Tuesday, 30 July 2013
Kharjaraho station. 9pm. Discussing amongst ourselves what is the best plan of action for finding a place to sleep with such late notice. As soon as we stepped off the train we were surrounded by 20 or more teenagers. They swamped us with offers for cheap hotels and because there were so many, it really was very cheap. We took two auto rickshaws (known as India's helicopters), to yogi lodge.
Yogi lodge was clean, cheap and accessible. We ate on the roof top where they had a special tandoor oven in which they cooked lots of different chicken dishes. I tried the butter chicken. Its very different to what we are used to. No where near as creamy and more complex spice mixes. We were approached by a young man named yogi who invited us to his table. He was from south Delhi and a label designer.
Yogi and his friends talked to us about lots of things from cricket to caste systems. These guys were pretty wealthy and were throwing around 1000rs notes like they were nothing. Rum after rum were delivered to our table free of charge as their guests. One of yogis friend who was not a Hindu explained the caste system to me.
The top caste are brahmins. They are the holy men and pilgrims who devote to god. Foreigners sit in this caste because we are usually white and rich comparatively. The next caste I can't remember the names but the one below are a warrior caste of which yogi and another of his friends belonged to. Under that are the business men and women followed by the servants and finally the bottom caste who clean toilets and other lowly jobs. I found it interesting how yogi could be so charming and friendly yet when his friend from a lower caste said something he didn't agree with he would tell him to shut up and the lower caste man would agree and apologize.
I have also heard stories that the bottom caste are sometimes known as untouchables and if you say... Hold a slum kids hand for instance, the brahmins will be offended and disgusted. Another odd story is the one about it being bad luck if an untouchable strolls past your car before a journey. The only way to remedy this bad luck is to buy said untouchable a pair of shoes. It is said that these people have rags for clothes but a great shoe collection.
Waking up with a hangover the following morning we explored the 11th century hindu temples dedicated to Shiva and ganesh which are home to the sexy Kama sutra statues. It began to rain so we went to seek refuge from the downpour in one of the temples. That night we went to an Italian restaurant and ate organic pizza. It was very expensive but very nice food and a clean European standards style restaurant.
The last day we visited the waterfalls about 20km away in a tuk tuk we hired for the day. Camille drove us for a while which she was very excited about. The waterfalls were incredible. So aggressive and powerful but beautiful and elegant at the same time. Monsoon is the best time to see them as the tide is so high. The water is 100m deep in some parts. Our guide was a friendly young chap in a jungle leopard print suit. Fantastic. We compared cotton shirts and joked about clothes. After the tour he gave us beedie cigarettes to try. They are a rolled up dried leaf from the trees that grow there. It was not to my taste. After stopping to teach a young farming boy some French words we got our driver to take us to the train station to board a train to Varanasi. Our driver was very sweet. He told us he had a great day coming with us and seeing temples and waterfalls, drinking chai and listening to us laugh. He finished by saying he wish he could come to Varanasi with us and wished us a safe journey.
Tip of the day - wear a poncho or rain jacket before it rains when you are still dry, not afterwards when you are drenched.
Monday, 29 July 2013
Orchha is a huge change of pace. We stayed in a small village on a farm with a family of eight. Mukesh is the man of the house. He lives with his grandfather and mother, his wife, three children and a dog. It was an absolute delight to spend time exploring the temples and ancient architecture. Tom and I walked along a path beside a wall that leads up to what could be a religious kind of shrine which featured a 360 degree view of the city of orchha and surrounding farms and plains.
One day when we had walked in to town to get some lunch and climb to the top of one of the temples, we were caught in a monsoonal downpour. Village people and mountain goats ran for cover but I couldn't be happier. Being drenched in rain is not only refreshing, its also a free shower and laundry visit. Score...
The water buffalo also looked pretty happy when the rain came. One thing I have noticed and loved is how the buffalo and cows seem to think standing and sleeping in the middle of a busy road is a great idea. Drivers don't seem to mind in the slightest so maybe they're on to something. When we got back to the village we played some cricket with mukesh and his boys and then sat down for a thali and chai. At this point my stomach was trying to keep up with all the new experiences so I tried to keep it minimal.
Orchha was a good change of pace but at the same time I was looking forward to moving on to kujaraho and visiting the Kama sutra statues and waterfalls.
Tip of the day - don't let villager girls tie bracelets on your wrists!
Friday, 26 July 2013
Once back in Delhi, I really felt like I could handle the chaos and the noise. It was a huge difference the way people treat you when you aren't wearing a big back pack. The place I was staying in was called the smyle inn which was clean, affordable and sold water at reception. The staff were a bit grumpy so after our day of exploring the markets we decided to move to the hotel next door. Turned out to be a good decision!
Our second day in Delhi our hotel manager and newly acquired friend, helped us book a private car to Agra to visit the taj mahal and Agra fort. Our drivers name was prem and he was a complete fiend behind the wheel. Ducking and weaving his Toyota van past motor cycles, cows, camels, rickshaws and cars. These guys are pros. It takes 4 to 6 hours to Agra and prem would have had to be on the ball the whole way.
When I got to the taj I took a lot of snaps of the surrounding architecture. There are lots of myths and stories about the taj which are pretty interesting. One of my favorite ones is that there were plans to construct an exact negative of the taj from black marble. There has been black marble excavated from the surround area and many 'official guides' will back up this claim.
Standing in the gardens looking up at the taj was a real hallmark in my life. Seeing a world renowned famous icon such as the taj was surreal. A word I have used often to describe India, yet just fits so well. To see it in the flesh and see that it was real and not just something from a postcard, was significant for me.
After the taj, the next tourist attraction was Agra fort. It was used for military purposes and then later was lived in. Its really big and has windows that overlook the entire city. You can see the taj mahal on the horizon. The contrast between the old temples and buildings and the traffic below is quite cool to see.
The train ride from Delhi was an adventure. We went with the cheapest option and rode cattle class with the general public. No a/c or free refreshments. I was offered chips, water, soft drink, samosas, chai and hash and cocaine. I declined all of these offers. Tom, however opted for some sort of fried sandwich he described as 'not very good'. After a sweaty 6 hour train ride hanging out with a group of 30 something men who acted like teenagers bubbling with excitement and a cute little 6 fingered girl, we arrive in orchha.
Monday, 22 July 2013
Before leaving Amritsar we made our way to the wagah border closing ceremony between Pakistan and India which has been happening since 1959. We caught a bus to the border and walked through an enormous crowd of Indians who were proudly representing their country. It was interesting to see how proud and patriotic Indians are. There were several checkpoints on the way to the seated area where the ceremony takes place. Each check point was cleared by a group of armed soldiers on horse back looking very stern and intimidating. Perhaps it was the ak47s or the perfect moustaches.
Standing in the hot sun really takes it out of you so it is important to keep hydrated. I must have hydrated a little too well because I was really busting to use the toilet. Guess what... No toilets. I watched men run across the road to relieve themselves and decided this was my only option. Now, I don't make a habit of writing about taking a whiz but this particular time was different because I was shocked to realize I was urinating on a crop of marijuana plants on the Pakistan/India border!
We were seated after some more security checkpoints. The ceremony takes place every evening before sunset at the Wagah border, which as part of the Grand Trunk Road was the only road link between these two countries before the opening of the Aman Setu in Kashmir in 1999. The ceremony starts with a blustering parade by the soldiers from both the sides, and ends up in the perfectly coordinated lowering of the two nations' flags. We all felt that the beginning of the ceremony was fresh and excitement but after the 10th angry Indian handshake it was a tad samey.
Rushing back to Amritsar we hopped on the train to Delhi. The food and chai were excellent and watching the sights out the window on our way was a treat that I hope I don't get used to. I noticed tom turning green and shivering next to me. Looks like he will be the first one to fall victim to the infamous Delhi belly. Here's hoping I don't get a podium finish.
Friday, 19 July 2013
I understand now why people say India is the best place you will ever visit as well as the worst. I landed in Delhi a few days ago and immediately ripped the flight barcode off my pack to avoid looking fresh off the plane. Walking out of the airport I was ready for a wave of heat, humidity and smells. I think I prepared my self pretty well because it was not as intense as I was expecting. What I wasn't expecting was the ridiculous amount of scams. Traffic is well pass chaotic here but it seems to work. A horn is a necessity and is almost rude and dangerous If you don't use it.
Tom and I made our way straight to the train station to buy our tickets to Amritsar. We finally get to where we believe the tourist office is and a man approaches us and informs us that it has moved and will give us directions. One thing leads to another and we are in his brothers (apparently) auto rickshaw heading to an office. 10rs, why not...
When we arrive a man tells us everything is sold out. Tom received a message just as this happened from our friend in Amritsar saying "trust no one". We left the office immediately. This little scam was attempted on us maybe 5 or 6 times. We finally got a later train on a sleeper class which worked out better in the end because we didn't have to pay for accommodation.
Amritsar and Delhi, to me, are so different. Although its still chaotic and people mob you to buy things, it doesn't seem as sinister and mean as the streets of Delhi. Our accommodation for the night was to be in the actual golden temple as a pilgrim. You can sleep and eat entirely for free. Of course there is a donation box as well. The golden temple is very important to the sikh people and they keep it immaculate. Seeing the blinding white marble and bright golden structure surrounded by holy water in the middle was completely surreal.
After walking around for a while we made our way to the kitchen where you are lead through a crowd, given a plate and bowl and shown in to a hall with hundreds of other people. You sit cross legged as men walk around dropping food on to your plate with amazing efficiency. After finishing you leave the hall from the opposite side where you hand your dirty plate to a chain of people working as an organic washing machine. Amazing to see. The golden temple feeds 60 to 80,000 people every DAY!
A lot of Indian teenagers have a weird idea of foreigners. I have posed in photos with about 20 different people for no reason whatsoever. Very weird. I have also shaken the hands of many boys and girls. After the hand shake they give me the biggest grin i've ever seen.
Before leaving Amritsar, we learn about the massacre of 1918 by there British. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls of a few of the structures.
Next stop, back to Delhi.
-i have to buy a cord for my camera so I can share some amazing images with you but for now text will have to do. :-(