You can get a taste of India in a short and not so recent novel. I am referring to The Village By The Sea by Anita Desai that was published in 1982. It's always nice to read or reread this writer. The novel has something autobiographical, as she herself says in the introduction. The plot is simple. Bombay is the city of palaces with elegant pink, green and yellow buildings with names like Seagull and Sunbeam. It is a glittering world of luxury apartments, where they lived the rich.

Nehru, India's founding father, for that matter, had declared dams and factories would be the temples of modern India. The novel tells of a family of an alcoholic father, an ill mother, with four sons, Bela, Kama, Hari and Lila. They live in extreme poverty, since they did not possess anything, neither a cow, nor a boat, or had access to proper health care or educational services. Of the four children, Hari and Lila, are the protagonists, who can no longer afford to go to school.

With them, there is also Pinto, a small, hairy dog, who died after being poisoned. From the first pages, we come into contact with nature. There is the dew that shines on the cobwebs, butterflies gliding with ease and countless birds remembered by their names like robins, crested bulbul, pheasants, and pigeons. They are the voice of the village of Thul, as was the murmur of the waves and the wind rustling in the palm grove.

Often there are remembered plants such as frangipani or magical flowers like marigolds, jasmine, hibiscus, allamanda. Some people like Ramu's friend Hari hopes for a great change because after the large factory comes up, it should bring many jobs. It will produce fertilizers, chemicals, nitrogen, ammonia, urea, to grow the plants. A modern and scientific thing that would replace the manure or fish powder, to grow palm trees, and produce tons and tons of material to sell to farmers all over India and abroad.

Hari's mind was crowded with images of wonderful plants, tall chimneys, clouds of smoke, strange odor and a crowd of people who crossed the gates. For men of Thul, the only alternative to fishing was cultivating fields along the coast. But things could change with the arrival of a large factory. This would also mean the loss of the lands that produced, rice, vegetables, and coconuts.


There was the talk of the factory, but it all seemed quiet and as usual gaudy saris were hanging out to dry. Women watered the holy basil on the courtyards. The market women sold garlands of flowers on banana leaves on trays. But the sleepy atmosphere gave way to a resentful and angry atmosphere. But there are those like Adarkar, a member of parliament from the state of Maharashtra. He was fighting for the rights of farmers and fishermen, to continue with the traditional production system.

Hari is uncertain whether to join the farmers and fishermen and march to Bombay protesting against land theft and jobs. He had neither land nor boat or take the side of the government and of the factory and hoped to get a job. He had confused ideas, but all in all the idea of going to Bombay lured him more. He goes to Mumbai on the day in which it was organized a demonstration by Adarkar. At the sight of the city, with its slender buildings, which are impressive in front of the vicious waves of the sea, he is overcome by a kind of awe.

With new smells and noises, and the traffic, Hari gets excited as well as scared. He had never seen a traffic light, or so many iridescent neon advertising signs that go on and off in green, blue and orange hues. Adarkar reiterates in his speech that the factory in Thul-Vaishet will emanate deadly chemical gases like dioxin, ammonia, and dust. It will contaminate a vast area in Bombay, which is already heavily industrialized, crowded and polluted.

Hari cannot find a job in Bombay. Thanks to the solidarity of the poor people, he starts working for a rupee a day. He also knows a kind and generous watchmaker, who will teach the basics to adjust the clocks, although in Thul no one owns a watch. Everyone regulated the time with the sun or the tides. At Thul, meanwhile, the dying mother is rescued by the De Silva family, who were on vacation. She is taken to the hospital, and for the father, they will attempt to detoxify him from alcohol.

Hari return to Thul, in whose mind are firm the watchmaker's words: The wheel never stops, learn, always learn, my boy, to grow and change. With a few rupees in his pocket, he comes back in time to celebrate Diwali with the family, the festival of lights, at the end of the monsoon.

The novel ends with the hope of a better life together in the village, although it is incumbent on the factory with its promises of work, but especially with the threat of a radical change.
One of the best experiences during our trip to Amritsar was our overnight stay in the Golden Temple. In this article, you will learn how to stay in the temple for free, what we learned from the Sikhs. And what fascinating encounters we had in Amritsar. Even before we saw the temple, the aura of the temple made itself felt. The pilgrims flock to the temple in masses. Some sing along the way.

Based on the fast food shops in this part of the city, we realized that we would soon enter a new world. McDonald's, Subway and Pizza Hut have branches selling only vegetarian food. With a bit of luck, you can move on your way to the temple. We walked several times to the Golden Temple. And on a Saturday evening at 6 o'clock we could watch the fireworks during Diwali. You can only enter barefoot inside!

We walk on and familiarize ourselves with the rules that everyone in the temple must follow. Shoes and socks are not allowed in the temple. There are several places where you can leave your shoes for free. Feet and hands must be also washed before entry. There are sinks and a foot basin in front of the entrance. Inside, the head must remain covered. You can buy headscarves from some retailers for 10 rupees, or you can borrow one for free at the entrance. This is then already worn.

The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is also prohibited in the temple complex. Before you enter the temple, it is best to stow your backpack in a luggage room (left in front of the main entrance). Once we had passed the main entrance, I was pretty startled. Although I have seen the image of the temple several times before, the sight fascinated me.

The Golden Temple is in the middle of a rectangular pool, called the Amrit Sarovar (Nectar Lake). From this lake derives the city name of Amritsar. The water of the nectar lake is also considered sacred to the Sikhs. It is why many pilgrims clean the water. The golden light of the temple reflects in the water. The Amrit Sarovar is also surrounded by a broad path on which the pilgrims walk in a clockwise direction. On the outside, there is a palace complex.

The Golden Temple in the middle of the Amrit Sarovar is the center of Sikhism. It is actually called Harmandir Sahib (also Hari Mandir). Sikhi is a philosophy that addresses all people and preaches the unity of everything. Everything is one because everything came from one source, the creator.

Sikhism started with Guru Nanak Devji, born in 1469. His parents were Hindus, but from the beginning, he rejected the rituals of Hinduism. He always spoke only of the one creator and his love for it. Sikhism preaches that all people carry the same light from a Creator. It rejects the caste system altogether. The four entrances to the Golden Temple welcome people from everywhere. The background, caste, wealth, gender, religion, does not matter.

The dissolution of the castes is also symbolized by the fact that all men have the same surname of Singh. All women have the surname Kaur (princess). These got introduced by the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The present guru of the Sikhs is the eternal guru in the form of the Shabd. It is also represented by the Granth. The Guru is thus called Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

The second time we rounded the Golden Temple, we went to the forecourt to relax a bit. Shortly thereafter, an old Sikh spoke to us. Finally, he invited us to a tour of the temple. Right at the beginning, he told us that all are same here regardless of age, nationality or religion. Who visits the temple together, gets treated like a brother or a sister.

First, he showed us a cooking place, where on a huge pot of vegetables get cooked on a fireplace. It can serve 2,000 people. Immediately afterward, we went to the dining hall. Here hundreds of pilgrims got served for free. Not only is the food free. The Sikhs offer free shuttle service between the temple and the train station. You can stay for free in the guesthouse. You do not have to pay anything to access any of the buildings including the Sikh Museum. That's what I call true hospitality!

After the dining room, we get to the roof. From here we could admire the temple complex from above. Besides, the proud Sikh told us about his culture and the history of the temple. Unfortunately, it was not always easy to follow the explanations. Still, we could take a lot.

After leaving the roof, we go to the places where the Chapati got prepared. There were two machines at one corner, each baking 5,000 chapattis an hour. On another side of the hall, several groups sat and made the bread by hand. We were also allowed to try it here, to roll out the chapatti dough.

In a neighboring room, we saw more gigantic cooking pots. Next, we see how people wash the cutlery and the thousands of plates. In a human chain the aluminum dishes get brought to the first cleaning station. From here, the plates go through the following process:

Throwing the leftovers into a large bucket. Plates get thrown backward, where the next Sikhs collect the plates in a huge container. Once the containers are full, the dishes get carried to a "car wash". Here there are several launderettes. Hundreds of pilgrims stand by these launderettes, washing the dishes. The dishes get carried from one wash to the next, so each plate gets cleaned several times. Towards the end, the dishes are getting cleaner and then it gets stacked.

We have already noticed that no employees do the work. But that the pilgrims themselves clean their plates. We also stood by the washbasins and washed the dishes. This did not affect my fascination for this parallel world. Every day about 80,000 people got fed for free, which works by pulling everyone together. Everyone helps with cutting vegetables, baking bread or washing dishes. This gave me a sense of community as if I was part of a huge family.

We come out to the Amrit Sarovar. The temple fills up more and more and more. Often we get interrupted by young pilgrims who wanted to take a picture with us. But that was not a problem for us. It was a lot of fun to chat with the Sikhs who explain the significance of the sanctuaries. The openness of the Sikhs is overwhelming.

We visit the Akal Takht (the seat of the temple administration). There we drink a glass of mango shake for refreshment. After the tour, we ate dinner and finally looked for a place to sleep. We walked along the Amrit Sarovar. Many pilgrims had already pitched their camp on the way. We found a small square on a pillar and lay down on the marble floor.

We had brought a sleeping bag so we could lie a little bit softer. So nobody stole anything, our backpack served as a pillow. Everywhere in the temple are warnings of pickpockets in the temple complex. If you also want to sleep right in the temple, you should secure your valuables as well as possible.

The night was relaxing. The floor is comfortable and we get awakened at 2:30 am because the temple is being cleaned. We found a new corner to sleep in. But at 4:45 am a security guard woke us up by beating the ground with his spear in front of our heads. Even if we were ready that was worth it. Even at night, the temple has a magical aura and we would not have seen it if we had stayed elsewhere. Around the clock, life in the Golden Temple is ticking. Even the kitchen is open 24 hours a day.

Only the Golden Temple on Amrit Sarovar gets closed for a few hours at night. Most travel guides say the temple remains closed from 10:00 pm to 04:00 in the morning. Since we tried to sleep, we do not know the opening times exactly. The mood in the evening and early in the morning was something I did not know until then and still can not put into words. In any case, I can only recommend everyone to spend the night in the Golden Temple.

Alternatives to the night in the temple

Our favorite for an overnight stay in Amritsar was to sleep right in the temple. If you do not want that, then, of course, there are two more convenient options:

Overnight at the guesthouse:

The temple administration has a guesthouse, where visitors can spend up to 3 days free of charge. There are private rooms and dormitories. The requirements you have to meet are low with no tobacco, no alcohol, or no sex. If you want to take advantage of the hospitality of the Sikhs, follow these simple conditions. After all, you will spend the night in sacred territory. If you do not want this, then please take the next option. There are accommodations located on the side of Bathing Ghats. A donation is also requested here.

Accommodations next to the Temple Complex:

On your way, to the temple, you will get approached by locals who want to sell you a room. Prices start at 350 rupees for a double room. Whatever accommodation option you choose, get up early before sunrise. From 5 o'clock you should be in the temple. The atmosphere is exciting even if you saw the sunset from the temple the night before.



Inside the Golden Temple of Amritsar

When I talked about the Golden Temple, I meant the whole building complex. In fact, the Golden Temple is only the building on the Amrit Sarovar, which is accessible via the bridge. We did not look at the sanctuary until the morning because we thought we would not have to queue that long. But there we were completely wrong. The queue in front of the Golden Temple is always long. We had to wait about two hours to get inside.

Inside, verses from the Adi Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs, get recited throughout the day. The vocals are also accompanied by musicians. The whole thing gets transmitted in the entire building complex. Now we could watch the ceremony live. But, the scramble was huge. I have to say that visiting the interior was the highlight for me. It was interesting how the priests leafed through the huge pages of the Holy Book.

When someone first told us that everyone in the temple is like a family, I thought that was an empty phrase. But meanwhile I realized how serious that was and feel very connected to the Sikhs. The Sikhs have shown me how open-minded you can be to strangers. I am grateful to them for this unforgettable time.

A week of vacation in the middle of the semester. What more could you ask to organize a trip a little more important than a simple weekend trip? The initial idea was to go to Sikkim, a mountainous region in northeastern India for the trek. We finally decided for the Singalila Ridge Trek from Sandakphu to Phalut from Darjeeling, to reach the highest peak of the surroundings (3600m).

So we decided to go to Darjeeling, at the gateway to Sikkim. It was the perfect opportunity to take a breath of fresh air and to have a little contact with the Himalayas.

We took the train to get to our destination. However, this time, the distance was really very important. So the trip lasted 12 hours! If it can be a little scary at first, the time finally passed very quickly, thanks to the people we met, with whom we play card games and chess. Add to this we read a bit, and at night it was quite chaotic and we do not sleep very well. We stay in bed a long time, to doze and here we are almost at our destination.

After coming out of the Howrah station we take a taxi to the heart of the city. We stroll in the streets of Calcutta impregnated with the crowd, the smells, and the horns. In the former capital of India at the time of the British, it seems that time has stopped. The frantic speed on the road contrasts with the slowness!

The visit to the Victoria Memorial and its park gives us a bit of calmness during the day. We are a bit hungry. So near the New Market, we eat a plate of mutton biryani. In the evening we go to the Sealdah station to take the night train to Darjeeling.


Day 1 - Darjeeling

The night journey goes well. We arrive the next day, not very fresh, in Siliguri where we take a taxi to reach Darjeeling. After 5 hours of the journey through the narrow hill roads along edges of the precipices, we arrive in Darjeeling. Fortunately, the view and the surroundings with the tea plantations allow us to enjoy the fresh air!

We go towards an agency in the Mall road to organize the trek. We opted for a five-day Sandakphu trek, to make the most of the mountain and the landscapes. The trek is through a national park that passes through Nepal.

Around late afternoon, we run through the steep streets of this colorful, bling-bling city for local tourists. We have to find a place to sleep that is not a luxury hotel at a staggering price, all before the night. Still, we end up finding, at the corner of an unlikely lane a small wooden guesthouse. Let's go. I sweat although it's cold.

The night has almost fallen. We have already asked the prices in a dozen places before we climb the floors of this one built on the flanks of the hill. An old lady welcomes us. There is a wary and benevolent smile at the same time. She takes us to a surreal bedroom with low ceilings, large windows, and a large bed surrounded by small statuettes of Buddha.

We do not care about the price, even if the lady tells us something that is finally in our budget, and we put our bags. We are at home. After a dinner of delicately scented rice with spices and a little dal, we soon fall asleep in our little nest of love.

Day 2 - Singalila National Park

We wake up in the morning to a pleasant view of the Kanchenjunga. We have a typical Western breakfast with toasts of big country bread, and a potato pancake drizzled with ketchup. I was about to finish my pancake when two girls come inside the restaurant, and rush to us. One of them ask us, you are going to Manebhanjan, right? It may be easier to get a jeep if there are more members.

She's right. Her charm takes over our body and prevents us from saying anything other than a "Yeah, perfect" with a little daze. It is almost obligatory to be dazed before such a perfect sequence of events. We are like cocks in legs as we focus a lot on the legs too, to prepare for the trek. We have all the information we need on the Singalila Ridge Trek.

So in the morning, we drop some of our stuff in the lounge. And so we set off towards the center of Darjeeling from where shared jeeps leave for Maneybhanjang, the starting city of the famous trek. After an hour of the journey through the hill roads, we pass through the border between Nepal and India.

On the way, we also pick up our guide. I like this kind of gift from the universe. I am with two girls who look cool and with a guide, what's better? Independent travelers at the base, the girls tell us that they like to travel solo. We do not have to worry, as we will not be on top of each other. We land on a small eatery in front of a house around 12:30 that serves tea and momo. I swallow a few quick and our jeep starts.

We go to the ticket office of Singalila National Park to buy the right to walk for days in the heart of a pool of rhododendrons and magnolias, century-old trees with colorful birds and wild red pandas. Now begins a gigantic lane of the concrete road. We are not happy to move on this kind of soil when the nature is so beautiful around. Four hours after our departure, we see a good half-dozen different landscapes.

We feel the chill as we climb higher. I already feel that this experience will be more complicated than I thought. I did not think much. I just decided to go. Arriving at the first village named Tumling, I feel tired. These are the beginnings of a great learning, but for now, part of me feels guilty about not being better. The sun goes down and the colors in Tumling, 3000m above sea level, is incredible.

From the pearly pink floating on a blue horizon, the silhouettes of the mountains stand out like a surrealist decor. The wind blows and at our feet, the valley is filled with rhododendrons in bloom, like explosions of bright red, and fuchsia pink. White points of magnolia highlight this hallucinating painting. This kind of show makes us forget the suffering of the climb, and to give them meaning. Be that as it may, an appeasement seizes me.

The guide tries to show us rooms in a lodge for the rich, but we flew away to look for a decent place. I always end up loving the places a little small because I know that it is in these that the real things happen. We end up finding a small dormitory. The bed is spacious and we are the only ones in the dormitory. I discover for the first time the joy of removing wet sweaty clothes from the day of the trek to change into layers of warm clothes. Removing the hiking shoes, especially are on the first trek is an indescribable sensation.

Around the table, while waiting for the food, none of us really speak. Fatigue takes us by surprise. It is 6:30 pm and if I was not so hungry, I would have gone to bed directly. The conversations go beyond the skills of my exhausted brain, and I let the words go over my head. I focus on my feet, which I massage. And then finally! The food is served to us. The blessing has never been so brief and intense.

The rice is served with a huge spoon and small potatoes fried in oil and coated with spices come to complement the whole. The yellow dal sprinkles the whole thing and spoons of pickles made of vegetables and mustard seeds fermented in vinegar come to decorate this dish already worthy of maharajas. The first bites fill me with flavors and a joy without a name. And as my stomach fills up, my brain goes out more and more.

After a big thank you to the cooks, and to our guide, we agree to put the alarm clock at 5 o'clock to admire the view. Soon we go up to collapse in our beds. With the cold, it's a miracle that I came out of the room to go and see the night sky full of stars and the milky way. It is 8:20 pm the last time someone mentions the time, and sleep wins us.

Day 3 - Tumling

When the alarms sound in the morning, the light is already in the dormitory, and my body is not really happy. It pulls from everywhere, and there is an unnameable chill as soon as I try to get out of my sleeping bag. Fortunately, I turn my head, and how beautiful this moment is. The cold no longer exists, the pain no longer exists, only there is the joy of waking up beside this formidable view of the landscapes.

So I go outside. It is 5am and the sun already bathes Tumling on all sides. The visibility is not great and is too bad for the view of Mount Everest, but there is a certain tranquility in the air. It is still early. The family that welcomed us last evening is still sleeping. The first teas and coffees come around 6.30am. At 7:30, we go inside and what a joy to discover a buffet of delicacies.

There are small Tibetan donuts called Kasai and Sha Phaley. They can be enjoyed with honey, jam or simply with the aloo dum, cooked in a thick spicy sauce. I do not know how much I'm going to need it. We raise the sails around 9am, and I tell myself that I will have to get a quintal of these donuts. The first part of the day is a gentle descent through light vegetation.

I don't really have another word to describe as it is green, but a little dry. I'm having a bad time with the girls between us. The condition of my feet is degrading every minute, and my psychological state is catastrophic. I tell myself that I am a big draw, that I am not worth a nail, that I am slow. Basically, I hate myself quietly during the first part of the day, and I feel it's necessary.

I am scared, as a kind of irrational fear takes over. My body tells me to move one step at a time because the mere prospect of having to walk for several more hours is killing me. I have enough energy to make the next step, and that's the only thing I know. So I look at my feet, walking alone in the back. There is physical pain, with a few tears of rage against myself for not being instantly the best in this sport that is trekking.

So I play a game to change energy, that works well. I feel that I walk a little faster. My feet make me suffer less and I do not think anymore at the end of the day. I take a sip of mango juice that I carry, all crowned with some almonds and grapes. I take off my shoes in an attempt to ease my suffering. After all, we still have 13 km of the difficult climb. I stick large anti-blister bandages that I cover with plaster to try to hold them.

At the foot of the arduous climb that awaits us, I try to debrief with my psychological state, which varies enormously and it is for the least tiring. When I look at the top of the mountain, I just want to curl up and wait for someone to pick me up. But when I look at my feet, one step at a time, and, surprisingly, I finally arrive at the top.

All this disturbs me. I feel my brain on full boil. At the same time, my body is forced to let go, because the alternative of letting go is not easy. I have to move forward, but I cannot move forward concentrating on the goal. So just one foot after another, and it will do it. I have no better words to express the flow of hormones that I receive in the face on the second day of trekking.

The girls are far ahead with the guide. We meet boys with horses, and we have the chance to see a wild red panda. And then at the turn of a cliff, we arrive in the village of Kalipokhri where our guide has already started to peel potatoes with an old Nepalese woman. Lunch is being prepared.

I take off my shoes, and seriously consider having him take a nap! My brain goes off until the food arrives. We throw ourselves like jackals on the whole. I have rarely been so hungry in my life. Once the bellies are full, it takes a little fifteen minutes to digest and it is time to go to the complicated stage to put the shoes back. The procedure becomes more and more simple for me.

I begin to understand that everything is learning on a trek and all the more so in life. The stretch that separates us from Sandakphu is about 7 km, which is not huge, but we get 600 meters in the mouth. Surprisingly the girls and I have the same pace all the afternoon. The guide is not far ahead and we walk in small villages with cute baby goats walking in the mountains shouting happily.

I see rhododendrons in bloom, with a mystical haze and climb not so difficult as that. Finally up to one point only. At some point, you just have to count your steps. For my part, I count to 9 and then I leave 0. The stairs are unnamed violence and when I step on the flat floor of Sandakphu, my feet are no more than a mountain of suffering. I am 3636 meters above sea level.

The guide who has now understood the kind of places where we want to sleep and the kind of prices we are ready to put, takes us to a little shack and opens the door to an absolutely delightful room. There is a gigantic bed that can easily hold four people and blankets everywhere. The strength that remains only allow me to change and snuggle into my sleeping bag on the bed.

After a few moments of rest, we join the family of our guesthouse who prepares a traditional Nepalese meal (which will be in passing one of the best we have eaten). The whole family is gathered in the small kitchen. We are offered the best seats near the fire whose flames lick the multiple pans used to prepare dinner and heat the water of the tea.

And as a bonus, we have the privilege to taste the Chang, the Tibetan craft beer made from millet and hot water. It is not bad at all and in any case, it fulfills its effect very quickly. We are quickly warmed and feel much better, as outside it's freezing! After dinner at 8:00 pm, all the lights are out. We tell the guide that we will only wake up if the sky is clear and the visibility excellent.

Sandakphu Trek images

Day 4 - Molley

In the early morning, it's the new view of the landscape that wakes me up. The visibility is not good, and our guide let us sleep as much as we want and it feels good. After a breakfast in bed composed of omelets, and toast, the guide makes us understand that we have to get out of bed now and keep walking. This third day of walking is the vaguest of all.

My feet, my whole body ended up surrendering, at the cost of my mental presence. I'm here without being there. I'm talking but nothing really goes in my brain and everything is hard. My legs are tired and, even if the path is relatively flat, the slightest climb is complicated. We watch the herds of horses pass us in front. The landscapes follow one another again without any logic.

The desert steppes with calcined trees give way to a green vegetation and all in bloom. When my feet cannot stand, I see our guide walking towards an eatery to stop for lunch. I am now on the ladder of joy. Except that two minutes later, he comes out of the eatery, to say there is no lunch. We break from here! We only have a little tea, and then we break.

It is time for me to change socks when our guide announces that we cannot go to Phalut that day because there are no rooms available in this place. So we have to stay in Molley. It is a little away from the trek but just 3 kilometers downhill. When we arrive in Molley, the girls are already settled on single beds planted in a small room with 4 beds. It is cozy, it is comfortable and, since it is only 2 pm, it's hot!

Lunch is prepared with love and we eat again like big eaters. It's always rice, potatoes, and dal, but it's always a treat. After a little ginger tea, our sleeping bags call us for a well-deserved nap. And what happiness to have the time to let oneself sleep in the middle of the afternoon. What happiness for my little body to have not had to walk the 20 km originally planned but only 14 km.

We learn to be content with the little room, a hot meal and a whole afternoon to doze. Molley, I love you. After a stroll in the sunset, we get back, to be wrapped in our sleeping bags. But the silence lasts a short time. My reward comes to me in the form of our guide who knocks on the door shouting to come for dinner. It is happiness, again and again.

Day 5 - Phalut

We rise at 5 am to see the sunrise, that is breathtaking even if the Himalaya remains in the clouds. Then the fog rises very quickly from the valley. So, we take advantage of the mild weather to go watch the sunrise on the Kanchendzonga. At Phalut, the time has nearly failed to play tricks. Indeed, at 5:30, the guide told us that there was fog and that we could sleep longer. But around 6:30, the fog had fallen back into the valley so we could enjoy the view.

We take our time. The bodies are rested, the spirits are calm, and everyone is ready for the 24 km that await us today. I spend the first part of the day, alone in the back, with the pleasure of hearing songs of Frank Sinatra and Moulin Rouge. It makes me feel good, and I have a lot of energy. This part of the day, although climbing steeply between the rhododendrons, goes at a crazy speed.

Before I could realize that I'm walking, I sit in the grass at Phalut. Our guide prepares tea that we drink while looking at the sight when the sounds of bells come. From the top of the summit, yaks come down at full speed. The day before, a yak festival was there in the steppes with calcined trees, and these must be expected. This does not prevent them from taking a short break to graze the particularly tender grass of the base of Singalila Peak.

This is the moment we choose to walk the kilometer and a half that separates us from the highest peak I have ever been able to climb. The moment is still surrealism, like most moments of my life. The yaks, the friends, and 3670m of altitude. A photo, smiles, and a break where everyone is isolated. The visibility is not excellent but it is a wonderful place to be with oneself. I saw my thing. It's perfect.

For now, it's to live alone. Dozens of kilometers to get here, and know that it's not an end in itself. Only after that moment, other kilometers await us. Since this morning, I've been singing songs on my mind. I am sitting on a rock at 3670 meters above sea level. I watch attentively the path of a tiny red spider wandering on the lichen and dry moss and I try to see things with its eyes, to feel through it. That's when I understand all that, each way makes sense. Wherever it wants to go, I will know how to love it.

The descent to Gorkhey is done in joy and lightness. Small hailstones fall on us in the early afternoon and as we lose altitude, turn into rain that was first light and then heavy. We go down the mountainside on a small enchanting path surrounded by bamboo trees and the land on which we walk gradually becomes muddy. I realize that I do not have waterproof pants. Because yes, at that moment, I already know that I am addicted to this activity.

The rain finally stops as we come out of the thick fir forest to come face to face with the land. I see simple terraced crops along the valley that goes down. There is a river running in torrents amidst all this and a hallucinating greenery after the rain. Clouds descend along the trees of staggering size. Paradise is at our feet. People did not lie. Gorkhey is not a place where you can spend only one night. Small families welcome us, and we find a pearl.

We find a room and the blankets for finally warmer temperatures. We lost 1300 meters of altitude in a few hours. Our knees are heavy and our clothes are soaked. We decided that evening to pay our guide for a day extra. It is unthinkable to leave this place the next morning. It was one of the best decisions of my life. The dinner that is served to us that night is one of the best things I have ever eaten.

There is rice, potatoes and cabbage leaves picked from the family's kitchen garden, all cooked with love. There is a dal to die for and papad, the thin crispy cakes of chickpeas with spices. The beds and the blankets are soft, and there is even a small shower. I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not in a dream. Geographically, this place is accessible only by hiking, as no road comes here.

Day 6 - Gorkhey

The awakening in this place is incredible. Blue landscapes, firs, comfortable beds and the certainty that we stay in the same place from morning to evening. I already know that this day will be great. The plants are all in bloom, and the colors are hallucinating. Orange flowers grow under our window, while violets dot the path to the river. A tea is served to us in bed by our smiling guide.

I go out to take pictures of the river from the bridge. As the road does not come up to Gorkhey, the village is almost entirely independent. Each family has goats to mow the grass from time to time and cows for milk and, consequently, butter. Roosters roar at any time of the day to whoever wants to hear it. Roosters wander among the potato plants, to eat the few worms that venture on the young pea shoots.

Some semi-wild cats play hide-and-seek between the green leaves of cabbages. The peas have clad their little white flowers that compliment the green of their stems so well. The cabbage preferred the yellow chick to be well seen and tiny blue flowers spread carpet at our feet with every step. Some horses wander around mountains, on the Sikkim side of the river and nonchalantly graze the wet and still wet grass of the day before.

I do not give myself much time to think. In the river, the water is icy that comes from the glaciers of the Himalayas. It is 10am, the sun is perfect, and the cold water stings my skin. The difference between the water and the air is such that I am instantly warm. I go back to our little room through a small wobbly bridge. The sun bathes the landscape as I wait for lunch.

Cats cohabit with chickens and I'm in love with this place. After the nap after lunch, I go for a walk at sunset. We decide to go for a drink in one of the guesthouses of the village. A group of locals will have the merit to introduce us to the Tongba. It smells of alcohol. I am curious and orders one of these things. In a small barrel-shaped container fermented millet is placed and a bamboo straw comes out.

Boiling water is brought separately and we are told to pour the water on the millet, let infuse for ten minutes and consume. This alcohol intrigues me, and there are aromas of the wine. The taste is just as much, but it's pleasant. The advantage of this alcohol is that it is sufficient to add boiling water, until exhaustion of taste. So to sum it up, it's the highest value alcohol in the world.

In the evening, at the table, we have our meal with rice, Dal and Aloo fries. I almost screamed when the guide put them on the table. So it's slightly pompous that we leave to join the arms of Morpheus under our blankets fleece. Gorkhey, you've sold us a dream again! The rain has started again, and it will not really stop during the night.

Day 7 - Rimbik

When we woke up the rain subsided. A dazzling sun awakens us as if to say, hey guys, today is a perfect day to walk. We agree enough and happily pack our bags while waiting for our breakfast. We take our time to drink our digestive Darjeeling tea. Life is Sweet. We leave after a breakfast of Tibetan rolls, chapati, omelet and aloo dum.

I feel happy to put on my shoes again and walk a little. And damn, I'm right. The landscapes are just crazy with rainforest across a big river, sheltering the red panda and leopard. There are gigantic bamboo trees, and hemp growing in the wild. Well, of course, the only thing that happened to happen is a nice little black tea in the town of Ramam.

And the descent begins through terraced crops of potatoes and peas. Here the peas are almost mature so we pick a pod to taste. It is good, sweet, tasty and organic. The spectacle of the descent is magical. There are dozens of small villages spread out at different altitudes. The colors of the roofs are complimented by the sun that illuminates the valley with all its power.

It is 1:30 pm when we arrive at the edge of the river, in the village of Srikhola where a Nepalese grandma prepares us a feast in less than half an hour. We are guzzling like hungry children. After the meal, we decide to go to the last point of the trek: Rimbik. We follow the winding road and at the end of an hour and a quarter, we arrive at the lodge, a little before the town of Rimbik.

The place seems to be much more imposing than all the little cute villages we've come across so far. We are too tired to immerse ourselves in the city, so we put our bags in the small dormitory of this beautiful guesthouse again where we are alone.

It is 4:30 pm. I fall on one of the single beds whose mattress is firm. And I start to realize that I have done 90km spread over 5 days of walking. I'm going to take a hot shower. And it's complicated not to have once again tears in the eyes before so much happiness. The shower is wonderful even if the pressure of the water jet is nonexistent.

We arrive in the dining room where the Tongbas are served. I cover the millet of boiling water, and we chained the parts of gin rummy by exchanging on the beauty of our situation. The meal is fantastic and the night sky is just as much.

Day 8 - The End

It is 6.30 am sharp when the jeep driver honks in front of the guesthouse. We jump back by thanking one last time the pretty lady of the guesthouse. The journey will be exhausting. We have 5 hours of winding mountain roads behind a crowded jeep. As we enter Darjeeling, we get back to the tiring civilization! After a meal of potato pancake, we walk painfully back to our small haven of peace. Our room is still intact. From Darjeeling, we go directly to Kalimpong. The town is more typical and quiet, and our goal is to recover!

As I said above, it's complicated to compile everything I've learned about this trek. After five days of a first trek, all these answers are worth in my head. But I think the most important thing is this. The reason I like trekking is precisely because there is absolutely no reason.

The journey to Varanasi is the pilgrimage everyone wants to have undertaken in their lives. The significance of the city is comparable with the Meccas for the Muslims and Jerusalem for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Some call the city as Banaras. The name Benares was in use at the time of the British rule and is still very common.

Other names are listed in the Mahabharata. The most appealing to me is Anandvan, the forest of bliss. Varanasi is considered one of the longest populated cities in the world. I thought about what was going to happen. Twice I had decided against the trip to Varanasi because I did not feel strong enough for the city and the confrontation with death.

Day 1

When I reached Varanasi from Haridwar on the night train in the evening, my expectations about the city seemed to be fulfilled. There is probably no city in India with so many stories. On the other hand, I had repeatedly met travelers who had already visited Varanasi.

I had decided to get to the old town in a rickshaw, and then hit through to a hotel and beat all the smugglers. But when I walked a little bit down the railroad track and tried to prepare myself for what was to come, a rickshaw driver spoke to me. Without pledging, I followed him outside. There, the familiar picture of big Indian cities awaited me with too much of everything. There is modernization without plan, and a gray, leaden city that grew too fast.

The rickshaw driver was a bit suspicious, but finally I agreed to look at a hotel. I did not want to fight. I just wanted to go to the Ghats, find a nice hotel, explore Varanasi and move on soon. The fellow passenger was a sadhu with a large pigmentation on his face who did not consider it necessary to greet me.

A short time later we stopped, so that the two of them could take a fresh load of pan to their heart's content. The driver asked me to give money to the sadhu because he is holy man! Of course I gave him nothing, but I already regretted sitting in this rickshaw. Also the monotony of the infinite markets along the road, did not increase my well-being.

Finally we drove through a series of very narrow streets. And now the choice of the rickshaw driver and the hotel proved contrary to expectations as a real stroke of luck. Although there are certainly beautiful viewpoints on the Ghats the view from the roof was nice, but not breathtaking. The hotel only score with its very nice staff.

Dev Diwali Varanasi

Day 2

It was a surprise that in Varanasi two weeks after Diwali there is another festival for the full moon on kartik purnima which is only celebrated here. It is the Dev Diwali. It was a stroke of luck that I experienced this festival here. Before dawn I went to the ghats and went on a boating trip. It was the first time I could see the ghats from this perspective.

The time had come to go out and take a picture of the ghats. It was very different from my ideas. I assumed that the cremation sites on the Ganges would dominate but that's not the case. There are significantly more bathing ghats in which pilgrims take a bath in the ganges to clean their sins and pray to the goddess. I see garlands and floating candles.

Countless boats set off for rides across the river. Sadhus are particularly attracted to the ghats. Magnificent merchant houses, villas and temples from the 18th and 19th centuries dominate the promenade and bear witness to another age. There are only two incinerators in the city. The Harishchandra Ghat and the much larger and more significant the Manikarnika Ghat.

As I walked along the ghats, I was constantly being offered hashish by shady, sometimes sinister figures but not only that. The palette ranged from fake LSD, mescaline, opium and cocaine to morphine derivatives, and the sleeping drug ketamine. I didn't mean to imagine what would happen to be under the influence of ketamine on the cremation sites. For psychedelics that was certainly not the place to be to say the least.

I arrived at the Manikarnika Ghat, the most important cremation site. Especially the dilapidated houses directly above create a ghostly atmosphere. Flocks of bats had settled there. They flew incessantly through the glassless windows and their sight intensified the morbid impression. Below it, the fires burned for the dead. Every devout wants to be burned here as this place promises salvation from the cycle of rebirths, moksha, the equivalent of nirvana.

An intrusive man began a litany about the ghat rituals. His remarks were quite interesting. I listened to him for some time, even if that was not easy, because he spoke very unclearly and had clearly consumed huge amounts of hashish. In addition, I already knew what would follow. The whole thing goes like this. Already, when I approach the ghat, I am involved in an innocuous conversation. After listening to his monotonous descriptions, I asked him to hold his breath, because I wanted to look at the place in peace.

After watching the action from a distance some time, I went to a balcony from which I can look directly at the fire. From there, I could watch the relatives carry their deceased on a bamboo stretcher to the river. The hair is shaved by many relatives as a sign of grief. The corpse is wrapped in glittering silk scarves.

With the water of the sacred river a final ablution is performed. The eldest son circled the corpse one last time and set fire to it. It takes two to three hours for the fire to take away the body. Only hip and pelvic bones remain. They are handed over to the Ganges. At one point the relatives turn away to give the soul the opportunity to obtain moksha.

It was impossible for me to read emotions out of my face. There I stood, crowded on the balcony. The Sadhus smoked hashish through the chillum. The heat was clearly noticeable, and it was easy to perceive the smell of burning. The charcoal fires would blow all night. The higher the caste of the deceased, the closer to the river the body is burned.

Most, however, are burned on the terrace, which is also used when the Ganges during the monsoon get partially flooded. Over time, my senses became more open to life in this place. The sight of kids, cows, and water buffaloes, making their way through the unreal scenery and climbing over the sandalwood mountains that stood by, was a great contrast.

They seemed to take no notice of the morbidity of this place. The fire created a similar trance-like effect as looking into a simple campfire. The floating candles on the river bore witness to life. I too was particularly aware of my liveliness in this place. The feeling was similar when visiting a cemetery, even if the impressions here were much more intense.

But there was automatically a special mindfulness. It was a place that radiated great dignity. Perhaps all the thoughts I had about the encounter with death in Varanasi were worse than what I found. Maybe these thoughts had prepared me for that, too. In any case, I feel relieved. It touches me, but it does not scare me.

But I cannot interpret my own feelings completely. There was a deep feeling buried deep inside me. I could not decide which shape had that feeling. After spending an hour there, it became a bit clearer. The long break of a really intense conversation and the profound experience at Manikarnika Ghat made sure that the encounter was special from the beginning.

Then we went to the winding streets of the old town. Anyone who does not get lost here has not really ventured out. There is something new to discover on every corner, and the narrow streets seem to be medieval. In India, the different epochs exist side by side. By sunrise, the ghats were lined with thousands of pilgrims bathing in the Ganges.

Even more impressive was the return in the evening to the ghats, whose steps had been given a fresh coat of paint in the last few days and were already threatening to burst at the seams. We took another boat trip. I forgot my camera and that was good. The danger is always that I take too many pictures and forget to look around.

And what I had was the highlight in Varanasi. The ghats were illuminated by thousands of candles. From the outside, the crowd seemed to follow a certain order. After a selfless prayer both to those I loved and those I did not know, I float a floating candle in the Ganges. I was one with my surroundings. Nothing separate me more. I was moved. It did not need words to know that.

The sense of an ordered crowd disappeared the moment I mingled with the people. I get up to the Main Ghat. The atmosphere was incredibly intense and made me shine as well. But there was a challenge to get through the crowds and huge firecrackers exploded around us. Rockets rose in the sky.

I felt light, free and happy. My voice had the gentle sound of deep inner peace, and my movements were supple. I had found my peace. It was the right time to come. I was really ready! Varanasi will stay in my heart and I will return.

I like traveling by train as we cross areas that we would never have seen otherwise, and adds a certain charm. We have the feeling to leave far from home, to swallow the miles and at the same time, I have to have the luxury of time! I loaded the Kolkata map on my smartphone. We arrived at 10 in the morning at the famous Howrah station.

As soon as I get off the train, the feeling of overwhelm returns to my body. As the guide had already mentioned, just after leaving the station we found the prepaid taxis. So the first thing we do is stop in a long queue, which in the end was not so much. In 15 minutes we request our taxi to the backpacking neighborhood of Calcutta at Sudder Street and its surroundings.

Our welcome to Calcutta could not be better. We were surprised by the monsoon as soon as we got off the taxi that left us in front of the hotel that was recommended in our Lonely Planet guide, which becomes our bible during a trip. So, we got into the first hotel.

We waited for it to stop raining to go out in search of more and we ended up in a room but the state was not at all comparable with its price. I do not remember the name but it was parallel to sudder street and on the way to the New Market of Calcutta.

We just leave the bags and taking into account that the room did not invite much to rest, we went to the Kalighat temple. The Kali temple is located to the south of the city and to arrive the first thing we did was to go in search of the metro.

After finding it we went to the stop we had been told and from there, we found the famous temple of Kali, the goddess of destruction. We had been told that in the early morning a animal sacrifice was carried out to offer their blood to the goddess. Kali is portrayed furious, black-skinned, tongue-tied, and adorned with a necklace of human skulls. The soil is greasy, and the atmosphere is frenetic and here in West Bengal the red hibiscus replace the orange carnations!

After visiting the temple of Kali, we walk around the neighborhood, visiting shops and markets. In this area we can see stalls with lights, fireworks and firecrackers as today it is Kali Puja and Diwali is also celebrated. The sky of Calcutta is also charged because it mixes with birds, kites and planes that cross in a fog of pollution or between the tears of the rain. The sky is crying sometimes, here more than elsewhere.

The afternoon was spent visiting the westernmost area, with the Victoria Memorial, a huge historic building in white marble, recalling our visit to the Taj Mahal in the most western style. It was erected to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria. Around the monument we walk through beautiful parks and gardens, and go in search of other buildings that remind us that the English were there, like St Paul's Cathedral.

We leave this neighborhood to go to the Indian Coffee House, near the University of Calcutta, a landmark of intellectual and Bengali scholars, who spend their evening philosophizing. I have chicken sandwich and coffee. After vainly looking for a topic of conversation, we disembark to land in a bar! I do not know which is better between the two.

The city of joy today is a city teeming with people and deafening noise of firecrackers. But at nightfall all fades and becomes bright. For the Kali Puja hundreds of temples dedicated to this deity flood the city, squares, courtyards, the interior of houses, accompanied by candles by the thousands, lights, music, songs and prayers. Everyone is then united by this enchanting fervor.

After finishing the day and tired of the trip and so much walking, we went to take a good shower and a good dinner. We enjoyed some great chicken skewers at the end of Sudder Street, although I notice that they sting a lot!

Celebrating Kali Puja in Calcutta

Today is clear and the mountains look perfect, but from where we are there is not a good view. We climbed to the roof of the hotel and got to see something. Not the full view, but the individual peaks. Still, with that we content ourselves. We prefer to stay with the good side of this bad luck that we have had and it could have been worse: we could not have had today or the day clear.

Our bus departs at 7:30 and we have to go to the station, which is 20 minutes away. It is not the station that we arrived at. It is another one that they call tourist station and that is in the direction of Davis Falls. Ironies of fate, from there we can see the peaks perfectly. In the end, we leave with a good taste in the mouth.

The station from which the tour buses depart to Kathmandu is not the same as the one they arrive at. We ask about the tourist station. This time we travel in buses that are slightly better than the other day and the price is the same. Also, they give us a bottle of water, so we were so happy.

All in all, the route gives for what it gives. The roads are bad and full of potholes, so we go all the way stumbling. We stopped to eat halfway in a roadside bar, where we had a chowmein. In total, they make three stops, one hour between the three. We arrived at 16:30 to Kathmandu (9 hours to travel 200 km).

We go to the hotel that we booked the last day here. The receptionist, who is not the same as before. To our surprise, the room is much better than the one we were shown the other day. It is much larger and with air conditioning.

After leaving the luggage we went for a walk and we found a kind of Diwali procession. There are many people, all with typical Nepalese costumes, accompanied by drums and songs. They carry candles in their hands. It is amazing. They occupy practically all the center of the city. Although the strangest thing of all is possibly that they have not cut the traffic and the motorcycles continue colluding between the people in spite of the agglomeration that there is.

The festival of Diwali in Nepal is also known by Tihar. It is the festival of light. The girls represent the goddess Taleju, the same ones who believe that she occupies the body of the Kumari. We left a bit of Thamel for dinner. We have fried rice and aloo paratha.

The city is still very lively and full of people. It is also very bright, something that contrasts greatly with the Kathmandu we found on our arrival. It seems another place. We think that even there are fewer cars than usual and everything is cleaner. Possibly because, we see, people are cleaning the closures and windows of their stores. Then we learn that everything is part of the Diwali.

Diwali Tihar in Kathmandu in Nepal

Day 2

We have breakfast near hotel with masala chai and some rolls. The masala chai is great. They have it everywhere and we have become very fond of it. Normally they have two options of black tea or milk tea. The first is alone, with sugar. The second, same but with milk. I prefer the second, but the truth is that both are very good.

We go to Ratna Park, which is the place from which buses leave for Bhaktapur. It is not very complicated to find the right bus. We just have to ask and they immediately lead us in the right direction. The bus takes about 40 minutes to arrive and, curiously, we are the only tourists inside.

When we arrived in Bhaktapur we paid the entry fee for entering the city's surroundings. It seems an exaggeration, given the standard of living here, and we know that many tourists sneak in, but we do not think it is ethical to do the same. When we have been inside for a while, we are happy with our decision.

The place was badly damaged by the earthquake (although they have already begun to rebuild it and there are still quite a few standing). With that, if our money helps to rebuild the country, we are happy with it. We believe that it is necessary to be a little consistent in life.

It's funny because here, something that did not happen in the most rural areas of Nepal, children ask for money or candy in exchange for a photo. Obviously we refuse because we do not want to encourage that way of life.

We tried the famous juju dahu, typical here or, as they advertise, the king curd. It is a yogurt somewhat thicker than usual, similar to Greek labneh, but with a slightly citrusy flavor. It is very good. They serve it in a clay bowl that we can keep. Some people give it in a plastic container.

At noon, we take the bus back to Kathmandu and from there we link with the one that takes us to Boudhanath. Boudhanath is the Buddhist district of Kathmandu and has one of the largest spherical stupas in Nepal. It is amazing this place. It has a mystical air that, despite the amount of people there are, invites reflection.

In the vicinity of the stupa Buddhist monks and people pass by giving alms in a row (we understand that for some religious reason). There are even vendors who have bundles of small bills to give change. We go to eat at a place that comes out of an alley of the stupa. We tried the tingmo, a Tibetan bread and shabalay that come to be like momos but with another dough.

After lunch we visited the Peace Park relatively clean to be in Nepal. That's something that even surprises us. They also never have paper and rarely have soap. We return to Kathmandu. All the doors of the shops are decorated with rangoli, candles and, in some, food or flowers as an offering. In many they are still finishing making the rangolis and it seems a most laborious work. Some are really complex and beautiful. The city is amazing.

We go to dine with a girl whom we have met on Instagram and who, coincidentally, lives in our same street. We go around the city seeing the decorations of the shops before deciding on a Tibetan restaurant. We have not had much choice because we have been late and many shops have already closed. We dined with some momos and a bread with vegetables on top that is possibly the hottest we have tasted to date.

When we go out we wander a bit looking for a place to have a drink, but everything seems too oriented to tourists. I do not know how, we ended up in an alley after hearing typical music. It turns out to be a kind of private party, in the middle of the street, with people gambling, dancing and drinking. Then they offer us something to drink and they encourage us to dance with them.

It is something very curious because, from time to time, some of them throw money in a place that they have enabled for it. Everyone applauds and cheers. They also have a kind of song that they sing to encourage the one who is going to throw the money. They immediately include us in the group and even teach us to dance, although we are not given too well.

We contribute to the party, which we do not really know what it is for, but we think it's theirs since they have offered us to drink and they have accepted us as if we were one more. We had a good time with them and we said goodbye with great sorrow but with the feeling that our last night in Nepal has been perfect.

Another year passes. Before the winter arrives, I often travel to the mountains for 1 or 2 days. Last year, I was in Khajuraho during Diwali. This year I was in Kathmandu in Nepal. A fortnight after Bada Dashain, the Nepalese celebrate another festival of Deepawali, known here as Tihar in nepali. Second most important event of the Hindu year after Dashain, it is celebrated for 5 days throughout the country and beyond. It is especially the profusion of lights, all the houses being illuminated that makes the event so spectacular.

The Kathmandu valley is mostly populated by the Newaris, with very special rites and customs like worshipping the living goddess and many others. And Newari New Year is the fourth day of Deepawali and finish with the ceremony of Bhai Dooj in the fifth day in Nepal. The rainy season is over and the winter lets glimpse its first frost.

Kathmandu is an overcrowded city, and it feels like Mumbai and I think it's worse. In Mumbai, rickshaws are banned, but in Kathmandu, there are only rickshaws. I reach Durbar Square at 7 am. Durbar Square is always a delight. Swarming with people all the time, it is a central place for festivals.

The royal city attracts and brings together all that can be seen surprisingly. It is the full tourist season and the tourists are all over. Urban chameleons, and fugitive shadows that blend into the landscape, pass quickly. Time flies, and festivals too. As in India, religious life is a pillar of the social order.

In the first day, a big ceremony takes place in Basantapur. While I sit in a cafe, I see a demonstration goes on the street with chants and drums. Women dance in the middle of the crowd. Red is the favorite color of women. There is of course the religious reason, but it associates so well with their complexion that I discern also a small part of coquetry.

Nepali, women as men and especially teenagers like to give themselves a style, to make a look. It goes from polo pants to the after-punk but it's done with taste. And the girls, it would be rather the Chinese mid-morning trip. They are small models, it suits them!

In the second day is Kukur Tihar, the day dedicated to dogs. The dogs are the guardians of the kingdom of Ramaraj. After having blessed them, people have them a delicious meal and we also participate in it. From chin-chin to his mummy to the dirty dog ​​of the street, all are entitled to preferential treatment. The creatures are daubed in red paste and powder and adorned with necklaces of flowers. In Nepali mythology, it is also a dog that crosses the river beyond.

I found one down the hotel, who followed me to my room and I let it in. The good dog stuck to me, lying on my feet or move around. I did not have the heart to put it out and it slept at the foot of the bed, in the most discreet way possible.

The third day is the day of the cows but also and especially the day of the celebration of Laxmi, the day of Laxmi Pooja. Laxmi is the goddess of possessions and prosperity. She is much loved. This day is the craziest. The goal is to attract Laxmi to every house with light, songs, dances, decorations and simple tricks.

The girls dance in front of the shops to attract luck. In front of each door, the most artistic lady in the family draws a beautiful rangoli. It is is made of a mixture of cow dung, dye and spices, then decorated with flowers, leading to every important place of the house, especially the family temple. A multitude of oil lamps also indicate the way. Each one expresses her artistic talents with a real motivation.

Bhai Dooj

An unknown game! This man explains the rules to me. In the center, there are 3 dice that have a stick shape and are rolled on the big red carpet. One of the many activities taking place in the innumerable inner courtyards of the city. Each is a small shelter, a haven of peace away from the bustle of the street. There are still religious monuments, statues of gods touched 1000 times a day by believers in search of better days.

The fourth day is the day of bulls and oxen working all year to help humans. Today they are venerated and spoiled like other days dedicated to animals. The party is in full swing especially in the street with carts on vehicles or on foot, singing and playing music. It's a real madness, a cacophony of noise, smiles and joy. The exhilarating crowd bath these animals with love! The event is nevertheless also dedicated to death!

The final day is the Bhai Tika. That day, brothers who have a sister go to her house. They offer gifts, sweets and dried fruits. And the sisters draw the most beautiful tika I've ever seen made up of 7 vertical colors.

On their side, the brothers bring clothing and jewels. It is a day that strengthens fraternities and one of the rare days where the oldest can honor the youngest. And I live completely with locals. With the nepalis I merge in the mass. I have lots of friends and really lead a neighborhood life.

I fell in love with Kathmandu, although it is a polluted city, and it lacks greenery and then the sea of people, too. But I do not think there is another capital so balanced, where no one runs. The pace is slow, with a city on a scale of human time.

Although overcrowded but everything slips, and things are done smoothly, always with a smile. I decided to climb one of the peaks from where we can see Everest. Nepalese people like to smoke cigarettes and do not hide them. They often hold them wedged at the base of the fingers and suck through the hollow of their closed hand. We feed on dry food with puffed rice, grilled chickpeas, and raw Chinese noodles.

I then come back in India. It is Diwali that marks the arrival of the winter. The sun shines every day and we reach without problem!

The Chhath Puja celebrated in Bihar is an Indian festival dedicated to the Sun God. Chhathi Maiya is the wife of Surya. Some scholars suggest that she was only her lover, while others claim she was his wife. Chat Puja, also symbolizes the harvest festival. On this day families come to water bodies and offer fruits, sugarcane and other delicacies to the sun god.

In the different regions, the festival has different names and customs. Makar Sankranti is one of the few festivals, which is not directed to the moon, but to the course of the sun. Sankranti has a special religious significance for the great ancient Vedic deity Surya.

The winter is over and the new planting and harvesting season begins. West Bengal celebrates the Ganga Sagar Mela. Thousands gather on this day on the banks of the Ganges near Calcutta and pay homage to Surya at sunrise. The pilgrims put leaf boats with lights on the water and let them slide down the aisle. Kumbh Mela takes place every 12 years.

In Punjab, the festival is Lohri. Here, families and friends gather together, throwing rice and sweets into the flames. It is a sacrifice to Agni, the god of fire. Almost everywhere there are colorful markets. Children go from house to house and sing Lohri folk songs.

Makar Sankranti is also especially evident in Maharashtra. In every house, the women prepare tilgud, sweets from the sugar of the fresh cane, mixed with sesame seeds. They give the sweets to neighbors and friends.

In South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, Pongal lasts three to four days. On the first day, people burn old clothes, as well as other old things for the new beginning, or throws them away. On Vakeesan Pongal, women cook the typical dish called Pongal in the morning. It consists of rice with fresh milk and syrup from the palm sugar of the new crop. The mash is usually cooked in the yard or in front of the house.

In front of the doors are colorful pictures, so-called Rangoli. Later people visit relatives and friends with different sweets and exchange greetings. This day is the most important of the Pongal festival. On the third day of Mattu Pongal, cows and buffaloes get thanked for their services. The animals get washed and adorned.

In some areas of Tamil Nadu, there is also a competition of the Jallikattu. It is also known as Manju Virattu. Young men have to tame a wild alcoholic bull with bare hands.

The prehistoric ritual was a vigil celebrated from dusk till dawn on the longest night of the year. It was again celebrated during the summer solstice on the longest day of the year. In pagan myths, the festival symbolized the new year as the sun begins its ascent. Other traditions celebrate the birth of the sun god.

Ancient ceremonies of fertility and sun worship were common in many cultures. Sumerians, Mesopotamians, Babylonians, and all others connected the sun with rebirth and renewal.

People continued worship throughout history, with beliefs that have arisen around this worship. The worship of the sun originated the henotheism and monotheism. Dazhbog represented the fire of the sky and got associated with the Sun. Svarog forged the Sun and had given it to his son Dazhbog to take it across the sky. It is probable that Svarog got worshiped as a supreme god in times long before.

A first variant included Swarg, Varun, and Surya. Later, they got replaced. Sol Invictus got celebrated in allusion to the rebirth of the sun. The feast of Brumalia was a feast dedicated to the Sun, held at the winter solstice.



Sun worship was present in an infinity of cultures. The Gods or messiahs were allegories to the sun, that is, they were the personified sun. Examples are Horus, Apollo, Tammuz, Mithra, Helios and many other divinities. But why so many similar festivities at the same dates?

Sun appears every morning, giving light, warmth, and security. Thanks to him crops could thrive, providing food to humans and animals in general. That is why from early mankind, engravings and sun worship follow each other around the globe. There are still questions in the air, why are these divinities so similar? Why they are born of a virgin mother?

Sun was the father of the stars of heaven because he is greater and more visible to any of them.

In Greek culture, the Sun God got personified in Helios. A sun chariot is a mythological representation of the sunshine. The Proto-Indo-European religion has a solar chariot. The concept is more recent than the solar boat and the Indo-European invention of the wagon.

The sun itself get portrayed as a wheel by the proto Indo-Europeans. Generally speaking, the sun is masculine and active. Some nomadic people of Central Asia, consider the feminine principle.

Mythologists argue that sun god as female is more common than the male counterparts. In Germanic mythology, the Sun is female and the moon is male.

Sun is a symbol ubiquitous in men, which holds a dominant position in every culture. The theme of the solar myth enjoyed its greatest popularity. It became common to see in any legendary character with a representation of the sun.

The rituals of the Chhath Puja are rigorous and get observed for a period of four days. They include sacred bath, fasting, and abstinence from drinking water. People stand in water for long periods of time during sunrise and sunset for prayers and rites.

The Chhath puja gets also celebrated a few days after the festival of Holi. This event is Chaiti Chhath, but the one celebrated in winter is much more popular.

During this period, devotees sleep on the floor. This is a festival which does not need any priest. On the first day of the rituals, devotees take some water to their homes and prepare the offerings. The house and the surroundings get cleaned. Women continue the vrata, which allows them to take only one meal during the day.

On the second day of the rituals, devotees fast throughout the day and can eat soon after sunset. Offerings like Kheer, puris, and bananas get distributed among relatives and friends. Devotees fast without water for 36 hours after the sunset of the second day.

Sandhya Arghya gets dedicated to the preparation of the offerings at home. Families go to the banks of the river to make their offerings during the sunset. It is during this phase of the rituals devotees offer prayers right at the time of the sunset. This is a very colorful moment. Besides, the religious devotees are friends, family members, and participants. Popular songs are also sung during the nights of Chhath.

On the last day of the ritual, devotees go to the river bank before dawn to make their offerings to the rising sun. The festival ends with the breaking of the fast by devotees. Family and friends gather in homes to enjoy the food served as an offering in this festival.

Most devotees who follow this festival are usually women. Although there are a large number of men who also follows. The women pray for the welfare of her family and for the prosperity of their descendants. The rituals get performed every year. One can skip that tradition if there has been a death in the family that year.

In the offerings or prasad, usually, they include sweets, or fruit, among others. The food is vegetarian and cooked without salt, onion or garlic.

Women prepare and offer special sweets called thakua. This celebration is important in places like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. It is generally held in all regions and in major urban centers in India.

We take the bus to Udaipur. The city is buzzing as Diwali approaches. Yesterday Dhanteras was celebrated and tomorrow is Diwali, which everyone has been preparing for a week all over India. All the inhabitants clean, repaint the shop fronts and sidewalks in brown. And they draw white oil lamps, symbol of the festival of lights. We spend the afternoon at the edge of the artificial lake in the center of which is the lake palace where was shot Octopussy with Roger Moore.

The water level is low but enough to make it pretty. We walk along the edge of the water along the ghats. Women bathe there, while others do laundry. There are small temples all over the city, including the lake. At the end of a small street that smells bad, we see a beautiful view of the Lake Palace. I walk alone in the neighborhood. In the Gangaur Ghat is the Bagore Ki Haveli, at the edge of the water.

After renovation, it has been transformed into a museum. On the occasion of Diwali, mandalas in colored sands were made on the floor of the courtyards. Several of the rooms are visitable and retrace through the furniture and objects, the life of the haveli. I see a kitchen, bedroom, dresses, and board games. There are also costumes, headdresses and turbans and the biggest turban in the world.

I go back to the neighborhood of Lal Ghat and visit the Jagdish Mandir. This temple is dedicated to Vishnu and a black stone statue represents him. I reach by climbing a staircase at the top of which are large statues of elephants. Small temples are located in the corners of the square. A small sanctuary houses a copper statue of Garuda.

The main temple is decorated with sumptuous bas-reliefs of dragons, elephants, horses, dancers and even characters from the Kama Sutra in the corners. The craft shops are grouped by district. Among the specialties of Udaipur, there are very fine paintings called miniatures. It is in this neighborhood that we stay.

I take the opportunity to go to a workshop. The teacher explains the various stages of making a doll. The paintings are traditionally based on semi-precious stones. And he says about the symbolism of animals. The peacock is the queen of birds. The elephant represents luck and the city of Jaipur. The horse represents power and the city of Udaipur. The camel represents love and the city of Jaisalmer.

In the evening, I meet my friends on the terrace of our Guest House. We have a nice view of the lake but not the palace. We take a few steps outside, cross the pedestrian bridge where a charming restaurant welcome us. To console us we look at the good old James Bond movie, Octopussy during the meal. It must be at least 20 years that it is projected every night to the terraces of restaurants in the city.

Trip to Udaipur during Diwali

Day 2

We spend the morning visiting the City Palace. This imposing palace, adorned with balconies, towers and cupolas, overlooks the lake. At 244 m long, it is the largest palace in Rajasthan, but it was built in stages. Every maharaja added a piece. We enter through the Tripolia gate.

In the first yard, elephants used to play tug-of-war with their trunks. There are also constructions for the rest of elephants (sort of bed), and platforms to climb on their backs. The Mor Chowk contains mosaics of glasses and mirrors in relief, representing majestic peacocks. The Krishna Vilas contains a collection of miniatures. It has been planted real trees in a central garden (Bari Mahal) because it rests not on a lower floor, but directly on the hill.

The afternoon of Dhanteras looks very festive. We go in an autorickshaw to travel 3 km north of the city, to the craft village of Shilpgram. On the way we go along the second artificial lake of Fateh Sagar. It is partly dry, and is surrounded by hills. Shilpgram was created by the government, to show a glimpse of the craft and folklore of the country. There are reproductions of traditional houses of Rajasthan, Goa, and Gujarat.

There are performances of dance and music in costumes, a magician. But, maybe because of Diwali, the village is half empty, and it's disappointing. Back in Udaipur, I go alone in town shopping for Mojari, the leather slippers covered with pearls, with round or pointed ends. I head to the shoe-seller district. Seeing me look at my plan, a charming, elegant young man asks me what I'm looking for.

He offers me to get on his bike, and to accompany me. I accept his proposal. We go to some shops but I do not find my happiness. Either there is no size, or they are badly finished. The guy tells me he is an arts student and offers me to go to drink a chai. I naively imagine that it is in all good honor but I decline the offer anyway, because I'm a little suspicious.

I have an appointment at the boat landing to take a boat trip on Lake Pichola. The guy does not insist too much. He says he can escort me. I told him that I can continue on foot because I'm in a hurry. And there as not enchantment, his bike restarts. We left on a busy axis, but in the opposite direction of the lake.

I tell him we are not going to the right place. He invite me to drink tea, at home this time. I tell him that I do not want to miss the boat, and that the others are waiting for me and I'm the one with the tickets. If he does not want to take me right away, I'll manage without him.

Finally he accompanies me, continuing to ask me many questions, what I think of him, if I agree to see him after the boat. I tell him he's nice and that if he wants, he can join us for the meal. But I do not think that's what he expected and we will not see him again.

We embark in a boat and go around Lake Pichola at a pace, at the soft sound of the engine. I still appreciate the relative calm and the landscapes. I see the ghats, a new upscale resort, and tall grass. Then the sun goes down and sets on the hills. We walk around the illuminated Lake Palace, which occupies the Jagniwas island.

While on Jagmandir Island is a palace lined with elephant statues. With the dawn of the day, we see the flight of waterfowl, and huge bats. Our walk is coming to an end. We go along the last bank at the foot of the illuminated City Palace. In the shady shade, beside the landing stage, we can see a man in the water up to his chest. He is fishing with the net.

We drink lassi and go back to the hotel. Since the end of the afternoon, tourists from the terrace of the neighboring hotel start lighting firecrackers and fireworks. A procession of dancer, camel and elephant passes in the street. People go to the temples.

I prepare a pretty table with a lotus flower in a basin and terracotta oil lanterns. We install on the roof terrace of our Guest House, and order a delicious meal consisting of the best snacks and sweets. Around 8 pm, the entire city is set on fire by an explosion of fireworks that will last at least 4 hours without interruption. I had never seen so many at one time. It was a very nice evening.

The day before, the receptionist invited us to join them for a festive meal. It is with gratitude that we buy big fireworks, rum and we cross the bridge. We participate in the purchase of chicken. It's a family atmosphere, although there are only men. It is during the preparation and cooking of the Chicken Butter Masala that we light the fireworks and get to know the people better, with a drink in hand. When finally comes the time to eat, the chicken pieces melt in the mouth with the spicy sauce and subtle aromas.

Trip to Udaipur during Diwali

Day 3

We rented a car to visit the surrounding countryside. The landscape is hilly. We see women carry jugs or hay on their heads. For Govardhan Puja, also known as Annakut, the cows have been painted, so we cross one with green, purple, striped or polka dots at the edge of the road. This is fun. The buffalo horns have not been spared. There are monkeys by the side of the road, and a peacock sneaks in front of the car.

After two hours drive, we arrive in the Aravalli Mountains. At 1100 m above sea level stands Kumbhalgarh Fort. It is the second most important fort of the Mewar after that of Chittor all in stone, surrounded by a huge 36 km long wall.

This served as a retreat for the Rajput rulers in times of danger. And unlike Chittor, which was taken three times, and then abandoned, the one from Kumbhalgarh fell only once for only two days. We began our visit by walking on the ramparts. Then we admired some of the ​​temples scattered around the compound. Some still have beautiful sculptures of elephants, horses, characters (gods and dancers).

Others in ruins look like a pile of stones. We even wonder at times if they were stacked in the right place during the renovation. Besides, the return to the fort was rather steep, in the scrub. We walked along a reservoir and climbed to the palace. The latter includes some paintings of elephants fighting against all kinds of animals like boar, crocodile, tiger. But it offers especially a beautiful view of the whole area.

After taking the car on a winding road, in a deep wooded valley, we arrive at the second site of the day at the Ranakpur temple. It is one of the largest and most beautiful Jain temple in the country. Brightly white, it has finely carved marble columns. Inside, its architecture gives an impression of harmony.

Depending on our position, the columns line up or shift. The ceilings are also carved. And some courses include a large elephant statue and a sacred tree. Soothed by so much beauty, it is serenely that we return to Udaipur. For the last meal in Udaipur and with our friends, we change to enjoy the view from the front roof, on the illuminated Lake Palace.

At the Guest House, after a good meal, we spend a nice evening in the terrace. Then I take a night bus to Jaipur.

Bombay now renamed Mumbai is the most populous city in India, one of the most populated in the world. It is capable of intimidating any first time visitor. Bombay was our first contact on our travel through South India. I read somewhere that Mumbai is like a giant monster that end up devouring you slowly. I attest to that. Bombay is one of those megalopolises that you have to see, but from which it is better to leave quickly. Bombay has its origins in the 2nd century BC, when the great Emperor Ashoka ruled the Indian subcontinent at that time.

We arrived at the international airport of Bombay in a few hours, rather, untimely (at dawn), but the city was already beginning to wake up. It soon became bustling. With the fatigue of a long flight behind us, and with our sleepy senses, Bombay welcomed us on a gray morning in late June with a warm, sticky breeze typical of the monsoon.

We knew it was not the best time to visit Mumbai. Our main objective was to reach one of the most emblematic tourist places of the city, the so-called Gateway of India. It was the first thing we wanted to visit in the city Like those sailors who in ancient times came from the Arabian Sea to this coastal city of India.

The taxi ride from the airport to the city center of Bombay, was intense (to find a soft adjective to define it). My first impression of the city was that, Bombay is half urban, half forest and a city, as we say in the city from which I come, very sugary.

The smell immediately invaded us. A smell that is hard to define. It is something sweet mixed with the aroma of spices, cow dung, incense, and moist earth. We see that the monsoon had emptied heavily and the caverns of the road had become large lagoons in the middle of the city. Crows also roared and squawked freely.

But the most surprising thing was the loud noise, the traffic chaos, and the sounds of the horns everywhere. Everyone played the horns at once, short but fast sounds, hundreds of sounds per second that invaded your senses.

24 Hours in Mumbai - Travel Through The City of Chaos

I liked a road sign that said something like respect the lanes. What lanes? All the vehicles flooded the only existing lane. We pass through striking taxis and trucks, polluting motorcycles, and bicycles that disarmed along the way. We cross clueless cows, squalid and flea-bitten dogs, hardened pedestrians, and auto rickshaws.

Everyone wanted to be preferential and pass first. There are hardly any traffic lights. Traffic guards from a pedestal try the impossible mission to bring order to the chaos based on whistles. Our taxi driver, a skilful driver, weighed amazingly and masterfully all the obstacles that stood in our way.

This was the first impression of Mumbai. It is a compendium of stimuli in the form of bizarre sounds, exotic smells, and strange sensations that assaulted us in an uncontrolled way. They are a thousand stimuli per second that saturate the senses, and we have to learn to digest in small sips.

Immediately I realized that despite the gray day, Bombay shone with a special light and full of color. And for the first time and after the long journey, I felt awake and very alive. In the watercolor of black and white that expanded before my eyes, I discovered the multitude of color palettes that the city offered us.

We see colors everywhere from small shops to the beautiful silk and cotton sarees of the women. We see bright ranges of colorful flowers in the hair and in the decorated trucks that crossed suddenly in our path. We pass through the pigmented mandalas painted on the sidewalks, in the little ones and flashy temples that were in our path.

The trash that grew on either side try to invade everything. We see the colorful rickshaws with its colorful and funny slogans. Some advertised a business or a bollywood poster, or a portrait of a god, or the Virgin Mary herself.

Mumbai seemed chaotic and anarchic, but within that chaos, everything seemed to flow and function. At that time, I started to feel Mumbai. As we moved south, the auto rickshaws disappeared. We were already entering the rich part of the city, and in that area we no longer travel in vehicles. Their access is prohibited. It was then that we caught a glimpse of the silhouette we were looking for.

The Gateway of India is on the waterfront of the Bombay Port opposite the Arabian Sea. It is a triumphal arch of basalt built in an Indo-Saracenic style, and designed by the Scottish architect George Wittet. The monument was erected to celebrate the visit of the British King George V and his wife Queen Mary in 1911. Since then, it was used as a ceremonial symbol of entry to India by viceroys and governors.

Paradoxically it was also the exit door for the British when India finally reached its independence. On February 28, 1948, the Light Infantry's troops paraded for the last time in front of it. Nearby is the Colaba neighborhood. It is very popular with tourists because it is close to the luxurious Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, and for being the starting point for the excursion to the Elephanta Island.

With the image of the imposing Indian Gate behind us, we board one of the tourist boats. We set off on our particular adventure to see the beautiful Elephanta Island Caves. Elephanta Island has 7 caves, of which 5 of them can be visited. They have been architecturally dated between the 5th and 8th centuries. The temple dedicated to Shiva has been declared, at the end of the 80s as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO .

The name of the caves was assigned by the Portuguese, when they rediscovered and found a stone statue of an elephant. It can now be seen in the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai. Walking through the galleries is a journey through time that takes us to the fascinating history and Indian mythology.

Visiting the caves of Elephanta Island we took a trip back in time. Exploring the caves invites us to live a small adventure that brings us closer to Shiva himself. The galleries are full of sculptures and colossal stone carvings, which bring us closer to the myths and legends of the Trimurti or Trinity.

The galleries are impressive. The ceiling, columns, sculptures of great exoticism, geometric shapes and colossal deities are all carved in the very rock. They make our imagination fly until we find ourselves somewhere far away in time and in history.

In each niche an image stands out, with scenes that represent all kinds of moods, from joy to anger. The place is also full of souvenir shops, taxi drivers, horse carriages, trinkets vendors, tour guides, and others who claim to be, and as in all tourist places in India. There are also hustler characters, cheeks and rogues, who try to loot the tourist.

Once we came back to the Gateway of India and explored its confines, we decided to finally go to rest at our hotel. But the surprise that Mumbai had for us was the fortuitous visit to a small art gallery where artists have to wait up to two years to exhibit. We went in because it was free and we were on our way.

We needed to assimilate the emotions and recover strength to continue exploring the city. In just a few minutes of contact, Mumbai had shaken our senses intensely. Of course I liked Delhi more, with many more places to visit. But it is true that we did not have time to explore Mumbai thoroughly.

After having dinner at a street stall with pav bhaji accompanied by a rich beer, we went across the road to book the motorcycle for the journey ahead to Goa next day.

Perhaps no other country can offer the variety of cuisine that India can. There is nothing else like typical Indian food. From Kerala to Kolkata there is an all fabulous buffet of regional dishes to be discovered, beyond the familiar favorites of chicken tikka masala, rogan josh, malai kofta and tandoori butter naan which can often be more difficult to find in India than in the UK.

Rogan josh is an aromatic curry dish that comes from Kashmir and is very popular in Kashmir and Punjab and in other countries like Pakistan, Singapore, and the UK. Rogan means oil in Persian, while Josh means hot, or passionate. So, rogan josh has the meaning of cooking in oil over high heat.

It is a lamb curry chopped and cooked in ghee. Initially, it did not have garlic or onion, but the many versions of the recipe include many ingredients and spices that become part of the dish. It may be accompanied by naan bread, rice or anything from mild flavor to neutralize a little of the fierce ardor.

Rogan josh dish was brought to India by the Mughals. The relentless heat that was in the plains of India made the Mughals often move to Kashmir, where people first adopted this dish.

Rogan Josh recipes vary greatly between different regions and traditions, even within the same region of Kashmir, but all include lamb or chicken, oil or ghee (clarified butter), and a mixture of spices. Within spices, paprika is included to get the red color, anise, cumin or cinnamon. Modern variations include ginger, garlic and yogurt, and even the use of the tomato. Although the original versions used saffron instead of yogurt to make a tasty sauce.

Mutton Rogan Josh Recipe kashmir

Rogan Josh is distinguished by its thick and tender red meat sauce. Rogan Josh is a common dish in northern India and is also a popular menu item in Indian restaurants in North America and Europe.

Whatever the true origin of the dish, its name provides a clue about the technique used in its preparation as well as their appearance. To prepare Rogan Josh, most chefs begin frying the choice meat - lamb or goat in butter known as ghee.

The meat is then removed and a series of spices - usually including garlic, ginger, pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, pepper, coriander, cumin and red pepper are added to the hot butter in stages. Thereafter, the meat is returned to the pan with plain yogurt. The pot is then covered and its contents are simmered for an hour and a half, or until the meat has become very tender.

A large number of variants exist. For example, some cooks add finely chopped tomatoes or tomato puree. Others include paprika in the spice mixture. These alter the taste of the dish and its red color intensifies.

Today, Rogan Josh is still popular in northern India. Its popularity in the Western world may be partly due to the fact that it is very good, but not intensely spicy.

Did you know that a goddess lives in the heart of Kathmandu? Yes, in the Kumari Bahal or Kumari Ghar, one of the marvelous palaces that delimit Kathmandu's Durbar Square lives the most powerful of the Kumari, the girls considered living goddesses in Nepal.

We arrived in the early afternoon of the following day at Kathmandu airport. After passing immigration control, having our visa and collecting luggage, we got into a taxi to Bhaktapur, one of the most beautiful medieval cities in the world. There we had booked a guesthouse on the edge of the old town.

After settling down we went for a walk around the city. Although one have to pay entry fee to tour the old town, being already late there was no one at the checkpoints. So we could take a good walk through a city where the air was getting cooler. Soon night fell and we had to think about dinner. And well we go early to bed well wrapped up.

Day 1 - Bhaktapur

We are awake early enough with a splendid sun. There is a market on the square and then the temple bells at the bottom of our windows jingle often. We hang out in the room and enjoy the view overlooking the place where we observe the inhabitants. After breakfast, we leave by taxi to the city of Bhaktapur, about 45 minutes drive.

Our taxi is not allowed to enter. We walk with our luggage to the guest house located in a nice Newar house. We take the prettiest room with its wooden lattice windows and the corridor that borders them as in the palaces of maharajas. The family that maintains this beautiful house is charming. We have a splendid view of Taumadhi Tole, a magnificent city square.

It is early. The sun is shining, as we start our visit to the temples of the place! We booked a car for the day. We leave first for Bodhnath, a city where many Tibetans have taken refuge for several years. There is a huge stupa and many monasteries in the city. We see few monks in the middle of the morning but the place is gigantic.

We have a glimpse of the religious fervor when we see two pilgrims lie on the ground and then kneel and repeat this movement indefinitely! We go to the Shechen monastery. We return to Bhaktapur for lunch. We leave at around 2 pm for the Changu Narayan temple, also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The sculptures of the wooden props that support the roofs of this temple are remarkable. The place is serene before the arrival of an organized tour but calm returns after their departure. We see for the first time a pagoda with walls covered with ceramics.

Later we went to another attractive temple, Gokarna Mahadev. There we saw the first sadhu of our trip. And we will also always remember this place as the temple in which a huge monkey attacked us. Well, what happened was that the sadhu gave me bananas to be put as an offering in the temple. And the monkey decided that they looked so good they should be his.

After getting back to Bhaktapur we have lunch, and taste the momo stuffed with meat. We then went up to the Suryavinayak temple. From there the views of the city are great. When we went down to the old town there was still light and we decided to take a walk through the cobbled streets and surrounded by a newar house.

To our surprise it seemed that all Bhaktapur was there. When asked we were told that Dashain, the most important holiday in Nepal, was being celebrated. And what did all those people expect? Well, nothing less than a buffalo that was going to run through those streets. At the end of the day, a group with masks enliven the durbar square! We stayed to see it while we enjoyed the good atmosphere of the city before it was time to have dinner.

We dine at the cafe, as we did not have much choice for the restaurant, and here at 8 pm everything is closed and the streets are not lit. We get an aperitif, whiskey and orange vodka and then, usual meal with dessert, the delicious yoghurt. We meet a Indian couple on honeymoon and together we return to the hotel.

Day 2 - Nagarkot

We leave for Nagarkot located at 2200 meters altitude. We hope to see the Everest peaks. The winding road passes through villages and a beautiful pine forest but alas, it is very cloudy and we could not see anything. We return back. We go to the Durbar square, visit the possible access to the courtyards of the palace and admire the other buildings of this place.

And finally, we embark on the pedestrian circuit marked in the lonely planet along 4 km through this beautiful city museum. There, we move through the sumptuous pagoda shaped temples for the discovery of the life of the inhabitants by passing in alleys. We move to another beautiful place of Tachupal. It's a beautiful day for me spent strolling in this UNESCO heritage city where time seems to have stopped.

We left Bhaktapur with our rented car and its driver. There were still hours to reach our destination. The sun was already falling when we arrived in Pokhara. We put our things down at the hotel. It was very cozy, beautiful and also very well located. So much that after leaving the suitcases in the room it was enough to take a short walk to get to the lake and an area with a lot of restaurants. We have dinner and return to go to bed.

Day 3 - Pokhara

We wake up very early to go to see the Sarangkot sunrise, a privileged viewpoint over the Annapurna massif. The clouds made an appearance and we could see a beautiful sunrise but not with that image of the entire mountain range before us. The peak that we could best distinguish was the Machhapuchhare, a mountain of 6997 meters high, sacred to Buddhists and which is forbidden to ascend.

With the sun already high, we returned to the hotel for breakfast, stopping earlier in the old town of Pokhara, which was slowly waking up to the new day. We started towards the Shanti Stupa. We had given our driver the day off, so we took a taxi to that place.

From there we descend the mountain on which that pagoda is located towards the Phewa Tal, the lake of Pokhara. We pay a few rupees to a woman to take us to the other side in her boat. We go for paragliding nearby and it is one of those things that I will never forget. Back on land, we had time to pick something up and have a beer before leaving for Tashi Palkhiel.

It is a quiet Tibetan settlement where colored flags flutter in the wind and in whose monastery we can witness a Buddhist ceremony with all the monks singing and playing various instruments. And we spent the rest of the day wandering around the city. We do some shopping and enjoying the tasty food they serve in this city.

Kumari Nepal images

Day 4 - Kathmandu

Our driver was surprised to see us leaving with luggage. We explained what was happening and he told us that the rooms they had for the drivers were also the worst I had seen. So before heading to Kathmandu to find a hotel for that night we went to Manakamana.

We reach an ancient temple in a cable car that takes us over mountains and valleys to reach the temple, one of the most important in the area. There are many sacrifices of animals, something that impresses, especially by the naturalness with which everyone lives.

After the splendid mountain scenery, we come back to the car to start the journey to Kathmandu. Around 3 pm, we reach the hotel. We drop our bags and go for a walk in the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu. We eat sweet momos, and banana. There are of course the beautiful prayer flags hanging between all buildings that tinge the blue sky in a multitude of colors.

Moreover, it was at this moment, while strolling in the streets, that I realized that it had been a month since I had not been so surrounded by people! Because between trek in the mountains in Pokhara, it is not the population that has invaded me! We went to visit Pashupatinath which is in some ways the Varanasi of Nepal.

There is the most important temple of Shiva, and indeed the only one intact after the earthquake. Just like in Varanasi, cremations take place every day, all the time. That said, cremation here is more private. Only the families concerned have access to the cremation side, which is not the case in India. After that, it's touristy all around.

We leave the enclosure of the old city to discover two large pools. And then, we spend the rest of the day to enjoy this extraordinary place while doing some souvenir shopping. We enter the souvenir shops. We bought cashmere sweater and scarves and a jacket. The fateful moment of the meal arrived so we went to feast in a small very nice restaurant.

For dinner we took the opportunity to eat vegetable curry, dal bhat or white rice with yogurt and some vegetables. We were all seduced! For the late evening, we have beer pints on the quiet rooftop.

Kumari Nepal images

Day 5 - Patan

We wake up wrapped in our big duvets and our thousand layers. We take our breakfast on the terrace of the hotel with the magnificent view of the temples of the place that surrounds us.

We then spend the day in the Durbar Square of Kathmandu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the busy streets. We see a set of temples with a lot of charm and grandeur. As in the temples of other cities, there are also many erotic scenes carved on the beams that support the roofs of pagodas or side walls.

The courtyards of the palace are vast and the facades of woodwork in lace are remarkable. The palace guards are gurkhas, famous Nepali soldiers. There are also three small ivory windows of great finesse. We sit on the steps of one of the temples and watch the Nepalese people and more tourists here.

There are also sadhus and a monk, representatives of the two main religions of the country, Hinduism and Buddhism. Next we chose to go to Patan. Patan was once called Lalitpur, the city of beauty, and has an ancient royal city as well as one of the oldest Buddhist sites in the world.

We also took the time to walk in the museum, considered as the most beautiful of Nepal. After a short lunch break, we go stroll in the old streets of the city. We also had some pastry, and we shot a very short video.

We also go to the courtyard of the Kumari Ghar. The Kumari Bahal courtyard in the Kumari Chowk looks like a small oasis of peace. It is not that noise does not arrive here, after all it is right in the square. But the beauty of the wood carvings that decorate its balconies and windows seems to possess the totality of the senses.

Kumaris are little girls from Buddhist families and are chosen from thousands of female candidates by a committee of Buddhist priests by the age of three, and must meet thirty-two criteria. She is selected when she loses her first milk tooth and must leave the day she loses her first drop of blood, most of the time on her first menses, to return to normal life.

Another Kumari between 3 and 5 years old with a perfect body and belonging to the Shakya caste is chosen in her place. The current Kumari is 10 years old. Kumari can ask all she wants, as she is a living goddess. The Kumari are girls considered reincarnations of Taleju, a Nepalese name of the goddess Durga. There are several in Nepal (one per kingdom) but in Kathmandu is the main one. She lives in her palace from childhood to puberty and never comes out except on rare occasions (about fifteen times a year).

She is paraded once a year on a sumptuous float during the festival of Durga Puja or Dashain here. From one of its windows, the kumari sometimes comes to greet the people who come to her court to make offerings. We were very lucky to see her for a few moments at her window. She had her eyes fully lined with kohl and it made her look sad when she greeted. She has a very beautiful face. What a strange destiny!

The goddess cannot be photographed, although the patio and her miniature stupa can be when she is not there. After these few hours we start looking for a trekking agency that took about two hours to find. In the end we do not book. In the evening we went to eat momos and a soup in a really small restaurant in our neighborhood.

We also took a walk along Freak Street, the street that hippies took a few decades ago. And we finished our walk by having our last beer on another terrace in Durbar Square. We stroll a bit in this lively area and then, we reach Thamel where we dine in one of the restaurants of the main street before going to our hotel. Back at the hostel we took a dessert consisting of fried bananas, ice cream, cakes and other sweet wonders.

Kumari Puja images

Day 6 - Bungamati

We decided to visit Bungamati, a beautiful medieval village in the southern part of the Kathmandu valley, where would eventually meet a very goddess in person. We had immense luck during all the days we were in Nepal, coinciding with numerous parties and celebrations, but without a doubt the most special was the one we found in Bungamati.

Although it is quite close to Kathmandu, it is very little frequented and explored by tourists. It makes it a real pleasure to get lost in its alleys of delicious traditional and rural authenticity with its houses decorated with chili peppers and corn cobs hanging.

As we entered the main square crowned by the Rato Machhendranath Temple, we saw that there was a festive atmosphere. We see men, women and children dressed in traditional dresses and their finery. We were no longer surprised, since our trip had coincided with many other celebrations in other parts of Nepal. There was sure to be a celebration soon. So we took our walk through the village very calmly, but with the emotion that confers knowing that there will be a special event.

Suddenly, the music of a traditional band began to sound and beautiful girls began to dance. We joined the rest of the neighbors who came to enjoy the show, and that we were there, made many people come to where we were to talk to us and we felt like guests of honor.

After the dances began to gather in the square more and more bands of musicians who seemed to come from other places and who surrounded the square playing their instruments, adding to the rest of musicians and dancers. The sound of their instruments invaded the environment completely.

Trying to make me understand with some villager, I could discover that they were celebrating a kind of thanksgiving for the rice harvest. All those present brought their offerings of rice to the temple, next to which there was an incredible fervor.

Not in vain the temple is dedicated to Rato Machhendranath (also known as Bungadyo), the local god of the country and patron of the valley, who plays a very important role in the annual rains of Nepal. This god of complicated name has its place of origin in Bungamati, but his image is shared during the middle of the year, with the temple that is also dedicated to him, in Patan.

When the deity moves from one locality to another, one of the biggest festivities of the year is celebrated. But there was something more than fervor for the god. So with great respect, I went to the roofed patio of a building next to the temple, where I suddenly saw it. It was the Kumari of Bungamati.

The Kumari is the living goddess girl, and although the most important and famous is the royal Kumari of Kathmandu, there are other Kumaris in newaris localities such as Patan, Bhaktapur or in this case Bungamati. They only go out in public one or at most twice a year, so that the fortune of coinciding there just that day had been supreme or maybe divine.

It was an honor for me to be allowed to come and see her, to pay my respects and they even encouraged me to photograph her. And without a doubt, it is one of those experiences that I will never forget. As I will never forget her face either.

We again take the taxi to the swayambhunath stupa located north of the city. We access it by a very long staircase. On the platform, near the prayer mills, there is also a small temple. The hariti shows the very frequent interweaving in this country between Hinduism and Buddhism.

We go back to the center of Kathmandu to do some shopping! It's always nice to go shopping in these countries with such varied and accessible crafts. We have lunch in an Indian restaurant before going to visit the Garden of Dreams. The place is quiet and serene but the entry is quite expensive for a rather small place. Obviously, it is a haven of peace.

We visit the interior palatial complex of Hanuman Dhoka. It took us several hours and when we left we decided to visit the square again. We then return to the hotel to pack the bags and prepare ourselves. We take a taxi to the bus stop. When we left the hotel, pale yellow cloth scarves were put around our necks to wish us a safe trip. It made us happy.

We leave Nepal on this last gesture which reflects all the extreme kindness of the locals by that we greatly enjoyed throughout our trip. 17 hours is the duration of the bus trip between Kathmandu and Varanasi all on a road in poor condition. We sometimes felt like sitting on a washing machine in full spin.