A Travellerspoint blog

India

The Longest Day

The train trip from Varanasi to Delhi was supposed to be about 12 hours. We were almost 8 hours delayed. We left V 2 hours late and somehow along the way lost a lot more time. No one ever seems to know why. Oh well. We had planned to do a couple things in Delhi but didn't have time to do much other than reorganize/repack; shower and have dinner. It was a bit disappointing. I really wanted to go to the spice market and pick up a few things but I guess buying them at the Mekong Market in Mesa will have to suffice. I am on a layover right now in Frankfurt and then on to Denver and then to Phoenix. Richard is on his way to Laos.

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

Yes, Varanasi

Jan 1-2 Agra to Varanasi

Train- 3AC – interesting experience. Two extra people per cabin at this level and therefore much more cramped. We did manage to get some sleep but what we thought was a 9 hour train trip turned out to be 13 hours. Not sure if the train was delayed along the way (we did stop a long time at a couple of places) or if I wrote the arrival time down incorrectly. No matter, we arrived in Varanasi safe and sound. Got an auto-rickshaw to our guest house – Sahi River View Guest House. We are right on a minor ghat-Assi. A Ghat is a narrow street, leading to a set of steps descending to the western bank of the Ganges River. The Assi Ghat is a good location, much quieter than further up the river and the bigger Ghats. I definitely would not want to be along one of the burning Ghats – the smoke would be really bad and there is likely activity at these 24 hours.

We did walk all along the Ghats yesterday and saw several of the burnings/cremations underway. It is such a holy ritual for Hindus. I felt a bit uncomfortable – not because of the cremations but because we are outsiders and this is such an important thing. I don't know enough about Hinduism to totally understand but I do know that to be die means you will past directly to heaven – no need to be re-born and keep trying to get there. It is called 'moksha’ which means liberation from life and death. What I don’t know is why that is – i.e. who decided this was the case? If anyone knows the answer to this, please share. Otherwise, I will research it more and add the info when I have it.

Tid bit: Varanasi was once called Kasha which means City of Life. It is thought to date back to 1200 BC and in the 8th century Shankaracharya, a reformer of Hinduism, established Shiva worship the principal sect. The city was looted and mostly destroyed by Aurangzeb (he was a very bad guy) so most of the buildings, even in the old city are about 200 years old – relatively new for India.

We searched and searched for the Brown Bread Bakery restaurant because it was an ‘our pick’ in the LP guide. We asked directions from several people and while left and then left again were clear to them, the streets in the area we were in were narrow alley ways chock full of shops and it was very easy to miss a ‘left’. We tried a rickshaw (man-powered) who insisted he knew where it was but he took us to the Mona Lisa German Bakery (interesting name) so we had him take us back to where he picked us up. WE did finally find the BBB** and it was not worth the effort we put in to finding it. The LP guide we are using is from 2009 and I think the BBB has probably seen better days. It looked very worn and it was not very clean so we decided to head back to our guest house and eat there. Right before we got there, we saw a sign for the Pizzeria Vaatik Café and decided to check it out. It was a pleasant garden balcony overlooking the Assi Ghat and we had 2 of everything – 2 pizzas, 2 black teas and 2 slices of apple pie for dessert. It turned out to be a very ful-FILLING event. We found our way back to our guest house and crashed for the night.

  • **On our second day in Varanasi we accidentally came across the real BBB. Turns out there are several copy cats and their name is very similar. I am sure the new version of LP has noted this. Richard had an XL coffee lassi and I had tea and chocolate cake with ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce. Yum!

Day 2 - Varanasi

We took our time this morning with a leisurely breakfast and checking email. Then we headed out again onto the streets and alley ways of Varanasi. The sun was out so everything looked very different. It is amazing how much difference a little bit of sunshine makes. We walked along the Ghats again and headed up into the old city at the Manmandir Ghat. We found the Dolphin Restaurant which on the roof of a very nice guest house. As we were ascending the steps someone ignited a firecracker. I was only a few feet away from it and besides being WAY to loud, it scared the sh…. out of me. I was upset and the staff at the guest house was very concerned. I think they shoo-ed the perpetrator away. We ascended the god knows how many flights of stairs to the rooftop and enjoyed a lovely lunch. Once again the food was delicious. We ate a lot and lingered in the warm sunshine before heading out again to wander. It is very easy to find yourself going around in circles in these small alleyways. You start to realize it when you start passing the same shop keepers. It’s fun and I am guessing the shop keepers are rolling their eyes thinking how dumb western tourists are. We haven’t had a lot of hassle here from touts and hawkers contrary to the warnings I have read. The boatmen only ask once or twice and then leave you alone. The beggars are a big more persistent but we have seen worse. The kids selling postcards and flowers are cute and fun to talk to. We chatted with the same little boy we bought postcards from yesterday and a young girl who liked the bag I had (from an Ayurvedic store where I bought face cream that will get rid of all my wrinkles in 2 weeks!). I gave her the bag and she was very pleased.

We are now back at the Shahi and are relaxing until it is time to go eat again!

Morning bathing ritual

Morning bathing ritual


Weighing wood for burning pires

Weighing wood for burning pires


Cricket, cricket and more cricket

Cricket, cricket and more cricket


Ash Man

Ash Man


Washing clothes

Washing clothes


Drying laundry

Drying laundry


White laundry

White laundry


Marigolds

Marigolds


The REAL Brown Bread Bakery

The REAL Brown Bread Bakery


Lots of interesting faces

Lots of interesting faces


And candy

And candy


Thongs for masochists - made of wood!

Thongs for masochists - made of wood!

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

The best day of the trip!

Dec 31 – On to Agra

We caught an early morning train to Agra getting there about 11:30am. The train ride was uneventful but we did meet a young girl who engaged us in conversation for quite a while. It started out with the typical peak around the corner from her berth, ducking back, giggle, pause then another peak again. We expected the usual, "Where are you from?" line of questioning. Only she started with 'where have you been' so I started telling her where we had been in India, which puzzled her so she ducked back away. We heard murmuring and then she poked her head out again and asked ‘where are you from?’ and, the conversation went on from there. At one point she asked if we had an American Dollar. This was immediately stopped by someone sitting with her. A pause…then, ‘how many rupees for an American dollar?’ We answered 50; more discussion, then, she produced 100Rs so we exchanged $1 US and 50 RS. She was very happy. We also answered all the typical questions, do you have children etc. and after a while, we were taking photos and exchanging emails. Her name is Visala and her older brother was coaching her. Her younger brother was curious but very shy. She is in the 6th grade. It will be fun if she will communicate via email or Facebook. Her older brother was very keen on seeing us on FB.

Arriving in Agra: We had arranged with our home stay to have a taxi there for us and they were ready and waiting. We headed to the Garden Villa Home Stay and were warmly greeted by Mr. R and his brother. We discussed the itinerary for the day and headed out with another taxi driver. We called him ‘Raj’ – not sure why as he never introduced himself – at least that we were aware of. He is an elderly gentleman with a big white mustache and beard and wears a saffron turban.

We visited Agra Fort, where we got our first view of the Taj Mahal from the apartments/prison of Shah Jehan; the ‘baby Taj’ and a park across the river from the Taj Mahal where we sat until sunset watching the glimmering structure from a distance.

Agra Fort is another impressive structure. Less fort-like and more like a group of palaces surrounded by a stout wall. It was, in fact, the home of at least a couple of Mogul kings, including Shah Jahan who had the Tal Mahal built for his 3rd and most beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to his 14th child.

He and his family lived in the fort and when his son Aurangzeb overthrew him, he imprisoned his father in his apartments which overlook the Taj Mahal. History is a little sketchy on whether this was after it was completed or while it was still being built. No matter, he was a very old, ill man by this time and had lost all power to his nasty son, who toppled the Mogul empire with is greed and ambition for greater power.

The ‘baby’ Taj is the monument to Mizra Ghiyas Beg, the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, and is almost an exact replica of the real thing, only much smaller, thus the 'baby'. It is a quick visit but well worth it.

We then went to Mehtab Bagh park which was originally meant to be the home of Shah Jahan’s black ‘Mahal’ – his own mausoleum. The plan was for it to be an exact replica of the Taj Mahal only made of all black marble and it would face the tomb he built for his beloved wife. Aurangzeb decided it was a waste of money and stopped the whole thing but the park remains and it is quite lovely. You walk along pathways through rows of shrubs and flowers towards the river and there is a lovely view of the back of the TM.

We had lunch and dinner at Dasaprakash a south Indian vegetarian restaurant that Mr. R recommended. It is also in the LP guide. He had suggested we eat lunch there and dinner at a new restaurant called Pinch of Spice but when we arrived they were having a ‘small problem’, which to us looked like a broken sewer line – not the kind of ‘problem’ you want at any restaurant, anywhere! So we went back to Dashraprakash and were perfectly happy. The food is delicious. Lots of things made with lentils, rice and of course, vegetables. With every meal comes a piping hot ewer of Sambar – hot and spicy.

Jan 1, 2012! Happy New Year!

We had heard it raining overnight and it was still overcast and rainy when we got up. We were to head out a 7:30a but we left an hour later since there would be no real sunrise in this weather. We headed to the Taj Mahal. ‘Raj’ was once again our driver. The entry to the Taj Mahal is quite a big deal. Cars cannot go directly to it anymore in an effort to keep exhaust pollution to a minimum so we were dropped off and we walked to the ticket window. We hired a guide and then queued up to go in. Women and men enter in different lines. Apparently this is for security as women tend to carry more ‘stuff’ so the check point is slower. There is a long list of things that are not allowed into the TM area – any kind of food item, gum, crayons, knives etc. They thoroughly check bags and pockets for these things.

Once inside, you walk through the main gate (west gate). Before walking through the gate you can see the Taj Mahal and it is lovely even on a rainy day. I was not prepared for the impression/impact of seeing it once I stepped through the gate. I have seen a lot of awesome, ancient structures but when you walk through that gate and the Taj Mahal comes into full view with the gardens laid out in front of it, it just got me. I got quite emotional. It is, without question, the most beautiful, man-made thing I have ever seen. It really does shimmer and, because of the way it is positioned on a marble platform, there is nothing in the background but sky so it also seems to float. The white marble looks like it has been freshly polished. The rain helped because it cleared the air and at one point while we were there, the sun came out for a few minutes and there was a rainbow – unbelievable!!! Our guide was very good and we took our time gazing and wandering around this amazing spectacle. He also took ‘Lady Di’ photos which are a hoot! We will have to see how they compare to the real thing!!

We then headed out to Fatehpur Sikri. This is another ancient fort/group of palaces. Home of Akbar and his 3 wives – one Hindu (from Rajasthan), one Muslim (from Turkey), one Catholic (from Goa/Portuguese). Each wife had her own palace built to replicate important aspects of her religion. Importantly, Akbar, was quite enlightened and believed all religions had their place in the world and, ideally wanted everyone to observe one religion which was a combination of all. This is represented in all the architecture he directed in his time. The fort is quite large and also includes a Buddhist temple which is white marble among all the red sandstone. It was a very busy place today being Jan 1st and there were long lines of people waiting to be blessed and to pray for good wishes. Our guide was a bit pushy and did not want to wait in line. It wasn’t super important to us to ‘be blessed’ but it would have been interesting so we were a bit annoyed with him. He kind of rushed us through the entire complex.

We then headed to Akbar’s tomb. Another amazing structure. He designed it for himself and his family members. There are many instances of perfect symmetry here as well as all the other ancient architecture we have seen here. There are open chambers throughout this building that if you stand in opposite corners, facing the corner, you can talk to one another in practically a whisper. Makes me wonder if the architects who built Union Terminal in Cincinnati ever visited here….

Another meal at Dasaprakash and then to the railway terminal where I am sitting on my backpack, writing this part of the blog. Lots of activity around us and lots of ‘over the shoulder lookers’. Our train leaves at 9:20pm and we get into Varanasi at 6:15a tomorrow.

First view through the west gate

First view through the west gate


Princess Di and Prince Phillip pose

Princess Di and Prince Phillip pose


It glimmers in the sunshine

It glimmers in the sunshine


Spectacular even in the rain

Spectacular even in the rain

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

Jaipur - Exciting, loud, frantic - Love it!

Dec 29 – Jaipur

After stopping at the hospital to have my finger checked and re-dressed we headed to Jaipur. The road was 'good' which means it didn’t have a lot of pot holes etc. but it was still rough going dodging around construction and just navigating the weird, crazy traffic. Supposedly, Indians drive on the left side of the road but at any given time there could be a car, motorcycle, bus or transport truck heading ‘head-on’ at us. Anand, our driver was very good but sitting in the front seat, because I get car sick in the back seat, was often scary.

We arrived in Jaipur right around 1pm and checked into the Pearl Palace which was highly recommended by several guide books, Christy Dobbs, and Trip Advisor. I figured we couldn’t go wrong and we are not disappointed. The Peacock Restaurant on the roof top looks like it was decorated by Gaudi. We had lunch before heading out to see the City Palace and the Observatory. Both well worth seeing.

Dec 30

Today we headed out early for Amber Fort which is a bit outside Jaipur. We had arranged for our rickshaw driver from yesterday to pick us up and he was right on time. The drive up to the fort was chilly but well worth the effort. This is a huge fort with a long walk up to the main entrance. It was very busy today with people lined up to ride elephants up the ramp. We preferred to walk which was an adventure dodging the elephant poop and the elephants themselves. I got swiped by an elephant’s tail – a bit messy and it had some power to it! We wandered around the fort without a guide this time. We have seen enough of them now to know the basic layout and what the various areas are for. This one has a spectacular mirrored courtyard which is absolutely stunning. It is being carefully restored and much of the work is done. We met up with our driver and headed into the old city where he let us off and we wandered the various bazaars for a couple of hours. Jaipur is loud, hectic, and frenetic even but there is something about it we like. It would actually like to have had another day here but, who knew!

Met up with our driver again and stopped at Lassiwala – the oldest and most famous lassi maker in Jaipur. I had my first ‘official’ lassi and it was very good.

We are now back at the ‘Pearl’ catching up on things before dinner and packing for out trip tomorrow to Agra and the Taj Mahal!!

Kites

Kites


As high as we can go

As high as we can go


Cold ride up to Amber Fort

Cold ride up to Amber Fort


Sweeping the grass

Sweeping the grass


Amber Fort

Amber Fort


Elephant rides up to the fort

Elephant rides up to the fort


The main courtyard at Amber Fort

The main courtyard at Amber Fort


The mirrored courtyard

The mirrored courtyard


More of the mirrored courtyard

More of the mirrored courtyard


Ceiling of mirrored courtyard

Ceiling of mirrored courtyard


Behind the screen

Behind the screen


Snake charmer

Snake charmer


Marble carving in the bazaar

Marble carving in the bazaar


Old City

Old City


One of the 'seasons' gates at City Palace

One of the 'seasons' gates at City Palace


City Palace

City Palace


Observatory

Observatory


Amber Fort - Morning music

Amber Fort - Morning music


Trying a hand at the drum

Trying a hand at the drum


Another view

Another view


The 'thinking' monkey

The 'thinking' monkey


Our rickshaw driver for the day

Our rickshaw driver for the day


Lassi's at Lassiwala

Lassi's at Lassiwala

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

A holy city, very touristy

Dec 27 Bundi – Pushkar

Day of travel….and HAND!!!

Greetings from Richard,

The B team is writing, Carole has an infected finger, lingering from a Mesa cactus thorn she picked up at the end of October. It seemingly was better, but had flair up here in India. We made a trip to the local hospital, Mittel located in Ajmer, about an 11 kilometer drive from Pushkar. Annan, our car driver for this section of out travels, suggested this location. With a bit of trepidation, we agreed to give it a try.

Everything at the hospital went smoothly. Carole had a doctor consultation, followed by a thorough lancing and draining of the infected finger, wound care and a prescription for pain and antibiotic, grand total of 1,250 rupees, the outrageous sum of $22!!

Carole is sitting next to me as I write, closely supervising me.

Dec 28 – Pushkar- Destination for Indian tourists too.

Another B team entry. Carole is feeling fine, but when you see the photo of her bandaged hand you'll understand why she is presently typing impaired. We wandered the streets of the most quiet city we’ve visited to date, the most holy city of Pushkar. Less pollution, quieter and a nice change for us.

Pushkar is a most holy city for Hindu’s, and a site visited by many of India’s citizenry. It’s also vacation time for Indians, so we are definitely out numbered here. Kind of the Gatlinburg of India, only spiritual. Also a lot of former and present western 'flower children’ in this area.

Water colors

Water colors


The hand!

The hand!


Eating pokara

Eating pokara


The cook

The cook


Red powder for hair part

Red powder for hair part


Ladies in the market

Ladies in the market


Men in the market

Men in the market


Lady - 'stealth' shot

Lady - 'stealth' shot


More stealth photos

More stealth photos


Papaya and Fig Lassi - Yum!

Papaya and Fig Lassi - Yum!


More yummy food

More yummy food


Cool shave

Cool shave

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

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