Travelogue : India
Namaste India Nov 98

When I think of India, the most unlikely images haunt through my head. Deities, gods, rituals, superstition, colours, flavours, poverty, karma, castes and lots and lots of people, to mention only a few. And what's so unusual about all these things is, is that I'm not able to understand them all in the way they are meant to be. Even after I've been travelling around in the northern parts of India — Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — for three weeks there're still some of those subjects of which I don't know their exact meaning. I think it takes a least one whole year travelling through India to understand the Indian habbits and culture.

These three weeks have allowed me to get to know more about the people and to understand a little part of their way of life. When I decided to go to India I knew that it would ask for some precaution and exertion. As I say so, I don't only mean to be physically prepared for the trip but maybe even more mentally. I've lost 5 kilo in 23 days. And not because there's no good food in India. On the contrary, the Indian kitchen has a very rich assortment of delicious and tasty food, but most of it is vegetarian. And then the heat. Never in my life I've sweat so much. The heat is exhausting. Therefore I drank liters of mineral water and cold drinks every day. The rush and the unusual pressure. A lot of the Indian people live on the street. They are poor, but they don't look unhappy. You have to be strong to face the filthiness, the poverty, the primitivism, the beggars, the stir and the heavy traffic. And traffic is very dangerous. I closed my eyes twice thinking that would be the end of my life. They drive like crazy. If you think you can manage all that, I'm sure you're gonna have a wonderful, unforgettable time in India because India is one of the most richly rewarding regions of the world to visit. Its openness and friendliness make it increasingly rare among major travel destinations. And one thing's for sure; it will change your life!



Saturday, September 26, 6:00 am. Three friends and I are on our way to Schiphol, Amsterdam. We have to drive two hours from where we live in Belgium. The direct flight with KLM from Amsterdam to New-Delhi takes about 8 hours. Towards evening, our time, we enter the Indian atmosphere. India lays in a different time zone so we have to reset our watches. It's three and a half hour later. Now it's suddenly midnight when the plane starts to descend. The enormous amount of small lights let me presume that New-Delhi must be a very large city. As far as I can see nothing but white and orange street-lamps and head-lights of driving cars. I don't think I've ever seen such a big city before in my life, and certainly not from out of the sky. Delhi has been the site of continuous habitation for thousands of years and the capital of India therefore is also country's fastest growing city with a population estimated at close to 12 million.
I expect lots of noise, bustle and apparent chaos in the airport but everything is so quiet. When we pass the costum-house officer he looks at my passport and then again at me. He points at my hair. It should be black but it's now gold-coloured. I smile and tell him that I've had a party back at home. He smiles back and lets me pass. The luggage arrives very fast and changing US Dollars into Rupees isn't a problem at all. We get Rs. 41.80 for 1 USD (Rs. 1 is about 0,8 Bef). When we leave the airport, the crushing, moistly monsoon heat feels unbearably hot. I have to get rid of my fleece immediately. It's over midnight and still 29 degrees Celsius. We drive to the center of New-Delhi by bus. It's heavy traffic and everybody sounds the horn. Many vehicles drive without lights so it's pretty dangerous. After a half hour drive on the left side of the broad tree-lined streets we arrive at the Kastle Guest House (16, Darya Ganj). Bottled mineral water, 100% sterilized, makes a virtue of necessity. The ventilator and the a/c provide for needful cooling. The rooms are very and clean and so is the bathroom.

The next morning we start the day with a cold shower and a small breakfast. Then we take a typical Hindustan Ambassador cab for a tour in DELHI. Because it's sunday there's almost no traffic on the broad boulevards. Delhi is however not all city. The sheer amount of greenery rivals that of other major world capitals. There are many spacious gardens, tree-lined and with beautiful parks where many boys play cricket, the national sport number one. We drive to the India gate, a war memorial which commemorates more than 70,000 Indian soldiers who died in WW1. The inscription mentions that a lot of the Indian soldiers died in France and Flanders. Little boys with monkeys try to amuse the tourists. Indian people make family pictures in front of this huge arc de triomphe. We move on to the most interesting and preserved tomb in Delhi, the Humayun's Tomb. This octagonal mausoleum, with lofty arches and pillared kiosks, is the best example of the early Mughal style. It looks like the Taj Mahal in Agra, but it's much smaller and simpler. It's made of red sandstone with some white marble to highlight the lines of the building. Here also is the first standard example in India of the garden tomb concept, the char bagh. The large garden is divided into quadrants with lots of trees, water channels and fountains. Only there's no water in the channels now. There're a lot of young couples sitting in the shadow of the big trees in this garden of love. This is certainly the place for a romantic sunday afternoon! It's very hot and I'm already wet to the skin. A few blocks away - my orientation isn't that good so far - we stop at a famous Hindu temple, the Laksmi Narayan Mandir. This temple is built in Orissan style with tall curved towers and dedicated to Laksmi, the goddess of well-being. Within the temple a few men are making music on tam tams and some kind of accordion that looks like a little organ. The music is reposeful and for us, Western people, it maybe sounds a little bit monotonous, but someone tells me that Indian music knows even more musical notes then ours. There're a lot of paintings on the walls of the temple. They show gods and particular scenes from the Hindu history. It looks a bit like the holy crusade in our churches. And because there're a lot of people who can't read in India the paintings must make the story understandable.

After dinner in an air conditioned restaurant on Connaught Place - the food was very good (rice with mushrooms, bamboo and chicken) but it was too cold inside the restaurant - we take a auto-rickshaw to Old-Delhi. Up to now, the stir and the noise in Delhi exceed my expectations. I thought it would be much worse but than again it's sunday. The only Asian reference I have is my experience in Rangoon, the capital of Myanmar. The heat was even more exhausting so I couldn't bear so much over there. Here in Delhi there're also lots of cycle-rickshaws and many many little shops. There are also many red spots on the street too, because some men are chewing on something red and after a while they spit it out. It's not so common here as in Myanmar. The few temples I've seen here are certainly not comparable with those in Rangoon. I liked those Buddhist temples much more than these Hindu temples. The women's dresses are much more colourful (red, yellow, orange, purple, pink, blue, etc.) and the people are as friendly as in Myanmar. I guess the Asian people are almost always smiling, even if they are poor. In contradistinction to the well-known lungi the men wear in Myanmar, most of the Indian men just wear trousers. If man wears a lungi or a short, it means that he's poor. So therefore you can better leave your shorts at home if you're planning to go to India.
If you hold out your hand for a rickshaw the circus starts. Because there're so many of them everyone wants to drive you to your destination of choice. You always have to beat down the price and for about Rs. 20 or 30 you can get almost everywhere with four peoples. And than they drive like crazy. They blow horn all the time. It's a little bit exciting sitting in the back and to see they make all kinds of wild manœuvres. We get out at Ajmeri Gate, one of the fourteen gates that were pierced in the wall that once surrounded this old city. Old-Delhi is laid out in blocks with wide roads, bazars and mosques. It is a bustling jumble of shops, labyrinthine alleys running off a main thoroughfare with craftsmen's workshops, hotels, mosques and temples (photo). Because it's sunday most of the shops are closed but on every corner of the street somebody's baking sweets in a big wok. You see cows saunter down the street just like ordinary people do. Nobody minds them. There are a lot of electricity wires hanging above the sidewalk and now and than there's a little, diamond-shaped kite entrapped into this mess. At the end of this walk we reach the Friday Mosque, the largest mosque in India. This Friday Mosque or Jama Masjid is intended to dwarf all mosques that had gone before it. The Jama Masjid is simpler in its ornamentation than other buildings. We enter the mosque by the stairs which separate the sacred from the secular. The threshold is a place of great importance where the worshipper steps to a higher plane. Here we must take off our shoes of course. Red sandstone has been the favourite construction on material in Delhi for a number of centuries. The great mosque and the Red Fort, on which we have a beautiful sight from the courtyard of the mosque, both have exteriors of this distinctive stone. Their red sandstone façades are really impressive. It's possible to climb all the way to the top of one of the flanking, majestic minarets to have a view over Delhi. Hundreds of small kites float in the air above the buildings. Kite flying is a popular pastime. I guess all the little children go upon the flat-roofed houses by sunset to play with their paper kites. It's a beautiful sight! It makes me happy...
When it starts to darken we wander further through the bazars. There're many stalls where you can buy fireworks and crackers. The kids like to let off fireworks in the streets despite the danger. Our appetite is put to the test too because there're even more men baking food beside the streets. And than there are the men who sell all kinds of funny balloons. It's fun to see all those happyness on the children's faces. Finally we reach a Sikh temple on Chandni Chowk Rd. Again we have to remove our shoes and walk through a marble brooklet filled with water to clean our feet before entering the temple. There are many Sikhs who come here to pray or to listen to the prayers sung inside this temple. A guide shows us a big kitchen nearby where many men and women are making some kind of bread. He tells us that it is a tradition in their religion to help the sick and poor people. They can get a bed and food here for a while. Everything is very clean and hygienic. When we go back outside it's already very dark. We lost all sense of direction so we call for some cycle-rickshaws to bring us back to our hotel. The boy doesn't know exactly where to go but we'll manage anyway. He stands up straight on the treadles all the way to the hotel. I guess we must be very heavy. It's an adventure because there's almost no street-lighting and the busses drive like their the only ones on the street. After supper in a nice open-air restaurant with live band, I make a telephone call to my girlfriend at home to tell her everything is just fine. Almost every ten metres, you see yellow boards with the letters PCD-STD-ISN. These are all private run call boxes where you can call worldwide. You dail the call yourself and the time and cost are displayed on a small computer screen. It's about Rs. 40 per minute for a call from India to Belgium. A cold shower before going to bed is more than welcome. Clemenceau, the great cynic, saw New Delhi under construction and said that "un jour ca fera une ruine magnifique" but it still survives...



|Amber | Jaipur | Jodhpur | Pushkar || Photologue|

Delhi is the perfect gateway to Northern India. Early in the morning we set direction to Jaipur by buss. We enter Rajasthan, the land of kings or land of the Thousand and One Nights. This warrior race has written its past on the land in the form of forts and palaces, and fortress-palaces around which the principal cities have slowly grown. The country is very green en fertile. The roads that cut these plane areas, covered with trees and rice-fields, are often in poor - sometimes terrible - condition and progress extremely slow because they're also crowded with heavy lorry traffic. Vehicles drive on the left - in theory! So, don't think to much about the way the Indians drive and pass. Here and there you see a truck upside down on or beside the road so it's better to concentrate on the country because it's a good way of seeing the landscape and village life. We stop several times in little villages. The local people are very friendly and curious. An old man start to talk to me in English. He tells me about his family and a factory where he has worked. At school, the children are sitting outside underneath a big tree. When they see me they spontaneously start to wave. The women wear vividly colouredsaris, a red tikka on their forehead and lots of jewellery on their fingers, wrists, ankles, toes and in their ears and noses. Most of them also have a red spot on their forehead, that symbolises the third eye. In some of the villages the women veil themselves when they see a man because married women are not allowed to look at other men anymore. Just before dark we arrive at the Sariska Tiger Reserve. We spend the night at Tiger Den and the next morning, at 6:00 am, we go on jeep safari. We see many peacocks, langur monkeys and colourful birds, a few antilopes and deers and some wild boars but not even one tiger! It's a bit disappointing.

After breakfast we drive on to Jaipur. The road is better than yesterday. Overloaded trucks drive in the middle of the road. On the back of each lorry are the words "BLOWN HORN" painted. You can imagine what kinda concert that is. On our way to Jaipur we see a lot of accidents. No wonder if you see ghostriders in front of you all the time and if every vehicle is in a frenzied race to try and pass the one in front. Many roads are single track. The result is disastrous. Pedestrians, cattle and a wide range of animals roam at will. This is of course particularly dangerous when driving after dark especially as even other vehicles often carry no lights... When we almost reach AMBER, it starts to rain heavy. And just when we got off the buss to visit the impressive Amber Palace we get another heavy shower. We are almost wet to the skin when we reach the main gate on the hill top. Above the Palace stands the gigantic bulk of Jaigarh. A fort which walls, bastions, gateways and watchtowers are a testimony of the power of the former Jaipur rulers. The Jaigarh Fort now offers visitors a glimpse into a lifestyle and an age that can only be gathered from imaginative fiction. Be sure you enter the Shish Mahal faced with mirrors, seen to full effect when lit by a match. You can see silver doors and colourfully painted walls with mosaic decoration. If I may believe what's written in the books, this is one of the most beautiful examples of Mughal architecture. And if you ask me, I think it's amazing. Many of these forts are to be found a little removed from urban centres, overlooking villages where life goes on as it did hundreds of years ago; where elephants are often the only means of transportation; and where, if you want fresh drinking water you may go and draw it from the well. A walk through this little village is surprisingly fun; the old elephants quarters, a small market, rickshaws, men with turbans, overloaded busses and Hindustan Ambassadors. Beautiful scenes!

In the late afternoon we arrive at JAIPUR, popularly known as the Pink City. The pink colour was used at the time of making to create an impression of red sandstone buildings of Mughal cities. We will spend the next three nights in a former Maharadja palace, Na Niwas Palace Hotel (Kanota Bagh, Narain Singh Rd). It's beautifully restored and it has a pleasant courtyard, a large garden with swimming pool and huge, well decorated rooms furnished with antiques, full of character. All the rooms are still cooled by electric, ceiling paddle fans. All the personal were traditional clothes. The drawing-room has nice painted walls and portraits of former Maharadjas. Dinner is served in a cosy dining-room with coloured glazed windows. They serve excellent Indian food and the dessert delicious. It's pudding with banana and grapes. We just can't get enough! We end the day on the outside porch of the palace lighted up with Chinese lanterns. It's a reposeful and very pleasant evening. This palace reminds me of the legendary British colonial Strand Hotel in Rangoon, except this isn't so chic and expensive.

The next morning we go to Mahavaton Ka Mohalla by auto-rickshaw. Most places of interest are mainly located within the walled city. So we enter this residential quarter of handicraftsmen and mahouts, elephant-drivers, through an impressive gateway. The city is best explored on foot and the adventurous visitor willing to go into the inner lanes can discover a whole new world not visible to the tourist-in-a-hurry. We saunter through the narrow streets and alleys. Soon, we notice that the children are very excited when they see us. They are all very enthousiastic and pretty soon we are followed by a couple of dozen little boys and girls. Even young girls and women are curious and peep from behind small windows or from the rooftop. When we see them they run away or hide. Everywhere we look we see people. We're the centre of interest. It's like all the windows, the doors and the terraces have become eyes.
You often see that six or seven craftsmen or boys work together in one small room. They polish green and red stones (photo). Some of them look like little green spacemen. Other men weave carpets. It's hard labour. We've been invited into houses, stables and gardens. Everyone wants to talk to us: "Hello, hello, how are you? Where you from? Pen please?" and even sometimes "Baksheesh, baksheesh?" but it's big fun to walk around in this area (photo). Suddenly the sky turns grey and a storm is coming on. We have a feeling that we have to look for shelter. We go sit on the stairs of an empty house when rain comes pouring down. A man across the street makes a sign with his hand to his knee. And he's right. Within ten minutes the streets are completely inundated. The street has become a wild streaming river (photo). The steps of the stairs we sit on disappear one by one. The watermark rises to 70 centimetres so we got caught. Three quarters of an hour later, the water is still high but the rain already stopped. Do we have to get wet to get out of here? And than I looked into another room and there's a window that looks into another alley. And guess what! It's a steep alley and there's no water in it. So we could escape all the time without knowing it.

In the afternoon we go to the Raj Mandir Cinema by auto-rickshaw. Just around the corner we go eet at Surya Mahal, near Niro's restaurant (Mirza Ismail Rd). It's a small, cheap restaurant but they serve delicious Indian dishes. Masala Dosa, a rice pancake filled with potatoes and vegetables is recommendable. Going to the movies is very popular in India, but that's probably because Mumbai - Bollywood - is the world's second largest film maker after Hong Kong. The movie is a big farcical comedy, a persiflage on the American movie industry. It's a combination of the best American action scenes - done over again in Indian style -, a musical and a romantic love story. And this goes on for about three hours. The dialogues are in Hindi but the more rough language, like "All men are bastards", "Fuck you" or "I love you", is in English. And the crowd goes mad!
Jaipur is also a shopper's paradise. When we walk through Nehru and Bapu Bazar we notice that Jaipur is specialized in printed cotton, silk, handicrafs, handknotted carpets, leather footwear and blue pottery. After a cold shower back at the hotel we go to the even more elegant Rambagh Palace for dinner. It's the most expensive hotel of Jaipur. Everything is made of white marble and the palace is wonderfully light up like a fairy-like castle. The main luxurious dining-room is booked up so we get a table in the Neel Mahal or the coffee bar. We order Maharami Pasan, a typical Indian dish met many little cups and different small breads. Hmm, very delicious and not even so expensive after all. Dessert and drinks in it costs Rs. 500 per person. This afternoon we payed Rs. 150 each.

At sunrise I take a dive into the swimming pool in the garden of Narain Niwas. The water has a nice temperature and the sun comes up from behind the trees. Refreshing. After breakfast we take a rickshaw to the old city. We walk from the Hawa Mahal, possibly Jaipur's most famous pink building, to the City Palace complex, one of the most important landmarks with its numerous outbuildings, courtyards, impressive gateways and temples. The Pritam Niwas Chowk - House of the beloved - courtyard has a beautiful Peacock Gate, several extremely attractive doors, rich and vivid in their peacock blue, aquamarine, amber and other colours and a excellent view upon the Chandra Mahal, a seven-storeyed Maharadja residence.
At noon we return to the hotel for another dive into the pool because it's very hot. In the afternoon we hire bicylces near Ghat Gate Bazar to explore the rest of this interesting city within the walls. This is very exciting but be careful, it could dangerous too. We cylce through the small streets. Every alley has its own character. There's a butcher's street, a textile street, a cattle square, a kite street, etc. I stop at a kite shop and buy ten little diamondshaped kites for about Rs. 10 I hope that later on this trip I'll found another shop so I can buy some bigger kites too. When my friends stop for tee I find the opportunity to go to the barber. I get shaved and a face massage for Rs. 10 It's a perfect way to visit Jaipur by bike!

It's an eight-hour drive from Jaipur to the second city of Rajastan, JODHPUR. At 5:00 pm we arrive at Madho Niwas Hotel (New Airport Rd). There've a cosy garden and simple rooms with an electric ceiling fan. After some refreshment we go to Govind Restaurant opposite to the GPO (General Post Office) and the railway station. Govind has a nice rooftop restaurant from where you have a beautiful sight on the impressive Meherahgarh Fort built on a 122m sandstone bluff. It's a place where tourists meet and greet. The food is very good and cheap. At night we play cards in the garden of our hotel. It's been a exhausting day.
The next morning we go visiting this blue city. We start at the clock tower. From there we move on up through a labyrinthine maze of narrows streets. Many of the houses are painted blue and some of them are even richly carved. Why blue? One story tells us that these blue houses are referred to as Brahmin houses, the colour being associated with the high caste but there are so many nowadays that this can't be true anymore. Another story likes us to believe that the white lime-wash used originally did not deter termites (white ants) which caused havoc. The addition of chemicals which resulted in turning the white lime to a blue-wash, was found to be effective in limiting the pest damage and so it was widely used in the area around the fort... As long as we are in those narrow alleys the sun can't get to us but once in the open, as we climb to the fort on top of the hill, we start to sweat. The climb is quite stiff. When we arrive at the main heavily fortified gateway some soldiers tell us we can't get in today because there's a crew making scenes for a movie and the prime minister is coming to the set later on. We refuse to leave because we can't come back tomorrow. After a while, we are allowed to buy tickets and they let us in. We have to pass several smaller gateways before we get to the palace. On our way to it we see lots of beautiful young women dressed up for the movie. They wear lots of jewellery and make-up. Their dressed are plain red, or yellow, or pink, or green. A little bit further sit a bunch of elder women from the city. It's a huge contrast. They are also colourfully dressed but not so brushed like those others. From the last gate, Loha Pol (iron gate), a large ramp leads up... Now we know why Meherahgarh means so much as "majestueus"! This is the perfect name for this ensemble of palaces built by several Maharadjas within different times. The walls of these palaces are beautifully decorated with jali screens, lattice or perforated patterns, who look out over the several chowks or inner courtyards. The different buildings now house several museums wherein a lot of artwork and remarkable Maharadjas' memorabilia are stored: paintings and miniatures, instruments, clothes, royal howdahs (sedan-chairs who were placed on the back of elephants) and many weapons. Be sure you visit the Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace), the Takhat Vilas with its wall murals of dancing girls and love legends and its ceiling with massive wooden beams and the curious use of colourful Belgian Christmas tree balls and the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), the most brilliant rooms of the fort, with its excellently carved woodwork, while inside waist-level niches housed oil lamps whose light would have shimmered from the mirrored ceiling! From the ramparts of the fort we have a magnificent view over the old city and the clusters of blue Brahmin houses...

The rest of the day we walk through the old city and the bazar. The people are very friendly and the childern start shouting so that we always are the centre of interest. When I enter a school the schoolmaster invites us with much enthousiasm (photo). He guides us through all the class-rooms. All the little boys and girls wear light-blue chemises and sit on the floor with their big satchels beside them. In a class-room upstairs, all the children like their photograph to be taken, so that a female school-teacher has to call for order after a while! In another class-room the children learn how to do sums in multiplication, so I write 3 x 3 = on a the big dark-green black-board and ask the little boy to come to the front and write down the solution with a white chalk. He is very shy and hesitates for one moment but he got it right! I guess he probably hasn't been nine yet. I congratulate him and say goodbye. A few blocks away I enter a courtyard where women are washing their clothes. When the little children see me the fences are down. And suddenly a beautiful, slim young girl appears and greets me in English. She wears loose-fitting red trousers and a red silk dress over it. We have a little conversation but I don't remember her name. She's sixteen years old and I never forget her lovely smile.
The rest of the afternoon we find a perfect place in the shadow on the rooftop of Govind to write our postcards and to play a game of cards. We bring our postcards to the post office to be sure they are stamped. It's dark when we return to our hotel.

The next stop on our tour is PUSHKAR, a peaceful lakeside village on the edge of the desert. Around 5:00 pm we arrive at the Pushkar Palace Hotel near India's most sacred lake. It is believed to mark the spot where a lotus thrown by Brahma, landed. Pushkar has become a pilgrim's place. All around the lake, ghats (steps) lead down to the water to enable pilgrims to bathe. You can hear noisy religious celebrations the whole night long in this once so famous hippy town so you may need your ear plugs here. For about Rs. 100 you can have an delicious dinner in the hotel. At night we sit in the cosy garden with a view over the lake and the many ghats.
The next morning we start early because we want to climb the hill behind Pushkar to visit the Savitri temple before it gets too hot. After a few steps my face is already streaming with perspiration. I haven't counted the number of stairs but i know there are many! And with a burning sun and a small rucksack (with bottles of mineral water) i can assure you, you'll sweat plentifully. I'm exhausted when I reach the top and i don't feel up to enter the little temple anymore. I just enjoy the excellent view after this long climb.
The rest of the day we wander through this lively, tourist village with its crowded bazar and many temples. One of the most striking sights is that of the saffron clad sadhus - religious, mendicant, holy men - seeking gifts of food and money to support theirselves in the final stage of life. Most of them have given up material possessions, carrying only a strip of cloth, a staff, prayer beads, a water pot and a begging bowl. Some of them are accompanied by cows. And what's so special about a cow when you see plenty of them everywhere you go? Well, these cows have five legs; one on their back or one just beside their tail, and i must say it looks weird... And than there's the annoying story about the brahmins (priests) who want tourists to go with them to offer flowers and coconuts to the holy lake. They start to ask all kinds of silly questions and finally all they want is money or a donation. I had to stay calm all the time so that I didn't push the man into the lake. And if that isn't enough already I also meet a begging badly physically handicapped woman on my way back to the hotel. It can be very distressing.
Pushkar is also very famous for its Pushkar Fair, India's greatest cattle and camel fair. So we have to go on a trip with a herd of camels. Around 4:00 pm we enter the semi-desert, wobbling on the back of a camel to see the sunset. We sit in the desert waiting for the sun to disappear, but it's a little bit cloudy. When it's dark we race back to town. And because it's full moon we've a good sight of what's in front of us. I finish third! I've done a much better job riding a camel in Jordan and Tunis than this time because auw, I wound my ass... After the camel adventure, we go to the rooftop restaurant Rainbow for dinner. They serve excellent vegetarian lasagna! The rest of the night, we enjoy the beauty of the full moon in the garden of our hotel, relaxing under the big palm trees. In the background we hear a mantra, chant for meditation, sang by a brahmin.

The next day I have a long lie. After breakfast in the garden I decide to go shopping. In Pushkar, you can buy lots of souvenirs like for example beautiful handcraft paper with nice Indian motifs, postcards, hippy clothes and many music tapes or cd's. There's also a little internet shop fromwhere you can send or receive e-mails. You pay only Rs. 3 per minute to prepare your e-mails! So if you can type fast this is the cheapest way to communicate with your friends at home. In the evening all the e-mails will be send together. If you wish to receive a reply the next day you pay about Rs. 25 per incoming e-mail. I've contacted my friends and family at home and it did work perfect. And it's much cheaper than sending a fax or to phone home. An excellent service!

Uttar Pradesh


|Agra | Mathura | Sikandra | Varanasi || Photologue|

At six o'clock in the morning we leave the pilgrim's village Pushkar and head for Agra, city of the world famous Taj Mahal. On the way we stop for breakfast and in the afternoon we arrive at FATEPHUR SIKRI, 40 km of Agra. Fatephur Sikri is a testimony to the remarkable character of the greatest Mughal emperor, Akbar. The Royal Palace houses different cloisters, kiosks and pavilions with beautiful jali screens and even gardens. Akbar was always receptive to new ideas and developed eclectic beliefs. The decorative techniques and metaphysical labels are incorporated into the palace. The architecture style is clearly Mughal, which seems a kind of mixture of Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu designs. The palace has become a real ghost town abandoned and untouched during centuries but it's a relief after a long, fatiguing bus ride. The heat is incredible. I can't recall sweating as much as I did in India. Lucky for us there's lots of shadow in the palace. Behind the Royal Palace stands the sacred section, the magnificent Jami Masjid. Shoes must be left at the enormous King's Gate before entering one of the largest mosque in India. Inside is a vast marble courtyard surrounded with pillared aisles. They've put mats on the floor because the white marble is to hot to walk over barefooted. The tombs and the mihrab are a stunning piece of craftmanship. When we leave, the porch is packed with aggressive salesmen. Getting angry at them for tugging your shirt, and asking for your attention and asking an outrageous price for some junk you don't really want, makes no use. They simply don't understand that. They are investing their precious time in you, so why get angry? Ignoring them is best ways to handle it, and any tourist in India will learn in time. By then it'll be a lot easier to select the items you want to take home.
In the evening we drive into AGRA. In the beginning we're stuck in the heavy traffic. There's a lot of smog and in some places it smells very unpleasant. One part of Agra is transformed into a tourist district with almost nothing else than hotels. We stay in the Atithi Hotel. It has air conditioning and a swimming pool. The rooms are nice but it's sultry.

Again we kick off our day at 6:00 am. After a bit of haggling we struck a bargain with the rickshaw driver. For Rs. 100 he will brind us to the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and the Baby Taj (photo). At the entrance of the Taj Mahal you can buy a combined ticket (Rs. 105 - I received an email in November 2000 telling me the fee has gone up to Rs. 600) allowing entry into three other main sites. We're about the first to enter the Taj Mahal, regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world. A first glimpse through the massive red sandstone gateway is breathtaking. Because of the misty morning it's difficult to discern the white marble of the Taj Mahal from the light-gray tint of the sky that surrounds it. And then we stand right in front of a marvelous monument. The only thing that separates us from the Taj is a long, small watercourse, spitefully without water. The poet Tagore once described the Taj as "a tear on the face of eternity", a building to echo the cry "I have not forgotten, I have not forgotten, O beloved". When the sun rises, the enduring monument to love starts to clear up its fulfilling beauty. After his wife died, the Mughal emperor became more and more involved with another love, architecture, resolving to build her the most magnificent memorial on earth. This white pearl is supported by four minarets at each corner of the plinth and flanked by two identical red sandstone buildings. The exterior ornamentation is calligraphy (verses of the Koran), beautifully carved panels in bas relief and superb inlay work. I espescially like the precious stones for the inlay; f.e. red carnelian, brown jasper, green jade and blue lapis lazuli. When you move over the surface within the tomb by placing a flashlight you can see how luminescent the marble is and the intricity of the inlay work. The red carnelian glows like a human heart, as a sign of passionate love. This is incredible beautiful. The Taj Mahal had been photographed so many times that it was almost impossible for me to come out with something stunning so I decided to shoot some asymmetric, slanting parts.
I'm glad we arrived so soon in the morning because around nine it's getting crowdy. Time to leave the scene. Agra isn't exactly a very pleasant place to stay, with all that hot and humid October weather and all the noise and pollution. Sitting in the back of a auto-rikshaw, as it rushes through the slowly moving traffic, we move on to the Agra Fort, beside the Yamuna river, the same of the Taj. There are striking similarities between the Red Fort in Delhi and that of Agra. The outer walls are faced with red sandstone and topped with pointed merlons. We stroll around a little bit randomly taking some looks at our guidebook once in a while to know what things we were seeing. The emperor that ordered the construction of the Taj in homage to his beloved wife was later imprisoned in the fort by his son and it's said he passed the rest of his life looking at the Taj from his sumptuous prison. We are lucky with the visibility conditions of the day, because sometimes it's difficult to see the Taj Mahal from the fort because of the air pollution. I knock a'bout the richly decorated halls, palaces and courtyards but I'm not in the mood to study every room.
Our next stop is at the I'timad-ud-Daulah, sometimes reffered to as the Baby Taj. It is beautifully conceived in white marble, mosaic and lattice. Unlike the Taj it is small, intimate and, because it is less frequented, has a gentle serenity.
In the afternoon we enjoy a dive into the swimming pool because it is to hot to walk around in this stinking city. Later on we take a rikshaw to Zorba the Buddha, one of the recommended restaurants in our guidebook. Although it's situated in an uncharacteristic area, it is quite a pleasant place, very quiet, resonably priced and with good vegetarian food.

The next morning we go with a Hindustan Ambassador to MATHURA, one of the most sacred cities of Hinduism. It is near 50 km from Agra and we drive about two hours. In India, you don't wanna know how far it is from one place to another but how long it takes to get there! For Vaishnavites Mathura is perhaps the supremely sacred city of India, being the reputed birthplace of Krishna, the most human aspect of Vishnu. Its religious association draws thousands of pilgrims. We visit some kind of home for widows. Two rooms filled with hundreds of women sitting on th ground praying. Their husbands died and they don't have children. Nobody takes care of them anymore. This is the first time I feel bad and even a little depressed. Standing back on the street is a relief. The Yamuna river and its ghats are the focal point for the pilgrims. Many people are begging for money and there are monkeys everywhere. Although Mathura is a sacred city, for me it is more a beggary place. We take a boat ride along the river and the bathing ghats. People wash their clothes and themselves in the water, they swim in it and even drink from it. Furthermore, the Yamuna river is one the most polluted rivers of India. I don't enjoy the boat ride because the boatsman and a little boy work theirselves into a sweat while pulling away against the stream. If you have plenty of time you can go back to Agra by boat but I don't think about it one more minute.
On the way back we stop at the fourth monument which we can enter by showing our combined ticket that we bought at the entrance of the Taj. This is the mausoleum of SIKANDRA or Akbar's Tomb. Pretty soon an old man with a cap comes to us with a story that he has guided many presidents and other important men. He shows us his business card and desperatly wants to guide us in and around the tomb. We thank him for his invitation but he won't give up. He follows us everywhere and we just ignore him... What a guy!
Akbar's tomb is an impressive, large monument surrounded by four huge gateways on each side. A gentle ramp leads down through a narrow arched passage to the tomb chamber. The decoration on the gateways is strikingly bold, with its large mosaic patterns, a forerunner of the pietra dura technique whereby recesses were cut into the bedding stone of marble or sandstone and pieces set into it.

Back at the hotel we do the same as yesterday afternoon; swimming and playing cards. In the evening we go to Only restaurant, a few minutes walk from the hotel. It has a pleasant atmosphere with live music and they serve good food.

Madhya Pradesh


|Gwalior | Datia | Orchha | Khajuraho || Photologue|

Today we enter Madhya Pradesh - the heart of India -, one of the country's least visited regions. It is difficult to understand why because in addition to some of India's most beautiful rural scenery it contains sites of outstanding historical interest and many forests. We are on our way to visit the magnificent palaces of Orchha and the exotic temples of Khajuraho. Soon we notice that this is a completely unspoilt area which we can visit without any kind of pressures. At lunch time we stop at the W of the Gwalior Fort. This hill fort of GWALIOR once was the key to control of the central provinces. We don't have much time so we decide not to lunch and to visit some temples within the complex. Above the Urwahi Gate, on both sides of the road, are many Jain sculptures hewn out of the red sandstone rocks, some up to 20 m tall. It reminds me of the fantastic rock-cut forgotten city of Petra. Inside the fort we first walk to the Sas Bahu Mandirs, "Mother and Daughter-in-law" pair of temples. They still preserve fine carvings, like for example a frieze of elephants and a few erotic scenes. These are the most interesting temples I've seen on this trip so far. Because we are short of time we move straight on the Man Mandir Palace. It's the most impressive building in the fort. The exterior walls of the palace are richly ornamented with parapets, cupolas and blue, green and yellow tilework with patterns of elephants, ducks and dancing figures. It's also possible to go two storeys underground. These places were used as refuge from hot weather or as dungeons. Nowadays this is the perfect home for a swarm of bats! We leave the fort through the Alamgiri Gate. It's a long way down.

In the afternoon we stop once more in the first town of significance on our road to Orchha. It's called DATIA. With hardly a tourist in sight it is certainly well worth visiting! Datia has several palaces and we visit the one near the edge of town. It blends Mughal and Rajput styles beautifully. Built on an uneven rocky ridge, the Govind Mandir palace has five storeys ornamented with cornices, balconies and oriel windows. In the central courtyard is a seperate five-storey structure topped by a principal dome. The inner tower is connected with the surrounding outer square of the palace by four double-storey flying bridges, completing this unusual architectural marvel. This well preserved yet deserted monument has become my favourite. From the highest level we have a fine look over the lake, some water buffaloes and the other palaces. The environment is extremely beautiful. The sun descends and the sandstone transforms into warm colours. I wish we could stay here the whole night long, but we have to move on to Orchha.

Sunday, October 11, 5:30 AM. I wake up in picturesque ORCHHA, a small village in the middle of nowhere, abandoned and somewhat neglected, set on an island on a bend in the Betwa river. This is supposed to be a beautiful day. On this day the Hindi symbol "AUM" will have a very special meaning for me. It not only looks like our number 30, it also means "good luck"! My friends wish me a happy birthday and we start our day with a walk beside the river. On one side of the river the men are washing themselves and the boys are playing and swimming, on the other side the women are also washing and cleaning their clothes. We move on to the village. A 1 km paved path links the centre of Orchha with the Lakshminarayan Temple. From the rooftop of this temple, we see the sun rise from behind the palace on the other side of town. Within the temple there are excellent murals on the walls and ceiling of the four galeries. They portray Hindu deities, scenes from the epics, historical events as well as giving an insight into domestic pleasures of royalty. Around eight, we sit and enjoy the peaceful silence on a bench on the courtyard in front of the Ram Raja Temple. A holy man - almost naked, with long black hair and a painted face - is walking circles around the temple. There's a ceremony going on within this pink house of God. We buy cold mineral water - it's very hot - and some small bronze statues - as souvenirs - in the small bazar (photo), which is nothing more than a few narrow streets, before we enter the Chaturbhuj Temple, a few steps from the Ram Raja Temple courtyard. We climb up one of the corner staircases - steep and uneven - which lead up, by stages, to the very top of the temple. On the third level we decide to access the tiny balconies which provide privilegd seating and a good view over the centre of the village. Two little boys have followed us. As we sit to play cards we give them some Rupees to get us some cold drinks. A few minutes later they return with five cold Pepsi Cola. Of course they can keep the change. This is the first day I win most of the games. But then of course, my friends probably let me win today! At noon, we're on the move again. Orchha contains three palaces, each built by succeeding Maharadjas, surrounded with many temples. We enter the medieval fort palace, the Raj Mahal. The palace has plain outer walls, surmounted by chhattris (umbrella shaped dome or pavillion). Through the many hidden staircases we can climb up to the top. The view across the palaces with their chhattris and ornamented battlements, elevated above the surrounding wooded countryside, is enchanting. Orchha is a largely untouched island in peace and calm. All around, the forest is encroaching on the numerous tombs and monuments. The royal chambers of this palace have some fine murals from Hindu mythology on ceilings and walls which are strong and vivid. The Raj Mahal is amazingly beautiful. Because it's my birthday I make a reservation in the Sheesh Mahal inside the fort. I would be fun to have a table on the rooftop terrace this evening. It will be arranged. We spend the rest of the afternoon walking around in the beautiful countryside, hunting for souvenirs and playing cards in the shadow of a ruined temple.
After a cold shower in the Orchha Resorts, we go, properly dressed, to the restaurant in the Sheesh Mahal. It's already dark on our way to town. I - and not only I - am totaly surprised when we enter the colonnaded porch on the roof. There's only one table for five and lots and lots of candlelights. Did I tell somebody this is my birthday or did I miss something? The manager brings a birthday cake and tells me he has send somebody to another town this afternoon to get it for me. I'm speechless and shy. How did he know? My friends are as much surprised as I am. When I ask for the menu he tells me everything is taken care of. First there's soup, a starter and then the main dish. It's very delicious Indian food. Delightful and tasty, and too much of course! Cecile, Sofie and Maarten offer me another present. Guess what? A luxurious edition of the Kama Sutra, Amorous Man & Sensuous Woman! What can I say? I very much enjoyed this day...

This morning, I have a long lie-in. I take breakfast under a big tree in the garden of the hotel. Around 10:00 am our bus leaves. Today we're off to Khajuraho. It's a short trip but because of the bad condition of the road it takes about six hours. In India, you don't calculate distances in kilometers but in time! There's only one traffic lane and they apply the law of the strongest. If a big truck approaches from the opposite direction our bus has to clear the road, so we zigzag along the road all the time. Walking beside the road a group a barefooted women, in brightly coloured saris, carry the most incredible burden on their heads while little children tug at mother's skirts. Carts pulled by camels are improbable high heap up. The landscape is very green with rocky and forested crags, little lakes, rice-fields and picturesque villages.
At five o'clock we arrive at Payal Hotel in KHAJURAHO. It lays N of the centre in a peaceful environment. The name Khajuraho is derived from khajura - date palm, which growly freely in the area. As soon as we've put our bags in the rooms we hire bicycles to explore what this area has to offer. There's almost no traffic so it's very nice and relaxing. We cycle to Rajnagar, a little village 5 km to the norht of Khajuraho. Just before the village there's a lake where women are washing and children are playing (photo). We stop and take a break on the ghats near the water, enjoying the activity of the little children and the sunset. It's nice to shoot some photographs too. When it grows dark we cycle back to the centre and the bazar of Khajuraho. We decide to go an Italian restaurant tonight. Mediterraneo has been recommended. It's a rooftop restaurant and they have excellent pasta. It reminds me of Govind in Jodhpur because this is also a place where tourists meet and greet.

We kick off the day at 6 o'clock in the morning. We jump on our bicycles and cycle to the entrance of the Western Group. The ticket office just opens when we arrive so we're the first to enter. The entrance fee is only Rs. 5. The temples are in a peaceful setting of a beautiful park with lots of different flowers. The first temple to visit is the Lakshmana Temple. The exterior is richly carved. The platform has friezes of hunting and battle scenes with soldiers, elephants and horses as well as scenes from daily life including the erotic. I don't think that the temple fatigue is likely to set in quickly because it's amazingly impressive! The temple is tall, raised on a high platform with an ambulatory path around the pyramidal tower. There are carvings everywhere you look and each one is different. The rising sun colours the stones warm-hearted red. The basement again has bands of carvings - friezes showing animals, soldiers, acrobats, musicans, dancers, gods and goddesses, sensual lovers and deities. As we walk through the garden, we notice that it is well kept. The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple and the Jagadambi Temple are both on the same platform. The first one is the largest and tallest of the Khajuraho temples. There are nearly 900 statues of gods, goddesses and erotic groupings carved in stones of different colours. The erotic scenes appeal to one's imagination and indicate that sexual behaviour often go hand in hand with a certain amount of acrobatics! The postures are not always as ordinary or obvious. They disarm sexual frankness and candour, without any trace of guilt. The sculpters weren't so prudish during the 11th century, I guess. The erotic scenes also have very much in common with the famous Kama Sutra - the classical love manual, a watershed in the rich tradition of Indian erotica. It says to the world: "Happiness and sexual equality belong to every human being". In reality, the temples have a very indirect association with the Kama Sutra because the book is written long after the temples were built in the 11th century. But the temples really live up to their reputation, creating a photographer's paradise to shoot a lot of details. Who says Khajuraho is not synonymous with erotic sculpture?
The other temples of the Western Group are similar in design and plan with rising sikharas (tower) and three bands of sculpture on the wall. All the temples are heavily and ornately decorated. The niches outside have numerous deities, sura-sundaris or apsaras (celestial beauties and/or dancers) and divine couples. Being among these temples is being surrounded by the history of India. It is a good idea to go so early in the morning because of the tranquillity of the temple area, and the surrounding village.
We have breakfast at Raja Café - in opposite of the Western Group - before we cycle back to Rajnagar, the village where we went yesterday evening. Today it's particulary interesting because villagers congregate for the Tuesday market. It's very crowdy. The little childern are obtrusive and call for "pen, pen" all the time. As we stroll along the stalls, the sweat is running off our faces. The sun burns and I'm glad to find some shadow to relax. After a while three little boys lead us to an old ruined fort-palace. Nowadays, it houses a school. The little children are very enthusiastic about seeing us and they come out of the dark classrooms to greet us, but of course, the teacher recalls them. They all sit on the cold floor, beside their big satchel filled with lots of books and notebooks. They still use white chalk to write on a small slate and have to wipe the slate clean after each new sum or sentence. The only light that enters the classrooms is the light that drops in through the windows and door. It's all very primitive. There're even classes sitting outside.

On our way back, we follow a small path into nature until we find a place to relax in the shadow of a big tree. As we stop a few Indian men come out of nowhere. They just keep standing there staring at us, so we decide to move on again. I guess you can almost never be alone in this country. After we change some money in the local bank in Khajuraho we cycle to the Vamama Temple, one of the Eastern Group. The walls are adorned with sensuous sura-sundaris (celestial nymphs) but erotic sculptures are not prominent. There are lots of little children on the platform so the women among us are willing to play and dance with them as shown onto the carvings. I start a conversation with a 19 years old boy who wants to become a guide. He perfectly speaks English and maintains that he also speaks Italian, Spanish, French and even Japanese. He's trying to get a scholarship to go to Paris after a few years to finish his study in Indian history. He tells me a lot about the culture of the temples in this area and he offers me to be our guide in his village nearby. Before we enter the village we first visit the Javari Temple with its tall, slender sikhara. It has a highly decorated doorway and finely sculpted figures on the walls. I especially like this temple because it stands lonely on open land. The boy shows me the different gods and goddesses and several erotic scenes from which you can conclude that women wanted more from men by seducing them. On the other side of the temple it is the other way around; men seducing women. After the boy has shown us his village we move on to the rest of the Eastern Group, three Jain temples standing within an enclosure wall. I find them less interesting so I cycle down a path off the road to the southern Duladeo Temple. This temple also stands on open land. It isn't a very interesting temple but the setting is attractive at sunset. So I have to wait a little bit longer. In the mainwhile I write my dairy. It's a beautiful way to end this day overflown with Indian culture.



Exactly at 5 o'clock in the morning we leave for a long and exhausting trip to India's most sacred city, VARANASI. The first part of the road is pretty good but then it only get worse. The bus shakes from the left to the right, up and down, so mind your head! On our way we stop at a dhaba, a small hut beside the road where truck-drivers stop to rest on the with ropes made beds and to drink tea. Most of the time these beds stand in the open air around the hut. The countryside we drive through is very beautiful and green. Many tints colour the landscape. There are many rice-fields and now and then we see a farm near the road. The yellow ochre colour of the loam houses and dry straw form a beautiful pattern with all the various greens.
Against all expectations we arrive at the Hindustan International Hotel before dark. This is the closest four-stars hotel to the Ganga river. This probably is the most expensive hotel of the whole trip. After a cold shower we consider how we gonna discover the holiest city of India tomorrow. Thereafter we walk to the Poonam Restaurant. Rickshaws waiting near hotel gates are determined to extort as much as possibel from visitors, so walk a little before hiring, then negotiate. Varanasi is the most hectic, and dirty, city that I have seen during this holiday. You have to be very careful that you don't get run over. What strikes one most is that the bicycle-rickshaws have more than one cycle bell on their front wheel. Some of them even have four cycle bells. You can imagine what kind of orchestra this is! They use one hand to brake and the other to ring his bell. The front of the restaurant has a colonial look. Inside it's clean and there's plenty of choice on the menu. The service is pretty fast. As soon as they see you're finished eating they come and get your plate, even if your friends are still eating. It's probably because Indian people don't take time to eat. Everything has to go as fast as possible. They even bring the bill without it's been asked for.

Varanasi - or Banaras - is one of the holiest cities in India, and lies on the banks of the Ganga River. Very early in the morning, at 5:00 am, we take a auto-rickshaw to the Desaswamedh Ghat to see the activities going on at the ghats. The busy street leading to the ghat is so crowded that it is almost impossible for vehicles to go through the waves of human wall. Finally we get down on foot to reach the holy river. The ghats are covered with all kinds of parasols and high sticks with baskets wherein little lights burn. The view of the river is fantastic, especially during the early hours. Small little boats and the row of buildings along the bank disappear into the misty distance as they follow the curve of this holy river. Men and women, the olds and the youngs, all come to bath in the holy river before the day breaks. Bathing here is regarded as being almost as meritorious as making the sacrifice. It has become somewhat of a tradition to take a boat ride along the river and the bathing ghats for the sunrise. It is a very pleasant way to start the day. Men tend to wear loincloths while most women bathe discretely still wearing their saris. Other people are praying, immersing themselves into the dirty water, or offering water to the sun while leaf-boat lamps are floated down the river. Again others are washing their clothes... And the rowers work theirselves into a sweat while pulling away against the stream.
Further down, there are some cremation processes that seem to go on forever. You can ride the boat almost up to the Harishchandra Ghat, though out of respect for the dead, the boatman will not row very close to the ghats. For Hindus, it is most people's dream to have their ashes thrown into the sacred Ganga river after they die. Varanasi is well-known for its smashan or burning ghats, where the cremations are performed. Though the Indians regard it as a holy river, I am skeptical and find that the water is badly polluted. They have their cremation here and for those without money to buy wood, their bodies are simply thrown into the river. Never would I go for a holy bath nor touch the water. The town is also famous as a place where bathing on the public ghats is considered a religious occasion. Near the ghats, you can see many holy men, called sadhus, who beg for money and offer prayers, and who sell assorted religious beads, icons, etc. The foggy sunshine early in the morning clears to produce a beautiful light. The golden ray of the rising sun sidelightes the whole scenery to look like an artistic oil painting mystified by the morning haze. There are several former Maharadja palaces and temples behind the ghats. At Assi Ghat the boat makes a turn and takes us back downstream. We pass Man Mandir Ghat, one of the oldest Maharadja palaces in Varanasi, and Manikarnika Ghat, the most sacred cremation ghat. It's forbidden to take photographs.
As we go back ashore, we move further on foot making our way through the great maze of narrow alleys. It's a little bit claustrophobic but then again, we have a guide who leads us to the interesting places. In Varanasi you can go around it anymore; in this chaotic city you are confronted with the dizzying din of the crowds, praying pilgrims, the poverty and the beggars, the dirt, cow pats and the funeral piles. And that's even only what the eyes see. The contrast of the delicious smells - f.e. frankincense - and the stench of the bazars awaken your senses. And then the heat... Your awareness operates at a heightened level in Varanasi. We pass the heavily garded Gyanvapi Mosque which is built on the foundations of an original Hindu temple. Because many people wanna pull down this mosque and to prevent vandalism it is surrounded with barbed wire and many police and military men. The mosque isn't accessible for non-believers. Nearby, we get a glimpse of the gold plating on the roof of another temple. Our guide leads us through the lanbyrinth of the old town. Finally we reach Shiva Guest House where we have breakfast on the covered terrace. It's a place where many tourists meet but strange enough I can't find it in any guidebook. It is near the Ganga river and it looks nice to stay if you're searching a hotel near the ghats. I don't think I could find it again through the narrow, crowded streets without a guide.

In the late afternoon we go to Assi Ghat for a boat ride to Ramnagar, across the river. It's only a few kilometers away from Varanasi but it takes more than an hour to get there. It's a hell of a job for the rowers because it's a battle against the stream. They almost sweat theirselves to death. It's a lot easier on the way back. We get off at a burning ghat. I won't get into details of what I saw back there...

I return to Delhi by train. It takes about 15 hours but they pass fast if you sleep. Good luck, you'll have a wonderful time! Be patient and don't mind the heat. Eat vegetarian, it's safer. India is a fascinating experience, that as soon as you get home, you will want to return!

This is a non-profit web page. All the establishments mentioned in this travelogue are places I've been to and which I would like to recommend to people who like to travel around in the northern part of India. I hope you'll enjoy your visit as much as I have!

I would especially like to thank my dear friends — Sophie, Maarten and Cecile — who joined me on this trip.

Travelogue and photographs by Joël Neelen © November1998. All Rights Reserved.