 or 7 beautifully decorated temples and some of them have on their walls some pretty explicit sex scenes which is very curious considering the fact that Indians are not open about sex affairs and naked bodies. 

That night we had dinner at Raja’s cafe. The food took a long time to arrive.  I was in the mood for salad and I ordered one with sprouted lentils.  Such a disappointment.  The sauce they used was something weird with a particular unpleasant taste so I had to eat a cookie afterwards to clean my mouth from that horrible taste.  At night Angel had belly issues due to the fact that he had milk for breakfast that morning (having milk is not good for your health, I tell this to everyone!!!).  But he decided that he was willing to travel the following day as planned and at 9.30 am we boarded a train to Udaipur.  Although Khajuraho and Udaipur are only 800km apart,  it took us 21 hours to reach our destination.  The train network in India is pretty complex and not necessarily user friendly. 

Another almost sleepless night and we arrived in Udaipur,  a very nice city on the lake Pichola,  kind of quiet (as quiet as India can get that is) with a very nice Royal Palace to visit.

  

We booked a room in Hotel Lake Star that looked very good in the pictures.  Arrived there we discovered that the place is under a major restructuring so not at all what presented in the pictures.  Still our room was nice and clean and I couldn’t wait to have a good night sleep in my bed!!! The next morning we had breakfast in a cafe nearby called Little Prince restaurant by the lake.  Awesome food and good prices!  

In Udaipur Angel and I decided that out ways were to part.  I wanted to move south to reach asap Goa and some quiet beach.  Angel was going back to Delhi to catch the flight to his next destination. I planned to spend just one night in Udaipur and the second night take the train to Mumbai but I discovered that the direct train to Mumbai doesn’t run on Monday.  Of course… So the option was to spend two days travelling and sleeping on trains or stay one day more in Udaipur and take the train on Tuesday night.  You guessed right.  I stayed one night more and not to pay for a double room all by myself I checked in at Banjara hostel. Not the best place I’ve been,  management is pretty unfriendly and uninterested but the room was OK.  The first day after Angel was gone I took back my role of “stupid tourist with a lot of money ” and I wasn’t invisible anymore. Darn!!! I tried to book my train ticket over internet only to discover that international cards are not accepted so I resolved myself to go to the train station.  Where once again I was the “STWALOM” and I had to pay 100 rupees extra just for being a foreigner.  …

That night for dinner I met with Sanjay a very smart local guy met through Couchsurfing and we had dinner at Dream Heaven where I had a veggie burger with a ton of fries. Yummy! That same night I was back on a train with Valentina and Javier a couple met thanks to Angel.  Some 14 hours later (and another almost sleepless night) we were in Mumbai. 

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Ladies and gentlemen meet Annapurna 

So I finally left Pokhara direction Nayapul to begin my longed for trekking.  At this point I really needed a change of scenery and the idea of spending time on the mountains was really appealing.


After two hours drive we arrived in the Nayapul village.  From there I started walking and I didn’t stop until I got to Jinhu.  It took me the entire morning and when I got there I was ready to give up.  I was so tired that I had a hard time to talk and as soon as I managed to have a bed I  took a shower and went to sleep.  It was around 4pm but it felt like midnight.  I walked 17km up and down the mountains without any previous training and it had been hard.  

The last time I did something similar it’s when I was a kid and we went to the mountains with my family.  After that no mountain walks for me so much so that I had forgotten what it meant.  I love walking and the nature but this was another level of walking.  When you walk in the mountains you realize how nice it is to walk on a plane road,  on a paved road where you don’t have to check every step you take or be careful not to slip down the slope.  I have to confess that I wasn’t really prepared for this.  All the people I asked about the trekking to Annapurna Base Camp told me that it was pretty easy and duable. They were lying.  It’s not a complicated walk but it’s physically demanding.  And I have been  joined in my opinion by the people I met along the way.  

The second day I met two girls,  from Spain and from Uruguay and the trek has been lighter.  Not that the walk was easier, exactly the opposite as a matter of fact,  but simply for the fact that I was not alone and that I was able to distract myself by talking with someone else made things easier.  By one o’clock we arrived at our second stop in Sinuhua at 2340m of altitude.  We were all pretty tired so we decided to spend the night there.  It was starting to get cold and the fact that there is no heating whatsoever was not a reason for joy.  Nepalese people don’t use heating.  Ever.  They just content themselves with wearing warm clothes and drinking hot tea.  We were pretty cold and very tired but we managed to spend the night having some sleep. 

Third day began and the altitude and lack of oxygen started to be noticed.  Thankgod the walk was easier than the previous days so we managed to arrive in Deurali at 3200m,  almost 1000m higher than our previous stop.  The cold was worst and that night although exhausted I couldn’t sleep a bit.  In the meantime a couple of italians had joined the team and waling with Martina and Raimondo was a “nice little walk” uphill.

The following day was supposed to be the day that we reached the camp.  ABC is located at 4130m of altitude.  I was always the first to arrive (even though I was the eldest of the group!) and after I arrive to destination I had to wait a couple of hours to see all the others arrive.  The cold at that point was really bad and I wasn’t really prepared for it.  Inside the hamlet it was around 10° C whereas outside after sundown it got to -3. And no heating at all.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’ve never be good with cold weather although I had to admit that I got better with years but that was really too much.  There was no way to get warmer.  I kept on drinking tea (that means also peeing a lot at night) but I couldn’t get warmer.  It was just impossible.  When I was a kid and went to the mountains with my family it was cold outside but inside the hamlet it was really hot.  Here no.  Nothing,  not even a chimney.  We were all freezing and we were afraid to go to bed as the bedroom was colder than the dining room.  It had also started to snow and the fear of getting stuck there was growing fast.  We were actually looking forward for the following day to come so that we could leave and get to warmer temperatures back in Pokhara.  The night went by and thanks to the fact that we covered the windows with the extra mattresses in the room we managed to be less cold than the previous night.  A couple of times I had to wake up to pee and had the chance to see the myriad of stars above my head (as the toilet of course was outside the room).  There is no light pollution there and it’s possible to see all the stars in the sky.  Amazing!!! 

Morning comes and it was a fantastic sunny day.  We had breakfast at 6am and after a few (hundred)  pictures we made our way to descend.  At the beginning we were very careful so not to slip on the snowy terrain but when we reached the not snowy area  we walked as a fast as our soar muscles allowed us.  I was in pain for the extra exercise and for the cold and really desperate to go to a warmer climate.  Once again I arrived first (and alone) at the accorded meeting point some 9h later.  I had lost everybody along the way but I was really decided to get over with the walk as soon as possible.  The last part before checking point was a stair of some 400 steps upwards.  I thought I could die.  But I didn’t and arrived at the hamlet I managed to get a scorching hot shower after 4 days of barely washing in freezing cold water.  It was bliss.  I had dinner and went to bed.  Completely exhausted.  

The following day the others had not yet arrived so I decided to continue by myself and get to the bus to Pokhara the quickest possible.  I thought that the way uphill was over but I have never been so wrong.  Again the last piece of walk was upwards and when I arrived in Landruk I realized that the only way out was a jeep that costs 1500R  (roughly 12€/14$) that is a lot of money here.  But at that point I couldn’t walk anymore.  Had I taken another step I would have probably had a heart attack so I accepted the be taken for an idiot and pay 1500R against the 200 that paid the locals. 

The way down was horrible and the “road” was not paved or smooth in any way.  Two hours in a tumble dryer and some more on a “decent ” road later I finally arrived in Pokhara and to prize myself for my accomplishment I had a very good pizza at “Godfather’s 2” 



The trekking has been one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and luckily I didn’t know much about it.  Had I known more what was expecting me I probably wouldn’t have done it.  It’s not difficult but it’s really tough.  It’s physically demanding and the altitude doesn’t help.  I wasn’t too affected by altitude sickness but my muscles were all soar and two days after I still have some problems walking properly.  And it’s also mentally demanding as you have to decide that even though it’s tough you wanna get up there and most of the times you feel like you wanna give up and go back to the start.  And the fact that people at the hamlet take advantage of the situation is not helping.  The farther up you go the more expensive things are.  For a roll of toilet paper you can pay up to 2€. But then you see the “goat men”, usually boys who move merchandise up and down the mountains on their back and you understand why things are so expensive.  There is not other way to move stuff.  There is not drivable road so all goods need to be moved by men or mules.  And you wander how they have built “houses” up there.  

But then the fact that you have to pay for recharging your phone,  for hot shower and so on it gets on your nerves.  If you ask for blankets you can get the answer that they don’t have enough.  It’s hard.  It’s trying but once you get up there and see the beauty of the mountains covered in snow you understand why you did it.  

I am very proud of myself and happy I did it.  But I won’t do it again.  Ever.  Don’t make the same mistake that I did and think that it’s easy because everybody say so.  It’s not easy.  It can be done by anyone decently active in sport but it’s not a weekend walk in the countryside.  You need a little preparation.  Don’t forget  hat, gloves and scarf (I had none of them of course).  Bring a small backpack full of warm but light clothes.  Bring a power bank and possibly two even though up there there is no network and the phone in airplane mode lasts a lot longer. Download maps. me (available for Android and iOS) as it works very well on the mountains and you don’t need internet connection. I had cramps on my back, I had a hard time to lift the tea cup on my last day. Drink a lot of water and take some rest every now and then.  Bring some food like dried fruits or nut for the walk.  Bring teabags so you just need some hot water (and you save some money).  Buy bags of dried noodles so again you will just need some hot water. And if possible bring your own sleeping bag.  But most of all don’t underestimate it.  Mountains are beautiful but cruel at the same time.  A simple mistake can ruin the entire trip (I almost killed myself a couple of times!!!) 

Now back in Kathmandu I really miss the quiet and peace of the mountains. I really managed to detox myself from the use of mobile and now it’s almost annoying.  The green, the tweets of the birds,  the sound of the river running in the valley.  But the cold I don’t miss at all.  Winter is coming in the city too and soon it will be cold. I thought that some time away from the traffic of the city would help me to be more patient with people and traffic in Kathmandu.  But it’s exactly the opposite.  

Nepal has been the greatest deception of this trip.  I was so looking forward to come here and now I can’t wait to leave.  I’m waiting for my Indian visa and as soon as I have a verdict I will leave this country probably never to return again.  It’s a shame but it’s part of the adventure.  Sometimes you are lucky.  Sometimes not.  And now that it’s finished I realized I really enjoyed my time up the mountain.  I was too tired and too cold to see it back then.  But one thing it’s for sure… The beach is the best place to take a relaxing walk!!!