We were pretty sad to leave Temple Tiger as we'd grown rather accustomed to life there. But like with all our luxury treats, it was back into the real world with a jolt. It took us about 10 hours on a stiflingly hot sardine bus to get to the border - what should have taken about 5 - due to more Nepalese strikes.
Crossing the border into India was definitely one of the more relaxed border crossings that we'd done so far. Due to the large numbers of people crossing every day they seem to have given up on examining passports etc and instead if you want a stamp you need to go and ask for one.
We caught a bus no problem to Gorakhpur where we had booked tickets on a sleeper train to Varanasi. Getting off the bus in Gorakhpur at midnight was a real eyeopener. The scores of people who simply lie down on the pavement for their night's sleep, the children to whom the island in the middle of a roundabout is home and the figures lurking in the shadows preparing their evening fix. In the station it really wasn't clear who was waiting for trains and who was living on the platforms. Despite having reserved sleepers, we were keen to stretch out on them, having heard nightmare stories about people wanting to 'share' your seats etc in India. It all turned out OK in the end and we actually had a great night's sleep in our non AC, second class coach.....arriving in Varanasi 8 hours later...all for the price of a UK beer.
Arriving into Varanasi was like stepping into a tandoori oven. By the time we had found somewhere to stay we'd drunk 4 litres of water and by the end of the day.....another 6 bottles had followed. Trying to economise, thanks to our Temple Tiger splurge, we'd opted for a fan only room. This just wasn't sensible in the 40 degree heat......our only escape from the heat were our hourly showers, no need to towel dry, just go and stand in front of the fan for 2 minutes. Our days were spent getting up early...around 6am and going to see the Ganges, taking a boat ride before retreating into our hot box for the next 10 hours until we could venture out again for our evening stroll along the Ganges. Despite the touts etc, Varanasi did have a pretty special atmosphere. The bodies draped in bright orange fabrics, with long processions of family following on, winding their way through the narrow lanes down to the Ganges; the burning ghats visible from afar in the evenings; the smell of incense in the air from the evening ceremonies; the old men, followers of Shiva sat passing the time with their painted faces and long hair. It still gave us a bit of a fright though to see a body floating down the Ganges one morning.....it turns out that there are a few circumstances whereby you don't get burnt and instead you are set into the Ganges, supposedly weighted down but obviously not in this case! Leaving aside the pollution in the Ganges, it's wierd to see everyone bathing happily despite what might float by...
Fi declined the opportunity to practice with the Ganges Swimming Club....
We caught another sleeper train onward to Agra. This one was AC.....and seemed like luxury to us. Bryn was impressed that his evening meal order was taken at one station and delivered an hour later to his bunk at the next station....all for 40p. Sadly we had to get off at Agra though and negotiate our way through the tout throng to the sea of rickshaw drivers. We were impressed to find a bargain place to stay with a view of the Taj!
We went off to Agra Fort and were immediately introduced to Indian tourists.....who want their photos taken by us...on our camera for some bizarre reason
We were outside the Taj for 6am along with a long line of other tourists. Stepping round the corner to see it for the first time was quite spell binding. It really is a very impressive and beautiful building. Actually being there, seeing the green lawns, fountains and pools was certainly better than seeing pictures etc. We spent quite some time posing for photos!
Our evening trip onto the other side of the river to see sunset wasn't quite as successful as Bryn forgot his camera battery and then it turned out that there wasn't even a colourful sunset that day!
We'd been thinking for some time that a rest from travelling would probably be good.....and we'd decided that Delhi would probably be the place to do it as we'd have easy access to plenty of amenities. We needed to engage our brains on something other than bus timetables and managing our budget.
However, with 6 weeks in Delhi now complete and about 12 embassy visits under our belts it's time to push on for our seven week tour of the Stans....Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan!