After a decrease in altitude, increase in temperature and a very long and sticky bus journey, we arrived in Chandigarh. This was Caitlin’s choice of city: being a potential architect, she wanted to soak up and admire the work of Le Corbusier who worked to develop the city. His city plan was the first since independence in 1947 and the organised, streamlined appearance is in stark contrast to any other Indian city I have seen. Whilst we were there we visited the museum, the famous Open Hand sculpture (which involved Katie charming a security man to let us in) and I had the most amazing paneer. I know I generally try and tell you about all the interesting cultural things I’ve done in this blog, but this paneer is essential to mention. Nobody was really hungry, Caitlin was set on eating puri, Katie wanted one chappatti…and I was RAVENOUS. There was paneer tikka masala on the menu and I wanted it. Unfortunately nobody wanted to share…so…after much umming and ahhing I just decided to have it all myself. A huge portion, with delicious garlic naan, the largest chunks of creamy cheese that I have ever seen in my life and a tasty tangy tikka masala gravy. It was delicious. I think it may actually have been the nicest thing I have tasted all year (aside from when my parents brought me cheese in a cool bag all the way from Scotland.) Whilst Caitlin embraced the architectural beauty of Chandigarh, the highlight for Katie and I was likely the a.c hotel which had a tv showing one tree hill on repeat, and of course the paneer.
A few hours on a train and we had arrived in Delhi. Unfortunately this is a city whose reputation proceeds itself, I was terrified that we would be ripped off and kidnapped the second we reached the platform however I was pleasantly surprised. A very clean and metropolitan city, Delhi (and it’s metro) was a breath of fresh air. Nevertheless, this does not correlate with our experiences on our first night. Picture a tiny box room on the 4th floor of a non ac hotel in the middle of a car parts market in Old Delhi. Combine that with a broken generator, overwhelming heat, a large and imposing mosque, typical Indian service (ie knocking on our hotel door at 1am) and the smell of fuel seeping its way through the air equals our night from hell. Luckily after the sweatiest night of my life we moved onto a much nicer (and pricier) a.c hotel, which even had room service!
In Delhi we saw some amazing things, the city has so much to offer, and met up with Katie’s partner Jess who had been travelling with her Mum and boyfriend. The best part of Delhi was certainly the Qutab Minar, which is the tallest Minar in India. I didn’t know much about it before we went, but Caitlin being the keen history lover that she is dragged us there by promising a long metro journey and Indian National 10rs entry. It was a beautiful collection of ruins with fantastic engravings and carvings. Whilst in Delhi we also visited a strange ‘Lotus Temple’ which was a large temple shaped like a lotus and seemed to be the product of a cult like organisation. Another Qutab Minar like oasis of calm in amongst the city was Humayan’s tomb, a beautiful old domed building with a Tamil speaking security guard who was very impressed by our ‘kunchum Tamil therimay anna!’ (I know a little tamil, brother.) Of course we also visited the Red Fort but I feel this much acclaimed site had little to offer in comparison to the amber fort which we saw in Jaipur. The spice market was a site to behold, bowls of colourful spices and pungent smells which almost made me choke and sneeze myself to death.
After Delhi we moved on to Agra, having attempted to get a car but being astounded by the extortionate prices, we booked an overpriced train and reached there in the evening. A hectic night of trying to rearrange trains to Varanasi the next day and trips back and forth from our hotel room to the station just added to the dirty, grimy feel of the town. Despite the magical Taj Mahal, the rest of the city was an utter dump, with no good places to eat and sky high prices. I have to say I wasn’t that excited for the Taj Mahal. In fact, I kind of just wanted it over and done with so I could take the photos and say I’ve been. Whilst I do admit that it is a beautiful building and I’m very pleased I’ve seen it, I still am more excited by the less commercial Golden Temple in Amritsar.
We moved on to Varanasi, the last stop for Caitlin and I. The winding streets and beautiful river all made it a very special place to finish our journey. Our guest house was situated right on the river bank and offered a great boat trip, as well as elephant themed decorations in the rooms. We took one boat in the evening where we saw the night time pooja and the burning of the bodies. I know the thought of watching bodies burn is rather disgusting and impersonal; almost as if we’re prying into something uninvited. But it didn’t feel like that at all. Watching the stoic husbands, brothers, uncles, (women aren’t permitted to attend the burning because they are not as emotionally stable-obviously) I wondered what they were thinking, I thought about the life of the person who had died, and I realised that the burning and returning to God by the way of the Ganga was something very important for the many Hindu’s who had made the journey to Varanasi. There was a feeling of peace, as if everything had finally settled.
With that, our journey came to an end. We took a quick train back to Delhi and spent half a night in a hotel, before getting up early to fly back, to my Indian home, for what would be sure to be an emotional last few weeks at Vidya Vanam.