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Dear India: It’s not me, it’s you.

Dear India: It’s not me, it’s you.

Okay, it’s not you either it’s actually a pesky little thing called a visa. Something I know deep down you won’t take to kindly if I was to ignore the stamp in my passport telling me it’s time to leave.

The captivating Himalayas of Kashmir

The captivating Himalayas of Kashmir

Lunch break on a trek out of Manali

Lunch break on a trek out of Manali

It’s been a strange 6 months to say the least. I could never have dreamed up the surprises you were to deliver. Arriving in Fort Kochi at midnight amongst the smell of the streets which consisted of anything from burning rubbish to delicious street food I was excited and already a little overwhelmed. In the 6 months since, your assault on my senses hasn’t stopped. I’ve been shocked, disgusted, hungry, happy, speechless, frustrated, in fits of laughter but most usually overwhelmed.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

While I found you to be amazing in so many ways, it was often the case that you completely polarised your visitors’ opinions, while I loved one place a fellow backpacker hated it and vice versa. This is the kind of diversity that seems to attract so many of us. 

India's attempt at road safety was a good laugh.

India’s attempt at road safety was a good laugh.

Ahh yeah, about that road safety.

Ahh yeah, about that road safety.

The friendly locals.

The friendly locals.

From paragliding off the cliffs of Varkala, learning to sculpt in Mamallapuram, exploring the absurd landscapes and ruins of Hampi, riding camels through the deserts of Jaisalmer to hiking the Himalayas of Kashmir it seemed that everywhere I turned a new experience was lurking.

Sculpture in Mamallapuram

Learning to sculpt in Mamallapuram

The kindness of the small percentage of your 1.2 billion I’ve had the chance to meet has been amazing and I no longer find it unusual that someone would take the time out of their day to walk me across the city just to make sure I get on my bus safely. Sometimes your eagerness to help went a little too far and on more than one occasion rather than have someone admit they don’t know where something is they’ve pointed me in the completely wrong direction but as with all things it’s the thought that counts.

 

Udaipur, Rajastan

A local man in Udaipur, Rajasthan

Laxman from Rishikesh - a retired trekking guide in the Himalayas now spends his days meditating under a tree.

Laxman from Rishikesh – a retired trekking guide in the Himalayas now spends his days meditating under a tree.

The food! Well what can I say, it was a long way from the westernised version of Butter Chicken that had kicked off my love of Indian food long ago in fact it couldn’t have been more different but all for the better. Out of all the beautiful meals it will be the thali and masala dosas I miss the most.

Indian Food, Thali, Rajasthan

The most unbelievably all you can eat Thali in all of India

Pushkar, Rajasthan

Pushkar, Rajasthan

It’s simply not a country I could ever hope to discover on one 6 months visa which is evident from the people I met returning for their 3rd or 4th or 15th time. It’s a country where no one, no matter how long they’ve lived or travelled there can confidently say ‘I know India’.

It’s confusing and chaotic and often doesn’t make much sense even to the locals but there’s a charm in that.

Early morning fishing in Manali

Early morning fishing in Manali

With that I will board a plane to Thailand taking comfort in the fact you’re still close by.

Goodbye India!

Goodbye India!

Partially Yours Forever,

Nick

Photo Essay: Trekking the Markha Valley

After attempting to tackle the Himalayas only to be turned back a couple of weeks ago I know had the Markha Valley firmly within my sights. The Markha Valley Trek is perhaps the most popular trek in the Ladakh region and can range from 4-10 days depending on your starting/finishing point and how fit you are.

We started at Chilling and ended at Chokdo 4 days later. We had orignally allowed 6 days for the trek but we put in some serious hours of trekking each day and managed to race through the trek in time for the Kalachakra Festival back in Leh.

Guides aren’t really neccessary on this trek as it’s quite well marked but I would highly recommend  a book with a basic outline of the route and homestays available. Camping is also available. In saying this we got lost on day 1 of the trek and a leg that should’ve taken 1.5-2 hours took us 4 and had us sliding down a rocky slope, wading up a river knee-deep in water and pretending to be native trackers tracing out old footprints but we got there!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves as the scenery was simply amazing.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

The flags always meant you were close to a tea-tent. Oh and it felt like I was in an arcade racing game.

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

There was only one way day…

River crossings became normal on day one

River crossings became normal on day one

Markha Valley Trek in Leh India

Prayer Wheels

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Wunderschön

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The two Swiss girls that dragged me through the trek – Team WunderSchnell!

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

The beautiful lady of the homestay in Hankar

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

Multi-coloured mountains.

Markha Valley Trek Leh India

It snowed on the way to the pass at 5200m. Naturally my beard was good at catching it.

IMG_4177
Have you trekked the North of India before? What has been your favourite place?

Walking with jaguars.

We’d just spent the night camping in hammocks in the middle of the Colombian jungle – Tayrona National Park to be exact. Tayrona National Park is 34 kilometres from Santa Marta and only a few hours by bus from the main city of Cartagena.

Tayrona National Park is an absolute must-see if your travels take you as far as Santa Marta or Cartagena. It’s 150 square kilometres of pristine Colombian jungle with the refreshing waters of the Caribbean Sea running along the northern coastline. It is home to over 500 species of birds, animals, bats, reptiles and a hugely diverse sea life. Among the creatures that thrive on the forest floor, nothing tops the king of the South American Jungle- The Jaguar.

Jungle accommodation

Jungle accommodation

There is accommodation spread throughout Tayrona National Park which usually consists of hammocks under an open hut exposing you to the cool jungle breeze, this also means insect repellant is an absolute must. The main area for accommodation is a 45 minute hike in from the entrance. Entry will cost you $22AUD and you can expect to pay between 5 or 6 dollars for a hammock.

We stayed one night and spent the day exploring the jungle and coastline before stumbling upon a little beach called La Piscina (after hearing the name my mind was cast back to the book Marching Powder but luckily enough this was a completely different kind of ‘La Piscina’). La Piscina is a beautifully calm beach secluded from the notorious currents that menace other parts of the coastline. We spent hours under the sun with regular trips to the juice stand at the end of the beach for freshly squeezed jugo de naranja.

La Piscina

 

We ran back through the jungle to our camp and noticed the fallen coconuts all over the ground from the trees above. We attempted to treat ourselves to coconut milk in the most primitive fashion, we scoured the surrounding bushland for anything that could help us tear open the hard shells of these delicious coconuts. We found a metal bar and some rocks, brought them back to camp and set about opening out afternoon treat. The 3 of us spent the next hour on rotation trying to crack one open. As a survival method, I’m sure we burned more calories in opening the coconut than we actually received from eating but it was by far the most delicious coconut milk we had ever tasted.

Fresh Coconut Milk

Fresh Coconut Milk

The next morning we had two choices for the return leg of our journey – a 45 minute walk back to the entry we had come from or a 6 hour hike through the jungle to the closest town. Of course, we chose the 6 hour hike. We strapped into our standard issue hiking thongs, packed away our 6 litres of water, nuts, tuna and bread and went to thank the owners for an incredible stay. We told them of our plan to take the 6 hour hike and they told us without a hint of humour in their voice ‘Be careful of jaguars’. We walked towards the exit of our camp, laughing off what we thought was the joke they played on every backpacker that came through. We were joking around and doing our best to imitate jaguar roars to each other when another group of backpackers walked past and asked us whether or not we had also heard the roars this morning. We stopped dead in our tracks and realised maybe this wasn’t just a big local joke. They explained there had been reports of two jaguars roaring not far from our camp early that morning. We decided to make the 6 hour hike out anyway.

We spent the first hour or so on edge, with our ears wide open for signs of a lurking jaguar. We soon came to accept the fact that the chances of seeing one were pretty unlikely and we allowed ourselves to become distracted by the beauty of the surrounding jungle. We stopped for lunch perched on top of rock overlooking the jungle and coastline, made our lunch and soaked in the Colombian sun, it was completely silent.

No sign of jaguars yet…

The remainder of the walk led us through ruins, caves, rivers, waterfalls and a family living deep within this jungle. We made it jaguar-free to the nearest town, some 6 hours later and got a bus back to our hostel where we succumbed to exhaustion in the pool. This is not a trek I’d want to do solo!

theboywander

Tickets booked!

After months of contemplation about when and where to go exactly, I’ve booked my flights! I’m locked and loaded with my sights set on Kochi on the 4th of February. The reason I chose this Kochi in India’s Southern state of Kerala was pretty simple in the end. I had toyed around with the idea of flying to Delhi or Mumbai first and starting from there but the fact was that flights to Kochi were at least a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than any other destination in India. If flights to any other city or even Nepal or Sri Lanka had been cheaper then my plans might have been a little different. At the end of the day, I’m a backpacker with limited funds so Kochi just made sense.

I plan on getting all around India so the starting point wasn’t too much of a problem. As soon as I booked flights, the whole concept of actually going to India became dauntingly real. It was always going to happen but to have a definite date gives life to the dream, it’s also made me re-double my saving efforts. My advice for you if you’re thinking about going somewhere…..Take the plunge, book the flights, and then watch as you make the rest happen.

I’m absolutely pumped for the 4th of February and now have less than 5 months to get my gear together and hit the tarmac.

Stay tuned, I feel a rush of writing coming on!

theboywander

The Boy Wander begins…

IMG_2104Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all. – Helen Keller

It seems I’ve long had an infatuation with exploring and anything new. I’ve always struggled to stay settled in one environment for too long but I never really had an appropriate outlet for it until I discovered travel.

After spending some time in New Zealand, Austria and Switzerland throughout 2009 I was given my first glimpse into travel and set about following these trips up with a more serious adventure the following year which took me from the ski fields in Canada, down the West Coast of the USA, across Central America, to the rainforests of Colombia.

Returning home after 9 months I thought I’d ‘gotten travel out of my system’. Now that mindset and what I think is wrong with it warrants an entire post itself but basically I thought I’d come home and begin setting up the life you’re told you’re supposed to.
Within a year of being home I had come to the realisation it just wasn’t right….I had to explore again.

The plan is….well there’s no real plan as such. I fly to India in early February from there my plans will be spontaneous where possible as I endeavour to find the rhythm at the heart of every town and city I visit.

As for the next 8 months I will look to share more about what drives me to explore, my travel preparations and a bunch of useful tips as well as a locals guide to Sydney and its surrounds. I promise to show you a bunch of stuff you won’t find in any guide books and only the truest of locals know about.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on NSW’s beautiful South Coast. As promised here it is Forget Sydney.