When I want to manifest something, I first bring it to life on my blog. For those paying attention, I always do this. I’ve become predictable, even.
Sometimes these notions I have first appear in my Twitter feed. And then I feel the need to solidify them by writing about them on my blog. It’s called accountability and it’s a way to hold myself to task. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
This is how my last novel, The Camino Club came about. At first, I dreamed it. Then I tweeted about my idea. And then, while I was preparing to walk my first Camino in 2014, I blogged about it. It was a kernel of an idea. So in order to hold myself accountable, I put out into the world that I would write a YA novel set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage path.
That novel was published by Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press, in 2020. Ask me about launching a book during a pandemic. You know what, on second thought…don’t ask me. Nobody should have to do that!
Anyway, I’m also famous for digressing. Today I want to hold myself accountable for a new idea.
My dream this time is to release a journal of our upcoming short trip to Paris. It will only be a week in Paris…but a week is enough if you’re fast of your toes. Paris is a moveable feast. But it’s also a well constructed easily traversed city that’s perfectly laid out for the hiker and consummate walker. That happens to be what Michael and I are. We will take that city by storm, one footstep at a time…and we will cover it all!
And I will keep a daily journal. And if all goes according to plan, I will publish it. The only other thing I ever self-published was my short story set on the Camino called Light Near the End of the World. So this will be my 2nd journey into that world.
I don’t have a plan, but I will write about the places we visit in Paris and how we got to those places. And I will write about food and restaurants and cafes and macarons and baguettes. I will cover everything that strikes my fancy. We’ll see how this goes.
I will probably start writing in the journal before I even get to Paris. This will be a personal account of ONE JOURNEY. We’re traveling during a pandemic and we’re getting to Paris via Iceland. I mean, anything can happen, right? We’ll see if we get there…and if and when we do, I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about.
I’m ready. With my Dollarama journal and the lovely bookmark I picked up somewhere along the way as its traveling companion, I will take notes on our Parisienne travels.
I hope this goes well! I’m so passionate about Paris. It appears in many of my short stories, and I am also currently writing a YA novel that takes place there. Wrapped somewhere in the reasoning for returning to Paris–one of my favourite cities in the world–is the excuse of doing some extra research for my novel in progress. But honestly, I just love it there so much. I want Michael to see it…and I want to see it again for the first time, through his eyes.
Just over 40 days before our departure. Let’s hope the Delta Variant doesn’t keep us from our already postponed (we originally planned Paris for September, 2020) trip to the beautiful city of light!
That is the amount of days between US and our Paris arrival.
If the universe allows it, that is.
Michael and I are booked.
In today’s pandemic times, of course, ANYTHING can happen between now and then. Especially with this new special fuckery known as the Delta variant.
As of this writing, borders are open to double-vaxxed travelers and re-entry is allowed. Is it wise? That is the question I keep asking myself. Over and over and over again.
But by hook or by crook, we are destined for Paris.
And this excursion will include miles and miles and miles of…WALKING. Our hotel is about halfway between the Arc de Triomphe and Sacré-Cœur. This gives us hikers immediate walking access to all of the Paris must-see locations. We have one week to visit everything! Our feet got this! WE got this!
Paris is one of those cities–planned or accidental–that are absolutely PERFECT for walking. There’s so much to see in such a tight little circle of interest. We plan to cover every masked-and-socially-distanced inch of it.
I can’t wait to be back there! Since my first trip in 2014, I just feel like Paris is one of those magical places that resonate with me so completely. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could live in that city and call it home. I’m sure a lot of its visitors say this very same thing. But that’s because it’s true. It’s just one of those cities.
I intend to take copious notes this time around. Who am I kidding? I ALWAYS intend on taking copious notes…I just never do! This time will be different. I need this information. Both for a novel in progress I’ve been working on…and for another (non-fiction) project I’m tossing about. So this TOTALLY 100% SIGHTSEEING PLEASURE TRIP is going to have a dash of incidental research on the side.
And you can bet your sweet bippy I will be visiting Shakespeare & Company and spending some cash in their store! We all must do our part to keep the Shakey Pear & Co afloat! I want it to be there after the pandemic. You know, you can actually do your part from afar. They did put out a call during the pandemic that they could use support. Here’s a link to their ONLINE STORE. You can even become a member. I will definitely be spending time there, and bringing home a few Shakespearean things with me!
100 Days & Counting. Fingers are crossed for receding numbers in cases and advancing numbers in fully vaccinated people. I can almost smell those cafe au lait and pain au chocolat mornings!
Just as I have this deep desire to write a travel memoir, or something along those lines, my ability to travel has been hampered. I was so looking forward to traipsing around Paris this September. I fully planned on journaling everything with the intention to write something of a little memoir of our experiences, too. Just as I had every intention of writing a memoir of our upcoming Caminho Português.
I suppose both are still possible, with the passage of time and good fortune. It would depend both on the pandemic being over and my surviving it. For now, I am just standing here on the corner of Wanderlust and Disappointment–Nowhere to go and a deep unsettling urge to get there.
But I’m not a patient person. I was gung ho to finally dabble in the world of travel memoir that I have fallen so deeply in love with. I planned to cover all my tracks in Paris this year. And to fully record every step of our Camino experience in the less traveled Portugues Way next year. And now it’s gone…for now. Lost to this coronavirus that will not go away.
I know these are first world problems, that we should be happy enough just to avoid infection, but as the day of our intended departure nears it is a pain made more raw. We were to fly to Paris on Friday September 4th. We were to be in the beautiful City of Light for my 54th birthday on the 13th. I was to scrawl our experiences with intention, possibly while sitting in the shadow of Notre Dame…or in the company of Shakespeare and Co. No matter the frivolity of the loss, it is nonetheless a loss.
Now, what happens? Do we push Paris forward a year and hope the pandemic ends? Do we walk the Camino next year and bump Paris? Do we plan something altogether different? Do we make no plans and hope only to survive?
There will be no travel memoir writing, at any rate. Not while our wings are clipped and we are stuck on the ground. This is my whiny post of negativity. It’s been a long time coming. People are dying and I’m complaining about not being able to write about the sunset in Paris, or how the books in the poetry section of Shakespeare and Co smell. Or how a macaroon always tastes better in Paris—when it carries with it that extra O, and the meringue is made in France. I’m bitter about my inability to partake in travel-writing while others deal with heartache and despair.
Is it just me, or is everyone getting tired of this pandemic? I’m glad to be healthy, and to have avoided it thus far. And I’m glad that nobody I know has gotten sick. If we all do our part and practice social distancing and mask wearing…who knows? Maybe it WILL pass. Maybe there will be travel inside the World of After. It seems so bleak right now, our future. Sometimes I feel like I was just getting started. And now that I have the desire to talk about it, to write it down…I am unable to move.
I know Paris will be there. And so will the coast of Portugal. With any luck, so too will I. And if and when the time comes that we once again board a plane and disappear into adventure…a journal will come with me. And I will tell it every little thought I have while I’m away.
In the meantime, I suppose it’s time to cozy up with a book that has already been there among the wanderlust and roaming. There are plenty of books on travel out there, just waiting to be explored. No tickets or packing needed.
“When the wind is blowing and the sleet or rain is driving against the dark windows, I love to sit by the fire, thinking of what I have read in books of voyage and travel.”— Charles Dickens
All these places had their moments. In my life, I’ve loved them all. ~~ The Beatles
Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the places I have visited over the past few years. Sometimes it’s almost unbearable thinking of returning to one of them, even though I have loved most of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. The thing is… going back means not seeing somewhere else I haven’t yet explored and discovered for the first time. There’s only so much time. Life is short. Doubling back and revisiting places where my feet have already landed seems like the antithesis of good travel plans. There’s an entire world to discover. Why waste my time revisiting?
Because CAMINO. There I said it. Yep, this is yet another Camino de Santiago post. I’m going back. The Camino is, perhaps, the birth of my modern self. Well, that sounds highfalutin. But it happens to be the case. I had an awakening of sorts on the Camino de Santiago back in May of 2014. I had just come out of three years of intense therapy prior to walking the Camino. I considered the Camino my last cleansing step in the process of moving from victim to survivor to thriver. I would leave whatever residual burden I still carried from the scars along the pilgrimage path and come home burden-free, finally healed.
The scars would still be there, but they would no longer be open. I thought the Camino de Santiago would be my version of Kintsukuroi (A Japanese word meaning GOLDEN REPAIR–the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum). I loved the idea that something could be more beautiful in the places in which it was once broken. I’m actually quite obsessed with the idea. I would walk the Camino de Santiago and fill in those last cracks in my psyche with gold. If pottery could go through the transformative process of Kintsukuroi, well…so could I! Dammit.
And I did. I came off the Camino feeling accomplished and whole. The golden light of the Camino de Santiago had invigorated me and filled my cracks with brightness.
Even though I am spending precious time returning to the sacred pilgrimage path, I can’t bring myself to say it will be time wasted. Yes, I walked that way before. Yes, being there means I won’t be somewhere new and exciting and different. Sometimes you’re just not finished with a place. I think the Camino will continue to call me until the day I die.
Besides, it is different to see a place alone with friends you meet along the path than it is to start out at that place with a loved one beside you. This Camino, which we will begin in the September of 2019, will be experienced together. There is something to be said about showing a loved one a place you yourself have already fallen in love with. It will come back to life for me, I’m sure…but it will also shine new as a share it. I can’t even begin to describe how excited that makes me.
Some Images from my 2014 Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage
Imagine if the Japanese saw only destruction in the things that lay broken and shattered in pieces at their feet. Imagine if they didn’t have the imagination and the hope and the intuitiveness to give those broken things a place of honor. Sometimes surviving a fall makes a thing stronger, sharper…more precious. It might even make it more beautiful than it originally was. At any rate, I’m returning to the Camino…not as someone in need of a final healing, but as someone with eyes wide open to the wonder of the pilgrimage path. It’ll be quite a different Camino this time. It will provide for us. We need only open to its possibilities and wait for the gifts to unfold.
As a wise man once said, “I think I’m goin’ to Kathmandu, that’s really really where I’m going to. If I ever get out of here, that’s what I’m gonna do…”
To give credit where credit is due, that wise man was Bob Seger. The year was 1975 and I was 9 years-old and ready to explore the world. And, yes, I have wanted to go to Kathmandu ever since the first chords of Seger’s song.
Without further ado, this is exactly what we did the next morning. Our goodbye to Pokhara was bitter-sweet. It’s nice to arrive in a place with zero expectation and fall deeply deeply in love with it. It happened a few times during our wonderful G Adventures itinerary, but never more powerfully than with Orchha and Pokhara.
Have I recommended G Adventures in any of my previous posts? If not, I have been remiss. It’s a fabulous tour company! We were so impressed, we actually started searching upcoming getaways for our next adventure…while we were still on this one.
As we boarded the bus for Kathmandu, a street vendor approached us with fresh baked goods. By fresh baked I mean the chocolate inside the croissants was too hot to eat. An entire basket of baked delights just for us. Delicious!
The road from Pokhara to Kathmandu is not a long one, but it is an incredibly busy one. Near the end of the journey, there is a mountainside traffic jam that can take one-two-three-four hours to get through. We sat and we sat and we sat. I’ve never seen anything like it. But the reward at the end of the journey was worth the inconvenience of the jam. I’ve just never seen so many trucks in a row in my life. The road zigzagged up a mountain, so we could look across the divide at places and see the line of trucks just go off to what seemed like infinity. It took a few hours to get through the last few miles of our journey…
The reward for our patience was the Swayambhunath Stupa (otherwise known as Monkey Temple), which we visited prior to checking in at our hotel. Situated atop a large hill, Monkey Temple offers gorgeous panoramic views of all Kathmandu! It was founded by the great-grandfather of King Mānadeva (464-505 CE), King Vṛsadeva, around the beginning of the 5th century CE. And it is filled with monkeys. (-:
With all the monkeys and the music makers and the tourists and the bells and the prayer wheels and the mayhem, Monkey Temple is a festival of noise and a feast of sights.
That was a quick journey! We were in and out in 40 minutes. I could have spent a day there. I am drawn always to prayer wheels. And to hear the Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ chant coming from the little shops does a heart good! I see the words every day, as they’re tattooed on my left forearm. The chant swam up and down the alleyways and alcoves of the magical space.
After the temple, we went to our hotel–FUJI HOTEL–located in a sort of back alley in the heart of Kathmandu. It was a lovely bustling neighbourhood and a glamorous old hotel that felt like it held a history of its own…a history worth knowing. I immediately liked the owner, who spoke to me on several occasions. He was animated and really appeared to love life. He had, I am certain, as many stories to tell as his hotel did.
Alas, all great adventures come to an end. And we were there, standing at the end of the trail with our hearts in our throats and our lungs filled with the life we lived on the long and winding road from New Delhi to Kathmandu. Blessed and blissful and sad beyond measure, thirsting for more adventure and exhausted from our endless travels.
One last meal with the family we had created along the way, a group of strangers who found ways to connect and share a great adventure and form a bond of memories to carry forward into futures spent apart. Forever locked together as travelers with a shared experience on a chaotic dusty muddy pot-holed road filled with trucks and buses and pedestrians and cows and water buffalo and goats and hens and wheel barrels and bicycles and motorbikes and scooters and tuktuks and rickshaws and more.
Promise me you’ll never forget. Swear to me you’ll always remember.
There is so much beauty in the world. The best way to see it is to GET OUT IN IT. Today, we did that. In so many ways.
First things first. We took an early morning bus ride up one of the many mountains here in Pokhara, Nepal. This trip was to take advantage of a perfect observation deck from which to watch the sunrise as it illuminated the Fishtail Mountain and brought that impressive snow-capped mountain to life. There’s nothing like seeing those first rays ignite the blues, grays and whites of the mountain. It was gorgeous.
After the sunrise was over, we went back down the mountain and back to the Fewa Lake Pokhara Lakeside area. It was a free day for us. And…we had our bearings. Ranny had taken us on a walk the previous evening, so we knew all the good eats and buys. And where we could access the lake and the boats. There were a few in the group doing the zip-line. I had my eye on the stupa at the top of the hill on the other side of the lake from us. We met up with two of the other G Adventurers and made plans to go hiking to the stupa together!
The Pokhara Shanti Stupa, or the World Peace Pagoda (Shanti Stupa = Peace Pagoda), is at the top of Anadu Hill. It’s a nice hike to the top, but slightly difficult if you’re a beginner. It’s 1100 metres (or 3,600 feet) up, with rock steps, dirt paths, gravel, etc. It’s very beautiful and there are many places along the way where you can stop and take some great shots of the lake and the city of Pokhara on the opposite shore. Extremely picturesque. And you can also watch the paragliders swarming around the hills across the lake. Some gorgeous views that make the difficult trek worthwhile.
But first, the boat ride over to the opposite shore. Such a gorgeous lake, and it’s filled with the most picturesque boats! I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them.
After the boatman took us to the other shore, we were ready to scale the hill (It’s odd calling it a hill when it’s 3,000 ft—but I’m not certain when a hill is considered a mountain). The first thing I did was take my sandals off and put them in my backpack. It was a perfect day for a barefoot walk up a hill to see a stupa!
It was SO worth the trip to the top. What a gorgeous symbol of peace the stupa is! It was a solemn and humbling sight to see. Glorious!
After our long afternoon of hiking, we returned to the busy strip in Pokhara and went to a little restaurant called Moondance. Food never tasted so good!
I’ll leave you with this message I found at the top of the ‘mountain’. Good advice, this. Always respect the silence. But sometimes it’s good to jump. Especially when fear holds you back. Just don’t jump off the mountain!
We were up far before the sun today! Left the hotel for the train station at 4:15. Day 11 was mostly about travelling. By train and then by bus. Just over a kilometre from the India-Nepal border, we left the bus and visited the Immigration India office for our passport stamps. Afterwards, we had to walk the rest of the way to the border. It was about 40 degrees Celsius and the traffic we walked beside was utter congestion. The trucks wait for days sometimes to get through the border. There must have been over a thousand of them all lined up and waiting patiently. Crossing the border on foot was the only way we’d make it in one day.
The border crossing was relatively painless, as we picked up our Nepalese visas at the Ottawa, Ontario Nepalese Embassy.
All that was left of our day was the bus ride to our hotel. We switched buses to one that was already in Nepal awaiting our arrival. The hotel was lovely. It had a beautiful pool, though we didn’t make use of it. The group had supper together and from there we called it a night.
Day 12 – Lumbini, birthplace of Siddhartha!
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine visiting the birthplace of Buddha. But that’s exactly what we did today. After a short bus ride, we were in Lumbini. Once a place in India, it is now situated in Nepal.
We visited the Bodhi Tree, the Mayadevi Pond, and the Maya Devi Temple, which contains what is said to be the precise spot where Siddhartha was birthed.
After visiting the sacred grounds, we were ready for lunch. The bus took us up into the mountains and we had lunch with a view. There was much fog and mist, though, so it wasn’t as spectacular as I’m sure it sometimes is… but it was still a sight to see.
After lunch? The last leg of the day’s journey. We arrived at the Barauli Community Homestay in which we’re staying for two days. The arrival was such a lovely experience. We were greeted by the village and were anointed and given flower leis as we walked through the procession.
The room is lovely and the people are beautiful. After settling in, another exciting highlight awaited us. A bike ride through the village and down to the river, where local women awaited us with masala chai and cookies and crackers. So much fun!!
Supper was an incredible delight. One of the best yet. And just before we sat down for supper the community came together to entertain us with song and dance. So lovely!
Michael, Barauli Homestay Community, Nepal, 2018
Tomorrow is a safari, but we were warned long ago that there may not be much wildlife to see. One can always hope. Loving Nepal so far!
Our only full day in Varanasi began early. We were up before the sun and making our way to the Ganges by tuktuk once again. The morning is when pilgrims bathe and swim in the river. It’s a spiritual cleanse. Hindus come from all over India to partake. From all over the world, for that matter. All Hindus are to visit the Ganges at least once in their lifetime.
Michael, on the Ganges, Varanasi, India, 2018
Ranny arranged for us to take a boat out onto the river again. We did the same route as the previous evening, visiting both the crematorium and the Dasawamedh Ghat. On the way from the crematorium to the Ghat, I saw what at first looked like some kind of effigy in the water. It was sort of wrapped around the anchor line of a boat. It turned out to be a partially clothed bloated body of a deceased pilgrim.
Nobody moved it, nobody really even acknowledged it. Ranny told us it would stay in the river and that it would eventually disentangle itself from the anchor line. He also said it would be improper to move it. It was a bit startling to witness.
After we returned to our departure ghat and made our way up it’s steps, we said our goodbyes to the mighty Ganges. And mighty it is. I had no idea it was as big as it is. And it has a mighty current too. Seeing the swirling eddies on the water’s surface reminded me of the Buddha dipping his begging bowl in the river and having it float UPSTREAM against the powerful current. Now I can no longer remember if that was something said to have happened or a dream. They are each the same, I suppose.
Ranny took us to a tiny local restaurant next for breakfast.Some would call it a hole in the wall, but there are enough of us who know these kinds of places are quite often the best. Luckily we have Ranny to bring us to these gems. The owner was such a lovely man. I had French pancakes (crepes) with rock sugar and lemon wedges. Sooooooo good. I talked to the owner about his baked goods at the counter when we were leaving. An American had taught him to bake and he loves doing it. It showed. His breads and brownies were picture perfect. I took a three pack of chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow’s train ride to the Nepalese border.
Back in the tuktuk! We were off to see Buddha gardens and a temple, as well as an ancient stupa. The streets of Varanasi are a blur of commotion, just like everywhere else in India. I love the traffic here so much! It’s a thrill to be inside the chaos. One knows one is alive when one is tearing through streets narrowly avoiding cows and babies and fruit carts and transports and bicycles. The traffic itself is beautiful music, punctuated by the ever constant and persistent HERE-I-AM call of the horn!
Dhamek Stupa was only one of the many sights we visited next. It seemed like a sort of complex. Ranny arranged for a guide to take us through all of it. We also saw the standing Buddha statue and the Tibetan temple. The deer park, where Buddha gave his first dharma teachings, is just behind this temple. Sarnath has much to offer and it’s worth the tuktuk ride to the area.
After Sarnath, we returned to the restaurant where we had dinner the night before. Delicious food! The owner came and chatted with us. When he found out we were from Canada he proudly tested his French on us. He even spoke German on our way out, ever ready to impress us with his mastery of so many languages.
Next, SILK. We had a quick tour of a silk factory after returning to the heart of Varanasi. Of course I bought a scarf. I don’t need my arm to be twisted to do so.
That was that. Another day over. Time races by so quickly here. We had supper at the hotel restaurant and quickly hit the sheets. Our wake up time for day eleven is 3:45am, as we are to meet in the lobby at 4:15am to make our way to the train station. Leaving Varanasi in the morning for Nepal! Can’t wait! Lumbini will be a highlight. The birthplace of Siddhartha Buddha.
I will be sad to leave Varanasi and I will be sad to leave India. I’m breathless from the beauty I’ve experienced so far. India just keeps giving, keeps opening up. Such a festival of humanity!
Gangaji! Tonight we took tuktuks through the streets of Varanasi to the most famous holy river on the planet. The Ganges. Coming upon the Ganges for the first time was, for me, comparable to coming upon the spires of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela for the first time. Only, slightly more spectacular. The cathedral I walked toward for days and days. The Ganges? I feel as though I have always been walking towards it.
Ranny arranged for a boat to take us out on the river and we cruised the shoreline to view the cremations taking place outside the crematorium on the riverbank. Hindus believe cremation on the banks of the Ganges releases the soul from the cycle of death and birth.
This reminds me so much of the Heart Sutra from Buddhism. There’s a place in the sutra that states, “no birth, no death, no being, no non-being, no defilement no purity, no increasing no decreasing.”
Buddha, who was originally from Lumbini (which was once a part of India but now resides in Nepal), also considered the Ganges sacred. He made pilgrimage to its sacred shores.
After stopping at the fires of the crematorium, we made our way back up the river to the Dasawamedh Ghat to see the nightly Ganga Aarti Ceremony… which involved chanting, incense, fire, singing. It was quite beautiful. We all released little bowls with flowers and lit candles into the Ganges while we were there. The banks of the river quickly filled up with boats, so many that people could walk from one to another. Many came through from boat to boat selling masala chai, flowers, candles, and bowls. The sunset and the darkness that followed were filled with pomp and ceremony.
Overall it was not a very busy day, as we had travelled overnight from Orchha to Varanasi on the train and we were pretty wiped out. After the sunset ceremony we went out for supper—tuktuks barreling through the darkened city streets protected from utter destruction by some unseen miracle of happenstance—at a local restaurant. The food was delicious, as usual. The blackouts/brownouts throughout our meal reminded me fondly of my time in Nairobi. All calmness and chill awaiting the return from darkness to light.
We then reached our limit for the day. Varanasi is glorious! And we were knackered. Only by knowing the city would still be there in the morning, waiting to entice us back into its swarm of colour and light and mayhem, were we able to return to our hotel and fall soundly into our beds.
Day 8 was a good one. One of the best! We were able to have a more lazy schedule today, which was lovely considering our beautiful hotel. It was nice to have a little pampering. And sleeping in for once was also nice. It’s often a grueling schedule, as most days are travelling days. When they’re not travelling days, we wake up early to ensure we see everything there is to see. But today? Sleep in.
After check-out we headed back into town, back to the restaurant by the fort. The masala omelette was fantastic. As usual, the masala chai was also delicious.
My expectations for Orchha were minimal, only because I didn’t really know much about the town. The more we explored, however, the more it opened up to me. The more I opened up to it! It’s a jewel. The fort was incredible yesterday, but Chaturbhuj Temple today? Such an unexpected delight!
After a rocky start inside the Chaturbhuj Temple gates, where someone insisted we needed tickets (luckily an older gentleman from the restaurant walked us to the temple and was down below awaiting our return. When we left the temple dejected and he asked us why, he practically stormed up the stairs and inside to yell at the ‘ticket taker’. We made it!), we managed to get inside.
Once inside, the delights that awaited us! A ‘guide’ quickly led us to an old stone stairway up a dark narrow path to the second floor. He knew every single good camera shot, every angle. He guided us around that level, pointing out the fort across the way through arched windows—showing us the perfect way to frame the shot. Every sight more incredible than the last. And then he’d take us up another level and another level still.
We’d take our shots and look around, thinking that was the top. But still another level. Soon there was nowhere else to go but the rooftop of this old beautiful temple that has stood for centuries looking very much like the architectural cousin of Angkor Watt. It was breathtaking. And we were on its roof.
Our ‘guide’, Manaju, suggested the four of us (I was with Karen, Tammy and Kylie from the G Adventures group) do a jumping shot together with the town and countryside as the backdrop. Seemed like an easy task, but with much laughter and jumping we realized it wasn’t quite as easy as it looked. But he was patient with us. He got the shot. I’ve a feeling Manaju always gets his shot. Not only did he know all the best views and photo frames and shots, he also knew how to take them. He knew our phones better than we did. He zoomed in and out, he went into extra camera options some of us didn’t even know about, and he knew which phone model would take the best shot in every situation.
I call him a ‘guide’ in quotes because he’s not an official guide, but really… the town should hire that man officially. He was just a young guy, but he was suave, entertaining, joyful, proud of his relationship with the ancient temple, and as friendly and as helpful as can be. He deserves the tips he receives.
I will long remember that tour. The steps inside the narrow stone walls were scary to navigate. For me, it was difficult… as the steps were a good foot and a half apart. I cannot imagine being a much shorter person navigating them. Treacherous, to say the least. But with phone torches, and a lot of help from Manaju, we all made it up to the top and back to the bottom safely. Everything in between was pure magic!
After a little free time for shopping, we headed back to the hotel. The whole group pitched in to keep one room for the day and share it as a sort of home base. Somehow, it worked. As we were all on different schedules of exploration and/or relaxation, we all managed to have showers, chill out, etc.
For those of us who wanted to partake, G Adventures (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND G ADVENTURES!) arranged for an optional cooking class. Michael and I went and it turned out to be a high point of the trip so far. Rajni was the instructor’s name. She was lovely. She had prepared some of the ingredients ahead of time, chopping up onions and garlic and okra, etc. She went through every ingredient, being patient with those of us who are slow to write things down (yes, I’m talking about myself here!). I get lost in the numbers when people start reading out ingredients. I’m hopeless.
We watched while Rajni made the ever delicious masala chai, our (okay, MY) mouths watering as the sweet aroma filled the air about us. From there, as we sipped our delightful chai, she made eggplant curry and okra curry. She invited us to come up and assist throughout different parts of the preparation. Yes, I did. You bet your bottom dollar I was up there sitting cross-legged measuring out teaspoons of spices and dropping them into the oil in the wok. With each dump of the spoon another heady aroma wafted up into the air to tickle our tummies and entice our hunger to an even deeper level of desire.
Rajni then taught us how to make raita, chutney, and two kinds of bread. And yes, I was doing the math. I knew it would soon be time to eat!
It was the best meal I had thus far in all of my Indian wanderings. Eight days of devouring the lovely and incredible dishes of India and it was in Orchha I found food heaven. The best! IF YOU’RE EVER IN ORCHHA, BE SURE TO VISIT RAJNI! HERE’S HER TRIP ADVISOR PAGE. You’ll cherish the experience!
I did a first today. At the end of the meal, Rajni brought out a tray with individual dishes of tapioca for everyone. So, basically for 50+ years I have insisted tapioca was disgusting. Without having ever taken a single solitary bite. Or even smelling it. It was a texture thing. Some foods I can’t even imagine eating. Well, tapioca is, after all, rather delicious. I’m so glad I went into this insisting I would eat all the things!
Right now, as I write this, it is the end of day 8…actually after midnight so technically the beginning of day nine. I am on an overnight train, in a sleeping bunk almost touching the ceiling. Two people are below me on lower bunks and three are directly beside me and two are across the aisle facing long-ways probably with a great view of the bottoms of my questionably clean feet. We are shaking and rattling helplessly and I’m praying for a safe landing soon. We are on our way to the holy city of Varanasi and the Ganges! THE GANGES!
Welcome to India. It’s different than what I’m used to and it’s more beautiful than my wildest dreams. This is where I imagined being since I was a little boy. I know I won’t see him or his chocolate palace any time soon, but in this moment I’m thinking of Prince Pondicherry… wondering how he’s making out these days. He’s now but a ghost of my childhood. I love you, India…like I knew I would.