Location: Delhi, India
Well, the time spent in Goa was a treat. There is no question that this part of India is like entering a different country in so many ways. Probably the biggest difference was because of religion. The main religion in Goa is Roman Catholic, a heritage of being a Portuguese colony for a long time. The influence was felt in the atmosphere which appeared to be more laid back, more open-minded. Of course there were Hindus and a few Muslims mixed in the general population, but their presence was not dominating the lifestyle of the local people.
Of course, the focus for almost everything in Goa is tourism. The beaches, the weather and the water was worth the wait. Our cottage was near a beach that stretched for 27 kilometres. We never did get to the northern end of the beach though we did cover most of it a one point or other. We did manage to avoid excessive burning so were able to be out with no problems. I don't know which part we liked the best, but I would think it might have been the sunsets. We had fun with taking sunset photos almost every evening. Once the sun was down we went to a number of different restaurant "shacks" along the beach, only eating at our resort for supper a few times. We did manage to again meet some interesting people, especially a couple from South Africa who are hoping we will visit them in the near future.
We didn't take tours, we just walked along the beach in both directions for hours and hours and occasionally walked into a village about two kilometres inland from the beach on a few occasions so that we could e-mail family from a cyber café. We even managed to read a few books during the hot part of the afternoon when we took to the shade.
With our time in Goa at an end, we flew to Delhi where we were again driven through the city to our hotel. Just outside of the hotel, a wedding party was in progress. We got to again watch the procession of uniformed guys playing music and others carrying huge lanterns, two decorated elephants and the groom riding a white horse. After a quiet meal, we wasted little time going to bed and to sleep as wake-up call was set for 1:00 AM, as we had a 4:30 AM flight from Delhi back to China.
This trip will be remembered for many, many years. It has been worth every rupee spent.
Location: Varanasi and Delhi, India
We got up early again and went for an early breakfast before we repacked our bags as our time in Benares (Varanasi) was at an end. We took time to browse through the "left books" at the guest house as well as drop off a number of books that we had brought from China but didn't want to take back with us.
When we were done with our packing, we went for a late morning walk along the ghats. The walk was slow matching our mood. If anything, the filth, the smells and the apparent unconcern by locals to make it better left an impression on us that India would be a long time in arriving in the modern world. We saw children playing in waste sewage, a woman washing her clothes beside a sewer outlet on the river, men, women and children were bathing in the river surrounded by refuse, some were using river water to brush their teeth or to drink small amounts as part of their prayers while praying beside piles of cow dung. Clothes were being washed and set on the stone steps, on cords and even on the dirt to dry. At the burning ghat we watched naked children play games among the mourners while lower caste workers sifted through the ashes of the recently cremated looking for gold and silver that were left on the bodies.
When we got as far as the building that Mother Theresa used for her work in India we said this was far enough. Of course we went into the mission and met one of the three sisters working there and learnt about the current situation of working with the old men and women who are mentally and or physically disabled. By the end of our walk I had only taken fifty photos. It was time to say enough is enough and wait for our ride to the airport.
In Delhi at last. We had a late supper at our hotel as the dinner with Tapas and his family (the man who arranged our tour) was cancelled due to lateness however we didnt mind as we are tired. Tomorrow we go to Goa and begin a beach holiday.
Location: Varanasi, India
We got up in the dark at 6:00 in order to get ready for our dawn boat ride on the Ganges. The light wasnt the greatest but it was good enough for me to get a few decent photos. The river was quieter in the morning and the people seemed to be more serious in their religious activity. The dawn encouraged silence.
With the boat ride done and we were back on land, we took a small walking tour of the narrow lanes behind one of the burning ghats and learnt a bit more about the traditions of cremation. By 8:30 we were done with our tour guide and had the rest of our stay in Varanasi to ourselves. Our tour guide made our tours of yesterday and today good experiences. Though he was a young man, he was deeply religious and in his stories of his own family life, we saw that he followed respectfully and dutifully the path of his father. However, he did tell us that he hoped it would be different for hischildren. He had a daughter and wanted more for her, the more that seemed to be the promise of a modern world.
After a late breakfast we walked away from the bustle near the ghats both for a walk and to see what more there was to see in Varanasi. We ended up walking through a small Muslim area and passed wood mills (very small operations) and tiny butcher shops and a high school that was enjoying competitive games in their courtyard with rows of students standing on all the balconies lining each level around the courtyard. Though the area was more modern, it still seemed to be trapped in dirt and depression. The heaviness of religion's dominance coloured every scene.
Eventually we made it back to our hotel where we enjoyed a small lunch and then read our books Maureen is reading Kite Runner and I am reading My Other Life, by Paul Theroux. We have been lucky to find these books in our guest house. For a diversion, I then spent some time going through some of the photos throwing out the bad ones, the repeats, the blurry ones and those that seemed almost meaningless. I still have too many photos and need to do some serious work trying to sort out what is actually worth keeping. Of course, some time spent doing this journal and then more reading information overload requires some reflection time, some down time.
Location: Varanasi, India
I woke up early as the train was stopped only to find it in the middle of nowhere. I was able to get a few photos of dawn and villagers by the train tracks. We were there for almost two hours, at a village called Surjawan. After the first hour, the train moved up the track about 100 metres and then fifteen minutes later decided to retreat about 75 metres. In the predawn, I saw a few children out with a small flashlights scurrying around as though trying to catch frogs or something. As dawn approached I saw small fires being lighten in the open buildings barely visible. Soon I saw smoke curling out from the edges of the roof which looked like it was canvas in the faint light. As it got lighter more people came out including two small girls who gathered a number of plastic bags which they used to build a small fire in order to warm up. Men and women appeared and relieved themselves not far from the tracks. It was interesting watching a village come to life. Eventually we finally got moving.
We arrived in Varanasi at 9:00 am., where our rep had been waiting for us since 4:30 in the morning. Yes, we were more than four hours late in our arrival time. We went straight to our hotel. Well, straight is a loose term. We squeezed between all manner of transport until we could go no further then we set off on foot down alleys that even a rickshaw couldnt go down in order to reach our hotel on the banks of the Ganges River. We had a break until 3:30 before we had to go on our preplanned tour.
Not able to wait and needing to get out for some exercise, we took a walking tour of the ghats going south of our hotel. It was unbelievable! You just cant imagine the power of religion until you see it in action here. Following our stroll along the ghats of the Ganges River, I took a rest for an hour before our tour and felt better. Yes, I was still slightly under the weather with my stomach.
Our guide took us to the largest university in Asia, a Hindu university. In the centre of the university is a temple to Shiva, the New Vishwanatha Temple, the largest such temple in Varanasi. While there, I learnt about the symbolism (Sanskrit characters) that represents the trinity of Hindusim and the quaternity of Hindu life. On the way back to the Ganges we stopped for a quick photo of a red Hindu temple, the Durga Temple that wasnt open to the public, a temple to one of the Hindu goddesses. We could see that the temple was very busy with services. Next on the agenda was a private boat ride on the river, just Maureen and I with the guide and the boatman. Usually, the Ganges River tour is done in a boat with about fifteen to twenty people. It was dark before the ride was over. We watched as people set little candles on a bed of marigolds, afloat on the Ganges River, watched the fires of several cremations, and near the end of our tour, stopped off the shoreline in order to listen and watch a performance called Puja. The performers stood on low, small altar-like platform at the edge of the ghat. They performed an interesting series of movements with bells and oil lamps while musicians played traditional instruments
As we returned to our guest house, we passed tiny temples where the Aarti was being performed by a solitary holy man with no one listening, no one noting the rituals. It was time for a late supper so we went to the rooftop restaurant to eat. The sounds of the bells, the chants continued. The day has almost been overwhelming if that is possible the power of religion and the weakness of humans.
Location: Agra, India
We delayed our tour of the Taj Mahal until later in the morning because the light was terrible and photos would not be worth taking. By the time we did get there, we finally had some decent light though not good sunlight. Regardless, we got some very good photos.
After the Taj Mahal we visited a trades shop that does inlay work on marble similar to what we saw at the Taj Mahal. Next, was the Agra Fort. To tell the truth, one fort is beginning to look like the next fort. Oh well, photos were taken and we saw what there was to see. Our guide was young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, so it helped.
By the end of the tour of the fort I was feeling quite sick, ready to throw up. Luckily, we made it back to the hotel in time for me to lose my breakfast. As a result, we cancelled the rest of the tour and I took it easy. In the afternoon we took time to do an hour of e-mail near the hotel. We then killed time until it was time to head to the train station in Tudla. It took an hour to make the drive to the train station so we got there with about an hour and a half to spare before our train was supposed to arrive.
The wait was interesting in the tiny first class waiting room. I finally tried eating some banana as I was feeling less queasy. While waiting we saw a rat scampering all around the room, sometimes crawling on to peoples luggage. When it was time, we went onto the platform and noticed about a billion birds in the rafters. We had to be careful where we stood as we were likely to get guano all over us otherwise. We waited and waited. Every fifteen minutes we were informed that the train was delayed. Or 8:25 train arrived at 9:40 and eventually left ten minutes later. Our anticipated 5:30 arrival in Varanasi was now scheduled for 6:45 am. We enjoyed talking with a guy from Japan and his son as well as a young girl from Japan who was touring India on her own.
We finally settled into our bunks and began our night train journey in India.
Location: Agra, India
We settled up at our hotel and got off to an early start after a basic breakfast. We had good sun for the road and I took a lot of photos along the way. There was a basic plan to the photo taking, cow patties, straw and mud homes, brick factories, and what looked like a two-stroke truck. But to no surprise, I got more, much more. I got colour in the fields, in the villages and on the road. At a late morning rest stop, I got to film a small group working on mixing cement and laying a cement pad and Maureen made a new little friend.
We were supposed to visit an abandoned village but it turned out to be another palace. The deserted village was too far away and wasnt really on the tour agenda from the local guides point of view. With that, we decided to skip the tour and head straight to Agra. We arrived just before 3:00 pm and checked in to our hotel after making arrangements for our events in the city.
Our first task was to find the roof top restaurant from where we could view the Taj Mahal during sunset. Of course we had a small supper there at the same time. We didnt stay until dark as the light became too bad for photos but still we got some good photos as well as good food. This is what it was all about, our trip to India had one objective with everything else relegated to second place - the Taj Mahal. The view was perfect! The light was poor because of haze, but still, we left the rooftop with great expectations for the next day's visit when we would be in and around the Taj Mahal.
We decided to walk back to the hotel even though we had taken a tricycle rickshaw (tricshaw) to get to the restaurant in the heart of the old district. While walking back we were followed and pestered by a trikshaw driver all the way to the hotel. When we dropped off our cameras and bag, we went out again to check out the local area in evening only to find the trikshaw driver still there, still hoping we would hire him for a tour. Maureen checked out some plates that had the Taj Mahal on them and picked out the one she thought would best suit our wall at home. Then, because of the number of hawkers and peddlers constantly pestering us, we decided to call it a night and returned to the hotel for some cards.
Location: Jaipur, India
Up before seven this morning and had an early breakfast so that we will make it on time for an elephant ride up to the Amber Fort. We had a flash drive by the City Palace and a brief photo stop at the Hawa Mahal, a wall built so that noble ladies could watch activities on the street without being seen, before the drive to the Amber Fort.
Elephants! A lot of elephants! We got our elephant ride. I did manage to get our guide to take photos with our cameras at the start and at the end of our ride. He wasnt very enthused about it as he was sure we would buy the photos that cameras along the route were taking. As for the elephant ride, I can tell you, it is not a very comfortable ride, unlike a ride on a camel. There is no doubt which I prefer. The Amber Fort was worth the visit as we got to go into the harem quarters which showed just how much of a prison life for the ladies was in the past. We wandered through the apartments of the many wives of the king as well as through the main parts of the palace taking a lot of photos. Once finished with touring the palace we made our way back to the village at the bottom of the hill in order to return to Jaipur.
On the way back, we drove past the water palace which was undergoing a face lift so didn't make for great photographs. We entered into the City Palace grounds in order to look at the Jantar Mantar, an observatory built in 1728. After a very brief stope we drove on and were shown a fleeting glimpse of Albert Hall which housed the central museum for Jaipur. Since we werent interested in going to the three shopping opportunities, our guide declared our tour over.
Once back to the General's Retreat, the first thing we did was to go in search of an Internet service all the cyber cafes have no café service at all. Its funny actually. We found a good place with fast connections and so had an opportunity to connect again with our kids and a few others. On our walk we discovered a Mega Mart, a small shopping centre with a bit of food and other stuff, a tiny version of Mega Mart in Changzhou. We bought some juice and a few packages of Indian snacks.
After returning to the General's Retreat and downloading our photos we again headed out. We headed to Central Park for a long walk around the golf course in order to find the Polo grounds. We then settled in to watch our first live Polo match, a championship game for the Simur Cup. The game was part of a tour competition. With the game still in progress but the final result basically decided (no, we dont know which team was which thought the score was 7-1 when we left) we continued to walk through the park taking some interesting photos including a neat one of two small owls on a branch.
When we got to the main entrance of Central Park a music performance was to take place later in the evening, we were lucky to see the musicians already practising. I got the photos I wanted of Anoushka Shankar and enjoyed a good blend of western music along with Sitar music. I will definitely buy her CD in the future! It was getting late and the sun had just set, so we decided to head back to the hotel for supper and some relaxation before heading out to Agra and the Taj Mahal the next morning.