Friday, 28 December 2012

Delhi (again) / End of India

We got our train from Varanasi to Delhi and stayed at a hostel that was pretty near our first hostel, so it was pretty easy to find.

We then got a rickshaw to a Sikh temple called Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.  It was very interesting as it was the first Sikh temple we had been too.  Its a very gentle offshoot of Hinduism and seems miles away from the materialism of Hinduism.  As we arrived they were giving out free lunch to people, we were thinking of having some  but as  were not Sikh's we felt we probably shouldn't have any.  They then had a very efficient shoe storage area, which you didn't have to pay for (you do in Hindu temples).

Once we got in, both sexes have to cover their hair with a scarf, which I thought was really amazing, much more equal than other religions.

The inside of the temple was beautiful and everything was calm, and when you came out they gave you a sweet.  They then had a sacred pool you could walk around, which had Koi Carp in it.  It was a very good and interesting experience.

We then got the Metro (which is really awesome  in Delhi) to the Indira Gandhi museum but it was closed due to a security breach.  We then went to India Gate, which commemorates Indian people who have died in wars.

We then went to the National Modern Art Gallery, which I really enjoyed but Andy wasn't so bothered, as it was mostly paintings.  I stayed so long that they turned the lights off and shooed me out.

We then went to the bar we enjoyed last time and met a french couple we had me in Pushkar.  On the way home we saw a giant Hindu festival happening, and watched that for abit.

The next day we went to Qutub Minar, which is a big ruins outside of Delhi of an Ancient city, made of sandstone.  We found another little Ruin of a tomb on the way which was cool as there were so many butterflies there.

When we got to Qutub Minar we just wandered around it and took photos and relaxed as it had a really nice park vibe to it, and alot of families were having picnics.

The last day we spent in Delhi, we didn't really do alot, as we had to carry all our valuables around with us, we tried to go to another Bollywood, but they wanted us to leave our bags at the back of the cinema  so we refused.  We then went to park and a man came up and started talking to us, he then said he was a professional ear cleaner and then just grabbed Andy's ear and started cleaning it!  It was abit like ear rape as he was using a pointed mental stick, any way alot of gunk came out of Andy's ear!

 We then waited in the hostel for our taxi and when it got there, we got in and then.... Nothing!  The taxi wouldn't start.  Me and Andy started to panic as we didn't want to be stuck in Delhi when we needed to be on our way to the airport. The taxi driver tried a few times and then me and Andy started to say were getting a different taxi, but he jumped out and got about half the street to help push the car until it started!  And finally we were off.  Excited for Hong Kong, but sad to be leaving the crazy world of India.

Thursday, 20 December 2012


We left Delhi in the early afternoon for a very long 16 hour train journey to Varanasi, it was incredibly hot and humid on the train during the day and freezing in the morning.  We arrived in Varanasi at about 5.30am and walked though nearly deserted streets, we knew our hostel was right beside the Ganges, so we walked towards it.

 My first view of the Ganges was through a thick, swirling  mist, with little boats dipping in and out of sight.  I just thought "wow".  It was one of those sights I will never forget.  We walked along the ghats, which is are the steps down the bank of the river to get to the water, and found our hostel (Ram Bhawan), who kindly let us in and gave us an amazing breakfast.

The first day we didn't do alot as we also got free lunch at the hostel (which incidentally was the best food we have had since we were in India!) I then had a nap, then in the evening we had heard there was a Hindu ceremony by the Ganges at 6pm, so me and Pia (one of the girls in our Dorm room) went down to watch it.

It was a very complicated ritual which involved ringing bells, and doing complicated dances with fire, water, petals and feathers.  There were 5 monks doing the ritual and it fel very spell binding to watch them so intently do this long ritual.

Afterwards me, Andy and Pia got a rickshaw to a mall, with the worst rickshaw drive rin the world.  He was just really angry and felt like quite a dangerous driver.  The mall felt very strange as it was the most modern place in India which we had been too, plus combined with the fact that Varanasi is suppose to be one of the holiest places in India, and a materailstic mall is at such odds with that.

The next day (which was Diwali) everyone in our Dorm got up at 5am and we went down to the Ganges for a boat ride at sun rise.  When we got there it was pitch black, and managed to bargain a good deal as there was so many of us and no one else was around.  We set off, and already the bathers had gathered at the bottom of the ghats, some people bathing and washing themselves and there clothes, and some washing their sins away, as the Ganges are suppose to be the gateway to Heaven.

We then went up to the other side of the Ganges to where the burning ghats are which is where they cremate the bodies before putting them into the river.  You could see the smoke all the way along the river, rising up from the banks.  They cremate everyone out in the open on the banks, and we were given a "tour" around it. It was very eye opening, at how close life and death in India is.  We saw the white piles of ashes of bodies which had already been cremated, and the "untouchables" who work there shoveling the ashes into the river.  We also saw them performing the death ceremony on one body, where the eldest son has to go round the body 5 times with fire before lighting the pyre.  It all felt very surreal.

We then went and met up a new Indian friend we made, called Sarabjeet, and he showed us round a Hindu temple for the monkey god, which was really interesting as it was one of the busiest worshiping temples we had been too, and everything was painted in orange.

 We then wandered around the University which was like a ghost town since everyone had gone home for Diwali.  We the went to a second temple which they had made a giant picture on the floor made of coloured sand which is called Rangoli, which was amazing.

Me and Andy then went back to the hostel for the Diwali celebrations.  We all sat on the roof top and watched as the city lit up with fireworks in all directions.  It was really beautiful and magical, and it was made more exciting by the fact  that there doesn't seem to be much safety regulations in India, so fireworks exploded just above us, came rushing past us, and we saw children firing fireworks out of plastic bottles next door, and also building a fire and throwing fireworks in!  It was a crazy night and food we had a the hostel was amazing.

We also had a firework show on our roof top too, run by the kids there.  When one fire work didn't go off they just built a fire around it.  All the westerners ran away but the kids just stood there as fireworks flew in all directions!  The party went on all night, but I headed to bed at around 12.30am!

The next day me and Andy went to Sarabjeet's house for lunch, and his Mum cooked us the best Indian food I've ever had.  It was really lovely being in his house and meeting his family.  There was one awkward moment where he was like "would you like to see my Mums shop", and me and Andy just looked at each other like "Oh no were being scammed again!" but it was fine, they just showed us the workshop,and explained alot of her clients were ladies going to Kitty parties which is basically a weekly meetup for richer ladies.

We then went to where Buddha did his first sermon called Sarnath, and had a look around the temple and the site.  I am quite interested in Buddhism anyway as my Mother is a Buddhist  and I realized how much nicer Buddhism is that Hinduism, as no one in the temple hassled you for money or tried to scam you, and there was just a feeling of peace and serenity.

I then went back to the hostel and Andy went to a bar with some people.  Me and Gloria (another girl from our Dorm room) went to the Ganges and saw there late night ceremony of taking statues of each of the Gods down into the river and doing a ceremony in a boat.  This was combined with crazy drumming and dancing while local children set off huge firecrackers.  It felt completely insane and you could feel the explosions from  the firecrackers.  We then danced with the locals who all wanted photos with us.  Then headed back to the hostel.

The next day me and Andy just wandered along the ghats for a few hours which was really interesting  We saw where the monsoon period has completely covered the ghats in mud, and people clearing it with huge hoses.  We then when out with our little Dorm family, Gloria, Dominic and Sarabjeet and got some Lassi's, and then watched a sitar performance which was amazing.

On the last day I just wandered around the back streets and got lost for awhile, and then wandered up the other side of the ghats and was offered Opium cookies which I declined! I then met Dominic from our Dorm and we sat and chatted for a few hours, and bought some things off a child seller called Monica who was the cutest kid I met In India.

We then all me, Andy, Gloria, Dominic and Sarabjeet met up and had cake together. We were saying goodbye to our little travel family, which was so sad as it was the first group of people we met that we had loved so much!

We were then back on a train.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


We arrived in Delhi very late from Agra, as our train had been delayed by 4 hours.  We weren't really looking forward to being in Delhi as we had heard alot of people being very negative about Delhi saying how horrible, busy and smelly it was.  We had also read the reviews for our hostel there, and people had been saying it was in a slum!  So we were abit nervous of it!

Our first impression of Delhi was busy but good.  We were in Pahar Ganj which is the touristy area.  After wandering around for ages we found our hostel down a set of winding back streets with tiny shops set in them, definitively not a slum!  So we were quite relieved.

We decided to go out for a drink, and found a cheap looking bar, inside we found.... Europe!  It was a little bar selling beer (mostly Indian guys there), with a mixture of rock and pop music playing.  

We sat down, and one Indian guy started trying to talk to us, and another guy pulled him away.  We weren't sure what was happening, but later we realized it was a security guard, so basically Indians aren't allowed to mix with tourists, which is what we found alot in India, which I find strange.

We found 2 cool Swedish guys who we chatted to most of the night, although one had to dash off home to the toilet as he had "Delhi Belly".  

The next day we went for breakfast and then headed off to Varanasi!  But yeah we liked Dehli!

Sunday, 2 December 2012


We left Jaipur really late at night (after napping for a few hours in the evening), our train was at 2am and arrived at Agra 6am.  It was definitely one of the worst trains,  as we didn't have much time to sleep and the other people spent the whole time listening to loud music on their phones.

Agra is not a nice city, its polluted, noisy, busy and has open sewers everywhere, the only saving grace is that the Taj Mahal is there. We got into the hostel and had to wait about 5 hours to get into our room.  The reason we chose this hostel was you could see the Taj Mahal  from the roof terrace  but the Taj was so covered in mist and fog we could barely see the outline.  Our hostel was awful  it was the smallest room we have stayed in and covered in mold (by the time we left all our clothes were and smelt of damp).  

 We had hoped to go and see the Taj the day we arrived but unfortunately we arrived on a Friday which is the only day it is closed!  Luckily I had my guide book and it explained that there is a big pubic garden behind the Taj where you could see the Taj Mahal for alot less money called Mehtab bagh .  We decided to get there at sunset, and then relaxed for most of the day.

We got a rickshaw over and just managed to make it over before they stopped allowing people in.  We walked through a tree lined path and then there it was, the icon of India - The Taj Mahal.

It is one of those places where you think "is the hype real?" As so many people say how amazing it is, but it really is breath taking when you see it in real life. We weren't sure how it would look from behind but it actually looks exactly the same as the front.  The best bit was that because it was a Friday and the Taj was closed we got pictures of it with NO tourists in it, which is unbelievable, even the park wasn't crowded!
We spent ages photographing and just looking at it in all its splendor.  It changed colour in the different lights, which is suppose to represent Allah (as it is a Muslim building and has a mosque on each side too).
We then went back and went to bed early for the main event of the next day, which was getting up at 5am and going to the Taj Mahal at sun rise.

It was a freezing cold day and we had to line up for an hour at the West side, we were then scanned and frisked before being allowed to enter the bit before the Taj Mahal, you walk along and there is a arched entrance way and then you see the image you have seen on every poster, advert, and film about India, the Taj Mahal.  We got there early enough that it wasn't too crowded   We again photographed it to within and inch of its life and looked in awe at it, and then went inside it. 

You realize as you get closer to it that the Taj Mahal does look best from abit of the distance.  It does have beautiful craftsmanship up close but it sort of loses it grandeur.  Once you get inside though it is really beautiful.  It is delicately carved with flowers with semi precious stones set into the marble.  The marble itself is white, smooth and cold, and defiantly gives a sense of purity.  As you get to the main hall, you see the reason it was all built - the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal.  The emperor Shah Jahal was so in love with his wife that when she passed away in child birth he built her the Taj Mahal to house her tomb, and when he passed away his tomb was placed beside hers,which is the only thing that is not perfectly symmetrical in the whole building.

I really did find the Taj Mahal wonderful and quite moving, its a beautiful embodiment of romantic love.