18/11/2000You are here: Home > Travelogues > India 2000 > 18/11/2000
From the Ganges to the Taj... and beyond!
From a billboard: Lux "Rambo" vest and briefs
From a train toilet: Gentlemen will lift the seat.
From a hotel sign: THIS PLACE IS NOT AT ALL FOR DRUG ADDICT
From me: Hello!!
It's been a while! Much excitement to report. Have been rather busy... and away from these nasty computer things.
I seem to remember sending the last update just after getting out of hospital. So we pick up the story there...
That night about 3 or 4 other people got sick in our hotel (we could hear them heave-hoing and a-splattering throughout the night), so we decided that a) We got sick from the food there, and b) it was time to get the F**k out, in the immortal words of Skid Row. So we did that.
Ended up at a much nicer place, right on the Ganges river (known here as the Ganga, which is pronounced phonetically, not 'ganja'). It was called Vishnu Rest House, and that's pretty much exactly what we did.
Despite being in a dorm room (which was very cheap indeed - about a dollar a night), and the matresses being made from something resembling diamond on the hardness scale, we managed to sleep in like lazy buggers for quite a few days, and then plod around the area leisurely, or read books etc during the day.
Pretty uneventful few days really - only a couple of highlights:
- we discovered that lemon and sugar pancakes are really nice over here
- some reasonably impressive fireworks happened nearby. This was quite good actually - instead of 50 million dollars worth all going off at once, a la Sydney, they went off one at a time, and whilst they weren't quite as big they were still pretty cool. They also seemed to go bang much more nicely. Also, they were hand lit. Some brave fellows were out on the boats with what looked like flares or sparklers. Typically Indian - bloody dangerous but it goes off without a hitch. Australia is just too damn safety-conscious. Guess they have a bigger gene pool for natural selection here.
On our last day we finally bit the bullet and got up at 5:30am, and went for a boat ride out on the river. It is a totally magical time to go - the river is very still and the reflecting half-light makes it look like it's made of mercury. "How's the serenity!"
Spent two hours out on the boat all in all, went right along the edge of the city. Saw many many people washing away their sins (which is what you come to Varanasi to do). Several of them almost got clobbered by the oars of our little boat (we had a guy rowing us though, none of this excercise stuff!), but in the tradition of India they never got hit. And they seemed to even find it amusing themselves. Sort of like the chaos of the traffic, but toned down a touch. :)
There was actually a festival on that day as well - unfortunately we were leaving before we saw the twilight bit, which would have been nice as it involved thousands of little candles floating down the river (each on is a sort of blessing or wish). But we missed that.
Did, however, see the teeming masses who were in attendance during the morning. And they were TEEMING. Got some nice photos too.
So that was Varansi. Despite getting sick, I liked Varansi. If you come to India, make sure you visit.
Then is was on to Agra, and the Taj Mahal, an overnight train trip of little consequence.
Agra, we had been told, was a bit of a hole. Wasn't quite that bad, but indeed the Taj is pretty much all that is worth going there for. Also a nice restaurant called Joney's Place (they did Lemon pancakes too, and rather nice curries).
The Taj itself was of course very impressive. Slightly less impressive was the recently-raised fee to get in - our three year old book said it was about Rs 15 (A$0.70). Now it's Rs 960 - or ~A$43. But as far as relative economies go, that is equivalent to maybe A$250 (in terms of what it can buy here). But I guess they have every right to fleece foreign tourists. And locals can still get in for stuff all. Had that not been the case, it would have made me pretty cranky, but given that I guess it's fair enough. Poor as we are, we still come under the heading of "rich bastards" over here.
Anyway enough harping about the entry fee. The Taj itself is lovely, very impressive, and in the way of all great monuments, pretty much indescribable in any real way. You try and convey just how cool the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are to someone who has only seen them in photos! But I guess I could go on about the impressive marblework, with lots of complex inlays. Also the fact that the whole building changes colour notably as the sun comes up (it was another of our f$^@% 5:30 starts, but once again worth it).
Nice grounds too, very lush and green, and everything has a wonderful symmetry about it (which I'm sure pleased my anally-retentive Virgo-ness on some subconcious level). ;)
And that was the Taj.
From there we too a bus to a place called Bharatpur, about an hour or two away from memory. This place is famous for a fairly large bird sanctuary/national park, which was originally built by someone rich so that he and his guests could come and shoot shitloads of birds with big f'koff shotguns. There is actually a monument in the park which has names, dates, and 'number of bags worth of birds shot'. The number is generally huge. Thankfully since then the park has become a sanctuary rather than a mortuary. But we'll come back to the park.
Our first night there we elected to spend in a hotel in the town itself, rather than one of the ones near the park. Our guidebook has this to say about the town: "Bharatpur itself is of little interest...". How true. In fact, the most interesting thing that can happen to you in Bharatpur is to be stared at intently by the locals. We discovered this by taking a cycle-rickshaw through the town in search of an internet place. The driver, I'm pretty sure, had no idea what we were talking about. Bharatpur has no internet places. The poor man was even more confused when, on the other side of town, we asked to go back. I think he thought we had an actual destination in mind.
Our hotel (which to be fair was pretty good) had a downstairs bar, and that night we decided we'd pop down and have a look. A few things about Indian bars:
- few people here drink (this is a good thing for a society!).
- those who do are *always* men
- they are generally a bit rich, and a bit seedy.
- they have no idea what a mixed drink is (gin and soda?! you have to be kidding!) (soda cos there was no tonic)
So we settled for a beer, which turned out to be the usual Indian offering - not so good. I'm dying for a Coopers or a VB. Jana couldn't finish hers (she didn't like it anyway) so I heroically came to the rescue of course.
The throngs of staring young men also seemed to be very interested in Jana, offered her beer (which she didn't drink), Pepsi (which she also didn't drink - we had visions, probably untrue, of instantly falling asleep and being relieved of such small things as wallets, luggage, innocence and lives).
So that was fun. Quite funny actually; I've probably made it sound over-serious, but it wasnt. I'm sure the locals meant no harm at all, and it would probably have been the event of the year for them that an actual woman (even one dressed like a MAN!!) was in the bar.
But we decided that another hotel, closer to the park was called for. Ended up at a much nicer place, which had better lemon pancakes than anywhere else we'd been. :) I think this might become our scale of hotel evaluation - the current place is crap, they don't even HAVE pancakes!!
Our next adventure was a day trip to a place called "Deeg", about an hour out of the infamous Bharatpur (incidentally, for extra amusement emphasise the middle syllable).
There was an old Maharaja's palace there, which we saw (for another recently inflated price). Was quite nice. The only irritating thing was this guy who latched onto us as we got there, and insisted on being our guide. We'd been warned by someone not to get guides as they would try to charge heaps. So we told this guy no, but he insisted ("not guide, I am EMPLOYEE!"). And we even told him we weren't going to give him any money at all, right at the start. But he insisted... and whisked us through things we wanted to spend more time looking at. He was hard to understand. And in the end, wanted 'small gift'. Should have given him a postcard of Sydney or a pat on the bum. But we settled on Rs 10. He looked a bit downcast, but tough... we did tell him...
The palace had heaps and heaps of fountains, all fed from a big tank in the roof (the size of a big swimming pool), which had one hole on the side for each nozzle elsewhere in the palace. Lots of holes. Unfortunately they only fill it for festivals a couple of times a year, so all the fountains were dry. Would have been much nicer if they'd been going. Oh well.
One little touch of Maharaja decadence - there was an outside building where he would sit in the middle of the hot summer, and have water pouring from a myriad of fountains around the edge of the building, to simulate the sounds and smells of the monsoon.
So that was DEEG.
Day after that we got up before the sun once again, rented some bikes, and headed into the bird park. Spent a lovely morning leasurely cycling around, saw (amazingly, who would have guessed) heaps of birds; kingfishers, cranes, mental blocks, and more mental blocks. Also saw some whachamacallits. But even if I can't remember the names they were lovely.
Cycled on a fair bit of bum-crunching rocky dirt path too. Kinda fun, for a while. Bum is better now.
There is actually a section of the park that is out of bounds, as a Tiger lives there. It apparently walked overland 70kms or something like that from a neighbouring national park and decided to take up residence. Didn't see the Tiger of course. But decided that this was probably for the best, as although I'm sure any sane Tiger these days runs like hell at the sight of people, you never know.
I'm sure you all know that there are only a few thousand Tigers left in the wild. Or the world for that matter. Cheerful thought that. No silver lining.
We had a lovely time in the park. From there we took a bus to where we are now - Jaipur, which is the capital of the state we're in at the moment (I can't remember, but I think it's Rajistan, which is probably spelt wrong, and is probably not even correct. I'm sure Sweets will set me right. But I don't have the book with me).
So anyway, we've spent a day here so far, and we went and saw quite a few things. Another old palace ("Palace of the Winds", flatus jokes on a postcard please) which was nice. Lots of windows. LOTS.
Also saw an observatory built by a famous king - not quite what you might first think when I say observatory though. No telescope in dome. But lots of instruments for charting movements of the sun, stars, etc. They have been built very large, the theory being to reduce error, which seems to make some sense. Although shadows get fuzzier when further from the object casting them. I dunno. The place features a sundial which is rather massive, the shadow can move 4 metres in an hour. Took pics, so you can see it later. Actually, took pics everywhere, so I don't know why I bother to mention it. :b
Last stop today was another palace, with museums. Lots of lovely things. Many nice old textiles and bits of clothing, many nasty looking guns and knives (MANY knives - they had spelt 'welcome' and 'goodbye' with them above the doors), and also works of art, and other nice old things.
Also two enormous silver jars, which a Maharaja used to carry water from the Ganges when he visited England (he thought the water there wouldn't be any good). They stand 5'4" or something like that (taller than Jana at any rate), and have three hundred and something kilos of silver in each, making them the largest solid silver objects in the world. If my last name was "The Giant" I would have pocketed them and lived in luxury for many years. But alas my last name is more like "The Ribcage" at the moment.
So... that brings us to now! Yay! I can stop bloody typing!
Just the usual messages - hello to you all, hope you are all well, those who write are good people, those who don't will undoubtably burn in hell. Hugs to all, even those who don't want them.
Bummer/Congratulations to those who used to work at the recently decapitated Rare Medium, depending on how you all feel about losing your jobs. C'mon on though, they sucked anyway. Take your lump sums and travel to India. It's worth it.
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