India was simply magical. I knew I would like it but didn’t expect to fall deeply in love.
I had heard people say things like, “Oh but it’s so dirty,” “What about all the poverty?” or “It’s so crowded” and “You’ll get sick”. I briefly wondered if I should be concerned. The truth is, all travel to developing nations (if I can even call India that considering it has nuclear weapons and a space program) requires a bit of thick skin and a tolerant digestive system. I luckily have both of these things as well as the ability to see the beauty amongst the ugliness. That being said, if you were hesitant to go to India, don’t be. It was one of my favorite trips.
Delhi – Darjeeling – Varanasi – Agra – Jaipur – Jodphur – Jaislemer – Mumbai
Part 1: Delhi, Darjeeling and Varanasi
After a very very long journey we arrived in Delhi. By the time our driver and guide found us and got us to our hotel, it was close to 1100 pm on a Saturday night and we were ready for bed. As the hotel representative greeted us and told us about the hotel he mentioned that they proudly had The Blue Bar, Delhi’s hottest bar. We quickly decided that we had to check this place out so we forgot about our exhaustion, freshened up and went.
We somehow lasted until 3 AM.
Our guide Suri and driver Sameh met us at the hotel. We went to see some of Delhi’s major sites. The first was the Jama Masjid Mosque, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the mid 1600’s.
This is where it started. The Indian people’s fascination with Jasmine and me. I’m really not bragging…it was annoying but amusing. Everybody wanted our picture. I mean everybody. It started innocuously, one nice young couple who didn’t speak English pointing at their camera and I assumed they wanted me to take their picture so I smiled and grabbed the camera. They indicated no, they wanted our picture and one with the both of them, and then just the husband with us and then just the wife with us. We obliged…baffled. Others saw this happen and suddenly we were open for business. We had to start ignoring people and walking away. This sort of thing happened throughout the trip. I have no idea why.
We saw other major sites including Humayun’s Tomb, The Red Fort, The India Gate and President’s Palace.
We of course had to get some food and then shopped for pashmina scarves…which are simply sublime. We learned that true pashmina cashmere comes from the chest hair of a unique breed of goat that lives in Kashmir. They are usually blended with silk in different ratios, the more silk, the less expensive. We kind of went a bit nuts in this store because we both LOVE scarves.
We had saris made. We have nowhere to wear a sari but we wanted them.
As if this day wasn’t fabulous enough, a work colleague of Jasmine’s took us to dinner at one of the best known restaurants in all of India…Bukhara. Known for cuisine of the Northwest tradition, the Tandoor or clay oven, the meats are served without sauces and are expertly marinated and spiced then grilled. Their famous daal makhni is simmered in spices for 18 hours. The breads are also phenomenal.
The food was divine. I ADORE Indian food…it’s my favorite. This exceeded my expectations. Thanks to the generosity of our host, we probably tasted the whole menu. I’ve never been that full. The icing on the cake (besides the ACTUAL cake they made for us) was being invited to the kitchen to meet the chef and staff. When we did so, we got an impromptu naan-making lesson and after consuming several bottles of Tuscan wine, we gave them quite a few laughs.
We actually have video documentation of this kitchen fun.
We went to bed in a naan induced coma that night…after picking up the saris that were delivered to our hotel. Sweet.
We flew to visit Darjeeling. We are both tea obsessed and just had to come here. Our driver, Krishna and our guide Nouris picked up us at Bogdoghra airport and took us to our hotel, The Mayfair. The drive was kind of scary and motion sickness inducing, but with pretty views.
We settled in and had lunch at a place in town called Kunga. Ate these yummy cabbage dumplings called Momo. The food in this region has East Asian influence due to the proximity of Nepal and Tibet.
We went to see the tea plantations. We learned about the history of Darjeeling tea, the champagne of teas. The scenery was beautiful!
Next went to Kho-Cha for a tea tasting. We learned the difference between Darjeeling black, green, oolong and white teas as well as first flush (picked in spring…lighter, more delicate) and second flush (picked in summer, deeper flavor). Very interesting.
We woke up at 3 am to take a very long drive up to Tiger Hill in the mountains (nauseating windy bumpy road) to view Mount Everest at Sunrise. Exciting right?
We apparently had paid for the VIP viewing area which was the highest up and thankfully had hot tea because it was freezing (and we were tired.) We waited, and waited…and finally (we were told) the sun had risen. This was the view.
Yep. I often have this sort of luck traveling. So we dejectedly trotted back to our van, tried not to vomit during the long bumpy curvy drive back to the hotel and we went back to sleep. After breakfast, we went to see a Buddhist Monastery in Ghoom then a Tibetan refugee cultural center.
We went to a Himalayan wildlife park and a mountaineering museum where we learned about the sherpa who basically WAS the first person to climb Mt. Everest (even though a western white man gets all the credit).
We ended the day with ayurvedic massage at the hotel and another delicious dinner where we went at the daal makhni and butter naan like crack addicts.
This morning was clear beautiful skies (of course the day we are NOT seeing Mt. Everest at sunrise). Consolation prize…we saw Mt. Kanchenjunga, the 3rd highest peak in the world.
We drove back to Bagdoghra airport and almost missed our flight because of an elephant related traffic jam. Seriously.
We landed in Delhi and then flew to Varanasi, the holiest city in India for Hindus. People walk miles barefoot to bathe in the Ganges and receive purification from Shiva. The Buddha was also born here and preached here. Very spiritual place but definitely the dirtiest city I’ve ever seen!
Common site on the streets…cars simply go around
We of course had to do some shopping. Varanasi is famous for its silk goods, especially the techniques known as brocade and jacquard. We went to the Mehta Silk Factory and were given a demonstration by a sweet man and we were truly dazzled by everything we saw. We again went nuts with shopping; table runners, scarves, more scarves, gifts for all of our friends, etc. Everything was stunning. Pictures don’t do it justice.
We had another early morning wake up to take a boat ride to witness the rituals.
I need to get real for a sec…The men strip down to underpants and women keep a light sari on but they SUBMERGE in the Ganga river. Now let me tell you…this river is dirty. It looked so dark and foul from the boat that I wouldn’t even put a tip of a fingernail in it…and I’m not squeamish. THAT is serious devotion to Shiva.
This river area was a sea of humanity. This city gives new meaning to the word crowded. We were hustled by very young children which is one of the disturbing things about India. We learned about the spiritual power of fire to Hindus…which is why cremation is the norm. We actually witnessed a cremation ceremony. Bodies of young children are considered pure and are not cremated, but tossed in the Ganges, as well as a women who dies pregnant. I found this interesting, especially when I realized how many bodies must be in that river from hundreds of years of this practice! Yikes!
We later walked the streets of Varanasi amongst many cows (and cow dung) and stopped for chai. Masala chai is sweet spiced black tea with milk and is what Starbuck attempts to make but simply doesn’t come close to the absolute fabulousness of Indian chai.
That evening it was back to the river to witness evening rituals called Arti. If it’s possible, it was even more crowded. Crossing the street was a high risk sport.
The rituals were beautiful. Haunting music and chanting. I cannot get over the fact that the morning and evening rituals occur every day. We did a little shopping, took a crazy pedi-cab ride which was nice way to see the hustle and bustle.
This was a unique and memorable experience and I’m glad we took the extra days to fly to Varanasi. This seemed like the heart of India and such an important place to see the true devotion that the millions of Hindus have.
Next we fly back to Delhi to begin a driving portion of the trip to Agra and then through Rajasthan! Click here to read on.