Here we are with the last post from India.
We leave Agra in the evening one more time with the train, heading of to Varanasi. Same assault as in Jaipur when the train comes. We go directly to the sleeping carriages, but this time the situation it’s even worse. They are all full. No places to seat or beds to sleep. Panic. The trip will take 14-16 hours, it’s just unthinkable to do it standing or lying on the floor.
After that my friend go to check around the carriages, we discover to be fucked.
We try at least to find a place to put our big backpacks even if the people around just stare at us. Some young indians around their 20s stare at us from their beds and offer to help us to put away our backpacks and a little space at the end of their beds to sit down.
We talk a little bit and they tell us they are students at the uni. They don’t talk too much, in fact, after few words the continue to listen music with the earphones, watching a movie or play a videogame on their smartphone. The time goes and the night comes. We are super tired. The young indians explain us they have to jump off the train before us, so they offer us their beds for the rest of the trip. It’s impossible to refuse. So after a while I fall asleep, swinging with the movement of the train in that it is the best bed in the world in that moment. During the trip my saviour jump off without my noticing, and saying at least thank you.
After a very long journey we finally arrive in Varanasi around lunch time. We meet an Australian friend of my friend at the station, we took a tuk tuk to find out a Guest House to stay and at the end we find one in a small street far away from the mess of the main road, but still in the city centre.
We spend the rest of the afternoon to rest from the tough train journey.
Around dinner time we go out to make a walk on the ghats along the river icon of India, the Ganges.
Unlike the rest of the city, the ghats are clean and tidy. In fact there is even a Holy Bin! 🙂
After a nice walk we arrive in a kind of a square where it’s having a ceremony with hundreds of people not just sit on the ghats but even on dozens of boats in the river. The atmosphere it’s absolutely magical and spiritual.
At the end of the ceremony there are few indians curious about us from the Western culture, and ask us to take some pictures, especially with my friend with dreads.
After some shoots we leave the place to go deep inside the narrow streets where fortunately take out all the vehicles except for few motorbikes.
We stop in a small restaurant to eat a very yummy uttapam with veggies and cheese!
Heading back to the Guest House we pass through a big and busy market full of people, noise, motorbikes, tuk tuk and cows.
Still hungry we eat a couple of Samosa, the puff pastry triangles filled with potatoes, veggies and spice!
In the next days we explore the city and again the ghats. During the morning, along the river they are having severals activities. People doing the laundry and then make it dry on the steps, some others are washing themselves, painting the boats, some cows are having a cool moment having a bath in the Ganges.
Our most activity anyway is eating. There are so many cheap places that’s sometimes it’s just hard to choose. We even ate a good pizza and hand made pasta with mushrooms sauce, made it from an indian chef who lived in Italy for severals years. I have to admit as Italian, that the pasta was amazing!
One day we decide to wake up very early to take a boat and make a tour on the Ganges during the dawn, a real spiritual moment of the day for Indians.
The atmosphere it’s suggestive . The warm colours in the sky that anticipate the sun, and a light fog on the river, the singing people, fill the air of magic.
The tour takes an hour and the guide explain us the story of the buildings, the most important ghats and some religious ceremony. Unfortunately I understand just few things, Indians speak English very bad!
It’s really incredible how our western culture is different between the Indian one, how everything turns around religion and spiritual.
A night we partecipate at a ceremony at the most important burning ghats, the Manikarnika. Only here 200 bodies are burned every day. It’s a real particular and suggestive experience. Watching from few meters bodies of people burning wrapped from the flames, it’s king of tough thing. But it’s incredible how the close relatives of dead people are not sad and they are not crying. Probably because the Hindi religion believes that life continues after the death and the body it’s just a temporary “case”. When it’s time to leave the life, the soul leave the body to become a spiritual thing.
As last big event in India, exported and made famous all around the world, we partecipate at the Holy Fest, known even as The Colours Fest.
We decide to buy some colour powder, water guns and white clothes ready to be dirty and colourful!
Well.. it wasn’t a really good celebration. It was more about get pissed and under drug than spiritual. They were very aggressive and dangerous. Especially with my girl friend, they tried all the time to touch her boobs and ass, really disgusting. They tried several times to rob us, and stole our hats and scarfs. They destroyed everything and made fire pits without thinking if they were to close to motorbikes, carts or electric cables. They were really uncivilised.
After a very tough hour, we give up and we go back to the guest house with very bad memories about the Holi Fest.
After this bad experience and for other personal things I left India 3 weeks before the planned return.
I want to do personal considerations. They always told me you can love or hate India, but not a middle way. Actually, I can’t say that I hate India, but honestly it didn’t fascinating me as much I thought. For sure, the culture is really different from our, but not in that different way that could make me curious or that I could appreciate. The most of the time I felt uncomfortable, stare as a “western guy” and didn’t feel welcome.
They don’t have basic rules of civilisation and especially of cleaning. The most of them are arrogant and they don’t give a fuck about nothing.
The cities didn’t fascinate me as well, everywhere dirt and deterioration, pollution and caos. A part for the Taj Mahal and few other buildings I wasn’t really fascinated about the architecture as well.
Consider that I just saw a little portion of India and that everything could change from a region to another. For example my friends who continued to travel further North told me it was definitely better. Less pollution, mess and people more open and kind.
For sure if I have to choose to go back in India at the moment I would say no.
With this post I finish che Indian Chapter, even if as soon I have time I will publish a short video with the most of the place I visited. In the next months I will tell you about shorter trip and excursions.
At the moment I’m in Italy, at Aosta where I will stay for a while.
I hope to write soon on my blog, tell and show you new places!
This time, it has been very different to take the train.
It has been as one of those documentary scene in tv about India.
The train arrives, is getting close and while it’s still moving, hundreds of people jump on it shoving themselves and screaming as animals, trying to jump on it, not even leaving the other people to jump off.
Honestly, we were shocked and scared. We avoided to do the same. We bought the tickets for the General Class, that is mean che cheapest one.
When the train was finally stopped the situation it normalises after few minutes, so we look for a carriage with some free seats in the Second Class. When the ticket inspector arrives we pay the upgrade for the Second Class for just 100 rupies, it means more or less 1€, 1/3 of the ticket. This thing makes me understand how poor are the people here, if they can’t afford 100 rupies to travel humanely.
The trip takes 5-6 hours, and it continues through desert areas and without many villages.
We arrive in Agra in the Uttar Pradesh region, around dinner time and it’s dark already. During the trip we looked for a Guest House to stay for the night.
We arrive in this crumbling hotel, managed by not really funny people who can’t speak English, making the communication really hard. The first room they give to us has rats, so we ask to move in another one on the 1st floor.
We eat something in the surrounding and go to sleep, even because we set the alarm at 5am to go at the dawn to avoid long queues at the Taj Mahal.
The night is terrible, in the hotel there are some Indian families who make noise all night long, they also hit our door.
Anyway, we wake up, and we took a tuktuk to go the West Gate of Taj Mahal. Fortunately the queue is not to long and in an half hour after controls and metal detector we are entering in the place that is the icon of India, one of the new 7 wonders of the world and Unesco World Heritage Site.
Incredibly, the walls that divide the mausoleum to the rest of the city, make a barrier that keep out all the dirty and noise from the internal oasi of silence, green grasses and cleaning.
It seems to not be in India anymore.
We walk a hundred metres along the path surrounded by gardens and we arrive at a little square in front of the main gate.
It’s 6.30am the sun si ready to go out, the colours are warms, a light fog and the quiet make the right atmosphere to prepare us at something amazing. Through the gate that make as a natural frame, in the distance, it there is, in its majesty, surrounded by the fog: the Taj Mahal.
Despite it’s really early, there are already lot of people who are obviously making pictures and selfies. As soon as I can, I try to find a spot to do some pictures as well and admire it.
Passed the gate, we enter in this big green park with a big and long fountain in the middle that it extends till the base of the mausoleum.
But what is exactly the Taj Mahal? I would define it, a sign of love. But the real story is the following.
The Taj was built by the Shah Jahan Emperor as a monument in memory of his second wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died during the childbirth of their 14th son in 1631. Her death bring the Emperor down to desperation, the story says that his hairs became grey in one night. The works of the Taj started the same year and finished in 1653. Not to far from the opening, the Emperor was imprisoned by his own son, to the Agra Fort till the end of his days, where he could sadly see the Taj Mahal through the window of his prison. It tooks 20.000 people to build up this gorgeous opera.
A popular story says that the Emperor would build a second Taj in black marble as his own tomb, specular to the one of his wife on the opposite bank of the river, and it was for this reason that he was imprisoned because it would cost a fortune for the Empire. True or false, it’s a story what has romantic and tragic at the same time. So, doing again the question, what is the Taj Mahal? It’s “just” a tomb.
We climb the steps of the Taj, without shoes, we make a whole turn around the building before we go inside where there is the tomb (the fake one) of Mumtaz Mahal. Inside is forbidden to take pictures even if, especially Indian tourists, don’t care about it, but I still decide to respect the rule.
At that time of the morning there wasn’t nothing else to visit and so after walked around and took some pictures, we go back to the hotel to rest a little bit before the check out.
In the afternoon we go to visit the Agra Fort. It was a pleasant surprise, despite the most of the people said that the only thing it worths to see in Agra is the Taj Mahal. In fact the most of the people stay in Agra just for one day. Instead, I really enjoyed the Fort.
Unfortunately as every tourist site in India, there aren’t signs to explain what are you seeing and neither sign where to find the things inside, and even to ask just a simple question to a guard as where to find something, they ask to you a tip. Ridiculous!
I give you a little trick. If you keep the ticket of Taj Mahal you will have a discount to the Agra Fort entrance, but it’s valid just for the same day.
As we finished the visit, going out we are surrounded by hawkers and tuktuk drivers. We pass through them walking to the city centre passing trough the slum, where the poorest people live.
In fact, there’s nothing else interesting to see in Agra, so after we did a little walk, drunk a couple of beers and took our backpacks, we go to the train station for my last stop in India, Varanasi.
The first train I take in India is from Ajmer to Jaipur, a short 2 hours trip.
The train is almost empty so we can have a seat for just a couple of euros.
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, founded in 1727 and counts 3 millions of people. During the kingdom of Sawai Ram Singh, the city was pink coloured to welcome the Prince of Wales Edward VII in 1876. Most of the streets remained pink, giving to Jaipur the name of Pink City.
Left the “quiet” city of Pushkar, Jaipur is very chaotic and polluted. The room prices are much higher, but we find a nice Guest House managed by some indian cousins very kind and funny, with a nice rooftop.
We walk around the city, in the busy market streets passing through cows and rickshaw, but we don’t see pink at all.
Just when we go close to the walls of the old city we see the pink that make this city particular.
We visit the characteristic Hawa Mahal Palace builded in 1799 by Maharajah Sawaj Pratap Singh to allow the women of the palace to watch the city life and the processions from behind the small shutters.
The rooftop offers a stunning view, in one side to the Jantar Mantar and the City Palace and to the other side to the Siredeori Market.
Inside there’s nothing, but it’s worth it to buy the ticket to have a look inside and admire the architecture well preserved.
Walking inside the walls of the old city we see really nice views and beautiful and ornamented arches.
For the sunset we decide to have a challenging 2 Kms walk to the top of the hill to reach the Nahargarh Fort. The serpentine path it rises really fast. At that time hundreds of colourful kites dominate the sky above the city, were kids can make them flight very easily as masters.
We arrive to the top where we find dozens of young Indians arrived there with their motorbikes, minimum in 3 for each, were they are making ready for the sunset drinking beer and having junk food.
Unfortunately the sky is not completed clear so we can’t see magic sunset colours.
The day after we visit the Jantar Mantar, an observatory where we find weird buildings that are made to calculate the time, the calendar, the zodiac signs, etc. We pay a guide for 200 rupies who gives us an exhaustive explanation of the operation of all those instruments.
The time in Jaipur is over, and we go to the train station for the next stop, Agra.
Pushkar and Ajmer
For the next six weeks I’ll travel to India.
Direct flight Milan – New Delhi with Airindia.
Even before landing, from my window, I recognised something that I will bring with me for the next weeks: the pollution. A thick fog around the city, looks unreal from the airplane.
After collected my backpack and withdrawn some Rupies from an ATM, I pay a prepaid taxi to go to Delhi, where my friend and his sister are waiting for me.
It’s just insane the way they use to drive, without rules, where everyone does what he wants, where sometimes is better to close the eyes rather than look what they are doing, but it’s fascinating how with no sense, passing at 2 cm from each other, they don’t crash and they can make their way.
I arrive at destination safe and sound, I find my friends and we explore the surroundings. It’s just a mess. Walking it’s almost impossible: motorbikes, tuk tuk and cars horning continuously. Without counting all the cows that walk everywhere. After 10 minutes I was already exhausted, I who like quiet places…
Fortunately we stay in Delhi just for the afternoon, at 9.30pm we have already the night bus to go to Pushkar.
To go to the bus station we take a tuk tuk, a mix between excitement and fear. To add more anxiety my friends start to argue with the bus driver because he try to ask us extra money just to put our backpacks in the hold luggage. It’s just 20 rupies each, something like 26 euro cents, but it’s a matter of principle. Everywhere they try to cheat you and ask you money, especially to the tourists. After 10 minutes of screams we can load our backpacks without extras.
The night bus leaves after 2 hours of delay. Further than the normal seats, there are some sleeping cabins as the ones of the train but more comfortables.
After 12 hours of driving, we finally arrive to Pushkar where the atmosphere is definitely more relaxed, even if in the market road there’s still chaos.
Pushkar has a holy lake, that brings tourists and pilgrims. Furthermore the tourists can make very good deals buying wholesale jewellery and stones to send to Europe and then resell them. In the town it’s not allowed to eat meat and drink alcohol, but you can buy beer illegally in some bars ordering a “special tea”.
The main road is full of shops and restaurants. A mix of colours and smells. Even here all the people try to convince you to enter and buy something in their shops.
The must sightseeing to do is the Holi Lake with its ghats (the holi steps) where it’s possible to see a stunning sunset. But you have to be careful with the fake priests who give to you a flower, then they bring you to the lake to make a prayer and at the end they ask you a very high donation for their family. We have been cheated just once by one in the Brahma Temple, where a guy shown us the temple but at least he explained us everything even if we didn’t understand the half of the thing he said. At the end we left him 300 rupies each, it means almost 4€, and trust me it’s too much! Count that we pay 110 rupies each per night in the Guest House. You have to be very careful, start to say no and deal with the price of everything.
Another nice attraction is climb the Savitri Temple’s hill for the sunset. From the top you can see from a side the town of Pushkar and from the other side the mountains and the desert. The walk is 1 hour from the town and it’s kind of hard, so it’s really important to have with you at least a bottle of water, but it’s worth it. On the top, monkeys and dogs wait for you hoping to receive some food.
If there is a really easy thing to do, it’s eating. Hundreds of restaurants and stalls make food all day long with really cheap prices. The average of the cost for a meal is around 100-150 rupies.
A day we rent a scooter for 200 rupies and we go to Ajmer, 20Kms circa from Pushkar. It’s mostly an Islamic town, where it’s located one of the most important Indian site of pilgrimage for muslims, the Dargah. Unfortunately we can’t go inside because we have short pants.
We continue to visit the Red Temple, nothing special. Here the pollution is exaggerated.
Back to Pushkar we take advantage to have the scooter to go out of town where the desert begins, to admire the warm colours that only the sunset can give.
Another day we assist at the Shivrati Celebration with carts, flowers and colours everywhere in the street.
That’s all for now, the journey continues in India.