Color & Chaos

India part 7 | The Plains | day 112

After two months riding in the Indian Himalaya we dropped into the plains to get a taste of the busy, colorful, crowded, full of life India we had yet to experience in the quiet serene mountains. For two and a half weeks we let our bikes rest as we took a series of trains and busses to Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Sarnath, and Bodh Gaya while making our way to Nepal.

Delhi

Our initial visit to Delhi, a 15 hour lay over in-between NYC and Leh, was traumatic and we were in no hurry to go back. Our second visit to Delhi was much more pleasurable thanks to our incredible hosts: Ankush, Prabhat, and Sidhart. We had met the Delhi natives trekking in Chitkul, in the Kinnaur Valley, where they invited us to their homes when passing through New Dehli. Prabhat’s allowed us to crash on his floor for three nights and we experienced the most amazing hospitality from our new friends. We were treated like kings and queens. Presented with every kind of Indian dish we had yet to try, we were hit with a spectrum of food. There was some wandering about the city, but mainly just hung around Sidhart’s inspiring house, built by his grandfather which still houses the entire family: parents, aunt, and Sidhart, his wife and son. The entire house is filled with life and beauty; the family teaches art lessons and dance lessons out of different rooms and the entire home is filled with his late uncle’s paintings, including a mesmerizing portal painting on the ceiling of his studio. You can’t find a place like this on TripAdvisor. It happened to be Durga Puja, a Bengali celebration of their Goddess Durga. We were invited to join Sidhart and his family for a community potluck where members would recite poetry, sing, and dance together in a five night celebration. Ankush was a huge help in getting us around this incredibly busy and complicated city.  


Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was just one big check mark for us. An ivory-white marble mausoleum of architectural feats. One of the Seven Wonders just sitting a few hours away, of course we have to go see it. We had been warned the city of Agra was unpleasant, and the rumors are true. Filthy, busy, and dull. 

We arrived to Agra and went straight to the garden opposite the Taj, to catch the sunset. The facade turned fiery orange as the sunset bounced off its’ white domes, it was breath-taking. Watching the swarms of people from afar confirmed our plan to get in the next morning as early as it opened to avoid the crowds and make our bus back to Delhi that afternoon. Unfortunately Eric’s body had a different agenda. He tossed all night with a rising fever paired with diarrhea which left him blacked out on the bathroom floor, panties around his ankles. 

Ok, ok, time to go to the hospital, again. 

The rickshaw weaved through the crowded morning streets to the nearest “hospital”. 

“Don’t go to tourist hospital, too expensive and take too long, I take you to good hospital.” 

Well… lets give it a shot, I thought.  

Turning into a back alley we stop in front of a building labeled “Dentist.” We exchange nervous glances. But sure enough we got help right away. “You’re severely dehydrated and need a rehydration injection.” the Dr. explains as we watch a couple of mice jet across the open air hospital room. “I think I’ll go with the oral rehydration salts please…” 

After much rest and liquids, we got our Taj Mahal photo and got on the next bus back to Delhi. Thankfully I didn’t contract Dengue Fever, which continues to plague much of India and would have put me out for weeks. 


Varanasi

Varanasi, a lively tangle of bright color and chaos. The word “raw,” always comes to mind when trying to describe it, a place unlike any other. The holiest of the seven sacred cities in India; where Hindus say the world started and where the world will end. Maybe it’s all the sadhu, or history, or cows walking around, but there’s an unmistakable mystique to the air. 

To die in Varanasi brings salvation, according to Hindu belief. The water in the Ganges River is “pure” and washes away sin. It helps with liberation from the cycle of life and death. Every morning the town rises with the glowing red hot sun reflecting in the murky waters to cleanse their souls and bodies together. 

Bodies wrapped in brightly colored fabrics on wooden cots are carried through town by their chanting family members to the Ganges River for a final cleansing before being cremated over an open wooden fire. “Wood fee” the man says motioning for a donation as we grow accustomed to the smell of burning human flesh watching the “Burning Ghat,” a place where bodies are burned 24/7 and soon became something we actively avoided. It was interesting to see such an acceptance of death and physical closure to the destruction of the body. I’m sure our Western rituals of pumping dead bodies full of chemicals to preserve them and painting them as if to still have life would seem a little odd to an outside viewer too. 



Sarnath

A quick day trip from Varanasi is Sarnath, where Buddhism started. A massive stupa and ancient ruins marks the spot where Buddha gave his first sermon, “Turning of the Wheel of Truth” after he attained enlightenment. A group of young monks dressed in bright orange robes walked in mediation around the stupa while we wondered around Deer Park. 



Bodh Gaya

We took a train from Varanasi to Bodh Gaya where Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under the Bodhi Tree. Our second of the four Buddhist pilgrimage sites, the Bodhi Tree, is the most significant. Monks gather from all over the world to meditate under the tree and in the various spots where Buddha spent his seven weeks in meditation. 



Traveling With A Bike

After experiencing both train and bus with our bikes, we prefer a bus. It can sometimes make the trip a little longer, but at least we can help load the bikes in the storage compartment of the bus. The process is simple and cheaper. India won’t allow bikes with you on the train, they must be checked as “parcel” and stored in the last car, out of your sight and control.

We arrived three hours before our overnight train departed, none of the signs were in English and this was our first time in an Indian train depot. We tried a few different entrances being motioned further down the dark road, some guards would even say “Cycle not possible.” But finally get through the entrance and slowly navigate our way to the Parcel station, not easy. We were practically at the end of the station, we kept asking for directions and sure enough they all would point down the dimly lit alleyway. 

“Are you sure?” This doesn’t seem right. 

We get to the parcel station, towers of white wrapped packages tower around the people organizing millions of boxes. Workers stop with their heavy loads and gawk, expressionless as we watch them visually access our bikes. Not a place we want to leave our bikes unattended. We had to leave the bikes on a separate platform and hope they are loaded on the correct train, nerve wracking to say the least. Although, the bikes arrived fine it is stressful being separated, they are our lives. 

Busses for the win! 


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