Monday, November 22, 2010

The last night in Delhi

When we had arranged for the tour through Agra & Varanasi when we were first in Delhi, I had booked us a night at the Metropolitan Hotel (5 star hotel without being over the top) as I thought at the end of the trip we could use it. I was right... I really was!

Anyway so we get to Delhi, I'm feeling like a slightly dried up oil-slick by now due to the massage from Varanasi. I was so happy to have a shower I really was!

I had to ask to change our two single beds to one bed. We didn't tell our travel agent that we were gay (it was easier not to!). So when we were checking in - I asked. I think Larry was expecting it was going to be a bigger problem than it was. It wasn't. Keep in mind at this point (Feb 2009) homosexuality was still technically illegal in India. The hotel was fine with it. I guess it's one of the those things that can be easier when you're a foreigner - I don't know. But I'm also never going to pass for anything other than I am...

We actually did pretty much hide in the hotel for the next 24 hours. Apart from going off to get some ibuprofen. We walk into the pharmacy near the hotel and we're being asked if we want Viagra. I had to laugh - I did.

Following day was a quick flight to Mumbai and then a transfer to our Qantas flight home... we flew out of Mumbai knowing that our surrogate had tested positive and we were pregnant with what looked to be most likely twins (which we all know it was twins but at that point we didn't).

Friday, November 12, 2010


So we're in Agra being shown the carpets that our guide's boss sells. You soon discover in India most people are trying to sell tourists everything. And guide's seem to have multiple bosses... ugh! We even had the driver come in and tell the guide off a couple of times as we were starting to run late. Thankfully he saved us as we were running late!

So we get taken to Agra station to wait for the train to Varanasi. It's reasonably late... so it's a night train. We're standing at Agra station waiting for the train and I'm seeing rats... I don't like rats. So I'm trying not to freak out. I think I did ok. So we get on the train - feeling a little bit conspicuous as we're both tall and we're both white... Train starts to move, I try to read not thinking I'd be getting much sleep. I was wrong... I fell asleep after about 10 minutes.

4am and the conductor taps my foot says Varanasi wanders off this freaked me out slightly. 10 minutes later he's back and it's the same thing. I have no idea really of what's going on... I wake Larry up as I'm guessing we're approaching Varanasi. Which we were. I left my jumper on the train too :( It was one of my favourites. Another one of my favourite jumpers Larry left in New York but I don't mention that anymore as I promised I wouldn't.

So we're wandering the streets of Varanasi trying to find our hotel - which proved remarkably easy... although the hotel wouldn't let us check in at 4:30am - understandably so. So we wandered down to the bank of the Ganges (the hotel wasn't that far from the river). It is always amazing how quiet pre-dawn is. Pretty much universally. So we get approached by one of the people that rows the boats on the Ganges asking us if we'd be interested in a dawn "cruise" I'd guess you'd call it. We had nothing else to do and we thought we had the money.

I will point at this stage that to most Westerners the reach of the Ganges we were at is completely and absolute toxic! Totally... this again of course slightly freaked me out.

I do have to say though watching sunrise on the Ganges was a truly marvellous experience. And that includes everything that goes with it. The holy men bathing in the Ganges. Watching the women wash saris in the rivers. The Gahts, the Gahts are a little creepy though! But having the opportunity to have all this explained to us was pretty cool.

We even got to send some prayer boats down the Ganges. I had some of my prayers answered! They are currently downstairs avoiding their nap... cheeky monkeys! I think we ended up on the river for about 3 hours or so. And of course that ended up being a lot more expensive than what we were originally quoted. So we said we'd return later with the money. So we checked into the hotel, had breakfast, got some cash and paid the guy.

We met our tour guide and we were shown around Varanasi. I don't really remember that much of the tour apart from meeting his boss that sold fabrics. We did buy something! We have a rather gorgeous cashmere blanket. We were shown some of the Gahts and had the significance explained to us. Ghandi was cremated in Varanasi. We also got to some cremations happening. Not exactly the sort of thing you want to see vacation necessarily...

It was explained to us by a monk at one of the poorhouses that if you were cremated at Varanasi you were closer to Nirvana and I'm not sure if I am remember this correctly but you may not have to be reincarnated. I expect I'm wrong on this one though. But there is a migration of people to Varanasi who are dieing.

In a lot of ways I found Varanasi quite spiritual but that's probably to be expected.

It was also a little bit of a poignant trip. We met a young gay guy. He took quite a shine to Larry (at this point to be honest I was pretty much over the whole India trip... I really was - I wanted to go home!) and he was so incredibly sweet to both of us. It also made me realise that in so many ways those of us who live in the West are so incredibly fortunate. Gay people in the bigger cities in India have it alright - it's still not as easy for them as it is for us. Those in the regional areas have it really quite tough. This guy was saying that he will still have to get married as his parents expect if of him (and it will be an arranged marriage). I really did feel for him. I can't imagine what that would be like.

Our guide had arranged for us to meet his Guru. Yes folks we got to spend time with a real indian Guru. This was an absolute scream. And it's a bit of a swindle when you really get down to it. But it was fun. I had my fortunate told by a Guru. That's pretty freaking cool.

The whole Guru thing to be honest was a bit of a laugh. I'm a little bit gullible and a little bit cynical. I paid the equivalent of US$200 to have someone pray once a year to help get rid of my karmic debt. Seems my relationship and my actions with my mother previously had caused a little of karmic issues... so *ahem* I paid to have them fixed. To only then about a year later completely wipe all that away. Ah well! Life has to be fun ;)

One other thing that I had to do in Varanasi was get an ayuervedic massage - one of the ones where they drip oil on your head. It's meant to be very good for you. The whole time I was laying there I was trying to not think about whether or not the oil was clean and how many times it had been used before etc... It wasn't really *that* relaxing. And due to the timing issues... I didn't have a chance for a shower before we returned to Delhi. So I basically hopped on the plane feeling like a giant oil slick.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Agra, the Taj Mahal & a dead camera

So we get to Agra mid-afternoon maybe...

Check into the Holiday Inn - margarita time! Of course you're not meant to drink the water in India so this present a bit of a problem... No idea if the ice is made from tap water or filtered water. We survived so I assume it was filtered water.

I currently can't remember how long we were in Agra for - it may only have been the two nights... Agra is an amazing place. I was really blown away by it.

Ok onto the adventures. There's basically three things that you have see in Agra. The Red Fort, the Taj Mahal and the fort where Shah Jahan was imprisoned. We saw the Red Fort first. You have to take your shoes off! Seriously... this kind of freaked me out. I was also worried the whole time we were wandering around the Red Fort that our shoes were being held hostage (this ended up being technically true - we had to pay a RS10 minding fee). We were given a tour by a guy that basically latched onto us. Two tall white people tend to stick out. He kept telling us it was his sacred duty as a Muslim to take us through the Red Fort. So we have one of the insanest rides in an auto-rickshaw yet. Get taken through the Red Fort. I wasn't particularly impressed as I felt we were being swindled. Which we were. And that sucks!

So next we move onto the Taj Mahal and get the tour. I was completely and absolutely blown away by the Taj Mahal. I can not describe how beautiful it is except to say it is incredibly beautiful and none of the pictures do it any justice. They really don't. One piece of bad news is my 300D decided to die just as we were about to enter into the Taj Mahal *mutter mutter grumble grumble* so all my Taj Mahal photos and photos from that point were taken on my iPhone.

I think part of what makes the Taj so special too is that it's quiet. All of India is so loud and busy and in your face. And the Taj is honestly this little oasis of calm.

The Fort where Shah Jahan was imprisoned was almost as amazing as the Taj. The amount of workmanship and detail that went into these places is just staggering and so very beautiful.

The bit that really cracked me up about the tour guides is that you have to see everybody's boss. So... we ended up having to see some carpets and some marble. Because that's where his boss works or the brother of his boss or the great-uncle of his second cousin etc... it was funny, the driver had actually come in and tell the tourguide off as we were looking to be running late for our train to Varanasi.

I am so glad we took the time out to see the Taj Mahal. I was actually very humbled by it. It's beauty is honestly inspiring and breath-taking.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A brief visit to Delhi

So we got the train from Mumbai to Delhi - that was ok... it wasn't that bad really. A bit uncomfortable and a little chilly but all in all it was ok. The couple we were sharing a berth with were quite nice. Retired couple from London who were visiting family. Although she loved to talk...

So we get to Delhi. Schlep around carrying our luggage trying to find someone who didn't seem like a tout to take us to our hotel that we knew was somewhere in Delhi but not quite sure where... So we find a cab driver who will take us to our hotel for RS350 (I think from memory). We thought the hotel was a bit further away than what it was. We were wrong. We could have walked there. So we basically got done... in reality it was about AUD$7 but you always feel a bit silly when you get ripped off.

So we check into the hotel to find out it backs onto a rather large Mosque. The call to prayer was rather loud. It was actually quite a nice hotel (the Broadway Hotel) and done very nicely, if not getting a bit tired. I'm not sure at what point we decided to get a tour but we did. We ended up going to a travel agent and getting them to organise a tour for us. Probably in part because we were a little bit sick of getting ripped off (we still got ripped off but not as much). So we ended up with a schedule that took us through Agra & Varanasi and gave us a tour guide for each leg of the remainder of the trip.

The Hotel was actually really good as because our driver was picking up at 7am - we were up before breakfast was served. They gave us breakfast. It was actually a very kind and a very awesome thing to do.

Our driver from Delhi to Agra was pretty cool. He was a really nice guy and his english was very good, to the point where there was no struggling with accents. There was completely insane stuff we saw on the way like people hanging out of helicopters to clean the top of electricity transmission towers. Snake charmers & monkey trainers. I refused to get out of the car for that one! There's not enough money in the world to get me close to a Cobra. Really there isn't!

Our driver took us to his village. Larry loved the experience - I was a bit freaked out by it. It was rural India and it was quite strange. It was lovely having Chai with his family though and his family were very kind to us. We also got to go to the local school and meet the kids and have a quick chat with them. That was sweet. I actually didn't take any photos of all this as it just didn't feel right.

The drive to Agra took maybe 8 hours or so...
We ended up at a Holiday Inn of all places - which actually did pretty good margaritas from memory ;)

i'm a bit slack

sorry regular readers :(

I've been really slack with keeping up to date with my blog

I suck!
I will try to get some blogging done in the near future - I will :)