After having literally two months of only sun, we were destined to have one single day of rain before we left. Magically enough, this came on our last day, when we were about to leave for Thailand. It was not only the weather which had made us ready to leave the country, don’t get us wrong, we have absolutely loved India. Every day of our journey, we have gotten one step closer to adapting to the culture and now we would have to reset ourself for something completely different.
|A map of the whole trip we made in India|
Our luggage has also just been stripped of all our sleeping bags and warm clothes, which we have sent home or given to local people. As Calcutta is one of the cities closest to the Bangladesh border, we found there to be more homeless people, probably that had come over from the even poorer country in the East. The sight that met us when arriving at Calcutta train terminal was just a sea of homeless people sleeping on the bare ground.
Even though the price level will be much higher in South- East Asia, we should have no problem finding some cheap summer clothing to buy when we arrive in Thailand. With the brief video attached to the next post, we will try to give you a small insight into the life we have been living the last couple of months.
The city of Varanasi centers on the holy river of Ganges, where people from all over India come to wash away a lifetime of sins. It’s the perfect place for “people watching”, where you can mingle with the fascinating mixture of people who come here not only for a ritual bath but also to wash clothes, do yoga, offer blessings, sell flowers, get a massage, take photos, play cricket, wash their buffaloes, improve their karma or simply just hang around. At night the same place evolves into a whole other world of lights and colors where intimate rituals like cremation and other ceremonies take place. We feel lucky to be able to witness something like this.
After our two months in India, this is where we have come closest to a stereotypical Indian city, and the experiences from this city will live long in our memory.
Couchsurfing* was something we had wanted to do for a long time, but since the average standard of an Indian home can be quite different than we are used to, we were a little bit skeptical to try it here. We had earlier been contacted by a couchsurfer in Khajuraho who seemed genuinely nice. His name was Yogi and really wanted us to stay with him so he could show us his hometown. After a little consideration, we decided to make a stop on our way to Varanasi to meet him.
We were positively surprised when he took us to his home and showed us his family as we felt very welcome right away. It also seemed like he had put a lot of thoughts and planning into our visit, as he had a full program of sightseeing and other activities ready for us to do. He drove us around on his motorcycle to see the erotic temples among others (as it was the city of Kamasutra) and together with his friend we also spent a moment sitting in the wheat field of his uncles farm discussing our travel experiences and the cultural differences between Norway and India.
Before the day was over he had cooked lunch for us, and his family had taught us how to make egg curry and chapatti (Indian bread), which we had for dinner. It was an emotional moment when we had to say goodbye to him and his lovely family, but we were also ready to get some sleep on our night train to Varanasi.
* Couchsurfing: a webpage where one can look up people who are willing to offer their couch to travelers in exchange of friendships and cultural experiences.
Agra is, together with Delhi and Jaipur, one of the three cities in the famous “golden triangle”, and was the capital of the Mughal Empire. This has had an architectural influence of many buildings and monuments in the city. The most famous building you can find in here is the magnificent Taj Mahal, which was the first thing on our list of things we wanted to see in India. Another famous building we got to see on our whole day of rickshaw sightseeing was the Baby Taj Mahal: a smaller version of the huge Taj, only built 33 years earlier, and also much less touristy.
Even though the two buildings were quite a sight, we found the city to be not so impressive. The streets were full of pushy sellers, and tourists wandering around. The tourists in this city seemed like they were on a charter trip, and not a cultural backpacking experience like most of the tourists we have met in India so far. When the evening came, it was time to say goodbye to our friends, Ingeborg and Hanne who we had been traveling with since we met them in Delhi. After this it was once again time to travel by ourselves towards our new destination: Khajuraho.
Getting train tickets have been a hassle the last couple of weeks, since a lot of the trains we had wanted to take, have been fully booked due to several festivals and the wedding season here in the North. This has resulted in us taking different trains than we had initially planned, and often paid more to do so. When we got to Agra, we decided to book trains for the rest of the trip to avoid any more trouble. Unfortunately for us all travel agents told us that the trains we wanted to take were full, with several people in waiting list. When we were close to giving up, we found a travel agent who asked us to wait a few hours to see what he could do.
When we came to pick up the tickets, the travel agent explained to us that he had bribed everything from conductors to ticket offices to get the tickets we had asked for, and that we therefore had to pay five times the initial price. He also revealed the fact that this is how it usually works here in India: If you have the money, corruption can work in your favor. Since the amount was only 1500 rupees/170NOK for the low class tickets he could get us, it did not bother us that it was well overpriced and that we had “cheated” our way to our tickets. Now we know why corruption is so big here, as it seems to work so well for people who have the money.
The time had come when we would finally meet up with some of Elises friends Ingeborg and Hanne, who are traveling around the world. We had already spent a day in New Delhi, trying to get to know the city and found out that almost everything could be reached with the cheap and efficient metro system. We can say that Delhi is also the most “westernized” city that we have visited in India so far.
The area around the parliament buildings were spacious and spotless with few people around (unlike the rest of India) and the city had a commercial center where only brand shops and chain restaurants were found (e.g Levis and Adidas store, McDonalds and KFC). It was noticeable that New Delhi is a place where big companies have their headquarters, which gave us the feeling that a lot of people were better off than in many other cities we had visited. The prices were also higher than we had been used to, but we did not mind as Delhi had given us a feeling of being closer to home for a few days.
Delhi had also plenty of historical and cultural places to visit. We got to see a lot of them by renting a taxi for a day, just rushing through the Lotus Temple, the parliament district and the Indian Gate to mention a few. For our budget, a couple of days was enough, but because of its differences from the rest of India, it would have been nice to stay longer.
Meeting up with our Norwegian friends, Ingeborg and Hanne