A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: lewyandkerri

We're at the end of the beginning

rain 20 °C

Jealousy is a word I loathe. The way it spits from the tongue, the way it implies we are all entitled to the same things. Instead of recognising peacefulness, success or bravery - it's envied as if it is something easy to achieve. YET, as they kick-start their dirt bikes, with the rain beating down on their helmets, I sit back in my hammock and sigh: "I wish I were that brave and riding off into the distance." "Don't worry" he says, "Our time will come in Australia."

The truth is, we have been riding into the unknown together for a while now. Almost eight years actually. Our journey has been truly amazing, full of adventure and together we have been growing stronger, wiser and more thankful for all the people and places in our lives. But, with that said, I'm growing more fearful that it could all be taken from us whenever the 'supreme being' decides. I choose my risks wisely (riding a motorbike currently not being one of them), as if I have some control over our fateful path. But I shouldn't be scared of dying so I will face my fear in Australia and learn to ride!

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A bit about me

For now we have three weeks left in Laos, and India seems so long ago. I woke up to the sound of the rain beating down on our tin roof. He pulls me closer and I pull the duvet closer still - the first time it's been cool enough to hug in weeks. Two year-old Jimmy, our host-family's son, is crying outside so we decide to try and console him and keep the peace.

I pour my coffee (yes I now drink coffee), sit back in my plastic chair and have butterflies in my tummy. I'm feeling euphoric. My heart feels electrified by all of my senses and I notice and savour everything I feel, think and see - the banana tree leaves dripping with rain, the clatter of pots and pans in the kitchen and the other guests chitter chattering away. I'm so overcome with happiness that I can feel the pressure valve linking my heart to my mind filling up, until my tear ducts might flood open. But as quickly as the feeling comes on, it goes away.

I often experience these feelings, sometimes several times a day which can leave me feeling exhausted. Often it's the look from his eyes which stare right through to my soul, he knows me so well and I feel grateful that I owe him no explanations.

Sometimes it happens when I'm with family or friends. I fill up with so much overwhelming love and energy that I have no idea where to channel it. So I let it run free, connecting with theirs too if they let me, or otherwise making them feel dizzy. There is no way to really explain how I feel when I'm in that moment, I'm unsure if they feel it too. Not everyone wears their heart on their sleeves, but perhaps they feel it too inside.

River valleys are gorges!

After eating breakfast, a butchered fried egg on bread, I move over to the hammock. Sitting cross-legged I stare out across the murky Mekong River, less holy than the Ganges but just as impressive in character. She's opened her banks to the pouring rain and everything surrounding her lolls in the breeze, exhaling in relief from the stifling sunshine.

I feel inspired to write and don't want to stop in case I don't feel it again for days, weeks or months. I'm on a quest, I don't know why, but I knew we had to come away again. Sure, we knew we would feel sun-kissed, enriched and triumphant from escaping the rat-race - but that morning we woke up in our new, very own home that we'd been working towards for years, something else led me to ask him to come away again. But I don't know what exactly. All I do know is that India has set me on the right course to discovering why.

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Lessons from India:

  • Our natural state is separate from the present and the mind. I'm trying to self-improve and free myself from my niggling mind and ego - I need to practice patience and meditation to achieve this. But I do not want to follow the path to enlightenment as in my opinion our senses are a gift and to pacify them would make life so boring!
  • I need to live in the present! Stop planning for the future all the time (this I have been working hard on and have been making tough progress).
  • The practice of yoga makes me feel incredible. It helps me to be mindful and self-observe. It helps me understand how my mind and body are connected and their functions. But I hate doing yoga when surrounded by mosquitoes!
  • I should observe my emotions and recognise how they manifest so I can stop them from materialising. For example when I feel anger building up, observe where it is coming from and how I behave so that it is not a part of me and I can overcome the feeling with peace.
  • Take more care in what I eat and when I eat. Swami Veda Bjavati said not to eat for pleasure. I disagree with this because food is awesome. But I can be greedy, overindulge and justify to myself that I deserve to eat (which is why I got Delhi Belly from the potatoes). So instead I am eating smaller quantities, more fruit and nuts and I have taken the vow to be vegetarian (for ethical, environmental and health reasons).
  • To let go of the past. The sense of 'I am' is not personal - so by letting go of my personal issues and attachments of thought to things that have happened in the past I can be more peaceful and positive (this one has been difficult to learn but I have been achieving this).
  • I am NOT entitled to anything. I have to work hard for it and be grateful for everything I have and for everything I am learning or hope to learn.
  • Life is fun without alcohol and I felt (past tense) so much healthier and happier for not drinking. However I am drinking again now but in much more moderation and I hope this will continue (although with the friends I have it will be hard!)
  • Seize the day and be BRAVER! Don't be scared of dying, death should be celebrated as it means the end of one life and the start of another which will be even better and learned from the previous. "Death is just a door to another dimension... We never lose our loved ones. They don't disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms... We keep on, meeting and saying goodbye for all of eternity. A departure followed by a return, and a return followed by a departure." (Aleph, Paulo Coelho).

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Posted by lewyandkerri 01:39 Archived in Laos Tagged india laos pilgrimage yoga spiritual Comments (0)

Snowglobetrotting

snow -14 °C

McLeod Ganj

After seeing the mountains from below it was time to go up. For me they pull like gravity – I had to get up there and higher still to explore the greatest range on Earth. Nature’s power and glory that can be seen from space. The bus from Rishikesh to Dharamsala is 12 hours or so through the north Indian night. We got front seats – more leg room I rejoiced. I celebrated too soon; the empty space in front means nothing to brace against as we swing round endless hairpin bends and see-saw over ever-steeper summits. The fresh breeze through the window cracks tops off the five-star sleeping experience.

All this cannot dampen my enthusiasm – I am strangely elated to feel the 5am chill on my face when we pull into the bus station. We quickly hopped up to McLeod Ganj, perched above the town on the way on the snowy tops above. Our first view by the dawn light is breathtaking – having never been to the Alps or any other serious mountains. Seeing them up close is humbling and awesome. We found our Tibetan monastery eventually after a minor detour through the town car park and rubbish dump – this took the edge off the thrill but never mind. Staggering through garbage with my backpack at 7.30am halfway up a mountain is all part of the experience. The monastery is beautiful, its shining gold stupa reflects the pure morning sun, and it’s surrounded by rhododendron. The red-robed are quiet and shy, and very young. The caretaker explains the monastic lifestyle is in decline – the lure of the material world is too strong for most Tibetans to resist, especially after having pulled off the miraculous and dangerous escape from China-occupied Tibet.

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McLeod Ganj is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile, as well as several thousand refugees. We visited the museum to find out a little more abut this modern tragedy. It's thoroughly depressing – the Chinese occupation seems dedicated in eradicating Tibetan culture from the world; through brutal repression in the early days and now through the systematic migration of Chinese into Tibet, to the extent that Tibetans are now treated as second class citizens in their own country. It’s hard to see a solution while China is committed to sucking the country (nearly the size of India) dry of natural resources with blatant disregard for the human cost.

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After the museum we went for dinner and were joined by a monk. An acclaimed author, he was tortured as a young man but managed to escape over the mountains via Nepal to India. A harrowing story but he spent much more time regaling us with his anecdotes - learning to roller-skate in London wearing his monk robes, rubbing butter on his face at Francois Mitterrand’s house, and using hair removal cream as shampoo by accident. He had us in stitches. The positive force of his personality was amazing – a truly inspiring individual and shining example of the power of Buddhist philosophy.

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Dharamkot

After a few days in McLeod we moved further up the hill to Dharamkot. We had a couple of small walks – all steep climbs and steps. One takes us to a beautiful waterfall that tumbles in steps and myriad pools from the white peaks above. Kerri was exceptionally brave in scrambling up the narrow and rocky gully to find a spot where we could swim. The water was arctic blue and clear as diamond, with a chill that gives instant brain freeze. There is noone around so we fearlessly skinny dip – refreshing is not the word.

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But these short treks are just the warm up. The main event has loomed above us since our arrival. We set off at 8am and huff and puff up for three hours. Pausing to enjoy a chai, we seem to have the entirety of India spread out below us, rolling hills strech and rivers meander, towns and roads wobble in the haze. We must be able to see 20 miles at least; it’s like being in an aeroplane. The path takes us through rhododendrons – flowers bursting juicy red among the grey green hills. Further up we reach the the snow line, and breathlessly scramble the last 20 minutes to the summit. We reach the top and the Himalayan white face of the Dhauladhar range opens up in front of us. We arrived just in time as in just a few short minutes it’s hidden by cloud. We are on the top of Triund, 2975m. It feels like the gateway to a frozen whiteout world with the foothills below and steep face above. It’s as far as we go this time and after 10 minutes on top for photos we turn and descend the same way, pleased with our achievement and buzzing from the fresh air and exercise.

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Manali

It started snowing in the last place we visited in the mountains, and, as often the way with travelling, just when you are leaving you feel like you have truly arrived. Snowy Old Manali is a windy village nestled in a valley surrounded by cloud swept tops. We stay among the older houses built in the traditional manner huddled around a wooden temple at the top of the town. Down below is the newer more developed section – a cluster of tourist shops and restaurants mostly closed for the off-season, and further still the Beas River, slowly swelling with melt water.

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Across the valley sits Vashisht. We stayed there for two nights before switching to our cosier tandoori-warmed room in Old Manali. It was cold over there – although no snow it was several below and the chill drove us to sample the Old Monk rum again – the first time since Gokarna beach, a world away on the Karnataka sands. The appeal of Vashisht? For many it’s the world class hashish. Weed grows naturally in these parts. The other is the hot springs-fed steam baths in the centre of the village. I bathed morning and night to take the cold from my bones. A sauna under the starlight. It felt good to have bath for the first time in three months. The water is slightly sulphurous, and so hot you can only stay in for five minutes. Skin smoothed, circulation boosted. The village seems asleep apart from at the baths; women wash their clothes with their feet on the concrete while gossiping all day, children skip over the warm water gushing, dogs rest in the steam and old men sit deep in thought, their felt hats securely snug over weathered brows.

There aren’t really any tourists in Vashisht or old Manali as the season has not started. I think it must be a different place judging by the number of empty guesthouses, shuttered restaurants and dark shop windows, just waiting for the arrival of tourist dollar to wake them from a long winter’s slumber. The family we are staying with tell us of all night parties and hundreds of charras-smoking hippy tourists. I’m glad to be here in the quiet. I hiked one day to ‘disco valley’, apparently a slice of Goa in the middle of the steep valley behind our house. It’s deserted of course; I was completely alone until I stumbled into some angry dogs and their friendly owners tending their apple orchard beneath the towering tree-clad slopes. The view was undeniably fantastic – a great spot for a party if you are a dedicated psytrance fan.

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The walking here is epic – challenging but rewarding. Each bend around the valley brings fresh views of pristine peaks or shining rivers. Birds sang endlessly and it seemed as though spring was in air. Blossom peeked through on the fruit trees on the valley floor.

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I say it seemed, because that is how it was before it snowed and the valley was plunged into a shaken snow globe world – the peaks and valleys disappeared into white milky skies that relentlessly dumped snow for a day. Then more snow at night. Then yet more the following day. The village is quiet – dogs driven inside and taxis and rickshaws stranded; there’s no one outside really at all. We stagger out of our nest and luckily the bakery is open- nutella croissants win the day. Time is spent watching the snow fall and playing cards. Kerri sorts through Sock Mountain drying by the fire. And planning. Flights to Thailand are booked but the rest of the trip is a question mark. And behind a bigger question lurks – do we want to go home at all?

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Our stay was made all the more cosy by being part of a family. Grandma Joby accosted us and offered us a room, and we ate dinner with them for 6 nights. We chat in terrible English and even worse Hindi. They are warm and kind, with a sense of humour and patience for our strange ways. It's great to eat some home cooked food, although we did have to buy them vegetables when the rice and beans got a little repetitive. They answer questions about life in Manali, family, plans, history, geography as well as they are able. Seems like the grandparents are glad of the company when the rest of them leave for a couple of days. Its nice, feeling like someone is looking after you after some time away. The youngest daughter celebrated her 4th birthday and we joined the party - the kids are surprisingly sweet and well behaved, if a little messy.

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I had a slight fever for a few days- another excuse not to go outside. It’s more snow than I have ever seen and still it falls. We abandon plans to leave – the 16 hour night bus down from here is running but sounds too unpleasant to contemplate. Here we remain, keeping the fire lit, saying we hope the snow stops but secretly wishing that it won’t.

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Posted by lewyandkerri 05:38 Archived in India Tagged mountains snow himalayas cold manali mcloed_ganj dharamkot Comments (0)

A different kind of journey. Rishikesh.

sunny 25 °C

Distant music and deep echoes help clear the mind. As the last long om fades around the yoga hall, I feel still and my mind is quiet. Let all thoughts go and breathe. Perhaps I hold this for ten seconds, perhaps a minute.

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The search for this stillness is everywhere in Rishikesh and it's a town full of seekers and self-improvers, silent retreaters and bhajan singers. Many seek to discover the ‘self’ or however you want to conceptualise it. Worlds, theories and people collide here on the banks of the River Ganges. The town drips crystals and hums Hare Krishna, salutes the sun in the morning and burns its dead at dusk. Its tourism industry thrives on its spirituality, an odd symbiosis. It is a one-stop spirituality shop, no less, where anything can bought.

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But perhaps that's the cynic in me. I’ve tried to keep him at bay since arriving a couple of weeks ago. Hence my agreement to stay in an ashram, and to dedicating my time to improve my yoga practice. Not that I needed much persuading – the folding, lengthening, tightening, pulling, pressing of the body is just what I needed after 2 months travel with limited regular exercise. It aches in a good way and is addictive too. Must. Get. Head. To. Knee. And breathe, I am not angry at the pose. Now all that remains is to continue my practice wherever we go.

What is real about Rishikesh? Why is it such a spiritual hotspot? Ma Ganga, smooth and fast, blue-grey-green and all colours in between emerges from the jagged tooth hills of the Himalaya. A steep valley focuses its energy as it shimmers out across the plain of India. A secret revealed. Life shared, and the water flows with stories. The river is sacred. To bathe is to purify.

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In the Western world Rishikesh has been popularized since the 60s with the visit of the Beatles and the Maharishis world tours, spreading mediation techniques and more. This chimed with the growing experimentation and mysticism of the hippie movement. Middle-class westerners have been returning ever since, and here we are.

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People come with the same questions. Why are Indians poor but happy? (Not the case, witness; the depression etched in the lines on the face of a street sleeper or the confused eyes of children who should be at school, not selling flowers to tourists.)

Why are we rich but feel like something is missing? How can I find myself? What is myself? Not easy questions to answer, and when answers do come, they are complicated and come with more questions.

We attend spiritual talks with gurus. First Prem Baba, the singing guru. Beautiful group singing to start, then he talked smooth in Portuguese. His words meander through fables and parables. He answers questions with questions and Hindu mythology. To me it doesn’t connect but he undoubtedly has a strong energy, aura, personality and authority. This is evident in the flocks of adoring (mostly female) fans who drape him with flowers after his talk. My knees are killing me after 3 hours sat on the floor. More singing and we are done.

Behind inner door number two, Mooji! Apparently a big name in the guru game. Everyone has been talking about his arrival for the last couple of weeks and his poster is everywhere. Jamaican born, lived in Brixton, London. His ting is to make it as easy as possible to move into a natural state or present state, and leave the chattering of the conscious mind behind. And he does make it easy; the whole crowd (4,000 strong) seems to manage it, including people reduced to tears as they achieve it for the first time. I went back a second time to see if it was a fluke. It was not so powerful, but the energy was still there. I didn't need a third time, but perhaps it is more useful for those carrying more emotional baggage than me - some of the the questions asked to Mooji related to grieving, and personal and familial relationships. Lucky for me I don't have too many problems in my life.

What is real, what is unreal? That which is created by the mind but perceived to be outside the mind? The true self, stream of collective concious, natural state? Or another trick played by the ego? If it helps and it feels good then by all means pursue, I say to myself. But keep a grip on the reality provided by external senses. The world is happening outside - there is a danger of withdrawing inwards to much where it becomes almost selfish. Not being a slave to emotion, having wisdom, patience, calmness. These are virtues we could all do with having a little more of. Self-improvement by some degrees is the order of the day.

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The state of some of the sadhus, holy men, attest to the consequences of letting go. Their circumstances differ but all have more or less abandoned (for various reasons) their lives and live very much in the present. Moment to moment, rupee to rupee, beedie to beedie. Dirty beards and and long flowing orange robes, a mass of dreadlocks sit over eyes that sometimes smile. Some are consistent beggars, others not at all. Many smoke a lot of charras -perhaps it helps with the enlightenment. Some are clearly destitute. Others have clean robes and sunglasses; something of the drug dealer in them. There must be well over 100 in town, along the road that sits beside the river Ganges. We say hello to all of them, but refrain to giving money. Sometimes they are happy, these babas, but language barriers and mistrust prevent us getting to know any of them very well.

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So we leave Rishikesh - fitter, healthier and still of sound mind. I haven't joined Mooji's touring assistants or started growing dreadlocks. Just feeling a little more educated about the spiritual path, and also with more questions yet to be answered.

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Posted by lewyandkerri 07:03 Archived in India Tagged india meditation ganges yoga sadhu rishikesh baba spirituality mooji Comments (0)

FACT.

sunny 22 °C

But I survied to tell the tale...

Which I'm sure you're dying to hear? Ha.

We're sat outside our first-floor bedroom, overlooking the River Ganges. Just finished eating a juicy pomegranate, safely behind caged bars which keep us safe from the rascal monkeys. Our new neighbour 'Jo', a well-spoken retiree from the UK, pops her head around to say hello. We exchange the usual Indian traveller pleasantries: 'where are you from?' 'how long are you away?' and 'have you had a dicky tummy yet?' in Jo's words. The three of us celebrated our tummy triumphs to-date and touched the wooden door frame for luck.

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Twelve hours later (3am) I was jumping on, off and in-front of the toilet like a span-dangled jack-in-the-box, and inwardly shouting 'I want my Muuuum'.

Our joining bathroom wall is head height, with a further height of fabric separating our bathroom from Jo's. She didn't mention anything... It lasted a full 12 hours, followed by a fever. Lewy looked after me amazingly.

The culprit? POTATOES!

But as Jo later pointed out, they had probably been sat there all week, in dirty oil and picking up all the moped fumes.

Lewy still stands strong with the minority of tough tummied travellers we've met so far (and I won't bother knocking on wood this time). On the plus side I now feel great, lighter on my feet and will pig-out more hesitantly from now on. All I can hear in my mind is 'belly's gonna get you!'

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Lewy to send a full Rishikesh update in a few days.

xxx

Posted by lewyandkerri 04:17 Archived in India Tagged belly delhi rishikesh Comments (0)

Riding the railways in Rajasthan

sunny 25 °C

The night train

The train's an hour late (9pm) and we arrived an hour early (can't take the British out of the traveller). As the iron monster pulls into Pushkar's platform the horn honks, guys jump onto her carriages and she screeches to a stop. Families switch their stares from our white mugs, grab their bundles and surge towards her locked doors. Men shake the iron windows while every train door is broken into - everyone using their smart phones to light the way to their already reserved bunkers. It makes no sense but we do the same!

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We managed to sleep the full 12 hours and climb down to join other folk on the bottom seats at 7am to watch the sunrise and dip biscuits in our masala chai tea, bought from the seller's hot flask. We're on the train to Rishikesh to try and discover our spiritual side.

Forting around in Rajasthan

The past two weeks we've travelled through Rajasthan, scampering around ancient forts and palaces. Days revolving around foodie adventures and gawping over lake-front sun sets sending little market streets into darkness, before they are lit up by fairy lights.

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We quickly recharged our batteries in Udaipur (first three photos below) after four days exploring Mumbai. Followed by an early, mad, six hour bus to Chittorgah for a speedy three hour tuk tuk tour around the fort, before catching a 3 hour train to Bundi.

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Bundi is a little cup of joy, nestled in the Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan. We stepped off the train to welcoming locals (minus the pestering touts), tea shops, street food stalls, a wee little lake which mirrors an abandoned palace - and even higher up an ancient fort guarded by troops of monkeys which peers down over the town.

We stayed for a week in the old stables (converted into a humble guest house by owners Raj and Neema) which used to house the elephants belonging to the palace. The family welcomed us with open arms (even me with my awful chest infection from the pollution - which all travellers seem to catch here). We didn't venture out of the stables after dark because Neema cooked us a rocking thali every evening - so we stuffed ourselves and played countless games of shithead and Yahtzee with our new pal Hans.

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We took a day trip with a character called 'Moon' - during the hour's bumpy journey (with me coughing) we passed farming villages, practiced Hindi, Moon taught me to drive his tuk tuk and he even stopped a passing tractor and demanded I got inside for a snap. We stopped in a village for chai and samosas - I was so excited! In a small piece of newspaper the guy pushed his thumbs (don't get too stuck on that part) into my crispy samosa and poured sweet chilli sauce and green hot sauce over the top. WOW. It was delicious (we've eaten many more of these since).

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We spent a day clambering around the abandoned palace - Lewy in his element running up and down staircases and sticking his head into gloomy doorways - he even faced off with a hissing monkey to try and get to the top floor (he almost won - it was a massive monkey). One of the rooms still showed some of the wall paintings - telling a story of the rich prince surrounded by smiling animals, butch women and flying gods. We then battled with the monkeys (using monkey sticks and song) to make it up to explore the fort.

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Before leaving beloved Bundi we printed some photos and gave them out to the locals who we'd snapped (Lewy's idea) - it was a real pleasure and the families were so happy! We left the elephant stables with a happy tear and clear from my chest infection.

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Pushkar was an altogether different experience. The minute we stepped off the bus we were hassled and tugged in different directions (something we are now used to). I wrote in my diary that day 'Not impressed by the people of Pushkar and our hotel room is a shit hole and stinks :('. However hate turned to love once we swapped rooms - not just because we spent a day shopping for handicrafts but because the town is magically beautiful, the street food kicks ass - and once the touts and scammers recognize your face they simply give you a cheeky grin.

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So, after the night train, we've now arrived safely in Rishikesh, dipped our toes in the holy Ganges and checked into an Ashram for an undecided amount of relaxation and yoga. So we look forward to filling you in once we've become spiritual gurus. Ha.

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Shanti shanti,
Kerri x

Posted by lewyandkerri 01:27 Archived in India Tagged india udaipur rajastan pushkar bundi chittogargh Comments (0)

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