May 28, 2015

Our India Rickshaw Run - Pre-Run

    On arriving in Delhi we had to figure out the best way to get from the airport to the train station, and get there quickly. People gave us a handful of different options and the pre-paid taxis seemed like the most logical and least stressful choice. We load our stuff in and head off across the city. The trip went fine, outside of some minor traffic, until, Eben had to pee. He was doing great at hydrating and drinking tons of water, so this wasn’t a, “I can wait till we find a toilet”, it was a “my eyes are watering, my bladder is about to burst, I am even willing to pee in a bottle in the back seat” type of situation. He managed to not pee in the backseat of the taxi but rather bolted out of the car as soon as he saw a public bathroom. The taxi however had to keep moving to not block all traffic, but luckily it was slow moving and we didn’t make it far before he came running back.

   Our next big adventure was the train station. We had pre-booked our tickets, but since we had been waitlisted for 1st class we did not have assigned seats yet. When we got to the station we had to wade through people everywhere, sleeping on the floor, crowding the lineups, and just milling around. It was super awkward, with us and our backpacks on. We were running around because our train was scheduled to leave in 15min and we had no idea where we were going. We went to 3 different ticket windows in 3 different buildings, every person always pointing us to the next. Finally we found out what track our train was on and just headed there. Once we got there we found first class and happily found our names on the seat roster. Our cabin was made up of 4 sleeper bunks, so it was the two of us and a lovely indian couple that had spent many years living in the US. We spent the next 14 hours asking them questions and sleeping. This is also where we lost Eben’s ukulele. He had removed it from the larger backpack so it would all fit under the seat for the night, but when we exited the train we grabbed only our big pack and our camera bag, forgetting about the uke. It wasn’t until the next day that we realized that it was missing, and by that time it was long gone.

These were our first class cabins

Eben slept top bunk and I had the bottom


   The next three days we spent in Jaisalmer, getting to know our rickshaw and the other teams. Some people took this time to pimp out their rickshaws with everything from extra lights, to sound systems, to new horns. We just went basic and picked up some spare parts (spark plugs, jerry can, etc) some chain (in case we ever wanted to leave our rickshaw in the big city with all our bags in it), and a soft mattress for the back seat (which made it comfier and also served as a huge blanket to keep me warm and out of the rain). With our spare time we bought gifts for friends and family, since we didn’t know if we would get much shopping time the rest of the trip, enjoyed this beautiful town, and got acclimatized to India.  

This is about half of the rickshaws

Our huge engine, its about the same size as a lawnmower engine

Eben doing some final touches, adding an "S" to The Goobers (nickname for our girls)

This is the shop where we picked up most of the gifts for family and friends

Meet Ali Baba, owner of the Ali Baba shop

On the chair you can see the pile of pants that we bought, about 12 pairs!

Rooftop sunset with beers
Our Q&A session

Our friends, Edel, Tom, Joel, enjoying rooftop beers with us
More time spent strolling the Jaisalmer market

   The night before our takeoff the Adventurists threw us all a big party with supper and a dj. They wanted to make sure that everyone was in fine form for our first day of driving! We had a blast and danced till 1am,  savouring our kid free time!

The publishers of Settlers of Catan were there representing

I tried my hand at making Naan bread

the dancefloor

Some people came prepared for the dress up party

A lot of the Adventurists staff

boogying down

We worked up a little sweat

May 22, 2015

Our India Rickshaw Run - Our Rickshaw Design

   A few weeks before we set off to India we received an email from the Adventurists letting us know that it was time to design our rickshaw. They sent us a very basic outline of the vehicle (I think it was hand drawn) so that we could fill in the blanks to our own desires. Once they received it back on their end they would hand our beautiful design over to some extremely talented Indian artists that would attempt to recreate it on to the real thing.

   We had no idea how we wanted ours to look, so we put all the power in our two little ones hands’ and let them design our rickshaw for us. This way whenever we saw our three-wheeled vehicle we would think of them. The girls made some awesome drawings of our family (Arias drew herself and me, and Ellia drew herself and Eben). We transposed their pictures on to the front and sides of our rickshaw and then added an actual picture of them both on the back. We also included some of our sponsors on all four sides.

   It was surprising how well the artists in India did at recreating what 84 teams had dreamt up for their rickshaw designs. Ours was obviously not that hard to do, given that a 3 and 5 year could draw them first, but there were some pretty intricate ones and some pretty unique and witty designs. We did find that the painting of our daughters’ faces on the back of the rickshaw looked slightly demonic though, but it made for some good laughs to be had by all, especially when we told people that that painting is the spitting image of them, when they will be in their 70's!

Ellia's drawing of "Papa"

Don't you see the resemblance!?

Arias' picture of "Mama"

The spitting image of our 70 year old daughters!

Eben making some touch-ups, adding an "S" to The Goobers (a nickname we have for the girls)

Thanks for the support: Karly, Jan, Kade, Allison, Kurtis, Edric, Mark

Thanks for the support: Jon, Stacy, Val, Katrine, Clare, Fred
And Ellia's drawing of herself (upper left)

Our rickshaw next to our travel buddies' Ketchup & Mayo

And then you have guys like Andrew and James that bring tiger fur print to India with them and cover their entire rickshaw with it

May 18, 2015

Our India Rickshaw Run - The Big General PART 2 (Lodging)

   It is not recommended to drive the rickshaws at night. Already that driving a rickshaw is insane, then you throw in the organized chaos of driving in india, the last thing you want to do is try and attempt both of those while not being able to see two feet in front of you. Anyone who has done a roadtrip before has done some night driving and, usually, it is not that bad; so many people thought they could attempt it during the run (including us) but when you combine the crappy headlights that come on a rickshaw, the low-height of those vehicles, the messed up roads, the random pedestrians, and the big trucks whose headlights are right at your eye level, it becomes dangerously stupid.

   We drove into the evening darkness a couple of times, either because we were stuck looking for hotels after the sun had set, or because unexpected rickshaw breakdowns caused our daylight driving hours to disappear, but for the most part we tried to make it to our final destination, with a hotel in mind, before nightfall.

   In India there is lodging for every type of budget, and on this trip we got to sleep in the full gamut. We slept in everything from a palace to what we found out after was a brothel! Going West to East, here is a peak at some of our accommodations.

   Shahi Palace, in Jaisalmer

   This place is surprisingly amazing. Geared towards the backpackers’ budget you wouldn’t expect too much from it. But this place was just stunning. It had all the character that one would want for an authentic Rajhastani hotel experience. The rooms were beautifully decorated, the whole building had ornate sandstone carvings, including the bed frames, there were common lounging spaces everywhere, and it just felt homey. To top it off they have a great rooftop restaurant where you can sit (or lay) back, relax, enjoy some tasty food, and take in the grand view of the Jaisalmer fort. 

The view from the rooftop restaurant. That's the fort on the hill top

rooftop restaurant

Stone bedframes and beautiful decorations.

Hallway lounge area.

Lobby staircase.

   The Brothel

   At some stops we did not have many options of where to stay. When the night had crept up on us we were forced to stop in a random roadside town, where our sleeping options were bad or worse. So we went for the simple “bad” option. When our friend Suk let them know that they were travelling with me, a white, foreigner, female, he cringed a little.The rooms had western toilets, bucket showers , and questionable bedsheets. It wasn’t until the next morning we found out this was because the “hotel” was most likely a brothel. I was glad we had chosen to sleep on our turkish towels rather than the provided bedding.

Thank you Cotton & Olive for keep the bedbugs off of me!

   Inn Seventh Heaven, in Pushkar

   The rooms here ranged from beautiful and gorgeous. They were spacious and decorated with the perfect India touch. One of the most mesmerizing parts of this hotel were all the vines that dangle from the rooftop restaurant, down the 4 storeys, to the first floor’s open aired courtyard. Each floor also had couches and swings to relax on. And if you want a hotel with entertainment, this is it. Get up with the sunrise and you will most likely see the swarms of monkeys that come to play in the vines and run a muck on the hotel grounds, knocking over plants and jumping around staircases.

Our room.

The mama monkey and her baby.

The hallway outside our door.

Our personal swing!

The lobby lounge.

The vines.

The morning monkey mayhem!

“Regular Rooms”

   Many nights we stayed in “hotels” that weren’t really noteworthy. They often came with two beds (which Eben and I would push together), some had hot water, a basic tv and satellite (with endless channels of bollywood playing), and all had western toilets. The costs for these types of rooms were anywhere between 800-1300 rupees ($13-$21). This was standard, you could find cheaper as you could also find more expensive, depending on what you were looking for.

   The Pashan Garh, near Panna National Park

   This place was heaven. It is not a hotel, nowhere close to that. It is a grouping of 11 cottages, a dining room, a swimming pool, a salon, and an office, on 2 acres of land neighbouring the National Park. When we arrived, at 10:30pm they had about 10 staff waiting for us in the parking area, waving us hello as we drove in. Then our luggage disappeared to our cottages, and we were ushered to the dining room where a delicious three course meal was prepared for us, at 10:30! The staff is amazing, making sure that EVERYTHING is to your liking. You truly feel like you could ask for the impossible and they would find a way to make it happen for you.

   The cottages are dreamy, absolutely over the moon fabulous. Ours had a kingsize bed, our personal lounging space, full sized windows, a stand alone shower and a bathroom that should be found in a spa. Then you step outside to find your very own porch table and gazebo. This was the best sleep we had our entire trip, the beds just swallowed us up. Every detail of this place was perfect, and I told Eben that when we decide to build our own home, I want mine to look exactly like this. They thought of everything, even to go as far as to have the shower come loaded with a sugar scrub that smelt as good as it felt, and melted away all the aches we had from driving our rickshaws. We didn’t want to leave and we actually took the next morning off of driving so that we could lounge by the pool, drink some mojitos, and savour every part of this experience. (Is it wrong that one of our favourite memories of our trip to India is that of the Pashan Garh?! It was that amazing.)

   As we sadly packed up our rickshaws to hit the road once again, the chef showed up with two bags of packed lunches for us so that we wouldn’t be hungry while driving. Talk about service. With this last act of amazingness the Pashan Garh easily became my favourite “hotel” experience ever.

Our fancy meal at 10:30pm

And dessert!

Our room with a view.

Our room's lounge area.

The bathroom that was more like a spa.

Bathroom sinks.

Our gazebo.

Our morning chai was dropped off for us at 7:30am through the back trap door!

The porch.

Drinks by the pool.

Mojitos of all sorts.

I didn't want to leave.

The reading room.

   Hotel Polo Towers, in Shillong

If you plan to do the rickshaw run, and this is assuming they keep their same location for the finish line, then this hotel is a great location to sleep in. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from where we had to say goodbye to our rickshaws. It is a modern hotel with western style and amenities. The lobby/lounge area has huge comfortable couches and a waterfall trickling down the feature wall. The rooms are spacious and clean, and the hotel has a choice of two restaurants, one serving breakfast nice and early. I was a great way to finish off our trip, close to all the action. 

Sidenote: if you are planning to travel to India, most of the “regular room” hotels have hard beds. Eben likes firm beds, but I found this felt more like sleeping on plywood. So be prepared. I spent a few nights sleeping on top of our rickshaw mattress on top of the regular bed!