Sarnath and back to Delhi

Sunrise on the river in Varanasi this morning..   Then checkout and on to Sarnath, home of many Buddhist temples –  as it is reported to be the location where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma (@ 560 BC) in what later became Deer Park.

      

Unfortuately our flight was delayed as were any other we might have transferred to, leaving us stuck at the airport for quite a few hours.  We met a really nice business man and his son from Calcutta and then a couple from Detroit.  Enjoyed sharing travel stories with each of them while having a Kingfisher or two.

 

 

 

River Ganga

The Kedareswar B&B is turning out to be a great find!  Right on the banks of the Ganges – we can even see the river from our room – with a rooftop terrace for breakfast and relaxing.  We headed out to see some unique temples, which I can’t show as they prohibited photography.  <need to insert names here>  All were very interesting, but then we once again made the fatal flaw of attempting to get a rickshaw driver to take us to a market.  To us, a market is a place where we can browse around unimpeded and where local residents shop for daily goods. For a guide, “market” or “bazaar” translates to “shop where the guide has some kickback arrangement for bringing in suckers for high pressured sales pitch”.  In Agra it was rugs and marble, this time it was silk.     Will we never learn??  We were polite and effusive with the compliments, but held firm, cut the visit as short as possible, and didn’t buy anything.  Much to our guide’s annoyance.   Nonetheless, even with the 150 extra rupees (@ $2) he tacked on to the agreed upon price for driving us to a place we didn’t want to go, it was a bargain next to being guilted into buying any of the silk items!!

Had a late lunch at our favorite – and so far only – Varanasi restaurant (Shiva Cafe and German Bakery), then rested until time for the sunset boat ride to see the ghats and ceremonies from the river.  Following the boat ride, we went back to the Shiva Cafe for dinner!   So far everything has been delicious.  🙂

Funeral pyres at dusk.  We’re told they cremate @ 200 bodies a day (not all by wood fire on the river bank), funeral pyres burn 24/7 to fulfill demand.   Curious thing to see.  In the picture below, we saw a pyre ready to be lit with the body wrapped in white inserted among the logs.  There was some sort of prayers or ritual and then the fire was lit.


After dark down river from the Kedar Ghat, a very large ceremony takes place.  Crowds on both land and water gather to observe and participate.

The river is not what we expected.  Maybe because it’s low during the winter and crowds of pilgrims are less?   There’s no offensive smell or waste visible in the water.  Whatever the reason, we’re grateful to be here when it’s a positive experience.

Varanasi – the holiest city in India

We arrived Monday night @ 6:30.  The drive from the airport took over an hour. As we got close, the driver called ahead to the B&B where we would be staying and had some young guys meet us in the nearest street, as the car could only go so far.  We then followed our luggage on foot down narrow winding maze-like alleys lined with tiny shops of all kinds – food stalls, sweets/bakerys, silks, devotional items, bric-a-brac, snack shops – for quite a while dodging cows both large and small, dogs and their pups, motorcycles, bicycles, and  lots of people!

After we got settled in, we headed out for a bite to eat.  They sent someone with us to guide us to the cafe, but we would need to make our own way back.  Sounded easy enough – 5 min walk, back the way we’d gone.  Got it. Amazing how different things look when you’re not following someone and realize you didn’t exactly commit any visual cues to memory!  After over-shooting our turn, we were able to reason it out, backtrack to the B&B and went to sleep full and comfortable.

India – Places we’ve stayed

  • Maidens Hotel, New Delhi
    • Pros – beautiful property, western amenities, upscale and accustomed to western travelers, breakfast included, hotel restaurant excellent, quality beds/linens
    • Cons –  internet not included/pricey, a little staid and stuffy/formal, the location was too far from city center which caused some headaches getting to/from places – rickshaw drivers didn’t quite know where it was or refused to go that far, 45 min from airport
    • Recommended?  It might be easier to stay at a hotel near Connaught Place, which is more central Delhi.  Given the culture shock that is India, a familiar western chain hotel may feel like a really good thing at the end of the day!
  • Ray of Maya B&B, Agra
    • Pros – great location within 5 min on western gate of Taj Mahal, helpful staff will arrange free transport from train station or airport, restaurant on property had very good food dinner/breakfast, clean comfortable rooms, wifi included
    • Cons – Challenged with accepting credit payments (might have been a one time thing), the secondary location (across the street from the restaurant/cafe) was down a dirt alley that seemed a little sketchy after dark and was not passable by car or rickshaw, horrible pillows
    • Recommended?  Yes.  Good value, food, and location.
  • Kedareswar B&B, Varanasi
  • Infinity Resorts – Corbett, Jim Corbett National Park

India – Things we’ve seen and learned..

This is a collection of some curious things we’ve observed while travelling in India – some of which we truly wish we could un-see – and lessons learned about participating in the local culture.

  • How many is too many?  8 adults in a rickshaw (tuk-tuk), 4 adults on a motorcycle, 2 adults + 4 children on a motorcycle, 2 adults + 2 goats on a motorcycle, 2 adults + 2 children on a bicycle..
  • Relatively early on a Sunday morning on the 4-lane interstate thru Delhi, elephants and camels transporting loads of goods.
  • The key to crossing any street is to adopt the herd mentality – find 2-3 other people also wanting to cross, bunch together, and basically just walk out in traffic..
  • There’s an educational campaign to teach people unfamiliar with a western-style toilet how to properly utilize them, complete with signs depicting a person squatting on top of a toilet seat with a red circle and line through it.  I’m not sure how successful they think the campaign is, but I’ve seen shoe prints on numerous public toilet seats, so clearly there’s a ways to go!
  • Where is it acceptable to go to the bathroom?  If you’re a guy, pretty much anywhere.  Women are either much more discreet or find other more civilized ways to answer nature’s call, but the fella’s just let it out wherever!
  • Lying to tourists seems to be a national past time.
  • Don’t take anything anyone tries to hand you unless you’ve asked for it and intend to pay for it, don’t ever agree to go to a market or a bazaar – that’s just a ploy to get you into a high-pressure sales situation for some allegedly local made craft.
  • For the ladies:  if asked your name don’t answer or say I don’t know;  if asked if it’s your first time in India or <insert city name here> answer no, many times;  if offered hand to shake, put your hands together and say “Namaste”.  Many areas in India are not overwhelmingly progressive where the interaction between men and women is concerned.  Women have separate queues for anything requiring a security check, separate train cars in some instance, a separate queue at the train station – well, separate but lumped in with handicapped people and senior citizens.

The Taj

Beautiful site on a hazy morning!   After seeing the crowds surrounding the mausoleum from across the river yesterday, we were happy to be at the gate when it opened this morning.

Followed by breakfast and the off for other sightseeing before heading to the airport @ 1:00 for our flights to Varanasi. 

 

On to Agra

We took the train from Delhi to Agra @ 3 hrs ride.  We’d heard about the trains running late, but ours was right on schedule!  The car was clean and comfortable – AC 2nd class – and it was a very pleasant trip.

We made arrangements through our B&B to have a driver meet us at the station and Sameer turned out to be our tour guide for the day + our ride to the airport the following day.  After dropping our bags, we headed out to see Agra Fort, the Baby Taj, and a view of the Taj Mahal from across the river.


Then, as guides will do, he wanted to take us to see where carpets and handicrafts were made/sold.  I hate a hard sell and have no guilt about saying no thank you and walking out, as I’d done after being similarly railroaded in Delhi.  However, we were both sufficiently impressed by the carpet making demo to go ahead and listen to the pitch.  The salesman was savvy enough to be both sincere about the quality and the local craftsmen and a bit tongue in cheek – ending in a sale that felt like a win-win.  We did negotiate the price a bit and managed to just buy the one carpet – no small feat!-  which really is beautiful.   Silk backed, hand double knotted wool.  The details and crispness of the design are remarkable.  Plus it feels good!

After that I was done for the day and put and end to any more “shopportunities”. The driver reluctantly returned us to the hotel, promising more wonderous sites the following day.

We’re going to see the Taj at sunrise – minus the guide…  😉

New day, new plan

While we don’t normally go for the hop on, hop off tour buses, after yesterday’s communication challenges and with our short time frame we decided that might be an easier way to see more sites with less hassle.  Also, we had the hotel provide directions to the hotel written in Hindi to help us more easily communicate with the rickshaw drivers.  Fool me once, right?

More info in re the individual sites to come..  This was a favorite:  

Qutub Minar 

   
 

Over-Delhi’d it..

Wow.  New Delhi is like no where I’ve ever seen before.  The crowds, the traffic, the incessant honking honking – and did I mention honking??  Like we often do, we checked out a map, picked the nearest attraction, and set out on foot.  What an eye opener!  There were all manner of people on the streets – all ages, all income levels – including many who had nothing.   Many were living right on the sidewalks and the underpasses, cooking over charcoal fires, sleeping..

First stop The Red Fort, then the Raj Ghat – memorial where Gandhi was cremated, then the National Gandhi museum.  Then things got challenging..

The Red Fort – beautiful buildings and grounds, lots of fascinating history.  No lines to speak of when we went in, but by the time we left the queues were unbelievable!  Had we not gotten there early, we surely would have skipped this tour and that would have been unfortunate!

The fort is constructed mainly out of red sandstone, hence the name, and the intricate carvings in the stone all over the palace and the stone inlay work is beautiful.  Hard to imagine it was all done by hand 400+ years ago!