Tag Archives: Travel

Escape to Manali

The constant and endless movement around the country that had once excited and inspired me was starting to make me grow weary. Apart from a few longer stays in places like Mamallapuram, Pushkar, Hampi and of course the Vipassana retreat I had barely stopped moving in the past 4 and a half months. The summer in the south was slowly creeping north and making itself known with the mercury regularly hitting 47 degrees in Varanasi when I decided I was done with the Indian summer. The Himalayas were calling my name and I dragged me and my sweat-soaked shirt into the travel agent and pleaded for a train ticket north. The agent told me there was one ticket left but it was in the more expensive AC carriage – like I was going to choose anything else at this stage.

Beautiful old houses of Manali

Beautiful old houses of Manali

I stopped in Rishikesh (more to come on this shortly) and met up with some friends I’d met in Pushkar and spent a week exploring the Ganges, the waterfalls and The Beatles Ashram, it was cooler but still a little toasty – roll on the Himalayas.

Before I managed to completely escape the chaos, India had one more surprise in store for me and that was the trip from Rishikesh to Manali. It all faded away like a bad nightmare when I rolled into Manali.

My friends from Rishikesh had arrived the day before and I sent them a message as I got off the bus – ‘Brew some coffee, I’m 5 minutes away’. Sure enough, they greeted me with hugs and coffee and I relaxed into Old Manali.

Old Manali is a cliche mountain town only this time a little different. Where most cliches leave you feeling a little lacklustre through expectations, Manali exceeded all of mine and I knew I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.

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The surrounding mountains are covered with pine forests that only give way to the snow line at the top, the rivers at the bottom and the waterfalls that connect the two. The mornings and afternoons are cold enough to warrant a beanie, scarf and hot coffee while the days are warm enough to consider a dip in the icy melt-water.

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While Manali lends itself to the peace and quiet it would be hard to get through a trip here without doing at least one of the adventure sports on offer. I took a few days out of my calendar of R & R and went rock-climbing.

The trekking around Manali is world-class and even if you don’t choose to go on the multi-day treks that are offered everywhere there’s plenty of treks that you can do by yourself (the companies and guides will tell you this isn’t possible but a bit of exploration will prove them wrong). After rock-climbing with the guys at Himalayan Caravan I had a chat with them about potential treks and they gave me plenty of ideas on where to go, they also gave me their mobile number incase I got lost. Walking in any direction will take you somewhere pretty special.

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Three months of vegetarianism would also come to an end in Manali. The Lamb burgers at Shiva Garden Cafe were just too good to pass up for $3. Manali may just have the best western style food in all of India as well as delicious Indian, Tibetan, Nepalese and Chinese dishes. Although being a melting-pot of tourists it was still possible to find some cheaper restaurants ($1 dollar momos became a staple).

The rest of my days there were spent reading, writing, fishing, hiking and sitting in the hot springs in between catching up with the constant flow of travellers through the town.

A spot of early morning fishing.

A spot of early morning fishing.

Eventually the time would come where I would have to re-pack my bags that had exploded across my room and make my way to Srinagar, Kashmir in preparation for an 8 day trek. I had made a lot of friends in the town and left knowing I would be back one day.

Have you taken a break from travel before? Where did you stop and relax?

Video: Rock Climbing in Manali

Manali is home to a whole different bunch of adventure sports, something I didn’t quite expect to see in the calmer Himalayan region of India. Although I’m using Manali as a place to rest up after a chaotic 4 and half months in India (not to mention the ride here) I figured a little bit of adventure wouldn’t hurt. Walking into the booking office, I had a choice of of canyoning, trekking, white-water rafting, snowboarding, mountain biking, and paragliding. I’d already taken on paragliding in Varkala and White-water rafting in Rishikesh so I decided to tick off another item off my Bucket List – Outdoor Rock Climbing!

I had done a little bit of indoor before but that’s a whole different ball game. I ended up in a group of 6 plus our two instructors Ravi and Vikram. They seemed very experienced and took the safety side of things very seriously which was re-assuring as some of the rock faces were as high as 30m.

They ran us through a few warm up climbs and gradually stepped up the difficulty teaching us different techniques along the way but they were clearly saving the biggest climb until last.
Check out the video below and see just how big it was for yourselves (there’s a language warning on the video).

If you’re considering taking on any adventure sports in Manali I would highly recommend Himalayan Caravan, their guides were excellent and they even let us climb for 2 hours longer than we had paid for. (I’m in no way sponsored by them but was so happy with the service that I thought I’d share it).

Have you rock-climbed before? What was your experience like?
Is it something you would consider doing?

The Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh

Rishikesh was a little known village on the bank of the Ganges River in India’s north until early 1968 when a visit by The Beatles propelled Rishikesh into the western limelight. While in Rishikesh The Beatles stayed at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi‘s ashram and undertook a course of transcendental meditation. The Beatles wrote over 40 compositions at the ashram, many of which went onto be released on The White Album later that year.

The ashram closed in 1997 and has since fallen into a state of disrepair but that hasn’t stopped it being a major drawcard for tourists even if entry is illegal and punishable by a 5000 rupee ($100) fine. The ashram is surrounded by a stone wall that holds signs warning you of the potential fine but abandoned buildings with such a history just hold too much temptation for the signs to be taken seriously so off we went looking for a low point in the wall to jump over.

The entrance to The Beatles ashram

The entrance to The Beatles Ashram

The second I got inside I felt as though I’d been taken back in time, the complex was huge and slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. The glass windows had been smashed and graffiti marked some of the buildings. Despite the damage it was very surreal to be inside this huge complex. I let my imagination wander as we entered the different rooms and meditation pods, it was easy to picture The Beatles walking around in between meditations or John and Paul writing tracks together in the now over-grown gardens. We excitedly speculated over which Beatle would have stayed where and later found out that Lennon’s room and meditation cell was rumoured to be building No.9 (one of the buildings pictured below) and supposedly where he got the inspiration for the repetition of the number in Revolution 9.
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The main meditation pods are housed in a huge building with over 100 separate rooms, most of them had their walls and ceilings covered in the river rock and they seemed like beautiful places for meditation.

The entry to the meditation pods

The entry to the meditation pods

The real highlight of the ashram is the meeting hall which has become a guerrilla art installation – The Beatles Cathedral Gallery. Every wall and most of the floor of the huge room was covered in murals, lyrics, quotes and poems as a tribute to The Beatles and other spiritual teachers. Perhaps it was the mixture of spirituality expressed in modern day art in a derelict building with a history of housing the greatest musical talents of all time that gave this place its electric atmosphere.

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

It was a truly amazing experience that I won’t be able to do justice with my writing or photo’s. The fact that it’s all a big secret and we weren’t really meant to be there definitely added to the allure of this place. Get here and see it before the nature and time completely reclaim it.

theboywander

 

Desert Days in Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer, India’s gateway to the Thar Desert sits in Western Rajasthan about 130km’s east of the Pakistani border, it’s India’s capital for camel safaris. Stepping off the bus you are engulfed and a little overwhelmed by two things – the stifling heat and hot winds rolling in off the Thar Desert and Jaisalmer’s touts, rickshaw drivers and camel safari operators, given that it’s off-season both the heat and the people are as pressing as ever. It’s a whirlwind of people offering cheap rooms and cheap safaris and just 22 hours later I found myself on a camel 70 kilometres outside of Jaisalmer with a Polish couple, our guides Hokum and Salem, and our camel convoy – Johnny Boy, Sonia, Mr. Bean and Papu.

Johnny Boy and I

Johnny Boy and I

 

Camel Safari in Rajasthan

The camel convoy


The camel safaris have long been considered a must do of India (like Hampi) and I can now see why.  The days start early with chai, eggs and toast around the campfire. As the sun peaks it’s head over the horizon we began to pack the camels for the long day ahead. After loading them up with 75 litres of water and all our other rations for the 2 nights in the desert we make our way out into the blistering sun – I should hardly complain I make the journey on the back of the camel and apart from keeping myself on the camel there’s not much I have to do for the next few hours. At around 11 o clock, after 3 hours of riding we stop under the shade of a tree and cook lunch – this is more for our sake than the camels.

‘Camel Kitchen’ – a few pots and pans over a campfire – as the drivers call it cooks up a delicious mixed veg masala with endless chapati’s as well as the obligatory chai (it happens to be the best chai in India). We eat more or less the same meals for lunch and dinner on the 3 days and there was no complaining there – the food was tasty, filling and endless. All of us except the camels followed this up by a nap under the tree.

Camel Kitchen - serving up India's finest Chai

Camel Kitchen – serving up India’s finest Chai

We rest and let the camels wander for a few hours while the sun is at it’s most extreme then our turbans go back on and we venture off in search of a campsite by sunrise. It’s worth noting that for some reason fluoro pink and orange turbans are somewhat of a ‘thing’ out here, even among some of the locals.  The days end in much the same way they start, with chai and dinner as the sun goes down this time over Pakistani border. The air instantly cools and we spend the nights sitting around the campfire drinking desert whisky, telling stories and listening to Salem’s renditions on classic songs. If you’ve never heard an Indian camel driver belt out ‘Hotel Camelfornia’ while playing the water container as a tabla then I seriously suggest you book your camel safari today.

Our camp for the night

Our camp for the night

The long day in the sun and desert whisky take its toll and I retire to bed, a blanket on top of a nearby sand dune. As the campfire burns out the cosmic light show comes to life. The Milky Way spans the sky and I can’t remember the last time I had seen this many stars. As I lay there I remember reading that there are more stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on this Earth and lying in the middle of 200,000 square kilometres of sandy desert is a timely reminder of just how small we are.

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This escape from the chaos of India was exactly what I needed. It was an amazing way to tick off another item on My Bucket List.

Have you done a Camel Safari or a trip into the desert somewhere? What was your experience like?

theboywander

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

Fusion restaurants – yay or nay?

Fusion restaurants – the idea of mixing the best of different cultures and their cuisine. I love Thai food and I love Indian food, they both are very flavoursome and as I’m discovering – very, very spicy. When I stumbled across a Thai/Indian Fusion restaurant in the back streets of San Cristobal, Mexico I thought I’d hit the jackpot. They share a lot of spices between the cultures including; cinnamon, ginger, chilli, tumeric, coriander, cumin and a bunch of others. I had barely eaten that day and was prepared to treat myself to a few dishes. The American couple who had recently opened the restaurant bought out our first meal and I think I’d had 3 spoonfuls before the plate hit the table. I was bracing myself for an explosion of fusion flavours and was left terribly disappointed. It lacked spice and it lacked flavour. Thai and Indian rely very heavily on flavour and spice, in fact, that’s what they’re known for the world over. Fusion had left me unsatisfied but not completely done with fusion restaurants.

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Inside the fusion restaurant in San Cristobal was a very comfortable layout of low tables and cushions. As well as paper and crayons for a drawing competition…I lost, as you’ll see below.

In Panama, after eating chicken and rice for one too many nights in a row we went out in search of a south-east asian restaurant and found another fusion cafe. We were skeptical but the place looked very inviting and we were hungry. We found ourselves similarly underwhelmed. That was it, I was completely done with fusion food, if a restaurants name or menu had the word fusion in it I wasn’t going anywhere near it. This was all well and good, I stuck to strictly Thai or strictly Indian or strictly Chinese, etc and was rarely disappointed.

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The portrait I ended up with, Do you think it’s close?

Cut scene to Cartagena, Colombia a month later I was checking into the hostel and the lady at reception picked up on my Australian accent. She said I absolutely had try The Australian Fusion Cafe – here we go again. My homesick heartstrings were tugging at my chest and I knew I had a duty to my land of birth to at least try it – besides I hadn’t had vegemite on toast in months, something I had eaten religiously since I was a pup.

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Finally! Vegemite on toast

Lunchtime the next day I walk in the door and am greeted with a ‘G’day mate’ from Ian – the chef and owner, originally from Perth. Ian wasn’t in the kitchen though, he was sitting down at a table under a sign that read ‘Kangaroos – Next 5kms’, across the table was a mate of his who just touched down in Colombia. It was 11am and they were catching up over a beer, this was starting to feel authentic. I ordered vegemite on toast (it was almost obligatory for me) as well as the Stockmans Pie. The servings were huge and delicious and I only just got through my meals. Fusion was scoring some points. In a week-long stay I visited 3 times and tried the sausage roll, the fish and chips and the nachos as well as my fair share of lamingtons.

I have since had amazing meals that you could call south east asian or european fusion. I’ve come to the conclusion that when done right it allows for some delicious experimentation between cultures but when done poorly you’re left halfway in between nowhere. While I’m not completely back on board with them, I’ll keep the options open if someone recommends one.

What are your thoughts on fusion restaurants? Are you a fan? Or still slightly skeptical like?

 

Forget Sydney…

Well, not quite but it would be easy enough to do on New South Wales’ South Coast. Although Sydney has an endless list of attractions, which makes it one of the favoured cities by tourists and backpackers alike, you may be aiming a little high on the coastline if you’re looking for some of the best kept secrets New South Wales has to offer.

The South Coast (conveniently located 2 hours from Sydney) is known for its abundance of Australian wildlife so it’s a must for anyone looking to find dolphins, whales, wombats, echidnas, koalas or kangaroos.

Camping or camper-van is the favoured choice by the modern day explorer on the South Coast allowing you to immerse yourself in nature. Surrounded by such serenity it breeds locals to suit. How truly content they are is reflected in the way they talk about the area, upon asking where to go we were left with endless suggestions. Given that I’m a sucker for lighthouses and headlands we drove out towards Point Perpendicular on the Northern Head of Jervis Bay.

The gum-trees on either side of the road set against a steel grey sky would’ve looked equally as appropriate in an Australian Art exhibition as it did guiding us to the light house ahead.
Looking up from the grounds of the lighthouse where a kangaroo hopped around, the huge white lighthouse keeps guard over Jervis Bay. Shortly beyond the lighthouse the cliffs fall so perfectly vertical to the ocean you suspect it may be the work of a huge ancient stonemason.

While the view from the headland had left me awestruck, the highlight of the trip was yet to come…

Another kangaroo on the other side of the bay.

Another kangaroo on the other side of the bay.

A short walk through the bush opens up to one of the most beautiful beaches I’d ever seen, Honeymoon Bay. The fine white sand wrapped around the bay like a waning moon. The crystal clear water had tempted a kangaroo down to the waters edge and even in the chilly late autumn weather I was tempted to indulge. If skinny-dipping happened to be on your bucket list, a swim under the stars in Honeymoon Bay would be hard to beat. You just don’d find this serenity anywhere in Sydney.

After returning to camp and realising that not too far down the road are places that offer surfing, water-skiing, fishing, bush walks, wildlife tours, wineries, markets and more you slowly start to forget Sydney…

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.