This time it was January again, when I got the travel nerves and moved to warmer regions. Unlike the years before, however, I set out alone to explore the country and people of a previously unknown part of the world. Although, I wasn’t traveling all alone, because I joined a small tour group that I met in Delhi and with whom I traveled across northern India to Nepal. Jaipur, Agra, Orchha, Varanasi, Lumbini, the Royal Chitwan National Park and Pokhara were firmly planned as intermediate destinations.
Arriving in Delhi, I first had a tuc tuc take me to Connaught Place, a huge roundabout in the center of the city. From there I set out on foot. I had no real goal, but roamed the city and collected first impressions of life in this country, which was still quite foreign to me.
My way led me to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. A Sikh temple where you get quite an interesting insight into the cultural customs of this religion. All Sikh followers pay a contribution of 10% of their income to the community, which among other things finances the free food in the temple. However, the meals are not only reserved for the Sikhs, but are accessible to people of all religions.
Further south, I found more and more signs of preparation for the upcoming Republic Day. In addition to many roadblocks and a large military presence, there were also rehearsals for various music parades that filled the streets of the government district.
Nightfall then slowly led me back to the hotel, where I met the rest of the group in the evening, with whom I set off towards Jaipur the next morning.
In Jaipur we visited the mighty Amer Fort and took a look at the water palace Jal Mahal Palace.
The next morning started with a balloon ride. Just in time for sunrise we took off over the neighboring villages. The trip was actually planned via Jaipur, but there was a huge haze over the city, so our route took us more across rural areas.
Back in Jaipur, we explored the pink city a little, learned the techniques of local jewelery making and visited a textile factory for block printing.
The “Jantar Mantar” was also extremely interesting. An old observatory completed in the mid 18th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are 18 different measuring instruments on it, including a 27 meter high sundial whose shadow moves at an impressive speed of around 4 meters per hour.
The next day we drove to Agra, about 240 km to the east, where we first visited the red fort. A fortress and palace complex whose construction began in the mid-16th century and which played an important role in the various epochs of India, up to the armed uprisings of India against British colonial rule. From the red fort you could already take a first look at the famous Taj Mahal, which should be our next destination.
The Taj Mahal is a gigantic mausoleum that the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built to commemorate his great love Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631. Luckily, the weather was kind to us that day and the number of visitors was low, so that we were able to take a look at this beautiful building unhurriedly.
After the Taj Mahal we continued by train and tuc tuc to the city of Orchha, 250km further south. Compared to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, Orchha with its almost 14,000 inhabitants is a rather tranquil village. No less impressive than the previously visited forts, however, is the Raja Mahal, a princely palace built in the 16th century. Also worth seeing are the Chhatri on the banks of the Betwa River. These honorary tombs are built in India for wealthy and forceful personalities who doesn’t get a cremation.
On the way to the Prince’s Palace we stopped at a paper factory. Here, old cotton rags are processed into new, high-quality paper by some of the town’s women.
On the evening of the first day in Orchha, we settled into Rajni’s cooking class and were initiated into the secrets of Indian cooking. The food was all vegetarian, which didn’t surprise or bother me. Due to the diverse and very aromatic spices, vegetarian dishes in India are far more varied and flavorful than in western countries. It also meant that I was perfectly fine not eating meat for the entire trip without feeling like I was missing something.
I spent the next day by walking through the small town, before I continued in the evening with the overnight train to Varanasi, the city of death, almost 600km east.
Varanasi is most likely the oldest city in India and undoubtedly the holiest. Pretty much every devout Hindu dreams of dying here. According to belief, he can thus free himself from the eternal cycle of rebirth and achieve his goal in life, the moksha. The body is cremated on the banks of the Ganges and its ashes thrown into the holy river. The cremation of the corpses takes place right on the steps of the Ganges (the Ghats). And the fires never go out. They burn day and night. 200 to 300 bodies are buried in this way every day. However, deceased Hindu children or priests are never cremated. Instead, they are weighed down with stones and sunk directly into the river.
There are more than 80 ghats in Varanasi, only three of which are reserved for burials. At the other ghats people bathe, pray or wash. According to Hinduism, a believer can rid himself of his sins by bathing in the Ganges.
The highlight of each day is the nightly ceremony dedicated to the gods on the river bank with lots of fire, music and singing. Particularly worth seeing is the ritual of one of the countless boats that gather in front of the ghats in the evening.
Our journey through India ended in Varanasi and we headed north to the city of Lumbini in Nepal, 300km away. However, I will dedicate a separate page here in my blog to the subsequent days in Nepal.
If you liked this travel report, I would be happy if you also take a look at the Nepal Post.