It has been an action-packed first couple of months in Asia, starting off with the Everest Base Camp trek and concluding with the hippie havens of Hampi and Goa. Since we have only been in Nepal and India for these last two months, this Best Of list won’t be quite as varied as the previous two, but that shouldn’t make it stand out any less. We have had some of the best food, seen some of the coolest sights, and met some of the loveliest people in these lands and I will miss them dearly when we finally depart for Southeast Asia. Some of my month 5 and 6 highlights include:
Cafe: Depth N Green, Mysore, Karnataka, India
I have already covered this lovely cafe in our Roasts Around the World, but it is worth listing again here. Depth N Green was a breath of fresh air in a country that primarily drinks tea and offers little in the way of sandwiches and green smoothies. Both the filter coffee and the Americano are excellent, and the coffee-based kombucha was intriguing and delicious. I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich here for the first time since May and it really made me feel like I was back home again.
Restaurant: OR2K, Pokhara, Nepal
One of the more surprising spots we’ve found on the trip, OR2K is a vegetarian restaurant with a menu ranging from Indian to Mediterranean. After having just trekked for 2 weeks eating almost nothing but dal bhat and eggs, we were ecstatic to eat our tried and true favorites such as burek, mezze platter, and dal makhani. If the food wasn’t enough, they also had a great house wine (very difficult to find wine at all in Nepal) and a spectacular view of Phewa Lake and the Himalayas. We ate here three times the week we were in Pokhara and I’d go back again in a heartbeat. There’s also a location in Thamel, Kathmandu, but we never got to check it out.
Hostel: Vinayak Guest House, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
Our accommodations over the past two months have been inexpensive and simple, so it was difficult to pick one that stood out above the rest. Vinayak Guest House in Jaipur offered a personal touch, lovingly cared for by 3 generations of family members, a larger than average room with AC, and a cool rooftop to wind down at night. I’ll always have fond memories of downing some Bhang Lassis and marathoning Stranger Things season 2 for an evening - the owner served us two thalis straight to our room, which brought me straight back to our Sunday nights of wine and food deliveries in Chicago.
I feel like I am actually surprisingly myself with this choice, but Rajasthan offered some of the best food we have had in India. Almost exclusively vegetarian, Rajasthani cuisine specializes in lots of snacks, chutneys, and desserts and we stuffed our faces full of it. Kachori with mint chutney, samosas, Kadhi curry (any type), incredible tomato-garlic chutney, and pretty much anything with potatoes are all safe bets. We had a hard time not ordering the thali at almost every restaurant we went to because it was the best way to try as much food as possible. I absolutely adore South Indian food like dosas, plantain leaf thali and some of the more spicy curries not offered in the north, but Rajasthan offered more consistency and surprises to my tastebuds.
Beverage: Fresh Lime Soda, India
People who know me well are aware of how much I love Fresca, the citrus soda that tastes so good you really can’t accept the label on the can that says it has 0 calories. Unfortunately there is no Fresca to be found in Asia, but fresh lime soda is about as close as you’ll get and it is offered at nearly every restaurant in India. Your mileage may vary on this one, sometimes the soda water can be subpar or they use lemon instead, but a good one is so refreshing and provides the perfect balance against the onslaught of spices and flavors coming from the cuisine.
Lassi: Mango Lassi, Kailash Veg Restaurant, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
I had to make a new category just for this edition of Best Of to highlight the Lassi, an Indian yogurt-based drink. We have had dozens during our time in India and Nepal, many just plain or sweet, but several others infused with fresh fruit. For me, none have topped the mango lassi at Kailash, a small hole in the wall cafeteria near the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. This lassi has yogurt so thick you have to eat most of it with a spoon instead of a straw, and super fresh mangos that complement it perfectly. They also serve it in a clay cup, which I believe is more of a tradition than for any functional reason, but in my mind it always make the lassi taste even better.
Hangout: The Old Chillout, Hampi, Karnataka, India
India can be a difficult place to find relaxation. If you’re not worrying about getting hit by tuktuks or bitten by dogs, you’re turning away hordes of touts, braving tourist site crowds or riding noisy sleeper trains for 18 hours. Finding quieter places where we could spend a few hours to plan out our next few days or turn off our brain for awhile was key. The Old Chillout was one of our favorite hangout spots, not only because of the beautiful view, indietronica playlists, and dope food, but because it had a puppy and kitten! Getting to play with adorable little animals for days on end never got old and provided us with an extra layer of happiness we didn’t know we needed.
Activity: Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
I know that Nepal hasn’t been featured too much on this list, but that is mainly due to the fact that our time there was dominated by the EBC trek, which I can comfortably say is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. From the snake and spider infested jungle all the way to the desolate lands 16,000 feet above sea level, we saw and experienced so much I couldn’t even process it at the time. Not only was it an immense physical challenge, it was mentally exhausting too. With that being said, I can’t think of a more rewarding activity I have ever done and possibly ever will do. For the rest of my life I’ll be able to look back on this trip and one of the first things I will think of is the trek to base camp, enough adventure for a lifetime.
Photography: Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal
It sort of goes without saying that the photography highlight of months 5 and 6 was getting to shoot Sagarmatha National Park and the Himalayas, in all of their glory. I won’t pretend like pulling out the camera after hiking a nearly vertical slope for hours was always fun or enjoyable, but documenting our progress from Day 1 to Day 15 gave me a sense of accomplishment from photography that I’ve never felt before. Seeing these photos come to life once paired with Jenny’s excellent writing has given me more determination than ever to continue telling the stories of our travels through photography.
Curry: Kadhi Paneer
Kadhi or Kadai Paneer was not something I had ever seen on a menu or tried before we arrived in India. We were in the mood to try something new one night and it has now become one of our staple curries we scan menus for all across the country. The curry is simple, just paneer cooked in an onion and tomato gravy with Kadhi Masala seasoning, but the flavor is outstanding. If you like your curries spicy, I would recommend asking for this to be made extra hot - the best Kadhi Paneer dishes that we tried were usually the spiciest.
Tourist Sight: Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, Mysore, Karnataka, India
If you had asked me two months ago what our top tourist sight would be, I probably would have guessed something grand like the Taj Mahal or the Red Fort. In fact, the Mysore Zoo was my favorite tourist spot - an absolute gem of a zoo filled with exotic creatures indigenous to India. Unlike many other tourist destinations in India, the zoo was impeccably clean and well-kept. While we were asked to take MANY selfies with Indian locals, we were never accosted by touts or felt like we were being forced to buy anything. We got to see all the big cats: jaguars, leopards, tigers, and lions. There were a ton of rare albino animal species as well, and far too many huge and terrifying snakes. We even got to see an animal neither of us had ever seen in person before, the toucan!
Dessert: Gulab Jamun, India
Chances are you have never heard of this dessert, but if you ever see it on a menu you should give it a shot. Gulab Jamun is made from freshly curdled milk that has been kneaded into a dough, deep-fried, and then soaked in a honey-like syrup. It might not sound all that appealing on paper, but every bite is fiercely rich and delicious. Back home I never gave Indian desserts a fair shake, but after trying all the wonderful ones here I am seriously impressed. This one even enabled me to coin a dumb new post-entree phrase - gimme the gulab!
City: Hampi, Karnataka, India
It might seem strange to name Hampi as my favorite city even though Jaipur has a firm grasp on many of the spots on this list, but this place seriously checked all of the boxes. Great food, friendly people, low cost, fantastic weather - it felt like someone cherry picked all my favorite things about each place we’ve been and crammed them into one hippie village. I will be honest, there really isn’t that much to do in Hampi, but if you are content relaxing on a floor mat in an ancient Indian town, this place is for you. It allowed me to recharge my batteries before Goa and Mumbai, a task that can be quite difficult here in India. We extended our 4 night stay into a fully week and I have zero regrets, definitely stop by if you are touring through Karnataka!
Once you peel off the layers of frustration you might have with simply trying to exist in this place, you have, at its core, one of the most magical countries you can ever visit. Nepal was such an adventure for us, the likes of which we will never experience again, and I don’t want to discount our time there whatsoever. But India is in a category of its own. The sheer exoticness of it all, it makes you feel ten times more alive than you have ever felt before. As our time here draws to a close, I feel ready to leave it behind, exhausted from pretty much everything around me, but I know as soon as I leave I will really miss so much about it.
Thank you for the wonderful two months, Nepal and India, onward to Thailand!