It is such a hard life! After relaxing on the houseboat we went to relax on the beaches of Varkala. The beaches here are considered to be sacred, and there are distinct "tourist" and "local" beaches. It was strange to us that locals come to the beach fully clothed in jeans and saris in which they swim.
With one week left in India it was time to get into sightseeing mode! We really wanted to see the Taj Mahal, after all, how can you come to India and not go see the Taj? On the way to Agra we had to spend one night in Delhi. Let me tell you, one night was enough! We arrived at the hostel and were showed one room. The door was opened and about ten cockroaches greeted us. "OK?" the hotel employee asks...not OK. We were showed another room, sans roaches but as we were getting ready for bed a little mouse ran across the floor. We were happy to leave the next morning.
We made it to Agra, checked into our room and went to the roof top terrace. There she stood, all majestic, the Taj Mahal! We couldn't wait to get out to explore. The Taj is every bit as beautiful as they say it is...particularly at sunset. We just sat in front and watched as the marble changed colors from white to pink to gold as the sun set over the horizon. It was truly magical.
We then began to hop across Rajasthan. First, Jaipur. We walked around the old town and visited the Hawa Mahal, another palace built by yet another maharaja. It is here is Jaipur that we ate McDonalds for the first (and last) time in India. Since Hindus don't eat meat there are no Big Macs. Instead they have the Chicken Maharaja Mac. I ate the McAloo Tikki which was basically a deep friend potato pancake on a bun. It just wasn't the same!
We then made it to Pushkar in time for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. This little town doesn't even show up on most maps of India and still we celebrated the holiday with about 150 Israelis at the Chabad House. Actually Pushkar almost feels like mini-Israel. All the signs are in Hebrew, all the tourists are Israelis and the locals speak better Hebrew than I do (nine years of Jewish education, down the drain). As we walked down the streets, store owners would say "shalom" and "shana tova". Apparently we look Israeli...at least Gadi does.
Our next destination was Jaisalmer. We bought tickets for two reclining seats in the front of a super deluxe bus. We got on the bus to discover our seats were the last row of the bus. Not only were they not reclinable, but they weren't even seats, just a bench at the back! We totally got screwed and had to sit there for the ten hour ride through the night. What a nightmare!!!
Jaisalmer has beautiful architecture and old fort but it was way too hot to tour much. We were recommended a beautiful hotel called Pol Haveli. We spent much our time just lounging in the cool breeze on the roof top terrace. Apparently marijuana is legal in the province of Rajasthan and there is even a government run store where you can buy "special cookies" and other various products. I took the opportunity and on the last night had myself a "special" banana milkshake. VERY GOOD!
Our last and final stop was the romantic city of Udaipur. This is where the famous Bond movie, Octopussy, was filmed. The lakes are truly magical and were the scene of my 27th birthday. It will be a very memorable one.
Looking back, I can't believe we hit so many cities in the span of about a week. It was time to leave India and continue our adventure. Thailand, here we come!
Mumbai, Bombay, whatever you want to call it - it is noisy, dirty, stinky and I love it. It looks like every Indian movie I've seen and is everything I imagined. We spent most of our days walking around and taking in the atmosphere.
What amazes me is the city's spirit. We went the Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the most recognizable symbols of the city and it still stands tall and proud. It is hard to imagine that less that one year ago it was the scene of horrific terrorist attacks. Coincidentally, events took place the week we purchased our Round-the-World Ticket (in addition to protests in Thailand that closed the airports and riots in Greece, two more countries on our list to visit).
Riding the train in Mumbai was definitely an experience. The trains are horribly crowded. There are no doors on the cars and people really do hang out the train. The train stops for 30 seconds at each station which barely allows enough time to push your way in or out of the car. As the train pulls away you can still see guys running after it and jumping on. Safety first! We had to wait for two trains to pass before we could get on the third, not without me getting groped.
The best day was when we went to see the Elephanta Caves. They are located on a small island about an hour's ride on a ferry. The caves are amazingly carved out of the mountain which images of deities. On the way to the caves we met a local man named Chandrakan who invited us to his house in the neighboring village for tea. Given our trusting issues, we didn't take him very seriously. Nevertheless, after the caves we started making our way towards the village where we met Chandrakan waiting for us. What a beautiful soul! We spent the afternoon learning to make Indian tea, drinking and chatting. In the end, he gave me a jade bracelet as a gift. I will never forget the new friend we made that day.
After three days of Mumbai we made our way south to Goa, known for amazing beaches and even more amazing parties. The beaches are great for relaxing, and we are spending most of our days lounging around on the sand and soaking up the sun. The strangest thing is that there are lots of cows hanging out at the beach; it is very distracting when they come and try to eat your book.
We made it to India for the Ganesha Festival and every evening there is dancing on the streets and fireworks on the beach before Ganesha is put out to sea. We also made it to India to catch the end of the monsoon season. So far we have been lucky that it rains mostly during the night, except for today...it just doesn't stop and that's why I am indoors writing this blog.