Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Delhi, India (Day 13)

On our last day in India, we had an 8 am flight to Delhi. This time, I didn't really get patted down.. hooray! I opened my locket since the last one had me do it.. this time the girl just commented that there were "no pictures" in my locket.

Breakfast box with "American Style Cream & Onion" chips
Hajar's passport opens the opposite way from mine
Our plane to Delhi
After meeting our driver, we went to Bengali Sweets so Hajar could buy something to take back to her office. Then we went into several sari and jewelry stores around the area. We saw dresses that were incredibly detailed and priced in the tens of thousands of rupees. In one jewelry store, we tried on some gold bangles and were shocked to then be told for a set of six, the cost was about $2,000!
Bengali Sweets
McDonald's ad
From there, we went to Dilli Haat, a fun crafts market in New Delhi. We had a great lunch at the West Bengal Foods Stall in the market. Hajar had fish that was wrapped in some sort of leaf (bhetki paturi) and coke masala, and in spite of my sickness making me not hungry at all... I tried something called chicken korma. I ended up haggling for a red scarf for my grandmother. After some back and forth, I left the store and when I as maybe ten feet away, they came running after me to accept my price.
Chicken korma and naan
bhetki paturi
Coke masala
 We were caught off guard when one of the vendors said, "how you doin'" to us, sounding just like Joey from friends. He asked where I was from and when I said Texas, he tried to modify it to "how y'all doin'" but it still sounded like Joey.. hah! I also haggled with someone, trying to get a really cool leather-bound notebook for my nephew, but unfortunately, that didn't work out and I didn't end up getting it.

Dilli Haat market
After several hours of wandering at Dilli Haat, we left for Hauz Khas. It turned out this area didn't have as many vendors or stores to look at as we had hoped, so we walked into a Starbucks to have some tea and get some much-needed antioxidants. Sitting in the Starbucks, we wouldn't have known we were in another country. It was exactly like one in the US.. they even still had Christmas tree gift cards for sale up front. While sitting by a window, visiting, a guy walked up to us with an espresso, and asked if he could sit down next to me. I said yes, and Hajar looked at me funny. A few minutes later, I turned around and realized the whole store was empty. I fully assumed the seats behind me were taken! He seemed to constantly be waiting for an opportunity to join our conversation, and sure enough after a few minutes asked where I was from. I answered, then returned to the conversation with Hajar. I even said how "our husbands" would have a lot of fun at the place where we'd gone earlier that day.. hoping he'd leave us alone then. Also talked about my sickness and how I hoped I wasn't contagious... and coughed a lot. Nope! Maybe thirty minutes into sitting next to me, STILL somehow drinking a tiny espresso, he asked, "what do you do?" I thought for a second and figured if I answered, "marketing," it would only continue with the questions. So I just blurted, "I'm married," (I'm not). Hah! That stopped him.. yet he still sat for another ten to fifteen minutes while Hajar and I tried to nonstop talk and avoid more awkwardness. Finally, he left.
Espresso friend
Espresso friend, his bag, and Hajar
Child selling balloons on the road
Our final event in India was a pre-wedding celebration our coworker invited us to for her nephew. It was supposed to only take an hour to get there but our driver got lost and it ended up taking forty minutes. After asking five different men for directions, he finally got us there! We had tried to use Google Maps but it failed us and took us to the wrong place. 

The house looked so beautiful when we arrived, with lights hung from the roof all the way down and colors and flowers everywhere. We both got henna done, Hajar on her wrist and me on the front and back of my right hand. We sat in a room with all the women and listened to them singing for a bit, then had to leave for the airport. We had planned to leave at 9:15 but ended up leaving closer to 10.
A girl's mehendi
A girl's mehendi
Decorated home with flowers and lights
From there, we headed back to the airport where Hajar caught a flight to Paris a 1 am and I caught my first flight, to London at 3 am.

15th Feb: Day 13 Varanasi - Delhi
After breakfast in hotel proceed to Varanasi airport to board a flight SG 2196 departing at 0820 hrs to Delhi.
Arrive Delhi airport at 1015 hrs. Day free for shopping in Delhi.
Late evening drop to Delhi International airport for onward journey.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Varanasi & Sarnath, India (Day 12)

The city we're now in is Varanasi, and it is considered to be the spiritual capital of India. We're no longer in Rajasthan and are now in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Early morning walk down to the river
This morning we woke up at 5:30 am to go watch the sun rise from a small boat on the Ganges (Ganga) River. While on our way to the river, our guide told us this city has had three names throughout the ages, Kashi, Benaras, and then Varanasi. The city has 87 ghats, or sets of stairsteps that lead down to the water. The majority of the ghats are used for daily bathing, swimming or religions ceremonies, but a few are reserved for Hindu cremations. Hindus believe that when someone is cremated and their ashes are put into the Ganges in this city, their soul will go to heaven and finally escape rebirth. There are stacks and stacks of wood by the ghats for cremation, and we were told they use the weight of the body times two to determine the weight of wood used for each cremation. It is estimated that 100,000 bodies are deposited in the Ganges each year, but not all are fully cremated, or sometimes cremated at all as not all families have the money to purchase the wood.

Temple along the way
Ganges riverfront
 As we climbed into our rickety-floored boat, our guide purchased two small bowls made from leaves filled with marigold and rose petals, and a wick (lamp). A ways into our trip being rowed upstream, he carefully lit the wick of each and then gave them to us to make a wish, and place into the river.

Our guide buying lamps and flowers in little bowls
Lamp and flowers in the water
Our lamps

Sunrise over the Ganges
In addition to the locals bathing and swimming, religious ceremonies, and cremations, we also saw a number of people washing things in the river. They would dunk fabric in the water, swing it out from behind and over their shoulder to slam it on the steps or rock that were sticking out. Once finished, they would lay them on the steps of the ghat to dry. I asked our guide if they were just washing for their families and he told us no, many of them have a laundry business. We also saw many monkeys running the buildings, jumping from one to the next.
People praying and bathing in the river
People bathing along a ghat
Swastika decoration along a ghat wall
Washing and drying
Tired on the River Ganges
Other side of the river
Man rowing our boat
Women praying along the river
Couple praying in the river
Empty ghat
Cremation ghat with stacked wood at top of stairs
Cremation remains
Doing laundry in the river
Drying laundry on the steps of the ghat
Amazingly... there were water peddlers! Just when you think you've found a way to get away from them.
Man selling goods on the river
Cremation ghat
When we got out of the boat, we walked into the narrow streets of the city and did our best to avoid countless spots with animal diarrhea.. not sure what's different in the diet for animals here, but it was a mess. Everywhere we turned along our walk, there was a temple.
Walking in the streets
From there, we were taken back to the hotel for a quick breakfast. Weird.. when we walked in, the hostess told us, "you look like dolls." Anyway.. after breakfast, were taken on a drive by Banaras Hindu University, the school where our guide studied tourism management until 2009. We stopped to visit a couple of Hindu temples, and concluded our temple visits with one to Mother India Temple (Bharat Mata Mandir). This temple has a huge map of India on the floor and our guide showed us the different cities we've visited and several other things.
Mother India temple floor, map
For our next stop, we drove to the neighboring northeast city of Sarnath. Sarnath is considered to be the birthplace of Buddhism, where Buddha gave his first sermon. There we saw an eighty-foot tall statue of Buddha, one foot representing each year of his life and a Buddhist temple where we were able to go in a small room at the back, but not the main area as there was a service going on.
Flowers in the garden around the statue
Buddha statue
Flower in the garden around the statue
Flowers in the garden around the statue
Statue of Buddha in temple
After the temple, we handed our bags and cameras over to be put into a locker, and then walked through the Sarnath Archaeological Museum with our guide. Once we retrieved our items, we walked through the ruins where the artifacts in the museum had been found, then drove to another Buddhist temple where we were able to go inside. I'd seen statues like this before, but never realized it was Buddha.
Ruins in Sarnath
Monk praying in Sarnath
Inside of Buddhist temple
Inside of Buddhist temple
When we were in the car, we kept passing groups of men wearing orange hats with flags, crammed into backs of trucks and on mopeds, who were cheering and making a lot of noise. We'd passed something similar in another city.. our guide told us it was some sort of political thing.. still not clear on it.

I'd bought a book of postcards while in Agra, so we stopped by a post office to get stamps and mail them. Each card required 15 rupees ($0.22) to send. I had read that mail should be given directly to the post office instead of placed in mailboxes, as the mailboxes are frequently broken into and not canceled stamps, stolen. After the post office, we stopped by a store that helps people without enough income receive glasses.

Barber shop along the road
Our final stop was at a silk store. We were taken downstairs to see three men, each sitting in their own recessed area, working on the loom. There were punch cards that laid out the design for the piece and would determine which threads came forward for the weaving. Some of the more intricate pieces can take a year or longer to complete! Afterward we went upstairs for the usual (in many countries) show, of tons of items and pressure to buy.

Man making silk scarf
Punch cards and silk on spools
Back side of the silk scarf
Tonight Hajar went to see a ceremony called Ganga Aarti back at the river. I was so tempted to go but woke up this morning with a sore throat that quickly progressed to aching all over. With a flight to Delhi tomorrow at 8 am for our final day in India before flying out at 3 am the next morning (no hotel, just keeping our bags in the car all day), I figured I shouldn't make myself worse. Tomorrow will be rough enough lack-of-sleep-wise without being sick. When she returned, she said they passed probably four weddings along the way. Sure enough, as I'm writing this, there's some sort of parade in the streets outside of our hotel right now for a wedding. Lots and LOTS of noise, lights, and fireworks going off... causing a lot of traffic!

14th Feb: Day 12 Varanasi
Enjoy your breakfast at the hotel & visit different temples & ghat.
Overnight at Varanasi