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Malaysia and India Update At Last!

INDIA | Thursday, 14 April 2011 | Views [564]

Many apologies for such a delay in updating my blog. Computers in India are far and few between and finding an internet café with both electricity and internet has proven to be quite difficult. Because of the delay, I will try and describe the last few weeks concisely as to not take up too much of your time. The last time I was able to sit down and share my travels I was in Indonesia and let me tell you, so much has happened since then. After leaving Indonesia, I traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and spent nine days there by myself before my friend Nicola came to join me to travel onto Mumbai, India. Whilst in Kuala Lumpur, I did a lot of touring. I saw the Petronas Twin Towers, Petronas Science Center and Aquarium, China Town, Little India, Chow Kit Night Market, and a few other spots. However, the highlight of my trip to Kuala Lumpur was seeing the Batu Caves which are a series of natural caves that has been turned into a Hindu Temple Complex and it is the largest Hindu pilgrimage site in the world outside of India. You must climb hundreds of steps to get to the top and the view from there is breathtaking. I really enjoyed my time in Kuala Lumpur and I even squeezed in a trip to the Cathedral there for Ash Wednesday mass which I thoroughly enjoyed as being in a Church is so comforting when you are far away from home. The food in Kuala Lumpur was amazing and the mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malay people and food led to a very interesting and delicious stay in KL!

Now I will try and summarize the last month in India, breaking it up into segments.

India, Part One: Mumbai, Jaipur, New Delhi.

Arriving in Mumbai was something I had dreamed of and planned for so long, that when it actually happened, it felt so surreal. I finally understood the saying that India is an overload on the senses as I immediately took in millions of smells, sights, and sounds during that first taxi ride to the hostel from the airport. After settling in at the airport, Nicola and I made our way to the train station where we toured around for a bit and ended up at Juhu Beach which was a lovely place to spend an evening and we even watched some Hari Krishna’s celebrate as they prepared for Holi, a holiday that I will explain later on.  We spent a few days in Mumbai, getting ourselves comfortable with public transportation and visiting the India Gate, Taj Hotel, Ghandi’s Home, and a number of other spots before taking the train to Jaipur, Rajasthan. The train ride was almost 24 hours but we got ‘Sleeper Class’ tickets so we were at least able to lie down and attempt to sleep with all of the noise and bustle going on around us. We arrived in Jaipur and found that the hostel we had booked was actually a Villa and it was a gorgeous colonial home with gardens in the back where we had our meals. On our first day in Jaipur, we hired a rickshaw driver who took us around to see the Amber Fort, Water Palace, and even managed to talk us into going into a textile shop where we did indeed end up buying a few things.  I bought two blankets, one was brown with elephants and mirrors and the other one was white with silk string elephants and I decided to FedEx them home to avoid carrying them across the globe and I’m happy to say that they arrived in San Diego safely where my parents are enjoying them!  I met a few fellow travelers in Jaipur and we arranged to meet them for the next morning to go to the Elephant Festival. The Elephant Festival was an amazing event. It is a parade where elephants are adorned with mirrors, paints, and whatever other accessories their owners see fit before they are judged on their overall attractiveness. It certainly felt like some kind of elephant drag show to be quite honest. After that, there were a few different events like ‘tug-o-war’ before they started throwing around flowers and colored powders and by the end of the day we were all multi-colored and happy. It was a wonderful celebration and the combination of loud music, vibrant colors, and floral scents made me feel like I was experiencing a true Indian celebration. That same night, Nicola and I took an overnight bus to New Delhi where we checked into a hostel in the wee hours in anticipation of her sister Joanne meeting us the next day, which would be Holi. Holi is essentially the day that marks the start of Spring, as well as the triumph of good over evil, and it is celebrated by people throwing both liquid and powdered dyes on each other in good fun. Our gang from the hostel all went around town together and we had a great day of color bombing each other and taking photos with the locals. Joanne made it to India from Ireland without any problems and she got into the swing of Holi right away. The next day we just tooled around New Delhi and starting planning our trip east to Varanasi and Agra…

India, Part Two: Varanasi, Agra, New Delhi, Amritsar, and Chandigarh

From New Delhi, we took another overnight train to Varanasi and because we arrived at four in the morning and the town was still sleeping, we couldn’t find any proper accommodations and it took a lot of driving around in the rickshaw until we could find somewhere reasonable to sleep. After a quick nap, we took off into town and headed straight for the Ganges. We paid for a small boat to take us out and around the Ganges and it just so happened that there was a cremation happening so as we passed the cremation site, we were able to see a funeral in process but I definitely saw and smelt things at that spot that I don’t care to describe or endure again. After touring around the Ganges and attending another ceremony at one of the main stations, we had some dinner and a few hours later I got an extreme case of vomiting and Delhi Belly that I never hope to experience again. Luckily, that was my only time getting extremely sick and I consider myself lucky to get off that easily as so many others have found themselves much sicker here. After our trip to Varanasi, we headed to Agra and were so excited to see the Taj Mahal. It was so incredible to see in person and we spent an entire day there taking in the building that we had seen in so many pictures and videos over the years. The Taj is an amazing site and I am so pleased to have seen it. We also made a trip out to Agra Fort but it was only a quick one as we decided to catch a bus out of Agra so that we could return to Delhi and prepare for our journey to the north.

While In Delhi, I managed to meet up with an Indian friend of mine that I had met in Korea and he showed us around. We even ended up at a Korean Culture and Food Festival in Delhi where we found ourselves taking a Korean cooking class in the middle of India – who would have guessed that that would happen?!  After Delhi, we took yet another train up to Amritsar to see the epicenter of the Sikh religion, and that is the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple has attached accommodation so we were able to sleep and eat just across the street from the temple for only a small donation. The Golden Temple is literally made of gold and to see it surrounded by the holy pond is a majestic site and you can’t help but feel humbled by this beautiful structure that has survived such volatile attacks from opposing religious groups. The Sikh people are extremely peaceful and we spent our time there simply reflecting and meditating to the soundtrack of chants that was constantly going in the background. While in Amritsar, we took a day trip out to the Pakistani border and attending a ceremony where both India and Pakistan lower their flags and give each other a peaceful salute at sunset. It was great to see such a passive and diplomatic exchange between to the two countries and I’m happy that they can have such an event every day in this part of the world. After Amritsar, we went to Chandigarh, which is unlike any other city in India. It was rebuilt in recent decades and was segmented into sectors, so the town is very organized and geometrical compared to the rest of the country. The city overall seemed to be very aware of recycling and keeping clean, which is in stark contrast to the rest of India where you’ll see people chucking their rubbish all over the streets, fields, and waterways.  Chandigarh is a very modern and clean city and I definitely recommend it as a stopover, if only to see the Rock Garden, where a man has taken old garbage and turned it into a mystical land full of people, creatures, and formations. It is a real fantasy land and it is made up entirely of rubbish. After a few days in Chandigarh, we headed to Delhi for the third and final time, in preparation of heading south…

India, Part Three: Goa, Kerala (Cochin, Alleppey, Amritapuri Ashram)

From New Delhi, we decided to catch an inexpensive flight to Goa (on the Western Coast) as we felt that we had endured enough overnight trains and busses for the time being. We arrived in Goa in no time and headed to our lodgings at Anjuna Beach. Because of a glitch in the system, the owners of our hostel said that they couldn’t host us in their dorms but that they could give us a rooftop apartment with a balcony and kitchen if we didn’t mind. Hah! We were over the moon! We finally struck hostel gold and we were able to get these amazing digs for only $5 a night per person. We absolutely loved Anjuna Beach and spent our days laying on the beach, renting scooters, and exploring Old Goa and the Catholic Churches that were remnants of the Portuguese that had come in so many years ago for spices. Goa is an amazing and beautiful place and I highly recommend that anyone who comes to India to backpack treat themselves to a few days here as it is inexpensive but absolutely lovely!  Once we finally were able to drag ourselves away from the utopia of Anjuna Beach, we took yet another long train down to Cochin in the state of Kerala. From there, we took a bus to Alleppey where we arranged to do a houseboat tour of the Keralan backwaters for a few days. The houseboat tour was so relaxing and we felt like queens as they served us fine meals and tea around the clock. Because we had a large boat to ourselves (for $75/person), we were able to just soak up the sun, read, explore, and drink at our leisure. It was just as relaxing and lovely as Goa but again, we couldn’t afford to stay on the boat forever, so we left the houseboat and grabbed a water boat down to the Amritapuri Ashram, where we are currently staying.  The ashram is a holy Hindu complex where people come to study and develop their faith. This one is open to the public, so the girls and I are able to stay here despite the fact that we are not Hindu for a nominal fee of 200 rupees a night, which is around $5. The guru here, Amma, preaches the middle way within Hinduism and she believes in selfless service to others and lots of devotion and meditation. I don’t plan on going Hindu anytime soon, but it’s nice to stay in such a peaceful place where we are free to attend meditations, devotions, yoga classes, and receive darshan (blessings) as we please. We’ll probably stick around here for another few days before continuing on south to the very tip of India.

 

Well, that wraps up the last six weeks and I hope to be able to update more frequently in the future. The last month in India has changed my way of thinking so much and I look forward to the coming weeks that I have remaining here. Nicola’s sister Joanne has just left us here at the Ashram to make her way back up to Delhi and onwards to home in Ireland, so it’s just the two of us again. Thank you to everyone for reading this and I hope you enjoy the photos that I am uploading as well. Namaste!

 

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