10 December 2014

Thanks for Visiting

For a glimpse into Kara's current adventures, visit www.karafox.com.

19 March 2010

The End. For Now.

Lumbini, Nepal. The Bethlehem of the East. Birthplace of the Buddha. As in, Buddhism. As in, All Enlightened One. Lumbini is one of the last towns on the frontier between India and Nepal. It lies in the Terai, the flat plains of the southern section of the country. We had two days to make it back to India before our visa expired, and we were traveling overland. Since Lumbini was on the way and such a historical and important site, we made a small two-day detour. Above, the white stupa houses the fabled exact spot where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha-to be, entered the world. The brownstone ruins that encircle the stupa were built by various rulers of the plains, beginning with the famed Emperor Ashoka in 250 B.C.
Inside the stupa, hordes of school children rush to the stone marker that serves as a focal point for worship and offerings.
As the caption on the marker stone reads: "Marker Stone: The Exact Birthplace of Buddha."
Homemade prayer flags adorn the trees surrounding the stupa. Seen above are Burmese prayer flags.
Lumbini made us feel as if we were in a Disney World for Buddhist pilgrims. The birth site of the Buddha is but a small part of the large piece of land dedicated as "Lumbini Park" by the Nepali government. The vision of the park is to have a representative stupa or Buddhist temple from every nation in the world. Construction proceeds in fits and starts with most of the park unfinished to date. Here, Kara rides her bike along the main path in the park en route to the Korean monastery. She is wearing her full back pack, which made her ride awkwardly and uncomfortably and brought jeering laughter from novice monks and Indian tourists alike.

The Burmese stupa in Lumbini looked pretty much like Shwedagon, the most famous stupa in Yangon.
Kara's bike fell into a ditch while she was peeing behind some trees.
We spent the night at the Korean monastery in the park. The monastery runs a pilgrims guest house and a common kitchen. The monastery accommodates all, regardless of religion, sex, or race. The guesthouse is run on a suggested donation basis with very reasonable rates. Here Kara sleeps in the women's dorm in which she was the only resident that night.
The next morning, we went back to the birth site for a more reflective and meditative experience. The day before, we had been with a friend and had rushed through it...by our standards. Seen above is the holy tank which was once the pond in which Siddhartha's mother, Queen Mayadevi, cleansed herself before the delivery. It is also the water where the Buddha took his first bath.

Maximilian visits the marker again.
Kara poses at the entrance of the Korean monastery right before leaving to the border of India.

Nepal, we loved you. Thank you for being so amazing. We will return.

After another full day of travel by various vehicles, we arrived in Gorakpur India, and the saddest part of our Trip. While we were boarding a train to Rishekesh, Kara's camera bag was stolen. Inside the bag was Kara's camera, lenses, and her hard drive containing all of our photos from the entire trip. All of them.
Except the Blog photos! We really don't want to go into detail about how horrible that experience was. Suffice it to say that it will never stop hurting. However, after a couple days of searching around the station, attempting to bribe the police to help us, and posting hundreds of reward signs (in Hindi and English), and generally feeling like shit, we moved on. Because we had to. Our flight out of Delhi was in a few days, and our trip was ending. It put a painful and sickening twist on what should have been a happy and reflective time.

Luckily Max still had cheesy cam! And with it the memory card containing the last weeks of our trek. We used cheesy to take this picture above, when we decided officially to move on. We still have the trip, and no one can ever take away what we did and saw. We still have all our friends that we met abroad. We still have the Blog! and most importantly, we have each other.
Delhi. Our last stop. This is some big, governmental building. The architecture is a mix of Mughal and Imperial British influences.
Max looks like he is in a Bollywood film as he grooves his way through the India Gate, one of Delhi's most well known landmarks.
Here's Greenpeace trying to get signatures for a petition urging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to attend the Copenhagen Climate Summit. The greenpeace'ers are wearing masks of the Prime Minister's face.

Cross street near the monument.
Thanksgiving! Kara's friend and old colleague, Ann works in New Delhi and was throwing a Thanksgiving party. It was an interesting mix of folks, including Ann, the host, who is Swedish, the turkey baker, a Malaysian, and many Australian guests. The only Americans were vegetarians and did not eat the turkey. Sorry Ann, we couldn't give any good advice on turkey cooking or carving. It was a beautiful night and a nice step away from the usual chaos of the backpacker ghettos we normally frequent.
The Red Fort, Delhi. It was built in the 17th century by Shah Jahan, creator of the Taj Mahal, when he decided to found a new capital for the Mughal empire. Delhi was originally called Shahjahanabad. Max thinks that's really funny.
Walking through the gates of the Red Fort.
Inside the Red Fort. Many families seek refuge in this green space and enjoy touring the beautifully designed inner sanctum.
Red Salwar.
Symmetrical architecture. In the days of Shah Jahan, the trough down the center, seen above, was filled with running water to cool the room.
Bhagavad Gita marathon, 2009.
Sending postcards back home.
Drying the stamps on our postcards. We had to manually apply glue with our fingers to each one.
The last day: Qutub Minar. Qutub Minar is the world's tallest brick minaret, standing at 72.5 meters tall. It is also one of the oldest structures in Delhi.
Max looks at the carved sandstone Urdu inscription on the wall of one of the mausoleums surrounding the minaret.
Construction of the minaret began in 1193 and did not finish until 1386. The bricks used were from an even older Hindu temple that stood on the site.
Inside the mausoleum.

Max is awe-struck by the intricacy of the carvings and the skill of the ancient masons.
Even on the last day of our Trip, we were still seeing new and amazing things.
Like this fountain. Kara sits in front of a bizarre Jungle Book themed fountain in the India Gate park just hours before leaving for the airport.
Max eats his last dosa (well, this was one of two) at a fancy dosa shop on Connaught Place.
Last cow. This guy was parked in front of our hotel eating some offerings left for him, the poor street cow. He impeded our ability to maneur ourselves out of the hotel with our backpacks on. He will be missed. Here's to you, street cows.
Last picture of us in India. For now.
Dec 2, 2009.

We know we can't sum up the Trip in just one paragraph, or in any number of paragraphs, really. But we did want to say, it was one of the best decisions we ever made. The world is waiting for you. Go out and find it.

Love always,
Kara and Maximilian

30 January 2010

It Ain't Over Till the Fat Mountain Sings: Nepal Trekking Part II.

We realized that the best way to spend our remaining time in Nepal was to keep trekking. We extended our visas by a couple days and bought new permits to trek into the Annapurna Sanctuary. We were now going to hike into the center of the group of mountains we had been circling in the weeks before. Onward and upward!
Like the beginnings of our first trek, the landscape was filled with terraced rice fields, rolling rivers, and steep hills.
Machhapuchhare, pronounced MA-CHOO-POO-CHREE, is the best mountain in the world. The Annapurna Base Camp, or ABC trek leads you through into the bosom of Machhapuchhare, Annapurna I and Annapurna South. Machhapuchhare means "fish tail" in Nepali.

Kara takes pictures of mating butterflies stuck to one another early on the trek.
This trek walks through many Gurung villages. The Gurung people are another one of Nepal's many ethnic groups. The architecture, clothing and food were all very different from the Annapurna Circuit Trek.
Crossing the river on one of Nepal's old-school bridges.
Kara's feet developed serious blisters. Shortly after this photo was taken, we walked down to some hot springs near where we were stopped for the night in hopes of healing them. The hot spring was really a warm spring, but it was still wonderful to sit quietly and alone, next to the river and under the stars.
We accidentally got off the trail one day and ended up forging through massive boulders on the river banks. It is not something that should be done with large backpacks right before the sun is about to set.
The trail quickly lead us into a surreal forest. It looked like an enchanted forest from a fairytale. Most of the ABC trek is at a much lower altitude than the Annapurna Circuit, therefore the trees are more similar to the forests we were more familiar with from back home.
Something fun and inspiring on this short 1-week trek was that we were usually able to see our final destination. Above you can see Machhapuchhare poking its fish tail from behind the mountains on the right. In the center, you can see Annapurna III, which we had climbed to the base of on its other side just weeks before.
So much up and down. The ABC trek far surpasses the Annapurna Circuit in terms of "sawtooth climbing." On this day, we had to ascend 400 meters before descending 300 meters. Then we ascended again another 1000 meters. After three weeks of trekking already, we were well prepared, yet we were still completely and utterly exhausted after every day. We were in a bit of a time crunch to complete the trek before our visas would run out again, so we had to complete our journey in 6 grueling yet spectacular days. Above, Kara is tuckered out.
A school in the Chhomrong village. Chhomrong is a regional hub. One can find good deals on trail mixes and snacks here. Max and Kara ate Snickers bars consistently throughout their treks and were delighted to find them here for a steal.
The landscape changes quickly as we crossed the tree line.
For the majority of the trek, we followed the raging river up the narrow valley. There are many beautiful rocks that Max was enamored of.
Macchupuchhare peeks through the mist.
We encountered such bizarre and unexpected foliage throughout our walks. This plant was smooth like velvet and Max used it as toilet paper.
The weather had begun to change during this trek. A big monsoon had blown its winds from India while we were in Pokhara. The peaks were blanketed in clouds during most of our walk up and it was freezing cold. We heard from people coming down the mountain that they had barely gotten a glimpse of the notorious Annapurna/Machhapuchhare panorama. We pressed on, hoping the clouds would clear.
Machhapuchhare Base Camp, or MBC. Just four guesthouses on a barren glacial cliff.
We arrived in the early evening when it was relatively clear. The mountains were covered in a thin veil and the sky behind them was grey. A couple hours later, the real clouds fought their way up the valley and flooded the bowl in which the base camp resides.
The next morning we could see everything. Machhapuchhare waves its tail at 6,993 meters (22,943 feet.)

180 degrees behind us, the sun was just kissing the peaks of mighty Annapurna I and Annapurna South.
We began the walk up to Annapurna Base Camp, the final stop on the ABC trek. The walk takes about an hour. It is difficult to keep moving because the view is so stunning along the way. All around us were breathtaking mountain peaks-- a full circle of the most beautiful mountains we had ever seen.

Kara hangs out on the glacial cliff in front of Annapurna South. It looks close enough to touch. We watched a giant avalanche roll down the mountain into the glacier below. We heard a couple more but could not spot them on this massive chunk of rock and ice.

Click to expand this Hockney panorama.

Nestled in the basin of the range is a gigantic glacier. It may look like a field of dirt, but it is the accumulation of thousands of years of ice build up. On our other trek, we had taken a day trip to a glacier, but didn't realize thats what it was. Glaciers turn out to be very different from the gleaming giant ice cube we had previously imagined. They are impressive and beautiful and give insight into what the world must have been like hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek was a magical experience. It was the best possible way to spend our last week in Nepal. Our lungs and hearts were filled with the purest air and love of life.

Kara and Maximilian