Christmas in the desert

Posted by oana  martie 06, 2015  No Comments »

The night train to Bikaner wasn’t that bad at all. I actually managed to get some sleep even if I was a bit cold. We arrived in Bikaner early in the morning and went straight to the hotel to leave our bags and freshen up. The hotel was simply an architectural jewel, a haveli belonging to the Prime Minister of India from 1916, Maharaj Bhairon Singh Ji. The property was transformed into a unique heritage hotel and it’s run by Maharaj Bhairon Singh Ji descendents.

We had breakfast and before noon we boarded 2 jeeps and headed for the outskirts of Bikaner, where our desert overnight adventure would start. On the way there our driver managed to hit two cows mating in the middle of the street. That was quite a sight. Then, right after we entered the village, I could see another cow stealing food from inside a shop. A thing to mention about India’s roads is that except the so called highway maybe, there are cows running free everywhere, so seeing them in the middle of the road is something normal.

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Once we got to the village I met Raj, the creamy colored camel that was my ride for the day. Now let me tell you, it might seem easy but riding a camel for 4 hours it not at all comfortable for your knees and bum. But it was a lot of fun.

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Half way we stopped for a “home-cooked” delicious lunch and a couple of beers before heading further to our camp. The camels seemed to enjoy rolling in the sand, under our amusement.

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We reached our camp just before sunset so we enjoyed a nice cup of masala chai sitting on top of a dune and watching how the sun was going down. With the sun, also the warm weather went away and it was replaced by a freezing cold. We had dinner and then gathered around a big camp fire, singing and dancing when our hosts entertained us with traditional Indian music. At midnight Cleo, our guide, came out with a cake! In the middle of the desert, in India, we had Christmas cake! It was awesome!

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Inside my sleeping bag, covered with a thick blanket, the night wasn’t that bad in the tent I shared with Emily. The next morning, when i got out of the tent, the fog was so deep that I couldn’t see where the bonfire was, where we had a yummy omelet for breakfast. And masala chai, of course, this delicious sweet potion (ginger spiced tea) that got us going throughout the Indian cold. On our way back to Bikaner we spotted wild antelopes and some sort of desert rats, which was pretty cool.

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We returned to Bhairon Villas to enjoy the rest of the afternoon, before going to the rat temple, a high rated attraction situated at 30 km of the city (that’s over 1.5 hours by car). Even if not a touristic attraction, I have to show and tell you about our amazing hotel, which looks like a proper museum. Each room is colorful and decorated different and the furniture is actually antique. The gardens are amazing, they have flower filled fountains, they even have singing birds. But I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

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Together with three girls from my tour we ventured on the streets of Bikaner for a couple of hours. The highlight of the trip was a dentist on the side of the road that had very old pliers and a big collection of teeth on a blanket in front of him. Later that afternoon he had dinner at another beautiful haveli, before heading to the rat temple.

The rat temple, or Karni Mata Temple is famous for the approximately 20,000 black rats that live inside and people come from all over to country to worship them.

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Being a temple, you have to take your shoes off. The feeling of a furry rodent going over your foot is bizarre at least. But the legend says that if you see a white rat you will be lucky, as there are only a few wondering about. And guess what color was the first rat I’ve seen: white! :)

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Back to Delhi

Posted by oana  februarie 18, 2015  No Comments »

Imagine a city with 25 million inhabitants, with a population density of 11,297 persons per km square km. That’s Delhi. I found it different that the last time, maybe because of the weather and the fact that last time I’ve only spend one day in the capital of India. I came back to a grey, dirty and cold Delhi, surrounded by fog, overcrowded and rushed. If last time I chose to stay in Paharganj, one of the main bazaars, this time my hotel was in Karol Bagh, a more touristy area, with pretty good restaurants and a couple of convenience stores.

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While hanging around the city with my friend Sandeep for three days, we did a lot of fun things, like going to the mall, eating at McDonalds, going to the bazaar where I had the best sweet lassi in India from a street vendor, getting stuck in traffic and riding kids attractions. Now I know, you would say why go to the mall or the supermarket and why eating at McDonalds.

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Let me tell you, an Indian McDonalds for example is a different experience than anywhere else in the world. You won’t get their famous beef burgers but chicken and paneer replacements (cheese). I have enjoyed actually having a Veggie Pizza McPuff and an Aloo Burger.

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I’ve met the group I was supposed to travel with for 21 days on the fourth day after I landed in Delhi. We had an introduction meeting in the “conference room” of our hotel and it was nice to start to get to know them. I was lucky to be in a pretty cool group, 9 ladies and 1 man, most of them avid travelers. It was good that during the trip everybody managed to get along with everyone and there were no fights, which made my first group traveling experience a positive one.

That night we had dinner at a proper restaurant and mingled with each other. I had a delicious chicken biryani while listening to the exciting stories told around me and trying to remember names and nationalities.

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Back to the hotel I had a hot shower and slept like a baby. A long day was following, with an even longer night, as we were catching a night train to Bikaner, our next destination in the evening.

I had breakfast with my roommate and John, the only Australian in our group. We went to this pretty cafe that was serving English breakfast and delicious named milkshakes. The breakfast was really good, but the service kind of slow, so we hurried back to the hotel to be in time for our meeting with the guide. At 9 we met in the lobby and we were picked up by cars to be dropped somewhere in the centre, near the Connaught Place. When you say centre of Delhi you don’t talk about a posh area or a historical area, like you would do when speaking about most capitals. Delhi is different, is surrounded by walls and perpendicular roads and it’s split into different areas. Yes, you will find posh shops in Connaught Place but you won’t feel like in a capital. Yes, you will find history in Old Delhi but help you God if you go alone there due to the chaos of the streets. Apparently, one of the most rich and blooming areas of Delhi is Gurgaon, a city nearby that has been incorporated into the capital, where the IT centre of Delhi is.

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Our first stop that day was close to the train station. We were going to visit the children from Salaam Baalak Trust, an Indian non-profit and non-governmental organization which provides support for street and working children. We were welcomed by our tour guide who was actually one of these children. He took us around Paharganj, showing us and explaining different sights before arriving to the house where the children were. For example, he showed us a wall filled with pictures of Hindu Gods, and asked us why do we think those paintings were there. The answer was simple, so that people don’t urinate on the wall.

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Once we got to the main house, we got a chance to interact with the children. Even if they were not older than 12 years old, they were fluent in English and they were very excited to meet tourists. They played games with us and taught us how to ask “what’s your name?” in Hindi: “Aapka naam kya hai?”. The guide told us that each of those children have dreams. His own dream was to be a reporter for CNN. That was really touching to hear because if you visit India you know that most of those children have no chance. It’s impressive that they see beyond that and dream of becoming a Bollywood star, or a Journalist, or an astronaut.

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We left the children to learn and headed to the cars to get to our next destination: Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque. Here there are easily accommodated around 25.000 Muslims. To get in we had to take our shoes off at the gate and cover ourselves. Jama Masjid was built by Shah Jahan, the same one who built the Taj Mahal, and it took him 6 years and 6000 workers to build it.The mosque is in a very busy area, in the Chawri Bazar, where we walked after visiting it.


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After going through a labyrinth of narrow and busy streets we ended up to our next destination: Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib. This was a great insight into Sikhism. The people working here are all volunteers and they cook and offer free food to everybody who goes there. We went into the kitchen to see how volunteers were preparing chapatis (a sort of thin flat bread). We could actually try to batter dough for the chapatis and see how they are baked. To get inside the temple you have to take your shoes off and pass through a small fountain, to clean your feet. Inside everything looks peaceful, people are singing and praying and don’t pay attention to tourists. You can join them, by sitting down on the huge carpet and read the lyrics on the big TVs from across the room. A beautiful chandelier strikes your sight in the middle of the temple with it’s golden arms. Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib is one of the most important Sikhs temples in Delhi. Maybe the most important one is the Golden Temple, which is made entirely by gold and had a beautiful man made lake besides it.

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After finishing our tour and stopping for dinner to get a traditional thali, we headed back to the hotel by metro. Because of rush hour, the amount of people waiting for the next train was unbelievable. You do feel the amount of people living Delhi simply by traveling by metro.

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Before we left for the train we had our tea on the hotel’s terrace. The staff made a bonfire for us and we enjoyed another good Indian food. I chose aloo gobi (an Indian dish made out of potatoes and cauliflower) this time, which was simply delicious. Then we headed downstairs because the cars were coming to pick us up for the train station. A night on the sleeper train was following. How bad could that be?

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Children of Delhi

Posted by oana  ianuarie 25, 2015  No Comments »

First thing you notice when you land in Delhi is the heat from the airport. Even if outside the temperatures are low, inside the airport you can barely breath. Also, I think New Delhi airport is the first one that I’ve been to that has the floors covered with carpet. I landed at 1am, after a very long flight and a 4 hours stop over in Vienna where I have met my friend Christina for a coffee. From the moment I got off the plane to the moment I actually got out of the airport an hour passed. The immigration process is very slow and Indians don’t seem to be in a hurry to let you inside their country without asking you a mountain of questions first. Sandeep was waiting for me at the airport and by the time we actually got to his house it was already 3am.

I arrived in Delhi a few days before my trip started, with 2 bags full with toys for some poor children. Sandeep found a school principal that was willing to let us go into the slum and give away the toys, books and sweets so we met him on Saturday to discuss the details. His house was pretty impressive, compared to what I have experienced in India so far. He had a lot of people working there for him, from simple servants to cooks, security guards and chauffeurs. He was an old man that was speaking with a lot of wisdom words and proverbs. From what I understood, as he talked half English and half Hindi, he was the owner of a company that was making airplane compasses and he used to be a pilot instructor in his youth. He was taking care of two schools in a slum of Delhi, where he provided children between 3 and 5 years old with school supplies and breakfast every day so that they develop a habit of going to school every day.

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But I never imagined how these schools looked like… I got out of the car in the middle of a muddy road, with no asphalt, surrounded by people staring at me, animals and a lot of dirt. We made our way up to the school following a narrow path between brick constructions (which can’t be called homes). After turning a few corners and getting completely lost, I could hear children’s voices, singing. And then I’ve seen them… about 25 souls crammed inside two 4 square meters rooms, singing a patriotic Indian song. I could barely stop my tears… The news that I was there traveled fast in the slam and suddenly we got surrounded with people and children. I asked who are the hardest working students and I gave them the biggest toys. I could read amazement and curiosity on their faces, it was like some of them were even afraid to smile, maybe thinking that I might take them away. These children are so poor that maybe they have never seen a toy in their entire life.

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I am still thinking about those children and about the fact that most of them don’t have any chance of getting out of the slum…

Later that day we ordered two big pots of rice and went to give it away to the homeless people and children from the area. Again, this was a heart breaking experience because those children were laughing and playing around, they were trying to talk to me. Some of them were fascinated by my camera and couldn’t stop posing. I didn’t feel scared, not even when they literally buried me inside them because they wanted to see the pictures. It was such an amazing experience to meet this wonderful children!

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India – Introduction

Posted by oana  ianuarie 16, 2015  No Comments »
India - Introduction

India. A country of contrast, where architectural jewels are covered by dust, where homeless people sleep in front of palaces, where cows are crossing the highways, where there are no traffic rules but skilled drivers, and where chaos is at home. And still, a country of good food, beautiful eyes, kind people, songs, traditions and experiences.

And I had a lot of experiences in these 3 weeks (almost 4) spent in this country of contrasts. I have traveled for the first time in a group, thanks to the contest I won at Holiday Pirates, and I had a really nice surprise. I have met really wonderful people that I hope I’ll stay friends with and the dynamic of our group was great. I enjoyed spending Christmas and New Year’s with a bunch of cool strangers in the freezing desert or on the rooftop of a hotel, bombarded with fireworks. But I’ll get to that in the next chapters.

I’ve done things for the first time: I conquered my fear of heights and adventured myself on a zipline. I’ve learned and practiced yoga. I’ve seen the Taj Mahal.

I have also lived emotional moments when I’ve met poor children in a school in the slums and on the streets of Delhi. I never thought my eyes would water the moment I’d seen the condition those children live and learn in. I wish I could have done more for them. Most of those children will never have a chance to get out of there… to live in a room bigger than my hallway, to eat something different each day, to enjoy movies in the cinema or drive a car.

I came back home with a bag of memories and experiences.  And with mixed feelings: do I love India?

Lima – and Lima airport

Posted by oana  mai 24, 2013  No Comments »

The flight from Sao Paolo to Lima was very bumpy. I slept half of the way, after I had the delicious breakfast they offered. I was planning to stay awake and see Lake Titicaca from above but I put on a movie and fall asleep. When I woke up the sun was shining and Peru was under me feet.  Everything was clear except when we got over Lima and prepared to descend. White clouds and a milky fog ware covering the city. I’ve read in my guide that it’s normal and all winter the city looks gray and sad. I still hope I’ll be able to learn to surf on my way back. We descended into the clouds, stay there for a few minutes and after that I could see the ocean really, really close, as the runaway is near it.

After I landed I met Joel at the airport, my host for the night. He lives close to the airport and we went to his home with the local bus… a minibus full with people that you have no idea where it goes to, with a guy yelling to you to get in. It barely stops to give you time to get on or off. It costs around 1 sole a trip. An awesome Peruvian experience!

My first Peruvian meal was rice with turkey (female turkey), in a bean mash, with tomato and onions. It was really, really good! After that I just slept until today. I didn’t realize that even if I sleep in the plane the jet lag will put me down. But at least it was only for half a day and a night and now I’m fresh, waiting to begin my adventure, to Cusco and Machu Picchu.

For breakfast this morning I had some kind of a pastry filled with chicken, eggs, onions and some other stuff that i couldn’t identify and a delicious cheese cake with maracuja.  Yum.

Now I am in the airport, watching the planes come and go and wait for my flight to Cusco.

Let me tell you something about the airport from Lima. Not one, not two, not three things that made me think that our dear airport is really good. First of all, there is a separate entrance to do the check in counters after which you have to go to domestic arrivals and climb the escalators to departures. The first thing that struck me was that at the check in the bags were taken manually to the baggage trucks. How did I noticed that? I guy took my backpack before the woman at the check in desk got a chance to put a label on it. I made sure he took it back and she labelled it. I wouldn’t want to lose my backpack on the way.

Second, you can buy whatever you want before passing through security. Meaning that a guy after me passed with a bottle of 0.5 ml of Fanta. The guys that check your hand bags are multifunctional. They also take care of the trays and come and greet you before your bag is scanned.

Third, the airport doesn’t announce the gates. Some women walk around and shout for late passengers for different flights.


Madrid – Sao Paolo: Crossing the Atlantic

Posted by oana  mai 24, 2013  No Comments »

I boarded the plane among the last people because I was group E. I guess this group is the one that managed to get the cheapest ticket and for that they will board last in the plane. The guy that checked my passport and ticket was the same guy that was trying to guide me in a terrible English, when I arrived at the check in. I told him that it’s ok, he can speak in Spanish because I understand him. Now, he looked at me, smiled, and said “tu me comprendes, eu te comprendo”. J So I boarded the plane smiling.

The plane was huge, an Airbus 330 named “The magic red carpet”. The configuration was 2 – 4 – 2 and I had a seat at the aisle, on the right side. On my seat there was a blanket and pillow waiting for me and after I sat down a flight attendant brought me an eco Tam comfort bag with a tooth brush, tooth paste, a small towel, a pen and a comb. Perfect for the morning. Before the flight left, I also got a hot towel to clean my hands before dinner. At dinner we had to choose between chicken filet and pasta. I chose the chicken and I got a nice filet with a brown sweet sauce, fresh carrots and rice with green vegetables (which tasted very interested). There was also a vegetables salad as a side, bread and butter and as dessert a delicious coconut and lime moose with a bottom of nuts soaked in syrup.  I ate that before dinner. J Tooo good.

After that I’ve put the headphones on, turned on a movie and fall asleep until one hour before landing in Sao Paolo when breakfast was served.  I slept like a baby even if there were some turbulence after we crossed the Atlantic and got into the South American space. I am not looking forward for the Lima – Cuzco flight if on a jumbo jet I could feel the turbulences so hard. The good thing is that for this next flight, from Sao Paolo to Lima, I won’t take the magic pill. See what will happen…

For breakfast I had a nice tomatoes, mozzarella and basil wrap, with bread and butter and fresh fruits for dessert. And after that the plane landed.

The descent over Sao Paolo was like a dream. The plane was flying right above the fluffy clouds illuminated by the city lights below, getting me the impression that if I just could raise my hand I would touch them.  White and yellow and red and greet… just like a rainbow. The plane took a turn and we were at the same level, seeing the clouds passing by the window. And after that… boom: Sao Paolo was at my feet, I could see the beautiful lights.  The landing was smooth and quick. It’s different with a jumbo jet.

Now I’m in Sao Paolo, preparing to board the next flight, to Lima. It’s going to be the same A330 jumbo and this time I’ll have a seat at the window.

Madrid – Thank you stranger!

Posted by oana  mai 24, 2013  No Comments »


After a bumpy flight and an awkward sleep in the airplane, I landed in Madrid, the start point of my South American journey. I was happy to meet on the plane to owners of The French Bakery and Bruno’s and chat a bit, before the plane touch downed.

Madrid’s airport is very well connected to the city, by metro, so it took me less than an hour to arrive at Estrecho, where Fabrice was waiting for me. Fabrice is French but he lives in Madrid (when he’s not traveling in Africa). He was kind enough to offer me his couch for the night and also a delicious dinner that he cooked himself. I’m sorry we couldn’t chat some more but it was already passed midnight and I was a bit tired after the flight.

The morning started with a great coffee and breakfast made by Fabrice. After that I rushed to the metro to get to Sol, for the beginning of my first ever free walking tour. I ended up doing with Sandemans and I don’t regret it. Eduardo was a great guide that spoke perfect English and was very funny.  He took us from Piazza Mayor to the suicidal bridge, from the big cathedral to the royal palace and from the opera house to the old city hall. At the tour I’ve met Emma, an Australian traveling for 2 months around Europe and USA. She was really nice and talkative and we bonded from the first moment we met. It was a great start of the day.

Later, I met Daniele, another Couchsurfer (Italian living in Madrid to finish his studies) that offered to show me around. We went to the big park from Madrid where we ate pizza made by him in the morning. Then he helped me find a Chinese place that was selling travel adaptors. Peru has another plug system and of course that I forgot my own adapter at home…

This morning, while in the metro, when a woman was singing some old Spanish love song, it hit me… that feeling that I only have when I’m away, when I’m traveling, when I’m actually doing nothing but I’m away from home… far away from home. Like this is what I am living for and I could do this forever.

Now I’m at the airport, finished the check in and security procedures and I’m waiting for the gate to open. I’m nervous but not that nervous to take the magic pill… yet! I smiled all the way from the check in desk to here. I think I still have it on my face. Doesn’t go away…. I’m going to Peru! Peru, my dream destination! My adventure!

See you from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean!


PS: Something strange happened. I had a bracelet with the Colombian flag, a gift from Alina. It was very well tight around my hand. I just found it in my backpack…  It must have dropped and someone took it and put it in my backpack while i had it on my back. And I felt nothing! And I can’t identify the moment when I lost it…

Yolun Am si dunele de nisip din Gobi

Posted by oana  februarie 07, 2012  No Comments »

Dimineata a inceput din nou devreme, Baira si sotia lui trezindu-ne ca de obicei la ora 9 cu micul dejun. Deja temperatura incepea sa scada si era din ce in ce mai frig, chiar si la ora pranzului, la soare. Mongolia este bine cunoscuta pentru temperaturile sale extreme: foarte cald vara si foarte frig iarna. La fel si pentru trecerile bruste de la vara la iarna. Cand am plecat din Ulaan Baatar era cald si frumos, cand ne-am intors, 5 zile mai tarziu, am aflat ca la nord deja ninsese si temperaturile scazusera sub 0 grade. In cazul nostru temperaturile erau inca pozitive dar vantul ne facea sa nu ne dorim sa mai iesim afara din masina.

The country of blue skies

Posted by oana  decembrie 05, 2011  2 Comments »

A doua zi ne-am trezit in the middle of nowere. In zare, pana hat, departe, nu se vedea nici o tipenie de om, nici o iurta, nici macar un nor de praf. Era liniste, doar un caine ce se plimba in jurul lantului cu care era legat. Desi era abia ora 8 iar temperatura era destul de scazuta, animalele erau trimise deja la pascut. Cerul era senin si mi-am spus ca pe buna dreptate Mongolia este “the country of blue skies”.

Mongolia – Spre Gobi

Posted by oana  noiembrie 10, 2011  4 Comments »

Dimineata m-am trezit inainte sa sune ceasul, foarte entuziasmata de excursia ce urma s-o incep spre desertul Gobi. Ca o paranteza, desi acasa profitam de orice zi libera ca sa dorm cat mai mult, in timpul calatoriei nu am avut nici o problema in a ma trezi devreme dimineata.

Micul dejun la hostel nu a insemnat mare lucru, doar paine cu unt, gem sau ciocolata si ceai sau cafea. Bucataria era foarte mica si nu incapeau inauntru mai mult de 4 persoane in acelasi timp. Dupa ce am mancat m-am indreptat spre living unde m-am intalnit cu Anna si cu Martin. In scurt timp a venit si sotia lui Kim, proprietarul, care ne-a anuntat ca ne-a venit masina si ca ne asteapta jos. Repede ne-am incaltat (in hostelurile din Rusia si Mongolia trebuie sa te descalti la usa inainte sa intri in hol), ne-am luat rucsacurile si am coborat inspatele blocului. Intre timp ni s-a alaturat si Doru si fata din Koreea de Sud. In acelasi timp cu noi a coborat inca un Korean de vreo 40 de ani care nu vorbea aproape deloc engleza. Desi stiam ca vom fi doar 5 in excursie, se pare ca se inscrisese si el pe ultima suta de metri.