KAT // FIN

Dream. Do.

Days in the Thar

After busy sighseeing days in Agra and Jaipur, we finally settled down for a couple of days. City of Jaisalmer, or ‘The Golden City’ is located in the Thar desert near Pakistan border. Whole city is built using only yellow sandstone and the Fort reminds a big sandcastle rising above the city. Jaisalmer itself is pretty small place but what makes it interesting is the fact that the former fort is still in use and around 4000 people lives inside it. It’s full of narrow streets, shops and roof-top restaurants.

In Jaisalmer, it was also time for us to test another extreme conditions after Annapurna. Thar is the second largest desert in the world after Sahara and obviosly, there’s no point of going so near the desert without actually going to the desert so we booked a camel safari as a part of our staying in Jaisalmer. We drove 45 kilometres from Jaisalmer to Pakistan direction to a village called Khuri to start our one-night-safari. (Actually we noticed that it was only a camel ride to the dunes to see sunset and we returned to Khuri for dinner afterwards…though, it’s also possible to book actual safaris to the desert for more than one night where all the food is prepared by camelmen in the desert as well). Still, we were happy with our safari because after dinner a jeep took us back to the desert to spend a night there. We got to sleep in the sand under the stars having only mattresses and blankets with us. Complete silence surrounded us and the only light we had was campfire. Sky was bright with so many stars. We fell asleep immediately after the fire had burnt out and slept tight all night long. Could have stayed for another night…

And now slight subject change! During our stay in Jaisalmer, we confronted interesting facts about India. It’s strange, in India as well as in Nepal, you don’t see so many women in the streets. It seems that men are everywhere; in hotels, restaurants, cafés, barber shops, whatever-else-shops, tailor’s, offices, chilling in the streets…Women can be seen mostly when you drove through smaller villages. They are working with household chores or in the farms or fields, carrying water, vegetables or what-so-ever above their heads. That’s due to religion…In India, hinduism is the major religion, islam being the second. When talking to local people and especially to young men, they start to speak easily about the caste system and arranged marriages in India. They have told that most of the marriages here are still arranged: We met a 20-year-old boy who was about to get married with a 15-year-old-girl in couple of months. They both were muslims and due to caste system it’s impossible for them to marry outside their own religion or caste. The boy said he has a hindu girlfriend now, but he must hide her from his parents and meets this girl secretly during night. Of course he has to leave her when he gets married, he admitted. We asked if he knew if his coming wife had a boyfriend as well, he replied that it’s impossible for a muslim girl to have boyfriends. Girls are taken to school and back home by their parents and they are not allowed to go outside these places alone. First time this couple will speak to each other is when they get married. Their parents had chosed them for each others and in case they don’t like each other it’s a real pity – getting divorced is almost impossible in India and at least divorced people aren’t appreciated. So for all the people who can chose love marriage…you are lucky!

DSC_1227 Fort of Jaisalmer

DSC_1228 Fort of Jaisalmer

DSC_1196 Shops inside the Fort

DSC_1205_edit View over the rooftops inside the Fort

DSC_1216 View over the rooftops inside the Fort

DSC_1242 Camel safari with excellent camelmen!

DSC_1263 My crazy camel chilling…He was littlebit hot-blooded :D

DSC_1269 Taleban and camel

DSC_1273 Auli looks cool!

DSC_1274 Camelman chilling on the dunes

DSC_1253 Camelman chilling on the dunes

DSC_1283 Our team!

DSC_1288 Sunset in the Thar

DSC_1293 Our night camp in the Thar

-Katariina

The Tourist // Agra and Jaipur in pictures

Picture showcase of our days in Agra and Jaipur. 4 days in these cities were full of sightseeing, sun and polluted air (Agra is the worst so far what is comes to pollution!). Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan state in India and it´s also called ‘The Pink City’. Buildings in the old city were once painted pink to greet british royals and property owners still have to keep the facades pink these days. Enjoy!

DSC_0966 We’ve seen so many palaces, forts and tombs. Itimad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb, Agra.

DSC_0973 Flooring at Itimad-Ud-Daulah’s.

DSC_0998 Agra Fort

DSC_1016_edit Taj Mahal was as breathtaking as in the pictures.

DSC_1024 Seeing a white woman is a big thing to some indians. Sometimes we feel like statues they want to have photographs with.

DSC_1034 From our hotel’s balcony I saw another side of India. A slum.

DSC_1046 Fatehpur Sikri, a fort that had been working only for 14 years in the 15th Century and then been abandoned!

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    Sending wishes by binding strings to Sheikh Salim Chishti’s Tomb in Fatehpur Sikri.

DSC_1068 Galtaji Monkey Temple, Jaipur. Hindus came to bathe in this holy (dirty!!!) water. This side was for females. Smell was terrible.

DSC_1097 Ghost Town of Galtaji…only 30 holy men were living here!

DSC_1081 Monkey Temple, Jaipur

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    Monkey Temple, Jaipur

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    Auli feeding monkeys.

DSC_1099 Elephants in Amber Fort, Jaipur

DSC_1107 Riding an elephant to the fortress of Amber, Jaipur.

DSC_1110 Riding an elephant to the fortress of Amber, Jaipur.

DSC_1127 Amber Fort where Jaipur was once lead.

DSC_1164_edit Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) Jaipur

DSC_1177_edit Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) Jaipur

DSC_1148 Hand printing textile with wooden blocks in a small local factory, Jaipur.

DSC_1131 Watching Jaipur from above. Jaigarh Fort.

- Katariina

Difficult start in Delhi

In Nepal, we found traveling relaxed and easy and people reliable. Things changes totally when we arrived to Delhi…We knew that tourist gets fooled here but what confronted us from the very beginning, we didn’t expect.

Thinks started to go against our plan since we entered out the airport. We had an address of a hostel from Pahar Ganj area, which is the ‘traveller ghetto’ in Delhi full of cheap hostels and restaurants. We took a taxi from the airport. There was a guy who offered us a taxi and with whom we negotiated the price to Pahar Ganj area. He got in to the car (which now seems suspicious but back then I thought maybe he was guiding the actual taxi driver to the right place). We drove to the center of the Delhi but we didn’t had map of the city yet then. (I had been lazy in Nepal and hadn’t downloaded India maps to my cellphone…stupid!) Well when we reached the center, suddenly we saw a road block. These men said it was Pahar Ganj area inside the road block (there were signs of Pahar Ganj, but of course we didn´t know how the area was suppose to look like and believed them). They said there had been a muslim demonstration earlier that day because of a hindu festival going on in Delhi and police must have closed the whole Pahar Ganj area. ‘Ok’, we thought, luckily we didn’t book any hostel in advance, because obviously it was impossible to go to Pahar Ganj area, and we would have lost the hostel deposit.

What to do? Men said that they could take us to the nearest tourist information centre so that we could solve the thing. We thought that it was fair so they took us to tourist information centre. We got in, the place looked reasonable and we were sat to tourist officer’s room. We asked if he knew about the closure of Pahar Ganj area and he said that there had been other tourists coming to his office telling the same. We asked him help because we needed another hostel to spend couple of nights in Delhi. The officer said that now it was the most popular tourist season in Delhi and it might be impossible to find any hotels here. We told him our budget and he wrote down some names of hostels to which another guy started calling (or that’s what it was said to us). Meanwhile the officer asked about our plans in India. We actually didn’t have any direct plans yet then. We thought we would make them up during our stay in Delhi. When he kept asking we said some names of the cities we had been thinking to visit. He started to make some route schedule to us. Meanwhile the caller guy came back shaking his head – no rooms left from any hostels. There were rooms left only in five star places costing like 300$ per night. The officer suggested that we should leave Delhi as soon as possible. Not only hotels but also many trains were sold out months earlier because now it was the high-season…BUT he could book a cab for us to Jaipur. If we would leave during the same day there was a hostel for us in Jaipur and we wouldn´t have to pay 300$ per night in Delhi. We thought that no way we were continuing the trip straight away. We wanted to rest and think so we left the tourist information place and told to our taxi guys we wanted them to drive us to the nearest internet café. What they then said to us (we were already driving) – there wasn’t any internet cafés in Delhi. What a bullshit, we thought. They offered to take us to another tourist information centre. We said fine, maybe we could use their internet.

So another similar looking tourist office who told exactly the same thing: ‘Delhi was super busy, no hotels, only suite costing 300$ a night. No available trains to nearby cities, impossible to book alone. If we would leave straight away, we would be in Jaipur in the same day and in Agra on the next day…’ We said no way, we wanted to have a cheap hostel, there must be some left in the city this big as Delhi. He said he couldn´t help us so we said bye bye and left to the street – this time without our drivers. I tried to call to the embassy of Finland in Delhi but my phone couldn´t contact. We asked a rickshaw driver to take us to the Pahar Ganj. Again the same thing…a road block – Pahar Ganj was closed. BUT he could take us to India Government Tourist Office which was also mentioned in my guide book. Fair enough, we thought so he took us to another tourist office (what we thought now was the Goverment office). The only bad thing was that it looked very very similar than the two others. But what can you do, we couldn´t check from the map where we were and didn´t know the exact name of the streets. So we got in and said straight away to the officer that the only thing we needed was a cheap hostel for two nights in Delhi. This time he did what we asked but suggested us to come back as soon as possible to make booking for the rest of our trip because it was busy and trains and hotels full and blaa blaa blaa. He offered to pick us up from our hotel on the same day or the day after. We said it was okay, we knew their address, they had underlined the Gov. Of India Tourist Office from my map. I said we could manage there ourselves later. The officer said we wouldn´t find it and it was dangerous for two white girls to travel alone in Delhi…he would get someone to pick us up from the hotel on the next day. We didn´t say anything back and took rickshaw to our hotel. In our hotel wi-fi didn´t work so we couldn´t start investigating any facts yet but made a rough plan where we would like to go during our 5-week-stay in India.

On the next day we had the city map and took a rickshaw to the centre near the Government Tourist Office. This time we could follow from the map where we were driving. On the way we happened to drive past yesterday’s last tourist office and we noticed it was far away from the Gov. of India Tourist Office! We were so glad we hadn’t booked any longer trips in panic earlier and that we had left the hotel alone without anyone coming to pick us up. We headed to café and aimed to use wi-fi but there were problems with the connection…Luckily there was an indian boy sitting next table who politely chit-chatted with us and after hearing our story about our first day in Delhi, offered to help us. He guided us to the Government Tourist Office which was located in the center of Delhi, in Janpath street near Connaught Place. And this time we could see it ourselves from the map that we were in the right location. With the officer we made bookings for the next two weeks in India including Agra-Jaipur-Jaisalmer-Jodpur and Udaipur. It also included trains further to Mumbai and Goa and flight back from Kerala to Delhi in the end of the 5-week-period. We got a driver with whom we would travel the first days. For rest of the day he took us for Delhi sighseeing. After rough start things started to look slightly brighter…Lesson to learn: don´t trust people in Delhi and keep your head!

DSC_0953 Mughal Emperor Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi

DSC_0942 Mughal ruler Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi

DSC_0955_edit Stone writing in Gandhi Smriti (Museum of great freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi.)

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    Way to the Martyr’s Column where Gandhi was assassinated.

    DSC_0963 South Block of the Secretariat Buildings in New Delhi…one of the top places of world’s politics!

    -Katariina

Prince Avalanches // Farewell to Nepal

Our first travelling month is over and it is time to say farewell to the amazing country of Nepal. During our stay here we have met a bunch of really good local people. In general, people in Nepal are very interested, friendly and helpful towards a foreigner. Not a single time we have felt unsecure or threatened here. It has been easy for us to adapt to this country and leaving here feels difficult. But to me, the thing about travelling is that the show must go on and you should leave when you feel the best. I wanna say a couple of words about the people we´ve met here.

DSC_0297 When we came to Kathmandu, first nepalese we met was Tara. Tara has been studying in USA as well as in master program in Aalto University’s School of Economics in Helsinki. After graduating he moved back to Kathmandu to develop Nepal. He is working now in his own company which he established with his friends. The aim of the company is to help rural areas of Nepal to develop entrepreneurship.

DSC_0423 Bijay, Kaji and Mani…what to say…I miss them already. They made our trek to the A.B.C. unforgettable. I think we will always remember the things we learned from each other – from star patterns to nepalese culture and from card games to local rhum and to porters’ lifes.

DSC_0811Shankar and his friend we met in the ‘Full Power’-café in Pokhara. Shankar had moved to Pokhara from Chittwan where he had grown up taking care of wild animals and working as a guide in the jungle. We became friends after having breakfast in Full Power several times. One evening after they had closed the café, we spent a great evening together in the candlelight watching silent Phewa Lake.

DSC_0827 One interesting meeting we had was with the finnish-based artist, Markus Forss, in Pokhara. We heard about Markus from our taxi driver, Biru, when we drove to Birethanti to start our trek to the A.B.C. Markus had been working many years in Finland in the restaurant-field running also his own restaurants but had changed his career since and had become an artist in his later days. Markus has been living two years in Pokhara now, going once a year to Finland for having an art exhibition there. Markus paints in Pokhara and runs also a small, by appointment-café, ‘Mama Arts’. Markus is also supporting two local young man, Manish and Dipendra, with their studies. Dipendra has an economical education but is working as a porter now due to the difficulties of having a job which would respond to his education. He is learning to paint in his free-time. Manish is studying in the University of Pokhara, also in economical field.

Live music is popular in Kathmandu and Pokhara. We met Koondan one evening in Kathmandu. He performed songs to both ‘western taste’ and nepalese in Thamel. He is very amazing singer and we spent many nights watching his performances in different places. He also taught us a lot. From friendships…music and musician’s life in Nepal to motorbike rides and card tricks. I want to wish all the luck to Koondan and to his band members in their career. Auli had a dream that we were going to see their gig once again…but this time in St. Petersburg! Maybe it was a sign from the future – I wish :)

DSC_0930Rozesh, Amit, Koondan and Ashutosh playing in Delima Garden, Thamel.

DSC_0903With Koondan and Kristal in Kirtipur.

DSC_0935Dinesh worked 25/8 at our last hotel in KTM.

DSC_0928One more great thing here has been children. Seeing a white-skinned tourist means basically same to them than christmas to us. That´s how happy they´ve always been wanting to have pictures or high-fives with you.

It´s funny…they always said to us that Nepal needs good people like us – I wish they knew how huge positive impact they have had to our stay in their country. It’s our time now to move on guys. Take care!

- Katariina

This is Bandipur

When heading back from Pokhara to Kathmandu we decided to spend two nights in tranquil, little town called Bandipur. Bandipur is located 8km away from Kathmandu-Pokhara highway so it was perfect stop for us because it didn´t take any extra travelling time to go there. Bandipur is an old Newari people village with beautiful 18th-century buildings. Atmosphere was super-slow and relaxed, we spent two days there wandering slowly around and sitting in restaurants reading books.

We were lucky to be there in the time of a religious festival. Don´t know whether it was hindu or buddhist one. Religions mix here in Nepal and especially amongst Newari people drawing line between Hinduism and Buddhism isn´t always obvious. During our first day in Bandipur, we walked pass a small temple where there were a group of old women sitting in the yard. They were playing drums and singing religious songs. We stopped there for a while and they asked us to join their playing. By any means it didn´t feel appropriate to take any photos of that moment…unfortunately! I got to play this very tiny piano and oldest one of the ladies, who was singing in a loudest voice and who was lacking all the upper teeth, was very talkative and spoke to us a lot. Unfortunately we understood only bodylanguage since all she talked was nepalese. We shared a couple of songs and bananas with these grannies.

In Nepal, children dance a lot. During our trek to A.B.C. as well as during our time in Bandipur, we got to see children dancing parties many times. It seems to be a very natural way for them to express themselves and also to spend their free-time here. To my opinion, best dancers have been boys. Someone puts a music on from a cassette player or then they play drums etc. and sing themselves. They form a big circle where one or more of them is dancing in the middle while others are clapping hands on the sides. While we went pass them they asked us to join as well. Big white women didn´t have the guts to participate…yet :D

DSC_0883Bandipur’s main street

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DSC_0854

DSC_0862 View from our hotel

DSC_0870 During the festival, people decorated all the temples in the village with floral-bindings and carried offerings (rice, red powder and yellow flowers) to their gods.

DSC_0879 We got tikas to our foreheads from one of the temples. Tika is a symbol of the prescence of the divine. Tika is made of mixing offerings into a paste.

DSC_0881 Floral-bindings and carved wood details in Bindhyabashini Temple in Bandipur.

DSC_0882 Bindhyabashini Temple

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DSC_0888 Himalayas could almost been seen behind the village…if it would have been clearer air.

-Katariina

Flat is boring! – Way to the A.B.C. Part 2

Day 6 – Dobhan – Himalaya – Deurali – Macchapucchre Base Camp (7h trek – altitude 3700m)

Day six was heavy. We ascended over 1000m to Macchapucchre (Fishtail) Mountain’s Base Camp. Landscape changed dramatically from sunny mountain views and forests to cloudy and rough canyon views. We walked alongside river Modi Khola again in a valley which was surrounded by mountains and very rough and low plantation. No green could be seen anymore in these heights. There was also a couple of avalanche prone areas which we passed.

Macchapucchre Base Camp was totally in the middle of nowhere with only a couple of lodges. We were laughing to each others that ‘imagine if another one of us would like to stay here and would just inform all her friends and relatives in Finland that one’s address from now on would be Macchapucchre Base Camp…and that it takes only 6 days to reach this point from Pokhara – welcome to enjoy afternoon’s coffee…christmas cards you may have to send 3 months earlier!’ But the truth is, Base Camp lodges are open 24/7, 365 days a year. There is really people living in these surroundings…high appreciation for them.

Cloudy weather, all the roughness of vegetation, steep river bed edges and the valley surrounded by snow-covered mountains made the landscape majestic. You really have to respect the nature when seeing places like this! It was super cold in our lodge. Couldn´t even think about taking a shower after the days trek. Concrete floors and no heating systems made our sleeping bags and down jackets useful again. We spent the evening by playing card and went to bed early due to a super early morning which would face us on the next day. Our aim was to see sunrise in the A.B.C…

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    Having a break between Dobhan and M.B.C.

DSC_0690 Landscape changed before M.B.C.

DSC_0703 Macchapucchre Base Camp

DSC_0718 M.B.C. views

DSC_0705 M.B.C. views

DSC_0701 Our freezing lodge in the M.B.C.

DSC_0722

    Next morning´s destination!

Day 7 – M.B.C. – Annapurna Base Camp – M.B.C. – Bamboo (9h trek – altitude 4130m)

We started our last climb to the Annapurna Base Camp at 4.30 in the morning. In two hours we reached the Base Camp when sun started to lay it´s first rays to the tops of the mountains. As Kaji said, sun rays seemed like mountain tops were on fire. It was amazing feeling to finally reach the Base Camp after 7 days ascending. We spent an hour in the Base Camp, Kaji telling us stories of the mountains and their future which – due to global warming – seems pretty sad. Luckily Nepal does big efforts for conserving their precious mountains. For example our permit money were used to conserving Annapurna Area. More can be read from Annapurna Conservation Area Project.

Annapurna Base Camp is situated in the altitude of 4130m and it´s surrounded by many over 7000-8000m mountains like Annapurna South, Himchuli, Annapurna I, Gangapurna and Macchapucchre. We saw many memorials of dead climbers who had died there during their attemps to summit surrounding mountains. Annapurna Base Camp is the last point for the climbers to fill their food and drinks before starting climbing to the summits – after that point they will sleep in the tents.

After sunrise, photos and stories we headed back to the M.B.C. for breakfast, picked up Mani/our backpack and started the way back down again. On the road we saw many groups/trekkers we had met earlier in the lodges or on the trail. We met again this group of three guys who were carrying their stuff themselves and had no guide. They told that they couldn´t find a pony to rent so this sore-knee-guy had walked all the way up with more or less pain. One of them had also had pretty bad AMS (Accute Mountain Sickness) symptoms during their stay in the M.B.C…

Descending is a lot faster than ascending and during the same day we returned the same route back to Bamboo where we stayed over night. Guides and porters always slept in different space/building than tourists and ate together themselves after tourists had had their dinner. It was unusual that they spent their ‘free-time’ with tourists. This evening we were super tired but after dinner we had our normal portion of Khukri with Kaji. There was a sentence in the dining room wall in nepalese (Kripaya haat mukh bahira pakhalnu hola. Dhanyabad!) and when we asked Kaji what it meant (Please wash your hands and mouth outside. Thank you!), he started to learn us nepalese. Many porters gathered around us and were pretty amused of our tryings to spell nepalese words. We learnt how to order hot water to fill our water bottles from the lodge´s kitchen (Kripaya malai panee dinuhos – Please, give me water). My great personal moment was when one of the porters who had been following our nepalese practises most interested touched me and said to me ‘didi-bahini’. When I asked what it meant he replied ‘sister’.

DSC_0733 First sun rays over the Annapurna South.

DSC_0735_edit Annapurna Base Camp 27th October 2014 at 6.30 am.

DSC_0740 Memorial of a dead russian climber.

DSC_0764 Annapurna South

DSC_0765 Annapurna Base Camp and Mountain Macchapucchre seen behind it.

DSC_0772 From the way back.

DSC_0774 From the way back.

DSC_0790 Our lodge in Jhinu Dada.

DSC_0792 Our lodge in Jhinu Dada.

Day 8 – Bamboo – Chhomrong – Jhinu Dada (5h trek)

Day 9 – Jhinu Dada – Syauli Bazar (4h trek)

Day 10 – Syauli Bazar – Birethanti – Pokhara (2h trek)

After reaching the base camp, last three days of descending felt only like a vacation. After night in Bamboo, we walked back to Chhomrong and kept going until Jhinu Dada which is known for its’ hot springs. I carried our backpack maybe 10 minutes in Chhomrong’s uphill because I wanted to try how it felt going uphill with 15kg. Mani got a short vacation :D Have to say that there was no chance that we could have carried our gear ourselves. Many people were on the trek alone with no guide or porter. I’m sure many people must think that carrying one´s own gear is ethically more right than hiring a porter. I don´t think the same. Trekking tourism forms a big part of people’s income here in Nepal and being a porter is a good option for many young guys to earn money. People are used to carry things here where roads are still yet developing.

Of course there is darker side in porter business which we saw as well. Many porters were carrying way too big loads. One was carrying 3 backpacks of which two were 85 litre backpacks and one was 100% Samsonite with wheels! We even saw a porter carrying Longchamp bags…Seemed like there was also that type of trekkers in the trail who don´t think at all what kind of bag is suitable for the trek. We also saw a very unhappy porter during the day 6 to Dobhan. He was having a break, sitting on a grassbench next to the trail. He didn´t look ok and when our guide asked how he was doing, he replied that he had over 45kg load to carry! Kaji said that according to porter ‘laws’ it´s prohibited for one porter to carry more than 20kg if you are carrying goods alone from village to village and 30kg if you work as a porter in an organized tourist trip. To this porter, trekking guide had been loading way too many kilos…

The thing is that tourists have the possibility to choose between trekking companies. Some of the companies aren´t licensed and obviosly not treating their porters right. It is our responsibility as tourists to support only that kind of companies who work in a legal and humane-basis. That´s the only way to support Nepal to develope sustainable tourism. Tourists’ reviews of trekking companies in Nepal can be read in www.trekinfo.com. I highly recommend people to think a bit what kind of companies and actions they want to support.

During our 10-day-trek to the A.B.C. we felt very secure with Kaji and Mani. They not only showed us the way to the A.B.C. and carried our gear there and back, but taught us many things about Nepalese traditions, daily life, history and culture. Days were planned well and due to reasonable ascending pace, we didn´t suffer from AMS (Accute Mountain Sickness). In our case, everything went well but in case that something unattended had happened during the trek, I had total trust that these guys had known exactly what to do. I truly feel that our 4-person-team made the trek: Kaji guiding us, offering rhum and sometimes buffalo milk and teaching us many things…Mani coming to our room every morning smiling and saying ‘Let’s go’ when we weren´t yet even half ready :D To me, it really wasn´t getting to the base camp but getting to the base camp together with these people and sharing life for 10 days with them. It was worth all the mental and physical efforts. I remember the last day when we got our trekking permits back in Birethanti: how great it felt having the ‘enter’ and ‘exit’ stamps on them! Mani was looking at them and noticed that me and Auli had been the first and second persons who exit the Annapurna Conservation Area that day from that checking point. We were back just where we had started and saw the familiar jeep which came to pick us. Mani smiled and said how happy he was that we were back there. All of us must felt the same. As an experience, trekking to the A.B.C. gave me more that I could have ever asked, wished or imagined.

DSC_0799 From the way back.

DSC_0803 These guys…

- Katariina