Here’s how the Lonely Planet describes Varanasi:
‘Brace yourself. You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth.’
That pretty much sums it up. It leaves you gob-smacked with wonder one minute, and at the end of your tether the next. It’s like joining a festival that’s going on for 7 days a week, 365 days a year. A festival where they burn human bodies on massive pyres.
The atmosphere in the evenings reaches fever pitch, and while it can be exhilarating, sometimes the touts and hawkers can and will drive you up the wall. One particular approach I experienced was having someone walk up to you, smiling and holding their right hand out, offering to shake hands. You feel it would be rude not to shake with the polite gentleman, so you oblige, and then you realise you’ve fallen for his ruse. He won’t let go of your hand. At first you find it funny, the cheeky bugger doesn’t want you to walk off. The temerity! But when you’ve insisted for the fifth time that you don’t want a massage, and he still won’t let go you start to lose patience. I kept my hands in my pockets after this to avoid this kind of hard sell…
But despite the maddening crowds, you cannot deny that Varanasi has a certain magic that you would not find anywhere else. The mornings and sunsets are especially magical, as the mist that rolls off the river envelops the banks and dims the light to an almost Dickensian lamp-lit glow. Robed figures flit in and out of the shadows, awful smells invade your nostrils before being replaced by seductive aromas, chanting reverberates in the still air, and bells ring in the latest procession to the holy waters edge.
Here are some photos:
Jaisalmer has an outpost feel to it. It’s on the edge of the Great Thar desert, and the last big settlement before the border with Pakistan. Despite this relative isolation, the centre of the town is bustling with the constant influx of tourists who come to see the fort and take a camel safari. Well at least that’s why we were there, shameless tourists that we were!
This shot below was taken from a pedalo boat on Gadisar lake, an attraction that only seemed to bring in Indian travellers. I guess you could say it was a bit tacky, but it actually turned out to be great fun; crashing into other peoples boats while trying to take photos with a steady hand turned out to be quite a task.
To get to Jodhpur, we had to take a bus. Neither of us were too keen on the idea, as we knew that Indian roads are some of the most dangerous in the world, and we’d been purposely taking trains to avoid them. But we had both survived the Andes in rainy season with landslides and drunken drivers, so we figured it was a risk worth taking. It wasn’t raining here at least, and there were a lot less drunkards about. Well, it turns out India can still give South America a run for its money when it comes to bone-shaking bus journeys…
You need to find moments of calm during a trip to India, otherwise it might push you to the end of your tether. Luckily for us, after frenetic Jaipur, we had three nights booked in the lakeside city of Udaipur. We had heard it might be the spot for a bit of downtime, so we had splashed out on a £40 a night lakeview room. The sunset from our window on our first night was pretty awesome!
Just outside Jaipur lies the Amber Fort. Built on the mountainside, the fortress rises out of the dusty rock with great stone stairs snaking up to a mighty wooden doorway. It looked stunning as we saw it from a distance, with a great lake below and the blue sky above. Of course we weren’t the only people there, the place was swarming with daytrippers.
I’m conscious my last post could’ve been interpreted as being a bit negative. It was a bit like diving into the freezing sea; first a wave of shock hits, you tense, gasp for air and fight against it, but you walk out feeling invigorated, and very alive. That is very much like those first 30 minutes in Jaipur. Once we’d found respite (in the form of the majestic Hawa Mahal), we could pause and look back on how amazing it actually was. In life you never feel more alive than when you’re challenged at every step.
I’d never seen anything like it. We took a walk around Jaipur’s old city and I’ve never had my senses assaulted in so many ways in such a short time…