Published: June 17th 2009June 17th 2009
DELHI TO KOLKATA
Arriving in Delhi, India I immediately notice the difference from Aus and NZ. There’s so much noise, the streets are crowded, there are car horns blowing constantly….. I didn’t want to leave my hotel room - what happened to all the space and peace… but needs must and I head out to meet my new group. We go to the cinema to watch Slumdog Millionaire - an extremely apt film to see at the beginning of my trip to India. We visit Old Delhi where horse and cart, camel and cart and the odd elephant walking down the street are normal everyday occurrences, along with cattle just sat around every where on the roads. That night we take an over night train for Jaisalmer. The Thar Desert is right on our doorstep and we take the opportunity to ride camels out to the sand dunes to spend a night out under the stars. At night the camel owners get the camp fire burning, cook us a dinner of local specialties and locals entertain us with Rajasthani folk dance. Next day we head out to Rajasthan's second-largest city, Jodhpur where our hotel’s roof-top restaurant offers an impressive view of
the colossal Meherangarh Fort that dominates the city skyline. The owner also gives us the opportunity to dress like the local ladies in flowing outfits - we then head out to Sadar Bazaar, one of the oldest markets in India. Out in the surrounding countryside are the Bishnoi tribal villages, where we visit villages to learn about the Bishnoi's many beliefs and how they live their daily lives. This takes us on to Udaipur where we watch artists paint finely detailed pictures as well as visit the City Palace with its museums, crystal gallery and wealth of royal treasures. Next we head to Pushkar which is home to India's only Brahma temple and a holy lake, making it a major destination for pilgrims and saddhus (holy men) from all over India. Much time was spent exploring the main bazaar and many sidestreets where there was some great shopping to be done with some of the cheapest clothes and jewellery you can find in northern India. That aside the town is so religious that all drugs including alcohol are illegal and everyone is vegetarian! Our tour leader also told us not to accept flowers given out by some of the town
folk as they perform black magic on them - apparently if accepted you will allow them to take you to a religious prayer ceremony and on completion you will feel like donating a large amount of money - personally I’m not superstitious but why take chances - needless to say I declined any flowers offered to me!
A bus takes us to our next destination: Jaipur also known as the 'Pink City' where the walled city and all its buildings are painted blue - I mean pink. An extremely busy place the shop owners at the bazaars are rather eager for you to buy from their shop rather than their neighbours - patience was definitely needed. Here we visit the Amber Palace, a majestic hilltop palace complex. We stop at Bharatpur for a short respite before heading to Agra and home to one of the world's most instantly recognisable monuments - the Taj Mahal. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz. The first evening I take a boat across the river to watch the sunset from behind the Taj. The next morning we are in the queue before opening time in the hope that we
can take some pictures before too many tourists spoil our photos of the sunrise over the monument. We next visit the holiest place for Hindus, Varanasi. Apparently, according to my tour notes this “is a place where weeks can just melt by as you continue to be amazed by all that is going on around you. Pilgrims bathing and performing rituals and ceremonies unchanged for hundreds of years, temples full of the sound of bells and the smell of incense, the dhobi wallahs, the burning ghats, the stories, the legends, the people - all of India seems to be encapsulated within this amazing city.” Well I can definitely say it was memorable - from the sunrise boat trip where we indeed watched people going about their daily rituals of washing, praying and cleaning their clothes to cremation ceremonies at the burning ghats where we saw a man laid out in gold robes awaiting his turn to be cremated in the fires before his ashes are scattered in the river Ganges. That evening we head for the river again, this time to watch the prayer ceremonies where bells are rung, much incense burnt, and bowls of flowers and candles are placed
on the river to give thanks for the life the river gives. Saw a few more dead bodies throughout my stay but that’s another story! The line “I see dead people” from the Sixth Sense movie is certainly very apt here. Finally my first tour of India finishes in Kolkata (Calcutta) also known as the “City of Joy” before flying to Chennai in the South where my next tour begins.
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