From Toronto to Delhi over the Atlantic; Delhi to Vancouver by way of the Arctic, then across Canada back to Toronto. Oh yeah, we stopped in India for 22 days in between.
For those following along, the journey is chronicled in daily posts up until our night in Mcleod Ganj. The subsequent days were the most hectic of the journey with plane delays, hotel changes, long car rides, packed itineraries, head colds, long flights and recovery time.
We flew back to Delhi, where we were escorted through the new and the old, taking in some of the sites making up this historic city. Our excursions ranged from the wide boulevards of the new, designed by the British, now holding the embassies of the world in a lush, prosperous environment, to the narrow, cramped charm of the old with its alleys of small shops jammed with traffic amongst its sometimes-decrepit buildings.
A rickshaw ride personified all the images of India; pedaled by a skinny, grizzled driver strenuously pumping the pedals, yelling out warnings of impending collisions, pushing against the stream of traffic and into passages teeming with shoppers and other intrepid travelers. We were jostled by the conditions of the roads, swaying with each dip and bump, pushed by bystanders to help steer the impasse, smiled at by fellow riders who our driver out maneuvered. The tuktuk experience was a wild motorized ride; the rickshaw was an even closer encounter with the elements of the Indian city.
The ride was bookended by a trip to the Humayun Tomb where school children greeted Olga like a celebrity, and a pilgrimage to the Bahai Temple with it’s lotus flower shape; the day was capped with a dinner of fellow yoga retreat travelers at a distinctly middle class restaurant, giving us yet another view of the diversity of India.
No time to luxuriate in our five star, security controlled hotel as we were on the road by 8:30 the next day getting out of Delhi in order to be in Agar for the afternoon to visit the most famous site in India and perhaps one of the most universally recognized buildings in the world: the Taj Mahal.
In preparation for our trip, at least one person suggested the Taj Mahal would be a disappointment because of the crowds and the ill kept city. I will say here, unequivocally, the Taj Mahal is truly a wonder of architecture with details not likely to ever be matched again. This standard photo masks the beauty of each marble stone with inlay precious jewels and the attention to detail unimaginable for a building of this size. Every aspect of the structure is planned with precision, every layout symmetrical, every element with a purpose. The four towers around the main building lean outwards to ensure they fall away should an earthquake hit the area. The 22 steps to the main entrance reflect the number of years to construct this homage to the Moghuls wife by 20,000 people, among whom the families of the artistic craftsmen continue to be financed by the Indian government to reproduce and maintain the intricate stone.
The crowds were there, but wading with them throughout the gardens and into the building was part of being in India. If you have issues with the number of people, you don’t come to India at all.
During our day long visit, which included an earlier visit to another fascinating historical accounting of the Agra Fort by our clever and informative guide, I had picked up a bad head cold. By the time we crashed into our Agha Khan award winning hotel, my day was done….I needed the comfort of the bed. We were off early again the next morning, heading for Jaipur with a stop at another fort along the way built by yet another Moghul. By the time we arrived in Jaipur, the cold was passed to Olga and we were both under the weather till the end of the trip.
Our hotel in Jaipur was formerly the home of a minor prince, who could not continue the upkeep in its form after independence so it was converted into a luxury hotel, the rooms and courtyards an historical site of its own merit including a small step pool. Jaipur itself is known as the Pink City and by a cursory, external look appears a little more affluent than Agar. We started the day with an elephant ride to the top of the Red Fort and then toured with our third guide through the well preserved palace and a visit to a sacred Hindu temple. A subsequent visit to the observatory and the museum was rounded with perhaps the most surreal scene I have ever witnessed.
The monkey temple is situated on the outskirts of Jaipur, a relatively short ride in the hillier sections, through villages where our driver steered through crowds of cattle, along deteriorating roads past wild peacocks. We pulled into what looked like an abandoned parking lot and started walking towards the eerie gate straight out of an opening segment of a horror movie. Before you enter there is on old man sitting cross-legged, draped in ragged clothing, engulfed in flies, selling peanuts. For 50 rupees he digs two scoops into your newspaper funnel and you take them through the creaking turnstile into a street lined with empty, decaying buildings from a bygone era of splendor sitting in the valley of mountains.
As you meander further the number of monkeys increase, not shy, looking for handouts, craving peanuts. They climb around, follow you, chase each other, sometimes fight among themselves, but people are not an issue to them. You (or at least us) tread somewhat cautiously, looking all around, seeing what appear to be a small number of residents, wondering how their existence is possible or even why. Olga and the guide dutifully feed the monkeys while I continuously snap photos, one time getting too close as it snarled and grabbed at my camera…. Lesson learned.
We finally reached the pool, built between blasted rock, filled by mountain streams. Here young boys were playing in the designated watering hole, the remainder fenced with barbed wire festooned with scraps of old clothing. The guide tells us this is the most sacred part of the temple and sincere prayers to the monkey god can be made with an expectation to be granted. Try it… you have nothing to lose.
No more wishes or more peanuts, we head back to our hotel, crash again because of our worsening colds. The next two days would be travel; six hour drive back to Delhi; the next day a 2:30 am wake up call for a ride to the airport and a 5:45 flight back home, a full 24 hours of travel.
The Basunti Lodge included a book entitled, How to Travel. I discovered it on our second evening and read a portion of it aloud to the whole group. In a future blog, I will expound more on the section describing how to choose a destination. In the meantime, I will leave you with this quote: “The place we go to should, ideally, help to teach us certain lessons that we know we need to hear.”
We loved our time in India, excited we had made the trip, and were exhausted by the end traveling the circumference of the globe; but, and this conclusion has been the lesson of all our travels, there is no place like home.