“The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building in the world”. When you hear that a place is amazing there is a risk that expectations grow too high. In our case this happens all the time with buildings. Somehow, they always appear less impressive than the imagination. But the Taj Mahal, we must say, is truly gorgeous. If it is the most beautiful building in the world, we don’t know. But it could be, we cannot name another one. Can you?
>>> Check-out the Quick Story of our day exploring Agra <<<
From Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, our route continued to Varanasi: our last stop in India. At least during this trip as there is so much more to explore. In a way it doesn’t really matter how long you travel in India. You have to make choices either way. If you would visit just one place you will have a fascinating experience and if you would spend a year you will still have things on your wish list. If you are intrigued by India, just go.
Varanasi is one of, or probably, THE top pick to experience India in all its glory. It’s a remarkable place. Varanasi is situated on the banks of the holy river Ganga and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Hindus perform their traditional rituals at the ghats, the river landing stairs, of the Ganga.
If you arrive in Varanasi straight out of Europe, you have a good chance of a culture shock. I wrote in the Rajasthan blog that you never know what is going to hit you around the next corner. In Varanasi, you never know what is going to hit you with every step you take. About nothing is comparable to what we are familiar with. The streets are chaotic, filthy and you easily get lost. Small alleyways, filled with cows, locals, sadhus, tourists, scooters, shops, temples, cow poo, oh yes, a lot of cow poo, a dead rat, cobra’s, monkeys, persistent touts, stray dogs, beggars and too much to name. Which would be difficult anyway as we have no clue what some of the things are, sold by the tiny shops. Sometimes we felt like walking through Diagon Alley (Harry Potter).
At the ghats it’s a hustle and bustle of activities and in between private rituals of life happen in public. From a respecting distance you see little boys getting their first haircut, people washing themselves in the Ganga to wash away their sins and at some ghats loved ones are being cremated in the open-air. Many Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi brings nirvana and come to the city when they feel death is close. This, and all that comes with the cremations means you will see things that are touching and maybe even confronting.
What stuck with us most, is that Varanasi feels like a magical place. Very intense, I must say, your senses are running overtime, but oh so fascinating to eyewitness this reality. In Bangalore, six weeks ago, some Indian guys told us “This is not India, go up North”. We now understand what they meant.
What a closing of an amazing trip through India. We enjoyed this country a lot. Yes, it can be chaotic and extremely busy. The poverty level is higher than many other countries and if you are a germophobic you will not survive. You need to be able to deal with this, but if you do, India is an explosion of wonderful impressions. The people, the nature, the culture, the colors, the diversity, the food.
Oh yes, you cannot talk about India, without talking about the food. Unless the Delhi Belly is part of your Indian experience – which is very likely – you will gain weight. It’s that good! Somehow, we escaped a Delphi Belly, which is according to some travelers we’ve met a huge achievement. I need to explain this. Around the world there are these typical get-to-meet-other-traveler questions. You know: ‘where you’re from?’ ‘how long do you travel?’ ‘where you go?’ and so on. In India you can add ‘you suffered a Delhi Belly yet?’. If you think about it, it is a bit awkward to share your stool status with someone you just met but in India it is pretty normal. Luckily, we missed out on a few days living on the toilet. It might have been our litre of antibacterial gel or the fact we became temporarily veggies or cause we hang out on this side of the world for a while now, but probably we’ve just been lucky. If your stomach is not used to it, it is Russian roulette. Delhi Belly or no Delhi Belly, the food remains delicious and almost a reason to go to India.
What we’ve enjoyed most about India is the vibe that’s in the air. It’s sort of a happy vibe. Feel good. I don’t know… but there is something about this country. It’s hard to explain. Sure, the fact we’re traveling for a while now and are fully unwinded is helping too, but I’ve been to India before and felt the same vibe. It was 2004 when I traveled with my friend in South India. At the time we did not liked the big cities and transport so much, though. And ok, that moment we were attacked by elephants was quite thrilling as well. But I guess traveling in India as two young girls who ended up in local third-class transportation is simply different.
Maybe the vibe is because the country is so authentic. I don’t think it’s possible or at least very difficult for a foreigner to buy a property and start a business. All tourism revenues go to the locals, keeping the culture alive. Everything feels Indian. So different from Vietnam for example, where small fishing villages are transformed into huge resort towns destroying the beach. A local told us if a business is wrongly managed at least it’s done by an Indian.
Or is it because of the animal theme that is going on around here. So nice. Way more than in other parts of the world. Cows everywhere. On the streets, at the beach, high way, train station, really everywhere. Stray dogs hanging around everywhere. Heart-melt-moments when you see those cute little puppies and kittens. And not to forget the naughty monkeys and funny squirrels as well as the occasional goats, pigs and dromedaries. They all take part in daily life as a fact of life. We’ll miss them. It has something ‘gezellig’. Unfortunately, there is no English equivalent for ‘gezellig’, ‘enjoyable’ covers it a bit…
India, India, India. It’s hard to describe the vibe of India. What it is about India. Why we enjoyed it so much, as in the end it’s not the food or the animals. It’s all together. The culture, people, nature, everything. India is as you expect it to be. It’s pure. It’s a country to experience and see for yourself.
We will, in any case, reminisce about India for a long time.
And now on to the mountains. 🙂