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Published: August 26th 2012
So what about India, then? I suppose I should squeeze her in on my dance card, and not before time to be honest. Indira Gandhi once said of Mother India she cannot understand how one can be an Indian and not be proud. It's great to finally arrive in Incredible India; a country that will shock, titillate, enthral and enrage in equal measure. To gain an understanding of India one must compress the concept of a close call by a factor of ten. Two guys being knocked by a bus, but not knocked down. A guy being sideswiped by a car's side mirror, a guy having his foot run over by a motorbike. There's no real harm done, but that's an Indian close call. When you have over one billion people in a country there's no margin for error, and travellers are confronted by the most extraordinary scenes of daily living you are ever likely to encounter. Yet the Indian people coexist peacefully, and get on with their daily lives with a minimum of fuss, and a seemingly infinite reserve of patience.
Now where were we then, dear reader? The journal left off in Dhaka, at the conclusion of a
memorable visit with my Japanese friend. We went to the airport together for our respective flights, and farewelled each other at the departure gates. She's off to Calcutta, and my destination is the capital New Delhi. The three hour flight was comfortable, and I was met at the airport by the driver from Hostel New King. I chose accommodation in the very heart of Delhi on the Main Bazar. The manager Suny greeted me on arrival, and had things organised for my two day stay in a jiffy. I dumped my bags and went downstairs for an introductory tour of the city with the hostel driver, and it was a great afternoon. India's capital has 22 million people, just about Australia's population, so as you can imagine it's a real eye opener getting out and about. We started off at the Indira Gandhi museum, and it was interesting to visit the former Prime Minister's home. And I must say what a brazen act of treachery it was when two security guards gunned her down in the grounds of her own home. We went to the Lodhi gardens where I strolled around the impressive grounds, visited the amazing Lotus temple which
is the mother temple of the Indian subcontinent, took in India Gate for a bit of Parisian style grandeur, and visited a bazar. I had a great afternoon thanks to my kind and informative driver.
However, this was just the warm up act for a mighty day in India the following morning from 7:00am. My research indicates the best way to take in the glorious Taj Mahal in Agra is from a tour out of Delhi. It's 210 kilometres from the capital, but a five hour car drive each way, so travellers are in for a very long day on the road. Travelling on Indian roads is never short on entertainment value, so just being in the pasenger seat is an enthralling experience in itself. Nothing can prepare a first time visitor for the glory and majesty of the Taj Mahal, and on the drive down there's not the slightest inkling such a magnificent tourist attraction could be in the vicinity. But once you catch that first glimpse of the marble dome, all I can say is holy cow!
The Taj Mahal is the bomb. Surely it has to be the most beautiful structure in the
world. Set in gorgeous grounds, the monument includes tastefully designed buildings on it's perimeter. The marble of the Taj changes colour depending on the light, and I'm delighted to be here. Of course there are hordes of people around, but hey, this is India! During my visit I snapped away manically from various angles, but spent most of my time gawking in wonder at this magical monument. Indians at the Taj are friendly, and keen to pose for photos with an Aussie rock star! I even got to plug my blog with a few young lads, who assured me they would check it out. Tourists get to walk around the structure, and visit inside the mausoleum. I spent an enthralling three hours at the site, and then hauled ass back to the carpark to meet my driver, as we still had to negotiate the five hour commute back to the country's main town.
Anyways, a visit to the capital and Agra's world class tourist attraction have been wonderful, but I had to get a wriggle on. So next morning I headed back to the superb Indira Gandhi International airport (recently opened and voted number two airport in the world)
for a flight to the holy city of Varanasi. It only takes an hour, and the passengers disembarked in fierce heat. I jumped a taxi to the excellent Suraj guest house in the maze of streets near the sacred Ganjes, and once again the locals had me sorted regarding tours with impressive efficiency. The Indians are doing a fine job of lightening my wallet, and seem to be masters of this delicate art form. Once again I dumped my bags on arrival, and was off with my guide. Sometimes this travelling caper can be exhausting, let me tell you! The young champion led me around the maze of streets, we stopped off for an excellent meal, then boarded a boat moored on the sacred ganga for the evening ceremony. The hour long hindu performance was watched by a huge crowd of Indians, with concurrent swarms of tourists on the boats for a view from the water. The ganga is the most sacred river for Hindus, and I saw Indian pilgrims dunk themselves in the river with due reverence. However, the mighty ganga flows for 2525 kilometres on to Bangladesh, before she empties in the Bay of Bengal. As such the
pollution levels in the river are dangerously high, because the ganga is the most heavily populated river in the world, sustaining as it does some 400 million people.
Varanasi is an extraordinary city, and known as the oldest inhabited city on earth. Walking along the maze of streets is great fun, with holy cows to squeeze past, holy men to ease past, and a plethora of vibrant city living to be pleased with. The next morning we headed out at the unholy start time of 5:00am, whereupon I staggered through the streets after my guide. We were up early to witness the cremation ceremony, where deceased persons are sent off to the afterlife on a wooden funeral pyre. The visit to historic Varanasi concluded when I entered the site of the Buddhist stupas and temples at Sarnath. This is where the buddha is believed to have lived, and is an important site for the people of India.
My introduction to this incredible country leaves an impression of being slightly overwhelmed. The sheer scale of humanity buzzing with life in Incredible India assails the senses during every waking moment, and people watching in this vast country leads to many
amazing scenes. As an added bonus Indians are kind and generous hosts happy to welcome visitors to their beloved country, basically all of you should be here now!
First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win." Mahatma Gandhi
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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