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Published: January 23rd 2010
4 in a boat!
We got up at some god forsaken hour to watch the washing in the ghats... an incredible sight
Ok so the train ride to Varanasi was freezing! But I managed to arrive without falling into a hypothermic coma. I had to use my teachers voice on the tuk tuk driver in Varansi who (and I had been warned about this) told me that my hotel was closed, dangerous and full! The hotel is right on the Meer Ghat and while it isn’t beautiful it is clean and does the job! (although it is a little annoying having to walk through the open air restaurant to have a shower or use the loo!!) But Varanasi is amazing. It is a real cultural hot spot and it just so happened to be a kite festival and a solar eclipse whilst I was there which meant it was full with thousands of people - which was fantastic for people watching (which essentially is what Varanasi is famous for!!) I met a lovely South African couple (Leanne and Mark) and we decided to go for some food. They referred to me as ‘Kite’ as it was the kite festival whilst I was there and when I tried to explain to some Indian’s that my name was ‘Kate’ they got very excited and said,
washing in the ghats
The ghats (steps) are dotted all along the Ganges in Varanasi. They were filled with people all day washing in the river. At one end is the crematorium where they burn the bodies and at the other is the washing ghats where they.. wash!
‘yes, Kite, like the kite festival’ - it seemed easier just to agree, so I was then referred to as Kite!
We went to eat at a place that had a lovely Indian dancer stamping his bell ridden feet and clapping his hands (it was lovely for about ten minutes and then rather noisy!!). Unfortunately I got my first bought of food poisoning which was very annoying (- I should have realized that the banana milk shake shouldn’t have been crunchy!!) this resulted in my throwing up twice and having diarrhea for a day (but was actually not as bad as it could have been). The next day we woke up at 5.30am to meet up and get a boat ride down the Ganges to do some people watching from the river. As I was waiting for Leane and Mark to meet me an Indian boy asked me who I was waiting for; I told him I was waiting for a friend at which point he went off and grabbed the nearest Westerner who happened to be sitting on the steps nearby. I tried to explain that I was waiting for specific people not just any Westerner (!) however,
The Ganges are considered Holy and washing in them is an important ritual.. i say ritual.. more just a massive bathing session in public!!
as it turned out this guy - Harry - had been staying in my hotel in Kolkata and was on his own, so he joined our merry group and off we went on the boat. I really enjoyed Varanasi. It was nice to be there for the Kite festival (especially having read, ‘ the Kite Runner’, so it was interesting to see all the paper kites in the sky with their glass crusted wire trying to cut each other’s strings). I have to say I was a little disappointed as I was hoping to see the sky full of kites but that was not to be the case; mainly because it was not localized to one spot so there were loads of kites but spread out over a large space! None the less it was lovely to see. After a little sleep and some more vomiting I met up with Harry and we pottered about Varanasi and watched the locals then met up with Leanne and Mark and had supper.
The next day was supposed to be the longest solar eclipse for some time however after being assured it would happen at 10.30, then 11.30 we were a
These men (i assume are holy men of some sort!) performed puja (an offering) on the ghats... every night... using all sorts of paraphernalia!! interesting to see.. i have a video but i'll spare you that !!
little disappointed at 1 when it still hadn’t happened!! - apparently it did happen somewhere but not that we saw!?! However we spent the day chilling out on the steps of the ghats, watching and taking photos of the thousands of locals who swarmed to the Holy Ganges to wash before the sun was eclipsed! It was lovely and one of my top ten moments so far!
So Harry and I have decided to travel to Agra together. We took a tuk tuk to the station and made the mistake of asking the driver to ‘step on it’!! OH MY GOD… if you are ever in Varanasi and meet his guy and value your life, don’t get in his vehicle!!! Because of the festival the roads were packed and, not wanting to disappoint us, he took the instruction to ‘step on it’ VERY literally and at one point in order to gain a few seconds he swerved onto the wrong side of the partitioned road and just headed straight into the oncoming traffic at terrifying speed. He obviously uses the principles that if you can see a space on the road it doesn’t matter if you can’t fit into it,
These Holy Men are dotted all along the ghats in Varanasi....
if you drive into it someone will move… which amazingly worked, but only because the people/cars/bikes/mopeds/animals etc that share the road with this maniac could see that he really didn’t care if he hit anyone or not so long as he got where he wanted to go!!
Needless to say we arrived in record time albeit with a few extra grey hairs...
So our train journey. Where shall I begin. Firstly let me remind you that so far I have travelled almost solely by train and have loved this mode of transport. I clearly have not done enough travelling in North India by train!! In the South of course the weather is much better and this, I was to learn, makes a big difference! FOG. A problem for the north Indian trains because people live close to the lines and the fog means the people can’t see the trains and vice versa (well this was the reason I was given anyway!) So our train was due to leave at 4.45pm and arrive at 5.30am. At 11pm when we still hadn’t got on our train I decided to call my mum and sisters and have a chat which was
A memorial for Love
WoW.. even in the fog it was breathtaking... perphaps even more so because it almost disappeared in the foggy background!
really lovely and passed some of the time!! Harry suddenly remembered he’d lost his ticket, and after sitting around for 6 hours he decided to try to sort this out 15mins before the train arrived!! (this resulted in a lot of running around and trying to deal with the station police!!... as it happens he didn’t get it sorted but got on the train anyway… only to find his ticket in his bag!!! )
So. Our train left at 11pm (6 hrs and 15mins late) and at 11am the following day when we should have arrived, we still hadn’t. In fact by 2 we hadn’t… or by 3…4…5… we arrived at 5.30PM… over 24hours since we were supposed to board our train. 24 hours. Bloody FOG. (which also means no lovely sitting in the doorway watching the world go by… you can’t see the world! .. and it’s freezing!) Well we slept, played battle ships, Gin Rummy, obsessed over our favourite recipes and ate an obscene amount of fried train food which has played havoc with my recently poisoned tummy…
But you can’t come to India and not see the Taj Mahal right? At this point it didn’t
They told us you could see the Taj from the roof of the hotel... perfect
occur to me that we wouldn’t be able to see the most famous monument to lost love (built by a grieving Shah Jahan for his deceased wife ; the love of his life- he ended up being imprisoned by his son but during this time took solace in the fact he could see his memorial to his beloved from his window ) I mean surely we wouldn’t come this far and not see it… that would be too awful!! FOG.
My stomach was now rebelling against all the fried train food on top of the food poisoning and I spent most of the time either feeling nauseous or sitting squatting on the toilet! Because we had missed what would have been day one in Agra we were unable to see Fatehpur Sikri which was a real shame but we didn’t want to stay in Agra - it’s not the nicest of places; you would think their hotels/restaurants would be better since they get so many visitors… not so!! So we decided to see the Agra Fort and the Taj and see how much time we had. Well. We woke up early to see the sunrise over the Taj… only
The Taj Mahal
In all it's white glory!
to discover that you can’t see the sun.. let alone see it rise.. in fact you can’t see the Taj or the sun or the sunrise… you can’t see anything at 6am!! So back to bed!! We woke up at 9 and went out to see the Taj in the glory of the daylight… nope. Still no luck… shrouded in white you couldn’t even see it in the mist so went off to the Agra Fort first in the hope the fog would lift. Hope, hope. It did lift and by 2pm we had paid our R750 (our hotel for the night was R400 … my train journey was R150… just to give you the cost of this mist covered monument!!) Well we held our breath as we walked in ready to be disappointed. Breath taking. Even with a white background this National Heritage site is gob smackingly beautiful. This beautiful, striking, graceful, domed, white magnificent monument is well worth the money and dare I say it, the train journey! What a testament to Jahan’s love. It really is breath taking. Even if it didn’t have the love story that goes with it you would still walk around with jaw
The streets of Delhi really vary but around the backpackers area they are a warren of stalls, cheap hotels, eateries and endless people!
dropped taking endless photos in the hope that you can capture the feeling on camera. You can’t. I wasn’t disappointed. I would have loved to see the sunset and sunrise over it. I would have loved to see it with a bold blue backdrop. I would have loved to have been the only person there (I’m sure there were considerably less tourists due to the weather but it still had a massive number of people walking around in awe!) I would have loved to watch it change colour in the changing light of day… but I didn’t. But I did see it melt into the white background, almost like a chameleon. It seemed like a magnificent outline on a sheet of white. Breathtaking.
Onwards. From Agra to Delhi. We attempted to get another train but after arriving at the station and hearing the train was delayed we couldn’t face it and so got a taxi with an American guy called Jason to Delhi. This taxi driver might have taken a few tips from the Varanasi rickshaw driver but we didn’t realise until we were reversing down the motorway in order to cut onto the opposite side i.e drive INTO
Oh the animals...
Scrounging food from every available place..
the oncoming traffic to stop at a café!! We did however arrive in one piece after a 5 hour drive in relative luxury.
Now Harry and I were intending to travel up to Hardwar to watch the Kumbh Mela (this year is the 12 year ‘biggie’ involving 12 million devotees) but he had to dash back to Kolkata at the last moment and I couldn’t face the millions on my own so I decided to head to Rajesthan instead. I spent a few days in Delhi in order to try to sort out my stomach which was still rebelling and to spend some time away from trains and train platforms!
So that brings us up to date. I have left Delhi - on time; woop woop, and am heading to Jaipur. Everyone says Rajesthan is beautiful so I hope that the weather is a little more amenable! I am on my own again (I say again, but so far I have only spent 4 nights out of 24 on my own!!)
Well that brought us up to date for when I wrote all that!! (but I’ve been unable to get to an internet … well I say
This precursor to the Taj Mahal is amazing... and inspired many attributes of the Taj.
unable, but actually just too busy seeing the sites of Jaipur!)
Well the train to Jaipur was mercifully only 2.5 hours late (which is a definite improvement!) and the weather here is lovely… blue skies and lovely sunshine - put it this way, I don’t need to sleep in my jacket here!
Jaipur is known as ‘the Pink City’. This is due to the pink walls you see everywhere! (when it was designed it was decreed that every house that faced the main cross streets had to be painted pink and they are repainted every three years to keep their colour (although more of an ochre than a pink I think!)
Anyway, I chatted to the people, risked death on the roads, ate the food (my stomach is definitely on the mend!) and saw the sites; the City Palace, the Ganesh Temple (356 steps to reach the top and an amazing view of the city), the Hawa Mahal (the honeycombed, ‘Wind Palace’), Jantar Mantar (an observatory, which is in fact a number of weird shapes that were used to chart the stars in the gold old days!) and the Iswari Minar (which was closed for refurbishment!!) The cycle
A man.. in Jaipur!
two words... GREAT moustache!
rickshaw back to my hotel was another exciting experience with a race down the wrong side of the road (a usual occurance!) and a close shave with a horse drawn vehicle!
However my tuk tuk from the hotel to The City Palace did throw up a ‘first’ for me… we RAN OVER some poor guys foot!! I have been wondering how long it would take for this to happen - frankly I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before. But there you have it. I am officially part of a hit and run!! I suppose technically my rickshaw driver - who’s name, inappropriately in the circumstances, was Lucky - did stop to say sorry but only after driving off down the road, by which time I’m sure the guy was in so much pain he couldn’t face hobbling down the road to get an apology!!
So it is time to move on, I have done my usual one night and so am off to Jodphur next.
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