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We used to ask our hostel/hotel porters/rickshaw drivers/cleaners to take us to meet their family. Sounds strange, but we'd get talking, they'd show us pictures and tell us about their children/family who were often in VERY remote villages, hence why they were in more built up areas to earn money to send home.
They were (in our experience) totally overjoyed, for several reasons. Firstly, because we would arrange to go on their day off, so we would travel together, so of course we would be paying their travel costs too, something they would not often be able to do, secondly because it was such a novelty for the people in their villages to see white/western people, in our experience most had only seen westerners in films, some had not ever seen a TV and thought we were aliens! ...and thirdly because often tourists/travellers in India may take the lead of some well-off Indians and not even acknowledge them, or if they do, don't see them as the amazing people that can give us the true gems of India (VT members apart!)
It was a GREAT way of seeing TRUE TRUE india.
Once we went to a village (can't even remember where to be honest) and the village had one b&w TV, the whole village came out and moved over for us to watch the TV, the kids were touching us like we were aliens, the adults just staring, but not in the normal way that we were used to, they were totally baffled by us! The most welcoming, amazing people, and we stayed there with a family...
The only uncomfortable thing that I found was that we were treated as "special people", which was lovely, but their almost god-like adoration of us was a little unnerving, we wanted to "blend in" and be with them as equals but we were just too weird!! Of course we were not so naive as to expect otherwise, I guess, but just be prepared to be looked after very well. And in the remote villages I found that you do not have to be so cautious of being ripped off. When someone offers to take you somewhere or do something for you, it is genuine - often (in my experience) they did not even want money so we would take them for a chai and give them a lovely gift (we carried some UK stuff with us - get the glo stick things from places like Millets!!!)
Gosh, I've written loads, didn't mean to, got carried away!
In essence, go for it. I never felt unsafe, although of course follow your instincts - if you get to a totally remote place and you feel unsure, approach someone with a vehicle, give them some money and ask if they will take you to the nearest town (sounds harsh, but....)
Written Jun 25, 2010
India is blessed with different rituals and festivals. Deepavali \ deewali is one such festival celebrated all over India. The kind of activities \ mode of celebration varies in different parts of India for the same.
(will be coming back more on this soon.. usha)
Updated May 2, 2010
Most visitors to India see the Taj Mahal. There is, however, another fascinating site nearby ( 25min drive from Agra)
This is the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri.
Fatehpur Sikri (City of Victory) is an abandoned city, built from red sandstone. A city of yesteryear, today lost in the mists of time. It was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar during the 16th century. Akbar had no heir. He visited holy men to enlist their prayers for a son. He visited Sheikh Salim Chishti, who was living at the village of Sikri, and the Sufi saint prophesied that he would be blessed with a son. When the son was born, Akbar named the boy Salim, after the Saint. This son later became the Emperor Jahangir.
The grateful Emperor constructed this as his capital city and named it Fatehpur Sikri. Later, due to lack of water and unrest in North-West, Akbar had to abandon his capital. The beautiful marble tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti still attract thousands who seek blessings of the revered saint. Women wishing to have children tie small bits of string onto a screen inside the tomb, after they have asked for a blessing form the Saint . When their prayers are answered, they return and remove the string.
. It has been rumoured for centuries that underground tunnels led all the way to Delhi , and Agra.
Fatehpur Sikri is a world heritage UNESO site, and is situated 39km form Agra. There is a small village nearby.
The wide, open square on this site displays perfect examples of Mughal Architecture, and the various buildings around it are all very well preserved.
The most outstanding are the Mosque, and the marble tomb of the Sufi Saint Salim Chishti. Intricate sandstone lattice windows filter the sunlight.
One has to be aware that on arrival, many touts and guides are ready to pounce on unsuspecting tourists. Having a guide is somewhat useful, and some guides have extensive knowledge of the old city. Many of them, unfortunately, have a hidden agenda
This site is definitely a must-see if you are in the Agra vicinity.
Updated Jul 12, 2009
Chandrigarh : There aren't many tourists who choose to visit this city, unless they are a student of modern architects like Le Corbusier. That, or they get a kick out of looking at a scruffy concrete city.
The 1950's creation of the French architect is perhaps one of the few places on earth that his vision of a futuristic city was realised. It's geometic planning is certainly at odds with the hap-hazard approach to town planning that characterises nearly every other city in the country. This is the Milton Keynes of India, built as a state capital in the main to replace Lahore that became part of Pakistan at Independence.
From a tourist point of view, the city has a number of interesting parks to visit. They break up the unending squares of concrete and thus 'green' the city. The most interesting (and the most popular tourist draw) is the 'Rock Garden'. This quite surreal place features mini-canyons of shell and stone, scupltures everywhere and more water features than the hanging gardens of Babylon.
Updated May 17, 2009
The caves of Bhimbetka Hills are near Bhopal in the state of Madhya Pradesh). The forests support tigers and the caves here and further south are saturated with rock paintings and tool production sites that date from the Lower Paleolithic. The best preserved of these drawings and paintings date from the Middle and Late Palaeolithic.
The area of caves is large; but almost certainly you will take a guided 45 minute tour with the custodian. If you are a generous "raja"- you can request a longer tour with extras-such as a 4K trail with 130 caves. Some of the guides are shameless for donations so don't be "cowed".
My guide book said that I could explore the area independently; but I was told this was not true. Most people get to the caves by hiring a car. However, after riding from Bhopal on the Bhopal to Hoshangabad bus and getting off at Obaidullaganj (about half an hour ride) I rented a bicycle from one of the many rental stands, and pedaled out to the caves (40 minutes). On the way, I met three Italians riding bicycles back. I also met a wandering Sadhu and many friendly inhabitants. There is a hotel at the park that looked moderately expensive.
PS: It is necessary to bring water with you (a liter)
Updated Dec 19, 2008
This place was washed away in the early 1970's named Dhanuskodi in rameshwaram district of Tamilnadu in India.
U can still see left overs of a railway track and a railway station and a church.
If you want to visit this place then from rameshwaram you have to catch a local fishermans vehicle and then he will take you along the beach into this land.
Written Dec 19, 2008
Many new travellers to India tend to visit the bigger cities (and that is understandable), and their first experience can be daunting and exhausting. There is so much to see- so many people, traffic & chaos. The heat is draining.
Fortunately, there are many small, very interesting towns and villages that one can get to see, and many are just an hour or two drive out of the big cities.
We have found so many interesting things and places by hiring a car and just getting out of the city. Not only is the countryside beautiful, but one can see how people really live, and rural life is very different from city life.
A good example is driving from Udaipur to Chittor- lovely scenery and in Chittor see the mighty Rajput Fort that is there. It can be done in a few hours.
Ranakpur - with its exquisite Jain Temple complex is 2 hour drive from Udaipur
From Mumbai it is 403km to Aurangabad-(overnight by train) and one can see the awesome Ellora Cave Complex. I highly recommend this- it is one of the most peaceful and interesting places in India.
Most guide books will list side trips. So get out into the countryside- it will clear your head and refresh you.
Updated Dec 4, 2008
As I mention in my "Colorful Festivals" Tip, I recommend that you spend a little time learning about Hinduism before your visit to India. So much of what happens everyday in India involves 900 million people's relationship and practice of Hinduism.
My wife bought a book while we were in India entitled HINDU GODS AND GODDESSES, and it added a lot to our look and understanding of day-to-day sights. Suddenly, we were able to identify what was being said by the many colorful murals you'd find on private dwellings, at hotels and such. And when we'd come across one of the many humble shrines throughout the country, it made us feel a little closer to local culture to know which God or Goddess a particular shrine may be honoring.
There are also some magnificent Hindu temple structures throughout the country. As is the case with most world religions, visitors to holy shrines are generally welcome, assuming that they are respectful and civil in their visit. Given the opportunity, I would very much suggest that you take an opportunity to visit a few of India's temples, it'll give you a deeper feel for the country's soul.
The photo accompanying this tip was taken in Mathura, which is "almost" a suburb of Agra. There's only a bit of "space" between the two cities as you drive on what I think I remember as NH1 (National Highway 1). Mathura has a special point in Hindu faith, as it is the hometown/birthplace of Lord Krishna, THE most identified and revered God of Hinduism.
Updated Nov 15, 2008
I'll admit that when we left for our trip to India, my knowledge of Hinduism was very limited. I knew that their Gods had many forms, and that reincarnation played into the picture.
On our first night in Delhi, the owner of our travel/transporation contractor (Mr Navin Pandey) gave Bonnie and I a small statue of Ganesh, one of the most important Hindu Gods. He said it was his welcome gift, and also a gift in honor of our 28th anniversary. Navin told us that having a statue of Ganesh in our residence would serve the purpose of "clearing away obstacles" in life. He said that Hindus believe Ganesh' presence and image in their homes just makes things more peaceful and smooth. So, being the sort of guy who likes peaceful and smooth, OUR Ganesh is now on the mantel of our great room fireplace at home in Tallahassee.
The next morning, the night after our arrival, we had coffee (the next morning) with VT member Uma_Shankar. Uma and I had become friends here on VT, and he's really a nice, nice man. In the time that we spent talking, Uma shared some background and overview of Hinduism, which is his religion.
We learned, among other things, that the Hindu religion includes literally thousands of Gods and festivals. From the outside, it appears to be a very complicated religion to understand and grasp. However, the teachings and epics involved in its history and prehistory are quite interesting, and unlike anything I'm familiar with in my knowledge of "western" religions. Uma was so passionate in his descriptions that we decided we'd like to learn more about Hinduism, and we bought a book on Hindu Gods and Goddesses. After Bonnie had read the first few chapters, she had a basic grasp of the more renowned deities in the practice, and would point out various Gods, their images and their deeds, in much of the building artwork and decoration we'd find. It added a lot to our trip to have a small bit of understanding of the religion guiding the lives of so many of our Indian hosts. And, I feel like they were both honored and impressed that we'd taken some time to learn a bit more.
Hinduism is a religion that is practiced, sometimes in small ways, everyday. There are small shrines everywhere, as well as much more massive temples and religious edifices throughout the country. As the Hindu walks through the village, he may well pass a number of small shrines, usually dedicated to a particular God or event in Hinduism's history. Small offerings, be they flowers and such, are often left, as a nod and acknowledgement to the role religion plays in everyday Indian life.
And, since there are thousands of Gods and Goddesses to be honored, that makes India a land of colorful festivals. I remember that when we were staying in Bharatpur, the owners of our haveli decorated the entire structure quietly overnight. We went to be with everything normal outside, and when we got back up, there are flowers and incense everywhere. And almost every evening in Bharatpur, there were small groups of musicians and the faithful celebrating the festival of the day.
When we were in Agra, it was just ahead of Diwali - which is one of the more important Hindu festivals on the calender. We passed, as we drove to our restaurant, a fairly large area where revelers and worshipers were listening to music, and what we Americans might call "preaching" as part of this festival. And, the entire grounds were lighted and surrounded by brightly color lights, much the same way things look at home in America during our Christmas season.
I wrote to Uma after we returned home to learn which festival we may have witnessed being celebrated in Agra. He told me that it was part of what they call Navraatras (nine nights of goddess) and that the final day of this celebration was October 9. (We were in Agra on the 5th and 6th). According to Uma, this nine days festival is celebrated in Eastern India as well, where it is called Durga Pooja. Durga is mother goddess and for nine nights, this mother goddess is worshiped in various forums and by various names.
In Agra and that part of the country, namely Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi and such, the festival is also celebrated, but is called Ram Lila. Rama is considered as an incaranation of Lord Vishnu, who is the supreme Lord in Hinduism. Just to give you a glimpse of how complex this can all be, there are ten incaranations of Lord Krishna mentioned in the ancient scriptures, but the incarnations of Rama and Krishna proper are the most well known and "popular". The "Ram Lila" is sort of a ballad based on the epic story Ramayana. Running for nine days, it ends on the 10th day as the victory of Lord Rama is celebrated. (He killed the Evil King Ravana, who was king of what is now Sri Lanka) By his killing of Ravana, this insures that truth wins out.
Exactly 20 days after Rama came back home (after he killed King Ravana), people welcomed him back by lighting thier houses. THIS festival is called Diwali and is one of the greatest festivals of Hinduism.
What we see and picture below are parts of Ram Lila and the celebration of the epic in Agra.
It is very complex stuff, but it's quite interesting as well. I highly recommend becoming a little more familiar with Hinduism before a visit to India. It'll add to the culture of your trip.
Updated Nov 15, 2008
Munnar (Karala State) is in cool rugged mountain tea country (about 100K east of Cochin)- There are a number of routes for hiking (see Tourist Office) such as the Eravikulam National Park, and elsewhere overviews of the vast and hot plains of Tamil Nadu at Top Station. This is an excellent place to relax and regroup. Note: The Mattupatty Lake area is not exceptional- better hiking lies closer to Munnar. The Tata Tea Plantation is a good half days hike and although taking pictures of the quaint 40's era dam is a violation of national security laws- who can resist!
Updated Oct 22, 2008
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