A Travellerspoint blog

Feb 4th: Varanasi

devotion and chaos

sunny 75 °F

This morning we flew from Delhi to Varanasi aboard India Air. This is quite a change from business class on Emirates Air, I’ll tell ya. You’ve read about those rickety old buses in Mexico? Well, this flight was the airplane equivalent of a Mexico bus. The interior was quite shabby and the seat pockets were ripped and coming off. Crumbs from a prior passenger’s snack still lay on the floor across the aisle. I was glad that the flight was only an hour or so and had a passing thought that surely the mechanics of the thing are in better working order than its upholstery. Since you are reading this, I must have survived India Air.

Varanasi is “the essence of India”, they say. It is the center of art, music, and education. It is also the bIrthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. This is a much smaller city than Delhi, having a population of about 1.9 million. But there are a whole lot of Hindu pilgrims who visit because a pilgrimage to Varanasi is one of the tenets of Hinduism. Varanasi is located on the Ganges - the “Mother River” and many come here to die because they believe that death here releases them from the cycle of reincarnation. Per Parveen, these pilgrims desire to appear unburdened by worldly goods, so they may appear very poor, but don’t be fooled, they are really just leaving their finery at home.

This evening we took our own pilgrimage to the Ganges to witness the daily “Arti” ceremony which celebrates the river. It was quite a process getting there. The bus dropped us off nearly a mile from the Ganges where we boarded pedi-cabs that awaited us. They drove us to within a few blocks of the river and we walked the rest of the way. Sound simple? It was not. The streets here are completely clogged with pedi-cabs, motorcycles, and pedestrians, not to mention vendors and beggars. Walking through it was another exercise in keeping your eyes on too many things at once. It was hard work just staying with the rest of your party. Also, the pedi-cabs were narrower and the seats shallower than in Delhi so it was work just staying on the damn things. The ride was harrowing at first, until you got used to all the honking and the near misses. The narrow roads of Old Delhi were a lot more fun.
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The ceremony was interesting and we were fortunate to have a little balcony reserved so that we had a sweeping view of the beach where the ceremony took place. Of course, I never knew exactly what was going on since it is performed in Hindi, but there were thousands of people congregated there who were participating. It was indeed a worthwhile experience, but I don’t ever have to do that again.
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OK, this business about impoverished appearances being deceiving is absolute bullshit. I am convinced that Parveen tried to minimize the impact that this depth of poverty would have on a group of “rich Americans”. On the way back in the bus, we rode by parks that were entirely full of people sleeping on the ground under blankets, and wide places on the sidewalks that doubled as beds. This is a poor country and Varanasi is no exception. So few people here pay taxes (due mostly to a 70% unemployment rate) that the government has no money to help with infrastructure and social services. As a result, the buildings are occupied by very poor people and these buildings are crumbling down.

I guess this is a really bad time to mention shopping, huh? Varanasi’s biggest industry is silk weaving. It would be a sin to not contribute in some small way, right? Some of us are going back to the Ganges in the early morning (6:00!) to watch many devoted Hindus baptize themselves in their sacred river. They’ll take a boat ride up and down and then get back in time for breakfast. Notice I said “they”. I think I may need my rest for a few rounds of haggling.

Posted by Follow Carol 09:12 Archived in India Comments (1)

Feb 3rd: Seeing more of Delhi

The highs and the lows

sunny 75 °F

I slept very well last night, thanks to modern pharmaceuticals. By 7:30 this morning I was in the hotel dining room enjoying cappuccinos, pastries and a small omelet. Other than made-to-order eggs, the breakfast is buffet and is quite extensive so as to please most of the people most of the time. Not normally a breakfast person, I can’t quite warm to the idea of lamb casseroles and such in the morning. But I am among the minority. The room was full of westerners in business attire, filling up.

Today was a day of one thousand emotions. There were times when I could not recall ever being happier and there were times when I was stabbed by the realization of the depth that humans can be made to suffer. Hello Carol, India here. The human suffering part is common reading material, Mother Theresa and all. But to see examples of the extent of it while you are riding down the road to your deluxe hotel is a bit difficult. There are many more than just “government workers” who are living on the streets of Delhi. There are little enclaves of the homeless in other areas too, most notably near temples. Yeah, there are a few beggars, but for the most part the starving, desperate, disabled, poor are resigned to lining streets.
But what I did learn is that the Sikhs are not resigned to allowing them to starve. We toured the Gurdwara Sikh Temple this afternoon. It is a huge place that accepts raw food donations, prepares cooked simple meals of (perhaps) lentils and flatbread, and serves as much as you want to anyone who needs food – once a day, every day.

Before we got off the bus, Parveen gave us a talk about what the Sikhs do and what we will see, beginning with the giant kitchen. We removed our shoes and socks and donned scarves and filed into the kitchen barefooted to wade across floors puddled with water from washing huge vats, past six or seven ladies sitting cross-legged forming flatbreads, then by the windows of the dining hall where about fifty or sixty people were eating from metal plates while Sikh men walked up and down serving them. The room could accommodate at least four times as many but we arrived after the busiest time of day. This was volunteerism and caring for your fellow man as I have never witnessed it before. I think this changed me a bit (no, Kay – not into a Sikh) – anyway, I certainly hope so.
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Yes there is definitely a bright period in the day - an experience that kept me wide eyed and astounded and constantly exclaiming “I can’t believe this!” We rode in pedi-cabs through the winding, old walled Delhi. This is the Indian city that I envisioned since I was young, the loud, colorful, crazy, chaotic, colorful, busy, dirty, colorful, exciting and colorful craziness that is the old section. OK first, pedi-cabs are like rickshaws made of bicycles. I bet there are about 23 million of them and another 23 million motorcycles trying to jam through the streets of old Delhi. It was complete honking chaos, yet never a mishap. (So maybe there is order in chaos?)
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At one point we disembarked and walked through a 99 year old family owned spice market. That was OK, but the best part was fighting our way through town back to our pedi-cab drivers. Many of the streets are winding medieval pedestrian walkways but many of them are wide avenues, or they were until sidewalk venders set up shop along each side, taking up 2/3rds of the street. The result is traffic that is clogged to a stop. You absolutely HAVE to watch where you are walking because the sidewalks are even worse than those in New Orleans, guard your day bag, ignore venders hawking at you, and keep your eye on the rest of your tourist parade because it would only take five seconds to become lost forever. And I loved every second of the experience of being in this sensory overload. It’s crazy, but for some reason, today was one of the best experiences of my life, both for the highs and for the juxtaposed lows.
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I know it is hard to believe but I had lunch in Lodi today. Lodi Restaurant in the Lodi Gardens. Here, it is pronounced LOW-dee, however. Located in the newer part of Delhi, it was very nice and we were able to eat outside in the gardens, kind of an oasis protected from the unbelievable traffic that is everywhere in this city. I’m glad that we had lunch before we went to the Sikh temple – I think that guilt might have reduced my appetite otherwise. (as if. . . . . .)
I guess guilt didn’t have much of an impact on me after all. I am writing this as I am sipping Indian chardonnay in a very upscale hotel bar. Ok, OK, now everybody knows I am a fraud.

Posted by Follow Carol 08:25 Archived in India Comments (1)

Feb 2nd: First Day

Overview of Dubai

sunny 75 °F

I am absolutely amazed that I have awakened in Delhi India today. Off and on all day I almost become emotional by my good fortune to be able to experience this. Several times I have had to exclaim, “can you believe we’re here?” Almost to the person, my eleven fellow travelers get it. It’s dope.

We arrived at the Taj Palace hotel at about 5:00AM this morning after landing at 3:40 and going through customs etc. I was dead but not sleepy so I read for a while and finally dropped off to sleep. My roomie (Janet) set her alarm for 9:00 – I for 11:00. What I did not need was breakfast. What I did need was sleep. We met our guide “Parveet” in the lobby at 12:30 and after an overview of Dehli and some housekeeping discussions (like “don’t drink the water”) we were on our way in our small bus. The theme today is traffic. As in many of our own cities, the city planners. . . . didn’t. This city has almost 23 million people living here and almost as many cars. All of them were on the road today. It’s crazy. According to Parveet, there is no such thing as drivers’ training. Instead, one fool teaches another fool. They do need to have a license to drive, but they can buy it if they can’t pass the driving test.

Of course, being stuck in traffic gave us plenty of time to listen to Parveet talk about Delhi. And we were also able to slowly observe some interesting street life. Like the impromptu tent camps that spring up along the sidewalks outside government construction projects. Workers (and usually their families) live in these very rustic encampments, on main thoroughfares, with absolutely no amenities. And when I say “tent” – don’t be thinkin’ REI. More like a rope tied between two posts with a small piece of fabric thrown over it. The children of these families are often seen selling trinkets and toys to cars that are parked in intersections. On the positive side (and this is a stretch) they ARE gainfully employed by the India government so the authorities allow them to live there as long as it takes to finish the project. OK, yeah, that was way too long a stretch.

Our afternoon city tour took us to the 12th century Qutab Minar (basically a stand alone minaret) and the tomb of Humayun, whoever that is. All very interesting, but usually it doesn’t matter too much who built this stuff or for whom it was built. The fact that it is 800 years old is enough good enough for me.
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Tonight will be dinner in the hotel and a chance for Indian wine to compete with Bogle Chardonnay. Bogle has a disadvantage because any California wine will cost a lot more than it is worth over here. So I bet I’ll find a satisfactory substitute.

Posted by Follow Carol 21:57 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Itinerary

things are beginning to get exciting

Day 1
3:40 PM fly 8100 miles and nearly 16 hours to Dubai, arriving the next day @ 7:25PM

Day 2
10:00 PM fly 1400 miles and 3 hours to Delhi, arriving the next morning at 2:40AM

Day 3
Taj Palace (3 nights)
Sardar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave
New Delhi 110 021, India
Tel: +91 112 6110202
www.tajhotels.com/luxury/city-hotels/taj-palace-new-delhi/overview.html

Day 4
am Old Delhi

Day 5 VARANASI
am ~9:00a Depart for airport
Rivatas by Ideal (2 nights)
The Mall Road
Cantonment Varanasi 221002, India
Tel: +91 542 66 661 00
www.rivatas.com

Day 6 VARANASI

Day 7 AGRA
Doubletree by Hilton (2 nights)
B/H - 1&2, Taj Nagri Phase II, Agra, 282001, India
Tel: +91-562-7102323
http://doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/india/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-agra-AGRDTDI/index.html


Day 8 AGRA

Day 9 JAIPUR

Hilton Jaipur (2 nights)
42 Geejgarh House, Hawa Sadak,
Jaipur, 302006, India
Ph: +91-141-4170000

Day 10 JAIPUR

[b]Day 11 JODHPUR

Day 12 JODHPUR

Day 13 UDAIPUR
am Drive to Udaipur (200 mi, ~5 hrs)
Trident Udaipur (2 night)
Mullah Talai, Pichola
Udaipur 313001, India
Tel: +91 294 243 2200
www.tridenthotels.com/hotels-in-udaipur

Day 14 UDAIPUR

Day 15 HOMEWARD BOUND

Posted by Follow Carol 21:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

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