Monthly Archives: January 2017

AtW Podcast #29: Rimvydas Markevicius

Picture of Dan and Rimvydas.
My guest for this episode is Rimvydas Markevicius from Lithuania. We had a great time discussing his country, my country, and China, where we both currently live. We also got a bit philosophical at the end, when we went over our motivations for traveling, and the question every traveler needs to ask him/herself every now and then: is the reward of travel worth all of the trouble?

Listen to find out our answers.

Download this Episode (right-click and choose “save as”)

Rimvydas blogs at In it, he writes about his experiences of living in China. He also has a lot of great photos.

* * *
  • People generally don't like how a recording of their voice sounds because three bones in their inner distort the sound. When you hear yourself on tape, that's how you actually sound. Here's some more info.
  • The first devices that could record and play back sound were called phonautographs. The earliest known recording of someone singing comes from one of these devices, dating to 1860. This was a full 17 years before Edison invented the phonograph cylinder. You can listen to this recording on Wikipedia. So, the first time anyone ever heard how they actually sounded was only 157 years ago. Before that, I wonder if people understood that they didn't actually sound the way they thought they sounded. Maybe from an echo, but otherwise, probably not.
  • According to National Geographic, the five happiest countries in the world are Finland, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Denmark. So three of the five are located in Scandinavia. Sweden is not far behind, at number 10.
  • The “Miracle on Ice” happened at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics in 1980. The USA hockey team, consisting entirely of amateurs, bested the Soviet Union's team, which mostly had professional players.
  • That same summer, sixty-six nations didn't participate in the Moscow Summer Olympics. Most of these non-participants were following the US-led boycott after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but some didn't participate for economic or unrelated political reasons.
  • There are many websites dedicated to showing pictures of funny English signs in China. Here is one of them. I would've found these signs a lot more funny before I moved to China. But now, not so much. I can read a bit of Chinese, so I can see how most of the bad translations happened. And I see these signs so often, they've become normal. I should point out that the one that says “No Shitting” is not a mistranslation. That's actually what it says, although the English is crude. This was probably taken from a public toilet with plumbing that was incapable of handling solid objects.
  • Concerning statistics on drug usage, it's hard to know what organization (if any) to believe. And most such stats are already suspect since they are based on surveys, which are notoriously unreliable. That being said, this website claims that in 2009, 41.5% of Americans and 25.7% of Dutch had used marijuana at least once. If this is indeed true, it should be eye-opening, considering that marijuana is illegal in the US (or at least it was in 2009) and (de facto) legal in the Netherlands.

2016, What the Year! Part VI: China and Korea

2016: Picture of Red Beach, Liaoning, China.

Sunset at Red Beach.

This is part VI of my “2016, What the Year!” series. I'm recapping some of my memories from the year that was...2016.

Missed the other parts? Jump to [Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV] [Part V] [Part VI]

September 2016

Red Beach

Katie and I headed out with several friends to Panjin, to check out the “Red Beach.” Suaeda Salsa is an algae that thrives in highly alkaline soil, such as that found in parts of northeastern China. The algae is green for most of the year, but for around a month in the fall, it turns a Martian red. Around the same time, the tourists arrive in droves, including us. To explore the area, we rented 3-person bikes, which were a lot of fun but not very fast. (Wouldn't you think they'd be three times faster than a normal bike?) We spent the afternoon avoiding the throngs of Chinese tourists who were rolling up in buses, and checking out the beautiful landscapes.

2016: Picture of group at Red Beach, China.

Group shot.

2016: Picture of the red algae.

A river runs out to the ocean.

2016: Picture of red algae.

At times, the red appeared to go on forever.

More Red Beach photos

Dalian to Yantai

At the end of our “Red Beach” weekend, I said goodbye to everyone else in our group and took a train to Dalian. From there, I rode a ferry across the Bohai Sea. The ferry got me to Yantai even faster than the high-speed rail would have. This is because I would have had to skirt the edge of the Bohai Sea to go overland. Check out a map of this part of China (specifically Dalian and Yantai) to get a better idea of why this is.

2016: Picture of ferry that goes from Dalian to Yantai, China.

My ferry.

2016: Picture from a ferry with Dalian, China in the background.

Leaving Dalian.

2016: Picture of seagull.

You've got a lot of gull.

2016: Picture of Yantai.

Safely arrived in Yantai.

More photos from the ferry from Dalian to Yantai


From Yantai, I took a bus down to the former German colony of Qingdao. This was quite the interesting city; the old section still resembles Germany:

2016: Picture of Q.

The governor's mansion is in the old German part of Qingdao.

2016: Picture of worker on a dome in Qingdao, China.

A worker paints a dome.

2016: Picture of church.

A famous church.

More photos from Qingdao

Ferry to Incheon

From Qingdao, I boarded another ferry, this time all the way to Incheon, Korea. The trip took about 22 hours; it was interesting to get a feel for just how close China is to Korea. And we got to experience going through the Incheon locks, which was fantastic, even though it took a few hours. It felt like I was at the Panama Canal all over again.

2016: Picture of At Incheon.

Incheon Locks.

2016: Picture of ocean near Qingdao..

Leaving Qingdao.

2016: Picture of Incheon Locks.

Locks are closing.

More photos from the ferry

October 2016

South Korea

For the fall Golden Week, the second-biggest holiday in China, Katie flew out to Seoul to meet up with me. We stayed at our friend Monica's place and spent a few days exploring the city. From there we took a train down to Busan and visited our friend Ellen. It was fascinating to travel to South Korea after having already seen North Korea. The two countries seem totally different, but because of their shared pre-war history, there were a lot of similarities as well. I might write a longer piece about this comparison later, but for now you'll have to settle for a few photos:

2016: Picture of Katie in Seoul.

Katie is all smiles on the river in Seoul.

2016: Picture of Seoul.

Buildings in Seoul.

2016: Picture of Ray.

A stingray at the Busan aquarium.

2016: Picture of octopus in the water in Busan, Korea.

This one's for eatin'.

2016: Picture of fish market in Busan, Korea.


2016: Picture of Dan on the beach in Korea.

On the beach.

More photos from Korea

I also recorded a podcast with Monica while in Seoul. She told many great stories about her young adulthood, living in Kiribati. Click her to listen.

November 2016

Yun Shui Cave

One weekend our friend Jeph took Katie and me in his Camaro to the Yun Shui cave, near Beijing. The cave was colorful, and the hiking was fun. But the best part of the day was the “road trip” feel that's hard to experience when you don't own a car. There are a lot of cool places to explore near Beijing, but most of them are hard to reach without your own transportation, so I really appreciated the opportunity for this road trip.

2016: Picture of Katie and Jeph.

Katie and Jeph.

2016: Picture of well lit cave.

A big ole cave.

2016: Picture of cable car in China.

Of course there's a cable car.

More photos from the Yun Shui Cave


Mutianyu to Jiankou Hike

We went with a big group on a hike to the Great Wall, starting at the restored section of Mutianyu and ending at the “Wild Wall” at Jiankou. Though I had been to both of these places already, I had never done the full hike between them. It was awesome to finally be able to connect the dots. For Katie and me both, living close to the Great Wall will be one of the things we miss most about Beijing.

2016: Picture of Mutianyu Great Wall.

The Mutianyu section of the wall.

2016: Picture of the Great Wall of China.

Roommates on the wall.

2016: Picture of Jiankou Great Wall of China.

The unrestored section.

2016: Picture of descending the wall.

Coming down.

More photos from our hike

December 2016


Katie and I met with Shalon and Kroy, our friends from home in the remote Qinghai province. Unfortunately, I had a really bad chest infection that kept me from being able to walk or talk or do much of anything other than cough. On one of my slightly healthier days, we took a trip to a Buddhist temple called Ta Er Si. For me, the most interesting part of this temple was the traditional Tibetan sculpture made entirely of butter. We almost overlooked it, but the smell gave it away.

2016: Picture of temple.

One of the many temples at Ta Er Si.

2016: Picture of stupas.


2016: Picture of friends and monks at the Ta'er Si monastery in Qinghai province, China.

Katie and Shalon, with some monks.

More photos from the Monastery


The four of us took an overnight train to Xi'An. This was my third trip to China's former capital. Kroy and Shalon went to see the famous Terracotta Warriors, and at night, we all got together to walk through the city's second-biggest attraction: the Muslim Quarter.

2016: Picture of lamb in Xi'An, China.

A man examines his lamb.

2016: Picture of chuan'er in Xi'An, China.

Delicious skewers.

2016: Picture of candy samples in .

Tasting some candy.

Just before Katie and I flew out of Xi'An, I recorded a podcast with Shalon and Kroy. We discussed their trip so far, and what was still to come.

More photos from Xi'An


We escaped the pollution of Xi'An to fly down to Lijiang, in Yunnan Province. Yunnan is in southwestern China, where the weather is warm and the air is clean. We did a short trip to Lugu Lake, on the border with Sichuan, then celebrated Christmas with a hike along Tiger Leaping Gorge. This was one of China's highlights, and for good reason: the scenery was spectacular. From there, we headed up to higher elevations at Shangri-La. This place was beautiful, but quite cold. At least I was finally feeling healthy. I don't know if the clean air was what did it, but it sure didn't hurt.

2016: Picture of Lugu Hu in Yunnan, China.

A boat rests on Lugu Hu's shore.

2016: Picture of Katie balancing on a boat.

A delicate balancing act.

2016: Picture of Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China.

Tiger Leaping Gorge – Katie is in front of the village where we'll spend the night.

2016: Picture of Dan and Katie at Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Sunset on our first day in the gorge.

2016: Picture of snow falling on Shangri-La, China.

It was snowing when we arrived in Shangri-La.

2016: Picture of Ganden Sumtseling.

Ganden Sumtseling is a famous Buddhist Monastery near Shangri-La.

2016: Picture of market in Shangri-La, China.

The market in Shangri-La is as lively as any in Asia.

2016: Picture of black-necked heron.

On a day trip to Napa Lake, we spotted a few of these rare black-necked herons.

2016: Picture of Napa Lake in Yunnan Province, China.

Napa Lake.

While I was in Shangri-La, I recorded a podcast with Jun, owner of the Tavern 47 hostel. Jun told me how he had gone from making a 6-figure salary in Seoul to owning a hostel in a little village in China.

After Shangri-La, we had one last stop to make for the year, to the village of Shaxi. This place drew me in right away.

2016: Picture of group dinner in Shaxi, China.

We had a group dinner every night at the Horse Pen 46 Hostel in Shaxi.

I recorded several podcasts from Shaxi, including with Carol and Fei Fei, two of the Horse Pen 46 Hostel's owners. Click their pictures below to listen.

More Yunnan photos

We celebrated the new year at the Hungry Buddha restaurant in Shaxi. As usual, the town was quiet, though a few people managed to stay up until midnight. Goodbye 2016, hello 2017!

Katie flew back to Beijing on January 1, but I remained in Shaxi. This town was so beautiful, its atmosphere so relaxed, its hostel so welcoming, that I decided to stay there for a month, until Katie's next break, for Chinese New Year. We made grandiose plans to buy folding bikes and cycle around Yunnan Province. Stay tuned for updates on this trip.

Around the World Podcast #28: Fei Fei Huo

Picture of Fei Fei and Dan.

Fei Fei and Dan

My guest for this episode is Fei Fei Huo (霍婉菲). She grew up in Chengdu, China and has traveled to many parts of Europe. We recorded this podcast while sitting by the river in Shaxi, China at the end of yet another picture-perfect day. Our discussion was mostly about cultural differences between East and West, and she taught me a lot. You can even hear my moment of epiphany when I learned why Chinese people sometimes say things that don't make any sense to my Western brain.
If you enjoy this discussion even half as much as I did, then we're off to a good start. Here you go:

Download this Episode (right-click and choose “save as”)

Fei Fei is part owner of the Horse Pen 46 Hostel in Shaxi, China. This rates as one of my all-time favorite hostels. I guess it should, considering that I stayed there for nearly a month.

Show notes:

  • Here's how to write “horse” in simplified Chinese: 马. Here's how to write “mouth”: 口. And here's how to indicate that you are asking a question: 吗. To remember the “question mark” character, you can visualize opening a horse's mouth, and finding a question mark inside. You can apply these kind of visualizations to learn hundreds of Chinese characters.
  • The Naxi people still use hieroglyphics for their writing system. As far as I know, this is the only hieroglyphic system still in use today.
  • Fei Fei mentioned Ali Wong's hilarious show. Here's her website.

2016, What the Year! Part V: Wedding

Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak.
This is the most special part of my “2016, What the Year!” series. I'm recapping some of my memories from the year that was...2016.

Missed the other parts? Jump to [Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV] [Part V] [Part VI]



Katie and I had been planning to get married for the last few months. And now, we were both back in the States for the summer. We spent a few weeks making our final preparations, then our big day came. And what a day it was! I don't even remember it very well, it went by so fast. But everything seemed to go smoothly. And this was a great chance to get caught up with friends and family we hadn't seen in a long time, especially considering that we live on the opposite side of the planet.

Katie and I were grateful to everyone who helped us (and there were many). Here are a few photos from the wedding:

Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak. Wedding: Dan Perry and Katie Lepak.

Click here to see the rest of our wedding photos.

We returned to Beijing in early August, ready for our third – and likely final – year in China. Bring it on.

2016, What the Year! Part IV: Dubai

Dubai: Picture of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE.

The Burj Khalifa is the world's tallest building, at 2722 feet and 163 floors.

This is part IV of my “2016, What the Year!” series. I'm recapping some of my travel memories from the year that was...2016.

Missed the other parts? Jump to [Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV] [Part V] [Part VI]



My plane took off from Chennai, and I was on my way home for the summer. But I had one last pit stop to make – a three-day layover in Dubai. I was excited – this was my first trip to the Middle East. But when I booked my flight, I didn't think about the consequences of being in a Muslim country during Ramadan.

I don't normally write about flying, but in this case, I have to make an exception. My flight from Chennai to Dubai was one of the greatest of my life. It was on Emirates Airlines and the plane was only about one-third full. I had three seats to myself, and there was nobody in front of me to recline and take away all of my precious leg room. There was a power outlet, so I could plug in my laptop. The entertainment center had the latest music and movies. The food was excellent, the flight was smooth. We even landed a few minutes early. Off to a great start!

Immigration at the airport was a breeze. They asked me exactly zero questions, and I didn't even have to fill out any forms. An official just glanced at my passport, stamped me in and I was done in about 30 seconds. The airport was beautiful, with tall columns, wide open spaces, futuristic walkways and bright escalators. This was a great introduction to a new country, and a fantastic way to get me excited about visiting. If only every country treated tourists so well.

Before leaving the airport, I went to the duty-free shop to buy some beer for Ethan, my host in Dubai. It's difficult to find alcohol outside of the airport, so Ethan had told me he wanted to “stock up”. I bought a case of Heineken and two 12-packs of Strong beer. All of that liquid weighed about 20 KG, and I still had to carry my 25+ KG backpack, so I had my work cut out for me. But it was the least I could do for someone willing to host me in this ridiculously expensive city.

I hauled everything to the metro station and had no trouble figuring out where to go. The train was fast and spotless. The people aboard were diverse and they weren't even staring at me. That was weird. Most of the women weren't wearing head scarfs, though some were, and some Muslim men were wearing full-on white garb. The crowd seemed very international.

As soon as I exited the train station, I realized that I would have to cross a highway to get to Ethan's apartment. This wouldn't be possible on foot, so I would have to take a detour that would add several hundred meters of walking. Normally that wouldn't be an issue, but with the temperature at 38 degrees (100 F) and carrying 45KG (100 lbs) of gear, every extra step would matter. I tried to stay in the shade and quickly figured out that this was not a walkable city. Sidewalks were non-existent at many intersections and even on main roads. At one point I had to walk through a pile of sand. Again, not normally an issue, but I could barely carry this load.

Within minutes, I was drenched in sweat from head to toe. I had a liter of water with me, but this was Ramadan. During my flight, I had learned that it was offensive – if not illegal – to eat or drink anything in public during the day. But I was already severely dehydrated and wouldn't last long in this heat without something to drink. So I suspiciously looked back and forth, bent down, and gulped my water, hopeful that nobody was watching. I felt like a heroin addict, trying to hide his habit.

I found a Subway restaurant in Ethan's building and ordered a sandwich. But I had to take it to go, again because of Ramadan. I was surprised the place was even open. There were probably enough non-Muslim customers to keep it afloat. But the girl working there warned me that I could be fined or arrested if I ate in public.

Ethan's apartment was really nice and I was grateful for his hospitality. After the sun went down, I went out to a delicious dinner with Ethan and his friend Reena at a Lebanese restaurant. I learned that it's a big event during Ramadan when the sun sets and you can finally eat again. This makes perfect sense – the poor Muslims must have been starving, having fasted from sunrise till sunset.

After dinner the three of us went for a walk around Creek Park. Like everything else in Dubai, the creek is man-made. The park was beautiful and spotless and we saw almost no other people. The lack of people was kind of creepy after spending the last several months in India and China, where you're never truly alone. Plenty of people were driving, though. That seemed to be the best way to get around.

The next morning, I noticed a new anxiety creeping up in me. As soon as I stepped outside, I wouldn't be able to eat or drink anything (at least not in public) until 7pm. I could deal with not eating, but not drinking? The temperature was forecast to hit 41 degrees (106 F)! How would I survive an entire day in that kind of heat without water? Instead of leaving the safety of the apartment, I dawdled and caught up on stuff on my computer all morning. At noon I ate leftovers from last night and drank plenty of water. Then I took a deep breath and set off.

Dubai: Picture of Dubai Mall.

I walked to the metro station, taking care to stay in the shade as much as possible. It was really hot and I was sweating rather heavily at the end of my 10-minute walk. Luckily, the station was air conditioned. I took the train to the Dubai Mall, one of the city's most famous attractions. This place was huge and gorgeous and immaculate. Once again, there were people from all walks of life. A few men were dressed in Saudi-style head-to-toe white robes that made them look like they were floating. I was a bit jealous – the clothes looked super comfy. Most women wore Western clothing with no head scarves, though there were some women in hijabs and a handful in full-length black burkas.

Dubai: Picture of Dubai Mall. Dubai: Picture of umbrellas Dubai Mall. Dubai: Picture of fish. Dubai: Picture of hockey rink in the Dubai Mall.

I spent a while walking around the mall. Damn, this place was impressive. There was an aquarium and a hockey rink and an indoor theme park and so much more. The stores were classy and highly specialized. Pink Panther store? Check. Pinocchio store? Check. There were plenty of kids with their parents, and I could see the appeal of living here with kids. Dubai has to be one of the safest big cities in the world and there's plenty of kid-friendly attractions.

I was getting thirsty. I had a liter of water in my backpack, but obviously I couldn't drink it in public. I figured I could go into a bathroom stall and drink it, but I couldn't find a bathroom. I started to panic and had an absurd thought: maybe the mall didn't have any bathrooms. This would prevent people from doing exactly what I wanted to do. But eventually I found the men's room, tucked away in a corner, and my panic attack subsided. I went into a stall and drank half a liter of water. I wondered if anyone was listening for gulping sounds. Afterward, I looked at myself in the mirror and noticed a few drops of water clinging to my beard. Caught red-handed! Luckily, nobody was looking. (I think.)

Before long, I grew bored of walking through the mall (I'm not a mall person), so I went outside. The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, was next to the mall, and now I looked for good places to photograph it. The building looked almost impossibly tall. Its neighbors soared upwards of 50 stories high, and they didn't even reach the lowest levels of the Burj.

Dubai: Picture of Dubai. Dubai: Picture of Dubai. Dubai: Picture of Dubai.

I continued walking through this swanky neighborhood. There was a yellow Lamborghini on display outside of an apartment complex, and many tourists were taking selfies next to it. There was an artificial pond behind the Burj, which I attempted to walk around. But like I said, this wasn't a walkable city, so I had to move away from the pond and onto the main road many times.

It was now after 5:00 and I hadn't eaten or drunk anything in a few hours. I was covered in sweat and getting parched. I found a supermarket and bought a bottle of Gatorade, some yogurt and a meat stick, but I had nowhere to indulge. Now that food and drink were in my hands, they occupied the entirety of my mental focus. I made my way back to the mall, trying to escape the heat before I collapsed. It took a long time to backtrack, but eventually I made it to the safety of the AC. I went into the bathroom and slurped my yogurt. I didn't have a spoon, so I scooped out the dregs using the aluminum foil lid and got yogurt all over my hand. Then I gulped my whole bottle of Gatorade, dribbling the liquid down my shirt. I felt like a wild animal.

Refreshed, I left the bathroom and walked through the mall again. Now that my mind wasn't totally fixated on food and drink, I noticed the other people. They looked run-down and low on energy. I felt bad for them. The restaurants and coffee shops were still closed, but the tantalizing aroma of cooking food filled the air. This was cruel. People already were lining up to eat, even though we still had almost an hour to go. All of that food, and we couldn't eat it yet. I didn't care if it was hot outside; I had to get away from the smell before I went crazy.

Picture of silhouette of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The Burj.

I walked back outside, and now there were lots of people taking pictures of the Burj. I took a few shots and retraced my route around the pond. The sun was going down and I stopped on top of a bridge to take some pictures. I noticed a crowd gathering on the lawn, but didn't think much of it. At about 7:10, several people ran over the bridge to join the growing crowd. I walked down to see what the fuss was all about and noticed an artillery cannon, with many people taking pictures. I held up my camera for a photo, and I heard a guy shout and cover his ears. Then, there was a BANG! as the cannon fired a blank. My ears were ringing, it was so loud. The smoke cleared and some people went to get their pictures taken with the cannon. I figured the cannon fire signaled the end of the fast. I could drink! I looked around just to make sure, but nobody was partaking in the most human of activities. Maybe the fast wasn't over, after all. But then I saw a woman eating a banana. Yes! I sat down and drank all of the remaining water from my bottle. I still felt like I was doing something illegal. But it was over. Thank God.

Picture of cannon in Dubai.

When this cannon fires, you can eat and drink.

I went into the mall, and now all of the restaurants were open. People were having dinner and coming back to life. It was glorious. I found a fried chicken restaurant and engorged myself. I was so famished and eating so fast, I accidentally bit my cheek. Fasting sure seemed unhealthy. But damn, that chicken was good. (I know, I had only “fasted” for a couple hours. Still, my relationship with food and drink totally changed that day.)

* * *

Two days later, I rode the metro across the city, to another giant mall. I walked inside and noticed a sign for a ski hill. I had heard about this indoor ski hill in the middle of the desert, so now I had to see it. It was actually smaller than I had anticipated, and the ceiling was lower. This made sense, considering the extreme use of resources that already must have gone into keeping it cold. It might be a good attraction for the novelty of skiing in a tropical desert, but it was far too expensive ($100+ to ski for two hours) for my taste.

Just when I was getting really hungry, I walked past a food court. There was a curtain in front of it. Damn! But then I heard voices behind the curtain and saw a few people walk around it. Finally, I noticed a sign stating that the food court was open for non-Muslims and kids! I walked inside and saw glorious food and drink, being consumed out in the open. Yes! I had a huge lunch at a Philly cheese steak place and felt revitalized.

The coolest part of my day so far had been riding in the front carriage of the automated metro train (which ran above ground) and looking out the windshield, so I decided to go for a repeat experience. I took the train almost all the way to the end. Along the way, we passed through several mini cities within Dubai, each with their own set of weird skyscrapers. And then the city just ended. There were power lines, smokestack-laden factories, and shitty block housing. Most of the people who were still on the train appeared to be Indian immigrants.

Dubai: Picture of metro in Dubai.

Ridin' that train.

I got off of the train, walked to the other side of the tracks and took a new train toward the center of the city. The first car was almost empty, and I got a “front row seat,” standing and gazing through the windshield. As the Burj came into view, it felt like I was moving toward Oz.

Ethan and I went to an Iranian restaurant for dinner. It had a jovial atmosphere, full of people smoking sheesha and playing backgammon. The guys next to us played game after game of backgammon for two hours straight, at lightning speed. They barely uttered a word to each other the entire time. Our food was delicious; I had a barbecue chicken dish and Ethan had fried fish. There was a live band that played a variety of Middle-Eastern instruments. All in all, it was a fantastic sendoff.

Dubai, with its extreme heat and plentiful shopping malls, wasn't my kind of city. And I certainly can't recommend visiting during Ramadan. But it was still cool to see the world's tallest building and the other zany attractions such as the indoor ski hill. What will they think of next?

Want more pictures? Click here for all of my pictures of Dubai.

Around the World Podcast #27: Carol Woo

Picture of Dan and Carol.

Carol shows off her hippie beret; I show off my new roll of duct tape.

My guest for this episode is Carol Woo (胡宝娟). She grew up in both Guangdong province (China) and Hong Kong. She's quite artistic – she organizes theater performances for international audiences. For now, she's helping to run the Horse Pen 46 hostel in Shaxi, Yunnan Province, which is where I met her. We had a fun and lighthearted conversation in the hostel's coffee shop.

Ready for my conversation with Carol? Here you go:

Carol is part owner of the Horse Pen 46 Hostel in Shaxi, China. This rates as one of my all-time favorite hostels. I guess it should, considering that I stayed there for nearly a month.

You can also find Carol on Facebook and Wechat (ID = carolwpo)

* * *

Show notes:

  • I found a cool website dedicated to Chinese Shadow Puppetry. Here's one of their videos:

    Traditional Chinese Shadow Puppet Performance, Bazhong, China from Annie Rollins on Vimeo.

  • I mentioned the book Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. It is available on Amazon.
  • Nitrogen narcosis happens when you breath pressurized nitrogen (for example, while scuba diving), usually at depths of over 30 meters. It makes you feel drunk, and maybe a little happy.
  • I briefly mentioned China's massive ghost cities. These cities are jaw-dropping, especially when you see them in real life. For more information, the book Ghost Cities of China by Wade Shepard is worth checking out.
  • Many aboriginal groups in Australia identify six (or more) seasons. Here's some more information from trusty Wikipedia.
  • Added to my list of places to visit: Rui Li (瑞丽), a small Chinese town on the border with Myanmar, and Shishuangbanna (西双版纳), another Chinese town near the border with Laos.

And now, for some photo fun:

Picture of Marley, a giant dog in Shaxi China.

Marley, the hostel's guardian dog.

Picture of a Tibetan dog in Shaxi, China.

Luoxi the Tibetan dog.

Picture of rocks near Shaxi, China.

Interesting rock formations near Shaxi.

Picture of the view from a hike near Shaxi, China.

Hiking up the rocks.

Picture of tractor in Guanxi, China.

Here's one of the trucks we talked about. Watch your hands!

2016, What the Year! Part III: India

India: Picture of Taj Mahal behind barbed wire.

The Taj Mahal was closed.

This is part III of my “2016, What the Year!” series. I'm recapping some of my travel memories from the year that was...2016.

Missed the other parts? Jump to [Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV] [Part V] [Part VI]

June 2016


G, Ben and I wanted to visit the Khardung La, the highest road in the world, located near Leh. To get there, we rented motorcycles from a local shop. I had never driven a motorcycle, so I went with Ben.

India: Picture of a man on a motorcycle in Leh, Ladakh.

G on his motorcycle.

On our way up, we came across some construction. A large group of workers lined both sides of the road. They wore loose clothing to protect themselves from exposure to the brutal sun and cold. Each of them was hitting a small rock with a hammer, presumably to make two or more smaller rocks. They looked like they were in a prison chain gang. I felt terrible for them – this was probably their whole existence, breaking rocks, all day every day.

India: Picture of bulldozer on a mountain in India.

A bulldozer sends rocks tumbling down the mountain.

There were many switchbacks in the road. A bulldozer was a couple levels above the rock-breakers. Some employees blocked the whole road, then the bulldozer send a large pile of rocks tumbling down the side of the mountain. Most of the rocks stopped on the next level down, very close to the cars that were waiting patiently. The bulldozer slowly made its way to the next switchback, from where it would send the rocks down even further. We snuck around the bedlam and continued upward.

India: Picture of 28413.

At the Khardung La.

The rest of our long ride up the mountain was beautiful but uneventful. Eventually we reached the pass, 17,582 feet (5359 meters) above sea level.* We had a cup of tea at the top, took a few photos, then made the long ride back down to Leh. Interestingly (or perhaps sadly), despite Ben's significant alpine climbing experience, this was the highest he had ever been. On a road. I had only been higher a handful of times, while mountaineering in Bolivia. Compared with the other great mountain ranges of the world, the Himalayas are in a league of their own.

India: Picture of mountain scenery near the Khardung La in India.

Near the pass.

India: Picture of Leh, India from above.

Leh is far below.

*** I should note that the souvenir shops and signs at the Khardung La all claim that it is the world's highest road, at 18,380 feet (5602 meters). This is false; the actual elevation is 17,582 feet (5359 meters), still quite high, but that's a pretty big error to overlook. Is it still the world's highest road? That depends on your definition of “road”. Does a military road count? How about a dead end road? Or a gravel road? No matter what your definition, Khardung La is certainly one of the highest roads in the world. ***

India: Picture of elevation sign at the Khardung La.

Actual elevation: 17,582 feet.

Here are a few more photos from Leh:

India: Picture of Leh from above.

Leh has a very dry climate, though the trees help to disguise this fact.

India: Picture of man in a red shirt avoiding a bull on a street in India.

Due to his red shirt, G stayed as far from the cows as possible.

India: Picture of electrical wiring in India.

Electricity, Indian style.

India: Picture of man on the street in Leh, India.
India: Picture of a street vendor in Leh, India.

Street vendor.

India: Picture of man sitting on a curb in Leh, India.
India: Picture of a butcher in Leh, Ladakh, India.

The butcher.

India: Picture of women selling vegetables on the street in Leh, India.

At a vegetable market.

India: Picture of Sikh on a Royal Enfield motorcycle in Leh, India.

I Sikh you to join the military.

* * *

Ben had to return to work, so he caught a flight to Delhi. G wanted to get back to his laptop in Vashisht. I wanted to do some more traveling, so we split up. My plan was to travel by myself in a large circle around Kashmir, before meeting G back in Vashisht. This would take about a week, and it would involve several long bus rides.

India: Picture of the Himalayan mountains from a bus window.

Beginning my trip.

The first leg of my trip was from Leh to Srinagar, in Kashmir. As soon as I boarded the bus, I saw that my height would be an issue. Even when sitting straight up, I couldn't face forward. My thigh bone was actually a few inches longer than the distance between my seat and the one in front of mine. And each row had five seats, rather than the standard four. The couple across from me laughed when they saw that I didn't fit. I get laughed at all the time for being tall. If I had to share my “2 seats” (really barely wider than my ass) with another person, this would be a torturous 22-hour ride. Luckily, I got both seats to myself, and it felt like a luxury.

India: Picture of fuel truck on a highway in India.

Continuing down the long and lonesome road.

Our driver wore a saffron turban and a thick beard. His left eyeball was pure red. He had a slight paunch and a nice smile. We left 40 minutes late, and almost immediately stopped at a military checkpoint. About ten minutes later, we passed through a military base. I saw a soccer game in action, and everyone was in full fatigues. How did they figure out who was on which team?

India: Picture of colorful mountains in India.

Colorful mountain scenery.

India: Picture of Himalaya mountains in India.


We continued along the mountainous road all afternoon, winding our way down a beautiful valley and then back up again. The hills looked like they were painted multiple colors. We stopped for dinner at a dhaba, and I stayed on the bus. I had been sick for the last five days or so, and I had no appetite. I did have a package of Oreo's with me, and I managed to eat a few.

When the woman who had laughed at me for being too tall returned to the bus, she asked if I had already eaten.

“Yes,” I replied, hoping that would be the end of the conversation.

“What did you eat?”

“I'm not feeling good so I just had some cookies.”


“No.” Quite the opposite.

“Loose motions?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

“How many times have you been to the toilet today?”

This was getting far too personal. I just sat there, trying to think of what to say.

She laughed and said, “Most foreigners have to start taking antibiotics before they even come to India.” She dug through her purse and found a small plastic container with what looked like Tic Tacs inside, and said, “Open your mouth.”

I hesitated.

“Come on, open up. These should help with your loose motions, and even if they don't, I guarantee they'll cause you no harm.”

I opened my mouth. She held the container over me and shook it. A few Tic Tacs hit their mark. It was so humiliating.

“There, that should help you,” she said, with a look of pride.

“Thanks,” I said. I hoped she was right.

The road got even more remote as we continued to drive, late into the night. I drifted off for a bit, but then our driver played the music louder, likely to keep himself awake. The pavement ran out and we got jostled. No way I could read. And I couldn't sleep. And there was nothing to look at because it was dark. The terrible road just kept going, hour after hour. At last we reached the city of Kargil at about 2am.

We were on the border with the disputed part of Kashmir, and the atmosphere was tense. We stopped at a military checkpoint, and men in fatigues were roaming around, guns in hand. I couldn't blame the government for being paranoid, considering that India and Pakistan have fought in multiple wars over this territory. Even to this day, tensions occasionally flared.

The checkpoint was closed until dawn, so we had to wait. This should have meant that I would get a few much-needed hours of sleep, but there was a problem. Our friendly driver found an empty space next to some semis and parked. The ground was uneven and the bus listed to the right. Gravity was pulling me toward the center of the aisle, and I had nothing to lean against. Two kids started whining near me and several adults started talking loudly. On top of that, we were at 9000 feet and it was freezing. This was one of the most uncomfortable bus rides I had ever taken. The phenomenal scenery was the only thing saving it.

At around 5am, the checkpoint opened and we were on our way. As we went downhill, the temperature warmed and the road's condition improved. We stopped for breakfast and the lady who had shaken the “medicine” in my mouth asked if I was feeling better. I told her that I was, though I was pretty it was because of the antibiotics.

India: Picture of mountain road in India.

On our way down, toward Srinagar.

By noon we were driving next to a huge lake and entering the city of Srinagar. The ride took 22 hours and all of the passengers were exhausted. Hats off to our driver for getting us there safely, on such little sleep.

* * *
India: Picture of the lakefront in Srinagar, India.

The lakefront in Srinagar.

The majority of people in Srinagar are Muslim, and multiple mosques were broadcasting their prayers on loudspeakers when I arrived. I found a hotel and took a long nap, desperately trying to block out the noise of the prayers.

India: Picture of the lakefront in Srinagar, India.

The lake.

In the afternoon, I went for a walk. Srinagar is on a lake, and this is a popular place for domestic tourists to go on boat rides and sleep on houseboats. I wasn't interested, so I just walked along the lake front, hoping for some peace and quiet. Of course, I would have to avoid the boat guys' sales pitches, but I really had my work cut out for me on other fronts, as well.

Every couple of minutes, a local man approached me and wanted to talk. Around two-thirds of them genuinely wanted a long conversation, but the rest wanted to sell me stuff. The problem was, they almost always started the conversation the same way: “Hello my friend. Where you from?” I had never been to a place where the locals were so eager to approach me.

At one point a guy asked where I was from and started walking with me.

I said, “USA.”

“Cool, which part of the USA?” he asked.

Just then, another guy approached me and said, “Hello my friend. Where you from?”

I said, “Wisconsin,” answering the first guy, but the second guy thought I was saying the name of a country.

The first guy asked, “Is this your first time in Kashmir?”

Simultaneously, the second guy asked, “Which part of Wisconsin?”

I answered them both, then they both asked another question and it was like a sliding scale where the second guy was always one question behind. Finally, the second guy broke the flow by asking, “You know Amsterdam coffee shop? You want that?”

“No thanks,” I said, and the second guy left. But the first guy was still walking with me. I politely excused myself and walked in the other direction. But I knew it wouldn't be long before someone else would approach me. There was absolutely no way possible to get a few minutes of peace and quiet, at least not near the lake. I needed a new plan.

I went in the direction of the Old City, away from the touristy part of town. Eventually, I found some back streets that rarely, if ever, saw tourists. This was a fascinating neighborhood. A butcher was lying back in the window of his stall, bare feet on the counter, with two skinned goats hanging upside-down in front of him, genitals dangling, flies flying all around. Men were boiling tar in a bucket, preparing it to be spread across the road. The stench was overwhelming. Kids were playing cricket, admiring my camera a little too much. Men gave me creepy stares; women seemed afraid of me. Two fruit vendors insisted that I take their picture. They were so proud of their stands.

India: Picture of fruit vendors in Srinagar, India.

The proud fruit vendors.

India: Picture of Muslim men in Srinagar, India.

Muslim men.

India: Picture of Indian rickshaw.

A “rick” and a motorbike.

At last, I had found the “authentic” part of Srinagar. Afterward, I walked back to my hotel and planned the next leg of my journey.

* * *
India: Picture of street photo from India. India: Picture of street photo from India. India: Picture of street photo from India.

I took a minibus from Srinagar to Jammu, with plans to head to Dharamsala from there. Along the way we passed through village after village, while skirting the edge of the same hill for four hours straight. As we went lower (Srinagar is at about 1600 meters, Jammu 300) it got hotter, until I was sweating like crazy and couldn't stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time.

The first thing I wanted to do in Jammu was leave. The area around the bus station was as filthy as I had ever seen. I thought I was crossing a garbage dump until I looked down and saw that it was a river. People and garbage were everywhere. And did I mention how hot it was? I found out that a bus left for the town of Pathankot in two hours. This was on the way to Dharamsala, so I bought a ticket.

While waiting for the bus, I sat on the only bench that wasn't already covered by a human or filth. A skinny old man hobbled past me. He had long gray hair and a beard to match; his dark skin was covered in dirt. He looked around, found an empty water bottle with the cap still attached, and used his foot to roll it against a wall. I thought he was getting ready to bend down and pick it up, but then he sat on it. A nifty seat.

A cockroach scurried across the floor in front of me and ducked into the next room. Then a couple minutes later, a rat ran across the same spot, as if following the roach. It caught peoples' eyes, but nobody seemed that surprised to see it. The bottle-sitter didn't notice at all.

An older man sat next to me. He had short gray hair and light skin and at first I mistook him for a tourist. But he was also wearing business casual clothes and speaking to me in Hindi. Or was it English? His accent was so thick, it was hard to tell. I did my best to answer his questions; he showed me a brochure and now I understood. He was selling drains with built-in cockroach guards. How appropriate. He kept trying to get my phone number. I explained that I didn't need a drain with a cockroach guard. Or any drain at all, for that matter. Eventually he handed me a key chain with his phone number on it and left me alone.

The bus took about 2.5 hours to reach Pathankot, and I slept for about 2.4 hours. When I got to the bus station, I got a room at the local guesthouse, located directly above the buses, and immediately passed out.

The next day I took a bus the rest of the way to Dharamsala. Thankfully it went uphill most of the way, bringing some cooler temperatures. From there I walked further uphill to Mcleod Granj, home of the Dalai Lama. This town was quieter than Dharamsala, but still packed with tourists and motorcycles. I continued walking uphill to the village of Baghsu, but that was also too busy. So I kept going uphill, until the roads ran out at the tiny hamlet of Dharamkot. Finally, I was in a place with a relaxed atmosphere, and a cooler climate to boot.

India: Picture of Dharamkot, India.


While hanging out at the cafe in my guesthouse, I met an Australian guy named David. He informed me that the Dalai Lama was in town, and would be giving public lectures for the next few days. I hadn't really considered going to see the Dalai Lama because he's usually traveling around the world (or so I thought), but my timing was impeccable. We decided to go to the lecture in the morning.

David and I met at 6am and walked to Mcleod Granj together. We found the Dalai Lama's temple, registered and went inside at about 7:30; it was still fairly empty. There was a small inner room for VIPs, and a larger room for everyone else surrounding it. Many people had shown up early and laid out blankets and cushions to reserve their places (much like they do for the Concerts On The Square in Madison, WI). We didn't think to bring blankets or cushions, so we just found a small patch of bare concrete, sat down and waited.

We didn't have chairs or any sort of back support, and the lecture wasn't due to start for an hour and a half. It was going to be a long wait. People gradually shuffled in. We were soon surrounded by monks in red robes. One generous monk gave me a spare cushion. Soon the place was packed. The crowd appeared to be about 30% Tibetan monks, 40% Indian/non-Tibetan, and 30% foreigners.

At 8:30, there was a 30-minute meditative chant, where a man repeated the same short phrase over the loudspeakers. Funny thing though: a day later I couldn't remember what the phrase was, even though I probably had heard it a thousand times. I fell asleep partway through, while sitting up. At the end, two overhead TV screens were turned on and the Dalai Lama approached, right on time.

The head of Tibetan Buddhism looked a bit heavier than I had expected. He was covered in red and yellow robes, and he had a shiny head and oversized glasses. He looked frail – two monks helped him along. He slowly made his way into the building, up the stairs, and to his chair. Everybody stood; nobody clapped.

The Dalai Lama spoke for an hour; his message was mostly about creating peace on Earth. He seemed to be winding down his time on this planet – he made it clear that he was from the twentieth century and now it was time for the twenty-first century folks to take over. He was humble, too. At one point he said that if he thought of himself as the Dalai Lama, he felt lonely. But if he thought of himself as a human, then he had seven billion others to share this life experience with. He spoke in English for this whole hour. During his speech, monks walked through the crowd, passing out bread rolls and pouring cups of yak milk tea. It was savory, not sweet, but still delicious, and a nice gesture.

The second hour was a Q and A session. Most of the questions were well thought out, such as asking how to work toward world peace, and peace within ourselves. But the question that stuck out for me was when one guy asked, “If I put a golden statue of the Buddha over my grave, will I be reincarnated?” The Dalai Lama simply answered, “I don't know.” I knew the man was smart, but damn, that was a good answer.

For the final hour, the Dalai Lama and another monk read from a prayer book. This was done entirely in Tibetan. My back was sore from sitting up for the last three and a half hours. I kept shifting, trying to get comfortable. I couldn't lie down because there were too many people. But somehow, I made it through. The monks, on the other hand, looked like they could've sat up straight for a week without the slightest discomfort. Surprisingly, a lot of people, monks included, were talking while the Dalai Lama talked. David made a comment that had this been a Western audience, you could've heard a pin drop.

The session ended at noon. The Dalai Lama walked down the stairs directly below me, helped up by two others. While he was talking I saw what a great ambassador he was for the world. Either the monks who had found him when he was just a toddler had gotten incredibly lucky, or maybe they really were onto something with the whole reincarnation business.

* * *

The next night I headed back to Manali, crammed in a taxi with five Thai tourists. I walked up to Vashisht and met up with G at 6am. We sat on the roof, drinking coffee, eating breakfast and discussing what to do next. We still had a few days to climb a mountain. Friendship Peak was on the radar, but G's ankle was still in pain, especially when he walked sideways uphill – exactly the type of climbing we would do on Friendship. He thought about it for a long time and determined that it just wasn't going to happen. We'd be in the back-country and if he hurt himself again, it would be bad news.

As for me, my antibiotics (or possibly the Tic Tacs) had helped, and I was feeling healthy once again. I could've looked for another partner, but I wasn't willing to do any serious climbing with someone I'd just met. So mountaineering was out, and that was OK with me. Instead of climbing, I had traveled to beautiful places and seen interesting cultures that I wouldn't have seen had I sat at Chattru looking at a mountain for a month.

India: Picture of a man on a motorcycle in the forest in India.

G on our motorcycle.

The next day, G and I rented a motorcycle. We rode up a long hill and stopped at a dhaba along the way. We chatted with the owner, drinking chai and eating snacks. Our total bill was less than $1. If only they had dhabas everywhere, I think the world would be a much happier place. We continued to a waterfall that really wasn't impressive, but at least the views from the forest were beautiful. We headed down to the town of Nagar and walked through the famous old castle, built a few hundred years ago. It felt good to be a “normal” tourist for a day.

India: Picture of the valley below Nagar, India.

The valley below Nagar.

We made the long ride back to Manali after dark. Traffic was horrendous. We approached a single-lane bridge, and the traffic police stopped us. It was the oncoming traffic's turn to cross the bridge; we would have to wait about ten minutes before continuing. I got off of the bike and paced.

Once traffic started moving again, I jumped on the bike and we took off. Because we were already right in front of the bridge, we hit it at a slow pace. The bridge was built with wood planks with significant gaps between them. The bike's tires got caught in one of these gaps and the whole thing tipped over. I instinctively stuck out my foot, and brushed my ankle against the muffler in the process. There was no heat shield, so I got a painful second-degree burn. My ankle now bares a scar the size of a silver dollar, one of the only souvenirs I would take home from India.

Now that both G and I were injured (my burn prevented me from wearing shoes without being in a lot of pain), we spent the next two days simply walking around, watching a Bollywood movie (an interesting experience in its own right), and chatting with the many people we had met in the area. Then we caught an overnight bus back to Delhi, ready for the last leg of our journey.

* * *

We spent the day in Delhi, catching up with Abisheck, Schresht and a few other people we had met recently. At night, Abisheck, Schresht and I went to Old Delhi for dinner. The area was dark and packed with people. I pointed out a giant ball of bare electrical wires, with lines leading out from it and crisscrossing overhead. It looked ridiculously dangerous. Abisheck said that people run new wires out to the transformers in order to steal electricity. This is so common, nobody even knows who's paying for what anymore. The streets were full of trash and dirt. Cars were constantly honking their horns, everything smelled of piss, and there were lots of beggars and starving people. Yet this place was growing on me. Something about the intensity of India was just so damned alluring. The colors, sights and sounds were like nowhere else I'd ever been. We went to a Muslim restaurant for dinner. The mutton was almost falling off the bone. We also had chicken, curries, rice and roti, all of which tasted amazing. We washed it all down with a Thumbs-up cola.

India: Picture of a trash dump next to the train tracks in Delhi, India.

Taken from the train to Agra.

The next morning, G and I caught a train to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. The train itself was old but nice, with plenty of legroom and a large window. Chai and coffee vendors walked past us every few minutes, and I took full advantage. The train left on time. Soon we passed many slums, where people lived in tents; they probably had no electricity or running water. While glancing at these slums, I saw multiple men taking a shit on the train tracks next to us. I wondered where the women went to the bathroom, given that there didn't seem to be proper toilets. I saw (and smelled) men pissing all over the place in India, but never women.

We continued out of the city and for the first time since coming to India, I saw some actual countryside. Farmers were using oxen to plow many small fields. I saw very little machinery. There were also plenty of villages and a few more slums, but the landscape seemed much more open than anywhere else I had been in the country. The train was gloriously air conditioned, a wonderful contrast from the torrid outside world. A week earlier, while I was in the mountains, the temperature in Delhi had reached 47 C (116 F), resulting in many deaths.

When we got to Agra, we found out that because today was Friday, the Taj was closed. That should've been obvious to us, but we hadn't thought of it beforehand. Luckily we would still have time to go in the morning. With our whole afternoon suddenly free, we hopped on a bus to Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient city about 40 KM from Agra.

After arriving, we visited the famous Jama Mosque, built in 1648 by Emperor Shah Jahan. Here are some photos:

India: Picture of the Jama Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri, India. India: Picture of the Jama Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri, India. India: Picture of the Jama Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri, India.
India: Picture of the Jama Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri, India.

You have to walk barefoot in the mosque and the stone floor was scorching hot. This guy is giving us a bit of relief.

We took the bus back to Agra, then got off near the Red Fort. We walked along the oppressive, noisy highway for a bit, then turned onto a side road and walked through a non-touristy neighborhood. Everyone here was friendly. Kids constantly came up and said hi. Many adults did, too. There were cows in the streets, kids playing cricket, people washing clothes, sitting around and chatting, carrying construction equipment here and there. Life was on full display.

India: Picture of a street vendor in Agra, India. India: Picture of street in Agra, India.
India: Picture of guy sleeping outside of the Red Fort in Agra, India.

Just sleeping. I hope.

Later, we took a rickshaw to a park behind the Taj Mahal. There were only a handful of other people in the park, so we could walk right up to the dry riverbed that separated the park from the Taj. One couple walked around a fence for a closer look, but a guy with a whistle and a stick made them come back. Then he went for a piss on the lawn. Apparently that was still allowed. A sign warned us that “sitting behind bushes” was strictly forbidden. I wondered if “sitting behind bushes” mean sex, or shitting, or maybe it really did mean sitting behind bushes. We took a seat (not behind any bushes) and watched the sunset. This was our view:

India: Picture of G looking at the Taj Mahal.

Not a bad view.

The next morning, we went to the Taj Mahal:

India: Picture of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. India: Picture of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. India: Picture of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. India: Picture of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
India: Picture of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

A monkey drops out of a tree in front of the Taj.

Afterward, we took a bus back to Delhi and boarded our train to Chennai. We got one of the higher-priced carriages, so we had beds, with a bit of space and privacy. This was good, considering that the journey would take around 36 hours.

India: Picture of man reading a newspaper on an Indian sleeper train.

G reads the paper from his berth.

We spent the day reading the paper, listening to podcasts and watching the scenery. I only got off the train at one stop, for about five minutes. I looked at a few books for sale and the vendor asked where I was from. I said, “USA” and he smiled and said, “Osama bin Laden!” Then it seemed to dawn upon that he had said the wrong name. He shook his head and said, “Obama!”

India: Picture of a cattle driven cart stopping for a train in India .

Train crossing.

At one point I walked between two cars, unlatched the door and leaned outside. The train was going at least 60mph so this was incredibly dangerous, but also exhilarating. This country was really growing on me. India certainly has its downsides, but you have a kind of freedom here that doesn't exist in most places I have visited. The attitude seems to be “Go ahead and kill yourself if you want. There's a billion of us here as it is.”

While I was leaning outside and taking pictures, a guy approached me and asked where I was from. His next question threw me off: “Do you have a valid passport?” I asked who he was and if he was a train employee. He either didn't hear me (it was quite loud between the cars) or he didn't understand or he pretended not to understand. He asked me again if I had a valid passport and finally I caved and said of course I do. Then he started asking me more uncomfortable questions like when I had arrived in India and when I was leaving and how long my visa was good for. I ignored him. There was alcohol on his breath and he didn't carry the air of an official. I towered over him. So now I was getting annoyed and decided that the best thing to do was to walk away. My bed was very close, and he followed me straight there, then he asked me if that was my berth and started repeating the same uncomfortable questions. Finally he left me alone and went back between the cars. I walked the opposite direction and pulled open the door to the next car. The man followed me. I headed back to my berth; he followed and our neighbors yelled at him, and finally he left me alone. Our neighbors confirmed that yes, he was drunk, but he wasn't any sort of official and he was harmless. Just annoying. It was a weird situation, but I had learned that in India, you have to expect the unexpected.

* * *

G is from Chennai, so as soon as we arrived, we headed straight for his family's home. I got to meet his parents, sister and 92-year-old grandma. They were all lovely people and their home was beautiful. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to spend in the area. I had to catch a flight to Dubai.

G drove me to the airport. We spent the whole ride reminiscing about the last five weeks. My first impression of India was that it was really chaotic and dirty. That impression didn't change, but the longer I stayed in the country, the more it grew on me. Many people here have a laid-back attitude, like “I just got drunk and I don't want to go home and have my wife yell at me, so I'll just pass out on this sidewalk.” Not that that's healthy behavior but it's an interesting lifestyle. I hope I get the chance to return to India for a longer trip. Even this shorter one was unforgettable.

Want to see all of my photos from India? Here you go.

Around the World Podcast #26: Kathy McGowan

Picture of me and Kathy.

Dan and Kathy

My guest today is Kathy McGowan. When I met her, she had just finished a three-year stint of living in a “small” city in China (population 3 million), and was relaxing in Shaxi for a few days before heading to New Zealand. The thing that struck me about Kathy was her willingness to just pick up everything and move. She's lived in over fifty houses, and counting. We talked about a few of her former homes (including India and Malta), as well as what's up next for her.

Please enjoy my conversation with Kathy McGowan:

[Download] [iTunes] [Stitcher] []

Kathy's website is called Travels Through My Life. She writes about her amazing experiences, living in different parts of the world. Castle Douglas to Lelupul is her story of moving to India with a two-year-old child and one more on the way. She also has many pictures, including a photo set of her mummified cat. I especially like the one titled “Going to the vet...”

Kathy also is working with the Kep Gardens Social Enterprise Project in Cambodia. The goal is to provide some people with a sustainable income for their school. She's looking for one or two people to help set up a business near a tropical beach. If you are interested, you can find more info on the organization's website.

Show Notes:

  • From this podcast, I added Finland and Shimla, India to my list of future travel destinations.
  • Correction: I said I went to a market near the Cordillera Huayhuash, but I meant the Apolobamba. 1000DaysBetween regrets this error.

2016, What the Year! Part II: India

India: Picture of scenic mountain view near Manali, India.

On the way down from the Sethan Dome.

This is part II of my “2016, What the Year!” series. I'm recapping some of my travel memories from the year that was...2016.

Missed the other parts? Jump to [Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV] [Part V] [Part VI]

May 2016


I spent about five weeks in India. It was an incredible country, with never a dull moment. This is a long post, but trust me, it's just a brief summary of my time in India. In fact, this entry will only cover May, so there's more to come. Stay tuned.

* * *
Two boys on a bicycle in front of some slums in Delhi, India.

On the outskirts of Delhi.

I took a red-eye flight from Beijing to Delhi, arriving at around 2am. Getting through immigration was very easy and customs was literally just walking past a guy who looked like the Great Tiger, wearing a turban and a Western suit, bobbing his head from side to side, welcoming newcomers.

Because it was the middle of the night, I decided to stay in the airport until dawn. I got a paper map of the city, withdrew some money from an ATM, and figured out which part of town I was going to look for a hotel in. With these formalities taken care of, I found a bit of empty floor space in the airport lounge and slept for a few hours. A handful of other people had the same idea as me, sleeping in various corners of a small room. This was already a huge difference from China, where people have an aversion to sitting on the ground. Pleasant Indian music was playing overhead. Earplugs helped.

I got up a little before 5am, when the train into the city started running, and walked to the train station. Along the way, I passed dozens of people sleeping on cement railings, about one foot wide. It wasn't clear to me if they were also travelers, or simply homeless.

The train into the city was clean, modern and cheap ($1). It dropped me off in the middle of Delhi at 6am. I stepped off of the air-conditioned carriage and walked outside. Dawn was breaking, so it was the coldest part of the day, yet I was already sweating from the heat. This place looked just how I imagined India to be. Tons of people, tuk tuks everywhere, honking horns, people sleeping on the walkways. One guy appeared to be having a seizure on the ground; everyone just walked past him without looking. Even the stray dogs ran past him without a second glance.

A guard was standing outside with a long gun slung over his shoulder. I asked him where the subway was and he pointed it out. His directions were accurate, and he even spoke English. This was so different from China.

Once I located the subway I bought a token for 16 rupees (25 cents) and was off. The subway itself was nice, built like subways all over the world. I went to Kailash Colony metro station, got a room in a hotel, then went in search of breakfast. While walking, I ran into a guy selling chai for 6 rupees (9 cents) a cup. There was a man sitting at the chai stand; he wore a bucket had that said “India”. We started chatting; he told me that he lived nearby and he came here every morning for chai. He bought a newspaper from a bicycle delivery man and started reading. I got two servings of bread with egg in the middle and drank cup after cup of chai, taking everything in. Here I was, in India, and Delhi's street life was passing by all around me:

There were three fruit vendors across the road; all of them sat there, reading newspapers between serving customers. Four men pulled up on bicycles. I think they were collecting cardboard. They all got a cup of chai and chatted. People came and went, many passed by on bicycles, a few in cars and motorcycles. It was already a scorching hot day, but sitting in the shade made it manageable.

Everything seemed so different from China here, yet I couldn't quite pinpoint why. Maybe because India is so much less developed. Many people I saw walking around were emaciated, especially those picking up the trash. Maybe it was because I saw cows in the road. In China, those cows would get eaten in a second. There was also a canal that was completely covered in trash, as far as the eye could see. The roads were dusty. Everything seemed so in-your-face.

One thing that especially separated this place from China was the lack of smart phones. I sat in the same spot for over an hour, and I only saw a couple of people talking on their phones. And nobody was looking down, tapping away like a zombie or taking selfies. A few people read newspapers, which really wasn't that different from browsing the web on a smart phone, but nonetheless the people seemed much more attentive to their surroundings than in China. Sadly, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before smart phones become so cheap, nearly everyone will have one. Today the base models cost less than $100, but that's still too expensive for many people. Once they hit $10, I think India will become entrenched in smart phone culture.

At any rate, I greatly enjoyed just sitting around, chatting with the locals, and taking it all in. I wasn't even tempted to take out my SLR camera or even my phone. I was happy to live in the moment.

India: Picture of Safdarjung's tomb in Delhi, India.

Safdarjung's tomb.

I did do a bit of sightseeing later in the day, at Safdarjung's tomb. To my untrained eyes, this place looked like the Taj Mahal, at least a smaller and slightly crumbling version of the Taj. A large park surrounded the tomb. There were about twelve trees on one side of the lawn; underneath eleven of them, a young couple was feeling each other up. I lay under the unoccupied tree, not far from a couple making out, and took a nap. This was another difference from China: you could actually sit on the grass here. Once when I was in Shanghai, a cop actually woke me up from a nap and told me to get off of the grass.

* * *
A large crowd forms in Delhi, India.

The area around the bus station was crowded.

The main reason I had come to India was to go climbing. On my second day in Delhi, I met with my friend G, originally from Chennai. We planned to head north to Himachal Pradesh, at the base of the Himalayas, where we would work on climbing several of G's projects. That night we boarded a bus bound for the small city of Manali, where we would base our climbing adventures. As we drove, I saw all sorts of interesting stuff on the outskirts of the city: a cricket game in a park next to a slum, many people burning garbage, lots of cows and some pigs too, near (and even in) the road. The sun went down over a hazy horizon and we settled in for a long ride.

India: Picture of a motorcycle on a dusty road in Delhi, India.

A dusty road.

We arrived at Manali at around 8:00 am. G left the bus first, while I put on my hiking boots. He was going to negotiate a fair price for a taxi to the neighboring town of Vashisht without me (a white foreigner) in the picture. I gave him a few minutes, then got off the bus. The plan had failed. While stepping off of the bus, G had landed awkwardly on a rock and twisted his ankle. He was hobbling around, trying to assess how bad it was.

G did still manage to negotiate a fair price for the taxi. We went through town, then up a long hill, for around 20 minutes and arrived in Vashisht. This was a small, laid-back town, a perfect place to relax.

G's sprain seemed kind of bad, which would definitely put our climbing ambitions back a few days. Luckily we had some time to spare. We went up to a cafe for breakfast and sat on cushions on the floor, overlooking a whitewater river, with the snowy Himalaya mountains in the background. There were a bunch of rock climbers at the restaurant, and G knew most of them (he had become something of a rock climbing celebrity during his short time here a few months ago).

India: Picture of snake charmer in India.

Least surprising thing in India: a snake charmer at my doorstep.

One person we met was Huzefa, who lived in a little house, up in the hills. If we were going to climb anything big, we would have to get acclimatized, and Huzefa suggested a hike that started from his home. G, with his sprained ankle, wouldn't be able to go, but I was up for it.

G and I rented a scooter, drove up a long series of switchbacks and eventually arrived at Huzefa's. The house was very basic, with an entry room and a bedroom. Water was running constantly outside (it was spring, and the snow in the mountains was melting), and there was an outdoor toilet. There were only a few other houses in the area. The reason Huzefa was living in this remote shack without any ammenities was to harden himself. It seemed to have worked. We hiked up to the dhaba (general store/home) above him, and Huzefa was practically running out of the gate. We were at 2500 meters (8200 feet), so I was quickly out of breath. Now I wasn't sure if I could keep up on our acclimatization hike.

* * *
Far above Manali.

Manali is far below.

We got up at 4am, ate a quick oatmeal breakfast took off walking uphill in the darkness. I think I was just fast enough for Huzefa not to get frustrated, but it was obvious that he still wanted to set a faster pace. Eventually we fell into a regular rhythm so we could stick together.

We hiked up through the forest, in a narrow strip between a mining project and some private property. After 1.5 hours we reached a clearing at the edge of the tree line. Cows were grazing in the grasses. There were also some sheep and the ruins of a few houses. Huzefa told me that a shepherd lived here, but I didn't see him around.

We went up a grassy hill, which was as far as Huzefa had gone in the past. From here on up was uncharted territory. The rock face in front of us looked steep, so we circled around and scrambled up a ridge. Now we were both thoroughly exhausted. I would no longer have to worry about Huzefa running ahead of me.

India: Picture of Huzefa on the snow above Manali, India.

The snow line.

The snow line was at the top of the ridge. We walked across a few patches, then up maybe another 200 meters, on our way to the summit of the Sethan Dome. We reached our goal, at 3960 meters, after five hours. There were many higher peaks around us, but this was a good goal for the day and I was glad to have reached it.

We sat on top, napped and enjoyed the scenery for 1.5 hours. Hopefully this would be a great help for acclimatizing. Then we headed back down, basically along the same route. We were back to the dhaba two hours later. We met up with G, ate lunch and headed back down on his scooter.

India: Picture of people paving the road from Manali to Vashisht, India.

Paving the road.

Once at the bottom of the valley, we made our way back to Vashisht. Traffic was diabolical. Luckily, on the scooter we could maneuver our way around the mile-long line of cars. But then we ran up against the worst part yet. They were actually repaving the only road to Vashisht, in the middle of the day, on a weekend, in the middle of the high tourist season! Three guys were burning tar in a barrel, then women were filling buckets of tar and splashing it on the road, where others were waiting with mops. Finally, a steamroller flattened it. The whole road was blocked, save for a tiny section at the edge, barely wide enough to walk around. We waited for a long time before G was finally able to sneak around it on the bike. What were they thinking? They could have paved this road on a weekday, or a different time of the year (in the fall, it's relatively empty here), or simply done the work at night when there was little traffic. But to block the whole road at this time of day seemed incredibly short-sighted.

I was exhausted and my patience was wearing thin. But finally we reached our hotel and I could get some well-deserved rest.

* * *

G's friend Ben from Germany arrived on the overnight bus from Delhi. G's ankle was feeling better, so the three of us planned to take a bus to the remote outpost of Chattru for our first shot at alpine climbing. We had to be back in Manali in a few days to meet two more climbing friends, but this would be a good chance to assess the climbing conditions and our group's strength.

We arrived at the bus station early, but the bus wasn't there. Every five minutes, we asked around for more information, but got nowhere. Then the word came that for some unexplained reason, the bus wasn't coming. Now what would we do? G asked someone about getting a taxi to a tiny outpost called Gramphoo, and that actually seemed possible. But there was still one issue: we still had to get permission to take this ride. G went with an employee to obtain this.

Finally G came back and gave us a thumbs-down. The line to get permission was easily two hours long. This is when you know you're in the developing world. Plan A is cheap, but it fails. You don't want to waste time, so you decide to open your wallet and go for Plan B. But then that fails, too, and you realize that nothing – not even money – will make the inefficient gears move faster.

India: Picture of waterfall near Manali, India.

A waterfall on the way up.

We got lucky: there was a bus to Gramphoo later in the day, and it actually left on time. We left Manali and passed many shops hanging full body snow suits out to dry. It turned out that a popular tourism draw for this region was the Roatan pass, which at over 4000 meters still had snow. Most of the Indian tourists who came here had never seen snow, so a popular pastime was to rent a snow suit and go play around at the pass.

India: Picture of men at the Roatan Pass in India.

My bus mates.

The people on the bus were largely Punjabi, both Hindus and turban-wearing Sikhs. They gave the three of us many thumbs-ups and took our pictures, sitting in the back of the bus. We zigzagged around switchbacks up the road leading to the Roatan Pass. The scenery was spectacular, with mountains with melting snow leading to waterfalls and a river far below. A few hours later, we reached the pass. Indeed, there was a long line of vehicles parked along the side of the road, with many Indians playing in the snow, filthy from car exhaust and natural sediment. The bus stopped and I got out with my new Punjabi friends to jump around and dance. They even taught me a phrase: “dei machi saag” meaning “good luck” (I think). We would need it.

Now we could see the other side of the pass, and the scenery was equally amazing. We slowly made our way down; the road was much worse on this side. The pass had just opened after a long winter, so this side probably hadn't gotten any maintenance in the last eight months.

Once we reached Gramphoo, near the bottom of the valley, the bus stopped and dropped us off. We waved goodbye to our Punjabi friends and were on our own. Now we were delivered some bad news. A sign showed us the road to Chattru, 17 KM from here. We were carrying all of our climbing gear, as well as our camping gear and several days' food, so this would be a tough haul.

India: Picture of two people hiking on the gravel road to Chattru, India.

Hiking to Chattru.

We only had about two hours of daylight left, so we started walking. We crossed about six different small streams covering the road. Most of the time we could rock-hop, but a couple of them had no easy way across, other than walking over the glacier above. A couple of times we had ten-foot snow banks on either side of us, melting and creating an unbelievable amount of water.

India: Picture of hikers walking next to a five-meter snow field.

There were still some high snow fields.

When it started to get dark we found a great campsite, on a flat section of green grass, with clear water flowing nearby. We set up camp, made dinner, filtered a bunch of water and went to bed. We would have to finish the rest of the hike in the morning.

* * *

It began to rain soon after we started hiking the next day. Conditions were getting worse by the minute. We were now at a high point on the road, a few hundred feet above the river, and there were some switchbacks coming up. We started to cut them off, and almost immediately G twisted his ankle and fell. He was obviously in a lot of pain, and now his injury was probably worse than it had been a few days ago. And we still had at least an hour of hiking, through the rain, before we would reach Chattru.

Just then we saw a pickup truck coming down the road toward us, the first vehicle we had seen on this road. The driver was really nice; he was willing to take us the rest of the way. We drove over a bridge across the river and saw a few small buildings, covered with tarps. This was Chattru, with a population of 120. We thanked our driver and headed to a dhaba in the increasingly strong rain.

India: Picture of a dhaba at Chattru, India.

The dhaba at Chattru.

The guy who owned the dhaba welcomed us. This place was really just a shelter without any insulation. There were lots of holes where the wind howled through, and a wood stove that didn't seem to heat the place up at all. But it felt luxurious after being outside in the cold rain. Unfortunately the forecast called for 24 hours of rain, so we couldn't do a whole lot outside. We did our best to dry our gear near the stove and wait out the storm. One good thing was that the dhaba had enough room inside for all of us to sleep. The owner's assistant brought us many cups of chai as we waited.

India: Picture of two guys checking out the area around Chattru, India.

Scouting the area.

Later in the day there was a break in the rain, and we took a look at the mountains nearby. We were at 3383 meters (11,100 feet), and the rain we were experiencing here would be snow in the mountains, far above us. The peaks of the mountains already appeared to be covered in a fresh coat of powder. G and Ben took a long look at a pillar sticking out of one of these peaks. The dhaba's owner claimed that an Italian team had climbed the mountain about eight years ago, but they hadn't taken the pillar route, so it likely had never been climbed. Maybe, just maybe, we could take a shot at it. If the weather cleared up, Ben and I would hike up a couloir next to the mountain as a scouting expedition. G would stay behind and rest his ankle.

India: Picture of mountains near Chattru, China.

The mountains around Chattru.

With the rest of our rainy day, we played a few games of cards, recorded a podcast and drank many cups of chai. Early in the evening a bunch of the locals came in for a drink. A few stayed later to chat by the stove. The three of us were in bed by 9:30.

* * *

It was cloudy the next morning, but at least it wasn't raining. Ben and I left the dhaba and crossed the river to get started on our scouting trip. We scrambled up a steep grass/dirt section, then over a boulder field. Next we put on our crampons and hiked across the couloir. We ran into trouble right away: we had rented our crampons, and they lacked anti-balling plates. They immediately became filled with snow, so they wouldn't do us much good. We removed them and continued.

We followed the glacier uphill, kicking in steps and creating many switchbacks. At first I felt really uneasy walking uphill on snow without crampons, but soon I got more used to it. I just had a few slips, but no major falls.

The climb stayed at about the same low angle, maybe 25-30 degrees, as we went up. But as we gained elevation, I moved slower and slower. Ben slowed down considerably, too, though he was still faster than me. Our goal was to reach the top of the couloir, where we could probably get a great view of the other side of the mountains, and maybe find an exit point from the pillar.

About 100 vertical meters from the top, the terrain got steeper. I no longer felt comfortable walking without my crampons, so I leaned against a rock and put them on. The sun was coming out periodically, and every time it did, a sheet of snow slid down the face toward us. At that point, Ben made the call to retreat. The slope was only going to get steeper and the snow was getting deeper and softer. He was afraid the whole thing could come crashing down at any minute. I took off my crampons and joined him in the retreat. Our maximum elevation was about 4300 meters (14,100 feet).

Picture of mountain in India.

From our highest point, looking down.

When we reached the bridge at the bottom of the valley, G met us with some urgency. A truck was about to leave for Manali and the driver was willing to take us for only 500 rupees each (the going rate for a taxi was 7000 rupees). We took this deal immediately. We had planned to stay in Chattru a bit longer, but we simply weren't going to climb any high peaks given the weather conditions and G's ankle. Besides, this deal was too good to pass up.

We packed up all of our stuff at the dhaba, said goodbye to the owner and told him we'd be back with some more friends soon. Then we jumped in the truck and took off. The ride was ridiculously bumpy from the start, but our driver Tenzing was a totally cool Tibetan man with long hair who smoked constantly. He told us stories of living in Leh, in the far north of the country, and his various foreign girlfriends. We drove past waterfalls at the bottom of a canyon with a roaring class IV river below us and 6000 meter snowy peaks towering overhead, while listening to groovy Indian music all the way back to Manali.

Picture of scenery around Vashisht, India.

The scenery around Vashisht.

The next morning, back in Vashisht, I made coffee on our rooftop and we discussed what to do next. Was it worth going back to Chattru, given the bad weather and the snowy conditions? Could we potentially climb the pillar? Were we physically and mentally prepared for such a challenge, and did we have the gear? In the end we decided to stick with the original plan: G, Ben and I would meet up with Abishek and Schresht, and together we would return to Chattru for an attempt at the pillar. This time, we decided not to deal with the buses, and instead opted to hire a truck to take our group of five.

Picture of cows in the road in India.

On our second trip to Chattru.

A few days later, we met Abisheck and Schresht at the bus terminal, looking groggy from their overnight ride. Our driver was also there, ready to take us to Chattru in a large 4WD truck with plenty of space for the five of us and all of our gear. Our driver was a professional looking man, with close-cropped hair and a spiffy uniform, nothing like our Tibetan hippie driver from last time. He drove a little too politely, always being the one to yield when the road became too narrow, so the trip took longer than necessary.

Our old friend the dhaba owner and his faithful assistant were in Chattru to greet us. We had dinner and I took a walk with Abisheck and Schresht to look for a satellite phone next to a pea farm above us. It was broken. I felt a rumbling in my guts and I knew that I would soon be suffering a bout of Delhi Belly. I was low on energy and G was still injured – we made quite the climbing team. The next day, we would stay behind with Schresht, while Abisheck and Ben scouted a route to the pillar. We were finally going to find out if it was indeed climbable.

The scouting expedition didn't go well, and everyone was back in the dhaba at 1:00 pm. Now we had to go over our options. Most of our ragtag group was either sick or injured, and we had to be honest with ourselves and admit that this project just wasn't going to happen. So what else could we do? We decided to split up. G, Ben and I would head up to Leh, and the others would stick around Chattru for a couple more days, bouldering and maybe climbing some shorter routes before heading back to Manali.

I actually didn't mind this situation, not that I had much choice in the matter, given my exploding guts. This was first ascent alpine climbing, a risky endeavor. We were in the middle of nowhere, and even a small injury could have serious consequences. We couldn't attempt a climb of this scale unless we knew that everyone was ready, and we simply weren't. But abandoning our plans did mean that I could travel and see a bit more of India.

We learned that Tenzing was coming this afternoon. When he showed up, G, Ben and I jumped into the truck, along with the dhaba's owner, and we took off. Tenzing was still smoking like a chimney and driving like a maniac. He dropped us off at Gramphoo, where we would attempt to hitch a ride to the town of Keylong. From there we would figure out how to get the rest of the way to Leh.

India: Picture of Ben and Dan.

Ben and I.

We quickly found a ride with room for two. Ben and I went in this car at the insistence of G, who would continue to hitch. Our drivers were friendly and somewhat awkward. They had driven here from Delhi the previous night. The road took us along a river, beneath snowy peaks. Again, the scenery was beautiful. The only downside of riding in this car was that, because of the long distance and remoteness of this journey, our drivers had filled a few water bottles with gasoline and stashed them in the hatchback, directly behind us. Fumes were escaping and I was feeling light-headed. We reached Keylong just before dark, happy to breath fresh air. There was no electricity or cellphone signal. Later we searched for G, but didn't find him.

We found G the next morning – he had hitched a ride on a lorrie – and searched for transportation the rest of the way to Leh. We found out that the buses weren't running this route yet and the smaller shared taxis that stopped here were all full. The others were in more of a hurry than me, so they didn't want to hitchhike. In the end, we hired a couple of guys to drive us to Leh in their truck.

India: Picture of scenery near Keylong.

Mountain scenery.

The route from Keylong to Leh was one of the most scenic I had ever taken. We crossed four mountain passes, including Taglang-la, the world's 2nd-highest at 17,582 feet. Late in the day, the mountains began to look like Cappadocia in Turkey. Instead of describing the rest of the scenery, I'll let the pictures do the talking:

India: Picture of mountain scenery near Keylong, India.
India: Picture of mountain scenery near Keylong, India.
India: Picture of mountain scenery near Keylong, India.
India: Picture of mountain scenery near Keylong, India.
India: Picture of mountain scenery near Keylong, India.
India: Picture of mountain scenery near Keylong, India.

That's all for now. I'll talk about the rest of my time in India in the next post.

More of my photos from India

AtW Podcast, Episode 25: Coffeecast

Coffeecast: Picture of market square in Shaxi, China.

Coffeecast: This is where we had our coffee and conversation.

We have a different format for this episode of the podcast. I was sitting in the market square of Shaxi China, drinking coffee and having a chit-chat with four new friends. We decided to record our conversation, which I'll call our “Coffeecast”. Joining me were Kathy, an English woman staying at my hostel, Hugh and Pauline, cycle-tourists from England, and Liam, who you met during the last podcast. I hope you enjoy our talk. I might do more Coffeecasts I the future.

[Download] [iTunes] [Stitcher] []

For more great stories, rantings and musings, you can check out the websites of everyone from this podcast:

Travels Through My Life (Katy's website)
Far East Tour (Hugh and Pauline's website)
DelMain Muses (Liam's website)

Show Notes:

  • Shaxi is on the Ancient Tea Horse Road, a trade route that connected southwestern China with Tibet and India. Here's some more information from Wikipedia.
  • Hugh mentioned the World Monuments Fund, which aims to protect ancient and treasured places. Here's the WMF's Website.
  • Taiwan's population is 23.5 million. Not quite as dense as I had thought.
Coffeecast: Picture of temple.

This is the temple/museum in the market square.

Coffeecast: Picture of building in Shaxi, China.

Here's the other main building in the square.

Coffeecast: Picture of arch bridge in Shaxi, China.

This is the bridge leading into town.

Coffeecast: Picture of Shaxi, China.

Shaxi from above.

More of my photos from Shaxi, China