Thursday, July 30, 2009

Traveling in the Month of June

Katherine arrived from Orlando June 10th. I had 3 local Kerala trips planned out for us. We toured the historic and touristy area in Ft. Cochin, went on a backwaters boat trip, and drove up to some waterfalls and a temple which has more elephants than any other temples in the state.

Next, all 3 of us flew north for our Golden Triangle tour. We started in Delhi at the Shangri-La Hotel which was beautiful! We only had one day in Delhi so we hit the usual historic sites, temples, and palaces. Katherine got henna “tattoos” on her hand at the India Gate memorial which lists (by name!) all of India’s WWI casualties.

The next day we drove 5 hours south to Jaipur, known as the pink city, in the state of Rajasthan. Here we stayed at the Le Meriden Hotel. It was a gorgeous hotel with local musicians who played for us every time we walked in or out of the hotel. Of course they hoped for a tip every time too. The hotel also had dancers and a puppet show for our nightly entertainment, same story. (Later in Agra, we actually purchased a pair of the waist high puppets – we might have been a little buzzed at the time.)

In Jaipur we went to the usual forts and palaces and also went a little off the beaten path to the Monkey Temple. Steven and I have seen the monkey temple on several TV shows including Monkey Thieves and wanted to see if for ourselves. It didn’t look much like what was depicted in the shows, but we still enjoyed it. At one point we were watching a baby monkey with its mother when all of a sudden an older brother or uncle jumped at Steven who was closest.

After 2 nights in Jaipur we drove 5 hours east to Agra in our third state of the trip Uttar Pradesh. Agra is home to more palaces and Taj Mahal, the most famous mausoleum in the world. Our hotel there was built like a palace and it was huge! We woke up way too early to be at the Taj Mahal for sunrise, when it is supposedly most beautiful. After about 3 hours at the Taj and breakfast back at the hotel, we went to the Agra Fort which was beautiful as well.

That night we boarded the train for the overnight ride to Varanasi. The train ride was an adventure in itself. It arrived in Agra late and only got later. We were in a sleeper car but got the crappy bunks parallel to the tracks. If we try it again, we’ll be sure to get a group of 4 facing each other. We finally arrived in Varanasi at 2:00 P.M. about 5 hours behind schedule. Since we were late, there was no open platform and we had to disembark onto the railroad tracks! Maybe we won’t try the train again after all…

Varanasi was one of the most religious and spiritual cities we’ve ever visited. As Hindus believe that being cremated in Varanasi will get you an immediate place in heaven, thousands of people make the pilgrimage each week to cremate their dead relatives on the banks of the Ganges River. Many old Hindus move to Varanasi so they can die there and attain their moksha within the 24 hour limit. Adding to Varanasi’s uniqueness is the fact that it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

We woke up at 4:00 A.M. again to take a boat ride on the Ganges at sunrise. We witnessed the pilgrims and locals bathing in the river and worshipping the sun. We also witnessed cremations at the ghats. After breakfast and a nap, we went to the park where Buddha gave his first sermons and visited the museum which holds the Lion Capital of Ashoka sculpture, which is now a national symbol of India.

In the evening we took a bicycle rickashaw down to the river for an evening boat ride on the Ganges. We saw yet more cremations and ended our ride at an Aarti celebrating the end of the day. Halfway through the ceremony we went ashore and watched from a rooftop. It was the most interesting event I’ve ever been to and you could feel the electricity and excitement all around you.

We flew home to Kochi the next day but didn’t stay long. After doing some laundry, Katherine and Angela flew to Chennai for a 3 day visit. (Steven went back to work and rested.) We went to more temples and sites around the city. We went south to see Mahabalipuram which has various historic monuments built largely between the 7th and the 9th century, and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The last evening we got to visit some hashers at their house and have tea.

We hope you enjoy our pictures!
Angela & Steven

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