My Mum and Uncle travelled extensively through this fascinating country when I was little, so India always had a presence in my life. From the fiery curries they used to cook (sometimes so hot you couldn’t even eat them!), the silver jewellery Mum would wear, the smell of incense constantly burning in our house, and the endless stories and black and white photographs my uncle would share, there was always a hint of India somewhere.
As I got older and began my own travels, India had always been on the list and since taking up yoga it’s a destination that I certainly longed to visit. It was both a chance to see the sights that my mum and uncle loved so much, and to also get a deeper understanding for the spiritual side of yoga and practice in the country it all began.
My 2 weeks in India we’re a whirlwind, and with 1 week being my beautiful Yoga retreat I had just 8 days to see some of my ‘Must See’ sites. Luckily I had the help of a wonderful company LUXE INDIA who got me through it from woe to go, and in style I might add. I’d arranged an action package 8 days of sightseeing with Varanasi, Delhi, Agra & Dharamshala being my picks for this trip (aware that there is way too much to see in just 1 week).
I had my travelling companion locked in (Jodes from my Flight Centre days, who had longed to see India as much as I had) and my visa sorted…. Ummmmmmmm VISA?
With the crazy busy life I was living, I literally ran out of time to apply for my visa in Oz before departing for the first few weeks of travel through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the UK.. (They always say travel agents are great at sorting out everyone’s holidays, but their own!) Anyway, I did some research and realised that I could get my India Visa in the UK. Sweet right? Well… what I didn’t read was that it takes 3 WEEKS if you aren’t a UK national, and I had exactly 1.5 WEEKS….. Shit.
After tears, tantrums, contemplation (I was seriously considering the 72hr / $2000 return trip to Australia to get it) and wondering what the hell to do, I took a chance (on the hot tip from some guy, that worked for a visa processing company) and lodged the application. He’d said that the visas we’re coming through in around 8 days, and I had exactly 10, so what choice did I have? I prepared myself to miss my Everest base camp trek if it didn’t come through in time, and crossed my fingers… Fortunately, through some sort of miracle my gamble pulled off and it was in my hand 1 day ahead of time, and so I was off to INDIA!!
1st stop… Varanasi.
They say Varanasi is one of the most confronting cities in India, and even for a seasoned traveller like me, I can see why. (It probably wasn’t the smartest idea to make this the 1st city I visited, but at least now I have some great advice for my clients!)
I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with a descriptive word, that is well… descriptive enough to paint a picture of the sensory overload that I experienced, and I can’t! All of the sights, smells and sounds kind of smash together like a multi car pile-up, but somehow it all combines to create a feeling that is magical and kind of hypnotic. I’d been there less than an hour and I knew I would either love it or hate it.
Here is a glimpse of my initial observations of Varanasi on my first evening. We had been to the banks of the Ganges to witness the evening ritual of an Arti Ceremony (the Hindu ceremony of offering)…and finally returning to the sanctuary of the hotel.
I’ve been in India less than 6hrs, and I’m not going to lie… This place is madness and I’m not sure if I like it (yet!)
From the minute I stepped off the plane it’s been a sensory overload, and I have no idea where to look first! On one hand I have the stunning women dressed in brightly coloured saris & men carrying their goats on motorcycles (hmmm) to glance at, and then there are the countless beggars lining the streets, and so many people with no awareness of personal space (why would they… there are 1.3 billion people here). Then, there are cows, cows and more cows AND not to mention the cow dung that paves your path through the narrow lanes to the Ganges ….Crazy!
And then there is the noise! The never ending, always persistent honk of the horn. Ahhhhh!
Despite the severe culture shock, and the fact that I barely felt comfortable leaving the hotel without a guide, my couple of days in Varanasi we’re fabulous!! The Arti ceremony is truly beautiful, and a morning boat tour of the Ganges gave you a glimpse of daily life as a Hindu in India. You’d hear the distinct sound of beating of drums, as family processions made their way to the river banks, people brushing their teeth, The old, young, men & women all joined together to bathe and welcome the morning, and give offerings to their Deities.
The burning Ghats we’re an eye opener too, with funeral piles and processions taking place morning, noon and night. Rituals and spirituality that I’m just not exposed to in the west. I LOVED IT!
Next stop, Agra!
Agra was on the itinerary for the sole purpose of visiting the beauty herself, the Taj Mahal. You’ve seen pictures of her in books, magazines and in movies all your life, but nothing can quiet compare to that moment you walk through the arch way, and see her standing there in all her glory. Time seems to stand still, and every image you’ve seen of her vanishes away, as they in no way do her justice. There is an awe and a kind of magic that seems to radiate from her and despite the tens of thousands of people swarming around you, it sort of feels like it’s just the two of you. She is majestic and that moment, took my breath away and brought a tear to my eye.
We sat in her shadow, learning about the love story that brought her to life… True love cut short, after the death of Mumtaz Mahal during the birth of her 14th child. Her grieving husband Shah Jahan swore to build a mausoleum so grand in her memory that it took him 22yrs to complete, with stories of obsession where he would cut off the hands of the architects and artists to ensure nothing was replicated.
The Taj Mahal is one of history’s greatest declarations of love that leaves every woman with just one question…‘Why doesn’t my husband/boyfriend do that for me?’ And the answer my guide gave? ‘You’d have to die first!’
Leaving the Taj Mahal I took one last glimpse back, and said my goodbyes. Having the opportunity to explore her at both Sunset & Sunrise was a true ‘pinch myself’ travel moment, as sunset unveiled her shimmering in Golden light, reflecting from the white marble domes… and sunrise had her radiating a soft pink tone that bounced from the symmetrical towers of the complex. I’ll never forget that first glimpse, and it’s something everyone should have on their bucket list!
After Agra, it was off to Delhi where we explored the frenzied streets of old Delhi by rickshaw, and visited Jama Masjid, the congregational mosque built back in1423. We cruised past the Red Fort, and visited Humayun’s Tomb which was the 1st garden tomb on the Indian Sub-continent.
All the stories about Delhi you hear are true. It’s crowded, loud, chaotic and smelly, but after Varanasi it was a piece of cake! It did get tiring trying to stand your ground when yet another driver or guide takes you to their ‘families’ silk, statue, carpet, perfume or jewellery store (and EVERYONE has a family business in India). Clearly they get commissions when you buy something, and while you tend to be polite initially and humour them with questions, and wander around the store… by the end of our visit and yet another battle with a driver you have to say NO! (Unless you are genuinely interested in purchasing any of these items!).
In Delhi we stayed at the uber glamorous Dusit Devrana which was brand new and a stark contrast to what stood behind us outside the gates. Sleek and modern with polished concrete floors, curved walls, manicured gardens, and yoga platform and delicious guest bathrooms (I love a good luxury bathroom!), it was heaven! A true LUXE experience to end our 8 days of madness in India, before I headed to Dharamshala prior to the commencement of my Yoga retreat.
Dharamshala and McleodGanj up in Northern India, felt like another universe! With the dramatic Dhauladhar Mountains as your backdrop, it gives you the feeling that you’re more in Tibet or Nepal than India.
It is a busy bazaar town, that is home to the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan community who’ve fled Tibet, and living in exile in Northern India. If you’re lucky you can see the Dalai Lama, however he wasn’t in residence at the time I was there.
There is a beautiful waterfall and snow-capped mountains surrounding the area, which would offer wonderful hiking experiences, and it was clear that backpackers and travellers alike like to call this place home, with a quite a young, hippy kind of vibe. With yoga studios, meditation retreats and all sorts of traditional classes to immerse yourself in, it’s somewhere that I’d definitely love to visit again sometime in the future, but for now a couple of days had to do… and next stop was my Yoga retreat at beautiful Basunti in the Kangra Valley. (Follow link for Blog post: http://wp.me/p3LBgc-4B)
And that my friends, is my glimpse of India and all the feelings and emotions it evoked. All in all it was an assault on my senses and a spiritual awakening.
My initial feelings about India we’re true… I’d either love it or hate it, and I can honestly say that I fell in love with the beautiful madness that is India!