Friday, February 20, 2015

India #1 Delhi, Varanasi, Agra

I’m just gonna jump right in! We arrived in Delhi on December 23. At first we were like “wow what a nice metro! This isn’t how we pictured Delhi at all!” But that eventually faded after we arrived at the New Delhi railway station and exited onto the street, where we did immediately find what we were expecting from Delhi. People, traffic, garbage, an insane man to woman ratio everywhere you look (think like 20:1), open urinals, etc. To add to the experience we were expecting, we then got into an auto (tuk-tuk, rickshaw, what have you) and were totally ripped off on a ride to our hostel. It wasn’t so bad, because we really were expecting it haha. So, December in Delhi is actually a little cold and I was pretty glad I hadn’t jettisoned my warm clothes from Nepal. On Christmas Eve, we walked  to Connaught Place, a well known shopping area, and were pretty unimpressed, although we found a pretty nice cafe, which is never bad. Our main goal on December 24th was to get tickets for…The Hobbit! This was our only plan for Christmas Day, but it ended up being a little harder than planned. A Bollywood film called PK had just been released, and the director is the same guy who did Three Idiots, and is thus mega famous. He released his film on condition that any theatre showing it could show ONLY it, and no other movie. So, instead of watching it in the commercial district 20 min from our hostel, we had to drive an hour out into the suburbs. Luckily it didn’t matter, because it was Christmas and we both wanted basically nothing to do with India anyway. Later, we both attempted Skype, but the wifi at our hostel was terrible and we were mostly unsuccessful. 

Now, cut to sometime between Dec. 25 and Dec. 26 - Mary is in the shared hostel bathroom, having the most epic food poisoning of her life! Merry Christmas! As you can guess, most of Boxing Day was spent in bed recovering from my epic purge. Luckily, it was the only time I got REALLY sick in India, and it only lasted like 20 hours. I should also point out that I probably got it from some expensive Western restaurant!! Our last day in India, I had mostly recovered, and we managed to squeeze in some sight seeing. Delhi has quite a few historical sites scattered around. We went to Old Delhi to see the Red Fort, our first of like 1 trillion forts. It was nice, but not amazing, and we enjoyed learning about how terrible the British were during their time there. One British prince managed to shoot like 25 tigers in one go during a visit! TWENTY FIVE! Then we checked out the biggest mosque in India, then decided that Old Delhi was way too crowded and crazy and that it was time to GTFO. We jumped on the Metro and whizzed down to see Qutab Minar, a super old Minaret, mosque and ruins complex. It was similar to what happens when you go to Rome and see the field of ruins there. THEN we headed over to Hauz Khas because I heard that’s where all the cool kids go. We watched the cool kids and got some pizza, and I was happy.

Qutab Minar

The next day, we had a train booked to go to Varanasi. We had heard that trains could be late, so we were prepared to wait a few hours. When we got to the train station, our train had been delayed TWELVE hours. As in, the next morning. PANIC! Luckily, the staff at New Delhi station must be used to foreigners freaking out about such things, and several security guards and ticket agents helped us cancel the old tickets and purchase new ones on a train that had also been delated 12 hours that happened to be leaving when we were planning to leave anyway. So we jumped on that (they made us run!! I almost died! We didn’t even need to!). This was our first train journey and India, and we’d heard soo many stories. Because of the delay and reschedule we had landed in sleeper class, which is technically the 4th class of sleeper cars. We had planned on being in one class up, where they provide blankets, pillows, heating, and windows that close properly, so we were totally unprepared for the bare bones conditions on the train. We were probably both going to freeze to death during the night. Then, we met Ravinder, a young Punjabi boxer, traveling to Varanasi for a match (fight?) with his nephew. He was keen to practice his English and told us if anyone messed with us we should just call for him. Then, in an extraordinary act of kindness, he offered us one of their blankets, saying that they were family and could share one bed and one blanket no problem. Any anxiety we had had about taking sleeper class was totally gone. In the morning, the train was moving REAL slow, and what should have been a 12 hour journey turned into a 24 hour journey. Our train car emptied out over the day, until there was only us, Ravinder and his nephew left. We were bored out of our minds and glad to have some language-barrier induced laughs. We FINALLY arrived in Varanasi, cold, hungry, tired, and said goodbye to Ravinder and wished him luck in his fight (he won btw). That night we slept so early!
Another friend we made on the train

Our first day in Varanasi, the guesthouse owner arranged a tuk-tuk tour for us, mostly to temples. It’s difficult to travel through Asia for 6 months and still get excited about a temple, but it’s still something to be done. AND, the driver let us try to drive, and I think we were both pretty good at it. Just like a 3 wheeled motorbike with a box built around it haha. 

Conor driving the tuk tuk

The weather was still cold and grey and not beautiful. Varanasi itself was a little (more than a little) odd. Everybody hypes it up, people say it’s their FAVOURITE place in the country. We found it kind of less interesting, we decided it might be because we don’t feel the “vibrations” all the yoga hippies are always talking about. Varanasi is famous for the Ganges and the cremations taking place by the river. The river WAS an interesting sight, and you can easily walk the length of it in a couple hours and see lots of great stuff, just making sure to dodge the cow poop, beggars and narcotics salesmen. 
The burning ghats

We watched Aarti, the nightly ceremony performed by priests for Lord Shiva:

We were also lucky to meet our second Indian friend, he was staying at the same guesthouse as us. By this time it was New Years Eve, and Varanasi is probably one of the least interesting places to be on Dec. 31! We were lucky to have our friend Saurabh to show us where to go to buy alcohol and what Indian rum to buy that wouldn’t be too expensive or we would have been totally sober on NYE because Varanasi, a holy city, is also a DRY city. Planning fail on our part haha. We drank, walked down by the river and got yelled at because apparently there is a 10:30 pm curfew and went to bed. Next day, We went with Saurabh to see the location of Buddha’s first post-enlightenment lecture. It’s now just a bunch of ruins and a museum, but it was interesting. At this point we were still trying to get a handle on all the different Hindu gods so it was pretty helpful. We had a bit of an issue when we entered the ancient site, as the officials there refused to believe that Saurabh wasn’t our illegally hired tour guide. I jokingly asked if it would be acceptable for use to walk around separately from him and they very seriously responded with “yes that’s fine”. When told “you have no proof that he’s a tour guide” they said “we have no proof that you are not a permit-less tour guide”. Whaaaaaat!? Somehow, eventually, they relented, and we toured the grounds. I’m pretty sure, that day we were supposed to take our next train. Saurabh had not only shown us which rum to buy, he had shown us an app to use to check to see ho late our train would be. Due to human error, I neglected to check this app before leaving for the train station, and when we arrived we discovered that our train was again delayed. This time, every couple of hours the delayed it by a couple more hours, until again, we left 12 hours later than schedule, and our night train turned into a day train. We did FINALLY arrive in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, a fort, and not much else…a Pizza Hut I guess. 
Checking out Buddha with our fake tour guide

We had one full day in Agra. We spent part of it at the Taj Mahal, the most expensive attraction in all of India. Foreigners: 700 rupees. Indians: 20 rupees. But, they get away with it, and they always will, because that thing is totally as beautiful and amazing as everyone says it is. Not overrated one bit, and I was so annoyed. I would have been way more satisfied if I could report that the whole thing is a big scam. It’s not. It takes your breath away, and the sun wasn’t even shining when we were there. You’ve seen the Taj Mahal, I won’t waste my time describing it :). After the Taj Mahal, we walked over to the Agra Fort, which we entered from the wrong direction, and had to jump a fence to get to the main entrance. On principle of being cheapskates, we don’t often hire guides, but this guy gave us a GREAT deal because the weather was bad and he was having a slow day, so we succumbed to his persistence, and I think we’re both glad we did. He was good at his job and the signage wasn’t great so we were able to gain a lot more from it. He made us take some silly perspective illusion photos. I think that’s all of importance that happened in Agra, unless you wanna count Pizza Hut, which I DID, but I doubt you want to hear about my pizza. Tis a silly place, and if the Tah Mahal didn’t happen to be there, it would be a pointless place to visit. Our next train was at 6am, and naturally, of course, even though this train being a few hours late would be LOVELY, it was RIGHT ON TIME, because even though I swear Conor had been building up a TONNE of karma for the month before that, the universe is a jerk.

Stay tuned for Rajasthan next!

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