Incredible India – Part 2

Varanasi

Apologies that ‘Part 2’ of my ‘Incredible India’ blog has taken so long to post… after a family  ‘situation’ (everything is fine!) my world has been a little frantic, but I did not want to forget sharing the second part of my amazing journey with you!

My previous post concluded with our Taj Mahal experience – truly one of the great marvels of the world – and after Agra we commenced our drive into Rajasthan, land of the Maharajas, heading towards Jaipur.

Half way between Agra and Jaipur we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, a stunning city that was built by Emperor Akbar as his capital. However, the city was deserted soon after it was built so the buildings are still in fantastic condition and it’s a terrific place to explore (beware though; it is huge so make sure you have your walking shoes on!).

Onto Jaipur which is known as the ‘Pink City’ and you’ll realise why as soon as you arrive. The buildings in this sensational city were a complete contrast to everything we had seen previously and the buildings in the ‘old city’ area are all pink terracotta in colour… simply stunning.

Amber is the ancient capital of Jaipur and a visit to the Amber Fort will be a highlight of your experience. Travel up to the mighty fort on the back of a brightly coloured elephant – this is super touristy but something that you should not miss, and the Fort is magnificent. The views and scenery are spectacular and again so different to the areas we had previously travelled through.

 Amber Fort Jaipur

We stayed at the amazing Rajputana Sheraton Hotel which was truly out of this world and the most beautiful, indulgent hotel but very reasonably priced. Again the contrast between extreme wealth and extreme poverty were displayed… our hotel was opulent and extravagant, but we opened the curtains in the morning to look out onto a motorway bridge, and huddled under the bridge were approx. 50 people living there. It makes you feel terribly guilty but they always greet you with a smile and a wave, they are always happy!

In Japiur there is also the Jal Mahal (Water Palace) to take in, as well as the infamous Hawa Mahal (The Palace of the Winds). The Palace of the Winds is an amazing landmark, a façade that allowed women to watch the Royal Processions through the Bazaar.

The Palace of the Winds is situated in the heart of the main Bazaar which is full of textiles, jewellery, foods, stone carvings and handicrafts. The colours are vivid and will vie for your attention as will the smells, sounds and tastes. It’s a fascinating area to explore and stroll through – modern Indian city life at its best and a feast for the senses. And definitely a great place to find a bargain or two.

From Jaipur we flew to Varanasi, home of the River Ganges and one of the most spiritual and intense places you will ever visit. Varanasi is a place like no other and is a place that many pilgrims aspire to visit and tourists flock to take in the great River known as the ‘Mother Goddess’ and the ceremony and rituals that are performed each night and each morning.

Our guide steered us through the crazy streets which were bursting at the seams, filled with locals, pilgrims and tourists all heading to the River for the ‘Grand Aarti’ ceremony which is performed every sunset by priests. We were taken onto the roof of a house so we could witness the event from a great position and we watched the Dasaashwamedh Ghat fill to the brim with people, and the River was brimming with boats of people, all here to participate.

The ceremony lasts for around 45 minutes and 7 priests perform choreographed like movements that worship the River Goddess with lamps, flowers, camphor and incense. Thousands of candles are immersed into the water and the sight is incredibly moving and intoxicating. As you look around, you realise that the courtyard is full of not only people, but also speckled with cows, monkeys and dogs – all on their best behaviour and it really is quite something to take in. Our journey back to the hotel in a rickshaw was chaotic but appreciated as otherwise it would have been easy to become lost in the swarm of people.

The dawn boat ride on the Ganges was another brilliant experience…. Instead of a jumble of noises, chanting, ringing bells and celebration it is perfect serenity and a more somber  solemn occasion. Devout Hindus practice their daily bathing rituals in the bathing ghats, people are being burned and cremated in other ghats and in others you’ll see people doing their laundry and others meditating and praying.

The ancient lanes behind the ghats are tiny with small street stalls offering masala chai, ‘toothbrushes’ made of twigs and tiny earthenware cups to drink chai from. It is like being taken back into a time that has been forgotten. Varanasi was the end of our whirlwind trip but what an amazing adventure it had been.

For me, India – and particularly the Taj Mahal and the Ganges – had been a dream in the making for years, and it certainly did not disappoint. It was a mind blowing experience – spectacular sights, amazing architecture, romantic stories and I know I’ve used the term a few times, but a majestic feast for all the senses.

Whoever chooses to visit this amazing country will have an exciting, spiritual and overwhelming journey. It was definitely a 40th birthday to remember!

River Ganges Evening Ceremony

 

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