Thursday, October 28, 2010
WELCOME TO INDIA
Our flight arrived in New Delhi at 2.20 am, after exchanging our Australian currency for Indian Rupees we purchased a Government pre paid taxi ticket which is supposed to get you to the hotel of your choice and not one that the driver is on a commission to! From the back seat of our taxi I had my first introduction to how determined some people can be. We asked to be taken to the Paharganj but the driver was not very cooperative but we eventually got a hotel room there. This was my first glimpse of Delhi form our room in daylight.
After a couple of lazy days exploring Delhi we caught an early morning train to Mathura, one of the 7 most holy cities in India and the birth place of Lord Krishna.We spent hours at the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi temple but security there is so tight that we had to hand in bags, camera's, phones and anything else electrical and go through airport style security to get in. The temple is beautiful and the grounds are much larger that I thought they would be. We caught an auto rickshaw to Vrindavan and paid a guide to walk us around some of the temples. At the Rang Mahal Temple we walked through Krishna and Rhada’s garden, walked to the amazing Jaipur temple
built by the Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Madhav, in 1917 after thirty years of hard labor. We walked through the grounds and Sri Bagwan Bhajan Ashram. Vrindavan is nicknamed the 'city of widows’, this temple is where they sing bhajans for food. I found this blog and it is well worth reading and looking through the photos. It will make you realize how hard other women have to live.
This is my all time favorite bhajan Jai Radha Madhav sung by Jagjit Sing.
We took the train to Agra for the day to visit the Taj Mahal, probably the most photographed building in the world. Sometimes when you have seen images of something and then see it in real life it can be a bit of a letdown. Unless you are on the other side of the river you can’t see any of the building from the outside as it surrounded by a high wall. You have to enter by the Great Gate which is quite dark inside.
When you walk through and look up before you walk down the stairs it is right in front of you. It was almost like staring the full moon in the face. It took my breath away as it is so beautiful.
The Indian women in their brightly coloured saris looked like jewels against the white of the building.
Back in Delhi I could not resist taking this photo to show Coen what the electricity connections are like in India!
More cups of tea at our favorite Chai Shop before taking the underground to the Old Delhi Railway Station to catch an overnight train to Ajmer in Rajasthan. I think that one of the things that I like the most about Indian people is their casual attitude to life.
I watched this group of women arrive at the station. Taking rugs out of their bags and placing them down to sit on. Next came out the tiffin carriers, a feast was shared, stories told and then everything was packed up. Out came blankets and they all covered up and promptly went to sleep while waiting for their train!
We woke in the morning to folksingers singing on the train, so much nicer than an alarm clock. Caught the bus from Ajmer up through the hills to Pushkar, famous for its annual camel fair. If you look in the center of the photo you can see that the Lake is dry, this must have an enormous impact on the town. We stayed at the Hotel Everest, the cleanest hotel in India! It was such a nice place situated in a quiet car free area. The only thing that you had to worry about was a local cow with large horns who took pleasure in giving people a bit of a nudge every now and then. Pushkar is a holy city and there is no alcohol, meat or eggs. The bazzar is quite amazing and you can buy rugs and textiles that I did not see in other parts of India.
As in all other parts of India the cows just roam where they please. We came across a group of women doing puja in front of a temple. The cow just came along and ate a previous offering. My nicest memory of our stay there was walking early one morning down into the farming area where they grow the most perfumed red roses to make into garlands. Children were walking to school and women were cutting lupins to feed their cows, working together in groups. It was so quiet and peaceful with the occasional camel loaded with goods passing us bye. We stopped at the Saraswati Music School, Gerard was invited to play tabla. When asked where we were going next, we said that we had a ticket to go from Jaipur to Haridwar on the 15 th March. Ahh very auspicious was the reply...you come all the way from Australia to go to the first day of the Kumbh Mela. Held every 12 years it is the largest human gathering on earth. And we had a ticket to it!!!!!
Back in Ajmer we found an auto rickshaw that would take us to the The Dargah of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, the place of the most holy Sufi pilgrimage in India. The fantastic thing about rickshaw drivers is they are usually happy to take you to these impossible to find places and wait for you while they go off and have a snooze for a while! There was a large crowd gathering outside before we were able to go in. To our absolute delight the Kawalli singers were playing. It was just magical and we were so lucky to be there at that time.
In Jaipur where the traffic is just unbelievable we took an auto rickshaw to see some of the city. The snake charmers were outside the Jaipur Palace. I somehow think that they must remove the snakes fangs, as the one in the center kept striking at it’s owner while he just gently patted it on the head! We spent a long time looking around the Palace, so many beautiful things to see. We were not able to take photos but if you go here you will see some fantastic photos.
We found our driver who was of course asleep. I took some videos while we were driving around Jaipur to show Coen just what the traffic was like. We changed our ticket as we did not want to end up in Haridwar and booked a train back to Delhi the on to Amritsar.
Gerard had cut an ad out of one of the papers advertising a classical music concert in Delhi. Because we had changed our plans we were able to go. It was quite hot sitting in the sun but the music was fantastic. The train through the Punjab, the bread basket of India was so nice. Green fields everywhere with entire families working away. I had booked a first class ticket and I think that they fed us about six times. Amritsar is only about 30 km from the Pakistan border and about 60 km from Lahore. You can go to to the changing of the guard, which oddly seems so British to me.
It was very busy the day that we went to the Golden Temple. The temple is immaculately kept, on any day they serve up to 40,000 free meals in the lungar. We did not eat there but I could hear the stainless steel thali plates being washed. There is a museum at the temple that charts the sad history of the Sikh religion.
Later that night we visited the Durgiana Temple, modeled similar to the Golden temple it is surrounded by a moat. The Temple has the most beautiful doors and paneling. We were at the Goddess temple the night before Navarati began.
We caught a train to Pathankot then a bus through the hills to Dharamsala. You could see the snow on the Himalayas from our hotel window. Dharamsala is a nice city, we walked around the housing area a few times. We both got sick while we were there but Gerard’s only lasted a couple of days, mine 5 weeks till I got antibiotics. We went up to McLeod Ganj the home of the Dalai Lama.
One could only hope that one day Tibet will be free. It was nice and peaceful walking around the roads in McLeod Ganj. Steep hills with lots of areas of natural forests of pine trees and red rhododendrons out in flower. We did move fast though when a large pack of fighting monkeys came running towards us.
In days of internet cafe's I could never work out what this shop was, but it was open every day!
Back to Delhi again,we caught a rickshaw through the famous chandni chowk market. It was early in the morning and the farmers were delivering huge hessian bags full of marigolds to be made into garlands. The next day we went out to Gobind Sadan. We spent two nights at Gobind Sadan walking one day to my friend Priya's for lunch. The last night we were there it was the last day of Navarati. Big celebrations were held with a special feast that night at the lungar. Special puja is held over the nine days to the goddess Shakti. Fireworks went on in the distance for hours. Leaving Gobind Sadan before 5 am and still dark we came across two elephants walking down our road. I left India with the knowledge......always expect the unexpected!
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