The streets of Varanasi are...very nasty
Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
38Trip End Jul 23, 2004
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Every night at the Dashaswamedh Ghat (which has a shrine to Shitala, the deity of smallpox), there is an arati puja performed by five Brahmin priests to worship the Ganges. Although I'm not familiar enough with Hinduism to understand the significance of each object used, I was really impressed by the fact that nearly every part of the hour-long ceremony involved setting something on fire and then waving it around while four or five other people hammered on some huge drums. I doubt that having worshippers fall asleep during a Hindu service is a big problem.
Waste disposal is an issue throughout most of India, although there are some very effective, though informal, recycling programs in place. These consist mainly of large and apparently thriving populations of city goats, and, to a lesser extent, razorback pigs. I haven't figured out if the wandering livestock belongs to anyone, because they seem to roam a wide area at will, but some, rather confusingly, are wearing cotton-knit sweaters or even jauntily brocaded vests. I'm sure there must be some sort of badge of ownership, just like the random pantsless toddlers you see playing together with no visible adult supervision are probably claimed at the end of the day as well.
We headed to Jaipur from Varanasi, bypassing Agra and thus leaving the requisite visit to the Taj Mahal until later. This train was our first experience with what other travelers have referred to as the "probable departure time" as opposed to "actual departure time"
The next day we took the government run "city tour", which is basically getting drive-by views of the minor sights and sprinting Carl Lewis-like through the major ones. This worked perfectly because we got to see some of the places outside the city (and so avoided an expensive taxi ride), and waited until the next day to visit the places where we wanted to spend more time. Most of the impressive sights in Rajasthan are the former palaces of the Indian royalty, the maharajas, and the forts built during India's long and busy military history. Some decendants of the original ruling maharajas still own or even live in the palaces, but many of them are now museums, and we have now gone to about 4,000 of them. Phil was spared further trips to such places as the Sanganer textile museum, much to his deep disappointment, by an untimely back muscle problem which kept me in bed for two days. Although I am sure that I was a big fat complaining pain in the ass, Phil patiently nursed me back to health, and even carried both of our backpacks when we finally left for Udaipur
This city was immortalized by the James Bond movie "Octopussy", one of Roger Moore's finest performances, I'm sure. It is proudly played every night by nearly every restaurant and hotel in the city, but the movie, while full of amusingly cheesy rickshaw-chase scenes, doesn't begin to do justice to the sites. Udaipur boasts four palaces, two of which are on islands in the middle of Lake Pichola, built so that they look like they're floating on the water. The most elaborate, the Lake Palace, is now an ultra-luxury hotel (sadly, not the base of operations for a highly trained team of female circus performers/assassins as "Octopussy" would have us believe) with rooms costing $400 per night. Needless to say, we didn't stay there. More than a week, I mean. Too much pampering makes me feel smothered, dahling, so we decided on a quaint little place for $2.50 instead. India truly has something for everyone...