INDIA AND NEPAL
Two countries that have fascinated me since childhood and a trip that will remain with me for the rest of my life. The perfect school graduation present for an aspiring world traveller as well as the most character building, wild, mother daughter trip imaginable. A trip that changed my perspective on everything. I have never found myself so fully immersed in another culture and feeling so unbelievably blessed to have the chance to visit such beautiful countries.
First off, India. What a place of magnificent sights, history, and culture. The unfamiliar territory was so bewildering for me, a completely different way of life that no amount of google searching can prepare you for. The constant fear of being run over by the manic rickshaw drivers and the wild monkeys that guard different temples spotted in the cities we visited; which you definitely do not want to pat. It was a lot to take in as a seventeen year old. Never the less I was enthralled by everything India had to offer. The trip captured the attention of my love for travel, and was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had.
Just two weeks was all I had to appreciate and see what I could of India, a short time to fit in all we wanted to do and see. Mum and I first set off into New Delhi, the bustling capital city with over twenty one million people, nearly the entire population of Australia. It was incredibly daunting being in such uncharted territory, but I was excited. After fifteen hours of travelling we arrived in Delhi quite late at night. The air was thick and muggy, along with smelling like a mix of cooking spices and hot petrol. We were ushered to our private car that we had prebooked prior to arriving, a highly recommended idea after a long day travelling, and drove off into the West of Delhi where our hotel was located. The hotel itself looked relatively nice compared to some of the buildings we had driven past, and I was thankful we even had a warm place to stay, after seeing dozens of little manmade fires in bins with as many people as possible huddled around them. There was a strange smell that seemed to linger in the hotel lobby, while wires poked out of the side of the walls and sawdust dirtied the floor, important elements that wouldn't surpass a safety check in Britain but seemed perfectly acceptable in India. The room itself overlooked a busy side street and the sounds of rickshaws screeching passed, people haggling and cows walking up and down the road seemed to be a 24 hour ordeal. Home, for just a little while.
The first morning we were in Delhi we ate at our hotel for breakfast. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting as an Indian's first meal of the day but we were treated to a plethora of curries, with a small dish of bananas on the side. Although not what I had in mind, it was delicious none the less. After our food I was ready to set out into the streets, and I was instantly bewildered by the chaos of the city. Mum and I didn't really know where to start, but i knew somewhere on todays agenda I was going to invest in a Sari which was an avid dream I had been visualising since the initial booking of trip months before hand. Mum and I spent the day searching different shops trying to find something both reasonably priced, and fashionable. We finally found a shop which held the most of amount of westerners we had actually seen in Delhi. People on the same mission as us, to pick up a beautiful piece of fabric to take home and show off. I had about 3 different sales assistants flock over to me, throwing me all these different fabrics and materials with elaborate designs on them, wrapping me in them and making me walk around the store showing them off to everyone. I finally decided on a simple pink one. Not too much bling, but pretty.
The next morning I was ready to tick off another item off my bucket list, traditional Indian Henna. A definite must. We found two local men doing it on the street just down from where we were staying and they went to work. Holding one hand each, precicly piping the henna into beautiful decor on both the palms and top of my hands and fingers. The rest of the day was a blur, we tried to see what we could of Delhi, but being such a big city, and not really knowing the in's and out's, it was a struggle. Mum and I tried not to argue as we stressed out, ending up slightly lost on more than one occasion. We finally found a rickshaw driver offering to take us to a temple, and seeing as we had an afternoon free we agreed and scooted off into the North of Delhi.
The Sri Laxmi Narayan Mandir temple, a three story hindu temple slightly out of the centre of Dehli was where we were dropped off. The building was enriched with history and it was ascetically beautiful. Covering over seven acres including a beautiful park on the end side of it and the temple painted both a deep brick red with warm yellow lining, it a stunning tribute to the Hindu God, Vishnu. It was a place mum and I spent hours exploring and was definitely a place I highly recommend visiting if you get the chance.
The second and final night in the capital city was a walking tour of New Delhi, visiting places mum and I never would have found on our own. We first visited a Sikh temple, a religion that fascinates me greatly. Walking through and listening to the chanting I was mesmerised, but that wasn't the aspect I was most fascinated about. Kitchen of the Sikh Temple, a beautiful sense of community among Indians, is a free kitchen for those to come and eat, Sikh or not. We then we shown through the back alleys of Delhi, down some of the best street food stalls and to little cafes serving potato naan that seemed to be made by Angels it was that good. Bhatura, Chapati, Kofta, water chestnuts, Samosas, Dhal Puri and a list of other dishes were on the menu for tonight and as we ate our way through Dehli's food establishments I was getting concerned of how I was going to be able to walk up the stairs to our room by the end of the night.
Agra, the home to the Taj Mahal, one of the Modern Wonders of the World and at the very top of my bucket list for India. A place I believe everyone needs to visit at least once, the gardens and the building itself were both incredibly breathtaking. This was the day I was determined to wear the beautiful sari I had bought, only issue was, I had absolutely no idea how to put one on. The solution? Ask for help from the people who know best. Our guide led mum and I down the little back alleys of Agra into a little colbalt blue home where two women and a man were waiting. The man waited outside the room I was ushered in to as I was wrapped continuously in the fabric until I was all done up in the beautiful sari. Mum and I thanked the ladies and gave some money to the man (You're not allowed to give money to women it's disrespectful) then headed off to the Taj Mahal. Translating to 'Crown Palace' and a flawless representation of someone's love for another, I find it all so romantic. We arrived and all of a sudden the romance had gone and I seemed to be inundated with attention. As we walked swarms of people seemed to be both attracted to the Taj and myself. I had school girls, mums, men all come up to me asking for pictures, saying how much they appreciate the way I embraced their culture. The shock of the large groups of people coming up to me dissipated in return I was so humbled to be able to wear a sari and not only be proud of being in India but for the Indian people to be proud of me. A truly special moment in my life and a second take on one of the many reasons I love travel.
Orrcha was a town rich in history and culture. The couple days we had to stay there were spent exploring the temples and attending a cooking class on how to cook traditional Indian food. The main temple we explored was Jahangir Mahal. Made as a citadel and garrison and built big enough to fit war elephants through, the building was impressive to say the least. It provided great views of the entire city and we spent an entire morning exploring the entire building, which was vastly larger than I had previously anticipated and the stairs were an issue after eating a mountain of curry everyday. It was definitely one of the most impressive buildings we visited in India and after looking through every inch of the building we sat and enjoyed some samosas, which kicked a punch compared to the ones back home. The afternoon consisted of a cooking class from an Indian woman in her home just outside of the town of Orrcha. We spent the first hour watching her sit on the floor in front of a camping stove cooking about four different dishes at once, looking utterly gracious and not even breaking a sweat. The food she prepared was some of the best we had tried we were able to go back to our hotel full and happy.
After our stay in Orrcha we had the opportunity to experience an Indian overnight train. It's never been one of those things at the top of my bucket list, but after experiencing it I can say if you get the opportunity, do it. The adventure began before we even got on the train. Waiting for it to arrive I quickly noticed a presence following me. Dressed in all white, an Indian man, presumingly in his mid forties, took a strong attraction to me. The most noticeable characteristic of him being that in the place of his right leg remained only a small stump with a flimsy wooden crutch holding him up. This didn't seem to stop his ability from walking behind me a little too close for comfort at all times then staring at me, not blinking. While I was finding it all a little bewildering, mum, along with a few others, found it great to laugh at my unfortunate circumstance.
Once we finally boarded it was around 10pm. Rows of three tiered bunkbeds lined the train, and i was lucky enough to get the top one. After spending about 15 minutes trying to get 10 feet up on to the top bunk with no step ladder and being laughed at (again) I finally made it. With little to no room above my head and having to sleep with my huge backpack next to me, it was snug, and there was definitely no room for error because falling off meant a long way to the ground below. Mum was squeezed in the middle and below an elderly indian woman who was subjected to Mum and I historically laughing at the whole situation. Surprisingly, the bunk bed saga was no where near as bad as the toilets. Drop toilets straight onto the train tracks and a hefty smell of poo lingered throughout the carriages, and with the floor being wet from what I presume is a lack of aim, it was a better option to hold it in than anything else.
The lifeline to millions Indians and held as the most sacred River in Hindu religion. 2,525 kilometres of transboundary water that holds unbelievable amount of value and the next leg of our journey. An incredibly spiritual body of water to float on and one of my favourite moments throughout the trip.
We arrived at the drop off point, where we were told three 'large' boats were waiting for us. Upon reaching the bank of the Ganges we found there to be a bit of an exaggeration to the word 'large'. The mediocrely sized boats bobbed in the water, waiting to be embarked. Made of wood, with just a green tarpaulin covering the top, I was uncertain about the sturdiness. After closer investigation I saw thin mattresses lining the inside of the boat, with cushions and pillows lying on the edges, although not the strongest vessel ever created it looked cosy. Our bags were thrown on to the back of the boat and we were second to board. The boat seemed to tip tremendously whenever we moved even a slight amount, so once we found a position that kept the boat level, that was it, no moving. That wasn't really an issue though, as floating down the Ganges was a wonderfully peaceful experience.
We spent the afternoon drifting down the river and basking in the warm film that the tarpolen seemed to surround us in. Indian life is so heavily reliant on that particular body of water, and it was so lovely to watch the world go by. Women washing there clothes, children playing in the water, houses, temples all situated on the river. We spent the afternoon lounging and it was beautifully quiet as we sailed. I ended up listening to 'Like a Weight' by the Jungle Giants on repeat as we floated down to calm my mind from India's previous madness, and fell into a state of utter relaxation.
After hours of sailing we arrived at our camp site for the night. A large sand bank on the side of the Ganges which looked completely untouched by humans was our home for the night, which quickly felt like a second home. Tents were set up for us by the boys helping out on the boats which were decked out with sleeping bags, pillows, and a mountain of blankets to keep us warm, as well as a fire for us to sit and enjoy the night. It was quiet and hazey, as if we were the only people left, but oddly comforting. A hearty bowl of curry for dinner and some cute stray dogs to play with was on the agenda for the evening and as the night wore on I felt unbelievably blessed.
Regarded as the spiritual capital of India, there is something special about Varanasi. Life was very obviously built around the sacred Ganges. Bathing, fishing, boating, even burials, were all centred around this Holy body of water and I found it all very sincere. I adored the kindness of the people and how life was a lot less fast paced compared to cities like Delhi. There was a constant array of men, women and children sitting at the river as well as dozens of boats heading out every night to scatter little tea lights cocooned in paper flowers to light up the water. Cows lounged in the streets, and as Hinduism's sacred animal, people drove around them instead of ushering them out of the way. Dozens upon dozens of tiny churches spotted along side the river and up the steep banks of the river as well as beautiful graffiti covered the plain cement walls. Compared to the other cities there was a lot less to see in Varanasi, but instead it was time to recuperate after the long journeys and to enjoy time in the sacred city.
After a 8 hour drive through India and walking through the chaotic boarder between India and Nepal (all in my pyjamas), we finally reached the second leg of our journey. A country with incredible natural beauty and talented, friendly people, I was enthralled to begin our expedition into Nepal. The snow peaked Himalayas loomed in the background and rolling mountains following us as we drove through the windy roads. Rice fields, vast hills covered in yellow flowers and little villages dotted our drive, the perfect way to be introduced to Nepal.
CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK
Home to rare mammals such as the one horned rhino and the Bengal tiger, Chitwan National Park was definitely up there as a highlight of the trip. We spent four nights in the park which was plenty of time to explore the vast wildlife and the little villages whom lived within it. Mum and I were staying in this cute little wooden shack, which unfortunately wasn't as well insulated as we had hoped and so had to bundle up in layers of clothes for warmth (Mum even resorted to drinking a little bottle of vodka to warm her up). Our stay at the National Park was an absolutely incredible one, from buying a shirt that was eaten by rats to going on a Jeep safari through the jungle of Chitwan and spotting an enormous male rhino. We spent our mornings canoeing down the rivers and spotting crocodiles and our afternoons biking through small villages enjoying the warm sunshine and meeting the locals.
The final destination on our travels and a great place to say goodbye to these beautiful countries. Unfortunately, the 2015 earthquake in Kathmandu had struck just the month before we arrived, and the after affects were apparent. Big lumps of rubble scattered the roads we were driving on, while several monuments were closed off for reconstruction. Nevertheless, a place of sheer beauty. A mixture of the hustle and bustle of a capital city, but with the Himalayas peaking through the background, it felt like somewhere truly special. All the people we met were extremely friendly and walking through the streets at the handmade cashmere and silk products was a reminder of how talented these people are. Mum and I enjoyed hour final hours in these two incredible parts of the world and basked in the warm winter sun as we walked around enjoying the company of the locals and the amazing place we were surrounded by. The trip was a moment of realisation, that I adore learning and growing and about how to live as a person. After India I became more grateful. More thankful for the food on my plate and a comfortable place to sleep at night. If you've read to the end, I implore you to go somewhere daring and see a new side of the world, I think you'll enjoy it.