North Sumatra

Not only is Lake Toba the largest lake in Southeast Asia, it is the largest volcanic lake in the world. Nick, Larry, Kaitlin and I spent 2 days relaxing around the sleepy town of Tuk Tuk and were thankful we were not visiting during high season. We observed a local wedding, enjoyed local coffee, and (they) ate fresh water fish and crawfish. Lake Toba is home to Christain Batak people; we visited execution sites as Bataks practiced ritual cannibalism until 1816. We drove by numerous churches, tombs and traditional Batak homes. It felt like traditional homes were the affordable housing option for lower income individuals. The newer more elaborate Batak homes seemed to be built solely for tourism. We rented a motorbike, drove along the “coast” and visited some extremely hot, hot springs. The lush and volcanic landscape reminded Larry and Kaitlin of Hawaii.

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Lake Toba
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traditional Batak homes

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hot springs
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local wedding celebrations
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Larry & Kaitlin at Lake Toba

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We headed north to Berstagi, a small hill town that sat among volcanoes and that we came to cherish. The volcanic soil made it ideal for growing produce and we passed fields of cabbage, green onion, pineapple, orange, and coffee. Exploring the markets and street food were among our favorite activities. The highlight of our time spent in Berstagi was hiking Gunung Sibayak (volcano). We began hiking at 4 am in order to catch a beautiful sunrise. The crater and fluorescent yellow vents were a sight but nothing in comparison to the view across the valley of Gurung Sinabung (2,450 m). As I was posing for photos with some locals, Nick shouted “Look behind you!” Black smoke began to rise from the massive volcano, it was an eruption. For anyone that knows me, I began to slightly panic. I looked at the girls that I was taking photos with and asked if this was normal. They said no and that they were scared. Little did I know that it is an extremely active volcano and has small eruptions 2-5 times a day. I was being punk’d! The most recent large eruption was in May 2017 where 2 aid workers were killed trying to rescue residents. We hiked down the volcano’s backside through lush jungle and soaked in some hot springs at the bottom.

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Gurung Sinabung (2,450 m)

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On top of Gurung Sibayak
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BATMAN – bats sold at the local market (most often eaten in soup)
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bathing at the hot springs

Recommendations:

Sibayak (Lake Toba) – budget friendly rooms right on the lake, when you are ready to leave, simply flag down the ferry.

Wisma Sibayak (Berstagi) – cute rooms for 60,000 rupiah ($4.50) tucked off of main street, excellent find and strong wifi.

Family Baru (Berstagi) – try the coffee, ginger & egg white drink, you can’t go wrong with any of the food.

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kopi telor kocok – raw egg, ginger & coffee

Jodhpur & Udaipur

Nick and I spent 2 days in Jodhpur, the blue city. Traditionally, the highest caste, Brahmins or priests, painted their homes blue. Now, not only Brahmins, but also individuals in other castes paint their homes blue to add to the vibrant hue of the city.

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Jodhpur, the blue city

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Like in most Rajasthani cities, the prize of the city was the fort. We explored the fort, the clock tower and watched little donkeys carry heavy loads of rocks to and from work sites throughout the city.

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Jodhpur’s clock tower

We took an 8-hour government bus to the last Rajasthani city on our list, Udaipur. On the ride we noticed a change in dress. Local males wore hot pink or enormous turbans (pagris), which we learned, can tell one’s region, caste and social class. The women wore thick matching plastic bangles from their shoulders to their wrists. Widest near the shoulder then smallest toward the elbow. Then they would start again, the widest at their elbow and smallest at their wrist. No part of their arm was exposed and the funnel of plastic was very unique to this area.

Udaipur is known as the city of (manmade) lakes. The landscape was hilly with bodies of water dispersed throughout. Nick and I CouchSurfed with an extremely friendly family, which included, Raja (King), Rani (Queen) and their daughter. We enjoyed interesting conversations and researched international universities that offer scholarships to Indian citizens for their daughter. The mother and daughter were more than upset to find out I wasn’t carrying any cosmetics on me as they love foreign cosmetics. The mother told us that she felt unlucky to have been born in India, as she was an intelligent and hard working woman, but her currency wasn’t worth anything and because acquiring foreign visas is difficult for Indian residents she will never be able to leave. When her husband, Raja asked us about our new president, Rani interrupted, only to tell us that a famous Bollywood actor (who has god-like status in India) went to visit the U.S. however was either refused or the process took hours, as he was Muslim. Later in Mumbai, we drove past this Bollywood actor’s house, to hear the story again by another CouchSurfer. Exaggerated or not, this was extremely embarrassing and a terrible reflection of our new administration and the travel ban.

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CouchSurfing with Rani (Queen)

On our first evening in Udaipur, Nick and I hiked a small hill to enjoy a sunset point. The next day we visited a famous 18th-century haveli (Bagore-Ki-Haveli) with 138 rooms and the city palace. This palace, built in 1599 was the largest in Rajasthan. It was the most restored and really gave a complete understanding of what it must have been like as a royal family at that time. The palace was enormous and grand and the museum seemed to go on forever. After, Nick got a 40 R ($.62) straight razor shave.

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Sunset over Udaipur, the lake city
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Nick dancing with Rajasthani puppets at Bagore-Ki-Haveli
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City Palace

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Nick’s 62 cent straight razor shave

The next day, we visited a Hindu temple at the center of town and Nick worked on applications. The end of our trip is beginning to come into sight and neither of us are ready. We walked around some lakes and experienced a hindu funeral. We saw parade of men walking by us as and they threw flowers onto a deceased man they carried. His face was powdered with colors. We watched as his body slowly turned into a cloud of smoke. We were thankful to experience this tradition. We learned that woman are never allowed to attend funerals, as they are more emotional than men. Some foreign traditions seem strange, however at least wives are no longer being burned with the husbands. We ended our last day by visiting the Monsoon Palace (Sajjan Garh) for a beautiful sunset with psychotic and aggressive food driven monkeys.

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View from Mansoon Palace

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Sajjan Garh

 

Favorite Eats:

  • Hotel Priya- best lassi ever. Thick yellow custard flavored with saffron topped with dried fruits and nuts. They also have the biggest dosas ever!
  • Om Juice – right behind the northern gate, serves great mango lassis
  • Start the morning at an omelet shop at the northern gate and wash it down with some chai
  • Millets of Mewar – a delicious organic Indian fusion restaurant that offers vegan and gluten free options.