My last 2 days in Delhi were not quite as exciting as the first few but still very interesting. For instance, I decided I already had too much crap and needed to get rid of some so I went to post some stuff home. It turns out posting international packages in India isn’t the easiest task in the world. To do it I needed a photocopy of my passport, a reference and my package had to be completely sealed. This meant the box that I have prepared had to be sewn into a muslin cloth by a guy outside the post office. While I was very impressed with his work I couldn’t believe it was necessary.
Despite choosing to send it airmail I estimate it will reach home about when mum heads to Europe in mid June.
I have started my group tour of Rajasthan. The tour group is relatively diverse, there is one other Kiwi girl who is a doctor, she is 26 and we get along quite well. We then have a lovely Australian mum who is here to push her boundaries. Then there are the two Canadians. One is quite round and struggles to walk as she has bad knees – this tends to slow the pace of the group down quite a lot which, in turn, drives me insane. The other Canadian is very nice and very interesting – she has 22 children, 2 of whom she gave birth to and 20 who she adopted. There is one solo German woman who doesn’t speak much English and then a German couple who basically just keep to themselves. Our tour guide Maddy is nice enough but he is unable to accept that we may have differing opinions on things – which does not sit well with me (or the other Kiwi). He consistently asks us what we think and then when we tell him he will often turn around to tell us we are wrong. However as time has passed I have warmed to him significantly and I think he thinks the other Kiwi and I are quite good fun!
The first day of the tour was spent walking around Old Delhi. Most of it I had already been to by myself but as everything is constantly changing in Delhi it was still very interesting . We also went to a Sikh Temple that I had not been to. It was an amazing place that was very intricately decorated in flowers – Angus it would probably give you an erection, it’s just that beautiful. The Sikh religion is a branch of Hinduism, they do not however pray to gods, rather they have Gurus who have passed down lessons that are contained in a book similar to the bible. Inside their temple people sit and pray while three paid musicians sing the words of the book.
As well as seeing the Temple we saw their community kitchen that feeds people of all religions, races and castes. Any person can go there are receive a free meal three times a day – If however the person is deemed unclean they will be allowed to eat but must eat outside the temple. The community kitchen is run by volunteers and can feed between 15,000-20,000 people a day.
I have realised after nearly a week in India that I am not someone who wants to eat curry three times a day (once is enough of a struggle at times) – this will not come as a shock to anyone who knows my eating habits at all and is not a surprise to me either… It does however mean the next month will be an interesting time for my food intake. Also on the note of my food intake I have eaten barely any chocolate since I have been here, I mean literally one kitkat, an ice cream and a couple of chocolate biscuits – shocking I know.
We left Delhi at 6:00am to catch a train to Agra, the train was fine, I slept most of the way but we were given “breakfast” which consisted of mysterious fried hot food, two pieces of bread and a mango juice. This. Was not what I had. In mind when we were told we were getting breakfast. Upon arriving in Agra we went to Agra Fort. A fort that took over 200 years to build – as various emperors built various parts of it you can understand a lot about their politics from seeing it ie how tolerant they were of other religions. My favourite part of the Fort was the part built by Shah Jahan, the same guy who built the Taj Mahal – it was white marble and used a lot of precious stones and other lavish materials.
It turns out Agra is not a place where there is a lot to do, in fact if the Taj wasn’t here I would guess that no one would intentionally come here. We therefore spent a lot of our time in Agra lying around in the hotel using the Internet, reading and sleeping. In the evening (when it was meant to have cooled down but was still 45 degrees) we headed to the Taj. Feeling slightly apprehensive about whether the hype over the Taj would lead to it being a disappointment I tried to lower my expectations. I didn’t need to. The Taj was AMAZING!!
We spent about 1.5 hours walking around the Taj. There were very few westerners there, mainly Indians, this made us even more of a novelty, a notable portion of our time there was spent having photos taken with people and their children – I even was asked by one bride to be in a photo with her (definitely increasing my chances of making it onto someone’s mantel). One of the highlights of the Taj was actually looking at a fountain behind the Taj where monkeys were playing in the water – it was very funny, until they started charging at people and I got scared they would bite me and give me rabies!
After the Taj 8 hot and sweaty westerners and their guide went off for a rooftop dinner in Agra! I had what has perhaps been my favourite meal so far called Balagh Ka Bhurta, it’s an eggplant dish that is kind of like a hot Baba ganoush!
The next day was probably the day I was most scared about on this tour – it was a trip to a village (not the scary part) that we reached by local bus without AC and stayed in a Fort owned by the local royal family again without AC. While it might sound like I am being an absolute Madame complaining about the lack of air conditioning, when you are entering a desert (which Rajasthan is), in summer, where temperatures are regularly going over 45 degrees Celsius the idea of 24 hours without air conditioning is less than thrilling! It took us 5 hours to reach Madhogargh (the place where we would be staying). When we arrived we were told we could buy lunch for 250 rupees as well as water, drinks etc and when we asked what the alternative was and were told nothing I became slightly enraged at the monopoly the tour had over our eating that day (we also hadn’t had breakfast so I was ‘hangry’). I begrudgingly at what was a delicious meal! We then all retreated to our rooms to try and hide from the heat. The fans and cooler did very little to relieve us, so I stood fully dressed in the shower and then lay under the fan as a way to cool myself down.
In the afternoon there was a sandstorm which brought the temperature down a lot – to our relief. This is because when the sand is lifted and turned over by the wind it cools down, as opposed to when it sits on the ground for a long time in the sun. So, after the sandstorm we walked down into the village to see how the locals live. It was amazing to see how much the village produced – such as hand woven cotton and bracelets – that all gets sent to the cities to be sold.
The kids of the village were very excited to see us and spent a lot of time running up to us saying “one photo please, one photo please” then as soon as you take the photo they want to see the image and they all fall about laughing at the sight of themselves. They were very cute kids on the whole who seemed to live very happy lives running around their small village. Their mothers and fathers also sometimes asked to be in photos and equally loved to see their own image afterwards.
On the whole the villagers lead very simple lives and not a life that I would want to leave but they are all very contented with their live and nearly all of the village children can read and write as there is a big focus there on getting the kids to school. It was really cool to get to walk through a village, especially one where foreigners are well received as I was very conscious that by taking photos of the kids we were almost turning them into an exhibition. But Maddy our guide said the kids really do love it, especially when we later send them the photos of them and often those become some of their most prized possessions.
Returning to the Fort we spent the evening dressing up in traditional Rajasthani saris (it turns out each region of India has it’s own type of sari) and had a large buffet style dinner. It was a pleasant temperature and we were able to sit outside without too much sweating. We did become aware of the frequent power cuts that many villages in India experience every 10 minutes or so the power would cut out and the men serving us would run to turn on the generator which in turn would cut when the power came back on – it would not be an ideal situation for an epileptic. Going to bed however was not such a pleasant experience… First of all there was a mouse in our room (which the Fort’s cat came and caught for us) then we had to endure a 37 degree night with just fans and a “cooler” that did absolutely nothing!! Karyn and I therefore soaked our pyjamas in water before going to bed and slept in wet PJs which made a bit of a difference but not enough for it to be what I would call a pleasant sleep!!