Delhi, the city filled with smog and 21 million people. Agra, the city known of one of the 7 world wonders the ‘Taj Mahal’. Varanasi, the holy city with its dead burning ceremonies next to the river Ganges.
We explored 3 new cities this week, had our first Indian night train experience, got another tattoo (!) and took a ton of photos. There’s a lot to tell, so hop on and let’s start off with Delhi!
We arrived in the middle of the night, 0 hours of sleep and 30 men surrounding us, ready to make way too much money out of 2 Dutch girls. The metro ride went well, the rickshaw ride went less well. Some guy brought us to a sketchy ‘tourism bureau’ where we had to buy entrance tickets for the festival that was located in the street of our hostel. Yeah, right… We felt uncomfortable and the last thing we wanted was being scammed in the middle of the night. We called the hostel, they told us to get the hell out of there, the entire tourism bureau was one big scam, as we guessed. We ran off with another rickshaw guy, while the first rickshaw dude was screaming for his money. Luckily, we got to the right place this time.
The hostel was small and nothing like the cute pictures on the internet. The receptionist told me to have a seat on the floor which was filled with pillows and blankets. I threw my bag against a pillow and sat on it, only then I realized it wasn’t a pillow but another receptionist dude, sleeping under layers of blankets. Oops, yo sorry. Both of us were exhausted, we got in a mixed dorm room with 6 bunk beds, we were pretty sure we booked a female dorm only but were too tired to say anything about it. We crashed and woke up hours later, in the afternoon.
When we woke up, Delhi still felt the same. Lots of people and lots of smog. The only reason we were excited aka walking with butterflies in our stomachs and singing melodies during our metro ride was because we were both getting a new tattoo! Don’t worry, this one wasn’t all spontaneous like the last one. We planned this one ahead. I went to get the Ashoka Chakra. I wanted something that would remind me of my 4 months in India and preferably something that would remind me of doing volunteerwork. The Ashoka Chakra symbol was the perfect fit. It’s the national symbol of India, it’s filled with 24 tokens, all 24 of them have a meaning like love, selflessness and empathy. They’re all about loving others and taking care of others which fits perfectly with the volunteering theme. Lastly, I think the symbol is absolutely beautiful. It took over 2.5 painful hours but I’m beyond happy it’s forever there, on my body.
The next morning, we each had one full pineapple for breakfast, aaaah so fresh, this is something I’m going to miss once I’m back in the Netherlands. We took a bus to the train station, besides it being delayed for 20 minutes, the bus ride went all well. The train station was a different experience tho. We walked up to platform 7 and saw about 500 people, all with their luggage on top of their heads screaming and pushing. There was no way we’d get on the platform on time, so instead, us and 30 locals ran to another platform, jumped and ran over all the other railway lines (sorry mom hehe), we got in the back of the train and jumped out, at least we were on the right platform now. We still had 10 minutes to find the right wagon, we had wagon A2, however we were surrounded by S wagons. Lots of stress and running around. We asked locals, who were all just as stressed ‘Girls, I don’t know, you have to find a ***. He mentioned a hard Hindi name, we had no idea whether this was a person or something totally different. All we knew was that we had 10 minutes to figure it out.. More stressful minutes later, we finally found a man with a headband on who seemed to be the Ganji, or something that sounded like that. He told us to run all the way to the left side of the station, the train was kilometers long and our wagon was all the way in the front. We ran and ran, people were screaming in Hindi, once in a while I’d get knocked by someone’s huge suitcase, all I could hope was that our train wouldn’t leave, not until we would find our wagon. Bear in mind, this entire stressful event was all happening at 8 in the morning, which didn’t make things easier. We finally got in our wagon, fell on our bunk beds and realized we only had to do this catch-the-Indian-train-experience 4 more times.
We arrived in Agra hours later and checked in a hotel that felt way too fancy for us. We paid double the amount of what we’d normally pay (13 euros per person), but we had a beautiful room, a comfortable bed and room service with the best food. Aaaah. We rested for a couple of hours, had Italian pasta’s in bed and enjoyed the luxury life for now. That evening, we went to see the Taj Mahal from across the river, I went in my blue sari and we hoped to see the Taj with sunset. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy, the backside of the Taj was covered by construction poles, people were cleaning the building. The view wasn’t the best so we decided we’d give it another shot in the morning.
We woke up at 5 am, the next morning. It felt like it was freezing cold outside, only 14 degrees Celcius. These are temperatures we were not prepared for, especially because it’s never below 25 in the South. Our bare feet were freezing and my American sweater was not thick enough to bear the cold. However, all of that didn’t matter anymore once we saw the Taj. Cheesy, but true. I couldn’t be bothered by the cold anymore once I was there. The building looked absolutely stunning, the most stunning I’ve ever seen. The white marble, the perfectly symmetric shape, it’s beautiful big dome and the crystal clear reflective pool. It’s title of one of the seven world wonders is well deserved, no matter from which angle we were standing, the building was captivating, insanely beautiful. We took photos, we even managed to get photos with no one else in the background. We were told that the only reason to visit Agra was because of the Taj, however people missed another beauty in this city. The red fort is almost as stunningly beautiful. Authentic doors, red colored walls and many palaces that took us back to the ancient times. Our Agra stay ended that night, we and some other backpackers got multiple rickshaws to the bus station outside the city. It ended in a rickshaw race with loud music and some Australian guys hanging out the doors. We fell asleep in our first night bus, thinking about our great stay in Agra, with luxurious rooms, luxurious room service desserts and expensive entry tickets to insanely beautiful places. We promised each other we’d get back on the backpackers lifestyle in Varanasi, our next destination.
We arrived in Varanasi the next day. Our hostel was called HostelaVie and looked homey rightaway. All walls were either covered in happy colorful paint or cool drawings from the art students from Varanasi. There was a chill spot for all backpackers to play games and the best part: the first time in forever that we had a hot shower again, aaaah. We didn’t spend too much time at the hostel though, we were ready to explore Varanasi and to experience all the craziness that the city had to offer. We walked next to the Ganges, the holy river in India in which people wash themselves, take a dump and offer the ashes of their death. I don’t know what I expected, but it was nothing that I could’ve imagined. It wasn’t dirty or crazy, it was actually peaceful. We walked from ghat to ghat all day. A ghat is a platform with stairs back to the main street. Every ghat or platform has a different function, one is to wash your clothes, one to wash your food etc., in total there are 87 ghats. We sat down for a while, saw a ton of kids having fun with their kites next to the river, saw a few small boats on the water and saw 2 Buddhism monk kids wash themselves. We heard their voices, playing in the water, we heard the birds and we heard some prayers music. We enjoyed the scene, while we ate our fresh grapes. We decided we liked Varanasi already.
Next, we arrived to the ghat where all the bodies are cremated, it happened right in front of us. The bodies were first rinsed in the water of the Ganges and then burned on stacks of wood on the shore. We were the only women there, a local told me that people aren’t allowed to cry while someone is being cremated, if someone cries the soul won’t go to a peaceful place. That’s the reason why normally ‘weak’ women never attend funerals. We realized we were truly in another world, with the biggest cultural differences where women were seen as weak, where you’re not allowed to cry during a funeral and where you see people being cremated right in front of you. Getting to know other cultures this way can be confronting, but it’s so intriguing and interesting at the same time. We didn’t visit any must see tourist attractions, we just walked for kilometers passed the ghats and kept surprising ourselves. We saw babas, holy men who live by begging. They wear orange skirts, with dreadlocks and paint all over their bodies, always smiling. We attended a Hinduism ceremony with fire, we had no idea what they were saying or doing, but we enjoyed being there. We lived our 2 days almost baba style on a diet of the cheapest noodles, dosa’s, bananas and dry cookies, but nevertheless loved our Varanasi experience. It truly was an experience on its own and wouldn’t have want it any other way.
Currently I’m on the night train from Varanasi to Jaipur. This was supposed to be a 18 hour journey, which is already taking 34 hours. Don’t even ask me why, this is India, apparently 15 hour delays are all normal here. We’ve spend the last 34 hours on a hard bunk bed, trying to sleep, trying to write, trying to read and living off of chips again. For now, I’ll try to catch more sleep and will mentally prepare myself to get out of the train without flying (aka Sri Lanka style). Let’s get ready to hassle and bargain with 30 rickshaw drivers on a dusty, dark road trying to find a bed in the middle of the night.
This is all part of the backpackers lifestyle, the good and the bad parts. Because in the end, I get to travel the world for a year with a supermarket side job. I might have to take cheap, uncomfortable train rides and I might have to bargain in the middle of the night, but at the same time, I get to see the most beautiful places in the world and that makes all of it so, so worth it.