Published: February 26th 2012February 26th 2012
India a country of many contrasts and much history. It is a country that is a shock to your senses and at times polar opposites, poverty/wealth - filth/spotless - drab/colorful - quiet/loud - caring/ruthless.
We arrived in New Delhi after a 14 hour flight from Chicago, which was not as bad as you might think and Air India was very accommodating and it helped that the plane had 100 empty seats so we could spread out and get some sleep.
Our first experience with Delhi traffic was an eye opening experience and you instantly knew you never wanted to drive any motorized vehicle in this country. The roads are crammed with every imaginable variety of transportation from 4 legged to 2 wheels. It is survival of the fittest and the biggest vehicle always has the right of way, unless a tuk tuk, bicycle or motorcycle can slip in between you and the next mode of transportation. Then there is the ever present cow that will be munching or laying on any available strip of land.
Hotel was very comfortable and the shower was not lacking in pressure or hot water which made the nights sleep very welcoming.
Our first day was to visit the Red Fort, the Birla Hindu temple a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the hand carved Kutab Minar, Jamma Masjid Mosque, India largest, and the India Gate in old Delhi. The history of the country was told to us by our very informed guide and the names all run together but his love and pride of his beloved India came thru in every tale of the countries history.
Day 2 was a long bus ride to the Pink City of Jaipur and upon arrival we were welcomed by decorated elephants in the road way. Seeing the Amber Fort basked in the setting sun made the long trip worthwhile. The next morning we returned to the Amber Fort to find our personal beast of burden the Indian Elephant waiting to take us up the hill to the entrance gate of the fort. The best part of the ride apart from the spectacular view of the valley was the respite it allowed us from the ever present street hawkers selling us every imaginable kind of trinket as a souvenir of our visit. The reason this is called the pink city is because of the
red sandstone that is used to construct the palace and the fort that protects the palace. The enormous size of this structure amazes you and your imagination cannot conceive of how they built such a structure and its surrounding wall in the 1300-1400‘s.
Well we said good bye to Jaipur and took another day long bus ride to Agra the home of India’s most famous tourist attraction, The Taj Mahal. We spent the next morning at the Taj and I believe it to be one of the most beautiful stone buildings I have ever seen. It is all white marble and the flower designs are precious stones that are inlaid in the marble. During the construction of this mausoleum there were 20,000 workman on site every day. The Taj Mahal was built by the king for a resting place for his wife who died during the childbirth of their 13th
child in the 17th
year of their marriage. This was the kings 3rd
wife but his favorite and after her death he built the Taj as her resting place and then upon his death he too was placed next to her. During this time in India rulers were
Muslim and believed in burial as opposed to the current rulers who are predominately Hindu and cremation is their religious belief.
Driving from Agra to Khajuraho is a hair raising experience. Narrow roads, every imaginable form of traffic the scariest which are the local full size busses that travel fast with very loud horns and 2 people to every seat. One foot of space to miss the opposing traffic or pedestrian is more than adequate. In route we visited the ancient ruins of the Maharajah palace in Ochara which while beautiful but was in need of restoration but the local village people were interesting and gave us another insight to life in India. This was a very long day but upon arrival at our destination a village of 15,000 people it was refreshing to be without the hordes of people and traffic.
Khajuraho is home to the Kama Sutra temples built in the 9th
century and discovered by an English explorer in the early 1800’s. It is not the subject matter of the temples that wows you but the detail of the stone sculpture and the intricacies and the sheer size of the temples in pristine grounds.
Our guide an expert in erotocology was very entertaining and kept us laughing all day. Our second day was very leisurely in that we could sleep in and rest before our noon flight to Varanassi and the 24 hour cremation site on the Ganges river.
Arriving in Varnassi we were back to the mass of humanity that we had come to know since our arrival. Varanassi is home to the Mother Ganja, Ganges river and the most holy of places for a Hindu to be cremated and perhaps find Nirvana. Arriving in the afternoon afforded us the opportunity to visit the Ghats (gots), steps leading to the river, for the evening prayers performed by 7 Hindu priests simultaneously on the Ghats. We boarded a wooden boat , propelled thru the waters by 2 able body Indians with homemade bamboo oars. We went downriver to the one of the 2 cremation Ghats on the river and witnessed no less than 10 fires burning. It is a fascinating ritual and one that is hard to describe, the visuals, smells, and sounds are unique to this location. It is a beautiful and repulsive sight all at the same time, however it
is the culmination of a Hindu believer's life. The next morning we returned to the Ghats to witness not only the preparation for that days cremations but also the faithful who come to the Holy Ganges to bathe in the morning. The other activity on the Ghats next to the bather is the washer woman who is doing the daily laundry. Again we were propelled in wooden boats to watch the sunrise over the Ganges.
Saying farewell to Varanassi we made our way to the rooftop of the world and the gateway to the Himalayas, Katmandu Nepal. The first thing you notice are the paved roads, curbs and sidewalks and someone actually picks up the trash that is piled in the gutter. We are here for 3 days and everyone is looking forward to seeing the Himalayas. The Katmandu valley is made up of 3 cities, Katmandu, Pataan, Bhopatku. The hub of the city is the Hindu temples built in the center of each city in the 10th
century and the buildings are a stunning cross of Chinese and Nepalese architecture. We viewed the main Hindu and Buddhist temple the first morning and the an adventures ride into
the country side rising from 4,500 feet elevation of the valley floor to 6,200 feet of the ridges around the city. This ascent in our bus was on a one lane two way road with steep drop offs and not for the faint of heart driver. We were successful and at the top were rewarded with our first great views of the Himalayas and of course tea. While descending to the valley we stopped to visit a typical farm valley and see the rural way of life.
The second morning was the highlight of the trip, a one hour flight to view the Himalaya mountain range and Mt. Everest at 29,000+ feet in elevation. We took off with a small cloud cover and after passing 10,000 feet we were greeted with blue sky and sunshine, a postcard perfect day and smooth ride. You just don’t get tired of viewing the mountains and it was spectacular. We finished up the day in a converted Nepalese mansion that served us a traditional dinner and entertainment.
We said goodbye to our other 29 fellow travelers and now we are off on our own to visit Thailand and Cambodia.
There are more photos below