Holly Cow! The Incredible India

The Border Crossing from Nepal

India is a country of huge contrasts. In 2010 I visited just a small part of the country, the North-East India including Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The first impressions can be shocking when you pass the border from Nepal to India.  The crossing was done by walking and what a difference few meters can make!

Piles and piles of garbage, cows moving freely on a road where everybody has the right of way! Beggars asking for money, many children, or children carrying babies is a common view.

Nepal - India border crossing

Nepal – India border crossing

We used jeeps to go to the rail station for a sleeper train to Varanasi.  With 100 km/hour was quite a ride on a two ways road. People, bicycles, tuk-tuks, motorbikes and other surprises: cows walking serenely, goats and dogs sleeping in the middle of the road, even elephants!

Cow on the road

Cow on the road

And no rules, except the honking: “I am coming, get out of my way! My honk is louder, means I am bigger.” And the monkeys were watching amazed the traffic on the both sides of the road!

Varanasi

“I found Varanasi absolutely staggering. I have never seen anything like it before. The city just spills into the river Ganges… It’s really, really extraordinary!” – Brad Pitt

Arriving in Varanasi after a long train trip.

India sleeper train

India sleeper train

Varanasi is the holly Indian city where millions of Hindu travels for pilgrimage, to worship, to mourn or to die.

Varanasi street

Varanasi street

People of Varanasi

People of Varanasi

The streets are very busy with everything you can think about. The vendors are carrying their products on the top of their heads. The barber shops consist of a chair and a mirror right on the side of the street. A dead corpse is carried by chanting men on the streets. The policemen look like revolutionaries with their one-by-one shot 50′s rifles. The car axle is repaired by being heated with cow dung.

Car axle heated with cow dung

Car axle heated with cow dung

The mechanic

The mechanic

The fireworks explode everywhere on the street. Diwali time! Even under my feet. I got a bit burned and I was deaf for a while. But all this is part of the adventure!

“Enlightenment, and the death which comes before it, is the primary business of Varanasi.” – Tahir Shah, Sorcerer’s Apprentice

What makes Varanasi famous is the Ganges River or Ganga.

Ganga River

Ganga River

We went very early in the morning for the bathing and burning rituals. Quite a sight: life and death meet in the same place.  People bath in the holly water of Ganges, drink or wash clothes.

People bathing in Ganga River

People bathing in Ganga River

On the shore you can see the fires from cremations. In the end, the ashes are thrown into the river. If body parts are not completely burnt, the priest will throw them into the river. I was in a boat when one human foot was thrown into the water, after the priest bowing a couple of times. The cremation places are quite impressive and the man who owns them is a rich one. Lots and lots of wood piled waiting for customers. The cremations taking place in different stages, the  mourners (only men) and the tourists in between make a surreal experience.

Varanasi cremation place

Varanasi cremation place

Night ceremony, Varanasi

Night ceremony, Varanasi

The traditions are well maintained in Varanasi – the oldest continually inhabited city in the world.

Talking to a real sadhu was an experience. Until another one (maybe not so real) with big green eyes came and tried to hypnotize me. “Repeat after me: om- janga – banga- tanka – tuba – ganga… – two hundred dollars.” It didn’t work!

Sadhu

Sadhu

Orcha, Agra, Jaipur and Delhi

Welcome to Orcha!

Welcome to Orcha!

Orchha was supposed to be a quiet place.  But I found a very big Hare Krishna celebration. Hundreds and hundreds of women came in tractor trailers to bathe in the holly river in Orcha and perform “puja” (offering to a deity). Very colorful and many photos! This is the place where I was pushed in the bum by a baby cow while I was taking photos. Very funny for the locals!

Villagers joining the Hare Krishna festival in Orcha

Villagers joining the Hare Krishna festival in Orcha

Women performing "puja" - Orcha

Women performing “puja” – Orcha

In Agra are Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. The Taj Mahal was constructed by 22,000 workers between 1631 and 1654. It is a mausoleum for the favorite wife of Emperor Shah Jahan.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

In Jaipur (the Pink City) is the Amber Fort and the “Palace of Winds“. Very interesting is the observatory (built in 1700): outdoor constructions that measure the time (based on the sun shadow) with an accuracy of 2 seconds, or the different positions of the sun.

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Palace of Winds

Palace of Winds

New Delhi, the capital of India is quite different: clean and modern in some parts, dirty and poor in other areas. Before entering the New Delhi Railway Station, the train is going between garbage and tent people for kilometers. The subway is quite modern and the train was built by Bombardier, a Canadian company. Each time you go to the subway (metro) station you have to go through the security screening, similar with the procedure in airports.

The Chandni Chowk walk in the Old Delhi is a must. The bazaars sell everything you can think about! Other sites: India Gate, Humayun’s Tomb, Jama Masjid Mosque, Lodi Gardens.

Schoolboys in the Lodi Gardens

Smiley schoolboys, Lodi Gardens

Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb

Jama Masjid Mosque

Jama Masjid Mosque

Real story happened in my hotel room, in Delhi. The power went off and when I went out of the room to inquire about, there was a man – the “hotel’s accountant” who was trying to fix the light. I asked him what I can do in Delhi at night. He answered: “We can have entertainment in your room!”. And he started “I love foreigners!” Politely, I refused. It wasn’t what I had in mind about a night of entertainment in Delhi!

Things I tried

  • Eating goat brains
  • Rajasthan food (very good, spicy)
  • Trying to sleep in an overnight, 16 hours train ride from Varanasi to Orcha
  • “Driving” my rickshaw to the horror of its owner (“You don’t know the rules! What rules?!”)
  • Cocktail at the Rick’s (bar inspired and named after Rick Blaine, the star of the movie ‘Casablanca’  – Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi)

11 Comments on “Holly Cow! The Incredible India

  1. India is the country of great diversity, and was north india minus himachal and uttarakhand, these are other two amazing states in north India.

  2. Your photos are surreal.The colors of India sure is breathtaking-the culture, the people, the sights all gorgeous!

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