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Varanasi is a city of beautiful chaos. Located on the banks of the Ganges River, it's one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and also one of the holiest. The river is the pulse of the city and it's worth setting your alarm so that you can be on the water for sunrise. Locals descend the ghats (the stairs leading down to the banks of the river) to bathe, pilgrims perform Hindu ceremonies, and women wash their laundry then hang it along the stairs to dry. Even more fascinating are the burning ghats that send plumes of smoke and flames into the air as they cremate the bodies of the dead. Anyone visiting Varanasi must read Geoff Dyer's book "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi." It perfectly captures the spirit of the city.
Chandni Chowk, considered one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi (Shajahanabad), is a labyrinth of small streets, alleys, and neighborhoods. It is also a host to some of the city's best local food. Start at Natraj Dahi Bhalle and sample the Dahi Bhalle: deep-fried dal dumplings served with yogurt. Next, try a samosa with chutney at Bikanerwala. Continue to Shiv Mishthan Bhandar for jilebi, a deep-fried, pretzel-shaped treat soaked in sugar syrup. Conclude at one of my favorite spots, Chaina Ram Sindhi Halwai, for Karachi Halwa. This legendary shop has been around for two centuries—yes, two centuries—and has an impressive menu of traditional sweets. Note: Chandni Chowk is closed on Sunday, though some restaurants remain open.
In the afternoons the Gateway of India is pretty crowded but in the mornings visitors are scarce, i watched this young girl chase pigeons for about 15 minutes (until I felt I had contracted Histoplamosis) until she gave up. This monument in Mumbai, located near the Taj Mahal Hotel, is a great place to do some people watching or even catch a ferry to Elephanta Island. The actual gateway was to commemorate the arrival of their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary during a visit to India in 1911, the monument is still a national icon. Any cab driver will know the Gateway of India, but be sure and bring your tout-stick because they will try and sell you everything.
On our trip through the amazing countryside in Rajasthan, we met this sweet boy who was fascinated about our cycles. He was so proud that we took a picture with him and the bike.
Right smack dab in the center of the chaos that is New Delhi, exists the quiet center of the universe: Jama Masjid. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, and completed in 1656, this is the largest and most popular mosque in all of India. It can hold up to 25,000 worshippers, yet be the quietest place on Earth at the same time. Within its walls is also held an antique copy of the Qur'an. The photo above is taken from atop one the of two 130-foot tall minarets. I made the trek up, only to find myself in the company of five teenagers just hanging out and enjoying the view. And what a view it is! You get a scope of the vast expanse of Delhi from this particular vantage point. I enjoyed my perch for a while, descended the steps, took in one last moment of solitude within the mosque, and waded back into the calamity outside its sacred walls.
Camels spit, but they don't suck - at least not when they're thundering across the golden sand of the Thar Desert toward the Pakistan border. We organized a tour/camping trip through the Tokyo Hotel in Jaisalmer (yes, Tokyo Hotel. Awesome little joint if you ever get a chance to visit), and set out on our camels for 24 hours of fun. We asked our jockeys to stop at this watering hole for a few minutes so that we could photograph the locals and their animals - it's not every day that you come across a pond in the desert, you know? We watched this young man fill his camel's packs with gallons of water and marveled when local ladies came out of the sand in their beautiful saris and filled their own steel containers with water before hoisting them above their heads and carrying on. Then we were off - to spend a night rolling in the sand.
Dilli Haat is an open-air market with over 60 stalls and features both permanent and transitional vendors. It also showcases regional cuisine of India. Each state has a food and beverage booth, and the Nagaland stall offers a refreshing fruit beer. Lightly carbonated, it is popularly paired with momos (dumplings). Photo by Meenakshi Madhavan/Flickr.
One of the things I love about India is the faces, there are so many interesting people, intense eyes, fascinating facial hair etc. they wear evidence of life on their faces and its fun to imagine what the stories behind those eyes must be.
The freshest blooms along muddiest streets - Kolkata's wholesale 'phoolbajaar' or flower market is right next to river Hooghly. In the beginning, the sellers sat on the Mallick Ghat. Nowadays, they have taken over several back-alleys and set up small shops. Mornings are the best and the craziest time to walk through the area. Most, vanish by noon, leaving behind a heady scent of seasonal specialties.
The Red Fort (Lal Quila) is a red sandstone fortress and the largest monument in Old Delhi. Commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1638, the complex covers almost 255 acres along the Yamuna River. The fort comes alive in the evening with a sound and light show that recreates 5,000 years of India's history. The one-hour spectacle is quite enchanting, with rulers and historical events corresponding to specific fort locations. Grab dinner across the street in Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest and busiest markets in the city. Note: Closed on Mondays.
When leaving the Taj Mahal you pass through a small doorway. Legend has it if you turn and see the Taj through the doorway you will be destined to return. And who says you should never look back?
When you are stuck in traffic in India, and you hear on the radio that 'today you are in the second hottest place on Earth,' very few things are going to cheer you up. This was my plight as I was attempting to navigate my way through Jaipur back to my hostel. Between the crowds, the traffic, the incessant horn honking, the stifling heat and the occasional sacred cow wandering through an already congested intersection, I was so deep in my 'India experience' that I was taken aback when I glanced up at this wonderful structure and suddenly smiled. I ditched the cab to learn more about my new favorite building. Built in 1799, Hawa Mahal has 953 tiny little windows that are covered in incredibly ornate latticework. I pondered the reasoning behind this, and referred to my guidebook to learn that these were all viewing windows through which the female royals could safely observe everyday society while still having their faces concealed. As I stood gazing upward, I wondered what it would have been like, back in the day, to be a commoner on the street looking up at all the little 'hidden faces' in the Palace of Winds. Who are they? What is their story? Would they rather be out here with me? What is it like inside? While I was unable to answer the first three questions, I was able to do something about the last one. The entrance is not in front, but from a side rear doorway. Head to Jaipur, visit Hawa Mahal, take a peek out the window, and enjoy your royal vantage point.
This was my first ever trip.. when i was all by myself..in the beginning it was a mixed feeling of fear and excitement..it was the first time when i was experiencing a bus journey..i was scared a bit.. but i knew it would be great as the time passes by..i loved every single thing that i saw on my journey.. when i reached there the bus station looked overcrowded n i dint knew anyone there.. after a few hours.. my girlfriend came by.. n gave me a tight hug.. i was actually there to be just with her.. n the next two days were filled with amazing joy.. n fun.. i never thought traveling alone could be great fun.. n excitement.. the serenity of Jaipur blew my mind away.. it was simply amazing!!
When visiting Mumbai, a must see is Elephanta Island. For just a few dollars, take a ferry from the Gateway of India to the island. The ferry ride takes about an hour and is an experience as well - having the chance to see Mumbai from the water is impressive. Once you land on the island, hire a local, again for just a few dollars, to show you around the island and give you the history. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, these 4th century rock-cut stone caves are a tribute to Lord Shiva. Five shrines are carved out of solid basalt rock showing Shiva in various situations. They are really incredible and beautiful. Plan to spend a little time on the island walking about, watching the monkeys steal tourists water bottles and to shop at the little stalls along the 150 stairs you need to climb to get form the ferry dock to the caves.
There are so many wonderful sites to see in Jaipur, but one not to be missed is the fruit and vegetable market in the old city. Brimming with vendors selling everything from mangoes to cucumbers to tomatoes and pineapples. It's a scene to just watch the shoppers shopping and sellers selling. Colorful and fragrant.
If you are looking for a quiet and peaceful getaway, I recommend a few days here in Agatti Island, at the Agatti Island Beach Resort. Agatti Island is a small island in the Lakshadweep Island chain, and is located about 285 miles west of the Indian city of Kochi. Here in Agatti Island, you will immediately relax while enjoying the seclusion and beauty that surrounds you. You will find sparkling coral reefs, turquoise blue waters, sandy beaches and coconut palms. Whatever stress you brought will rapidly leave you when you step to the beach, and as the photo shows, you may just have the beach to yourself.
Though cows roam everywhere imaginable in India, something about a calf licking his or her nose at sunrise on the Ganga seemed like a memory worth capturing.
If you venture out of Varanasi, India, as I did recently, and you find yourself at the Kali temple just outside of Vindhyachal (as I also did), you might be smitten (or bitten) by the insane amount of monkeys that hang around the temple. Or you might be smitten (and not bitten) by the Monkey Man. He sits on a perch in a tree and, for a small donation, will bless you with his wand. It all started about 20 years ago, when the man-who-would-become-the-Monkey-Man was sitting around the temple. He was feeling down on his luck and didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. He had no purpose. His depressive thoughts, though, were interrupted when he saw a young monkey dying. He ran over and fed the monkey some water and it immediately sprang to life. All the other monkeys surrounded the man and began touching him with great reverence. It was then that he had an epiphany: he was an incarnation of Hanoman, the great Hindu monkey god. He immediately went home and created a costume (complete with a tale) and affixed himself in a tree near the temple. He even transformed his face and jaw to make it more monkey like. For the last 20 years, the Monkey Man of Vindhyachal has been perched in his tree, blessing those who come to the temple. He now has a purpose. Donations of money (or bananas) are appreciated.
Welcome to Laad Bazaar, tucked away on one of the four streets that lead from the Charminar. Also called Choodi Bazaar, the vibrant market features countless shops and stalls selling bridal wear, pearls, jewelry, and the famous Hyderabadi glass- and stone-studded bangles. These recognizable bangles are made from laad ("lacquer"), the material which gives the market its name. No cars or auto-rickshaws are allowed on the narrow street, and the crowds are limited to pedestrians, scooters, and bicycles. Photo by Abhinaba Basu/Flickr.
Some structures are simply iconic. The Taj Mahal in Agra. The Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Statue of Liberty in New York City. And in Hyderabad? The Charminar! Built in 1591 by the founder of the city, Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, Charminar was built as a charm to defend the city against a deadly epidemic. The icon showcases four minarets that soar to a height of almost 50 meters above the ground. Charminar also features a mosque and 45 prayer spaces, and is beautifully illuminated in the evenings. Photo by Naveen Durgam/Wikimedia Commons.
While Kumbh Mela occurs every 3 years in 4 different Indian locations, the Maha Mela is every 12 years near Allahabad, just over 100 kilometers from Varanasi. We hired a driver with the intent of visiting two temples along the way and used the Ganges as our guide. First, we stopped in one of only four goddess temples in India, Viandhyanchal, in the village of Mirzapur. This “sleeping mountain” temple was intense. Wafting incense, bells ringing, drums pounding, people shouting and hitting stone walls amidst lots of pushing and shoving to see the female deity represented on the walls. Transcending the din, we planted ourselves on the ground amidst blackened marigolds, little kids poking our heads looking for money, and crowds knocking into us. Next, we went to the smaller Astabhugi Durga temple not far from Viandhyanchal. It’s worth a visit as well, but the actual space is only 4' tall so you won’t spend much time here. Fine with me, as I was ready to get to Kumbh Mela. We were fortunate enough to book rooms at the Maharishi Sadafaldeo Ashram, the closest accommodations to the Mela. The Ashram offers daily meditation and yoga classes, an evening spiritual session, and an Ayurvedic spa along with gracious grounds overlooking the Ganges. The Ashram erected some upscale tents just down the road, which was a very popular location within walking distance of the Mela. Not only were we closest to the Mela - but a short walk to the most auspicious bathing area, the Sangam.
The views from your suite—of the Kanchenjunga Mountains, the hills of Sikkim, or the Rung Dung River—might make it hard to leave, but it’s worth it to learn about every stage of tea-making on a tour of the fields and factory. A tasting reveals the ways a tea’s flavor is affected by where and how it’s grown, harvested, and processed. From $285. 91/(0) 98-300-70213, glenburnteaestate.com. Photo courtesy of Glenburn Tea Estate. This story appeared in the January/February 2012 issue. See more agritourism hotels: Hotel Chocolat in St. Lucia Dalabelos in CreteLos Poblanos in Albuquerque, New MexicoFinca Rosa Blanca in Costa RicaEstancia Nipebo Aike in El Calafate, ArgentinaVilla Campestri in Florence
Anokhi has sold clothes and linens with contemporary block-print designs since 1970. 32 Khan Market, New Delhi, 91/(0) 11-2460-3423; 2nd Floor KK Square, C-11, Prithviraj Rd., C-Scheme, Jaipur, 91/(0) 14- 1400-7244; plus 21 other locations across India. Admire block-printed cloth and watch carving and printing demonstrations at the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing. The store sells museum-inspired pieces. Anokhi Haveli, Kheri Gate, Amber, Jaipur, 91/(0) 14-1253-0226. anokhi.com/museum. Photo by Muffet/Flickr. This appeared in the March/April 2013 issue.
After taking an exhilarating elephant ride up to the fort, we were lucky enough to have gotten there before a lot of other tourists. As we explored farther and farther into the fort, it seemed like it belonged to us alone. The colorful sandstone is used to good result here. Jaipur is known as the Pink City because of all the pink sandstone used to build it, which makes the entire area quite colorful. I can only imagine what the fort looked like when it was inhabited by Raja Chanda and his retinue.
New Delhi is a bit of a concrete jungle, and the chance to start each morning in the green space that is Lodhi Garden was a welcome way to find balance amid the hustle and bustle. The gardens were built around the tombs of Sayid and Lodhi rulers, and you'll see hints of the architectural style that was later used in the construction of the Taj Mahal. These 90 acres of gardens are situated between Khan Market and Safdarjung's Tomb on Lodi Road. This is the perfect place if you're a jogger to get some running in, while you're in Delhi.
When I found out I was going to Nepal I think I was most excited to visit Chitwan and to interact with the mahouts and see the beauty of the elephants. They literally will stroll down the street kissing you for bananas or attracting attention from the intricate designs on their faces. An elephant ride is an easy and probably the most popular way of exploring Chitwan National Park.
Janpath is a bustling marketplace that houses both government-approved shops and open-air stalls. Plan to visit soon after arriving in Delhi to grab a few local and traditional clothing items. Of course, there are hundreds of options: countless carpets, shoes, clothing, jewelry, handicrafts, textiles, accessories, paintings, and furniture. Be sure to have rupees available. Most government-regulated shops accept credit cards, though cash is preferred, and the bazaar is cash only. Also, don't miss a cold coffee at De Paul's, famously served in a glass bottle with a straw.
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