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India

Varanasi - The Circle Of Life

The Monsoon Continues

rain 5 °C

Sunrise boat ride on Ganges was missing the sun but that aside, we had the chance to see the circle of life being completed, in what Hindus believe is a sacred place. On the banks of the River Ganges in Varanasi are a series of steps called Ghats. There are many Ghats leading to the river bank and each ghat has a temple. Where we start our boat ride is called Dasaswamedh Ghat and it is very busy. People returning from Kumbh Mela, Holy washing festival at Allahabad, are washing themselves in the Ganges with the locals. Some just dip a toe but others totally immerse themselves. It is cold for this time of year, I'm wearing a waterproof, they must be freezing. Lots of people are taking Ganges river water away with them to perform rituals at home. Many are wearing orange, a holy colour. The river bank is covered with rubbish [KB - it's full of everything you can imagine!] and it floats downstream giving masses of Siberian birds food. The boat takes us downstream past numerous ghats and pretty temples and then we reach the sacred cremation grounds. Here the circle of life is complete. Relatives and friends bring their dead loved ones to cremate them in auspicious circumstances. Cremating your loved one here is considered the best and holiest place. Huge piles of wood fill the narrow streets by the ghat and we can see the eternal flame burning. There are ash remains in the river just in front of the boat. It's strange seeing how they cremate people so publicly - what is the norm here seems alien to us.

After a breakfast stop we visit Barnasi University and and the University Temple. The University is organised into faculty hostel accommodation, faculty building and a large playing field. It is a huge University with 18000 students. The temple has one of the largest towers in India. Inside the temple people rush in a crazy manner to be blessed by various gods. There is a real buzz around the University. We grab a quick banana float drink from a local stand, local prices, only 60 rupees about 60p. The drink is delicious, with fresh bananas and sweet vanilla ice cream. We also visited the Mother India Temple, this is not just another temple. It houses a large marble carved map of India and surrounding countries. It is an impressive piece of Indian craftwork. The whole time we have been out it has been raining monsoon style. We brave the rain to try a local restaurant called Devanshi City. This is not a tourist multi country cuisine restaurant but a place where the locals are eating and drinking hot coffee whilst sheltering from the rain. The Devanshi Thali is excellent, it's made of 4 dishes served with jeera rice and naan. Yum, yum and best of all under 150 rupees, £1.50. I can highly recommend this place, it was a little piece of real India.

Sunset time, it has stopped raining and we take a rickshaw back down to the Ghats to watch the Aarti Ceremony. Then the rain and lightning returns at full strength, we were two very wet people watching the ceremony. It was interesting however seeing the young monks performing their daily rituals, including wafting fire around and chanting with bells [KB - the rain was so hard that two of the seven monks had their flames extinguished!]. Like two drowned rats we head back to the hotel but on the way we grab some treats from a snack stand. They are samosas and spicy fried meat balls and absolutely yummy - 20 rupees. Our rickshaw driver had patiently waited in the rain for us, then braved the deluge cycling us home - we gave him a very healthy tip. A great end to a day of seeing life like a local.

Bye

Stacey and Keith

Posted by StaceyandKeith 09:18 Archived in India Comments (1)

The road to the Taj Mahal

sunny 18 °C

Leaving the Pink City behind we head speedily towards India's most famous and most visited attraction - The Taj Mahal. On the way we meet our guide for today and tomorrow and stop in to see Fatehpur Sikri commonly known as the Ghost Capital. Between 1571 until 1585 it was the capital of Mughal Empire. Emperor Akbar moved there because he was told it would bring him good fortunes and hopefully a son. A son was born during his time at Fatehpur Sikri but the Ghost Capital was abandoned in 1585 as it was missing a human necessity - water.

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In the quest to find the perfect Indian dish we stop at Joshi Resort Restaurant. It's not really a Resort but it is a lovely garden restaurant, peacefully, tranquil and does a great vegetable jalfrezi. Can highly recommend this place if your ever driving to Agra - it's in the middle of nowhere, but chatting to the manager, they going to build some tourist bungalows.

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Agra is famous for the Taj Mahal and the artwork on the Taj Mahal is inlay. We go and see how the gem stones are shaped and inlaid into white marble from Jaipur. The shop we are at only uses designs from the Taj Mahal and is made by family members of the workers who created the artwork for the Taj Mahal. Keith and I, love this artwork and are determined to get a beautiful side table for the front room. Oh boy its a beauty, made by a Master in the artwork and covered in intricate flowers including a rare pink stone. [KB - and bloody expensive, even without the tourist rate!! Ah well, it's nearly Valentine's Day and her birthday, so Mr Credit Card was called into action!]

Hotel in Agra is called The Retreat, we are warned not to leave the hotel as the area isn't that nice. Restaurant is not really recommended here, food was cold and beer very expensive. We were also treated to an Indian powercut only lasted few minutes but was strange been sat in a dark restaurant sipping beer and listening to car horns.

Stacey and Keith

Posted by StaceyandKeith 08:10 Archived in India Comments (2)

The Pink City, Jaipur

Hindi Holy Blessing, Bumpy Elephants and Solar Clocks

sunny 18 °C
View The Adventure on StaceyandKeith's travel map.

Namaste,

Firstly today we were invited into a Hindi Temple and I got a Holy Blessing. You have to take your shoes off and then ring the bell. The bell is rung every time someone enters or leaves the Temple. Tuesday is Monkey God day and a woman is trying to hug a wall mural of Hanuman, the Monkey God. There is also the sun god and Ganesha, the Elephant God of Good Luck and Wisdom to pray to. There are people reading scriptures in a separate area. Following the guide, I placed my hands over a candle and then wipe the heat over my head, there are two candles, so I do it twice. Then you give your donation to the holy people, who then bless you with holy water. You take a sip of water and then shake the rest over your head [KB - I politely avoided any religious-ness, pretending to be engrossed in the goings-on around me!]. Blessed with hopefully good luck, we leave the Temple ringing the bell. The donations go towards feeding the hungry like we saw queuing in Delhi. Our shoes are still there, nobody seem bothered in taking them. Not sure how long they would last outside a church in the UK.

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Then it's on to sightseeing - first stop Palace of Winds. It's a seven storey pink stone facade, with white marble windows. The women of the time would have watched parades through the windows as they could only appear in public fully veiled.

Then it was on to the Amber Fort, a famous fort built by Mr Raja Man Singh. Its a bit of a walk to the fort up a hill, but our tour includes an elephant ride. The tourist line waiting for elephants snakes through a park and we are hounded by hawkers. It's a long wait. The elephants only do three runs to the top each and there are 100 Elephants. They live in two elephant parks, one next to Amber Fort and the second a few miles further down road.

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Finally we are at the front of the queue, Elephant number 70 arrives and I sit down. Keith has to jump as the driver has already set his sights on reaching the top as quickly as possible - we think he wants an early lunch! It's not a gentle ride, I held on really tight for fear of being thrown off. The sights as we ascend are beautiful though, we can clearly see the Maharaja's garden built in an artificial lake and Amber Fort is rapidly approaching.

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We arrive in the fort and I'm glad to safely get off the elephant. Amber Fort is another huge monument, the first amazing thing is that it is surrounded by a wall on all sides. Not cool enough? Well the wall goes up numerous hills and stretches as far as my eyes can see it puts Hadrian's Wall to shame! Second thing that amazed me was the hall of mirrors a room full of different mirrors shining everywhere in the sunlight. Third amazing thing about Amber Fort is that it had natural air conditioning/garden sprinklers for the summer, it gets up to 50 degrees Celsius. They had a cool water store inside the Fort that released water through the rooms and into the garden. Amber Fort is a large spectacle and we could easier spend all day explore the secret passages, rooms and absorbing the view but there are so many things to see.

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We leave the Amber Fort behind after buying lots of photos of us on elephants from a man named Lucky. Very persistent man, Keith got him down to a good price [KB - he was really bugging me and I actually gave him more than I should have, just to get rid of him! The pics were pretty god though].

Before lunch we visit a carpet and printing factory. I make an elephant picture using teak printing stamps and vegetable dye. Then we see them making the carpets, a large silk carpet can take one person 3 months to complete. We view some carpets and decide to buy a cashmere oriental design hallway runner. We are going to paint the front room at some point and it will look perfect in hallway. They will post it home after we get back. Be warned, whenever you come to visit Bath, shoe removal WILL BE COMPULSORY!

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We then stopped by a bizarre water palace to get photos. The Maharaja had a palace built in the middle of a artificial lake, so he could spend days there in his private roof top garden. Garden looks nice and lush with palm trees providing much needed shade.

After lunch we visited the Solar Observatory. This was my favourite place so simple, but really clever. The Solar Observatory in Jaipur is internationally known because it houses the largest solar clock in the world. This solar clock [KB - it's a massive sundial that looks like a huge lump of mouse cheese!] is built at a 27 degree angle because of the latitude of Jaipur and is accurate to 2 seconds! There is also a smaller version. The complex also houses devices to calculate the angle of the sun and the suns/stars locations. Highly interesting place. The guide tells me that about 95% of the population believe in Astrology. When marriage is proposed they only accept if the proposed person has at least 18 out of 36 qualities [KB - I'm still doing the math on us, I'll let you know the results]. The guide also explained that when Hindi people start a new business or buy a car they ask an Astrologer for the date and time they should start the business or buy the car. Once they have started to business or buy the car they go to the temple of Ganesh and ask for a blessing. The monk will bless the car and draw a red swastika on it for good luck.

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Next was the City Palace which houses the national textile collection and a display of armoury. We see the second largest chandelier and two extremely large mirrored pots that held water from the River Ganges. There are also four beautiful coloured doorways. My favourite is a peacock doorway, beautiful greens and blues.

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Outside the City Palace our guide, who seems a very popular chap, is given a wedding invitation. It is the most elaborate invitation I have seen. The cover is made from red silk, embossed with a Ganesh symbol and inside, beautiful handwritten text. Our guide gives me the cover as a present, as I like it so much.

That's the end of the sightseeing except for an quick visit to a jewellery factory. We are taken to see how they design, cut, clean and mount gems. We are shown a beautiful ruby. Then we get time to wander around the jewellery shop, they have some exquisite designs. The bracelet I like has ruby, emerald and sapphires set in silver laid out in a column design, beautiful and a whopping 5000 pounds (Keith's American keyboard does not have a pound sign) [KB - yeah it does, dumb-ass £££££££]. I decide I like an aquamarine and diamond ring set in silver (March's birthstone I'm told), he tells me the price, but it's too much, so he offers a discount. The price is good, so I buy the ring. It's a clear blue colour and the gem is cut in an oval shape. The salesman is cunning and tries to also sell me some aquamarine earrings at a special price. I say no so he reduces the price again but I say Ganesh says 'not today'. I don't really wear earrings but they were pretty. [KB - easy birthday present buy for me!]

People in India are friendly and offer you a welcome drink but in the shops they are always after a sale and try very hard. Never take first price, if you walk away they will produce a special deal. We didn't have our credit card, so they gave me the ring and then came later to the hotel to collect payment. Trusting, enterprising and the best sales technique I have seen. Debenhams take note, they except multi tender payments. I am annoyed at Debenhams because you can only use one form of payment. Not helpful if you have two gift cards.

Back at hotel, I indulge in a Ayurvedic body massage practised in India since ancient times and Keith had a back massage. I am all relaxed after my massage, Keith has no bad or positive things to say. I'm not sure he is a fan. [KB - nope, not a fan. It was a bloke rubbing my back and buttocks - a bit too much for my liking!!]

Travelling to Agra tomorrow (Wednesday 13 Feb) day behind with blog, sorry.

फिर मिलेंगे। Phir milenge

Stacey and Keith

Posted by StaceyandKeith 06:28 Archived in India Comments (1)

Delhi - Old and New

Monuments, toddlers and dogs

sunny 14 °C
View The Adventure on StaceyandKeith's travel map.

Namaste,

Sightseeing in Old and New Delhi today and oh so much to see. Oh wait we are stuck in traffic and I find the best thing to do to make the traffic go quicker is honk the horn, lots.

There are seven 'cities' in Delhi, each city corresponds to a dynasty of rule.

Once out of the traffic, shoes off, long sleeved robe donned we visited one of the best know mosque's in India, Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as Jama Masjid. This large imposing red sandstone and white marble mosque was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and completed in the year 1656. When I say large, up to 25,000 people can pray here at a time and the two minarets tower above you at 40m high. The white marble inlaid with black marble Arabic scriptures is beautiful. Whilst at Jama Masjid and taking photos I seemed to attract toddlers. Knee high nippers who wanted to be in our photos. Then their parents wanted photos of the like-able white lady, funny really.

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Next stop was the Red Fort, home to the Army and tourists. We headed to the Red Fort through Chandni Chowk which is the main and busy marketplace in Delhi. The streets of Chandni Chowk are narrow and crammed packed of shops. In 1639, when Shah Jahan decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi they built the Red Fort. It is a vibrant red thanks to its construction from red sandstone and once upon a time the moat housed crocodiles. Snap.

Back in the car we headed to Humayun's Tomb, it is another excellent example of red sandstone and white marble building but has Persian architecture. It was built by Humayun's widow to house his tomb. The complex is large [KB Note: It's massive!!!!!] and symmetrical, yet it only took 7 years to complete. As Keith pointed out in the UK it is going to take us 20 years to build a railway line from London to Birmingham!

Next place to visit was Indian Gate. It honours Indian soldiers who died in the Afghanistan Wars and World War I. The 90,000+ soldier's names are inscribed on the wall. The lawns surrounding the gate are packed with locals relaxing in the sun with picnics. We walk past a stand selling Indian street food, the vegetable curry smells and looks amazing. I'm hungry, time for food but not before visiting the Parliament and Presidential palace situated at bit further along the Rajpath ceremonial avenue. The Parliament building is split into north and south divided by the Rajpath Avenue and both buildings are symmetrical [KB Note: there were hundreds of monkeys running between the two areas - a bit like our very own Houses of Parliament!] . The presidential palace is at the end of the Avenue and would rival Buckingham Palace on size and grandeur. There are lush lawns and amazing elephant topiary. We also see the queues for free food being provided by a mosque to the masses of very poor people here in Delhi. They queue patiently for a meal and seem immensely grateful.

Right lunchtime. Keith wants Dhal dishes and our guide knows the place. We grab 3 types of Dhal and many types of breads. The food was great and I'm liking the Mango drinks, which are very popular in Indian. The mango drinks are thick glupy and bright orange. The pulse based foods are looking after our tummies, if not increasing the venting a little!

One last stop to make on our tour and this complex is spectacular and historically important. We are visiting the Qutub. It was built by Qutub-ud-din Aibak of the Slave Dynasty, who took possession of Delhi in 1206. This site was part of the 1st city of Delhi. The complex houses a red sandstone minaret, which tapers up to a height of 72.5 meters and is covered with intricate carvings and verses from the Qur'an. It is imposing and so it should be, it was built as a symbol of Islamic domination over Delhi. There is also an Iron Pillar of metallurgical curiosity in the complex dating from 4th century. According to the traditional belief, anyone who can encircle the entire column with their arms, while standing with their back against the pillar, can have their wish granted. No such luck for me or Keith the goverment have built a fence round it, to protect the pillar from sweat! [KB: I wanted to see Stacey try to touch her hands behind her back.....can't think why!? Oh and the lump of iron wasn't all that impressive]

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Well that was Delhi in one day, oh the dogs. We have seen so many stray dogs, apparently there is an organisation that looks after there well been but there are hundreds of them. They sit in the sunshine guarding road junctions and running around the parks. The one below was so cute [KB: I also got a great photo of a sleeping hound that mimicked Stacey while sleeping as he had a great pool of dribble under his head!]

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Bye Stacey and Keith

Posted by StaceyandKeith 07:04 Archived in India Tagged and new old delhi Comments (2)

Touchdown Delhi

Apparently tour drivers can drive the against the flow on the Delhi motorway!

sunny 15 °C
View The Adventure on StaceyandKeith's travel map.

Namaste,

Arrived in Delhi 0300 via British Airways only two hours late due to engineering issues, the wings did not fall off after all. Club class was great, the seat does fold flat (Keith took great delight in moving my chair as soon as I was comfortably) and they have as much ice cream and sweets as you want. I practised some Hindi on the aircraft ready to fit right in with the locals, whilst Keith laughed at me.

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We passed through immigration, to be greeted by Raj, the tour company's meet and greeter. Poor Raj was so tired he could not remember the location of the car and driver. We finally found the car and driver and we're given a 'swagaat' - a welcome gift of carnation flower necklaces. Then we were happily speeding down the streets of Delhi towards Hotel Visaya. It's noisy, everyone is honking their horns, it's like a strange melody. The trip flies by as I stare out of the window to avoid noticing the chaotic driving. Well I thought it was chaotic until the driver realises that we have passed the hotel! I thought fine, no problem get off further down and go back. Apparently thats not the done thing, it's far easier to swing round in a side street and head back down the motorway into the on coming traffic. I closed my eyes and listened to the car horn melody again. We did make it in one piece to hotel.

The hotel is nice, it has a zen vibe, the garden is pretty and the room is big and clean. The only thing I should have asked the tour company was how close is the hotel to central Delhi. Why you ask - because as we discovered this morning, we are no where near central Delhi. We have a couple of nice parks to walk round but other than than we are in the middle of Delhi suburbia.

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After exploring the local Delhi suburbia we grabbed a car to take us to Connaught Place, apparently that means the nearest bazaar that the driver likes to park in. Then the local hustlers started, plan of action is hold my head up high and walk with purpose whilst saying 'no thank you'. No I do not want your photocopied postcards, mini chess board or a sewing device. I will take my own pictures, play chess on the Ipad and use my own travel sewing kit!

We walked for a bit and found Connaught Place. Connaught Place is one of the largest financial, commercial and business centers in Delhi, its a grand place. Its like a gaint central hub of a bicycle wheel, it has 8 roads leading off it like spokes. It is a vibrant place with tourists and locals all mingling around the expensive western shops. We found a excellent restaurant called Zen in which to feast. It was very busy, which is a good sign. The food was excellent and plentiful.

With full tummies we walked back to the car in order to retire to the hotel, tomorrow is a big Delhi sigthseeing day. But before we left the bazaar I needed some new sandals. Travel tip number 1: Do not pack sandals you have not really tired out, if you do you will discover like me that they really are not as comfortably as you thought!

New sandals in tow, it's time to relax before tomorrows sightseeing.

Bye Stacey and Keith

Posted by StaceyandKeith 05:36 Archived in India Tagged delhi Comments (1)

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