To the East 

If I was completely adamant about my feelings towards the east I would say that Pondicherry is not worth the trip and Chennai is a shithole (in my opinion of course) but I’ll try to be more polite and provide a more constructive point of view. 

The bus ride to Pondicherry has been everything but pleasant.  It was not a sleeping bus so I had to sleep basically seated and had in from of me a big guy who put his seat all the way down and considering his weight he was practically sleeping in my lap.  Thus my night was all but comfortable but eventually I arrived at destination.  From the bus station I easily walked to my hostel… that I couldn’t find because there is no sign outside or anything that gives it away.  Thankgod there was this old lady sweeping the street that saw the stupid tourist half lost and by way of signs and unintelligible sounds she indicated the door to the hostel..  and it was locked.  The manager arrived not long afterwards and he showed me to my “room”. Basically a closed corridor with a curtain as door… So I had a private instead of the dorm!  I should consider myself lucky.  Valentine hostel is more a private house than a hostel.  There are 3 real small rooms and 2 “rooms” with curtains as doors.  The beds are mattresses on the floor and there is one common bathroom.  Considering the fact that I paid 8€ per night it was a rip off.  But for some incomprehensible reason the whole city is very expensive.  I really don’t understand the fame of Pondicherry.  The city itself has nothing particularly interesting or curious to show.  Apart from the “promenade” and the old French area there is nothing to see.  The beach is no beach at all and there is no grand monument or palace to visit. 

Under the advice of my host I went to Indian Delights for breakfast.  And then again back for lunch or dinner the following day.  The place is famous with locals,  the food very basic Indian food but it’s good and extremely cheap.  On my second day I had also beer and French fries with one Israeli guy from the hostel  at this place called De Bussy rooftop bar.  Nice place but not particularly “ethnic”.

The following day I found this grocery store where I finally found unsweetened peanut butter!  I was on cloud nine!  The place is called Grinde. I finally found unsweetened peanut butter!!! A bit expensive but worth the money!!!  I also indulged myself in buying some soaps and teas. 

I then boarded the train to Chennai.  I couldn’t stand the idea of another bus,  of 4 hours of honking non stop in the middle of crazy traffic.  I grew allergic to honking and the sole idea of having to digest that anymore than necessary makes me sick.  I’d rather be on a train with the usual vendors calling for “chai,  chai….cha-chai… chai” or “coffee…coffee coffee coffee ” or “briyani,  veg briyani” “samosa” and all the likes.  You’ve got the idea… 

It was my first “short” day morning train ride (Not counting the trip to Goa) and it was OK at the beginning.  Then,  the last couple of hours I  just couldn’t wait to get there.  If I had known… 

Arrived at Chennai station I was looking for the metro.  Supposedly I could go with the metro to my hostel.  I asked everyone and apparently there is no metro from there so I resigned myself to book a Uber.  The nice guy arrived in a few minutes and half an hour later I was at the hostel… or so I thought.  It took me a while to find the actual place that in the end proved itself not to be the actual place at all.  I read a review in booking.com that there were two places with the same name.  The Royal Palace Guest House is actually  a house for local workers. The guy at the “reception” there called the actual place that I booked and they promised to be there to pick me up in 5 minutes…. Indian time.  Half an hour later I was still waiting.  I called them myself two more times fuming furious!  Eventually I arrived at Royal Meriton (the real name of the hostel) at 10pm.  I arrived in town 2 1/2 hours earlier… Reviews for this place in booking.com and Agoda are amazing.  It looks like this is really a king’s palace… Of course not.  Of all the facilities numbered in the website the only one that reflects reality is free Wi-Fi.  Even the breakfast picture is fake.  The breakfast is in reality very poor.  This morning I had this kind of cous-cous with whole cloves in it and a vegetarian soup so spicy that it gave me heartburn.  

I didn’t sleep that well as at some point during the night (or early morning) this Indian guy entered the dorm I was sharing with a German guy, switched on the light, and put fan and AC full power… I eventually managed to go back to sleep but I was so cold that I had to steal a blanket from one of the empty beds.  So after the not so special breakfast I got out to go to the train station to buy the ticket to Bangalore for that same night.  In theory that’s something that can be done online but I tried a couple of times and I didn’t make it… Surprise surprise…. 

So.  I arrive at the station with a local bus.  Horrible traffic and honking but it all took 30 minutes.  At the Central Station I look for the ticket counter… No where to be found.  I asked a couple of people working at the station.  They didn’t even understand the question.  Against to what a lot of people think,  not everybody in India speaks English.  Far from it… Anyway.  Let’s go back to the tickets.  So I was asking this police man and a Japanese (Chinese?) guy says,  I know,  I know!!!  So I follow him. He indicates a blue building OUTSIDE the actual station. There!  First floor!  I thank him and go to the first floor of the blue building.  At the first counter I ask to pay with card.  Of course not!  Counter 22 is for card. So I go to counter 22. The lady behind the window asks (without even watching me) for a copy of my passport…. So I start to heat up… Where can I make one?  Next building… What else!  I go out of blue building and search for the next building… That I cannot see.  I ask to a police man who doesn’t understand the question and sends me towards the toilets… Keep calm and breathe… So I ask again to someone behind some counter and he tells me that the Xerox office is down the lane,  after the market.  More or less 10 minutes walk from the main station… The Xerox “office” is on the first floor… again.  There are several actually so I turn around a bit until I find one that is not too busy,  meaning that is attending only one customer. I get two copies just in case and walk all the way back to counter number 22. I fill in the usual form and hand over the xerox copy of my passport.  Can I pay with card? Oh no!  Not this counter… I can genuinely kill someone by now.  Thankgod the “card counter” is the number 21 so the lady that was attending me moves over and re-does all over again.  I finally get my ticket.  It took me about 40 minutes in total and had to pay 100R extra because I’m a tourist… 

I’m ready to visit the few interesting things that this city has to offer.  I walk towards Fort St George that is by the sea and then  I plan to spend the rest of the morning in the area where apparently “all” is. But..  BANG!!!  once again I “stumble” upon a pole that was crossing the pavement WAY too low and my head starts to bleed… Some passers by stop a tuk tuk that will take me to the hospital.  I didn’t really want to but I was bleeding a lot so I thought that maybe was not such a bad idea after all.  At the hospital I skip the line just for being white (sometimes it has its perks!) and the… doctor? nurse?  that “visit” me (in the corridor) wants to give me stitches. I ask if it is really necessary and they say no.  So my nice tuk tuk driver takes me out and drive me away where,  I gather from his broken English,  they will give me a shot and put a band aid on my head. 

I have to make a short digression on my tuk tuk driver here.  As I arrived at the hospital and was waiting to be assisted he nicely cleaned the blood off my face and in that moment I almost cried. I thought of what Lonely Planet said of Chennai.  That the city itself is not much but the people were precious.  Maybe I finally found a place in India where I was not a SWTWALOM… as if… 

Back to trip in tuk tuk we arrive to this dodgy “clinic” where a few patients are waiting in the “waiting room” (1sq m) and being a white face I have the honor to once again skip the cue and enter first.  The “doctor” asks me what happened,  my name,  if I’m allergic to some medicine and then injects me something…and then the “nurse” cleanse my cut and put me some ointment and a band aid.  Off I go,  after paying 120R.  OK… With the prescription I go next door and buy some painkillers and something else and the ointment of course.  103R and off I go.  At this point I don’t feel like doing the tourist stuff anymore.  I just wanna go back to the hostel.  The main road to get the bus is only 15 minutes walk away so I thank and pay my nice tuk tuk driver and start to walk.  Ten steps later the nice guy from the tuk tuk arrives from my back and offers to drive me.  I think “so nice of him!” and arrived at destination where I can take a bus back I ask just out of courtesy how much it was.  I honestly thought he would say it was for free.  It must have been the blow on my head of course that made me even think such thing.  He says 20R so I gave him 100 because I have no 20s and he acts as if he wanted to keep them. I’m like… Wait what?  So I kind of ask him and he says that he has no change and that he’s been nice and drove me around so he deserves it.  OK,  now I see the asshole!  So all this time I thought he was genuinely nice but I was very wrong.  So I kind of told him to f#ck off (a pattern by now) manage to get only 50R back and left him there to get to the bus station.  

I spent the rest of the day at the hostel getting devoured my mosquitoes in the lounge area, checking my photos and writing this blog.  Now I’m on the train,  11.15pm to Bangalore scheduled to arrive at 5.10am at destination.  Hopefully it will be a bit late.  My host in Bangalore won’t be available before 11pm.  I managed to find a couple of CSers that will keep me company until 11.00pm. Can’t wait to leave this city…. 

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Far from the madding crowd… in god’s own country 

Palolem.  I could have stayed there forever.  The bus dropped me (for once) in front of my hostel.  SUMMER by thehostelcrowd has recently opened its doors.  It’s a bizzarre construction with the chill out zone outside the hostel itself on a mezzanine level. But the rooms are clean and spacious, and the only bathroom is close to the European standards.  The included breakfast is also very generous and the guys adapted to my dietary restrictions. 

But I went there for the beach so I was curiousto check it out… and this time it was more than decent.  It is a big and wide streak of sand, with very shallow waters.  It didn’t give me much of an opportunity to swim as I’m used to but I was still very happy.  And although Palolem is a very popular place for tourists the place is very quiet and peaceful.  There are a few very nice restaurants.  I tried Magic Italy,  an Italian (doh!) restaurant where both pizzas and pastas are very good.  Then I also tried Zest that is a very cosy place and even if the food is very good an interesting is far too expensive.  Then I had lunch once at Avocado Garden where I tried the vegan burger and I had a hard time to finish it.  

During my days in Palolem I spent some time with Chim a very pleasant girl met previously in Jaipur.  Chim has a shop in Palolem where she sells her own design clothing,  soaps and most interesting she sells pure coconut oil.  And although this was not time to make it she took me to the “mill” where she gets it done. The mill is still built of stone and until recently it was operated by bulls.  Now they modernized and it’s a small tractor that does the “dirty” job.  But it is still oil cold pressed and it couldn’t be more natural than that. 

So I after extending my stay in Palolem twice and getting some sun tan I was ready to leave otherwise I would have stay there for the entire time I had left in India.  On the night of my fourth day I boarded a train at 12.40am (one hour late of course…) and got off in Cochin in the afternoon of the following day.  I left Goa to Kerala,  god’s won country as they call it here.  The landscape is beautiful but it is more trafficked than Goa and I had time to get used again to honking and traffic after the peaceful break of Palolem.  

Hostel by the Sea is a hostel located in a kind of government building. Very curious by all in all not bad.  They don’t have hot water (because the temperatures outside are hot!) or PoS machine but it is very cheap and very conveniently located.  Cochin (or Kochi) is a very small town on the sea where Vasco de Gama landed first when he arrived in India.  There is really not much to do and after a couple of laps the tour is done but still a nice place for a couple of days. You can take the ferry to the mainland for 4 rupees each way and it’s a 20 boat ride but the mainland Cochin is just another big city not particularly interesting.  After 2 days there I was supposed to go to Alleppy to your the backwaters but if I wanted to visit the east coast I didn’t have time.  I had to decide what to do.  Alleppy?  Munnar?  Madurai  or Pondicherry?  I decided for the last one and took a direct bus at 4pm scheduled to arrive at 6am the following day. 

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. 

A camel (or two) on the highway 

I really don’t know how I managed to “escape” from Nepal  but I did.  I actually almost missed my flight because the taxi I ordered for the airport “surprisingly” arrived late… And for this reason I didn’t manage to change my Nepali money into India money (the importance of this will be clear later) 

When my India visa was granted I was almost disappointed.  I applied just for the sake of it but at that time I had lost all my will to travel.  I just wanted to go home but since I was just around the corner I thought… “eh,  what the heck! ”

So when I finally landed in Delhi I was tired and had no interest in visiting anymore but the idea of finally seeing the Taj Mahal was too enticing. I had managed to get myself a host that promised me to come and pick me up at the airport.  Yeah,  the airport.  A pretty big area… And of course no Wi-Fi… I thought Deepak would wait for me at the arrival but I exited the airport and he wasn’t there. OK then I’ll change my money,  I will by a SIM and I’ll text him….  Naive me.  Nepali money has barely no value outside Nepal.  Only 1000 rupees banknotes are accepted and of course I didn’t have any.  OK then I’ll use the ATM…. as if… Same issue I had in Nepal.  I had money but I couldn’t get it.  I almost cried…. I was stuck once again and blamed Nepal once again.  And I thought of all I read about India where everything is a scam and everyone is a bad person.  And then I saw this guy and asked him if he could call my host… And he did and Deepak came out of the airport and together we took the metro.  I was so relieved that I almost cried some tears of joy.  But I was still very on the lookout if my host was really there to get my money (that was worth nothing!!!) 

So I explained the situation to him and he offered not only to pay my metro ticket,  he also invited me for dinner and beers. 

On the way to his place – that is pretty far our from main Delhi – I thought he would kick me off the motorbike that we took from the last metro station,  and steal my money and my passport.  Again all the voices in my head,  telling me to be alert,  in India they’re all criminals and thieves. But we finally arrived safe and sound to his place and he introduced me to his family and his dog Stella which I fell in love with.  We then went out and met one of his best friend.  The following day Deepak took me to a money change place and even if I lost money in the change I still managed to get rid of stupid Nepali rupees.  

Unfortunately those days Delhi was covered in a very thick “fog” and the air was pretty bad.  I visited from outside the red fort.  I was not ready to spend easily the cash that was so hard for me to get,  especially when,  once again,  the entry fee for the tourists was 5 fold the price for locals.  The rest of the day I just walked around the city waiting for Deepak to leave the office and when we met it was dinner time and we went home where upon request I cooked dinner for the both of us.

The two nights I booked with Deepak were over and even though he said I could stay longer I preferred to book a hostel closer to the center to make it easier for me to do stuff.  HOG hostel was not what I had really expected but it was cheap, OK clean and easy to move around from.  But that day I didn’t leave the premises.  I was so tired and overwhelmed by the “fog” and the constant honking that I preferred to stay inside and take a rest.  The day after was my last day in Delhi and I said to myself why not visit a bit before leaving.  I was in touch with a couple of couchsurfers and we were supposed to meet to visit some sort of old village in the city but I got there before them,  the place was impossible to find,  no one knew where that was and I had a nervous breakdown and had to go back to the hostel.  I slept it off and later in the afternoon I met with the same two CSers from the morning and visited the stairs well an ancient well that now is empty but the structure is absolutely fantastic and then we visited a Sikh temple, watched them prey and we had a communal free dinner with them. It’s been quite an experience.  




Morning comes and I board a bus to go to Jaipur to start my trip towards the south.  I took a local bus that it’s an adventure for itself but I would have never expected to see at some point boarding the bus some policemen taking into custody a “criminal” kept on a chain (on his wrist)  like a dog.  It was almost surreal but the prisoner looked pretty at ease and even joked with a couple of passengers.  Only in India!!!

In Jaipur I booked a room at Lazy Mozo hostel for just 1€ for two night I wasn’t really sure what to expect but for 50c a night I couldn’t ask for much. The place is new,  just opened one month ago.  And you can tell.  They need to find their marks,  how to behave and how to do things but it was fairly clean and the house is very nice.  In Jaipur I visited some building in the Pink City but the only one I was ready to pay for was the Hawa Mahal especially because for once, locals and tourists pay the same price to enter.  The place is pretty amazing but it’s missing some soul.  After that I met with a CSer for lunch and had dinner and beers with another.

The two days planned in Jaipur were over and I was ready to go to Agra to finally fulfill one lifelong dream: visit the Taj Mahal

I arrived in Agra in the evening and had dinner with some guys from the hostel I  checked in.  Moustache hostel is a pretty cool place, clean and with a nice atmosphere.  It’s also very close to the Taj Mahal so in the morning I got up at 5.30 to avoid the mass of visitors and went to get my ticket.  1000 rupees is kind of a lot of money (around 13€/15$) but I came to India basically just to visit the Taj so I couldn’t not go.  After I got my ticket I stood in line to wait for the doors to open (from sunrise to sunset)  and when I finally enter the site at 7 my heart was beating fast.  Visiting the Taj Mahal has been a dream since I can remember and I don’t even know why.  When I finally faced it tears almost filled my eyes.  The place in the fog of the early morning has a charm that no words can express.  And as the day went by and the sun came up,  it totally changed to become a spectacular garden for the beloved princess to find her resting peace.  To make my visit more interesting I downloaded a free app called Captiva Tour with which you can listen to the story of the origins of the Taj Mahal without having to hire a guide.  It’s been just perfect. 

I spent the rest of the day at the hostel and took a little walk around the city.  But Agra is an ugly town and people are just there to harass tourists trying to sell you everything they can.  Thankgod I took the bus to Varanasi at 7.30pm and left. 

Summing it up : Nepal 

I’m on the plane to Delhi.  Kathmandu and Nepal are still a fresh memory.  All in all I can’t really say that Nepal has been a pleasant experience.  Since the moment I’ve touched land I’ve had problems and worries.  Until the last moment. 

 The Annapurna base camp trekking has been nice,  although cold. Being in nature,  away from cars and traffic and people and chaos has been a refreshing break.  The last few days I had a roommate – Paul – that literally saved me from going mad.  I met a few nice people,  even locals,  I had good food but I don’t really think I’ll be back to visit Nepal,  at least not in this life.  I also cancelled my volunteering because goimg to the Dang would have meant to travel “12” hours on a bus. And honestly I wasn’t ready to do that.  It would have been too much.  It would have been fatal for my nerves.  The “6” hours bus back from Pokhara had already been very tiring.  I was not ready and willing to face again another “ride in hell”.

 So I decided to buy my visa to India (which surprisingly enough was extremely easy) and leave the country before planned but at the moment of buying the ticket I was stuck as the website didn’t accept my cards and according to Nepal laws you cannot fly on a ticket bought by someone else….and once again I was stuck.  Chance though sent me a guardian angel called Paul from France.  Without even knowing me Paul offered to buy the ticket for me and soon said and done he booked the ticket to Delhi and paid it with his own CC (of course I have to pay him back). And finally, at peace knowing that I was finally able to leave the country I managed to enjoy my last moments with Paul and some other cool people met thanks to couchsurfing. But I really think that Nepal has been a big disappointment because I was expecting so much.  I was so looking forward to visiting that I had imagined a land of fairy tales.  But that doesn’t exist and Nepal is just another country in Asia.  With its pros and cons.  Anyways… 

Once again I met a few cool people that by themselves made the trip to Nepal worthwhile.  I trek up to 4000m without any training.  I escaped two or three life threatening situations (in traffic)  so I guess I can still consider this stop as a positive one.  

Maybe next time – if ever – I come back,  I will just skip Kathmandu and move to nicer places. 

The good thing about Kathmandu are the restaurants.  I tried a few,  here is the list in no particular order :

 

Bangladesh – summing it up 

October 16 – 9.01am. Gate 1X at Dhaka international airport.  My flight is in 2 hours. 

My adventure in Bangladesh ends here,  where it started 2 weeks ago.  Just 15 days have passed but I feel I’ve been here much longer.  In these 2 weeks so many things have happened,  so many wonderful people have crossed my path.  I still cannot believe at what I’ve faced during my stay in Dhaka and surrounding.  Dhaka,  a city that I didn’t even know it existed, has stolen my heart.  And not for the city itself.  As I said time and time again,  Dhaka is not a beautiful city.  It’s not even a friendly city. 

 

Everything is a mess,  it’s dirty,  is tourist unfriendly,  it’s chaotic,  it’s hot but Bengalis  are the most amazing people I met in my life.  To them the guest is the king,  the guest deserves all their attention,  the guest has to be attended in every possible way.  The guest doesn’t have to miss of nothing.  

During my stay in Bangladesh I’ve felt like a movie star.  Never in my life I had so many pictures taken.  Strangers in the street,  at the restaurant,  in the park stopped me to take a selfie with me.  I have been stared at and scrutinized to the point of being uncomfortable.  But I felt like home everywhere I went. The Bengalis heart is bigger than anyone’s heart.  I’ve been helped by total strangers,  I’ve been given food and drink for free,  just for being a guest.  I’ve been asked time and again where I’m from and what do I do in Bangladesh (just visiting???  As if they could not believe that someone wanted just visit their country). 

Bangladesh,  where men go hand in hand on the street,  where the ads are still hand painted on the walls,  where having drinks means drinking tea at the closer “tong”, where there is no official bus stop and traffic lights are non existent, where Barcelona is know for Camp Nou (Sagrada Familia… What’s that?), where people eat with their hands,  has a special place my heart. 

But many of the people that have accompanied me these days have a dream to leave the country.  Usually to Canada or Germany.  I discovered that there is a big community of Bengalis in Italy.  Youth don’t like their country,  they wanna flee,  they believe that everything is corrupted and that there is no future for them here.  Government doesn’t make things easy for anybody.  This is a jungle (especially in the traffic)  and everybody tries to survive as best as they can.  

Once again I didn’t travel to the “best” parts of the country.  I haven’t been to Cox’s bazar,  the longest beach in the world,  I haven’t been to the islands or haven’t seen any waterfall.  But this place will always be special to me.  

Thank you Joy,  Shoshee,  Rossi,  Rasel,  Pryom,  Adnan,  Shammi,  Mukul,  Shariful, Dola,  Ishti and everybody else for making this trip memorable.  You will always have a friend in my.  I will never forget you. 

Can’t find the words

I’ve been in Bangladesh for more than a week now and somehow I can’t find the words to tell my story so far.  To begin with Bangladesh make me think of several different countries : Laos for the poor state of the roads, Vietnam for the constant annoying use of horns to communicate in the traffic,  Myanmar for the men in “skirt” and finally India (although I haven’t been there yet) for the amount of people and the chaos everywhere. But at the same time Bangladesh is just Bangladesh.  Full of colors,  trash,  contradictions and most of all its fantastic people so welcoming and generous I have not words to describe. 

During my trip I have been blessed with the friendship of many beautiful people but Bengals are another story. Without them I could have not survived Bangladesh.  This place is a mess (I hope this will not offend anyone).  There are no rules and the few that have been enforced are constantly broken. In the words of one of my local friends “we like to break rules”. And it’s clear everywhere you look.  But then the generosity of people is something I have never seen in my entire life.  Bangladesh is a very poor country.  It’s story is a sad one and this relatively newborn country has been catapulted in the 21st century without any parachute.  People are noble but have no money.  Everyone dreams of travelling away from here.  Everyone dreams of going abroad.  Foreigners here are a miracle and I felt like a start here with the pros and cons that this carries with it.  People stare at me and I  mean STARE.  Sometimes I feel like an alien,  been scrutinized to check if I behave somehow differently. I also kinda learn how to eat with my hands (the custom here)  to feel less alien.  But still people stop me in the street to ask where I’m from and why I’m here as if they couldn’t even consider the idea of someone wanting to visit their country just for the sake of it.  They ask you very personal questions (how much do you earn?),  they’re extremely curious towards all that is “out there”. 

But the didn’t let me pay for anything.  They turn their place upside down to make me feel at home.  I cannot even buy a bottle of water because “I’m their guest” so they take care of everything. I’d been hosted mainly by students and unemployed and still wasn’t able to pay for anything.  

I’ve spent 2 days in Dhaka as I’ve arrived.  The city is simply horrible.  Once again no rules,  in traffic and in construction.  There is no city center and to do 5 km it can take you up to 2 hours. Despair has had the best of me a couple of times but there is really nothing you can do about that.  The streets are shared between cars,  rickshaw,   goats, CNGs cows and some stray dogs.  There is no direction for circulation.  You can go anywhere.  I thought I would die more than once here but apparently I’m still alive.  I’m so surprised I still haven’t seen any street accident but I guess they got very skilled at driving in chaos.  The heat is scorching.  They keep on telling me that I should have come in winter,  in a couple of months.  And I agree with them.  There are no trees on the streets so walking around during daytime is a torture. So I took an offer from one CSer to visit his university campus and stay with him a couple of days.  Jahanginagar university is an hour out of Dhaka and comparing to the city is heaven on earth.  The stretch of the area is equal to a small village.  There’s green everywhere and in some corner you have the feeling you’re in a forest more than in  University campus. 

 For a few days I felt I was back in school and for a moment I longed to be a student again,  when life was without worries and everything was still possible. Shariful and his girlfriend took me also to see the liberation monumentBaliati Palace and on a trip on the river. 

 Than one of my CSer host has invited me to Sylhet and there I  met a lot of his friends that have taken care of me as if I was a king.  We went to visit his campus far smaller than the previous one but still very green and an oasis comparing to the oven that the city is. Then Joy had to go back to work so I stayed a few days more in Sylhet where his friends have invited me to dinner at their place and prepared a specially cooked for me vegan dinner.  It was delicious!  Shammi is an excellent cook and very passionate about food. 

The following day they took me to Sreemongol where there is a protected area of a forest some 3 hours train ride outside Sylhet.  At the train station I was of course the main attraction to a point that it was very uncomfortable.  People were staring at me and kids were flying in flocks like flies to honey.  The train ride was an adventure by itself and once arrived in Sreemongol we needed to rent a local “van” to take us to the forest of Lawachara National Park

 

Once again as a foreigner I had to pay 10 times (literally) what the locals paid but it was worth it.  The park is beautiful and still pretty wild.  In it you can see a train passing through,  monkeys and if you’re lucky enough other wild animals.  Inside the park live some local tribe that are pretty much self sufficient with what the forest provide and from the selling of betel nut (yuk!) 

After the park we visited some beautiful tea plantations, a crop very common in this country, and we took the 8.30pm train back to Sylhet.  We were exhausted.