A Travellerspoint blog

Varanasi - Day 11

As soon as we arrived in Varanasi, we were all so thankful for showers and clean clothes! We had some lunch at the hotel, then met up again to go and explore Varanasi city. Our hotel was quite a way out of the city, so we jumped in tuk tuks to drop us a bit closer. The assault on our senses when we arrived was amazing! It was so busy, and bustling, and bright, with all kinds of smells going on. Being right next to the Ganges in the main city in India for cremations, in one of the busiest areas, the mixture of street food, dirty streets, river air and whatever else was quite something! We wandered down the streets in our crocodile formation, taking in the market stalls, with their clothes, scarves, food, jewellery and almost anything you can imagine. We eventually made it down to the river. It was a beautiful sight, even though the river itself is rather unappealing! The multi coloured boats floating nearby made up for it. We were led down the riverside, past more stalls here and there, people washing their clothes and blankets, a man washing his cows, and towards the end, a cremation. It's a great honour to have your ashes spread in the ganges, and people will arrange to have their bodies transported from miles away for their cremations. Along the river side there will be a ceremony taking place somewhere at all hours of the day or night. We didn't want to into the family's time of grief, so we walked on past to get to a place called Blue Lassi - one of the best, if not *the* best lassi shop in the world. Oh my - they were incredible! I had a coconut lassi, which was made fresh in front of us, and served in clay pots. Yum!

When we were all filled up, and very happy, we went to a place full of amazing silk (and non silk) scarves. We were taught how to tell what is real silk and what is fake, so we know never to be conned into spending too much money on a supposed genuine silk scarf. The next couple of hours were spent emptying box after box after box of beautiful scarves and clothes and blankets. Oh I could have spent so much money in there! They were stunning. However, I managed to restrain myself, seeing as I have about a thousand of them back at home, no to mention no space in my backpack!

When the girls had all found their ideal purchases, we headed back to the river for a sunset boat ride, to watch the evening prayers take place. Sitting out on the river was so peaceful in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the city. Even though we were surrounded by other boats, and had the haunting music from the prayer rituals. When the ceremony was over, we sailed out away from the crowds to a quieter part of the river to light our prayer candles. These were small thin wooden bowls, filled with dried leaves and a candle. As you lean over the boat and release the bowl, you make a wish for your ancestors, your family or your friends. The river looked so pretty with all our prayers floating away. We docked the boat, and went out for some dinner, and then back to the hotel for an early night after our train ordeal the night before.

Posted by RaeRae8183 03:50 Archived in India Tagged ganges varanasi lassi Comments (0)

Agra to Varanasi - Day 10

It helped that we had a free day the next day - we could all have a bit of a lie in! We were due to leave the hotel at 7pm to catch the overnight train, so after checking out at 12.00, those that wanted to could go and explore the city a little more. We decided to go to the Red Fort, which was very similar to the Amber Fort in Jaipur. It was a stunning red brick compound, with a centre of marble. My only regret of the trip is that we didn't get a guide to show us around. It was still amazing to look at, but having someone to tell you the stories and the history of what we were looking at would have been much better. I did, however, get to feed a chipmunk whilst we were there!!! They are just so cute and tiny! A man poured some biscuit crumbs in my hand, and up hopped the teeny little thing and nommed away! I wanted to steal him! Ha!

It was then time to get back to the hotel to pick up some snacks for the train ride. An experience we were all both excited and terrified by! We arrived at the station, which was huge, only to discover that our train was delayed by 45 minutes. So we had lots of sitting around, in non-air conditioned heat. Our train eventually arrived, and we all piled on to find all kinds of people, families and bags in our assigned seats/beds. Luckily Bikash was on hand to explain that those were our seats, and as soon as they'd all finished eating their delicious looking table picnics, they moved off to find somewhere else. The sleeper train didn't have compartments, as such, just areas with 8 beds. 2 along one side of the train and 6 running perpendicular to the other side, 3 on each side. The middle bed was flat against the back wall, to allow people to sit on the bottom bed like a usual bench seat, which then swung up, and attached to chains from the ceiling, to make a middle bunk. The main walkway through the train was down the middle. No doors, no curtains, just beds and people! It was cozy to say the least. I was up on the top bunk, with another girl from the group opposite me. She looked very unimpressed with the whole situation! Actually it was rather fun - once we'd got our heads around it all! People came and went throughout the night, not that I noticed too much - as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was asleep! The night soon went, and we were up and ready to leave. The train had been much slower than expected, so our 12 hour journey turned into a 17 hour one! By the time we arrived at our next hotel in Varansi at about midday, we were shattered.

Posted by RaeRae8183 03:42 Archived in India Tagged varanasi agra night_train Comments (0)

Agra - Day 9

Day 9 - Wednesday

Once again it was an early start to get our transport to Agra. It was a fairly easy journey by bus, to arrive around lunch time. After some food we had a couple of hours to prepare ourselves for going to see the Taj Mahal! The actual, real Taj Mahal - with our own eyeballs! All the girls had bought Saris from Jaipur for the event, and a lovely lady from the hotel spa came upstairs to help dress us properly. We piled into tuk tuks, looking awesome all dressed up. Walking through the gates to see the Taj is a memory which will stay with me forever. Although there were hundreds of people, probably all feeling the same way as us, pushing to the front to get a good picture, it was still an incredible sight! We had a guide who told us a little about the history it all, and then we were allowed to wander free. We got so many looks and smiles and compliments as our whole group walked around the beautiful grounds. Many people wanted to have their photo taken with us! We stayed around to watch the sun start to set, making the sky go an incredible pink, but then sadly, it started to cloud over, so we gave up and headed back to the meeting point. I still can't quite believe I've been to the Taj Mahal! :-)

We all went out for dinner to a roof top restaurant, which was so cool! Overlooking the busy streets of Agra, with a couple of old boys playing the drums and sitar as background music. Soon good food and a couple of beers later, we came back to the hotel for a room party! Everyone squished into Bikash's room with some music and a real ice-breaker of a party. It was a great way to get to know each other a little better, and for the group to gel. It was a lot of fun, with some great moments!

Posted by RaeRae8183 05:39 Archived in India Tagged india taj_mahal Comments (0)

Jaipur Day 8

Our second day in Jaipur was a sightseeing day. We hired tuk tuks for the whole day to take us to all the major sights of the city. We started off with a ride to the Amber Fort, a 700 year old palace of the Kings of old. It is huge, and sprawling and very impressive. Jaipur used to be the Capitol City, because it's where the king lived, but 400 years ago, it was moved to Delhi, and no one has lived in the fort since. The red brick structure was just full of memories and history, and had so many hidden passageways, and tucked away rooms. Unfortunately, we were on a bit of time limit, so we weren't able to explore as much as we wanted, but even so, it was a incredible. The paint on the walls is the original colours from 700 years ago, the famous Mirror Palace, (the King's winter home) was breath taking. We could only imagine what it must have been like with the oil lamps reflecting in the thousands of hand placed mirrors. The King had 9 wives, so he built a square block with 3 apartments per side, with a secret passage running behind them all, so none of them would get jealous of each other as he went from room to room. As we walked around, we could almost imagine the rich curtains, lush materials and lavish furniture filling them. When we had taken enough photos, and learned enough history, we headed back to our tuk tuks (and personal drivers for the day, ours was called Samil, and was hilarious!!) and we set off for the Water Palace. This one we couldn't go in to, because it is in the middle of a lake. It was a brief stop, but it looked amazing, and made for yet more beautiful pictures.

We then headed to lunch, as a group, before splitting up for the afternoon to see what sights we wanted to. My little group decided that we would go to a textile place first, where we were shown how they dye the materials first of all, all with natural colours. They were in the process of dying a couple of huge long lengths of material, one green - that deep rich emerald green, for which they use spinach, and one red - an edible, luscious, bright red, for which they use rose petals and a spice I can't remember. We were then shown the printing process. It hadn't occurred me to how much work went into block printing. For each design it takes at least 2 (usually up to about 6 or 7) blocks, all overlaid with different coloured paint, to create the final picture. It takes about 8 people a couple of weeks to finish off one roll of material! After this, he took us upstairs to see some of the finished products. He started with the most basic, lowest quality and price sheets and table cloths and worked his way up to the most expensive blankets and duvet covers. Our reactions were similar to that when watching fireworks...every new piece he brought out was met with a 'ooooh' or 'aaaah' or, on a couple of occasions, a ridiculously sharp intake of breath! Mainly when he was telling us about the next piece, which was a quilted blanket made out of scraps of old wedding dresses. As he unfurled it, the design was a huge patchwork elephant, made out of hundreds of different scraps of intricate lace sleeves, delicately patterned necklines, and bold waistlines. We were awestruck. They were beautiful! I could have spent all kinds money there, but luckily I resisted, seeing as my budget would not have stretched to that. Even if they were only £90 - a total steal for the amount of work in them.

After the girls had chosen their elephants (they weren't as strong willed as I was!!) we then left to go to a Monkey Temple. We hired a local guide, who was a young kid, straight out of Uni, trying to improve his English. There were monkeys everywhere, ranging from teeny tiny baby ones, to big, occasionally scary, adult ones. We learned the history of the temple, again, it was about 700 years old, and it is used as a sort of training camp for the Hindu version of young priests. A sort of monastery I guess. There are 3 natural swimming pools there too, one for men, one for women and one for the monkeys. People come to bathe to wash away their sins, or wrongdoings. I have to say, I wouldn't be too keen to jump in, the water wasn't exactly the cleanest!! After watching the young kids playing cricket in amongst the old temples, we were then given the opportunity to feed the monkeys! Of course I jumped at the chance! It's supposed to be good karma, so I thought why not!?! Luckily our guide was there to shoo away the big scary ones, so it was just the adorable baby ones eating out of our hands. Oh they were so cute!! I wanted to take them home with me! Ha!

After a long day of sightseeing we met up as a group again for dinner, to catch up on each other's afternoons activities. Then it was back to the hotel to pack for the next early start. Although I ended up sitting and chatting with Vikash, and a couple of the others from the group, one of whom I hadn't really spoken to much yet, until the wee small hours of the morning! It was nice to get to know them a little better, however sleepy I might have been the next day!

Posted by RaeRae8183 00:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

Tordi Garh to Jaipur Day 7

Our group met outside in the dark, whilst overhead was a lightning storm. It was so nice to feel the slight rain, after being so hot all the time! We set off for our trek, which started out gently, up a couple of sand dunes, and over some small hills, and then it became pretty hard, climbing up the rocky face of the big hill. Up on the top is a 400 year old fort, well, what's left of it anyway, which is where we were aiming for to see the sun come up. Unfortunately it was a little cloudy on the horizon, so we only saw the sun emerge once it was higher in the sky, but still the colours were beautiful, and when you're stood somewhere like that, with a bunch of friends (even though it had only been a day, we were already all getting on so well) and a cup of masala chai tea in your hand, you can't help but be happy. The climb back down was almost as hard as the way up, but we all made it without a hitch, including the little puppy who had escorted us there and back again.

After a much needed breakfast, we got together to do a walk around the village, to really see what life is like in rural India. This was my far my favourite bit of the Tordi Garh stay, in fact it has become a total tour highlight. We learnt about the Hindu religion a little more, went into one of their temples, had pictures with the kids, all of whom seemed permanently attached to their cricket bats! We watched the potter work his wheel, knocking out bowl, after cup, after money box, as if they were nothing. We even got to have a go - I had a very poor attempt at a bowl! We also got to go and visit the school, where as soon as we arrived, the whole of the youngest class turned to show us, and our tour leader, their small personal black boards with the alphabet on them. I later learned that Vikash had donated them to the school, so the children wanted to show him what they were doing. One of them jumped up and ran to the front to lead a recital of the English alphabet - I think it is one of the most adorable things I've ever seen. To hear a group of 5-6 year olds recite the alphabet in a foreign language was a little awe inspiring, I have to say. We handed out some candy to them, which they loved, and let them get on with their studies.

We came back to the hotel to gather our stuff together to hit the road once more for Jaipur. The 2 hour jeep journey was just as crazy as the way there, but at least this time we knew what we were in for!

We arrived at our next hotel just in time for lunch, and then had time to clean up, and get ready for the movies! We went out to one of the most famous cinemas in India, which was a beautiful building, made out of an old theatre. It just had one big screen, but loads of seats and 2 levels. The film we watched was called NH-10, an action revenge thriller - not the glitzy, dancing Bollywood film we were all expecting. It was mostly in Hindi, with no subtitles, but we made up the story as we went along, and had the rest of the details filled in by Vikash during the interval. Audiences in this cinema were much different to back home. Everybody gets involved, shouting at the screen, squealing, giving 'useful' advice to the characters. It was great fun! After the movie a few of us decided to go for dinner to a vegetarian restaurant just around the corner. It was our first sampling of Thali, which is sort of like Tapas but with Indian food. You get little bowls with 3 or 4 different dishes. Daal, rice, veggies, potatoes, and a couple of different breads. Delicious, especially when washed down with a cup of masala tea!

Posted by RaeRae8183 09:54 Archived in India Tagged garh tordi Comments (0)

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