Fun, love, laughter and dancing the year away in incredible India!

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January 13th 2019
Published: January 14th 2019
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Incredible India, we have arrived. After more or less 22 months of travelling we finally arrived in the one country we were almost sure about to visit, even without any planning. We have been in India a few times before and we have such fond memories making it hard to return without high expectations. As we fly in from hot Bahrain, where we have spent only one full day and night, arriving in the evening in cold smoggy Delhi is a little bit of a test. But as soon as we step out of the taxi at Connaught Place, check in to a familiar hotel, recognise the surrounding restaurants and have a late dinner of spicy Indian delicacies and even an Indian Gin & Tonic, we immediately feel at home and at ease. We ride with a tuc tuc, slalom around holy cows, absorb the sounds, the tastes, the smells and the colours of India and the Indians. We know the city quite well so we don’t have to search for things and we just walk around, organise onward transport, get ourselves a new SIM card, find a cheap laundry place and a camera repair store where they fix my camera lens on the spot. We dig into the food and enjoy our first lassie, our first chilly paneer, our first samosa, our first dosa and our first glass of Indian wine and we feel we have truly missed this food for a long time.

We take a night train from Delhi to Haridwar, a holy city high up north, close to the Himalayas, at the shore of the Ganges river. In Haridwar we take a local bus that brings us a little bit more upstream along the holy river until we arrive in Rishikesh, the (self declared) Yoga capital. We have found a good guesthouse in a nice (relatively) quiet area (because there are no cars in this part) with a yoga school on the top floor where Judith can participate in Yoga classes every morning (and Merijn one time as well). There are some famous Hindu temples in Rishikesh and a lot of people come here as a pilgrim. Everywhere around and especially at the different Ghats at the banks of the river there are people doing their puja (praying and offering ceremony). Every evening there are Ganga Aarti ceremonies at the riverside with music, singing, fire and small floating candle offerings.

After four days we return to Haridwar, one of the holiest cities in India, which means no meat, no alcohol and even no egg, where we spend a day and night and where we visit a famous hindu temple by cable car on top of a mountain and we participate in an even bigger Ganga Aarti ceremony surrounded by hundreds of devotees before we spend a full day in the train going to Agra, the city of Taj Mahal being one of Judith’s bucket list things to see.

We check in at a fun hostel (Zostel), very social and international and immediately we spend the evening on a street food tour with other travellers from both India and abroad. The street food in Agra is so good and it’s fun to stroll down this chaat walla alley where all sorts of chaat is sold, we try everything, we love this food! After breakfast we walk to the huge Taj Mahal grounds and entering through one of the gates we already see the beautiful structure and the characteristic white marble dome and minarets. Although there are a lot of people visiting, mostly selfie clicking Indians, it’s not too crowded for us to walk around the buildings and to enter the mausoleum the Taj actually is. This is really one of the most beautiful buildings of the world, although we now have a lot of beautiful buildings to compare it with like the amazing mosques in Iran.

Another night train brings us to Varanasi, another holy city at the Ganges river. This city is where hindus prefer to die of old age and be cremated next to the holy river and it is a full on experience with many cremations per hour taking place in public. We walk along the ghats and position ourself at a respectful distance but a bit higher up on the river bank so we have a perfect view on the whole process from the first moment the body of the deceased is carried to the river until the moment where the one remaining bone is picked from the ashes and ritually is thrown into the Ganges river. The whole ceremony and the people attending it seem to deal with their loss in quite a good way and we appreciate the traditional and very respectful approach.

Varanasi, so some Indians tell us, is a good place for chaat (the street food snacks) so in a cycle riksha we head to a very busy hole in the wall restaurant where we have some great dahi puri and all other sorts of chaat. There are several places in Varanasi where a Ganga Aarti ceremony takes place every evening and we watch one sitting on the stairs of a ghat. There are a lot of people and the atmosphere is quite festive with people selling food, fun toys and a lot of blessings.

A small brand new SpiceJet plane brings us to Goa. We start our trip in South India in Anjuna, North Goa, where we spend some days at the beach, ride around on a motorcycle for a day visiting other beaches and visiting a couple we met in Jordan some weeks ago. We drink Sula, a good Indian wine, we eat beautiful Goan seafood and we even end up dancing on techno music in a beach shack turned into night club. Life is good at the beach…

After five nights in Anjuna we spend a day hopping local busses ending up in Palolem, South Goa. This was our favourite place some years ago and now we are back for a long week of Christmas and NYE holidays. Just after Christmas our friends Riemke and Mariska fly in from The Netherlands for a three week trip filled with fun, beach, love and laughter together in South India. Palolem is just a perfect place for them to start their holiday and for us all to reconnect and catch up, lazing at the beach, eating good food and of course to dance the year away during NYE with our feet in the sand and a few bottles of beautiful bubbly wine (Sula Brut Tropical!). Palolem is still a perfect beach holiday place.

We had planned to travel by night train from Palolem but end up going in a passenger (day) train to Mangalore and hiring a car and driver to bring us to Kochi (Cochin), another convenient but long ride through very lush green palm tree filled landscapes. Kochi is an old town with a long history with Portuguese and Dutch influences and the old town centre feels like an open-air museum with old houses, a Dutch cemetery and the typical Chinese fishing nets on both sides of the channel between the peninsula and the island. We explore the town and the old bazaar area where not a lot has changed yet. Traders are still trading their goods and the fishermen are still fishing using their classic net. From Kochi we decide to go on a backwaters tour and this ends up being a very nice day with different types of boats bringing us across the canals and through the small back waters to see nature and village life from the water.

From Kochi we travel by train to Varkala, again a nice ride with beautiful views of the very green rural areas with thousands of palm trees. In Varkala we find a very friendly small resort consisting of a few wooden cabins and a restaurant and deck at the cliff path overlooking the Indian ocean. The people are fun and friendly, the food is good and the fish is fresh and huge (barracuda, mahi mahi and sailfish). In Varkala there are a lot of yoga centres so the girls attend a few classes before we start the day with late breakfast and position ourselves at the beach for another beautiful day. Again life is good at the beach …

We end this part of our South India trip with Riemke and Mariska in Trivandrum, at the almost most southern tip of the country. Trivandrum is a large modern state capital and it has a lot of temples. One of the temples is the richest place of worship in the world because bags of diamonds and tons of gold and precious stones and jewels have been found not too long ago. We are not allowed to enter the temple but it is interesting to walk around the temple complex and observe the many hindu pilgrims visiting the city and the temple. We have seen a lot of pilgrims in the trains and on the road coming here and now we see and meet them here while they go for prayer wearing nothing but a white dothi and some colourful cloths. Our last night together we have dinner in the best restaurant of the state in a beautiful building and garden. The food is absolutely amazing but unfortunately Kerala state government is not very easy in giving alcohol licences so our last night together lacks a few glasses.

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27th January 2019

Over the years, I've been fortunate to visit nearly all of the places you have brought to life in this blog. You certainly seem to have crammed in a great variety - and enjoyed it! Your photos are terrific - for me, the one of the wood-weighing scales in Varanasi ([photo=9995998]) rather sums up my feelings about that amazing city.

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