India – a whirlwind and assault on all my senses

Don’t let the tittle of my blog mislead you, I’m having a phenomenal time! It did take a little getting use to the constant auditory assault with the honking and people pestering, the visual assault with all signs everywhere that I can’t read, and the olfactory assault that are the smells in India (some good of delicious food being made on the street and others not so good, like feces from people, dogs, cows, elephants, etc.)

My friend and I landed in New Delhi on Sunday October 28th. We had it all planned (one might call this mistake #1 because you can’t plan India). We were going to be whisked away to our hotel in the Pahar Ganj area of town to settle in and restore for a couple days before organizing a tour to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.

From the airport, our taxi driver loaded up our luggage as we settled into the car. As we’re driving along, we start to notice many road closures. We learn that the streets are closed because of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. I knew this part was true because students and fellow yoga teachers had been wishing me a happy Diwali, but I had no way of knowing if they routinely close the streets for festivities. After several road blocks, the driver gives up and asks for directions. Apparently the only way to find a route is to go to an information centre (warning sign #2 – don’t buy anything from someone who should be simply giving you directions). Well, they convinced us that there was no way to get to our hotel (are you crazy? This is a big city, of course there’s a way). I didn’t believe them yet I let them sell me a private tour package which was significantly less expensive than any tours I’d seen from the travel agency back in Canada. This whole visit with the “information center” made me feel like someone was taking away my free will. If a driver won’t take you were you want to go, don’t pay him, get out and find one who will. Lessons learned. The adventure that awaited us however was phenomenal.

We were off, first stop Agra for the Taj Mahal! It was a long rough and noisy drive with only one flat tire incident (they’re insanely common here). We arrived in Agra, at delicious and inexpensive food and checked into our hotel. Our driver Mr. Singh organized a fun evening for us (based on our requests and interests) while we rested and freshened up. That night we went to see an intimate music show and viewed some instruments. My friend was particularly interested in a sitar and I was taken by the tablas. No purchases were made as we were too tired to make such expensive decisions.

The next morning we got up at the crack of dawn to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. It was as breathtaking as the first time I saw it. Such beautiful craftsmanship. We both bought a souvenir for someone special. Turbo tourists, we didn’t stick around long in Agra. We were off after lunch towards Jaipur.

This long drive was broken up with leg stretching breaks to feed peanuts to the nice monkeys on the side of the road (some monkeys are nice and some are a little grumpy and naughty, best let a local show you the ropes). We visited a castle that was built downwards and contained ruined sculptures from Hindu deities (if only I remembered the name) and stopped in to spend time with a local family to see how they live. My new friend showed me how they mill grains and throw pots (some of you know how much I love pottery). We eventually found our way to Jaipur (the stinkiest of all Indian cities I’ve visited) much later that night. We called it quits upon checking in and dismissed our driver. We all needed some sleep.

In Jaipur, the next day, we visited monkey city to see how the people live here (they have a giant pool/bath where they all cleanse in the morning, splash around and seem to really enjoy themselves with water fights). We fed the monkeys bananas and peanuts. Then we went shopping (I purchased a beautiful sari and I’m hoping to be invited to functions and parties where wearing it won’t be too out of place) followed by an elephant ride up to Amber fort. Our day ended at our drivers cousins house cooking (if you thought my curries were good before, wait till I have you taste what I learned). The next day, Wednesday, we were on our way back to Delhi already. So many kilometers, 2 flat tires, and more than a million car honks later, we were finally meeting our yoga teacher training group and saying goodbye to Mr. Singh.

Our travels weren’t over yet because the ashram is in Rishikesh 6-10 hours bus ride away from Delhi, but at least now things would get quieter and we would soon settle into our new home. I’ll tell you more about my ashram life next Sunday.