After recovering (slightly) from our sickness in Agra we made our way to Khujaraho, a small town half way to Varanasi. It wasn’t an easy journey as we had to get the train to Satna first and then get on a bus to Khujarho. It took about 10 hours. Long ting.
We met a gorgeous little Indian girl on the bus though who had incredible English for her age. She had her baby brother with her too, who decided he would only be happy if his mum lifted him up so he could see us; his poor mum! His mum couldn’t speak English but the little girl managed to keep up a conversation with us for a few hours. The entire bus listening to our conversation of course. She tried to give us her bracelet which was really sweet but I wouldn’t let her. She also asked about currency in England and if we had dollars – she didn’t know what pounds were when we told her so we gave her a coin Lucy had in her purse. She and the entire bus (it got passed around) were fascinated by it for a long time!
We spent a few nights in Khujaraho. We visited some of the karma sutra temples around our hotel which is what the region is famous for. On the last day we also went on an Indian safari type thing which is what we had come to the region to do! We wanted to go elephant riding at the national park because we thought they would be kinder to them. The elephants on the street can be treated so cruelly that we decided to make the trip out to Panna National Park. First we drove around looking for tigers, leopards, panthers, crocodiles and peacocks. It was like something out of the Jungle Book! We got to see a leopard which was very exciting and some crocodiles. There were deer everywhere but there were no panthers or tigers that day unfortunately – sightings are very rare.
When it came to the elephant riding (what we had been waiting for) it turned out we couldn’t do it as it rained the day before and the ground wasn’t stable enough for the elephants to walk on. Instead they let us get very close to them and I was happy enough with that. I think they are actually very scary creatures when you are next to them! They are so big; you realise how easy it would be for them to step on you. We were with a mummy and baby elephant and the mummy was very protective (understandably)! The little one kept picking up dirt with it trunk and chucking it at the keeper. The poor thing was chained because apparently it could get aggressive but at least the mum was able to walk around freely and get to her baby if she needed to. It was really sad though – it reminded me of Dumbo.
There were some very strange men working at our hotel in Khujaraho that decided to attach themselves to me and Lucy while we were there so we were glad to leave. Men in India almost decide that you belong to them and won’t leave you alone. We were constantly asking people to stop taking photos of us or declining to have our photos taken with groups of men – often they would ignore this request and follow you around anyway. It could be quite intimidating. Women would even hand us their babies and take photos.
We got the train to Varanasi – which was another 12 hour journey. The trains are possibly the most Indian experience you can get while you are there. You decide to be in seated (which is very crowded and you are sitting up all night), in sleeper (you have a bed but it’s not gauranteed so you can end up sharing it with lots of other people) or in upper class sleeper (a little bit nicer and they are actually reserved for you!) We got one sleeper train while we were in India – not pleasant at all and two upper class sleepers. It was all an amazing experience (looking back on it). Finding your train, getting on the right carriage and then getting off at the right stop is all adventure enough. You also have to avoid the man going around attacking people’s foreheads with red paint and then demanding money. Throughout the night there are chai men walking up and down the train shouted ‘chaaaiiii’ in a very deep voice – quite difficult to sleep through and luggage carrying men with the turbans wrapped around their heads (to balance the luggage on) also patrol the trains and will help you with your bags if you pay them enough.
We arrived in Varanasi from Khujaraho very early in the morning. It is a maze of small, dark, dirty alleyways surrounding the Ganges (the river that runs through India that is considered holy by Hindus.) It is a very interesting place but quite seedy and dark in places and apparently full of crime. I tried to find a church on the Sunday but couldn’t find a thing! I do hope that some Christian work is going on in Varanasi.
We stayed in a nice hotel overlooking the river and because we arrived so early in the morning we were able to watch the sunrise over the river! It was beautiful. It was horrifying how many people bathed in the Ganges because they believe it is holy (according to Wikipedia) 2,000,000 people ritually bathe in the water daily while the bacteria count is 120 times more than is considered safe!
We caught another train back to Delhi. We got to the train station by cycle rickshaw by a man that kept pretending he was a helicopter while not looking at oncoming traffic. Very scary! We stayed in the Tibetan area in Delhi for a few days before flying out. It was a very different experience of India. For a start everyone was Tibetan, it is tiny and there are ‘free tibet’ signs everywhere. Even the TV in our room had the message flash up before it turned on. We experienced a few joys of a major Indian city while we were there such as McDonalds, KFC and Connault Place which is full of western shops! Yay! After a month it was a welcome break.
We left for the airport at 4am to fly to Australia. In true Indian style the roads were as noisy and scary as in the middle of the day! It was a complete shock when we arrived in Melbourne at 6 in the morning and the roads were deadly silent (no crazy rickshaw drivers swerving and beeping.) It took me a while to realise what the difference was – it was quite unnerving at first. We got through customs fine too – a relief! I was worried because we were coming from India and they are so strict with what you can bring in to Australia (there is a whole show on customs) and dirt on your shoes (to protect their wildlife) I thought they might decide to fumagate us, but we survived.