Feels like I’ve finally relaxed abit, six weeks into six month trip and am feeling quietly calmer. We’re doing lots of lovely things and I’ve clicked into a feeling of tourist sightseer serene – even in the madness of India.
Most of the last two blogs we quite analytical so this is a more typical tourist list of stuff we’ve done for fun.
Travelling out of Delhi, India is different again. We’re staying in the north to see; the bloody sandy history of Jaipur with its forts and garrisons and invasions, the colour and carnival atmosphere of the Holi festival. Beautiful rural Dhola with rolling hills and bright blue swimming pool where we camp the night. Agra with the magnificent marble Taj Mahal. And more.
My favourite visit is in the evening with less crowds and cooler breeze to the baby Taj; which sits quietly in lush gardens – a blue print for its bigger namesake which I feel has kept its integrity and serenity.
I am tourist thinking ‘I’m glad there’s not many other tourists here’. And it made me think, when does a tourist become a traveller? Or are they just the same?
Yeah so what we’re on a guided tour; and it’s great! I’m loving it.
As part of this trip we can find things that we would have sweated to get to normally, or maybe missed completely. The transport is organised train tickets sorted the hotels booked the admission tickets bought and after the challenges and illnesses and energy sapping of Nepal and Delhi it feels good to be looked after abit. Abit of relaxing and looking after ourselves.
We’re on the golden triangle tour for two weeks with G Adventures. We chose them as a lot of their programme supports local causes in one way or another so we feel we’ve a little higher ground than being a gawping tourist
Perhaps more a traveller than a tourist ? A baby taj as opposed to a Mahal ? They employ a women only taxi firm – ‘women on wheels’- for airport transfers, it promotes women’s independence and right to drive as there are a very very small number of female drivers in India.
A hired local guide is with us for two weeks and he is brilliant. He talks us through the amber fort at Jaipur – his hometown – which stands sagely up a yellow sand hill and looks across at its own garrisons dotted along a guarding wall. The third longest wall in the world. We are shown the Sheesh Mahal, the palace of light (the only Sheesh Mahal I’ve known before is a take away on kirkstall road) created with 100s of mirrors intended by the mogul exporter to recreate the night sky for his wife who was not allowed out in the evenings. Hindu temples, Sikh Temples, Mosques, stepwells, courtyards, camel stables. We see French, Islamic and British architectural features all a reminder of the invaders and conquerors of history. People have come here for years and I can see why – it’s so alluring and rich and vibrant. Pad through quiet courtyards and climb stone steps – photos from the balcony pretending to be the king.
It’s great to see these places that hold so much history and hold my attention and imagination so much. I guess this is what sightseeing and touristing is, the popular places are popular for a reason.
What is the difference between a tourist and a traveller? Is it length of the trip? Whether you have a guide or not ? Dreadlocks? Them baggy hareem pants with elephants on?
I’m not sure. I think I’d like to consider myself more or a sight-feeler or touristic-ish traveller, or I am trying to be. I try to chat to locals and learn words and phrases to get a feel for the people in the places. We try to buy from smaller shops and places and eat street food and visit and give to charities from places we go.
It can become repetitive or tiring to do too much or to see temple after temple with out context or variation or comfort. The tour we are on is really well put together and programme well planned. A good mix of cities and villages busy days and calmer ones. Temples, forts, gardens, food, cooking classes, bike rides, bus journeys, train travel, shopping, swimming, doing, and not doing. It would have taken us by ourselves at least four weeks maybe more to do all the things we’ve done.
After Jaipur we go to Agra home of the Taj Mahal. Perhaps the most famous tomb in the world. Built to house the final resting place of Mumtaz Mahal, built by her husband. We visit at sunrise and despite their being so many people (50000 people a day) the serenity of the place shines through as the sunlight parts the trees and drizzles the famous marble dome in gold.
It’s busy so I feel a little like a tourist here – but more so due to the number of Indians who want a selfie white a white guy to post on insta and amuse their friends.
The red fort at Agra, then coffee at ‘Sheroes’ a cafe run by and in support of survivors of acid attacks; and we enjoy some food and feel more than a sightseer but a sightdo-er giving abit back – er.
Next; a train and a bus to Alipura a rural village where we stay at the Alipura Palace. A faded colonial building which sits in a hill ringed plateau. Children run out to say hello and ask our names and I play street cricket with the kids as a good yorkshire man should. Proper traveller me.
A day trip out to see the Kama Sutra sculptures at Khajarao. Tourist.
A car to Orchha by the river where we do a cooking course, my favourite bit being the humble cup of chai,
and then a sleeper train to Varanasi where we see and sail on Mother Ganges. Wow.
Seeing sunrise as a giant free yoga class begins and people bathe and wash in the water there is a sense of real calm and clarity in all the madness which starts to make the India adventure very worth while.
Returning at sunset as we arrive men (women cannot attend the funeral ceremony) carry bodies draped in bright orange fabrics prepared and ready to be burned and committed to the water of this holy Hindu river. On a boat we sit for an hour or so watching a loud hypnotic ceremony which includes music and chanting and fire.
As the sun sets and we watch all the different Hindu ceremonies on the ghats (stepped banks) by the river I feel this is very special. Despite there being at least 60 other boats of 15 people I am enjoying it.
Bobbing up and down on the boat in the early evening; cup of chai sellers leap gracefully across wobbly planks and boats and we buy a cuppa. One way I turn and see selfie sticks and camera flashes and one way I sit and watch the fires of the bodies of people who hope that by being cremated here they can facilitate Moksha, the liberation from the cycle of rebirth or reincarnation as the Hindus believe.
Varanasi is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, and over 1000s of years millions of people and pilgrims have made their journey or their lives here. So I’m just one of them.
Maybe I am a tourist, or a traveller, maybe we all are, I’m just next in a long line of people who passed through here – man. Don’t you know we’re all the same really deep down..?
(Did someone put something in that Chai tea…?!)
India list (in no particular order)
1. Queue carnage
3. Temples and faith
4. Smells that take your breath away (good and bad)
5. People and pollution
6. Pani Puri and Samosa sellers (all food was amazing though)
7. Selfie takers
8. Bright Sarees
9. Car horns and traffic with cows in the road
10. Big smiles
India Good Food List (not exhaustive of course)
1. Masala Chai
2. Veg Thali set
3. Veg samosa
4. Misti Roti
5. Paneer tikka
Some photos here used with kind permission from firstname.lastname@example.org