Phew, the last few days have been hectic.
Jaipur, the pink city, was our first destination. However, based on our first hour there, I would call it the deceptive city. The map in our guide book appeared small, so we thought we would walk from the rail station to our hotel. Big mistake.
Little did we know, our guide book left out some side streets that are actually in the city. So we walked, with 40-50 pound backpacks, harassed by rickshaw drivers looking for big spenders, when we realized we didn't know where we were. And then it rained.
After some frustrated searching and bargaining with a taxi, we found our hotel. Only it was full. Great. Luckily across the street there was a small little hotel, with a mean manager, but a wonderful little man named Ganesh who was extremely helpful with getting us accommodated and comfortable.
Okay, enough boring stuff. That first day we went around the city, looked at some touristy stuff, rode an elephant, and walked around some shops. You know, nothing new. All kidding aside, as touristy as the elephant ride was, it was amazing. They are awesome creatures.
The next day we went to Amber (Amer) Fort, just outside the Pink City (the Pink city is an old section of Jaipur in which all the buildings were made with stone that has a pinkish or reddish tint to it.)
This fort stands on top of a hill, and was enormous. A rich beige/amber color, the fort contained the king, his queen, and concubines along with servants and many workers. The colors, the imported Italian stained glass, and the details and craft work of all the stone was something to be in awe of. It's amazing it was built in the 16th century.
On the way out, we saw a couple of snake charmers who happened to invite me to play with them. At the bottom is a video that does most of the explaining. All I can say is that having a Cobra around my neck was incredible. It's smooths scales and calm demeanor were extremely invigorating until it turned around and looked me straight in the eye. That's when I realized while it's all fun and games, this snake can mean business if it wants to.
We spent the rest of the day around Jaipur, mostly trying to figure out travel arrangements. We were scheduled to leave at 11:30 am the next morning. That is until we got to the train station...
Our train was delayed. No big deal, happens all the time. "When will it be here?" I asked. "It is 10 hours late. It will leave at 9:15pm." Only in India.
So we sat, and we sat, and we read, and we sat some more. Finally after waiting all day, the train arrived and we were on our way to Agra. I am quickly going through these stories to save everyone from reading a novel. There are two amazing things that I would like to mention later on.
So Agra, what else is there besides the Taj? We arrived at 1am, our hotel manager stayed awake and greeted us and took us to our room. We slept, and were ready for the Taj Mahal.
Some people believe in luck, others in karma, others in.. well whatever they want to believe in. Whatever you believe, let me tell you about this good fortune. We arrived in Agra on one of the two days during the year when seeing the Taj Mahal is free of charge. Sure it was crowded and full of lines, but that just added to the atmosphere. We saved Rs. 750.
The Taj was more beautiful beyond belief. We approached the main gate, seeing the top of the Taj off in the distance, people all around us, with loud music and drums playing. I felt like a warring general arriving home to a celebration. Intricate designs were hand crafted in all that marble that makes up the Taj. Mostly white inside and out, this symbol of purity and love was more amazing than the pictures describe.
On the inside, we immiedieatly walked down a flight of steps - into the main masoleam chamber. Two marble caskets there, and lines upon lines of Indians (mostly) walked around them, touching the sarcofogi, saying prayers, blessing themselves and their children. With all those people in an Ancient burial chamber, even the walls were sweating. It had to be 20 degrees hotter in there.
We promptly left after that, and made our way back to the hotel. It was time for Varanasi, one of the most holy cities in India. A city on the River Ganga (Ganges). The holy city of Shiva.
On the train ride there, I awoke at 4:30 to men chanting chai, chai, chai. Not in the mood for chai, but awake, I stepped out of the train for a bit to get some fresh air. As we departed, I was enjoying the air, and decided to sit on the ledge of the door. From there, something caught my eye.
High up in the sky was a bright, bright star. Brighter than anything I have seen before. It had to have been a planet. It was bright enough where it looked as if it had shape. Mesmerized, the train picked up speed. At 4:45 the sky slowly gets brighter. With wisps of clouds covering the horizon, the contrast between dark clouds and brightening sky added to an already beautiful moment.
You know how things just fall into place? Well they did here...
As I was sitting on the ledge, wind blowing through hair and lunghie, we passed a large yellow sign that simply stated "Ganga". The Ganges. The Holy River. Clouds were moving and by this time there was another object in the sky. A crescent moon. Not just any crescent moon though, the bright sliver in the sky shone feircely, but because the sky was light enough, you could see the dark outline of the rest of the moon. The planet. The river. The dawn sky. And the moon. I sat there in awe, thinking that this couldn't be real, it must have been a dream. Even my words now cannot fully describe what it looked like. Only in India.
We arrived in Varanasi and were picked up by our hotel. We jumped in a richshaw and our guide turned to us and said: "Many tourists today. Lots of traffic. Tomorrow, the sun will go black."
* * *
Originally, I was going to end the post at this. Mostly because of what I witnessed this morning. I cannot even begin to put it into words. The chanting, the thousands of people bathing and purifying in the Ganges, and the sun. Slowly but surely, the moon covered the son. A quarter, a half, three quarters. And then, in the blink of an eye... it happened. I stood there, legs like lead, paralyzed as day turned to night. Paralyzed I watched as the sun turned black, trying hard to push it's rays around the moon. For three minutes I did not know time, I did not know the world, I was lost. We all see pictures and see how amazing it is, but when its up in the sky. Part of the environment, with millions of people witnessing it too....
You get the idea, you had to be there.
So for now, we are in Varanasi having a wonderful time. Tomorrow we leave for Mughal Sarai to take a train up north to New Jalpaiguri. Then to Dargeeling and the mountains. I can't wait to stand at their feet. I am not sure if there is internet there so not sure when the next post will be. Also on a foreign computer with limited internet so please excuse any typos and grammatical errors.