I was lucky enough to travel in India for the first time with Wovoyage this past December – what an experience! Here’s some excerpts from my travel journals on that trip…
Picture clicked at -Ram Jhula ,Rishikesh
Dec 9, 2017
We’re on our way to Haridwar and Rishikesh, which are in the mountains and on the Ganges river – holy places for Hinduism, but Rishikesh is also famous as a capital for yoga and ayurvedism (it’s where The Beatles, during their Indian phase, spent time). There’s not a real highway that goes there, so it’s been a long trip, but the scenery is fascinating – passing through lots of towns, and the roadside is filled with people selling all kinds of things, shops, restaurants, temples, people hanging out, and cows and dogs (mostly very skinny ones) wandering around. Even a funeral procession at one point, with men carrying a cloth-covered body on a stretcher.
Rashmi, Wovoyage’s head – who I’m fortunate enough to have traveling with me! – told me that there are a lot of weddings taking place tonight, and we have seen several along the way – brilliantly lit buildings and faux-palaces along the sides of the road. Apparently there are better times to get married, and it’s based on part on numerology of your birthday, so there are some times of the year that are busier than others.
Colourful wedding Venue
Dec 10, 2017
We had a beautiful morning in Rishikesh. Woke up early to see the sunrise over the mountains from the terrace of the hotel. Then we took a rickshaw through the non-touristy part of town and got dropped off near Ram Jhula, one of the two narrow pedestrian (and motorcycle, bike, etc.) bridges that crosses the Ganges. We walked over to the other side, and made our way on a winding path along the river and through parts of town, passing temples, ashrams, yoga centers, ayurvedic services, and other spiritual places. There were many ‘babas,’ so-called saints that dress in orange clothes – mostly old, grizzled men with beards – who give up their possessions and live a life of spirituality. We ducked into a temple ashram at one point, which had a courtyard surrounded by single rooms, which can be rented extremely cheap for people who come to Rishikesh for spiritual practice.
We stopped for fresh juice at a place called Harry’s Café, which we drank on steps overlooking the river and hills. It was so nice just to stop and rest and take in the gorgeous scenery. Then we crossed the second pedestrian bridge, Laxman Jhula, which is edged on one side by a beautiful layer cake-looking temple.
The food here... I've been having these huge breakfasts, since morning buffets are included in all the places you stay, so then eating lighter throughout the rest of the day. There's lots of South Indian food served at breakfasts - dosas, sambar (this kind of soup that you can dip other things in, like idllies, these lentil flour doughnuts, or these rice flour kind of cakes), chole (chickpea stew), paneer-filled crepes, poha (this delicious rice pilaf with veggies and peanut-tasting peas). And of course, lots of chutneys - coconut, mint, spicy, mango, etc. It is vegetarian heaven and basically my favorite way to eat - tapas-style, with lots of things you put onto food. (I often feel like I enjoy sauces and condiments and dips even better than what you put them on!) And then I've had some of the same things you see at most Indian restaurants - paneer with spinach, potato and cauliflower stews, naan, of course. And I had chaat papri yesterday at a roadside place on our way to Agra, which was shockingly delicious for a fast food place! It's this kind of street food with crispy wafers with a thin yogurt, tamarind sauce, mint chutney, chickpeas, and potatoes, served cold. It sounds a bit strange if you've never had it, but it's so tasty - savory and sweet, smooth and crunchy.
Dec 12, 2017
Woke up early to leave at sunrise to get to the Taj Mahal before it got too crowded. The complex is even more beautiful than I’d imagined it would be – the actual Taj is so white, and appears almost as if to float above the ground slightly. It’s a place that felt very peaceful – I’d loved to have sprawled out in the grass for a while under the sun. It was quite misty when we got there, but then cleared up. The Taj, which is a tomb one of the Mughal emperors built for his favorite wife. Its flanked on each side with red clay mirror image buildings – one a mosque, the other a guest house. Sadly, years after the emperor built the Taj, one of his sons imprisoned him for the rest of his life and seized the throne.
Rested back at the hotel for a bit, and then left with our local guide for Vrindavan, a town that is believed to be the childhood home of Krishna. Krishna is referred to as a ‘Lord,’ and is believed by Hindus to be the incarnation of the god Vishnu. We went first to the Banke Bihari temple, which is the oldest in the city. It didn’t open until 4:30, so we waited on the crowded maze of streets outside of it, which are filled with people selling sweets, butter, and flower necklaces. And monkeys! They were quite aggressive - saw one with a person’s sunglasses; they steal things to get food or juice boxes in exchange for them. Pretty clever! The tradition there is that Krishna apparently loved butter as a child, and so you buy a small dish and some sweets to either leave in the temple, or bring with you.
Once the temple opened, the crowd pushed inside, and everyone was headed to one part to get a glimpse of this one area with a silver statue of Lord Krishna. There were temple guards basically peeling people off from the railings surrounding it, because everyone wanted to get a look, and people had young babies and kids they were lifting up to have them get a glimpse. It must be considered very auspicious. Anyway, we got our look, with the crowds pushing in, received yellow and red paint on our foreheads and a blessing from one of the temple gurus, and went on our way.
Vrindavan is on the river Yamuna, and there were all these colorful boats lined up on the banks, so I suggested we go for a quick boat ride. It was fun, though I would not want to have fallen into those waters!
Then we went to a temple on the other end of an extreme – built in the 1950’s by a guru, it gets lit up at night, changing colors every 30 seconds or so. And surrounding the temple is a big complex with all of these displays depicting parts of Krishna’s life.
Back at the hotel, at dinner Rashmi and I noticed that there was a wedding going on in the courtyard. We were peeking out, and enough people encouraged us to come out and watch that we soon did. I was in Indian wedding heaven… there was a whole program of various guests performing dances they’d made up on the stage, and it was so much fun to watch. The bride and groom were last, and danced to a Bollywood song that then changed to Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. So funny. I could have stayed and just listened to the music and watched the dancing all night.
On the way to Jaipur visited chand bowri biggest step well in Abhaneri .
Getting click with Beautiful Art Work .