A Travellerspoint blog

Goa and the holidays


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After Bodhgaya, I took an overnight train to Delhi on my way to Goa. I stopped in Delhi for a night to hangout with an Indian friend whom I befriended in Dharmasala. My friend was a retired ship captain who traveled the world for 30 years. I had dinner with his family, drank a few cocktails and talked about mine and his travels. The next day I took a flight to Goa to spend the holidays with some friends that I met in India. Goa is located on the western coast of India and it was once a Portugese colony. Goa is a popular place for Western Tourists to spend the holidays. My friends and I stayed in the northern part of Goa on Arambol beach. Our diverse group consisted of eight people including myself (4 english, 1 polish, 2 thai and 1 american (myself)) We spent the time hanging out on the beach, visiting the numerous restaurants, playing cricket, reading and just chilling out. On Christmas eve our group visited a delicious Italian restaurant and had a gift exchange. For New Year's Eve, my friends and I went to Ajuna beach which was about just south of Arambol. We started out the night at a bar named Curly's. At the stroke of midnight the sky was filled with fireworks and the crowd welcomed in the new year - 2007. For the rest of the night, we hung out in a bar named Giganta. It was a pretty laid back place where you could lounge on mats and hang out or head to the back to dance to the music. It was a festive and memorable new year! Spending two weeks in Goa was not a bad way to spend the holidays. Compared to the north of India, Goa has a more relaxed atmosphere. The locals are more laid back and seem to enjoy life a little more.

Posted by ejgalang 16:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Taj Mahal, Benaras and the enlightenment of Buddha

After Rajasthan, I was back on the road. My next stop was to Agra. Agra is located in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and it is home to the "granddaddy" of monuments for love, the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is all the marbles. It is an amazing monument. I visited the Taj early in the morning and it was exquisite. The Taj Mahal was definitely worth visiting.

From Agra, I took the train to Varanasi or Benaras (Indian name). Varanasi is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism. The other six sacred cities are Haridwar, Ayodhya, Dwarka, Mathura, Kanchipuram, Ujjain. Varanasi or the city of Shiva (Hindu Goddess) is considered to be one of the holiest cities in India. Varanasi lies adjacent to the Ganges river which is one of the most sacred rivers in the Hindu religion. Hindus make pilgrimages to Varanasi to bath in one of the 80 ghats or bathing areas along the Ganges. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges washes away your sins and if you die in Varanasi it is considered good luck because you will be liberated from the cycle of birth and death. As my friend said, "Varanasi is a city that is alive" It is filled with constant activity. Along the Ganges river there are nightly pujas, people bathing, cremated bodies floating down the river, and launders cleaning clothes on rocks. One morning I took a boat ride on the Ganges and watched the sunrise. As the sun rose over the river, the river was filled with activity - people bathing, launders washing clothes, other boats filled with Hindu pilgrims, the remnants of bodies floating by; it was an interesting experience. Off the river, the city is filled with a maze of narrow alleys. I would walk aimlessly down alleys getting lost, then finding my way again. I really enjoyed staying in Varanasi and experiencing the energy of the city.

On my last afternoon in Varanasi, I visited the town of Sarnath which is about 15 km or 10 miles north. Sarnath is where Buddha gave his first teaching after attaining enlightenment. Sarnath is home to numerous Buddhist temples as well as Jain Temples. While I was there I befriended a Jain priest and his two young sons at a Jain Temple. I ended up getting a tour of some of the temples by the two sons. At the end of the day, I went to the Jain priest's home for some tea. On my ride home from Sarnath, the streets were filled with processions of weddings and funerals with loud music blaring in between streams of bright lights.

After Varanasi, I ventured to Bodhgaya. Bodhgaya is located in the Indian state of Bihar and it is where Buddha attained enlightenment under a Banyan tree. Bodhgaya is a major pilgrimage city for Buddhists. A temple called the Mahabodhi Temple sits adjacent to the Banyan tree where Buddha was enlightened. Bodhgaya is home to temples and monasteries from all the major Buddhist sects - Tibetan, Zen, Thai, etc. But Bihar is the poorest state in India. Just outside the Mahabodhi temple where a gold statue of Buddha sits, beggars line the street and children wander around in dilapidated clothing. While I was there I volunteered at a local school helping the kids learn math and english. Also with some friends, I took a day trip to Radjir and Nalanda. Radjir is home to Vulture Peak where Buddha gave his first teaching on emptiness. Nalanda was once the home to one of the ancient world's great universities. At its peak, the university was home to 10,000 monks and students. It is said that when the Afghans burnt the library of books at Nalanda, the fire lasted six months.

Posted by ejgalang 03:00 Archived in India Comments (3)

Octopussy and the temples of Pushkar

From Jaisalmer, we headed to Udaipur. Udaipur is a city of around 400,000 people that lies adjacent to Lake Pichola. Lake Pichola is a stunning lake filled with small islands where opulent hotels are built on top of them. Udaipur is where the James Bond movie, Octopussy was filmed. It seemed that every tourist restaurant showed the movie nightly and of course just like every other tourist I watched it as well. On a hill overlooking Udaipur is Sajjangarh or the Monsoon Palace. My friends and I took a rickety rickshaw up a winding road to the Monsoon Palace. We were greeted by stray monkeys and other tourists but we got a delightful view of the city and the setting sun. Udaipur was a beautiful and relaxing place to visit.

From Udaipur, I ventured to the town of Pushkar. Pushkar is home to the holy lake of Pushkar which is surrounded by numerous ghats or baths on the lake. Pushkar is a small towned filled with guesthouses, shops and both India and Foreign travellers and it is home to hundreds of temples. I spent my time there replenishing my book library, drinking chai, reading and hanging out with some friends and but mostly just taking it easy.

Posted by ejgalang 02:49 Archived in India Comments (1)

A train ride into Rajasthan and the eye of a camel

From Amritsar, I took my first Indian train ride to the city of Jodhpur and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Two trains and 20 plus hours later, my friend and I arrived in Jodhpur or the Blue city. We rode in sleeper class on the train and we were the only foreignors in our car but it was a great time. After pushing our way to our seats/beds, we were surrounded by Indians who looked at us with inquisitive eyes. But after a couple hours of exchanging smiles and chatting in broken english we were buying each other milk tea or chai and sharing our food. We seemed to be the main attraction of every Indian who walked by. We even got them to play the game of "I spy" with us. At every stop, entreprepneurs would board the train and sell socks, snacks and of course, chai. They would walk by yelling, "Chai, Chai, Chai, Chai, Chaiiiiiiiiii." It was a fun train ride.

While we were in Jodhpur, my friend and I stayed in a cozy guesthouse aptly named Cosy Guesthouse. From the roof of our guesthouse, we got a beautiful view of the blue buildings of Jodhpur and the Jodhpur fort which is situated on a hill in the middle of the city. Our stay in Jodhpur was only two days but while we were there we visited the Jodhpur fort. Built on a hill overlooking the city, the fort offered a great defense against attacks in the old days and a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. While exploring the fort, my friend and I caught a couple of guards throwing paper airplanes off the side of the fort. Their planes floated leisurely in the desert wind. (I tried my own paper airplane but it just took a nose dive straight down) We also visited a 600 year old Hindu temple located in the fort. Also, we bumped into some friends that we knew from Dharmasala. India is a large country but it is certainly a small world.

From Jodhpur, we met up with another friend on the train and four hours later we arrived in the dusty city of Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is known as the Golden city and it too has a fort. Unlike Jodhpur, Jaisalmer's fort is really dilapidated because it is filled to the brim with guesthouses, restaurants, temples and shops. The main reason we went to Jaisalmer was to go on a camel trek into the Rajasthan desert. My friends and I booked a two-day trek because we were pre-warned about the uncomfortability of riding a camel (Two days later I had a pretty sore bum, buttock, etc, etc) Our group totaled six travellers (my two friends, myself, an another american, a french and an australian), a handful of guides/cooks and of course our transportation, a motley group of camels. My camel's name was Papu and he always seemed to be taking it easy and would occasionally trot to catch the rest of the group. I had many long talks with Papu about trying to keep up with the pack, although he was a good listener, he never seemed to follow my advice, oh well. The highlight of the trek was sleeping under the stars. It was a "starry" night and we saw nearly a dozen shooting star. It was a pretty cool experience.

Posted by ejgalang 07:02 Archived in India Comments (0)

Dharmasala, the Golden Temple and the border ceremony

An overnight bus ride away from Delhi is Mcleod Ganj or Upper Dharmasala. Dharmasala is situated in the Himalayans and is located in the Himachal Pradesh state but it feels like a whole new country. Mcleod Ganj is a tranquil town and it is the home to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan-in-Exile government. Mcleod is home to many Tibetan refugees and attracts throngs of foreign travelers volunteering for the Tibetan cause, doing yoga and meditations, studying Buddhism and just relaxing in the Himalayans. Mcleod is a place where you could easily stay for a prolonged period of time which I did. I stayed for almost a month and I enjoyed my time there. During my stay I hiked to the smaller towns just outside of Mcleod, played basketball with some local Tibetans, visited the Dalai Lama's temple, and did some volunteer work. Mcleod was a nice rest from the hurried lifestyle of Delhi.

From McLeod, with four other friends, I went to Amritsar. Amritsar is located in the Punjab state and it is home to the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is the holiest temple of the Sikh religion. The bus station in Amritsar welcomed us back into the breakneck lifesytle of India. We were immediately pursued by rickshaw drivers and the accoustics in the bus station seemed to amplify every voice and sound. It felt like we were entering a riot.

My friends and I stayed in rooms that were attached to the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is stunning. The temple offered free meals throughout the day. You could donate money or help wash the dishes. My friends and I helped wash dishes for an hour or so and the people smiled with joy. We heard that they served almost 30,000 people per day. Each day in the Golden Temple, the sacred Sikh book is processed out in the early morning and returned at night. One morning, my friend and I attended the procession of the sacred book. We huddled with the numerous Sikh pilgrims and watched the ceremony with curious eyes. It was a great experience. During our stay at the temple the Sikh's made us feel at home and welcomed us with open arms.

Just west of Amritsar is the Pakistan border. Each night, there is an elaborate border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan. Both sides of the border are lined with grandstands and when we attended the ceremony, the seats were filled to the brim. The border is closed for two or three hours and each country performs a slow, comical ceremony. On our side, an Indian emcee encourages the crowd to cheer for India - "go, India, go" It is reminscent of a high school pep rally. The throngs of Indians always seem to be on a brink of rioting but at the last minute they would settle down. The ceremony is a hilarious spectacle to watch.

Suggested Books:

Tibet

Non-fiction

Freedom in Exile - Dalai Lama
Fire in the Snow - Palden Gyatso,Tsering Shakya
Reincarnation: A Boy Lama - Vicki Mackenzie
Wrestling The Dragon - Gaby Naher

Posted by ejgalang 09:42 Archived in India Comments (1)

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