Holy Cow...literally (Part 1 of 2: India)
India Travel Blog› entry 1 of 2 › view all entries
Namaste from Varanasi, India! There's really only word to describe this place...WOW. And one question you have to ask...am I still on planet earth? Im actually convinced Ricki and I are in a different world. I have to admit, in the week leading up to this trip I was getting quite nervous. I've never in the past had a bad feeling or felt uneasy before leaving for one of my crazy adventures, but this time I can't admit that was the case. I considered dying my hair dark, or in the least covering everything but my eyes with a long, black burka. But then of course I checked the weather in Delhi and that all went to hell when I saw it's been an average of 99 for the past few weeks.
My flight was uneventful...no delays, movies on command, free wine and 2 window seats. On the way to London, however, I did sit next to an Indian man with the longest arms I've ever seen. Did I mention he was a sleep twitcher and arm jerker? He actually elbowed me twice and left quite a bruise on my arm!
The ambian and wine on my London - Delhi leg did the trick, and I slept for 6 of the 8.5 hour flight. I landed at 6:30 am, just before Delhi really wakes up and had quite an uneventful trip to the hotel. While I anxiously wanted to go out and explore the neighborhood around the hotel, I used my better judgement and stayed in the room until Ricki got here at 12:30.
So Ricki eventually came and we met our tour guide immediately. Our first stop was a coffe shop, and by coffee shop I mean coffee shanty...a single room that consisted of 3 concrete walls, 2 tables, and 3 friendly Indian men. They gave us low-down, like how many Rupees a rickshaw ride should cost, where to have dinner, where to buy the cheapest souvineers, and what important sites to see. Unlike my other trips, we actually planned ahead and booked a private guide and driver. Thank God for that bc Delhi really is a zoo and not a city I'd want to navigate on my own.
Our first stop was Qutb Minar, a tall tower that was started in 1193, and marks the defeat of Delhi's last Hindu kingdom and the onset of Islamic rule. From there we went to Humayun's Tomb, which was built in the early 16th century. Humayun was the 2nd Mughal Emperor, and his Senior wife built this tomb after his death which is said to have influenced the design of the Taj Mahal.
To be honest, the sites and history are fascinating, but what I'm most excited about is simply watching the everyday comings and goings of the people. There are 12.8 million people living in Delhi so you can imagine it's mass chaos. You have to fight your way down the street, and to avoid getting hit you've got to keep your eyes peeled for cars, bikes, passersby, scooters, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, and cows.
After a quick but interesting day in Delhi we woke up early and hopped on a train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. The ride was a quick 2 hours, and they fed us twice, which i dont really get bc how can anyone eat anything in this heat? We stopped at our guide's tour office where we made quite the scene trying to put on the sarees we bought the night before. Needless to say we were laughed at and required a helping hand from the local shopkeeper. Eventually we hopped back in the car and were on our way. Traffic of course was slow moving, but unlike in Chicago there are good reasons for it...you're either waiting for a hurd of cows to cross the street or are trying to avoid a car accident with a camel.
After the Taj we drove over to Agra Fort, which is in no way as beautifully striking as the Taj, but was equally interesting. It's made of red sandstone which holds the most intricate carvings I've ever seen. Originally built as a military structure in 1565, Emperor Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace for his wife and family. They all lived here, along the Yamuna River, until the Emperor was overthrown and imprisoned here.
I must say that with all the amazing historical sites and things to see, Ricki and I caused quite a commotion walking around the Taj in sarees.
We saw a few more tombs, but had had enough quickly. We shopped for gems and found a local restaurant where we had our fair share of beer and tandoori. We eventually boarded the train for Varanasi, which was an overnight train (12 hours) that was more like a cattle car, and not just bc it smelled like one. The train car we were in probably held a few hundred people, all in one large sleeper cabin where the beds were divided into rooms of 4, all seperated from the others by a piece of cloth. I should mention that the toilets are literally a hole you have to somehow squat over, which dumps directly onto the train tracks. I guess this helps to explain the smell of urine throughout the entire trip. And you know what? As nasty as it was, I slept like a baby and would do it all again in a heartbeat.
We woke up in Varanasi, otherwise known as the city of Shiva, which is complete and utter chaos! We thought Delhi was overwhelming, but it doesnt hold a flame to Varanasi! It's considered one of the holiest places in India, where Hindu pilgrims come to wash away a lifetime of sins in the Ganges or to cremate their loved ones. Varanasi is said to be the beating heart of the Hindu universe, a crossing place between the physical and spiritual worlds. The city is built all along the Ganges, which is viewed as a river of salvation where rituals of both life and death take place. Our hotel is situated at Assi Ghat, a ghat being the immediate area just above the Ganges. Our ghat is a bathing ghat, as most are, but several are burning ghats where bodies are cremated in public. Our first tour was of Sarnath, the Buddhist town where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon.
We sat along the Ganges, watching the bathers bath alongside buffalo, children slide down steep walls on old water bottles, and dogs antagonizing cows. Once the sun went down we headed for dinner. Did I mention yet that the power goes out pretty much every hour on the hour? Well it does, and being stuck in a small dark ally has a completely new meaning when you get hip-checked by a bull. The lights eventually came on and we made it safely to the restaurant. We hadn't eaten all day so we ordered just about everything on the menu. We didn't make it through half of the food on the table and had plenty of leftovers. Hummus, baba ganouj (sp?), veggie curry, and an entire sample platter cost us a whopping $6 total.
We went to bed early as we had to wake up at 4:30 the next morning to take a row boat along the Ganges to watch the bathers while the sun came up. This hour boat ride is by far the highlight of the trip! Every day about 60,000 Hindus go down to the ghats along the river to take a holy dip, and perform puja, a prayer/offering, to the rising sun. I'll have to try and send photos of this amazing event bc words cannot describe the calamity of it all. Thousands of people bathe in the water, men almost naked, women fully dressed in their saris. Priests make offerings at various temples along the river in elaborate displays using fire and smoke. Children push lotus flower candles down the river. Monks do yoga along the river banks. Men and women beg for food and money.
My favorite thing may be the holy men walking barefoot, dressed entirely in orange, with their hair in dreads, covered in ash from the bodies of the cremated. It's a fascinating way of life, a total commitment to religion and spirituality.
Delhi was hot but Varanasi is hotter! And apparently we came in the middle of a heat wave. It's been 45 degrees celcius which converts roughly to 115 F. Unbearable doesn't describe it.
designs all up and down our left arms.
Uh oh...there goes the power again. Does it matter were at the airport?
Well, were on our way back to Delhi for the night. It will be nice to go back to a place that serves meat in the restaurants and alcahol doesn't have to be smuggled by the hotel workers into your room. Tomorrow morning we head by car to Rishikesh, a mountain town 6 hours north of Delhi where we'll be white water rafting, hiking, boating and riding elephants.
Love you and miss you. India rocks :)