TERM: 29.9. - 24.10. 2005
ROUTE: Delhi -- Leh - trek (Lamayuru - Konze La - Sumdah Do) - Leh (visited gompas: Alchi, Chimrey, Hemis, Lamayuru, Matho, Phyang, Spituk, Taktok, Thiksey) -- Varanasi -- Delhi -- Jodhpur - Jaisalmer (Khuri) -- Delhi
Trekking: We did a 5-day trek trek from Lamayuru to Sumdah Do (originally we planned to end at Chilling) - quite strenuous but very nice, very variable landscape, some interesting villages and gompas. We did it carrying full equipment and found hiking times given by all guidebooks (they obviously copy one another) quite difficult to make (and we are used to trekking in mountains incl. high altitude areas such as Nepal) - be ready for hard work and do not count on shorting the times given in guidebooks. We used Loram's "Trekking in Ladakh" and found it not up to its reputation - its maps are not fully to scale (but the same holds for other maps I have found) and it sometimes recommends not too reasonable shortcuts (I doubt that the treks have been really fully researched by the author - descriptions seems to be based just on information from fully seasoned local people). The trail of our trek was generally quite obvious and there were always locals around to ask about the way. We tried to eat Ginkgo Biloba before reaching Ladakh (we flew both in and out) to facilitate acclimatization but could not certify any substantial improvement (but who knows how we would feel without it).
Visiting gompas: We have visited many gompas around Leh (partly using rented motorbike). We liked especially Lamayuru (friendly atmosphere, prayers all-day round) and Alchi (abandoned gompa but nice frescoes and strong genius loci), both located in quiet, friendly villages further from Leh; also Matho was interesting (it belongs to the oldest Sakyapa tradition) but we had not enough time there. Other gompas are rather sleepy and lack that mystical atmosphere making Tibetan monasteries so special; especially Thiksey felt almost as tourist trap (avoid esp. morning puja there, it is visited by huge organized excursions of package tourist having no respect to anything - horrible). We have found renting a motorbike a good way to explore around Leh - traffic is not too bad. Prices were around Rp. 400-600 according to the bike size; bikes conditions were quite bad but they still run. In the end of season only two branches of the Planet Himalaya agency have been offering the bike rental - avoid the branch on Zangsti Rd. near the Mosque (they have never been able to keep promises and wasted lots of our time) and go for the branch at Tsaskan Complex on Old Fort Rd. (they have shown care there and offered us a replacement bike when the originally rented one just died off). Take bigger and stronger bikes for longer trips.
Accomodation at Leh: Namgyal Guest House - friendly quiet homestay place with reasonable prices run by a lady with a very good sense of humour, connected to Ladakh Ochre Travels agency on Main Market, which is offering internet and usual trekking and transport-related services.
Food at Leh: Tenzin Tibetan Restaurant on Fort Road - cheap and very good Tibetan food; Lamayuru Restaurant on the corner of Fort Rd. and Old Fort Rd. - frequented with locals, cheap and good Indian food.
Additional remark: Ladakh is very dry and dusty. It results in quite unpleasant dehydration of skin and membranes in your nose and mouth - it take some time to get used to it, bring a lot of moistening lotion.
Varanasi is probably the most Indian of all India - all typical features are amplified there: dirt, pollution, chaos, colours, rituals, etc. We have found it interesting just walking around the old town streets and watch the life go by. On the other hand the morning bathing in the Ganges has not been so spectacular as in documentaries - it was more a real bathing than a ritual, more life as usual than an everyday feast (I am afraid the documentaries about Varanasi exaggerate and give impression of permanent puja). So, do not expect too much performance and prepare for seeing a real life, often quite raw and pragmatic. Touts in Varanasi are not too bad and do not bother too much - even boatmen are reasonable and do not push overmuch. I recommend staying near Godowlia and Dasaswamedh Ghat - there you are in the middle of all, close to all interesting sites, market and restaurants.
Ganges boat trip: Easy to find a boat, you can haggle the price down to Rp. 50 per hour per small boat. Ask the boatman to go down the river first and row the boat back up. Normally, they do it the other way (do not know why) and therefore you will stay away from crowd of other tourist boats (rowing up against the current your boatman will keep the boat close to the river bank, leaving other tourist boats behind your back well into the river flow).
Sarnath trip: One-hour trip by a motoriksha (about Rp. 50) takes you away from chaos (and real life) to quiet and clean but quite small park. Good as a change from Varanasi chaos but do not expect too much. Around the main site there are Buddhist monasteries representing various Buddhist nations - interesting to compare.
Vishnu Rest House - reasonably priced place near to old town, nice
terrace to view the Ganges; the restaurant is not too good. Originally,
we had reservation in Scindhia Guest House but they did not bother to
show up at the airport to give us that promised free ride to the hotel
(I guess, they keep to this service - advertised on their website - just
when taking one of their most expensive rooms) - well, it was better
after all and we have found the Vishnu Rest House better located, eg. closer
to many good restaurants.
Food: Many cheap and good restaurants on Begali Toja street (I can esp. recommend Monalisa and Ankita). But the best restaurant is Rajshree Restaurant on Godowlia - frequented with locals, very cheap Indian food, excellent mixing of spices and general tastes - best cooking I have encountered in India.
Other remark: My wife has got another souvenir from Varanasi - the Dengue Fever spread by mosquitos bitting at daylight. It was not that bad after all but made us to cut our trip short and go back to Europe to recover. This disease is not esp. dangerous when contracting it for the first time but it brings high fewer and makes one quite weak; there is no special cure - you just have to wait it out (also beware that any consecutive infections may become real bad). It is said that the Dengue fever is going to be more frequent now with global climate changes - great !!
We have done just a short stay in Delhi while waiting for the connecting flight. We have visited ruins of the Qutub Minar mosque that are not too far from the airport. Ruins are not especially interesting but make a good spot to visit for couple hours.
Accomodation near the Airport: Before going to India for a trip I have been trying to get good information about a cheap hotel near the Delhi Airport without any good results. After my trip I can try to fill this gap for others a little. There are several hotels near Mahipal Pur crossing in the middle between the Delhi international and domestic airport terminals - it is about ten minutes by an autoriksha. Apart from the upmarket Radisson Hotel there is a string of several rather expensive hotels there including the Swapnil International Airport Hotel, Hotel Star, R Blues Airport Hotel, and International Inn Airport Hotel (in the order of room prices). The cheapest is the International Inn Airport Hotel where we have had their cheapest room - an underground hole with attached bathroom and TV for Rp. 650; manageable but definitely not up to its price. Besides rather expensive restaurants in some of these hotels, there is also one reasonable cheap restaurant next to these hotels. Only after setting at the International Inn we have seen cheaply looking Hotel East West and three other guesthouses on the 100-metre zone between the above mentioned hotel string and the very Mahipal Pur crossing. We did not check any of these places but I would bet you could get a cheaper room there to wait for your flight. I would recommend to take an autoriksha to, e.g., R Blues Hotel (the driver would know it for sure) and then go on foot to explore these cheapees. If they reveal to be too much to manage you can always go back to those mentioned above.
We have spent two days in Jodpur. The town is nice but these two days are about enough to soak it in. The Meherangarh fort is definitely worth visiting and the town itself offers plenty of interesting streets to wander about. Nevertheless, my wife was already ill there and so none of us could fully enjoy the stay.
We have spent there again just two days before cutting our trip short and running back home. The town and its fort is even more interesting to wander around and worth to stay several days if you can stand the heat.
With my wife feeling rather bad we have bought an overnight trip to
Khuri from local travel agency with the aim to spend a night in the
dunes. The trip was quite expensive and not worth it. The Khuri dune is
very small and you can see it all from any top of the dune together
with the surrounding villages with all the noise of music and so; usually
you are not alone there too - no desert solitude whatsoever.
My original plan was to go to Khuri by bus or rent a motorbike in Jaisalmer (I asked around and motorbikes were indeed available for a rather reasonable price); I believe that using rented motorbike would be the best way to explore around Jaisalmer.
Transport back to Delhi: After decision to cut our trip short we have been looking for a quick way to get to Delhi. With the trains fully booked (well, that was what travel agencies in Jaisalmer were saying) we agreed to buy a bus ticket for a "direct overnight bus" to Delhi - it was not too expensive anyway. We got sleeping compartment in a bus leaving at the same evening and it proved to be quite comfortable for sleeping - I can recommend it without hesitation. But sure as hell, the bus was not direct to Delhi as promised; it has terminated in Jaipur and we were transferred to a regular bus to Delhi (no sleeping compartments). That is typical anyway - when you are in a hurry, all kinds of touts are going to take advantage of you. Still, we got to Delhi around nine morning next day.
Return to Europe:
We have been flying Aeroflot to India and back which was the cheapest
flight available in Prague, Czechia. To my very pleasant surprise,
Aeroflot made no fuss about shifting our flight a week ahead and set us
on a way home for no extra fee in the evening of the same very day we arrived to its Delhi office. So, Aeroflot may
not be the most comfortable airline to fly with (no movies, terrible
hub airport in Sheremetewo, Moscow, etc.) but it definitely has some
good features too.
When preparing for my trips I always gather from the internet all information available and before I go I put it unsorted into separated documents covering each place to be visited and print those out to use them during the trip. I still have the documents prepared for this trip and I can send them to you on request. If anybody is interested please see the information on my Introductory Page.