I know it's been a while since the last report, but I promised not to load people's email boxes with junkmail like:
"...and then I went to another temple, where I met a nice bunch of people. We had the best time eating great food and watching beautiful sunsets."
Asia has obviously done nothing to change my sarcasm or ability to offend numerous people with a couple of keystrokes. That said, here's what I've been up to:
Beautiful place, wonderful people. But no true adventures, so you'll have to be satisfied with the photos. I did, however, make it over a 17,600 ft pass, proving that the feet were sufficiently healed. Not bad for a guy with less than two lungs.
Ahh, India. I wouldn't recommend it for a spot to relax. Being a honkey boy, it's almost impossible to find a place where one is not constantly bombarded by hordes of in-your-face sellers and cabbies. It's truly unfortunate, since I'm sure there're millions of wonderful people here- I just can't get to them. Based on my rough statistics of the people I've met in this area, 30% of the people openly try to cheat you, and 110% of them flat out lie to you. It gets VERY tiring after a while. I'm sure I'll get a lot of hate mail for saying this, but out of all the countries I've visited, India has the most unpleasant people I've met by far. Leave it to Uncle Ken to not sugar coat it.
Ironically, the greatest thing about India is the culture (and it is wonderful), which of course is DUE to these same people that harrass you and lie to you 24/7. I think it is really best summed up by a fellow traveller who noted that "Whether you love it, hate it, or love it AND hate it (me), no one can leave India without a strong opinion either way."
Once you get FAR up north in to the Western Himalayan range, there is a distinct cultural change, and the people become great. Perhaps it's the strong Tibetan influence? Either way, it felt like an oasis in the sea of Hell.
I didn't do any long solo treks in the Himachal Pradesh State, since a week before I got there another 3 trekkers were bludgeoned (2 to death) by bandits with pickaxes and shovels. And that wasn't even in Kashmir! But I did have some amazing hikes, and I'll let the pictures on the web page do the telling.
But the desire to spend multiple nights alone in the Himalayas is tough to deny... and there hadn't been any missing or executed tourists in Ladakh, unlike Himachal Pradesh (the Bermuda Triangle of the Himalayas) and Kashmir.
Problem is, India isn't like Nepal; you can't just hike from guest house to guest house. And I didn't have a tent or a stove.
STOVE: only things for sale are HEAVY kersosene stoves that would take a pack horse to carry. Solution: Don't bring one.
TENT: only thing for sale are used, heavy canvas tents which could house an army, and probably have. Solution: Go to market, buy two large waterproof garment bags, sew them together, get a rope to string them up, and voila, my new "North Disgrace" brand tent is good to go!
I know at this point you're all thinking I'm campaigning for the 2000 Darwin Awards, but I've got these things in my favor:
The trek was awesome, and no Darwin Award is in my future (yet). 4 days on that supposed 6-day section, and another 2 through a route with monestaries in which I could stay. Pics are on the web, of course.
Kashmir is arguably the most beautiful area in Himalayan India. Now that I've seen a small bit of it, I can say that might be true!
An interesting aside: while Kashmir is currently controlled by India, many Pakistanis think it belongs to Pakistan, but that's another story.
No, wait, that IS this story. Plying the roads from Leh in Ladakh to Srinigar in Kashmir means passing through numerous police checkpoints, and viewing countless army vehicles and stands, with machine gunners at the ready.
On every other street corner in Srinigar there's a soldier or two toting a small arsenal of firearms- if the last suicide attack hadn't been over a week ago, you'd almost think this place was at war!
I went there to visit some friends, never found them, but had fun with a bunch of other travellers who were on the same route. We all found humor in numerous bag searches, and great street signs, like "Check under your train seat for bombs when you board" and the billboard to help you identify bombs, sponsored by Dairy Fresh Ice Cream.
Regardless of the large military presence, I never felt threatened, although I got yelled at for walking the streets alone at night. I would actually recommend the area to other travellers, as the people were generally very friendly, the house boat lodging was cheap, and where else can you get a meal at "Lebanese Hut, Redefining The Taste Of Fast Food"?
In a few of the Asian coutries, you occasionally try to pay for an item and the store or restaurant won't have change. This of course happens more frequently in India: 3-4 times a day (!) at my last count.
But don't expect that they'll run out to find change (almost never in India); instead you get a blank stare and the saying "Sorry, no change." You then say "But now I'm paying more for this item/food than you said it would cost." The answer is always the same: "It still costs the same, I just don't have any change." You lose.
Now I head across the border to the Pakistani town of Lahore, then up to Northern Pakistan.
An interesting aside: while Lahore is currently controlled by Pakistan, many Indians think it belongs to India, but that's another story. And I'm sure you'll hear all about it in Trip Report #8...
Keeping my head even lower than my opinion of non-Himalayan India,
I was dismayed to find that there are even leaches in Nepal. That said, the final score is in:
Ken: 27 (jungle days)
Leeches: 24 (blood donations)
I won! Sort of.
The following web pages have been updated or added to www.kenzemach.com since my last email:
Page Revised 9/29/00