Blog of the trip to North India, Tajikstan and Beijing

Beijing, CHina
Friday, December 6, 2013, 07:06 PM
(Posted six days later because my website is down in CHina)

Prices easily doubled since 2005
Song artist village and 798 artist village are two large communities of artists in/near Beijing.

Qian Men Hostel $30

Delhi, India
Sunday, December 1, 2013, 04:28 AM
I probably won't have time to tell the whole story (i'm about to take a flight to Shanghai) but in a nutshell: stupid people do stupid things. Last year i visited a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, It was amazingly easy and safe. I even took my camera out and i have plenty of pictures. Two years ago in Brazil i visited one of the favelas. Today i wanted to see one of Delhi's slums.
Now... if you ever see Old Delhi (around the main mosque) you will think that you have been in a slum. Those alleys are a concentrate of filth and poverty (and noise). But they are not the slums at all: those are regular streets of a regular Indian city.
A bit of research and i found out that Delhi has more than 1000 slums. There are two categories recognized by the state government (and they receive basic services) and one category that is not recognized (and they don't receive anything, not even water). The latter are not on the map so i wouldn't be able to find them even if i wanted to. I left everything at the hotel (i must admit this time i didn't have the guts to take my camera: the memory card has more than 1000 pictures from this trip) and headed for something called Bawana. The slum is called JJ or something like that. The road dead ends in a giant garbage dump (easily one square km). The autorickshaw driver insisted that i only take a look from there and went back. When he realized that i was determined to walk to the slum, he basically said that he would report me as a missing person (not true: he actually stayed there waiting for me, as i found out later). The piles of garbage are very tall, most of them taller than me. People have made trails through the garbage dump, and there are people everywhere. So i just headed in the general direction where everybody was headed. Needless to say, the stench is your #1 enemy. And #2 would be the billions of flies. The saddest sight is the children, who are half playing and half scavenging in the garbage. Some of the teenage girls that would be beauty queens in any western high school are knee deep in garbage. Indian children tend to be a real nuisance: they keep asking "hello what's your name" and stuff like that. Not these ones. About 20 of them started following me but hardly said anything, perhaps a sign that they don't speak any English at all. Luckily the trails make virtually no bends otherwise i would have been lost forever. They all go straight to the shantytown. The first adult who paid attention to me scared the hell out of me. She started shouting like a maniac. It is one of those moments when you realize that running away is pointless and hope that a smile will establish communications. She kept screaming and pointing at the shacks. I'll make it short: eventually a younger woman appeared who spoke broken English and explained to me that everybody here is angry at the government for promising basic services and not delivering (the woman was not shouting against me but against the government, perhaps hoping that i have some political influence). The younger woman's English was really difficult to understand but i figured she must be either an activist or a government employee.
Things were suddenly totally in control. People were eager to show me how they live, but not aggressive at all. They dragged me to a hole in the ground and I understood that it is the place from which they get their drinking/cooking water. I have no idea if it's a real pipe of clean water that is broken there or if it's a natural well. Hard to estimate how big the settlement is. You never have enough view of the whole thing. Anyway, the stench was still unbelievable now that I was a good 500 meters away from the garbage dump. I asked where are the garbage trucks but nobody understood the question. Maybe it's an old garbage dump. I saw a couple of kids who were clearly doing drugs, the cheapest kind of drugs: smoking glue (that they probably find in the garbage). I saw virtually no old person (possibly a clue to the life expectancy there) and no girl of marrying age (I assume even in the slums they hide them inside). An incredible number of children. More children than flies. The only animals were dogs. The younger woman got distracted with a family and I started walking back. People hardly bothered to reply to my smiles. Obviously they must have lost any hope that anyone can do anything for them. The younger woman caught up with me before I reentered the garbage dump and explained (I think) that the government relocated all these people here with promises of free land-ownership but instead they have nothing. This rang a bell: when I first arrived in India, the big news was that activists had succeeded in delaying the bulldozing of a slum somewhere in the country. So these people have been relocated here with the promise that they would own the shack they built but instead live in constant terror that the bulldozers will come.
I really couldn't breath anymore. I started walking through the garbage dump in the general direction I came from. I was suffocating. A few children still followed me. Many others simply stared at me from the piles of garbage in which they were immersed. I confess it was a great relief to see that my autorickshaw driver had not abandoned me. He shook his head and said no word. Back at the hotel I had to throw away shirt, pants, socks.
In retrospect i should have taken the camera. Coward.

Delhi, India
Saturday, November 30, 2013, 06:42 AM
Tomorrow i fly to China. Beware that is down in China, so use my gmail address to communicate with me.
Back to the USA on the 5th

Qutb Minar 250 rupees
National Museum 600 rupees

Varanasi,. India
Friday, November 29, 2013, 07:12 AM
Last stop of my trip to India. I saw Sarnath (the holiest Buddhist place) and i am staying in Varanasi (one of the holiest Hindu cities) in a guesthouse with view of the Ganges river (and it's one of the cheapest of the entire trip).
Tomorrow fly back to Delhi...

At the railway station the foreign tourist is attacked as usual by dozens of autorickshaw drivers offering hotel accommodation, but the best hotels are at the ghats, and they often have views of the river. Autorickshaws cannot get to the ghats (the alleys are too narrow) and they get commissions only from the hotels in the old city. Hard to get rid of them at the station though. Their persistence is incredible. They follow you forever determined to get those 20-30 rupees out of you. It's hard not to compare them to the dogs that can follow one for hours just to get some edible garbage.
++Scindhia Guesthouse 600 Rps
Scam alert in Sarnath: the archeological museum does not allow photography.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013, 05:47 AM
Back to filthy India, and this is really filthy. Lucknow is the capital of one of the main states and serves well to show the state of India in 2013.
My reason to visit Lucknow is the Bara Imambara complex (that could be one of the wonders of the world if adequately managed) and some ancient Islamic tombs. Neither place was easy to find. There is no sign to help the tourist find the historical monuments (let alone the street of your hotel). Most rickshaw and autorickshaw drivers don't speak a word of English and many of them can't even read the map (probably can't read/write at all).
Moving around the city is sheer terror. There is virtually no garbage collection to talk about, just women sweeping the streets early in the morning (raising a cloud of dust that you breath for the rest of the day). Piles of garbage sits by the side of the streets, with children, women, dogs and cows competing for whatever can be savaged from it.
The difference with 20 years ago is only the pollution. More autorickshaws on the streets mean more pollution. Every crossroads is a permanent traffic jam. Distances are not as big as they seem but the speed is very low no matter what means of transportation you choose. Hence i mostly walked it.

Lucknow station was quite a sight. There are people everywhere in Indian stations so it takes a while to focus on what else is there.
Then i started noticing the rats. Of all sizes. I looked down into the rails and basically all you can see is rats. Some of them venture on the platform.
There are entire families sitting on the platforms with rats running around. Luckily humans outnumber rats so it's the rats that are intimidated by the endless crowds of humans, not viceversa. Every now and then a man walks to the edge of the platform to urinate on the rails.
My train is actually on platform 2 instead of 3 as the big electronic board still displays (and the kind man at the tourist information center told me) but the only announcement (repeated over and over again) is for a train on platform 4 that does not exist and, according to the announcement, should be ready to depart. Absolutely no news about my 17:50 train to Varanasi from platform 3, except that there is a train on platform 2 that has Varanasi written on every car.
The train is superfull. Probably the Indians knew from the beginning that it would not be on platform 3 and boarded it the moment it was parked on platform 2. They know that timetables are irrelevant, and so are the electronic boards inside the station and so are the public announcements.

Again: Lucknow is a state capital, not just some obscure stone-age village.
A growth rate of 5-10% over 20 years has done virtually nothing to lift the people of Lucknow out of filth and poverty.

Positive aspects: 1. There is virtually no crime, nobody will try to rob you or even scam you (other than charge you twice the normal price); 2. Metal and glass still rule, with plastic bottles confined to the Western drinks and the ubiquitous water bottle (the real environmental curse of the 21st century).

Combined ticket to see Bara Imambara and surrounding historical monuments 500 Rps
Getting there from the center is quite a trip, easily 100 rupees by autorickshaw.
The tombs of Saadat Ali and Mushid Zadi are free, but located near the Qaiserbagh in a place that nobody seems to know. I eventually found them after walking in circles for one hour.
+Hotel Lovely 700Rps (not far from the railway station)
Train from Lucknow to Varanasi 6hours 100 rupees

Almaty, Kazakhstan
Wednesday, November 27, 2013, 05:45 AM
Just one day in transit in Kazakhstan on the way back to India. Kazakhstan is one of the most expensive countries in the world.

Dushanbe, Tajikstan
Saturday, November 23, 2013, 10:00 AM
Tajikstan is the 155th country that i have visited in my life.

It is the exact opposite of India: clean, tidy, organized, people are superhonest. Alas, they mostly speak their own language, which is sort of Iranian but written in Cyrillic instead of Arabic. They are closely related to the Afghans but the Russian influence is strong in the way they behave. The international language here is still Russian, although many signs are in English already.

But the highlight was probably the drive to Khujand in the north near the border with Uzbekistan. Itsmain sqaure is a little Samarksnd. Anywaym the road is one of those incredibly high and incredibly bad roads.There's a very long tunnel that has never been finished and it is literally flooded. Cars and trucks crawl through the water trying to find a not too deep passage.It takes forever to get to the other side. Then the road had collapsed and one truck was eerily hanging from the edge. All traffic was routed through an improvised detour on ice. Once you are out of the mountains you still have to cope with the curse of the 21st century: the cell phone. All cell phones start ringing all the time, including the driver's. This not only increases the chances of accidents but also slows down the speed in general.

On the way back to Dushanbe it was dark but i took a bigger vehicle (seven passengers instead of four) and two were from Afghanistan, speaking fluent English.

The odd thing about Tajikstan is that business is extremely slow but nobody seem to mind. Most shop owners are just sitting at the desk staring at the traffic, with almost no customers. Buit they just quietly stare at the traffic the whole day. In most countries where the economy is bad the shop owners are frantically trying to convince passers-by to purchase their goods. Not here. Nor do they offer discounts. Life goes on, just at a very slow pace.

$20 room in private home
Every bu and gaselleis 1 taman
$1=4.92 taman("somon" in Cyrillic)
Bus #33 from the airport to the center
Shared taxi to Khujand across the mountains 5hrs $20

Leaving India for Tajikstan
Thursday, November 21, 2013, 07:34 AM
I have no idea what the Internet situation is in Tajikstan. I might be offline for a few days.
I am not sure what to do after Tajikstan (a relatively small country).
I checked the visa requirements of all nearby countries and
* the most difficult one is Pakistan
* the easiest one is Kyrgizstan (no visa required for USA nationals) followed by Afghanistan
The only certainty is that i have to be back in Delhi on December 1 for my flight to Beijing.

Since today i have a decent keyboard, a few more details on the visa hunt.
The Tajik ambassador has basically become a personal friend. Nice fellow, very funny. When i went to pick up the visa, he personally made lemon tea for me. We were chatting in the kitchen of the embassy like old comrades while people were waiting in line in front of his office. I told him many times that i only needed 3 or 4 days but he insisted on giving me 15 days.
The daily flight to Dushanbe is with KAM Air. Never heard of? You're not the only one. It's the new Afghan airline founded in 2003 after the "liberation". Of course it's a good sign that Afghanistan has an airline with flights to all neighboring countries. However, when i asked how safe it is to go through Kabul, the manager proudly said "no incident in 1.5 years". Well... it doesn't really sound that reassuring. But everybody very nice and very funny, as if there was no war (they keep repeating that the "trouble" is all at the border with Pakistan, and the rest of Afghanistan is ok, but of course definitions of "ok" might vary wildly).
SO i am flying with Air Tajik that only flies on fridays. Air Tajik offices are located in an old Soviet-style building south of Delhi where business names are written in Cyrillic, probably a legacy of when India was a close ally of the Soviet Union.
The good news is that in the same building there were other Central Asian airlines and it looks like there are multiple options on how to get out of Tajikstan without going through Afghanistan.
I wouldn't mind western Afghanistan (the side with no Taliban activity) but i am terrified at the idea of going through US immigration on December 5 and trying to explain why i visited Afghanistan (US immigration is never the smartest, nor the friendliest, and Obama has created such a police state of intense spying that i would probably remain a terrorist suspect for the rest of my life).
Safer to come back via Kyrgizstan (great mountains, i was there years ago, and a certified US ally).
But first let's check out the mighty Tajik horsemen...

Delhi: airportmetro 150 rps $2.50

Delhi, India
Wednesday, November 20, 2013, 10:10 AM
Lotus temple in south Delhi

Humayun's tumb

For a few days i have been having terrible Indian food (unhealthy, unspicy, tasteless). Then i started noticing that the locals themselves seem to eat more foreign food than local one. So i tried a pasta dish at a tiny random restaurant. Excellent. Never had such good pasta in San Francisco. So i started trying all sorts of foreign dishes (some restaurants have a 10-page menu of foreign dishes from enchiladas to lasagne). It is all incredibly good. I haven't tried pizza that, alas, looks like the US fast-food kind of pizza, but suddenly i need to change my opinion of food in Delhi: very good to excellent. Just avoid Indian food (like you avoid English food in London). By far the most popular food among young Indians (at least in Delhi) is pizza. I predict in one generation this city will mainly eat pizza.
(To be fair: i had delicious Indian food in Punjab)

My negative impression of India 2013 (or at least Delhi 2013) has started a lot process of historical reevaluation. For too long i took for granted things that are not obvious at all. For example, India (unlike China, Germany, Italy, Russia) was united not by an internal movement but by a foreign colonial power (Britain). This united India makes as much sense as British India did. The rulers are brown instead of white, but the mindset is still the imperial mindset.
For example, Islam created great modern cities that attracted millions of rich educated immigrants. Think Istanbul, Granada, Baghdad in the past and today Dubai and Kuala Lumpur. Which great modern cities has the Indian civilization ever created? No wonder that the Indian cities are still in the pathetic conditions they are: Indian civilization (as far as i know) NEVER created a great modern city admired by all travelers.
(True: i haven't seen Bangalore yet).

I spent a few hours in the library accumulating data for a longer article on the economic and political situation of India. I won't have time to refine it until i come back. But basically it will say the exact opposite of what i've been saying for 20 years: India has achieved virtually nothing and is becoming an aberration bound for such major crisis.

Well, i'm ready to go somewhere else. Looking forward to friday's flight to Tajikstan, one heck of a remote country. Some regrets that i didn't take the flight through Kabul, but time is limited (and luck is not infinite).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013, 04:38 AM
Denied visa for Pakistan. Approved visa for Tajikstan. There's a flight tomorrow via Kabul and the next one is on friday non stop. Tempted by Kabul but just not enough time to prepare. Hence i will get to Dushanbe on friday evening.

I am tired of Delhi's broken keyboads that greatly limit what i have to write. The idea here is that paying twice the regular price for Internet gives you air conditioned rooms (in a cold winter night) not necessarily a better keyboard and let alone a better chair.
Unfortunately it takes forever to write these notes and even to write why it takes forever to write these notes so it will be forgotten. Totally feels like eastern Congo (Uganda and Rwanda were a lot better).

The only thing that certainly works in Delhi is the metro. Hence best to explore the city following the metro lines, eg from Qutb Minar to Lotus Temple to Humayum's tumb to Central Secretariat (probably the best buildings that Delhi has to offer) up to Connaught Place, Palika Kendra (not bad at all) and then to Old Delhi (mosque and fort, both mediocre if you have seen great mosques and forts before).

Note: there are no street names in Delhi. Having a map is close to useless.

India is way too behind the rest of the world. Doomed. I wouldn't bet a penny on this country. A lot of its states would be happier if they were independent.

Delhi, India
Sunday, November 17, 2013, 02:27 AM
I got to Delhi from the Himalaya after an exhausting journey. Yesterday i didn't feel like doing anything so i did not update these notes. But there's also another reason: India used to be my favorite country, this time i only have negative notes. Nothing works. Even black Africa is leaving India behind. The state of transportation is simply stone-age. Compare with the bullet trains and the modern subways of the rest of Asia. What used to be cool 20 years ago is now hopelessly obsolete and pathetic.
And so stressful with all these people always running running running even when they are not going anywhere. The rate of heart attacks must be colossal. No wonder that life expectancy in India is now lower than in Bangladesh. I'm sure that millions die of stress. They seem to have no appreciation of a moment of meditation. And forget poetry: this is rapidly becoming the place in the world where poetry died.
And so materialistic. People fight for a seat on the bus or the train, and nobody even dreams of giving a seat to an elderly woman. People seem to be willing to go to any extent if it gives them a material advantage. This morning i was overhearing a conversation at the cafe between a US teacher from Missouri who quit her job to come here and teach English to children and an Indian man who was just incredulous: why would anyone quit a well-paid job for a lower-paid job? This option just doesn't seem to exist in the Indian mindset. You do things ONLY for money.
And no respect for human life. An old man was crossing an empty square next to a bus station. A car coming (no traffic whatsoever) aimed straight at him, the reason being that it was the shortest route for the car to enter the street on the other side: risking that old man's life was totally worth it if it saves 1 rupee of gasoline.
And incredibly polluted now that rickshaws have been replaced by tuktuks and autos. I can't even find edible food: the fruit at the markets smells like DDT. Basically they blast their vegetables with high temperatures and spicy sauces to hide the taste of fertilizers. Any Indian restaurant in Sunnyvale is better than the restaurants of Delhi.
In the past i have always referred to India as "sensory overload". Well, the colors are largely gone. Now that everybody dresses the western way this is not a colorful country but a black and white country, actually mostly black; a constantly depressing gloomy color.
And the sounds are mainly noises (the constant blaring of car horns) with the occasional thumping beat of techno music emerging over the mess (forget about Indian music: apparently only Westerners still listen to Indian music).
Where India certainly seems to lead the world is in rape. During the 12-hour bus ride i was reading on page 1 the case of a teenage girl raped and killed, and on page 4 the case of a woman gang-raped whose attackers have never been arrested because they belong to powerful families. And today (drum roll) there's the case of a ten-month old baby hospitalized after she was raped. Two nights ago Ranjit Sinha said live on tv: "If you can't prevent rape, enjoy it". He's the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation...

The Himalayas were better but those are really Tibetans/Nepalese, not Indians.

Tomorrow i apply for the visas to Pakistan and Tajkstan.

Best hotel of the trip: Hotel Prince Palace, 600 rps, with real hot water, two blankets, and quiet (it is located in a tiny alley where only bikes can go) in Paharganj (Between Old and New Delhi)

Saturday, November 16, 2013, 06:38 AM
An unorthodox theory on the sari.
Last time i was in India (2009) i came back telling friends that i fell in love with every Indian woman, from age 16 to age 80. Well, it must have been the saris. Now that almost no girl wears saris anymore the jeans and the shirts reveal far from attractive faces and body shapes. In fact, probably some of the least attractive faces and body shapes that i have seen in my life. And the way these girls behave is not exactly the most elegant in the world. Since the genes cannot have changed so much in 4 years, i suspect that the sari is what makes the difference. Hence i feel that the sari was a female invention to seduce men. Every woman looks pretty in a sari. Replace the sari with jeans and very few of these women look attractive. Replace the traditional Indian diet with all the junk that they eat now (never seen any nation consume so many potato chips) and soon you will soon get some of the ugliest overweight women in the world.

This was my companion on the last section of the bus ride to Delhi:

Sarahan, Himachal Pradesh, India
Friday, November 15, 2013, 07:51 AM
Back on the mountains(very close to the border with Tibet) to see the ancient Bimakhali temple.
If i understood correctly (Hindu explanations are always extremely convoluted even when made in proper English), the main deity of this temple is actually a goddess (Parvati?).

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India
Thursday, November 14, 2013, 08:05 AM

Himachal Pradesh is the state at the border with China. There is no transit now but the people are clearly related to Tibetans. The mountains here are not as high as in Ladaq, however. To get here there is only one way: a road with tents of thousands of curves. The road is in relatively good conditions but the curves never end. People speak very little English. As you get deeper and deeper into Himachal Pradesh, you are lucky to find road signs in English. Approaching Sarahan they also seem to chance ethnic group: they look positively Central Asia or even Mediterranean, not Indian at all and not Chinese at all.

Hotel in SHimla: 700 rps
bus Chandigarh to Shimla: 164 rps 4.5 hrs
Shimla to Jeori 235 rps 5.5 hours (absolutely no facilities and no English in Jeori)
Jeri to Sarahan (Bhimakali temple) 27 rps 1h

Bus from Shimla to Delhi 10 hrs 800 rps

Chandigahr, India
Thursday, November 14, 2013, 07:51 AM
Chandigahr is a capital that was designed by a European architect to be a model city. It has broad boulevards and is divided in sectors. It is indeed a lot less chaotic than Kolkata, Mumbai or Delhi, but the price they pay for it is that they have to take the car for anything (distances are colossal). It's not a friendly city for pedestrians.

Ah India.. I walked to the parliament and the other majestic buildings designed by LeCorbusier (tuktuks take you t he wrong High Court but walk around and you'll find the right one, and 1 km behind it is the complex with the colossal Secretariat and the magnificent Vidhan Sabha, the latter with the cosmic roof). There are heavily armed police officers everywhere (a few years ago there was a terrorist attack here) so I took pictures only when I was at a safe distance from them. But the Vidhan Sabha is too good so I ventured beyond the official entry through a field of tall grass. There was a 20-30 meter yellow wire hanging between two trees and I assumed that marked the border that you can't pass or be shot. I went all around and found great spots to take my pictures. On the way back I passed back when the wire is. An old lady with a chest full of laundry stopped there and started hanging her laundry to dry. that's what the wire is for.

Chandighar also has one of the greatest land arts in the world: Nek Chand's rock garden. The guy is a genius, period.

Bus from Amritsar to Chandigahr 254 rps 5hrs

Amritsar, Punjab, India
Tuesday, November 12, 2013, 04:41 AM
Sikh holy city with the Golden temple

I am not even stopping. India is so easy to travel you can always find onward transportation. On retrospect i realize that there was a bus to go anywhere on those mountains when in Silicon Valley it's difficult to find a bus to go from Cupertino to Palo Alto. There is also food everywhere (if you eat street food)

On to Chandigarh

Shared taxi to Jammu: 700rps
Hotel in Jammu 600 rps
Bus Jammu to Amritsar 164 rps

Srinagar, Kashmir, India
Sunday, November 10, 2013, 11:13 PM
The road from Leh to Srinagar is legendary not only for its height in the Himalayas but also for the number of people who died on it. The first half was actually not dangerous at all. Nice views of snow-capped peaks and of Buddhist monasteries perked in the most unlikely places (notably Lamayuru and Basgo). Some of the passes are so high that even the locals are left breathless (as in "gasping for oxygen"). The road follows the Indus river (that is coming from Mt Kailash in Tibet) until Kargil. Then the Indus river bends south whereas the road continues west towards Kashmir.
At Kargil the human landscape changed dramatically, as monasteries are replaced by mosques and women cover their head with headscarves. You know that you are leaving Buddhist Ladaq for Muslim Kashmir (although the women still wear very colorful dresses). Then the real fun began... After one more ridiculously high pass the road narrows, the asphalt disappears and the descent to Sonamarg begins. That's when the legend comes true. I was sitting on the left side, which was a really bad idea because you fully enjoy the views of the vertical drop while the vehicle is skating on mud and ice. Whenever we meet a truck coming from the opposite directions, the manoeuvre defies laws of physics because there is barely room for one. We drove right at the edge a couple of times. Now you understand why the driver has been playing Islamic devotional songs all the time. Chances are this is your last journey. The slope gets steeper and steeper and the speed slows down to less than walking speed. Every now and then there are also patches of snow on the "road". This goes on for about 30 minutes, then you begin to see the valley way down below: at least you see the end of it. The only reassuring thing is that the driver doesn't show any sign of nervousness and the other passengers are mostly napping. Wherever there is cell phone signal (in this country there is signal just about everywhere) the driver also gets on the phone nonstop...

That was yesterday. Today i explored Srinagar. Kashmir was closed to tourism for a long time and my guidebook still says not to venture to Kashmir or you will certainly be kidnapped by militias. I feel no danger whatsoever. Obviously, coming from Ladaq this does not look good: messy, noisy, filthy and slaughtered animals everywhere (like most Muslim countries there are more butchers than eaters). But people are friendly if curios.

Best in Srinagar is by far the Dal Lake downtown (with houseboats all around it), then Makhdoom Sahib Shrine, ++Khanqah of Shah-i-Hamadan , Hari Parbat fort, Dastgir Saheb, and Jamia Masjid.

On to Punjab, another long bus ride...

Most transport from Ladaq to Kashmir travels by night (no idea why).
It was not easy to find a shared taxi to travel with daylight.
The road is dangerous enough with daylight!
Shared taxi from Leh to Kargil 900rps 6hr and from Kargil to Srinagar 800 rps.
Hotel in Srinagar: 650 rupees.
Kashmir is not as cold as Ladaq but the degree of freezing at night is the same because the hotel only gives you one thin blanket...

Leh, India
Saturday, November 9, 2013, 03:24 AM
Reached Leh with no problems on friday the 8th but no Internet until now.
Ladaq is known as "Little Tibet" and it's easy to see why: Buddhist monasteries and Potala-like palaces everywhere.
The infrastructure is very basic. Leh is at 3200 meters of elevation but no hotel has hot water and i still have to find a shop with a heater.
The temperature is barely above freezing during the day till about 3pm. Then it starts collapsing rapidly and can reach ridiculously low levels at night. There is no hot water because the pipes have ice inside.
The good thing about coming to Ladaq in this season is that I am the only tourist in town. The bad news is that some roads are impassable or passable only by (expensive) shared taxi.
Annoyingly, a Buddhist place like Ladaq still has the most uncivilized of religious expressions: the Muslim call to prayer.

Palace of Leh:

Thinksay monastery:

View from Shay ruins:


Taxi to see Anchi, Lirik and Spituk 2000 rps
Unless you are a fanatic of Buddhist monasteries, Thiksay and/or Hemis (the two largest) is plenty. Anything else will disappoint you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013, 04:42 PM
Arrived in Delhi. he flight from San Francisco to Shanghai was 14 hours. The flight from Shanghai o Delhi was 6:30 hours. And now i am flying to Leh, Ladaq, another 2 hours. Leh has the highest airport in the world (3200 meters above sea level).

$1 = 57 rupies at Delhi airport, but 60 everywhere else

Preparing for Asia
Wednesday, October 16, 2013, 10:02 PM
China's visa (multiple entry): $140
India's 10-year visa was also very expensive but it's for 10 years.
Now i need to find out if i can get a Pakistani visa.
I don't need a Kyrgyzstan visa.
I do need a Tajikstan visa but i might be able to get it upon arrival.
The Pakistani consulate has not returned my calls/emails.


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