North India

Jan 1998

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The highlights of this trip were the palaces of Rajastan, the Taj Mahal, the royal tombs of Delhi, the hindu and buddhist caves of Ajanta and Ellora, the hindu complex of Kranak, the hindu complex of Kajuraho and the sacred city of Varanasi.
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  1. New Delhi (Dec 30-31, 1997). Left San Francisco at 12:30pm, through London, arrived Delhi at 11:00pm on the 31st. Cheap hotel near Janpath Rd. Very cold at night, warm during the day. Delhi is a relatively clean and modern city. Everything is extremely cheap ($1=38 Rps): hotel room for 200-2500 Rps, full meal for 100-200 Rps, most monuments are 5-10 Rps, local buses are 3-5 Rps, trains are 50 Rps for 200 Kms, T-shirts for 90 Rps. Cheaper across the board. Lots of touts, but not aggressive. Very safe, no thieves. All the main monuments are Islamic: none is truly "Indian".
  2. New Delhi (Jan 1). +Red Fort/ Lal Kila: mogul (1648); fort, palace and assorted buldings. +Jami Masjid (1978): on hill, two minarets, stairs, surrounded by bazaar and maze of alleys. Puruna Qila: octagonal structure and mosque, walled. ++Humayun's Tomb: mogul, huge Taj Mahal-like structure in a setting of lawns, littered with other huge tombs; red sandstone walls, octagonal.
  3. Delhi/ south (Jan 2). ++Qutb Minar: tall and richly decorated minaret with ruins of mosque (1193); red sandstone pillars and arches (reminds of Roman ruins), iron pillar; Alai Darzawa: ornamented gateway; Ali Minar: unfinished torso. Tuklakaban: Fort (huge). +Baha'i: lotus-shaped marble building surrounded by ponds and lawns.
    Train to Agra (50 Rps, 3 hrs). Hotel +Tourist Guest House (250 Rps).
  4. Agra (Jan 3). +++ Taj Mahal: mogul (1648), no detail, the whole is more than the parts.
    Bus to Fatehpur-Sikri (12 Rps, 1.5 hrs). Fort: mogul.
  5. Fatehpur-Sikri (Jan 3). ++Fatehpur-Sikri: mogul, abandoned city, all paved with large slabs of stone, colorful market, very fine two-story home.
    Train to Gwalior (36 Rps, 1.5 hrs). Hotel Vivek (250 Rps).
  6. Gwailor (Jan 4). Fort: pre-mogul. +Jain sculptures: below fort, colossus, pontiff. Less westernized than Delhi or Agra. Tempos, donkeys, the city is a maze of alleys. Most signs are hindi only. High density of shops. Colonial atmosphere.
    Train to Agra (36 Rps, 2 hrs). Bus to Jaipur (90 Rps, 5.5 hrs). Hotel ++Umaid Bhawan, near Bani Park (300 Rps).
  7. Jaipur (Jan 5). Pink city. The city was built in 1729 when the rules moved from Amber. Minaret. +Observatory (Jantar Mantar). +Hawa Mahal. +Jal Mahal (on the way to Amber) in the middle of a lake +Bazaar (huge).
    Lunch at ++LMB. Bus to Ajmer (50 Rps).
  8. Amber (Jan 5). ++Lost city: palace overlooking lake, surmounted by Fort (Rajput architecture). Elephants and camels and monkeys.
  9. Ajmer (Jan 6). Jain temple: models of temples made with 1.000 kilos of gold, ships floating around temples. Not much in town, very old and dirty.
  10. Johdpur (Jan 6). Blue city. +Meherangarh Fort: very fine wood carving of windows, mostly red (Rajpur). Jaswant Thanda: white marble memorial on hill near Fort (1899). Umaid Bhawan Palace (1929): palace, now hotel. Town is noisy, messy, polluted.
    Hotel: +Durag Niwas (200 Rps).
    Bus to Jaisalmer (100 Rps, 5 hrs)
  11. Jaisalmer (Jan 7-8). ++Spectacular old town on a hill in the desert. Gold city. Most authentic city in Rajastan. Each home is a little masterpiece. ++Fort, a city within the city, maze of alleys, temples, palace. ++Jain temples, white marble carving. ++Patwon Ki Haveli. + Haveli.
    Hotel: +Fort View (120 Rps).
    Bus to Mt Abu through Johdpur (210 Rps, 12 hrs, 3pm-5am) (A direct bus at 5:30am goes through Barmer).
  12. Mt Abu (Jan 8-9). At 6am the monks start drumming in a wild crescendo that climaxes at sunrise. Then the drumming stops. A man from the city turns off all the lights. By 7am there are children playing cricket and football. By 8am most shops are open. Lake, old summer residence. The town is mainly a tourist resort with lots of hotels around the lake.
  13. ++Delwara temples (2.5 Kms from town): Jain temples, white marble carving, erected by Tejapala in 1230. +Elephant cell (1143); two columns of four elephants each, carrying wise men and between them horsemen followed by 3-story round pagoda. Connected to ++Vimal Vasah (1031), tomb of general of the kingdom of Gujara, through a 10-layers domed open chamber; 10 rows of pillars, supporting richly decorated beams and vaults (a few of the domes are omitted to let the sun in); some of the domes of the ceiling lattice are flat and contain bassereliefs with lots of figures; court there is a round dome supported by the thickest and most decorated 12 pillars, the dome having 18 statues of women; inner circle of the dome contains 12 hanging stalactites of marble, each created by embracing figures; center of dome is a flower/chandelier again made of embracing figures; the outer porch hosts four galleries of niches, each containing a sitting Buddha. ++ Luna Vasahi temple (1231): shrine of Tirthankor Neminath, kingdom of Gujart; similar but: some of the flat domes are rectangular and their decoration is less intense, pillars are less decorated too, more open ceilings; the big central dome is very similar but the "chandelier" in the middle is a huge 9-story pagoda upside down. Bhimashah Pittalhar temple (1468): metallic idol. Khartar Vasahi temple: 3-storied hindu style, dome like the Luna temple.

    Bus to Udaipur (70 Rps, 3pm, 5.5 hrs).
  14. Udaipur (Jan 10). Palace: huge, overlooking lake. Two smaller palaces in lake. Least romantic city in Rajastan. People very friendly but lake is small, shops are trivial, architecture is not very exciting, old alleys have no character. Yet another "Venice of the east" for people who have no idea what Venice is.
    Hotel +Rana (125 Rps, near temple)
    Bus to Ahmedabad (100 Rps, 6hrs, 11am)
  15. Ahmedabad (Jan 10). Noisy, polluted, messy traffic.
    Flight to Mumbay ($65).
  16. Mumbay/Bombai (Jan 11). Bay. Very poor people, big city.
    Flight to Aurangabad ($59).
  17. Aurangabad (Jan 12). Buddhist caves (only 9 in two groups, 7th century).
    Hotel +Regal Plaza (Rps 250).
    Note: caves are closed mondays.
    Bus to Ellora (1 hr)
  18. Ellora (Jan 13). Caves: 12 buddhist caves (350-750), 17 brahman caves (600-700), 5 jain caves (700-1200). ++Kailasa temple. Cave 5: large assembly hall, with long stone benches. ++Cave 10: chapel, veranda, Buddah seated under rib-shaped ceiling. ++Cave 12: 3-storey, huge halls, seven and seven Buddahs on 3rd floor. ++Cave 14: screens on walls with scupltures of hindu mithology. ++Cave 15: chapel in courtyard, sculptured walls. +Cave 29: similar to Elephant cave, lions guarding both entrances, giants guarding shrine, overlooking waterfall and lake. +Cave 32: elephant, monolith and chapel in courtyard, hall with Jain saints.
    Note: caves are closed mondays.
    Bus to Philunhi (1 hr), bus to Ajanta (2 hrs).
  19. Ajanta (Jan 13). 29 Buddhist caves (200 BC - 650 AD). Picturesque setting off a cliff. +Cave 1. ++Cave 2: paintings, Cave 6: two storey. Cave 10: small paintings in upper aisles. ++Cave 26: rib-shaped ceiling and Buddha in the middle, richly decorated. Cave 19: smaller #26. ++Cave 17: paintings on walls, richly decorated pillars. There is much more to see at Ellora and the Kailasa temple is a major sight. No major sights at Ajanta. Indian tourists bribe guards to take pictures with flash.
    Note: caves are closed mondays.
    Bus to Fartipur (20'), bus to Jalgaon (1 hr), bus to Bhopal (300 Rps, 2am-9am)
    Bus to Sanchi (1.5 hrs)
  20. Sanchi (Jan 14). +Buddhist citadel, mainly the elaborated gates and the primitive stupas (when Buddha was not represented explicitly), ruins of monasteries built around 18 BC.
    Bus to Reisen (1 hrs), bus to Sagar (4 hrs), bus to Kajuraho (1am, 5 hrs, 70 Rps).
  21. Khajuraho (Jan 15). Ex capital of Changel in the 10th-12th century. 12 hindu temples in the "western enclosure" made of sandstone and set on high platforms. Erotic sculptures. ++Visvanatha (1002): two subsidiary shrines and open pavillion; lots of sculptures around the walls (outside and inside); inside around chapel repeating pattern of statues (women and dragons). ++Lakshman (950): four subsidiary shrines, two bands of figure sculptures, crocodile gate, elaborately carved door, exactly same plan and same sculptures inside. ++Khandariya Mahadera (1050): harmonious layering of oblong domes, complex pattern of statues and angles, two parallel bands of figures plus other bands of decoration, inside structure is as usual, except that the repeating patterns of status is only human figures and in more erotic stances. Jain temple Parsvanam.
    Flight to Varanasi ($60).
  22. Varanasi (Jan 16). Very spiritual city. Thousands of pilgrims. ++The two sides of the Ganges are lined with old palaces (now mostly hotels). ++Narrow alleys of the old city. Lots of cows. Lots of color, processions, singing. Silk products. Lots of beggars too, aggressive touts. It could be the most romantic city in the world, if they cleaned the cow shit. ++Ghats on the Ganges. Boats on the river commuting between gates.
    Hotel SITA (250 Rps).
    Train to Calcutta (192 Rps, 4:30pm-7am, actually left 6:30am and arrived 11:30am).
  23. Calcutta (Jan 17).
  24. Bhubaneswar (Jan 18). + Mukteswar (950): sculptured walls in jain/buddhist style. Minor temples and caves around it.
    Car hire to see Kornak, Puri, Bhubaneswar (700 Rps)
    Train to Howra (Calcutta) (100 Rps, 2pm-10pm)
  25. Konark (Jan 18). +++Sun temple: huge chariot with 12 pairs of colossal wheels (1255). Orissa-style temple (same shape as Puri and Bhuba). The whole complex lies on a 5 m.-tall platform, which is carved with 2000 elephants, armies, etc. The wheels (3m of diameter) are glued to the platform and richly decorated. Viman: three sun gods, reached by steps; steps down to sanctuary; used to be 70 m. tall. Mukhasala: best preserved sculptures, used to be 50 m. tall, roof in three layers (lotus shaped), each layer of seven steps, with angelic musicians among the steps, pillars and sculptures supporting the roof.
  26. Puri (Jan 18). +Jagannath temple. Not open to tourists. Thousands of pilgrims in the streets.
  27. Calcutta (Jan 19). Messy and poor. Good place to shop around Sudder St.
    Hotel +Biman (350 Rps, near Hotel Palace).
    Taxis in calcutta are expensive.

Notes (1997)

Trip difficulty: easy to moderate
Season: any
Length: 24 days
  • Pictures of India
  • Indian people are friendly, but not necessarily helpful. They enjoy chatting and hearing about your problem, but very seldom they will make an effort to find a solution to your problem. For them a problem is part of life and it is not a big deal if it does not get solved. It is interesting to know that there is such a problem, but finding a solution is not necessary. Almost everybody will ask you what your problem is, but very few people will make any effort to even think about a possible solution.
  • India is not necessarily more overcrowded than Europe, just the attitude is different. There is no office with just one person, and it is never clear who is working there and who is just visiting or loitering. People sit right next to you.
  • The most upsetting aspect of India for non-Indians is probably the stench. It starts with cows, which are free to roam the streets of every downtown. Then there are countless homeless and beggars who live on sidewalks. Finally, there are the ordinary people, who use the streets like public restrooms. Buses and especially trains are not exempt from this smell. Cows walk undisturbed in traffic, in train stations, even in the waiting room of a train station. A cow in India has the same status of a dog in the West.
  • Transportation is, compared to the rest of the Third World, very good. In fact, private buses are fine. Government buses are slow and overcrowded, but still better than in any of the neighboring countries. The system of roads and railway is impressive. There are buses and trains to go everywhere every day. Trains are rather primitive, but, if nothing else, the network is extensive. Roads are paved and in reasonable conditions, unlike all neighboring countries. Accidents, alas, are frequent, and frequently fatal. Transportation in the cities is mainly by motorized rickshaws, which cost about 5 Rps per km, or by "tempos", big noisy 3-wheel taxi cabs that roam the streets along more or less predefined routes.
  • The condition of women is one of the worst in the entire world, barely one step above cows (if nothing else, cows are free to roam in the streets, unlike unmarried women).
  • To go to Bhutan from Kolkata: bus to Phuent Sholing from Esplanade 18 hours; or flight to Paro airport by Druk Air. A tourist visa requires many daYs.
  • Bangladesh from Kolkata: bus in 24 hours; flight; train service since july 2007 from Kolkata to Dhaka. Visa can be obtained within the day but does require going to the Bandladesh consulate twice.
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