A Travellerspoint blog

Easy Orchha

Overnight train: full thumbs up. We were in an air conditioned sleeper, which slept 6. We were provided with sheets, blankets and pillows to nest in- although it was quite hot on the train. After a bit of a marathon game of cards with Chewy, Skinny, and the Norwegian Boy, B and I try to curl up and watch a movie... However predictably we both start drifting off and decide to try and catch some shut eye after our eventful last day in Varanasi. Ging passed out at 8, shortly after we got on the train! All three of us managed to get in a decent amount of (slightly interrupted) sleep over the 12 hour train ride.

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When we arrive in Orchha we start to understand that India has more to offer than the complete insanity of Varanasi. Orchha is a city of 10,000 people, settled on a river and a horizon dotted with Hindu and Muslim palaces. We are staying at the Orchha Resort in the Luxury Tents. The beds are the comfiest we have had yet, and the showers.... Amazing! Hooray for hot (ok luke warm) water and water pressure!!! The hotel is a short 5 minute walk from the town centre and the Orchha Palaces.

After breakfast and a shower we head to the Palace for a tour from a local guide- Indu. The view from the palace over the valley is absolutely spectacular. It is a wonder to us that every square inch of this country is not inhabited by someone- but for as far as the eye can see it is green fields and forests, rivers and palaces.

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As usual- we dart off after the tour to find some little spot to enjoy an afternoon meal. We pick Bohu, on the corner of the main street and the road leading to the palace. This was the spiciest lunch we have had yet- we haven't had too much of a struggle with anything yet. The food wasn't unmanageable, but definitely had a kick to it! We did some afternoon shopping after our lunch- but only for about 15 minutes. The kids in Orchha have a lovely little trick where the run up to you and tie a bracelet with bells on to your wrist before you can say no. They tell you that it's free but you much promise to go to their shop. So we walk into the small marketplace and get accosted by children. I get wrangled into looking at one of their "shops" and before I know it....

Yes. Henna. Now affectionately known as the Monkey Paw. And a terrible henna job too. And of course I had to pay more than what I paid for lunch. Sneaky buggers. (As an aside- I don't mind henna, but for traditional purposes. As a tourist I don't think I have any business having it on me, but some other tourists have the token flower on their wrist...to each their own). By the time I am finished getting decorated I turn around to see children draped across B and Ging, and they both have 5 or 6 bell bracelets on. Needless to say we got out of there and hightailed it back to the hotel. Funny that we can handle the insanity of Varanasi, but the kids in Orchha put us over the edge.

After attending the evening prayer at Ram Raja Mandir, we grabbed a bite to eat at Ram Raja Restaurant (right beside the bridge, leading to the palace). The owner is a lovely Indian lady. When B and I snuck off to use the washroom (which is right beside the kitchen), I snooped around the kitchen into the hot iron pots which were brimmed with bright curries. They were more than happy to tell me that everything is cooked fresh, nothing in advance. We get waved out behind the restaurant, where there are two men making chapati. They immediately hand us a ball of dough and the rolling pin so we can make our own. B and I sat and ate our handmade chapati, and tiny potatoes pulled from the coals of the fire while these two men spoke in broken English about their family restaurant. These are the moments I love traveling.

Tomorrow- sunrise walk along the river, and an Indian cooking class. I don't think this will get old any time soon.

Chilled and fed,
The Three Muskateers

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Posted by ellie nicole 19:01 Archived in India Tagged markets palace dinner lunch orchha chapati Comments (0)

Sunrise and Train Rides

Sunrises anywhere are a welcome treat when traveling. And mornings for the three of us have been when we are at our prime (mind you we do the least amount of sleeping of anyone on this trip). We set out for sunrise on the Ganges first thing this morning. It is noticeably more quiet in the morning, however the usual suspects are still out trolling the streets- but this morning there was an elephant strolling through. It's starting to become less of a novelty to see all the creatures about...

Sunrise was a sight to see over the river. Just such a peaceful time.

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Sunrise on the Ganges

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The Ghats in the morning time

As promised- we hit up Phulwari (coming from the ghats, take your first right at the circle with the Baba Blacksheep sign. It is on the right about 50m in, in a courtyard, the face of the building is quite ornate. There were gentlemen selling yarn out front of it when we were there). After porridge with banana and pomegranate, boiled eggs, banana pancake, and a side of peanut butter for Ging (a lovely treat that she has been missing given her reaction!!) we decided that our mission for the day was to head to a silk factory as Chewy had told us that Varanasi is known for their silk work.

The lovely G6 really hit his stride his first day in India as he realized that his Hindi was much more fluent than he had thought it was going to be. Given this- he had managed to find a small shop in the bazaar (read: a lovely old gentleman's home) where he bough silk bed covers yesterday. We met up with him, Skinny and Curly to go check it out as we had tried to find some after breakfast and had gotten (a little) lost again. After a couple of chais sitting cross legged on the floor of this man's "shop", we had found what we were looking for...

We decided to return the favor to the boys by suggesting they come with us for dinner before our train to Orchha (an overnight train, so we figured we should have a bit of a feed before). It is becoming quite apparent to us that we seem to find a place in each city we are in that we latch on to. In Varanasi- its Phulwari. As predicted we order chana masala, palak paneer and a mixed veg curry. G6 orders ungodly amounts of food; Curly keeps it consistent with more pakora and Skinny has been sick for a few days and is only consuming processed white grain products. As explained to us by Chewy, liquor licenses in India are quite expensive, so most restaurants do not serve any alcohol. Not that we were after any- but just as a heads up.

Things got interesting after dinner. The Aussie Trio had made no secret of the fact that #1 the streets were a little hectic to navigate (the three of us are now seasoned pros we have been up and down this road so many times) and #2 they have zero interest in walking back to the hotel to head to the train. So as quickly as they decided that- we left, on thinking we had 30 minutes to hike back to meet the rest of the group.

The traffic was pure mayhem. Rush hour on steroids. Everything and everyone on any mode of transport possible piled together, beeping their horns. The three of us crawled over rickshaws, pushed through crowds, and snuck by the token cow n the middle of the madness. When we finally got to "our street" the traffic seemed to clear and we were able to stop at a cart to try out (and buy) cookies which looked and tasted much like biscotti. At this point- B brought it to our attention that the clock at the restaurant was wrong... We had 3 minutes to complete our journey, which was about a 15 minute walk away. Famous last words? L: "Moto-rickshaw?" B "Nope. Run."

So off we went. The three of us in our flip flops, with half a kilo of cookies, running through the streets of Varanasi. Now if we thought we were getting stared at before, we had no idea. The only thing stranger than 3 Caucasian girls in Varanasi is 3 of them running through the streets weaving in and out of people, around bicycles, passing rickshaws, all while laughing and carrying on about how ridiculous we must seem to all of these people. We made it back just past 5pm, but the Aussies... were no where in sight. Assuming every man for themselves is fine until you realize that three men might miss the train to Orchha and be stuck in Varanasi because you tried to be nice and take them to eat somewhere out of the ordinary.

Good news is: they appeared, only a little late. They had turned in completely the wrong direction when they got to the main street and luckily had the sense to catch a rickshaw to get them back to the hotel. Even better news: the Traveling Trio is now kicking ass and taking names in India.

Off to Orchha,
L, B & the Ging

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Posted by ellie nicole 12:11 Archived in India Comments (2)

Ganges and Ghats

If you haven't read the post on our first thoughts of India- I suggest you do. It will help frame a little more of our story from there...

After an early start (we are becoming Creatures of the morning... 630am dance parties and all) we decide to venture out to find out what India is all about. After a bit of a detour (we zigged when we should have zagged) we finally got to the ghats (Ghats are stairs which lead down to a river, and the ghat on the banks of the Ganges are quite significant as they hold spiritual meaning for life and death for the Hindu people. Many people will come once in their lifetime to take a Holy Dip in the Ganges to wash away their sins).

Much like the streets, anything and everything imaginable is on the ghats. Cows, dogs, beggars, goats and street children alike. Newly married couples are being paraded down the ghats by drums and dancing. New wives shrouded in red hooded saris, adorned with gold and jewels, are tied by a long scarf to their husband who leads them to the Ganges to be blessed. The three of us watched, confused, until we are told by a passer by what was going on (it's always so awkward staring at things that you know are being done for a purpose but you're not sure what).

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We wandered the alleys for the afternoon, trying to keep our bearings. Honestly the spidey-sense just could not kick in in this place. Once in the alleys by the ghats there are no panoramic markers to help aid your wandering. After weaving and hopping our way through crowds, mud and cows- we stopped and had a reprieve at Cafe Sala. It was a lovely bakery hidden away in the ghats. If I knew how we got there I would say, but there is no way I know how we got in- or out- of those streets! We enjoyed scones, boiled eggs and masala chai before deciding we should make our way back to the hotel to meet the group for our sunset flower ceremony and evening prayer.

Spidey-sense- fail. B and I picked a landmark to remember our turn home, and it turns out (we found out later) there are two identical "Baba Blacksheep" signs in busy intersections near the ghats. Predictably we got lost again, heading in the opposite direction of our hotel. We'll get this figured out eventually. We did however find a restaurant for some chai, which had our favourite breakfast items and chana masala and palak paneer on the menu... We vowed to go back.

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Our group took an evening boat ride on the Ganges to witness the evening prayer and flower ceremony. As I mentioned previously, the Ganges holds significant meaning for life and death. Many people are cremated on the shores of the Ganges, and then their ashes are sent into the river. It was a very different sensation to observe the cremation of life on open fire at the banks of a river which holds so much more meaning to a culture than it does to us. The ghat was piled high with wood and bodies cloaked by orange tarps lie in waiting nearby.

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The evening prayer was a spectacle. From the river, boats upon boats lined the shore to observe the evening prayer from the water. Spectators at best. On the shore- mass amounts of people packed into the open square we had witnessed the marriage ritual earlier in the day, together in prayer. Young children carrying large pots of hot chai hopped from boat to boat, serving us all steaming hot cups of magical goodness. Oh how we are starting to love our chai!!

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The Ghats during the evening prayer

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Chewy, lighting our candles for the flower ceremony

After the ceremony, we headed back to the hotel (Hotel Pallavi) and had a late dinner of Thali (basically a variety of veg curries and roti/chipati/naan). The hotel is in a decent location (off the main street, about a 15 minute walk to the Old Town and the ghats). It is relatively clean, they offer laundry service (which we took advantage of and were very pleased with), and has a wicked little restaurant on the corner beside the gate to the hotel which serves fantastic Thali. The beds are however reasonably uncomfortable- but when in Rome, right?

Another unforgettable day-
The Creatures of the Morning

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Posted by ellie nicole 12:01 Archived in India Tagged sunset flower hotel river varanasi ghats ceremony evening prayer pallavi Comments (0)

First thoughts of Incredible India

27 °C

How do you put into words an experience that cannot be compared to anything else you have ever encountered in your life? Emotions, smells, sights- all of these things which are used to convey a message- when everything is so raw it is impossible to lead a person to vicariously experience something through your words. That is India. Unless you have been here, you won't understand. And if you have- remember that feeling of awe and bewilderment you experienced the first time you encountered this shear mass of culture. How would you explain it?

Varanasi is dry and dusty, the buildings are all mostly a shade of brown or grey. Whether built that color or faded by the sunlight over time, the city is monochromatic. Cows are in every ditch, corner, sidewalk and street- completely unaware of the swarm of activity going on around them. The roads are lined with moto-rickshaws, pedal rickshaws, pedal bikes, motorcycles, scooters and people. People are everywhere, some in traditional Hindu or Muslim dress, others in Western wears, and they are mostly men. They are sitting in small open store fronts or crouching in the street having their hair cut and a blade shave. They are carrying crates of chickens or pushing carts full of fresh vegetables. Those not doing anything are watching. Patiently observing everything that is going on as they appear to be somehow isolated from the intensity buzzing around in front of them. The streets are dirty, paper and plastic garbage mainly, fresh and dried cow dung scattered through the street. In the base of the 5 to 10 story buildings are store fronts which seem barely large enough to fit whatever goods may be for sell or trade. Every third or fourth shop is selling cooked food from large metal pots over propane stoves- bright yellow curries, fried goods drenched in honey syrups or pots full of lentils and thick vegetable gravies. The air is filled with the sound of the traffic- horns from cars, rickshaws and bikes, the shouting of neighbors passing across busy streets, the crackle of food frying and the rampant clatter of feet in every direction.

We are being watched by every person in the street. Some curious, others friendly and a few judgmental passers by. We are a strange sight in a sea of Pan-Asian faces. Our light skin, different colored hair, our clothing, our laughter and chatter all attracting the attention of those who had not noticed us passing through their World. And we are passing through their World- we are staring as much as them- but less at their physical appearance and more about the way of life in a country of 1.25 billion people.

Side streets are narrow and dark, even in the day light. Monkeys scurry along the balconies unphased by anyone else. The city is one of the oldest living cities, streets are not built in uniform fashion; they wind left and right at a whim. Parts are muddy and wet from water being thrown from a nearby food stall, the signs for local business appearing possibly to have been completed 10-15 years prior- and neglected ever since. The alleys are as wide as your arms splayed open, and barefoot laborers are pushing carts full of bricks, and the smell of musk hangs in the dusty air.

And so this is India. I can't believe we took so long to get here.

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Speechless and excited,
L

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Posted by ellie nicole 22:06 Archived in India Tagged india varanasi impressions Comments (0)

Travel (down) Time- Chitwan to Varanasi

The one thing we have learned is that infrastructure in this part of the world severely impacts the transit time between destinations. We are getting into a good van (now bus) routine- an hour or two of music/napping, 20 minutes complaining about needing to use the toilets, an hour of the question game and in between I write our blog posts and the girls read. Efficiency in motion (literally).

We left Chitwan early Thursday to head to Lumbini. Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddah, and as such it holds significant meaning to Buddhists and Hindus alike. En route the roads were busy- busses filled with people all dressed up, singing and cheering- Chewy informed us that it was a day that marriages were allowed to occur, based on the blessing of the priest and the astrology (and likely many other factors I am completely forgetting/unaware of). An interesting fact to ponder nonetheless for a girl who only knows weddings on Saturdays and destination nuptials.

Our hotel in Lumbini was Hotel Budhhamaya, a 15 minute walk from the Mayadevi Temple and a 45 minute drive to the Nepal/India border. The hotel is fine, definitely the least comfortable of the places we have been so far, but given there isn't much in Lumbini other than the Temple, it makes sense.

Mayadevi is the Mother of Buddah- so the Mayadevi Temple seems to make sense at his place of birth. The Temple was not open to the public until 2003- relatively recent. Scattered through the courtyard there are signs with Buddah wisdoms written on them. Under the shade, the Aussies and Canadians all sat in sight of the Bodhi tree and pondered life and religion. I figure we are a week in- you can have those chats now.

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After the temple we headed into "town" which was just one street with a handful of hotels and stores lining either side. As it got darker we decided to grab some food at one of the hotels (we thought we spotted a rooftop patio, so naturally we investigated). The place was empty, but was as good as any. Feeling adventurous we ordered a few different dishes- veg thupka (soup), veg chow mien and veg biryani (rice dish). Of course black tea (chai) and momo landed on the table as staples as well.

After a long (but inexpensive, Rs450) dinner, we had to walk back to the hotel. We had completely disregarded the fact that it was going to be pitch black as we had to walk on the road back to the hotel. Funny how the road seemed 10 times longer in the dark. Without fail, the second we walked into the hotel we were spotted by Chewy- who just wanted to make sure we were safe and had full bellies.

This morning we were up early to head to India (!!!!!). The process couldn't be easier- drive to the border, get out of the van, get blessed by a Brahman (strictly involuntary), walk across the border and get in your next mode of transport. It seemed the second we crossed the border however that things instantly got more hectic, busy and loud. Chewy has warned us several times that the Nepal part of our journey is the easy piece- and that Incredible India is next. Honestly- I can't wait.

Bring it on-
L

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Posted by ellie nicole 20:26 Archived in Nepal Tagged temple border nepal lumbini Comments (1)

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