Departing Pushkar, we were starting our final leg across North India – heading to Jaipur, Abhaneri, Agra and Varanasi.
Jaipur is the largest city in Rajasthan, and perhaps one of our favourites from our previous time in India. At the centre is the “Pink City” which dates back centuries but was only painted pink for the visit of the British Royal Family over a century ago.
As well as the hundreds of street vendors determinedly selling every type of food you can imagine, there are also hundreds of cows, goats and monkeys which are equally vigorous in trying to steal whatever is being sold. Add the many snake charmers trying to get a tourist rupee with real cobras, if you’re like me and a bit nervous around most animals with a potential to bite / harm / give rabies, it is a bit intimidating but absolutely worth a visit.
To be fair, we’ve both been a little disappointed with some of our food in India in terms of spiciness – frankly, when we ask for spicy, we’ve been getting Tesco Chicken Korma level spice. It seems the Indians where we’ve been just don’t think we can handle the spice. In Jaipur, we were told that there is a code that we need to start using – “medium” isn’t worth bothering with, “spicy” is tourists who never eat anything with a bit of spice but think that they’ll do something a bit brave in India and keeps them amused but safe, “double spicy” is getting a bit better, but “Indian spicy” is where the action is (and insist on it no matter what the waiter may say). Since then we’ve always been asking for Indian spicy, and although they always ask “are you sure sir?” we’ve enjoyed our food a lot more!
From Jaipur, we went to Abhaneri, a very small village famous for its 1000 year old step well (although there isn’t much else there).
At our hotel here, we found a couple of large grasshoppers in our room. Then when we were eating dinner, quite a few started to appear around our table. By the time we were walking back to our room, we seemed to be in the middle of some horror film as there were thousands flying around the place and into our faces. We literally had to kick them away to get to our room and stop them getting in. Again, we seem to be having a few run ins with the wildlife during this trip! No pictures of this as running through a swarm of locusts wasn’t exactly the moment to stop for a photo.
Our one mission in Agra was to re-take a photo we had taken when we last visited India back in 2015. At this time, we were at our biggest and since then we have lost a bit of weight and really wanted to redo a picture of us at the Taj Mahal. Whilst the heat still made us both look like a sweaty mess, it’s still a lot better (and a blue sky as well)!
The Taj Mahal is truly amazing to visit. Of course, it is insanely busy but even then you can find your own little place to admire the building. Probably the highlight of our trip so far.
Getting off our overnight train to Varanasi, we entered the most chaotic place we had visited so far. Varanasi is the most holy place for Hindus and they worship the Ganges as a literal god. Due to this, it attracts thousands upon thousands of pilgrims and tourists alike. In our relatively short ride to our hotel, we saw a crash and a woman hit by a tuk tuk (she was ok).
As we are travelling in the monsoon season, we didn’t get to see the full extent of the riverside ghats as the water level is several metres above the bathing sites. Whilst we decided not to see the cremation sites, there were moments of sitting with a drink in a small cafe as the cloth-draped bodies were carried ceremoniously through the narrow lanes to the river. Surreal in some ways, but very moving to witness.
Every single morning and evening at sunrise and sunset, ghats along the river hold candle and light ceremonies called Aarti. During these, Hindu priests perform a ritual in respect to the Ganges. Given the large crowds that these ceremonies attract, it seems that the most aesthetically privileged of the Hindu priest fold are encouraged to perform as none of them had a hair out of place. The early wake up was well worth it as these were reminiscent of the India we had in our imaginations and were hoping to see.
So as we sit in our hotel where we started in Delhi, this is the end of the first half of our time in India, and tomorrow we look forward to flying to the very south of India where we intend to travel through Kerala and work our way up to Goa and, finally, Mumbai.
To see more of Jaipur to Varanasi, take a look at the video below: