Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Back in the Groove

After a fairly hectic first three months back in Delhi things have finally slowed down and we are back into a fairly normal daily routine. I think I needed things to slow a bit, I was going a bit crazy there for a while; as evidenced by my iron smashing drama…more about that later.

February was reasonable uneventful. Much of the month was spent getting back into the school routine and trying to come up with new and different things to cook that did not taste Indian and didn't cost a fortune to make (not as easy as it sounds).
The other thing that occupied a surprisingly large amount of time was coming up with a ten day itinerary of travel for my sister and her husband who were visiting us for the second time in early March. The problem was I could not book any of the train travel while in Australia and by the time I got back to Delhi there were limited options available. After much stress and countless trips to the rail booking office in my neighbourhood (which I refer to as' hell on earth') the itinerary including travel and accommodation was sorted. If anyone wants a ten-day itinerary around North India taking in as much as possible I am your guide.
Retrospectively I may have pushed it a little bit too much, it was a hectic schedule, but thoroughly enjoyable.

March flew by; Julie and Michael arrived during the first week. The morning after the night they flew in we were up at 6am and on a train to Amritsar. This was  an easy six hour journey that was made more enjoyable by the amazing chocolate-chip breakfast muffins Hunter had made the night before and then less enjoyable when I realised in the taxi on the way to the hotel that my Oakleys had fallen out of my backpack on the train and were lost forever…grrr
We checked into our regular hotel (can you call it your 'regular' on your second visit) and had a delicious vegetarian lunch before heading out to the Waggah Border so that Julie and Michael could enjoy the Monty Pythonesque border closing ceremony. Refer to 'A collection of life & lentil anecdotes from the past six months' for a detailed description.
The rest of our time in Amritsar was much the same as our last visit… dinner at Crystal's; a night-time stroll around the temple; breakfast at the Golden Temple dining hall followed by dish washing; a wander around the city and the train home. This time we did not make the stupid decision to drive but rather took a leisurely train journey back to Delhi.
The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn again, but this time it was to drive Julie and Michael to the airport. They were off to Calcutta and Darjeeling. We had already visited both places and as much as I wouldn't mind seeing Darjeeling again (Calcutta not so much) we just could not organise an economical way to fit it in as I had to leave the train bookings so late.
Julie and Michael had a great couple of days away, but I think they thought I was trying to kill them when I booked them a luxury attic room in the Darjeeling hotel. Climbing four flights of stairs at that altitude is hard work!
After their jaunt I picked them up from  Delhi airport and once again it was go, go go. A quick lunch, a bit of necessary shopping, then we were off to catch the night train to Varanasi.
I was really looking forward to this for a number of reasons; firstly because we were traveling first class on the train (first time) and secondly because this time we were staying at an ambient hotel on the river rather than out in the sticks like we did last time (Ray is never going to hear then end of that).
First class was all I had hoped and more. Bigger beds, locking door, cleaner bathrooms and even a little bathroom indicator in the cabin that showed whether the bathroom was occupied. I did not sleep fabulously, but I did enjoy the soothing rocking motion of the train during the night.
We arrived at Mughal Sarai -  a station a little out of Varanasi itself - a little later than we were scheduled. This was due to some riots causing delays, cancellations and diversions. Frankly we were very lucky. A friend of ours who left from Delhi to Varanasi the morning before us got in long after us!?!
I hate to say it but the thing that strikes you first and foremost about Varanasi is the stench of urine and other human excrement. Delhi has its fair share of open sewer drains and stinky public urinals but this takes it too a whole other level.
We stayed at A Palace on the River during our time in Varanasi. I feel it was a bit overpriced; you are paying for location and a very flashy garland made from hundreds of roses on arrival. The restaurant was ok but painfully slow.
My recommendation for Varanasi would be Sita Guest House; not very flash but great location and a good price… all you need really.
I don't know what it is about Varanasi and the Ganga but it is really a sight to behold. The old city sitting on one side of the sacred river and barren flood planes on the other. In the evening hundreds of people take a sunset boat ride and release hundreds of floating candles onto the river. It is a spectacular sight.
The next morning after being woken by the incessant bell ringing of some guy doing his morning puja we had breakfast and then headed out for a tour of Varanasi.
My friend Jay recommended her friend Jai from Varanasi Walks and I have to say this was the highlight of our time in Varanasi. Jai is from the USA but has lived in Varanasi for 15 odd years and has studied the city and the culture. I know it seems odd that we would have an American guide us though an Indian city but it strangely makes sense and this is why. His english is easy to understand… sometimes it is a real struggle understanding Indian guides. Also, he gets that we do not have an understanding of the Indian culture or the the Hindu religion so he is able to convey the culture and religion in  a way that makes it easier to comprehend as well as comparing and contrasting cultures and religions. I cannot recommend Jai and Varanasi Walks highly enough… make sure you ask for Jai though.
The rest of our time in Varanasi was spent exploring the river, shopping and catching up with friends who had recently moved to Varanasi. Although I did not go on the mandatory sunrise or sunset boat ride I did manage to utilise the boat service to fulfill a transport need. One afternoon I had walked from our hotel half-an-hour down river to Assi Ghat (stairway) to catch up with my friend Jay who also happened to be visiting Varanasi. To put it in perspective this is not a leisurely stroll along a river bank, but rather it is half-an-hour of climbing up and down stairs  in the blazing sun. After a cold drink at the Open Hand Cafe rather than walking back up the ghats in the searing heat to the hotel we decided to take a boat. Best decision ever! It is such a leisurely way to travel and disgustingly cheap for the effort of the poor guy rowing the boat. So, I had my mandatory Varanasi boat ride.
After 3 days in Varanasi we flew back to Delhi. This flight deserves mentioning…
We were flying Spicejet. I used to find this airline endearing as each of their planes is named after a culinary spice. I have flown on Mustard, Fenugreek and Coriander :)
The flight out of Varanasi was delayed as the plane was late arriving from its previous leg. Rather than leaving before the Air India flight to Delhi we ended up leaving after… literally moments after. You have never seen a plane turn around so quick. We were rushed out of the terminal onto the tarmac surprisingly soon after the plane had landed. We were then herded onto the plane, thrown our complementary water and watched what seemed like an abridged version of in-flight emergency procedures. Next thing I knew we were speeding towards a bend and drifted onto the runway. The pace only quickened from there. It did not feel as though we were in the air for long before we commenced our decent. We must have overtaken the Air India flight at some-point. The landing in Delhi was fast and furious as was the taxi to the terminal until we came to a screeching halt. So we left Varanasi late and arrived early!!! I don't know if this constitutes timely service or recklessness. It felt like the latter.
We kept Julie and Michael on the go right until the bitter end. In fact there was some mad final packing and a bit of a rush to the airport. They were going to need their week in Penang to recover :)

We had a week of normalcy before our next lot of family arrived. This time it was Oma and Opa. They were staying with us for nearly five weeks. Thankfully there was no mad schedule to keep to but rather it was a month of largely hanging out in Delhi.

Well I feel like the skin on my wrists in blistering from resting my wrists on  the edge of my mac while typing. So I think I will leave it at that for today and fill you in on our rafting trip and all out other news including the iron smashing incident another day.

Until then, namaste.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Hi Louise, Rob here, found your blog and it's already been of help, i'm desperate to see the Amritsar border ceremony, from what I've heard it sounds hilarious.
My blogs here, http://cretininindia.wordpress.com/
feel free to pass it on to people who like reading nonsense.