We got a bit bored of hanging out by the shops in Waikiki, and it was my brother-in-law Tarun’s birthday, so we all thought the best option was for all three of us to jump out of a plane. No, that is not a metaphor. We mean it quite literally. Check out the behind-the-scenes video!
Traveling in India for six months, we had our fair share of odd experiences — but the most interesting seemed to be when it was time to rest our weary heads. From bumpy buses and crowded trains to a thatched hut on the beach, here’s a round-up of the six oddest places we slept in India.
The Beach Hut In Goa
Honestly, it was as awesome as it sounds. A thatched-roof hut with poles sunk into the warm beach sand. It contained just a bed and a chair and a functioning, American-style bathroom (very necessary). As soon as we stepped outside, we could see, smell, and even taste the ocean! It was perfect for lounging, swimming or having a casual, Goan Feni-soaked afternoon. Dinnertime was a candlelit meal of fresh seafood and locally grown veggies, a picnic right there on the sand. It was the first time we discovered, even dinner could be haggled for! (And breakfast was chocolate corn flakes for Navdeep. But only once. Turns out, it was regular old corn flakes with chocolate syrup on them! Ew!) Can’t wait to come back.
The Tree House In Periyar
We may have missed the elephants and tigers and bears on our safari in Periyar, but the three nights we spent camping out in the treehouse at Carmelia Haven made the trek worth it. It was amazing — an actual tiny little one-room house in a tree, with little windows overlooking the garden, and a giant bed taking up most of the space. Sure, we didn’t have our own bathroom and it wasn’t nestled in the middle of the forest, as some within the grounds of the conservation area were, but it was a unique and amazing experience just the same.
The Barracks at the Golden Temple
We have family in Amritsar, so we didn’t really need other accommodations there. But once we learned that you could actually stay at the Golden Temple, we had to experience it for ourselves. So, we showed up in our Indian attire at the reservations booth and Navdeep asked for a room in Punjabi. We were given one, sure, but it was not quite what I was expecting. It was dormitory style without lockers, and squat toilets. Shared squat toilets. I saw a rat scurrying about and looked pleadingly at Navdeep. Did I mention that we were there for my birthday? Navdeep took pity on me (not that he had much choice), and we gave it another go. This time, we dressed as backpackers, him in jeans and T-shirt, me in a long flowy skirt and we both wore bandanas. We were immediately given another room, this time a large, airy suite with a private bath and balcony. All for 50 rupees a night! And right at the foot of the Golden Temple. It was an absolutely magical experience.
The Beach-Front Cottage In Puri
We were only in Puri for one day — we stayed there overnight when was stopped to see the amazing Sun Temple in Konark Bhubaneshwar, which is intricately carved with poses straight out of the Kama Sutra. Once we arrived at the lovely, airy, immaculately-kept Z hotel, a old, rambling palace, we wished we’d given ourselves more time in the area. We wandered the storied beach at the Bay of Bengal before settling into our, which was huge and breezy, with a four-poster bed and a view of the sea. One point to note, though: this is a tourist hotel, which means when we called to reserve a room and spoke in Hindi, there was no availability. However, when I called five minutes later and spoke in English, with a clear American accent, suddenly a room was available. Go figure.
The Bumpy, Stinky, Squishy Bus to Jamu-Kashmir
If you think sleeping on a plane is rough, you’ve clearly never tried 0vernighting it on a non-deluxe bus in India. We spent 15 hours stuffed into a 15-inch two-seater on a shock absorber-less clunker that sputtered more than 1000 miles from Pathankot into Kashmir. The bus — on which I was the only female — made an unexplained late-night stop for several hours in the middle of a bridge, with water on either side of us. And there was no bathroom, so, I awoke from one fitless stretch of sleep to several men, lined up in a row outside my window, peeing on the bus. That’s right, on the bus. Fun times. Later, of course, we learned that the equivalent flight would have cost a mere $50 and run 90-minutes. So obviously, we winged it back to New Delhi.
The Houseboat in Kashmir
The houseboat experience in Srinagar, Kashmir, was amazing — though very different from the one we had in Kerala. This was more like a literal home on a boat, one that was docked at one edge of Dal Lake. It had a real bedroom, dining room (complete with china cabinet), terrace, the works. We stayed for four nights and enjoyed traditional Kashmiri curries and biryanis, lounged on the terrace as salesmen on shikaras floated by with their wares, and watched locals row by in their shikaras, going about their business, selling veggies, shawls, or heading off to school.
I’m carrying a One Polar 80 backpack I bought in China for $10. It’s been loyal to me so I’ll be loyal to it. Until it falls apart. Then I’ll get a new one. We got a great deal from Rei Outlet store on a pretty robust Victorinox backpack with removable daypack made by Swiss Army. Hopefully Sona doesn’t topple over with this one on!
It seemed like a good idea at the time. We ordered the Kelty Corona Double Capacity Sleeping Bag to keep us clean and warm in dodgy hotel rooms. As you can see, if we brought this along, there’d be nothing else for us to carry. We’re still keeping it though. We’ll bring it along next time we go on a camping trip, even if it is in the backgarden! We randomly stopped at a Big 5 in Fresno after doing a grocery run at Foodmaxx and found our replacement sleeping bags. While not as spacious and cushiony as our Kelty, these are also not as humongous. Two of these fleece Texsport sleeping bags can be zipped together and voila: double sleeping bag.
I’ve had my Canon 20D for a couple years now and am thrilled with it. After our India trip, I upgraded to the full-frame Canon 5D which I am also thrilled with. As a professional wedding photographer (www.nsdphotography.com) the lenses I own are a reflection of my shooting style. I don’t do heavy lenses because that means I have to lug those mofos around. I have two flashes –the Canon 580EX and the 420EX along with the following lenses:
10-22 f/4 – Wide Angle (only works with the 20D)
50/f4 – Portrait Lens
35-135 f/4 Normal Lens
70-200 f/4 Telephoto
Sona’s nerdo brother and sister, both have the Canon ELPH. And now we do too! It’s reliable, looks sleek and takes crisp images. We have the 7.1 megapixel version and a 2GB memory card. The main draw is we can take self-portraits of the two of us without risking my fancy pants camera crashing to the ground.
SONY HDV-A1U KIT
While on the road, we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves with a bulky video camera but we did want the image quality that a bulky video camera brings. So after lots and lots of research and deliberation, we decided to go with the super-tiny Sony HDV-A1U kit from B&H online (save the sales tax by shipping it outside of NYC). It’s perfect because its small size lets us pretend to be tourists or professionals when we feel like it. It has the gumption to mimic film by shooting HDV in 24p. The best bit is that you don’t need really expensive or hard to find tapes to shoot it on. It uses standard MiniDV! We’re using several standard ones and two Sony MiniDV tapes “designed for HDV.” We won’t get into everything brilliant about our kit here, but the lavalier mic is pretty spiffy and will come in handy for any interviews we wind up doing.
OLYMPUS DS-2300 DIGITAL VOICE RECORDER
Even though this stupidass device records in DSS format, it’s still a really handy gadget. It fits into Sona’s pocket and records pretty clearly. We use this for on the fly interviews when we don’t feel like hauling our lavalier mic with us.
For the most part, I like to run around with a camera in my hands, but every so often I’ll need a tripod for steady shots in low light or when I do family and bridal portraits. Manfrotto is the shiznit and it is for this reason we have so many of their products. The 3021 tripod and ball head are fantastic for steady shots. Sona bought a video head and monopod to attach her video-camera to so our footage doesn’t look like a crisp and professional shaky home video!
We have two camera specific backpacks. Sona has the LowePro CompuTrekker and I have the Tamrac Cyberpack 8. Both of them can fit
our laptops too which works out well. We had to upgrade to a bigger sized bag to handle Navdeep’s super-sized 17-inch Dell, but Sona’s petite 12-inch PowerBook is very portable. Both computers are equipped with photo and video editing software, along with Final Draft in case Sona gets the urge to write. We also lug along a 500 GB hard drive for photo and video storage.
This is what we’re using to carry our valuables. No fannypacks or expensive leather made products for us. The orange one I bought in Nepal and the yellow one from Tibet.
Instead of paying $200 some bucks for a rolling backpack, we decided to just get a set of wheels. This can allegedly hold 150 lbs so this should do the trick to carry our camera bags at least.
We did look at one of those mesh net things offered by PacSafe but while it does look intimidating to the average crook, it also looks very enticing. A pair of pliers or a strong set of teeth and someone has an all access pass to our goods. Instead, we opted for a more subtle approach and are using a simple lock that came with the backpack.
Initially we wanted to just add our equipment to my parents’ existing homeowners insurance but that didn’t give us a very secure feeling. They would cover it, but there were a lot of limitations. We felt like if anything did go wrong, there would be that fine print telling us that we weren’t covered. After scouring the internet, Sona and I finally decided on Safeware to insure our laptops and camera equipment. They cover everything from power surges to plain ole clumsiness, and you can decide if you want short term insurance or long term. We opted to get it for the year.
After briefly considering using template based content management systems like WordPress and Joomla, we decided to make our lives a lot more complicated by creating Ishqinabackpack.com from scratch, using Dreamweaver.
Sona’s list of places she’d like to see in three months, in addition to seeing her family and my family, is getting more erratic and more in lala land. And her reasons for wanting to go to places is getting more amusing. Last night, she decided she wanted to go to Dareeling because it had tea plantations and a toy train, but wanted to skip Calcutta. The spot directly before reaching this hill station is Amritsar, all the way in the North, a good 80 hour train journey. And then there’s the slight transportation issue of getting to Darjeeling directly from Amristar! Then from Darjeeling, we’re shooting off like a bullet to a houseboat in Kashmir. My hair is standing on end just thinking about it.
I’m looking forward to the trip. Three months is really not very much time to be on a trip like this, but it will be a nice way to get vagabonding into Sona’s bloodstream. There are loads of things to think about. The first and foremost is certainly where we go, and the second is how we end up traveling. I’m a true believer in the spirit of independent travel, where the mere act of being in a place does not constitute having been there. To truly experience a place involves chilling out and taking walks that can’t be included in any itinerary. But I also realize that we do have to make some form of an itinerary, or we’ll really frighten all of our family. “We’re off then. We don’t know where exactly, but we’re going to catch a train somewhere.” That would instill a lot of confidence in my qualifications as a husband!
I think we’ll end up carving out regions that we’d like to see, rather than specific places so that the trip won’t be so controlled with no margin for fun. Unless that’s also scheduled!
The one thing I am actually worried about though is this website. Time is very quickly running out, and the website sounds like a fun idea, but being on the road and having to update things using dreamweaver, editing photos, and videos while in India, also doesn’t sound fun. So hopefully, something magical will fix all of these problems in one swoop.
Many people might not want to take a year off to go backpacking and stay in hostels of varying degrees of comfort, but people like the idea of traveling. I’m excited at the prospect of travelling again, but it is taking me some time to realize it will be a very different experience. I can’t haggle down a room to 40 rupees because the bathroom is outside in a field. Or randomly decide to hop on a train because the ticket was cheap, or I liked the sound of the name “Chittangong.” When I’d get bored with the conversation or the person I was traveling with, I’d hop onto a different train or bus. I’m pretty sure Sona would not be pleased if I did that this time around! We’ve gone on short travels together. Never anything close to three months, so it’ll be an adventure seeing how we travel together as a couple, handle being grumpy on the road, manage our money, and how the different places we see and the people we meet change us.