A Travellerspoint blog

Palaces, Palaces everywhere!!

Jaipur

sunny 28 °C

17th December 2010

As we had arrived so late last night, we had a mini lie in and were due to meet up at 9:15 in the hotel lounge. We made it to breakfast at 8:45 and grabbed some omelettes, toast and coffee from the buffet and joined the group while we waited for our Tuk-Tuks to arrive as we were going to see the historic sights of Jaipur. Soon we were again trundling down the bumpy roads and heading for a whistle-stop look at the Wind Palace just to take some photos of the impressive frontage only, as we were informed that the inside is completely empty. What a waste of a gorgeous building!

The Wind Palace in Jaipur

The Wind Palace in Jaipur

Our next tour stop was the City Palace where we had an audio guided tour. It was an incredibly beautiful place, over 200 years old and home to a succession of Indian Maharajas. It even boasted its own unique boutique opened by one of the Maharani (Queens), selling items that you cannot buy anywhere else but here! The Palace had some more unique items on display too – the largest silver pots in the world made from thousands of melted down silver coins. Truly impressive things, slightly cheapened by a tacky Christmas tree standing in the middle of the large pavilion! Just as impressive was an incredible array of weapons in their armoury room! Swords, knives, daggers, guns, rifles and other weapons from all over the world were displayed in vast showcases. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photographs in there. Exiting there and going through another gateway, we found ourselves in the most beautiful courtyard with 4 elaborately decorated doors depicting each of the 4 seasons. This courtyard, apparently, is popular with Bollywood film directors as it is so colourful, and has been used in many movies. The tour finished in the Maharaja’s Audience Chamber, where he would speak and listen to his subjects. It was a huge room with a beautiful throne at the end of a massive Persian carpet, its colours brightened by the second largest chandelier in India. The ceilings were magnificently painted in intense colours, with layers of real gold interlaced with the vivid paints. On the walls were paintings and photographs of past Maharajas. On the way out to rejoin our party we saw our first real Indian snake charmers playing pipes with big, angry looking Cobras slowly rising and swaying in their baskets! We looked hard for the strings but couldn’t see any!

cp_courtyard.jpgcp_courtyard_gate.jpgInside the City Palace courtyard in Jaipur

Inside the City Palace courtyard in Jaipur

One of the two pure silver jars in the City Palace in Jaipur

One of the two pure silver jars in the City Palace in Jaipur

Charming!!

Charming!!

With us being the perennial slowcoaches, we were once again the last ones back, and found our group waiting for us! We were soon tightly packed into our Tuk-Tuks and off to visit the Amber Fort. Here we had a local guide show us round, but as his English was so bad we lost a lot of the history of the place and, although we tried to listen to what he was saying, we all started losing interest and as soon as that happened he seemed to give up too! It was a shame really, as the history of these places is quite fascinating to listen to. The Palace within the Fort was very beautiful in places however, and one room in particular really stood out as it was decorated from floor to ceiling in myriads of small pieces of mirrored glass that glistened in the sunlight.

The front of the immense Amber Fort

The front of the immense Amber Fort

The entrance to the Palace within the Amber Fort

The entrance to the Palace within the Amber Fort

The ceiling decorated with small pieces of mirrored glass

The ceiling decorated with small pieces of mirrored glass

One of the King's rooms within the Palace

One of the King's rooms within the Palace

The Palace also boasted a clever cooling system for its time. In the summer months here the temperatures can reach 45 degrees Centigrade so they built the Palace with hollow walls and two huge but discrete tanks on the roof that were filled up with cold water which flowed through the wall cavities thereby cooling the walls and thus the rooms as it went.
Unfortunately our visit here was not very interesting, although it was an impressive and beautiful structure, but this may have been due to our unenthusiastic guide.
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped off at the Water Palace (after passing a dead camel – the biggest road kill we’ve ever seen!!) to take some photos. It is basically a disused Palace standing in the middle of a large lake, with the lower floors completely submerged. The only access to it is by boat and the building is now in the hands of a private developer where, in a few years time, it could become a beautiful hotel! As we didn’t have a guide for this, we didn’t get any history about it so just took a few snaps, marvelled at a couple of people walking with massive baskets of Papadums on their heads, and squeezed back into our motorised rickshaws and headed back to the hotel, again having to take the back streets and alleys as the second day of Muslim celebrations got underway and the main roads were blocked once again.

water_palace_2.jpgThe Water Palace, Jaipur

The Water Palace, Jaipur

Bet he can't eat all those papadums!

Bet he can't eat all those papadums!

Back at base we grabbed some lunch, resisted the temptation to go sit by the cooling waters of the pool, and instead tried to take advantage of the free WiFi service. But, as usual, it didn’t work. WiFi out here is extremely hit and miss, with more misses than hits!! Unperturbed, we went into an office just off the hotel and used their cable Internet service, for which we had to pay. After a couple of hours of dabbling we met up with our group for dinner which would be at the hotel due to the celebrations going on in the town. The meal was fairly forgettable to be honest, but we all had a good chat and a laugh and soon people were drifting off to their rooms as we were to have an extremely early start in the morning.

Posted by StewnJen 14:13 Archived in India Comments (2)

Aggravation in Agra

Getting to marvel at the marble!!

sunny 26 °C

16th December 2010

It was not a great night’s sleep for either of us, with Jen coming off worse as she was cold most of the night. Anyway, we managed to get up and be downstairs before 6am and were bundled into a minibus that took us the short journey to the Taj Mahal. We were the first ones there, and were so early, in fact, that it didn’t open for another half an hour! In that time, many people started queuing behind us and we were glad of the fact that we would be the first ones in and could take the first pictures without a soul around. How wrong! We were split into 2 lines with males on the right and females on the left and would be frisked and have any bags we had on us searched. The girls got through straight away and were the first ones in. Before Stew could even get his ticket validated, half the people in the queue behind him had got through! After about 20 minutes he joined Jen to look at the astounding monument before them. It looks even better in the flesh, a quite astonishing building. Apparently, the early morning light is the best time to photograph it because it takes on a pinkish hue, and it truly looked stunning as the sun broke the horizon, and the Taj was swathed in a light, pink mist. The usual mix of cheesy, normal and arty photos were taken and we donned our bright red shoe covers to go up to the next level and walk around the complex before entering the Mausoleum itself and seeing the tombs of the King and his Queen, for whom he’d had the monument built. With no photography allowed inside, we can only remember what it was like – the entire inside, as outside, was pure white marble, including both tombs and their intricately carved surround. An extremely beautiful place. We made our way out and walked the grounds some more, taking many more photographs in the process, and then headed back to our meeting point, Hotel Sheela, for breakfast, running the gauntlet of a never ending stream of hawkers wanting to sell us books, bangles, fridge magnets or even to clean our trainers! Have to say that Stew finally ran out of patience....

The mist rolls in from the river behind the magnificent Taj Mahal

The mist rolls in from the river behind the magnificent Taj Mahal

Sunrise at the Taj Mahal

Sunrise at the Taj Mahal

The breathtaking marble marvel!

The breathtaking marble marvel!

The white marble glows orange in the early morning sun

The white marble glows orange in the early morning sun

The Princess and the Far King Idiot!

The Princess and the Far King Idiot!

A decent breakfast of cheese and tomato omelette on toast with a nice cup of coffee later, and we were back enroute to our hotel to pack up and check out, dumping our bags in reception before jumping back into the minibus for our second excursion of the day – Agra Fort.
Once again it was only a short ride and we were soon following our local guide and entering an incredibly impressive building of massive proportions that, when built in the 16th century, boasted an outer wall, a crocodile filled moat, another wall, a gap in which tigers roamed, and another wall with grooves down which boiling oil or water would be poured onto the heads of marauding armies. On the other side of the wall soldiers would be waiting, armed with all manner of weapons if any enemy soldier should make it that far. Needless to say, the fort was never attacked once in its history and it took 4 generations of Mughal rulers 95 years to complete! If you walked around the perimeter of the fort, it would be a walk of well over a mile! One of the more interesting (and poignant) facts about the fort is that the son of the King who built the Taj Mahal killed his 3 brothers and then imprisoned his father in the Fort just to make sure that it was he who would become King. His father sat and watched the Taj Mahal being built every day, but didn’t live long enough to see it completed. We were also shown the place where the British attacked in the 19th century and the building still bears the scars of a single cannon ball that split the black marble throne in two, before bouncing up and tearing through a layer of marble, leaving a gaping hole with stress fractures all around it!

The hole left by a British fired cannonball

The hole left by a British fired cannonball

Shah Jahan was imprisoned in this room by his own son

Shah Jahan was imprisoned in this room by his own son

One of the beautifully decorated rooms of the Palace within Agra Fort

One of the beautifully decorated rooms of the Palace within Agra Fort

The Palace within the immense Agra Fort

The Palace within the immense Agra Fort

On the way to the exit, we stopped at the tomb of the British Governor, John Russell Golvin, who was in charge of the British running of India before succumbing to cholera in 1857. It was a fascinating and beautiful place, and would have been mind blowingly stunning to look at when completed, as everything for the Kings and Emperors were inlaid with gold and diamonds, and brightly coloured paints and tiles, some of which still remain. Its history was every bit as fascinating as it looked.

The tomb of the British Governor of India John Russel Golvin

The tomb of the British Governor of India John Russel Golvin

After an hour and a quarter we boarded the bus again, and rode back to have some lunch, with us two being the only ones opting for a Pizza Hut pizza. It was delicious! I know we’re Philistines, but sometimes you just have to listen to your stomach! After we’d pigged out on pizza, we had another long, drawn out wait for our transport back to the train station where we were going to have another long, drawn out wait for another long, drawn out train journey – this time to Jaipur where we would be seeing the Amber Fort and the City Palace.The minibus duly arrived at around 17:00 and we were soon struggling on with our backpacks, having to wear our fleeces and jackets as we have no room to pack them, the sweat pouring down us, and trudged our way up and down stairs and along long platforms to finally board our slightly late train – thankfully another sleeper, meaning more room – and settled in for the five hour twenty minute journey ahead. The girls, Audrey, Chelsea and Jacinta joined us in our carriage along with Tony and Abbi, to quaff their pizzas and play a game of “while I was in India I bought....” where the next person has to repeat what they bought, and then add an item for themselves each time. It whiled away 20 minutes before we all forgot who bought what! After what felt like an eternity we arrived at the station very late at night, heaved our bags onto our backs and trudged the short distance to our transport, a motorised rickshaw, which would take us to our hotel, the Bissau Palace, a short distance away. There was a Muslim festival going on in the street where people thronged around handmade structures covered in silver foil which they carried around, while others banged on drums. The noise was deafening, and, as the roads were blocked with many people celebrating, our rickshaw driver had to take to the back alleys to get us through. It was a bumpy ride to say the least, narrowly missing the odd donkey, pot holes the size of a small crater and a few cows! The gates were opened as we pulled into the hotel entrance, and our first impressions were really good. This hotel was the most impressive so far, all the walls being hand painted with flowers and murals on the inside and outside, all in bright vivid colours. The lobby boasted grand paintings of Maharajas past, and photographs of Royals including the Indian Royal Family, of King George VI with the Queen Mother, Prince Charles with Princess Diana when they visited Jaipur and one with a very young looking Queen Elizabeth II. Another room, just off the lobby, that looked like a small library was like a museum housing lots of jewellery, swords, guns with their accessories and other interesting stuff. The book collection seemed very old too. It was fascinating to look around it, but, as it was now close to one in the morning we were feeling tired and very thirsty, so we decided to have a nightcap of a hot coffee and a hot chocolate before heading for our equally beautifully decorated room to sleep.

Bissau1.jpgBissau3.jpg
The gorgeous Bissau Palace hotel

The gorgeous Bissau Palace hotel

Posted by StewnJen 13:18 Archived in India Comments (3)

A small town called Orchha

A little Indian cooking....and a couple of little Brits too!

sunny 28 °C

14th December 2010

The train finally pulled in at 7:30am where we all piled inside some more rickshaws, but thankfully this time of the motorised variety (Tuk-Tuks) and headed towards the small town of Orchha about 40 minutes drive away. We pulled into the driveway of our next stop, The Orchha Resort, and were very pleasantly surprised! If it impressed from the outside, then the inside was even better. The foyer walls were adorned with colourful murals in relief that stretched along half a wall, marble floors and pure white walls. It was gorgeous. Here we were supposed to be staying in luxury tents complete with ensuite bathrooms, but, unfortunately, they had a boiler problem so we had to stay in rooms instead, much to Stew’s disappointment! The room was lovely though, so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

A nice welcome to our hotel

A nice welcome to our hotel

Carved mural in the foyer

Carved mural in the foyer

You should see the guest house next door!!

You should see the guest house next door!!

This hotel had a swimming pool too which we could immediately hear calling to us.... Unfortunately it would have to wait, as we were given a short orientation walk by Abi and shown where we would be meeting for dinner, before jumping into some Tuk-Tuks that took us to an ordinary Indian family’s house where we would be shown how to cook various curries, which basically just turned out to be the lady giving us the ingredients and us writing them down, whilst she cooked the food! The only hands on part was when we all had a go at making the Chipatis which was great fun, and we were then all given a tray of all the food that had just been cooked which included Spinach and Potato curry, Eggplant curry, Green Beans and Potato curry, Chickpeas in a yoghurt sauce, Guava chutney and Pilau Rice. It was delicious, our favourites being the Eggplant curry and the Green Bean and Potato curry. For sweet we had Gulub Jamun, and then all the girls decided to have Henna tattoos hand drawn on their hands by the lady who had just cooked our dinners.

Our Indian cooking teacher

Our Indian cooking teacher

Stew rolling his chipati

Stew rolling his chipati

The finished article - about to be finished off!

The finished article - about to be finished off!

The Henna'd hens!

The Henna'd hens!

The entertainment was provided by her 3 year old son, Anse, who took great pleasure in shooting at us with his toy gun and throwing chickpeas around. He was very cute and very funny too. More entertainment came in the form of a small mouse that kept running in and out of the kitchen, with the girls keeping a very close eye on where it was going! With the girls all Henna’d up and our stomachs full to bursting, we said our goodbyes to the family and headed back to laze around the pool in the brilliant sunshine and heat, before heading back to our room for a light siesta that turned into a deep sleep! I’m sure those who know us well will know what’s coming next.... – we were late for our 18:45 meeting time to go and watch a local temple prayer service! After waking up at 18:35 we threw some clothes on and ran out the door, walking as fast as we could and luckily, our group were only just entering the gates. Matt spotted us and called us over and we took off our shoes and entered the temple, getting explanations of what was going on by a local guide who was accompanying us. It was fascinating to watch as every local person made their offerings of sweets and flowers to their Gods, all the while singing mantras and saying prayers.
We then made our way to the restaurant for dinner, and sat in the garden with the imposing Raja Mahal Palace looming over us. Dinner was the traditional Indian favourite of Pizza and chips washed down with chocolate ice cream and coffee. As it got a little more chilly, we went and sat by the fire where a man was making Chipatis and Jen decided to show him how it should be done...! She made 4 before it was time to say goodnight and trudge back to our lovely warm room. We’re quite sure he threw the strangely shaped Chipatis away....

15th December 2010

A fairly decent night’s kip last night, and Stew was unusually first in the shower to grab the hot water before Jen! We made our way back to the same restaurant in which we ate dinner last night, and decided to have our breakfast there while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive as we were all going to see the Palace complex. After a very disappointing meal of burnt cheese omelettes on fried bread for toast and milky coffee almost minus the coffee, we walked the short distance to the Palace complex and were shown around by a local guide who told us who the Palaces were for and a little of their interesting history.

The ornate entrance to Orchha Palace

The ornate entrance to Orchha Palace


Inside the Raja Mahal in Orchha

Inside the Raja Mahal in Orchha

Beautiful coloured ceiling in the Palace

Beautiful coloured ceiling in the Palace

View across the Palace rooftops

View across the Palace rooftops

Three Princesses of Orchha!!

Three Princesses of Orchha!!

It took us around an hour and a half to walk around the 2 palaces and take lots of photos of them and their surrounding areas before making our way back to the hotel to check out and drag our luggage down to reception. As we had a few hours to kill before our transport arrived we hit the hotel lunch buffet and stuffed ourselves with salad, Paneer curry, rice, pasta, roast potatoes, jelly, coconut cake and profiteroles, nicely washed down with a beer, a coke and a coffee! We then plonked our expanded asses on a sofa and switched on the laptop to catch up with the blog.
Transport arrived in the shape of Tuk-Tuks and we were off again to the station where we would be boarding our train and enduring another lengthy sojourn to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. The station was again packed with people, most waiting for their trains, but a lot of people just go there to beg and to sleep in the middle of the crowded platforms! A lot of them are small kids who buzz round tourists for anything they can get hold of.
Our non-sleeper train was 25 minutes late, and everyone piled in as quickly and chaotically as they could. The train layout was 2 seats on the left and 3 on the right, and we were unfortunate enough to be in the 3 seats. Our neighbour was not exactly the friendliest person we’ve met but that’s how it goes I guess! I get the distinct impression us Brits are not exactly welcomed with open arms over here! Anyway, we took full advantage of the fact the train had electricity and so plugged the laptop in to charge it up and decided to go through some of the amazing photos we’ve taken of some of the incredible things we’ve seen so far.
It is now beginning to sink in that 4 days from now we will be saying goodbye to our group and we will be on our own for the first time since landing in Nepal and our real adventure starts then! A sobering thought indeed, but until then we still have some fabulous things to see and do.
Our train pulled in after forever, and the mayhem started once again, as everyone jostled to get off the train. We fought to pull our backpacks off the luggage racks as we didn’t want to get left behind, and then a young boy came up to us and asked if he could have his photo taken with Stew. He was very polite, and Stew agreed so his mother took the photo and then her daughter wanted one with Jen! It was quite strange but nice in a surreal kind of way! We struggled off the train and swatted away little boys trying to beg for money or food or drink (Jen gave one a bottle of water which he just stuck under his jumper so that nobody else would see it!) and found our way to the car park where we jumped in a waiting minibus to take us to our latest home for the night. We all pretty much swooned when we arrived – not because it was a fantastic looking hotel, but because it was sandwiched between a Costa Coffee house and a Pizza Hut!! The foyer of our hotel was quite dull and our mood dropped when we saw our room! Easily the worst of all the hotels we’ve stayed in so far, and that mood was compounded when Stew opened the wardrobe to hang the jackets up and around 10 small cockroaches were running around in it! Unperturbed (!) we soldiered on and pulled back the covers – and it didn’t look as though the sheets had been changed! Putting this to one side for now, we decided to hit Costa Coffee and get a long overdue, proper Latte. It was manna from heaven I can tell you, and we decided to refrain from diving into Pizza Hut as it was almost 11pm so, we reluctantly went back to our tiny, grotty room to get some sleep as we needed to be in reception before 6am to go and see the famous Taj Mahal. To make the task easier, we pulled out our clothes ready for the next morning and set the alarm for 5:15am. Jen just couldn’t bring herself to climb between the sheets on her bed so opted to lie on top of it!

Posted by StewnJen 14:16 Archived in India Comments (2)

The Bore-ient Express to Orchha!

The No-Sleep Sleeper train !

sunny 26 °C

13th December 2010

Much to our delight, this morning we were allowed a lie in as there were no activities planned for us until midday, when we were due to see our first ever Bollywood movie! So we had a nice, late breakfast at the same hotel as the day before (yummy!) and then spent the best part of an hour on the Internet. At just before 12 we dashed back to our room to check out and then made the short walk to the shopping mall where the Cinema was situated. We were told that the film was a short one (it was two and half hours long!) and would not have any English subtitles! It turned out to be a real chick-flick and even though we couldn’t understand a word, it was very easy to follow the general plot – boy likes girl, girl doesn’t like boy, girl likes boy, girl falls in love with boy, boy doesn’t love girl, girl falls out of love with boy, boy realises he loves girl and they get married!! Not Stew’s cup of tea at all but Jen enjoyed it! It was very colourful, very loud with plenty of dancing and singing. When the movie had finished, we had half an hour to get back to the hotel before we were being picked up to go to the train station, so we dived into the first McDonalds we have seen since we left the UK! Strangely, they do not serve beef burgers – it’s all chicken, so we grabbed a couple of McChicken meals to take away and started strolling back, soon being accompanied by 3 stray dogs that could clearly smell our meals. They were harmless though, and kept their distance behind us, unlike a gang of small kids that saw us coming holding our drinks and empty McDonald's bags and pounced on us, grabbing the drinks and bags out of our hands and running off with them. Unfortunately for them, all the bags were empty save for a couple of stray chips! Poor things! It was quite a shock but not too much of a problem. Stew shouted at some of them as they got too close and they turned back without any fuss. Back at the hotel, we climbed into the cycle rickshaws once again for the short ride to the station, and boarded our overnight train for the 14 hour journey to Orchha. Once we had boarded the train and it had set off at 17:55, a man came round with pillows, sheets and blankets but we decided to use our sleeping bags for the first time as the blankets looked a little too “used”!. We once again shared the carriage with Jacinta and Chelsea, but this time had 2 Indian guys in with us as we were in AC3 carriages which basically meant 3 bunks on each side! Jen had the top bunk with Stew opposite her but in the bottom bunk. It was a totally uneventful and boring journey, with us all scrabbling for things to keep us occupied and by around 9pm we were all in our beds trying to get some sleep. It was a very long night with an awful lot of snoring, farting and crying babies, although our sleeping bags were lovely and warm!

Posted by StewnJen 12:55 Archived in India Comments (1)

Goings on at the great Ganges!

Vibrant Varanasi...

sunny 26 °C

12th December 2010

The alarm duly went off at 5:20am only for Stew to suddenly remember that there is a time difference of minus 15 minutes in India from Nepal time, so the real time was only 5:05am! This is when we found out that our shower was little more than a trickle! We made do as best we could and, feeling really tired, went down to the foyer to meet the other guys in the group for our trip into Varanasi and to the Ghats on the great Ganges where we were to hop in a boat and be rowed down the river to watch the Sunrise. Heading through town on our rickshaws in darkness, seeing many people sleeping in doorways, or sitting round a fire on some stone steps, or just walking around was just so surreal. Because of the heightened security in the area following the terrorist bomb blast 3 days earlier, the rickshaws were not allowed to go through the part of the old town we were heading to, so we walked some of the way and were soon enveloped by the many people in the street, the smell and dust of the city getting caught in our noses and throats.

An early morning walk to the Ghats of the Ganges

An early morning walk to the Ghats of the Ganges

Varanasi glows blue just before sunrise

Varanasi glows blue just before sunrise

The Ganges starts to come alive at sunrise

The Ganges starts to come alive at sunrise

Down by the Ganges, we were sitting ducks for the street hawkers and kids badgering us to buy some postcards, face paints or henna tattoos. Their persistence has to be admired, but not at that time of the morning! Our boat duly arrived and we carefully stepped aboard, trying to keep the rocking to an absolute minimum! The next hour of our lives was just an amazing, incredible experience, watching people wash themselves in the brown waters of the revered Ganges, praying before and after doing so. Watching people wash their clothes in the same waters, whilst others on the so-called Burning Ghats publicly cremated their loved ones on funeral pyres before sending their ashes into the same murky waters. We counted 3 funeral pyres all burning at the same time, whilst their families watched from a platform just above. All this was going on as the sun rose into the sky opposite them. We found it quite a humbling and moving spectacle and this sense of sadness was heightened as we floated serenely past the spot where the bomb was detonated 3 days ago, leaving scorch marks and twisted metal around the area. It was a very sobering moment.

An early bath in the Ganges

An early bath in the Ganges

Children washing themselves on the Ghats

Children washing themselves on the Ghats

Golden glow on the Ganges at sunrise

Golden glow on the Ganges at sunrise

The Ghats on the Ganges

The Ghats on the Ganges

Making chai on the Ghats

Making chai on the Ghats

Other boats were on the water too and some were almost completely engulfed by gulls as the boat’s occupants threw food into the water. Soon a man rowed over to us selling what looked like noodles and Abbi bought some packets off him and gave them to us all so that we too could feed the birds. As soon as the first food went into the water, it was absolute mayhem as the birds fought each other for the food and flew over and around us. It was a great sight and the noise was deafening! Jen was absolutely convinced that she was going to be crapped on again, and spent the time cowering whenever a bird flew over her head! Pretty soon the food had been devoured, and the birds headed off in search of more idiotic humans from which to get their sustenance!

Bird feeding frenzy

Bird feeding frenzy

That’s when we saw one of the more surreal sights on the Ganges – a boat containing two lads, and a big CRT television powered by a number of car batteries! Other boats arrived alongside, its occupants vainly trying to sell us everything from small vials of the Ganges’ water to necklaces.

Catching the breakfast show on the Ganges!

Catching the breakfast show on the Ganges!

A water borne salesman shows his wares on the Ganges!

A water borne salesman shows his wares on the Ganges!

We got off the boat where we’d boarded, and Abbi took us through some of the alleyways of Varanasi in which even the cows roam freely! You really have to watch where you’re treading here! We made it back to our rickshaws and started the long trek back to the hotel. By this time the town was really alive, and the sights, smells and sounds really woke us up! Shops were open, street cafes (well, just a fire and a pot of something in the road!) were feeding people their breakfast. As we trundled past various stalls, we noticed things like small goats heads all lined up on tables, with their skinned carcasses hanging up behind them, open air toilets with guys relieving themselves in full view of everyone, bulls, cows, goats and dogs roaming and sleeping wherever they liked, small families just sitting anywhere they could find a space cooking on a small, makeshift fire, while their blankets littered the ground around them. The sights hit your conscience here as well as your eyes.

Walking back to our transport through Old Varanasi

Walking back to our transport through Old Varanasi

Heading back to our rickshaw in Varanasi

Heading back to our rickshaw in Varanasi

Our taxi driver tears up the tarmac through Varanasi!

Our taxi driver tears up the tarmac through Varanasi!

Cow Hide?!

Cow Hide?!

We made it back unscathed and were taken to a hotel just down from ours for the most delicious breakfast! It was eat all you can and was fantastic value at only 200 Rupees each (around £2.80). We stuffed ourselves silly and headed back to our own hotel for a well deserved kip! After another trickled shower we eventually found a working internet site to catch up on emails and the blog before joining our group for yet another boat ride down the Ganges, this time for sunset. Once again we had cycle rickshaws drop us off in Varanasi town, and we walked through the old town this time, to get to the Ghats to board our boat where we were once again a magnet for street hawkers. We were given a really interesting explanation of the some of the Gods that are worshipped here, and also the whole marriage ceremony including the fact that some families still marry their siblings off as young as 3 years old! They continue to live with their parents separately until they are old enough to start married life living together!
The sun had already disappeared by the time we got on our boat, but this time we were joined by a couple of Indian musicians – one playing the Sitar and the other playing the Tabla (Indian drums). We set off and they played some wonderful music as we slowly drifted down the Ganges, again watching the scenes on the Ghats. On the Burning Ghats there seemed to be many more cremations than earlier on, with lots of fires glowing in the gloom. As it got dark, we joined in the Sunset flower ceremony by lighting some candles on a small bed of flowers and setting them afloat on the Ganges along with a wish. It was a beautiful sight watching all the tiny fires drifting away into the distance, to the sound of classical Indian music being played to us. The whole experience was one that will stay in our minds forever.

The Ganges glows orange just after sunset

The Ganges glows orange just after sunset

Sunset serenade on our boat!

Sunset serenade on our boat!

Our tealights and wishes float down the Ganges

Our tealights and wishes float down the Ganges

We were rowed back to shore and dropped off at the Burning Ghats where grieving friends and relatives watched their loved ones being cremated. We walked past them quietly and slowly so as not to disturb them and headed into the tiny alleyways of the old town to get back to our rickshaws. On the walk back we had to move out of the way as many people came past us heading in the opposite direction carrying a handmade wooden stretcher on which lay a body wrapped in silver cloth and covered in colourful flowers ready for cremation. As we trundled on, taking great care not to tread in the copious amounts of cow/dog/goat crap on the floor, everything suddenly went black as night when the power was cut (one thing we have failed to mention is the amazing number of power cuts there are here!) and we were soon being guided down the narrow alleys by people holding up their mobile phones and lighters and having to jump out of the way as motorbikes and scooters came zooming past us from all directions. We made it safely out of the darkened alleys and back into the manic streets of the town where we joined up with our rickshaws and were taken to a hotel for dinner, where we had the best meal yet! It was absolutely delicious. And yes, it was another curry!
With the evening still fresh in our minds, we set off for bed with the sights and sounds of Varanasi still ringing in our ears.

Posted by StewnJen 12:47 Archived in India Comments (2)

(Entries 46 - 50 of 60) « Page .. 5 6 7 8 9 [10] 11 12 »