A Travellerspoint blog

Welcome to the Taj Mahal - Agra

sunny 28 °C

While at the Varranasi train station, we ran around to the different offices and ticket booths to figure out our options of getting to Agra when the Taj Mahal was actually open. We had originally planned on arriving in Agra early morning and leaving in the evening since we had heard there isn't a whole lot there other than the Taj. We finally decided that our best option was to stay a night in Agra and see the Taj Mahal in the morning, then head to Jaipur right after that. That meant cutting our time in Jaipur by a day. Oh well, anything to see the Taj.

IMG_3811.jpg
Comfortable digs

Now, to describe our train ride. How do we possibly describe the crazy experience of riding an Indian overnight train. Our bunk mates were two older Indian men - one eccentric religious "saint" as he described himself adorned with beads, a bright orange turban, and a Hindu man dress. The other seemed to be a well-off man even more religious than the first who spent a good deal of time lecturing us on the importance of the supreme power and peace and love for all. We exchanged "help me" looks with other travellers as they felt sorry for us but were glad it wasn't them. The first part of the ride was spent answering an endless array of questions fired at us, most of which would never be asked back home. We've learned that Indians are extremely curious and love to pry for information about your life. Questions such as "how much money do you make?", "are you a housewife?", "how do you express your relationship with the supreme power?", "why don't you have any children?" and on and on and on. By the end, the whole train knew our entire life story.

We fell asleep quite quickly and everything was great until a couple hours in, there seemed to be a party in our bunk and we weren't invited. Men were yelling at the top of their lungs while sitting less than two feet away from each other while this social gathering went on until 2:30am. Our ride was 5:45pm-7am so this interuption took up a lot of sleeping time. Not the time for our Ipod to be out of battery.

We finally arrived in Agra and thought it was time to splurge on a nice hotel (since Agra is known for a city with much lower standards). We ended up at a beautiful hotel with a soft bed! Usually, the beds feel like you're sleeping on a wooden plank. That day we hired a driver to take us around to the different attractions - everything was open except the Taj Mahal. Our driver seemed trustworthy at first but there was something about his that was questionable. Perhaps it was his swagger and smooth talking...hmmm. He ended up trying to scam us a tad but overall was ok. We saw the Baby Taj- a smaller version that was built before the big one, Agra Fort - the emperor built the Taj just across from his fort so he could see it every day, and we saw the Taj Mahal from a lovely garden across the river. Our driver also took us to the roof top of a guest house so we could have a sunset view. It was spectacular! All in all, a great day that made our scheduling mistake a little easier to handle. We even saw an Indian wedding from our hotel that night, complete with fireworks, band (that sounded an awful lot like an Indian Biser) and extravagance.

IMG_3858.jpg
I bet the emperor who created this didn't think it would be 'baby' anything

The next day we got up bright and early to see the sunrise at the Taj, weekends must be much busier than weekdays becuase we did not make it quite in time. It took us over an hour to get in, and we got there at 6:30am! But once we did get in, boy were we not disappointed. People, including us, wait their whole lives to see the Taj and it was surreal to be face to face with such an iconic masterpiece. It took 20,000 workers 22 years to build the Taj, all as way for the emperor to express his love and honour his third wife when she died. We're still not quite clear on why he was so fond of his third wife in particular. Regardless, it was a spectacular thing to see and we are so lucky to have experienced it. There's another thing to check off the bucket list!

IMG_4034.jpg
Once in a lifetime

IMG_4051.jpg
No need for a caption

After that, we headed with another driver (one that was more genteel) to Jaipur, with a stop at Fatehpur Sikri, a medieval city that was built in 1571 and lived in for only 14 years, then abandoned, some say because of lack of water supply. It was amazing to see such grand buildings that were all abandoned after such a short time. What a waste! We visited it's mosque and were more harrassed there than anywhere during our trip so far. Still, it was quite amazing. George is now considering building his own fort.

Now, we are back to our regularly scheduled program in Jaipur. We have only one day here tomorrow so we'll need to make the most of it. Hopefully that will be enough!

Posted by jgjourney 09:02 Archived in India Comments (0)

Holy Varanasi

sunny 31 °C

Varanasi is considered India's holiest city and sits right along the Ganges. No matter how much you read and try to prepare yourself, you never really know what a place will be like until you actually go there. First of all, it took 1.5 hours from the airport to our guesthouse 37 km away. Driving across this city was unlike anything we have ever experienced before. Nowhere in Southeast Asia was there this much traffic and absolute madness. It was incredibly exhausting just being in the passenger seat. We finally got to our guesthouse and were disappointed by the level of cleanliness. We came to realize, however, that that was the general level of the city itself. We ventured off toward the ghats (steps that lead straight into the River Ganga a.k.a Ganges) and got overwhelmed fairly quickly. It may have been the massive bulls we needed to cross that blocked our paths, the horrible mix of smells wafting through the air, or maybe the interesting characters we seemed to meet along the way. Add that to the "burning ghat" experience and we weren't sure what to make of this city. There are two burning ghats along the river where people are cremated on piles of wood. In the Hindu faith it is said that Varanasi is the most blessed place to die and have your ashes spread into the river. As holy as it is said to be, we may have seen a bit more than we wanted to there.

IMG_3618.jpg
Life on the river Ganga

Luckily, it didn't take long for our perceptions to turn around. The next morning, we were up before 5am and since we were awake we decided to do the sunrise boat tour that our guesthouse organizes each morning. What an excellent decision that ended up being. There were five of us on the boat and we got an authentic view of life along the river. There were people bathing, doing their laundry, submerging themselves in the water (the water is viewed as very holy), going to the temple, brushing their teeth, fishing, and a beautiful sunrise to cap the experience off. And of course, George picked THIS day to forget to put the memory card back into the camera! Luckily, a couple on the boat graciously offered to email us some pictures and he's a professional photographer so it may have worked to our advantage! Oh George.

IMG_3543.jpg
Don't know how much cleaner he is after this bath

After the boat tour we thought we would be brave and walk around the narrow passageways of Varanasi, which we had heard were very tight and confusing to navigate. It tuned out, walking around in there was one highlights of our trip so far. It also exposed George's extreme aversion to any and all animals. He scared one poor Indian man to death when the man lightly brushed past him and George almost knocked him out thinking he was a monkey. And don't even get started about the cows - are they really THAT scary?

IMG_3646.jpg
Not the place to be if you're claustrophobic

Some other cool experiences were people waching on the steps of the Ganges, trying "lassi", something like a smoothie, for the first time in a tiny little shop within the passages, watching a makeshift barber shop along the steps of the main ghat, and countless other interesting things we saw that just can't be described. An important thing to note though,is just how polluted this river is. It's basically a dumping ground for garbage, raw sewage, even many bodies (apparently 45,000 every year???) who's families do not have the money to pay for cremation. As polluted as the water is, the people view it as clean and generation after generation spend their lives here.

IMG_3660.jpg
Best Lassi in town!

Perhaps one of the best things we did in Varanasi was the sunset boat tour, where we floated along with a hundred other boats to watch a a religious ceremony at the main ghat. Children in small boats sold floating candles that you released into the water for good karma and it was certainly a beautiful sight to see those floating along the river while the Hindu ceremony was taking place in front of us. And for all of you who couldn't understand why we chose to travel to India, if you were there in that moment you would know.

IMG_3746.jpg
Thisis all it takes for good karma?

IMG_3776.jpg
Coming together to experience the holiest of rituals

After having our fill of Varanasi, the next afternoon we were excited to make our journey to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. It was then that we came across the first wrench in our plans as the people we shared a taxi with to the train station reminded us that the Taj is closed on Fridays - the only day we would be there. And so our scramble to see a huge reason we came to India in the first place began...

Posted by jgjourney 08:58 Archived in India Comments (0)

Back on the Road - This Time India - First Stop: Delhi

sunny 21 °C

A year later and we've set off for another adventure, this time to incredible India. Our honeymoon in Southeast Asia was such a great experience that we felt we were ready to tackle the madness that is India. Now three days in, we're questioning if one can ever be
ready. But that comes in a later post. First we recap our days in Delhi (or Del-eye as the American sitting next to us on the plane liked to call it). We arrived in the middle of the night and our drive into the city was suprisingly unsurprising. We had been cautioned so many times about the culture shock that India would be and we expected to be smacked in the face with it the moment we stepped off the plane. While it was definitely a culture shock, it was not so much different than our experiences in Southeast Asia. Or so we thought.

The next day, we were ready to set off and see the city, which would prove to be difficult seeing as how our hotel did not have any maps. What hotel doesn't have maps?!? So we relied on George's impeccable sense of direction, which got us lost in about 1.3 minutes. Along
the way we were harrassed by a few tuk tuk drivers, taxis, general public, etc. Needless to say we were off to a rough start. To be expected since it takes a day or two to get your bearings.We decided to abandon our search for the market we were looking for and head straight into the city centre via metro. Here, we paid 400% more than our trip the next day would cost. Luckily, that only translates to $1.80 extra. Our first scam of the trip only took about 15 minutes. Doh! Ok, so we're a little rusty.

IMG_3419.jpg
Connaught Park, our sanctuary in the madness of Delhi

Our first stop was Connaught Place, a circular park with shops all around it in the heart of Delhi. Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday and most of the shops were closed. After being harassed repeatedly we saught refuge in the park, along with many young Indian couples enjoying the beautiful day. We consulted our guidebook and decided to take in the Red Fort, one of Delhi's attractions.

Perhaps the best part of that experience, and possibly our trip so far, was the sheer stardom we got to experience. Outside the gates, a group of men asked George something about a picture and he politely said "no thank you" since we are so accustomed to being sold one thing or another. But once inside, we experienced what it's like to be famous. We realized that all the locals wanted was a picture with the white people! Every time we turned around, someone would ask to take a picture with us, at least those that were brave enough to ask. Some would walk by and snap suddenly, and some would pose in front of us while their friends covertly positioned us in the background. It was one of the funniest things we have experienced in our travels!

IMG_3437.jpg
After taking pictures with them one by one I decided it was my turn!

After touring the fort we walked through some of Old Delhi, one of the oldest cities in the world, and had some of the best samosas we have ever had for a whopping 25 cents each. Back at the hotel, our short nap turned into 4 hours and there went day number one.

Day number two started with going back to the market (now that we found a map) and finding that it was mostly closed. This might not have been a bad thing since we probably would have been trampled if it were open. Walking through those streets was definitely the culture shock that we had expected, though, with alleys full of garbage and some beggars here and there.

IMG_3492.jpg
The self portraits are back - Humayun's Tomb

The highlight of Delhi was definitely Humayun's Tomb, an Indian emperor. It's considered a mini Taj Mahal and was very beautiful. Back at the hotel, another short nap turned into 5 hours and day number two was also done. Jet lag sucks.Our next stop would be Varanasi, India's holiest city, and a place that will test even the seasoned traveller. Let's just say our first impression of Varanasi was anything but holy.

Posted by jgjourney 15:58 Archived in India Comments (2)

Back on the Road - This Time India - First Stop: Delhi

sunny 21 °C

A year later and we've set off for another adventure, this time to incredible India. Our honeymoon in Southeast Asia was such a great experience that we felt we were ready to tackle the madness that is India. Now three days in, we're questioning if one can ever be
ready. But that comes in a later post. First we recap our days in Delhi (or Del-eye as the American sitting next to us on the plane liked to call it). We arrived in the middle of the night and our drive into the city was suprisingly unsurprising. We had been cautioned so many times about the culture shock that India would be and we expected to be smacked in the face with it the moment we stepped off the plane. While it was definitely a culture shock, it was not so much different than our experiences in Southeast Asia. Or so we thought.

The next day, we were ready to set off and see the city, which would prove to be difficult seeing as how our hotel did not have any maps. What hotel doesn't have maps?!? So we relied on George's impeccable sense of direction, which got us lost in about 1.3 minutes. Along
the way we were harrassed by a few tuk tuk drivers, taxis, general public, etc. Needless to say we were off to a rough start. To be expected since it takes a day or two to get your bearings.We decided to abandon our search for the market we were looking for and head straight into the city centre via metro. Here, we paid 400% more than our trip the next day would cost. Luckily, that only translates to $1.80 extra. Our first scam of the trip only took about 15 minutes. Doh! Ok, so we're a little rusty.

regular_IMG_3419.jpg Connaught Park, our sanctuary in the madness of Delhi

Our first stop was Connaught Place, a circular park with shops all around it in the heart of Delhi. Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday and most of the shops were closed. After being harassed repeatedly we saught refuge in the park, along with many young Indian couples enjoying the beautiful day. We consulted our guidebook and decided to take in the Red Fort, one of Delhi's attractions.

Perhaps the best part of that experience, and possibly our trip so far, was the sheer stardom we got to experience. Outside the gates, a group of men asked George something about a picture and he politely said "no thank you" since we are so accustomed to being sold one thing or another. But once inside, we experienced what it's like to be famous. We realized that all the locals wanted was a picture with the white people! Every time we turned around, someone would ask to take a picture with us, at least those that were brave enough to ask. Some would walk by and snap suddenly, and some would pose in front of us while their friends covertly positioned us in the background. It was one of the funniest things we have experienced in our travels!

After taking pictures with them one by one I decided it was my turn!

After taking pictures with them one by one I decided it was my turn!

After touring the fort we walked through some of Old Delhi, one of the oldest cities in the world, and had some of the best samosas we have ever had for a whopping 25 cents each. Back at the hotel, our short nap turned into 4 hours and there went day number one.

Day number two started with going back to the market (now that we found a map) and finding that it was mostly closed. This might not have been a bad thing since we probably would have been trampled if it were open. Walking through those streets was definitely the culture shock that we had expected, though, with alleys full of garbage and some beggars here and there.

The self portraits are back - Humayun's Tomb

The self portraits are back - Humayun's Tomb

The highlight of Delhi was definitely Humayun's Tomb, an Indian emperor. It's considered a mini Taj Mahal and was very beautiful. Back at the hotel, another short nap turned into 5 hours and day number two was also done. Jet lag sucks.Our next stop would be Varanasi, India's holiest city, and a place that will test even the seasoned traveller. Let's just say our first impression of Varanasi was anything but holy.

Posted by jgjourney 15:58 Archived in India Comments (0)

Best and Worst of Southeast Asia

Best Food: Malaysia
Worst Food: Hong Kong
Best New Food Tried: Pomelo
Worst New Food Tried: Durian Puff Pastry - Absolutely disgusting!
Best Meal: Tie bewteen Bus Station Pad Thai and Malaysian Indian Food - both make our mouths water just thinking about it

Dirtiest: Hong Kong
Smelliest: Hong Kong
Cleanest: Singapore - by a long shot

Friendliest People: Bali
Most Humbling Place: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Most Unexpected Surprise: All of Cambodia, Malaysia comes in second
Cheapest: Vietnam - even when they try to rip you off on Christmas decorations
Most Expensive: Singapore
Biggest Scammers: Bangkok, Thailand - we have to admit though, they had some pretty elaborate scams - "This attraction is closed, come with me and I'll take to you to a gem store" What???!!
Poorest: Cambodia
Richest: Singapore - upscale malls on every corner

Best Accommodation: Kingston Suites, Bangkok, Thailand (However, the Crown Plaza the
airline put us up in now takes the prize)
Worst Accommodation: Some Guesthouse, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand - Mary, you probably agree
Most Unique Accommodation: Alam Jiwa, Ubud, Bali

Most Scenic: Sapa, Vietnam
Best Attraction: The Temples of Angkor, Cambodia
Worst Attraction: Everything outside of the beaches and Ubud town in Bali
Best Market: Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok a close second for its atmosphere
Best Beach, Overall: Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Best Beach, Beauty: Dream Beach, Lembongan Island, Bali
Most Fun: Elephant Riding
Most Intersting Experience: Being homeless with Mary
Most Modern: Singapore - their transit system feels like you're hurling toward the future
Most Culturally Rich: Sapa, Vietnam - but pretty much the entire country
Most Unique: Sapa, Vietnam - can't get more unique than hill tribes
Most Toursity: Koh Phi Phi, Thailand - Do they even have Thai people on this island?
Easiest to Travel (language, transit, etc): Malaysia & Singapore
Most Underwhelming: All of Thailand

1st Place We'd Go Back To: Cambodia
Most Recommended: Everything, expect for Thailand and Hong Kong
Most Important Thing We Learned: We are extremely lucky to live in our country

Posted by jgjourney 23:31 Comments (1)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 50) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 9 10 »