Subject: Kovalam 18
After a harrowing journey that took forever we arrived at our final destination in India(our speedy driver tried his best) We stayed at the Leela in Kovalam- right on the Southern tip of India. It's is on a hilltop surrounded by hundreds of palm trees, tropical gardens, rocky cliffs sandy beaches and the warmest of warm Arabian Sea. Our resort is total luxury with huge bedrooms and golf carts in case you don't feel like walking around ( by this stage we don't). We spend our last day in India hiring tuck tucks for last minute shopping - so convenient as the shops are a five minute ride away and the tucks only cost about R10 to get around. The shopping is fun but the beach is better....the sea is so wonderful and warm, very salty but luckily there are barley any waves and we have a blissful swim, feeling excited to go home yet melancholy to leave this amazing country. We watch our last sunset, eat our last curry and toast the fabulous time we've had.
Our plane departs at 4 am. We leave for the airport at midnight and fly for four hours to Abu Dhabi. Three hour stop over, then the eight hour flight home.....exhausting.
Back in SA the roads are calm ( what no hooters?) and the country is clean and quiet.
Since my return I have been sick in bed with a tummy bug for two days isn't it ironic?
I have written much about India and to be honest I don't think I could give a total honest opinion.
Yes I am just a tourist. Yes we went five star all the way so of course we would get that kind of treatment. Still. It's an amazing place that everyone should see at least once. There is good and bad sure but which country doesn't?
Besides all the wonderful landscapes, of which I saw a pinhead. There are deserts and beaches, tropical jungles, islands, mountains....what's not to like? The history so so ancient ( a lifetime study worth) and the architecture is awesome. The diversity of this country is indescribable as you see extremes and surprises everyday. The worst of the worst and the best of the best. I loved it!
The thing that really struck me is the tolerance of the Indian people( the ones I met anyway)
Every religion or non religion is tolerated and accepted. You are not judged if you are Hindu, Christian, Muslim,Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic or any other religion for that matter. I think that the society we live in can learn a lesson from their unbiased tolerant and open minded views of people with a different religion/ lifestyle to them. I will try and remember that when I get muddled in with my rat race life here at home. With the tolerance also comes a sense of patience and an easy going, friendly nature which many Indian people seem to naturally posses, which I often find missing here in the West.
It's been a fantastic, life changing journey and I would recommend it to everybody.
One day I hope to return ( Himalayas here I come) like Jonny Clegg said - all my heart is yearning, like a candle burning in the night!
Thank you for sharing the experience with us and all and all!
Oh getting up is so hard to do. It's been a fabulous stay at our beautiful spice garden and we would love more time, but alas we have more to see and more to do. We leave at 10 for a five hour drive to our next destination. The landscape is slowly changing now and we are leaving the mountains and entering the " real backwaters" of Kerala.
We stop of at a jetty and board a boat to our hotel. Not a bad way to spend New Year's Day.
Coconut lagoon as the name implies is a beautiful hotel right next to a lagoon. The entire place is filled with water canals and quaint bridges you have to cross to get to your rooms. It is extremely humid and hot and we are in heaven when we enter our totally luxurious Bungalows. Carved wooden ceilings and an outdoor shower. A really strong air conditioner yay!
This is such a tranquil place, tropical and hot hot hot! We went for a swim at sunset in the huge lukewarm swimming pool and watched the sunset over the lagoon. It's the place to go if you are in need of some serious R&R. There is a butterfly garden where the worlds largest and smallest butterflies can be found. In the evening there are thousands of Mosquitos who are ready to munch on every part of the body...luckily we are rigged for this and it's not too much of a problem.
Stella catches a frog and as it leaps out of her hand it instantly gets gobbled up my a by mean looking bullfrog. We sleep the most beautiful sleep and I feel far far away from home ( as I am of course) . Unfortunately we have to leave again the next day and it's with heavy hearts as we all like this place, especially the kids.
We leave for our journey further south, we pass through tropical jungles with many villages/towns in between- they never seem to stop. There are quite a few christian (catholic ) churches. This is due to the Portuguese influence, as they landed here in and stayed for so many years.
The South is different to the North of India, firstly there is the landscape, much greener and tropical. There is a different language called Malayalam which is a very difficult (even for some of the locals) as it sounds something like a turkey garbling. The people have a darker skin tone and the men mostly wear sarongs which they promptly tuck in when they are working ....this looks a bit like an oversized nappy and the children find the men walking around in skirts hilarious. Declan keeps trying to peep underneath the "skirts" and this is met with much laughter and play fighting. There are no beggars or we haven't met them yet. People seem to live an easier life here and the whole vibe is laid back, but hard working at the same time. The food is also more varied with many spicy vegetable dishes, salads and curries of course (still no holy cow) there is however buffalo ..tastes just like beef. There are also more tourists here and no one really takes photos of the kids.
We board a traditional rice boat converted into a luxurious houseboat. We have comfortable rooms with a wonderful view of the river, paddy fields on to our left and right. Wow this is something else! The river is very wide and there are many of these houseboats cruising along. It's great as you get a good view of life on the shore. We dock for the night at a little village and take a walk on the long and very narrow stretch of land. The locals are very friendly and they seem content with their lives. We sleep hardly feeling any sort of movement from the water, theses boats are very steady, I don't really sleep as the aircon freezes the room to sub zero temperatures and when it's off I feel like I am dying of heat....typical India, land of extremes.
The next day we have a short boat ride I between thousands of ducks before we embark on our next adventure on land. It was great on the houseboat I could've stayed one more night....but once again...alas.
Love to all
Subject: Periyar 16
We leave our mountain tea plantation on route to Periyar....190km South. I wish I could explain to you how beautiful it is here, the best I can do is tell you that it's one of the most picturesque places I have ever been. We drive up through tall mountains covered in mist, and down through valleys of cardamom plantations. Lakes in the valleys. Tropical jungles on either side of the road. It's like the Drakensburg, Knysna forest and Eastern Transvaal all in one. Wow!
Jobie Shcumaker is really giving it a good whirl today and at one point I actually ask him to drive slower as its getting terrifying going round hair pin turns and dodging head on collisions every seven minutes. Better to sit in the back of the van!
We stop off at an elephant sanctuary where the kids and Garth ride an elephant up a hill and back down again. They they scrub the lying elephant and sit on her back as she showers them with water with her trunk. They absolutely love it. The beast lies in a bath and she closes her eyes with her pretty lashes every time she gets a scrub..must be itchy being an elephant. What a great experience for them!
Jobie gives us his typical Indian head nod( something between yes and no ) which as far as I can deduce can mean anything! Come,come quick quick, boat ride, up up! So a further speedy drive through countryside and a village(watch out pedestrians) we arrive at the Periyar national game reserve. 777 km of lush mountains and rivers. We travel down a wide river on a ferry to see what wildlife we spot. The reserve has over a thousand elephants and twenty eight tigers (we should be so lucky) various creatures are spotted, jackals, birds, buck, elephants and an elephant bull carcass that the crows are feasting on- another bull had killed it the previous day. We return to speedy and his bus. All in all a most totally excellent experience.....but wait there's more.
We are staying in the Shalimar Spice garden........I feel like I'm entering another world. The entrance to the hotel is numerous steps going over a wooden bridge. The whole hotel is surrounded by tall trees and plants, the gardens are totally lush and the whole place in built on different levels. Our rooms look like little garden cottages and are very comfortable. In the evening the whole place is covered in coloured fairy lights. This country just keeps getting better and better! We sleep listening to the various mysterious night animals coming alive.
The last day of 2012 is spent...shopping (again) ( of course) the shopping is different here once again, beautiful jewellery, more spice and exotic clothing..... We have fun fun fun!....our suitcases are bulging now just like out tummies.
We go to a spice plantation and see pepper growing like vines, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, aniseed, bananas, it's all very interesting to see and I now understand why some spices are so expensive ...some take forever to harvest and get ready.
We return to our own spice garden and while everybody is relaxing by the pool Charmaine ( Shamina in India) and I go for a wonderful Indian head treatment, this is part of their Aryuverdic medicine. We lie on wooden beds and hot oil is pored over our heads for over an hour . We get this wonderful head massage, it's very relaxing and quite strange!
The New Years celebrations are beginning and these people sure know how to throw a party!
The whole swimming pool area is decorated with lights and ribbons and balloons and bamboo strings. There is a drinks stall, a prawn fry-up stall. A pasta stall. A local starter snack stall. A whole buffet is laid out with various curries and local cuisine. We chow down and celebrate. After dinner we watch various shows( dancing, martial arts, live bands, fire shows) - take part in a dancing competition, Shamina and Hanuman(Declan) win and they win two nights accommodation! The staff are all dressed like warriors and they have a lot of fun with the kids playing fighting games! Garth blows flames for everyone and he gets a huge applause.(damn battery went flat, no footage) Everyone is jolly and laughing and just before twelve the local drummers get on stage and start a hectic drumming circle that builds and builds and builds until midnight. By this stage a lot of people are boogying to the infectious beat. At twelve fireworks go off by the pool and we are all handed long sparklers....what a perfect moment. We get up and do Gangam style....it's so funny. Everyone is dancing. There are smiles all around and good old Declan is the star of the show. He sits on the waiters necks alternatively, his arms waving in the air a huge smile stuck to his face....party animal! A great time is had by all! One of the best New Years eves of my life I must say. We couldn't do better anywhere!
Here is hoping that everyone had a good New Year, we miss you all and see you soon!
So Jobie Shumaker got us out of Cochin at breakneck speed and what a drive it was. We are on our way to Munnar hill station (about 200km south) what a stunning place this is! We drove up a mountain pass, the highest I've ever been on I think. The mountains are covered on either side by beautiful, lush green tea plantations. The trees are tall and the bush is quite tropical. As we cling on for dear life we take in the waterfalls and dark volcanic rock cliff faces. No wonder they call this Gods own country. There is a single tar road winding and dipping, luckily for us we ascend without a hitch as Jobie isn't too concerned about....a) on coming traffic b) pedestrians c) animals d) waiting to overtake any other vehicle on the road whatsoever! His philosophy apparently is...just blow horn, just zip past, truck,bus, oil tanker...NO PROBLEM! [die pad hy draai en draai...]
We arrive at our hotel (Windermere estate darling!) nestled in the middle of the mountains and it is such a fantastic feeling to be out of the city. We have a very colonial looking bungalow with a patio overlooking the whole mountainside. There is a bit of mist but the air is so clean...I actually lie on our huge soft bed with a view of the mountainside and I have the most fantastic sleep...Garth joins me and the cool thing is that the kids are having a fabulous time playing in the stunning gardens.
We wake up later and we are served a delicious dinner ( still eating, think I'm on 4 kgs now oh dear! ) our dinner consists of ...creamy fish curry, peppered lamb, Kashmiri mixed vegetables, curry chickpeas, yoghurt and mint beet root, roti bread, Kerala rice,coffee cheese cake and chai. My Goodness we roll back to our rooms like barrels and pass out from pure indulgence( I need a gym when I get home!)
What a sweet sleep! We see the fantastic view from our patio when we get up as the mist has settled. The mountains are called the blue mountains and they are breathtaking. Our driver takes us to the national park about 6km away. We climb on another bus to get to the top, the whole area is tea plantations and it's unbelievably green. The tops of the mountains are misty and there are gigantic cliffs all around us. I don't look at the road as this furthers my fear of slipping off the one meter gap we have from the edge. When we come across another truck we promptly reverse a couple of meters to make way. At the apex of the mountain is a path you can walk up to the summit. Simply beautiful.
After an alarming drive back down we visit a tea farm and we watch as they crush and dry the leaves for all sorts of teas. A very simple process actually that sifts the leaves through a succession of rollers, crushers and ovens.
We return to the Munnar market and buy a few things, shopping is different here and there are many interesting shops with all sorts of spices. Spiced soap, spiced candles, spiced facial packs, even spice drops to spice up your tea. There are dried chillies, vanilla pods cinnamon sticks hanging from the ceilings in the various shops and when you are down wind from the shops and up wind from the river it smells marvelous.
Ma is still getting pain after she eats and she will definitely be needing a specialist when she gets home. She is taking it easy where she can though and basically lives on antacids. Shame poor Ma! We are doing what we can to make her feel more comfortable! We have a much slower pace now and the rest is doing everyone some good.
The moon is full tonight and the whole garden is filled with fairy lights. This is a magical, charming place!
Namaste! ( goodbye)
Subject: Cochin 14
Our flight back to Mumbai wasn't too bad and we are booked into our uber cosmopolitan hotel, thank goodness we could store our luggage there, as its getting real hectic with all our bags - big-time. There are Indian children singing Christmas hymns in reception as we arrive and the kids enjoy that , the food at this place is utterly fabulous and we are all packing on some serious pounds.
We spend our last day in Mumbai sitting on the beautiful beach, called Chowpatty (very dirty though) and it looks a bit like Durban to be honest, there is a marine walk and skyscrapers on the shore line. The beach is very wide,and in the shade of the palm trees the "slum people" are just chilling and doing their daily chores. No worry no hurry! It's very hot and humid here. We chat to our female guide about Indian society, she tells us that when young Indian girls get married(arranged) they move into their husbands homes with their dowry of gold jewellery. They have to obey their husband's family, especially their mothers in law. She says that when she had her second child her mother in law forced her to give it up to her own mother as it was a girl. ( My mother in law hates me as my skin is too dark for her). There are even cases of mothers in law throwing hot oil on their new daughter's in law faces, thereby rendering them "unfit" wives, the husband can then get remarried and the family gets more dowry.It's illegal here but it still happens. On the other side of the coin there are many women who get total freedom and the best education too, it's just tradition in some cases and castes.
We arrive at Cochin a couple of hours later. We are are staying on the 14Th. floor of an extremely retro looking hotel, I mean blue LEDs in the bedrooms that you can set for relaxing moods man. It's like cheeewow man, time for chilling. Revolving crystal chandeliers in the foyer that change colour periodically. Huge silver elephants statues that welcome all guests,electric blue cool drinks to refresh weary travelers and everything is black and white, I feel as if I have stepped into an old episode of Dallas or an Austin Powers movie.....shagadellic baby!
Cochin is a South Indian city with a population of two million. It is VERY hot and humid and I can't imagine what summer must be like in this place! It's a coastal town with Palm trees growing everywhere, really scenic. We bypass all our designated tours of palaces and temples (very naughty) and opt for a walk on the beach and a boat ride instead. On route we see the old Chinese fishing nets...very interesting. It is a method of fishing brought to India by the Chinese. It works with what I can only describe as a huge sling shot with net in between, this rests in the water and is maneuvered by the very friendly Rupee seeking fisher man by a system of huge rocks attached to ropes - this all acts as a pulley system ....we get to pull with the fisherman and behold! We catch one tiny teeny little fish, shame poor fish.
We board the boat and take a cruise along the shoreline of Cochin/ Kochi. The boat ride is just perfect! We all enjoy it as to be honest we are all a bit tired, no wait exhausted.It's been a busy time for all of us but we are now in the gateway to the back waters of Kerala which is country side and our pace is going to slow down now.
Oh and we have a new driver, his name is Jobi or call me Joseph! He drives like a formula one racer and he loves closing the frilly curtains of his bus every five minutes!
Subject: Aurangabad 13
After a leisurely morning at or fabulous hotel we left for the Ellora Caves. The drive was through a rather South African looking countryside - quite mountainous and treed, we gradually rose as we headed further on our journey.We drove past what is the second highest tower in India located near another fort that is built on top of a hill, where the sides of the hill have actually been excavated away to leave sheer vertical edges making it more difficult for the enemy to climb up to the fort. Back in the 14th century Aurangabad used to be the Capital of India! It is also called the City of Gates as it actually has 16 old gates from when the town was still fortified. The current population is some 1,5 million people.
At the Ellora Caves we started by looking at the caves built by followers of the Jain religion - and the "newest" of the caves from the 10th century. We then went to the huge temple carved by followers of the Hindi religion, from the 8th century, and finally we were at the Bhuddist temple that was created back in the 6th century. Many other "caves" are there too, like the caves carved as accommodation for the monks. A note to certain people, they say that if your ears are very long and big it's a sign of being a "mystical being" with much wisdom, just like Buddha. Good to know eh?
These ancient places are so amazing you cannot believe that they were made so long ago! The rock is chiseled away from the top of the mountainside downwards... And the detail of almost every surface is so intricate and well done. ex
We return in the late afternoon and Garth and the kids go for a swim....sitting on the pool deck we are pampered so much that if we just bl
I go off to reception later and try to explain to the staff about leaving some milk and cookies for Santa, it is Christmas Eve after all and we need to give them something.....after about half an hour of explaining they get it and the kids wake to a few gifts from the Indian Santa (the tree is in the lobby) It's the first time the hotel has ever had western kids over Christmas and they thoroughly,enjoy watching the four kids opening their few presents.
We spend the rest of the morning just chilling out. Later we leave to fly back to Mumbai.
Merry Christmas everyone, we hope you had a good day!
We leave for the airport and say goodbye to beautiful lake city Udaipur and our trusty driver Milap. Stella gave her first tooth to the Indian tooth fairy...we made sure to put some curry on it as we heard Indian tooth fairies love curry, well it's seems to have worked as Stella received a whole 100 Rupees from him. Well done Stella!
Udaipur's airport is wonderfully quiet and we check in without a hitch...security is very tight though. We arrive in Mumbai an hour later. Mumbai is huge, it's the fourth biggest city in the world with a population of over 20 million. After getting a flat tyre that was promptly fixed in the middle of the road - no worries about the on coming traffic at all, we finally booked into our hotel.
It's a very cosmopolitan place and in the dining hall I felt as if I was sitting in a big European city. Western food, ACDC blasting on the speakers and all the locals dressed in western clothes, it feels really hip and young. We stagger off to bed by eleven and we are all totally exhausted.
The next morning we are up at 5 to leave by 8 for our ferry to the Elephanta caves located about an hours boat ride from Mumbai. They were called the Elephanta caves by the Portuguese who sailed past the island in the 18 Th. century and saw two huge carved elephants on the shore. You have to climb over a hundred steps to reach the top to the entrance of the caves, but luckily for Ma and Pa there are porters who carry them up on a chair. There are 4 Hindu caves carved out from solid rock, they have sadly been damaged by people over the years, but are still something to see, we are told the Ellora caves in Aurangabad are better preserved.
It's very hot and we are walk back to the ferry, the people are starting to crowd and it's getting really annoying as people just push and walk here, they must be used to crowding, the Indian men will sit and watch you struggling with Cate's pram and few will offer to help.....gotta give good old South African men some credit in this department. Some youngster stands behind me on the bridge towards the ferry and keeps saying excuse me excuse me, I'm like excuse me where must I go, I can't move forward or back stop pushing me now, I say this at the top of my voice, he looks totally shocked and says sorry madam. Oh dear.
A wonderful ferry ride later we are back in the crowds and heat and it is to be honest quite exhausting,as you can imagine.
We drive through Mumbai on our way to the airport and we see skyscraper upon skyscraper. We drive past slums, even the one where the movie Slumdog millionaire was filmed. The sea on our left is calm but polluted, people everywhere.
The airport is quite small. There is some hectic security checks going on, as the Pakistani cricket team arrives in India for a huge match on Christmas Day, the Taliban have said they are not happy with this and that they will bomb India! ( This is due to the conflict over territory in Kashmir) Our flight is delayed by an hour and we sit around waiting we are all exhausted and everyone is starting to get a bit frazzled. As we board the bus we discover that the kids have removed one of the security tags on Garth's rucksack...he has to go back to security now and pack his entire bag out again to get a new tag. Ooh he is fuming and so am I. In this process my beautiful gemstones that my supplier gave me as a gift are lost forever! One Australian Opal and one citrine. The airport officials were just doing their jobs, but I think we were just tired hot and sweaty!
The flight is only an hour thank Kali! We arrive in Aurangabad and out checkout is as smooth as a babies bottom( think I hate Mumbai) Our rooms are beautiful with a balcony overlooking a large swimming pool, we even get upgraded rooms free of charge, we must have looked like the exhausted bunch we were. We fall into bed and sleep...yay it so wonderfully quiet after our mad day!
Ps Ma is getting a little better as her flue is subsiding, she still has to watch what she eats and not do too much physically.
Subject: Udaipur 11 most beautiful city so far!.
Wow! the landscape is really changing around us! We are on route to Udaipur, 600 km South from Delhi. Thick, dark green, thorn trees are everywhere. The road is really narrow and winey. We cross dry riverbeds surrounded by beautiful yellow mustard flowers. We pass the odd village about every 30km. In the road are goat herds, their herders wear gigantic red turbans and white dresses. There is a mountain range on our left and the streets are surrounded by pink Bougaiinville's.
As we enter the mountains I feel like I'm going through Kwazulu Natal's Drakensburg, the air is crisp and clear and the views are panoramic. The landscape makes a wonderful change from the hectic cities were we have been.
Udaipur (lake city)is a smallish city ( by indian standards as everything is big here) nestled between an ancient mountain range. Population is four hundred and fifty thousand. It was built in 1549 and is 400 km south west of Jaipur. it is a very mountainous city and it therefore stayed free from the Mughal (muslim) invasions...too difficult for the war horses to reach. It has five man made lakes around the city. These dry up every five or so years only to be refilled by the monsoon rains. Also Bageera from the jungle book's birthplace. Many movies have been filmed here the most famous being James Bond's Octopussy.
Our hotel is on top of a hill with a stunning view of a lake and the surrounding hills. It is really beautiful, Pa and Ma said its one of the most beautiful places they have ever seen. There is a royal palace in the middle of the lake and at night you can see the lights from the shore and the palace twinkling, many colours of course. The people of Udaipur seem to have a really gentle nature and they are all soft spoken, calm and friendly. Even the beggars have a more relaxed begging style and only about 3 approach at a time.
We are still hard hit by this awful flue that we all have and it sounds like the dog pound in the van! Even Milap is affected now, I'm sure we will all be better in a week or so.
The next day we go for a wonderful boat ride on lake Pichoula. Wow what a place, they call it the Venice of India. All along the shoreline are ghats, temples and opulent hotels. We stop for coffee on one of the islands, a real Rajasthani palace of course. 360 degree views all around. This is Hartbeespoort dam times two in beauty. Back on shore we cover another fort, you know I can't really describe the opulence of the rooms and the majesty of the building! Rooms filled with coloured glass and guided gold, rooms with dozens of handblown lanterns, thick luxurious carpets and tassels,mirrored walls, it is so incredible.
Dinner is elegant except for the monkey troop that sits at our table. We are all off to sleep as its been another exhausting day, poor old Stella coughs the whole night through, damn cold!
Next morning Garth is invited to join the hotel team "the laxmis" against the government team for a match of the year...cricket of course! They pick him up at 7 :30 and he spends the whole morning playing cricket with the local fellows. He is wearing his Bafana shirt nogal and he looks like a real cricketer! Later the kids and I are picked up to watch the match....a field right in the city and all. The Laxmis lose unfortunately but everyone smiles and poses for photos, Garth gets food and juice the kids get Pepsi and a real good time is had by all. When we get back Milap is waiting for us and we go to a restaurant in a "garden" ...more like a tiny square of grass with some plants, but the food is delicious, Garth and I share a chicken tikka masala, jasmine rice, naan filled with potatoes and Pepsi. God I just can't stop eating in this country.... The curries are really divine, although I am missing a good biltong!
Poor Ma has had a terrible pain in her stomach, every-time she eats, we are really getting worried. It's so bad she can barley walk after she eats. We take her back to the hotel and they send for a DR. He says that it's the arthrotech tablets that she has been drinking for her arthritis that has burned the lining of her stomach. Also that the excess coughing from the flue has worsened the situation. Could be a hernia He has given her some antibiotics for the cough and medicine for her stomach and we hope she feels better soon. Will keep you posted.
We all head off to the Rajasthani fair for the evening.(Pa and Ma rest at the hotel) Apparently this is the biggest handicraft fair in all of Rajasthan. So imagine our delight. We have a wonderful evening out watching folk dancers until the high pitched bells and singing gets a bit much, but really fascinating none the less. We eat mielies and drink chai. We even get interviewed by the local paper, hey we are famous whoo hoo watch out world here we come. The funniest part that truly had me in stitches once again was when the kids went for a merry go round ride...i.e. little cars on a platform, the kind that goes round and round. Well they load the kids in, close the hatches of each little car. We are waiting for the ride to go on and...behold here comes the local guy pushing the ride. Hey I say to Charmaine look the ride is manual, well Garth, Charmaine and I pack out laughing, it just looks so ridiculous. No locals are laughing so it must be normal here. The guy is pushing this ride and he isn't even breaking out a sweat he is just going about his chore real laid back indian style. The next ride old Declan had cottoned on to this Indian style of ride and kept shouting at the guy faster, faster every time he went past him. He carried on until he got tired ...poor dude.This was probably one of our most hilarious moments in India....aaaah this country! Oh dear I have tears in my eyes once again.So, so funny.
The fair stops early as it's only the first night and it does last for twelve days. Just as we'll as the kids are growing tired and it's getting cold. But wait there's more! One gentleman...madam you see I'd been waiting for you all this time( referring to a piece of cloth I'd admired earlier) everyone sleeping but I wait only for you as I'm artist and nowhere else in all India find beautiful handmade cloth I take one month to make in freezing cold and I journey all this way. Yes of course I bought it as you know in India it's one of a kind!
The thing is, you can never see everything of anything here! If you go to a fort there are always more and more rooms,as you think you have come to the end you open a door and there right I front of your eyes is a garden with fountains and gazillions of steps on the other side taking you to a whole other level. If you go to any market/shop/bazaar, you start looking at one thing, then you see another more beautiful thing in the back and as you look at that they haul out some other totally unexpected more exotic and interesting ob
madam ..." No worry, no hurry, just have a good Indian curry! It's like that .
Tomorrow we are flying to Mumbai, what a MISSION that's gonna be. I will let you know how it all pans out.
Love to all
Ps we can all relax now...the world didn't end.
Subject: Jodhpur 10
We are staying in a 5 star joint and I love it. The food is brilliant and the rooms are excellent. Our hotel is 10 km outside the city and is in the gardens all around. There is entertainment in the form of musicians and drum pla
Garth put on a pair of shorts and they were so tight for him, I laughed at him, but I'm sure I won't appreciate it if he does it back to me, ladies you know what I mean. Almost 5 weeks of hotel food will do that to you.
Anyway Jodhpur also known as the blue city is surrounded by hills and rocky desert mountains. The old part of the city is painted blue and only the Brahmin were allowed to live there...they are the caste that includes holy men and priests. Population is 1.2 million by the way. The streets are cleaner here by a very thin margin. Jodhpur gets very hot in the summer and it's other name is Sun City...up to 48 degrees Celsius. The fort is called Mehrangarh and is looming and large on a hilltop. It's walls are sheer and almost 50m high at some parts! It looks like the perfect Impenetrable fortress higher than anything else in the area... Some of the walls still have the pockmarks of cannon balls from a battle with the Jaipur army a few hundred years ago. Gigantic gates covered with anti-elephant spikes (a hallmark of all the forts here in India) give access to the fort - and thankfully there is an elevator that takes you up some 40 meters so that when you step out you are met with a commanding view of the surrounding landscape - totally breathtaking! Our guide tells us (as he points out one small view) that they filmed some of The Dark Knight Rises here just a few months ago. We are taken on a journey through a large part of the fort up narrow stairs that open to an area showing the various types of elephant-carriages that were used at the time... Even a golden cage that the Maharaja would ride in - carried by 12 men. There are rooms showing the various types of weapons, the clothing of the royalty, the amazingly intricately-ornate meeting rooms and the Maharaja's bedroom. Opulence of this scale will probably never be seen again! Up and up until you are standing on the upper ramparts of the fort where once again you can see for miles in every direction... And you can clearly see large parts of the city filled with blue buildings in large clusters giving the city it's other name... The Blue City.
After we go to a real bazaar and its very bizarre for sure! The roads are tarred in the market area and they are about 3 meters wide. On these roads are many scooters and they hoot as they drive up behind you, this makes me jump a couple of inches every time. People think it's funny. There are puddles everywhere and the odd cow or dog. Tuck tucks drive you crazy here as we'll but are a very cheap and convenient way of getting around, as sometimes it's easier with the kids. This market is totally local so Garth and I buy a beautiful lamp, how we are going to get all this stuff home only Vishnu knows!
Anyway it's a very interesting market for the locals, there are spice shops, hundreds of sari and material shops, jewellery shops. Its a crazy place and takes forever to walk a few meters as everywhere we attract attention and then we have to stop and chat! And bet! And haggle! And take pics!
There is so many beautiful things, much to buy I wish I had a crate.Really I'm not kidding.
Back at our hotel we have fish and chips and salad(are we in India?). We pass out in our luxurious beds watching a bit of Indian tv....lots of dramas with stern looking mother in laws , gods who come down from the heavens in swirly clouds to give good advice to the hero. Or really funky, dancing and singing numbers, those saris swinging for all they are worth. There are some other channels were a serious debate continues about what the punishment should be for six men who brutally attacked a girl on a moving bus in Delhi. If only South Africa had such news coverage of crime it might be a safer place for all of us.
Subject: Rats temple! 9
Goodbye sweet palace. Till another day and time.
South from Bikaner is the Temple of the Rats in a little town called Deshnoke, its really out in the middle of nowhere. It's " disrespectful" to call it rat temple. It's official name is Shree Karni Mata Temple.
The temple is over 600 years old. Karni ( means doer) was a woman who did a lot of good for people. She played a large role in uniting the fighting rulers of Rajasthan. She was worshipped by her devotees and lived to be 151 years old! She blessed everyone regardless of caste or clan. Karni gave refuge to rats as a symbolic gesture of her love for the neglected. After she died she became a goddess of course.
The doors of the temple are sterling silver and stand about 4 meters high. They are carved with Hindu figures and little rats with bells on their necks. The temple doors have spikes at the top, this was to prevent elephants bashing down the doors.
The rats are everywhere and you can buy them some snacks. Your shoes are off and the floor is littered with rat droppings and urine. There are thousands of them. Some dead rats lie in the masses. Some have sores on their backs and ears. Oh it gave me the heebie geebies big time!
The kids loved it and Stella was laughing as she was feeding the rats and more and more were coming. Garth cautiously stood around and took some video footage. Pa flicked one off his arm...thank goodness the priest didn't see him! Ma said she was reminded of the plague. The rats run over your feet and this is a sign of good luck and so is spotting the white rat. We spotted it a couple of times and the driver says we are very lucky. Inside the temple is the inner shrine where no westerners are around, damn I tried sneaking in but I got busted. They have a kitchen where they were busy making naan and the rat was in the flour, just hanging out as the guy was making them. I actually stood on one by mistake and it felt soft and squishy under my foot.I'm glad I saw it but it was also one of the most disgusting things I have ever experienced!
As we waited outside the temple we spotted a calf and as we were rubbing its ears along came Mr major freak. Can you believe that this crazy person with one tooth wants Rupees....in payment for patting some random cow on the street. Honestly! He is like Rupees Rupees as he points to the cow then to us then to his mouth in quick succession, I'm like no are you crazy I'm not giving you a thing. As quick as a whip he spots the cigarettes in my hand and tries to bum one, I'm like no give me Rupees first. He then starts rolling his eyes and sticks his tongue out at me, I do the same, this exchange goes on for about 2 minutes, the local people are all watching and laughing their heads off, I walk away and trip over some poor street dog who yelps in pain, and even more laughter erupts, I get out of there as soon as I can before I'm asked to join the local circus.
In the van we sterilize our feet, hands the lots....oh, my god that was so gross.
We spend the rest of the day in the car on route to Jodhpur. We are really in the desert now and there are red sand dunes on the horizon, the main road is closed and we take some back sand roads through villages and cotton plantations. We stop on the side of a dust road for a pitstop and it's not long before some local boys emerge from the bush, they stare at us like we are beings from another planet, Garth takes a spin on ones bicycle and they are fascinated!
We stop off at a Jain temple( a branch of Hinduism) which is two thousand five hundred years old, all carved by hand, it's amazing.
We end up in a traffic jam and Declan sits in the front next to Milap, Declan starts acting like a baboon, we keep saying Hanuman, Hanuman ( monkey god) he has Milap our driver in stiches and he has a whole crowd outside his window... He then proceeds to tell the locals he wants 100 Rupees from each of them, it was really funny! Another one for the circus.
We only get to the hotel after 6:30 and we are exhausted. Its such a swanky place.
Goodnight for now.
We left Jaipur at 9:30 on route to Bikaner, 330 km north west of Jaipur and 480 km from the Pakistani border.This journey took us the whole day because of the traffic. Good old Milap is an excellent driver and plays us some very soothing Hindi music while he dodges traffic, although it gets a bit much for some of the other passengers. The kids now all have flue as well, so it's a blessing that they are getting to sleep in the car for the day. The country side is lovely to see, remember Rajasthan is a desert state so there is scrubby bush around and a few hills in the distance. It looks like the bush veld. There are a lot of trees and people dotted around doing farm labour. Pa was saying, it's so strange, they build this majestic wall around their property and the they have this tiny little shack on the inside.
The sky also always seems hazy over here in India although we have only been to the north of course and it is winter here.
We arrive in Bikaner as the sun starts to set.We are staying in a totally opulent royal palace. A real one. We are greeted with rose water to drink and blessings on our foreheads. It's called the Laxmi Niwas Palace Bikaner..please google it!
We rest for the evening and go off to see the Bikaner fort the next day. It's a fort like all the others but this one is one of the best preserved forts around. The reason being that Bikaner is not a main stream tourist destination, in fact we are the first people in the fort for the day. No beggars, no tourist touts. It is really quiet and very enjoyable. Inside the fort we see the throne room totally in tact ...Neville just wants to sit on it as he thinks he is the Raj now. It is solid silver with red velvet and huge. The floors are marble with inlay work, the walls to the ceilings are covered with beautiful paintings and patterns. It truly is one of the most well preserved forts we have seen.
Bikaner is famous for its agriculture and camel wool products. We are off to see a miniature painting school....I enjoyed that so much as we got a demonstration of how they get colour pigments from natural sources like stones, moss, leaves etc. the miniatures are fantastically done!
India has the best quality woolen products in the world. We hang with some shop keepers who sell wool, they come from Kashmir and really know their stuff. The best quality Pashminas (shawl/scarf combo) cost around 20 000 US dollars. They are so expensive because everything is done by hand of course, but also for the quality of the yak wool. The best comes from the baby yaks.The locals collect the wool high up in the Himalayas from tree branches that have snagged off some yak hairs. Imagine.
There are thousands of colours, patterns, scarves, bedding, blankets pillow cases in any design possible. Ma, Charmaine and I spend hours in shops like these. " Die vrouens wil al weer koop!" Garth also thinks they are beautiful! I think I am becoming a scarf addict. My pashmina ( not the 20000 us dollar kind) really does keep me warm and I wear it almost everyday here...Bikaner is quite chilly. They say that parts of India are the coldest in the world with temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius in the Himalayas so they know about keeping warm. Aaaah I wish I had a pashmina for everyday of the week! They do become heirlooms madam.
Anyway back to our hotel. What a place! It was built in 1900 by the royal family. The walls are all carved in pink sandstone. The grounds are surrounded by sprawling green gardens with fishponds and trees. Each room is different and we are sleeping in copper four poster beds.Ma and Pa have a room the size of a small flat. Charmaine has her own huge room with antique wooden beds and even an antique cot for Cate. This place rocks! In the centre of the palace is a huge courtyard paved with marble and a little square patch of lawn with a fountain inside. All around the courtyard are rooms decorated in the style of the times, a combination of Indian, English and French. A billiard room, a smoking room, a hunting trophy room...counted 8 tiger skins, a formal dining room decorated with 40 kg of gold leaf. Crystal chandeliers hang in every corner. Garth and I explore the place and almost get lost a few times....you can climb up to the roof and see views of Bikaner from every angle (population seven hundred thousand). We ask the porter to show us the best rooms, the Maharaja's of course, it is so opulent, four poster bed with steps, gold painted floor to ceiling, thick Indian carpets and even a grand piano. All the furniture is antique and it really has a wonderful atmosphere. There are twenty other guests and we barley see them...it feels as if we have a whole palace to ourselves. Dinner is formal and a set menu so you just sit and eat and have waiters hovering around you in their turbans. Its totally delicious western and indian food. I am getting so round. Nothing is too much to ask here.
We go to bed in our luxurious room. As I lay there in the dark listening to the drums and Hindu singing downstairs I think....I am in India, my dream, I am sleeping in a royal palace, my husband and kids next to me....I drift off and think...what could be better.
Subject: Jaipur 7 gemstone Capital of the world!
Today was an amazing day!.
We were picked up by trusty old Milap the guide who rambled on at break neck speed.... understood about 20%.
We travelled to the outskirts of the city and drove on to the Amber fort. There is a breathtaking lake surrounded by hills and in the centre of the lake is the royal summer palace. The landscape looks like the Magaliesburg in South Africa....except for the hooting, people and denizens on the road. As you approach the Amber fort you see painted elephants cruising along with their Mahouts(trainers).
We rode three elephants up a long winding road on top of the hill to the fort. It's quite a ride and you have to hold on....I counted about 30 elephants and ours was called Shanty and is 25 years old. They are very well taken care of and each have a personality of their own. Only females walk to the fort as the males are too aggressive ...I think...as me no speak Hindi.
The Hindi language has a beautiful melodious ring to it and some words sound a lot like Afrikaans without the guttural G. We are becoming quite proficient in haggling and dodging beggars, touts and salesman. I have even started trying to sell things in return like my hat and sunglasses ... No buy only look....some even ask for discount and play along.
The fort sits atop a hill and is surrounded by a wall that not only encloses the fort but the city that lay within it. It looks like the Great Wall of India and is even more spectacular when you consider how they built it in the sixteenth century with horses, donkeys and camels. Inside is India's biggest hall of mirrors, one candle burning would look like a thousand shining stars, remarkable. This is like the fort in Cape Town times fifty, no lies. Inside there are fantastic painted archways and doors, carvings,inlay work.
We went for a cruise along the hilltops with views of the city, slums, skyscrapers and traffic . It was awesome. Poor Garth was hit by the flue worse than anyone today and he was walking around like the undead.
Lunch was up in a beautiful garden, Indian food of course but it was fun as there was a puppet show for the kids, we laughed as the puppeteers covered Bob Marley and Charmaine and I sang along. Even an Indian Michael Jackson was done. We had our astrological charts read and it was very interesting. Stella and Nev I'm putting yours on here so you can have them for all time.
Stella this is for you: always use moonstone ...I'll give you one.
Stella, very imaginative. Good decision making ability.
For love use yellow stone.
For work use white stone.
Moon in Aries.
Lucky-days.. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday . No 2,3,9
Only one child, good marriage. Love after 24.
64 NO TRAVEL.
Long life.(85 plus)..72 joint problems.
Neville this is for you:a divine soul. Fast and energetic.
For love use light blue stone.
For work use yellow stone.
Scorpio ascendant sign.
Lucky -days... Tuesday, Thursday and Monday.. No 9,3,2
Love after 27.
Very popular person possibly famous( whoo hoo) politics
Long long life 90 plus...71 problem with digestion.
Anyway it's time to head back to the Sheraton as poor Garth looks ready to pass out.
Next day Garth is still sick so he and Pa stay behind with the kids and Ma, Charmaine, Cate and I go shopping. Yay. We stay out the whole day. We are taken to all sorts of amazing jewellery shops. We learn so much about stone cutting and grinding and facets. We are shown huge emeralds, rubies, sapphires diamonds.....wow one shop is where Elizabeth Taylor and the Shah of Iran bought their diamonds and emeralds.....maybe one day when I'm big or when I'm a Maharani , or in my ....dreams...
We return to our supplier......tour of factory and gemstones. It's a fat jol! So ladies be warned, tell all your friends we are coming and we are loaded with jewels! Yipee!
Last night in Jaipur, exhaustion takes over and sweet slumber reigns supreme.
Subject: Jaipur 6
Although our rooms are very comfortable I had a terrible sleep as I had nightmares of naked blue holy men chasing me with their tridents. India must be ingrained in my psyche already ...crazy stuff.
Jaipur also known as the pink city is situated about 250 Km east of Delhi. It is known as the pink city as most of its older buildings were built with limestone that has a pinkish glow. All the other buildings in the old city - a section of the town, have now also been painted pink. Jaipur is in the desert and is surrounded by scrubby mountains. It's a beautiful city. It has modern skyscrapers and just feels cleaner and better organized than any of the other cites we have been to so far.
Population is four million.
The traffic is much tamer although still much wilder than SA. The people actually wear helmets here!
Milap our driver and a new very smooth talking guide picked us up for a city tour. It's a lot of fun just driving in India. There is so much to see just looking out the windows. There are camels pulling carts and buses and tuck tucks and rickshaws all the usual suspects. Cows cows and more cows all ambling and cruising along, oblivious to any traffic or they just don't give a moo. The sidewalks are full of hawkers selling their wares, vegetables and fruit. Beautiful and fresh, we have all been eating a lot of bananas, Hanuman really loves that!
We went up to the royal palace....by Shiva these people really had plenty of money, slaves, craftsmen, jewels and lots of free time. All the buildings are absolute masterpieces and each actually justifies a whole day or more to see everything...no kidding!
That blasted Varanasi train trip gave us all such a bad cold/flue that we were like a bunch of glassy eyed druggies oohing and aahing. Man we were tired and all a bit sick and feverish...so off we went into our coves of peace and tranquility for an afternoon of sleep...oh no wait we have young kids, I rephrase, an afternoon of squabbling and jumping and screaming but yes we managed a rest in between chaos.
Later Charmaine and I snuck off to meet our supplier of gems and silver. Its so cool Milap,our driver takes us anywhere anytime. I feel like a real member of the royal family he waits patiently for us, opens doors, is in house security and translator, he does any errand we ask him(buying water, getting snacks, baby sitting, giving in our laundry ...hotel too expensive, getting smokes ...which kind madam, anything you want Milap is your man) Very very nice guy. So was our supplier. We were served chai and it took many hours. Well we selected our wares it was so much, so much fun! Or should I say "it was much much fun for us" ......going back in two days for final pricing and all. Only got back after dark. Will tell more.
Now back to the food....Mmmh well.
Curry can only be good for so many days in a row. No meat ie NO holy cow, at all anywhere in the whole of this country as big as a continent....(it's highly highly offensive to even ask such questions) ..I am starting to fantasize about fillet steak real bad. We have eggs and fruit and toast for breakfast. Very good. American flavored lays chips for lunch and bananas most days(the chips have a vague curry flavour) or that's probably just my imagination! We have found no real supermarkets its all a mish mash of tongaat like shops. Don't get me wrong the food is good but very little variety for the western pallet. Tonight they had lamb curry hey yay yay, something other than chicken and guess what it was flaming burning lip smacking hot! Charmaine and I sent ours back and Ma diluted hers with yoghurt. Madam this is the real Rajasthani curry that we like to eat in our homes...yes it is quite spiced. What? Quite spiced not flaming hot? No madam not really as we are a desert state we like to use chilli in our food. Oh ok.
We end up stuffing our faces on desert, hence the total weight gain. I would be very skinny indeed if I lived here and had to eat off the streets. Charmaine and I each had one Bloody Mary last night at the hotel and whoa the bill was R240 yes that's right R120 each. Five star hotel always pay more madam, I'm like ok pass me the water. Anyway I'm not moaning, the curries and dhaal and paneers are all really delicious it's just that it gets hectic eating curry every night for five weeks....you know what I mean? Today Declan was saying ma why do we get the same food every night? ( pasta and red sauce 6 nights in a row) Cate is even starting to eat chilli chips now. Perhaps we will all have a taste for hotter foods when we get back, but don't forget the biltong!
Ps my SIM card is working but no real speed for good connections, sorry madam.
Subject: Rajasthan 5
Thank god we have left Agra,the very stinky city. People and babies sleeping in the dirty streets.
We are driving toward Jaipur now also known as the pink city, it's so nice to see the countryside, there are green and yellow mustard fields on either side of the highway. There are many beautiful green trees and it's very peaceful, except for our driver Milap, who is hooting on average every 5 minutes now. Dotted along the road are little huts ....tractors, big black buffalo, and ladies in saris with copper or silver pots on their heads. .
There are many trucks here all hooting behind us of course. They are all decorated with flowers and stickers and anything actually ( dolls, material, statues)
We stopped at yet another fort built in the 16 Th.centuary, massive and beautiful, this one had three palaces inside, one for each of Akbar's (his grandson built the Taj) three wives, one was Christian one was Muslim and one was Hindu. The Hindu wife received the biggest palace as she was the only one to give him a son. She also had a separate wing for her kitchen as she was a strict vegetarian. Really over the top!
They also built a monument for an elephant that used to live in the fort. We saw the stone they used to tie it to, this elephant used to stand by the entrance and it would stomp on anyone who was to be punished and kill them of course. How gruesome, can you imagine what that must be like? His monument is covered in elephant tusks and stands a couple of stories high.
The 4 kids now have Indian names. Declan is Hanuman who is the monkey god, it's really funny because he is eager to give everyone a demonstration of his monkey skills...he he he. Stella is Kali the goddess of anger because she doesn't want anything to do with any locals. Neville is Raja as he is the big boss(that's what he thinks) and Cate is Lakshmi who is a beautiful Goddess who sits on a lotus flower. The people really love Cate here, she is a celebrity.
Some Indian people have told me that colour doesn't matter here in India. This is not true as everything depends on your caste and religion. Although India is a democratic country where anything goes, there is still a lot of pressure from society to conform to what is expected. For example it is a social taboo to marry outside your caste or religion. There are four castes here, the lowest being the street cleaners who " eat the meat of the pig" the highest is obviously the rich elite who chilled with the British. People look different depending on which region the come from...obviously as it is such a massive place. There are Indians who are very dark skinned. Light skin is considered very beautiful. everywhere are adds for creams and ointments that promise to make you faire. There are Indians who are blonde and blue eyed from the north. There are Jewish Indians. Some look just like the Arabs. To be honest I don't even know what they all look like as we have only seen a needle in a haystack, but it is very interesting to realize they can all look so different from each other and still be one nation, a bit like South Africa I suppose.
Anyway we spent the whole day driving though the countryside and I must say it's really beautiful (you still see a lot of poverty) but the whole atmosphere is more relaxed. We arrive in Jaipur at seven and book into our Sheraton hotel. We are on the 5 Th. floor and the view is stunning, twinkling city lights as far as the eyes can see.
Will catch up tomorrow.
Subject: Agra 4
Population 2 million. 100km from Delhi.
After an even worse train journey than the first upgraded air conditioned one (no pesky porter this time thank Shiva) we headed off into the streets of Agra. I must say our travel agents look after us very well and not once have we felt endangered or exposed. We are driven around and escorted everywhere.Agra is a very smelly place the traffic is crazy but not like Varanasi. They say there are three rules for driving in India. 1) good brakes 2) good horn 3)good luck. All the sewerage runs into the river Yamuna which is close to the city.....it smells like a toilet.
We spent the rest of the day chilling out at the hotel (very elegant) and it was a much needed rest.....once again we were witness to another Indian wedding....it's wedding season and all apparently.
This morning we watched the sun rise over the Taj Mahal .....what a beautiful and majestic building. The building is covered with semi precious stone inlay work and it is really just magnificent. It is 350 years old. The inlay work is very time consuming as they file each piece by hand until all the pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. A bit like stained glass. 12 percent of India is Muslim which means there are more Muslims in India than the whole of Pakistan......and they are very proud as " the Muslims gave India the Taj" they love to romanticize the building as the epitome of love but I am sure there are many people who suffered and died to build it.
The Agra fort is a way across the river from the Taj Mahal and is the biggest fort in India. It is 2 square kilometers and is built from red sandstone again ( am I sounding like a tour guide?) there are two palaces built within the fort, both are beautifully carved by hand. There is a lush garden in the centre. A very majestic place, you can actually feel how old it is.the Indian army still uses a wing for their soldiers..
We have all picked up a cold and coughing and sniffling is going all round...it's the train I'm telling you. The kids are getting really tired of having their cheeks pinched and photos taken, as everywhere we go they get photographed. People mean well though as I think they have never seen western kids before, but of course the kids don't understand.
The beggars and sales people are really rife. Anywhere you stop it takes about 2 minutes and they have spotted you. There are women and girls with babies who are very dirty, young boys trying to sell their junk. Even if you are sitting in the van they come and knock on windows and beg. I got some rupee coins which we have put in a little wallet I call it the alms bag....alms for the poor, as some people really look like they are suffering....we all give sometimes, but once you give everybody comes real fast and they all expect something too, sound familiar?
I have been trying to organize a SIM card for my iPad - ha ha, it's a long very cumbersome job. I have come to the conclusion that Indian people find it hard to say the word no. Yes most certainly madam you will get your SIM card...then nothing. Madam I will ask my dear friend in connection with your sim...then nothing. Most definitely madam I will try my level best to get a sim card arranged for you....then nothing. There is such a thing as Indian time just like African time.
Anyway we are all still having a great time in this country. A sense of humor and patience really helps, but our travel agents are top notch and everything is organized perfectly!
Subject: Varanasi!!! 3 I love this place!
What an awful sleep on the train. Our first class upgraded cabin was freezing and the scratchy blankets and thin pillows did not do a lot for very peaceful slumber conditions. The screeching and creaking wheels felt as if they were ingrained in my brain, but finally dawn arrived and we picked up our weary bones to see the view. We were ambling through the countryside and we had wonderful views of people taking their morning toilet routines to the total extremes. They just do their business wherever, seriously. A room with a view ha ha.
When the train stopped in Varanasi I told the kids to stay in the cabin and our very friendly waiter / porter came along for his tip. Now understand this......you are dirty, tired, taking care of children, helping the elderly, sorting out money and some pesky little man sits and complains about you only giving him a 20 bucks tip for folding four blankets...your patience takes a dip. The kids where running around screeching and not listening so I stormed into the cabin to give each a good smack on the bum....the pesky waiter was staring in amazement and as I finished with the three I looked at him and said your next...I was angry....Charmaine was standing next to me laughing so much that tears where running down her cheeks. The pesky porters mouth dropped centimeters and he never asked for a tip again.
Anyway so I thought that Delhi had crazy traffic, boy oh boy was I wrong. More about that later though....... Varanasi is about750 kmEast of Delhi..population 3.6 million. The oldest living city in the world, they reckon about 5 thousand years old.
After a couple of hours resting at the swanky Ramada plaza hotel.....oh the softest beds after that train. We were of to Sarnath temple....new guide Santos and a very grumpy looking driver.Sarnath is where lord Buddha gave his first sermon and has the oldest known statue of Lord Buddha.....he looks nothing like the way we know him! Hinduism is the oldest religion in the East and Buddha is a Hindu creation ....Buddhism only came along much later,interesting fact.
Ok so now we were about to see the river Ganges or as it is known here Ganga....mother goddess. Varanasi is the most sacred city in India as it is so old and also because of the Ganges.
You cannot drive to the Ganges. You drive for a while and then you walk. We all boarded rickshaws. Two people on one. We were on the back of rickshaws driving about a km down the road as the sun was setting...it took 30 minutes.Remember the rule of thumb....if its bigger and behind you it hoots. There we were in the most crazy place I have ever been in my life. There were trucks, tuck tucks, rickshaws, bicycles, cows, dogs, buffalo, pigs, goats, people, children, food carts, motorbikes,delivery vehicles, police vans with sirens, army vans, horses, chickens. There is not one space where something is not happening. Everyone moves together in a snake like wave. There are hooters going off on average every three seconds. The road is full of red blotches that look like blood but is actually chewing tobacco called paan as people love to spit(their mouths are all stained red) There are lights and music and chanting and vegetable stalls. The buildings go high up and the are all covered in electric wires(glad I'm not an .electrician in India) there are mosques, Hindu temples, Jain temples all next to each other and each one has their own chanting going on. There are monkeys and baboons on the roofs ......it's frightening and fantastic all at the same time. Nowhere else on earth is this bad they say and I truly agree. Not Cairo not Bangkok not Soweto shanty town rush hour has a patch on this....it is MAD and yet really beautiful and exciting all at once. I closed my eyes sometimes out of fear but everything just flows......and the most amazing thing is everybody is so chill and friendly.....nobody has road rage. There was a guy with a huge sack on his bicycle in front of us, it fell down I though oh no! Here comes an accident but we just smoothly dodged him and went on our way.No experience on earth comes close to this regarding traffic.
The walkway down to the Ganges was filled with stalls and beggars and kids and people and dogs and cows and real holy men and fake holy men and pilgrims and priests and Muslims and some tourists. We watched as they did the evening ritual on the river....seven Hindi priests on seven altars with bells and incense and flowers and flames. It was so awesome. It was just the most crazy thing we have ever seen. I want to see it again. We left the way we came and then it was even busier as the evening got more frenetic and more people came. The touts and beggars just don't leave you alone and I am getting used to it.....so are all the kids and Ma and Pa struggle a bit with all the craziness but I think they are enjoying themselves.
Next morning up at four to leave by 5:45 to go to the same place with the same route.
But now it's morning, the vibe is so different. Still busy but everyone is calm. They are all going about their morning routines.....urinating, eating, drinking tea, talking, sweeping, patting cows etc. We climb on a boat and watch the beautiful sunrise on the Ganga. There are birds flying all over and there are many many boats. The eastern shore is deserted and the Ganges at this point is about as wide as 5 rugby fields. On the western side are the ghats (concrete steps going down to the river) it is on these concrete steps that daily life takes place. The are garlands of old flowers and papers and rubbish all over. There are lots of people bathing, there are even more dipping and chanting. There are real holy men sitting on the banks meditating and doing yoga. Fake Holy men touting tourists.There are flute pla
Back on shore there are even more beggars but we all get blessed my a real Hindu priest. Little children follow us everywhere, there are brides and grooms sitting on the banks ready for their dip in the Ganges ...this is to bless their marriage. There is an old man with monkeys and snakes who do tricks for him.
In the evening there are three Hindi weddings at our hotel, one of them is the police commissioners daughter and there are 1000 guests. The first thing you see are two villagers on Rickshaws they have two generators with heavy cabling running off them. Behind the rickshaws are about 20 villagers walking in a circle. On top of the villagers heads are what look like pot plants they are holding. In the pot plants about a meter or so high are various lights, some look like two fluorescent bunny ears, some have big circles with flashing LEDs. They are all joined by cabling from the generators that look very dodgy. Behind them is a brass band playing full blast.Behind this is the family with guys playing djembe drums very loud - they are dancing like mad. Behind them is the groom on a white horse! All around are people watching and all the guests are dressed to the tee and the saris and punjabis that the ladies wear are over the top.
There were two of these groups entering the hotel at once. It was really noisy and full of lights.
The venues had disco lights and a huge stage covered in jasmine and beads and silks and orchids. There was food everywhere and the music was playing. The one wedding looked like the Tekkie fees! They really go over the top and it's totally awe inspiring. We walked around watching the spectacle and awe! We had never ever seen anything like this in all our lives! India never fails to amaze.
As I write this we are overnighting on the train on route to Agra 500 km from Varanasi ... Agra ..the city of the Taj Mahal.
Oh yes and in closing.....we couldn't get first class tickets for this ride (there,is no first class) so We are in carriage A. Ha ha ha ha what an experience....narrow bunks and dirty toilets and Indians everywhere!
The railway tracks by the way are full of human excrement as that's how people go on the train, huge brown rats, litter, beggars and people. What a place!
So our last day in Delhi was an amazing one once again. 9:30 we were picked up and taken to the Humayans tomb, which was built in the 15 th century by a Muslim queen to honor her deceased husband. It is once again an incredible place as it is all built with red sandstone and white marble...it looks just like the Taj Mahal but on a smaller scale and it is significant as it was the inspiration for the Taj. The gardens around the place are beautiful and there are hundreds of parrots flying around and squawking away. It takes your breath away!
We then went to see what they call quantab minaar (800 years old) which is basically a Muslim tower.....it is 40 something meters high and is totally foreboding and all around it are even older Jain and Hindu ruins carved out of rock by hand (!!!!) the tower was built by the Muslims to let all the people know that Islam has arrived. I wish I could explain to you how majestic this place is but I have no words that can ever explain....it's beautiful. Haha the funny thing is that when the colonialists arrived they planted what looks like a gazebo on the very top, this was to show the people that England had arrived and was mighty! Of course when India gained independence they promptly removed it and placed it in the far corner of the garden and named it Col Smiths tower or something - Pa enjoyed that.
We finally got to a sari and gift shop where we were treated as royalty, we were told to sit down, given chai(delicious tea) and we were shown the difference in saris and pashminas from the Himalayas ....best quality in the world and all and all and all. Serious the pashminas and saris are trueLy beautiful and the are the best quality. So I will be wearing my sari to the next event I am so chuffed with it....he he he.
Ma and Pa ate lunch next door (very brave) while Garth, Charmaine and I went for a smoke break on the roof of the building, this doubles as a rubbish dump, a recycling center, a bit of a social club and a coal for cooking storage hub. Our new friend there's name is Hunny and he is 16, he was all to willing to pose and chat till his boss came around enquiring as to why the coal was taking so long. Oh well.
So that was Delhi. A few days to see a city where 21 million people live. It can never be enough. Perhaps someday we shall return, but before we bid farewell to Delhi I have to tell you about the Delhi rail station and the train we boarded at 6:55pm the very same day. On our way to Varanassi. Eish. We got to this station where of course the porters where ready and waiting before the van even stopped.Our guide negotiated a price beforehand and whoop the each loaded 2suitcases on their heads(what?) yes two suitcases flat on their heads and started walking at breakneck speed to the train we were supposed to board. My god it is a huge and scary place and it is very easy to get lost as there are people walking in all directions everywhere. Luckily for us there are our trusty porters walking ahead of us with their headgear sticking out about a half a meter above their heads. We finally arrived in 1st class train cabin with upgraded air conditioning. Really not bad in all honesty. We had two rooms with bunks and we had a very friendly porter/waiter, who later became rather annoying. Nothing too luxurious but nothing too bad either. Garth and I decided to walk to the end of the train..... We started in our cart which had rooms with glass doors.Next four or five carts had rooms with only curtains for doors. Next 6 or so carts had cubicle/coffin like enclaves with curtains...all full of people by the way, they were playing games on their cell phones, chatting, sleeping, changing, drinking tea, playing cards, eating mysterious foods, packing bags and of course saying hello.
Next came the kitchen that's about two carts alone where I was given a tour of the pantry and Garth was offered all manner of snacks. Next couple of carts became more dodgy and dirty as people where sleeping in the open air steel sections joining the carts...under basins...behind cabinets you name it, the last cabin we could walk to was so full that we couldn't even pass through as people were even sitting on the floor, but I think the thing that made us turn around was the dodgy looking guy with bloodshot eyes holding an antique looking rifle about as tall as himself gripping it as if his life depended on it....there were six more carts after the dodgy rifle guy so I can only imagine what the last one must have been like. The train has 23 carts and two thousand people were on the train with us, yes you read right 2000. Earlier in the evening Declan had pulled the emergency stop button and the train had come to a halt....all was well but we were amazed that a seven year old boy had stopped a train with so many people.
Hello from Delhi
So after eight hours of flying we stopped at Abu Dhabi airport for three hours. What a massive and busy airport, we finally climbed on to our plane and reached our destination about 4am or so SA time. We were all a bit worse for wear, grumpy, dirty and really exhausted but everyone was very friendly and tried their level best to make everything more comfortable.
Delhi is amazing.
We are staying on the third and fourth floors of a very ritzy hotel.The metropolitan. We slept until 2 pm. After all we had gone through we sure needed the rest and we decided to go for a walk in the streets. Ha ha ha. We picked up new friends at every corner and we ended up in a park where would you believe Garth and I batted with the local Indian cricket raga muffin team. They loved it when Garth batted and he said he was a famous SA cricketer and the young boys couldn't stop laughing when I batted. Everywhere you go where there are any public around they hoard you. The Indians see you from a mile away and they love talking and trying to sell you stuff, help you carry luggage, help you cross the road etc. Some very scraggly children ran behind us saying Helllooo Helllooo how are you.
The traffic is a total fruitcake and crossing the road is a nightmare, the rule for crossing the road is just hold out your hand and start walking, better you just hope that the trucks, buses, tuck tucks, bicycles, cars, scooters that are all driving eighty or more stop or at least slow down to dodge you. Blowing hooters here is high fashion ie the bigger the vehicle the more you blow your hooter to let the smaller okes i. Front of you know you are coming. It's not for the faint hearted for sure.... Oh yes and the FOG in Delhi is really bad lol!
The food in our hotel is awesome and we are all going to be very fat when we return...hope you recognize us! The curries are phenomenal!
Today we went for our first official tour with a minibus, driver and a guide all to ourselves. We went to Jama Masjid this is the largest mosque in Delhi, it is made of red sandstone and was built in the fifteenth century ....quite something! After that we went to Gandhi's monument that is in a beautiful garden. Everywhere you look there are ladies in colorful saris and people love the kids especially, Cate. They take photos of the kids all the time, but they mean no harm....our guide chases them away if they get too much though. We then proceeded to a doll museum which was rather more interesting than I might have thought as it showed one so much about the various people of India ...this place is massive!
Lunch was up next and we ate dhaal and currie and I don't even know what but it was all delicious. Outside the restaurant there was a very old snake charmer with a turban and beady eyes. He had his flute and his cobra and he was really giving it a good go when he saw us....of course we fell for the tourist trap ...for rupees of course but ja at least we have some photos.
The most amazing thing of the day was the Akshardham Hindu temple Wow, this if the most amazing building I have ever seen...please google it and you will see.......there is a whole room with precious stones stuck to the walls...serious....I have never seen anything like it in my life. Pa said it was the most beautiful building he has ever seen. We were there as the sun came down and it was very awe inspiring for all of us. The atmosphere was really serene and respectful and we all loved it....the walls are all carved by hand. We went back to the hotel and guess what we ate some more curry and chatted to the locals.....tomorrow we are going all over the show and YES YES YES .....shopping. We are probably going to make lots and lots of new friends...Wink.
Will keep in touch when I can.
Ps prices its been hard to tell but we paid about 800 rand for a fancy meal for all of us plus the guide....think you could eat for much much cheaper if you want Delhi belly!
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