Saturday, March 23, 2013

Adventuring in Amritsar

We made our way to the Punjab state to visit a very famous Sikh temple in Amritsar called the Golden Temple. It's a huge tourist destination for Indians so it was cool to see so many locals on vacation or pilgrimages.

Walking around, people were just as interested in us as we were in them!! Lots of people asked us to take a photo with them, which they call "a snap." "Hello sir," they said shyly, sticking out their hands for a handshake. "May I have one snap?" they said, as they held up their cameras. We always said yes. Once one person plucked up the courage to ask, others joined in and we once had a bit of a line to take a picture with us! One mother handed me her baby to hold for a picture, which I loved. If they give me a baby to play with, I'll take as many pictures as they want! 

We visited a couple parks in the city, including one where over 1500 unarmed Indians were shot down by the British military in 1919 in Jallianwala Bagh public garden. There is a tiny museum with pictures and paragraphs about what happened there and in the rear of the garden, walls with the original bullet holes. It was clearly stated that this was a place to respect what had happened there and the people who had lost their lives. It was the cleanest place we've seen in India (with public trash cans!) and the gardens and monuments were very beautiful. 

We also went to a Hindu temple called Mata Temple which has been compared to a fun house by many. There are idols in every direction, mosaics of every color and with mirrors, places you have to crawl through, and even a pool of water to splash through. The walkway through all this seemed like more of a tourist pleaser than an actual temple, as there were men sitting at tables asking for donations. The more serious (but no less vibrant) temple was downstairs. 

Lastly, we went to see the famous and highly elaborate closing of the Indian/Pakistan boarder at Wagha. It is a huge show with screaming fans, military marching with high kicks, music, and heaps and tons of patriotism. It was quite a show and well worth the trip to the border. 


India: First Stop, Varanasi

We came in to Varanasi on a overnight train from Kolkata (where we had flown in the day before). Almost as soon as our feet touched the ground, a tuk tuk driver was chatting to us. He showed us where to buy tickets for our trip out of town and then 30 minutes later we saw him again, chatting up some other people trying to get them to take his tuk tuk over the many other ones available. "Do you remember me??" he said almost desperate for us to say yes. We did and he took us to Varanasi's old town.

alleyway in Varanasi
The old town of Varanasi is comprised of tiny, crooked alleyways lined with shops, restaurants, and colorfully painted weather beaten doors.The ground is lined with trash, dust, cow dung, water, and more trash. I wished I had about forty more eyes so I could see everything going on around me and still be able to watch my step. 

It's true what they say, cows really can go wherever they want, which also means they can sh*t wherever they want. It's was a challenge just to walk down the streets navigating around the people, cows, dogs, bikes, and motorbikes (which honk their startling horns right behind you to make you move quicker) all while making sure you aren't stepping in poo. 

sunrise over the Ganges River in Varanasi
Even with the mess and the smell and the crowds, it was magical. The people are so kind and a smile will always get you a smile in return. The devotion to the filthy Ganges is unfaltering. The colors are phenomenal and completely everywhere. Every woman is wearing at least four colors at one time and usually in bright patterns. The boats are colorfully painted. The temples are racked with so much detail and color it's overwhelming. It was intense and we loved it.

naked priest man sitting next to the Ganges River in Varanasi

boat ride in Varanasi


morning baths in the Ganges River in Varanasi

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mandalay, Inside and Out

We had two full days in Mandalay so we spent one day wandering around the inside and one day scootin' around the outlying countryside on the back of motorbikes.

Inside the city we watched a street performer with snakes, visited the temples on Mandalay Hill, bought a train ticket from the station, and went to the outdoor market. The afternoon sun heated up the city like a hotplate. The sidewalks were all cracked and you could see either discolored stagnant water or rats down in the gutters. Everything was always coated with a layer of dust, including us. Still, people were going about their business and seemed delighted to see us walking around. Many people smiled at us and said hello. We felt very welcome and safe. The moon that night was the prettiest orange circle I'd ever seen in my life.

That night, we went to see the notorious Mustache Brothers perform their hour long comedy show. It was a mix of comedy and cultural dances mixed with a little insight into some of the struggles citizens face due to the government. It was interesting and entertaining.

Par Par Lay (left) served three separate sentences in jail breaking rocks in a chain gang for telling jokes the government deemed inappropriate. Needless to say, freedom of speech is sorely missed in Burma. The brothers are only allowed to perform in their garage and in English. The government doesn't mess with tourists so they said that we keep them safe by going to the shows.

The next day we had our hotel find us two guys willing to take us around the countryside on the back of their motorbikes. We just got on and they took us to one place after the other. They always said, "take your time" and would read newspapers and hang out by the bikes or at little roadside stands while we explored. We went to all sorts of places: shops, temples, workshops, and a restaurant. The countryside was beautiful and the people we saw always smiled back at us. It was dusty, hot, and beautiful.

The next day we made our way back to Rangoon for our flight back to Bangkok. It had been a glorious and adventurous nine days in Burma. We had a few days R&R in Bangkok before heading to our final country on this trip: India!

The Temples of Bagan

We went to Bagan for the temples. There are thousands of them and the view was breathtaking everywhere you looked. The temples are so spread out and there were so few tourists that it felt like we were exploring all along on our rented biked. I really can't express in words how awesome it was. Here are the pictures.