4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “South Asia”

Eat Where We Ate (by Carmen)

While I was traveling I started to wonder if I would ever be able to find all the eateries I’ve visited if I eventually returned to a particular city or region. I mean, it seemed easy enough now since it was all relatively fresh in my memory. But in a few years? There are some places I know I will return to and others less so. Just to be on the safe side, I figured I would note down as many of the places we mentioned in the blog as I could whether or not I plan to revisit. Turns out, that was A LOT.  The culmination of this effort: The 4feet2mouths Food Map

I adore maps, old and new - in this case of Istanbul (Sources: Duke University, Rifle Paper Co)

I adore maps, old and new – in this case of Istanbul (Sources: Duke University, Rifle Paper Co)

Memory is an amazing thing (and has fascinated me even more since I read Moonwalking with Einstein). Our brains are incredibly adept at spatial memory. I was astounded how much location-specific information I could recall when I really tried. I even started testing myself with restaurants from earlier travels and found that by studying a google map I could find places without the help of google search. It is probably obvious by now that I am a complete map nerd. Seriously, cartography is absolutely beautiful!

Screenshot of 4feet2Mouths Food Map, zoomed in on Istanbul

Screenshot of 4feet2Mouths Food Map, zoomed in on Istanbul

There’s an added bonus to my map memory game – now you can eat where we ate! I am using this as a tool to make recommendations to others about our favorite restaurants and food stalls (and a few sights as well). So if anyone says, “Do you know any good places in Istanbul?” I can send the link and they can zoom in from there. I have to admit, this idea stemmed from a map my friend Andrew shared about his favorite places in New York. It was useful for me so I hope mine will be useful to you.

Datli Maya in Istanbul is one of 150 listings on the 4feet2mouths Food Map!

Datli Maya in Istanbul is one of 150 listings on the 4feet2mouths Food Map!

Food Map Link

The permanent link will be at the top of the page

So from now on the 4feet2mouths Food Map will be housed on the Eat Where We Ate page of this blog (see the link at the top). It was quite the effort and I’m proud of the result. I will update it periodically as our travels progress. In the meantime, I hope you can enjoy some of our recommendations.

The 4feet2mouths Food Map

Picture 5

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Costs of Travel #3: Highs and Lows in Europe & India (by Carmen)

In August of 2012 Nathan and I were excitedly preparing for the Big Trip – our around the world adventure that would take us eastward towards Europe, Asia and all the way back to California. Based on our travels earlier in 2012 we felt ready – we knew what to pack and how to plan and, importantly, how to budget. South America had taught us valuable lessons on blowing a budget and we managed to find a better balance in our US travels.

London Expenses 2012

The lovely Borough Market offers delicious (but pricey) eats in London

The lovely Borough Market offers delicious (but pricey) eats in London

But we were about to be tested. Everyone loves Europe’s history, culture, and food but invariably people always need to mention the expense. This is especially true of our very first destination – London. And they’re right. London is expensive for the visitor. I will note that living there is a different story since cooking your meals offers huge costs savings (more than in the States) and my former employer covered all transit costs for me and Nathan (a dream deal). But this time we were tourists and we needed to cut costs somewhere. Enter couchsurfing, round 2. Our first experience couchsurfing, which took place in Nebraska, was unique and resulted in us borrowing a tent and setting up in a local campground. This time around, it was much more of a cultural exchange. Our host, a Malaysian native studying law, cooked us some fried rice. We later cooked him a feast with supplies from the nearest polski sklep (Polish grocery shop). Couchsurfing saved us at least $50 a night – and that’s the price for 2 beds in a 12 bed dorm room! For a private room, forget it. Instead, we spent our money on the city’s excellent restaurants and riding my favorite transit option, the tube. And, as always, London has some of the best museums in the world and they’re free! Hence, the low entertainment costs.

Camino de Santiago Expenses 2012

One of the best meals on the Camino, broiled octopus with chunks of bread and bowls of white wine

One of the best meals on the Camino, broiled octopus with chunks of bread and bowls of white wine

After London, we began one of our greatest adventures yet – the Camino de Santiago. Plenty of literature can be found online and in books on the average costs of the Camino and we were right on target at $32.42 per day (not including costs to get to Spain and back). Obviously, the biggest budget item is food – necessary to fuel your body to walk 8 hours in a day. In this chart, I love how our transit costs are so low. This is because for an entire month I only moved by the power of my own feet. No buses, trains, bikes or cars. This $0.46 represents a day trip we took to La Coruna at the end of our trip, as we spent a few days in Santiago. Overall, the Camino is a great option for learning about Spanish culture on a serious budget.

Madrid Expenses 2012

At the hip Madrid tapas bar, La Musa

At the hip Madrid tapas bar, La Musa

During the Camino we became used to spending very little. So by the time we got to Madrid, we were ready to splurge! We joined the crowds at hip bars and new-age tapas joints. We ordered an enormous pan of paella topped off with a jug of sangria. We stayed in a private room in a well-located hostel. We still saved by timing our museum visits for free entry and walking around instead of taking transit or taxis. But in the end the Spanish capitol became our most expensive stop on the Big Trip.

Greece Expenses 2012

Gyro are filling, cheap and everywhere

Gyro are filling, cheap and everywhere

Everyone knows Greece has been one of the hardest hit by the recession. So this must mean low prices, right? Well, kind of. Museums have their entry fees and hotels were not cheap. So we did our best to couchsurf, which led to more awesome experiences and new friendships. Where we did stay in hotels, we used the fact that it was the shoulder season (October) to our advantage and bargained with hotel owners on the islands. This worked out to have some significant savings for us. You can’t really bargain at restaurants, though, so our food costs ended up being the biggest chunk of the pie. But at least our cheap gyro meals kept this cost lower than it could have been.

Turkey Expenses 2012

Delicious cacık is a tradition in Turkey

Delicious cacık is a tradition in Turkey

Turkey proved to be a similar cost to Greece, though the breakdown is quite different. Our eating costs reduced significantly even though we were still eating in casual restaurants. But our couchsurfing efforts didn’t pan out therefore we ended up in hostels. I really loved our Selcuk hostel, though, so in the end it all worked out. Compared to the rest of Europe, Turkey really offers great sights and food for relatively low cost.

Europe Expenses 2012

Overall, Europe was not a budget breaker at all. It can be, as our splurge in Madrid showed. And without the couchsurfing our costs would have gone up. But I feel that we had really found our balance in spending where it meant the most for us (more simply, food).

India Expenses 2012

Delicious idli and gunta ponganalu breakfast from Hampi, India.  I'm pretty sure this cost about $0.75 or less with our morning chai.

Delicious idli and gunta ponganalu breakfast from Hampi, India. I’m pretty sure this cost about $0.60 or less with our morning chai.

And now for something completely different. India was not only a culture shock to the system, it was shockingly cheap. Especially all the gloriously delicious food. We mostly ate at street food stalls and casual restaurants, but everywhere we went we just shook our heads at the low prices. Food has no cost premium, but land does. Fit a billion people in a country a third the size of the continental US and you better believe it’s crowded. Therefore, hostels were relatively expensive at $25 a night for a private room in the bigger cities. Of course, in the bigger picture this is cheap so go ahead and live like a king in India. For me, the budget in India was so low that it inspired my personal back-up plan. If at some point in my life I need to take a break, some time to step back and breathe, I’m headed to India where I could probably spend a year living comfortably and eating well for $10K.

Expenses YTD through India 2012

So I’ve taken you through the highs and lows of our Big Trip budget. Europe was our high, but by making key cuts in our sleeping and eating costs we were able to keep our budget in check. In India it’s not expensive to splash out but we still decided to keep budget in mind and stayed at low-cost hotels and ate plenty of street food. We were striving to keep our overall travel budget for the year at $50 per day, which means we were going to have to make-up for our blown South America budget. So far we were still around $67 per day.  Did we succeed in bringing it down? Our next post on costs through the rest of Asia will reveal all!

The Best of 410 Days of Travel (by Nathan)

Northside of Uçhisar castle in Cappadocia

Northside of Uçhisar castle in Cappadocia

Life without travel, to us, is not life.  In February of 2012 we set out on an adventure beyond what anyone could fathom.  Our destinations would be magnificent and our itinerary complex.  We gave up most of our possessions and set out to explore the world.  I remember our last night in Berkeley, we sat on the floor of our empty apartment eating a fabulous cheeseboard pizza washed down with rosé (from a winery aptly named L’aventure, The Adventure).  Both of us were nervous about what might happen over the next year.  We wanted needed to travel. There is only so much ground that can be covered on two week vacations, so we postponed our careers in search of historical, cultural and culinary education.  We met wonderful people and saw countless jaw-dropping sights.   In total we explored over 100 villages, towns and big cities in eighteen countries on four continents through 410 days of travel.  It was a wild ride of buses, rickshaws, trains and walking on our own two feet.  The best part is that I would not change any bit of it.  Every experience has its place and memory that I love.

Last meal in our Berkeley apartment: Cheeseboard pizza & L’Aventure Rose (perfect)

Last meal in our Berkeley apartment: Cheeseboard pizza & L’Aventure Rose (perfect)

I think the most impressive achievement of traveling is the accumulation of memories.  Every day traveling creates a new experience, a beautiful sight, a peculiar food or an awkward cultural exchange.  Each one of these unique events is stored within my brain like a painting of a vibrant and textured year.  The events shine with such color and flavor that Carmen and I can quiz each other and remember what we ate, saw and did exactly on any day of the last year.  What were you doing last May 7, 2012?  We woke up at sunrise and walked across the Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, then bused to Puno, Peru and had Chinese food while watching a Bruce Lee soap opera with a funny theme song chorus.  I look back at my years working and there are a few standout events, work milestones, or an exceptionally fun weekend or a fabulous meal we created with friends.  But for the most part, memories just are not stored vividly because they get lost in the routine of the day to day while traveling provides so many novel experiences.

Nathan taking a rest during a hike

Nathan taking a rest during a hike

Carmen and another day of travel

Carmen and another day of travel

The memories of our trip hit me with amazing detail.  We are constantly asked what our favorite part of the trip was.  It is virtually impossible to compile millions of wonderful memories and synthesize them in a single answer.  We hiked mountains, canyons and through forests and ate dosas, ceviche and hot pot.  And we loved every bit of all of it.  I have tried to go through some of our favorite activities, tastes and sights and tried to compile a brief list of some of the “bests” of fourteen months of travel. 

Rio de Janiero - Ipanema Sunrise

Rio de Janiero – Ipanema Sunrise

Best Big Cities: London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Chengdu

Best Big Cities: London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Chengdu

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Big Cities

Carmen and I love big cities.  We love the life that one can feel in a city.  The people thrive with high-rises, public transit, beautiful museums, beaches and sights.  The food tingles with flavors so intense that the tongue and entire body becomes addicted.  And although there may be culture-shock these cities are welcoming and encouraging to be a tourist and maybe an inhabitant.  I loved Rio de Janiero from our week traveling there in March 2012.  The city is beautiful and the music passionate.  I can’t wait to go back.  London and Hong Kong are of course one of our most favorite cities in the world.  Chengdu feels a bit more scattered in its design, but remains one of my favorites for the food alone.  Istanbul is a gem in the world, a perfect crossing point for Asia and Europe with all the delicacies and beauty that make it uniquely Turkish.

Shaxi, our favorite small town

Shaxi, our favorite small town

The small towns often get missed in lists like these.  We visited a perfect little village named Shaxi in between Dali and Lijiang.  It was quaint and picturesque, and a wonderful variation from the Chinese tourist cities that are so common.  Unfortunately it is changing and I expect that it will not be the same when I return.  We visited countless small towns during our Camino de Santiago trek, each dainty or dusty, but fun to explore in search of a café cortado.

Tartine bread pudding with strawberries

Tartine bread pudding with strawberries

Best Sweets: baklava, sweet soup. Mango sticky rice & alfajores

Best Sweets: baklava, sweet soup. Mango sticky rice & alfajores

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Sweets

Amazingly enough we did discover coffee during our travels abroad.  Both Carmen and I appreciated coffee, but refused to be addicted so we drank it very rarely.  Walking across Spain changed that, now we just have to limit intake.  There are few better things to have a coffee with than bread pudding.  Tartine in San Francisco makes my absolute favorite dessert of the year.  We always used to eat here, but after having it again with strawberries, I cannot help but put it at the top of the list.  Other favorites include Honeymoon Desserts’ sweet soup and alfajores.   Mango sticky rice is so simple and perfect that I wish I could eat it every day.  In Turkey we tried to eat baklava every day, which were all phenomenal.  One place, Karaköy Güllüoğlu, created nut and phillo pillows of gold.  The fact is that there are just too many excellent places to eat while traveling.

Gong Bao Ji (Chicken)

Gong Bao Ji (Chicken)

Best Foods: ceviche, rajas y queso, boat noodles & pho

Best Foods: ceviche, rajas y queso, boat noodles & pho

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Food

I still stand my original statement on Chengdu that the gong bao chicken we ate on Renmin Zhonglu remains one of my favorite meals.  I am so happy that we ate there twice!  Another favorite is La Super Rica; you can order blindly here and you will be very happy.  Boat noodles and pho are charactieristic of the flavors of Thailand and Vietnam.  In general, the everyday food in South America is rather mediocre.  Culinary enthusiasts should rightly stay in Asia.  Although we loved the pizzas of Buenos Aires, my real favorite of South America was the ceviche that we consumed in large amounts in Lima Peru.  Survival during travel is not on food alone, it is the sights that often distinguish the destinations.

Ephesus library

Ephesus library

Best Ruins: Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Caryatids on the Acropolis, Vittana Temple & carved church in Cappadocia

Best Ruins: Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Caryatids on the Acropolis, Vittana Temple & carved church in Cappadocia

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Ruins

In school I never really liked history.  It seemed like such a mish-mash of random wars and crap that never mattered.  Then I started traveling and developed a love of understanding cultures and people and the history leading to their current lives.  I find that I can spend all day bouncing around a set of ruins, crawling around a cave or reading countless interpretive signs.  Seeing a place brings the history to life and ingrains a sense of reality that these events actually happened.  Some of my favorite places were the Inca Trail, Angkor and Athens; there are so many ruins that can be enjoyed and each building, wall and path defines a little bit of history that is easier to understand.  India’s civilization is thousands of years old and the variety of ruins and temples demonstrates a wealth of history.  One of our favorite cities was Hampi, the ruins were spread out, but beautiful and easy to explore.  Cappadocia was honestly unbelievable: underground cities and fairy chimney houses really do exist.

Hagia Sofia, most impressive building

Hagia Sofia, most impressive building

We were doubly awestruck when visiting the Hagia Sofia.  It is old enough to be in ruins, built 500ad, but still remarkably towers above and beyond what many modern engineers are designing.  I was deeply moved and inspired by this magnificent building and I look forward to seeing it and Istanbul again.  Beyond the buildings and the history it was the landscapes that intrigued us and kept us walking and walking and walking.

Grand Canyon Sunset from Cape Final

Grand Canyon Sunset from Cape Final

Best Landscapes: Salkantay, Camino de Santiago, Salar de Uyuni & Cappadocia

Best Landscapes: Salkantay, Camino de Santiago, Salar de Uyuni & Cappadocia

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Landscapes

The landscapes of the world vary drastically.  The contrasts between mountains, canyons and forests are immense, but one thing is for certain: the human heart is sure to skip a beat at certain places on this planet.  We sought out many of these spectacular sights, and some of my favorites include: camping beneath Salkantay mountain on the Inca Trail, The deserts, rocks and salt flats leading up to the Salar de Uyuni and Cappadocia rock formations and hot air balloons.  Grand Canyon, despite its ubiquity as being a beautiful destination, remains one of my favorite places.  We trekked for eight days and loved all the nuances, textures and colors that transition throughout the day.  We experienced so many beautiful things: Tiger Leaping Gorge and Zhangjiajie come to mind in China or Cafayate and Iguazu in Argentina; each is its own special and vibrant memory.

Walking the Camino de Santiago towards Sahagún

Walking the Camino de Santiago towards Sahagún

I value each experience of our trip uniquely, but one was critical to my well-being and my development as a human- walking the Camino de Santiago.  The steadiness of walking, the meditation involved with each step and the time to think is phenomenal.  I finished the Camino confident that I could achieve anything, but humbled that I finished it with someone I love, Carmen.  Walking the Camino de Santiago is special and life-changing for everyone in their own way.  I feel that I could walk it again tomorrow and it would still bring value and pleasure to my travels.

Nathan & Carmen at Condoritos Park

Nathan & Carmen at Condoritos Park

We often get concerns about our travels.  People care to know about muggings, stolen property and the life and death situations that might have caused us head home.  Carmen and I were very fortunate to not have any serious turmoil happen to us while traveling.  Our worst evening was spent shivering on the side of the road next to the Condoritos Park.  We did hear of some friends who had cameras stolen from buses in Tupiza, or friends of friends who were pick-pocketed in Rio, but none of these things happened to us.  We did accidentally leave a nice steel canteen in Sao Paulo and another Nalgene on a minibus in Zhongdian, but that is it.  Carmen and I are very meticulous to carry very little, we pack light and we walk with our hands free and we secure our money when we get it.  We were lucky, but I feel that the people of the world are generally nice and helpful.  People in Vietnam were extremely welcoming and kind to us throughout our trip and we experienced zero hard feelings for being American. In fact, everyone was welcoming; we, for the most part, only encountered nice and thoughtful people.  (That crazy girl in Tiger Leaping Gorge kung fu kicks into my memory.)  Our trip was a great success and I feel confident that we could travel anywhere and have similar experiences and treatment.

Nathan getting a mud cleanse

Nathan getting a mud cleanse

Just as fast as the date came for us to embark, it was time to settle down.  We traveled hard and fast.  We were diligent to explore as many parts of the world as we could.  Language and food was no barrier, and we were entertained by the beautiful sights that both nature and humans have created.  The challenge with any travel is that the world never feels smaller.  The world feels more accessible, but our bucket lits of places to go and things to see has only grown larger than when we left.  The question we have to figure out now, is what country we will travel to next?

Carmen sandbar silhouette in Ilha do Mel

Carmen sandbar silhouette in Ilha do Mel

Many of you have been our readers throughout this journey and I thank you for your support.  For those who have just started following us: there is a wealth of excellent photos and information in our past posts.  Future posts will continue to entertain on the travel and food theme that we all love.

Past, Present and Future (by Carmen)

PAST
Looking back on our trip is an adventure unto itself as it provides me a rapidfire onslaught of memories and emotions.
 We had such a variety of experiences this past 14 months, how do I begin to summarize it all?  Fortunately, we have done a couple summary posts already.  Therefore, I’m going to pick up where we left off.  Here is a selection of favorite memories from the last part of our trip, Cambodia through to Hong Kong:

Clockwise from left: cooking amok, hanging out with Dalat locals, banh mi

Clockwise from left: cooking amok, hanging out with Dalat locals, banh mi

  • Squeezing fresh coconuts for milk and adding it to my fish curry in ultra laid back Battambang
  • That first bite of banh mi in Saigon – crispy, crunchy, sour, sweet, creamy, savory goodness
  • Being invited by locals for watermelon and rice liquor next to Pongour Waterfall near Dalat
Clockwise from left: Halong Bay, Thai stewed pork, mushroom bun, Laotian jungle

Clockwise from left: Halong Bay, Thai stewed pork, mushroom bun, Laotian jungle

  • Chilling on the deck of our boat with Julia and Jonathan in Halong Bay
  • Observing a simpler way of life in the jungle villages of Luang Namtha
  • Being served delicious stewed pork by a street vendor in a cowboy hat in Chiang Mai
  • Sampling Yunnan’s famous mushrooms in steamed bun form at the early morning market in Kunming
Clockwise from left: monastary in Zhongdian, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, stinky tofu, rice terraces

Clockwise from left: monastary in Zhongdian, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, stinky tofu, rice terraces

  • Getting up close and personal with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the intense rapids at its base within Tiger Leaping Gorge
  • Devouring dumplings then getting a taste of Tibetan spirituality at Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery in Zhongdian
  • Trying to get my head around the incredible rice terraces of Yuanyang while making new friends Michael and Albert
  • Eating the infamous black stinky tofu of Changsha and actually enjoying it
Clockwise from left: hot pot, hong kong high rises, tied tofu skins in Chengdu, tea house in Zigong in Sichuan province

Clockwise from left: hot pot, hong kong high rises, tied tofu skins in Chengdu, tea house in Zigong in Sichuan province

  • Dipping fresh tofu in a bubbling red hot pot while sitting in a converted bomb shelter in Chongqing
  • Hanging out in the convivial tea houses of Sichuan
  • Finding my food mecca in Chengdu – mapo tofu, gong bao chicken, twice cooked pork, fish fragrant eggplant how I miss you so
  • Absorbing the vivacious energy of Hong Kong in its streets, dim sum halls, hidden bars and Michelin starred hole in the walls
"This food will change your lifestyle" from a 2009 trip to Malaysia

“This food will change your lifestyle” from a 2009 trip to Malaysia

Many of my memories have to do with food because I don’t eat to live, I live to eat. Throughout our travels I was struck by how much difference it made to eat a cuisine in the place it had originated. And it’s not just because things taste fresher. It is a about the environment and the people too. Take dosa for example.  I had eaten dosa, the Indian roll stuffed with potatoes and veggies and served with daal and chutney dipping sauces, in Berkeley.  But it wasn’t until I was in India – eating my dosa at breakfast on a metal plate with a metal cup of chai tea, breathing in the thick humid air, watching other groups chatting happily in their sing song accent – that I really got it.  Dosa is filling but not heavy.  Basically, it is a damn good way to start the day.  In each country, I learned more about foods that I thought I had known with the result being that I now have a greater appreciation for these cuisines.

Of course, travel is about more than food.  Travel changes you but not necessarily in a dramatic way.  I had experiences that caused me to do some thinking, yes, but no light bulb epiphanies that changed my life. When confronted with so many new or unique experiences each day it’s hard to gauge change within yourself. Perhaps a better way to put it is a better sense of self.  Because the saying is true – “wherever you go, there you are.”

Sleeper bus to Yuanyang

Sleeper bus to Yuanyang

And we went a lot of places.  Over the past 14 months I have ridden high speed trains, a 27 hour sleeper bus, overnight ferries, small vans overburdened with 22 people, and what I like to call the rickshaw roller coaster. Powered by my own two feet I weaved through traffic packed streets on a bicycle and walked 500 mile across Spain.  My career is in transportation and I can’t help but feel that these experiences brought greater insight to my work.

Women skillfully carrying their goods

Women skillfully carrying their goods in Hubli, India

To remember all these places, experiences and transport modes gives me an immense sense of gratitude.  I know how fortunate I am for the health and resources to do this trip.  As a woman, I’m also grateful for the fact that I was born in the West.  Sexism is alive and well in the USA but I’m happy we got past the women as second class citizens thing.  Not so in many other parts of the world.  It was annoying to see groups of men and women working in China because often the men were sitting around while the women were shoveling or raking or doing whatever job had to be done.  Of course in Turkey there is gender separation as a result of religious norms, though as a tourist I personally did not feel any discrimination. The country we visited where I felt it most was India.  The culture is positively obsessed with gender and the idea that men absolutely can’t control themselves in the presence of a woman.  Women must cover, must hide away, must have their own train car in order to not be groped.  It wasn’t until I arrived in Thailand just after India that I realized how oppressing it all was.  I could finally wear a tank top to deal with the heat and nobody looked twice!  There were more women walking the sidewalks, women riding scooters, women sitting next to the men they didn’t know on transit (gasp!) and life went on.  I do hope that India finds a better balance of equality in the years that come.

This tower of dolma was one of the few things we got to "cook" during our travels

This tower of dolma was one of the few things we got to “cook” during our travels

PRESENT
Given my tales of culture shock and exhausting bus rides, it’s no wonder people often ask if I’m tired of travel. I think I surprise them when I say not really. If someone offered me a ticket to Italy leaving tomorrow, I wouldn’t hesitate to pack my bags.

That said, I am excited to resume some of my hobbies that I haven’t been able to do because of my travels. Cooking and having my own kitchen is a big one. I’m looking forward to have those lazy Sundays when I get to dedicate my day to making a delicious bolognaise. Also, learning about some many cultural histories has me thinking about my own familial one. I’ve always wanted to make a family tree and now I’m more inspired than ever.

Therefore, we are now in the process of settling down. At least for a short while. The big question is where. Part of the impetus of this trip was an was a desire to move from the San Francisco area, where we had spent nearly 10 years. We are looking for a new place to call home. Our main desire is a big city that supports our lifestyle of exploring by foot and eating good food. Will it be New York? London? Hong Kong? I wish I knew! But the main determinant will be where we can land jobs.

In the immediate future, there is our wedding to plan which is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. Meanwhile, we will be posting on some of our local travels to see friends and family as well as advice on how to plan your own trip.

Clockwise from left: the Camino, Hong Kong clay pot restaurant, baklava in Turkey, Santorini, Chengdu delicacies, sunset on the beach in Koh Tao, spring rolls in Saigon

Clockwise from left: the Camino, Hong Kong clay pot restaurant, baklava in Turkey, Santorini, Chengdu delicacies, sunset on the beach in Koh Tao, spring rolls in Saigon

FUTURE
But just because we are staying in one place doesn’t mean I can’t already plan my future travel adventures. Taking a year off just opens your eyes to more places to visit and explore.

My dad asked me where would I return of all the international places I’d been this year, which is much better than asking what my favorite place is (impossible to answer!).  For some places, one visit is enough.  But it’s the ones that call you back that indicate that there’s something special there. Here is a list of places I would return (* means I visited pre-blog):

  • The Camino
  • Greek islands
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Southern Vietnam
  • Thailand beaches
  • Sichuan
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan*
  • Anywhere in Europe*
I want to have a wall map in my apartment (photo credit: Urban Outfitters)

I will definitely have a wall map in my apartment! (photo credit: Urban Outfitters)

And then of course there are the places you hear about and see tantalizing pictures of.  A list of countries I have never been but want to explore:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Korea
  • Western China
  • Nepal
  • The “stans” in Central Asia
  • Russia
  • Croatia
  • Lebanon
  • Jordan
  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • Botswana
  • Northern Brazil
  • Southern Argentina

It’s time for us to put down some roots and have a bit more routine in our life. But wherever we end up one thing is for sure. A map will be posted on the wall. Pins will be pushed in to the countries we’ve been to, the ones we need to go back to, and the ones we’ve yet to explore. It will serve as a reminder of fortunate we are to have seen all that have as well as an indicator that the next adventure just around the corner.

But this is not the end!  Stay tuned for Nathan’s thoughts on the trip coming up next.

Making The Most Of 100 Posts! (by N&C)

100 Posts!

100 Posts!

We made it to 100 posts!  The genesis of this blog was simple.  The initial conversation went something like this:

Carmen: Hey, why don’t we start a blog? That way we won’t have to write all those emails to family and friends letting them know what we are up to.
Nathan: OK (with approving shoulder shrug)

What began as an easy method to update loved ones quickly morphed into a full on photo and text journalist exercise.  Neither of us realized the amount of work we would end up putting into the blog, but as we put pen to paper we became enthusiastic to share our stories.  With over 100,000 words and 1,300 images the blog has become a medium for us to relive, share and promote our exploration of the world.  Our efforts felt particularly recognized when our blog was featured on the WordPress Freshly Pressed site, which highlights top blog posts..

4feet2mouths is Freshly Pressed!

4feet2mouths is Freshly Pressed!

Beyond journaling, the blog has even become a way to connect with other travelers and travel fantasizers.  The feedback we received through your comments is much appreciated. (A special shout out to our most frequent commenter, Manish!) On our 100th post, we would like to simply say thank you to all our readers for joining this exciting journey with us.

Machu Picchu friends

Machu Picchu friends

Looking back at the past 10 months it’s hard to believe the incredible journey we’ve had.  As we reviewed pictures for this post we kept thinking,”Wow, did we really get to do all that? Did that really taste as good as I remember?” People often ask us what our favorite places have been but honestly we’ve enjoyed pretty much all of it.  Perhaps we can describe a few favorite moments, though.

And that is truly just a handful.  We are incredibly excited for what is to come – more great memories and mouth-watering food.  Our journey continues through Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand as we make a counter-clockwise loop through southeast Asia. From Bangkok we fly to China where we will spend the last part of our trip.

Two hikers

Two hikers

The next biggest question we receive is how we can afford to travel for over a year. This is a challenging to answer simply and we will be writing a series of blog articles to encourage and mobilize the average traveler into the world.  The key reality is that vacation and long-term budget travel are very different activities.  Negotiating with a taxi driver to save $1 or finding a $6 room because it is without air conditioning, hot water or windows or eating food from street carts are daily activities for us.  There is an art to traveling the world, it is a frugal expression, but it is possible.  We have no bills, no mortgage, no car and only one mobile phone.  Simple world travel is cheaper than when we lived in Berkeley!  Most of all we had friends and family that supported us.  We had the great fortune to gain college degrees with stable salary.  After saving for several years, we took a leap of faith to sell everything and travel the world.

Buenos Aires Food

Buenos Aires Food

“Why are you not fat?” Well, our families tell us in amazement that we are looking thin.  We eat a light breakfast and simple lunches and dinners.  We search out great food and when it is good, we photograph it and put it on the blog.  When it is bad, you don’t hear about it.   Ten months of eating is a large number of meals, and we only have the best for you.  Tasting the world is part of our journey and our passions, so if you are hungry when you finish reading- good.  We also only choose the most slimming of photos of course!

Thank you for hopping on our Rickshaw Roller Coaster to see Camino Miracles and Carved Canyons.  We hope you will be able to join us for the next few months as we trek across Southern Asia, return to the U.S. and search for jobs in Europe.  Cheers to more great adventures!

Negotiating The Head Waggle In Delhi (by Nathan)

Delhi traffic jam

I had been trying to figure out the best way to describe India for weeks.  Delhi was our final city in an attempt to “see” India.  The country is enormous, the cultures varied and at best we simply “tasted” the pleasures that India has to offer.  I rolled over in bed after a thirteen hour nap and I asked Carmen “What is the opposite of tranquil?”. Urban India is intense, smothering and exhausting, but equally liberating, flavorful and exciting.

Non-stop people, cars, rickshaws, and buses

We were proud. Few Indian delights crossed our eyes without entering our mouths.  But finally we found the one-day gremlin that lurches in the tastiest of of banana-leafed bowls of street food.  The exhaustion of travel caught up with us and a mild case of “Delhi belly” sent us to bed (thankfully not the bathroom).  It was impossible to visit India on our terms; in no way could we control the bohemoth and not one day had worked out as planned.  Thus we submitted and embraced (again) seeing India’s India.  Being a tourist here has a steep learning curve; and we are fast learners.  During our last days we stuck with what we know best: the food, the history and the markets.

Fried dough breakfast

Fried dough with potato curry

Our success with food works on two principals: we are open-minded to eat what locals eat and stubbornly insistent to eat where there are locals eating.  Our morning stroll of dry spot and trash-free hopscotch was not interrupted by hacking, but by the slurping crunching sound of serious food enjoyment. We peered over some shoulders (not difficult because everyone is 3-4 inches shorter in India) and freshly fried four inch disks were moved from a mound to a bowl and topped with a thick potato mixture and mint chutney.  We used the disk to scoop up the potatoes as we ate standing up adjacent to the busy street.  We walked away happy with plans to return.

Drawing on a wall at the crafts museum

Chariot at the crafts museum

The craft museum was a welcome sight to view and learn about many of the various cultures across India.  We saw storyboards depicting the lives of gods, elaborate and delicately woven textiles and a huge wooden chariot.

Humayun’s Tomb

Me at Humayun’s Tomb

Baha’i Lotus Temple

The timeless architecture of India exists in two forms: imperial and religious.  Every sultan built a palace, or ten, and a tomb, and only one.  Across several millennia there have been several sultans, but the most grand of Delhi’s sights is Humayun’s Tomb.  This red sandstone and marble structure is surround by grass and palm trees south of the heart of Delhi.  The modern Baha’i Temple is an impressive concrete lotus flower and a welcome and cost-free sight.

Market street

Dried noodle vendor

It is the markets of India where Carmen and I embrace the craziness of India. Bumping shoulders and rubbernecking at the green beans, sarees or ugly sweaters is a perfect afternoon of entertainment.  Seriously, at the next ugly sweater party I only wish I had the outfit I saw on the subway- bleach-faded jeans, green striped dress shirt and a red, shag sweater vest that had an iridescent quality to it that could only be called glitter.  Everything is sold in markets, there are no big stores, only tiny road-side shacks, push-carts and tiny urban cubby storefronts.

Jalebi

Fried street treats

Aloo paratha on the griddle

Food is everywhere in India. And Delhi has one of the most elaborate and wonderful street-food scenes on the planet. We can’t walk anywhere without catching a scent of some delectable spice or cooking happening. We discovered these decadent fried fritters called jalebi as well as an array of almost tempura battered vegetables with a chickpea curry on the street near our hotel in Paharganj. For breakfast we frequented an aloo paratha stand serving potato filled wheat pancakes and daal (lentils).

Delicious fried puffs with chickpea curry

Calm moment in the crazy street scene of Delhi

One of our days was spent wondering through the streets as we walked from New Delhi to some of the major sights in Old Delhi. We found ourselves deep in a Muslim neighborhood that saw few visitors, but everyone was kind. The trek was all worth it when we saw twenty people crammed in this tiny room eating one of our favorite Indian dishes. Chana bhatura is a large puffy dough ball that is peeled apart and eaten with spicy chickpeas. With a couple gulab jumun (honey-soaked dough-nuts) we walked out of the place having spent $1.20. There is something magical about restaurants that focus on one specific dish, cooking it to perfection everyday for many years. This was one of these special places that everyone knew about and where the best was expected. Now full, we clamored our way through the streets towards the mosque.

Jama Masjid

View from the minaret

Giggling girls getting camera shy at the Jama Masjid

The gem of Old Delhi is the Jama Masjid Mosque.  This enormous complex can support 25,000 worshippers and was built over 350 years ago.  We explored the prayer halls, the plaza and even climbed the south minaret for a smoggy, but enjoyable view of the city.  On several occasions we took photos alongside families, or with a small child in my arms or with a group of teenage girls.  The locals must like my blond hair. In the photo above, the girls appear to be mad-dogging me, but just minutes earlier they were giggling to take my photo.

The favorite pastime, cricket

India has created a mix of emotions within me. I love it and I hate it, there are so many wonderful things about it and others that disgust me. Because I am an engineer, here are the numbers:
22 days total (too little to experience or really “know” India).
16 make-shift cricket matches encountered on plazas, alleys and dirt courts.
30 auto rickshaws taken.
400 times we were asked to take a Rickshaw
4 times Nathan stepped in shit, with sandals.
5-1/2 hours waiting in line for a single train ticket in New Delhi (5 attempts).
70 people insisted on taking photos with us.
15 of those were successfully convinced to take a jumping photo.
200 times asked “which country? What is your name? How are you?”
20 wonderfully complete and various thali meals eaten.
60 chapatis, tandoori roti and naan eaten.
22 miniature bananas eaten.
Countless super nice, helpful and friendly Indian people.
45 tourists seen wearing funny parachute pants.
50 successful negotiations (10 losses)

I have walked away with a greater appreciation of India. The vast amount of people and the complexities of spices used in so many foods is amazing. We have had no trouble learning how to eat here, but it is the nuances of the culture that have intrigued and challenged us. We have become masters of negotiation. Everything is negotiable in India, and by the end of our trip I was haggling with hotel owners,Rickshaw drivers, fruit vendors and tailors. If someone wanted to sell me something we were going to bargain dance. The follow-up to any agreement would be the proper head waggle. There is a subtle motion that Indians make with there head that is not quite side-to-side, or up-and-down, but more a bobble head motion describing that we have an undstanding. With great yearning we asked our Indian-American friends to teach us this skill. They refused! Deep in the trenches of restaurant and market communication Carmen and I waggled our way to understanding. For those that are interested in this art,the most elegant and direct head waggle is achieved by drawing an six inch horizontal figure eight with your chin two to four times. Repeat as necessary.

The Stunning Taj Mahal (by Carmen)

The famous Taj Mahal view

How could we come to India and not see the Taj Mahal?  I mean, it’s THE symbol of India. One of the most beautiful structures ever. A wonder of the world. A must see…isn’t it?” These were the thoughts running through my head as we struggled to get train tickets to Agra, the city that holds the famous sight.  Long lines, crowded ticket counters, sold out trains all conspired against our visit and my determination to see the Taj began to waiver.  It took some effort but we finally made it.  And then…wow.

Taj from the mosque

The crowds were already queuing up at dawn and we joined their ranks.  I think Shiva and Vishnu (or possibly both) decided to reward our perseverance in getting to Agra by coinciding our visit with World Heritage Day.  This meant that our entrance to the Taj Mahal was absolutely free!  We entered the grounds and walked through the main gate to behold the famous and stunning view of the Taj.

It was wonderful. Nathan and I perched ourselves on a bench to the side of the main aisle to peacefully observe the scene.  And we were promptly asked to move so that a French tour group could take photos at the bench.  That’s the downside of these beautiful sights – they attract huge volumes of people and the jostling to get that perfect picture can get ugly.  

Up close and personal

Grand archway

We took our time getting up close to the main building, the mausoleum emperor Shah Jahan built for his deceased wife.  The building itself actually has a rather small footprint.  The pedestal it stands on and the setting makes it seem much more grand.  But as you get closer what you lose in grandeur you gain in great attention to details.  The carved marble was inlaid with flower patterns and script or carved into fine, intricate lattices.

A practice in symmetry

Us and the Taj

For me, the Taj really did live up to the hype.  It has a timelessness that belies its 400 years of age.  I believe this is a result its perfect proportions.  The dome and the carved niches all have soft curves that provide an elegant beauty.  In the end, it was well worth the trip.

Touristy camel ride

Agra holds not one but two world heritage sights.  A mere 2km away from the Taj is the Agra Fort, a defense complex turned palace.  We admired the extremely tall camels pulling tourists to and from the Taj but decided to walk along the river to the fort.

Textures of the Agra Fort

Beautiful arches of the Hall of Public Audiences

The Agra Fort has its own, crumbling elegance to it.  My favorite area was the scalloped archways of the Hall of Public Audiences where the emperor would conduct business. Emperor Shah Jahan actually was imprisoned here for the last eight years of his life where he could see his creation, the Taj, in the distance.

Thali time

Maybe it’s India’s ancient religious history. Or perhaps it’s all the trash in the streets. But there’s something about India that makes you want to cleanse.  (There’s also something about India that makes many tourists want to wear enormous parachute pants that I don’t see on any locals, but I digress.)  Our cleansing centers around food and drink. While in India we have been vegetarian and sober, a sort of detoxing for our indulgences in Europe.  We stuck to these ideals in Agra, where the food is mostly geared towards the touring hoards.  While we enjoyed a decent thali at a restaurant our favorite meals were on the streets.

Local Agra living

Fried potato chaat

Our first and last meal of Agra took place in a little corner where three chow mein stands setup shop each night.  For a snack, we enjoyed samosas or a fried potato chaat with chickpeas, tamarind, onions and mint chutney.  For the most part, we found these in or around the market streets in Agra.  These extended south of the Taj within a winding labyrinth of lanes with few other tourists.

Taj Mahal from the south riverbank

Just before our train to Delhi, we walked past the the east gate to the Taj, straight to the riverbank.  A Hindu temple occupies this site, but they don’t mind you sticking around the admire the rear Taj views.  Surprisingly we were the only tourists there to watch the sunset light up the magnificent building. It was a peaceful way to say goodbye to an understandably crowded treasure of the world.

Finding Our Mumbai (by Carmen)

Street vendor in Crawford Market

A Mumbai train station

Though I had never stepped foot in Mumbai, I had already been there.  I had been transported the city by the excellent book, Shantaram by Gregory Roberts.  It is the story of an escaped Aussie convict who eventually gets involved in Mumbai’s underworld.  Along the way he contemplates life, love and how we relate to others.  One of the key themes of the book is Roberts’ complete and utter love for Mumbai. He can make you feel the sights, sounds and even smells of all the corners of the city he discovers.  Nathan and I are big Shantaram fans so it was with great anticipation that we arrived to Mumbai’s central train station.

Taj Mahal Hotel

Leopold’s Cafe

From the train station we worked our way south to another neighborhood described in the book, Colaba.  It is dotted with fine architecture such as the Taj Mahal hotel and the India Gate, providing evidence of the colonial influence.  We walked further along the tree lined streets, passing the World Trade Center, which also plays a role in the story.  The construction of the center spurred the creation of an adjacent slum that directly contrasts with the wealth of the area.  Roberts actually lived there during his time in Mumbai and seeing it helped bring the story to life.  One more important stop in Colaba was Leopold’s Cafe. Many friendships and conversations take place in this ex-pat cafe which was bustling when we stopped in for a drink.  It was fun to finally be there in person but it wasn’t quite what I had imagined.  It was far too bright, airy and even commercial to contain the dubious characters from Shantaram.

Banganga Tank

Butterfly in the Hanging Gardens

Another day, we made our way north, where Roberts would head to chill out.  Compared to more central areas of Mumbai, Chowpatty Beach and the surrounding neighborhoods are quite tranquil areas.  At Banganga Tank we observed ritual bathing at this sacred spot, which was created when Lord Rama pierced the ground with his arrow.  We then made our way to the hanging gardens which were flush with butterflies enjoying the budding flowers.  

Gandhi supporting sustainable transportation ; )

In his visits to Mumbai, Gandhi would stay in the Chowpatty area.  We stopped by a small museum dedicated to his life and ideals.  It is hard to imagine someone with more inner strength and charisma.  At the museum we read glowing recommendations from contemporaries such as Einstein.  A small portrait of Gandhi on a bicycle caught my eye.  He was obviously showing his support of non-motorized transportation modes! (Hey, a transport planner can dream, can’t she?)

Chowpatty Beach at sunset

Behl puri

Towards sunset, the beach comes alive with families and teenagers enjoying the bit of open space.  It is a festive atmosphere amid the piles of trash.  The vendors at the beach are known to specialize in behl puri, a snack in which crisp rice puffs are covered with potatoes, onions, chutney, and sev (crispy noodles).

Dobi Ghat

Streets of Mumbai

Visiting the city created in Shantaram was exciting, but it was time for our own Mumbai.  With this in mind we took a train north to the working class areas of Mahalaxmi.  Just outside the train station you will find Dobi Ghat, the laundry machine of Mumbai where workers wash sheets and clothes by hand in concrete basins.  Standing from a lookout on the bridge an endless sea of clothing sways in the hazy sunlight.  We walked around the markets surrounding the ghat and observed the typical streets of urban India – dirty, trashy, and crumbling by western standards but ultimately millions of people living on and using them each day. And from what I saw they are still better off than many of those living in the slums.

Diwali laterns

At night, the dirt of the city was hidden by shadows and colorful lanterns filled the air.  The reason for the lanterns was Diwali, Indian new year.  It was a time of great joy and, of course, deafening fire works.

Goa Portuguesa

It also meant crazy traffic so with great difficulty Nathan, our friend Anu and I made our way to Goa Portuguesa.  This somewhat kooky restaurant actually had character and ambiance, which isn’t always easy to find on the Indian restaurant scene.  The chef had scouted dozens of recipes from Kerala in India’s deep south so the food was all new to me.  Banana curry, tender coconut fry up, and a beans in curry dish were coconutty delights.  I really liked the crispy, bowl shaped appam to scoop it up with.

Colored powder to create Diwali sand art

Market nibbles

Besides the crazy traffic, markets were also hectic because Diwali is a time of gifts. kind of like Christmas.  But wait, hectic isn’t the word. India is hectic year round.  Try pandemonium.  So many vendors, stalls, foods, clothes, knickknacks, and of course the odd cow in the mix.  

Vada pav

You need a snack to survive the market. After shuffling our way through millions of people we had a Mumbai specialty, vada pav.  This is a carb lovers dream – spiced potatoes floured and fried stuffed in bread with chopped onions and chili powder. Yum.  Another time we jumped between neighboring food stands for dahi papdi chaat (chips with potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt and chutney), pani puri (fried puffs stuffed with potatoes, chickpeas, and tamarind chutney all dipped in mint water), and a Bombay sandwich (tomato, cucumber and cheese toasted).

Paper dosa – did we order too much?

We mixed up the street food with a few restaurants.  For breakfast we were making our way through the myriad of dosa choices at the south Indian eateries near our hotel.  Set dosa, rava dosa, masala dosa…what’s this paper dosa? We ordered it and as it came to the table we suddenly remembered. Yeah, it’s the giant thin crepe we had at Udupi Palace in Berkeley that one time.  An unintentionally big but delicious breakfast.

Badshah falooda and kulfi

New Kulfi Centre falooda

Have room for dessert? We did so we created a falooda face off.  Falooda is a sweet creamy dessert filled with jelly noodles and rose water.  It is rich, cool and refreshing. We sampled some at Badshah which also had excellent kulfi (a denser, creamier Indian style ice cream).  This competed with the falooda of New Kulfi Centre near Chowpatty Beach.  My verdict – I liked the stronger flavors of Badshah, but when eating falooda everyone is a winner.

Thali

Mirchi kachori

Mumbai is a delicious mix of people and foods.  We loved the markets; the chaat (snacks) such as mirchi kachori (fried lentil balls covered in chili yogurt sauce);  the choice in thalis (mix plates); the better infrastructure (sidewalks!).  But most of all, we loved finding our Mumbai.

Finding Peace In The Past In Hampi (by Nathan)

Enormous oxen pulling a sugarcane cart

Our progression through India has moved from big city Bangalore , to the smaller Hubli and now the village of Hampi. We came to this area to view the numerous delicately carved buildings and experience the more peaceful side of India. The city was once the capital of the Hindu empire. At its height the city contained over 500,000 people. The city has been reduced significantly and the few residents that stay survive on tourists and agriculture. Away from the hustle and craziness, we were surrounded by banana groves, sugarcane and five hundred year old ruins of the past empire.

Cow silhouette in the Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha temple at dusk

Three monkeys sitting in a building

The most prominent of the ruins is the enormous 50m Virupaksha Temple from 1442 that protrudes from the edge of the city. Exploring the temple we were startled by a horned bull that roamed freely in the complex. He posed for a silhouette. Outside the temple we walked up the rock hillside to see the temple and town at night. Every surface of the temple is coverd with ornamentations and figurines of gods and animals. There were real monkeys too! They climbed up and down the the tower, relaxed and watched over everyone in the bazaar.

Delicious idli and gunta ponganalu breakfast

Delicious idli and gunta ponganalu breakfast

Colorful Hampi Bazaar ruins

In the morning we ate some of the best food so far in India. We ordered two plates filled with idli (rice flour cakes), fried green chiles and gundpangala (rice porridge ebleskivers) served with coconut chutney and sambar. The dumplings we firm and moist with perfect little pores to soak up the rich sauces. We stepped away from the cozy outdoor shack; we washed our hands from the adjacent spigot and began our trek along the old Hampi bazaar. These buildings are centuries old, but through use as a modern bazaar it became a bit dilapidated. The colors were vibrant on either side of the road providing a rainbow-like entry to the temples.

Carmen and Achyutaraya Temple ruins

Sule Bazaar with goats

Various ruined hallways of Hampi bazaars

Our first sacred sight was enormous monolithic bull (Nandi) carved from the hillside. We clambered up some rocky steps to another small temple. We leaned towards the gate to view the statute inside when a small bony woman jumped out and dotted our heads with a bright pink fingerprint. We gave her some rupees that immediately caused a scowl to her face (we don’t know the going rate for these things). We hurried off trying to dodge the bad karma insults. The Achyutaraya Temple sits in a small valley that was nearly tourist free. We explored the temple, several gates and auxiliary buildings that led to a vast grass filled plaza. We weave our way through the herd of goats that had taken over the Sule Bazaar. Both sides of the plaza were lined with simple stone buildings that once served as a great shopping center.

Reflection pool near Sule Bazaar

Vittala Temple

Stone chariot of Vittala Temple

Next to the bazaar was a beautiful reservoir that provided great reflections of the ruins. The heat was excruciating, but the water looked a little to slimy even for me to swim. Sweating in the midday heat we arrived at the Vittala temple. This temple is about 3km from Hampi with amazing carvings and engravings nestled into every surface. The building columns were beautiful single pieces of marble that elegantly tapered and separated into four filigree posts. Outside the temple is a stone chariot that supposedly was operational at one time. We walked along the river and found some boys operating a sugarcane press, a perfect spot for a refreshing drink.

Elephant carving on side of temple

Ornate wall of Hazararama Temple

Park map of Hampi Ruins

We continued to be awestruck by the glamorous carvings throughout each set of ruins. There were elephants, monkey gods (who supposedly originated in Hampi) and thousands of stories to document their religious history. The ruins in Hampi are exquisite, but they are spread throughout a large area. We walked most of it, but if you are going to Hampi print this map because it will be the best guide you will have.

The Queen’s Bath

Colorful cow

Hazararama Temple

The walk to the historic Royal Center turned out to be longer than expected. We expected to find a trail to the south of Achyutaraya temple. We walked through the mud and grass until the dead silence of the banana plantation informed us that we probably should not be there. We backtracked, and spotted a temple in the distance. Carmen jumped on my back and together we made it through a bog, then a carefully laid out steps of rocks to hop and in no time we found the Krishna Temple. With a landmark we could then make our way on the road to our real destination. The Royal Center was basically the Forbidden City or (Topkapi Palace) of Hampi – an enormous complex of buildings, servants and concubines for the emperor. We first visited the Queen’s Bath with elaborate lattice marches. Walking through the walled city we passed cows that were colorfully decorated from a recent festival. Further on we explored the Hazararama Temple then continued north to the jewels of the Hampi Ruins.

Lotus Mahal in Royal City

Lotus Mahal hall

Elephant Stables of the Royal City

The Lotus Mahal is one of the more spectacular and fundamentally beautiful buildings that I have seen in a long time. It feels very natural and simple like the flower it mimics. The building glows with an elegance that would be valued in any modern building today, but this one is five centuries old. The Elephant Stables nearby are also grand with many repeating arches and domes. The empire that ruled in Hampi was grand, an now these buildings quietly bake away in the sun. It was very calming to wonder through the Royal Center imagining the city that once lived and the people that one walked and seeing these exact buildings.

Carmen and “an elephant pose”

We had a wonderful time in Hampi. It was an exhilarating and exhausting two night hop from Hubli. We were transferred into a whole other world of curved stone architecture, grand abandoned bazaars, and a small village. The people were nice, the animals cooperative even though a bit invasive, but the magic of the place and the scenery will remain with us forever. And those gundpangala…I will be dreaming about those for some time.

“Hampi is my house” water tank

The First Tourists of Hubli (by Carmen)

Women skillfully carrying their goods

Hubli is not a tourist destination by any standard.  But we found ourselves there because of our dear friend Anu, who lives and works in this million person city.  In truth, we are (probably) not the first tourists Hubli has ever seen.  Many travelers actually pass through since it is a major hub on India’s all important railway system.  However, it definitely has an authentic, untouched vibe to it.  Just as in American small cities, Hubli was slower, cleaner and more easygoing than its big city brethren.

Elephant blessings on offer 

But this is still India, so nothing is ever truly easygoing.  On our first day Anu took us to a delicious all you can eat restaurant in downtown. This involved haggling with a rickshaw, taking a fast paced ride, ducking through a hole in the fence separating the sidewalk from the street, admiring the elephant that will bless you (i.e. touch the top of your head with its trunk) if you pay it, going up some stairs past a few street kids, and being gawked at as we eat our meal with our hands, even the rice.  Not exactly a walk in the park but these are the types of things I’m sure you get used to after a month or two in India.

Main market in Hubli

We walked off our large lunch in the local market.  Betel leaves, garlic, and watermelon snacks are piled high next to bangles, scarves and books.  When the heat got to us we stopped at a cold drink stand for some lime soda.  This ubiquitous drink is a simple mix of lime juice, soda water and either sugar or salt.  I’m liking the salty flavor which I find wonderfully refreshing.

Farmers market

Breakfast mix

We stayed in a suburb of Hubli and happened to be there for the farmers market.  Again more luscious produce – green beans, cucumber, eggplant and more. It inspired us to cook but that is a difficult choice when all the restaurants are also so enticing. For example, we had to stop by a small hole in the wall for some breakfast rice and onion pakora (fried batter mixed with onion).

Nathan’s stylist 

In a place where there is not much to do it is a good idea to catch up on errands. Like haircuts, which are always exciting in foreign countries.  Nathan braved Ganesh Hair Styles to get a much needed crop and shave. Fortunately, a lot of hand gestures were successful in getting Nathan the right cut.

Typical Hubli street

Overall this little corner of Hubli was a typical Indian neighborhood –  some paved roads, some dirt roads, modern buildings as well as lean to shacks, electricity out every night at 7:30, uncertainty on when and for how long the water supply will last.  These infrastructure deficiencies highlight what many westerners take for granted.  It is the last point, water, that most interests our friend Anu. Her company, NextDrop, works with water supply companies to determine when the water will arrive in a certain area.  Then the affected residents are texted about the water’s arrival.  It is a simple idea that takes the guesswork out of water supply schedules.  Not that we are biased or anything but Anu is an awesome CEO and is greatly improving the lives of thousands of residents of Hubli!

Kashmiri naan

Hotel restaurant with awesome paneer tikka

Anu is passionate about water issues but she is also passionate about her friends.  Therefore, she made time to ensure that Nathan and I were well fed.  For example we sampled spectacular paneer tikka, a type of spiced roasted cheese, at the hotel restaurant near her office.  We also gushed over sweet and savory Kashmiri naan at the north Indian restaurant, Al Medina.  This consisted of bread stuffed with raisins and coconut but also herbs and sesame seeds. The simple student eatery with a bunch of plastic chairs squeezed into a big room for all you can eat for $0.60 was also cool. In short, Hubli was Hubli-cious.

Mishra Pedha

Before we left, Nathan and I also had to try pedha, a local sweet that is reminiscent of cookie dough but with Indian flavors such as cardamom. We picked some up at Mishra Pedha which is literally on every corner in central Hubli!

Train ride to Hampi

More train ride to Hampi 

Hubli was a perfectly enjoyable city to spend time in.  It was made even better by 7 Beans, the hip cafe with free wifi.  But Nathan and I couldn’t resist the temptation of a side trip to a very historic and magical place.  We got out of Anu’s hair for a few days and hopped the eastbound train for Hampi.

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