Thumper…

January 31, 2017

India Day 19 – Jaipur City Palace

19/10/16
Earlier in the day was the Amber Fort. In the arvo, I headed to the city palace, in Jaipur itself, another opulent palace with extravagant decorative structures and fittings. There was a textile museum with both mens and womens clothing from centuries ago that was ornately decorated with beetle wings. Polo and billiards were introduced by the British around 1819 with sample costumes of the era in display. A weapons museum and the royal room were another couple of highlights and the four peacock doors in another section where one was restored looked magnificent.

Pink buildings at the City Palace

Pink buildings at the City Palace

Unfortunately Jantar Mantar Observatory, literally just across the road, closed at 5pm, just after I’d left the palace, and headed there. I would have liked to have gone there as well, but the palace was definitely worth visiting. Beware of the tuk tuk drivers outside of the palace, they’ll hassle you as much as they can and become your shadow outside the palace.

Outside the City Palace

Outside the City Palace

From there a few of us headed toward the bazaar in the city centre area for a few last minute souvenirs. Before we even got there though, we found a cool shop, Pachouli, that had a vast array of clothes, scarves and homewares that were well made and very reasonably priced. That’s near the city palace and the Tripolia Gate Bazar, they are well worth a visit if you’re looking for any reasonably priced small gifts for friends, or clothes for men, women or children or any kind of homewares like tea towels, towels or tablecloths.

It was around here that we encountered our “follower” for the second time. He’d introduced himself in the city palace to us, then “appeared” just as we were leaving Pachouli. He popped up again a couple of times in the bazar streets, then as he popped up again, we decided it was time to get out of there fast. You can’t accidentally bump into people around those crowded street bazars that many times – and we’d walked a fair way.

The bazar area was a tour through different areas with similar shops, a heap of stationery and book shops, some clothes areas, and general goods. Crowded narrow streets decorated with lights for the upcoming Diwali festival added to the atmosphere.

The streets at night, Jaipur

The streets at night, Jaipur

Our tuk tuk ride back was interesting – 5 of us jumped into a tuktuk for 4, got a few weird looks from the locals as normally it’s them travelling like that, not us! And the traffic at that time of the night was crazy. Jaipur is also getting ready for diwali, the annual hindu festival of lights, equivalent to Christmas for us. It’s next week, if it’s crazy now, I imagine it will be much worse next week.
Had a nice evening sitting in the lawn area of the Hotel Arya Niwas to finish up the day. Excellent hotel if you’re looking for a place to stay in Jaipur. Lovely lawns, restaurant (vegetarian), rooms and library. There’s also a nice little gift shop with a good selection of very reasonably priced souvenirs.

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January 29, 2017

India Day 19 – Jaipur, Amber Palace

19/10/16
Fort, palace and shopping filled in the day today.
We drove past Hawa Mahal on our little scenic detour last night, not realising what it was. Actually even when we stopped to take photos this morning, I didn’t realise what it was. It wasn’t explained to us then, but at least I knew what it was called. It was built in 1799 for the ladies of the royal household to watch what was going on in the city, such as processions and general life, so that they didn’t have to mingle with the people.

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

From there we went to Amber Fort or Amber palace. The fort is actually higher up the hill, and it’s the palace that you look around, but it’s mostly referred to as Amber Fort. Either way, it was really stunning. The steps up to the fort look more difficult than they are but the elephants make light work of it. The elephant drivers are typical drivers and a few could be seen on their mobile phones while driving the elephants! Not sure how good the conditions are that they’re kept in.

Talking and driving on the elephant

Talking and driving on the elephant

The entrance to the fort consisted of food vans, snake charmers and of course people, but would have to have been the worst I’ve encountered in terms of hawkers (at least in India). They were persistent, in your face and extremely annoying, not taking no for an answer. They were selling a great variety of things, with not much actually related to the fort.

Pigeons reach plague proportions in India (much like the hawkers)

Pigeons reach plague proportions in India (much like the hawkers)

The fort stands on the hill, an impressive structure, visible from the surrounding plains, an ever present reminder of the dynasties that flourished, but no longer exist, the concentrated opulence of a few, on display for the world to see, a reminder of times past, existing now to serve the town in tourism only.

Amber Palace from the outside

Amber Palace from the outside

It is well preserved, the walls able to tell stories dating hundreds of years. The large courtyard in the fort was once home to the hustle and bustle of markets and town life, the fort walls containing the town of Jaipur until it was moved to the plains, part of the reason being the plains were more suited to the <a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jantar_Mantar,_JaipurJantar Mantar observatory.

Jaipur

Jaipur

Mirrors decorate different parts of the palace in the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors). Shining a light on the mirrors makes the ceiling twinkle like stars at night, a spectacular feature of the palace. In other areas marble wall carvings, columns and arches abound.

Mirrored Ceiling, Amber Palace

Mirrored Ceiling, Amber Palace

The golden cage was interesting. It was where the wives and harem of the king lived. 12 wives, 132 others. The 12 rooms of the wives looked on to the courtyard, but all were kept separate. There were secret passages inside the walls so that the king could walk between each and nobody could see where he was visiting. The area had hot and cold running water, latrines, wheelchair access and a special area set aside for the women to give birth. It was ahead of its time, but if I was a woman from that era, I wouldn’t want to live there: the “golden cage” nickname a clue as to how the women were treated.

Some rooms of the golden cage, Amber Palace

Some rooms of the golden cage, Amber Palace

The drive back in the tuk tuk was through some narrow crowded lanes – and for the first – and surprisingly only – time our tuk tuk was involved in a little scrape after we were nudged from behind by a bus I think. It was significantly bigger than us, but our driver jumped out and was ready to have a fight with the other driver who took great amusement at our drivers animated antics.

The old and newer... Elephant and Tuk Tuk

The old and newer… Elephant and Tuk Tuk

Lunch at the the Hotel Arya Niwas was good as usual. More on today later…

January 27, 2017

India Day 18 Tordi Gah to Jaipur

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 3:59 pm
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18/10/16

Another early morning, up in the cool and dark to hike up the hill to see the sunrise from the fort at Tordi, which was really worth doing.

Different colours

Different colours

I’m glad we walked up the hill in the dark though, as there were some fairly steep sections, which if you could see them, may have messed with your head. I’m sure it’s always easier to walk up the hard parts in the dark without knowing what you’re in for.

Lake in the morning light, Tordi Gah

Lake in the morning light, Tordi Gah

It was a great view of the area from the top. The fort was fairly small, especially if you’re comparing it to the big forts in Agra, Delhi and Jaipur. It was only a small kingdom also, so a smaller fort does make sense. The sun came up really quickly, and seemed to pick up where it left off last night colour wise. It came up a brilliant pink colour and brought a soft glowing light to the surrounding area. Sitting at the top was nice and peaceful. No horns, no people, nice and cool and some biscuits and tea to fill the gap.

Time for a rest while drinking in the view (and water)

Time for a rest while drinking in the view (and water)

After watching the sunrise, I took a quick look around the overgrown fort ruins. Most of the fort was just ruins, some brick walls and wells hidden beneath the vegetation, hidden reminders of an era long gone. I’m not sure there’d be enough to even try to restore if they wanted to.
We wandered back down, getting a view of the others side of the hill and the dam in the distance.

The few willing to make the hike

The few willing to make the hike

After the fort hike, there was time for a bit of recovery, then off for a walk around the village. It was just a normal rural Asian village, people walking around, or going about their normal morning routine like washing, getting to work, school etc. The population is about 1500 and most earn their living from subsistence farming, so the addition of tourists has been good, but it needs to be monitored a little so that the kids don’t take advantage of the tourists for thing like money etc.

Generations, Tordi Gah

Generations, Tordi Gah

From there our short stay in the village was over and we headed to Jaipur. Tordi Gah was a great little detour and while there’s not much to do, that is also part of the attraction. You’re able to get away from the noise, hustle and bustle of tourist India and take some time out.

Tordi Gah guest house with fort in the background

Tordi Gah guest house with fort in the background

Once in Jaipur, our tour leader took us on a short walk (march) to the old city area – going past the shops too fast to actually see much. We ended up visiting another couple of tourist shops, one which demoed block printing, then of course tried to sell us things like linen, scarves, etc, then on to a gem shop for the same type of thing. At least they give you free drinks at these shops, but it gets a bit boring if you’re not there to buy anything.

Shopping can be boring

Shopping can be boring

We were driven back to our hotel by a guy who owns the gem shop. He spends 2 months in Italy, then comes back to India for 2 months, back to Italy for 2 months etc. He was great, very informative and would probably make a great tour guide! The traffic at night around the city centre in Jaipur is crazy and our driver gave us a good tour of the city after he unintentionally took the scenic route. It would have been good to get to see the park at night, that was lit up well and looked really cool.

Elaborate candelabra, Jaipur gem shop

Elaborate candelabra, Jaipur gem shop

January 22, 2017

India Day 17 – Tordi Gah

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 9:44 pm
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17/10/16

Up early and caught a public bus to a mid way point along the side of the road, where we swapped to a private bus to take us to Tordi Gah.
As we were leaving Agra, we drove past a few areas on the city which looked like rubbish tips, but had people living under tarps and tents. It was just a reminder that some don’t have (or choose not to have) the comforts we take for granted. The drive from Agra to Jaipur was on a nice highway, or tollway, and thankfully relatively free of cows. I think this was the only time I actually saw a dead cow, there’s really not much chance of avoiding them at 100km an hour and it would make a bit of a mess if you hit one.

Tents, Home, Agra

Tents, Home, Agra

We drove through Jaipur to get to the rural village of Tordi Gah. The countryside on the drive here looked a lot like Kenya/Tanzania, unending desert like plains, with the odd hill rising out of the dust. The land wasn’t as sparse though, with a reasonable cover of low grass tufts and trees, whose branches were covered in thorns. Shepherds, or stockmen, sometimes just young boys, would take their sheep, goats or cows out to find feed.

Goats in the village, Tordi Gah

Goats in the village, Tordi Gah

As the bus struggled down the narrowing dirt roads, we guessed we were getting closer. The fort ruins on top of the hill signalled we were close to the village of Tordi, which has a population of about 1500.
At Tordi we checked in to the guest house there, and went on a drive through the village. We went to a step well, where no matter how deep or shallow the water is, you can take the steps down to the water level. The well isn’t used anymore and the water that was in it was stagnant. Makes you wonder how the water was kept fresh when it was a working well.

The steps at the well, Tordi Gah

The steps at the well, Tordi Gah

After that we went to a dam, which seemingly appeared out of nowhere – it was just not where you’d expect to see a dam and it looked like it had been a long time since it had been anywhere near full.

The other direction - not a lot of water

The other direction – not a lot of water

Here you could also walk down the side of the wall with wide steps taking you to the bottom. We had a good view of the sunset from here and were happy to sit there and watch it. But, there was a better place to watch it we were told, so we headed to the sand dune area and climbed the sand dune to watch the sun go down. The sand was nice beach sand, just thousands of miles away from a beach! The sand dune did indeed provide a great view of the sunset and surrounding area and was worth the walk up there.

Varying colours, sunset, Tordi Gah

Varying colours, sunset, Tordi Gah

We finished the night with a meal on the rooftop overlooking the village. Our hosts for the night pumped up the music for a while, which must have really annoyed the whole area, because it was otherwise so quiet. I found it interesting that the dances they did were meant to tell a story – to be perfectly honest I couldn’t pick the story from the dance, it didn’t line up at all!

Blue lights in our room, Tordi Gah

Blue lights in our room, Tordi Gah

The place we stayed in was a 300 year old property, one that the ruler of the local area used to live in. It had been well converted, air con, fans, bathrooms and it was better than some of the other places. The accommodation provided income for 30 families in the village.

January 16, 2017

India Day 16 – Agra

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 7:26 pm
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16/10/16

The train was late arriving, so we didn’t get in until about 9.30ish. That wasn’t too much of a problem except that we only essentially 24 hours in Agra, so it was going to be tight to fit in a few things to see. The train was another interesting journey – this time we were sharing a little cabin area with a young Indian guy who offered us his wifi and nicely turned his mobile into a hotspot for us. He also spoke a little English so he was happy to have a chat. We did the right thing and gathered our rubbish and put it all in a bag. We took it to the attendant, who, when seeing the bin was full, promptly tossed it out the window. Alongside the tracks is a parallel track of rubbish, it all just gets tossed out the window/door.

Train to Agra

Train to Agra

Once we go to our hotel and checked in, some of us decided to use the pool, but most of us headed to the red fort and were guided around by a local guide. I learnt a few cool things, all of which escape me now. One thing I can remember though, was that if they were invaded, they poured boiling oil down the front fort ramp. The guy, I presume the king, had 3 wives, a Christian, Muslim and hindu and some of the fort carving designs reflect the three religions.
From the fort you can see the Taj Mahal.

Agra Fort Entrance

Agra Fort Entrance

The fort is very impressive, especially when you consider they built it hundreds of years ago without machines.
After the fort there was time for a quick late lunch before heading to the taj mahal. I headed round the corner to Pizza Hut, where the staff broke into a couple of choreographed dances to entertain the customers.

Customer Service Dance, Pizza Hut Agra

Customer Service Dance, Pizza Hut Agra

The gates leading into the Taj Mahal are impressive and so are the security measures and queues.
There are gardens all around the taj and leading up to it, and are all well kept.
The queues to get into the actual Taj Mahal were enormous for Indians. It went around the base, then back around the court area when you’re actually on it. As foreigners we pay more for a ticket, so we get to go to the front of the queue. Saves hours!

High value ticket holders that way!

High value ticket holders that way!

Inside the actual Taj Mahal tomb area, it’s dark and there’s a couple of headstones. You file around it, or more accurately, are pushed around it by the Indians, and then you leave. Good thing it actually looks good outside otherwise it would be a waste of time! The forecourt of the tomb area and inside the tomb is made of marble and everyone wears shoe covers to protect it. You’re given shoe covers right back at the start when you get your tickets, so you need to keep them safe on the golf buggy to the complex, through the security gates and gardens and finally up to the entrance of the area! Don’t lose them or you might encounter the wrath of the security guard as you end up trying to steal a used one from the pile on the other side of the fence!

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

When I was there they were doing up one of the marinet’s and part of one side of it, so there was scaffold around some sections. The sun brought a golden glow over the mosques as the sun set on another day in India.

Sunset, Taj Mahal

Sunset, Taj Mahal

We managed to find a quiet place nearby, away from the crowds, but it was perfectly aligned with one of the marinets, so one was perfectly hidden, providing some odd looking photos. The marinets are also built at an angle of 95 degrees so if there’s an earthquake and they fall, they’ll fall outside, not on to the main area.

And then there were two. It just doesn't look right.

And then there were two. It just doesn’t look right.

After that we went to a restaurant where I had butter chicken which Agra is supposedly famous for. Tasted no different to the one in Delhi.

January 14, 2017

India Day 15 – Varanasi

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 2:42 pm
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15/10/16

No I don’t want a tuktuk!!
No you can’t take a picture with me!
Just a couple of the questions we consistently get asked while we are out. It seems to be fashionable for Indians to ask white people to pose with them for a photo. After the first few times, it ceases to be fun.

Des and a few cadets, Sarnath

Des and a few cadets, Sarnath

Headed to the Sarnath area today. This was the place where buddha preached his first sermon and the laws of buddhism were founded. Also saw the archaeological ruins of the earlier Buddhist monastries and went through the Sarnath Archeological Museum, which not surprisingly had a lot of old things in it… very old! Most of these were found when the area was being excavated during the 1800’s and early 1900’s, and the museum itself was opened in 1910. Some of the items are very well preserved and some are dated at 250BC. Even if you’re not interested in the museum, it’s really cheap and is air conditioned. It provides a nice break from the heat outside.

Dhamekh Stupa, Sarnath

Dhamekh Stupa, Sarnath

The gardens in general, especially in the ruins area, are nice and cool(ish/er), with the absence of the hustle and bustle of the streets and car horns bringing welcome peace. It was just unfortunate that we happened to time our visit perfectly with the hundreds of cadets who were visiting at the same time – who of course wanted photos with us. Unfortunately there was some guy there who decided he wanted a souvenir of the area and broke off a few bricks, then helped himself to them from the ruins. I don’t know why people would do that, there’s enough destruction of historical landmarks happening across the world as it is, without some rouge guy doing more damage.

Excavation area, Sarnath

Excavation area, Sarnath

Saw the Sri Lankan Buddhist temple and I think the Thai one, different styles of buildings, but by then I’d had enough, so I think I may have missed a few of the others.

The trip back to the hotel was similar to the one there. An autorickshaw (tuktuk) motoring (when possible) through chaotic streets at a rather slow pace due to the traffic. I think it was another public holiday today. It’s always interesting driving through the streets though, because it lets you observe everyday life. We saw the “milk market” where milk is bought and sold in the mornings – this was a gathering of a heap of people, with some large milk cans around the place, motor bikes, people shopping, cooking, getting to work, street stalls, waiting for the buses, bringing offerings to the small hindu temples on a few street corners – the list was endless, all the while dodging cows and traffic.

The crowd behind is the milk market, Varanasi

The crowd behind is the milk market, Varanasi

Some of the buses looked like they’d been in a few scrapes, either heading down roads too narrow, or more than likely, pushing their way into lanes of traffic and scraping against the side. It was a reminder not to hang out the side of the autorickshaw at all, you never knew what you could crash into!

Seen better days - Bus, Varanasi

Seen better days – Bus, Varanasi

Later that arvo I headed to catch a last look at the Ganges river before catching the train to Agra.
It was another autorickshaw to the train station, through the traffic, then on to the train for the night. As soon as the train started pulling into the station, the Indians in the lower class carriages started running and jumping on the train, some even through the windows, obviously so that they could get a good seat for the night. That’s something unique to India. Note that the picture below is not our carriage!

Carriage to Agra (not ours)

Carriage to Agra (not ours)

January 12, 2017

India Day 14 – Varanasi Sunrise

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 9:49 pm
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14/10/16

Today we were up at 5am to go down to the Ganges River and see the sunrise over the river.
On the edge of the river each morning and evening they have a Hindu ceremony, just before/as the sun rises and just after it sets.

Morning hindu ceremony, Varanasi

Morning hindu ceremony, Varanasi

We headed to the middle of the river, then just drifted a km or so down the river over the next hour, listening to the silence, waiting for the sun to rise, enjoying the nice pale purple glow. Once the sun actually appeared, it came up quite quickly, turning the water to a glistening light orange, gradually strengthening to a bright orange sun that slowly brought the heat.

Bright orange at sunrise on the Ganges, Varanasi

Bright orange at sunrise on the Ganges, Varanasi

As we started motoring back, the ghat steps along the river began to come to alive, telling of life in Varanasi: bathing in the river, clothes washing, offering to the gods, it all happens just after sunrise, while it’s a lot cooler.

On the steps in the morning, Ganges, Varanasi

On the steps in the morning, Ganges, Varanasi

As the day dawned on the second cremation site, it looked like nothing more than an area where a few people had enjoyed a party around a campfire, the main site though, which is a lot busier, was really untidy. The ashes from the cremations are scattered over the Ganges, but despite the uses of the river, apparently it is still fairly clean and has a high oxygen level because the water comes fresh from the mountains.

Main cremation site, Varanasi

Main cremation site, Varanasi

The Ganges also has a reputation for having dead bodies in it. We saw no dead bodies floating in the river, but if you do see one, it is either a holy man (ie priest), a child or pregnant woman, as none of those can be cremated according to hindu custom. After the bodies are placed in the river, they have to end up somewhere and often on the other side of the river down steam a bit where the poor people recover them and eat them, or the dogs eat them.

Contemplating, on the ghat steps at sunrise, Ganges River, Varanasi

Contemplating, on the ghat steps at sunrise, Ganges River, Varanasi

After returning from the sunset cruise, I had breakfast then went for a walk into the town area with Miriam. It’s chaos in the centre, with people and vehicles (rickshaws, tuk tuks, cars etc) everywhere, but we found a little haven in a small supermarket shop that sold spices and stuff, as well as normal food, and spent a while there. I always find it interesting checking out what’s sold in other countries. Plus it was air conditioned, which is always good in very hot humid weather. I tried to buy a small packet of popcorn, it was the last one I could find on the shelf. But when I got to the checkout, it scanned as “out of stock”. The cashier kindly informed me that I couldn’t buy it because we don’t have any of these left, as he studies the item in his hand a little closer… It was no use saying anything, his computer system had told him it was out of stock and there was no way he could sell that item in his hand!

Power, Varanasi

Power, Varanasi

Just over the road we found a store that sold sweet lolly / chocolate type stuff, except it wasn’t chocolate (just looked like it), and we also spent some time there… we bought a couple of things and stood there in the shop and ate them. Yes, it was also air conditioned…

We left the chaos behind, at least for a time, on the way back, wandering back through some of the small back alley streets that were people’s homes. With narrow alleys lined by taller buildings, it was much cooler (but still warm), as the suns strong rays didn’t quiet reach that far. We had no idea where we were, but we just headed in the general direction we wanted to go and followed the paths. It was a lot quieter here without the hustle and bustle. To start with these little lanes were clean, but still smelt terrible; as we went deeper they weren’t clean and still smelt. At one point there was a visible change, it was clean and tidy, but you could also feel the change in atmosphere. I looked around, and realised we’d just entered the Muslim quarters. It was a Friday and there were lots of men in white robes and hats hanging around. The other areas had women out and about, but in this area there were no women, apart from one muslim lady, head down, who was being led by a young boy, maybe 7 or 8, presumably her son.
Got some strange looks through all of those alleys as I don’t think they see any foreigners through that area. Found our way back to the main road and eventually made it back to the hotel. A 4 hour walk in primarily the heat of the day… Not surprisingly I didn’t do much for the rest of the arvo.

January 9, 2017

India Day 13 – Varanasi

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 9:01 pm
Tags: , , , ,

13/10/16

The Indian overnight train:
I’ve been on overnight trains in Russia, Mongolia, China (two trips) and Vietnam, so I have a fairly good idea of what to expect, although all have their differences and are unique in their own way. Our train to Varanasi was unique in that our group ended up in 3 different carriages (random apparently) and it was the first time I’d been on the train with a drunk who threw up all over the carriage floor. (The Russians may have been drinking all night, but they could handle their drinks!) Heather and I shared a little compartment with Mike and Des, an English couple on our tour. We had a great time and spent hours laughing as we travelled to Varanasi. There were Indian sellers who walked through the train selling random things – we couldn’t figure out what they were saying, so we made it up. There were a couple of younger guys at the end of our carriage who were our attendants. Actually I’m not really sure what they did, but we did strongly suggest to them that they clean up after the Indian guy who got a little ill (and missed the basin). These guys obviously have some power, as they ended up stopping the train and grabbing some supplies (sticks, branches etc) to help in the clean up. We had a little chat to them, they may have been around 18 I think from memory, and were happy to be working on the trains. They told us that the train was 22 carriages long, 72 people in each and 200 extras like staff etc. That made a rough total of about 1784 on the train and it was mostly full. I say rough, because all the carriages weren’t sleepers and there was also a restaurant carriage. Not sure whether that was included in the 22 or not, but either way, it was a pretty long train with a lot of people on it.

The train, arrival at Varanasi

The train, arrival at Varanasi

We arrived in Varanasi around 7am, which was a little later than scheduled, but not too bad. We piled into tuktuks who then proceeded to race each other to the hotel. It didn’t bother us too much, but I don’t think our tour leader was too impressed.

Got to the hotel too early to check in (not til 2pm) but could have breakfast and connect to wifi. For some reason our tour leader decided to wait until after check in before having our orientation walk, so we had the morning free. A few of us decided to go for a walk, so we headed down the road towards the centre of the town – past the typical shops, rickshaws, cows, dogs, rubbish and people asking us if we needed a lift.

Rubbish

Rubbish

We found the Ganges River and happened to stumble upon one of two sites where they do Hindu cremations. You can’t take photos of the actual cremation fire, but I have some from a distance somewhere. It’s hard not to, blazing fires on a river bank tend to stand out… it’s not that exciting: piles of wood and you can’t see the actual body as it is wrapped in brightly coloured fabric and clothes.

Piles of wood for the cremations, Varanasi

Piles of wood for the cremations, Varanasi

Wandered along the river edge for a while, you could also see where the river had flooded a while ago leaving lots of mud deposits. A couple of girls tried on a few sarees then back to the hotel to check in.

Rowing the Ganges, Varanasi

Rowing the Ganges, Varanasi

In the afternoon our group jumped in a cycle rickshaw, which is a little small and has no suspension. It really is uncomfortable and is almost easier to walk. From the city centre our tour leader marched us through the chaos and down the little market alley ways. We were going too fast to see much or stop and look at anything – just managed to dodge cows and people.  We were taken to a shop that sold silk, pashmina and cashmere and learnt how to tell the difference between real and fake.  It was actually quite informative, but a little too late for one who’d bought a saree on our earlier walk that was “genuine silk”.  We spent a fair while there before heading down to catch our boat for the sunset cruise.

Colourful sarees in the air con shop!

Colourful sarees in the air conditioned shop!

The river is very different at night, there are boats everywhere, and a loud hindu ceremony takes place in two different areas on the river. As the ceremony begins, the noise travels across the open water making it seem much louder than it really is, interrupting the warm peaceful night and the quiet noise of the water splashing against the boat. Closer to the shore, the large crowd gathered on the nearby ghat becomes visible, boats full of onlookers jostle for viewing space in the water and young kids jump from boat to boat selling candles, lights or anything else. The lights from the buildings on the shore reflect on the water. Those same lights also light up the night sky, as do the slowly dying fires from the cremations. Hundreds of small tea light candles float down the river, placed there by those wanting to trust in the hindu gods by making a wish for a better life.

Evening hindu ceremony, Varanasi

Evening hindu ceremony, Varanasi

January 8, 2017

India Day 12 – Delhi

Delhi – 12/10/16

Started off the day with a trip on the metro to the Chandni Chowk area. That was kind of cool and the fact that you can buy tickets at the window makes it a million times better than our metro rail system in Victoria.
Went to the old part of Delhi by metro and then jumped in a cycle rickshaw. Got pedalled through the chaos to the place called the Friday Mosque, or Jama Masjid in Delhi. (Jama Masjid just refers to the main mosque of a town, city or town.) I always feel a little bad making these guys pedal around with us on the back when I’m quite capable of walking, but at least they’re earning some money to live on rather than begging, which is always a good thing.

Peddle Harder!

Peddle Harder!

This place was completed in 1655 and is undergoing renovations in places. The steep steps provide a glimpse of Indian contrasts. We have the hustle and bustle of people trying to sell you things, bus loads of tourists following the little flag on the stick while trying to avoid climbing the steps (you can’t), locals hassling the tourists for photos, locals trying to avoid all of the commotion and get to their mosque just to worship, some just sitting there taking in the view and yet others, who call the steps home and just wanting to continue sleeping. The mosque is free to enter, with a 300 rupee charge for taking photos – and they do search you for phones and cameras. You also get to wear these brightly coloured daggy gowns (sorry, I didn’t take any photos!) as the commotion of the steps continues to the entrance where they dress all the women up in the gowns that look like something your great grandmother wore as a nightie! Once inside the crowds disperse and some kind of reverence returns to this muslim place of worship. The hot steps of the mosque also provide views of the impressive red fort.

Entrance, Jama Masjid, Delhi

Entrance, Jama Masjid, Delhi

Directly out the gate of the mosque is fire cracker lane. Unfortunately our tour leader led us so fast down this lane and the others that we didn’t have any chance to stop and take a closer look. It looked interesting as we dodged shops that overflowed on to the footpath, people sitting around and fire buckets in case there were some unexpected fireworks… All the while keeping our wits about us, trying to watch where we were going, what we were walking on and all while avoiding walking into anyone or anything.

Fireworks, Old Delhi

Fireworks, Old Delhi

Around the corner to the Sikh temple, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib in Chandni Chowk. In all my travels, I hadn’t been in a sikh temple before, so this was a new experience for me. We met in a little room nearby, where we covered our heads with a scarf (even the men) and took off our shoes. They assured us we didn’t have to walk far with no shoes – I don’t think any of us were concerned about the distance, more so what we had to walk on to get there… Getting there was fine – via a shaded marble footpath that was part of the temple, to the actual temple entrance where everyone washed their feet and hands.

Ready for the Sikh Temple, Chandni Chowk

Ready for the Sikh Temple, Chandni Chowk

Inside the temple it was a mix of old and new. The building was hundreds of years old, but the musicians were using ipads and iphones and the words to the songs were displayed on big screen tv’s around the place. It looked like a continual service rather than a set time. The musicians looked like they’d been there a while and most people seemed to just come and go, rather than take up a permanent position (all kneeling, no seats) for the duration. It gave the place a busyness that perhaps you wouldn’t expect at a place of prayer within the temple – certainly in our Christian church services we would lose an element of reverence and intimacy with God if there was a continual flow like that. On the other hand, if we still had set service times, which the Sikhs may even do, and allowed people to come and go during the other times, perhaps it would give many people’s faith a new life. The Sikhs don’t cut their hair and the men wear a turban. They also believe that everyone’s equal – no caste system and should be allowed freedom to practise their own religons.

The offering bins at the front were always available and out the back they were counting these offerings. Piles and piles of notes, with more than a dozen people counting.

Counting the money, Sikh Temple, Chandni Chowk

Counting the money, Sikh Temple, Chandni Chowk

The kitchen was another fascinating place. Pots big enough for me to stand in cooked up a free meal for anyone and everyone. Really, there should be no excuse for anybody being hungry or begging for food with a sikh temple nearby. We had the option of eating here or getting something nearby. Without hesitation all of us said something nearby…

Big pots, Sikh Temple, Chandni Chowk

Big pots, Sikh Temple, Chandni Chowk

Leaving the temple was a little interesting – we walked back down the crowded street to get our shoes. I’m sure we were getting some funny looks from locals. Nobody walks along those streets with no shoes. Everything happens on those streets… you know like, spilling food, dogs, spitting… and more but let’s not go any further! That’s where we wished we could’ve washed our feet, then put our shoes back on.

From there we had lunch, left our guide, and a few of us went to the Red Fort, built in the 1600’s, where we were the exhibits, with everyone wanting a picture with us or English lessons from us.

It’s staggering to think that these buildings were built nearly 400 years ago, no machines and all done by hand when you look at the materials, detail and architectural structures. They sure made buildings to last back then.

Red Fort Delhi (ruined by a finger, sorry!)

Red Fort Delhi (ruined by a finger, sorry!)

To get to the fort you walk past the old traditional market area, Chhatta Chowk, where you can shop and bargain for no doubt overly priced items, then through the gates and the undercover Meena Bazzar on the western side. Some parts of the fort are currently being restored in places. The immaculate gardens are great to relax in (until we ran out of patience with the locals asking us for pictures) and would be even better if there was water running in some areas that were originally built for that. It would really give the place a bit of extra life. I remember the gardens and palaces in St Petersburg had water running through them and it brought so much more life. Guess they have a few less people and a little more water to spare! Interesting though, the water served a functioning purpose, where it flowed through the channels as a form of air conditioning, keeping the place cool.

Diwan-i-khas, Red Fort, Delhi

Diwan-i-khas, Red Fort, Delhi

In the gardens they have big open concert type pavillions. I’d love to give a concert in them, but perhaps I’d have to settle for just watching one. Not sure how the acoustics would be, but it’s a lovely setting!

Bhadon Pavillion, Red Fort Delhi

Bhadon Pavillion, Red Fort Delhi

Another thing to note in India – I’d say 90% of India’s tourist attractions charge foreigners extra to get in – not just a little extra, but 5-10 times more. The privilege that comes with that is that we either get to go to the front of the queue, or we get a special queue. That is a benefit worth paying for in most cases, as the queues can be enormous to get in. Of course once you’re in you still have to fight the crowds, but you can’t win everywhere I guess.

After the Fort, we headed back toward the hotel via the metro, which of course brings yet another unique Indian story… We’d queued, along with lots of locals, for quite a while to get tickets to get on – took around 20-25 minutes to get near the front of the queue. When we got near the front, we find all these others just pushing in to get their tickets. Not unusual, but not appreciated. One of us “politely” told them off (yelled at them), grabbed our tickets, then we all formed a bit of a barrier so that the other locals who’d queued with us for quite a while could grab theirs too. Was kind of funny, but sometimes we need to get a bit angry in these situations or we’d still be there.

Tonight was an overnight train journey, so we grabbed some subway for tea on the train and then went to the station and boarded the train. The train brings more fun and stories, but maybe they can wait til tomorrow!

January 7, 2017

India Day 11 – Delhi 11/10/16

Late check out from the hotel let me take advantage of the gym and the pool. Sachin, the waiter who looked after us for most of our meals at the hotel gave us a cake and milk shake as a last day farewell. It was nice, but not what you’d normally have for breakfast! Took some breakfast again for lunch, worked quite well.

If you need to call a taxi from the Gurgaon Hilton hotel (and don’t want to use their private cars), they will do it for you – you just have to insist a few times (ask for a public taxi). It took us a while, but eventually we got a taxi to Hotel Perfect, the tour starting hotel, then tried to look at a few of the tourist attractions in Delhi. Art Gallery: closed. Observatory: closed. Fort: closed. It’s a public holiday here today. So there’s people everywhere, roads are packed (or maybe that’s normal), fireworks going off, loud celebrations for the hindi celebrations, and oh, did I mention people everywhere.

Celebrations, outside our hotel, Delhi

Celebrations, outside our hotel, Delhi

Good thing was though they’d closed off the road around India Gate so we got to look at that a little closer and enjoy the atmosphere of a public holiday. Although why they’d choose to paint road lines when there are people everywhere is a mystery… guess it’s better than cars.

Painting the lines, India Gate, Delhi

Painting the lines, India Gate, Delhi

India Gate, inaugurated in 1931, used to be known as War Memorial Arch – because it is a war memorial. It commemorates Indian WW1 soldiers and Indian and British soldiers who died on the North West frontier. Under the arch is another memorial, the Amar Jawan Jyoti, which was erected to remember all fallen Indian soldiers. I’m not sure whether soldiers guard it all year round or not, but they were out in force today.

Solider, India Gate, Delhi

Solider, India Gate, Delhi

Then to Humayun’s tomb complex for a walk around. You need a couple of hours to visit this, just because there’s quite a lot to see. I thought Isa Khan’s garden tomb, which is off to the right as you come in the main entrance was perhaps the highlight. There wasn’t as many people there which probably helped and you were able to enjoy looking around a bit more. Isa Khan’s tomb is actually older than Humayun’s tomb and is an octagonal enclosed tomb complex with walls and mosque still intact. A lot of work has been done restoring it. Surrounding this tomb is a 3-4m high stone wall which you can walk on, although that hasn’t been restored to the same standard as the rest of the tomb yet.

Isa Khan’s Garden Tomb, Delhi

Isa Khan’s Garden Tomb, Delhi

The actual tomb of Humayun has been and is continuing to be, restored to original condition. It’s actually one of the closest buildings to the Taj Mahal in terms of style and has some great gardens surrounding the area. The birds at the tomb were enjoying the water, but the smell was something you can’t take a picture of!

Drove past the parliament house on the way back, which was a reasonably impressive building.

Parliament House, Delhi

Parliament House, Delhi

Met our tour group tonight for our Intrepid India Getaway Tour, 16 in it which is really too many, went for a meal and now back at the hotel listening to fireworks.

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