1/2 hours after our departure in Brussels our plane landed safe and
sound in New Delhi. The flight was great, service fine and leg space not
to bad. With other words, we arrived quite refreshed.
the mandatory health check, customs and border control we were welcomed
by a sea of welcome plates, oh joy, how to find the right one for us…
It turned out not to be a problem and yet another 45 minutes later we
arrived at our hotel. Our welcome had been a very warm and friendly one
so we felt straight at home. The hotel was great and before we went to
bed we even managed to have our first Indian Food and two kingfisher
beers. Did we sleep well, oh yes, sure we did. We had arrived in India
and a full pack of adventures was waiting for us.
The next morning, after our first Indian breakfast (Curry for breakfast is something we apparently need to get used to. We were picked up by our guide and drove to old Delhi. The roads were super crowded and there came no end to the non stop beeps and horns, a madhouse but we enjoyed it. Our first stop was The Red fort, a massive fort, built by the same emperor who built Taj Mahal. It was massive; the most interesting however were the fabulously dressed people in the brightest colors one can imagine. We spent some time at the outside of the fort after which the real fun started. We were taken on a rickshaw ride to the old centre of Delhi, which was far more populated and densely built than the newer areas. Our first stop was a Sikh temple where we had to go bare footed and with an orange scarf around our heads. It was an interesting experience to see all the ceremonies taking place and the chants were almost hypnotic. The people made us feel like we landed on another planet, colorful turbans, big beards, beautifully dressed women. WOW!!!!! After watching the ceremonies we we’re brought to the big communal kitchen area where free meals we’re provided. In spite of our fear for “Delhi belly” we accepted the offer and enjoyed a delicious dahl (Cooked lentils in a curry sauce) with Naan (Indian bread). Before we left we got into a deep discussion with a Sikh philosopher about the meaning of life and how Sikhism could improve our life quality. Thanks there was the tour guide to get us out.
next stop was Jama Masjid, a massive mosque overlooking the Red Fort.
It was impressive, lots of people around, shame it started drizzling a
bit so we could not enjoy it to the fullest. But then even with that it
was an impressive sight (once again built by the same emperor who built
Taj Mahal, he must have been extremely busy person….)
lunch time approached we went to a fancy restaurant where we enjoyed a
delicious, though a bit bony) meal of lamb and chicken. Paul is already
looking forward to a good steak, guess that will have to wait until
we’re home… After lunch it was time to go to a very important place,
Raj Ghat, the cremation grounds of Mahatama Gandhi. It was a very
special, very simple but tastefully done monument to commemorate the
father of India as he’s known over here. It was also an emotional visit
as Gandhi’s impact went wide over the borders from India and we felt
small to be in such an important place. Deeply impressed we continued
our tour to the place where Gandhi had lived the last 144 days of his
life. This was close to the place where he was assassinated and once
again we were overcome with emotions. Next to his house an annex was
built which housed an impressive multimedia exhibition. Beautifully done
with loads of things to see and do. It brought us a bit away from the
emotions we encountered earlier at his cremation place, his house and
the place where he was cremated. What an overwhelming visit this was.
Next and last stop in Delhi, a silk and Kashmir wool shop. We were taught about the different qualities of wool and were deeply impressed with the quality of the thinnest scarves which you could crumble in your hand and unfold it again without a single wrinkle…. Also we were deeply impressed by the price so that was a no go…. However, we saw a huge dark blue woolen scarf with red handmade embroidery on the sides which would perfectly fit on our dining table.. oh well, you can guess the rest… so it will.
now it was 17.30, time to go to the railway station and leave Delhi. We
were booked on the night train to Varanasi, a 14 hour ride… After we
saw the third and second class we were not impressed at all. Fortunately
we were booked in 1st class sleepers and ehh.. We were not impressed
either 😉 As we had expected a cabin for two (It’s first class after
all) we were a bit shocked it was a cabin for 4. Oh joy. The beds we’re
small, very hard and even more uncomfortable. AAAHHH… Still took it
all with a good laugh and tried to make the best out of it. Our fellow
passengers were not to talkative so lights were dimmed at 21.00 for what
became a long and more or less sleepless night…
morning at 8.00 we arrived in Varanasi. We were greeted at the railway
station and were brought to a beautiful hotel in a quiet are. Now this
was better so we slept the rest of the morning in a more than decent bed
😉 After lunch we were picked up for a tour to Sarnath, a very sacred
place where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon after reaching
enlightenment. Prince, our guide was very informative and told us a lot
about Buddhism, Hinduism and the crossovers with other religions.
first stop in Sarnath was an impressive museum were very old artifacts
were kept. The most impressive was the top of a column which contained 4
lions, a picture of this can be found on each Indian banknote. After
the museum we went to the place were all object were found and where a
big stupa was built on the place of Buddha’s sermon. Pilgrims from all
over the Buddhist countries were around, a large group from Sri Lanka
was following a lecture and monks were praying and resting at several
places. It was a beautiful and peaceful spot.
As we had to wake up early for a sunrise boat trip on the Ganges (or Ganga as it is known over here) we went to bed early.
the worst day of the week for most but we spent a day in paradise
surrounded by a cacophony of impressions, smells, sights and sounds…
We had goosebumps more than once by seeing the ceremonies and some
things not so nice to be seen as well….. Where should I start…
woke up at 4.30 and not much later we drove towards the center of
Varanasi. In spite of the time of day, it was already overly crowded,
lots of rickshaw’s cars, tuk tuk’s and not to forget plenty of holy cows
who were blocking the road. After an adventurous ride we arrived close
to the ghats (Steps leading into the Ganges) where people were taking
part in a ritual cleaning ceremony that takes place every day.
got into a rowing boat and sailed passed the riverside of the Ganges,
watching the old buildings and thousand of people participating in
prayers and rituals. Now you might have seen this on pictures or on
television but nothing prepares you for the real thing, it is so
powerful and impressive it is almost beyond imagination. One can almost
feel the spiritual power that surrounds the place. At some place we went
on land and merged into the masses. I am really failing words on how we
felt and what we saw. A Hindu high priest was blessing the day with
incense and fire performing a strange kind of ritual which came across
as a series of Yoga posing. People we’re praying, immersing themselves
in to the Ganges and offering water back to their river of life.
said it was overpowering and beautiful. More upstream we arrived at the
cremation places; this was a less pretty sight. Big fires were burning
and at one point Paul tapped my shoulder to point out a dead body
floating by… Our guide told us not to be upset about the dead bodies
and death but nevertheless we were. Although I have seen cremation
ceremonies in Bali this turned out to be rawer, purer, and definitely
more confronting. Certainly for us westerners who tend to hide death
from our life it was a harsh, almost brutal procedure, but for the
Hindu’s it’s just a passing to another life. As our guide told us, we
lease our body for 70 years or so and in order for the spirit to move on
it needs to be destroyed. For us still very harsh though….
left the boat not far from the cremation grounds and walked through the
labyrinth of old Varanasi. There we saw the piles of wood for sale
which was used for the cremations and witnessed life as it is in the
21st century in Varanasi, a life which reminds more of the middle ages
that anything else. We saw Sadhu’s (Holy men), lots of small stores and
had to avoid numerous holy cows which were blocking the way. As said, it
is hard to describe what we were experiencing and the day was not over
yet….. Far more to come!
in the middle of this labyrinth we visited the golden temple, but
before we came to that we had to leave our bags, camera’s and everything
else with our guide, someone else brought us to the golden temple.
Security was extremely high; loads of policemen were around to protect
the temple. The reason for this was a neighboring mosque which is under
threat by extremists. It felt a bit weird to go over there and we were
not allowed in. The glimpse of the temple dome was great though and
after a couple of minutes we were guided back to our guide. After that
we left the labyrinth and made our way back to the car.
had lunch somewhere in Varanasi (Amazingly we had a good appetite in
spite of all our experiences this morning at the cremation grounds) and
after that we went to see the University. Now these are huge compounds
which houses around 17.000 students. Over there we visited a temple
dedicated to Shiva where we saw some more ceremonies. This was followed
by two more temples but somehow it could not match the impressions that
the morning tour made to us.
the evening we went back to the Ganges. The Rickshaw ride over there
can only be described as absolutely crazy, we don’t know how many near
accidents we had but somehow people are used to this and nothing
happened. Well, almost nothing as at one point a bull went crazy and
tried to ram us. Fortunately the driver got away. The cacophony of horns
was unbelievable; there was not a single moment of silence, what
traffic! The purpose of our visit was the daily festival of light. In
between two cremation grounds there was a daily ceremony to celebrate
the light. In other words, life between two deaths…. (Hindi believe
in reincarnation) Prince got us a fantastic viewing spot on top of a
house boat. The preparations started and a haunting atmosphere was
coming over us. Priests were chanting for us not understandable words,
people were clapping hands, singing along, Hare Krishna, Hare
Krishna…. It started raining but Paul and I could not be bothered, we
remained on top of the boat as we did not want to miss anything from
this unfolding spectacle. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. The boatman
brought plastic sheets to cover us from the rain and we were just
overwhelmed by the things happening. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna….
Fires covered by a silver cobra were swung in the air, mythical words
were chanted, smoke from everywhere and on both sides there were still
the cremation grounds….. It was over before we realized and we headed
back through the crowds to our rickshaws. We hardly spoke as we were
sure we had just witnessed something so special, so totally different
from what we have ever soon.
You love it or hate it…. Sure is that so far the impressions have
been far more intense than anywhere else in Asia I have been. Everything
seems to be magnified, smells, sights, sounds… It can be a bit much
and overwhelming at times so love or hate it….. We certainly love it
next morning we took a flight to Khajuraho. The difference with the
vivid Varanasi could not have been bigger. Like arriving on a different
planet… It seemed to us we arrived in an oasis of peace. The roads are
quieter, clean, no traffic jams… The hotel is and had with a lovely
swimming pool. In the evening we visited the sound and light show which
explained the history of the Kajuraho temples; it was both very
informative and entertaining.
the show we wanted to stroll around town though we did not get far…
Our eyes caught a restaurant which had a big tree in front of which had a
platform in the top with a private dining area. So up into the tree we
went enjoying not only a fabulous view over the temples but also a great
tali meal. A tali meal is a mixture of different dishes, curries, rice,
yoghurt, papadum and naan, Indian bread. It was wonderful, what a place
to have dinner out of a treetop and watch the world go by 10 meters
a good night sleep we visited the famous temples in Kajuraho. It’s
amazing how well the sculptures and carvings have remained intact even
after hundreds of years of negliance. There was a lot to bee seen but
best known of course are some quite ehh… graphical images of couples
(or more) participating in all kinds of bodily activity. Even whilst
living in the 21st century some of the images can be seen as quite
interesting, they left nothing to the imagination, but that is no wonder
as you know most of the images are inspired by the Kama Sutra.
already mentioned it before but India is extremely overpowering and
impressive. We were not even a week over here and our minds are already
overflowing, well, in the nicest way that is as we love every minute of
it. But… there’s only so much one can take in during a short period of
time so we decided to let the world pass by, find a great place at the
pool, order a beer, listen to some music and do nothing at all. It was
wonderful and relaxing, just what we needed.
evening was very special. First we went to a folk dance show and after
that was finished we were picked up by Shashi, the representative of the
local tour operator. Earlier that day he had invited us for dinner with
his family. And when I say family I mean family, his father and mother,
4 brothers with wives and kids and another family from Varanasi, all
cramped in a small house. We drove up over there on a motorbike, to be
more clear Shashi was driving and both Paul and myself on the back. Oh
joy! The welcome was great and we were shown the whole house. It felt a
bit strange to be intruding in their family life but they were insisting
so there we went. Dinner was great, a vegetarian tali and naan. This
meal was so much tastier than the evening before and we felt very
special to be with this family, it was a privilege to get a view of real
Indian life. When we left (once again 3 on a motorbike) the whole
family came out and waved us goodbye. What a wonderful experience!
next morning it was time to leave again, up to our next destination. As
this was the first time we were driving a longer distance during
daytime it was a good opportunity to breathe some Indian country life.
Lots of farms and small villages passed by and of course we had to stop
several times for a cow which was blocking the road. We stopped for
lunch in a fantastic place, a remote palace from a Maharaja (His
descendent was still living there), we could not have wished for a
better place. Old black and white photo’s covered the walls and of
course we got a full tour of the premises.
couple of hours later we arrived in Occhra, a small town which is only
discovered by tourists since a couple of years. It housed a beautiful
fort with a labyrinth of stairs leading to different rooms and terraces.
It was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately we did not have that much time
as we had a train to catch…. We boarded it in Janjhi where we left
for the 2 1/2 hour ride to Agra. As we were travelling 1st class (Now
don’t get to excited about that as it was not that much special, guess
2nd class in Europe is better) we were treated with a meal which was not
that bad at all. Time flew by and before we know we arrived in Agra.
There we were picked up again by a representative from the local tourist
office (As already mentioned before the organisation is a schoolbook
example of package tours and the service we receive immaculate) and
brought to our hotel. Seeing that brought another smile on our face, a
well kept and very stylish hotel once again, we are really getting
spoiled over here.
morning was yet another early rice. We woke up at 05.00 and at 05.45 we
drove by Tonga (horse and wagon) to the Taj Mahal which was a bit
shorter than expected as the horse knew a shortcut….. What a great way
to arrive at this fabulous monument. A lot is done to preserve this
monument (All factories within a range of 60km are shutdown, no cars
allowed within a km). The first glimpse was breathtaking, sun was rising
and slowly the mausoleum was covered in a warm yellow glow. As it is
totally covered with marble the effect was amazing. AS most of you we
had seen many pictures and video’s, but nothing prepares you for the
sight when you arrive. In one word… breathtaking.
spent over 2 hours to enjoy the marvels of the Taj after which we made
our way to the Agra red fort. Now if you think this is less than the Taj
you are wrong. It’s equally impressive, maybe not because of sheer
beauty but the size is amazing and so are the construction and the
thoughts behind the architecture. In former times it was an unbeatable
fort with layers of protection and surprises of unwanted guests.
Fortunately we did not belong to that category as otherwise I would not
have been able to write this report to you.
the afternoon was the hottest part of the days with temperatures way
over 35 degrees we tried to cool down at the pool. Unfortunately there
was a power cut and the emergency generator (supplying the whole hotel)
was directly next to the pool… Regulation no 5 at the notice board at
the pool: Do not make unnecessary noises which can disturb other guests.
Oh well, with the generator roaring at full blast they would not have
heard us anyway…. So up to plan beer, find a restaurant and a cool
cool beer (notice cool cool means 2 beers).
the afternoon we visited the ‘Baby Taj’ another impressive monument
which will soon be on the UNESCO world heritage list. After that is was
shopping time. When Paul and I left home we thought it might be a good
idea to take one suitcase only. After all we would not do any shopping.
Would we??? Wrong decision so today we got another suitcase which more
comfortably spread our clothes and Indian essentials one can not live
without once being home again…..
first week behind us, almost 1000 pictures done, our brains full of
wonderful and unexpected memories. What an experience this is!!!!! We
are really having a fantastic time and cannot believe so many things
happened in one week only, and yes, there are three more to go….
Continue the story with part 2: Fatehpur Sikri – Jasailmar