Holy Cow!!!! Our first two weeks in India
Oct 15, 2007
So it has been two weeks, and India is indeed incredible. The border crossing into India from Nepal overland was in and of itself a cultural experience filled with personal questions about our religion, income and the nature of our relationships (not for any official purpose, they were just curious). After we bid Ruairi fare thee well, Kate and I headed to our first stop in India, Varanassi. For many, this is a favorite place in all of India. For us, it was quite an introduction.
We arrived in Varanasi at about 5am, arguably the best time to enjoy and take in the city. We sat on the rooftop of our guesthouse and watched the sunrise over the Ganges and the monkeys jumping around the skyline. Later that day, we headed down to the river to start to get a feel for the city.
Varanasi is a very holy site in Hinduism. Many people come to bathe and worship at the Ganges everyday. As westies though, we steer clear of the river in Varanasi as it is one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world. At Varanasi, the water is actually septic (meaning there is no dissolved oxygen). Just an interesting factoid as currently many efforts are being made to address the pollution, and as this doesn't prevent hundreds of Indians from bathing there everyday. It is also considered the most holy place for cremation, and there are burning "ghats" (steps leading down to the water) along the river where families gather to watch there loved ones be cremated, and the ashes are then spread in the Ganges.
The city is a hectic feast for the senses. Along the river hundreds of people come to bathe, wash clothing, sell their wares along the ghats. We took a sunrise boat trip for a few hours down the river as a good way to begin to take it all in. Above the ghats, the streets are tiny alleys filled with people, shops, restaurants, guesthouses, cows, motorbikes, goats, you name it really. It is a great place. While we were there we tried our hand at a few yoga classes and are considering maybe doing a one week intensive course. We weren't overly impressed with the classes we took, but the word is, the more time you invest, the higher the quality will be. We stayed in Varanasi for about four days, and made friends with some of our fellow travelers, who we hope to meet again along the way.
After Varanasi, we headed to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It is amazing to us to realize that in the course of our journey so far we have covered many a wonder (the Taj, Angkor, the Great Wall, Everest). The Taj Mahal was as beautiful and majestic as promised. Our main surprise was that we seemed to be the star attraction for many Indians, and loads of people wanted to take photos with us. Being a harmless, free, and entertaining way to pass the time, we happily posed until we realized it was never going to let up and we had to just continue on our way.
After Agra we continued on to New Delhi and had our first taste of train delays. The journey which was meant to be about 2-3 hours took 6 or 7 and we arrived in Delhi at 1 in the morning with little to no plan. Luckily, we had made friends with the men in our train car who ensured that we made it safely to our guesthouse without incident.
We spent a few days in Delhi, and I had to lay low for a bit with infamous "delhi belly". Kate was completely fine which was mystifying as we shared all our meals. Cest La Vie. As result of the tenuous stomach situation, and just out of curiousity, we found ourselves in the McDonalds in Downtown Delhi. Check out the photo of the menu. The food was vegetarian friendly and delicious:)
In Delhi we visited the Red Fort, which, like the Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in honor of his wife. It was an impressive site and included an informative museam on some of the colonial history of India.
Delhi is a very cool city we thought. The bazaars of old Delhi are in pretty major contrast to the trendy restaurants and cafes to be found in New Delhi, and the juxtaposition just one metro stop away is fascinating.
After Delhi we decided to head North and hopped an overnight train to Haridwar, which like Varanasi is a holy city on the ganges. In Haridwar, we took a cable car to a temple on top of a mountain with great views over the river and the city (we again found ourselves the center of attention and the subject of many a snapshot). Later we wandered around the ghats and had some chai. It turns out that right now is some very large hindu festival (it seems there is one of some kind or another all the time here), and we found ourselves smack in the middle of a parade. Check out the photos, our favorite is the monkey man :)
Next we are headed to Rishikesh, also in Northwestern India and only about an hour from Haridwar. Rishikesh is known as the yoga capital of the world, so we are hoping to leave there a bit more refreshed and flexible. More to come on our adventures later
Carla and Kate
ps. Due to technical difficulties we'll post more photos when we find a connection that can handle it (so far we've put almost 5 man hours into trying to load). We're headed to an ashran for a week and when we emerge full of peace we'll be able to be at one with the computer and it will hopefully finally cooperate....grrrrr