Delhi + Agra (Taj Mahal)

(note: I’ll add pictures in a bit!)

Lindsay and I went to Delhi, though it is NEARLY a distant memory at this point. I’m typing up this account of the experience to be sure we don’t forget about this bit of our trip.

Arriving in Delhi was great after a somewhat long journey from Varanasi. Like every other trip we took, the train ride was longer then you would think, and our train was delayed in Varanasi which was not a particularly nice train station. I think we sat around for 3 or 4 hours on the piss smelling ground, not really sure when the train was coming.

Anyway, getting to Delhi was great though. While hot, Delhi is a pretty modern city, some areas could easily be straight out of the United States. A great example is the Delhi metro, which is clean, air conditioned, and generally in working, non-broken condition. The Delhi metro was actually significantly nicer then the Bay Area’s metro. And more useful as it went all over the city.

Lindsay and I ended up staying accidentilyin a touristy area of Delhi near the “Main Bazar”, the hotel being called “Hotel All Iz Well.” This ended up being one of the nicer hotels we stayed at in India and also one of the more expensive places at ~20 bucks a night. It had air conditioning, CLEAN sheets (from what we could tell), a HOT shower (well, some of the time), and even a TV that had a few stations showing Western movies. We were staying in Delhi for a full week and we had prepared ourselves for dirty, hot, humid, loud, and overall not relaxing time and figured if we were going to be there for a week we might really appreciate having a nice place to come home to. And we did! Very very much!

Delhi itself we did a lot of random things, but to be honest not much to write home (or blog) about. The number of tourists things we did in Delhi itself were somewhere around 0. We didn’t go to see the Red Fort, we didn’t go to any museums, we didn’t see any temples or other places of worship (well, once, on accident we ran into a huge mosque), etc. Honestly at this point we felt a bit templed out, so to speak.

Instead, we spent our time in Delhi doing random things. We tried different foods. We went to a sports complex (which ended up being too expensive anyway) and tried to find a place to go swimming. We bought some clothing to bring with us to our next (colder) destinations. We spent some time sending a package back home… Interesting thing about that: we took a bunch of bags of presents/etc to a “package wallah”, basically a person who packages up stuff, and the dude SEWED all of the random stuff into a lumpy package with canvas. No box I guess, just canvas. It was like he made a lumpy custom canvas skin for our stuff. Took maybe 15 minutes and cost something like 4 bucks. Not bad. Shipping packages from India to the USA (Via “SAL” if you google this) was quite expensive. I think we paid ~USD$81 for a 11.5kg package.

And let us not forget our day trip to Agra (i.e. the Taj Mahal)! Agra could easily be a separate post but I’m worried I’ll loose steam and it’ll never happen, so here we are! We took an EARLY 6 AM train from New Delhi to Agra. Agra is a decent enough city I’m sure, but it mainly felt to me like a city with the Taj Mahal and a few other touristy places in it. We got off the train, took a tuktuk/autorickshaw to the Taj Mahal area, and walked in. We walked around, looking to buy tickets, but couldn’t figure out where to buy them. We thought we had to wait in a line that said “Tickets ->” to buy tickets, but it turns out we waited in the line and just got sent in to see the Taj. We still though we had to walk further to buy tickets, so we went to the entrance of the Taj expecting to be told/asked to buy a ticket or directed to the ticket purchasing counter or something, only to be pushed through the Taj (which is quite small) and then spit back out. This isn’t very clear i realize, what I’m saying, but basically we (honestly) accidentally saw the Taj without paying what would have been around USD $30. Which was crazy. The Taj itself was pretty cool. I keep typing other stuff and deleting it, but honestly that’s about all I can say for myself personally, “pretty cool.” It was cool. I’m glad we saw it so we can say we saw it. I wouldn’t travel to India to see the Taj, I’ll say that. And I might not even visit the Taj if I had a short period of time in India, just because for me I think there are cooler and more interesting things (Varanasi being a great example). I sort of feel like the Taj is travelers poison, you feel like you have to see it because it’s so famous, and it IS really cool, and you feel like if you don’t see it you’re going to regret being in India and not seeing it. Which is how I felt, and I’m glad we saw it, but those motivations sort of stuck in the back of my head.

The trip back from the Taj was hell. It was shit, so to speak. We were on a PACKED train, could barely move, people were screaming, Lindsay was sick, people jumping through windows of the moving train trying to get off on their stop, throwing packages through the windows, etc. Insanity. Hot, dirty, etc. Plus, when we finally got back to Delhi, it was super super crowded and somebody stole my wallet from my FRONT pocket. Pickpockted, you might say. Luckily the only thing of value that was stolen was the wallet itself, which I think was ~$20 bucks. I liked that wallet though :/. Other then that I had maybe 3 bucks worth of cash in the wallet, and nothing else (Larger bunches of money and credit cards, passports, etc, etc, I keep in a moneybelt either around my waste or locked up somewhere).

We also went to a western style mall one day (Select CITYWALK) which was great. I had a vegetable burger at McDonalds, and we tried various Indian deserts (I’m a big fan of gulab jamun btw, which I never was in the states… not sure if it’s better here, or different, or my tastes are just different with all of the Indian food), that sort of thing.

Honestly, this gives a pretty good idea of what we did for a week. Go to different parts of the city, different types of markets, etc, try different foods, eat a small bowl of rice pudding (kheer) from street vendors, get a chai and sit and read for an hour (I finished something like 7 Dresden Files books in a month).

At this point in our trip, especially the last few days in Delhi, Lindsay and I were honestly just getting pretty pumped to get on an airplane and fly to a new country. Our plan, because I’m not sure we have really posted it here yet, was/is to fly to Korea to see Phill and enjoy Korea for two weeks and move on from there. So, with a new (and happily colder!) country on the horizon near the end it mainly felt like we were passing time until our departure. Lindsay was quite sick one day and for this reason we spent nearly an entire day (except fro the occasional trip out to eat something or buy a “snack”) watching western movies on tv, which was awesome. We also watched Bang Bang! which was a pretty OKishsortofmaybenotreally Bollywood movie.

Eventually our time came, and we flew out of Delhi to Korea.

Varanasi

 

Varanasi, also known as Benares, is somewhat of a dream. We were told to brace ourselves as we entered one of the most colorful and intense experiences in India – and we were told right. Varanasi is unapologetically chaotic and crazy at every turn, but among the endless cow and dog feces, strings and strings of vendors selling prayer beads and incense holders, holy men walking with their Shiva staffs and long beards, poor children begging for extra rupees or trying to adorn you with sandalwood for “free”, I think we can safely say this is truly the Indian experience we had been waiting for.

Varanasi is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, and is one where pilgrims swarm to the Holy Ganges to wash away their sin or cremate their loved ones. It’s an especially sought-after place to die, as dying here is thought to allow for the liberation from the cycle of birth and death according to Hindu culture.

Yesterday, Kev and I watched body after body being brought through the windy streets ((called galis) which are far too narrow for traffic, but just wide enough for hundreds of cows, scooters, and every other imaginable thing) on bamboo stretchers hour after hour on their way to Manikarnika, the city’s largest burning ghat. At the ghat, we watched for hours as more than 7 bodies were dunked into the Ganges for their final cleansing, and then lit on fire surrounded by their loved ones while listening to the relentless DONG of Shiva’s temple next door. It was magical, and surreal and overall, quite an amazing experience. Watching such an intimate experience – right out in the open – has had somewhat of a strange effect on me. It is overwhelmingly powerful to witness such a thing, and was something I feel especially honored to have seen.

Yesterday morning, we got up at 4 am for a sunrise river ride on the Ganges. There we watched again as hundreds of people bathed themselves in the sludge that is the Ganges, swiping away the tangible grime on the water’s top layer to get to the green-brown water underneath. Others meditated, or chanted spiritual songs along the banks. Cremation continues 24 hours a day, on average burning 200 individuals per day. We learned that unless you are a pregnant woman, child, holy man or a pet, you are cremated, otherwise, you are brought to the center of the river, tied to a rock, and sunk. A few photos down, you will see a water buffalo having seen the same fate.

I’m not sure i have the words to describe what an insane, again – chaotic – experience Varanasi is, but damn, if it’s not something worth seeing.

There are endless other things to remember, but I’ll bullet a few for our memory later on:

  • Eating THE BEST LASSiS in the entire world at Blue Lassi (again, as you sit and watch a stream of bodies being carried down for cremation), which are made from this tiny hole-in-the-wall shop created and poured with love into single-use terracotta bowls made daily by the hill people. After consuming the unbelievable goodness, you smash your bowl to the ground – which, while wasteful, is quite an enjoyable experience. Kev has been frequenting BL 2-3 times a day, but for 40 cents, who can blame him?
  • Watching the River Worship ceremony with thousands
  • The chaos of the streets (photos to be uploaded to Flickr and sound recordings)

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