A Travellerspoint blog

Agra

Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal but otherwise there is not much else there aside from monkeys and camels.

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We woke up very early to check out the Taj at sunrise and it was well worth it. It was a beautiful cool morning (Agra wasn’t as hot as Varanasi or Delhi but very close) and there were far less people there than later in the day.

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The Taj has a very serene feel and is truly one of the loveliest places we have ever visited. It’s made entirely of marble and other precious metals and stones.

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Every last inch has enormous detail and the workmanship is mind boggling. Amazingly, we learned that not long ago the Taj had been not much more than a derelict building with even some graffiti on it! Finally, the government of India came to realize what an amazing piece of architecture they had and restored it.

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A quick two days in Agra and we’re now on a mission to the South of India to enjoy some beach time in Goa.

Posted by ReneeJared 06:17 Archived in India Comments (0)

Varanasi

Another long train ride took us through the arid North to Varanasi.

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As many know, Varanasi (also called the City of Shiva) sits on the Ganges River which is considered Hinduism’s most sacred river. The city itself is big and dusty and was very hot while we were there (rivaling Delhi’s heat with temps in the 40’s again).

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We stayed in the old part of the city which sits along the shores of the Ganges and is an absolute labyrinth of narrow walkways (no cars or rickshaws are allowed in this part of the city). The architecture is a crazy mix of crumbling buildings surrounding the many different temples throughout the old city.

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The walkways are filled with all sorts of shops that sell everything from tea to silk. There are also tons of paan vendors who sell a product similar to chewing tobacco but is made from the betel nut and is apparently fairly addictive (one gent told us that your can order you bit of paan with a dash of opium… ). You can tell the heavy paan chewers as they all have stained red teeth and you have to be careful where you’re walking as there are splashes of paan spit everywhere…yuck!

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Walking through the old city, you encounter tons of animals. There are dogs, goats, monkeys and cows everywhere. The cow is considered a sacred animal to the Hindu’s and so they’re permitted to roam freely throughout the city. It’s kind of humorous to see people walk past these giant animals and pet them as though they were the family dog. With all the cows wandering about, you also have to keep a diligent eye out for the mountains of dung just waiting for you to step in…

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The Ghats (stairways down to the river) themselves are very cool. It’s amazing to watch the locals live their daily lives on these stairs doing everything from bathing and laundry to burning the bodies of their dead.

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Every day at sunset a ceremonial blessing of the Ganges is held on the main Ghat (Dasaswamedh Ghat). The ceremony is beautiful with one of the holy men singing and others performing rituals in sync. There were hundreds of people in attendance and being surrounded by so many devout Hindu’s who were singing and praying all around us was somewhat surreal.

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You can also buy a floating flower to release into the Ganges as a blessing for your family so I felt that I had to do my part.

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Varanasi has many silk manufacturers and the push to buy silk items is huge. Admittedly, it’s insanely cheap in comparison to other parts of the world and most of it is made on hand looms which takes an enormous amount of time and energy. We were taken to see one of these looms and it was mind blowing to see this man in a dirty, tiny, dark room making something so beautiful.

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Unfortunately, the experience of Varanasi is lessened a little with having to once again beat off the touts (many of them children) trying to sell us every conceivable thing and who just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You end up having to almost yell at them to make them leave you alone and then the next one takes their place.

Two days in Varanasi was enough for us but that said, we’re glad we came to check it out. We’re now going west again to see one of the wonders of the world in Agra….the Taj Mahal!

Posted by ReneeJared 05:51 Archived in India Comments (0)

Delhi

After four plane changes and 24 hours of flying, we finally arrived in Delhi. What a place! Big, dusty, HOT, busy, there is no end to the ways to describe this outrageous city.

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We arrived at 10pm and when we exited the airport we hit a wall of heat. The average daily temperatures since we’ve arrived have been in the low 40’s Celsius. It’s so hot that when you sweat it immediately evaporates off your skin so you’re surprisingly dry but in a constant state of dehydration. We drink at least 4 liters of water a day each and it’s barely enough.

One of the things that we noticed immediately was the poverty that is so prevalent everywhere in Delhi. So many people live on the streets or in garbage piles with nothing more than tarps (or less) for shelter. However, these people seem to have a quiet acceptance of circumstance and handle themselves with dignity which is very different from the often surly homeless people in our home city of Vancouver. There are countless children wandering about begging and it’s very difficult to resist giving some of them money.

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Delhi is hosting the 2010 Commonwealth games in October and so the entire city is under construction. Everywhere you look the sidewalks are torn up and a lot of the monuments are closed for renovation. As a result of all this construction the air is absolutely thick with dust. By the end of a day out, we have a fine coating of dust all over us and feet so dirty that when we take our flip flops off you can still see the outline of them.

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One of the things Delhi is famous for is its insane traffic and with good cause. There are more vehicles on the roads of this city than I have ever seen. It makes the traffic in a place like New York City seem like a Sunday cruise through the park. There is absolutely no regard for lanes and barely any for traffic lights. One of the best ways to get around the city are the auto or cycle rickshaws but you really tempt the fates cruising around in these in the thick of traffic.

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The people of Delhi are a true 50/50 mix of good and bad. We draw a fair amount of attention everywhere we go and many people are very friendly. They happily greet us with big smiles and questions about where we’re from and the kids are stoked to practice their English with us.

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On the other hand, we are also constantly harassed by folks trying to drag us to travel agencies or restaurants and who tell us nearly anything to convince us to come with them. If we’re not beating these people off, we’re fighting tooth and nail to not get ripped off for even the smallest things (such as paying 40 rupees for a bottle of water that should only cost 15). We’ve learned quickly to always question any prices we’re told and to assume that the initial price is usually double what something should cost. It can be very disheartening to have so many people try to take advantage of us but we try not to blame the entire city for the shoddy behavior of some. As a wise man that we met during our travels said to us when discussing this very issue… “You can’t go to college without paying tuition”.

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Two of the most interesting places we’ve visited are the Jama Masjid mosque (Muslim) and the Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir temple (Hindu). Both were very beautiful but the feeling of them was completely different. We felt very conspicuous at Jama Masjid and were charged both an entrance fee as well as an additional fee to take pictures there. In contrast, we were welcomed at Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir with no entrance fees. However, we weren’t permitted to take pictures inside the temple so are unable to share the place with you (you’ll have to Google it).

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Delhi is filled with temples, gardens, monuments and ruins.

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The food in Delhi is delicious, spicy and CHEAP. It might cost us 150 rupees (equals around $2.40 Canadian) for a meal easily big enough to share and we’re both left full.

Delhi is broken up into Old and New Delhi. While New Delhi has the more modern buildings and shops, Old Delhi is where the true heart of the city lies. It’s definitely grittier on this side of town but there are countless bazaars to wander around and the sheer mass of people is mind blowing. We’ve discovered that the folks in Delhi have very little sense of personal space which takes some getting used to!

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All in all, Delhi is a far bigger experience than we could have imagined. It’s fair to say that it has really been a great intro to India. What a crazy place!!

Posted by ReneeJared 09:35 Archived in India Comments (0)

Canoa

We were finally issued our Indian visas and so left Lima behind and headed back into Ecuador. We decided to spend our last couple of weeks in Ecuador soaking up some fresh air and sun on the coast and the best place to do that is in Canoa.

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Canoa is a very tranquil beach town filled with fishermen and beach bums. We watch the fishermen launch their boats into the surf every morning and return at dusk with their catch. Needless to say, the seafood in town is plentiful, cheap and delicious!

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Our days are spent beachcombing, swimming in the ocean, swinging in hammocks and drinking margaritas on the beach. Pure paradise!

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There are good breaks to surf in Canoa and the swells will have surfers on them at almost any time of the day.

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Canoa is the perfect place to enjoy the calm before the storm of India. We'll be here until we must head back into Quito to catch our plane.

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Posted by ReneeJared 05:17 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Lima

After our adventure into the jungle, we decided that the time has come for a cultural change and so bought tickets to fly to India in mid April. All that is needed now is our tourist visas which should have been an easy endeavor.

Before buying our tickets, we checked online for Indian embassies and consulates and there are both listed for Quito (where we were at the time of purchasing our tickets). However, when we went to find them neither one existed anymore! This left us with quite the conumdrum as we must have a visa to be permitted into India when we fly there or we must change our tickets which will be $600. And so, after some more research and a few phone calls we discovered that the nearest consulate was in Lima, Peru.

We hadn't intended to go to Peru but the fates have decided that we must visit so we hopped on a bus and thirty eight hours later, we arrived in Lima. The route to Lima travels through the Sechura Desert in the Northern part of Peru. It's an amazing thing to see the absolute starkness of this desert with little glints of the Pacific Ocean on the horizon. In the middle of the desert, there were strange little huts built with seemingly no purpose as there wasn't a single thing around them...

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Lima suprised us with its metropolitan feel and booming economy. We've spent most of our time in the Miraflores and San Isidrios areas which are both beautiful and peaceful.

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These barrios sit on cliffs that are roughly three hundred feet above the ocean and so the views are amazing. There are lots of good breaks to surf but sadly, the water is fairly polluted (which hasn't stopped the hordes of surfers that we've seen out there).

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We've been in Lima a week and are waiting with baited breath as to whether the Indian consulate will issue us our visas. If so, we're on another epic bus ride back to Ecuador to catch our plane to India on the 15th. If not, we've decided that we're going to explore more of Peru since we're already in the country and hope that Machu Picchu opens up soon (it was closed after massive flooding a couple of months ago).

In the meantime, we've had a great time checking out Lima. It's definitely a gem in South America and well worth visiting.

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Posted by ReneeJared 12:41 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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