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Published: September 9th 2010
As you know, we are back in Europe again and already settled in our new apartment in Helsinki. I wrote this entry when we were in Lapland. Amidst a beautiful countryside and everlasting daylight, I found time and inspiration to write the blog entry on India, our second encounter. Delhi
After the peace and quietness of Nepal, going to chaotic Delhi is a huge contrast. With its hectic traffic, dusty roads, relentless heat and a population of over 15 million people (world top 10
), Delhi is a challenging metropolis to visit. Due to the coming Common Wealth Games a lot of streets were getting a face lift which gave an even bigger messy impression to the city. 'Main Bazaar' in Paharganj area is conveniently situated next to Delhi's central station. This is the backpackers street where we found cheap accommodation. From here we explored the city. By rickshaw we visited India's biggest mosque and walked through old Delhi with it's bazaars and numerous food stalls. For transport we used Delhi's effective subway. A few stops from our street was Connaught Place, a huge roundabout, with fancy shops. Underground this place is the big Palika Bazaar, where they sell a lot of things
which are not useful. To eat the best South Indian tali, we had to stand in line for half an hour at Saravanaa Bhavan
When we took the bus to Rishikesh, the bus left overcrowded and a few hours too late. After thinking we finally were on our way, an hour later we were back at the starting point, where we had to change busses. To make things complete, our bus driver got in a fight with the conductor and kicked him out of the bus. The following morning 30 km before Rishikesh, we passed through Haridwar, where the Kumbh Mela took place and thousands of people were bathing
in the river Ganges. Tents were build as far the eye could see. The busiest day (April 14th, where supposedly 10 million people gathered) was yet to come in a few days.
We stayed in the Lakshman Jhula area at Shiva Cottage, for which we had to cross a busy pedestrian bridge over the Ganges. Normally Rishikesh can be seen as a chilled out city, but the Kumbh Mela affected the street life drastically. Everyday thousands and thousands of pilgrims, dressed in the most colorful saris, passed by on
foot through the main streets. Luckily no cars and motorbikes were allowed. The bathing sites (ghat) were overcrowded and the city's speaker system was calling out for missing persons throughout the day.
Despite we were in the gateway to the Himalayas, it was bloody hot during the day. To cool down, we took a dip in the ice cold Ganges. While we were walking along the Ganges we met an interesting Baba and had a chat with him. Rishikesh has a lot of outdoor activities to offer. Even though we planned to do some of these activities, somehow we ended up doing nothing. During our 6 day stay, the furthest we walked was a couple of km's down the river to the deserted ashram where the Beatles stayed at in 1968. When Anna was attending Yoga class, I was sitting on a riverside restaurant sipping tea and enjoying seeing the bathing people. Our favorite hangout was Freedom Cafe, where they served excellent (western) food and delicious Lemon Nanas. A couple of times we went across the bridge in the evening to go to this particular local food joint, which our Indian friend had recommended. McLeod Ganj
a night bus through the mountains, we arrived in McLeod Ganj, home of the Tibetan government in exile
. This little village in the mountains has a very tranquil atmosphere with fantastic views. There is a noticeable Tibetan influence, monks are wondering through the streets, playing with their prayer beads (mala). We stayed here around 10 days at the Ladies Venture guest house, a cheap basic accommodation with hot water. Coincidently, this guest house was mentioned in Holy Cow (bestselling book about traveling in India), which Anna was reading at that time.
During our stay we visited the Tibetan temple next to where the Dalai Lama lives. Unfortunately we didn't have any access to His house. However later that week, we met another Tibetan religious leader, the Karmapa at the Gyuto Tantric University. After standing in line for half an hour, we quickly walked passed him to receive a blessed cord. It was a bit rainy those days and Anna was still feeling a bit ill, so mostly we hanged out in the restaurants there, reading books or wondered around on the street and looking at all the stalls were they sell all sorts of Tibetan jewelry and handicraft. Sometimes Anna went to
Yoga class and once we had a small hike to Bhagsu, a neighboring village. Change of Plans
Earlier we decided to change our plans for the remainder of our travels. Initially we would stay in India for the rest of our travels: Traveling through Rajasthan, ending on the beaches of Goa crossing over to the pristine Andaman Islands, for which we booked already flight tickets. We learned that it was simply not the time and season for it. Rajasthan and Goa's beaches were just too hot and the monsoon was hitting the Andaman Islands soon. We rescheduled our flights with Emirates to fly back home from Indonesia instead. Only thing was that the extra costs couldn't be paid for by giving our credit card details and we didn't trust sending money by courier to the Emirates office in Delhi, so from McLleod Ganj I had to go up and down to Delhi $#@*&%!^(MISSING)$#@ Amritsar
When I came back from Delhi, we soon were on the road again, this time we were heading west, out of the mountains to Amritsar
near the Pakistan border. The one, only and best reason to visit this city is the Golden Temple, the
spiritual centre of the Sikhs. Upon arrival we stayed at the communal dormitory next to the temple complex. The dormitory is huge and mostly visited by Sikh pilgrims. There is however a separate room reserved for foreigners. The dormitory is for free, a donation or volunteering is appreciated.
We visited the nearby temple complex three times, at noon, sunset and in the evening when it was dark. All those visits were memorable. It is an amazing experience to walk over the marble floor around the Golden Temple, while listening to the tabla music
over the speakers, which is played live from within the temple. A highlight is to enjoy the free meal (Langar
) with hundreds of spiritual seekers in the immense dining hall of the temple complex. Sitting on the floor we ate delicious chapatti, rice and dhal. Dalhousie
The heat of Amritsar made us wanting to go back to the mountains again. We went to Dalhousie, a former hill station in the Chamba district in Himichal Pradesh
in the north of India. The village is spread out over several mountains, which forces you to go up and down a lot when you wonder around. Its tourists are mostly Indians.
We were one of the few western tourists in town, which made it a more authentic experience. We stayed at the Craig's guest house overlooking a beautiful valley.
The first full day we explored the direct surroundings, wondered through the empty hilly streets avoiding groups of monkeys and visited it's church, market and local bus station to see when the busses deeper into the Chamba valley would leave. The next day we did a day hike to Dainkund mountaintop, with a nearby Hindu Temple where we had spectacular views on the Himalayas during our well deserved lunch. On the way back we didn't want to walk all the way down and asked some bypassing cars to give us a lift. Sick to Delhi
In the morning we were all ready and set to go to the bus, which would take us to deeper into the Chamba valley. Unfortunately Anna's stomach got worse overnight. We decided to take no risks and instead we headed back to Delhi to go to the hospital again and have her checked up fully. The trip to Delhi was dreadful: 2 Local busses with no air conditioning. The hard benches couldn't recline, had no
leg space and were made for three little Indian persons and not for one Indian and us two. A ride like this for a couple of hours is no problem, but for 18 hours.....! Once back in Delhi, we went to the hospital the next morning. Anna was being subjected to a full examination and they found an inflammation in her intestines. To cure this she got 4 different medicines which she had to take for 4 weeks. Taj Mahal
We had to wait a few days for the examination results, so we used this waiting time to go to Agra, home of the famous Taj Mahal
. Agra is easily accessible from Delhi by a 4 hour train ride. Around the Taj Mahal are several hostels, offering cheap accommodation with rooftop views on the Taj. Our first evening we had sunset drinks on our rooftop. The following morning early, before sunrise we woke up and went to the main entrance of the Taj to beat the big crowds coming in the morning. Both our expectations and entrance fee were a bit too high. After two hours wondering around and taking millions of pictures, we left the incoming crowds for breakfast
and went to Old Agra town. In the evening we were exhausted and went to bed early and to rest. We had to catch our train back to Delhi early in the morning. Manali
To escape from the heat, we went up north again to the town of Manali, where we stayed in a small laid back village, half an hour walk from Manali called Vashisht. Sometimes we were even cold, especially those days that it was rainy. The sunny days were really good to go out and explore and see for example nearby waterfalls. We walked to Manali, with its crowded shopping street and crammed with cheap local restaurants. From there we continued half an hour uphill to Old Manali village, a backpackers retreat with good views over the valley towards Vashisht. One day we wanted to find some sort of an open field past Old Manali from where supposedly the views over the mountains are amazing. In order to get there we were following a path in the mountains. Eventually the path didn't get us there, so we had to go back, but not before we were invited for mint tea at a local family in the
middle of nowhere.
During those cloudy and rainy days, Anna did some yoga at the nicely situated shri hari yoga ashram
, we were reading or playing yatzee in one of the hangout-restaurants, went for shopping in one of the art, clothing or jewelry shops or in the evening watched movies on a huge screen in Basho restaurant. Mumbai
Our last stop was Mumbai. To get there, we had to take a night bus (full of school kids) from Manali back to Delhi, spend the day in Delhi and catch a night train to Mumbai. We are gonna miss those nightly travels through India. The night train was surprisingly luxurious (we booked 3AC sleeper
). The previous ones were 'only' air-conditioned, but now we got bedding, and several meals and drinks offered. In the train we met some fellow travelers and an Indian dude. We watched a movie in the evening on the laptop of the Indian guy, which made the train ride even go faster.
Accommodation in Mumbai is expensive. The cheapest we could find was India Guest house
. The rooms were very tiny, but the shared bathrooms were spot on and the location was perfect. From here we could easily explore most of
the interesting sights on foot. We did the walking tour mentioned in the Lonely Planet and saw most of the impressive pre-colonial buildings. A highlight was Mumbai's immense Victoria train station.
Further more we had wondered the many street markets and fresh market, where Anna bought some Indian spices. The best chicken tandoori (thanks for the tip Dani) we had in a small restaurant a few hundred meters down the busy main street. We spend quite some times in a overpriced coffee shop, to cool down in the air condition for some hours on one drink. It was so hot and humid, the moment you move, sweat was pouring out of your body with buckets. The last days we were so lazy, we went 2 times to the movies. The first was a Bollywood blockbuster Kites
and the evening before we flew out of India we went to Shrek 4.
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