I was so happy to arrive in the picturesque small town of Orchha. This beautiful rural town is situated beside the Betwa river. It is known for its archetecture and its history as the the oldest and highest in rank of all the Bundela states. The town and it people were very laid back and friendly and it was nice not to fear for your life every time you were anywhere near a road. Our hotel was amazing.. static tents which were only metres from the incredible temples. In the evening we attended the Ram Raja Temple for the puja ceremony which involves Hindu prayer and offering. It was really interesting to learn more about the Hindu religion and I was moved by how passionate the people were and how generous they were with their offerings. The next day we had a tour of some of the temples and palaces which had brilliant views of the area from the rooftops. Later that day I took a walk into the town with one of my team mates, Will. We were spotted by two little girls who had given us is friendship bracelets the previous night. They insisted we visit their stall. Half an hour later we left looking very cultured with Hindu red marks on our head and both with elaborate henna tattoos! For some ridiculous reason I caved into the pressure that these two ten year old girls put me under and ended up buying a lifetime supply of Indian coloured powders, all colours. Likewise Will gave in to each child who asked him for a "coca-cola". The kids are just so cute you honestly cannot say no. At sunset we explored the old temples. It was so peaceful and quiet and felt like nothing had changed here in centuries. I really loved seeing this side of India and allowing it to change my image of this diverse country.
In the evening we got the 13 hour night train to the quintessential Indian holy city of Varanasi. Three story bunkbeds were an experience. To all of our surprise we actually got the best night sleep yet which surprised us. Varanasi is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Hindus come to Varanasi to travel, for pilgrimage, to worship, to mourn and to die. The city is rich in culture and history but definitely the poorest place we have been yet. I saw so many elderly and sick people and people who had lost limbs. There were also a huge amount of beggers and street children. I found this difficult. We got a tuk tuk into the sprawling city centre for a walk about the twisting alley ways and to see the golden temple. SO many people, cows, dogs, stalls, rickshaws everywhere. That evening we went for a candle flower ceremony at sunset on the sacred River Ganges. This was brilliant as you could really feel the history and spiritual importance surrounding this river. On the bank of the river you could see the rituals of bathing and burnings. Six big fires with burning bodies on top was a sight that left me feeling strange, speechless and very humble. We watched as bodies were carried down, unwrapped of the cloth they had been wrapped in, placed on a layer of sticks, sticks being laid on top and then the specific family member setting fire to the body. It was interesting to learn about the Hindu traditions such as this and the reasons behind them. A Hindu prayer ceremony started on the bank of the river which thousands of people attended. The atmosphere was amazing. We lit candles and released them along with flowers on to the River.
That evening we went for dinner in a fancy restaurant. Some of team then suggested with it being my birthday the following day, staying up all night and going to the River Ganges for a boat ride at sunrise the following morning. So that is what we did. It turned midnight when I was in a lift.. So I got sang happy birthday there to which was funny. We went back to the hotel and had a really good night. The staff brought me out a birthday cake which consisted of three slices of bread piled high with ice cream and candles! Only in India! I also got a present from staff which was popadoms wrapped in tin foil. Very cute. I had a brilliant night with the team and know that it will be a birthday I will never forget. At 0500 we travelled to the River Ganges for another boat ride. This has to have been one of my favourite parts of the trip yet. The sunrise was so beautiful and it was amazing watching Indian life on the banks - people bathing, washing clothes and worshipping. In the afternoon, a guy on my team and I went for a walk and ended up playing cricket with some local kids we found which was great fun and then we got a rickshaws to the silk factory. Dinner that night was pizza hut - the waiters singing happy birthday in Indian was another highlight to the day.
Varanasi was incredible. Although it was such a dirty, noisy, polluted and busy city, it is so spiritual and cultural. Orchha and Varanasi have really cause India to get under my skin. There really is just something about it that I cannot seem to place my finger on. I was sad to leave India, but I was so excited for Nepal!