Uttarakhand – Volunteering in the jungle


Our next state in India would be Uttarakhand where we would be heading to our first volunteer project working on a farm in a small village called Baluti near Kotabagh. We planned to bus it from Manali > Chandigarh > Haridwar > Kotabagh > Baluti. After the nightmare we’d had on buses already we made sure we were on a proper tourist bus this time and were successful in that matter thankfully. We boarded the bus at night, Jimmy was pleased that he had plenty leg room and the AC was working. As we were leaving Manali the bus was pulled over by some very serious looking police, they boarded the bus and marched up and down the aisle looking everybody up and down very suspiciously. They shouted something in Hindi and left the bus after what felt like an eternity leaving us very confused. After 12 hours on the bus we arrived in Chandigarh and were dropped off in the middle of nowhere beside a group of rickshaw drivers. [funny that one eh?] We got one to the bus station after haggling for a while. We were lucky that the next bus was departing within the next half and hour but it was a local bus and we had to suffer the uncomfortable conditions again for another 8 hours.

When we arrived in Haridwar we could feel the heat when we stepped off the bus and the city craziness that we hadn’t missed whilst chilling in the mountains was in our faces again. We needed to decide our next step, take another 10 hour bus or spend the night in Haridwar? Eventually we decided that over 20 hours of travelling was enough for one day and we spent the night in Haridwar in a budget hotel near to the bus station.

That night we were lucky enough to witness Puja. Puja is a religious ritual where people give an offering to the gods, lighting candles and giving flowers via the Ganges.

We got what we paid for with our hotel again… Jimmy saw a mouse run into the room under the door and when he told one of the workers he told him every room has mice haha.

20131012_171841 ganges crowds gecko sara n hotel dude

We woke up early to get our bus to Kotabagh and it was still quite dark, we headed to the bus station and were having a chai when we heard the guy from one of the buses shouting “Kota-kota-kota-bagh” as they do here. We boarded quickly and it was another local bus but surprisingly had plenty leg room. The journey was long and windy and we eventually reached our destination where we got a rickshaw to get another bus to Baluti. After reaching Baluti both our phones were powerless again so we went to a local shop where the man kindly let us charge our phone. He couldn’t speak English so was hard to communicate but we managed to contact Arun [the farm owner] and he arranged us a taxi. While we were waiting for the taxi Sara went to get something to eat and met some local kids. The language barrier was there but that didn’t stop them from having fun. Sara found out that her nickname Sarita is an Indian name because one of the girls was called the same. You could tell that the villagers didn’t see many tourists as all eyes were on us.

Our taxi picked us up and we drove deeper into the mountainous jungle until we reached Arun’s farm. The farm is in a small village which only has 5 houses and is surrounded by jungle, mountains and rice fields. We were greeted by a couple and a guy who were already at the farm and were joined later by a family [Russ, Sandrine, Nell & Lily] who were all really nice.

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We decided to stay for a week and settle for a bit. The couple and the guy left shortly after we arrived so we had the farm to ourselves with the family and Arun. The closest we got to experiencing organic farming whilst there was weeding and Jimmy was lucky enough to plant some mango trees. We had to work two hours a day and then we could do whatever we liked, Sara was pleased to teach the cook some Spanish dishes and Jimmy and Russ painted the windows. When the day was over we used to sit outside and Arun would entertain us with his drunken drivel under the stars. During the day we would go on adventures to the river or to near by villages.

Jimmy and Russ were both passionate about photographing nature and would go looking for subjects to shoot. We seen huge spiders, lizards, monkeys, peacocks, eagles and countless insects and birds. We went for plenty walks and went for a swim in the river one day. The locals are really friendly here and would offer you lifts through the mountains, we got a lift from a scooter and a truck.

20131021_133010 lily muddy puss spider

triangle club SARA monkey3 puram n sara

Even if we didn’t learn as much as we hoped to we still enjoyed our time at the farm very much, being so cut off from everything was a refreshing change from the madness of the cities. We appreciated Arun’s hospitality and we will never forget these days.

Now we were ready for our holiday touring Rajasthan…

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Himachal Pradesh – Our first state in India

kangra landscape 2

The view behind Kangra fort

Our first stop in India was Delhi… Everyone had told us how crazy this city was. We arrived at 5 am and got the metro to Delhi central station and we were a bit surprised that we were alone on the metro after how crowded we’d heard it was here. Then we arrived in the central station and the intensity of Delhi we’d heard about was in our faces. The heat, the humidity, the crowds and the rush that everyone seamed to be in was all a bit much. We checked into our hotel and had a nap before going for a walk to see what was in the area. We met a nice guy who talked us into going to a travel agency where we were sweet talked into making the biggest mistake of our trip, booking a tour! (We will go into this in further detail in another post.) We got a driver courtesy of the travel agency and he took us around the main tourist attractions then we had an early night as our train to Kalka was at 5.30 am.

We woke up at the crack of dawn glad to be leaving the constant car horns and rickshaw drivers stalking you down the streets. We were heading to Shimla for our first couchsurfing experience living with a family. Our taxi took us to the station and we boarded our train to Kalka in the AC carriage. We didn’t know AC stood for arctic conditions haha but thankfully we had our blankets we got on the flight to keep us warm. The exit from Delhi was a shock to us… our first encounter of how bad the poverty really is here. There was piles of rubbish with huts that people were living in amongst, it really brings a tear to the eye. The norther we got the greener and more mountainous it got and there was some beautiful scenery on the way.

We finally arrived at Kalka where we would be boarding the famous toy train up through the mountains to Shimla. We had good seats near the front door (which was open the whole way) so got a nice draft all the way because there was no AC on this train. The views on this route were proper stunning climbing through the hills but we were gob smacked at people of all ages throwing all there rubbish out the windows like it was nothing, all the way. From children to adults, they would just finish the tray they were eating off and launch it out the window. This made us feel a little sick inside.

kalka sara on toy train   toy train jungle   toy train reflection

Eventually we arrived in Shimla 2 hours late and our couchsurfing host was nowhere to be seen, neither of us had any power in our phone so we asked around and eventually went to the station master. He was a funny, kind man and helped us by phoning our host as Jimmy tried but they couldn’t understand him. (nobody ever does haha). Our host S.P. arrived on his motorbike and took us to get a taxi to his shop but the traffic was bad and we experienced our first traffic jam on the mountains (the first of many). It was dark and we were 2,196 meters above sea level. All we could see were blinding floodlights and our ears were ringing with the constant car horns. We finally got the shop and Nisha, his wife and Rishu, their son were waiting for us with a our first delicious chai. Chai is the name of a flavoured black tea served everywhere, very cheap in all corners of India. Our favourite morning beverage!

We spent three days with S.P. and his family and this was our first encounter with Indian culture. We ate the same vegetarian diet, dishes that we had never tried before, all cooked by the amazing Nisha. We discovered the famous dal, a source of proteins made with lentils and ate with chapatis, a round, thin flat bread. On our first day we were lucky enough to have Rishu to show us around Shimla. He had the day off school because it was Gandhi day. We went around the city guided by the best tour guide, Rishu. We went to visit the Jakhoo temple, it has the worlds tallest Hanuman statue. Hanuman (the Monkey God) stands at 108 feet and you need to stand underneath it to understand the scale of the statue… it’s huge! Trying to get there was an experience, the monkeys surrounding the temple are very mischievous and don’t fear humans. Some people advised us to get a stick and we laughed but realised we actually needed one. After visiting the temple we had a little stroll around town, then when were sitting on a bench Sara was innocently reading her map with her bag open when a big monkey came out of nowhere and stole her wet wipes. After realising it wasn’t food it soon threw them away and a local picked up a stone and scared the gang of monkeys away. That night we were took to Nisha’s mothers for a dinner with her side of the family and had an unexpected sleep over. Jimmy spent the night in the room with SP and his father in law and Sara in the room with Nisha, her Mother and Rishu. It was an experience we will never forget… It made us realise we definitely prefer sharing a bed together hehe.

The next day S.P. had the day off work and took us to Naldehra where we rode small horses over the steep mountains. The trail went past the highest golf course in Asia and you could also see the border with China. We enjoyed it very much and the guide, who should be a photographer made us laugh a lot with the poses he had us doing. We felt like we were in a bollywood photo shoot at points. Afterwards we went to visit S.P’s side of the family in a beautiful bungalow on the side of the mountains followed by a long winding journey through the mountains to Tattapani. There was a beautiful river running through the mountains. The scenery was astounding and the hot springs running from the ground, containing sulphur water was a perfect beauty treatment for Sara. We had a great day but we had to come back early to get ready for our new destination: Mcleodganj.

shimla basketball shimla monkey on foot shimla sleeping monkey

naldehra horse riders tattpani epic view 3 naldehra us n sp family

We boarded our “super deluxe” AC bus in a rush from Shimla after we said our quick goodbyes. The bus wasn’t exactly what we would call super deluxe but we soon remembered that we are in India haha. The bus wasn’t busy and we had plenty space and the ticket inspector seamed a bit mad and couldn’t speak English. It was dark and when the lights went out we couldn’t see much but we felt every winding turn and every bump in the road like we have never felt before, it resembled a roller coaster. We made it to Dharamshala and when we got off the bus we met a fellow travelling couple, Loes and Kris who we jumped in a taxi with to Mcleodganj. After trying to get the best accommodation deal, we settled for a hotel at 300 rupees per night. It was very basic and you got what you paid for. The WIFI didn’t work, the electricity in the room was dodgy and the noise during the night was a bit much at times. We had the best view from our balcony, eagles regularly swooping past was an amazing sight. In our first day out we stopped in a coffee shop called Rogpa, we highly recommend it. The chocolate brownie’s were delicious and the coffee reminded us of home. Rogpa means “Trusted friends and helpers” in Tibetan and it’s a charity acting to integrate the Tibetan community in exile. We then visited the Dal lake and were disappointed, maybe because it was very misty and we couldn’t see anything. Walking on the street we met Loes and Kris and we had dinner together and decided to go to Kangra Fort and Masroor Temple together the next day. We visited the Kangra museum but we didn’t bother going inside the Fort instead we walked down to the river running behind it. We then thought we could walk to Masroor temple but we soon found out that it was impossible when a taxi driver stopped and asked us “where the hell we were going?” He kindly gave us a lift to the next village where we had to walk a few more miles to the bus stop. Surprisingly a tractor offered us a lift to the town where we thought that we could get a bus to Masroor but the bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully a nice guy we met organised a taxi for us to the temple then to somewhere where we could get a bus back to Mcleodganj. The next day we went a walk to Bagshu waterfall and on the way back we met an awesome group called The Waste Warriors. We were surprised and also glad that we met this group as we hadn’t seen anything like this yet. We shared our view and opinions about the waste problem in India and we wished them all the luck.

Click on the Waste Warriors link to find out what they are all about.

masroor reflection masroor crew om

tshirt wastewarriors village 3

Our days in the land of the Tibetan exiles, home of the Dalai Lama were coming to and end. After the last night in the hotel where a group of young noisy Israeli’s brought there own sound system to the hotel and felt the need to scream, shout and bang the walls all night we were glad to be leaving. We got up bright early and the conductor put us on the next bus leaving to Manali, which we soon realised wasn’t the bus we planned to get. The bus was tiny, Jimmy could hardly bend his knees and Sara got sick for the first time in India. It was a long bumpy journey and the bus stopped in every single stop in every single village. If stopping at every single bus stop wasn’t bad enough we got stuck in a traffic jam for an hour and a half and this is when Sara got sick. Afterwards we finally got to Manali and our couchsurfer Biplob looked after us and showed us the beauty of Manali, taking us to the Rasta Cafe and other peaceful places. Sara cooked Spanish food for us all in Biplob´s kitchen… it was a nice change! We had good banter and a lot of laughs and exchanged some music. We hope to meet Biplob in the future!

sara n cow peek a boo lizard sara bip me

We got a night bus to Chandigargh to continue our adventure and move onto our next state Uttarakhand.

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Moving house!


Hi guys we decided to move from blogger to wordpress because its a pain the ass… we have a nice new address and will be moving everything over here in the next few days!

Jimmy n Sara

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