We're now in Dharamsala - in the Himalayas. Been here for two days and absolutely love it! But more about that later…
So we finished our tour in Rajasthan in Bikaner and Mandawa. Neither of which were particularly impressive. Basically just to break up the long journey to Delhi. Bikaner consisted of us walking round being stared at and followed by groups of leering men. Not a great experience and all of which seemed to have memorised the same script, which went as follows:
Men- Which country is suffering without you?!
Us - (unimpressed) England. (walking a bit faster)
Men - ahhhhh England! London Mancester Birmingham. Lovely Jubbly, top banana, sound is pound!
Us - (forced laughter) Yep. (walk even faster)
The only other thing Bikaner has to offer is the rat temple which you can tell by the name we avoided at all costs! Unsurprisingly we spent most of the time in our hotel room which we shared with arather frisky pigeon, which lived in the grate and kept us up in the night.
Mandawa was a similar experience if we're being honest. However, since it was our last day in Rajasthan we agreed to have a drink with Sunil our taxi driver. He had been asking us to have one since the beginning of the trip (we think it gave him extra street cred to be seen out with three English girls)!We didn't, however, expect him to arrive halfway through our dinner and, very unslyly, pull out a bottle of vodka from his bomber jacket (his super-cool off-duty outfit!)
What followed was a rather hilarious evening end to the tour. Sunil ended up getting really drunk after we taught him drinking games such as waterfall - which he really didn't understand. Resulted in him telling us about the love of his life - an Italian woman who was an ex-client of his. Hannah ended up having to type a message to her for him which he dictated as follows:
"Hi Sem (her name turned out to be Sam, we realized just in time!) You no call, no text. Now fine, call now. Miss you, I wait for you. Love Sunil xx"
You will e pleased to know we edited it slightly to make him seem slightly less desperate!
Arrived back in Delhi with a mission (had earlier discovered the tourist office had given us the wrong exchange rate and charged us an extra 40 quid for our tour). After a good hour of us refusing to back down (Hannah nearly had to turn the tears on) we were promised a refund and a complimentary hotel to freshen up before our sleeper train to Varanasi (this hotel was amazing and had the best shower any of us had ever experienced before - actually HOT WATER which came out in more than just a trickle. We also had ROOM SERVICE!! Luxury or what?!
A stark contrast to our 'first class' sleeper train. Was quite an experience with a people throwing themselves onto the side of the train whilst it was still pulling into the platform and an interesting toileting experience: we learnt that squat toilets on a bumpy moving train require a lot of skill - especially when you can see the track through the hole below you. Lovely.
After sixteen hours and not a lot of sleep (thanks to the various men going up and down the train shouting "CHAIIIII!" MANGO JOOOOOOUICE" at four in the morning...) we arrived in Varanasi.
Exhausted we managed to stumble into the haven that was the tourist information centre. Varanasi is so renowned for its touts that it has its own tourist police to escort you about - we came to love these guys in blue!)
After the most uncomfortable tuk-tuk ride we've experienced so far - The highlights included someone actually running into the back of us (although we were so squashed in by our 3 huge bags we were unable to turn around and see what exactly had crashed into us). We also think we might have ran over someone's foot…- we arrived at Yogi lodge - our very cheap hostel in Varanasi. We soon realized that, rather than beds, we were given wooden tables to sleep on, although on the plus side, we did discover the metal rings which were attached to the ceiling. These were just calling out to be used to test Becca's travel hammock for the first time. Big mistake. As Becca was crashing to the floor, bringing half of the ceiling down with her and a lot of dust, plaster etc, we decided this wasn't a good idea after all! Pretty funny though, we were all in absolute hysterics. Think the lack of sleep added to this…
Varanasi is the holiest city in India - built on the banks of the river Ganges. We knew this was the place where all Hindus wanted to die and be cremated since they think that by dying here they achieve enlightenment but this didn't prepare us for the sight of the cremations. As we were walking along the ghats (stone steps protruding into the river) we came across a fire burning at the edge of the water. As no-one was really around, we decided to sit and watch it for awhile - thinking it was being prepared for a cremation later in the evening. We then discovered the feet sticking out the end of it. All 3 of us were really shocked by how open and public the whole thing was and hated the fact that there was practically no family there. Women aren't allowed to attend cremations because they get too emotional and widows have been known to throw themselves onto their husband's funeral pyres and we found this really hard too. We then got a boat along the not so clean Ganges (the most polluted river in the world with factory waste, dead bodies and flesh eating turtles, not that this stopped the locals from bathing, swimming and washing hotel laundry in it!). Seeing the cremation ghat where 400 bodies are cremated every day didn't really help us warm to the place, again we hated how impersonal it was.
The next day, however, we went to see the evening ceremony where they celebrate the lives of the people who have been cremated that day. The upbeat atmosphere and spiritual feel to this really helped us see why Varanasi is such an amazing place.
From Varanasi we had a 22 hour sleeper train to Chakki Bank and on to Dharamsala. If we thought the first class sleeper was bad the second class was on a whole new level but we survived it with the help of a lovely family who befriended us. We were pretty relieved to get off though since everyone on the train seemed to find us fascinating and the staring was even worse than usual (pretty disturbing when you're trying to sleep-). We were playing cards at one point and people were flocking from all over the carriage to watch us!
Despite some very unhelpful tourist guys at Chakki Bank station we managed to navigate our way to the bus terminal at the other side of the town and get our bus to Dharamsala. We were slightly dubious about putting our bags on the top especially when we discovered how bumpy and windy the roads were and how mad our driver was. The 3 and a half hour journey was the best any of us had ever been on through the beautiful mountain scenery. We couldn't believe how nice it was to breathe fresh air again for the first time in 3 weeks!
Arrived in Mcleod Ganj- upper Dharamsala- and felt at home straight away. This is home to the exiled Tibetan monks and of course the mighty Dalai Lama and has the most amazing relaxed friendly feel to it. Unfortunately we didn't come prepared for the Himalayan winter climate (the floaty linen shirts and flip flops don't quite do it). Our fleeces have definitely come in handy and one of the first things we did when we got here was to buy hand knitted Tibetan wooly hats which we have to say are pretty special. Went to the Tibet museum and were all struck by how little we knew about how bad the situation is in Tibet. Also got talking to a Tibetan monk who had spent 4 years in a Chinese prison for peaceful protest and escaped across the Himalayas. Despite this he was the happiest, friendliest guy you will ever meet, absolutely amazing. Yesterday we donned our sexy hiking gear and trekked up to the waterfall between 2 mountains. Definitely a day to remember, the highlight being sunbathing on a secluded rock overlooking the valley listening to our ipods with eagles gliding around our heads. We're here for 4 more days we've got loads of stuff planned, yoga, rollerskating, cinema and 5 km walk. There's even a bar here so we might treat ourselves to a drink or two! Tonight we've just done a Tibetan cookery course where we learnt how to cook a Tibetan speciality called momos-soo good, and even Hannah (who didn't know how to cook bacon until Laura taught her) managed to make some amazing momos! Can tell we're going to find it really hard to leave this place. Then off to Amritsar to see the golden temple for two days before making our way to Thailand. Can't believe this might be our last blog from India- flown by.
Love hearing from everyone, missing you lots.
Lots of love, Laura, Becca and Hannah xxxxx