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February 3, 2017

India – Day 21 Migrating to Australia

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 2:19 pm
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21/10/16
On the train yesterday was an advertisement that advertised migrating to Australia. Another of the questions you continually get asked is "where you from"? I got sick of answering that, so I started saying India. It got laughs, and largely I could then avoid answering the question. So after seeing the sign yesterday, I thought today was a good day to migrate to Australia – aka go home!
It would have been nice to sleep in past about 7am, but then even that is a sleep in based on the past few days.
Did a final pack, and said a final goodbye to some who were around. Grabbed some tiger balm for 35 rupees! 35. How cheap, and the pharmacy over the road from the hotel was very quaint. A nice old guy ran it, he struggled with English a bit, but you have to have to respect him for giving it a go. I can’t do two languages.

One cool thing in India is that many of the packaged products come printed with the price on it. Very handy for when those vendors try to rip you off (this guy didn’t). Back in Jaipur at a shop in the bazar, I had one guy trying to charge me more than what was recommended. One look at the packaging told you how much you should have been paying and he quickly agreed to the lower price.

Leaving the hotel involved ignoring the beggar harassing us as we got into the car, then ignoring the banging on the window of the car as we drove off.
There was some kind of mosaic tiled roundabout on the way, with a few different sporting scenes pictured. Not sure what it was. Possibly put there when the Commonwealth Games was on in Delhi.

The mosaic roundabout

The mosaic roundabout

The drive to the airport was uneventful, it was pretty quiet and we arrived 3 and a half hours early… There’s only so long you can spend in an airport that doesn’t have all that much shopping.

Diwali is next week. The festival of light. The signs at the airport encourage you to spread the light, goodness, joy and happiness of the festive season. We celebrate Christmas, something we shouldn’t allow to be eroded by political correctness if we follow the Indian example. Other religions in India don’t believe in diwali, but it’s still celebrated freely and publicly.

Diwali Decorations

Diwali Decorations

Did some shopping, using the last of my rupees: a few Indian food souvenirs, chocolate bars and mission accomplished. All rupees successfully disposed of! Wondered how the guy in front of us managed to get on with at least 3 over sized bags, and another 3. How can you carry that many, why does the airline allow it…

So India. A land of contrasts. Cows that roam the streets freely. Because cows are like a god here in the hindu religion. It originated when they wanted a way to stop the people killing them for meat. So they told them off the value they had: dairy, milk, curd, cheese etc and that it was wrong to kill them. Supposedly the cows routine is to visit the temple in the morning to get the morning offerings in feed, then they wander to the markets to eat the foodscraps, a way of not wasting anything, they then spend time next to the roadside to get fresh air and they wander home via the temple in the arvo. Problem with that is that the cows don’t realise that’s the routine they’re meant to be following, most don’t have homes and you don’t get fresh air near the roads, it’s really polluted here. The cows are commonly found picking over the piles of rubbish at any time of the day, ignoring the “routine” and what they’re supposed to do. Mostly the cows will wander on the roads and everyone just goes around them: very few even toot their horns at them. They’d probably ignore it anyway.

Elephant at the Airport - The elephant is also pretty special in India

Elephant at the Airport – The elephant is also pretty special in India

Now they’re everywhere and have really reached plague status, with many thin and or unhealthy. Hardly the way to treat a god!
Next to the cows are the dogs. They’re feral and also everywhere, found picking over the rubbish and wandering the streets. Then comes the pigs, not so many in Varanasi area, but everywhere in Jaipur and Delhi. Not sure how the pigs fit into Hinduism, I suspect the Muslims just followed the Hindus cow example.
Then if the cows, dogs or pigs aren’t picking over the rubbish, you’ll see humans doing it. The level of poverty is high, many barely surviving. Ads in the paper would often have a photo of a body found at a train station, asking who the dead person was. I suspect many would go unidentified.

The food overall was pretty good, I think the hottest food I was served was on the planes, so if you don’t like hot food, you’ll still be ok in India.

And that was India. The plane arrived pretty much on time, I zipped through customs and then back to reality – quiet, smooth roads, peace and quiet, no horns and many many less people!

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February 2, 2017

India Day 20 – Jaipur to Delhi

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 9:32 am
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20/10/16

It was essentially my last full day in India today and in keeping with the tradition, I was up at some super crazy time again, leaving at 5am for the Jaipur Railway Station. Zigzagging through the streets at that time was quicker, but not a lot. I was surprised how much traffic there was and once we got to the station, it was a traffic jam. The station is home to many people, literally. As we arrived, there were many sleeping in and around the area of the station, owning nothing but the clothes they were in and the rug or cardboard they were covered by. Some begged a little, some hassled you a bit, but at that time, most were still asleep.

Jaipur Railway Station

Jaipur Railway Station

The train looked more modern, the carriages were double decker, but the train was still around 20 carriages long. It was an express train, but somehow stopped at nearly every station and even in between. It arrived about 3 hours late, not bad for a 2 hour journey.

Beside the train, Jaipur

Beside the train, Jaipur

The approach into Delhi central station is not one you would expect of a capital city. The side of the railway line was a stream of shelters of rusty iron held together with rusty nails, serving as shelter for thoursands, clothes, often not much more than rags, hung from whatever was available, kids and women sat in the dust outside, while piles of rubbish could be seen on the rooves of the shelters and surrounding areas. The rusty iron soon gave way to a more improved standard of dwelling – two storey brick buildings with external ladders to get to the second storey. Both types of dwellings weren’t much more than a few square meters in size, but nearly all had satellite dishes…

The slum area, just near Delhi

The slum area, just near Delhi

The contrast in life styles was stark, as less than a few meters away, people sat on a train immersed in their phones, oblivious to the surrounding area and the struggles of many just to survive.
Back in Delhi the waiting continued as there were only 2 taxis arranged for 17 of us. Just another example of the lack of organization from our tour leader, but that’s another issue.

The contrasts in life, slums and phones

The contrasts in life, slums and phones

Outside our hotel we were greeted by a lady and her young child begging. They tugged on us, then followed us to where we had lunch, kindly waited outside for us, then followed us back to the hotel. As harsh as it sounds, giving the beggars nothing is the best thing for them. It reinforces that it’s ok to ask for money, without having to do anything in return, it perpetuates the cycle from one generation to another and in the long term does more harm. Often too, there’s a ring leader behind the beggars, who take almost all the money given to the beggaras, leaving them with barely enough to provide food. The circumstances the beggars find themselves in doesn’t diminish their value as a human, they still have thoughts and feelings and are loved by God, our challenge as a society is to find a way to help them without hurting further, a way that will bring about lasting change and a change in mindset, enabling them to realise they are loved and valued, and helps them utilise their gifts and untapped potential within. Training, shelters, rehab, childcare may all help, but whatever the solution is, it won’t come easily or cheaply.

At Delhi, finally!

At Delhi, finally!

After a quick lunch a few of us went to Qutab Minar, built around 1193. Took the metro out there, which was really easy. It was a little busy buying tickets, and it was interesting to note that some of the Indians got upset with those who started to queue jump – that was quite satisfying given our experience earlier in the trip. Once at the Qtuab Minar station, we thought we’d get a tuktuk the last part. Got a couple who agreed on a price, then just as we got in the drivers started saying it was more and they were going to take us shopping as well. Climbed out, tried another, argued with them and we started walking. It wasn’t that far anyway, just would’ve given us more time to look around when we were there, because it was already late. There were a couple of nice looking parks around this area if you have time to explore, one with some interesting rules!

The rules for the park, near Qutab Minar

The rules for the park, near Qutab Minar

At the Qutab Minar complex, the main part of the structure is a single minaret, a 73m tower of victory, towering above the surrounding buildings. The stones are engraved with verses of the quran, and the area is meant to record the triumph of muslim rule. There’s also an iron pillar, 7.21m high, weighing over 6T and in over 1000 years is yet to rust. That’s one impressive piece of workmanship. Overall, most parts of the complex were in remarkably good shape given its age.

Qutab Minar

Qutab Minar

The same tuk tuk drivers we tried to get to take us to the area were there on the way out, as we expected. We gave them a wide berth and jumped in another for the trip back to the Carol Bagh metro station. Half way there one of our drivers says I’ll take you to the shops… We told him no shopping, no talking, so he turned the music up loud and drove along, wondering why we weren’t answering his questions the odd time he asked. Who knew those things did music! Great sunset as we jumped on the train. It was peak hour going back into Central Delhi, so the train was packed, but pushing is an Indian national sport, up there with hockey and cricket, so we just joined in.

Ruins at Qutab Minar

Ruins at Qutab Minar

Qutab Minar Station

Qutab Minar Station

Sunset from Qutab Minar Station

Sunset from Qutab Minar Station

Tonight was our final meal together with our group and we got back just in time to wander up to the roof top restaurant of the hotel. The meal at our hotel (Hotel Perfect) was quite good, reasonably priced and they did a good job of hosting our larger group.

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.

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
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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

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