All the pictures.
There was still lots of snow on the ground after the huge snow storm we'd had recently (my back yard was buried under feet of snow and hadn't fully melted yet). My taxi came at 4:15 to take me to Logan and I was off for my grand adventure. The driver was French by way of Africa and talked on his cell phone the whole way. Traffic was bad on the Museum of Science bridge, despite it being President's Day. Went to Terminal B by mistake, where Virgin America flies from, Virgin Atlantic was in E. I found out about a single 6kg carry on item too late to go back for my hiking boots, so I had to make do with the winter boots and sneakers as my only two pairs of shoes (cue minor panic, I always like to over pack shoe options). I took my city backpack out of my carry on and checked my small suitcase too, hooray for 2 pieces free on international flights. I got through security just before a huge group of teens joined the line. There weren't any real restaurants beyond security, my plans for food foiled. I hit up the currency exchange kiosk to get pounds and rupees, the sat in the wine bar to have some chicken salad. I had failed to get host presents yet, so stopped in at the news stand to pick up some pens and pencils branded with Boston logos, and also grabbed some trail mix and water for the plane, as well as another Kleenex travel pack as I was sniffly. As I was waiting to board the plane I realised that I was missing a glove - it was my awesome wind-stopper fleece one, so I ran back to security to see if it had landed in lost and found, but no luck. :-( Back to the gate and made copies of all my flight info in my note book just in case my phone died, I'd failed to print out my itineraries but had all my other papers (including internal flight receipt for the flight to Leh). My seat mate on the flight to London was trying not to take up too much space, but regular economy is a bit tight. I got my requested vegetarian meal first, a welcome reminder of the days of yore when flying was nice. I watched a movie on the seat back screen, hit the bathroom and then tried to sleep. My knee was getting sore from sitting so long, it's become a problem on 2+hr flights.
I had a bit of confusion at the airport Tube station, not sure which fare I should pay. An employee, probably stationed there just to help newly arrived jet lagged people, suggested I get a Zone 1-6 fare and an off peak day pass. I was able to get to South Kensington station no problem (no changes), though it got more and more crowded as commuters flowed in. Once I determined where the Victoria and Albert building was, I went on a very easy breakfast quest. I found Le Pain Quotidien and got eggs and salmon and tea to make up for the sketchy plane breakfast. I had picked a table in the back and it was fairly quiet there, a bit after normal working hours started, but with some interesting people watching. One woman asked me to watch her stuff for her - I'm always taken as trustworthy or knowledgeable when I'm in London. :-) And of course I walked the wrong way when I was done eating and left the cafe, the Natural History Museum looked more ornate and like the V&A.
I turned the other way up Cromwell Rd and soon spotted my cousin Rosemary and her husband Richard. We went into the V&A at just past 10am, I checked my backpack and we went to the cafe where they had tea. We chatted for a bit, then went looking for the first photography exhibit that I'd earmarked, on British rock and roll stars in the 1950's. I got some primers/pointers from Richard on dynamic range in photographs, as well as on rock history (he has a guitar that came from a backup musician in one of the photos!). We saw the fashion exhibit (because I have to whenever I visit the V&A), as well as Light and Shadows about photos from Iraq. We had a snack at the cafe again, this time sitting in the more wood panelled room, and then went back to see a hidden/tucked away photo room and the wrought iron pieces (another favourite of mine).
At that point we were done at the V&A and took the tube to Sloane Square and ate lunch at a department store cafe (their treat, though I'd brought over some US measuring cups for Rosemary). I had another chicken salad. After eating, I checked out their sporting goods section to see if I could find some replacement gloves, but no luck. We took the Tube to Embankment and walked up to the bridge over the Thames. From there I could see the Eye and they pointed out the OXO building where Richard had worked, Big Ben's tower was just visible if I peered through the trees and buildings, and I could also see St. Paul's dome. We came down off the bridge and up on the other side of the subway track for some better views. I checked a paddling and a bike shop store under the bridge, gloves were about $40 in one of them, so passed. We walked toward Trafalgar Square, it was a lovely clear day, to see the lion statues and the kings and generals in stone. St. Martin in the Fields was there too - charity work, and lets homeless people sleep in the crypts at Christmas. There was a bullwhip performance and a bagpiper competing for spectators in the square. We went into the National Gallery, and I checked my backpack again (it was also free/pay what you can for the entry). Richard asked what I wanted to see, and I said Italian Renaissance paintings because Tintoretto is my favourite painter, so we went off to visit a Caravaggio. I also saw tonnes of works by Rubens. Then we went to see the works by Turner and Monet and Degas. Velasquez had some cool images as well. We went in at just past 4pm and it closed at 6, I think we were out before they kicked us out. They walked me to Leicester Sq and I ended up having to buy a single ride ticket because it was now on peak hours, 5 pounds 50. I said my goodbyes to my cousins and headed back to Heathrow.
I had been fading, on and off all day, and my stomach would get a bit queasy due to being over tired. I almost slept on the Tube after I got a seat. There was a quick line at security, but I forgot that I still had a bottle of water from walking around during the day - they let me drink it and keep the bottle though. Once past that area, I saw a board saying that my gate would be announced close to boarding time, but for now I had to wait in the duty free / lounge area. I tried to find the tea and Scotch my friends had asked me to bring back to the States for them, but just generally wandered around the duty free shop until I spotted Adam after he arrived from Paris. We got food together at a pub, with me having roast chicken and a deep sundae (?). We misjudged the time a bit and as we came out of the pub our flight was listed as boarding. We hustled down the hallways to gate 20, then I backtracked to around gate 17 (after seeing I had enough time) to hit the bathroom. Back to gate 20, through another passport/boarding pass/security check and we had to sit in a small lounge for a while as other passengers arrived. Finally we made it onto the plane to India. We'd coordinated our tickets so we were (on both flights) sitting next to each other in a pair of seats by themselves. I watched Paranorman while eating my vegetarian meal. I brushed my teeth with the toothbrush in the nice little pack they gave us (cute eyemask with a print of big glasses on the outside - these came in super handy). I took a melatonin pill that I'd brought and dozed fairly well (table down and arms cradling my head on it worked well). It was just under an 8 hour flight, and fairly smooth.
At the hotel, the Jaypee Continental, the car was stopped and the undercarriage scanned by guards, and then we had to go through a metal detector while our hand luggage went through an x-ray machine. The staff directed us to seats before a desk in order to check in, and we'd been given a pile of vouchers by our driver - we'd prepaid for a lot of things, the driver was from our local fixer and we were to give the hotel the prepaid vouchers for our stay. A man came up with us to explain our room, a bell boy delivered our bags. I was over tipping with 100 Rupee notes since I didn't have any change yet. The view out the window in our room (Adam and I and Fernanda were sharing the first night so we could do a day trip the next day before the official start of the tour) was of low buildings and lots of trees (we were right next to a park). The hotel was on a bit of a main road (ostensibly 2 lanes either way I think, but lanes are a very abstract concept in Delhi) and there was *lots* of honking, it was incessant. Luckily I eventually got to the point where I could block it out. I didn't have any luck finding my missing glove in my suitcase. I dug out a change of clothes and drank the tea that they'd brought up for us as a check in amenity, a nice strong chai (yay, first tea in India, there would be gallons more). I called the front desk to find out what the wireless charge was, turned out to be 600R for 24 hours. I took a shower while Adam when to find a business centre (I think he'd mislaid his Leh flight receipt, and the computer use charge was also 600R I think). I also washed out most of what I'd been wearing, it had been a long trip. Adam and I chatted about gear for a bit, then he took a bath. I put my washed clothes out on a chair in the sun so it would hopefully dry faster. I also turned off the A/C as it was actually too cold in the room, despite being pretty warm (30C or so) outside. I brewed up another cup of tea, making a black tea flavoured with lemon by mistake, having wanted an herbal option. I ended up napping in the arm chair while Adam took his bath, I was getting pretty loopy after two red eye flights in a row. We went to supper at around 5pm, not expecting Fernanda until much later as her flight landed at 9:30pm (she was coming from California). We tried the lobby restaurants first, the tapas one was the only one open, but they had no tandoor until 7pm. I got patates brava, spicy mushrooms, and a veggie mezze plate (eggplant was nicely roasted, still don't like falafal). The bill ended up coming up to 18K Rupees. I finished up, had some more water and went up to the room. The turn down service added an extra single bed and towels for Fernanda. I changed for bed after a successful search for my sleeping boxer shorts and getting stuff ready for the next day since we'd be starting stupid early to get to Agra, we planned a 5:45am wake up to be ready for a 7am Agra departure. I woke briefly as Fernanda came in, but slept the sleep of the jet lagged and sleep deprived otherwise.
Once we got into Agra, at around 11:30am, we picked up our guide (bit of a squeeze in the back with him in the front seat) and lunched where he recommended. A large tour group came in as we finished, it was definitely a tourist centric place. It was family style eating, with bowls to server ourselves from, with a good tomato soup and lots of veggie dishes. We had packaged ice cream for dessert, and more chai. It wasn't quite the quick lunch stop I'd hoped for, but good and filling. There were cookies and water in the car, plus oranges and bananas from a fruit stop. From the restaurant we were off to the Taj Mahal. We were given a ride from where the car dropped us to the gate in an electric car, there were lots of photographers offering to document our visit for us. The site itself was overwhelmingly beautiful, all white marble on the river, symmetrical and mirrored.
They took us to a workshop for an inlay demonstration. The glue used is old, a bow turned lathe with diamond dust cuts the stones. Adam got a table top for his parents, Fernanda got saris for her daughters, and when they turned their attention onto me, I gave in to temptation to get a black pashmina so fine that it could pass through a ring. We were given chai there too, it was a long stop with all the haggling. After that we dropped off our guide, at around 5:30pm or so, then took a few turns to get onto an expressway - where the hell was it when we were suffering on the local roads? Oh, it's the expensive option, lots of tolls, but you get almost no traffic on a smooth wide road for the price. The roads in Agra proper weren't divided, I was convinced that we'd collide head first with a tuk tuk (it's pronounced with a long 'u' here, more like 'took took' - propane powered three wheeled taxis). On the expressway we passed military kids doing push ups and running along the side of the road. There were still tractors pulling carts, but not nearly so bad. It was a fast 2 hour drive to Delhi, though we could tell that our driver was getting tired (I think he was the same one who'd picked up Fernanda from the airport the night before), he was doing about 150kph at one point - I could barely feel it, nice car! Once we got off the expressway we were right back into crazy Delhi traffic, and got to the hotel at around 9pm.
Star had arrived, we had dinner with her and then I transferred my bags and the hotel moved the roll out bed to her room for me - they'd given her a single since they thought that I was in the 3 person room for good. I repacked after I saw that I could have carry on on the flight to Leh (the documentation we got at the time of booking said no carry on at all, not even cameras). I took out my day pack and got my red suitcase ready to leave with city and hot weather stuff. We saw that our flight was delayed from 6:30am to 10:25am, so pickup is at 8am. I set my alarm for 6:30 since we want to be packed to go. In bed and asleep at around 12:30.
Then the check in guy got a blank look on his face and plans changed: the flight was completely oversold and the next one was in 2 days. There was a lot of yelling going on around us, at least 20 people were bumped from the flight and quite a few it turned out were trying to go for the 2 day monastery festival that we were going to see a few hours of. Star and the airline representative / supervisor from Jet Konnect talked to Apollo travel who'd booked our ticket, but they weren't getting much traction beyond boarding passes for 2 days later and 3,000 Rupees compensation (which wouldn't cover the hotel costs where we just checked out). Two groups in front of us were yelling, it was fraught and I was getting a bit anxious. Eventually we all followed an airline rep to the cashier counter and got our money, and then we tried to leave to meet the drivers that would take us back to the hotel. But the guards at the entrance to the airport departures door wouldn't let us out, we had to go back to the airline counter to get a pass, and someone had to come with us to the door and sign us out. While we were waiting for that, another westerner was walking briskly out and got yelled at to stop. Then we had to wait a bit while the guards wrote down Fernanda's passport number and we were finally allowed outside. Apparently we could have gone around to the arrivals level and gone out okay.
Outside the terminal, but still in the covered area, we waited a bit until a guy found us and took us to where our driver, Sebastian, was. The other guy was from Apollo, so Star grilled him on the way to the hotel and talked to Karma in the USA as well. Apparently we were supposed to ask for the hotel vouchers instead of taking the compensation, but the Apollo guy was very much washing his hands of us. Then we found out that Karma would get the refunds from Leh and would cover our hotel and sight seeing over the day. The monastery festival in Leh would take up our day in Leh now and we would do the walking tour after we got back from camping, on our last day in Leh. There were so many others stranded, I wish that they'd just added a flight, but ah well, it was working out.
We settled back into the hotel on the 5th floor, I was in a double room with Star and had a real bed this time. I got my little red suitcase back. We met up in Fernanda and Adam's room and Karma called us there after talking to Star and me in our room. Adam asked for some antibiotic pills as he wasn't feeling well and was supposed to get them in Leh. Fernanda should be okay sharing his Diamox, I had been prescribed enough for the whole time I was there (I could taper off after acclimatizing to the steady altitude). Decided to explore a bit, but had lunch in Eggspectations first. The mango lemonade was interesting. Fernanda was coming down with a cold (the germs attacked us all by the end of the trip since we were living on top of each other :-/ ) so she and Adam tried the mango ginger smoothies, and Doug got a mango juice - he and I would compete for mango goodness for most of the trip. :-) The chicken tikka salad was delicious and filling, I could have just had half but at the whole thing so that I would be sure to last until supper. All of us walked through the outdoor westernised mall area next to the hotel and then we ducked through a loosely chained gate and into a dusty park to wander there. There was a jogging track and exercise stations along it with signs saying what you could do with the equipment at each one. There was lots of trash around, as well as many dogs wandering and people sunning themselves. It was a bit warm in the sun, I had my Tilley hat on and my raincoat since it had felt chilly on the way back from the airport. I tried to do pull ups at that station, but the bars were too big around (and a bit low so I couldn't cheat jump). We meandered along the paved paths, and found a monument in the middle a stone fort like thing. To get out to the street on the other side of the park, we had to walk along a dirt path through some back yards, then crossed a canal. We walked along a main road for a while, next to a wall on the non traffic side, with any corner in the wall liberally smelling of urine. There was a propane tank refilling facility in there somewhere. We threaded our way past some construction on a corner, bricks piled high, and motorcycles squeezing past. After turning another couple of corners on the roads, navigating by dead reckoning, we went past an open air barber shop and then came back to the hotel. Doug still wanted to wander some more, so I ran up to my room to swap into my safari shirt as it was cooler and vented and to drop my wallet, just carrying my camera in my hand (and probably had some stuff in my safety pouch). Doug had his big camera. In my rush I completely forgot my sunglasses and had to run back up again to get them, and once we were both ready we headed back out down the road. Doug wanted to try and find a market we'd passed on the way to/from the hotel, so we walked back along the road we'd ended on with the others earlier. I was very proud of myself for surviving crossing a main road, it felt like a free for all - running was involved. :-) We turned into a locals market and housing area, a warren of narrow streets and high skinny houses, with lots of life all around (and tangles of wires overhead). We saw guys stuffing momos and making naan, their hands flying in well practised gestures. There were tailors and fruit vendors, lots of pharmacies, and beauty shops. We went down some little alley ways with little sun making it down to street level, but I never felt unsafe. There was a construction project on a house with tree branches supporting the floors. We made our way out (I was a bit turned around, not a lot of right angles in there), and went back through the same park as earlier, via backyards and were back at the hotel compound at around 3:45. It was nice to see a non curated glimpse of Delhi.
I took my shoes off, curled up in a chair and yawned through updating my travel diary. Dinner was set for 7:30, and we'd have a city tour the next day starting at 9:15am with our guide Satish Suri. I went to the gym on floor 2, inside of the spa. There was a coach on duty but he was working with 2 guests. I did a warm up on the treadmill for 6 minutes and then did some weight lifting - all the dumbbells were marked in kilograms so I was doing conversions on the fly and often grabbing the wrong weight first. Did shoulder presses, curls, triceps kickbacks, goblet squats, Russian twists, crunches, and stretched out, glad not to have been in a car or plane all day. Back up to the room to take a shower, then went down to the lobby by myself. Doug and I waited for a bit then went back up to Adam and Fernanda's room. Nanda was asleep, trying to get rid of her cold, and Adam just woke up. He came down 2 minutes later, meeting us in Anu Thai. The kimchee amuse bouch was spicy, the steamed dumplings, vegetable shu mai and trikcen tricolour were very good. The pumpkin soup was not, it looked like sweet and sour soup. So very sleepy, asleep by 9:30 or 10pm.
From there we moved on to British India to see the home of the prime minister, parliament (in session), and the India Gate (a war memorial arch with engraved text) with a long straight wide road connecting them (no shade). There were hawkers and beggars around the Gate, and lots of tourists milling around it. We went past the back of the Red Fort for a quick photo stop.
We had lunch at a corner mall type thing, walking across the courtyard, Nanda warned me of a snake charmer and I went the other way. It was a set meal for 600R, I finally got my sag paneer! I also had mixed vegetables (very good), butter chicken (skipped), dal and rice. I had a 1L bottle of water and finished it, I was a touch thirsty. I had a second helping of sag paneer to finish off the dish. I was nicely full, but always have room for ice cream. :-)
From there we went on to a Sikh temple. We had to take our shoes off and were walking on marble floors as well as carpets, my foot wasn't too happy. There were some men chanting while sitting on a central dais, with people listening or praying, with a sacred text on the dais. One guru was beheaded on that spot 600(?) years ago. We also got to see the kitchens where the volunteers prepare the charity meals, stirring the huge vats of sweet grain, as well as rolling out and cooking naan. Then we saw the hall where more volunteers wash the multi-compartment plates food is served on (like the trays that Punjabi Dhaba in Inman Sq uses :-) ) and people are fed in long lines on the carpets, no precedence. We retraced our steps
Back at the hotel, I was fading and had had to pee since the mosque - I felt like the guide didn't really listen to me, but had a script he was following. We tipped both guys 200R each. I went up to the room then headed back down to give Adam 200R since he'd had to cover for me - I was blowing through rupees like water in Delhi, spending much more than I'd expected when I exchanged money. I would like to bring back some tea though, and should find some homestay gifts - at the airport probably. Star went out to find ice cream at McDonald's, Oreo was strongly represented. The clothes I hand washed and hung up in the bathroom took days to dry - no airflow. I'm probably going to take advantage of the 2Kg leeway I had when repacking, definitely bringing the pashmina. 7:45am pickup for airport tomorrow. *fingers crossed* Need new batteries for camera, was nursing this pair since lunch. I collected Nanda and Doug for supper at 8pm, after talking with Star about her African non-profit. I wanted to go to the tapas place but there was a private party, so we went to Eggspectations yet again. The maple pancakes were delicious and much cheaper without a drink or dessert. Adam joined us, I meant to collect stuff to leave here in my suitcase, will do it in the morning. 10pm. Showered and slathered on salve and balm to deal with dry skin, not sure when my next hot shower would be (spoiler: next time I was in Delhi).
We deplaned down an outdoor stair and walked over to a crammed bus which took us to the terminal. They had a thick blanket hung over the outside door to block the wind. Another scrum to get our bags, and we had to fill out foreigner registration cards and hand them in. It was pretty much the same as the landing card. The arrivals room was pretty packed, everyone pushing piles of luggage every which way. We were finally outside in the parking lot and our driver collected us. He lashed all of our suitcases to the top of a Jeep and then we piled in. The sun was hot, it was +5C or so. I had to put on a hat, I could feel my scalp burning, yay elevation (we were at about 11,000 ft in the valley). The roads were narrow, but horns were mostly sounded on blind corners. We had to go around one area where people were prostrating and marching toward a holy site. It was day 2 of 3 of a festival. We were driven to the Lotus hotel, we had welcome silk scarves draped around our necks. I dropped off my stuff in my room. Dr. Rodney Jackson from Snow Leopard Conservancy USA was there and would be joining us for a few days. We had lunch on the patio, sitting with my back to the sun. Food came out from behind the building, carried by a young woman. There was a fluffy stray dog with a bent foreleg hanging out, and a cattle pen just over the fence. The King's Palace was on view, clinging to the mountain side, prayer flags blowing. I wanted to go for a walk but the hotel guy said to wait at least an hour. Which turned into a nap as I was feeling queasy. I had a hot water bottle and two comforters and I was still chilly. I didn't drink enough water. :-( Sleeping pads were provided. At 7pm we met with our guide and Rodney and saw a map of where we were going, sitting on the wooden benches in the hotel entry way. 1 hour drive and a hike then a possible hike out to the site of a kill, then to the base camp, after going to the monastery festival in the morning. The oracles would be out at 2-3, we probably won't see them. Mushroom soup, rice with sauce for dinner and sat with the guide and Rodney. I went back to our room (sharing with Star again), brushed my teeth and despite having requested some hot water for washing it hadn't appeared so I made do with some baby wipes. We had to flush the toilet by pouring water down it from a bucket, the water was off so that the pipes wouldn't freeze. No shower, just bucket washing. They charged a small fee for internet, best signal near the lobby. Was able to get through enough to post an update. Asleep at 10:30pm.
There was a full moon and stars, I was almost blinded by the moon when I looked up at it in the dark night - I could navigate the camp without a headlamp when I had to get up to pee. I was a bit spacey from the altitude, I had to make a mental list of what to bring (as usual it seems on these big trips, my period came at the worst possible time). I had to take out my knee pillow from my sleeping bag when I went back in needing some more room (I'd blown up my two inflatable camping pillows during camp set up - that was fun at 11+k feet). I'd put my trekking pants and my fleece jacket inside the bag to keep them warm for the morning and could use them under my knees to make my lower back more comfortable. I stuck my down jacket in between the sleeping bag and the over bag, and my ski jacket spread over the foot of both. Star was snoring a bit, and I heard Adam in his tent when I went out. It wasn't too cold, I didn't put on pants over my long johns, or even gloves.
The walk down from the ridge to camp was easy, we weren't that far. We were offered tea and then were called into the dining tent for dinner. I took off my knee braces and gaiters since we were in camp for the evening, and got my notebook and headlamp as it would be getting dark soon. The tomato soup and toasted bread with spices was good. I kept some of the broth back to eat with the mashed potatoes. The pasta was a bit too cheesy for me, and I skipped the chicken and broccoli. The honey and cheese balls for dessert were super sweet, I had just a nibble. I had my tea/sugar water and then there was a yell from outside. There were 2 leopards on the ridge right above camp! I saw the cub's eye and the mother clearly in the flashlight beams as they walked along their trail. Star's Easter Island tattoo had itched a bit before the cats appeared. There were so many flashlights aimed at her, the area was lit up like daylight - I wish I'd had my camera with me, but it was amazing to just experience it without the lens in the way. It was really cold out, I was shivering and went back into the dining tent to warm up. They had our hot water bottles waiting. 7:40pm, pitch dark with all the stars out, and I could see Betelgeuse shining clearly red.
On the second half of the hike today I was bonking, and Adam threatened to make me eat breakfast. I only seem to be hungry at noon, I'll bring fewer Clif bars and more nuts for snacking. I took lots of pictures of the folds of the mountains, so I can show Jay what I wished he could see in person. The composite stuff is fascinating, there are so many different kinds of rocks loose on the ground as well. I thought I spotted the gold glint of pyrite at one point. I slept warmly despite not digging out my balaclava, I wrapped my pashmina to stay warm yet breathing.
The sun was below the ridge and the temperature was dropping, so we headed back to camp. We'd just settled in, I had a chance to visit the now frozen toilet tent, when we heard that another cat had been spotted, probably a female. I grabbed my headlamp and a book and settled into the dinner tent. Mushroom soup (I ate the broth), and requested plain rice (no cumin). There was eggplant and dal and I had some broth from the chicken curry as well. My stomach ached. We were asked to fill out park feedback forms, Rangers will show us a slide show from the remote camera traps. Tomorrow we'll go up the valley were we observed the mother and two cubs, but further than before. 8pm.
I brushed my teeth and got caught by the stars - they were utterly amazing. I could see the Pleadies (little dipper?), and almost couldn't find the big dipper because the sky was so full of stars. I settled in to sleep mostly on my side, but angled a bit, my hip was a tiny bit sore. I tried to keep the baby wipes in the bag with me, but they were too cold/frozen to sleep with for long, so I threw them out of the bag.
I made a sketch of the canyon names, coming in from the road to Leh, there was Zinchen on the Indus river, then Tarbung, Husing and Kharlung canyons, then keep following the river gorge to Rumbak.
Once the sun went behind the ridge and our location was plunged into shadows, we had to cover up, adding back all the layers that we'd shed on the sunny walk up. Some of the crew ran up to get Jigmet and Namgyal for lunch, and they skid/slid down back to us. Namgyal lost his walkie talkie at some point. :-( They checked the group picture from before to see if he'd had it then and then he ended up searching for it after we went back to camp. We left to head back down while J & N were finishing up their lunch, there were no signs of cats up that valley. A few people came up after us, we passed on the trail. Nanda, Adam and I stopped with Jigmet on a ridge for a while. Gorgeous blue sky with birds calling. It was nice in
Doug, Adam and I ran up to join the watchers, no packs. I was gasping a bit but made it. I watched through the scope as the cat walked around, stretched, moved down the ridge. Shan is how you say snow leopard in Ladahki. The cat took a bath, then moved so it's head was just over the snowline. It was watching us, we moved down to give it some space at Jigmet's urging, but it walked behind a ridge and Jigmet said it was gone for the day, so we headed back to camp. We'd missed tea, but scored some ginger tea. I added hot water, lemon and honey and it was soothing. Stuffed peppers, french fries, lovely green beans, and pizza! I had the mushroom one, not quite up to braving the tuna one. :-) It had a thick crust and was a bit hard to cut. We'll have a day of rest tomorrow, then have the home stay in Rumbak at 4000m/13,000 feet. Nanda and I talked about kettlebells and working out, how we prepared for this trip. I promised to send her the name of Pavel's femme fatale DVD as a good intro option. Star broke out her netbook to checkout a found 4G card to see what was on it. The wind was picking up too. Finished up dinner at about 8pm, stayed up talking with Jigmet until about 9. I got up again at around 2am to pee. Missing having any sort of privacy about now, sharing a tent with a stranger and being with the group for every meal and every minute of the day was starting to grate.
At breakfast was told about Juntag Montag, an ancient observatory in Delhi. I had cereal with a bit of warm milk, scrambled eggs and toast. It was an official day of rest, so I lingered over breakfast then watched Jigmet climb up the hill behind the camp. Chospel is Namgyal's uncle, the amazing cook, and his son is studying in southern India. I wanted to try to finish filling up my camera's SD card, only 30 pictures left to take. We all chatted a bit by the tents, then I walked to the end of the camp and took pictures of partridges. I also saw magpies, snow finches and a couple of pony strings went by me, the last one headed to Rumbak, with the guys mounted up. The generator was on in camp, so it wasn't too quiet. Headed back to our tents at around 11, Chris was showing pictures on his laptop - I missed the jaguars but saw shark and snow leopard ones from a snow storm. Doug and I talked a bit by the tents, his wife's mother had an interesting life.
Nanda and I talked a bit about travelling while female and the challenges thereof. I had the tent to myself and repacked for the home stay - took price tags off of the presents I'd picked up. Then I grabbed my head lamp, notebook and water bottle and headed to the dining tent. I got some ginger tea, and hung out chatting - the Hungarian guy was there for dinner with us. We had dinner early, at 6:30pm - momos! :-) Tomato and toasted sesame sauce. Green beans, chicken drumsticks, tomato soup, fried rice, and chocolate fried pineapple slices for dessert.
Got a book recommendation from Doug: Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Sloakam. Tried to remember the name of the other book I read about urine drinking and cannibalism, but couldn't recall it. I went right to bed after dinner and didn't have a lot of trouble falling asleep. Then, even with earplugs in, I heard and was completely woken up by loud wolf howls. It sounded like they were right next to the tent! I felt like crap, throat sore, chest getting congested, so I couldn't bring myself to care if I was about to be eaten. :-( I think I heard snow leopard calls after the howls, from up toward Rumbak.
Star and Doug hit the trail to Rumbak first, and Adam, Nanda and I came, coughing and moving slowly, with Jigmet. He was stopping often to whip out the spotting scope and scan the slopes for movement. As we were walking along or across the frozen Indus, Jigmet pointed out the clear tracks of the wolves we'd heard last night, they'd come quite close to the camp (I was so cold/tired/sick that I honestly couldn't work up the energy to care if they ate me in my tent). I managed to spot a pica running in the rocks. We left camp at 9:20am and made it to the shrine that we'd seen previously at 10:10. The trail was a bit improved from bare rock there on: wire cubes of rocks made a path below the cliff and there was a wooden slat bridge at one point. We weren't walking very much on the ice proper, mostly staying on a rocky trail next to it. Horses passed us heading back to camp, and we caught up with our stuff on pony back near the empty tea shop after the river gorge opened up into the valley. The valley wasn't huge but it was gorgeous, with slopes and peaks covered in snow and glinting in the sun. There were some spots where the cliffs were concave and we could hear neat echoes of our voices. At one point I thought I heard the wolves again but it might have been a human coughing. We ran into one of the small English groups when Namgyal and Jigmet went off to track the wolves (because of course they did :-) ). We were back in civilisation with pasture fencing, stone walls, and the solar powered tea shop where Rumbak women set up in the summer. It might have been a recycling point as well. It was so sunny that I had to take off some layers, put on my sun hat and sunblock. Jigmet suggested that I try a salt water gargle tonight, my throat was pretty rough. As we were going along the track toward the village, turning left at the tea house, they spotted a red fox and we stopped for pictures. It was close enough that I could track it with my naked eye. Jigmet went up the hillside to get it move from it's nap point on a peak. The sun facing slopes were still bare to our left, but there was tonnes of snow to our right. Namgyal is such a clown, he put the 600mm lens cover on his head as a hat. :-)
We finally passed the first house in the village after seeing some outlying stone buildings - herding shelters? They were brick with only two windows and two storeys. We walked past some livestock pens, Tibetan sheep skulls with horns were mounted above one pen gate, seemed a bit macabre. There were lots of animal droppings on the path as it got penned in by the walls. I saw some of the stuff that had come up on the path by donkey and pony yesterday (PVC pipes, metal rods and pieces). My duffel bag was bright green in the sun, waiting for me by Star on a wall as Jigmet, Nanda and I came up to the pair of home-stay houses. Nanda was sent into the right one, Jigmet came in with us into the left one. There was a sign above the door: Tarchok Ladahk Homestay. There was a concrete entry area behind a low wooden door, our room was carpeted and sunny just off to the left, up a single step. There was a thick blanket over the wooden door, and windows on two sides of the room showing the village (only nine families lived there) and the snowy mountain slopes out the other side. There was a metal stove sitting in the middle of the room, our beds were mattresses on the floor under the windows, piled high with blankets. The kitchen was straight ahead, we took our shoes off to go in for milk tea and buns served by our hostess. I completely missed her name, still breathing hard after making it up the steep rise into the village - we'd gained a couple thousand more feet in altitude. We got a tour of some of the huge number of pots covering one wall, sitting on rug covered platforms before low tables. There was a butter tea pot, a black stone pot, a pot to hold barley flour for guests (we had some), a barley beer pot that is used to bring it to the fields with butter for a good harvest. My notes are a bit messy here but it looks like it was an expensive pot, worth 8000 rupees. Peas and barley were strung up around the top of two wooden pillars. There were black wood branches for roofing. A pressure cooker stood on a gas hot plate. Namgyal came for tea and a bun, I could see why he and our hostess got along, they both have a sense of mischievousness about them. :-) She was dressed in a traditional wool coat with loose pants, a down vest and a head scarf, with a lovely smile and bright eyes as she teased Jigmet.
Lunch was rice cooked with turmeric and an amazing dish of potatoes and cauliflower. I had seconds and more tea. There were ten to twelve magpies hanging out in a tree outside and making a racket. After lunch, at around 1:30, I went into our room to rest until 3pm when we'd meet up with the others to walk around the village. I was wrung out, my cold and the altitude both bearing down on me. I put my sleeping bag down on the mattress and covered up with a blanket. Our hostess will light the stove tonight. I wrote for a bit, borrowing a pen from Star, and ventured out to use the toilet across the entry way. I'd been hoping for running water but nope, the bathroom was a dirt floored room with a rectangular hole, TP hanging from a bent wire. :-) There was a pile of dirt and a shovel to throw in compost after doing our business, it smelled more of a stable than human waste, much nicer than our crowded toilet tent in camp. :-) Lots of room to move around in the room at least! It was chilly out there, the bedroom is warmed by the sun. There's a small monastery visible. I found that I had a cold sore on top of the cold I was suffering. *sigh*
I ended up resting until about 6, oops. Star came back and said that she'd
looked for snow leopards but no luck, and she went out again. Waking up a
bit more and examining the room, I took note of the hostess certificate on
the wall among other pictures:
This is to certify that Smt. Phuntsog Dolma D/O Shri Tsering Chombal R/O Rumbak has completed ...
which I wrote down to make sure I had Dolma's name. :-) Dolma served me mint tea in the cozy sitting room beyond the kitchen. It's a smaller room with a similar dung stove as we have in the bedroom. The main kitchen has a large cast iron stove with brass and stone accents (the pots are a mix of brass and steel). Namgyal came by for tea too, then led me next door as Dolma continued cooking her pot of food to contribute to the group meal. We also went into the smaller room beyond the kitchen there, the whole group but for Jigmet was there (he was out spotting still). The house's mother and daughter were there, the daughter had married and moved to another village and was just visiting now. The daughter is named Jigmet as well, the name given by a lama. I got to see her spice rack as I was leaving, a round shallow pan with a clear lid, bowls of spices packed inside (maybe 7 of them). Jigmet had me try to smell cumin (it looked like anise and I resisted since I thought he meant for me to taste it). I sat by the stove at first, with the mother feeding the fire, but I ended up swapping with Doug as we was cold and I was hot and I was more comfy in the corner where he'd been anyway. I had salted butter tea that they churned on the spot - it was a bit too buttery for me, but I drank most of my half cup. My hostess brought over a curry dumpling dish, Nanda helped make folded bread thingies and we had dal and curried cabbage and other veggies. Everything was very good. Doug had bought a crocheted snow leopard and gloves from his host. I stayed to talk for a bit after we finished supper at around 7:30. It was very casual, plates on the floor and on laps, and we were serving ourselves from the pots. Jigmet told us that village life is very relaxed and happy. Namgyal says he feels odd in cities like Delhi, but he's still happy to be a part of India. Doug asked about what would make life easier in the village and was told that a phone in every house (there's one government satellite phone), and to have the road paved all the way up to the village.
Jigmet escorted Star and me back across the way to our house, I just used the loo and went right to bed. The stove was lit by a man - Dolma's husband? - and was throwing a neat light on the wall. I could see stars peeking through the curtains. I ended up asking for a second blanket when one was offered, I think it helped me sweat out my cold. There were three mattresses in the room, two in use by the windows. Doug offered to let me use his small camera if mine didn't get sorted out tonight in the warmer atmosphere. I opened it up and took out the batteries, putting it by the fire. There were a few cats wandering around, I saw the second house one (more shy), it came into our room, opening the door and then went out the same way.
Warning: the following paragraph contains venting about the social
situation in camp.
The camp staff were putting up a new tent and we were speculating on who would be joining us this time. Then Star moved her stuff in there without saying a word to anyone. Er, okay, not sure if she'd be coming back into the shared tent with me, I kept my stuff off to the side as it had always been, though I spread out a tiny bit now that the huge Indian Army sleeping bag wasn't in there any more. From that time to the end of the trip Star only said one word to me (literally: she bumped into me days later and said sorry before seeing who it was). I tried not to let the issue affect the group dynamics but I was a bit upset at the rudeness - she didn't express any problems with me nor tell me directly why she was moving out (I'd have understood if it was because of my cold, it was pretty dire, plus I probably didn't hide very well that I didn't think we could ever be friends, she and I were almost polar opposites). The total kick in the pants was being dinged for a pro-rated single person supplemental cost to the trip when I got home - I protested the tent part since she was the one who moved out and I was given an apology from the tour company and that part of the charge was removed, but it was still a couple hundred dollars (which was fair in the end since I did end up in my own hotel room after we were out of the tents). Apparently the staff knew why she (said she) moved out but assumed she'd told me - to write without distractions. We had close to a week left of the group part of the trip and things were occasionally awkward from there on since there were only 5 of us on the client side. Luckily we all made do and Star and I just generally avoided each other.
Okay, back to happy fun times vacation in the Himalayas trip diary. :-) Noises and scents from the kitchen and dining tents resolved into lunch: cucumber salad (I had lots) and pasta with tuna (no warning on the fish but it was good). We sat for a bit chatting after lunch and then Doug, Adam, Jigmet, Namgyal and I went up to Husing ridge to look for cats. No sign of the cats drawing us out, it was just a walk (they were trying to give us some rest time I think). I felt better until I started walking, then I was gasping and going slowly. My lungs hurt a bit, though the coughing is down a bit and my nose was under control finally. It was nice and sunny on the ridge, I took off a layer, but then put it back on again when the wind hit me (I was a bit sweaty from the effort to get up the ridge). I watched the line of the sun/shadow as the sun went down behind the ridge and put on two more layers before the shadow rolled over us. Holy cow does the temperature drop without the sun directly on you, the dry desert air just doesn't hold any moisture and it drops the warmth immediately.
Chris came up with DC(?) and a few other singles joined us, and one group was down by the pasture area before the valley narrowed into a canyon. There was no snow leopard sign, but I spotted some blue sheep (after Namgyal was counting them it turned out). The sheep were all casual, no worries, they hadn't sensed any cats either. I was just really nice hanging out, chatting a bit, sitting on the rocks in the sun, basking in the fact that I was in the Himalayas. :-) Doug and Adam and I came down early/first as it got colder (I'd put my mitts on too). I grabbed my headlamp, notebook, water bottles, and went to the dining tent. I skipped tea in favour of a fisherman's friend to try and soothe my throat and planned to have some hot honey water later. Doug asked to have the heater turned on, and I swapped seats with him so that I wouldn't over heat. We watched a documentary on snow leopards that was filmed here - mating above camp, with that group's base camp set up by the tea hut near Rumbak. Once I headed to bed, I was very warm in my sleeping bag + overbag, and ended up stripping off the North Face bottoms (first time wearing them, worth every penny). I woke up coughing once, but downed some cough syrup, sucked on a throat lozenge and was able to get back to sleep.
We had our tea a bit early at 7am this morning. Best part about supported camping, hands down, is being woken with tea and wash water. :-) I took the time to do a full wash since I had the privacy of the tent now and I was the last to the dining tent for breakfast. The food wasn't served yet though, I could have gone to the toilet tent first. I had toast and a cheese omelet and then hit the pit. Fairly soon after we were on the trail up Tarbung. Fernanda stayed in camp, she wasn't feeling up to the precarious trail that day, but the Hungarian guy and his guide came. It was slow going, I stuck mostly with Adam. It was very quiet in the valley, no other groups had gone that way, but there were also no snow leopards. They spotted some blue sheep but I didn't see them. We went up past where we had watched, scattered up and down the ridge the other day, and went further up along the frozen river.
We settled in at one place for observation and lunch came up to us again, right as a marmot was whistling and startling. Curried chickpeas, flat bread, tea, wrapped cheese slices, they definitely go above and beyond to feed us and especially to bring it to us - granted, our chef said it took him a lot less time to hike in than we did, he's used to the altitude and extremely tough to boot. We had our lunch, serving pots nestled in the snow, as we perched on rocks in the sun, with half an eye up toward the slopes, but no cat sign. We started down soon after. The Hungarian's guide fell on the ice, but wasn't hurt. I can't remember if I brought my microspikes or not, could have used them in a few places, that's for sure!
Dinner started off with chicken soup and candles? They were making our last dinner in the camp special, they pulled out all the stops: chicken, tuna/egg/tomato salad, plain rice, mutter paneer, noodles and rice, and a chocolate snow leopard cake! I'm utterly impressed by what the kitchen staff can do out here by the side of a frozen river. :-) Namgyal showed us a slideshow about his ice river trek, multiple days following the frozen river and camping out, as well as watching a documentary about eastern Ladahk. The film showed animal butchering, I found the kills disturbing. Headed to bed for my last night in the tent, it was definitely feeling warmer. I had to get up at around 3am to pee, the moon was behind the mountains at that point.
We had lunch on the patio again with everyone coaxing a stray dog to come over for pets. I took before and after pictures for Doug around his shower. Lunch was sag paneer, dal, veggies, rice, puffy round bread that I think was called chiapta, lots of water and tea. Lovely comfortable high back wicker chairs to sit in, basking in the sun at a solid table, it was a nice change from huddling around the card table on stools, warm depending on how far from the heater you were. I had put on sunscreen and a hat as I'd been a bit burned from the trek this morning. :-( For clothes, I was wearing my black and red wool sweater (missed it), light long underwear, light hiking pants and just liner socks, with my down jacket back on top for warmth. I was thinking about putting on my thick socks again later, but didn't need it just yet - amazing what you get used to, it was probably just around 5C, but we were clean, it was above freezing and we didn't care. :-)
I got very vague directions to the bank of India branch so that I could get some more cash and set off to find it. I went past the melting hockey rink and saw tonnes of kids just out of school for the day. I took a one lane road to a 2 lane road, I wasn't really nervous walking on it as others were walking in the road as well. I went past the hospital and police station and saw a map that had the bank marked on it - it's a bit of a tourist destination, guess they don't want us getting lost. :-) I kept going, on to Main Street and found it with a short line for the ATM. I didn't have any problems taking out 5K Rupees with my INGDirect debit card, and it was pretty awesome to see my current bank balance rendered in Rupees. :-) The walk back to the hotel felt shorter (familiarity, knowing which way to turn) but it was a bit uphill so I was panting a little by the time I got back - it only took me 30 minute altogether, but it was nice to have some alone in a crowd time with new faces around, as well as picking my own route! Some school kids said hello to me, even from passing packed buses, it was cute. :-) I gave Doug and Adam and Nanda directions to the ATM then joined them in logging on, all sitting staring at our phones in the lobby. :-) There was much better wifi signal in the front room where I was now than in the back one that I had before the camping part of the trip. I logged into Google to check my email and got Rosemary's address for my London stop into my physical book - I wanted to be sure to have it available when I was going through the checkpoints to get out of the airport since it would be my location for the night. I also posted to Facebook to let everyone there know that I was back in civilisation, and logged into my personal account to spend some time deleting spam. I also had to write down the details from Tony and Juliet since they were requesting a special edition bottle of Scotch from the Heathrow duty free. I spent about an hour online and was getting a bit chilly sitting inside but by the door - they still don't turn the hotel heat on until the evening. I put my phone to charge and dug out a blanket to keep myself warm while writing up the day and waiting for the heat to kick on at 6. I had some cashews and apricots for a snack since despite having lunch at 2:30 and dinner to come at 7:30, I was still feeling a bit peckish. We still have lovely views of the mountains from the hotel, and it was great to take my boots off and wear runners for a bit. Sitting in my room alone, it feels a bit odd being by myself! I have a big bag of dirty clothes and no desire to sort and repack. I have my sleeping bag and pashmina and towel airing out, I may wash some underwear if I get a fresh bucket of cold water. My camera is still unhappy, but it's probably not warm enough yet. Namgyal will collect us for our delayed tour of Leh tomorrow at 9am, we'll have breakfast at 8am. While we're out and about tomorrow, I'll want to get something for Rosemary and Richard as a thank you for letting me stay gift, Katie for looking after my plants while I was out of the office (spoiler alert: she almost killed my African violets by over watering them, poor desert plants), and maybe my nuclear family as well. I'll make sure to drain my camelbak into a water bottle to take with me. There's no bottled water, tea service or Kleenex in my room... I read my book (Inexplicables) until just before dinner time, then popped my head into Doug's room when I heard voices coming from next door. He was doing a show and tell, so I got to see some of his pictures from our walk in Delhi as well as the snow leopard hunt from the first day of camping.
It was just four of us for dinner, they served us fries (skipped them), curried chicken, kidney bean dal, rice, cabbage, cauliflower, and then a super sweet dough ball and tea for dessert. Doug and I were sitting on a low rocky bench, Nanda and Adam in chairs across from us. I had to ask for tea bags, and the others requested ketchup and the green chili sauce, but the food was good - our cook and server were both wearing down jackets. We got hot water bottles though! I gave Adam the 400R I'd borrowed from him, so we were square for tomorrow. It was just before 9pm but I was ready to sleep - switching out of a dawn to dusk lifestyle might take a few days. My room is by the entrance and the front desk, it might be a bit busy but I can't stand the thought of putting in ear plugs again. My cold sore is slightly better, and I took a sinus pill too. I think I have enough blankets to sleep just in shorts and with no socks on (scandalous!). I read until about 10pm.
We had lunch at a Tibetan restaurant for 150 Rupees, much more in the range of what I was expecting when I was budgeting out my food expenses for the trip. I had mango juice (Doug and I would always compete/ask for the mango juice boxes on the trek), and veggie chow mein with eggs, it was very good. From there we went to the Overland Escape office (the trekking company that we were with), and Namgyal showed us a map of the area as he checked in. We could see the rented sleeping bags from our trip airing out on frames in the courtyard. I used the small restroom there while I had the chance (bucket flush as well, still too early in the year to turn on the water and risk burst pipes). From there we walked back to the hotel despite an offer to call us a taxi, we weren't far from where I'd walked last night to get to the ATM. I also picked up 5 tissue towel packets to deal with my renewed runny nose, and Nanda stopped at a small open air market (covered by a Tibetan parachute) to pick up bracelets as presents for her coworkers. Namgyal will come back to the hotel at around 4pm to tell us when we'll get picked up to head to the airport tomorrow. The room was cleaned and everything was moved - loose stuff sitting below the hangers were placed in a ziplock bag. I need to pack up soon.
Namgyal and a coworker from Overland Escapes came by just before 4pm to let us know that we'd have a 6:30am pick up for the airport tomorrow, as well as to collect Rupees for the gear rentals from the trek. Doug's porter was more than he expected, 6k Rupees instead of $85 - but he was pretty much a full fledged photographer's assistant, helping to get shots rather than just carrying the gear. The sleeping bag rental was 2k Rupees for 10 days, an option to consider if I want to avoid having to pack my own bulky sleeping bag. We all said goodbye to Namgyal, he's off on a trek with the Indians staying at our hotel so he won't be here in the morning. I headed back to my room and bundled up to finish my book so I could pack it (I turned into such a clock watcher about the heat turn on time). I packed up my suitcase, clean stuff on top, and put my clothes out for tomorrow. The underwear I'd washed hadn't dried hanging in the bathroom, so I moved it on top of the heater - and got some bonus humidity too. I'd been snacking on almonds and cashews and biscuits, but the last of my water was cloudy so I poured it out. I was feeling thirsty but planned to wait for the bottle of water that I'd get with dinner. Once I was all packed up, I decided to head to the dining room a bit early and use my phone until the others arrived. I ended up getting my water early and Doug came in and then Adam and Nanda did as well, so I just hung out with them instead, oh no. :-) Dinner was dal and cauliflower on rice for me, I skipped the french fries again as well as the eggplant fritters and chicken. I had a light steeping of tea for warmth, it was still chilly in the dining room. For dessert, I just ended up eating the nuts out of the sweet pudding - they've been great about keeping track of our allergies, I don't think I even spotted a nut that I couldn't eat. I grabbed a bottle of water to go and got wash water delivered to my room. There was an attempt to deliver my hot water bottle while I was washing, oops, bad timing! I set my alarm for 5:45 but at some point in the night I woke up with horrible congestion, and just dozed fitfully for a while.
The Leh airport exemplified bureaucracy for the sake of employing people, or else just a really paranoid security set up. Guards checked Nanda's e-ticket at the gate to the airport, and all of ours at the entrance to the airport building. We went through the bag x-rays and pat down then checked in for our flight. Then we went through gender segregated x-rays and pat down, trying to make sure that everything we were carrying on got tagged and stamped (while signs and announcements were saying no carry on). There were a fair number of other potential passengers there as well, it was pretty chaotic. At least one pat down/wanding missed the camera in my jacket pocket. Then since Doug checked in at the counter first, he was given all of the bag claim tickets - fair enough since he had the most pieces, but still gave him more to do. He had to go outside on his own to point out all of our bags as belonging to us or else they wouldn't get loaded onto the plane - luckily we'd been travelling together in so many modes of transportation that we all knew what each others bags looked like, and soon our luggage was separated out and heading for the hold of the plane. It was a good thing that we left early, as with all of that we just had about 45 minutes to wait until boarding. I sat with Adam on the scooped plastic chairs and spotted two guys from our hotel who were also on our flight. Air India did their cattle call first, and I moved up to sit with Nanda once a seat nearer the next check point opened up. Then it was our turn, and we had to go through another two hand carry bag tag checks - Adam and Doug had to go back to get stamps for a bag each. I think we might have had another pat down here before leaving the terminal. We were directed onto a bus (not crowded) to drive to the plane, just the women from our group made it onto the first bus. We had to walk up the outside stairs to get onto the plane, but once on there was lots of room for bags and lots of empty seats. We spread out a bit, claiming rows 11, 12, 14 (no 13). They did a manual retraction of the boarding stair, with 4-5 guys pushing it back after the crew came on board. As we left Leh airspace, my window seat let me see the road we came out on from Zinchen,
We had a fairly short walk to baggage claim, past mudras on the wall, though there was some confusion about which belt our bags were to appear on. They finally ended up on 5 as the screens said, rather than 6 as the announcements kept saying, but at least they were next to each other and we had enough people for eyes on both. We had a bit of a wait for our stuff to come out, Nanda's was first, Adam's last. Once we had our bags we just walked right out (past the army men with AK47s...) and out two drivers were waiting. Three of us went in one car to head to Jaipur for an overnight trip, and Doug and I went in the other to head back to our old hotel, Jaipur Continental, arriving there at around 11am. There was a bit of confusion on check in, I waited a bit for a room with 2 beds so that Adam and Nanda can check in with me and a spare bed when they get back from Jaipur. Doug was in 303, they put me in 319, so we were still close. We made plans to meet at 1pm for lunch, we got our driver to recommend a place called Punjabi by Nature. He said to call Apollo tours and ask for a driver tomorrow if we have a plan to go sight seeing.
I unpacked a bit and found my keys for the checked hotel bag lock, yay spare summer clothes! They were mostly dirty though, ah the end of a long trip. :-) I was wishing that I'd packed a skirt or a dress now that I didn't have to worry about freezing my knee caps off. Flush toilets and running water are so convenient! Bath time! I took a nice long one, and then met Doug downstairs at 1. He'd been out and about already, less enamoured than I was by the running water I guess. :-) We walked to the mall next door to the hotel and did hit up Punjabi by Nature for lunch. They were showing cricket on two big screens, there was a waterfall along one wall and the decor was heavy on warm wood and gold accents. The staff were wearing loose bronze pants and tunics with vests. There was modernish music playing and a mostly Indian clientele, the women wearing mostly saris but a few people in western clothes, we'd been told that this was where our driver would go out for a nice meal. I kinda wished he'd believed us when we were asking about something more on the level of where he'd stop to get a meal on the way home from work or something, but it was a nice relaxed meal, we lingered until 2:30. The waiter warned us that the tandoori chicken with yogurt and spices was enough for 2, so we got one order, 2 roti, 2 mango lassi, and 2 mango ice creams for dessert (because it was Doug and me and our shared love of mangoes). Water and diet coke to drink, and, somehow as usual, the meal came to 1500R. :-) It was very good, quite spicy, I had to get some rice to go with it. Finding the washroom was a bit of a quest though, I had to take an elevator to the top floor, then take some stairs down to find it. On the way back I had to go down two flights of stairs past the kitchen to get back to the table. Then Doug went off, the men's room was on the top floor after all, guess they'd assumed only he needed to go when they gave directions.
I ended up just changing my top and reapplying deodorant, I'm so fancy. :-) I went over to room 303 at 7 to grab Doug, he was on Skype to his wife, he let me in and I resisted the urge to make faces at him to make him laugh. :-) We decided to try for the Dirty Martini bar inside of Olive Resto and Bar. The travel desk called a car for us, charged to Doug's room (they were pretty insistent that we not go out and find a tuk tuk on our own). We had a short wait and we were off at just past 7:30. Traffic was bad, we went right past the place the first time around - it was a small sign under a big one for 1 style mile. Our driver ended up asking for directions in a market past Qutb Minar. It was very congested, he had to force a u-turn through the crowding. Once through the guarded gate, there was a turn around and valet stand, we got there at around 8:15 or so and told our driver that we'd be out at 9:30 as he was going to wait for us. We were led upstairs to an open patio area, tree tops surrounding it and strings of lights adding to the ambiance. There were neat beaded lanterns with sculptures, mix and match cushions, some with fleur de lis designs. The waiters wore pin striped vests with tails. I got a Bombay Sapphire gimlet to start, and smoked salmon on nachos. The food was great, Doug's fries were nicely spiced, though his slider was messy. Then I had a Jameson's julep - a bit too heavy on the rosewater and not enough almond. I played it risky with ice and mint in that drink. Doug got iceless diet coke for his second drink, after a marguerita. It looked like a popular date place, though some friend groups filed in after 9pm. It took a while to get our bill, it came in Rupees and dollars. I hope I ticked the right box to tip in Rupees! :-) We went down to our driver at just past 9:30, glad our estimate was good, and 20 minutes later we were back at the hotel. A silver jubilee celebration was in full swing outside there, music was still clearly audible from my room. My throat was still sore, post nasal drip was making it feel rough. Two teas in my room, got two more bottles of water when housekeeping buzzed me. 10:10pm. Breakfast at 9am then Doug will get a street shave, then we'll be picked up at 11 for site seeing. Just noticed that the tissues I got in Leh are perfumed.
It was buffet as usual, but the dragon fruit still hadn't reappeared after that first glorious time. They did have watermelon juice though, that was lovely. I did eggs on toast plus mueslix with yogurt to make sure that I was filed up before touring around. From there we went straight out to get Doug's street shave. I'm glad that he swapped out the lens to a smaller one, even so by the end of the session my arms were sore from holding the camera up and steady. One of the shots I took. The guy who was sweeping up the shavings had me move at one point, but that let me get shots in the mirror. There were others waiting for their shave, they seemed bemused by my documentary efforts (I was determined not to miss anything). The barber used lots of lather and a straight razor, sprayed a mist on Doug's fast, and had a block of something he rubbed on his face, and aftershave that got massaged in. Smooth as a baby's bottom once done, worth every Rupee. :-) We headed back to the hotel and Doug checked out and moved his stuff into my room. We hung out and chatted for a bit then went down to the lobby a bit before 11am to check with the travel desk about our car. The clerk there called it up, a black one for once, with a driver in a cap and a military/bell boy style jacket. The clerk gave the driver the list that I'd made of places we wanted to see. The driver tried to convince me to skip the observatory, but I insisted and explained that I'd seen most of the sights for tourists already.
I washed my face and had more water and took some ibuprofen, we were both feeling headaches from the heat. We went down to Eggspectations for a late lunch, we'd timed out the itinerary almost perfectly for a four hour tour - we were back just before 3pm. I had a caprese panini and a chai shake for something cool and vegetarian. There were two women from Vancouver in the elevator with us. On the way out of the restaurant I asked for a stop in the bakery to grab a treat. I had to wait for them to phone someone about if there were nuts in the chocolate truffle cake slice (the sacher cake, ah Vienna, only came in a full cake for 1400), I got a slice for 200R. Headed back up to the room to eat it there while Doug nursed his headache, relaxing in the armchair. Amit, a staff member at the hotel, had asked Doug to chat with him about cameras, called but hung up? Doug napped on the bed as I wrote up the day in my notebook. I was feeling nice and full from lunch, and planned to have supper after he left at 7:30. I read my Lhasa book until Doug went to shower at 6:30, I grabbed new towels and some water from housekeeping. Then Adam called to say that he and Nanda were downstairs. Doug was packing up to head home while the rollaway bed was being made and luggage was delivered, it was a bit of chaos. Then he went downstairs to talk to Amit and I got two calls from the lobby asking where he was because his driver for the airport trip (Sebastian again!) was there. I went down to find him, he was in the office talking about cameras with Amit and had finally come out. I hugged him goodbye and wave him off again before heading back up to my room. Nanda and Adam were repacking for their trips home and I eventually started, getting mostly sorted out. I put my backpack in my small red suitcase but might switch it out as it's a tight fit. At around 8pm I got us moving to Punjabi by Nature for dinner. Nanda got lamb, and Adam and I shared the same chicken dish that Doug and I had had, plus a chicken korma. There was also chicken and cheese stuffed bread, mango lassi, and we shared some bottled water. I was so sleepy, it was too much food. We walked back to the hotel, where I tried to check in for my flight (Adam did it already) via my phone, but it told me that I have to do it at the airport, probably due to my green card. Sebastian will be back to pick us up at 9:30 or 10am, we put in for a 7:30am wake up call. There was a Mardi Gras themed party going on outside, lots of green and purple decorations, but it was winding down by 10:30pm. Shower and then bed.
I read until my lacto vegetarian special supper came (the sweet was yucky), then watched The Dark Knight Rises. I read some more then watched Skyfall, getting two long movies out of the way while I was a captive audience. The next meal was veggie biryani, I ate that and then read some more. I drank a couple of cups of tea and lots of water to try and stay hydrated, and the resulting trips to the bathroom kept my legs stretched, but at least my gut was calming down. I had to stand in line the second time I went since they announced that we should all go now before landing, but we ended up having ages to go after all. I filled in my landing card with my saved info for Richard and Rosemary. It was a smooth flight, they only had the seatbelt signs on once. It was 2C in London when we landed, chilly! We had a bit of an air traffic control delay getting in to London, so Adam only had about an hour to get to Terminal 5 from 3 where we'd landed, so we said our goodbyes in the halls before he motored onward and I ambled. I got into the immigration line at about halfway of the crowd for non European Union citizens, it moved quickly. I just had to reassure the guy questioning me that i was staying with my cousins and answered where I was in India.
I spotted Richard at the end of the arrivals gauntlet, happy that this international meet up had worked again. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us, so Rosemary and I both hit up the toilets again before heading up to the parking structure. We drove out through London, seeing a few cyclists and only light traffic as it was a Sunday night. We went right through central London, past the National History Museum and the Eye at the Embankment, and past Hyde Park too, and more that I was a bit too tired to take in, on our way to their house in Leigh On Sea. We got onto the A3 and from there it was a straight shot to their town. Snow started flurrying as we got to their street, luckily I had dug out my down jacket. They put me in a room upstairs where Richard keeps his model airplanes. They have a nice place (jacuzzi bath!), having done a lot of work on it over the years. I had a cheese sandwich and water in the car, thanks to Rosemary's foresight in packing a snack for me, and that finished settling my stomach, then I had some decaf Earl Grey while sitting with them in their living room for a bit. I got a $2 lesson on the European Union as well. :-) I took my water bottle up with me to bed, and they gave me some family reunion DVDs to give to my mom, as well as a copy of the family tree to update and share. I took a shower downstairs (mmm, towel warmer) at around 10pm, proud to have made it awake to that point (though I had been starting to nod off in the car on the expressway) in my effort to fight off jet lag. I gave them their presents, the wrap and the tea, as thank yous for letting me stay with them and driving me from/to the airport as well.
Security was easy, scan boarding pass, take liquids out of my bag, walk through the metal detector and I was out into the duty free. There were two bottles of the Balvenie golden cask left, I got just one since I didn't want to risk my Global Entry nothing to declare quick exit in Boston (but told Tony and Juliet that I'd take a sip as my carrier fee). I also was able to find Juliet's requested tea, and I picked up 3 for me and one for Justin too. I found an Air Canada desk and verified that Jet Airways in India was just code sharing with Air Canada but doesn't get you a mileage credit. I went back to waiting in the central lounge area, waiting for my gate number to be announced at 1:45 (I'd made it through security before 12:45). I though that I should probably eat some stuff to reduce the size of my backpack.
The flight from London to Boston was very turbulent. The flight attendants were seated more often than not and I was seriously contemplating getting out the barf bag at one point. I spilled water on myself when they were able to do a drinks service, and after that made a point of timing a long drink to drain the small cup in a lull in the bumps. My special meals were just okay, more English than Indian on this leg. I watched a couple of movies to pass the time, picking 2.5 hour plus long ones to fill the flight so I wouldn't sleep. We landed a bit late and I completely forgot that I wanted to check with lost and found about my glove. I did the Global Entry kiosk, forgetting once again that I had to use my permanent resident card instead of my passport. Then the first machine wouldn't read it, and an officer helped me to get it read at the older machine at the end (no line for that, but the agent line moved fast enough that I could have just done it, but dammit, I want my $50 fee's worth :) ). Not a long wait for my suitcases, both came through and weathered their night in London with no ill effects. Except for the fact that I'd packed my pound notes in one and didn't spend them. Short wait for a taxi, and a pleasant drive home, though I had a moment of brain blank when he asked me for my address. Then, oddly enough and for the second time in a row, the driver left my suitcases on the road by the trunk. I'd left the back seat door open while I moved my bags to the sidewalk, he just sat there in the driver's seat. Felt ripped off that I did the credit card payment and it only offered a pre-computed 20% and up tip. Got my stuff inside after verifying that I didn't need to sign anything (er and he didn't give me the receipt) and got reacquainted with my couch and then bed after taking a long hot shower.