india

A Year in Review

After one year on the road complete, it's time to take a look back on some of the amazing experiences we've had. This video also takes the form of a demo reel for Nate as a director. 

The Rickshaw Diaries: A Road Trip Across India

The Tipsy Gypsies Cruisin'.   Illustrated and animated by  Felix Roos .

The Tipsy Gypsies Cruisin'. Illustrated and animated by Felix Roos.

It was nearly Christmas Eve and we were four months into our journey through India. We had arrived in southern India in the state of Kerala, famous for its backwaters and we had reached the point in our trip where we felt like we'd seen enough temples, tombs and forts for a lifetime. We had run out of the "Top 10" same (bullshit) things to do and we needed some serious balance of sightseeing and real adventure. So after much discussion, we decided to ask Santa for a rickshaw. This is the story of how we managed to explore nearly half the length of India in a rickshaw and not kill ourselves while doing it. 

After a few days of frantically trying to buy a rickshaw and an additional 5 days of finalizing the paperwork, fixing major mechanical issues and pimping our rickshaw, we were finally ready to leave Kochi on new years and start our wild road trip. We had no plan of how far to drive or where, so we just picked a direction and started driving north. These are our favorite places that we visited in our rickshaw.

Alleppey, Kerala

This is the famous backwaters country of South India. You can rent a houseboat for few hours and cruise around or sleep on the boat, which is what we did and highly recommend it. If you show up last minute during the middle of the week or off season, you can negotiate a pretty decent price for an overnight stay.

These traditional wooden houseboats with thatched roofs, were traditionally used to transport various materials and people. It was also the fastest way of transportation between the 5 lakes connected by canals. Nowadays the house boats are a big hit and a big tourist attraction. Staying overnight on a houseboat can get quite pricey, especially during the high season. Because we booked same day, we paid about 7,000 rupees for the whole boat, which is extremely cheap since it was around the holidays. Typically these boats cost anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 per night.

We left the main harbor around 3pm to cruise and watch the sunset on the backwater. The boat was very comfortable and the crew was extremely nice and cooked us amazing Kerala style food. At night the boat parked on a quiet bank of the backwaters, far from the other boats we watched the stars and drank beers until the stars got blurry. 

In the morning we enjoyed a few more hours watching the sunrise, drinking hot chai and eating spicy Kerala style breakfast with eggs, appam (coconut pancakes), sambar (vegetable and lentil stew) and fruit.

 

Munnar, Kerala

Munnar is absolutely breathtaking and its hills are covered with vibrant tea plants. Many of the tea plantations in Munnar were started by the British, who loved this region for it's cool climate and natural beauty.

A lot of the Indian tea is still produced here. Every time we drove through the hills we could hear the clipping sound of the fresh tea being cut. It also smells incredible! 

Munnar is situated in the Western Ghants mountain range with an altitude of 1,600 meters (5,200 ft), so getting there in the rickshaw was not easy, but it was absolutely worth it. We spent 2 days driving around the tea plantations and visiting the hill stations. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any plantations that offered tea tastings, which was odd, but if you want to taste the regional tea you can visit the Munnar Tea Museum.

Karnataka

Not many people know that the state of Karnataka has some of the most beautiful beaches in India. We were shocked how pristine and remote the beaches were here. This is also probably the only place in India where the beaches have white sand. This coastline is not developed and you can only see small local huts near the beach and there are not many places to stay near the beach We found one hotel with a beach view near Mattu village, but the security guard turned us away. We returned to the hotel the next day and insisted on speaking to the manager. Eventually the manager told us the same thing, that they were booked and they didn't have any future available dates. It was a very strange response. Perhaps we weren't welcome because of our unusual form of transportation and we didn't meet their typical guest profile. We will never know. Honestely it was for the best because we would never stay in a place that is so snobbish.

When we asked the locals on the road about some simple guest houses they mentioned one but we couldn't find it. The nearby town Udupai (about 15km away), has plenty of accommodations though. We slept there and we hung out on the beach for few hours the next morning before we left

One day we would love to come back to Karnataka with a tent and sleep on the beach near Mattu.

 

Our favorite area was the stretch from Kapu till the end of the peninsula. The beaches on the peninsula are absolutely amazing and unlike anywhere else you will see in India!

Goa

Goa was probably the easiest place for us to drive our rickshaw. This state is one of the busiest tourist destinations in India and at the same time is very laid back. Most of people who live or work here are in the tourist industry, therefore, are accustomed to western habits like the love of strong coffee, eating pizza, women in bikinis or women driving a rickshaw for that matter. Just kidding about the women driving rickshaw, that still totally freaked everybody out.

 We drove through many towns in Goa and here some of the places that we liked the most.

Palolem: A Hippy's Paradise

Palolem seems to attract mostly young hippy types and for some reason lots of Israelis. Tourists come here for yoga and spiritual trainings, to master fire dancing and hula-hoop skills. Palolem is one of the most westernized small towns in India that we have visited. You can actually eat an authentic pizza here at Magic Italy restaurant, drink perfectly brewed coffee, that has not been diluted and sweetened with 10 spoons of sugar, from Mika Mocha. The beach in Palolem is very popular during the day with people trying to sell you boat rides and at night the atmosphere is quite charming with candle lit tables on the sand and fresh seafood being grilled. With no shortage of places to eat on the beach, we always tried to time our dinner around sunset so we could take in the amazing view. 

 

Agonda: the Holly Cow beach

Agonda is the smaller and more quiet sister of Palolem. There are a few decent restaurants on the main road and the guest houses seem to be the cheapest here. We rented a bungalow, on the beach for 800 rupees/12 USD. The beaches although less crowded and relaxing are full of cow shit, so be careful where you walk, especially at night. If you want something even more remote, visit the nearby Cola beach, which is gorgeous.

Morjim: a Russian Paradise

We actually like Morjim a lot mostly because the wide and well kept beaches and the sunsets are incredible!

Although this area used to be known as a heavy party town, it seems like things have changed these days. We had a relaxing stay at Xaviers with their restaurant and great food situated right on the beach (the service is a bit slow, but the food was worth the wait). At Xavier's, they also screen movies every night, but in Russian. Morjim is a popular tourist destination for many Russians and almost everything has been translated into Russian including menus in the restaurants and movies, which have a Russian voice over. We heard some rumors from the locals that a while ago this town was owned by the Russian mafia. It has since changed and nowadays you will come across many Indian and western tourists who don't know how to order from a Russian menu.

Malvan, Maharastra

Malvan has a really special place in our hearts. We first came to this town before we started the rickshaw road trip and we fell in love with it's people and atmosphere. We've made some very good friends, ate some amazing food and so we had to come back for more.

Unlike touristy Goa, the beaches in Malvan are almost empty. You wont find any obnoxious, loud bars on the beach here, but you are welcome to chill with a cold brew. 

Malvan is known for it's unique blend of spices and the seafood is great here. This town has the best Thali restaurant that we have tasted in all of India.  The name of the restaurant is Love kick and it is run by the Kirtane family. We ate there everyday. The Veg Thali came with a fresh green leafy salad mixed with raw coconut, chana with a unique mix of coconut, aloo (potatoes) mixed with cabbage and a sol curry, which is to die for! Sol curry, also known as Solkadi, is a popular Konkani curry made from coconut and kokum fruit. It is a staple of Malvan, eaten with rice or drank after a meal. It's mildly sour flavor and light texture not only tasted delicious but it helps your mouth cool off from the spices and also helps with digestion. So many benefits from one fruit!

If you are polite when you arrive, the owner of the Love Kick restaurant will help you with a secret BYOB section. You might have to sit in the VIP room, aka the back of the house, so nobody sees you drinking. Also please don't embarrass us by asking for a fork. Make sure you eat your Thali like it was meant to be eaten, with your hands!

Besides the food and beaches in Malvan, you can visit the Sindhudurg Fort by a small boat, buy some fresh fish from the market in the early morning, and make sure you try the local drink made from coconuts called Madi.

But most importantly, make sure you make some friends. The Malvan people are some of the best we have ever met! 

If you come to Malvan we INSIST you stay at Vicky's Guest House. We can't recommend this place enough. The whole Fernandez family is so lovely and Vicky who runs the guesthouse, is the best unofficial guide in town. He will give you many tips and will go out of his way to make sure you are a satisfied customer. 

Malvan was our last stop on the rickshaw road trip. We drove about 1,500 km and we covered 4 states in two weeks. We originally planned to drive all the way to Rajasthan but at the end we had to change our travel plans and we left our rickshaw with a friend in Malvan, who helped us sell it to a local who will use it for his business. The small profit was then distributed amongst our friends who helped us along the way.

Final Thoughts

Buying and driving the rickshaw wasn't just fun, it was also educational and eye opening. Traveling at a top speed of 40km/hr on mostly backroads gives you a perspective of India you can't get in any other way. It doesn't matter if you go by train, bus or car, you're moving too fast. And there is no better ice breaker than a crazy looking rickshaw to make new friends in every town you go.

But like many things in India, driving a rickshaw can be quite dangerous. They are slow, unreliable and have questionable balance. So if you ever decide to try this, please make sure you get lots of practice beforehand and do not overestimate your or the rickshaws abilities. Vehicles drive fast and with little regard to the rules of the road so driving defensively will be your best chance of survival.

The legality of what we did is also somewhat questionable but we had no issues, even when we were pulled over by police. 

And finally, the most important take away from this trip was how humbled we were by everyone that we met. It didn't matter what village or city we were in, when we broke down, people went out of their way to help us get back on the road. When we were lost, people gave us directions with a smile. And when we were just stopping for fun, there was always someone with the kindness and sincerity to make us feel truly welcome. 

We wish we could take the rickshaw with us to every country that we visit because the experience was so much greater. But since we can't, we will continue to seek out other adventures that allow for these types of connections. Because to us, that is what travel is really all about. As great as the beaches or mountains are, in the end it's always about the people. So India, we thank you for that. Thank you for welcoming us into your home and and treating us like family and thank you for teaching us what unconditional generosity really means.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

If you have any questions about the trip or want advice on doing something similar, feel free to ask in the comments below.

RICKSHAW ROADTRIP

The Tipsy Gypsies decided to buy, paint, repair and drive an old auto rickshaw over 1200km from Kochi, Kerala to Malvan Maharashtra. Unfortunately we didn't film as much as liked, (we were too busy driving and fixing things!) but here are a few shots from our adventure along the way.

The Fisherman

Over the course of several days while staying at the beach town Malvan in India, we befriended some local fisherman. It was fascinating to watch them work. Therefore I made this little short of their process from launching the boat at sunset, to returning at 5 in the morning to pull their catch in and carry it off to market.

Original score composed and performed by: Shahruz Moshtael

Part 3: The Himalayan Valleys: Spiti, Pin and Kinnaur

India is known for its large population, but did you know that some of the most remote and least populated villages in the world are also found here? 

The Himalayan Mountains need no introduction, but not many people know about the quiet, peaceful valleys in the Himalayas where you don't need to be a hardcore trekker to connect with nature or experience the tranquility and amazing hospitality of the natives who live in this rugged terrain.

The three Himalayan Valleys: Spiti, Pin and Kinnaur, located in the northern part of India in the Himachal Pradesh region, are a must visit before you die!

This is Part 3 describing our 12 day journey visiting: Spiti, Pin and Kinnaur Valleys in the Himachal Pradesh. Please read Part 1 and Part 2 to find helpful tips on how to plan your trip to this region.

Spiti Valley loop itenerary.

Spiti Valley loop itenerary.

Day 01

 Manali-Chandratal-Losar

 

On a cold morning we woke at 5am sharp. Our driver Bitu, showed up on time and by 5:45am we packed up the car and we were eager to start our next adventure through the Himalayan valleys.

When we left Manali it was still dark outside, and the city was just waking up. Shortly after leaving we began climbing up some steep mountains. The views opened up and we could tell that this trip was going to be epic.

Everything seemed to be easy until the road started getting more winding and bumpy. Around this time I, (Marta) started to feel car sick. We had to stop for a short break for some fresh air and well, vomiting. My stomach was not ready for this. Luckily the nausea went away quickly. My body was able to adjust and the rest of the trip went without any stomach problems.

Rohtang Pass and pile of corpses

Before we left on this trip we'd heard that the roads in the Spiti Valley can be very dangerous. Sometimes the internet can make things more dramatic than they really are. The roads seemed fine to us and before we knew it, we'd passed the "scary" Rohtang Pass. However, we understood why this road remains closed in the winter. The road was narrow and at some points had huge cliffs on the side.

As long as you/or your driver is sober, doesn't speed, and the weather conditions are optimal this road is totally safe. If you are traveling by bus, you might want to close your eyes at some points. Having said that, we are well aware of the dangers when it rains or snows. Fatal landslides are notorious in this region so make sure to check the weather before heading out on your trip.

The pass is open May to October and after that if you are crazy enough, you can travel at your own risk.  Hence the name Rohtang, which translates in english to "pile of corpses". 

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Make sure you bring a bandana or a face mask when you visit these valleys. Not only is the sun strong, but the roads are extremely dusty. Something to cover your face will make the trip much more enjoyable.

After a few hours of driving, everyone got a bit hungry. We stopped at a Dhaba (a roadside restaurant) in Chhatru for breakfast. We had Paratha (stuffed flatbread) served with pickles and Chai to drink.

Paratha is a breakfast staple in India. Parathas can be stuffed with veggies like potato, cauliflower or cheese and are usually served with curd and sour pickles. Our Indian friends laughed when we told them that in America we eat parathas with main dishes like dals and curries. 

A few kilometers after Chatru we saw an official sign welcoming us to Spiti & Lahaul aka "the middle land".

Chandra Tal "Lake of the Moon"

In the afternoon we reached Chandra Tal Lake, located at 4,300 meters (14,100 ft) above sea levelAt this point we started to feel small symptoms of altitude sickness: shortness of breath, tiredness, dizziness (it was definitely not from drinking), but we managed to go for a short walk to the lake, which was beautiful.

We almost camped near the lake but due to the altitude sickness, and the campground being short on supplies because it was closing the next day, we decided to move on. Our next option for accommodations was Losar.

Kunzum Pass

Before we reached Losar there was another big pass to cross, the Kunzum Pass. This pass connects Kullu and Lahaul Valleys with the Spiti Valley. 

After a long day of driving, we finally arrived in Losar. We could't see much of the town because it was already late and the power was out in the whole village. We ate a simple, warm meal and we were ready for bed. Since the power was still out, there was no hot water for a shower. That night we feel asleep to candle light under thick blankets, dreaming of hot water back home.

 

Day 02

 

Losar-Kaza

Waking up early was not easy but this was something that we had to get used to on this trip. Our room was warming up from the strong sunlight beaming through our windows. There was still no warm water due to the power outage that lasted the whole night. The cold shower woke us up fast.

Before we left we had a chance to enjoy the views in Losar. The town looked peaceful and beautiful in the morning. Frost was still on the ground and you could definitely feel winter approaching...

We were ready to leave by 8am, in order to reach the SDM office in Kaza before it closed. Kaza was our last chance where we could obtain the ILP (Inner Line Permit), which would allow us to enter the Spiti Valley.

As soon as we arrived in Kaza, we drove straight to the SDM office. Unlike in Shimla and Manali, the officers in Kaza easily issued us the "single person permit". We only had to pay 50 rupees each for processing our permit. After about 30 minutes we both left the office relieved, and happy to have our ILP permits in hand! 

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: All foreigners visiting the Spiti Valley are required to get the ILP (read Part 2).

In Kaza we just needed to find a hotel for one night. Despite being late in the season, almost all the guesthouses were either closed, booked or wanted too much money. Eventually we found a room for 1,200 rupees (after negotiation) at the "Snow White" hotel. The hotel had decent rooms, very slow wifi and some hot water. At this point we didn't need much to make us happy.

It was getting late and the temperatures were getting colder every day. This made us a little worried since we did not have proper winter clothing with us. The rooms were never heated. We had to layer on everything we owned and we always requested extra blankets.

 

Day 03: Kaza

 

In the morning we found out that the only gas station in town was out of fuel. We had enough gas to see the nearby monasteries but not enough to leave Kaza. We continued on with our plans.

 

Visiting Komic Village & Monastery

Komic Village, located at an altitude of 15,027 feet above sea level, is apparently the world's highest village that can be reached by car. There is only one bus that goes from Kaza to Komic twice a week, which is why you will see many villagers along the road trying to hitchhike. Since there were only three of us in a big car we picked up hitchers many times.

At Komic Monastery, there are two building structures. The old Tangyud Monastery, where the monks pray and a newer (pic above) monastery where the monks reside. Women are not allowed to enter the old monastery durning prayer time. We weren't sure exactly why and the monks weren't too keen on talking about it. We have been told that the majority monks practice celibacy, and some of them might even refuse to be in a presence of women, but apparently some of them have open relationships. 

The Buddhist monks were very curious and friendly. We had the honor of sharing a few stories with this monk from Komic over hot Chai.

Langza

On the way back from Komic we stopped in Langza to see the statue of Lord Buddha overlooking the valley.

Day 04: Kaza

 

In the morning we tried again to buy gas at the station (or from the locals) but we had no luck. We were supposed to be on our way to the next town, but it looked like we would be in Kaza a little longer. Nobody expected the gas shortage to last this long. 

 

Key Monastery

Key Gompa was founded around the 11th century. It was destroyed multiple times by the Mongols in the 11th, 14th and 17th centuries. Then in the 1800's, it was raided and sacked by the Sikhs, followed by a fire and a severe earthquake years later. However, the monks did not give up easily and somehow they managed to rebuild the monastery. Impressive!

The "boxy" structure developed because of the many destructions this monastery suffered. The monks wanting to rebuild as fast as possible, built simple box like structures clustered together, which resulted in a unique, fort-like look. 

On the way to this monastery, Nate and I talked about how much we admired the monks life-long dedication to Buddhism. We've contemplated what would it be like to be a young child, far away from home, living with "strangers" and devoting your entire life to God. To an outsider, the buddhist religion compared to other religions seemed superior... unscathed... incorruptible....

When we reached the top of the Key monastery, we met some other tourists from America. One of the guests started to chat with us and without telling him about our conversation, he flat out asked us if we thought that the Buddhist religion was better than others, to which we shrugged our shoulders implying a "maybe/yes". It felt like he just either overheard our private talk or he was reading our minds. Since I was raised Catholic, I pointed out problems with the church: the political power, pedophilia, bigotry to name just the few, to which the man said that it does in fact happen in buddhism as well. He raised some interesting points about the Dalai Lama, probably the most famous buddhist teacher of our time, being a very rich man. Many people criticize the Dalai Lama for being a celebrity and profiting from the religion and not being the most honest man.  What was more interesting, is this conversation happened in front of the head monk who gave us a tour of the monastery, who didn't seem to mind what this man was telling us. The man himself was a follower of buddhism, but it was refreshing to hear him admit that sometimes things aren't what they seem, and that it's good to question not only what we don't know, but what we think we already knew.  

When we were leaving we looked round the monastery with a new perspective. This time we saw many villagers working hard on a new addition with a private room for the Dalai Lama. They were carrying and moving massive, heavy rocks with primitive machinery. These men, women and very young children, as poor as they were, volunteered their time to improve these old structures for no money. I would think that with all the donations these monasteries receive they could afford to pay them even a measly salary...

We left the monastery with more questions than answers.  I guess that is the point of traveling; that we learn from others, experience new perspectives and be reminded that the world is not black and white, but also many shades of grey between. We still have enormous respect for buddhism and many it's followers. But it was refreshing to be made aware of the things you don't hear about as often.

From the Key Monastery we also visited the town of Kibber. On the way we saw the highest bridge in India being built by men and women. These people had no harness on them while they were working! They were probably were paid but defnitelly not enought for the type of work they were doing. 

Before there were bridges, the way to cross the huge valleys was by basket. People, as well as animals and goods were transported this way. Somebody needed to be waiting and willing to pull the rope on the other side of the hill. This system still exists in many areas where roads and bridges have not been built.

The picture above is a close up and it might not look so bad, but the drop was huge. You defintely needed to have some strong nerves to use this for of transportation.

We drove back to Kaza to refill our tank and bellies! 

While our driver waited in line at the gas station, we tried a small local food joint. This place was run by a cute little lady and her husband. We tried the veggie chow main, thupka soup and momos. It was all delicious!

Best Tibetan homemade meal in Kaza! You will find this place at the main square, near the gas station.

Best Tibetan homemade meal in Kaza! You will find this place at the main square, near the gas station.

Chinese food in India is infused with tibetan and indian spices, which gives it a unique taste. It's hot and flavorful. 

After lunch we found out that the gas wouldn't arrive until the next morning. We were forced to stay yet another night in Kaza. 

Day 05: Kaza to Mudh

Our driver Bitu, had been waiting at the gas station since 6am. After many hours of anxiously waiting, our driver finally returned with great news. The tank was full! We enjoyed our time in Kaza but were ready to drive to the next town, Mudh.

Arriving in Mudh was like love at first sight. The air was cold but the sun was shining. In the dusty valley, already covered by the shadows, we saw and heard yaks being rounded up by the villagers. 

Later we found out that a big festival was going to take place the next day. The Lama of the region, for the first time in probably more than 50 years, was going to visit Mudh and we were there to witness it!

The whole village seemed to be doing something to help with the preparations for the next day. Cooking, cleaning, decorating the town and washing the animals. We were so excited about what we were going to see the next day!

 

Day 06: Arrival of the Lama

In the morning, the whole village woke up early for the Lama's arrival. The ladies had been cooking meals for the entire town, the yaks and horses were now decorated and the villagers wore their best clothes. This was the the first time these villagers were able to meet the Lama, but somehow they knew exactly what to do. It's like they prepared for this moment their whole life. 

Women and men in traditional outfits awaiting the Lama's arrival.

Around noon, the Lama and his entourage finally arrived in Mudh.  There was a big crowd of people surrounding him. He proceeded to a special room, where only the most elite were able to accompany him.

Some etiquette that we learned while taking pictures of the Lama was that we couldn't stand higher that him and technically weren't allow to take pictures of him. He had his official photographer and a camera man and only they had the privilege of capturing the young, 27 year old Lama's image.

The people from Mudh brought offerings in the form of food and money. There was also a "shaman" in a costume, who ran down the street, chanting and huffing and puffing to scare away evil spirits. At least, that is what our interpretation of it was.

Shortly after the Lamas arrival we were invited to join the rest for a communal meal. We had never felt so included and welcomed, especially for something we knew so little about. An enormous thank you to the village of Mudh!

Day 07: Mudh to Tabo

Still overwhelmed with the feeling of what we had witnessed the day before, we left Mudh broken hearted. We hugged and thanked our lovely hosts from Tara's Homestay! They were amazing to us! Not only this lady saved my ear from a piercing infection, (story coming soon), but I would travel anywhere again to taste her homemade meals and chai around a hot stove!

Dhankar Monastery

On the way to Tabo, we stopped at another monastery to say a quick hello and have a chat with the monks.

Many people visit Spiti Valley in the summer, which we want to do in the future, but the colors of the fall are absolutely beautiful here.

Day 08, 09, 10: Tabo-Kalpa -Raksham

After spending a night in Tabo, we headed to Kalpa. This was our last night with our driver Bitu, who was going to leave us in Raksham with some new friends. We had a flexible schedule and we weren't in a rush to get back to Delhi. 

The Tipsy Gypsies saying goodbye to their trusty driver Bitu.

The Tipsy Gypsies saying goodbye to their trusty driver Bitu.

Raksham

Raksham is located in the Kinnaur Valley, a region known for the most delicious apples in India. This village is a perfect spot for bird-watching, bouldering and hiking. The terrain is very different from the dry and rocky Spiti and Pin Valley's. Raksham is surrounded by evergreen trees and massive rivers run through the valleys. 

Besides the famous apples, try the fresh apricot oil that you can use for massages.  Your skin will smell and feel amazing!

Chitkul

If you are staying in Raksham, you MUST visit Chitkul, another quaint village only a short drive away.

Day 11&12: Returning to Delhi

We spent the last 2 days with our friends in Narkanda, learning about birdwatching, but we preferred to do beer-watching. It was great to relax for 2 days before we got back to hectic Delhi for the biggest holiday in India, Diwali.

 

We are already planing to return to this region durning the summer with our tents and do some camping. Let us know if you have been to the Spiti Valley before and what was your experience was like. What must we do next time? Share your stories in the comments below!

RAJASTHAN - The Family India Tour

Nate's sister and her boyfriend Kion came to India to visit us for two weeks. Our tour was Mumbai - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jaisalmer - Jaipur. Unfortunately we all spent more than half of the trip sick. So we missed some sites and opportunities. Luckily in the end everyone got better and we still managed to have some fun. Here are a few random clips I managed to get between trips to the restroom...

VALLEYS IN THE SKY

'Valleys in the Sky' takes you on a journey to one of the highest altitude and least populated regions in the world, located in the Indian Himalayas. Experience the beauty and magnificence of this remote area and witness the incredibly rare celebration and arrival of his Holiness the high Lama, to the small town of Mudh for the first time during "this life's incarnation".

Get Tipsy on: Madi

Madi, also known around the rest of the world as Palm Wine, is a delicious and often times healthy alcoholic beverage made from the sap of palm trees. In Madi's case, the coconut tree. 

We discovered this wonderful drink through a fantastic experience you can read about here.

After cutting the palm stem, a container is placed below the tap and the sweet palm nectar is collected. Although non alcoholic at first, it only takes a few hours for the sap to naturally ferment and reach an alcohol content of about 4%. If left longer, the brew gets stronger and becomes a "wine" and the taste will be more acidic.

We absolutely LOVED this drink but please be careful when seeking it out. Make sure you find a reliable source because as with any moonshine, it may be mixed or "diluted" with another substance that could be dangerous or even fatal. 

After sampling it at a roadside stand we arranged for our host to take us to a local producer and had the freshest Madi possible. For 100 rupees (about $1.50) we got a liter and kept us tipsy all day.

Cheers!

Money Problems

It's not every day that a country decides to scrap two of it's most popular currencies, the 500 and 1000 rupee, let alone scrap them and tell everyone the night before.

Yet this is what happened to us while we were in Bombay. In order to cut down on blackmarket money and counterfeit bills, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to pull this bold move.

The government announced they would put a limit on how much cash you could turn in without imposing major penalties and fines up to 50% of your money. Luckily for us we had limited money to exchange. It still took us about an hour and half of chaos at the bank turn the old currency in.

Once we exchanged what we had, our problems weren't over. All ATM machines were down for several days and when random ones started reopening they would have lines around the block and run out of cash within hours. On top of that, few businesses accept credit cards so needless to say we had to be careful with our money.

Almost everyone we've talked to here is supporting this crazy strategy despite the major inconveniences many are facing. India is largely a cash based economy so there are millions who will be affected by this including the massive wedding industry. Many families pay for the weddings in cash and spend years saving for it. The restaurants in Goa are empty because so many people canceled their trips to avoid the hassles so we're sure the tourism industry is taking a huge hit. Also, remote poor people who live too far from a bank can have piles of cash saved up that may now be worthless.

Anyway, it was interesting to witness a country thrown into financial chaos for more than a month. Considering the stress it's causing so many people we sure hope the long term benefit is worth it and does what their hoping. Only time will tell... 

Part 2: Planning your trip on the Spiti Valley Loop

 Want to plan a trip on the amazing Spiti Valley Loop? Every foreigner traveling from Kaza to Kinnauar is required to obtain the ILP (Inner Line Permit) so make sure you do your homework. Here you'll find answers on how to obtain the permit as well as transportation options for this amazing journey. If you missed Part 1 of this story you can find it here.

After being denied the ILP (Inner Line Permit) in Shimla, we continued our journey in the north of India to Manali, where we were told we would 100% get the permit.

Again, we ended up in a small town with one purpose only, to obtain the ILP.  All the foreigners visiting Himachal Pradesh between the Spiti Valley and Kinnaur Districts are required to get the ILP.  

Inner Line Permit

As soon as we got to Manali, we visited the SDM office to get the ILP,  which is located in the city center, on Mall road. It turned out that in Manali, the permits are only issued for groups of 4 or more people, so we were back to square one. Winter was approaching fast and we only had 2 days before the pass was going to close (The Kunzum Pass is closed from October 16th for 7 months).

But this is India and we knew that there would be another way around this small bump. At the SDM office we were informed to go to Kaza, where the officers were apparently not as strict on the rule of 4 people traveling together.

We decided to try our luck with the ILP in Kaza. We only had to find transportation from Manali to Kaza.

Transportation

There are few ways to travel on this route.

Option 1: The most obvious choice is to drive yourself either by renting a car or motorcycle. But since neither of us had done this before and after hearing how treacherous the roads were, we didn't feel comfortable with this option. Having said that, our next time will be on motorcycles! Also, we wanted to be able to take in the views rather than worry about driving off a cliff... 

Option 2: There is one bus from Manali to Kaza and it leaves at 6am. There are no reserved seats but this is the cheapest option. We heard the ride through the pass can be a bit dangerous and rough so weren't so keen on taking the bus. 

Option 3: A "Volvo bus" would have been more comfortable but apparently wasn't available because it was the end of the season.

Option 4: Private taxis ("yellow cab") wanted to charge us 9,000 rupees to drive from Manali to Kaza. This was way too expensive and out of the question.

Option 5: Shared Taxi in a 4x4 costs only 2,000 rupees each but the driver who looked like Indian Lenny Kravitz, didn't have a permit to drive foreigners through Rohtang Pass. Lenny almost convinced us to sneak through the border but we decided not to.

Option 6: After walking for hours from one tourist office to another, we stepped into Chandertal Trek and Tours. After some negotiating, we decided to rent a private driver with a 4x4 to drive us for 10 days in the Himachal Pradesh. That way we could stop anywhere we wanted, film and photograph easier, and it also sounded like the most comfortable ride.

We negotiated the price for the driver, car and gas for 3,600 rupees a day. We later learned that this is way too much and it should have been about half but oh well... Foreigners always pay more because we have no clue what things should cost in India. We'll know better next time.

Chandertal Tours helped us to plan the 10 day trip. We planned to drive from Manali to visit the valleys of: Spiti, Pin and Kinnauar, making a big loop and ending in Shimla.

We were going to meet our driver Bitu next day at 5:30am. Read Part 3 HERE!

Have a tip or story to share about getting your Inner Line Permit? Please share in the comments below!

BFFs

For our last few nights in Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh, we moved to a nice little hotel in the Laakar Bazaar district in order to be more central. 

The hotel was decent enough and everyone who worked there was quite nice. But there was one employee who went above and beyond the call of duty. 

He was kind of like a bellhop, but also worked in the restaurant and just kind of helped out with whatever needed to be done. As we were checking into our room he began to converse with us. "What country are you from?" "What are your names?" etc. 

He was quite nice and so we indulged in some light conversation with him. At the end he wanted a selfie with us, which isn't unusual. We've taken millions at this point. But then he asked if he could meet us in the evening because he wanted to talk with us more in English.

We said okay, he left and we went on with our day. Sadly by the time we got home from touristing it was quite late and we honestly had forgotten to look for him (he was working anyway) and we went straight to our room.

The next day we saw him and there was a sad look on his face. Turns out he waited for us until midnight! We felt terrible.

We weren't actually able to meet with him until the last day. It was actually just me (Nate), who met with him. I agreed to talk with him in the restaurant and I brought my computer armed to show him some pictures of our trip and our blog etc.

As soon as I sat down the first thing he asked me was, "can you get me a visa for the UK?" I looked at him shocked and said I was from America. He then asked if I could get him one for the U.S. Sadly, I told him I couldn't for reasons obvious to anyone from there. I explained that the process was quite complicated and expensive and that I had no connections or authority.

After that we chatted a bit more and he insisted on giving me a gift which was quite sweet. I tried to refuse but he wouldn't have it. He also invited us to his village to stay with him and his family and said it would be "his greatest honor". At the very end he told me "we will be best friends and I will write you on Facebook every day". Well he's kept his promise. 

I've received messages almost every day ranging from, "how are you?" to "where are you?" to "I love you", "I miss you" and "please come back to Shimla!". Marta and I were a bit worried and quite shocked that we might have an actual stalker.

But since talking with other Indian friends we think it's a combo of things. One is a "lost in translation", two is a cultural difference, and three, he's never been treated this way by a foreigner before. The hotel we stayed at was really a locals place where Indian tourists stay. I don't think many westerns have stayed there. And the fact that two exotic foreigners walked in, talked with him gave him probably far more respect than Indian tourists do, he couldn't help but wear his heart on his sleeve.

With that perspective in mind, we're still in touch and he think he is a great guy. His messages still "weird" me out a bit but I try to remember they are coming from a good place. And although we don't always get it, we have to say the people of India are some of the sweetest, most sincere people we have ever met. 

... and that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Too Close For Comfort

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It's 3am and the alarm goes off. 

Time to get up and out the door in 15. Uber is on the way.

We load into the car and I (Nate) take a look at the driver. Something doesn't seem right. Is he sleepy? Is he drunk? I whisper to Marta to keep her eye on his driving. No napping for us on the way to the train station because who knows what this driver could do while we're out. 

The first half of the journey, things are fine. He's driving a bit slow which is weird for India but he isn't swerving or anything. We make our way onto the major freeway headed from Gurgaon to Delhi for a 5am train departure.

All of a sudden in the middle of the freeway, the driver starts slowing down. Actually more like coasting to a stop. He says nothing to us. Marta and I look at each other, then we look at him and ask, "what's going on?". He doesn't look at us and he doesn't say anything. 

My mind starts scrambling. I didn't hear an engine noise, I didn't hear any stutter, we just stopped. Is he trying to kidnap us? Is a van going to pull up in the dark and masked men whisk us away? Finally we start screaming at him "What's going on?!" That wakes him up and he finally gestures that the car is broken. 

At that moment a giant semi-truck flies by in the other lane. Great. We are in the middle of the freeway, in the fast lane, in the dark, in a stalled car. I instantly think one of these giant trucks could plow into us. Not more than seconds later, BAM!!!! My life flashes before my eyes (not literally...that would have been cool though) and we look back. A motorcyclist has just hit us. The motorcyclist gets up, and is miraculously okay. I don't think this was his first time. This is India after all where people drive INSANE! That's when I tell Marta we have to get out of the car and onto the side of the freeway. We grab our bags, exit the uber and move to the shoulder. 

At this point 2-3 Auto Rickshaws have pulled up. They offer us rides which at first we refuse but soon we realize time is running out to catch our train, and we don't have time to wait for another uber. So we negotiate the price, jump in the Rickshaw and he speeds us to the station just in time to catch our train.

The whole experience was so surreal and fast that it took us a few hours on the train to finally calm down and process. We were lucky this time but if that motorcyclist had been a large truck, we would probably be dead. 

That's my story and I'm sticking to it....

Part 1: A taste of the Himalayas

After weeks of  dealing with one of the most populated cities in the word we were ready to spend some time in nature.We traded the hot and humid weather of New Delhi for the cooler temperatures of the north. Our journey begins in Shimla, the beautiful mountainous town, famous for it's spectaculars views, friendly and hard working people and delicious organic apples. The Tipsy Gypsies are on a journey to explore the spectacular Himachal Pradesh, and more....

PART 1

Delhi to Shimla

On an early morning, we boarded a train from Delhi to Shimla. This was our first long distance train ride, and we cautiously decided to sit in an AC cart with reserved seats. We almost missed the train because we got into a car accident with a crazy uber driver, which you can ready about it here

Still shaken up after the uber drive we ran into the station a few minutes before 5:15am and just in time to catch our train. The ride was very pleasant and comfortable and perfect for catching up on sleep. 

After a few hours we arrived in a town called Kalka and boarded the Himalayan Queen "Toy Train" to Shimla. This train was very tiny, hence the name, and operated on a different, smaller track. Before we boarded the train, we were able to buy lunch and eat before we starting our long journey to Shimla.

The journey on the toy train is spectacular. You get to soak in the views for about 6 hours so get comfortable and enjoy the ride.

The train makes short stops along the way so if you get hungry there are plenty of opportunities to eat food: delicious hot samosas, snacks, and sweet chai. Food vendors will also come onto the train with chai and fresh snacks like chana chaat (garbanzo beans with onion, tomatoes, chilis and fresh lime juice).

The boonies of Shimla

Shimla is a popular destination, therefore not the cheapest for budget travelers like us. We decided to stay in a hotel called "Snowflake Cottage", located 9 kilometers outside the town, which turned out to be a good decision. The following day in a desperate search for beer, we explored a small town nearby, Mashobra, on foot. It was a walk worth the adventure despite the rain that got us soaking wet. Here are some things we got see while walking along the road.

The advantage of staying outside the city was that the hotel was cheaper, but the negative was that getting to the city was not so cheap. We knew that the taxi would be around 500 rupees one way, which was almost half of what we spent on the hotel. We had to come up with another plan for transportation.

We asked the front desk for help. They reluctantly said that buses do exist, but they don't recommend it. Perhaps they wanted us to use the paid taxi service (commission for the hotel) or they were just confused why two white kids would want to ride the locals bus. Of course, we decided to try the bus.

The local buses can get crowded in seconds, with people transporting all sorts of things: packages, propane bottles (totally illegal and dangerous), farm animals, but you are almost guaranteed to fit no matter how many people are inside. Seldom do tourists use public transportation. If you are a foreigner traveling on a local bus you will be the talk of all the conversations for probably weeks. We learned the the local buses are a lot fun, fast (sometimes too fast), and very cheap. Locals are very helpful so don't be afraid to ride the crazy bus.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: The bus will stop pretty much anywhere you want. When you are stacked in the back of the bus and you want to make the bus to stop, just whistle.

Touristing in Shimla

First things first, coffee is a must. We went to the old school coffeeshop "Indian Coffee House", where waiters wear cool outfits and the coffee is decent and you can grab some snacks before you explore the rest of the city.

Also they have a restroom and toilette paper!! It's a luxury in India.

Jakhoo, Monkey Temple

Hindus worship animals, cows being the holiest of them all. For a semi-vegan, this sounds like a great religion. We decided to visit the Jakkhoo temple, which is dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman.

Jakhoo temple is located on top of a hill. Either we are out of shape or this is a really steep climb. Before you start the walk make sure you've had some coffee and bring plenty of water with you. Once you get to the top, the atmosphere is amazing. Architecturally, the design of the temple itself is ok, but there are mischievous monkeys running around the whole place, which was the most fun part about this place. 

Beware of the monkeys

Seeing monkeys in the wild was something very new to us, so naturally we got very excited. However, the monkeys are clever with the dumb tourists, so here is the thing. They are very cute and extremely smart. We "played" around with them, taking pictures and watching them, and we got very comfortable maybe too comfortable... it's hard to resist them, just take a look.

Just when we started to leave one of the monkeys tried to steal the scarf of my (Marta's) backpack. The monkey was screaming and I was screaming. Fortunately for me, my scarf was tide to my backpack so the monkey ran away empty handed.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tips: Lesson #1 put all your loose shit away (sunglasses, scarfs, phones, cameras!!) because they will try to snatch it from you. These guys are smart and once they steal your stuff they will try to bribe you to bring them food and trade for your belongings. Yes, this sounds crazy but it is true. There is a chance that if you have some tasty snacks they will return your stuff to you, but unfortunately it might be in poor condition.

Advanced Studies aka Rashtrapati

This is a beautiful classical structure built by the British in the 1800's. Don't bother with the tour of the interior because it sucks. Since there is still an interior designer in me, I love learning about the interior architecture and we decided to tour the interior. This tour was really lame. The guide knew English, but during the tour spoke Hindi language only. We spent about 5 min in each room. The guide told us to read the pamphlets in the rooms (as long as the Lord of the Rings) and ask him questions if we have any. Mhhh ok, thanks. So we recommend that you do your own research on the history of the place, and spend as much time as you can around the gardens surrounding the building. 

 

Food Porn

After the hike we sure got hungry. We decided to hit as many food stalls as possible

Snack #1 Veggie Samosa burger from SITA Ram and Son

Snack #2 Chana Tikka

Snack #3 Chai

Snack #2 Gravy and Ghawna (pancake)  from SITA Ram and Son

Snack #2 Chinese noodles Indian Style

After Shimla, we originally planned to travel to the Ladakh region, but winter was approaching rapidly and we weren't prepared for the snow and freezing weather. We decided to journey through the Spiti Valley loop instead, but there was one catch. Foreigners need a permit to visit this region. The bureau of tourism in Shimla said they couldn't help us with the permit, and we needed to go to Manali. So guess where we are going next? ...Read part 2, Manali and Inner Line Permit HERE!

GURDWARA: THE SIKH TEMPLE

We are nothing short of amazed by the Sikh people. What they have created is not just a place for themselves, but a sanctuary for all faiths (or non faiths) as long as you come in peace.

Aside from beautiful prayer rooms, where you can pray to whichever god you choose, every Gurdwara has a langer hall where anyone can come almost any time of the day, and eat fresh, healthy vegetarian food.

In the massive kitchens you will find volunteers of almost every faith churning giant pots of daal or kneading dough for freshly baked roti.

When you sit in one of their giant food halls, you will be served with a smile and provided as many portions as you’d like. But it doesn’t stop there.

Many Gurdwara’s also offer other services like nurseries, and classrooms at no cost.

The Sikh’s have a complicated history steeped in tradition which we won’t elaborate on here, but we highly recommend you read about them further as they are a fascinating and wonderful people.