Rockin’ India with my friend, Amar
Hey, hey, hey!!! Have you missed me? I’ve missed you and I’m sending huge hugs from India where I continue to have a wonderful time. I absolutely love this country and am so happy to be here again. If you read my earlier post you know that I’m on a huge high from my incredible meditation retreat and I’m all fired up to meet my friend, Amar, who I met in Rajasthan back in March. Like me, Amar is on extended travel and just so happened to be back in India so we are joining forces again to see more of this beautiful country. How fabulous!
Prior to meeting up, we exchanged a few, brief emails about places we wanted to see, but not much more than that, agreeing that it was easier to just meet up and come up with a plan. Having been in India for several months now we felt pretty comfortable just winging it. Bring it, baby!
Amar arrived at the crack of dawn, but was considerate enough not to ring my room until a decent hour. Thanks, Amar, we’re off to a great start already. We met on the rooftop of our hotel
And took in the stunning view with a cup of delicious masala chai and started to hatch our plan. Mwahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!
We both were dying to see Ladakh and Kashmir, but the combination of violence in Kashmir and snow in Ladakh made those destinations less desirable. No worries. There’s plenty of other places to visit and we both fully intend to return to India again so we’ll get there one day.
Thankfully Amar had some down time while at the ashram where he was staying in the south as well as a guide book so he was kind enough to start outlining a rough itinerary based on the cities we had expressed an interest in seeing. Within a few minutes we had ourselves a sweet itinerary for the next 3 weeks. Yippie, yahoo, hooray, yeah puppy! We weren’t sure how long we wanted to stay in each city so we didn’t make any hotel reservations, deciding instead to pick a place when we reached each destination and play it by ear.
With our plans sorted, we set off into Dharamsala to see the sights. Of course our first stop was to visit the Dalai Lama’s temple complex, but along the way I made Amar pop into a shop I had spotted a few days earlier containing some earrings I loved to see if he could get a better price. Amar speaks Hindi so I thought he might get hooked up with local prices. As it turns out, the shopkeeper tried to charge him more than me, but they settled on my original price. Oh well. It was certainly worth a try and Amar picked up some cufflinks as well. Win, win all around, folks.
After Dharamsala we headed to Amritsar to see the famous Golden Temple, which is the Sikh’s holiest temple. Before entering any Sikh temple, one must first wash his/her feet and also apply a headscarf. Even the boys had to wear the headscarves.
The temple is beautiful, especially at night, but we’ll get to that later.
To see the inside of the temple we had to wait in this incredibly long line, but the priests inside the temple keep up a continuous chant from their holy book, which is broad casted throughout the complex. It’s actually quite relaxing and made the time in line fly by.
Upon leaving the temple, visitors are invited to have some sweets.
After visiting the temple we headed to the border between India and Pakistan to witness the famous Wagah border closing ceremony.
I had actually never heard of this before, but Amar was in the know and I’m so glad because the closing ceremony was quite a sight to behold. One can’t help take notice of the elaborate hat worn by the guards, but it’s the actual ceremony that takes it over the top.
Before the ceremony begins, the crowd is fired up with the chanting of “Hindustan Zindabad” (long live India) and booming music that results in the masses taking to the main avenue to boogie down. It was awesome! After a few songs the guards would reign in the crowds and instruct them to sit, but within seconds they’d crank up the music and everyone would again rush to the strip to shake their booties! I absolutely loved their enthusiasm and their pride for India, as well as the vibrant soul the Punjabi people.
As you can see, the India side was jam packed. Amar and I estimated that there were probably about 1,000 people there.
Contrast this with the Pakistan side. Crickets…
Even though the attendance on the Pakistan side was weak, when the ceremony got underway the attendees did get fired up. As the sun was setting the ceremony began.
I don’t even know where to begin with the ceremony, folks. It was insanely over the top and I adored every second of it. The female guards got things started with crazy speed walking
And exaggerated swinging of their arms. Their arms were shooting up so high that I’m shocked they didn’t dislocate their shoulders. No joke. It’s absurd, and by absurd I of course mean awesome! After the female guards paraded down to the border and back a few times it was the boys’ turn to join the party. We noticed the men getting themselves all pumped up with forceful exhales and crazy eyes, but nothing could prepare us for what followed. The men would do some kind of stomping routine and then kick one of their legs up as high as possible. These guys were flexible too, frequently kicking the top of their hats with their boots. The head guy was so good I thought he might actually knock himself unconscious. After the leg kick they would walk as fast as possible at a 45 degree angle with the same exaggerated arm swinging the ladies displayed earlier. Sadly, I didn’t capture any pics of the leg kick, but I did manage to get this crappy one of their arms.
As you can imagine, the crowd was losing it! With all the people it was tough to see the Pakistan side, but we could see the guards were in similar outfits and they were also engaging in the insane leg kicks. After the parading back and forth for about 20 – 30 minutes, it was time to lower the flags and close the border for the evening. Who knew a border closing ceremony could be so fun? It was over the top awesomeness from start to finish and absolutely worth a visit! After the ceremony we headed back to the Golden Temple to check out the scenery at night. Gorgeous!
We were originally planning to stay in Amritsar for the evening, but decided instead to bang out a few hours on our long drive to Manali, finding a random hotel along the way. Our driver, Dinesh, knew of a place about halfway between Amritsar and Manali, which we reached late at night. It had the appearance of a nice place, but after about 2 seconds in the water in the shower slowed to a trickle and then tapered off further to a drip. Neat. Oh well, we were exhausted from our trip and just happy to have a place to sleep.
The next morning we set out for Manali, which is in the mountains and absolutely gorgeous. The air smelled so clean and fresh and we found a cute place to stay right in the heart of town. We had one of the best meals I have had since arriving in India, the tandoori trout. This region is known for their trout and the tandoori preparation was out of this world. Before the meal was even over I notified Amar that we’d be eating this exact same meal again tomorrow. Thankfully he was as pumped as I was about the meal so I we didn’t have to have a fight. Kidding!
After dinner we decided to sample some of the fruit wine, which is unique to this area. We tried apple (sick), pear (better) and strawberry (best) over a ferocious game of gin rummy. After two rounds it was neck and neck with one victory apiece. The battle for the rummy crown would continue throughout the journey, but the winner will not be revealed until later.
The next morning we were pumped to stretch our legs and do some hiking. The scenery was stunning and the weather was absolutely perfect.
We chose to do the Solang Valley walk, which follows the Beas river and meanders through many small villages. After all that time in the car it was wonderful to get some exercise, see the stunning countryside, visit some temples and meet some of the locals.
After the walk we gorged ourselves on some tandoori trout and then returned to the room to continue the vicious gin rummy battle. I sucked big time this night, allowing Amar to take the lead. Lame!
The next morning it was back on the road to Shimla, another charming mountain town and the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. The town is literally built into the side of the mountain and has a very colonial vibe.
We visited the Jakhu Temple, which is dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god, and there are tons of monkeys all over the place.
Evidently they can get pretty violent so visitors are advised to walk with a stick and remove all caps, eye wear, etc. While we were there we witnessed a monkey rip the glasses off a woman’s face and scurry up the tree. They threw the monkey a snack to entice it to drop the glasses, which it did, but down the cliff. Suckage.
Amar and I made it out of the temple unscathed and spent the rest of the afternoon meandering down Mall Street, the main avenue with tons of restaurants and shops. We found a cute place for dinner with a spectacular view for sunset.
Amar and I both indulged in lamb, which we enjoyed, but not as much as the tandoori trout. Man, just thinking about it makes my mouth water. If you ever see it on a menu, order it immediately!! Of course you know we capped the evening with more rummy and I’m sad to report that Amar continued his lead, but don’t count me out yet because we have several more weeks for me to redeem myself…hopefully.
There are 3 toy trains in India and one of them happens to be in Shimla so you know we had to give it a go. We’ve both been on the one in Ooty so that leaves only one left to go in Darjeeling, which is totally on my list for next time.
We met up with Dinesh in the next town and continued our journey on to Rishikesh, which was made famous by the Beatles and is now the self proclaimed yoga capital of the world. Like Manali and Shimla, Rishikesh offers stunning mountain scenery and a laid back vibe.
We found a hotel right by the Lakshman Jula bridge and an adorable restaurant across the street, which had Mexican food!!! OMG, I was so happy to see Mexican food on the menu. There are few foods I miss, but Mexican is definitely one of them. While I can’t say that it was the best Mexican food I’ve had, it was pretty decent and a refreshing change from the same ole Indian menu we’d been seeing for weeks.
During the day we did some light hiking and touring of the town. The locals were gearing up for the Dussehra festival, celebrating the victory of the Hindu god Rama over the demon king, Ravana…essentially the triumph of good over evil. They erected this huge paper mache statue on the beach, which was going to be burned later that evening. Obviously, Amar and I were all about it!
The folks on the other side of the river were getting pumped up with firecrackers and wild screams.
Hanuman, the monkey god, was a good friend to Rama and helped him rescue his girlfriend, Sita, after her kidnapping and incarceration in Sri Lanka. As part of the Dussehra festival a huge parade of local boys dressed up as Hanuman and his monkey friends walked through the streets accepting blessings from shopkeepers and delighting everyone in their path. They were led by drummers who were going nuts on the drums to get the crowd fired up. It was awesome!!!!
Later that afternoon, we headed over to the mother Ganges to check out the sight for the ganga aarti ceremony (river worship ceremony) taking place at sunset on the riverside.
As you probably know, the Ganges is a holy river and sacred to Hindus. Pilgrims from all over India and the rest of the world come to bathe in its cleansing and healing waters. Amar and I have both been to Varanasi and we were both a little hesitant to let any part of our body touch the Ganges, but this region is where the Ganga actually starts so the water quality was about a million times cleaner. Like in Varanasi, pilgrims were bathing in its waters. The current was pretty strong in places though so bathers needed to hold on tight!
Notice the swollen foot on the guy in the shot and how he’s pouring the holy water over his injury to help heal it. I hope Mother Ganga works her magic for this guy.
Amar was all about the Ganges, perhaps a little bit too enthusiastic, throwing himself into the water and screaming like a madman, “Ganga Ma, Ganga Ma” (Mother Ganges) over and over again. It seemed a bit excessive to me and even the locals were looking at him like he was mad, but to each his own, right?
Ok so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit about Amar’s reaction, but I could tell he was pumped and probably thinking about something similar in his head.
The ceremony was similar to the one I attended in Varanasi, but more intimate, which I definitely preferred. The music being performed at the ceremony is beautiful. The singers voices are so crisp and clear you almost think you are listening to a CD, but it’s the real deal. It really feels special to be sitting along the banks of the Ganges taking in the blessings. Here are some pics of the ceremony.
There are tons of Sadhus around the Ganga. This guy was one of my favorites.
He must have been training this white guy you’ll see in the shot below. This dude seemed like he was new to things as he didn’t really know what to do, but when one of the songs that he knew was sung, he joined in with reckless abandon. That’s what I like to see.
Here is a pic of my offering to be released into the Ganges.
Amar and I both released offerings into the holy water.
Sadly, one of them hit a floating log and capsized. Deciding that can’t be good, we rescued the banana leaf boat and reinserted the contents and sent that baby on its way. Hopefully our wishes will come true.
After the ganga aarti ceremony we blasted back into the heart of town to catch the finale of the Dussehra festival where they light the statue on fire!!!
Burn, baby, burn! What we didn’t realize as we were closing in to take photos of the fire was that the burning statue was actually filled with fireworks that shot into the crowd. Neat! I almost became Mask trying to get these photos for you so I hope you enjoy them. They are pretty sweet if I do say so myself.
What an amazing day!!! I feel so lucky to have been in Rishikesh during this ceremony. It was a huge highlight of the trip and something I will never forget.
The next day we headed over to Haridwar to take in the ganga aarti ceremony there, which is supposed to be even better than the one in Rishikesh. Amar and I were a bit skeptical of this when we arrived in Haridwar, which may very well be the dirtiest and most disgusting town I have visited in my 3.5 months in India. It was heinous. We actually saw a dog that had one of its paws gnawed off. I don’t know if the dog bit off his own paw or got into a fight with one of the hundreds of mangy looking dogs around town, but it was red and raw and totally grossed us out. Originally we planned to stay here overnight, but after walking around town and being grossed out by almost everything we saw, we decided it was best to just check out the ceremony and power through to Delhi where we’d catch our flight to Jodhpur the next day.
Here are some sights along the Ganges.
This little boy was super psyched for us to take his picture, busting out his Hanuman mask from the Dussehra festival.
At long last it was finally time for the ganga aarti ceremony.
We weren’t really sure how this was going to work since the shore was dry to allow folks to “clean up” a bit. It didn’t really seem like the emphasis was on cleaning up the shore, but what do I know?
Minutes before the ceremony was to begin, they allowed the water to flow. Ok, ok now we’re talking here. It seemed strange to have a ganga aarti with no ganga. You’ll see the guys in the shot below are shoveling away sand so that the offerings could flow freely.
I have to say that this was the best ganga aarti ceremony I have seen yet. Haridwar did not disappoint in this regard. Amar and I were both skeptical, but it delivered big time. Check it out.
After the ceremony concluded we hightailed it out of there and made the long journey down to Delhi. On the outskirts of Delhi we must have had some tire trouble because Dinesh pulled over on the side of the road to have our tires examined. The “tire shop” was just a stack of tires on the side of the road with a few dudes sitting in chairs screaming and laughing at nothing. Within seconds of stopping it was clear that the guys had been boozing their faces off for hours so that explains the senseless screaming and laughing. No judgment. Who hasn’t been there, right? Anyhow, these guys definitely were too hammered to properly fix the tire so after about an hour of sitting there we finally set off on our way. Cool.
The next afternoon we arrived in Jodhpur, the blue city, and were delighted to find this fabulous hotel, Devi Bhawan, complete with a swimming pool. Woo Hoo!!! We had stayed at some pretty meh places on this journey so it was a welcome change to stay in a nice place. Bring it, baby!
We threw our bags down in the room and immediately set out for the pool and a couple of Kingfishers. No sightseeing today. Just a little R&R. Ahhh, it was perfect.
In the morning we set out for Mehrangarh Fort.
One of the big draws of this fort is the sati marks, which are hand prints of the maharajah Man Singh’s widows who threw themselves upon his funeral pyre in 1843.
Here are some more pics inside of the fort.
After the fort we headed over to the Jaswant Thada, a white marble memorial to maharajah Jaswant Singh II.
Then we made a quick loop through the market area, where I was told by one of the locals that I looked like a doll, complete with sign language to show me that he did indeed mean a toy doll. Hmm, that’s a new one. Oh well, I guess there are worse things.
After the market we headed over to the “garden,” which was basically some grass and trees. Most of Rajasthan is a desert so maybe grass = garden there? Not sure, but Amar and I were a huge hit with the locals there. They couldn’t get enough of us, wanting to shake our hands, have us take their picture, and even have us photograph their new baby!
They must have been picking up on the doll vibe too because in addition to touching my skin and stroking my arm, a few of them even reached up to pinch my cheek like you would do to a small child. I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t in love with the cheek pinching, but I did love these kids. They were so enthusiastic and sweet and made the gardens more interesting than a stroll on some grass.
For our last sightseeing adventure of the day we headed to the Umaid Bhawan Palace, which took 3,000 workers 15 years to complete. Geez Louise!
Later that night Amar and I had a delicious dinner and resumed the rummy playing. Much to my dismay, Amar not only retained, but extended his lead. It’s not looking too good for me here, folks, but the trip isn’t over yet so I remain hopeful that I can whip his butt!
The next morning it was off to Jaisalmer where we took in the sunset at the Sam Sand Dunes. Since we’ve both been on camels multiple times now we decided to skip the came ride and have our own fun to wait for the sun to set. The shots below were taken by Amar and they are definitely keepers.
We decided to have some fun with the timer. You can see our multiple attempts for the money shot!
Here we are walking back triumphantly, knowing that we got the perfect shot. Holla!
Ok, one more shot. Get ready…
go!!!!!!!!! Yep, this is def. the best shot of the evening. We rule!
Are you ready for sunset?
The next morning we visited the fort, which unlike in Jodhpur, has people living within. It’s actually quite cool with narrow streets and alleys containing shops, restaurants, and some Jain temples sprinkled throughout.
The Jain temples were the big highlight for me, as the carvings were so intricate and detailed out of the golden sandstone unique to Jaisalmer.
We also visited the Patwa-Ki-Haveli and the Gadi Sagar, which is interesting because it was created by a famous prostitute. Evidently she had asked the maharajah if she could build a gate leading to the tank that supplied water to the city. He refused permission on grounds that he’d have to pass under it to go to the tank, which was beneath him. When he was away she had it built anyway and put a Krishna temple on top to ensure that the king wouldn’t tear it down. You’ve got to give it to her, the girl’s got spunk.
After our day of sightseeing we capped it off with another sunset in the tiny village of Khuri. Let’s just say this village left a little something to be desired, but Amar did manage to find himself a nice Rajasthani girl that he may even end up marrying one day. Who knows what can happen, right?
Even though the town was kind of a dud, the dunes were great and such a fun place to see the sunset and watch the moon.
And now for the last part of our journey Amar and I will be heading down south to Goa and Hampi. We are ready for some serious chillin’ and couldn’t wait to hit the beach. We had a delicious seafood dinner, a couple of Kingfishers and listened to the band play covers of songs we knew and loved! So relaxed.
The next morning we set out for the ruins of Hampi, stopping at a spice plantation along the way.
Let me see that thoooooooooooooooong…that thong, th-thong, thong, thong!!!
Hampi is a very unique landscape and unlike other places I‘ve seen in India. It was a very relaxed and laid back vibe too, which was definitely what Amar and I were looking for at this point in our journey.
This temple over here supposedly marks the birthplace of Hanuman.
After Hampi it was back to Goa, specifically Baga beach. Our driver to Hampi, Sachen, recommended this awesome restaurant called Mum’s Kitchen on the way back to Baga, which was absolutely fantastic. Pomfret is the local specialty here in Goa and it did not disappoint. We got the pomfret curry and it was spectacular. It’s definitely up there with the tandoori trout and if you are in Goa you must try this restaurant. It ruled!!! Of course you know we had to visit the churches of old Goa as well. Pretty!
The rest of our time in Goa was filled with eating, drinking, playing rummy, lounging around, and of course taking in lots of stunning sunsets. I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate my birthday!
Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear Tiff, happy birthday to me!!!!
Thanks to everyone for the emails and messages through Facebook wishing me a happy birthday. I was so thrilled to check email and see the outpouring of warm wishes. Thank you so much. It means so much to me. Amar and I celebrated my bday in style!
This is Oct. 26th, the eve of my birthday. Of course you know that once it hit midnight we were full on with my bday celebration. Neither of us felt awesome on my actual bday, but we pulled ourselves together and had another fun night.
Cow alert! Jenny, there are a lot of cows around here!!! Hahaha.
Now it’s time for Amar’s bday celebration. His bday isn’t until Nov. 16, but as a fellow Scorpio we decided an early bday celebration was in order. I sneakily asked the staff to bring us some cake with candles and lots of embarrassing singing, but once our dinner arrived and it was enough to feed a small country I decided against the dessert and opted for something light and refreshing like a vodka shot. I asked the staff to whoop it up for Amar’s bday and make a scene, but clearly something was lost in translation because one dude came over and just handed us both the drinks. Um, not really what I had in mind, guys, but whatever.
Here’s the smiling bday boy who wasn’t smiling quite as much when the band sang him Happy Bday and I proceeded to holler and clap like a freak with them. Whatevs, man, as if I’m not going to get pumped up for a bday. Pahlease!
On our walk home to Baga beach from Calangute where we sufficiently embarrassed Amar, we met the sweetest and most adorable dog we named Vasco, pronounced Wasco. There are tons of skank dogs running around Goa, but this little guy was so darn cute we couldn’t help but give him lovin’. He loved us too and followed us around for the rest of the evening.
Drew and Rob, doesn’t Wasco remind you of Lu and even Brandy a bit? Maybe this is part of the reason I was so obsessed.
These photos are also courtesy of Amar. Thanks, man!
Along the way we happened to see a fire dance. Sweet! Unlike my last fire dance viewing experience, this time the flame did not shoot out of the performer’s hand and land in my lap. Phew!
Sadly it was time for Amar and I to part ways. We had such a great time traveling together and it was so nice to have a travel companion for such an extended period of time. Amar was off to Sri Lanka and I’ll be heading down south to finish my last two weeks in India in a laid back and relaxed place.
Safe travels to Sri Lanka, Amar, and thanks for all the planning and translating you did to make our trip so easy and breezy. I hope our paths cross again in Africa. Take care and I’ll see you soon.
As for me, I still had two days in Goa to slobber on myself, eat some delicious seafood, and of course take in some sunsets. No probs. That’s totally up my alley.
Cheers to my last night in Goa. What a beautiful place to spend my birthday and finish up my fabulous trip with Amar. I’ll be in touch shortly with more adventures from South India. Hugs!
This entry was posted onThursday, November 11th, 2010 at 8:02 pm and is filed under Cultural Traditions, Celebrations and Lessons, India. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.