Monday, March 20, 2023

Day 6 - New Delhi, India

Today was my last day in India, instead of taking another overnight train from Varanasi to Delhi, I decided to fly because I was not about to spend another 10 hours in a train while I could alternatively spend slightly over an hour on a flight. I arrived in Deli at night which gave me a good opportunity to sleep and rest up before embarking on a few last adventures in the city. Remember I had already seen a few sites in Delhi on the first day of my trip so what was remaining were a few more sites before officially wrapping up the trip. 

The first stop was at the India Gate which was built to commemorate the thousands of Indian soldiers that died during World War I. 

Second stop was Humayun's Tomb built in 1570. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, it was the first garden-tomb in India and was heavily influenced by Persian architecture. This tomb actually inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal. 

Isa Khan's garden tomb, it precedes the adjacent Humayun's tomb by two decades. It is the culmination of an architectural style used for royal tombs in Delhi during the Sayyid and Lodi dynasties from the early 15th to 16th centuries. How pretty are the colors at the top? can you imagine how they must have looked like in the past? 

The other places I was meant to check out were the presidential palace and the Lotus temple. Both were closed to the public unfortunately. There wasn't much else to do so I had my last meal in Delhi before heading back to the hotel to get ready for my trip back.

That's it folks! I am rushing through this post because my taxi driver is almost here to take me to the airport. All I can say though is that this trip taught me about gratitude, India has a lot of challenges and even though I had a guide, I still felt those challenges. Initially I was ready to be done with this trip but after I looked at the unique experiences I had in the country, my perspective changed and I appreciated what this trip exposed me to. It's been quite an adventure and now it's back to reality! Until the next adventures.............Adios!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Day 5 - Varanasi, India

I left Agra for Varanasi via an overnight train which was quite the adventure! thank goodness I slept for most of the 12 hour trip and never once did I have to use the toilet. I arrived in Varanasi early in the morning feeling well rested and ready to hit the ground running. Varanasi or Benaras, is one of the oldest living cities in the world. It's located in northern India and on the banks of the Ganges river which is considered sacred and holly by Hindus. 

Hindus also believe that if one dies in Varanasi then they will attain salvation and freedom from the circle of life and rebirth. This gives you an idea of how important this city is to Hindus, it is the ultimate pilgrimage city for them and many wish to die here, Heck! I would too, if I shared the same beliefs. I mentioned that I was ready to hit the ground running upon my arrival, so that's exactly what I did. I met with my tour guide and driver and off we went to check out the first point of interest, starting with Sarnath.

Sarnath - this is an archeological site situated north of Varanasi. This place is very important to buddhists because this is where Buddha delivered his first sermon. Buddhists from all over the world make pilgrimages to this site. I got to learn about the history of Buddha and Buddhism as my guide and I walked around the site then checked out a nearby museum that had recovered relics from the site, it was very interesting.

Wat Thai Temple - this is one of the most popular Buddhist temples in Sarnath and the main highlight of this temple is the 80 feet statue of Buddha in standing position. The project to complete this statue took 14 years, construction started in 1997 and the statue was unveiled in 2011.

Ganga Aarti - this is a prayerful ceremony held every evening at Dashashwamedh ghat (steps leading to the river Ganges). It get's really crowded as you can see from the photos below. It was a fascinating ceremony to watch and something highly recommended to check out while in Varanasi, just be prepared for the crowds.

The different Hindu gods displayed on a building as were heading toward the ghat.

People heading to the evening ceremony

Unfortunately it started raining heavily so we had to leave the ceremony early but at least I had observed a big portion of it. The next morning which was my last day in the city, we headed back to Dashashwamedh ghat at around 6 am and the place was buzzing with activity already. I got to see people bathing in the Ganges, went on a boat ride along the river as my guide told me more about Hindu rituals and beliefs then checked out some temples. I am summarizing everything because it's a lot of information that I am just too tired to get into it, but I hope you enjoy the photos.

Interesting story about Kumiko house below. Years ago, I believe in the 70s, a Japanese lady visited Varanasi and fell in love with one of the boat men at the Ganges. They got married and she moved to India to be with him, she built this guest house which I was told is pretty popular with Japanese tourists that visit Varanasi.

On the Ganges you will see many floating flower arrangements, I was told that these are offerings and what you do is light a small candle in the middle of the flower arrangement, say one wish that you would like to come true then put the offering in the river. I made my wish then put the flower offering in the river

PS: reason why I was wearing sunglasses when clearly it was an overcast day is because I got a horrible ear infection and the left side of my face was swollen including my eye, thank goodness for my braids which managed to hide how swollen my face really was.

Checked out a couple of temples

In front of the statue of Patanjali, according to sources he systemized and codified the existing yoga practices, he was a sage who authored the Yoga Sutras, a classic yoga text dating back 200 BC - 200 CE.

That's it folks! I saw what I needed to see in Varanasi and it was time to head back to Delhi. I was supposed to take another overnight train but decided to take a local flight which would only last slightly over an hour. I wasn't about to spend hours on the train again.

Random Thoughts of the Day:

I love Indian food but for some reason my appetite just hasn't been present during this trip, maybe it's because I am moving around a lot plus I am also cautious about what I eat because I don't want to end up with a running stomach.

As much as I love seeing vibrant cities with people walking along the streets, the crowded streets of the parts of India that I have visited, are on another level. The crowds, the noise, the shoving, it's a lot! never have I missed a quiet park where you can just sit and decompress while still enjoying the outdoors.

I have been getting stares everywhere I go and I don't think anyone can beat Indians with a stare back. I tried to out stare several people but it hasn't worked so far, it's like some of these folks are in a trance or something. Someone will literally stand in front of me and just stare, it's so bizarre and I have never seen anything quite like it. 

I came across a woman holding a child while begging on the street in Varanasi, my guide told me that a lot of these women are professional beggars. They have kids every 3 or so years then use the kids to garner sympathy while begging on streets. This is literally like a job for them, he said this happens all over India and they drug the kids a little bit so that they don't cry while the mother is walking around begging. Poor kids! 

Considering all the pollution that goes into the Ganges river, I was wondering about the safety of people bathing in it. My guide insisted that the minerals in the water do not allow for infections and some people even drink that water. Yikes! 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Day 4 - Agra, India

Today is my birthday and even though I woke up with an ear infection that had started swelling up, I was determined to make the best out of the day. Yesterday the focus was mainly on the Taj Mahal and today the aim was to see other sites of interest before leaving Agra for the next city.

The first stop was Agra Fort which is a historical fort that served as the residence of the rulers of the Mughal Dynasty, until 1638 when the capital was moved from Agra to Delhi. It is also known as the Red Fort due to the red sandstone used to build it. 

Next stop was The tomb of Itmad Ud, this tomb was built by his daughter queen Jahan, as a tribute to him after his death. She was a mughal queen. The tomb was built in 1625 and has many features that were incorporated in the later  construction of the Taj Mahal. It is actually referred to as "baby Taj." The artwork in this tomb is beautiful! I personally found this tomb to be more beautiful than the Taj Mahal.

That's it folks! After checking out these two sites, it was time to head to the train station to take an overnight train to the next city, but not before getting one last tuk-tuk ride. I can't say it was the best birthday just because there were so many unplanned occurrences that threw things off. I am not complaining though because either way, I still had the privilege of experiencing something unique.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Day 3 - Agra, India

The main reason I wanted to visit India was to check out the Taj Majal, one of the seven wonders of the world. I mean, mention India and one of the top things that come to mind is the Taj Mahal right? So today I finally got my wish and visited the famous Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal is located in Agra which is a 5 hour drive from Jaipur, where I was staying. We (my driver and I) arrived in the late afternoon and after settling into my hotel, it was time to set off to a new adventure.

The Taj Mahal is the most photographed monument in the world, it was built in the 17th century by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Taj Mahal is an ode to the emperor's eternal love for his wife. It took a whooping 20,000 skilled workers from across the country working day and night for 22 years to complete this amazing work of art. 

It was really crowded when I got to the Taj Mahal but honestly, that didn't take anything away from the experience. It truly is an amazing masterpiece that is worth checking out. I had a guide explaining all the intricacies that went into creating this masterpiece and this helped me appreciate it even more. Without further ado, check out the photos I managed to capture, they are in no particular order.....enjoy!

Got sucked into a mini photo shoot, long story....

Below you can see the incorporation of the concept of a Persian garden, beautiful!

That's it folks! It was time well spent and I am so glad that I got to check out one of the seven wonders of the world. 

Random Thoughts of The Day:

The one thing I have noticed so far during this trip is that almost everyone that is being nice to you expects a tip. Not gonna lie, it's exhausting! I have nothing against tipping, it's just the way it's done here, it even makes you cautious of being friendly toward someone.

At the Taj Mahal you will find many photographers asking to take photos for you at a small fee. Just be firm on how many photos you want taken and how much you are willing to pay. 

While shopping in the local markets, be firm on what you want and maintain a straight serious face. The sales people can be pushy and annoying, trying to get you to buy more.

Honestly I am so glad that I am using a tour company during this trip to India because I can see how overwhelming it would be to do it solo. It's not impossible but I chose convenience over everything.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Day 2 - Jaipur, India

Today was a full busy day, just how I like it! Left Delhi for Jaipur which is the capital of India's Rajasthani state, very early in the morning in order to beat traffic, the trip between the two cities is a 5 hour drive so you can imagine how much longer it would be if traffic was an issue. The drive actually turned out to be just fine and it went by faster than I expected! well, sleeping for most part of the journey did play a role in giving the impression that the trip was shorter than 5 hours.

I had read about how chaotic and overwhelming India can be so since my visit is only a week long, I figured why not book a tour with a travel agent so that they can figure out all the logistics instead of me trying to navigate by myself with such limited time. Sometimes it just works better that way and you are able to really utilize the limited time you have got. The tour package did include a private driver so that's who drove me to Jaipur.

Jaipur is the first planned city in India and was established in 1876, it is also known as the pink city because when the prince of Wales visited the city, the leader at the time decided to paint the whole city pink because the color symbolizes hospitality, I believe prior to that the city was white and once it got painted pink, the color remained as is till the present day. Since I only have a day in Jaipur, my itinerary was packed with all the different highlights of the city. After linking up with my guide, no time was wasted in checking out the different tourist sites, this the order of how my day went:

Amber Fort - One of the best preserved forts that served as the royal capital for seven years before the city of Jaipur was built.

Jal Mahal (Palace of Water) - Located in the middle of a man made lake, Man Sagar. The initial intention for building this palace was to have it a hunting lodge for the king and his entourage. Unfortunately it is not open to tourists but there are plans by the govt. to grant access to the public. 

Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) - A five story building that happens to be the tallest in the world, built without foundation. It remains upright because of it's curve. The building's shape and curved windows allow breeze to blow through the palace, keeping it cool. It was an extension of the Royal City Palace and since Royal ladies were not allowed to be seen by strangers or the general public, the windows were designed in such a way that they could see what was going on in the streets below without anyone seeing their faces.

City Palace - This palace was built between 1729 and 1732 AD served as the Maharaja's(great king) dwelling place. 

That's it folks! I got to see a couple of other tourist sites but didn't take photos because by then, I was so tired and ready to check into my hotel and crash. Tomorrow I am heading to Agra to check out the Taj Mahal so do check back for updates.

Random Thoughts of the Day:

I have noticed that there is not one single woman working in the hotels, restaurants and even airport. I asked my driver Abdul about this and he said that most women either stay at home or work in offices.

It's amazing to see Persian influences at some of the sites I visited today. I actually had a sense of deja vu at times as I would come across some design or painting resembling what I had seen in Iran during my last trip.

I was chatting with Abdul my driver and he mentioned that his daughter is getting married next year and that him and his wife have already chosen the man for her. His daughter has only seen his photos but trusts  her parents' choice and is fine with it. Abdul himself had an arranged marriage. It was interesting listening to his point of view on arranged marriages and his support of this age old practice. 

A lot actually goes into these arranged marriages and astrologers are even used to determine if both partners are compatible. 

Speaking of astrologers, Jaipur is also well known for astrology so I decided to visit one and hear what he had to say. Both Abdul and my guide Babu highly recommended him. The guy told me some pretty interesting things that made me ponder, he was actually pretty good and straight forward with his reading and did not charge me anything.