11 nights in Ladakh: Places to visit

What’s the magic word? Julley! Ladakhis say ‘Julley’ to express ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Thank you’ and it’s that one word that helps create a bond between two strangers in this mysterious land. A paradise on earth for mountain lovers, Ladakh is located at the crossroads of many civilizations mainly inhabited by Indo-aryans and Tibetans. Due to its fragile location in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian military has a prominent presence and maintains a symbiotic relationship with the locals.

Ladakh is surrounded by the majestic snow-capped Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges amidst several sightings of melting glacier water flowing into streams and beautiful monasteries.

  • Hotel Dragon

Pangong Tso

Super windy, Pangong Tso is a beautiful lake, only a part of which is situated in Ladakh. The lake is at a height of 14,270 ft and is 134 km long, 60% of which extends to China. Enroute to Pangong, we crossed Chang la, a high mountain Pass situated at 17,590 feet. People crossing this area are expected to experience shortness of breathe and are therefore advised to take diamox before the onset of their journey to Ladakh. Thankfully, a small army unit located here readily helps passersby by checking their vitals.

  • pangong lake
    Enroute Pangong Lake, just the most beautiful view of wild horses in the valley.

Finally, we reached Pangong Tso after 6 hours of tough terrain, low oxygen levels leading to two stops at army camps and constant headache. Was it worth it? I’ve always believed we’re on the planet to appreciate nature. And to be in the presence of the majestic mountains around Pangong Tso was only possible after nature tested our bodies and patience.

Tso Moriri

This was one of the most memorable road trips in Ladakh. A truly amazing, picturesque view after view, mountain after mountain. Landscapes change with every turn, we were able to see Ladakhi wildlife. The list included Kiang (Tibetan wild ass), Marmot (large squirrels), Yaks, herds of sheep and even wild fox. Don’t forget to take a ton of sunscreen for Tso Moriri is at a height of 14,836 feet.

  • Tso Moriri
    The most picturesque view enroute Tso Moriri aka Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve

Khardung La Pass, Nubra Valley, Siachin Glacier

To reach Nubra Valley, travelers have to cross Khardung la pass which is at a height of 17,582 feet. Similar health problems to that felt in Chang la pass can be seen in travelers here. Like the rest of Ladakhi area, Nubra is known as a high altitude cold desert.

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    Khardungla Top!

I was fortunate enough to see the Siachin Base Camp. This is the second largest glacier and is manned by the Indian Army. Infamous for its territorial dispute, Pakistan has previously tried to take advantage of the ambiguity. Through operation Meghdoot, the Indian army took charge of the key bases around this area in 1984. This move has been the most courageous act by the Indian army in the highest battlefield of the world.

Have a look at a few snippets of my trip.

Side note: On 20th May, we headed to Nubra Valley, Ladakh, one of the stops on our trip. In Hunder, we witnessed the double humped camels being abused by their “caretakers”. This was done by: Using the camels to make money from tourists. Camels were controlled through ropes piercing their nose. These ropes were tugged on… Read more, view the video of the camels, and PLEASE sign the petition. These animals DO NOT have a voice, please give 2 minutes of your time to bring this inhumane treatment of these camels to light.

Dunagiri – The Land of Mysterious Mountains

On a recent trip we went to Dunagiri  (also called Drongiri and Doonagiri) to a place called Dunagiri Retreat which is at an astounding height of 8,000 feet surrounded by lush forest overlooking scenic snow peaks. Its situated 400 km North of Delhi,  and it takes about 10-11 hours to reach.

The retreat offers organic vegetarian food, fireside dining, inspiring walks and treks to the nearby mountains, and modern bathroom facilities in the middle of nowhere. It truly is an amazing location, with a beautiful view.

When we met the owner of the retreat, it was revealed to us that the place was famous for its temple of Shakti known there as Dunagiri Devi. Apparently, this location is where “Bharat”,  the son of Shakuntala, was born. The mountains were said to have special energy.

In one of our conversations with the owner, we shared that almost every night we randomly woke up between 3 and 4 AM, which he found to be normal since that was the time “Mata ki chowki” landed on the adjacent mountains.  On one of two days I spent there, I even stumbled upon a medium-sized snake, and when we shared this with the owner, to my surprise he found it rather odd. Why? Because he has been living there for years and never once saw a snake in his campus. Weird, right?

Here are a few pictures from my trip. (all self clicked, some edited via snapseed app)

dunagiri
I got really tired after a trek
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Dunagiri retreat
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A common sight, clouds envelope the mountains

dunagiri dunagiri  dunagiri dunagiri dunagiri dunagiri dunagiri dunagiri dunagiri dunagiri dunagiri dunagiri

China: All Work No Play?

I’m not going to lie. I’m biased towards China. The country where I learnt my first foreign language is truly my second home. It’s no surprise that China is one of the top most frequently visited destinations among travelers either for work or pleasure. The country offers everything- exotic locations to never-heard-before delicious cuisine.

Studying in China I assumed there were more Russians but according to the latest Expat Insider 2014 – the InterNations Survey, you’ll find more Americans, Germans and British people as compared to any other nationality.

While the language remains a huge barrier, except some of the locations where the number of expats is high, the rest of China is either reluctant to accept foreigners or it simply does not want anything to do with them. I don’t entirely blame them, there have been a number of cases where rowdy expats have upset the locals or when, in contrast, fanatic Chinese natives find it extremely hard to adjust to “aliens”. So, it’s not shocking that China falls in 52nd place out of 60 when it comes to judging it on the basis of “Ease of settling” into the country.

When it comes to cost of living, China isn’t so bad. This fact in itself is reason enough as to why many expats decide to move here in the first place. But because of factors like “family life” and “quality of life”, China finds itself on the 38th position out of 61 in the overall index ranking. Not everyone has a fairytale love story like Sara Jaaksola.

To be able to find love in China, get married, gel with the in-laws seems tough- all thanks to respective cultures which stand poles apart. My best friend from Beijing, a Hungarian who recently married a Chinese, is proof enough to conclude- your nationality or not, a mother-in-law stays a mother-in-law.

If you find the numbers I mentioned in this article interesting, do find time to check out the rest of the InterNation Survey 2014.

Thanks for reading! Share if you like it!

image source: flickr/sunlightfoundation

Do the Chinese really eat insects?

This is to answer that one question you always had about the Chinese. Do they really eat insects? Let’s find out.

Even though eating insects is a taboo in most societies, it dates back thousands of years. Not only do the Chinese but a lot of south Asian countries like Korea and Thailand including other parts of the world like North, Central, South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand enjoy ingesting insects.

I come from a culture where we more or less kill insects to protect ourselves and not because we want to eat them. It’s a cultural difference and perspective that’s hard to step away from.

While researching on the consumption of insects or entomophagy, it came to me as a surprise that the main consumers for these creepy guys  are in Thailand and not China. Grasshoppers, centipedes, various bug larvae, silkworms, multiple creepy giant cockroach lookalikes fall into the list of bugs humans consume.

Other unusual food consumed includes seahorses, scorpions, even animal body parts like snakehead soup, duck feet marinated in blood, solidified duck blood, pork lungs, peacock and pig face. Banquet specialties include cow’s lung soaked in chili sauce, goose stomachs, fish lips with celery, goat’s feet tendons in wheat noodles, shark’s stomach soup, chicken-feet soup, monkey’s head, ox forehead, turtle casserole, pigeon brain, deer ligament and snake venom, lily bulbs and deer’s penis… no, no typo, penis.

What came as a bigger shock was that even though people blame the rapid rate of urbanization and industrialization for China’s pollution problems and water shortages, few recognize that meat industries are to be equally blamed. Livestock produces more greenhouse gasses on the planet than all automobiles and other forms of transportation combined.

China’s meat consumption per capita has nearly quadrupled over the past 30 years to an estimated 71 million tons per year. And if China’s meat consumption doesn’t slow down, the environmental consequences could be disastrous.

So is there anything in the world that can gross the Chinese?

Believe it or not, many regard eating cheese or butter as disgusting; they consider eating a plain cooked steak as primitive and unappetizing and find the French custom of eating snails to be strange.

[Images from Flickr][sources: http://factsanddetails.com]

Welcome To Haze-ing

Beijing is one of the most famous cities in the world but unfortunately also infamous for its unhealthy pollution levels. The city has been trying to clear its act up especially since the Olympics, which was an important time for China’s image as a host country.

A short back-story: In preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics and to fulfill promises to clean up the city’s air, according to the Wikipedia, nearly 17 billion USD was spent. Beijing implemented a number of air improvement schemes for the duration of the Games, including halting work at all construction sites, closing many factories in Beijing permanently, temporarily shutting industry in neighboring regions, closing some gas stations, and cutting motor traffic by half, reducing bus and subway fares, opening new subway lines, and banning high-emission vehicles.

But more recently in January 2013, measurements showed levels of air pollution, as measured by the density of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in size – higher than the maximum 755mcg the US Embassy’s equipment can measure (40 times above what the World Health Organization deems safe). You can see the Air pollution measurements on the Chinese website as well.

What’s more?

It is of no secret that the government regularly uses cloud-seeding- a method to increase the likelihood of rain showers in the region to clear the air prior to large events by altering the microphysical processes within the cloud (read: every Sunday).

People that come here from all over the world experience difficulty in breathing, skin conditions, hair-fall issues, teary eyes, and so on. Living in Beijing comes with getting used to air purifiers, mouth masks, and waking up to smoggy and hence, very gloomy mornings. The intensity of this situation is so serious that even wealthy locals are planning to move to other countries like the United States and Europe, after acquiring the respective country’s citizenship.

Meanwhile, there are several ways to keep yourself informed of the Beijing Air quality; not only through websites but even twitter, mobile apps, even calling the local authority. All we can hope for is that Beijing sets more rigid rules in the future that limit factories and vehicles from contributing to the hazardous pollution level not only in Beijing but throughout China, for the betterment of the locals along with the rest of us.

Also Check out: China’s Smog As Seen From Space.

Shopping In Beijing: 2013

People come to China from all over the world to shop mostly because of the relatively low prices and what seems like unlimited variety. Shopping online on sites like Taobao is not only common but also a better shopping option because of these simple reasons. But even if you don’t have an online account, there are a bunch of places you can visit here and make your trip to this wonderful city worthwhile.

Tourist Go-To Places 

Yashao in Sanlitun, Silk Street/Market in Chaoyangmen

 

Silk Market

 

Tourists make sure they stop by these places. Very similar locations, standing a few stories tall, every floor is dedicated to clothes, shoes, bags and electronic accessories. For first timers, these places seem like a moderately good option but I personally don’t like to bargain to the extent of spending more than half my time talking about the price with the salesperson! These people spend a lot of time dealing with foreigners so interaction with them is easier but some of them could prove to be unnecessarily persistent to the point of being pushy.

Must See

Wangfujing Market, Xidan Shopping Area and The Place

 

Wangfujing famous for its bizarre street food

 

As the most famous commercial area of Beijing, Wangfujing has been known to be the earliest business activity center. The street is less than one kilometer long, but it is crowded with specialty and long-history shops, which are full of modern atmosphere and high taste.

West of Tiananmen square, Xidan is an up-market commercial area just like the US department store. Providing mid-and high-quality commodities, this shopping area is another place with the big brand names all located here. Same goes for The Place located in Guomao. You will find everything from Zara, Gucci to Giorgio Armani here.

My Winner 

Golden Towers

Golden Towers

Golden towers is located approximately 20 minutes from the Wudaokou subway station and is without a doubt my favorite place to shop. Having lived in Wudaokou for a year, I have had the chance to shop at this amazing place almost religiously. Offering the lowest prices, with minimum bargain involved, Golden towers offers clothes, (amazing) shoes, and accessories along with the chance to get a simple manicure for just 10 RMB.

Electronics? Zhongguancun 

Also referred to as “China’s Silicon Valley”, and “electronics avenue,” because of its connections to information technology and the preponderance of stores along a central, crowded street. If electronics are what you’re into, this is the place for you.

Want to add another place to the list? Feel free to comment!

Visa Run: Beijing To Hong Kong

Reasons you could be making a run to Hong Kong vary. For me it was the expiring of the 30 days duration on my Visa. My F visa expires next year, but the duration of stay for each time I enter is 30 days only. Couldn’t I just get a visa extension? I did. But before a quick one-day visa run.
But from my experience, you’re only allowed to do that once. You can read more on my experience extending my visa here. I went to Shenzhen, took the subway to Hong Kong and back, just for a Exit-Entry stamp.So at about 4:30 am I take a taxi from Chaoyangmen to the Capital Airport. I tried to find a bus running at this hour, but with zero luck. I reached the Airport at in about half an hour (which usually easily takes more than 1 hour during daytime) and took my flight from Beijing to Shenzhen.
At 10:30 am I was at the Shenzhen airport and already on my way to the famous Lo Wu Port.
The subway can be easily seen as soon as you exit the Shenzhen airport. Taking the Line 1 (green line), straight from Airport East Station to Luohu Station, I got off and walked out right in front of the Luo hu Port in which I walked right into immigration in Hong Kong.
Getting the HK visa only takes about 30 to 45 minutes at max. After which you find yourself at the MTR train station at Lo Wu. I tried to just get right back in Immigration back into Shenzhen but that isn’t possible.
After getting 100 RMB exchanged into HK dollars enough to buy me a train ticket I get off at the first station –Shang Shui. Few minutes later I got on a train back to Lo Wu and got through immigration (with my fingers crossed), and what do you know, I’m back in Shenzhen by 2 pm.
I took the flight back to Beijing at 5:30 pm and I was back in the capital by 8:30 pm.
The most useful resource was the Mtr website. Hong Kong train operator MTR has updated its customer website so that users can not only search the route, time and fare of Hong Kong train service, but also the underground system of Shenzhen.

For your knowledge there are four land border crossings between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

Lo Wu

Probably the busiest and most popular border crossing among the four. Best part is that there is a busy shopping mall at the Shenzhen side. The last train destined for Lowu border departs from Hong Hum, Kowloon at about 11pm. I read up that this crossing would be crowded during public holidays but having gone during the national holidays (5th October) I did not come across any unusual crowded-ness till I reached back to Beijing.

Lok Ma Chau/Futian

This border crossing is a diversion from  the Lo Wu one. It is also connected at two sides, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, by railway.

Huanggang/Lok Ma Chau

The biggest advantage no doubt is its 24-hour operation. You can find buses and taxis going to/from the border 24 hours. And the biggest disadvantage lies in its traffic and immigration clearance arrangement as you have to get off the bus to clear the customs and immigration of Hong Kong, and then onto the bus to go to the Shenzhen check point, and off again- if you go in the direction of Shenzhen, and vice versa.

Shenzhen Bay

This border crossing is used by vehicles only, as it has no rail connection at both the Hong Kong and Shenzhen side. This is its limitation. But since it is closer to the Shenzhen Airport, the bus to/from Shenzhen Airport usually uses this crossing. The immigration and customs clearance for both Hong Kong and Shenzhen lies under one roof, a stark contrast to the Huanggang/Lok Ma Chau border.
If you take a taxi from Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon of Hong Kong, for instance, it takes only about half an hour to reach the Shenzhen Bay border, and costs about HK$220. It probably takes you 10-15 minutes to clear all the customs and immigration. Right after leaving the customs and immigration hall, there is a taxi stand – you can take the taxi to anywhere in Shenzhen. (http://annatam.com was a great resource)