A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

Delhi part 2

Meeting the G Gang

sunny 37 °C

Our next tour group was led by a Dushyant, a very handsome, tall young Indian male model wearing Jodhpurs!
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Also on the trip were Jennifer and Steve - recently married.

Hannah - 32, UK, getting married, moving house and doing her trip of a lifetime all in the same few months! :0

Sam, 23 from oz - very brainy and bubbly Ozzie nurse out for 4 months travelling.
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Lindsey, gorgeous 23 year old from Canada. Lindsey is awesome - a bubblier, more positive person I've never met! (Reminds me of miss Donna Hayes!) Lindsey is out travelling for a year.
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Nick 29, hilarious young fellow from Norwich. Lives in London and works in politics, making policies.
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Next up Hugh & Stan, father and son fom Satchakewan (or something) in Canada. Sean is also a male model and is quite excited about the Buddhism part of our trip as he would like to become a Buddhist. Hugh is an accountant and is showing his son a bit of the world during this bonding session.
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Jeff and Maree, who you know from Udaipur. Great fun Ozzie couple, super fun and a great laugh.
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Sandra, 39, Texas - lovely bubbly American. Owns a gun and not afraid to use it! ;) Immersing herself in Indian culture and pretty much up for anything.
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Alison from Cambridge. Very nice gal on her hols from work and out to see some of India.
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Joe, mad yoke from the Phillippines. :)
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Kat, 27, Munich - my awesome roomie who is great fun and has superb English. Got along great with Kat! A better roommate I could not have asked for. :)
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And Me! Irish, talks too fast and has been extremely laid back this trip. In fact, I've only gotten irritated or cheesed off twice in the past 9 weeks. Score!
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So we had our intro meeting and then Dushyant brought us to a Sikh Temple where we volunteered in the kitchen rolling some Chapatis. These chapatis were less than perfect but were accepted with gusto none the less. Apparently the rounder your chappati, the better husband you'll get. uh oh.

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The Sikh temple gives out free meals to anyone of any race, religion, caste or creed, 3 times a day, every day of the year! (If ye'd any sense you'd build a house nearby to avail of these free meals, but that's not altogether in the right spirit of humanity!) All the food is donated and all the people working in the Temple are volunteering. It was very inspiring!

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Our dinner was a delicious thali and afterwards we went and sat in the temple and listened to the service for a while.

Later we were brought to the Gateway of India (closed at night) and off to Connaught Place for a wander around. Great day and Great new people! :)

Posted by squeakylee 00:20 Archived in India Tagged fun group delhi Comments (0)

Jaipur

The Pink City (it's more a terracotta colour really)

sunny 36 °C

So our trip didn't really include much of Delhi and we left first thing the next morning. I actually thought Delhi was a grand place. Very modern, big streets with actual pavements and traffic lights, and a good bit cleaner than the rest of India.

We had our own private air conditioned bus for the tour and we all hopped in it for our 6 hour trip to Jaipur. It felt a bit weird and familiar heading back into Rajhastan. The a/c was a bit annoying after a while, especially as I knew hopping in and out of it was just going to bring my cold back on but what can ye do. I stuck my ipod in my ears, looked out the window and had a bit of a snooze.
Just 2km from our hotel, the bus broke down. HA! I've been on public transport the whole past two months and nothings gone wrong. Get our own bus and BAM! it breaks down. So we tuk tuk'd it the rest of the way to our most amazing hotel, which was actually a palace! It was gorgeous and had lots of nice couches, plants and fancy pictures of short Sultans about the place. A member of the Royal family actually still lived there. And it had a swimming pool! Well HOT DOG! It was kits off and straight to the pool with us for the afternoon. Delightful! The pool was so clear and cool and super refreshing.

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Later Dushyant brought us round the town and through the markets, testing our knowledge of spices.

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Then we went to a super posh restaurant for dinner and had a great lol listening to one of our group reprimand Dushyant for the way the Indian people where treated when India was divided up after it got it's Independence. Joe, was from the Phillippines and he was giving out about how the politicians had made this decision for Indians without an election or vote. Dushyant explained that in 1947 a lot of Indian people could not read or write. Joe maintained that that type of thing never would have happened in his country. It's a pity he wasn't around then to ensure such things didn't take place. Poor auld Dushyant wasn't around and wasn't responsible for decisions made then. :D

Later we discovered Princess Diana had stayed in our hotel! Well if it was good enough for Lady Di...

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Poor Kat began to feel a bit ill and to be honest she never fully recovered from what was 'buggin' her for the whole trip. :(

The next day we hopped on our bus to see the Amber Fort - which was very impressive. We saw a guy on the ground outside rolling up the stairs in all his clothes! Apparently his wish had come true and to thank the gods, he had to roll up the stone steps to the fort. Naturally!

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We had a local guide for the Fort (palace) and he filled us in on all the history and interesting info on the gaff. It was fierce interesting. The Raj that built it, was overthrown by his third son who was a power hungry maniac. This son also killed his three other brothers just to be sure he could become Top Dog. He imprisoned his own father in the fort! Although his pop was imprisoned there, he was still brought a constant stream of consorts well into his old age and apparently he died from an overdose of Viagra. :D

(All of the above information may be wrong or factually incorrect. I'm writing this two weeks later and I'm not sure if I've muddled up the Red fort and the Amber fort info) . :D

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After another afternoon of beer and swimming back at our own palace swimming pool, we were brought to this awesome Cinema to see the Bollywood movie Himmatwala (Brave Man).

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Well I never! This was probably thee best movie I have ever seen and I didn't understand a word of it! (It was in Hindi). It was a bout a Brave Man who could punch a tiger in the face and knock him out, beat up a vanful of men in 5 seconds flat, dance amazingly and still manage 8 changes of clothes in 1 song, and obviously make the leading lady fall in love with him. It was awesome.
Here is the trailer...

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The cinema was packed with westerners (most of whom ceremoniously left after half an hour) and Indians alike. The Indians and our group (most of them) really enjoyed the movie and were going bonkers and laughing, whistling, hooting and dancing in the aisles (mostly the Indian lads) when the dance numbers came on. The cinema had cheap delicious popcorn, samosas and an interval! Best movie Ever.
Kat had to leave early due to being sick, but I filled her in on the whole dramatic outcome when I returned! Took me about half an hour to explain the whole 3 hours of it!

Posted by squeakylee 04:00 Archived in India Tagged fort jaipur bollywood amber himmatwala Comments (0)

Agra, The Red Fort & The Taj Mahal

overcast 39 °C

So off we headed on the bus to Agra the next morning. We made good time on the newly repaired bus so we went to see the Red Fort on the way to our hotel. We had another great local guide there and as he brought us round and explained all the info on the Fort. (insert your own imaginary story here - I've muddled up all the Raj's and what not)

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Later we were brought to the Taj and it was just as awesome as expected. It actually looked fake, like it was photoshopped into the background. It was built for Mumtaz Mahal by her husband. She died giving birth to his 14th child and he promised her, as she lay on her deathbed, that he would never remarry, look after all their children, and build a monument to represent his love for her that would astound and impress the world. And he did.
He also apparently paid off all the builders who worked on the Taj, making them promise they would never again build or replicate a building of such beauty again. The other rumour was that he chopped off their hands so they physically couldn't replicate the Taj. Believe whichever story ya like. :D

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After the Taj we went for a delicious dinner that apparently made Nick and Hannah sick the next day! Dropping like flies..... :/

I finished Shantaram - it was AWESOME. Also re read The Alchemist - it was ok - a bit meh. There's a lesson or message in there somewhere ... Possibly about travelling the world looking for something, that will inevitably turn out to be on your doorstep....

8)

Posted by squeakylee 04:34 Archived in India Tagged fort red mahal taj agra Comments (0)

Orchha

overcast 24 °C

As a good few of the group were under the weather, and as the weather itself was terrible, Dushyant cancelled our stay in luxury tents and instead booked us into a luxury hotel with a giant swimming pool and what seemed like never ending delicious buffets.

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To get to this HELLHOLE ( ;) ) we got a train to Jansi which was most pleasant, and then tuk tuks for about 45 minutes to the hotel. Along the way a humoungous windstorm whipped up and nearly blew the tuk tuk off the road (just as he was overtaking other cars of course). The wind hurled leaves, dust and rubbish into our faces! It was quite scary and pretty funny at the same time. It also seemed like everyone else was going in the opposite direction to us! :D hmmmmmmm

Our next hotel was fierce fancy, except that our room stunk! I think it was to do with the A/C but every time we returned to our rooms, the smell of sewerage was gross! I scared Kat with a tale I read on the internet about how some guy was nearly poisoned in his sleep by the stench in his hotel room. :D

Luckily we both didn't die and I ventured out with the rest of the gang to another cookery class later in the evening.
We went to a lovely lady's house and she showed us how to make Summer Chai, crispy poppadoms (forgotten already), and the most delicious aubergine curry I've ever tasted. All the food was nom.

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After this nomfest, a few of us waddled out to investigate the non-stop trance fest tha was going on outside our hotel. We snuck through the grounds of our fancy hotel, only to see a large chessboard of a dancefloor out in the middle of the grass! There were huge speakers set up on the 'board' adn the cheesy music was thumping out, deafening about 20 young Indians who were dancin and prancin and drinkin their heads off. AWESSOMME

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They invited us on to the dancefloor and on we went, bustin white-people dance moves wherever we landed. We seemed like realllly krap dancers in comparison to these wild, booty-shakin', hair-flippin, bust-wigglin dancers! And that was just the men! ; )
Anywho we had a great auld boogie and laugh at this awesome Indian Work Party! (WORK PARTY??) and stayed ravin for a good while until we had to retreat to protect our eardrums. : )

The next day we visited another temple/fort/palace with lots of nice paintings of all the various incarnations of Shiva..

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IN the afternoon we frolicked in the pool and later Dushyant brought us to a Hindu ceremony where we got to make a wish by twirling an incense stick clockwise three times! if only that worked! :) Hinduism seems bonkers to me - monkey gods and elephant gods and what not. It's all very interesting, but I can't help but think it's a bit mad. Possibly the maddest out of all the religions? Maybe I'm too close minded. Maybe there was indeed a young boy who's head was chopped off by his dad and replaced with the head of an elephant! Why the hell not!! science schmience..

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Later we got a jeep to the train station and hopped on a night train to Varanasi. My 8th and last ever night train in India. Thanks be to Ganesh! This night train however was quite pleasant and enjoyable and we gals had some right auld girly chats on the way to our last stop in India - Varanasi. 8)

Posted by squeakylee 05:01 Archived in India Tagged fort class orchha cookery Comments (0)

Varanasi

The best and the worst of India in one fell (foul? ;) ) swoop

overcast 32 °C

Well it was raining in Varanasi when we arrived. Varanasi is bonkers. It is without a doubt the noisiest, dirtiest and mentalist place in India. (imo of course) After a few quiet days in Orchha, we were straight back into dodging potholes, cow shite, flies, tuk tuks, taxi drivers and cycle rickshaws (the most deadliest of all the rickshaws imo - they have no horns or bells) ...
Our hotel seemed alright, til I found 3 cockroaches under my bed. ewwwwwwwwww. 1 of them was crawling on my blanket. WHY LORD WHY?????
Kat was just as freaked out by cockroaches as me, so we switched rooms. Shudder!

There was no pool in this hotel so our first stop was lunch. Then the rest of the gang were lured to see a family who made hand woven scarves out of real silk. I'd already experienced enough of these hard sell, tug-at-the-heartstrings situations and had no interest or money to buy real silk scarves, (I'd already bought loads in Pushkar), so I didn't want to go. Instead I decided to trundle round the town of Varanasi. The trip so far has been great, but we've been quite sheltered with private buses and fancy hotels and tuk tuks arranged for us, so I wanted to get back into the swing of mad India for a bit. Also I'd heard so many people speak so highly of Varanasi, I was dying to see for myself what they all found so magical. Would this finally be the place where I would witness some real genuine, not money-based, spirituality?? The cynic in me was not convinced. My case was helped when a genuine looking priest approached me and soothed me with his words. I sighed with relief and belief as he promised me he was a real priest and wished me long life, health and love. I relented and let him put a blob of holy dust on my forehead. :)
Then he put his hand out and said ''money please''.
SIGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

No such thing as a free spiritual blessing anywhere in the world so I thought, as I remembered having to also put money in the money basket at mass at home.

Jeff and Maree had joined me on my trundle around Varanasi. We had a hard time bagging a tuk tuk driver to the ghats! For some reason, they all said no to us. Later we discovered they're not allowed down that far. So eventually we got to the ghats and saw all walks of people just hanging around. Old priesty looking dudes were hanging around collecting dosh and there was the usual crowd of cows and women selling bracelets and flowers. (the women were selling stuff, not the cows). So far I wasn't really impressed with the Varanasi ghats. It just looked like a load of steps leading down in to a pretty dirty river.

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So after an hour, the three of us had had enough of the real India again. It. Was. Bonkers. Ten times more bonkers and noisy than Delhi or any of those places. So we hopped a tuk tuk to a fancy hotel for an expensive beer (Dublin prices!) and some free nuts. yahoo.

Later in the evening we got cycle rickshaws down to the ghats and Dushyant brought us on a sunset boat ride on the Ganges. The Ghats looked very different at night and the river had a nice blue glow.
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We lit tiny candles and flowers, and made a wish on them and sent them off bobbing down the Ganges. We boated up and down the ghats and paused for a while near the cremation ghats, where we saw bodies being burnt.
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Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism. Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India. Hindus believe if you die and are cremated in Varanasi, that you escape the cycle of birth and rebirth, so everyone wants to die here and lots of people travel to Varanasi to die. There are lots of old homeless people just hanging around Varanasi. If you're one of the lucky ones, you'll die and be cremated in Varanasi. It was quite moving to see the bodies being burnt. The pyres were surrounded by the dead person's relatives but there was no weeping or tears, only joy that their loved one would be one with God (aka Shiva).
Also weirdly, there was no smell at all. No stench of burning flesh! The group members with medical backgrounds were astounded at this. I thought it was cos maybe the person had been covered with scented oil beforehand.
The flames were hypnotic and I thought this was the most spiritual and moving thing I'd seen in India so far. It was pretty cool.

After this there was a big flashy ceremony on the ghats with 5 priests dancing and shaking offerings such as piles of lit candles (dunno what they're called so here's a pic).
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There was lots of chanting to bingy bongy music. The ghats were packed with people praying, chanting and clamouring to see the priests in action. On the river, tons of boats were filled with Indians and tourists all watching the ceremony, praying and taking pictures. We watched the Puja (ceremony) for half an hour. The others thought it was very spiritual. I thought it was cool, but I couldn't help but wonder how the government affords to put on this spectacular stage show every night of the year, while the Varanasi ghats are populated with hundreds of frail, old homeless people. :/

Anywho dinner was in the Brown Bread Bakery - a restaurant that donates some of its profits to a local school. It was a cool joint and there were some auld lads playing Sitar and flute in a little cubby hole behind us.

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The dinner took aggggggggggggggggggges though - about 2 hours to arrive. This eased the hunger pains.

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I poured this beer below... Disgraceful!! And me an Irishwoman.
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The next morning, it was up and atom for a sunrise boat trip again on the Ganges. This was very peaceful and we set more floating candle wishes adrift on the river. We boated up and down again and saw many Indians taking the ''Holy Dip''. Basically they were washing, swimming and splish splashin about in the Ganges. :D The cremations were still going on too. Varanasi is the only place that the body burning can continue 24 hours a day.
Dushyant then invited us to join him dipping his feet in the Holy river. Most of us declined politely. Sandra went for it and had a holy dip.
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While she was dipping, we saw a man having a seizure and foaming at the mouth on the ghat nearby. A lady was minding him and turned him on his side. It was a bit freaky.

After this Holy morning, we went back to the Brown Bread bakery for another long breakfast. Then we went to the school that the bakery supported. It was very cute and had children of all ages there. We watched and clapped as Kat (who had been volunteer teaching in India for 2 months) got up in front of the class and engaged all the kids in a rousing version of ''If you're happy and you know it clap your hands''. It was excellent. :D

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On our way out of the school, there was a dying puppy in the alleyway which was very distressing. This combined with the dead bodies, dead rats, man seizing, sweltering heat, cow shite and flies everywhere and so much beeping, meant a few of us couldn't take it anymore. I was one of them. I had pretty much gotten used to the stuff everywhere in India by now, but Varanasi was a whole other level and we needed to get out of the stinky alleyways. We headed back to our hotel.

Posted by squeakylee 22:10 Archived in India Tagged boats varanasi ghats ceremony religious cremation bonkers Comments (0)

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