Sunday, 28 December 2008

Week 38, Varanasi, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
I can now quiet confidently say that India’s best attraction is also in India’s most boring town. Apart from the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, (a deserted palace outside Agra), 1 or 2 days at most would be enough for Agra. We spent 5 days here including Christmas day. The Taj Mahal is defiantly worth seeing. A lot bigger and more impressive than I thought it would be. We were there on the right day at the right time, the fog had disappeared and it was not very crowded at all so we had some good photo opportunities.

Christmas in India is a bit of a non event, no one pays it much attention until after it has happened, and then they put up some decorations. We phoned around some upmarket hotels to find a place to have Christmas lunch and only one had a Christmas buffet, but due to security reasons would not accept anyone who was not a guest. So we had pizza instead. The fog returned Christmas Night as we waited for our train to Varanasi at 11.30pm. The train was only a half hour late so we were onboard by midnight.

Varanasi, another hectic chaotic town, fortunately we had someone to meet us at the train station and guide us to the hotel. It’s just as well because the finding the way through the winding streets, Bazaar and alleyways down to the Ganges would be impossible. The city is billed as the oldest in the world and India’s holiest city. It is an incredible sight looking up and down the Ganges from our balcony. A ceremony it held every night here celebrating the river. It’s an hour long ceremony, with lots of incense, smoke and fire along with bell ringing chanting, gongs, water sprinkling and flower tossing. A frantic experience. We went for a walk along the Ghats today (the stairways leading down to the river), being Sunday it is the day off for most Indian’s, so they were out in force bathing in the Ganges and washing their cloths and praying. We also went past the Burning Ghats where cremations are performed on the steps of the river. A trip along the river is a good way to get back and get a view from the other side.

In other news, we booked some ticket back to Australia. We have some business to attend to with our properties, so it gives us an opportunity to refresh ourselves back home and plan for the next step, be that a trip back to Europe, New Zealand or around Australia, we don’t know, but destiny takes care of these things for us. We will still be doing our month volunteer teaching in Puna, then a train back to Bangalore. We will be back in Australia first week in February. Mumbai next stop.

All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Week 37, Agra, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

When we left Australia, we made it a rule not to travel anywhere with a ‘Stan’ in it. But this week we found ourselves in Rajasthan, India. Technically it’s not a ‘Stan’ because it has an H in it, but it is very ‘Stan’ like. There are more funny hats here of so many different designs, than anywhere else in the world per capita. However our only real destination here was Jaipur.

Jaipur turned out to be a real surprise. Apart from the chaotic city itself (only 2 million), it has more forts and palaces than anywhere else we have been. The forts are really impressive, built on top of the hills surrounding the city, with huge towering fortifications, they are truly impressive structures. Around the forts lie walls comparable to china that stretch off down the mountain side then back up the opposite side. Within the city walls are more palaces and an astronomical observatory.

In the suburbs surrounding Jaipur are more palaces again. We went to a one of these palaces, renovated by the Taj hotel group (5 star) and had to sit down at the restaurant and have a cup of tea, which cost us $18 but worth every cent just to be able to wander around the palace and beautiful gardens and use the luxurious loos. Also worth a visit is the monkey temple at Galta, actually two temples, a dozen shrines, some sacred pools nestled in a gorge and covered in monkeys. This is the same temple in the National Geographic TV show, Monkey Thieves.

We are now in Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal. We only arrived yesterday so haven’t been yet. It is much colder here than even Delhi and has a permanent pea soup fog. We will still be here on Christmas day, so till next week...MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Week 36, Delhi, India

Dear Ethel Family and Friends,
Delhi...Wow, what a contrast it was been to our last few weeks in Goa. We caught the train on Tuesday from Goa to Delhi, it was a 30 hour trip as it turned out only 2 hours late surprisingly. We traveled in a first class cabin as it was the only ticket available to us when we booked. It worked out well as we had the cabin to ourselves and could lock the door at night and get a good night’s sleep. The first 6 hours are a novelty, the second 6 are spent reading, sleep for 6 or 8 then by then you start getting bored. Louise was crook the night before the train trip and was quiet most of the trip. The curry I ate on the train got me later the day after.

We left Goa at 11.30 am and arrived at Delhi 6.30 pm the following day. We had hoped to get into Delhi before the sun went down, but sadly not the case. We followed our usual routine of finding a prepaid taxi booth, and after literally fighting our way through the hordes of taxi and tuktuk drivers, hotel touts and would be opportunists, we purchased a ticket that ended up being in a tuktuk. The madness on the streets of Bangalore is magnified by 10 on the streets of Delhi. Its hard to get your bearings, even with a map as the one way streets, roundabouts and circular street systems are so confusing. We eventually found our way to our hotel in the main bazaar with a few phone calls and checks with other drivers along the way.

The following day we decided to get into some serious sightseeing as there is a lot to see here and the place is vast and sprawling. We planned on the Red Fort first and set out walking through the main Bazaar, over the New Delhi Railway station and caught a tuk tuk on the other side to the fort, only a distance of maybe 1 kilometre. However this took us at least an hour and after haggling with the driver we made it. The Fort is a splendid example of Islamic Architecture and took us 3 or 4 hours to complete. The army protects all the sights around the city now and are set up with high profile security. But this doesn’t protect you from the hawkers and touts when you come out. We thought the taxi and tuktuk drivers were bad, but the cycle rickshaw drivers are far worse. They pull their bike up on the footpath and block your path and another will block you if you try to turn around. They also heavy the tuktuk drivers into not taking you, making it very difficult. We made it back eventually but it took a whole day to do the one sight.

We then decided to do a tourist bus journey of the city which we did yesterday, we saw all the sights we wanted too, although it was a little rushed. We also did the Museum here which included a Faberge collection much to Louise’s delight. It’s been a good brief visit to Delhi, glad we came but glad we are moving on tomorrow to Jaipur.

All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Week 35, Goa, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends

Well it’s been a quiet week on the beach in Goa, literally as the hordes of tourists seem to have cancelled their holidays to Goa in light of the Mumbai attacks. Many of the restaurants and beach accommodations are empty.

One highlight of our extra week stay here was watching a short but very fruitful fishing trip off the beach. Huge schools of fish swarmed in toward the shore at about sunset, as we are having an afternoon walk. Energetic fisherman (you don’t normally see this) push their boat into the surf and go out about 500 metres and drop their net. They trawl along for a bit and then come back in. The net is about 1 km long and they have 2 teams of 12 men hauling the net back up onto the beach. It probably took an hour to pull the net in. The fish were frantic and making the sea boil with their movement. Kids both Indian and visitors were having a whale of a time, some of the hippies were trying to catch some of the fish by hand and set them free and it was a real festival atmosphere among the usual band of jugglers, acrobats, yogi’s and guitar playing hippies that you find on the beach at that time of day anyway. By the way I bought a flute, but don’t call me a hippie. When they eventually got the haul ashore, there were mountains of fish. It was a great afternoons entertainment.

In light of having to stay an extra week in Goa, we have now managed to reschedule our north India trip. We are leaving on Tuesday 9th on a train to Delhi, we could only get the 1st class sleeper which cost us $20 more I think. We are usually happy with the 2nd class but you need 2 weeks’ notice to book the trains online successfully, so we paid for the upgrade. 15th we travel to Jaipur, the 20th we travel to Agra and 25th we travel to Varanasi (merry Christmas to us) and then the 30th we travel back to Mumbai for a few days and then on to Poona on the 3rd January.

We will be staying in Poona for a month or maybe more to do some volunteer teaching. We have been put in touch with an Australian couple who run a school there. We look forward to cementing our TESOL qualifications now that we have a chance to do so. They tell us there is also a chance to travel around the region near Poona to do some teaching in remote areas as well, so we look forward to the challenge.

So we will be at the Taj Mahal on Christmas day and Mumbai on New Year’s eve (I think that one will be a quiet one for us!). So we would love to hear what you’re up to over Christmas and New Year.
All the best Ric & Louise