A Travellerspoint blog

Varanasi and the Holi

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Being prepared for probably THE most important Hindi town we arrived in Varanasi about 4 hours late but after a funny afternoon with an Indian family with a happy little 3 year old in our cabin. Expected by the usual touts our arranged pick up worked after a few minutes wait and a phone call (so really it did not work ;) ). After not even 5 mins on the tucktuck we could already tell that this place was different to every other before. The tucktuck forced it s way through people, cars, bikes, cows, other tucktucks and the final way to our hostel was a long, wet and strange walk through the little alleys that lead down to the many ghats. Our hostel was located just behind one of the ghats…which sounds amazing at first but it was probably the very strangest place we have been. We had been moved to a small room (which didn t bother us as long as the bed was ok…and it was) but we had to ask for everything. No sheets, no pillows, blankets…no one to check in either….only a little box with lots of white powder that definitely wasn t chalk on the office table. Talking to another couple we qickly noticed that we weren t the only bewildered ones here. Meeting the owner the powder explained itself later on as he was 24 hours stoned and we were really wondering how he even managed to organise anything in his business. After a long relaxing sleep next morning we headed out to see what Varanasi is like and went straight to the ghats along the Ganges river. The town is spread along the river….the holy river that is believed to wash away all sins and Varanasi is THE town where Hindi come at least one a lifetime and at best to die (it s meant to liberate you from the cycle of life and death if you die here). There are over 80 ghats (bathing steps) along the River Ganges and you see any kind of people, bathing, swimming, washing or just sleeping, kids playing…! The riverside buildings are as dirty as anywhere else in India but they come with a surprising beauty and the many little temples scattered around give it an amazing look that only gets better for sunrise and sunset when it almost looks romantic if you forget the hustle and bustle behind it. Getting lost in the backstreets of Varanasi isn t hard and wandering your way through the dirty little streets with just uncountable amounts of shops and whole in the window Lassi sellers you have to be prepared for everything. The most intimate rituals of life will take place anywhere right in front of you and sometimes the sounds (people will spit and gurgle anywhere, anytime) and even more the smells leave you in despair to just run (which will only lead you to another smelling tiny backstreet). It not a place for a holiday or the fainted hearted, that’s for sure, but somehow it s magical and so unique and an experience that clearly belongs to India we decided. It gives you such close look on the way that life is like here without hiding anything. One of the most bewildering bit for us where clearly the burning ghats. As you walk along the Ganges there will come up areas with huge collections of wood, fired and flames and loads of people everywhere. Knowing what is was we quietly approached and stood aside the whole business. It s the most strange feeling seeing bodies being burned on huge wood stoves along the river whilst there s people everywhere, cows screaming and dogs walking in between. Others are being released into the Ganges… and just washed away with the water whilst you will see people swimming just 10 meters next to this all. It sounds strange and writing this brings back the pictures that will stay in our heads for a long time, but it s a very important part in the Hindu culture and just belongs there. Every evening there is a big ceremony down by the river that involves a lot of humming and fires and some men doing spiritual movings to a certain music and it s amazing to watch as it s not something that happens for tourists but just for the locals and the Indians that come to Varanasi for a reason.We didn t do much else the first eveing as the day walk had left us so tired and the kids had already started playing the Holi festival (festival of colours) where you throw colours and water and as a foreigner you re obviously the perfect victim. We were told to stay in the next morning…especially girls as there are many drunken men out and it can get quite rough at times. We watched it from the roof of our hostel though and you ll see especially young chaps being coloured all over. Women tend to stay in and when we came out for lunchtime I quickly noticed it s not much fun when you re being touched at every opportunity. Having Rob at hand was clearly helpful ( as they wont usually touch “the wife”), but even that didn t help sometimes….an elbow or loud voice does though!! So we had another quiet afternoon and some great curry in a little restaurant later on. Varanasi will clearly be one of the memories that you ll never forget and as tyring, loud and strange it might have been we re glad we came!

Posted by PEANUTSONTHERUN 05:30 Archived in India Comments (0)

the deserts, fancy castles and bright colours of Rhajasthan

So after the first few days in India we slightly got used to the constant input, staring, intermediate grabbings and screaming kids and we …especially I started to like it. It has some good and some bad sites and if you try and blend out the bad or difficult habbits it becomes a cool and just so different country to every other place I have ever seen before. As much as we had been prepared for it and expected what it was going to be like as much of a shock it still was. “In your face” is probably the only way how to describe it. In Udaipur we found another nice Rhajasthani town …with obviously a huge castle that’s not to be missed and a beautiful but overpriced city palace. We came there being even more excited as one of the first James Bond flicks was filmed here on an Island hotel right in the middle of the lake. (We even had a little glance at the hotel prices as a stay there sounded like a great idea but the price put us off quickly enough...we d rather spend more money on curries than beds ;)). Still we had a good hotel with one of another 100 rooftop terraces and a chilled day. It s not much more to do around ….just the typically rhajasthani town with a fort, castle and sometimes a lake but we managed to buy some nice souvenirs and waited in excitement for our cooking class we had booked for the next day. Not too sure if it was really going to happen as the booking was a funny amount of calls and people calling other people we got eventually picked up the next evening (with the normal Indian 5 min delay…so 30 mins later). A driver brought us to a house where we met the lovely Shashi and her son. Rob had a good laugh at the little red dot on my head that was chucked on my forehead upon arrival and then it started…a thunderstorm of information in English, german and a cool Indian accent. Shashi talked us though her script which is 14 pages long and full of amazing recipes. Half an hour later we were bashed into the kitchen and the actual cooking started with Pakora (fried vegetable dumplings) and chutneys. Everything you cook you eat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So after the Pakora we were pretty much done ;) but then the real class took it s turn. All together we cooked different types of curries, vegetable rice dishes, made Indian cheese, Nan breads, Chapatis (other indian bread) different potato dishes and an indian breakfast pancake. Shashi would explain everything very detailed and tell you exactly hat to write where (“you write…..”). We had so much fun but also got so tired with so much happening in these 4 hours. When everything was cooked the “hardest” part started….the eating! We sat in front of a FULL table with all our dishes and enjoyed all the cooked food and it was just soooo amazingly good!!! The taste of every dish was great and we can t wait to try it all back home One of our favourites was defo the Chai tea making we decided!! One of the fascinating traditions here that unites the whole country...from north to south...east to west, old and young.
Being absolutely stuffed still we started our journey to Jodhpur the next morning …on probably the worst bus we ve had for ages. The seats were more like wooden panels fixed in a hight of 20 cm….maybe indian style,,but not quite fitting for two rather tall Europeans. Still we arrived and got to see the Jodhpur Fort in the afternoon. It another impressive castle that looks out over the “blue city” of jodhpur and the views are great. We only stayed for the night though as we were really looking forward to the sandcastle town Jaisalmer…one of the most western parts of Rhajasthan and just a hop close to the Pakhistani border. Arriving in Jaisalmer we could already see the castle towering over the little but busy town and after our pickup from the station wet quick and easy we soon arrived in our hostel which was located just on top of the main walls of the Fort…giving stunning views over everything. A cold beer later we had everything sorted and an overnight camel safari booked for the next morning. The town itself is a real desert town, with a shallow small lake and it appears to happen that kids don t see rain until they re a few years old. Anyway…we were “lucky” and even caught the rain…yes…in the desert!!!! We had a good start to the Camel Safari…with just some badly stretched and bruised legs …but as soon as you find out how the camel “works” its quite fun….and pretty high. Our guides Hussar, Ohmed and some more whose names I can t remember prepared some lunch and stuffed us with chapatis until we couldn t do any better than having a little nap. Unfortunately the winds and bad weather picked up this afternoon and we didn t really got to ride a lot more that day and neither the next one. It had become freezing cold and wet and at a certain point we all started to get a little tired and bored of the situation. Still it s not the companies fault having bad weather….looking back we re not sure though if we would do an overnight trip again…just cause you re caught in a place without escape. We had a quick shower before hopping on the night bus to Jaipur later that day. ..which ended in a bit if a drama as it s just not fun being to vomit on the stairs of the bus and having travellers disease starting when you really ARE travelling ( Looking back he got what he deserved for wanting a baggage charge!!!). Having survived that night we managed to get on a train straight after to get to Agra…the final destination. We can tell you…it s not a great deal travelling in unreserved class, squeezed on your bag next to the toilet…BUT it s THE REAL THING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Sure that we don t want to do it again though we arrived in Agra 5 hours later….tired but so glad to have made it and not without being a little proud of ourselfes! The river view of the Taj during sunset made up for a long and hard day and we even managed an early start next morning to catch the Taj Mahal for sunrise. It sounds like a great idea…and it certainly is…IF it doesn t pour cats and dogs! The last few days we had clearly been so unlucky with the weather and it seemed like it just wouldn t stop. Luckily the Taj is one of these things that you can enjoy in any condition and it just leaves you breathless! The white marble building is surrounded by three red sandstone gates and it s 4 minarets surround it and rise highly into the sky. It s a beautiful building and after we saw it from various locations during the day we started to understand why this is probably the most well known Indian sight. Even the backside which you can observe from a garden across the river is just great! Even though being tired we managed to see the Red Fort that day before the long wait for our train at 2 am in the night to Varanasi started. Being happy that we had managed to get a Sleeping cabin at all we didn t bother…well until we got to the train station at night to be told our train was 2 hours delayed…surprise surprise…NOT. The long long loooooooong wait was just so exhausting but at least Rob was allowed to stay in the Ladies waiting room (and even use the ladies toilet!!!)…including a little bribing charge of 20 ruppees though. This included a huge smile of non existent teeth of the bribing charge room facility managerin.

Posted by PEANUTSONTHERUN 04:11 Archived in India Comments (0)

Pushkar...the holy town

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After the longest wait for breakfast (the typically Indian 5 minutes that are even double of the south American 5 minutes) took about an hour to get poached eggs on toast served…but at least the taste was worth the wait. Being full and rather lazy now we hopped on the bus to Pushkar. For the first Indian bus ride it really wasn t too bad and even our bags made the way up here…after the bride was payed obviously. Pushkar is pleasantly “quiet” compared to Jaipur and at least there s no Tucktucks to run you over (not having mentioned the Kamikaze Scooters that race through the narrow streets and only stop for a cow trotting over…it s probably the biggest sin ever to run over a holy cow!)). It s a shoppers paradise and any souvenir, jewellery or clothing you fancy is available. Still it s a lot less into your face and more layed back with a little Hippie like feeling. There s Bathing gaths around the lake and you can watch people having a holy bath and setting lights on the lake in the evening. There s a constant huming over the place which gives it a really different setting as it s so small the whole place has got some strange chilled feeling. Our hotel has an amazing view all over the lake and probably the dodgiest owner you can think of (if we didn t know better one yould think he s a pimp).Our first Thali went very well so far (Thali is like a veggie curry platter with roti and dips). We also did a little climb up to one of the temples around town and after an hour of so of whinging and Rob telling me to hurry up we eventually got a stunning view over all of the valley. It s a rather small and relaxed place compared to Jaipur and we re very happy to have escaped the crazy town that we started India and that was so hard to get used to for the start.

Posted by PEANUTSONTHERUN 04:09 Archived in India Comments (0)

Jaipur...welcome to Indian chaos

…So here we are….finally in India…and yes, it is everything what we expected…but even more! It s loud, it s dirty, it s wild, it s pushing and sweaty, it s without ashame and still it s pretty and tasty and just so colourful and leaves you breathless. After a long flight from New York we arrived at Jaipur airport at 4 in the morning…just to find out that the Immigration process would probably take just as long as to get a visa back home. We filled out 674364739 thousand forms and then jumped into the bunch of taxi and tuck tuck drivers that all have “the very best accommodation” for you. The radio taxi driver at least dropped us off where we wanted (not withouht offering his car for the next day). Luckily we got into our hostel and could catch up on some sleep….which was well needed when we hit town later on around lunchtime. Tucktucks everywhere and after ten people screaming “yes sir, Yes sir” we decided to grab a tucktuck to get into town. With a bit of haggling we came down to a good (well at least for us) price which was probably someones daily wage and were dropped off right in Jaipur oh so famous Pink City. The Pink isn t actually Pink, but still pretty and it s probably the busiest place that we ve seen in the last months.There s Bazaars everywhere. Sari shops, jewellery, shoes and whatever you fancy. Plus there s a hundred pairs of eyes on us…well particularly on me (Catha)…doing the best outstaring that s possible. It feels very weird at first and as it s mostly men in the streets during day time it s something that you just have to ignore and try not to come close to you…but sometimes it gets rather annoying. We managed a good little walk around and got caught into the typical tourist traps even with knowing about them. You ll obviously get the best view of something when there s a nice balcony with some pretty silver shops behind and it s quite interesting that every second guy here has a very good friend or a girlfriend in England. (not that I want to doubt the amout of Indians in the uk…)…PLUS a Jewellery shop! ;) To give them credit their language skills and map knowledge cleary isn t too bad!!). We became quite good with refusing and NOs….obviously after getting the nice balcony view…until one of them managed to throw all his glittery stuff in front of me. Ending up with a promised Topas for the price of a chewing gum ring we happily ended our little tour and tried walking back to the hostel. Lesson for today: you ll get lost even with a street map…lesson two…as much as everyone says tucktuck drivers are bad…the can be a life saver. Still jetlagged we quickly went to dreamland that night. Being greeted by the sun on a rooftop terrace with a hot chai tea in the morning defo made a tiny difference to freezing cold NYC and we decided to chill a bit and only go out to Amber Fort in the afternoon. When we got there an Elephant ride up to the top seemed like an amazing idea and soon we saw one that waved us down the road for a km….to then tell us that we would ride around in a forest for a little bit. What a joke…and what a walk….next lesson learned….never trust anyone before exactly asking whats happening. At least without any money loss we trotted back and up to the Fort. It s a stunning huge building that stretches out over square km and provides some great views and a lovely sunset. Also we provided some great pics for some Indians including having random childen in our arms and were invited to a little birthday cake session including getting some cake stuffed right into our faces (they love a good celebration here). On the way back we stopped at Jal Mahal for the rest of the sunset. It s a weird place….a palace in the middle of a shimmering lake that s just pretty. The bus back was a bit of a long story …to cut it short with a few too many “accidentaly” arm grabbing and others but it was cheap and we came back after a good day. Now we re ready for bed and for the first Indian bus to Pushkar tomorrow…lets see what we get.

Posted by PEANUTSONTHERUN 09:24 Archived in India Comments (0)

Salento

When most people think about whats typically Colombian everyone would probably say, A)…white powder and b)….coffee. Indeed we went with the second choice (not that you wouldn t be offered the first at every corner-chewing-gum-shop) and made our way up to Salento which is a tiny place, surrounded by green hillsides and coffee plantages. Our stay in an old plantage house was pleasant and and just so quiet at night that it almost felt awkward. (and waking up to a horse chewing behind the window is a rather funny thing at night). The next morning we woke up to a loud and not very comfortable sound of heavy rain….heavy as in being soaking wet within a minute. Closing our eyes again and hoping it would stop we were lucky and could start our plantation tour at nine. It was a long muddy road and walk down to the coffee plantation, but well worth it. We learned a lot about the brown beans and got some freshly brewed coffee. Still I have to say I m with the milky and sugary version of it and not the Colombian style ;). Salento itself doesn’t really offer lots more, but a few nice strolls and a very laidback feeling. The next day we had decided to go up to Cocora Valley which is meant to be one of the main attractions in this area and THE place to go hiking. It started really well with some more heavy rain and two grumpy faces which eventually cleared up when the rain stopped and we arrived at the valley. It has a stunning look, great views over green hillsides and lush tall waxpalms that just seem to grow into the sky with no end. The place was well worth coming and we had a great day with stunning views. Before we left Salento towards Medellin on the next morning.

Posted by PEANUTSONTHERUN 09:04 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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