Wednesday, May 6, 2009

delhi, varanasi, calcuta and goodbye india!

Hallo! i have been awful lazy with the blog i know. It is a lot of work with super old indian computers that break down at the thought of cutting and copying an image not to mention slooooow internet connections! My camera also caught a terrible virus and i couldnt upload pictures but thanks to a very helpful Paul in bangkok for sorting that out for me!

Soooo ive left india i cant believe the time went so fast and i never imagined i would have had the adventure that i did!!! But for now here's how my last few weeks went....

Leaving the mountains at last!!! Myself and my friend from liverpool, Joe stopped off in a lovely town called Mandi before catching the night bus to Delhi. This place was really really lovely! Strange mix of mediterranien feeling buildings along narrow cobbled lanes with the odd colourful temple and right in the centre this big white clock tower.

A very un-indian feeling place...except for the state of some of the poor dogs and of course the terrible mis-spellings!!

We decided it was well worth the extra 100 rupies to get the 'luxury' overnight bus to delhi. Well its true it was quite comfortable, nice soft reclining seats but we soon learnt that no matter how comfortable the seat is (or bed on my bus journey pushkar to jaisailmer) that if you're at the back of the bus you may forget sleeping!! We spent most of the time in the air, smashing back down hard onto the seat at every bump. I couldnt even get the water bottle to my mouth the bouncing was so bad! We just ended up so tired there was nothing we could do but laugh at how incredibly crazy the bumps were!

We got to 'delhi highway last stop!!' at 5.30am. This actually turned out to be a great time to arrive, there were very few people about and easily found a nice hotel room. Oh by nice i mean it does the job, its cheap and has a certain 'character'!

Small, nice hole in the wall to let in light and a TV something i havent seen in months!

Indian electronics

Bit crazy but it works! Kind of how India seems to be!

I really liked Delhi. I dont know if it was because i was at this stage pretty used to indian maddness but i didnt think Delhi was as crowded, dirty, chaotic as people had said. I actually thought it was quite a chilled out place!

This was my favourite place in Delhi the lassi wallah guy....just 15 rupies for almost a bucket size cup of the most delicious coconut lassi! (lassie is milk and natural yogurt mixed together...yum!)

Delhi was also our first taste of hot weather after about 6 weeks in pretty chilly weather. I couldnt get enough liquids in....bucket loads of lassi, sugar cane juice, fresh fruit juices, milk, water you name it! It was hot there...really hot! I found the only way to sleep was to dip a colourful sheet i bought in Goa into a bucket of cold water and wrap it around myself so i could be cool enough to sleep. It feels very wrong wrapping something wet around yourself but it really did the job!

We visited Lodi gardens in Delhi one sweltering hot day. This place really was an oasis in the middle of a city. Lush green plants, lakes and right in the centre there were two really lovely buildings that had been the home of the guy the gardens are named after (king Lodi i think!) I was so surprised to find such a calm, almost revitilising place like this in Delhi! This place also seemed to be where the young indians went 'courting'! There were many many young couples hiding behind bushes having a little kiss, one girl and guy having a chat while the girls friend was pacing up and down waiting. It was very cute i have to say, it really is very very innocent here when it comes to this kind of thing.

Beautiful or what! This was voted the best park in Asia

While we were sitting down we were treated to some young indian boys doing cartwheels and tumbles in front of us...for our benefit im sure as the only foreigners in the park! Even after so long in india everyday your mind has to process new sights! For example there was quite a chubby, middle-age indian woman in a sari with white Nike runners throwing about a ball for her dogs to catch, for me its still quite something to get used to seeing women in sari's doing really modern things!

Time to make a move from running out!!!

The compulsary cow pic...this guy is just picking out some fabric for a suit i guess...

Next stop was Varanasi the holiest place in india for a hindu. After another (very very crazy!) sleepless train journey we arrived very early in Varanasi, found a nice guesthouse and while we were still a bit hyper from lack of sleep we went for a wander.

Aparently this is one of the oldest living cities in the world, meaning that people have been living here a long long time. Its full of narrow winding streets often blocked by a cow, the buildings are all crumbling, electric wires hanging down dangerously low across the streets, always a smell of inscence. This is really old india!

A priest brought us up to the top of a viewing tower to watch the preperations of the bodies before burning. I guess its not much different to having someone cremated at home just a lot more religion, tradition and rituals tied to it. The burning Ghat (place beside the river) is called Manikarina Ghat. The story is that the indian god Shiva dropped his earing (manikarin) into the ganges at that point, and it was stolen by some brahmen people. It is the decendants of these people that are the only ones allowed to handle the dead bodies for burning. Women are not allowed in this area something to do with their crying will stop the body having a pleasent passage to the next world.

The body is wrapped in shiny golden material all apart from the head and it is laid on a bed of wood. Sandlewood powder is poured onto the body along with some other powders and then its set alight. The burning goes on 24 hours a day...i will always remember this smell of sandlewood.

Varanasi really is a very special but also very very crazy place. Even after all the adventures i've had here with mad indian people this place takes the biscuit! There was not one occasion where myself or a friend would pop out to get something and not come back with a story of this mad person we just met!

The main focus of Varanasi is the ganges river. Its a very nice walk to go from one end of the Ghats on the river to the other. There are places dedicated to burning, swimming, washing, boats and water buffalo bathing.

People were actually washing the water buffalo, scrubbing them with soap!I guess they must be as sacred as the cow, an awful lot uglier though!

We took a boat ride at sunset along the river. This was our rower and guide! This place is so far away from 'reality' (ie ireland, if you can call a place reality!) that its hard to process that this is the normal life for people here, this maddness for them is normal!

Behind the ghats was the city....

Clay pots are used to serve chai, yogurt, milk, and afterwards you MUST smash them on the street otherwise very bad luck! To serve food you get a bowl made from leaves, it might be an ancient city but they have got some things right! Varanasi had powercuts more time than they had power, everyday people were dying from the heat and from generaters exploding on the street. Aparently the government cuts off electricty from the town every afternoon at the hottest time (between about 2 and 4) because people arent paying their bills. Of course businesses that wanted to stay open at this time had to use battery generators...that either exploded or broke down!

One evening i was on the internet (maybe writing this blog!) when the electricty went completly, the town was in total darkness. I had a strange journey back to my guesthouse, along the narrow streets, i could feel the other people brushing up against me, just touching the walls to feel your way around. I was more concerned about getting my ass grabbed that getting mugged! So unusual in this day and age to be in complete darkness. I could just about find my way home from the candles flickering in the little shops. It really makes you realise how dependant we are on electricty!

So they eat this then we drink the milk.....

This is Shiva the main man in terms of indian gods he is the most worshipped fellow and quite a cool guy even if he does look a bit like Alannis Morisette in this painting! It is not unusual in india to see a man dressed up as this god walking down the street. He is basically a dedicated shiva worshipper and is highly respected. I often wondered if a foreigner dressed up as shiva, trident and all would the same respect be there...i think so!

Extremley cute dogs in Varanasi. From the rooftop of my guesthouse you could see the monkeys slipping out of the window of someones house with a chapatti or something else stolen in their hand! Clever things.

I spent about 2 weeks in Varanasi, everyday was different! I grew to really like this place but i have to say after 2 weeks i felt a bit tired from the constant maddness of the people and the 46 degrees heat! With only 4 days left on my visa i caught the train to Calcutta. It was a sweltering hot 25 hour journey, the train had run out of water, the air was so think and hot i couldnt sleep. It was a horrible journey so when i arrived in Calcutta i though right im going to an air conditioned hotel!

This was the BEST idea ever! After all id been living in the cheapest of cheap accomodation for months and this place cost E15. It was so good to have a hot shower and sleep under a soft blanket and i really did feel revitalised after one night there.

Before i came to india i have to admit that Calcuta was the one city i had decided i'd never go to. I had visions of street kids with arms and legs missing crawling all over me looking for money, and the whole place being just one huge big slum and falling apart buildings. WELL i couldnt have been more wrong. I wish i would have had more time here this is an amazing city. It is extremly modern and has great charm. It has a lot of english influence with a Big Ben style clock tower, old style yellow taxi's and very un-indian style buildings. You could be in the middle of new york when you walk down the posh Park street.

There was also a lot of places to go here to have some space. This park was great, people flying kites, families sitting chatting, men going around selling chai and ice-cream. The fad here were dancing monkeys. A man came up to myself and my friend Gerry with two monkeys on chains, he was looking for 'baksheesh' for the dancing monkeys. The poor monkeys had little dresses on. The man said 'Look, dancing dancing!!' and he whipped the chain around so the monkey was dragged into doing a back flip. Even the wealthy indians were like 'look look dancing monkey!' I guess very different views on animal cruelty here!

One of my very last indian chai's...sob!

We sat in the park until sunset when the musical fountains started. In vegas style and in the height of the dry season the fountains sprouted up water to the sounds of chill out indian music with corresponding colours. So lovely! Now you cant avoid Calcutta when it has something free like this every evening! Every place ive gone to has surprised me but in terms of previous expectations Calcutta won me over! It has such a bad image of poverty and hopelessness and of course i saw many many things here that shocked me as much as my first day in india but this place has great character and so much to see and do!

I spent my last few days in Calcutta in this lovely place and i met some great people.

One of them was Eric from Scotland, who was cycling from Aberdeen to Adelade for charity! Of course i am crazy about cycling so i was very interested in his story! What an excellent (and very very funny!) man. He had covered 14,000 miles already, survived minus 38 degrees in the mountains in turkey, had to be followed 24 hours a day by army in Pakistan, and had been hospilized a few times with food poisioning in Pakistan. If you want to read his blog its The first night i met him a few of us on the roof top of our guesthouse chatted for so long the next minute the sun had risen and the birds were singing. we decided lets go find some chai and so went for a walk along the streets about 5.30 am.

Such a lovely atmosphere in Calcuta. The chai guy was sitting in this lungi and singlet shirt brewing away the chai served in clay pots. We had a strength competition to see if it was possible to break the clay pot with just one hand, the indians found this quite funny! The next night, again we all stayed awak until dawn and that was my last morning in India!

The view of the sun rising over bangkok from the plane

I have to say i think i am a changed lady after india, but changed for the better. I always felt i knew what the important things in life are but when you live without the unimportant things you realise this all the more! Ive learned to laugh heartily especially in bad situations, i certainly havent learnt to spell any better! I made such good friends for life and had experiences i never thought i would have had. India really is an amazing and very crazy place that suited me down to the ground!I could go on and on here i have Thailand to explore!

Oh yes and here is the song that will always remind me of my last few weeks in india!

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