Welcome to India
In your face
No one obeys signs, apart from the dollar sign I clearly had tattooed on my forehead before I arrived I the country.
Traffic lights are also rarely obeyed.
Queuing is a new level of personal space invasion in India. Oh wait, no, I actually really like a 50+ year old man rubbing himself against me and breathing curry breath down my neck.
Everyone is in a rush.
Everyone is out for number one.
You know what India?
Everyone just needs to CALM DOWN! A message which I semi politely imparted to a number of locals on different occasions.
It’s okay India!
We’re all going to get on the plane/get served/use the ATM/get a taxi/insert any other activity that requires queuing, waiting or patience.
No one is going to miss out! We all have the same boarding passes/money/hunger/needs/desires, thats why were standing in the same line, so APPLY COOLANT TO YOUR JETS, wait in an orderly fashion and we’ll all get our turn in time.
On the first day I saw a woman brushing her teeth with a stick, a man scraping his tongue with a piece of metal and another man having his toenails cut with a blade similar to a craft knife and then I like, CHUNDERED EVERYWHERE. The bouquet of smells this country was throwing at me was nek level. But this is why we came here right? To see and smell and experience things we don’t always see at home.
You smell of so many smells it’s hard to know what they are.
You smell like shitty, shit, shitty, shit, yuckness.
You smell like shit of the human and cow varieties and just like plain old shit, as in using shit as a verb, not shit as in poo anymore. Just shit.
You smell like old, saggy, man ball sweat.
Two letters India. B.O.
You smell like wees at every corner and you urine smell gets up my nose when I least expect it. Once it was so bad I think the smell burnt the delicate little smell sensors up my nose. They shrivelled up and died and then I got a urine induced headache.
Your urine makes me gag.
You smell like fish and the worst composting, decaying, rubbish, cesspit of foul bubbling pussey scab hole ew that I’ve ever smelt.
You smell like a freezer full of meat that’s been switched off for two weeks and then opened up and left to waft around the place.
But guess what India?
I like your stench because mixed in with all of that is the smell of women threading fresh flowers onto strings. The smell of a million spices and curries bubbling in a giant pot on the side of the street. I want to jump in your giant pot of bubbling curry and rub in on my body and drink curry juice forever. You smell of garlic and onions sautéing in butter and of fresh mangoes and melons. You smell like incense, perfumes, aromatherapy oils and tiger balm and I like it!
Our first stop was Kolkata and it was great. Nothing at all like the image I had in my head. It was full of trees and yellow taxis. What more could you ask for?
At the airport we pulled our best pick up lines on an unsuspecting couple from the UK. It went like this
Me: Where are you guys going?
Them: Sudder Street.
Me: Sweet. Wanna share a taxi?
They were John and Sally and they were quite nice. We shared a taxi, accommodation (but not in the same bed silly) meals and many a Kingfisher beer.
I woke up to men washing on the street. I felt a bit rude staring, so I took a photo to take the edge off feeling rude.
This feeling has been repeated many times during our trip. We’ll be walking down the street and suddenly you realise you’re standing in the middle of someones lounge or bedroom. Sorry! Didn’t mean to get your carpet dirty.
Anyway, the day after we arrived was the first day of the Holi Festival. Holi celebrates the beginning of spring and Hindu religion but really all we did was smash each other in the face with coloured powder and follow a man with a drum around the streets.
This kid looks innocent enough but do you know what he did next?
After the excitement of Holi wore off we went for a wander and Michael had an iceblock.
And then he made a new best friend
I had a Kit Kat and a water while Michael had his fruju, but I don’t have a photo of that to show you. Interestingly though, the shop I bought my Kit Kat at gave small change in the form of mango lollies. So instead of getting 24 rupee change, I get a 20 rupee note and 4 rupee worth of mango lollies. Lucky I really like mango lollies.
That night we all hung out on the amazing rooftop at Ed’s guest house. We found Ed on the street and he seemed to just keep following us around. We took in the Kolkata night sky and did what we’re all good at play cards and drink beer.
This was a somewhat tense moment. I suggested we play UNO. We did. Everyone ripped me to shreds, accused me of being 8 years old and pretended to hate it. I know they all secretly liked it. Chumps.
The day after Holi, it wasn’t just our hair and skin that was stained, but the street dogs were suffering too.
That day we visited Mother Teresa’s tomb and the Indian Museum.
Then we watched Ed eat an egg.
We said our farewells to John and Sally before catching a taxi, Ed in tow, to the train station.
We spent a night in third class with the cockroaches and a carriage full of staring eyes. In the morning while I was lying in my cocoon people even started pulling the curtain and lifting their kids up to take a look at me. Apparently I look really good in the morning.
After negotiating a stupidly high auto rickshaw fare down to just a little overpriced, we made our way to our accommodation where we had arranged to meet Ed who’d taken a different train. We were a bit shocked when we arrived.
Turns out 200 rupee (44 rupee = $1NZD) doesn’t get you a hell of a lot in Varanasi. Our guest house, Shanti Lodge, in short was a bit of a shit hole, but it had a rooftop restaurant that was perfect for beer drinking, card playing, monkey watching and checking out the cracker sunset.
Because of these things we overlooked the fact that our toilet leaked ALL OVER THE FLOOR when you flushed it. Are you really going to complain when you’re paying around $2.25 NZ a night? I think not.
Varanasi was a new level of smell sensations.
The rubbish piled up in the narrow alley ways mixed in with a bit of sacred cow bottom pudding poo pie was so bad it was almost funny. Almost.
For the second time in our trip I put on a pair of shoes. Those lanes are jolly slippery with poos water. Ugh.
The cows were a bit of a novelty until the power goes out when you’re trying to navigate your way home in the pitch black and they decided to charge full noise down a lane the width of my arm span. Not good. Patty on footsie. White shoe now slightly green. Aw oh.
There were, like everywhere we’ve been so far, many a homeless dog to pat in Varanasi.
Opting not to have the rabies shot before leaving New Zealand, I’m always a tad hesitant to get too close to the dogs but outside our Shanti Lodge were two of the cutest little puppy doodles that I’ve seen in yonks and all they wanted to do was play and tear things to pieces. Someone puts a plastic bag of rubbish out and BAM, they’re on it shaking it to shreds. We had lots of pats and scratches until one morning when I saw what they were having for breakfast. Here they were, gorging themselves on the tastiest bits from a bunch of used sanitary pads and babies nappies. AH! GAG! We can no longer be friends.
Another animal friend I made was the goat eating the special holy flowers, string and all, down the hatch.
A sun rise and sun set boat ride on the Ganges revealed a few clever animals too.
We’re getting a radioactive fish when we go home. Michael said we could.
The boat rides on the Ganges made for incredible people watching so like every other creepy tourist I pulled out my camera and started snapping people bathing!
Then there were the people who were washing clothes.
Other things happen on the Ganges too.
Varanasi is undeniably quite beautiful.
But we learnt a thing or too about why good foundations are important to the longevity of buildings.
Varanasi is known as one of the oldest and holiest places on earth and peoples bodies are brought from all over to be burnt riverside and their ashes then put in the river.
There are piles and piles of wood stacked up ready to burn bodies day and night and while it might seem odd to us it’s strangely nice and very normal to be around. Mixed in with it all are the mandatory piles of rubbish, but on the Ganges even the rubbish seemed a bit beautiful.
Then I had a row of the boat
Our time in Varanasi finished up with yet another gem from ‘Blue Lassi’ a bustling little shop that only serves amazing, yoghurty drinks.
Indulging in these last lassis meant that we were running late for our next overnight train to Agra. For a smallish place Varanasi can sure turn on quite the traffic jam! This was less that ideal as our seats weren’t confirmed and Indian train stations are utter maddness. Only to add to our stress was the rickshaw driver who picked up a policeman on the way, stopped to get some chewing tobacco then stopped about 3km from the station and said that if we wanted him to take us the whole way we had to pay 100 rupee more than the agreed price. Dick wad. Us. Rock. Hard. Place. We paid him the extra but not without some yelling from me and ‘the god are angry with you’ line we learnt from a couple of ruthless Melbournites.
We made it to the train, me with 10 nails less than I began the day with, found our names on a list on the side of a carriage, help a 60+ couple find their seats and then met our new bed buddies, a Swiss couple holidaying for 6 weeks on a budget the size of our for 6 months. We had some decent chats on life issues, not just the standard ‘where have you been, where are you going’ backpacker chat and then we snuggled up for a night of cockroach AND mice spotting. Nothing better. I’d like to take this moment to tell you all that I slept in the bottom bunk therefore I win the bravest girl in the world award. Yus.
Rolling into Agra early morning was like a bit of a dream, We could see the Taj Mahal from the train and even from a distance it looked AMAZING! We got to our accommodation and pretty much went into hibernation to get away from the touts, shop owners and rickshaw drivers. The constant hassling was something quite out of this world so much so that we said ‘no thanks!’ to this one man walking past and he said ‘but I haven’t asked you anything?!’ We were just preempting him to ask us to do something because it seemed that everyone in Agra has a service or something to sell.
The next morning with tickets in hand we were up at 4.30am having a cheese and tomato toastie at Joneys, a tiny, dark, pokey restaurant that became our local for two days. at 5.20am we were second in line, perfectly timing out arrival only moment before a bus load of big, fat, gym shoe and jean wearing Americans. Between 5.20am and 6.15pm when the gates opened I got more mosquito bites on my legs than I’ve ever had. These then turned into giant, weeping sores after hours of itching. I then started attracting flies who liked to land right on the oozey bites. Days later even ants were crawling up my legs to have a hoon on my flesh but that’s a whole other story! The gates to the Taj open, we go through security then suddenly we find ourselves running with the masses to get a photo of the Taj with no one in it.
Worth it? Definitely.
Then we had a couple shot.
We embraced the sunrise spectacle.
By the time we reached the Taj itself, so after about 10 minutes, we were pleased we’d got up super early because check out the hoards of people.
We got up close and personal with it
Then I took a few photos of it from different angels
But decided because of the symmetry, it just looks better front on. You can look at it from the buildings to the side of it though and frame it nicely in the arch.
I took a photo of a man.
Then I insisted on taking some token tourist shots.
But my faves. The dogs ruining everyones perfect photos by jumping in the pond and disturbing the refection of the Taj. Comedy gold.
On the way out I took one more sneaky shot because the sky had changed colour and the reflection in the water was darker.
And then we left, only looking back to see this.
Verdict? Well worth the 750 rupee it cost to get in.
Later than morning we took a cycle rickshaw to the Red Fort. In a nut shell, the guy who built the Taj for his wife who died giving birth was locked up in the Red Fort by his own son.
The Red Fort is pretty much as it sounds. Red and forty.
The funny thing about this photo is that guy on the far left wasn’t actually part of the group, he just weaselled his way into the photo. He the proceeded to follow us around the rest of the fort like a creepo. Odd.
From the top you can look back towards the Taj which must have been absolute torture for the father locked up.
Perhaps my favourite part of the Red Fort was making friends with a squirrel.
We’re getting a squirrel when we go home.
So that rounds up Agra and Part One of our India trip.
Giving a dude who was raking up leaves 20 rupee to hold a squirrel.
Well, just under 50 cents NZ for some animal fun.