I think this might be a pretty long blog, sorry in advance!
On Saturday I said goodbye to my new friends in Bagsu at Sky Pie and headed off to Mcleod Ganj. I looked ridiculous trudging off down the big hill to reach the tuk tuks in the pouring rain with my bag trying not to slide and I think everyone was confused as to why I had picked now to set off but oh well. Luckily the ride to Mcleod was short because the whole road is basically one big pot hole so we bounced all over the place. On arrival the hotel I planned to go to was full so I had to trudge around for a while in the rain in search of another, again getting pitying/smug looks from everyone else under their umbrellas with no bags. Found a nice guest house, dried up and donned my trusty waterproof and went to meet Krista and her fellow volunteers (Greg, Sarah and Brendan who are all absolutely lovely) for lunch at Carpe Diem. After that I went to see the Dalai Lama's temple, he unfortunately wasn't in Mcleod for his birthday, and I think the celebrations were all a little bit subdued by all the rain. Apparently there had been some dancing in the morning but Krista said it was so crowded it was hard to see anything. Later we went back to Carpe Diem and had a beer, before going to this "club" recommended by their host family which was basically a little room with American top 40s type music/Indian or Tibetan pop music. The club was mainly full of Tibetans and was quite fun, and we had a lovely time although the girls found out later that this girl they had taken under their wing as a shy newby to the club scene was actually a prostitute. Turned out that while they had been helpfully shooing men away all evening they had actually been shooing away all her business.
On Sunday we had a nice day shopping around Bagsu (Krista just about managed to stop me buying masses of heavy duty blankets and winter clothes which wouldn't have been great to carry around all the rest of the time). We had lunch at Carpe Diem and a yummy birthday cake Krista had got in advance of Greg's birthday the next day. We then headed off on a very bumpy overnight bus back to Delhi. The girl I sat next to was singing to herself quite loudly at the beginning, but luckily she stopped so I managed to sleep.
On Monday we arrived on the outskirts of Delhi around 6 am and quickly got a big tuk tuk or "van" as the driver liked to call it to the metro station. Quickly because the dogs at the bus station looked a little more rabid than in the cities. We arrived at the metro station and were glad to be on the other side of the road from the big gang of monkey/baboons prowling the other side. Even so I walked as quickly as possible to the metro station, without drawing their attention. Just as we reached it the whole gang of them ran across the road screeching. Greg said that they attacked the van we had come in or a rickshaw, I'm not really sure what happened because I was busy hurrying as far into the metro station as possible. Got back to Delhi and I then found that the Metro station is not the train station, so having walked around the whole thing looking for the entrance I knew I eventually ended up in another tuk tuk. Couldn't remember the name of the hotel Jade had booked so had a nice early morning search for an internet cafe. Found the name and then spent another hour or so finding the hotel (which was just off the main street). It would have been less than that but annoyingly the only person who seemed to know where it was was this really annoying guy who kept asking me if I wanted an Indian king, so I refused to follow his advice and walked around the parallel street to find another route. Found the hotel but it was too early to check in so walked around again trying to find somewhere open for breakfast until I eventually found somewhere right opposite my hotel. Not my morning! Anyway checked in fine and Jade arrived all fine so lovely. We were both pretty tired so had a relaxed afternoon and evening. Discovered that there were English/American films on the TV in our room so spent the evening watching "the Bodyguard" after a nice meal at a nearby restaurant.
Tuesday we went to see the Akshardham temple, which turned out to be the best thing I'd seen in Delhi. It's on the outskirts but an easy metro and so amazing. It has beautiful gardens and this incredibly intricate temple with all these elephants carved out of the sides. You can't take photos so instead I bought postcards but it was so beautiful. The inside was just as intricately decorated as the outside with lots of marble detail (I don't know what you'd call it) of different things, so small and detailed for such a big place. Really amazing. We bought these tickets to see these 3 exhibitions there. The first is a robotics show of Bhagwan Swamirayan who was a great spiritual leader. It was a bit odd but also quite impressive and interesting. After that there was a film of the same story, which included a scene in which the child playing him calms a lion, which we were later told was actually real and that the child had trained with the lion for a month or so previously so it didn't eat him. After that we went on a "boat ride" of Indian history which was a bit like something you might get at Legoland, a kind of log flume on mechanical tracks. Really interesting but ambience was slightly ruined by the guy at the front getting out his book to read while we were on the journey. We left a bit later than planned and it was a bit of a rush to get back to get our sleeper train to Varanasi. We got to the Delhi metro station and walked out of the traffic jammed area to eventually find our road. I suggested we get a rickshaw to save time, mistake. It was a cycle rickshaw and bless him he was so slow we would have been faster walking. It then started raining. I ran to get my laundry while Jade ordered us take away pizzas, and then seeing the time ran to the hotel to pick up all our bags which I brought to the hotel. Not quite sure how I managed to carry them all but obviously the fear of missing trains makes me super strong. Our pizzas were taking longer than hoped and eventually in response to another "5 more minutes" I said we didn't have it, we would miss our train at which point they started moving. 5 minutes later we got our pizzas (after a ridiculously slow double bagging they insisted on). I've looked pretty ridiculous quite a lot since getting here but I think this tios it. We had to run up the street in the pouring rain, me with bags all over the place and pizza in one hand, Jade with her shoes falling off. Finally reached our platform (one of the furthest, of course) and found our train. We got on absolutely soaked looking like total states and brandishing our soggy ticket removed some people who'd decided to take our seats. AtLuckily our pizza was just about cooked (although Jade's was uncut) and a big sigh of relief. Especially as the train left pretty much as soon as we got on.
The next morning Jade woke me up early as bless her she had not slept well. She was on the bottom bunk we'd asked for but apparently men kept sitting on the end of her bed and looking at her, so she had to keep kicking them away. I felt a bit bad, on the middle bunk I slept like a baby. Arrived at Sandhya Guest House (via a very informative but would-not-shut-up tuk tuk) and settled in. The Guest House was nice and the from the roof top you could see the Ganges but the man at the main desk was quite annoying. He told us we could buy tickets for Agra through him the price he told us being about 1/3 more expensive than we knew they should be. We said no at which point he started getting all "I'm just trying to help not hassling" to us, which is exactly what he was doing. Varanasi is also the first place I have noticed men chewing this weird mix of something, which I think is the cause of very brown teeth and them constantly looking like they're about to spit. Maybe that's just because people spit so much though. We had a really yummy breakfast of pancakes with mango and ice cream and then went down to see the Ghats. They were really impressive and spiritual although the Ganges was very very brown. Which actually I was grateful for because I think I wouldn't want to see what was in there! We went to see the burning ghats, where people bring their dead relatives to be burnt and return to the elements. I saw a dead foot poking out of one of the pyres which was a weird experience. Even weirder was that it wasn't that weird, I think my brain just processed it as if I was seeing a fake dead foot on a TV show. Later we went to the "Bread of Life" bakery and had cinammon rolls which were so yum.
On Thursday we got up at 4.45 (am!) and went on a boat ride on the Ganges. Really wonderful although sadly too cloudy for a sunrise, we saw the burning ghat again and the first ghat. Very interesting and nice to watch all the people bathing in the holy water from a less-intrusive distance. On the other hand there was a part of me that spent a lot of the trip hoping very hard that I didn't fall in. Later we went to Sarnath which is a little Buddhist town not far from Varanasi. The ride there was a bit hair raising with our tuk tuk deciding at one point to avoid traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road into the oncoming traffic. But we arrived in one piece. It was a really nice day and we had a chilled out little wander around points where Buddha had first preached after his enlightenment and other special places. The driver on the way back was also a little crazy. It had rained so there was a few inches of water in the streets and we gave a lift to two schoolgirls, which was awkward for Jade who'd previously told the driver she was a teacher (which she isn't). I suggested she told them she taught English, she didn't look impressed. That evening we met some lovely Spanish girls and watched some fireworks (apparently for a wedding) with them on the rooftop restaurant.
Friday we went to find the "Blue Lassi" which the Lonely Planet says is the "Best Lassi in Varanasi". On the way we got comandeered to go to a 100 rupees for trousers shop and ended up buying a few things. Oh so cheap. We then had our lovely lassis, although I was a bit jealous of Jade's mango as my apple was a little sour. We stumbled on the Brown Bread Bakery which is also meant to be amazing so went in for some bakery stuff. Sadly it is apparently "not the season" for baked goods so I just had a jasmine tea which had half a garden in and was disgusting. We then set off to find the Golden Temple, which we thought we had down when we walked behind this American guy who'd obviously hired a boy to show him. We decided just to follow them, and only halfway through the foyer did we realise he was stopping into his hotel first. We speeded away before he saw us and found it on our own. After paying to lock our bags up and all the security checks (it's really nice at least that all frisking for women here is done by female security) we walked down a little alley, caught a glimpse of a golden roof and were then informed we couldn't go in because we weren't Hindu. We walked down to the river and had a very nice lunch at the Dolphin restaurant. After a bit of an awkward exchange when the guy had mistaken our change for a massive tip we headed back to catch the train. The overnight train to Agra was much better and we were seated with 2 lovely French girls and two also lovely Thai girls. I think they now group tourists on the sleepers as behind us was also a group of tourists and our previous train we were opposite three guys from somewhere in Eastern Europe as well, which is quite nice. They also bring round an information sheet of dangers to avoid such as taking food which everyone has to sign so I think they are responding to any previous issues which is good. One of the Thai girls asked a man nearby to take a photo of us, which he took with limited success, getting half of us in at a time/just some heads. Finally he got a good one and we then discovered that a little crowd had gathered which was a bit embarassing, but they all dispersed quite fast after the photo was taken.
I'll write a blog about Agra and Jaipur soon but now it's dinner time so going to go and get some food. Hope you enjoy/it's not too long winded! Love you all lotsxxx