The past is the past, if anything is more reassured from my time spent in India its that we must all try to be free within the present, I lost my last piece of writing and I find it hard to go over every detail again and put down into words, so I’m just going to let it go, detach from the idea of the past and live now within the present, that’s why I must write this last piece concluding my time in India and having been blessed with the beauty of Nepal for the last 4 weeks and I’m finding it very hard to go back in time as I have so much more to say about the now in which I am living.
From Amritsar and the golden temple, back to Delhi, Agra to see the Taj Mahal, then Varanasi, to head all the way back up to the north into Manali, Kasol and Vashist to then head east to Rishikesh where I immersed my self into one month of Yoga teacher training, this trip was one that changed my life, my whole perspective of humanity both good and bad, India is that country that confronts you on the daily with the most beautiful moments in contrast with something that makes your eyes water, this last piece will be as brief as I can make it going into slight detail of my final days in a country I had longed to immerse myself into, as I thought for so long I wont ever settle down until I confront my fears of such a large and chaotic country, cease expectation and be within the moment.
Amritsar, in the state of Punjab, close to the border of Pakistan is the holy mecca for sheik religion, a very powerful landmark of worship, and enclosed within four walls of white marble stone sits Sri Harmandir Sahib (“The abode of God”), more commonly known as the golden temple, this was truly a highlight of my time throughout India, the grandiose design of the square, inside a giant body of water surrounding the temple in all its shining glory, thousands of people at any time of the day bathing in the waters, saying prayer, chanting, sleeping and just being within the presence of its power, the sheik religion is very welcoming to all, every day, breakfast lunch or dinner they are feeding the hundreds of visitors, providing free accommodation for weary travellers, working together to simply help anybody in need. This place is most definitely worth visiting, if ever given the chance.
A couple of days around the beautiful city, indulging in some of the nicest food eaten in my whole trip, beautiful people, bright colours and very clean, the city centre almost looking European, I attended the Wagah Border Ceremony, a choreographed dance between the border of India and Pakistan, personally I didn’t enjoy this too much, the Indian side far out numbered the Pakistan supporters and it seemed as if India just blasted the music as loud as they could, dancing and carrying on as if they where at some sports event, Indian flags and hats with the words “I love India” across the front, it all seemed a bit bias, kind of rubbing shit into Pakistan’s face, I must give word to the man with one leg on Pakistan’s sides spinning around in circles wielding the flag, this was quite a show. The rest, full of loud, over exuberant
Indians, screaming their nations pride. I don’t need to see this again.
Next stop was Delhi, a place I was set to avoid though having linked up with some new travel buddies from England and Ireland it was necessary we take the 15-hour train from the western border all the way back into the centre of the country to celebrate Saint Patrick’s day with a tall cold glass of Guinness whilst screaming at the rugby.
A couple of nights drinking, meeting the locals, being rejected from the sex clubs, and throwing some old mans money at some belly dancers, turn out we had been let down, as we sat down at the bar in the swanky Irish pub to be greeted with the fact that Guinness does not exist in India, and rugby is no way possible anywhere in the city, we begun to drown our mild sorrows in green beer and shots of Jameson to end up in a club with high trebled club hits banging in our ears, then awaking some hours later in some local Indian families apartment, to be awoken by the confusion of the younger sister and kicking our drunk asses out onto the streets to then stumble on home back to our beds for a few hours of rest before making our way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.
After having been scammed into visiting a fake tourism office and eventually missing our train, hung-over trying to avoid almost every Indian in Delhi trying to get into our pockets, we settled for a taxi to Agra, a four-hour drive of movie sound effects playing through the speakers as our driver watched some swash buckling epic on his I-phone the entire drive until he almost hit a dog, this being the moment we snap out of our sleep and Luke sternly told him to watch the fucking road.
Arriving late at night we find our accommodation and passed out, ready to get up early at 6am to visit the Taj Mahal.
Awaking early and trying to beat the hoards of tourists awake all at the same time to see the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, considered as one of the wonders of the world, commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631, a Mausoleum for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal after her death during child birth to there 14th child.
Joining the cues of impatient tourists, my tired brain trying to comprehend why one girl amidst the male cue was refusing to stand with all the other women? I get that people have strong opinions though when it comes to respecting the culture of your surrounding it’s a different story, its like somebody I know who in their own country would never litter though because they are in Asia thinks its ok to throw their rubbish on the ground because the rest of the country does it? there is no respect!, we as human beings mustn’t be so ignorant.
Getting back on track, entering through the red stone arches into the green grounds of tall trees, gorgeous flowers and neatly pruned conifers, presented with that ‘classic’ photograph of the Taj Mahal, a gift for the kings favourite wife, a monolithic marble structure much larger then you could ever actually imagine without seeing it for yourself. As the sun rose over the tomb, the reflection golden off of the orange sky, a few classic pictures, and the dreaded selfie, taking a couple of minutes here and there watching the people pose for the perfect photo to post on their Instagram, bombing selfies as I circulate the tomb, kind of thinking what all the hype over the taj is actually about, the centre room, an intricate marble carved casing of floral design surrounding the tombs of both Shah Jahan and his wife, (The real tombs underneath), following the people shuffling in their booties in a fashion I really cant get into the groove of, through the outer rooms of the tomb, Now, I don’t want to come across completely cynical though its kind of boring, it is an incredible feat of human engineering, the detail, the symmetry, the story all add to the marvel of the world wonder, it truly is amazing as you stand in awe for an hour until you’ve seen it all. Leaving the temple 2 hours later to not a single person waiting in line to enter as it seems everyone is just in and out of Agra as quick as possible, though in saying this, it is truly outstanding, and the fact it is in Agra is even more outstanding, its not really the nicest city in India, in fact it could be one of the worst, though it’s one of those must see things in this short life that we all live, complement the occasion with a quick trip to the red fort, reading on the histories of the Agra in the time of the king, and seeing the taj from a distance, getting a real perspective for the sheer size that it is on the edges of the Yamuna river on the outskirts of Agra,
Next up was Varanasi, a 16-hour sleeper bus, one hell of a bumpy ride, initially starting off telling the baggage man that I didn’t trust him, something about his awkward gritty beetle nut stained teeth piercing through the gap of his twitchy smile, I climbed into my bed, hugging my bag, pulling the curtain closed I swallow a couple of valium and eased into the long journey ahead. I was awoken thirteen or so of those hours later, a sweaty mess, opening my curtain to my two friends sharing the next bed over, eyes red, faces glistening with oily pours and sweaty skin, “where almost there, we hope”.
Arriving at day break, like a roster cockles, swarms of men, the intruding sound of, “tuk-tuk, tuk tuk”, tuk-tuk, Where you need to go”, our hotel was 2km down the road and they wanted 800 rupee, it is always the same, its ridiculous, no-one was in the mood to haggle and argue the price down to a much more reasonable price and after wasting our time my friend pull out his phone and types the address into Ola, India’s equivalent to Uber, 70 rupee, it was 70 rupee!, flashing this price in front of them explaining that if they where just fair and didn’t blatantly lie to our faces we would be more inclined to pay for your service maybe even a tip, though at first light we don’t feel to be hustled, so we jump into the Ola and made our way with ease to our accommodation.
The next day we walked along the Ghats of the river Ganga, the copious amounts of people bathing in its murky waters, smoke bellowing from the cremation ceremonies, chanting of prayer and mantras as bells chimed and steam hissed, as the cremations rituals were held thought the day and into the night, for 24 hours the fires burnt bright, the idea that if burnt and the ashes thrown into the Gangies one is able to avoid reincarnation and head straight into heaven, Known in Hindu and Buddhist belief as Moksha, (the emancipation of ones soul). The Gangies is known to be one of the worlds most polluted river systems, a concern being the bodies of the un-burnable who must be weighted with rocks tied to there bodies and sunk to the bottom of the river, it is those who commit suicide, are bitten by a snake, have leprosy, a holy man or a child under the age of 2 are considered dirty or to young to possess a soul therefore are just thrown into the river as is, it is quite possible some will float to the surface and be found by the Agori, a sect of Hinduism that worships death, know to feast on the flesh of humans found in the ganga, painting there bodies in the ashes of the dead.
That first night we took the recommendation for some cheap eats in the local part of town, walking around the authentic street of Varanasi into some awesome food, you know its good when your finding 80 rupee thali, once again indulging in the unlimited refills of veg curry and dhal, chapatti after chapatti, finish with masala chai we went home to digest and get some rest.
We all awoke in a rush for the toilet, as sick as the dogs on the street, myself with a sick stomach and having broken out in a rash over my entire body, what I guess could have been hives in some allergic reaction to something I had eaten, previous to the thali, I’m quite certain the other boy’s sickness’ where due to the mutton they decided to indulge in, mine, I have narrowed it down to some dodgy Mo-Mo’s I ate sitting down on the ganga, I knew as I ate them something wasn’t quite rite. We had made it almost one month without getting ill, indulging in the various street foods on offer, not shying away from anything, though our optimism finally punched us in the gut.
I spent 4 days in Varanasi, not to long though long enough clenching my ass and roaming the narrow allies that weave though the back streets in front of the ganga river, getting lost throughout this beautiful and spiritually chaotic city, I took a stroll down along the river where an Indian man approached me, lost in his words about the Ghats and the ceremonial traditions of the cremations, informing me that the men and woman will shave all there hair off of their bodies to morn there loved ones, that women had been banned from visiting the cremations as in old tradition if a woman lost her husband she would run and throw her self in the fire with him to be burnt alive, an old tradition that the English when they arrived tried to stop, creating the ban. After shaving the hair off the body they bath and wash themselves in the river to cleanse, the women who loose their spouse shall never re-marry, it’s a sign that a woman is widowed and it is expected that she will not have her hair grow back, its also a sign of purification, respect, keeping control of ego, and a means of change, that it’s the end of that chapter, turning to the next page.
Really involved in his words until the words Rupees comes out his mouth I had to state my opinions on why it is so hard to find somebody to engage in a general conversation without it ending in handing over my money. I continued walking, not knowing where I was I raised my head into the clouds of a thick smoke to then see two meters in front of my eyes the bubbling flesh of a burning body, the face of the man/woman, the whole body confronting all my fears of death, it had caught me by surprise, face down contemplating if I’m ready for this experience, coming to a quick realisation that I was standing in the bellowing smoke of several bodies burning, I moved on up the stair out of the smoke to glace back on what had just happened, I take a seat by the ganga and a few moments to break down the idea of death, that we in our western societies are hiding from the idea of the deceased, running away from the thoughts that our loved ones are gone forever, making them look pretty/and peaceful to bury them in the ground. Seeing the bodies burning is a powerful experience, from the physical form to a pile of ash to be placed into the river ascending into heaven, there’s purity there’s love there is acceptance and understanding of death as a part of this life, it’s something I personally cannot put into words as its more a feeling, something hard to understand until its in front of your eyes.
Ending the day with a boat ride down the ganga, watching the many ceremonies that are performed 6pm every night the candles floating past, flickers reflecting off the surface of the water, the bright night time colour of the different LED lights roped around temples, buildings and restaurants, the gold glistens as the the holy men perform their rituals, as they throw rice and flowers, and circulate the golden chalice of water from the ganga, an offering to the gods.
After a long day hiding from the heat, still fighting off sickness I went back to my accommodation and fell into a deep sleep.
Varanasi is one of those places on earth one should most definitely take the time to go and see, its everything you want from India, its raw, its real, its dirty, its chaotic, its powerful, its anything/everything you truly want it to be.
A few days more sitting around sprawled underneath the fan away from the heat, creeping out during the afternoon to linger around the streets of this spiritual centre, and it was time to part ways with the boys, Luke and I leaving, having left Colin in Varanasi to continue on Nepal, and rob behind in Delhi to eventually meet again briefly in Rishikesh.
Arriving at the train station 1am to find the is a 5 hour delay on our train, its something we weren’t unfamiliar with, we took it on the chin and found a spot on the platform to lie down and sleep it out, after checking multiple times that the arrival was at 5.30 and on platform 4 we set the alarm and waited until our train came to a screeching halt, as we awoke to exactly this, dazed and confused, we got up, grabbed our things found a sleeper bed and continued to sleep for the next few hours, it was around 15 hours in and out of that sleep until we started to get concerned with how long the trip is taking, consulting Maps.me, turns out we had boarded the wrong train and where heading back below Agra, this was a nightmare, finding the only guy awake in the train, a very kind police officer who was insistent on helping us, with little English he frantically sat on his phone figuring out a solution. It was 2 in the morning when the police officer told us to get off the train with him at the next station, after negotiating a cheap tuk-tuk to take us to the side of a highway intersection and together would wave down a public bus that he will join us for 3 quarters of the ride to his home, which conveniently happened to be on route to where we needed to go.
We stood along side the busy intersection for around 40 minutes, a good 20 people with the same idea as us, waving down every bus cruising past at around 80km an hour, never actually knowing what going on and putting our trust into this mans word.
Bus after bus erratically switching lanes, slowing down yelling out words then speeding off, countless people telling us it is unsafe and that we should be careful, (not that that has ever stopped me) before a bus eventually slowed down, a man hanging out the door screaming where we want to go, its this moment you have ten seconds to get aboard, not stopping though keeping a slow enough pace for you to catch up to it and jump on, navigating yourself with your entire back pack, to a seat as the bus is bumping violently over the potholes, climbing onto that intimately close space, pack crammed under the feet, legs crushed in the limited space.
Once again we travelled the next 9 hours in some god awful conditions.
Eight thirty in the morning, Haridwar bus port, another for those who know, is an absolute shit storm, why are these ports of arrival never welcoming? stumbling out of the bus is extreme exhaustion, anyone and everyone trying to get our attention, The both of us oblivious to anything other then getting the quickest and cheapest ride into Rishikesh, getting into bed and sleeping.
I had made plans with another friend to take a quick trip up into the mountains of Himacheal Pradesh into Manali, Kasol and Vashist
, a promise is a promise, and so one-night sleep after 31 hours of traveling what was only a distance of 700km it was back on the road, this time in somebodies car who happened to be driving to Manali, 17 hours!!, the man driving drove those 17 hours in one go, no drugs, not a thing but the need to be in Manali for business, this brings the total time traveling on/in public transport in three days to 48 hours.
Three days in the beautiful mountains of northern India, pine forests and snow capped peaks, the view from out hostel, a rose garden over the flowing river trailing down from the mountains in the distance. Arriving just before the busy season its seemed we had to place to ourselves, a perfect experience and time to relax before heading back to Rishikesh to begin 200 hours of yoga teacher training.
Some lovely walks through the local villages, cute wooden houses, the happiest cows I had seen throughout my entire time spent in India, literally smiles on their faces, living underneath the family homes. The trails throughout the mountains are stunning, its what I imagine Tibet is like, its very peaceful, very calm, prayer flags tied throughout the trees, a dip in the hot springs up in Vashisht, a climb to the local waterfall for a gorgeous view of the Parvati valley, Himacheal is another one of those places where you walk away with a little more love in your heart.
And here is where I will lazily conclude this chapter, it’s a highly shortened version to the story though as I said in the beginning I don’t really like to dwell upon the past, and as when it is the now, like just finishing 9 days hiking though the Himalayas and really needing to express into words just how much this has influenced change in my life, though patience, I will not rush and finish what I start, it’s a huge metaphor for how it is we should all be in our lives, at least how I need to see mine.
I have one last thing to write about my time in India, as I spent 1 month in a bubble of yoga completing a 200hour yoga teacher training, I have a whole post to say about this experience. It was clearly what you take from it, not really what I thought though no expectations rite?