Journey No. 1
10 Day Itinerary p. 31 Shubh Diwali!
The Packing Essentials p. 25
Interview with Susan Geringer p. 47
Journey No. 1 India november 2012
FEATURES 10 Day Itinerary
A day by day guide of places you we think you should see p. 16
Everything you need to know about the ﬁve day festival of lights p.22
A handfull of things that should should know, before you leave home p. 40
Traveling like the locals, eﬃciant, and cheap p. 52
COLUMNS Intro to India
A brief welcome and friendly hello from the beautiful people of India. A quick run through of things that will be explored p. 27
Do not be afraid of ﬁnding yourself in this beautiful country. These varrying yoga oppertunities will help you ﬁnd your inner-self p. 39
Aap Kaise Hai 2
Words and phrases you need to know as you travel through India p.62
The large clay pot that makes every meal tastes just a little more delicious p. 40
How to cunduct yourself while on the streets, in home, in a mask, or anywhere in India p. 30
Lodging in India
India oﬀeres everything from grand hotels, to great hostels. This list is composed of everything that wont break your bank p. 70
Photo By Koket
Letter from the Editor With this new magazine, we embark on a beautiful journey. A journey that is rich in culture, and filled with opportunity. The Gypsy is a magazine designed to fit into your backpack, along with your other traveling necessities. The Gypsy is for the curious Americans who want to experience everything this planet has to offer, from beautiful views, to beautiful people, and more. This cultural magazine is for the people who do not want to be looked at as tourists; the goal is to make the traveler fit into the culture of the environment they are visiting. The Gypsy was started to help me plan my world travels, and I hope it does the same thing for you. This issue focuses on the diverse, and colorful country of India. While talking to a very nice Indian gentleman on an airplane, he briefly spoke about Diwali Festival, Rajasthan, and many other spectacular destinations in India. This conversation became the basis of this issue. The Gypsy will be a handy guide for all of your beautiful travels.
Photo By Koket
Welcome to INDIA India bristles with an eclectic mélange of ethnic groups; an intoxicating cultural cocktail for the traveler. With such astonishing diversity, you will be taken on a journey that will linger in your mind long after you’ve left her shores. Soul Stirring Bamboozling. There’s simply no other word that captures the enigma that is India. With an ability to inspire, frustrate, thrill and confound all at once, India presents an extraordinary spectrum of encounters for the traveler. Some of these can be challenging, particularly for the first-time visitor: the poverty is confronting, Indian bureaucracy can be exasperating and the crush of humanity sometimes turns the simplest task into an energy-zapping battle. Even veteran travelers find their sanity frayed at some point, yet this is all part of the India experience. Love it or loath it – and most visitors seesaw between the two – India will jostle your entire being. It’s a place that fires the imagination and stirs the soul like nowhere else on earth. Spectacularly Diverse With its in-your-face diversity – from snow dusted mountains to sun-washed beaches, tranquil temples to frenetic bazaars, lantern-lit villages to software-supremo cities – it’s hardly surprising that this country has been dubbed the world’s most multidimensional. For those seeking spiritual sustenance, India has oodles of sacrosanct sites and thoughtprovoking philosophies, while history buffs will stumble upon gems from the past almost everywhere – grand vestiges of former empires serenely peer over swarming streets and crumbling fortresses loom high above plunging ravines. Meanwhile, aficionados of the great outdoors can paddle in the shimmering waters of one of many beautiful beaches, scout for big jungle cats on blood-pumping wildlife safaris, or simply inhale pine-scented air on meditative forest walks. And then there are the festivals. With its vibrant mix of religious denominations, India is home to a formidable array of celebrations – from larger-than-life extravaganzas with caparisoned elephants and body-twisting acrobats to pint-sized harvest fairs paying homage to a locally worshipped deity. Too Delicious Brace yourself – you’re about to jump on board one of the wildest culinary trips of your life! Frying, simmering, sizzling, kneading and flipping a deliciously diverse variety of regional dishes, feasting your way through the subcontinent is certainly one hell of a ride. The hungry traveler can look forward to a bountiful smorgasbord of tasty delights, ranging from the spicy goodness of masterfully marinated chicken drumsticks in North India to the simple splendor of squidgy rice dumplings in the steamy south. So what are you waiting for? Roll up your sleeves, put on your chomp chomp hat and rumble your way down India’s gastronomic highway.
There are many ways to practice yoga in India, and it’s not nearly as daunting as it may seem. The main thing you need to decide is whether you want the entire experience—chanting and all—or just to sweat out your sun salutations. Regardless of which you choose, the best season for being in India is October through March. Hard-Core Yoga Focused on spirituality, not sweat, old-fashioned ashrams are as authentic as yoga gets, and the Sivananda school is one of the best. In Kerala’s Cardamom Hills, it has spread and grown and now runs multilingual and advanced teacher-training courses. Guests are welcome to stay for days, weeks, or months, and lodgings range from separate male and female dormitories to single rooms with private baths. Sivananda also has ashrams in Madurai, in Tamil Nadu (944-219-0661; $124 requested donation per two-week course, including all meals), and in Uttarkashi, in the Himalayas (1374-222-624; $11–$15 requested donation, including all meals and courses). The biggest of the Rishikesh ashrams, Parmarth Niketan has a few foreigners among hundreds of Indian devotees. It is run as a yoga community with daily asanas, meditation classes, and lectures. The evening aarti (prayer) ceremony on the ashram’s Ganges River steps is one of those ineffable moments of water and light that the Subcontinent does so well. Physical Yoga More and more places are being run for Westerners—and indeed with Western teachers. Near Anjuna village, in Goa, at the renowned Purple Valley Yoga, some wellknown European and American teachers lead retreat groups. Purple Valley has rooms, but better options range from beach huts ($3), to B&Bs ($50–$115, depending on the location and season), to two standouts: Siolim House, a beautifully restored colonial Portuguese home in the village of Siolim; and in North Goa, Ku, two guest rooms attached to a simple restaurant set in the middle of rice paddies. Built by a European couple, it is an eclectic mix of Balinese and Japanese styles, part water garden, part outdoor living space. Farther south, Bhakti Kutir is a hippiechic eco-resort under the palm trees, with a lot of wheatgrass shoots thrown in among the individually designed huts. Getting Fluffy For a softer road to enlightenment, Ananda in the Himalayas is a spa and yoga retreat in the hills above the spiritual throb of Rishikesh. People come here to heal, to lose weight on the Ayurvedic regimes, or just to experience the Hindu expression atithi devo bhava, or “the guest is god” Oberoi resorts are the other big yoga and spa experience in India, with lessons starting at about $15. Three of the properties—in Agra, Udaipur, and the Himalayas—have comprehensive yoga and Ayurvedic packages. Suites at Amarvilas, in Agra, have fulllength views of the Taj Mahal; Udaivilas, in Udaipur, Rajasthan, is located lakeside. In the capital, there’s the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, in the Kailash Colony, which offers gentle classes in addition to more strenuous programs.
Table Manners India can seem a realm of utter chaos—and indeed, a walk to the market is no Western walk in the park. But whether you’re visiting a sari shop or a family home for dinner, there are dozens of rules you might want to follow to avoid the (forgiving) laughter with which most Westerners are greeted. In an absurdly heterogeneous culture, basic rules make sense of the contradictions—especially in the sanctum of the family home. “India is such a chaotic country,” says chef Madhur Jaffrey, “that your home becomes your total shelter.” How to Eat in North India The rules of eating in India depend on whether you’re in the north or the south. One thing remains the same wherever you are: Wash before every meal. Even small street stands usually set aside a bowl of water for this (but bring wipes, since they won’t have soap). 1. Rice You can use your right hand, but if you find that too difficult, cookbook author and chef Madhur Jaffrey recommends using a fork and a spoon—or a fork and a knife. Do not use the whole hand to mash the rice and sauces together (although in the south this is acceptable). Use your left hand only to hold your drink or to pass food. 2. Chapati Use ONLY your right hand to handle the chapati. To tear off a piece, use the last three fingers to hold down the larger portion while, with your thumb and forefinger, you turn up the edge and tear by pressing the forefinger down and the thumb up and inward. 3. Maacher Jhol (fish curry) You’re going to want to alternate bites of fish and rice. Remove the bones from the fish as best you can with your right hand. If you get any in your mouth, try to remove them several at a time instead of one after another. 4. Rogan Josh (lamb curry) Tear the meat from the bone with your hand, but use AS FEW FINGERS AS POSSIBLE. “In the north, you tend to use just the final digits of your hand,” says Jaffrey. Then, with your thumb and forefinger, fold a small piece of chapati over a piece of meat to create a little sandwich. 5. Water or Lassi This is generally all you’ll get, beverage-wise. Alcohol is not drunk with a traditional meal, but feel free to bring beer or whiskey to dinner if you know the family drinks.
How to Eat in South India In traditional households throughout the south, it’s common to sit on a very low stool with the food on the floor before you. You must bend over deeply to eat, and the doubled-up posture is thought to help you get fuller faster. There’s a general order to eating in the south: The meal begins with a bit of sweetness, proceeds through the rice dishes, and concludes with the more savory ones. Note, too, that meat will not always be served in the south (Jaffrey estimates that 30 percent of southerners are vegetarians). And no matter where you are in India, don’t ask for beef (which is not eaten by Hindus) or pork (which is not eaten by Muslims) if they are not on the menu. 1. Rice and Ghee Lighter food comes first, so for the first course you’ll be pouring purified butter over your rice and eating clumps of it—mixed with vegetables or dal—with your fingers. 2. Dal This usually comes either in little tin cups or, if it has a denser consistency, in little dollops on a banana leaf. It’s your job to mash it all together, moving your fingers inward and outward to mix the rice in. Once you’ve achieved a claylike consistency, start rolling it back and forth with your fingers to form a ball. If it stays together, just pop it into your mouth. If it’s soupy, use your hand as a scooper, pushing the mixture into your mouth with your thumb. 3. Vegetables and Curries You’ll be mixing these with the rice and eating them much as you ate the dal. Drop the vegetables into the ice first. 4. Dhosa, Puri, Fried Foods, Pickles, and Chutneys Eat these with your right hand, using a piece of chapati to scoop up some of the chutneys and pickles. 5. Pappadam and Yogurt You’ll eat these last. Crush and sprinkle the pappadam onto your rice-curry mixture and eat with your hand. When You’re Done In some areas, if you fold the banana leaf toward you when you’ve finished eating, this indicates that you liked the meal, whereas if you fold it away from you, it means you’re dissatisfied. If you don’t want any more food, simply cover your plate and say “bas.”
Phrases to Learn Hello In Hindi speaking areas, namaste or the more formal namaskar. If you want to be very respectful, simultaneously clasp your hands together very briefly as if in prayer and bow slightly, especially in front of women. Otherwise, at least in urban areas, Western custom predominates, so shake hands (but not with women unless they initiate it). More casually, you can ask, aap kaise hai (“what’s up?”). Among Muslims: salam. Good–bye Namaskar (the ciao of Hindi) or alvida, though it’s “Urdu/Islamic and a tad poetic,” says Aparna Jayakumar, a photographer based in Mumbai. Thank you Dhanyavaad (prefaced by bahut, for “very much”), or shukriya (Urdu)—neither of which are used very often. In terms of excessive gratitude, “a lot of Indians would look at us the way we look at Japanese people,” says Scott Carney, an investigative journalist who lived in Chennai for four years. He suggests instead the ubiquitous side–to–side wiggle of the head (“I hear you . . .”) or the equally common accha (“okay”) or acche (“very good”). Excuse me Sorry in English is universally understood, but to get someone’s attention: suniye (a polite version of “listen up”) or suno (just plain “listen up”). Or more politely: maaf kijiye (Hindi and Urdu). Help me-Muddud. Please Kripya—but “only flight attendants use it,” says Carney. The ye suffix in the “excuse me” phrase is a polite modifier; best to stick to that.
Venturing the Streets There’s nothing like a walk down a busy, bazaar-filled Indian street to give you a real sense of the country in all its glorious, messy diversity. Here’s how to maximize your experience and ensure a warm reception. 1. Dress Modestly Keep your shoulders covered at all times. This especially applies to women, who should also wear below-theknee skirts—except when going to a private home or a bar and taking a car the entire way. 2. Wear Sandals Sneakers mark you as a tourist, and sandals are easy to take off, which you’ll have to do to enter a religious institution or a home. Minders will watch your shoes, but don’t wear any you can’t bear to lose. 3. Haggle Within Reason It’s expected, particularly at outdoor markets. Start by declaring that you’ll pay half the price, but don’t go overboard; if the difference is 50 cents, cough it up. Walking away is not an insulting tactic. 4. Negotiate Prices First This especially goes for cabs and rickshaws. Sometimes it helps to make it a show of writing down the price in a notebook, so the driver will know you have a record of the promised fee. 5. Eat Their Snacks Very often, you’ll be offered a biscuit and a cup of tea upon entering a shop. At least take a bite or a sip. If you’re afraid of the water, just make a sipping motion. 6. Text, Don’t Call Most small businesses run on cell phones. When author Melanie Abrams planned her wedding to novelist Vikram Chandra, she telephoned florists and “they were shocked,” she says. She learned to text first. 7. Eat the Street Food Don’t let it scare you. Be sure that the food is freshly made, though—a big crowd ensures high turnover—and beware of water-based dishes in monsoon season. 8. Greet Elders with “Namaste” If it’s someone worthy of respect, say “Namaste,” bringing your hands together as if praying and quickly bowing your head with shoulders slightly hunched. 9. Keep Your Body Language Open Too often, tourists wear a guarded expression, thinking this protects them. (It doesn’t.) Instead, have a sense of humor, smile and say hello, and keep calm.
Chokhi Dhani Tent Hotel Photo from Website
Hostels CENTRAL DELHI Nirman House It is a men hostel, ideally situated at Karol Bagh. It is quiet comfortable, homely atmosphere and hope you enjoy your stay with this hostel. 2635, Bank St, Karol Bagh New Delhi - 110 005 Tel:+(91)-(11) - 28756210 NORTH DELHI The Great Ambience It is a very popular with college girls as well as working ladies who are looking for a neat and quiet green. It has all the tastefully decorated room with all the modern facilities. 14 Ram Kishore Road, Civil Lines Delhi - 110 022 Tel:+(91)-(11) - 23923403 WUS University Hostel Established in 1967, it is a women hostels of Delhi University. This hostel offers fine facilities, excellent service and a luxurious ambiance . University of Delhi Delhi - 110 007 Tel:+(91)-(11) - 27667522 SOUTH DELHI Chanakyapuri, Paramount Girls Hostel It is a safe and secure accommodation only for working women for any duration on single/double/triple sharing basis. B-13, Ard Cplx, Sec-13,Nr Coffee Home, R K Puram New Delhi - 110 022 Tel:+(91)-(11) - 9312506580 Basement, C-9, Lajpat Nagar-III, New Delhi - 110 024 Tel:+(91)-(11) - 29840151, 32603837 Nehru Place Cottage Indian Blues The hostel is ideally suited for women travellers who are backpacking and staying in New Delhi for a few days.It is located in South Delhi. 10/9, Kalkaji Extension, Opp. Nehru Place New Delhi - 110 019
Blue Sapphire Hostel It is a very popular hostel for foreigners as well as Indian. They offer affordable bed and breakfast theme accommodation in the city. 15/2, Kalkaji Extension, Opp. Nehru Place New Delhi - 110 019 South Extension Indira Niketan Working Women Hostel They provide a respectable living accommodation to the working women. Single-rooms, Double-rooms and Dormitories are available. All meals like breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner are served at nominal charges. Laxmi Bai Ngr, Sarojini Nagar, New Delhi - 110 023 Tel:+(91)-(11) - 26880113 M A Hostel It is a men hostel, located in South Delhi. They provide shared and private rooms and all other facility. 1503,Street No-3, Wazir Nagar, Opp P T College Defence Colony,, New Delhi - 110 024 Tel:+(91)-(11) - 24615067 Home Away from Home They provide all Womenâ€™s Residential Facility, which is an ideal home to students and single executives, studying or working in South Delhi or Gurgaon. RZ-146/9, Gaushala Marg, Kishangarh, Vasant Kunj New Delhi - 110 070 Tel:+(91)-(11) - 26134499 WEST DELHI Punjabi Bagh West Point Womenâ€™s Hostel It is a unique concept offering affordable bed and breakfast theme accommodation in the city. It is the women hostel in this area. Paschim Vihar,Paschim Puri, New Delhi - 110 063 Tel:+(91)-(11) - 25269279
Diwali Candles Photo By Srkl
SHUBH DIWALI! Diwali or Deepawali, is also known as the Festival of Lights. Sanskrit word “Deepavali” - Deepa meaning light and Avali, meaning a row. During the Festival of Lights, ‘deeps’, or oil lamps, are burned throughout the day and into the night to ward off darkness and evil. Diwali - The Festival of Lights - apart from being the most widely celebrated is one of the most colorful Indian festivals. It is a festival of joy, splendour, brightness and happiness. This Diwali which leads us into Truth and Light is celebrated on a nation-wide scale on Amavasya - the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Kartik (October / November) every year. In Hindu custom Light signifies the goodness. During this festival oil lamps (DEEP) are burned throughout the night. All Homes (indoor as well as outdoor) are filled with “Deeps” and decoration lights. This is a five days festival; each of the five days in the festival of Diwali is marked with a significant ‘puja’ of a certain God/Goddess. The five days celebration of Diwali begins with “Laxmi Pujan”. “Laxmi Pujan” is the day to worship Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. Indian culture has never considered wealth to be corruptive . According to the Indian culture a wealthy man is considered to be God’s beloved child, he is rewarded for the good deeds done in past life. It is also very important festival for business community as it is the end of the financial year. Old accounts are settled, new books are opened. Account books are worshipped in an elaborate ceremony. All the business people start new business calendars and celebrate their New Year. They worship Goddess Laxmi to bless their new account books.
Photo By MonikaMizera
The First day is called Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi which falls on the thirteenth day of the month of Kartik. The word “Dhan” means wealth. As such this day of the five-day Diwali festival has a great importance for the rich mercantile community of Western India. Houses and Business premises are renovated and decorated. Entrances are made colourful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to welcome the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights. Believing this day to be auspicious women purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils. “Lakshmi-Puja” is performed in the evenings when tiny diyas of clay are lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. “Bhajans”-devotional songs- in praise of Goddess Laxmi are sung and “Naivedya” of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. There is a peculiar custom in Maharashtra to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer as Naivedya. In villages cattles are adorned and worshipped by farmers as they form the main source of their income. In south cows are offered special veneration as they are supposed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and therefore they are adorned and worshipped on this day.
The second day is celebrated as â€œNarak Chaturdasiâ€?. The story goes that Narakasur; the ill-famed king was creating devastation in the society by the excessive use of his powers. Lord Krishna had decided to destroy this evil dictator. This day is celebrated as freedom from the evil king. The second day is called NarkaChaturdashi or Choti Diwal which falls on the fourteenth day of the month of Kartik. The story goes that the demon king Narakasur ruler of Pragjyotishpur (a province to the South of Nepal) after defeating Lord Indra had snatched away the magnificent earrings of Aditi, the Mother Goddess and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the gods and saints in his harem. On the day previous to Narakachaturdashi, Lord Krishna killed the demon and liberated the imprisoned damsels and also recovered those precious earrings of Aditi. As a symbol of that victory Lord Krishna smeared his forehead with the demon kingâ€™s blood. Krishna returned home in the very early morning of the Narakachaturdashi day. The womenfolk massaged scented oil to his body and gave him a good bath to wash away the filth from his body. Since then the custom of taking bath before sunrise on this day has become a traditional practice specially in Maharashtra.
The day following New Year is celebrated as “Balipratipada”. Bali was a famous king in ancient India. He ignored the divine thoughts of the Vedas and systematically removed the thousands of years old organized philosophy from the society. Inspite of his wrong doings, he had one good quality in him, i.e. he was a generous donor who gave from heart. To remember him on this day, his one good quality encourages us to perceive the goodness in others, even in our worst enemies. People who are blinded by “kanak” - gold or wealth and “kanta” - beauty or women become asur or demons. Lord Vishnu destroyed Bali and gave us unique outlook towards wealth and beauty. Another legend is about King Bali of the nether world mighty power had become a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers Lord Vishnu in the guise of a Batu Waman- a small boy- visited him and begged him to give him only that much land which he could cover with his three steps. Known for his philanthropy King Bali proudly granted him his wish. That very moment that small boy transformed himself into the all-powerful Lord Vishnu. With his first step Lord Vishnu covered the entire heaven and with the second step the earth and asked Bali where to keep his third step. Bali offered his head. Putting his foot on his head Vishnu pushed him down to the underworld. At the same time for his generosity Lord Vishnu gave him the lamp of knowledge and allowed him to return to earth once a year to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of love and wisdom.
An Indian girl lights earthen lamps to celebrate Diwali in Allahabad, India Photo By Rajesh Kumar Singh
The fourth day is Padwa or Varshapratipada which marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and Vikaram-Samvat was started from this Padwa day. Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. As per Vishnu-Puran the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honor of Lord Indira and worshipped him after the end of every monsoon season but one particular year the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord Indra who in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul. But Krishna saved his Gokul by lifting up the Govardhan mountain and holding it over the people as an umbrella. Govardhan is a small hillock in Braj, near Mathura and on this day of Diwali people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build cowdung, hillocks, decorate them with flowers and then worship them. This day is also observed as Annakoot meaning mountain of food. In temples specially in Mathura and Nathadwara, the deities are given milkbath, dressed in shining attires with ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious stones. After the prayers and traditional worship innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain before the deities as â€œBhogâ€? and then the devotees approach the Mountain of Food and take Prasad from it.
Food offering to the deities Photo By Koket
Priests constructing a God out of flowers and balloons Photo By Kevin Frayer
The fifth and final day of Diwali Festival is known by the name of “Bhayya-Duj” in the Hindi-speaking belt “Bhav-Bij” in the Marathi-speaking communities and in Nepal by the name of “Bhai-Tika”. As the legend goes Yamraj, the God of Death visited his sister Yami on this particular day. She put the auspicious tilak on his forehead, garlanded him and led him with special dishes and both of them together ate the sweets, talked and enjoyed themselves to their heart’s content, while parting Yamraj gave her a special gift as a token of his love and in return Yami also gave him a lovely gift which she had made with her own hands. That day Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister will never be thrown. That is why this day of Bhayyaduj is also known by the name of “Yama-Dwitiya” Since then this day is being observed as a symbol of love between sisters and brothers. It became also imperative for the brother to go to his sister’s house to celebrate Bhayyaduj. In northern India, Diwali is dedicated to the worship of Lord Rama. After 14 years of long period he had come to Ayodhya during this period. Sikhs celebrate because their sixth Guru, Guru Hargobindji returned from a great victory. In southern India for God Krishna killing Narakasura. In eastern India Kali/ Durga, the goddess of strength, is worshipped to honor Goddess Kali destroying Bakasura. On this auspicious day Lord Shri Krishna around whom revolved the entire story of our great
epic Mahabharat and the philosopher, who preached Karmayog through his Geeta to Arjun on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, discarded his body. Bhagwan, Mahavir, the Jain prophet also attained “Nirvan” on this day. Swami Ramtirth, the beloved “Ram Badshah” of millions of Indians was not only born on this day and took “Sanyas” but also took “Samadhi” on this day. Swami Dayanand Saraswati, founder of Brahma-Samaj with his superb yogic powers greed his soul from his body and mingled with divinity on this auspicious day of Diwali. Thus, In India everyone celebrates this festival in a different tradition but the theme behind is same throughout i.e. Good conquering the evil. From darkness we enter into light, and light empowers us to do good deeds and bring us closer to divinity. Everywhere, it signifies the renewal of life, and accordingly it is common to wear new clothes on the day of the festival; similarly, it heralds the approach of winter and the beginning of the sowing season. Even countries like Kenya, Thailand, Trinidad, Siam and Malaya celebrate this festival but in their own ways. Diwali on the whole has always been the festival with more social than religious connotations. It is a personal, people-oriented festival when enmities are forgotten, families and friends meet, enjoy and establish a word of closeness. Lets all join together in spreading the light therefore making the world a better place, a place where there’s no room for darkness.
The Packing Essentials Almost an A to Z list of all the things you shouldnâ€™t forget to pack. The type of luggage best suited for travel to India really depends on your itinerary. If you only plan to visit major cities and donâ€™t intend to do much walking, a suitcase is fine. However, roads and pavements are often dirty and in poor condition. Therefore, if you intend to travel a lot on foot and go off the beaten path, a backpack is better.
Photo From Flickr.com
C is for cash: Bring plenty of it. While most decent-sized restaurants (including all the ones mentioned in this itinerary) and shops do accept credit cards, you’ll want to have rupees on hand for small items, trips to the bazaars, and tips. ATMs are rare in the smaller cities, so bring as much as you feel comfortable carrying or anticipate spending (my traveling companion and I probably went through about $1,000 worth of cash, including tips); changing them at the hotel guarantees a fair rate. And make sure you bring a roll of dollar bills; they’re essential tips for bellhops, rickshaw drivers, and the like.
cafes, make sure it comes to you sealed; some vendors simply refill bottles of water with tap water, chill it, and voila: upset stomach. If your bottle looks tampered with or otherwise unconvincing, send it back. You’re not supposed to eat fruit you can’t peel, but I did and had no problem. Same for salad greens, though I only did so at the hotel restaurants. As tempting as the mountains of fruit and fresh sugarcane juice sold roadside might look, it’s probably better to abstain-there are far, far better places to be than sick and bumping down an Indian highway.
E is for English: Most of the people you’ll encounter-whether at a restaurant or in the bazaar-will speak at least some English, and many will speak it with a brilliant, creatively charged fluency (as anyone who has ever read a novel by an Indian writer can well imagine). The Indians are, by nature, linguists: The state recognizes 22 official languages (with Hindi-which has numerous dialects-and English as the most important and widely spoken). In addition, there are more than 200 other languages, which means most people here are at least trilingual.
G is for guide: There are two common ways to travel with a guide in India. The first is the more conventional sort that anyone who has used a travel agent will recognize: a new guide meets you in each city and takes you through the town. The other way to travel is this: Not only do you have that guide who meets you in each new place, but traveling with you is yet another guide, who accompanies you from stop to stop. This guide, who tends to be more of a generalist (as opposed to, say, a guide who specializes in Agra, or Delhi, or Jaipur), can do on-the-ground troubleshooting for you, arrange last-minute tickets or special requests, and provide context-historical and otherwise-when you need it. I was lucky enough to travel with a full-time guide named Balendu Singh, Victor’s right-hand man and an old friend. And while the experience was a great one-Balendu seemed to know everyone
F is for food and water safety: The rules on tap water are simple and absolute: Don’t drink it, not even in the hotels where you’ll be staying. Every hotel in this itinerary will provide you with bottled water daily. When you buy water on the street or in small
Photo From Flickr.com worth knowing in every city we stopped, and his connections gave us access we might not have had otherwise-I don’t think it’s strictly necessary, especially when one considers the additional cost. There is an exception to this, though: If you are traveling with a large family or some other unwieldy group and want what will in effect be your own personal tour leader, a full-time guide might be a wise choice. H is for hawkers: One of the few downsides of traveling with a private guide is the relative lack of anonymity. The second your van squeezes into the monument’s parking lot between two tour buses, a pack of hawkers-selling postcards, knickknacks, picture books, and so on-will fall upon you. There is no one to hide behind, no pretending you don’t have the money for a private guide. The best thing to do, as my guide advised, is square your shoulders and march ahead. “Get ready to brave the gauntlet,” Balendu would say as we clambered out of the car at each new site. Many of the hawkers are aggressive, but the overall effect is more wearisome than worrisome. I is for illness: I’m sure there are people who didn’t get sick on their first trip to India, but I haven’t met them. Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, it’s not necessarily the water or food that will make you ill (unless you count overeating, which is easy to do; the food is delicious and the portions enormous). When I got sick, in Udaipur-an unhappy 48 hours marked by
fever, chills, projectile vomiting, and all loss of dignity-it was, I think, attributable to both a rich lunch and the relentless sun, whose creeping effect one notices only after one is bent double over the toilet. So while you certainly should avoid tap water and unpeeled fruit (see above), don’t forget to take proper precautions against the sun. Keep a hat or a scarf on hand, and make sure you seek out shade whenever possible. Having said that, being sick in India is not an unpleasant experience. The manager and staff of my hotel, the Shiv Niwas, were exceptionally gracious, attentive, and sympathetic, and even sent a small bouquet of flowers. The doctor they called to my room, Dr. Virendra Bhandari, offered medical care far superior to any I’ve received in New York. He stayed for an hour to make sure I could hold down the medicine, and stopped by the next day before going to his clinic. And best of all, what was the cost for an in-room visit from a comforting and knowledgeable medical professional? About twelve dollars. P is for packing: The only absolute requirements are comfortable walking shoes and lots of T-shirts. The subdued eroticism of the sari aside, Indian women are modest in dress, so leave the micro-minis and halter tops at home. Dressing as if you’re on the Las Vegas Strip will make you feel self-conscious, and it may bar your entry to certain mosques and temples. Make sure your shoes are easy to put on and take off-you will have to remove them whenever you enter a mosque or a Buddhist or Hindu temple.
Other essentials? Well, bug spray, for one. If you go in March, you won’t be in danger of malaria, but small clouds of gnats hover over the Ganges, and it’s best to come prepared. Bring a light jacket or a sweater as well; it’s still brisk in March, and you’ll be glad of the extra warmth for your early-morning starts in Varanasi and Agra. I also brought-and was glad to have-Purell sanitizing wipes, which are handy for swabbing down toilet seats and the like, and eyedrops, which are indispensable on dusty Indian roads. This isn’t rainy season, so you needn’t take up luggage space with a raincoat or an umbrella, and despite what you may hear, there’s also no need to tote along a water purifier: Your hotel will provide you with water daily (see “F is for food and water”). All of the hotels listed in this itinerary-except the Shiv Niwas in Udaipur-are equipped with in-room Wi-Fi, although the rates are
“But the are Hindus, they will be reborn to a better life next time. They know this is their life, their fate.” outrageous, anywhere from $8 to $15 a day. P is also for poverty: Even travelers who consider themselves inured to the realities of traveling in a developing country-the dirt, the inconveniences, and yes, the poverty-find themselves stunned by the extent and depth of the squalor one sees in India, particularly in big cities like Delhi. Riding in your small minivan makes it impossible to avoid the beggars, each of whose storiescommunicated not through words but through their conditionsseem more impossibly sad than the last. At every traffic light are small children tapping your window, their eyes flat and exhausted, their mouths open in words you can’t hear; a teenager with one long boneless arm slung around his neck like a stole, banging his head against the side of the car; an old, old lady, her mouth pleated with misery. Before I left, Victor, my travel specialist, told me that travelers to India are often shocked by the beggars there, by an aggressiveness that only despair can inspire. “But they are Hindus,” he said. “They will be reborn to a better life next time. They know this is their life, their fate.” Whether you find this explanation comforting or not will be a largely personal decision. It goes without saying that you should not give money to begging children, however difficult it may be to resist. Victor and his office did, however, recommend a number of reputable charities who are working to alleviate poverty in India, and to whom a donation upon your return to the States would be a welcome gift: American India Foundation: The AIF works to increase the rate of social and economic change in India, raising money throughout the U.S. It runs two programs: the Service Corps, which places young Americans with Indian nonprofit organizations, and the Digital Equalizer, which provides impoverished schools with computers, Internet access, and technological instruction (aifoundation.org).
India’s Religious Beliefs 80% Hindu 14% Muslim 5% Other 1% Buddhist
80 Max Temp
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Aug
Sep Oct Nov Dec
1,205,074,000 Total Population
934,100,000 Mobile Subscribers
137,000,000 Internet Users
60,545,120 Social Network Users
Child Relief and You (CRY): CRY America supports a number of campaigns (such as “Say No to Child Labor” and “Eliminate Discrimination, Not the Girl Child”) and links grassroots projects with American people and organizations with the goal of promoting basic human rights of children in India. Dream a Dream: This organization aims to eliminate discrimination by targeting vulnerable children and exposing them to diversity and a multitude of perspectives while they are still at a young age. They do this through a variety of activities such as outdoor camps and computer training programs (dreamadream.org). Working Women’s Forum: The WWF aims to help impoverished working women through means such as micro-credit, training, and social mobilization. The WWF also works closely with the National Union of Working Women and the Indian Co-operative Network for Women (workingwomensforum.org). T is for tipping: Don’t like to tip? Better start liking it soon. Tipping makes India go ‘round (much to the dismay and chagrin of some of its citizens), and is more or less required from tourists. (The only place in India I visited that didn’t encourage tipping was the Oberoi in Agra, which discourages individual tipping as part of its company policy; you may instead leave an envelope at the end of your stay, which is then divvied up among the staff. It’s an elegant touch and a great relief.) Tip the bellboys $1 per bag, and waiters 10 to 15 percent. But what about your guides and drivers? Victor provided me with this handy cheat sheet: Guides Full day, in-town: 750R/$18 Half-day, in town: 500R/$12 Full day, out of town: 1,000R/$25 Drivers Full day, in town: 300R/$7.50 Half-day (or per transfer), in town: 150R/$4 Full day, out-of-city assignment: 400R/$10 Airport Reps Per transfer: 250R/$6 V is for visa: You must have a visa to enter India. The easiest way to get one (if, say, waiting for hours on end at the nearest Indian consulate is for some reason not your idea of a good time) is to have a visa expediter such as Travel Document Systems (traveldocs.com) handle it for you. Required paperwork varies slightly from state to state, but in New York State, you must supply two applications; two passport photos; and a clear copy of your driver’s license or utility bill to prove residence, along with the $60 consular fee (which allows you a six-month multi-entry visa) and TDS’s fee of $45, which guarantees delivery in three to five business days (a 24-to-48-hour turnaround costs an extra $35). W is for weather: Happily for travelers, India has a long season of fine weather. October through March, the days are sunny, the nights cool, the skies clear, and the mercury never creeps above 80 degrees (you may even need a sweater early in the morning or late at night). April through June (dry but hot) and July through September (rainy and hellishly hot) are a different story; unless you enjoy 100-degree weather, avoid these months entirely.
“Why India?” has a millennium’s worth of answers. “How India?” however, is the real question. Even the most intrepid traveler is likely to find himself exhausted by the challenges the country presents. Here is itinerary designed, to cover all the highlights of North India and can be customized to suit any traveler’s whims or idiosyncrasies.
Old Delhi, New Delhi
Today, Saturday, is actually a pleasant transition into this city of 14 million for two reasons: First, there are few of the rush-hour traffic jams by which the city times its workweek; second, you have the pleasure of watching local families sightseeing, riding motorcycles (the women sitting sidesaddle with an improbable elegance), or simply lounging in the local parks. You’ll also see some of Delhi’s thousands of monkeys scampering through the foliage. Traveling through India means time traveling as well; each of the cities you’ll visit on this trip has been shaped by the successive dynasties that have ruled this country. Today’s tour will introduce you to three of the most significant: the Delhi Sultanate, a Turkestan dynasty whose empire lasted from 1206 through 1526; the Moguls, that fantastically bejeweled bunch who ruled from 1556 through the early eighteenth century; and the British, whose capitulation in 1947, after nearly a century of rule, heralded the death of Pax Britannica and the birth of modern India.
Colorful women in saris gaze at the Taj Mahal Image from Google
Delhi is a tale of two cities: There is Old Delhi, the Mogul capital established in 1638 by Shah Jahan (you’ll be encountering him again as your trip continues), and, to the south, New Delhi, constructed by the British between 1911 and 1931. The two are starkly different in both architecture and layout: The former is a tangle of narrow streets over which hang snarls of electrical wires; the latter is lovely and genteel, its wide streets punctuated with small parks landscaped in exuberant hues. Your first stop, in South Delhi, is the Qutb Minar, begun in 1198 by Delhi’s first
Islamic ruler, Qutbuddin Aibak, to commemorate his defeat of the Hindu kings. Qutbuddin, who came from Turkestan, died without seeing the completion of the Minar, a 235-foot, five-tier tower; he also had a mosque built adjacent to the column, now mostly ruins. Note the mosque’s elaborately carved pillars, which were repurposed from the Jain and Hindu temples that once stood on the site. As you’ll see again, many Hindu temples were destroyed by the conquering Muslims—their carvings violated Islam’s ban on portraying living creatures. Heads were chipped away, faces rubbed off. But this desecration, oddly, has the effect of heightening the lush sensuality of some of the column’s carvings: Women, their bodies sinuous, melt into their male companions, their rounded hips fitting into the curves of their partner’s waist as neatly as puzzle pieces. There’s much original work to admire in Qutbuddin’s mosque, as well, with its six ruined archways so finely and intricately carved from red stone that they appear to be hewn from soft sandalwood. Next is Humayun’s Tomb, about a half-hour drive away and the city’s first Mogul building. Built in eight years starting in 1562, it is, as my guide said, “a monument to love,” since it was commissioned by the widow of Emperor Humayun (1508–56) in tribute to her husband. In this story of marital devotion and in the complex’s architecture are the origins of that most famous temple to luxuriousness, the Taj Mahal, built by Humayun’s greatgrandson the Shah Jahan. By now, it’s almost 2 p.m. and you’ll be ready for a light lunch. The no-frills Sagar Ratna (91-11-4150-3371; entrées, $2–$4), in the Hotel Janpath, serves basic, hearty South Indian vegetarian food. Next it’s off to the peeling National Museum (91-11-23019272; nationalmuseumindia.gov.in), where you shouldn’t pay the extra $7 to use your camera—there are enough rooms where it’s verboten to make the privilege pointless—but you should opt for the audio tour. There’s plenty to keep history buffs (or anyone interested in a visual primer of the grand, jumbled sweep of Indian artistic and archaeological development) entertained for hours, but impatient museumgoers need focus their time on just two galleries. Gallery 4, your first stop, contains treasures from the Indus Valley civilization, the Subcontinent’s oldest, which flourished between 2600 and 1900 b.c. Pause at the Dancing Girl of Mohenjo Daro, a bronze cast from a lost-wax technique and
The Jama Masjid their consistently astonishing vibrancy of color and fineness of detail. In A Young Lady Brought to the Harem of a Mughal Noble (circa 1725), a handsome Mogul reclines on a white bed as the titular young lady, her head covered by a length of starry lace, is presented to him by two older women while a third, attending to the Mogul, watches this sad procession, her face unreadable. The paintings document, perhaps more honestly than any history book does, the great diversity of experiences and life stories now
“The South may have the brains, but the North has the brawn.” one of the country’s most important pieces of prehistoric art. The dancing girl’s left arm is heavy with bangles, her throat encircled by a necklace with three drooping pendants. Look, too, at Case 22, which contains various toys, chess pieces, and small figurines—a ram, a sheep’s head, a series of squirrels with marvelously bristly tails; they serve as a reminder not only of the subtlety and wit of these early, unknown craftsmen but also of the culture’s love of animals in all their representations.
lost to time. They are also evidence of a brilliant artistic tradition: Near the exit, stop to admire the quintet of Pahari paintings from 1730—renowned for their subtlety of detail—that illustrates Krishna’s courtship of his consort, Radha. Note her emerald cuffs: That foil-bright iridescence is made from the wings of scarab beetles. Gazing at these paintings, you see where India’s palette comes from—those bright, sugary colors more gloriously imagined than anything found in nature.
Then, zoom forward 3,000 years, give or take, to the second floor, which houses the museum’s collection of Indian miniature paintings from the ninth through the nineteenth centuries. The miniatures, which were commissioned by the Mogul emperors, depict scenes of everyday life as well as battles, court life, fables, fantasies, and religious stories. What is striking about these works is not only the intensity of their colors but also the often dizzying mélange of cultural influences in a single painting: One Nativity scene (circa 1720) shows the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus, the image sandwiched between explanatory text in graceful Arabic. Not all the scenes are happy ones, despite
By now it’s 4:30 p.m., and you have one more stop, where you’ll see the city from the vantage point offered by Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s house, part of a larger government complex built by Edwin Lutyens, whose architectural designs are an innovative but respectful marriage of the Mogul tradition and Western classicism. Lutyens was commissioned by the British to build a “new Delhi” in 1911, and his structures (which include the parliament building) stand on the city’s highest point, looking down toward the 1931 India Gate, an arch that commemorates the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died during World War I. You’ll be back to your hotel by about 5:30, with time for a swim
before dinner at Veda (H-27 Outer Circle; 91-11-4151-3940; entrées, $8–$17). The restaurant—whose name stands for Very Exotic Dining Ambience—looks like a Bollywood interpretation of a bordello, with button-dimpled black leather banquettes and piped-in techno. Somehow it all works, as do the fizzy lemon soda and the fish dishes, which come with a fiery mint chutney. The restaurant, about a $2.50 taxi ride from your hotel, will call you a cab for the trip back.
Shah Jahan’s Delhi
Today, you’re off to the Red Fort, completed in 1648 for the great Shah Jahan, the fifth Mogul ruler and arguably one of history’s most important urban planners and architectural visionaries. Like most public monuments in India, it is open from sunrise to sunset (except Mondays), and although there’s invariably a long line, it moves quickly. The Red Fort—so named for the terra-cotta sandstone from which it was built—has had many lives. In 1638, Jahan, who had previously ruled his empire from Agra, began moving his capital to Delhi and commissioned this complex of private and governmental buildings, all surrounded by a wall a mile and a half in circumference. The fort remained (more or less) in Mogul hands until 1857, when the last of the dynastic ruler’s sons were shot, the Mogul himself was exiled, and British rule began, during which the British Army used it as a headquarters.
You’ll enter at Lahore Gate, the primary of the fort’s six entrances, which opens into Chatta Chowk, a covered bazaar that itself leads to a series of public reception halls and private pavilions (pictured bottom right). Of particular note is the open-air throne room (the throne itself, fashioned from white marble, is partly obscured behind a mesh scrim), a good example of Mogul architecture with its precise symmetry and fluted archways. Look on the side of the building for the sturdy iron hooks from which carpets could be hung to insulate the room from the cold. More impressive is the emperor’s marble private reception hall, inlaid with jasper and malachite. Although the silver ceilings that once decorated it are long gone, one can imagine how they must have made the space glow, and how the light from them must have reflected on the water that once ran through the wide, shallow channel that bisects the room. A short drive will take you to your pedicab, and then you’re off, squeaking through the streets surrounding Chandni Chowk, a once-grand avenue laid out in 1650 by Shah Jahan’s daughter (urban planning ran in the family). Today, it is the teeming home of many of the city’s wholesale shops, a web of bazaars selling everything from silver to spices, tea to turbans. Your neck will ache from swiveling as your rickshaw driver pedals you—with surprising speed and dexterity—through the neighborhood. If you want to stop and go shopping at any of the stores in the Chandni Chowk neighbor-hood, have your driver leave you at the mouth of the street and proceed on foot. The storefronts are narrow and the street narrower still. Here are men heaving great dumplings of burlap that, once placed on the curb and slit, spill thousands of crumpled saffron-colored marigolds. There are the gutters, filled with gray water and skinny dogs, and dozens of
brilliant beet-pink rose petals. Your driver will take you into one of the alleyways, which might be dedicated to weddings, stall after cramped stall glittering with paste jewelry, gold-foil armbands, and red-glass bindis; or to shawls, arranged floor to ceiling in stripes of scarlet, lilac, lime, and daffodil; or to books, stacked so densely bricklike that they seem to provide the very infrastructure of the shop that sells them. If you chose not to go shopping, your driver (tip him a couple of dollars) will drop you off at the foot of the last of Shah Jahan’s accomplishments you’ll see today. Jama Masjid, finished in 1656, is India’s largest mosque, a vast, open-air structure with a courtyard, mapped with lines demarcating spaces for 20,000 faithful, which gives it the look of a giant and mysterious chessboard. Over a late lunch of chicken biryani at the delicious and unpretentious HaveMore (11-12 Pandara Road Market; 91-11-2338-7070; entrées, $6–$8), you’ll find yourself marveling at Shah Jahan’s ingenuity and visual sophistication—if only all nation builders were so aesthetically minded! You’ll be back at your hotel by three o’clock, with the afternoon free. You have an early day tomorrow, so an early dinner is in order. Delhi has a number of terrific options, and since the next few days will take you to smaller cities, where the range of cuisines is more limited, try someplace like the Smoke House Grill (North Wing, VIPPS Center, Plot No. 2, LSC Masjid Moth; 91-11-414-35530; entrées, $8–$21), a newish haunt of Delhi’s moneyed and beautiful.
Delhi to Varanasi
Today is the day I would hire a general escort (IVAT, $6-$10 per day). He will meet you in the lobby just before 9 a.m. to take you to the airport for your hour-long 10:40 flight to Varanasi. You’ll never be happier for an escort: Indian airports are notoriously chaotic, operating on their own obscure internal logic. There’s much to see today, so after checking in to your hotel or hostel meet your guide at 12:30 p.m. for your first destination, the Sarnath complex, where some 2,500 years ago the Buddha, then a Hindu prince, is believed to have given his first sermon. With only 3 million people, Varanasi is, as Indian cities go, merely a large town. But India’s oldest inhabited city is also indisputably the country’s holiest, a mecca for the practitioners of its two great homegrown religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. Perhaps no country in the world has been more shaped by religion (or given more shape to religion, for that matter) than India, from the allgods-are-God panoply that is Hinduism to the no-god-but-God asceticism of Islam and the there-is-no-God transcendentalism of Buddhism. The first thing that greets you as you enter the Sarnath Museum is one of the most significant pieces of sculpture you’ll see on your trip: the Lion Capital, built from polished granite in the third century b.c. for one of India’s greatest rulers, the Buddhist convert Emperor Ashoka. The sculpture once stood atop a large pillar here, also named for Ashoka. Today, it is India’s national symbol: Take out a rupee and see for yourself. The museum also has a small but fascinating selection of Buddhist art from the first through the fifth centuries, when the religion flourished (a progression that was halted with the arrival of the Muslim conquerors).
Your next stop, just across the road, is the park where Buddha is thought to have first preached enlightenment; it is dominated by the monumental Dhamekh Stupa, a commemorative shrine built in 249 b.c., and the remnants of the monasteries and temples that once stood here. It’s interesting to watch the groups of tourists, who in their reverence and diversity are a testament to how thoroughly Buddhism permeated the rest of Asia. Their devotion is also remarkable when one considers that Buddha’s birthplace is today only about one percent Buddhist (Hindus account for about 80 percent of the population, and Muslims another 14 percent). After a quick break back at your hotel, it’s off to the main event: a trip to the Ganges to watch the nightly religious ceremonies. Your guide will meet you in the lobby shortly after five o’clock, just as the sky begins to grow grainy, and you’ll drive to the edge of the old city for the ten-minute walk through crowds of pedestrians, pedicabs, and the occasional elephant, as well as vendors hawking heaps of floral garlands. Not for the first time today, you will feel the thrum of excitement, of life, that seems to infuse Varanasi; it is the fervor of the penitent, who have come here on pilgrimage; of the 14,000 visitors who daily find their way to Ganga-ji, the most sacred body of water in all of India. To the Hindu devout, the Ganges is what the earth mother Gaia was to the ancient Greeks: a giver of life, of succor, of salvation. As you walk down to the ghats, the steps that lead to the river, your guide will point out the hermit monks, the Brahman priests, and the mystics, their hair matted, their eyes ablaze. You will be led to a long, outrigger like boat in which you’ll be rowed downriver, toward the older of the two crematoriums that bookend the waterfront. Here, you will stop a respectful distance from the shore (your guide will tell you when to put your camera away), but close enough to see the burning fires, the male family members placing in the flames their loved ones on silk-draped biers, the ropes of discarded floral garlands, and the glinting scraps of gold-threaded cloth. Hindus believe that if you die or are cremated in Varanasi, you will be freed from the endless cycle of reincarnation and be given release from the physical world. As you watch the orange flames flickering against the darkening sky, you cannot help but be overcome: by the smell of camphor and the sandalwood chips that are tossed into the fires; by the drumming and chanting of the faithful; by the bright strings of ecstatic light flickering above the ghats. People swim, bathe, frolic, pray, and work in the Ganges at Varanasi. For many, having their laundry washed in its waters is a point of pride. Certain Ghats are set aside just for laundry drying. Then, you’ll be rowed back to the Dasaswamedh Ghat, the city’s most famous, where a row of Brahman priests will begin the nightly ritual of putting the Ganges “to sleep.” This is a chant of thanksgiving, of humility, and as you watch the priests arc their candelabras in unison, you know you are witnessing something transcendent. Perhaps more profoundly than anywhere else, Varanasi captures the contradictions of human existence—life and death, hope and misery, youth and decrepitude, joy and despair, splendor and squalor—in this hard and glorious country. By now you will have been joined by scores of other tourist-laden boats, and so a few minutes before the end of the ceremony, you’ll return to shore and hop into a rickshaw for the drive through the old city back to your car. Moments later, the street behind you will be chaos, as all 6,000 witnesses attempt to leave at the same time. Since you’ll be rising at the crack of dawn tomorrow, have dinner as soon as you return (around 7:30). Varuna (entrées, $5–$9), makes a terrific laccha paratha, a wonderfully greasy layered bread.
Varanasi to Khajuraho
If last night you saw the Ganges get put to sleep, today you’ll see it awakened in the morning sun ritual. Take a short drive downtown at 5:15 a.m. (brutal but necessary). By six, as your boat is pushing off, the river is already crowded with tour vessels (by 6:45, it will be clogged). As you’re paddled upriver toward the crematorium, you’ll be able to watch the sun, a great crimson orb, rise across the eastern bank. But of far more interest is the life of the Ghats to the west: Here are women immersing themselves in the shallows of the river; washer men beating clothes against flat stones at its edge; mystics and hippies and monks and priests sitting alongside the lengths of saris spread out to dry on the steps like rugs. From the ghat where you saw last night’s ceremony comes the sound of clanging symbols as the priests wish the Ganges good morning. Your boatmen will then reverse direction and row you back to the downriver crematorium—its fires now smoldering and silent—where you’ll disembark near an ancient, sinking Hindu temple and walk the original footpaths of the old city, a labyrinth of narrow, threading streets. Above you, buildings of crumbling stone, centuries old but still inhabited, blot out the sky. Watch where you step—the cobblestones are slippery. Watch too for processions of penitents, which can take the form of strings of shuffling pilgrims or even a group of mourners carrying the body of the deceased aloft on their shoulders, the gold shroud passing inches from your face. This, you think looking into the low doorways, every one of which seems to house a makeshift temple and a guttering candle, or passing a man selling balls of wet, sticky ground hemp as offerings—is the truly eternal city, the place where the sacred is the quotidian. You’re back at your hotel by 8 a.m. and have a little time alone before leaving at 10:45 for your 12:20 flight to Khajuraho, which lands at 1 p.m. Next, visit this small town’s stunning attraction: the 22 surviving sandstone temples built some thousand years ago by order of the kings of the Chandela Rajput Empire, which once ruled central India (the other 63 temples are lost to time and successive empires). There are two groupings, but you’ll be spending your time at the western temples—clustered on a vast swath of well-maintained lawn—which are not only the best preserved but the most nuanced. Of these temples, the most important is the Lakshmana, built between about a.d. 930 and 950. There are two things to marvel at immediately: First, you’ll notice that the Lakshmana, like all the temples from this period, is completely interlocking, with no limestone paste between the bricks. Second, it is flagrantly, extravagantly erotic. From the front of the temple, walk counterclockwise around its perimeter (the tour groups will be moving clockwise) Even though time (not to mention vandals) has left its mark on the temple, it remains stunningly, vividly complex, the zenith of the carver’s art, and a wonderful chronicle of the Hindus’ love of the human form, their matter-of-fact embrace of all forms of sexuality as an essential part of life. While the Europeans were busy grimly gleaning their fields in the cold and denying all evidence of the human form, here were the Indians, carving not only their gods—the three principal Hindu deities, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, along with Krishna and Ganesha, are depicted here—but also scenes of every permutation of sexual pleasure and coupling (and tripling) one can imagine…and some (notably those involving horses) that probably shouldn’t be imagined at all. So deep, so fluid is the carving that it’s easy to imagine that the whole structure is made from clay—how else could the artists have rendered so perfectly the curve of a dancing woman’s hip or the smirk an elephant wears as he watches these tableaux of human folly and desire?
Cleansing in the Ganges River Image from Google
Khajuraho to Agra
This is a day of both extreme time travel and extreme road travel. Leave the hotel at about 9:30 a.m. for the three-hour drive to Orchha, the sixteenth-century walled city built by the Bundela king Rudra Pratap on the banks of the (now-dry) Betwa River. The fort, which seems to rise from the earth like a mirage, feels full of ghosts; it is unsettling to scramble up and down its steep staircases and to look out its windows toward the once-rich lands surrounding it, knowing you are treading, quite literally, on the remains of a lost and forgotten dynasty. After a late lunch at the nearby Orchha Resort (91-768052677; entrées, $4–$7)—skip the buffet—you’re back on the road by 2:30 or so for the five-hour drive to Agra. The easily carsick can opt for the train instead. But there’s nothing like driving through the Indian countryside to help you get a sense of its challenges and ingenuities: Your car will share the road, somehow, with trucks, tractors, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, donkeys, buffalo, and camels, not to mention the occasional shambling cow. You’ll also pass copses of teak trees, jacarandas with their lilac clouds of blossoms, and flames of the woods, their spindly branches heavy with large waxy lipstick-red flowers. It was Emperor Ashoka who began the tradition of flanking the roads with trees to give travelers in his kingdom some shade, a generosity continued by the Mogul rulers. (Indians, like most peoples descended from ancient civilizations, have a cozy, casual relationship with these misty historical figures. “Oh, Ashoka,” said one of my guides. “He was one of the better ones.” He could have been talking about his favorite cricketer.) The complexities of the Indian road aside, however, the final six miles or so are the hardest, as you bump through the dark down a rutted road alight with swimming headlights. But a terrific welcome awaits you after this obstacle course: where your room, like every other, has a view of the Taj Mahal.
The magnificent Taj Mahal
Agra and the Taj Mahal
Today’s the day! Nothing compares with the experience of seeing the Taj for the first time. Commissioned by Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz, after her death in 1631, it was completed in 1653 and remains arguably the most moving testament to love in architectural history. By the time you leave, at 7:30 or so, the place will be crawling with tourists (there are only a few dozen now), so this is your only chance to get a picture without the monument’s 10,000 other daily visitors clogging your frame. Although the white marble mausoleum (where you’re headed next) is by far the most famous structure in the complex, the Taj Mahal also includes a number of other buildings. Two of the most important are the red sandstone structures that flank the Taj: To its west is a mosque, no longer active; to its east is its replica, never a working mosque but further evidence of the Moguls’ love of architectural symmetry. As, of course, is the Taj itself. Leave your shoes, and take the short flight of steps to the marble platform upon which the 250-foothigh building sits, almost terrifying in its perfection. Each of the Taj’s four facades is completely symmetrical, and you could spend all day walking around the perimeter, marveling at the cold sparkle of marble in the sunlight, the flow of Koranic verses inlaid in onyx surrounding the doorways. It’s still early enough for you
to walk inside and have the place to yourself, to admire the panels of flowers, their petals made from chips of inlaid lapis lazuli and carnelian. Even here, in this epitome of Mogul art, are traces of Hindu influences, for the flowers depicted include not only lilies, beloved in Islam, but lotus flowers, too. As the sun climbs, head to the replica mosque, where you can best see the light catch the surfaces of the inlay, making the whole structure glitter like a many-faceted jewel. After a leisurely breakfast, it’s off to the Agra Fort, the original of which was finished in 1573 by Akbar, grandfather of Shah Jahan (who later demolished most of the structure and rebuilt it). Like the Red Fort in Delhi, Agra’s is surrounded by a long (mile-anda-half) wall and was both a seat of government and a vast private residence. This is also the place where, following a long family tradition of paternal overthrow, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in 1658. He lived out the last seven years of his life in what must be one of the plushest prisons of all times—with a view down the Yamuna River to his beloved Taj—with only a daughter for company. After his death, he was interred with Mumtaz at the Taj. You’ll leave Agra Fort around 11 a.m., and if you want, your guide will take you to Kalakriti (41/142 A/1, VIP Rd. to Taj Mahal, Fatehabad Rd.; 91-562-223-1011), where artisans make modern-day pietra dura boxes, platters, and tabletops. Spend the afternoon lounging around your hotel (the pool is spectacular) until you’re picked up at 5 p.m. for your return to the Taj Mahal just before sunset. If you thought the place was crowded in the morning, you’ll be stunned by the throngs now. In the fading light, the Taj further reveals itself: What earlier appeared to be a spotless, uniformly white facade gains depth and nuance. Shadows carve themselves under archways, and inlays darken and recede. As you watch the sky turn silty (just before 6:30 p.m., when the western side begins to glimmer) and then dark, you will never be happier that you hired a private guide—especially when you hear the whistles of the tour bus guides herding everyone aboard. Now really, is that any way to contemplate the vicissitudes of love? Back at your hotel, have dinner at the excellent Esphahan (entrées, $14–$25), where there’s live Indian music nightly.
Agra to Jaipur
Meet your car (which will be waiting with a packed lunch) at 9:30 a.m. for the three-hour drive to Jaipur, a city of 2.3 million that has a long and royal history. From the beginning of the twelfth century, the area called Rajasthan was controlled by a number of Rajput states, each with its own royal family. Vastly wealthy and agriculturally fecund, it was ruled by generations of princes until independence, when the country became a democracy. Although the maharajas no longer have any official influence, their legacy is everywhere: in their palaces, in their artwork, in their extraordinary jewelry, and in the ghostly but pervasive sense of glamour that suffuses the region. This is an area in which the regime change was, one feels, merely a technicality. All of this is certainly true at your hotel, the Rambagh Palace (91-141-2211-919; tajhotels.com; doubles, $630), which from 1925 through 1957 was the home of the Jaipur royal family. Meet your guide here at 2 p.m. for a trip to the City Palace Museum (91-141-260-8055), part of the complex that Jaipur’s kings have called home since the eighteenth century. The current maharaja,
Photography by Janet Morais
who grew up in the Rambagh Palace, now lives here with his family in a suite of apartments above the museum. Don’t let your guide detain you in the blazing courtyard with an introductory speech—instead, head straight to the textile collection in the Mubarak Mahal, formerly a reception palace, where you can admire the emerald-embroidered shawls that once kept royal shoulders warm. Then, in the Art Gallery, make a beeline for the pair of double-sided easels near the entrance. They hold breathtaking miniatures, an art form that flourished from Akbar’s time through Shah Jahan’s (both were rather less stringent about the no-human-depiction rule). Leaving the palace, stop next door at Satayam (Laxman Dwara, City Palace; 91-141-260-1432), where purveyors have been making real gold- and silver-foil-printed shawls for generations. It’s the closest you’ll get to owning one of the splendid textiles you saw in Mubarak Mahal. Back at the hotel, do some peacock-spotting on the grounds before catching dinner and the 7 p.m. (nightly) performance of traditional folk dancing outside the Verandah restaurant (entrées, $16–$34). If you’re not too beat, take in a Bollywood flick at a Jaipur institution: the nearby Rajmandir movie theater (16 Bhagwandas Rd.; 91-141-237-9372), with its thick-pile carpets and gaudy facade.
Over breakfast, take a minute to look at the portraits of the last maharaja and his second wife, the maharani, that decorate the room (pictured bottom right). The maharaja is deceased, but the maharani, now almost 90, still lives in an apartment on the Rambagh Palace grounds. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of her, regally beautiful even today. Meet your guide at 7:45 a.m. in the lobby for the 45-minute drive to the Amber Fort. It opens at nine in the winter and seven in the summer, but you’ll want to leave your hotel early to allow time for a quick stop at the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, with its famous five-tiered wedding-cake facade. The structure, which flirts with gaudiness, was constructed for the court harem so they could peer through the lacy grillwork covering the windows at the processions and street life below—without being seen. Many people—including those on the tour buses that start arriving, thick and fast, around 9:30 a.m.—want to take an elephant up the steep 300 feet to the fort, but be forewarned: There are a limited number of elephants, and each is allowed to make only five trips a day—another reason to get an early start. The pachyderm-shy can be driven. In 1727, the rulers of the Kachhawa Rajput (the region’s princely dynasty) moved their capital to Jaipur, but for the prior two centuries, it was based here, in this sprawling fortress-cumpalace. Once again, one is keenly aware of a royal presence: Until 1956, when it was given to the state, the fort was occupied and used as a summer palace by the maharaja of Jaipur. It’s easy to imagine him and his family entertaining in rooms like the marble-floor open-air sitting parlor that overlooks the Mogul-style garden, Aram Bagh. Continue through the women’s courtyard and then to the breathtaking Sheesh Mahal, or Mirrored Room, which at this hour should still be fairly empty.
Watch salesman Image from Flickr.com You can no longer enter the Sheesh Mahal, but even from the doorway it is mesmerizing. Every inch of this room, once a private reception hall, is covered with tiny chips of mirrors, sometimes colored, sometimes clear, sometimes arranged in patterns of flower bouquets, sometimes in abstract swirls. It is said that a single match can light the room, so one can just imagine how it must have glowed with the light of the Belgian cut-glass chandeliers that once hung from the ceiling. When you leave, it’s almost noon, which means it’s time to see Jaipur the way thousands of Indian tourists do every day: in some of the city’s many excellent shops and boutiques. Say good-bye to your guide—but keep your driver—and head for Anokhi (2 Tilak Marg; 91-141-222-9247), which has been producing wood-block cotton prints since the 1960s. This is the flagship store, with the widest selection of vibrantly patterned and colored clothes, bedspreads, and tablecloths, all for good prices. Have a relaxed lunch at its adjoining café (entrées, $3–$5); the fruit juices are especially good. Then it’s time for something a little more contemporary—Hot Pink (Kanota Bagh, Narain Singh Rd.; 91-141-510-8932), owned by the French jeweler Marie-Hélène de Taillac, sells gorgeous silk shawls, pillows, bags, and clothes by homegrown designers such as Manish Arora and Namrata Joshipura. The boutique sits on the grounds of another palace-turned-hotel, the Narain Niwas, the crumbling walls of which cannot erase its innate grandeur. Stop here for a drink in the echoing dining room (Narain Niwas; 91-141256-1291), where lazily twirling ceiling fans lend an air of resigned melancholy.
For many Indians, Jaipur means weddings. Not only is the city the lapidary capital of India but it is also known for silks and leather goods. Many Indian women begin their wedding trousseaus at Rukhmani (Hari Bhawan, Achrol House, Civil Lines; 91-141-222-5485), which makes wedding saris—in flaming scarlet and heavy with elaborate gold embroidery—the old way. The pieces are expensive and exquisite, and the shop is worth at least a visit, if only for a vivid reminder of how all-important weddings are in this culture. And don’t miss the utterly fabulous Andraab (38 Gupta Garden, Amer Rd.; 91141-267-0445); run by handsome twin brothers from Kashmir, the shop sells a selection of outrageously beautiful (and pricey) embroidered cashmere shawls—you won’t find their equal elsewhere. But the epitome of the Jaipur experience is visiting the city’s most storied jewelry store, Gem Palace (M.I. Rd.; 91-141-237-4175), which produces both Mogul re-creations and its own designs. You needn’t feel guilty about going a little crazy here: In Jaipur, even pedicab drivers wear rings glinting with bits of colored glass or stones. Jewelry is, quite literally, a way of life in Rajasthan (pictured right).
“Even pedicab drivers wear rings glinting with bits of colored glass or stones”
If shopping’s not your thing, take the afternoon off—but before you do, ask your guide if polo tickets are available; the matches, which begin at 4 or 5 p.m., are fast-moving and thrillingly dangerous. For dinner, have your driver drop you at Cinnamon (Jai Mahal Palace, Jacob Rd., Civil Lines; 91-141222-3636; prix fixe, $25–$50), which has good Indian food and a swinging vibe.
Meet your guide downstairs at 5:30 a.m. for the 45-minute flight to Udaipur, which departs at 7 a.m. Your hotel there, the Shiv Niwas (91-294-252 8016; hrhhotels.com; doubles, $150), is another palace-turned-hotel; the maharaja lives in a sprawling apartment in an adjoining property. The Shiv Niwas has a slightly shabby but wholly authentic ambience, a feeling that’s heightened when you check in to a ground-floor royal suite; once the domain of the king’s guests, it overlooks sparkling Lake Pichola, the loveliest of the man-made lakes for which the town is known. After resting up, meet your guide in the lobby at 11 a.m. for the two-minute walk to the City Palace, which adjoins the hotel. As in Jaipur, this was once home to a succession of kings and emperors, beginning with Udai Singh II, who initiated the construction of this vast, staggered white palace, in the sixteenth century, when the city was the seat of the great Mewar Kingdom. The subsequent 24 rulers who inhabited it, however, were not shy about leaving their own imprimaturs—which becomes apparent once you enter the complex’s wildly colorful patchwork interior. Until 1959, when the main section became a museum, the current maharaja resided here, and walking down the corridors on the second floor, with their colored-glass windows that offer views of the city washed in ruby or citrine, one can see how every day here must have felt pleasantly trippy. Make sure you check out the Manak Mahal room on the second floor, which is not only mirrored like a disco ball but also plastered with chips of semiprecious stones. By now it’s about one o’clock and you’ll be ready for lunch. Your guide will escort you to the dock, where you’ll catch a boat to the middle of Lake Pichola and the Taj Lake Palace hotel, which sits on a small island, Jag Niwas, also once occupied and now merely owned by the maharaja. Have lunch at Jharokha, which overlooks the lake, but be warned: There’s a $50 per person set price (91-294-252-8800). Back in town (unless you decide to stay for a massage at the hotel’s spa), wait out the heat of the afternoon poolside. At 5 p.m., your guide will meet you again, this time to drive you to the city’s market, where you’ll walk streets lined with vendors selling veritable mountains of glossy peppers, corkscrewing beans, and smooth-skinned onions, as well as glass bangles, textiles, and slippers (pictured right). Evening—your last full night in India!—brings choices: Should you feel romantic, the Shiv Niwas can arrange for a candlelight dinner on the small island the hotel owns or, for landlubbers, there’s always the hotel’s Dovecote restaurant (entrées, $8–$12), which overlooks the lake and is lit by dozens of hurricane lamps.
The Udaipur River
Udaipur to Delhi and Home
After a leisurely breakfast, meet your guide in the lobby at 9 a.m. for your trip to the Sri Eklingji temple complex, about a 40-minute drive out of town. Built in the eighth century (and rebuilt in the fifteenth), these 108 temples can collectively be viewed as sort of an ur-Khajuraho; the carving is nowhere near as graceful or refined as what you saw there, but one sees in its architectural structures and bas-reliefs an excellent blueprint of what would follow two centuries later. This is a quick visit, and at any rate, the sun will force you back into the car by 11 a.m. or so. Then it’s back to your hotel for a poolside lunch. At 2 p.m., head out on your own with your driver. Udaipur is famous for its paintings, and if you like, your guide can direct you to some studios that specialize in miniatures. With only 500,000 people, this is a small (well, relatively) and sleepy city, so it’s a good place to walk among the bazaars without the attendant crush of people. The area around City Palace makes for good browsing, as do the stalls and shops of Bapu Bazaar (clothing), Bada Bazaar (jewelry), and Chetak Circle (crafts). Your car will be coming to meet you at the hotel at 3:30 p.m. for your two-hour flight to Delhi, which departs Udaipur at 5:15 p.m. Once you land, an IVAT rep will meet you and assist you with check-in at the international terminal, a hellish place: Most outbound flights to Europe and the United States leave late at night, so these are peak travel hours. By the time you check your bags and pass through immigration and customs, it’ll be after 9:30 p.m., leaving you just under three hours (before the departure of American Airlines flight 293 for Chicago) to find your own way to say good-bye to one of the great civilizations of the world, a place whose extremes—its messiness and brilliance—will never allow you to look at art, or history, or religion, quite the same way again. What could be a better gift than that?
How to Wear a Double Draped Sari
Infographics Created By Katie Davis
An interview with Susan Geringer on a specific aspect of travel to India. The questions and answers are designed to provide you, the traveler, with the information you need to plan your travels. We believe you’ll find them very useful. It seems anyone who has visited this “land of high passes” inevitably is at a loss for words in describing just how beautiful it is. In fact, the word we’ve heard when asked what they thought was simply: WOW. Lying between the Kunlun Mountains in the north and the Himalayas to the south, Ladakh is the northernmost state of India.
â€œI think one should go with an
open mind to learn about the
Bu d d h i s t c u lt u r e .â€?
The Gyspy: Ladakh has been called “Little Tibet.” Why is that? Susan Geringer: Ladakh borders Tibet and the majority of its residents are influenced by the Tibetan culture. They’ve been practicing Tibetan Buddhism uninterrupted for the last 1000 years. Physically, the Ladakhi people’s facial features and physique are similar to Tibetans and they do not look like Indians. In fact, some people actually left Tibet due to the Chinese invasion and now call Ladakh home. The Gypsy: Because of the Buddhist population, clearly there are monasteries to visit. Do you have any tips or recommendations for visiting them? Susan Geringer: I think one should go with an open mind to learn about the Buddhist culture. The monasteries are filled with beautiful and interesting Thanka paintings and many Buddha statues. Do note that upon entering a monastery, you must take off your shoes and always walk clockwise inside. The Gypsy: What kind of active diversions are there in Ladakh? Susan Geringer: Besides its monasteries and palaces, Ladakh is a great destination for adventure-seekers—those who are very adventurous (rock climbing and such) and those who just like to get out and explore. Treks, which include camping in tents, can be planned for many days or weeks, but one can also just hike for several hours or for the day. There’s also white-water rafting and mountain biking. One can also take a Jeep safari to see birds and other wildlife. The Gypsy: Does one have to be super fit to hike in Ladakh? Susan Geringer: No. There are all levels of hikes. But it is very important to acclimatize to the low oxygen levels. We flew from Delhi to Leh and were told to hang out at our hotel until the next morning so we would not have problems with altitude sickness. Diamox may be suggested by your doctor. The Gypsy: We know that the famous Snow Leopard lives in Ladakh. Is it possible to see one? Susan Geringer: It is extremely rare..you’d be extremely lucky to see one.
The Gypsy: Would you recommend a trip to this part of the world for young adults? Susan Geringer: That is a tough question. I really think it depends upon their interests. Ladakh does not have the buzz or energy of European cities. There are no beaches and no hotel pools. They will have to be able to immerse themselves in a totally different culture from what they are used to. I think Ladakh is best for young adults who want to get out and be really active. It’s an unrealistic expectation to think any young adult is going to want to just visit monasteries and palaces and drive around looking at the gorgeous scenery. The Gypsy: What is the food like and are there any specialties you think we shouldn’t miss? Susan Geringer: Thupka (noodle soup) and momos (vegetarian dumplings) are Ladakh specialties. We ate Maggie noodles and momos at Rinchen Cafeteria at Khardung La pass at 18, 380 ft. Somehow, Maggie noodles never tasted better than at this altitude. The Gypsy: What else is there to see and do in Ladakh? Susan Geringer: Another interesting experience is a hosted family dinner or a home stay. These are provided by locals for foreigners and provide a real window into the life in Ladakh. The Gypsy: When is the best time of the year to visit Ladakh? Susan Geringer: June to September. Before and after, days are short and cold. Winter is extremely cold and only one hotel in Leh is open. A great time to visit Ladakh is in July during the Hemis Festival where one can observe wonderful masked dancers and music. There is also a festival with dancing and music in Leh at the beginning of September. The Gypsy: How much time should we plan on staying there and is there another Indian destination you would recommend combining it with? Susan Geringer: I would say 7 to 10 nights. For the first time visitor to India, I would combine Ladakh with Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur.
Susan Geringer , center, with other Indian women
400 Kilomet 200
ers 400 Miles
Published on Dec 4, 2012