Passage OUT of India

This country is hard. No destination has ever challenged us in the way India has. While still in Nepal, travelers laughed hysterically at the idea of our spending a year here. “You’ll never manage a year there,” they ridiculed, “You’ll be lucky if you make it two weeks!”

Well, we’ve spent a total of 15 months here. So, do we like it? The question almost seems ridiculous. We hate the country, and we love it. Every day we find ourselves cursing this place and swearing we are going to leave. And then moments later, we discover something wondrous. We’ve never witnessed such cruelty, but somehow the moments of kindness seem all the more touching. The country is one massive contradiction, so it is not surprising that our responses should be contradictory.

Hindu gods? Or South Park characters?

After two days in India, our philosophy became “Let’s just see the whole damn country and get the hell out and never come back!” But now, somehow the idea of not returning to India seems terrifying. Why? Traveling here is such an intense experience. Somehow every single day seems like it is filled with major life lessons. Or, perhaps, we just have a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.

So we are off to Bangkok to find some cheap tickets to the U.S. But don’t worry, our adventures aren’t over. They’ve only just begun!

Calcutta

A wild mixture of modern and traditional, poor and rich, ugly and beautiful, manic Calcutta is a dance of colorful characters. I’ve tried to capture this sensory overload in my latest video. Get ready to groove to the soundtrack of “Dancing with the Goddess” by Atman.

Power Outages and Mother Teresa

Like all cities in India, Calcutta is plagued with power outages. Sometimes there are two a day, sometimes there are ten. Having invested in a rather expensive air-conditioned room, these outages are especially annoying. However, after a year in India, we view them as just another daily annoyance.

Escaping our room during one of the outages, we decided to visit Mother House. Simply known as “Mother” in Calcutta, Mother Teresa is revered as a soon-to-be saint by Christians and a demi-god by Hindus. She is synonymous with Calcutta, and people of all religions love her here.

Although I am no great fan of organized religion, and I am quite aware of the controversy surrounding many of Mother Teresa’s beliefs, including her strict Continue…

Oh, Calcutta!

Thomas and I have made our way to Calcutta, the center of all that is chaotic and crazy in the world. Every second is pure insanity, my eyes can’t keep up with the movement. But like Mumbai, Calcutta is a colonial gem in the rough, and fans of that British colonial vibe, which is disappearing quickly around the world, will love this city, assuming they can learn to appreciate the chaos and the intense heat that comes with it.

During the white-hot day, I have the continual feeling that I’m going to drop over dead from heat stroke. It seems like we spend most of our time hiding from the sun. But at night, Calcutta is perhaps the greatest Continue…

Safari on the Subcontinent

Wildlife photography is hard! That is something we learned long ago. But it is also extremely challenging and incredibly fun. One of our goals here in South Asia has been to see and photograph as much of the wildlife as possible.

Over the last year and a half, we have explored some of the regions best natural attractions including national parks, reserves, and remote wilderness regions. The explorations have been made on foot as well as by jeep, canoe, kayak, camel and elephant.

To recall our adventures, we have put together a pictorial, a sort of photographic trophy wall to share a tiny bit of the regions diversity with you. All of the animals included were photographed by us in the wild. Since we do not have a 600 mm lens and a fifty pound tripod, that is much more challenging than it sounds. While the big game may seem the most impressive, one shot in particular should be considered our ultimate trophy, the photo of the two camouflaged nightjars. Believe it or not, they were actually spotted by our guide from a moving jeep!

Bodacious TATAs

Indians love their TATAs. Throughout the developing world, the national car of India is big business. Until recently, most of that business was focused on the huge TATA trucks used for hauling big loads on some of the world’s worst roads.

But starting this summer, TATA is reshaping itself with the release of the TATA Nano. Heralded throughout India as the one lakh car (see article on lakh), the slimmed down version of the ultra compact Nano, which retails for around $2000, will make the dream of owning an automobile reality for many middle-class Indians. To many Indians, the introduction of the “common man’s car” represents a huge step forward for India and a shortening of the gap between India and the West.

But anyone who has visited India will immediately recognize a HUGE problem Continue…

Sikkim – Kingdom in the Clouds

Although Sikkim is not the isolated kingdom it used to be, with a fair number of Bengali tourists flooding the region, it is still an absolute stunner when it comes to nature. Alpine valleys, countless waterfalls and lush forests dotted with a multitude of flowers dominate the Himalayan landscape.

Click play to watch video

Due to its proximity to China, travel restrictions in Northern Sikkim allow foreigners to visit the region only as part of an organized trip. A forced semi-luxurious tour in a private jeep with prearranged accommodation and food so to speak. But we actually enjoyed it. I guess we were ready to just kick back and let somebody else do the organizing. And the fantastic group we were part of, made this trip a blast.

Follow along as we hit the road and the trails and make our way into Northern Sikkim with our travel companions Emelie and Carl from Sweden, Alok from Holland, and Ludolv from Germany. Check out Sikkim’s stunning scenery, Lachen and Rumptek monasteries, and enjoy the famous views from Pelling of the one and only Kangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world.

Kingdom of Flowers

Travel brochures and posters often refer to Sikkim as the “Kingdom of Flowers,” a very fitting title. As we mentioned in the last post, the flora is one of the main reasons we came to Sikkim. Although we have spent a total of almost 8 months in the Himalayas, up until now, we have missed one of its greatest spectacles – the rhododendron blooms. Forests filled with white, yellow, light pink, hot pink, purple, and fire-engine red rhododendrons. Add to that an unreal variety of orchids and a host of flowers I couldn’t begin to identify, and you’ll get the picture. It feels like a floral Galapagos!

Tongbaholic

My name is Tony, and I’m a tongbaholic.

Normally, I’m not a huge drinker, but it turns out that’s simply because I had never been to Sikkim. Tongba, also known as “chang” in certain parts of Sikkim, is a traditional hot fermented millet drink, which is fantastic. (Well, I think it is fantastic – not everyone agrees.)

The process of making the drink is half Continue…

Surprising Sikkim

Names such as Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, Mustang, Upper Dolpo, Guge and Sikkim, the isolated mini-kingdoms that run along the spine of the Himalayas, conjure up images of adventure and exotic Tibetan-inspired mysticism. Until the 1970s, most of these regions were completely off-limits to foreigners. Even now, many of these regions, including Sikkim, require special permits for foreigners to visit. For this reason, they are on the must-visit lists of adventure lovers everywhere.

Having been to many of these regions ourselves, we are well aware that the 21st century is quickly coming to the Himalyas – I have no illusions about their continued isolation. However, I have to admit Sikkim threw me for a loop. Driving into the tiny capital, Gantok, I was shocked to discover Continue…