Tag Archives: river

Rishikesh

Rishikesh is a small city in the state of Uttarkhand that is known for its yoga and meditation classes, trekking, and white water rafting down the Ganges River, known in India as the ‘Ganga’. It is also a holy city where Hindu pilgrims come to the site where the Ganga emerges from the Himalayan mountains. The Beatles visited the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga in the late 60’s and ever since Rishikesh has been a famous place for people seeking a spiritual retreat. Rishikesh is now considered to be to “Yoga Capital of the World”.


On the day that we arrived it was very busy with lots of people and noise, which did not really match the yoga experience we had in mind. The streets were filled with orange garbed pilgrims who had come to worship at Rishikesh’s temples and to swim in the Ganga.

Apparently we arrived at the peak of the Hindu pilgrimage season, but fortunately within a day lots of people had moved on and it was a lot quieter.

In pursuit of a more spiritual experience, we spent five nights at an Ashram, with the plan to participate in yoga, eat a healthy vegetarian diet, and to relax. Our stay included yoga classes two times a day, our accommodations and meals. Each yoga class was two hours long, with the first at 6:00 a.m. and then again at 4:00 p.m. A bell rang at 5:30 AM for morning wakeup, and again before each meal which consisted of basic vegetarian Indian dishes, including for breakfast. Although we like Indian food, we still haven’t gotten used to eating it for breakfast, and try to find eggs, toast, or cereal whenever we can. We ate sitting on the floor cross-legged with our tin plates on a small stools in front of us. It’s been a long time since either of us has sat cross-legged on a hard floor for any period of time, and we were both surprised how uncomfortable it was. After our first meal Patrick said he felt like he had pulled a muscle and he hadn’t even been to his first yoga class yet. Obviously we could benefit from some yoga.

We went to the afternoon yoga class the day we arrived. The classes were good but a bit challenging. Diane is definitely not as flexible as she once was. Patrick never was, but participated fully and went to three classes within the first twenty-six hours at the ashram. Diane came down with a cold and did not feel well enough for yoga after her first class. Just when she was starting to feel a bit better Patrick got sick. So as it turned out, we didn’t do as much yoga as we’d planned, and we spent a lot of time in bed trying to feel better. However, Patrick really enjoyed the yoga and would definitely do it again.

The Ganga runs right through the middle of Rishikesh. Two suspension bridges called Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula connect the two halves of the city. These pedestrian-only bridges have a steady traffic of people, cows, monkeys and motorcycles. So much for pedestrian only.

We spent a lot of time at a restaurant by one of the bridges over the Ganga, which overlooked the 13-storey Hindu temples of Swarg Niwas and Shri Trayanbakshwar. This open air restaurant served great home-made vegetable pasta and brown bread. Very nice if you ignored the flies. Patrick discovered a mango juice fruit drink called ‘Maaza’, bottled by Coca-Cola, which was a life saver as he recovered from the stomach flu. During one of our afternoons of people watching and talking with other travelers, Diane got some great pictures of some baby monkeys in the tree below the restaurant.


We aren’t Yoga gurus yet, but we are definitely developing our skills in sightseeing, people watching and knowing when to kick back and relax.

Okavango Delta

We entered Botswana from Zimbabwe and traveled west across the north of the country to the small city of Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. This area was highly recommended to us by our friends Barb and Terry, who traveled here many years ago. Unfortunately, Botswana is not a discount travel destination. In fact, the whole country specifically markets itself as the high-end safari destination relative to the rest of Eastern and Southern African. As a result, most people arrive in Maun on pre-arranged trips, then immediately fly in to luxury lodges in the famous Okavango Delta. We had nothing arranged in advance, which is not recommended, but were hoping to take advantage of last minute rates at the end of the shoulder season.

The Okavango Delta is a 16,000 square kilometer maze of lagoons, channels, and islands. It is fed by the Okavango River, which runs 1430 kilometers from Angola, across Namibia, and into northwest Botswana, the only part of this flat dry country that is lush and green. The Delta supports a wide variety of wildlife, which move around in response to the changing water levels of the delta.

We decided to splurge with a couple of days at a luxury lodge. Somehow, this morphed into four days and three nights at two different luxury lodges (requiring three different flights) – the most expensive days of travel we’ve had, not just on this trip, but ever.

From the Maun airport, we flew about 35 minutes on a small Cessna to a private dirt airstrip near Shinde Camp. Diane had anticipated neither the small size of the plane nor the turbulence.


We were greeted by our guide in a safari vehicle, and immediately set out on an hour long game drive before lunch. In that short time we saw warthogs, giraffe, several different times of antelope, three lions, and a bull elephant that threatened to charge our vehicle in what is known as a ‘mock charge’ (the one that proceeds the ‘real charge’).


When we arrived at the lodge, we were greeted by the staff singing and dancing. We were shown around the beautiful open air facility, where all of the lounges and dining hall are on raised wooden platforms looking out onto the grasslands or waterways. This exclusive facility accommodates a maximum of 16 guests, and there are more staff than visitors. We stayed two nights in a ‘tent’, which was more like a luxury hotel suite. Inside was a king sized bed with white linens, a seating area, and a full bathroom including shower. Each morning we were woken by tea and coffee delivered to our room. Each time we left the room it was cleaned and reconfigured (bed made, mosquito nets up or down, windows and blinds opened or closed, fresh linens, floor washed). Each evening, while turning our beds down, a decanter of brandy and two glasses were set out on the night table.

Each day, in addition to three terrific meals, an afternoon siesta, afternoon tea, and an evening socializing on the deck around a campfire (also known as ‘bush television’), we participated in two activities of our choosing. We could choose between a game drive in an open safari vehicle, or a variety of activities in the Delta — a power boat trip, fishing trip, or a makoro trip. A makoro is a flat bottomed dugout canoe that is traditionally used in the delta, poled by a ‘poler’ through the shallow water. Our three hour makoro trip was just after sunrise, very quiet and relaxing.

Here is Patrick trying his hand at the makoro, causing the camp manager much concern.

We also went fishing in the Delta. See Diane’s catch below.

Note that Patrick’s fish was slightly larger, but the difference was not distinguishable to the naked eye.

At Shinde it seemed that almost every activity (makoro trip, vehicle safari, or getting into bed at night) was accompanied by a hot water bottle, something that Diane really enjoys. Each day at sunset we would pause, wherever we were (land or water), for ‘sundowners’, usually a couple of glasses of wine and some appetizers. This is a great tradition which we should consider adopting at home!

Of course, at these camps the bar was always open. We spent one afternoon enjoying gin and tonics in true colonial fashion. And the service was excellent. Patrick mentioned the first afternoon that he enjoyed a gin martini, with both the glass and gin chilled beforehand. Four hours later, upon our return from some sunset fishing, he was greeted by a manager holding a chilled martini. Impressive.

Because we were situated on the edge of the delta, we were challenged by some difficult water crossings in our vehicle. The Toyota Landcruiser diesel performed amazingly well, even when the entire engine and hood were completely under water, at which point, the driver and all passengers were balanced precariously on the armrests because both the vehicle and the seats were under water!

We spent the next two days at Lebala Camp, where we had an even more amazing ‘tent’ (this one with a double shower, double sink, and claw foot tub). Our tent was located on the edge of a hippo pool, and at night we were surrounded by hippos feeding. Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa in terms of human casualties (they feel very threatened when out of the water), so we were not allowed to leave our tent after dark without an escort. The deep grunts of the hippos around us at night were disconcerting, and our only protection was the seemingly implausible information that hippos have short legs, and therefore couldn’t climb the few stairs up to the raised platform where we slept. The only challenge was getting to our tent after dinner, and one night we had to detour around a stubborn hippo that was blocking the path.

Overall, we had an amazing four days in the Okavango Delta. Definitely a different caliber of safari than we’d enjoyed to date, and almost certainly different than the budget safari we had planned with our Canadian friends who would soon be joining us in Tanzania.

Livingstone, I Presume

Livingstone is the city on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, the largest and most famous waterfall in Africa. The falls are a major tourist attraction, and are a highlight of many people’s journey to ‘the dark continent’. Victoria Falls is about one kilometer across, where the entire Zambezi River drops into a gorge about 400 feet deep.

We arrived in Livingstone after crossing, from east to west, almost all of Zambia by bus in a single day. It was dark when we arrived, but our preferred guesthouse was only a couple of blocks from the bus stop. Unfortunately, it was full, so we found a local guesthouse (i.e. no tourists) where we got a room, with shower, for about 70,000 Kwacha (about $12 US). We switched rooms for each of the next two nights, eventually ending up in the ‘honeymoon suite’ at Jollyboys Backpackers, a thatched cottage with a double bed, a mosquito net, and a shared shower and toilet about 50 feet away in the main building. We either need to resign ourselves to getting up once or twice a night, or curtail all beer drinking by 6 PM!

There we met up with Mark and Chloe, the young couple who survived the hair-raising hitchhiking experience, and who only had a single day to spend in Victoria Falls. They were booked on the infamous Victoria Falls sunset river cruise that evening, so we agreed to join them. Later in the day, we met up with Bart and Evelyn (the Dutch not-really-a-couple who we’d spent time with in NKhata Bay, Malawi). They signed up for the all-you-can-eat-and-drink in two hours booze cruise also.

We first visited the falls around mid-day. The recent rainy season has had the highest rainfall in 40 years, so the falls are running more powerfully than they have in many decades. They are quite spectacular when viewed from the side of the falls, where the view isn’t masked by the spray that shoots up from the bottom of the gorge.

As you progress from the side to the edge of the gorge opposite the falls, it becomes progressively wetter. Many people rent a rain poncho. We decided on a different approach.

It quickly becomes very wet — more like swimming than walking in the rain. The water is so powerful that it ricochets more than 400 feet from where it impacts at the bottom of the gorge, and sends clouds of moisture an additional 200 feet into the air, above the level of the top of the falls. The water falls back to earth in a heavy, drenching rain, and as the trail gets close to the edge of the gorge, is augmented by sheets off spray blasting up from below. It’s the best shower we’ve had in Africa!


Later that day, on the sunset cruise, we met a group of four recently graduated British doctors who had just completed their residency in Zambia. The pontoon barge put in upstream of the falls, and was equipped with a single outboard motor. I briefly wondered what they do if the motor fails, but quickly washed that thought from my mind with a couple of gin and tonics. The body count was as follows. The names have been removed to protect the innocent, but none of them was Diane or Patrick, who had been warned by a man with a broken leg that had been on the cruise a few weeks earlier, and who sustained his injury while jumping from a moving vehicle after the event:
· one woman had to be sent home early, carried back to the bus by Patrick
· one British woman was taken back to our guesthouse bar by two of her three friends, where they needed to rescue her from the arms of two different men
· one British man was missing action. We knew that he’d made it to shore, but after several searches he couldn’t be located, and his friends went back to town without him. He made it back safely in the middle of the night after waking up alone in the darkened men’s bathroom of the outdoor beach club where our boat docked. He had the highest concentration of mosquito bites that we’ve ever seen, but only on the side of his face that wasn’t pressed against the wall as he slept.

The next day, we were surprisingly not hung over. Perhaps it was our regular training regime of afternoon and evening beers? So, we headed to the bridge over the Zambezi which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and exists in the no man’s land between the two border posts. It is possible to head out onto the bridge, without officially leaving Zambia, to enjoy the view and the activities available there.

Patrick started off the Bungee Jump. 111 meters (about 350 feet) from the bridge deck to the bottom of the gorge. The third highest in the world. Four seconds of freefall before the bungee comes tight, which feels about two seconds too long when you’re doing it.

Then the Gorge Swing. Similar to the bungee jump except that you are attached to a static rope, not an elastic bungee, that is anchored at bridge level over 300 feet away to a cable crossing the gorge. The drop is the same, but at the bottom, instead of springing back up, you swing out in an arc. It’s more frightening than the bungee because you don’t dive, but merely walk off the side of the bridge and fall over 300 feet.

In both cases, after you stop moving, a guy is lowered from the bridge to retrieve you, and then you’re winched back up to a catwalk below the bridge. You then walk to the end of the bridge, up the bank on the Zambian side, then back out to the center of the bridge. Bart and Evelyn also did the bungee, but Evelyn stopped after that.

The triple feature was completed was a zip line across the gorge, from the Zambia to the Zimbabwean sides. This was the tamest of the three, and a nice relaxing way to wind up.

Our timing in visiting the falls was perfect, because the next night was a full moon. On the night of the full moon, the falls open again after dark, to experience something very rare – a lunar rainbow. On full moons with clear skies, a rainbow is visible when the light from the moon hits the mist above the falls. It’s much fainter than a regular rainbow, and less colourful, but it is clearly visible with the naked eye. Here’s a photo taken with a 30-second exposure in the darkness.

We had a great two days in Livingstone experiencing part of what Victoria Falls has to offer. In our next posting, we’ll fill you in the rest of it.

Felucca

We’re writing this after dark from the cushions where we will sleep on the deck of our felucca. A felucca is an Egyptian sailboat, which have been used on the Nile for thousands of years.

Our felucca is only 20 years old, but it has a new sail, and a good crew.

Today was our second day on the felucca, sailing from Aswan down the Nile to Daraw, a village within driving distance of Luxor.

We arranged the felucca by talking to locals near the harbour. Our first two attempts at negotiation failed, one due to a high price, and the second due to Diane’s bad feeling about the captain. On the 3rd try, we found a good captain, and negotiated a reasonable price. After inspecting his boat, we made arrangements to return after dinner, to meet the other crew member and go shopping for food in the local market.


The captain’s name is Hamedi. He is 32 years old, and is due to be married within the year. He comes from a village on the Nile near Aswan. He is Muslim, and prays every time we stop the felucca. He is one of 11 brothers and his 84 year old father has dementia. He speaks very little English.


The other crew member, who is also the cook, is named Saeed. He is 55 years old. He was born is Sudan, and first came to Egypt down the Nile from Sudan when he was 9 years old. As a boy, he worked driving camels from Sudan to Abu Simbal, near Aswan. The camels traveled in the desert in the night, so as not be distracted by the greenery of the Nile, and to avoid the snakes and scorpions. Each trip took 30 days, and they navigated using the stars. Saeed speaks some English, but never went to school, and cannot read or write. Saeed has 3 children – 2 boys and a girl, who recently gave him his first grandchild, a girl. Saeed’s wife died when his son was 6 years old. She was recovering from some sort of abdominal surgery, and aggravated her injury when rescuing her son from the Nile.

Both Hamedi and Saeed are smokers, who smoke cigarettes laced with marijuana and hashish. They have spent their whole lives working on the Nile, and take good care of us. In fact, the last 2 days have been very relaxing. Hamedi sails, and Saeed cooks. He makes us Sudanese food, which includes vegetables, rice, bread, lentils, and perhaps some meat. For breakfast today, he made us eggs, and with our bread we had jam and some sort of cheese resembling cream cheese.


Our felucca is named Sendbad. I think it’s supposed to be Sinbad, after the famous sailor and adventurer. It is about 7 meters long, with a draft of 1.5 meters. It has a large triangular sail, and a keel which can be lifted up in shallow water. The rudder is large and made of wood.


We sleep on some boards spread between the 2 sides of the felucca, which are covered with cushions. They provided Diane and I with two blankets, by special request, which we use one on top of the other for extra warmth. There is a canopy, which is closed on 3 sides, made of an old sail. There are no mosquito nets, but there is no malaria in Egypt, and there are surprisingly few bugs.

The total distance we’re traveling is not great, about 35 kilometers, but feluccas only go about 15 to 20 kilometers per day. We are traveling the whole way with the current but against the wind, which requires tacking from one side of the Nile to the other, and provides us with great opportunities to view things along the banks. This morning Patrick steered the felucca, until he was relieved of command by Hamedi, probably for going too slow.


The Nile is a busy river. In addition to the many feluccas, there is the occasional ferry, or dredge, or rowboat with a fisherman. There is a steady stream of cruise ships, which travel between Luxor and Aswan. The clog the waterfront in Aswan, up to 100 ships at a time, blocking the view of the Nile, and running the engines all night long for power. As a result, the riverfront restaurants of Aswan are not what they used to be when Agatha Christy wrote “Death on the Nile” here.

The last two days have been very relaxing. We spend our time reading, eating, drinking Stella, and taking small walking excursions on the shore. Tonight, we sat around a fire on the shore, before returning to the felucca to write this and head to bed. It is said that a trip to Egypt is not complete unless you have traveled on the Nile. It is one of the world’s great rivers, and has been a terrific experience for us.