India, 2013

My former coworker and Iceland travel buddy convinced me to sign up for the Wintertime Quest for the Snow Leopard tour with him and the friend that was organising it. I was sceptical at first and then trepidatious once I had put down the deposit, as it entailed hiking around above 10,000 ft (which after Kilimanjaro I'd not wanted to do again) as well as camping at down to -25C. In the end it was awesome and I have no regrets. :-) I also managed to squeeze in a trip to London to see my cousins after a generous invitation after we met in Jamaica, taking Virgin Atlantic from Boston to London to Delhi. The two red eye flights in a row to get to India were a mistake though, they weren't quite long enough to get a full sleep on either leg.

All the pictures.


Monday February 18, 2013 - BOS-LHR

I was up until 2am the night before, packing and repacking various suitcases and duffel bags and backpacks trying to get each piece under the max weight for the various legs of my flight, as well as keeping it down to the minimum number of pieces. It's always complicated packing for a trip that can expose me to +35C and -20C, I kept being reminded of Argentina. I ended up with my new suitcase from Target (a Sketchers brand one that had a bit of a funky shape, deeper at one end than the other) and my red carry on sized suitcase, fitting my backpack inside the checked bag. My friend Kirsten was heading to Thailand for three months, leaving while I was gone, and dropped by to borrow my summer weight sleeping bag (I'd be using my winter one) at around 10am. I made an effort to finish up perishables left in my fridge, popped over to the library to return books, and took out my trash and recycling. I'd also put a hold on my mail and got a plant sitter at work - this was the longest stretch yet during which I'd be away, there were extra details that kept occurring to me. Luckily the one plant my dark apartment hadn't managed to kill would hibernate until I got back to water it. I'd also given my landlord a heads up that I'd be away, just in case anything odd happened in my apartment (fingers crossed for no more broken pipes and renters insurance paid up). I'd also bought medical insurance for the trip, as required by Karma Quest, since we were going to be out in the mountains and air lift would be the best bet to get to a hospital quickly.

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.

Tuesday February 19, 2013 - LHR-DEL

I slept on and off, they woke us up to serve breakfast an hour and a half before we were to land in London - there were nuts in the muffin so I went a bit hungry. My earplugs also didn't work for me. Coming into London from over the countryside, it was lovely seeing lines of cars streaming into the city, and buildings rising from the thick mist that engulfed London proper, and I also spotted the Eye on the bank of the Thames. There were huge planes at some of the other gates. I had a pretty long walk to get from my arrival gate to the outside. I'd put Rosemary's address in my Google calendar and it was in my (offline) phone, but without signal the date was reset to 1980 (which was especially annoying as it's a Virgin mobile phone and I was in it's homeland). I ended up scrolling through a month at a time to get to the right date so that I could fill in the entry forms at customs and immigration to let them know who I was visiting. I put the info in my Moleskine notebook once I had it, since my phone was basically going to be a brick while I was out of the USA.

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.

Wednesday February 20, 2013 - Delhi

For breakfast, I'd asked for the Asian vegetarian option, it was hot enough to burn my tongue. I tried to listen to a recording of David Tenant reading Fleming on the in flight entertainment system, but all the crew announcements were too loud and had me tearing off my headphones. It got bumpier as we were coming in to land, there was more open land than I expected to see. It was a very slow immigration line, so many people hadn't filled out all of the form despite repeated urgings by the flight crew while we were still on the plane. Eventually we got through (no questions for us) and walked past customs. Our bags were out fairly soon, and all of them made it, locks intact. Our driver was waiting for us just past security (we had to verify our names on our suitcase tags before leaving the airport). He led us through a crowd of taxi drivers, not nearly as chaotic as it was when I landed in Jamaica. Adam and I waited while the driver paid for parking, and I used the time to dig out the sheet of paper with tipping guidelines. We were led to a nice white car and he stuffed our luggage into the trunk. We had a bit of a hair raising drive to the hotel, lots of bikes, scooters, motorcycles, pedestrians in the busy road, everyone honking and jostling for space. We got out of the airport at close to 1, it was about 2pm when we got to the hotel. We drove past huge airport hotels going up, military outposts, a nice park in an expensive part of town (our driver gave us a mini tour as we went). There were lots of scooters that had passengers on the back riding without a helmet, and one scooter had 3 adults on it (saw a full family later in the trip). A van taxi was packed with people, and we passed a delivery truck that had one back door missing and we could see a guy sleeping on the boxes in the back. The vegetation seemed like a mix of tropical and desert, it reminded me a bit of Jamaica. There were dusty but big leaved trees, and colourful gardens. We passed road side stands and a market street.

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.

Thursday February 21, 2013 - Delhi and Agra

I was able to borrow a suitcase lock from Adam so that I could lock and leave my little red suitcase in Delhi (Adam and Fernanda put stuff in it too that they didn't want to bring to Leh).

Our wake up call at 5:45am came after I'd been up for a bit and was just dozing. We went down for breakfast at Eggspectations in the lobby, memories of Montreal. It was mostly a buffet but you could ask for eggs. I tried dragon fruit for the first time, it was good, and the chai was strong, I was learning to ask for milk with it. I had yogurt and a croissant to finish, then headed up to the room to brush my teeth since I was a bit ahead of time. Back down to meet the driver, Adam and Fernanda behind me. I forgot my sun hat, this would be a problem later. OMG driving in India! The 3.5+ hours to Agra was a game of not quite bumper cars. Our driver was good, but there were so many squeeze points with cars, trucks, buses, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, ox carts, donkey carts, cargo bikes and pedestrians. I also saw monkeys, a camel cart, pigs, and lots of cows. We stopped at a border for the driver to go in and get some sort of pass for us. There was a guy there with a monkey on a leash who was selling pictures, but we didn't want to pay him (we'd been warned). Then Adam in ignoring him knocking on our window turned around to show me something unrelated on his phone and the guy went nuts, insisting that Adam had taken a picture. We quickly locked the doors, just before he started trying to open them. It was a bit scary, but luckily our driver came back and yelled at the guy soon after. We also saw another set of monkeys at rest stop further on. One had makeup on, it was kind of sad. A leashed mother with baby monkey were on our car window at one point, and the mama had big bumps on her neck, looking diseased. :-( There was also a free monkey rummaging in the trash bin.

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.

We went inside briefly to see the replica tomb of the wife at the centre of it all. There was gorgeous semi precious gem inlay work, and our guide insisted on taking pictures of us in front of various decorations. We had to wear paper booties to walk on the marble. The heat was intense, at the back of the building people were resting in the sharp edged shade. The white marble was almost blinding in the sun. It cost 705 Rupees for the Taj Mahal entry fee, then 250R for the Red Agra Fort that we visited afterwards.
The fort was a bit crumbly but massive, maybe 9 square km? We had lots of views back toward the Taj Mahal along the river. There were many rooms in many styles, the library book cubbies were awesome, built into the walls. It was very hot in the sun though, I missed my hat. The guide took a neat picture of Nanda, Adam and me on the steps.

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.

Friday February 22, 2013 - Delhi and Leh

I was still sleepy when the wake-up call came at about 6:30am. I completely missed a big thunderstorm during the night (slept soundly, still getting over jet lag), but heard Star showering at 5:30 - she doesn't sleep much at all. I was quickly ready, all packed, to head down for breakfast. I was almost done by 7 and called Fernanda and Adam before heading down to eat, Fernanda was about to shower. They had checked out and brought suitcases down when they found me in Eggspectations I finished up my chai and scrambled eggs after having plum yogurt with lots of fruit (no dragon fruit this morning though). I tried the soup that they had on offer, it was a bit too spicy/acidic for me. I went up to the room to grab my stuff, Star was out first and checked us out with vouchers, and I checked the red suitcase, having decided at semi last minute to leave my runners behind (would be much colder and snowier in Leh, I could make do with just my winter boots). In the lobby we met our last group member, Doug another expat Canuck living in the States. Soon the staff was loading up all of our stuff into a minivan, and we had a quick ride back to the airport, passing a herd of cows on the street. We had to present our itineraries and passports to the guards in order to get into the airport building, there was some confusion about the delayed flight as we were coming in after the printed departure time. There was a bit of a line to check in, but we were there 2 hours before our flight and I wasn't worried. My bag came in at 18kg and Adam and Doug were 2 and 3kg over the weight limit, but the seemed to be allowing it as long as the group total was under the total max for that many people.

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.

Saturday February 23, 2013 - Delhi

I slept well until 3:30am or so, then was woken up by the thunderstorm. I dozed on and off after that until 7:30am. Star went down to breakfast before I got up. I knocked on 507 at 8am, Nanda was in a towel and Adam was going into the shower, they promised to be down soon. I got a table for 3, but no other full place settings. The dragonfruit was still missing from the buffet, but the watermelon juice made up for it. I took a probiotic yogurt and cut up a papaya into it, as well as a regular blueberry yogurt. I had two cups of chai and some scrambled eggs on toast, eggs Florentine were not on the buffet, but I wanted to be well fed since I wasn't sure when we'd eat during the city tour. I went up to my room to clean my teeth and to pick up my rain coat, hat, camera etc. I ended up being the last down in the lobby, everyone else had come down to breakfast ready to go, oops! Doug went off to the Taj Mahal at 7:30, we left at 9:15 with a driver and guide to see lots of Delhi.

We started with Mughal history with the Qutb Minar, the tallest stone tower in the world. It was a gorgeous complex but our guide Satish kept us moving fairly fast (we probably could have used that impetus in Agra with Vishnu). We saw the Hindu carvings that were defaced when the Muslims conquered the area, as well as a British cupola sitting on the grass near a sun dial. Another tower was started nearby (inside the complex) that was supposed to be 2x as large but only the first base was done, just the rough stone, no facing. You can't go inside the completed tower now because there was once a power failure and a stampede inside, killing school children. It was an interesting mix all over of Mughal (Mongol), Hindu and Muslim decorations and styles. The tower was neat for alternating angular and circular flutings on the first storey, angular on the second, circular on the third. Where the tower was struck by lightning, the damaged stone was replaced with white marble (the rest of the tower is red sandstone, that guy wanted to leave his mark). From there, we made a short photo stop on the side of the road near the Lotus temple (Baha'i) where we could just see the marble slabs rising in the flower shape.

Next up was Humayun's Tomb. There was a snake charmer in with the parked buses, I stayed behind a tree while they did photos with him and I took pictures of the birds in the trees (maybe crows?). This tomb was built for a man by a woman and was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. It was not nearly as fine, but it was a good example of calligraphy and decoration. It had replica tombs as well, with the real ones in the basement.

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

through the temple and went back outside where we were loaded into bicycle rickshaws for a ride through Old Delhi. Nanda and I were in one, we lost Adam and Star at one point as their cyclist took a short cut. Our guide was in a rickshaw by himself and tried to keep us in sight, but traffic was packed and moving slowly. There was no suspension though it was surprisingly nimble. The traffic was jammed so badly that it took longer than it would have if we'd just walked to our next stop, especially as we waited for Adam and Star to reappear at one point. The guide charged us 100R each and gave the drivers 50 I think. :-) The ride ended at a working mosque, we were charged a fee to bring our cameras in and ladies had to put on cover up dresses (we all had pants on) and we all took off our shoes (some thieves steal them). Star didn't come in with us, not wanting to put on the dress. It was mostly sandstone with some marble. Minarets have 400 steps (or maybe 200?) but the call to prayer is done with loudspeakers now. We got back into the tour van and did some more driving in Old Delhi, past the car repair market where I saw a cargo bike with a towering pile of car doors. We did a photo stop at the front gate of the Red Fort, I totally love sandstone buildings now. He also took us to 2 cottage industry stores. We saw a weaving demo and then passed on Marsala tea @650R. At the second cottage industry stop I stayed in the van with Star as the driver cleaned it. Adam and Nanda both bought tea. We also went past (mile 0) a street where Mahatma and Indira and ? Gandhi were cremated, and on the way back to the hotel we saw the former residence for Indira where she was shot by her security guard.

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).

Sunday February 24, 2013 - Delhi to Leh

Woke up with my alarm at 6:20am, Star went down for breakfast first. I got Adam and Nanda's stuff to leave in my red suitcase, remembering to take the pashmina out. :-) Decided to check my bag on the way to breakfast, they said that I'd get a claim tag while I was eating. I claimed a table and Adam and Nanda then Doug came to join me. Muesli and yogurt this morning, but the dragon fruit was apparently a one off thing. I was done first, my red bag was on the cart to go to the airport, so I sorted that out and got it into storage, then brushed my teeth and after a last check down and was last out the cars. Sebastian had us again, poor guy. I'm getting blase about Delhi traffic, but then was told it was a holiday and so lighter than normal. We had no problem getting past security with a boarding pass. Check in was smooth, Star went up first and the agent asked for all 7 of our bags - no overage fees in aggregate. I was last through security so I took my batteries out of my camera and metal out of my pack. The ladies had a separate metal detector and then we were guided into a small curtained pat down area (we were all patted down). My boots had to come off and go on the x-ray belt, I got frowned at for not going through the detector again, but my coat was right there. Then I had to repack everything, get my boots on and gather my scattered wits. I stopped at the area with the stores to shop for homestay gifts since Accessorize had mitts and a nice change purse. I also dodged around an insistently helpful clerk in the watch store as I was checking out their offerings. Then when I went back to actually buy one, I had to flag down a lady to get it out of the display case. I got the grey Swatch since it was a bit cheaper than the shiny black one, 2150R, still a bit more than I planned to pay, but it will be good for travel (update: the band broke less than a year later). I had her set the time for me and walked down to gate 41. The others had gone on a quest for ice cream and arrived at the same time. I got a 10R water from a vending machine, then a 110R masala chai (the chai latte was lots more expensive but they were willing to steam my milk for me so it was about the same thing in the end). Our flight was delayed to 11:45. The inbound plane finally pulled up (it had been delayed by 2 (feet? inches?) of snow) at the original boarding time. There were lots of people napping, probably the ones that arrived 6 hours early. Mostly I just waited at the gate, not wandering much. Boarding was a scrum, and I of course got separated and at the end of the line. :-) We threaded through a maze of gangways, it was kind of neat I was about average height - lots of northerners heading back home. Adam saved some over head bin space for my backpack, and I put my coat under the seat in front of me. I had my book with me and read until mountains appeared, about 30mins. It was gorgeous and an abrupt change, from brown to white landscapes. The mountains extended as far as the eye could see. Eventually a valley came into sight, we took a left turn and circled to line up with the runway, barely clearing rocky brown ridges. Shadows on the ground from the clouds reminded me of the pampas in Argentina. There was a sharp braking to not go off the end of the runway. It's a military airport, so no pictures allowed.

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.

Monday February 25, 2013 - Leh to Matho to base camp

It turned out that other guests were going to be moving into our rooms that day, so we had to be out of them by 9am, instead of the expected schedule of breakfast at 9am and then checking out and leaving by 10am. Before we found this out, Star and Doug went to take photos of the India National Hockey team who were practising on the rink just down the road. Her stuff was still out in our room and I had a bit of worry about what to do with it. In the end I didn't touch anything and she came back in time to get it sorted out herself. The staff tagged our bags to stay and others soon took the rest out to a minibus. For breakfast I just had one slice of toast with marmalade and a bit of omelet that I ordered, I didn't feel like I'd slept at all, yay altitude insomnia and lack of appetite. I had some weak sweet tea and water to try and stay hydrated. Talked a bit to Doug about Argentina, made a note to ask him about the person he knows in Mendoza who owns a vineyard. Then they brought out the foreigner registration forms, all of us answered slightly differently, it wasn't worded very clearly.

All of our stuff was in the minibus so we all climbed in and drove through Leh to Matho, they paid to drive up to the monastery instead of making us walk up the steps. It was very busy for the festival. I got slightly out of breath walking up to the main building. We went past prayer wheels on the way in, and took our shoes off to go up into the temple, gorgeous colours everywhere. The area to the right inside the temple was full of monks and masks and robes, it was their green room for the performances in the courtyard. Some people were prostrating themselves, we saw the big group on the road there too. The old temple was from the 14th century (I think). There was an amazing wood carving in relief, full of flowers and symbols behind a big statue of Buddha.
In the courtyard a crowd was sitting on the ground and watching a pipe player and two synchronised drummers. The crowd was colourful, from traditional dress to hipsters. People were all over the balconies. Dancers came out after a pause at around noon, masked and robed monks. They danced around the central pillar in the courtyard, the steps very repetitive. The second group of dancers were slightly different - one set had younger monks in with them doing simpler steps.

After the second round, we felt like we needed to go for lunch, at around 1pm. We weren't going to be able to stay until the oracles came out. :-( We walked down the steps from the monastery to the main parking lot, lovely views over the valley. We drove back to the hotel and had lunch there, at the outside tables again. We had a toilet stop, then got back into the bus to drive to our base camp.
It was a windy paved road most of the way, following a river valley, then it turned to dirt. We got to the end of the navigable road, and our ponies and donkeys were waiting to take our big packs to camp for us. I filled up my camelbak with water, put on my nice light day pack, grabbed my hiking poles and started hiking, very slowly. I was out of breath easily and was the last to make it to camp (about three miles in 1.5 hours). We crossed the mostly frozen Indus river (I could hear gurgling water under the ice) a few times as the winding river formed the bottom of the valley were were heading up. Steep cliffs often hemmed us in, cutting off the direct sunlight. We saw a herd of blue sheep on the hike, and the guides tried to take pictures through the spotting scope (the zoom on my camera wasn't large enough).
There was a wooden bridge at one point, but we crossed on a path worn into the ice after the animals went over. Fernanda got pushed out of the way when the donkeys caught up to us, they were determined to get out from under their burdens as fast as possible I imagine. :-) I was very glad to see the fluttering prayer flags and the bright shapes of the tents that had already been set up for us - we were the first group along the wide spot in the trail that formed the base camp, the rest were further along.
I had time to set my stuff up in the tent, putting my sleeping pad on top of the one that they provided (very comfy). I used the toilet tent for the first time - no bucket like on Kilimanjaro, just a hole in the ground with big rocks positioned around it for us to stand on. It wasn't very roomy, I often took off my outer layer to give myself a bit more room in there. We were called for dinner soon after I'd started writing up the day. Dal, sag paneer, and rice were hot and filling. I had my now traditional winter evening camping drink of hot sugar water to avoid getting any more caffeine from tea. They refilled my water bottle and I got a real hot water bottle to bring into my sleeping bag as well. We were given the next day's itinerary as we were finishing up in the dining tent, the generator was on for a while so people could charge their devices (I didn't bring anything that needed it), it would go off at around 8pm.

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.

Tuesday February 26, 2013 - Base camp

We were brought hot tea in our tents at around 7:30am (one of the best parts about doing fully supported trips!), but I was awake already. We had a bit of a wait for hot water for washing (oh noes!), but it felt like the best face wash ever once I got it - I think I had a bit of a coating of dust from the drive up. Star was talking outside our tent so I took advantage of the privacy to clean up and change my under layers. Breakfast was rice porridge with cashews that I skipped, I just had 2 slices of toast with a local apricot jam and a thin omelet on it. I emptied both water bottles into my camelbak and packed my fleece into my pack. I put on my knee braces and gaiters against the snow and rocks, and was the last ready to go, oops.

We went back out along the path we'd come in on, then went along the lower part on the other side of the river. We saw leopard scrapings (undecipherable note, my handwriting sucks), and also saw paw prints. It was a steep path, with narrow parts and steep drop offs. Jigmet and Namgyal were scanning the slopes rising around us from either side of the stream for cats, but no signs. Then they heard on the walkie-talkies that leopards had been sighted in a different canyon. We hoofed it down out of the one we'd climbed in to, back tracked along the river through camp (lots more tents!), then huffed and puffed up a steep ridge. I saw the Sierra Club logo on the ridge, there was a huge crowd (for Leh) ahead of us, then it moved down to get a better angle.
There was a snow leopard and two cubs on some rocks, their fur blending in wonderfully well, and only little bits of them peeking up from behind the rocks. The mother was lying down and would raise her head for a bit then put it back down, everyone would gasp and rush the spotting scopes. It took me a while to spot her head, she looked right at me. I think I spotted one cub head. We watched for a while, and the support crew brought up our tea and lunch. We got to that ridge at around 11:30 or so, and left at maybe 5:30pm? There was a communal pee boulder down further along the track up the valley, toward some animal enclosures, I had to visit it twice as we were hanging out watching the cats. One of the other groups had a Rodney fan (he'd resold some choral music named for snow leopards and donated the proceeds to Snow Leopard International), and two women with him borrowed one of our scopes for a bit. Doug's porter/assistant Namgyal was great, he was adjusting scopes and taking pictures for all of us. Jigmet was so excited to spot the cats, it was infectious, and I'd forget all about the cold as a gazed through the scope. I actually bounced at my first look at the cats in the wild. :-) The wind direction changed and the mother cat started stalking 6 blue sheep that were grazing on a different cliff. We could follow her as she moved down the scree slope after she went around an outcropping, she was much more visible on the patches of snow that she had to cross, almost invisible against the rock. It was so hard to tell where they were within the narrow focus of the scope, though Jigmet was great about describing locations through the scope to guide our eyes. Nanda and I kept refocusing the scope for our different eyesight levels. :-) The mother leopard moved through chest deep snow like it was nothing. I love their tails, all fluffy and with a curve at the end like a lacrosse stick. I could watch her naked eye as she moved, it was awesome. She climbed up into the rocks, perching on a rock right above the herd of 3, but she didn't have a good jumping off point. Adam said that she shifted and the sheep spooked and ran. She lay there for a while then started calling for her cubs. We tracked her through the scopes as she made her way back to where she'd left her cubs (I got to move it), and I took pictures through the scope. I could see her mouth moving as she was calling. At one point, some people spotted some pikas on the slope behind/beside us and a guy let me look through his scope that he'd turned that way - they were so fluffy and cute! Just a round ball of fur - Pikkachu is based on reality. :-) The sun dropped behind the ridge and the wind picked up, lots of dust was kicked up by the wind, I needed to wrap my pashmina so that I could breathe through it. Jigmet got us moving as the cats settled. We were the second group to head down off the ridge, we were up at 12,100 feet altitude there.

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.

Wednesday February 27, 2013

I woke up at 6am having to pee, and was thankful for freezing temperatures with respect to the toilet tent. :-) I warmed up my headlamp in my sleeping bag, and then my camera when I got milk tea for breakfast (I had to ask for water, that means just milk). I had time to write a bit while waiting for my washing water, then breakfast and back to the ridge from yesterday. I put my Smartwool mid weight base layer under my soft shell pants for today, sitting around on rocks isn't the warmest place to hang out. I put on my knee braces and gaiters before heading over to the dining tent for breakfast. I was able to eat a tiny bit of porridge, but then had most of a huge plate covering pancake with apricot jam on it. There was toast on offer as well, but I was full of pancake and passed. :-) I was ready to go after tooth brushing and a toilet stop, we hiked back through the rest of the basecamp, and saw a small group of chakur/partridges picking near the trail.
We went up the trail toward the village where we'll do our homestay later on, passing by the trail to the ridge where we were yesterday. We stopped to see some pika that we could hear calling from a tumbled boulder field, but a noise made it skitter off and I didn't spot it. We were walking next to the river, with briars lining the path - rose-hips with thorns. We went up slowly, still adjusting to the altitude. We saw snow cocks - they run uphill and then glide down. We also saw a golden eagle flying, the identifying mark were the white spots under their wings. Jigmet pointed out the nest on the opposite cliff (his eyes are amazing). When we were coming back, we saw the eagle perched on the near cliff. We saw choughs flying, all dark against the sky. Through the scope, we saw a vulture, perched in the mist on a far cliff, with a white chest and otherwise black feathers. The golden eagle has white under fluff. Snow finches were pecking on the scree and flying around in a flock. A dog came walking up the river trail by himself, intent on where he was going. Donkeys also came up the trail.

We saw a shrine where the oracle comes on the new year to renew the juniper - lots of animals depend on the juniper trees for food and shelter. Ibex (one or two) come for a couple of days then too. I took pictures of a herd of blue sheep just above us, young males scavenging. We saw one climb an impossible ridge, they must have suction cups on their hooves. :-) We had tea on the trail.

No sign of the leopards, so we headed back to camp for lunch (a mound of biryani). There was a bit of light snow in the morning, but it was coming down harder now. We talked and played solitaire, after a few rounds of remembering the rules. I tried to recall how to do clock solitaire as well. Someone who shall remain nameless (but wasn't me) dislodged the rocks used to stand on in the toilet tent and the crew had to dig a new latrine for us. :-) Adam and Doug and I were getting a bit restless in camp so we went for a walk toward the drop off, and met a group that saw a mating pair up the gorge that we went up yesterday. They were out of breath and one guy was looking pretty rough, they went far up the gorge and had moved fairly quickly. We went back and told our camp, that group hadn't shared the information via walkie talkie, breaking the culture of sharing. :-(
Jigmet was up on the ridge above camp, they radioed him and he ran down to join us. The place where the cats were was about an hour up, we didn't have enough time to get there before dark by then since it was 6pm. Tried to spot some blue sheep on the ridge, no luck. Rodney wrote up his findings and Nanda her summaries. Jigmet ate with us, fried noodles, fried potatoes, fried apple with chocolate, fried egg on hard noodles, hot dog pieces. We were given hot water bottles and our drinking water was topped up. I had my hot sugar water and wrote up the day, heading to bed at 7:45pm.

Thursday February 28, 2013 - Basecamp

I left my bathroom trip to the last minute when I got up at about 6, utterly unwilling to brave the outside of my sleeping bag until I absolutely had to. It was lighter out, but I got back in my bag to drink my tea and inched out to use the wash water. I used my wash cloth this time, hanging it up with my towel to freeze, er dry out. I did a thorough wash but ended up putting on the same outerwear from the day before - we didn't hike around enough to get sweaty. I put on gaiters and knee braces again in anticipation of hiking some more today. My water bottle had ice crystals forming in it, it was chilly. I had muesli with water for breakfast, supplemented with toast and a bit of omelet, and tea. I had time to brush my teeth but I almost puked in the toilet tent (it really needs time to freeze between deposits :-/ ) so I skipped brushing since I didn't want to trigger any gagging. Yay altitude. :-/ We went out back along the way we walked in to try and find the male/female pair. Doug was off in front. I had no Diamox that morning, but wasn't too out of breath, I took it slow.
We passed the place where we'd turned around last time, and saw some house/caves with stones built up outside. We saw fox tracks, and Doug actually spotted the animal. We saw sheep up on the ridge (but my handwriting is bad enough that I might have meant it was steep as we went up the ridge...). We saw red billed choughs (pronounced chuff) and yellow ones too. I think we saw a golden eagle or eagle vulture. It was sunny and warmed up as the sun rose higher in the sky and shone on us in the valley. There was snow on the left side of the gorge walls but not on the right. We saw a herd of blue sheep heading down to the Indus to browse for foliage. There were lots of males, with big horns.
We made a last push up onto the ridge where they spotted a cat lolling on a ledge. We moved up to the big rock cairn where it was flatter so that we had a more comfortable spot to watch it from. I saw it move a bit, turning face on to us, I swear it was dark furred on the face (a known cat's marking). I snacked on some cashews as I waited for lunch. Sharp shadows were thrown by the knife edged ridges. Doug went up further on the ridge to a higher vantage point, and ended up missing out on the Karmaquest group photo (with banner) since he didn't see us waving him down. He came down to join us when lunch was delivered.
He said that there was a boulder behind which we could pee, so after eating (soup, veggie salad, tortilla like thing) I made the climb up to the higher perch.

It was a slow slippery hike up, someone took my backpack to lighten my load. There was a whole line up of scopes and cameras on the higher ridge. It was a longer way than anticipated up to the boulder in question, and ended up being the most dangerous pee of my life. :-) I was hanging off the side of the ridge, one hand holding my pants, the other holding on tight to the rock. Gorgeous view of the mountain peaks up there though! I survived, and took a deep breath before starting back down. I slid a bit on the way down the ridge, the snow was tricky, then hung out there for a while with Doug. The great views were mitigated by the great number of cigarette smokers up there, so I was shifting around to get up wind of them as much as possible. At one point one of the other guides grabbed my camera to try and take pictures through the scope when the snow leopard was especially visible. I could see deer tracks all over the valley below the high ridge. A guide went down and up for a bit, Nanda spotted him in
the distance. Another guide took a scope up the last ridge for a different angle. A bird flew right over us, no id was made though, it had a brown chest but no eagle markings. The top of the ridge was further than the original group. A short snowball fight broke out at one point, apparently people couldn't watch a cat sleep all afternoon. :-) Someone also made an attempt to start a fire with a magnifying glass. Rodney left part way through the day, to head back to Leh and Delhi, Jigmet escorting him down. I put on my microspikes to go down the ridge, much better. Jigmet also fixed my gaiters for me, turns out I'd been putting them on backward (back into them, strap buckle on the outside). It got a bit chilly and the cat was not moving, so we headed down back to camp. I helped Nanda over a gap in the trail, bracing myself like I'd seen Jigmet do (the weight lifting I'd been doing came in helpful to keep us rock solid!). She was so brave over the narrow parts of the trail, her fear of heights is much much worse than mine (I could deal with the narrow trail because it felt solid to me, but she froze up a bit when there was a steep drop off on one side or the other). I need to be a bit more careful though, if she or I had slipped it could have been bad. We stopped to watch another cat with more white fur. The other group of trekkers tried to tell us it was the same one from up on the ridge, but I was certain it was a different one. We saw her walking, scratching, yawning, hiding in grass.

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.

Friday March 1, 2013 - Basecamp

I felt like I didn't sleep at all, but I did dream and heard the generator turn on and soon tea arrived, 7:30am. It was chilly out! I treated myself to a change of base layers, though I was moving slowly. I changed and hit the toilet tent and was the last one to get to breakfast. I skipped the porridge again, had apple pancake with apricot butter and tea. The wildlife rangers came to show us pictures from remote cameras on their laptop - the computer was literally frozen, it had to be thawed by the stove first. Then they talked about sustainable development for the villages (solar energy would be good, the electric poles will take money out of the community to pay for electricity), there was a bit of not listening to what people needed. Had one last bio break before going up. As we passed through the linear base camp, I noticed a guy who was shaving with a hand mirror and a bowl of water, squatting before his tent. Some tents were gone, one group at least left.

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.

It was slow going up to the ridge where we'd watched the mother and cubs, then we climbed over and down the other side and hiked past a pasture. There was a woolly hare in the field but I couldn't spot it. There was an English group up on the ridge watching snow cocks. As we passed a stone wall, Jigmet pointed out a camera trap. He dismantled the stones around it that were keeping it hidden from view. He opened up the casing and popped the camera card in one of the group's cameras and showed us what the trap had caught. There were images of foxes mostly, but there were a couple of cats (and humans). The card was full, so it hadn't caught any evidence of the maker of the fresh tracks. Namgyal put his own camera card in and took some shots. :-) They reassembled the camera trap, re-hid it and we went on up the canyon. It was one that Jigmet and Rodney had placed, but it wasn't that hard to get to.

Our group headed up the gorge, Husing. I kept wondering how much farther it could go, it looked about to dead end at each twist and turn. We went around ridges and corners, up the frozen river with humps of ice shimmering in the sun. It was warm in the sun, but since I'd dressed in the cold camp, I ended up stripping off layers as we climbed. I think I ended up down to my wool hoodie. The ice wasn't too slippery, I didn't have to put on crampons. We went up past a frozen waterfall and stopped for a group picture at one point. It was quiet near the end of the gorge, incredibly so - you don't get that kind of silence in any sort of city, town or even village. Just the mountains, the frozen river, the snow and the wind. Jigmet and Namgyal went ahead on their own to scout as the rest of us settled quietly on some rocks. Lunch made it up to us in 45 minutes from camp, as opposed to our 2+ hours to make it the same distance - our crew were superstars. The tomato soup and tea were amazing, and I had a slice of cheese (mmm, Kraft singles) and veggie biryani, though I skipped the egg curry. Doug and I both claimed mango juice boxes again. :-)

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

the gorge with just our group, though I had to move away from the others at one point so that I could only hear the water trickling under the ice instead of all of us coughing (dry tickle in the throat, not much moisture in the air, plus Nanda was still getting over her Delhi cold). We stayed on the ridge until the sun went away from that point, then went down while Jigmet went up high, searching. He caught up, then went to the near pasture by the road to Rumbak. The rest of us went back to camp, I put my pack down and grabbed my water bottle and notebook and went to the dinner tent to write. Then a guy popped his head in to say that a leopard had been spotted, Jigmet had found one on the ridge and shared the news with the camp.

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.

Saturday March 2, 2013 - Basecamp

I had to wake up when I was called for tea at 7:30am, I must have eventually fallen asleep. Cough syrup at 2am didn't work as well, but the moon was very bright then - there were just stars up when I went to bed. I left my hoodie on after my mid night trip out of the tent and was a bit sweaty when I woke up. It was a chilly morning, hoping for a sunny day again.

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.

I was just about to work on organising my things for the home stay when we got the snow leopard signal. It felt a bit like overkill putting on my knee braces (but skipped the gaiters), grabbed my full pack and hiking poles - I was the last out of camp. I walked with Nanda since she ran back to get her poles. We went up toward Rumbak, just over the river crossing edge but not all the way over the crossing (think we jumped over one branching part of the river). We stayed low, Jigmet set up the spotting scope for Nanda, Adam and me but Star and Doug went up higher with the others. The cat was in the shade of a tree, then came out to bask in the sun. It was bath time, I got to see her/him cleaning paws and face. At one point it did a stretchy sit up and it looked a tiny bit disturbing, like a mechanical extender. We were close enough to see a blur with the naked eye, then a clear view of it moving back up the gorge (much easier to spot the cats in motion than still). We were sitting in the sun, on rocks we'd brushed snow off of, and had lunch delivered soon after we arrived (we were so spoiled). Later cinnamon tea came up, thankfully they didn't have to walk so far today. A snow dog went by. :-) And more horses, with big pieces of metal loading them down. One horse skittered on the ice as it tried to cross the river. Our snow leopard slept for a while, then was looking around, was up and down. No blue sheep in sight. The cat moved along a cliff, Adam was watching through the scope and saw the back feet slip on a slope, while I saw it jump up on a rock. Amazing to see it moving, relatively close to us. Time just flew by. After it went past the ridge and we couldn't see it, we headed back to camp.

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.

Sunday March 3, 2013 - Basecamp to Rumbak

I had a hard time suppressing my coughs during the night. I woke up at 7 and got up to use the toilet tent, then just stayed standing since my chest felt better that way than when I was lying down. I drank my tea with Adam and Doug peeking from his tent, Star went to the mess tent. I went into my own tent when the wash water came and stripped down for a thorough baby wipe bath after washing my face. I put the baby wipes in my jacket and under my hot water bottle to thaw them. I got three of them defrosted enough to peel off. I hung my travel towel up to try to dry condensation on my sleeping bag, then headed over to breakfast. Muesli with water, non frozen allergy pills (gel caps), toast, tried some beans but that wasn't working, but managed to nibble on some eggs. Had a cup of honey and hot water to try and soothe my throat. The Hungarian guy was with us for breakfast but went off to look for snow leopards. I took my stored stuff out of my duffel bag and repacked it with things that I'd need for the homestay. I put my sleeping bag on the roof of the tent to air out a bit while Star packed up her stuff inside the tent. The camp staff were stuffing the rented sleeping bags into their stuff sacks for people (Star didn't hear me when I told her that as she was wrestling with hers I think), they didn't really pack down all that small, I think each one was just lashed on as a complete package. I took some stuff out of my day pack and moved it into my duffel to get the weight off of me for the trek. I was moving slowly, coughing and my throat was really sore. I was popping a Fisherman's Friend as often as possible, trying to remember that they're not candy. I also felt like I was reaching my surrounded by people limit, and seriously felt like I needed some alone time. Hanging out while things were packed up for the trip to Rumbak, Doug told me that he's going to stay in Delhi when the others go off on their side trip. He wants to get shaved by one of the street barbers (he's been getting scruffy!) and I volunteered to take pictures.

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.

Monday March 4, 2013 - Rumbak to basecamp

I woke up at 7am to go to the toilet and managed to pull the toilet paper spike out of the wall, oops! I hope that I wedged it back into a crack between the bricks okay. Dolma was up setting fires and milk tea was waiting in my room when I went back in. I tried to restart the fire, but I couldn't get the forked branch to catch and didn't want to dip it into the kerosene. My hands are getting brown from using my hiking poles without gloves on, though I've got a pale streak from the strap. I worked out the tips, 5600 is my share, I only have 1-2000 left, I need to hit an ATM or use my credit card (?). Namgyal came in to restart our fire, and I changed under my blanket. I drank Star's milk tea too when she offered it to me. Our hostess came in to call us to breakfast, but I ate alone with her and tried to reassure her that Star just doesn't eat much at all. We had flat bread, black tea, eggs. The mixed fruit jam was more of a jelly, high on the pectin, so I skipped it. She was working to knit the tail of a toy snow leopard and offered to sell me one. I got one that's sitting up, as well as a hat, for 600R. Sorting out the change was fun as we kept passing bills back and forth trying to get the numbers to come out right. :-) I was all packed up, I ran to get my wallet, then brought my stuff outside the room. I went over to the other house, picking my way down a corridor looking for signs of life, and finally peeked into a room where Doug was packing up. I borrowed his point and shoot (still worlds better than mine at 10Mb) and then took a few quick snaps of the villagers, Dolma wanted one of us together but my aim was off and I think I just got my eye in one. She liked to see the pictures on the display. She got me to come in and take pictures of her kitchen and of her holding the thank you gifts that I'd given her.

Namgyal grabbed my duffel, after giving Dolma our lodging fee (and reassuring her since she was a bit offended that Star didn't eat much/at all), and put it on the wall near where Star and Adam were playing with a dog, feeding it some bread from breakfast. It was another gorgeous sunny day. We put our day packs on and headed out down the trail back to base camp. But then we stopped in at where Jigmet was staying for mint tea and Ritz crackers with him and his host. We kept our boots on, it felt a bit odd to be inside with them, but we were reassured that it was okay since this was only a quick stop, I guess? Doug wanted me to take a picture of the huge kitchen stove for him with his camera since he didn't have his full rig with him now. We also got a group picture of us lined up along the low platform. Looking at the picture again, I can see the foreshadowing of the split with Star: everyone else is turned to smile at the camera and she's got a straight face staring off the other way. :-(

After tea we were on our way for real, we made no real stops as we wound down the river gorge again toward camp, and we were down in less than an hour! I was surprised when we hit the shrine, we made it there so fast. It's amazing what a difference it makes when you're descending instead of climbing, not fighting for each breath, the oxygen content of the air rising infinitesimally with each step. It was a warm day, I had my new North Face pink lower body baselayer on and I was almost too warm with it under my winter hiking pants. We were back in camp by 11am, and we sat outside by the mess tent for a while in the sun (after I grabbed my sun hat and some more sun block - so hard to remember it when it's cold, but the thin air was letting the sun crisp me up no matter what the temperature).

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.

Tuesday March 5, 2013 - Basecamp

Today we went up Tarbung canyon to 4150m elevation, hiking back to camp from 2:10-3:50pm.

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.

Crossing on the ice was pretty okay, there were sounds of melting water trickling underneath us, spring is on it's way. On top, I only wore my base layer, Ibex hoodie and my down jacket and I was a bit sweaty. I had my gloves in my pack just in case of temperature drops though. We made it up near the end of the valley by 11:30 or noon. Jigmet was trying to climb up the river of ice and kept sliding back down (sending us all in stitches of laughter, mugging for us), until he dug in his long nails and clawed up like a cat, impressive! We were watching a herd of blue sheep that started off down near us and then gradually grazed up the slope. Two posed nicely together on a rock against the sky, Doug's camera got me some nice zoomed in shots, crisp and clear.

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!

We stopped a couple of times for the guides to scan the hills with the spotting scope, binoculars and Doug's big zoom lens, but we only saw a pica. I wasn't able to take a picture through the scope. My left knee was starting to hurt on the way down, I was stumbling a bit. Over the course of the sunny day the river had melted even more, it was a bit of a challenge to get across the flat parts to camp. Dropped my stuff, went back to the ever present toilet tent, then went to the kitchen tent. I had some tea and wrote up the day, but it was only 4:30 by the time I finished writing. I'll miss the mountains, especially the crystal clear light around noon. I sat outside for a bit, talking with Chris and Doug, grabbing my sweater and hand warmers as it got cooler. The Hungarian's name was Bolage or Bolazch, I didn't get it clearly.

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.

Wednesday March 6, 2013 - Basecamp to Leh

They brought us our tea at 7:30am and I started packing up for the trek out. I washed myself and got my stuff sorted, then hit the dining tent for breakfast - french toast! I gave Adam my 6k Rupees for tips, and borrowed 200R for the horsemen who'd hauled our stuff. We all agreed that they'd all more than earned the top suggested level of tips, but it was still a bit awkward, though not nearly to the level of the Kili tipping morning. *wry smile* I think it helped that we had much more interaction with the whole crew this time around, and that the client group was smaller. I got my stuff out of my tent as they were breaking down Doug's and Adam and Nanda's tents. Jigmet shaved and Namgyal washed his hair, none of us were quite so brave - Jigmet was using a palm sized mirror. It was fairly warm though (for winter in the Himalayas), I was only wearing my down jacket as an outer layer. :-) I sat in the sun as they loaded up the ponies / donkeys with our familiar bags. I got a group pictures with Doug's camera, the staff and then all of us together.

Then we set off toward Leh! The river was melting a lot, we were criss crossing on the thickest ice we could find. I had no real memories of the route that we took 9 days ago, except the bridge - we bypassed it this time, as the ponies passed us. It was all down hill/river, it took about an hour to get to the mini bus waiting for us where the road started/ended. And that was with dawdling a bit to enjoy the views, and a stop for Jigmet to scan for snow leopards - we saw blue sheep on a ridge above us. I got the back seat to myself, threw my pack on top of my duffel and we set off on down the rocky road. We stopped in the middle of the 1.5 lane mountain road when Jigmet spotted urial - curly horned sheep. Doug set up his big lens, but with the bright sun and no clouds, he was having a hard time getting a good shot. His point and shoot camera zoom did well for me though. The sheep scattered at one point, but there were no snow leopards chasing them. While we were stopped, another truck had to pass us, and our driver was clearing rocks for them to inch past (maybe 2 inches of clearance). Nanda was cracking her apricot seeds to get at the sweet meat inside of them. Onwards and downwards, along the twisty narrow road along the Indus river gorge. We stopped when a car full of 4 office staff from the Snow Leopard Conservancy met us on their way to visit one woman's home village of Rumbak - neat to see people making the trek just to go visit, no big deal to hike miles up a frozen river into the mountains. After exchanging news, they continued on and we went through the military area of town - there were more civilians out and about today.

We made a stop at the Conservancy office building, it was a warm and inviting place with whimsical decor. I loved the paw marks leading us upstairs. :-) They had lots of gear and photos on display and it was neat that we'd used or seen most of them. Fossils too, we didn't see those in the mountains. I borrowed 200R from Adam to get a snow leopard mug and key chain, and ended up kicking myself for not getting a shirt, but I felt constrained by my 180R. :-( There were lots of handicrafts from people living in cat territory and trying to find alternate revenue streams. We piled back into the mini bus and dropped off Belasz (hah, finally got the Hungarian guy's name) and Jigmet on our way back to the same hotel in Leh where we'd started this segment of the trip. There was a bit of confusion as Star had arranged for a single room without saying she had and I was assuming that we were going to be bunking together again. I swapped with Adam and Nanda since they had a single bed and my room had two. *sigh* The room had a bucket of hot water and one of warm water, and as soon as the door was locked with all my stuff inside (the hotel had put out our stored cases), I tore off my layers and got to cleaning. I washed my hair twice. Having a mirror to check out my cold sore was a bit of a shock - it was hardened at this point and pretty big, I was just hoping to keep it from cracking and bleeding.

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.

Thursday March 7, 2013 - Leh

I heard a knock on my door at 7am, the wash water had arrived. I washed some clothes in the cold bucket (aka the one to pour down the toilet to flush it, so it was better for it to be grey water in any case), and then myself with the hot bucket. :-) I also rinsed out my gaiters and poles, they were a bit muddy from all the trekking. Got the call for breakfast at just before 8am. Toast and eggs and tea (I skipped the porridge, I'd have to be way more hungry than I was that day to eat it, especially at altitude). I used the wifi to check in for our flight (just to be sure this time) and glanced at Facebook as well. We board at 7:55 tomorrow. I sat outside for a bit, waiting for Namgyal before 9am, he was a bit late, we left for our tour at about 9:30, with him promising to have us back at 3. I wasn't wearing an undershirt (I ended up taking it off after seeing the temperature outside), but did have long underwear under my pants, 2 layers of socks since we were going to be walking all over, but went with runners instead of boots. Just my down jacket and then the Tilley hat against the sun. It was around 2C when we started, and I had my light blue liner gloves on as well.

We picked up a couple of stray dogs as we walked, turning left from the hotel, and one stayed with us until we came to the main shopping street. We meandered a bit, walked by the river (hemmed in by a canal), saw cows in the street.
We finally saw colourful signs for the donkey sanctuary which was our first goal. We went in through a door in the gate, and found only one guy working there. He was sweeping up old hay and putting down new, brushing the donkeys, checking the pregnant one and the one with a hurt leg (from being hit by a car). There were many colourful positive message signs painted on rocks, and a parachute tent over the 'sponsor a donkey' sign board (1500R/mo). The pregnant donkey befriended me, she nuzzled me hard at one point, looking for carrots. None to be had, plans were made to try and buy some and come back. I donated a few dollars when the guy dug out his receipt book for the others.

Then we went up, up, up, past the stupas and where bodies are cremated (wide open plateau), up to the prayer flag covered palace sitting above the town. There was a foot path that we followed up from the plain, which got steep at the top before getting us through a wall onto the road to the palace. The other side of the road just dropped again, down into the cliff above town. There were great views from the top, we watched a fighter jet doing exercises, and looked at old Leh (a UNESCO heritage site!) below us, then we walked through it later. Namgyal pointed out a Buddhist shrine and a mosque. We took a zig zag path down the dirt and stones on the other side, it was pretty steep, I was wishing for my hiking poles.
Back in the newer part of town, we did some shopping. I found two books in the book store that I couldn't resist, one about a woman who snuck into Lhasa and a copy of 'Interpreter of Maladies'. I picked up a wool shawl for Rosemary when I spotted one in a blue that reminded me of the coat she'd worn when I'd seen her in London. I was kicking myself for not shopping for pashminas in Leh, they were gorgeous and cheaper than the ones in Delhi, and even so I should have bought 2 or three and not worried about the money (the trip was already over budget though). I found a blue stone skull bracelet for Katie. I ran out to use the ATM, and was in line for the bank machine behind a pair of soldiers. The others got pashminas for 4000R at the Ladhaki store where I got the blue shawl, I picked up their card in case of true regret. Namgyal's friend had jewelry for sale on a sidewalk stand, I got myself a pendant. He said it was cut onyx, a shadowy translucent grey.

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.

Friday March 8, 2013 - Leh to Delhi

I got a phone wake up call at 5:30am and then the wash water came in, so I gave up and turned off my alarm and washed up. I'd ended up sweating a bit under two blankets so the ablutions were necessary this morning - even though it's just washing from a bucket, having a whole room in which to clean myself up feels like a luxury after the time in the tent. :-) Doug called to let me know that breakfast was on at around 6am, I hadn't been sure if we were getting anything. I skipped the porridge again but had eggs on toast with apricot jam. A quick brushing of my teeth and then I was early bringing my luggage out to the mini van. I stopped in at the desk to pay 500R for wifi and tips, I hope it was enough, we were never given an official charge for the wifi nor told what the per night rate was (rolled in with the package and no need for extra nights). We left the hotel at around 6:25am, a bit early at any rate, and had a quick quiet drive to the airport. Dogs and donkeys had tipped over some trash cans and the donkeys were eating in the road.

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,

clinging to the cliff above the river. The map that Namgyal gave us showed that Matho was as far away from Leh as it had felt when we were being driven there and from there to our trek starting point, on the other side of a ridge from Zinchen. I could see both smooth and jagged peaks as well as a scant few jutting higher than their neighbours. There were some river valleys and plateaus, flat with ice or snow. There was a big flat snow covered area off to the side, east I think. I read the inflight magazine, there were neat articles on tie dye, saris, pashminas and a mountain road trip. I saw that they code share with Air Canada, but there were no agents in sight in the Delhi airport. It was a smooth flight, leaving at 8:20am or so, on a sunny day, though chilly when leaving Leh. It was 20C when we landed in Delhi.

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.

We were so full, we decided to go for a short walk. We went back along the way we'd been driven in from the airport. We stopped in at a store I'd glimpsed during the drive, Pekoe Tips Tea, for me to get some mango and masala tea. I got a discount, 500R for both instead of 350+300. Doug let me but it in his backpack so we were both just carrying his cameras. :-) I got to smell a spiced wood as the proprietor was showing it off to another customer and waved us over for a sniff. We continued on and turned along a major street, crossing was no problem, traffic felt oddly light. Then we went right to go into a market street with fascinating shops: air conditioners, gas canister refilling station, motorcycle repair, mattresses being beaten and stitched, fruit and candy stalls. Kids were playing cricket with bricks as goal posts. There were lots of little kids, most of them loved for Doug to photograph them. We walked down one side street and were turned back at a river; raptors were diving or stooping along it. We crossed over to the other side of the divided street to walk back, it had more traffic, we we went back along the same side until we were passed the renewed cricket game and then we crossed over where there were more people meandering. There were live chickens in cages, I think being killed at purchase as Doug clucked at the live ones (a machete rose and fell behind the cages). The sun was hot, it felt like it was higher than 25C out. I paid 100R for three bunches of hoseberries (?), they were like cherry tomatoes but yellow orange and a bit sour, I had one on the spot and on the way back, living dangerously without washing them. I washed two glasses of them in bottled water when I got back to my room and shared them with Doug. We walked back to the hotel via the park again, stopping briefly by the mall to look at some skirts that were on sale. They were only 400R but not quite my style, black but bubbled out a bit to flare by the knees - I told Nanda about them and I think she went to grab one. We dropped by the travel desk at the hotel and got a quote for a sightseeing driver tomorrow, 2000R for 4 hours/40km. They gave us maps and I saw the observatory on it and remembered that I'd wanted to see it when I was in Delhi before the trip up to Leh. Doug got his confirmation printed out for tomorrow night, he's being picked up at 7:30pm to head to the airport for his red eye. I'll probably let him shower in my room, as he can only push late check out to 5pm. The others should be in Jaipur by now. We may hire a hotel car for 2 hours to go out to Olive Bar, a speakeasy themed 20's style bar. I don't have anything fancy to wear, but I at least hung up my nice t-shirt and pashmina to try and let the wrinkles fall out - no iron? May shower again for the steam. I was tempted to go back to the market to find something to wear...

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.

Saturday March 9, 2013 - Delhi

I woke up at around 6:30 since I was too hot. It turns out that the A/C had turned off, but I didn't figure that out until later. I had some tea and cashews at around 7:30 but still contemplated trying to sleep some more. I finally gave in and got up for real at 8 and convinced myself that I had time to go for a dip in the pool before the sun lit all of it up. I put on my bathing suit and found that the top needs to get pitched in the garbage, it's losing all of it's elasticity, too many chlorine baths. I threw my clothes on over top and packed my underwear into a stuff sack in case there was a place to change downstairs. The clerk at the desk assured me that there ware pool towels available, so out I went. There were lots of pigeons taking a bath in the top of the waterfall to the left of the entrance. I went down one level, signed in and got a towel and directions to the change rooms downstairs. I took a quick shower and stuffed the rest of my clothes into my sack and went back up. The pool wasn't heated so it was a bit cool from the lower night temperatures. I did a couple of laps, just splashing around really and stretching, enjoying being in water that wasn't trying to kill me with hypothermia. :-) The towel guy shoo'd some of the workers away who were tearing down the party structures but hanging out near the pool and half watching me. I rinsed off downstairs and put on my street clothes. I was up to the room just before 9 so I finished packing a city pack for the day, then got ready to head down for breakfast. I also took my safari shirt off of the clothes line, and put my workout shirt back on since it was still damp. Doug knocked on my door, so we went down together.

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.

We went to Qutb Minar first again, traffic wasn't too bad, but there were still some slow spots. I had washed the rest of the fruits from yesterday and put them in my Nalgene and packed a litre of water as well. I had my sun hat and glasses and sunblock in my pack along with cashews and apricots, and in the end I was glad that I had all of it. Doug spotted a temperature sign that was showing a reading of 34C! We were both flagging by the end of our four hour tour. We spent two hours going from the hotel to seeing Qutb Minar and J's tomb, but we sped up our rate after that. We skipped past school groups at Qutb Minar and I gave Doug the fifty cent summary as I remembered it from our previous guide. We got to go around the unfinished tower and all the way back to the madras this time, no one hurrying us along. I also had a bluer sky to shoot against as well, so the second set of pictures came out better. We spent about an hour there, I was very content to get to explore it again and show it to Doug. From there we followed signs toward the India Gate, but pulled off to the tomb first.
It was a bit run down, but entry was only 100R. Workers were digging up the red ground in order to replace paving stones, and a group of women were breaking down bricks. There was a family with a toddler who were picnicking on the grass under the trees. Architecturally it was very similar to H's tomb, with a symmetric layout, domes, towers, and a centered sarcophagus. The ceilings were lovely, and I saw a pigeon land on one of the ceiling iron rings. As we were coming out, a pregnant lady asked us if it was worth going in to see as she rested in the shade. I had to insist that I wanted to keep the ticket as we went out, through the gate with the painted ceiling. The tickets were small works of art in their own right and nice souvenirs.
We went to the India Gate next, our driver parked with the tuk tuks to the left and we crossed over to pass through the police barrier in order to walk up to the fence around the gate proper. There was no warning when the walk signal across the busy road was about to expire, it just did and the cars start rolling. I could just barely make out the names carved into the stone, listing fallen Indian soldiers. There were a couple of repeated horse names too, I think. There were flowers, guards and an eternal flame inside the chain fence. The site was surrounded by lots of bracelet and photo sellers. At a couple of spots along the road to the Gate we had beggars tapping on the car windows - a one armed man, a mom with her baby, kids. We walked around the Gate and then headed back to the car.
From there, we drove to the Jantar Mantar (?) observatory. A guide tried to convince us that we wouldn't know what we were seeing without him, but we declined his services - the signs were pretty good. Doug's point and shoot camera that I was using had it's battery finally die on me here though. :-( You can look at Doug's India photos for more though. The observatory had lots of neat structures set up to measure time and azimuth and elevation of celestial bodies, they were building sized, smooth red stone. I wish I could have gone into the dark building with a pinhole for the sun. I got a whistle blown at me when I climbed up to where some other people were, but then when the guard's back was turned I saw some people down in one of the more open buildings. I was very hot, we were both definitely wearing out. The last stop of the day was the railway museum, one of Doug's choices. We drove past the diplomatic area of town to get there, lots of embassies and high commissions. There was a snake charmer in the museum parking lot, Doug said 'look!' and I saw the cobra rising. :-( Why do some people just not believe me when I say I have a snake phobia? Hrmph. In any case, I managed to not scream anyway. It was only 20 Rupees for this admission, it would have been another 20 to ride the toy train, and we skipped the audio guide too. We went into the round museum building first before exploring the trains outside. There were lots of replicas and models and fittings and information. I was fascinated by the cog railway that's the steepest in India, with a rise of 1:12. Then we went outside into the heat to look at the engines and saloon cars (one British royal one and one Maharajah ones), steam and diesel, narrow and wide gauge tracks for them to sit on as needed. Luckily there were lots of trees to provide shade, but were were firmly in amble mode. There was a turn table at the end of the lines of tracks, we turned around there and headed back toward where we came in along another track full of trains. We probably only saw about half the cars, there were a lot jammed in there! We made a brief stop in the gift shop, they didn't have a cog railway tea cup. :-( There was no snake on the way back to the car, thankfully. We headed back to the hotel, it was fast, and I recognised lots of stuff as we went along parts of the route from the airport. Our driver asked for our room number (that seemed a bit odd, but it was through the hotel he was getting paid), Doug tipped him and we went in and up to my room. I had to get my key card re-magnetised though.

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.

Sunday March 10, 2013 - Delhi to London

I woke up at 6 or 7 with an upset stomach. :-( My alarm went off at 7:25 and I just lay there for a bit determining the state of my body. Adam went in for a shower and then I got up and shuffled a few things between suitcases. My backpack went into the big one as the rigid frame was straining the zipper on the small one. I changed and Nanda got cleaned up (her flight wasn't until later in the day), then we all went down for breakfast together. I had mueslix with probiotic yogurt in an attempt to settle my gut, and tea. Still feeling icky by the time I finished eating though. I went up to the room, brushed my teeth, used the toilet, then tracked down housekeeping to get more TP. *sigh* It turns out that they were just small rolls, so I didn't feel so bad for using them up. I read for a bit, waiting for 9:30, since we'd finished eating breakfast before 9. We brought our suitcases down ourselves, and spotted Sebastian there already, talking on the house phone. We said goodbye to Nanda and went out to the car. Big suitcases went in the trunk and the small ones in the front seat. No horn needed for ages on the drive, traffic was light. We passed familiar to me landmarks of the big mall, construction area, the market we'd explored. I had my papers ready for the security guards at the airport entrance, Adam had checked in online so he had his boarding pass, but I had to give them my green card number. I noticed that we weren't seated next to each other and got myself moved up to row 37 with Adam. I filled out my departure form and then went through security. I had to put my phone back into my city backpack, the women's line moved slowly and the lady behind me was crowding into my personal space. I went into the curtained area and the lady officer was a bit rough and cursory, and just nodded at my passport when I could go, no words. Adam grabbed my bag for me, and we went off through duty free. There was nothing like Campari just itself so that was out for a present for Richard. I had to take another bathroom break, and then did some kiosk shopping in an open part of the terminal, finding some tea for Richard, and a toy for Max. I got some brewed tea and a croissant for myself. I was sweating a bit, so Adam found us seats under an air conditioning vent while we snacked. We went to find our gate but it wasn't open, so we headed back to the central area to sit until around 1pm. There was a bit of a delay, I made one more pit stop after the gate opened, walking briskly back to the gate lounge to find Adam, after another passport check and boarding card check. We sat some more, and then had one more boarding pass and passport check at the top of the ramp. I expected one at the bottom too. There was a wheelchair procession first, then kids. I wasn't sure where my pound notes were, all my Rupees were done, I used the last twenty no tea and used my credit card for the rest. Yup, there was another bag check and pat down at the bottom of the ramp. The security lady smiled at the tuk tuk toy I was carrying for Max. :-) We were in row 37 and I had no problem getting my bag up in the bin, lots of room left, and I set up my water and snacks, book and headphones, and my all important passport in the seat pocket and had room to stretch out my legs. They came through the aisles and sprayed the insecticide again before departure, I kept my pashmina over my eyes, nose and mouth. We were delayed a bit by air traffic control in getting off the ground.

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.

Monday March 11, 2013 - London to Boston

I woke up at 5:30 to use the bathroom, then dozed until 6:30 or so, then got up to get dressed. I put on thick socks too that morning as there was a dusting of snow on the ground. I re-packed my backpack, it felt better now. Headed downstairs and filled in my customs form, noting that I'd need to get a second one if I picked up booze and tea at Heathrow and would need to add those to the stuff I already had recorded on the form. I needed to check if I could get a second bottle duty free, maybe due to the time I was out of the country, so that I could get some Scotch for myself as well. The snow was still dusting down, and I couldn't find the kettle. I went back upstairs and got my book, settling in to read until Richard came down and showed me the boiling water tap right on the counter, so you can make a cup of tea at a time, bliss. :-) I ended up making myself 3 cups of tea over the course of the morning, and he made me scrambled eggs on toast. I connected my camera cards to his laptop and gave him a slide show on his Mac, I got some good shots. :-) Rosemary came down after her shower at around 9:30am, we left after tooth brushing, at around 10am. She fed me quiche on the road back after I finished the cashews and we had stopped at the M25/A1 service centre to get the snacks out of the boot. We went along the seas shore at South End, Thorpe(?) Bay, and could see the chop on the water from the high winds. It was snowing on and off, boats were pitching at their anchors. I saw the longest pleasure pier, I think they said it was 1.25 miles long. We got to the airport at just before 12:30, right on time. They gave me the leftover quiche and a salad for my lunch, and I had an empty water bottle to fill once I got past security.

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.


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