Colors, Gods, Wedding parades and Road chaos
Trip Start Feb 05, 2009
29Trip End Dec 16, 2010
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Our first destination: Amritsar. As soon as we cross the border, chaos enters the road! We have been warned for this. Crossing countries like China and Pakistan, we slowly got used to this, but India is worse! Blind crossings, Cows taking a nap on the Highway, a guy who wants to cross with his goats looks like a suicide mission as cars pass with 90km/hour. Wrong lane driving, towards us, It is all about the size. As a pedestrian you have no rights, jumping out of the way is the only solution, then in ranking order: cycle rickshaws, motorbikes, auto rickshaws, cars, vans and buses / trucks
Finding a place to park, not easy in busy India! We drive around Amritsar until it gets dark, trying to get a spot on hotel grounds, but no luck. Too many weddings going on. Just as I am getting really fed up, rickshaws passing me with 2cm space in between, trying to avoid cyclists, crazy bikers and scared to death that I might hit a cow in the dark: An auto rickshaw driver tells us bout Ms Bandhari guesthouse. He can take us there. My western mind is suspicious: How many rupees? You give what you feel like giving. Right. We will have a look. This place is like little Eden in busy India. As soon as we drive through the gate, the greens welcome us with a Shanti feeling. It is expensive (compared to Pakistan), but we are tired and fed up. And then awaits us a nice surprise: Arjen, the Dutch cyclist we met in Pakistan before, is also here! That evening we meet up with Roel (a Dutch biker), Nicole (a Swiss biker) and Karl (a German truck-home driver)! Together we set off the fireworks that we kept for our first Indian evening! We made it!!!!
Initially only planned to stay for 2 days….which turns into a week
Amritsar: The Sikh city with their most important Temple: The Golden Temple. It is such an amazing place. The temple is surrounded by water, which is bordered by a huge walkway and white buildings. 4 Sikh men are playing the Tabla and singing continuously. One morning I spend hours on the first floor, finding the peace in me again. People come from far to pay their respects, bathing in the water and or drinking it for purification. Women wearing beautiful colorful saris, men with turbans on their head, the guarding Sikhs with their knives and yellow ropes, just to name a few of the things I saw. The Sikh religion denounces the Cast system, claiming that all people are equal and should be treated the same
After a week, with car insurance arranged, owner of a new gas bottle, took us 5 days to organize! (the Spanish one could not be filled), an Indian suit made, Indian Sim cards bought, it really is time to move on. The rest of India is waiting for us. Arjen wants to travel around India without cycling, so decides to leave the bicycle in Dehli. If he can come with us to Dehli? Of course, bicycle on the roof and we are off.
With new energy driving on Indian roads it not so bad! Dehli supposed to be the worst. Mira is taking the challenge. 2 hours later we arrive at our destination: Radission Hotel in Noida district. Well done Mira!! We are allowed to park on the sandy parking across the road from this luxury hotel. Here we wait for Marcel, a friend of Mira who is coming over for business. He surprises us with Pepernoten, dankjewel voor deze Sinterklaas lekkernij! I spend the next few days in and around the van, still in need for some time by myself, while Mira and Arjen are exploring Dehli center. Meeting up with Marcel in the evening. All the time we can use the hotel toilet with staff polite and smiling. I am very surprised that we are allowed to camp on their parking for such a long time! With no charge! That weekend I see my first (and many to follow) wedding procession: 12 men carrying huge light creations, fueled by a huge generator at the end. An orchestra (soort Fanfare) makes as much 'music’ as possible, a few drummers generating special rhythms, on which the family of the groom dance-walks
Marcel has to go to Chennai for business, we continue to Agra. Arjen also wants to go there, so again he joins us in the van. In stead of taking the highway, we end of taking the back roads. This takes us much longer, so we stopover in Aligarh. We happen to stop in front of a hotel, where a huge wedding is taking place that evening. By change we start talking to the drum band, a group of great guys from Dehli. About 10min later I have taking out my Djembe, a small crowd has gathered and Raj and Ravi are giving away a drum session, next to our van! Raj is taking is for food somewhere, where I ask to cook to help with chapatti making.
They are represented to the public on a huge stage, where lots of photos are taken and special rituals are taking place. The guests, specially the guys, find it very interesting that we are there. At some point Raj pulls us backstage where the photo shoot begins. For a moment it feels like I am the one getting married…It is great fun with the drummers, even though I speak hardly any Hindu and they little English. With the promise to visit them in Delhi when I come there again, we say goodbye. I cannot stop wondering what the family will think when later they will see the photos and video of the wedding and spot 3 tourists in the midst of it all
The next day we make it to Agra, the city of the one of the 7 world wonders: Taj Mahal. One guy takes us to a hotel, where we are able to park the car. With only 2 cm space left on each side I am able to squeeze the van onto the inner parking. The hotel is not finished yet, but it will do for one night. Mira and I sleep in the van anyway. I start talking with Sunil, one of the guys helping out at the hotel, doing tour guide work as well. He has a demanding way of communication, but we get along fine! He shows me their temple place. Each hotel/shop/etc. has one, big or small. Cannot start the day without praying! He is impressed with the fact that I know some of the gods already. To make it clear, Hinduism does not worship one god, but many. You pray to Ganesha for new beginning, Shiva for strength, Laksmi for good business, to name a few.
The room is far to expensive (typical tourist rip-off) so the next day Arjen moves to Shanti lodge, near the Taj Mahal south gate. A great place with a rooftop terrace with great views on the TM. We are allowed to leave the car parked at the hotel. Of course I go and visit the TM, stay inside the grounds from sunrise to sunset. Indian people are not scared of the camera, but you can only take a photo of a woman if you ask first
I also start chatting with a group of 5 guys from Delhi, whom I meet again in the evening for some beers. One of the things discussed is the cultural difference and the wish to marry a western woman. How can they expect that we would marry and then live with them and their family-in-law for the rest of our lives. We are too independent for this. Just to mention one.
Roel, the Dutch biker, also arrived in Agra, so a Dutch reunion it is! I spend my time with them, Sunil and the Delhi guys, making it a busy socializing period! From Agra we wanna go to Varanasi and after back to Agra to continue into Rajasthan. As it will be difficult to park the car in the Old City and to take a break from driving, we decide to leave the car in Agra and go forth and back with the train. With great help of Sunil we are allowed to leave it parked at the hotel. Unfortunately on the day we that we booked the train a huge Muslim festival is taking place. Any other day nothing is happening at the hotel, but today 140 people come for lunch and dinner! Result: I have to remove the van, with the promise I can park it inside again before jumping on the train in the evening
With the train to Varanasi: First we booked 3rd class to Gwalior, but as we are not able to find the wagon, we end up in a sleeper class instead. Luckily our tickets were not checked. I end up talking to a girl, who is Jain (religion), she and other are now in a special vasting period of 14 months!!! One day eating, one day not. Now they are half way through and just came back from a pilgrimage tour. We talk openly about arranged marriage and other things. For her this is normal and she talks without resentment or sadness about it. It is their culture and way of life. I find it hard to accept with my liberal western mind.
From Gwalior we hop on an overnight sleeper train
Hectic Varanasi; There are not enough words to describe this place based on the shores of the Holy river Ganga. All is happening here, at the same time. Taking a short stroll on the riverside and you can see full Indian life enfold. People taking a bath next to a boy washing his buffalos, a sadhu (holy man) taking a nap, guys doing big loads of cloth washing, while a bit further some people are meditating, oblivious of the hectic around them. And of course the (famous) burning ghat: a place where families gather to cremate their loved one. Before cremation the body is dipped in the water, after only the breast bone (for men) or hip bone (for woman) is thrown into the river
Seeing Varanasi from the boat is amazing, just try to ignore all the other tourists who do the same thing! One morning I walked around by myself, starting at 05.30 o’clock. Of course the touts were awake already as well. Not feeling to say no all the time I retreated into silence. Making clear with hand gestures that I am not talking. Now the people didn‘t think I was crazy, because within meditation it is very common to have a silent day. So as soon as they noticed, they apologized and let me be. For anyone who is fed up with the touts, this is the best trick! For me it brought more awareness of my surroundings. One guru even invited me in for tea, a one-way conversation not being an obstacle for him.
Indian live, watched by many tourists nowadays. And of course this attracts lots of touts, trying to sell anything, cheap souvenirs, boat trips, rickshaw rides or "I want to practice my English-information", but only come and look at my shop after people
Mira found it to hectic and even left for Sirpan with Roel for one day, escaping it all. At the same time I met up with Debra, who took me to a small school nearby, again the kids, again more convinced my work purpose will involve kids one day. Still not clear how and where. It could well be India as this place and I have a good connection.
By now we have returned from Varanasi, with a quick stopover in Agra to get the van. With the wish for some more relaxed place, we make our way into Rajastan, Bharatpur. Sunil is joining is for one day. We have a great laugh together, as friends. Mira is sightseeing the Bird Wild Life sanctuary, while I am chilling in the van. Must say I did miss this little house when staying in Varanasi. Guesthouses are great for socializing, but the van is really my home for now. Tomorrow on our way to Jaipur, to visit the Old Red City and meet again many touts…Shiva please give us enough energy to deal with them ;-)))
India: The land of colors, red chewing tobacco, rickshaw drivers, commission based tour guides, many gods, temples and shrines, smiling people, great food, hectic traffic roads, holy cows, Hindu language, handsome guys, the standard 3 questions and the need to haggle over everything. The country I am falling in love with…