Category Archives: India Blog Oct 2010

India Tour day 9 – Lost Laundry

After the village visit we had one more safari to complete our busy day. Tomorrow we have to catch an early train to Bharatpur and then we will travel by coach to Agra. It won’t be possible to take our suitcases on the train so we have to pack and the cases will go with the coach which will leave the hotel before dinner this evening. I had instructed the group to have their luggage ready by 7.30 pm and at 7.45 my laundry still wasn’t back. I called reception several times and now I have found out that they have lost my laundry

The coach departed at 8pm with the cases and still no sign of my washing. It finally just turned up at 9pm so I will have to take it on the train tomorrow.

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India Tour day 10 – Lonely Birthday

We were up at 5.30 today for a 6.30 departure for our early train. I almost forgot that today is my birthday – I am always on tour for my birthday. I am just having a coffee and some toast at 6 am when the waiter appears with a huge birthday cake, candles and all. The group sing Happy Birthday and the hotel staff box the cake up for me. I don’t want to be ungrateful but now I have my backpack with my overnight stuff, my bag with my valuables and paperwork, my bag full of laundry and a huge cake to take onto the train. 

I am not very keen about taking groups onto public transport, in case they do something like get off at the wrong station or not get on the train at all. The train today was on time and we were in first class. I relaxed a little and decided that there was no way that I was carrying that cake off the train. I cut the cake up and handed it out to my clients and also to the local people on the train. Even the ticket collector had some birthday cake.

Indian Train

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet are the hawkers here in India. Any western group literally gets mobbed, wherever they go in India, by these street sellers who are just trying to make a living. I tell my groups not to talk to the hawkers and not to even say “No”, as “no” means “maybe” in India – the hawkers consider the lines of communication open, even if someone says ”no” to them. I still try to help the hawkers by selling their stuff on the bus – this way the clients won’t get ripped off and they make some money. The outcome is that, I am the one that gets hassled by the sellers. They call me “Chachi” a kind of term of endearmnt for female tour guides. Everywhere I go I hear the words “Help me, Chachi, Help me sell, Chachi”.

Hawkers in India

Many people think that the largest employer in India is the Indian railway, well actually the biggets employer is the street. There are 10 million street sellers/hawkers in India and 60 million people rely on this street business. I always try to be sympathetic to these hawkers, who can be very persistant and annoying, but they have a tough life and at least they are trying to make a living, instead of begging.

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India Tour Day 11 – Taj Mahal

Up at the crack of dawn once again, this time to see the most beautiful and romantic building in the world at sunrise.  The Taj Mahal is the first of the 7 wonders of the World and Shah Jahan built the it in memory of his wife, Mumtaz, who died giving birth to their 14th child. 

 The light was perfect this morning and my group were enchanted with this magical structure, built out of love.

Taj Mahal

Completely made out of marbel, words cannot describe the Taj Mahal, nor can photos capture it. I have seen it many times but nothing prepares me for the emotion I feel when I walk through the gate and see this  romantic building, looking like it is floating. I could really look at it all day.

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India Tour Day 12 – Long Journey

For the 5th day in a row, we are up at the crack of dawn, this time for an early train and then a long coach journey to Khajaraho, Unesco World heritage site of erotic temples with carvings of the Kama Sutra. Getting up so early every day is tough on the clients and I can see they are getting tired now, but we have to catch that train. During the tour, I have tried to make things as easy as possible for the group.  At airports and railway stations, I organise porters, so they never have to handle their luggage. I also do a group check in so they they don’t need to stand in a queue. I really try to make life as easy as possible for my clients. 

Railway Porters

 

Railway stations in India are home to many poor people and street kids and it breaks my heart to see people living like this. We arrived at the Agra station and I asked the group to wait while the porters collected the luggage. Beggars surround the coach – mostly kids and totally harmless. I want to help all of them but I know I can’t. The beggar that strikes my eye the most is a man with feet that have ballooned up to at least 10 times their normal size and look like elephants feet. He is always here and I always give him 100 rupees. Poor guy. 

The train was late – another inheritance from the British, late trains! Waiting on the platform of Agra railway station was quite depressing, with all the beggars. When the train finally arrived we had 3 minutes to get on the train and even more of a challenge, the porters had 3 minutes to load our luggage onto the train. 

We got off the train at Jhansi and headed to Khajaraho via a small town Orcha, full of history, culture and life. Orcha is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site because of the many temples, but we just have lunch at the Orcha Resort and have a look at the town. The local life is amazing here. The river life and the main square are bustling. I love it. 

River Life

 

The temples attract many Sadhus to Orcha. So what is a Sadhu. A Sadhu leads a spiritual life and has decided to give up his worldly possessions to follow religion, meditate and do yoga. A sadhu could have one time been very rich and successful but has made that decision to follow a different path. These holy men beg for money and charge tourists 50 rupees to take pictures of them, but being poor is often their choice, unlike India’s beggars, hawkers, farm helpers, servants, factory workers…..the list is endless. The most unusual Sadhu I ever saw was in Udaipur – he had on the yellow robes but he was lying down and rolling, rolling, rolling. In fact he was rolling to eternity. He spent his whole life rolling! I don’t know if he ever stops rolling to sleep. He must do and to eat and drink. I am not sure if he was rolling from town to town or whether he just rolled in Udaipur. I didn’t get a photo but I will certainly look for him on my next trip to India. 

Sadhu

 

We didn’t spend too long in Orcha as we still had a 5 hour bumpy journey to Khajaraho.

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India Tour day 13 – Erotic Temples

Khajaraho is another Unesco World Heritage site and we only have one night here. We checked in yesterday evening and we have a 1.30pm flight out of here so just one morning to do what we have to do. Actually there’s not so much to do here anyway – just some temples of the Chandela Dynesty, which are quite interesting but I don’t know whether they are worth that long journey by train and road. 

Temples of Khajaraho

Our guide today was good and the clients snickered at the many carvings of the Kama Sutra on the temples – some of them are quite graphic. 

Temple Carvings

Some clients can be difficult and some think they know more than me and some think they know more than the local guides. I have one of those clients on this tour – he is of Indian origin but hasn’t spent any time in India since the 1950s. He has interupted me during my commenry and the guides during the tour, but has been quite harmless and sometimes quite funny up until today. Anyway, he asked the guide when Mahatma Ghandi visited Khajaraho and the guide replied that Ghandi had never been to Khajaraho. My client ended up having quite a heated discussion with poor Nariya, the guide., stating that he had read in National Geographic that Ghandi was in Khajaraho. He told Nariya, quite rudely, that he should do more research and then maybe his guiding would be better, before marching off. Talk about throwing your teddy out! The rest of the group were embarrassed and I did take Nariya to one side to apologize to him. He didn’t seem too offended.

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India Tour Still Day 14

The clients enjoyed the experience on the ganges and we walked back to the coach seeing the town wake up and come alive. 

 

Varanasi Street Life

There is a lepper colony here in Varanasi and leppers wait at the side of the streets holding out tins for us to put money in. I am always prepared for this and the leppers recognise me and say “welcome back Chachi”. I put 50 rupees in each tin, discreetly, so I don’t attract the attention of other beggars and I am also very very careful not to touch the leppers. Again, I am deeply saddened that in the modern world that is the 21st century, leppers are on India’s streets. The leppers say “Thank you Chachi” and try to bless me but again I really don’t want any contact with them so move fast. 

We passed a soup and food kitchen, where poor people line up toget a free breakfast. 

Lining Up For Free Food

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India Tour Day 14 – Holy Mother Ganges

Now the clients must really think I am a slave driver after all the early starts over the last week, I have made them get up at 4.15 am to go for a boat trip on the Holy River Ganges at dawn. I joked with them that they are not on holiday but on tour. There is no place on earth like the Ganges at dawn. I am not a religious person but the whole experience sends goose bumps down my body.

Ganges


Ganges at Dawn

In India, we have 4 Mothers – our own mother, Mother India, Mother Cow and Mother Ganges. Yes, the cow in India is sacred and knows it, so wanders serenley through crazy traffic and busy streets with a knowing look on her face. Knowing she won’t be harmed and always has right of way. Mother Ganges is India’s holiest place.

Varanasi is India’s holiest city and the River Ganges the heart of the Hindu religion. The Hindus believe in reincarnation. We start off as a mosquito and work our way up to return as a human being. If you look at the population of India – 1.1 billion – and then at how many of those 1.1 billion live in poverty – around 250 million – then it is astonishing that the crime rate isn’t higher. In fact the crime rate is fairly low in comparison to the population and poverty (apart from corruption and bribery, but that doesn’t count). The reason is that most Indians have faith in the Hindu religion, which boasts 330 million Gods and Goddesses and promises a better life the next time around if we behave ourselves this time around and enjoy a good kama. However, many Indian Hindus consider life on Earth as suffering and have no wish to be reincarnated and return to this suffering. They want to achieve a state called Moksha or Nirvana, which means there soul has been set free and they are free of earthly suffering. To achieve this they have to die in Varanasi, be cremated on the banks of the Ganges and have their ashes thrown into this holiest of rivers. Varanasi is full of hospices, because when a hindu who wishes to achieve moksha gets seriously or terminally ill, they will come to varanasi and stay at a hospice, to wait to die. Many bathers, mourners and pilgrims have their heads shaved and recieve a blessing from the Brahmin Priests who can be as young as five.

Holy Men in India


Blessing from a five year old Priest

On top of this many Hindus make the pilgramage here to the ganges to bathe and wash their sins away. Many Sadhus (holy men live here).

It is good we are doing this part of the programme at the end of the tour as it would be too much to handle for our clients at the beginning, but now they have seen so much that they will be ok (I hope).

We had quite a walk through the streets of Varanasi before reaching the river and the Ghats. A Ghat is a set of steps leading down to the Ganges or any other river. We get our boat at the busiest Ghat. Pictures and words can not explain what is happening here, with all the sounds and smells, nor can I describe the emotions I feel everytime I visit this place. People are praying, chanting, performing rituals, bathing, washing, doing laundry, brushing their teeth, shaving, doing yoga, meditating, singing, fishing – all on the ghats or in the river.

Holy man doing his laundry

Laundry Man - known as a Dhobi Wallah

The boat trip is incredible and I bought marigold flowers with a candle in the middle for my clients which are to be floated down the Ganges along with a wish. I also floated a candle and made a wish.

We saw the 2 cremation spots on the river and some cremations. I aslo spotted a dead body in the river but decided not to point it out to my clients, as I didn’t want to spoil their day. If a family can not afford a cremation then occasionally they just throw the dead body intop the river. This guy looked quite young.

Only one side of the Ganges is holy – nothing is happening on the other side where the sun is rising.

Sunrise over the Ganges

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India Tour Day 15 – Back to Delhi

The tour is over and the group have had a fantastic experience here in India and at the end of the day that is why I do this crazy job - to give the clients a memorable experience in a foreign land.  Some of the group will fly to Kathmandou today and the rest of us will head back to Delhi for one night. So last night we had a farewell dinner. I plucked up courage and wore my sari for the group and they really liked it.

I am ready for home and as I prepared to leave India, I thought about the past  weeks and what we have seen. I love this country but I hate the poverty and the corruption. The clients often ask me what they can do to help and while I am sure the big charities do a lot of good, it is better to see where your money is going if you make a donation.

I work with a NGO (Non Government Organisation) in Jaipur but unfortunately on this tour I haevn’t had time to visit. The name of the organisation is I-India-online and it is run by a very nice couple and their son. They helpover 3000 street kids in Jaipur, but they started off taking food around the slums in a rickshaw. Now they have 5 shelters for kids, 3 schools, a shower on wheels and other projects on the go. They pick kids up from slums and the railway station and take them to their schools, where they learn, get a meal and learn how to make bags and jewellery, which are sold. Each child is then set up with a bank account, so when they leave school, they have some education, some skills and some money in the bank.

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