slowly down the ganges

 

 

So… India. King of the quotable quotes goes to Dodd with this pearl: “islands of awesomeness in a sea of shit.” A perfect summary. We have on and off moments, which we oscillate between innumerable times each day. The sights are amazing; the food is delicious; we’ve had some wonderful kindness from people – it’s just the bits in between that can truly suck. At times, we have mused that if we could afford to do it all in swank hotels, getting ferried about in a private vehicle with a personal tour guide, it would be superlative. But then again, even East Bumcrack would be superlative if we could do it that way.

Twelve hours after we said goodbye to Nina, we were back at the airport awaiting Hol’s arrival and before we knew it, we had our own living, breathing tourist attraction – even cosmopolitan Mumbaikers are powerless in the face of white blonde hair and blue eyes.

 

After sampling all the naan, chai and laundry districts that Bombay had to offer, we plotted out a fairly gruelling route through some of northern India’s big hitters before racing to Delhi in time for Hol’s departure. I’m not sure whose bright idea it was to travel on New Year’s Day. Perhaps our collective judgment was clouded by the allure of a cheap flight to Udaipur, but after ringing in the New Year first in style, with high tea at the Taj, and then not-so-stylishly at Mondy’s, boarding a plane or even blinking, for that matter, was extremely painful. For some more than others (I’m looking at Dodd).

 

 

 

And thus began our tour that could be entitled “Incredible Things That You Won’t Be Able to Stop Staring At”: Pichola Lake in Udaipur; the Taj Mahal in Agra; and the Ganges in Varanasi – all islands of awesomeness, as referred to above.

 

 

We spent a lot of time in Udaipur perving on the lifestyles of the rich and famous. The City Palace and Pichola Lake are home to several luxury hotels, most of which are operated by the former Maharana and family, and for the princely sum of Rs 25 (62 cents), you can buy admission to the palace grounds and mooch about, thus escaping the complete mayhem of the outside world. Although stripped of any official capacity in 1947, we happened upon the Maharana receiving a visit, amid much pomp and ceremony, from the also defunct King of Nepal and speculated that their dinner conversation would most likely focus on how much better things were in the good old days.

 

Mooching about works up quite an appetite and we also spent a day learning the finer points of Indian cookery with the spirited Shashi, who delighted in teaching us some choice Hindi, telling Linds to put his back into pounding the spices and shocking us with her true tales of the crimes against hygiene that occur in the kitchens of many Indian restaurants.
 
After nearly freezing to death on the overnight train to Agra, we caught our first view of the resplendent Taj Mahal from the rooftop of our hotel. The next morning, we fronted up to find that it had become quite shy overnight, shrouding itself completely in fog. Three hours later, it finally revealed itself again and despite all the hype, it is truly beautiful – glowingly opalescent and strangely serene, even amongst the throngs of tourists. Agra Fort will be the eternal bridesmaid, but it still qualifies as an island of awesomeness and we even managed to catch some scantily-clad Bollywood filming going on there.

 

 

 

 

Better prepared this time, with bulk fleece blankets, we boarded the overnight train to Varanasi which turned out to be horrifically reminiscent of our maiden bus journey in Vietnam. Delayed by aforementioned fog, the scheduled 13 hour journey turned into 23 hours and upon our arrival, I’ve never been quite so glad to see a jostling pack of rapacious autorickshaw drivers. After failing to hear the endpoint of the conversation between the rickshaw pimp and Linds, I hastily paid our driver and raced off to collapse in our room, not realising until later that I had shortchanged him – surely, history was made as I unknowingly became the first tourist to ever rip off the infamous Varanasi autorickshaw mafia.

 

 

We whiled away our days in Varanasi strolling and cruising the banks of the Ganges, where the Hindu rituals of life and death play out in all their splendour and grittiness. We had read that if a single place goes close to encompassing all of India, it’s Varanasi – from hard-fought cricket scratch matches to Shivaite ascetics coated in funeral pyre ash, it’s all here. In his travel classic, Slowly Down the Ganges, Eric Newby curiously makes little mention of the holy city: “Ghats, ghats. So many ghats. Too many ghats”.  While the activity of the ghats oscillates between serenity and mayhem – from Brahmins quitely bathing to swarms of buffalo being herded down the concrete steps – to our collective surprise, Varanasi was far more relaxing than we had expected. Of course, there are touts and panhandlers aplenty but perhaps after hearing rumours of my remarkable reverse rip off effort, they decided to leave us alone.

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses to “slowly down the ganges”

  1. bubba Says:

    Eric Newby?
    Brilliant set of books!
    I just got the trilogy from a school book sale.
    A box set, untouched by any of the kiddies.
    And that 25kilos is all gut.
    Frankly, you needed this trip fatboy.

  2. Basell Says:

    Is Dodd air-drumming in that photo?! Respect.

  3. beyondbagot Says:

    Benny and the Jets – smoke on the water was on the go at that point… doin’ it Ian Paice style

    Imre – the gut needed to go, but for different reasons than you assume. Only by loosing some weight will I ever be able to double it.

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