India - explosion of colours
I love colours! I love travels! I love food! India combines all of these and is definitely worth a visit.
Through the years, I have been to India twice (so far), and have seen my fair share of the country. The mundane maharaja inheritance of the north in Rajasthan, the mountainous north-west of Darjeeling, the warm coastal south of Kerala as well as the lush nature of south-eastern Nilgiri area. Every corner of India is different, but equally beautiful. And did I mention the food?
But of course, a country with that many inhabitants also has their share of problems. Poverty is the biggest one of those. If you travel to India, you will not be able to NOT understand this problem. Especially in the bigger cities, you will see people living and sleeping on the streets, very close to rich people’s houses. You will see dedicated slum areas, where people live in cardboard box houses with tin roofs and for sure, you will see many people beg on the streets. You have seen Slumdog millionaire and thought it was the usual Hollywood exaggeration? Go to India and you will know it is not, it is in fact the opposite. When you travel there, you will have to decide before, if you want to support these gangs, exploiting kids to beg for money. But be prepared that either way, this will break your heart!
But let’s not talk about this. Yes, people are poor, but they are also very generous, friendly and extremely happy to see you, not only because they now they can get money out of you.
When I first was there, my friend and I felt like superstars. Everybody wanted to take pictures with us. Of course, two white women travelling alone is not the usual sight.
Kids wanted to know everything, where we are from, what we do and most of all, they always asked me if they can touch my blond hair, followed by the question if I have a pen for them. I did bring some stuff to give away, but it was not nearly enough. So, we ended up buying more stuff in local shops to give out to the ones who were so friendly with us.
India is a place where everyone finds something they like:
So, now you know where to go. Everywhere, right? No matter how much you have travelled before, India is completely different to anything you have experienced.
The chaotic (but pretty well working) hustle of traffic in the big cities can be an overwhelming challenge to travellers. Where else will you see roads shared by cars, buses, horse carriages, bikes, bicycles, pedestrians, tuktuks AND elephants all at the same time? Only in India. And there is no way to really prepare for this. You know what you will see, but you will not know, what this does to you before you experience it. You either love it and dive right in, or you hate it and you instantly want to go back home.
And did you hear of Delhi Belly? It is the Indian version of Mexico’s Montezuma’s Revenge, also known as Diarreah. Everybody says, you have not been to India if you did not experience this. I did not believe it; my stomach is usually pretty strong and I am careful to not drink from glasses washed in the street. But my first time in India, Delhi Belly hit me the last 3 days I was there. And it hit me hard… Since that experience, I have medication like Imodium with me wherever I travel. I don’t mind getting this, but I don’t want it to ruin my vacation by keeping me in my hotel room all day.
But I don’t want to scare you, besides all these points (or maybe because of them), India is for sure one of the most fascinating destinations you will ever experience. Andi t will stick with you for a lifetime. I can still smell all these smells from the many spice markets, I can hear the honking of tuktuks, and most of all, I miss those vibrant colours you see everywhere. You will know what I mean if you go there in winter time and come back to Europe to see everybody wearing grey and black.
India is amazing and has a special place in my heart. I will always say YES to anyone asking me to go there again.
Have you ever been to India? What are your experiences? Or you plan to go there? What will you visit?
Why Bolivia has no mirrors but is absolutely worth a visit
Bolivia is maybe one of the last countries where not every single cm is „discovered“. The most stunning discovery for me was that they seem to have no mirrors.
Recently I had to chance to spend 2 weeks in Bolivia, and they were surprising and amazing. In the whole time I travelled around the country, I have only seen one mirror in one of the hostels bathrooms. All the other places - even private places - did not have them. My mind was intrigued. What was the deal with that? Is it something cultural or religious? Are mirrors bad and taking your soul? Are Bolivians vampires?
To be honest, I still don’t know for sure what it was, but it was actually very refreshing not to worry or care about appearance for 2 weeks. The most realistic guess about the mirrors I have, is that they are just too expensive. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, more than half of the 11 Million inhabitants live in poverty with less than USD 2 a day. 4 Millions are under 18 and a shocking number of 400’000 of them have experienced physical and/or sexual violence.
Yes, this is not the usual information you get as a tourist. But you know me, I am not the usual tourist, I like to go somewhere where I can help and do something to make it better. In Bolivia, I even went so far as to leave them my iPhone. Ok, it got stolen, but still…
The second week in Bolivia I spent with Bolivia Digna, an NGO in Cochabamba that has the sole purpose to let kids be kids and care for their wellbeing. I was there again with the NGO Photographers Alliance, so our aim was to document the works of the NGO in order to help them raise more funds through quality images. You might remember my time in Ecuador with the same Alliance earlier this year. You’ll find a blog article about it here.
Bolivia Digna has 2 community centres in poor areas of Cochabamba. One of these communities still has no basic services like electricity or water, they live in small shacks close to the community centre. The NGO is present at the two centres every afternoon for 2 h, providing lessons, crafting and sports and allows the kids to be kids for 2 h a day. These kids have too many responsibilities already, some need to work or care for their younger siblings… all things a normal kid should not be forced to worry about.
The NGO only functions with volunteers, so in case you want to see Bolivia from a different kind of view, join them for some time.
Before my time in Cochabamba, I travelled around the Altiplano, in small villages near the Sajama volcano. Also here, not many tourists know about it, as most people go for the salt flats or Titicaca Lake. But you should consider the Sajama region, and bring warm clothes. This was the second big surprise in Bolivia. I knew nights will be a bit fresh since the Altiplano is over 3000 m high. But I was literally FREEZING every night there… I slept in thermal underwear under 3 blankets. And when I went out in the evenings to see the stars, I wore about 10 layers. So be prepared!
Sajama is an inactive volcano, around 6600 m high, it is the highest mountain in Bolivia ad one of the highest volcanos on earth. Since its base is on the altiplano at around 4200 m, it does not look that high though. In the area you have some hot springs and there are some climbers who go all the way up to the summit.
I chose not to do that. I mean I am Swiss and am used to mountains and heights, but any activity on 4200 m is very exhausting. And the path up to the first base camp was straight upwards…. So I decided to try the hot springs instead. It is very weird to walk about half an hour, right after sunrise, still covered in 6-7 layers, freezing - and then to just undress and get into the hot water… But that half hour in the sunlight was enough to get warm again and after the dip in that awesome natural pool, everything seemed warm. And the scenery was just awesome.
In general, the sceneries in Bolivia are breathtaking. The whole time there, the words of the Star Trek Intro kept ringing in my head: „Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It's continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.“
Ok, I admit it, I am a geek… but try to stand on a flat mountaintop in the altiplano with 360 degree view of remote, hardly touched land and not be completely in awe. The only sounds you hear are birds, bugs and some distant Llama or Alpaca noises.
And did I mention the colours? Even though it was very dry (more than usually at this time of year), the colours were amazing. The ground had all colours due to minerals and metals like iron or copper, mountains were striped in red, yellow and green… And then the people, with all these colourful blankets and everything. And then you get back to Europe, winter is coming and everyone is wearing black and grey, only the trees put on their best Indian summer autumn spectacle to lighten up your mood.
So, to make a long story short: No mirrors, no problems!
Have you ever been to Bolivia? What are your experiences?
Who's afraid of female solo hikers?
"Are you not scared?"
This is the one question everybody asks me when I tell them I go hiking, on my own and staying overnight. No matter if I biwak, sleep in a tent or in my car. Are you not scared?
Honestly, I never even thought that this was something I could be scared about. For me, this is just something to do, a fun activity. Nobody would ever ask me if I was scared of riding my bike alone, no? Or is it maybe just because I am a woman? Would they ask the same question if I were male?
Of course there are dangers in this world and especially for women, there are more than for men. It is not fair, it never has been and it never will. But should we women be scared to do something we like just because it might be more dangerous than it is for a man? No.
Hiking and camping is one of those things.
In Switzerland, the most dangerous things that could happen while hiking or camping are:
Of course, you should always check the hike before you go, if you are experienced enough especially in the mountain areas. But if that is clear: get yourself out there. Don’t wait until your friends have time (if they are interested in hiking anyway).
As a photographer, hiking and camping is a good way to stay in beautiful areas overnight to get the best light for pictures. When you do day trips, you need to get back to civilization before it is too dark. In the mountains, you just pitch your tent and enjoy the sunset.
Of course, when staying overnight, you face different challenges with your gear. You cannot just bring a hat and a bottle of water and a few snacks. You need to bring enough food and water for your stay as well as a tent, sleeping bag and mattress. And if you are a photographer like me, you also need to carry your tripod and of course the camera and one or more lenses and filters etc. That itself is already quite heavy. So here it makes sense to invest in some lightweight gear, like super lightweight sleeping bag, carbon tripod , etc.
I myself prefer to bring a tent instead of biwaking, just because of the space for my camera gear, but biwaking is also great.
Food-wise, for me the preparation is a little different. I try to follow the zero waste lifestyle, also on camping trips. Especially when camping wild in the mountains, you don’t want to leave any trash in this pristine area (or anywhere else). So what to do?
I start with prepping my food at home. I’ll make sandwiches and wrap them in my bees wrap or put them in my stasherbags. These wraps or bags don’t take up much space (or weight) and are reusable. For water, I bring my camelbak or platypus 1 litre flask and refill it on the way. Usually, there are fountains or springs in the mountains where you can refill them. In Switzerland, they are 95% of the times purest drinking water. In other areas, I bring a filter (like SteriPen) to clean my water.
But what about toilet hygiene and make up etc.? Well, as a solo hiker staying overnight alone: who will see you? No one, therefore: leave the make up at home. It is better for your skin anyway and you save weight and space. I usually bring my toothbrush, tooth powder, hand sanitizer, deodorant, a brush and sunscreen. That is all you need. And of course a little stash of toilet paper.
And the best thing: I carry one or two small plastic bags to collect the used toilet paper and other possible trash in it. In Switzerland, we have these colorful bags that are being distributed on the streets, named „robidog“. They are designed for dog owners to pick up their dogs poo on the streets. There are even special bins to dispose the full bags. Since these bags are usually bright yellow or orange, they are perfect for camping wild. Just assign a toilet spot where you camp and place the bag there (put a stone on it so it won’t fly away). Put all the trash in there, tie it with a knot and throw it away in the first bin you find on the way back to town the next morning.
Of course that also works during those „special“ days in a month. But, for this I have an even better, waste free option. I use period panties by thinx. They work great and you just change them at night (and store the used one in robidog bag until washing) or in the morning and you have no tampon to throw out, no plastic wrap and nothing else.
So you see, solo camping/hiking is easy and possible without stress AND without waste.
If you are still hesitating or have questions, leave e a comment, if not: get yourself out there and go hiking. What are you waiting for?
I am a swiss photographer (www.fmphotography.ch),
a travel, wildlife, volunteer and outdoors addict who cares about zero waste, the environment and simply our planet.