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India travel info

Northern India- Kashmir: 21 days,  Aug- Sept  2005


Kind of travel:
A wholly independent travel

13rd august- 4th sept 2005

How I moved:
bus, train and one flight

Where I slept:
houseboat (Srinagar), hotel, guesthouse, on the train and on the bus

What I liked:
the amazing variety of religions, cultures, languages and environments. The huge but efficient railway system. The kindness of the people. The easiness in the comunication by English. The A/C room in Kolkata

What I disliked:
The endless horning everywhere. The food sucks and I hope you like chicken. The permanent headache due to the altitude in Ladak. Getting robbed on the night train to Varanasi.   The 101% humidity in Kolkata. The continuos blackouts.

How much daily:
India is cheap, anyway travelling in two people, the daily budget has been 17euro each. Because of the hotness I travelled on the A/C train class and (sometimes) slept in A/C rooms, at the end the train became the main expense (read the prices). Anyway with some sacrifices you can keep a lower budget, left alone the trips by jeep in Ladak that are very expensive.

Freezing or baking?
In Kashmir, Ladak and Manali there was a nice temperature (a sweter in the evening without sleeping bags for the night). In New Delhi it was hot, but  in Kolkata it was like an unbearable sticky sauna.

Dangers/ hassles:
watch out your stuff on the train around Varanasi expecially in the night; my camera and most of the pics had gone. Don't underrate the altitude in Ladak, even a 3 day acclimatation in Leh might not be enough for the 5000m.. Driver riscio' in Varanasi and Agra bring you where they want regardless what you say. Keep away from the control line with Pakistan in Kashmir.

What you do need:
a good flash lamp and stomach good as well! :-)

Kashmir is wonderful and safe (at least when I visited it (08/2005)).
It’s a Muslim area so obviously this is the culture you will face with, although any covering is mandatory for females you have to respect their sensitivity to it.
I found people extremely hospitable, not pushy at all, and especially the soldiers (plenty of) were so nice to us. It’s true that considering the militaries around it seems to be in a war status, but at the end your risk is minimal.
Temperature in Srinagar turned out ok, being hot but dry and sleeping in the houseboat was so relaxing.
Srinagar lies under 3000m so you won’t feel any altitude effect, and tourism is just from Indians; from both of these points of view it’s quite far from Leh.
The 2 days journey from Srinagar to Leh is amazing and still not too tiring, unlike Leh- Manali that is more similar to a pilgrimage.

In short, Go There!



India, namely New Delhi, Varanasi, Kolkata are quite shocking realities.
However it’s not just dirt and smell around you, but a philosophy of life that comes from the Hindu religion. I think a Western can hardly understand their perception of the cycle of death and life without looking just the appearances.
People are nice, and apart from the pushy riscio’ drivers and some sucker hotelkeeper, they want to speak to you because of their curiosity. I had fun in exchanging points of view on the Indian habits concerning the engagement for the couples. On the other hand it’s true that after a while this curiosity can be quite tiring and you'll long to stay alone.
The last but not the least, the humidity and the hotness got a big slice of the amount of energies I needed to travel in the low lands. The same travel one month later would have meant half of the efforts.



From Milan stopover in Frankfurt and New Delhi to get to Srinagar (N. Delhi- Srinagar, 130 euro, one way). In Srinagar the temperature was perfect and I stayed in a cute houseboat on the river (1200 rp/day 2 people, full board). I’ve an extremely nice memory of the days I spent there. I walked around the desert town really seized by the Indian army being the following day the Indian independence anniversary. I enjoyed a boat trip on the wonderful Dal Lake visiting the gardens, the mosque, and the floating cultivation.
Beside I had a day trip to the winter ski resort of Gulmarg, where I took a cable car to get over the 3300m and then riding horses I reached a tongue of snow of a glacier. Here I had a short but bumpy sledge ride driven by a funny Pakistan-like man.
I would have stayed longer in Srinagar, but I had to proceed towards Leh. It took two days by bus, staying overnight in Kargil. It had been a tiring journey but really worthwhile: first of all for the variety of environments this narrow twisting dirty road passes through: from the very green valley near Srinagar to the desert like mountains approaching Leh. In addition for the radical cultural change: the long beards of the Muslims were swapped with the rounded faces of the Tibetans, while the mosque with their minarets turned in the Buddhist monasteries called "gompas".
Leh is over 3200 m, so the altitude began to have his effect.. In Leh every movement costs energies, a lot of energies I mean. Here you can find several different proposals of trekking by 4X4 and day trips to the gompas in the region by taxi. No way to bargain since all the itineraries and their relative prices are officially laid down. You have to gather a bunch of people if you don’t want to leave there all your money doing the trip alone.
The area around Leh is breathless, but after 3 days I had seen enough gompas for the whole my life. Besides Leh, relatively to his size and location, turned out to be quite touristy. After a while I was a little fed up of souvenir shops and 4x4 filled with Italians, Israelians and Germans.
Then I had the longest and toughest journey of the trip: Leh- Manali in 2 days by bus throught the over 5000 m passes. Amazing landscapes, surreal atmospheres but I would have skipped it with pleasure, since it’s hard to enjoy a trip when at best you are dizzy for the whole time.
Manali is a heaven to rest in: super cheap guesthouses, green environment, fresh temperature and being below the 3000m the altitude was harmless. Anyway to me appeared a kind of soften India; I wanted to see the striking one, hence I settled off to the 2000 km far Kolkata. 17 hours by bus and 20 by train led us to the hot damp but charming capital of Bengala. Here I spent 3 days enjoying the riscị rides around the town and the shower in my A\C room to survive the 100% humidity rate.
Despite of the climate I really liked Kolkata!
12 unforgettable hours by train led us to the hindu holy town of Varanasi; in fact during the night travel I got robbed of my small backbags, hence camera and pictures gone :-( (read the tips)
Varanasi is crossed by the holy Ganga river and the hindu here dip and throw their dead bodies, burnt or not (read the story). Definitely it’s an impressive place, but generally speaking, locals and riscio’ drivers are the most dodgy I have found in India: at the end I didn’t fall in love with the town.
Another night on the train led us to Agra to visit the famous Taj Mahal. Althought of my expectations to be an ugly touristy town, it was not. Tourists were concentrated in few places and locals turned out to be far better than in Varanasi, besides there’s much more to see than just the Taj Mahal.
4 hours by train separated us to New Delhi from where I finally flew back to "our world".



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