So strange and exciting to write you this from the other side of the planet! I just arrived in Singapore, after a 14-hour flight. It is currently 5:20am here, versus 11:20pm in France.
I took advantage of the past few days to take some quality time with family and friends, and to enjoy my favorite food before a 2-month detox : cheese (the famous "raclette", that we must organize together when you will all come to France), wine and chocolate... i already miss it!
I will stay at Maryse's home, a very dear friend from prépa, who studies here for the semester. She will introduce me to the city-state in the following days, and then we plan to visit together the Tioman island, accessible with the boat, and the city of Malacca, Malaysia.
Then I will go and find Melina, a friend from Milan, in Kuala Lumpur. We hope to take part in the hindu celebration of Deepavali, the Lights festival (it litterally means "aligned lamps" in sanskrit), that happens on October 24th in all Malaysia. We will then wander in the peninsula, but we have no fixed plan yet.
On November 1st, I will fly to New Delhi, India, then go up of ca. 200km North-East to reach Rishikesh, a village located down the Himalaya (alt. 359m) to follow my yoga classes from November 2nd to November 27th. Then, I will visit the North of the country, probably doing part of the path with Apo, before flying back to France on December 20th. Again, no precise route defined yet, I wait for locals and travelers to share their recommendations with me... :)
That's how the itinerary looks as of today! I cannot wait to share with you my aventures❤
Yesterday was my 6th and last day in Singapore!
In general, I think it is a very nice place to live: the city is lively until late, very clean and full of tropical vegetation, that goes well together with the vertiginously high towers. You can eat delicious food from all-over South-eastern Asia, and the population is very multicultural, which makes it easy to blend in.
However, as any semblance of utopia, the other side of the coin can be frightening: if you don't follow the rules, you risk punishments ranging from fines, to caning, to death penalty. Phone numbers are posted in the streets or in the public transports to denunce the fellow citizens that would have eaten chewing-gum (1,000$), threw paper on the ground (5,000$) or... fed pigeons (10,000$). Hence the famous joke: well, Singapore... it's a fine place!
On Friday, after a long post-flight nap, Maryse and I went for a walk in the central business district and around Marina Bay, named after the emblematic hostel of Singapore. There, we could admire the water and lights show that takes place every evening.
On Saturday, we went for a 12km walk around MacRitchie, a water reservoir supplying Singapore. We could observe lots of monkey families and giant lizards, among others! Then on Sunday, we did a bike tour in the natural reserve of Pulau Ubin, an island North-East of the main island.
During the week, Maryse had classes so I walked a lot around the different neighborhoods, following her recommendations.
In Chinatown, I visited a buddhist temple hosting (they say) a tooth of Buddha, and tasted the typical Singaporean breakfast: toasts with kaya (the local Nocciolata, a spread made of sweet coconut milk), eggs and coffee.
In Little India, I walked across the perfumed flower and spices markets. The quarter was specially decorated for Deepavali, the hindu festival of lights.
I also really liked Katong and its colorful shophouses, and the Gardens by the bay with their futurist tree-shape constructions covered with climbing plants. We admired the open air show of the "trees" that illuminate at night.
Yesterday, we woke up at 5:30 for a yoga class at sunrise, on the top of the Marina Bay Sands hostel with Maryse and Amélie. The yoga class was quite challenging as we practiced inversions and backbends; a good warm up for November's training!
My only small regret is not having tasted (yet?) the Singapore Sting, a cocktail that was invented here, in the bar of the Raffles hostel. Also on the to-taste list, the durian, a fruit from here that stinks so much that it is forbidden in public transports!
We took the bus this morning to Malacca, where we will arrive at noon.
I miss you !! Xxx ❤
Maryse, Amelie and I spent 3 days in the oldest city in Malaysia, Malacca.
Situated in a strategic position, close to the strait that bears its name, Malacca was successively colonised by: the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, and the Japanese. Each of them contributed to the architecture of the "Red Square", gateway to the city centre, invaded by the musical and kitschy bicycle-tuktuks.
We walked from temple to temple in Chinatown, then walked through its night market which lined up stalls selling exotic fruits, counterfeit perfumes, chicken or squid brochettes, jewellery, coconut ice cream...
We tasted the mango sticky rice, a Thai specialty: imagine Maria's coconut rice, with mango on the top... oops, I am now an addict!!
On Saturday, we went up to the ruins of St Paul's church, then visited a Baba Nyonya house (baba are the men and nyonya the women of the Peranakan community, which is descended from the union of Malay women with the Chinese merchants who arrived in the British colonies of the straits, in Malacca, Penang and Singapore). We walked along the river between houses covered with street art, then to a mosque overlooking the sea, from which we hoped to see the sunset. We had a huge storm instead ! In the evening, we went out to dance with Malaysian and European people we met at the youth hostel.
The next day, we went to see another Peranakan house, which Ibrahim, the last surviving of the 12 children of the builder of the house, showed us. I think this was the tour we all liked best, very touching and full of history. We had a long chat about our families and he made us sign the guest book, which is about 20 volumes long!
This is how the trip with Maryse and Amélie ended... We each took our respective buses back to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on Sunday afternoon
I arrived Sunday evening in Kuala Lumpur (KL to the friends).
The capital of Malaysia is located at the crossroads of the Klang and Gomak rivers, hence its name which literally means "muddy confluence". As in Singapore and Malacca, several ethnicities and religions coexist here; it is an amazing mix of temples, mosques, small old-fashioned shops and huge modern towers. It is also less green and more effervescent than Malacca.
We met up with Melina and walked among the fireworks launched at midnight for Deepavali all over the streets. The next day, we walked around Chinatown, where we admired the Taoist and Buddhist temples. We also visited the beautiful Hindu temple of Sri Maha Mariamman where a Deepavali ceremony was taking place. We went through two night markets, the one of Jalan Petaling rather dedicated to counterfeits, then the one of Jalan Alor, close to our home, for street food. I finally tasted a fried durian ! Verdict: not a fan, I'm definitely more into mango sticky rice.
On Tuesday, we got up very early to go to Batu cave, a limestone cave in which a Hindu temple is dedicated to Muruga, the Hindu deity of youth and beauty, symbolized by the peacock. We attended one of the wedding ceremonies (Hindu weddings are usually celebrated over several days), during which a young couple exchanged flowers, oranges and other offerings in front of the family and friends.
Then we headed to the centre, to Merdeka square ("Merdeka" means "independence"), where the British flag was lowered in 1963 and replaced by the Malaysian flag. There are also the flags of the 13 states and 3 federal territories of Malaysia. We visited the oldest mosque of the city, which dates from... 1909, very beautiful and matching the palace of the sultan next to it. Finally, we went to Little India, then to KL city centre, where the Petronas towers gave us vertigo, both from the bottom and from the top, from the rooftop bar where we had a drink.
We left by bus this morning for the next stop, the Cameron Highlands. As the name suggests, the Highlands are a little higher up, in the Titiwangsa mountain range. The region is famous for its tea plantations. We will arrive there around 1pm!
We just spent three days with Melina in the Cameron Highlands, North of the peninsula. We stayed in a cosy guesthouse in Tanah Rata, at about 1400m. Here, the atmosphere is cooler and quieter than in the capital, and it was a welcome excuse to take time to cocoon, read, and enjoy long chats over fruit juice or tea.
Many Malaysians come here for family holidays. There are few Europeans, and several tourists have asked us to take pictures with them..! It's weird the first time, but it was also a good opportunity to chat a bit. Two cute grandmas who were on holiday with their big family taught us how to say "I love you" in Malay: saya cinta awak! ❤
The region is famous for its tea plantations, which offer a hilly panorama with beautiful shades of green. We visited those of the BOH Tea brand, which provides about 70% of the country's production.
Strawberries are the other main crop of the area (by the way, the greenhouses disfigure the landscape a bit), they are available in many kitsch and funny objects in the souvenir shops. I loved the strawberry earmuffs... there are also little strawberry tables and chairs, very Animal Crossing, in the streets and shops.
In the Lavender Garden, we saw lavender plants from Taiwan, with flowers a bit different from those found in Europe! We tasted the lavender ice cream, and the honey from the Bee Farm hives.
We also enjoyed a bit of "wilder" nature, during a hike in the jungle, to climb the Gurung Berambun mountain (1840m)! We walked through hundred-year-old tree roots, banana leaves, giant ferns... We didn't come across many animals, except for a giant lizard that sheltered from the rain under a fallen trunk, and some huge (scary) black millipedes with red legs. The monsoon that usually arrives in the early afternoon got us, and we came back to the hostel all wet and full of mud. That's part of the adventure!
We took the bus back to Kuala Lumpur this afternoon, and we'll already be parting ways tomorrow. Méli is going to meet some of her grandparents' friends in Vietnam, and I am flying to India! The yoga training starts on November 2nd. I can't wait!
Big hugs to you all ❤
I am writing to you from the air and by the time you read this message, I will have arrived in India! 🇮🇳
Apart from my neighbour spilling his orange juice on my shoes, the flight is going very well! I use this time to read a travel guide and plan the trip a bit.
I will land in Delhi around 00:30, then I will go to Rishikesh (we share a taxi with Carolin, a German girl who arrives at the same time at the airport), where I will follow my training until November 27th. Below is a map so you can see, I have underlined in green the cities where I will go after the retreat (or during the retreat for those close to Rishikesh, as there are no yoga classes on weekends!)
For the classes, the typical day starts at 6am (!! will be tough) and there will be 4 hours of hatha and vinyasa yoga practice, 1.5 hours of anatomy class, 2 hours of philosophy and 1 hour of meditation each day.
I will have wi-fi, but I think I will disconnect a bit more than the last few weeks, and connect during weekends.
I'll be thinking about you from here!
I left the Triguna Yoga Ashram this morning, not without emotion... Below is a summary of the last few weeks!
A typical day looked like this:
5:30am wake up
6am-7.30pm Hatha yoga in the dome at sunrise
7.30-8.30am shatkarma or pranayama
8:30-9am mantra chanting
10-11:30 am philosophy
1pm-3pm lunch break
16h-17h30 Ashtanga yoga on the roof of the ashram, at sunset
5:30-6pm tea break
The first three days were all about cleansing the body and mind: a different shatkarma, or yogic cleansing, every morning, followed by an acupressure and emotional detox session in the evening after classes.
The shatkarmas sometimes felt strange: sinus cleansing with a small latex tube to pass between the nostril and the throat, and a sort of cup to make salt water go from one nostril to the other; stomach deacidification by drinking salt water and vomiting it on an empty stomach; mud baths on the eyes (not done as I have sensitive eyes) and stomach to clear up digestion; and an intestinal enema to clean out our large intestine (and complete the group bonding around this definitely special experience).
The emotional detox consisted of working in pair to massage some muscle points on the legs connected to other parts of the body. I really liked it, it was painful but I felt so relaxed afterwards!
In the following days, the yogic cleansings were replaced by pranayama (breathing exercises), and the emotional detox by anatomy and meditation classes.
We changed the style of meditation every night: ecstatic dance, singing, shouting, animal noises, laughter yoga, concentration on breathing or on a candle, Tibetan bowls... It was very interesting, sometimes funny and sometimes a bit trying. I gave up two of them along the way, one which consisted in loud hyperventilation, the other in making a succession of strange sounds to free the chakras. When the meditation suited me well (personal top 3 is: dance, Tibetan bowls and laughter), I felt great clarity of mind and energy, and often spent time reading or writing afterwards.
All meals were vegetarian and balanced according to the principles of ayurveda (alternative medicine of nutrition, you can check this link if you are interested: https://www.ayurveda.com/ayurveda-a-brief-introduction-and-guide/).
Here is my personal best of the yum-yums we had: kheer (rice with coconut milk and spices), aloo paratha (salted pancakes), poha (yellow rice with spices, lemon and cashew nuts), sabudana khichdi (salted tapioca pearls), chapati (a kind of flat round bread similar to naan), besan halwa (cashew dessert), palak saag (tofu with spinach), palak paneer (a kind of cheese in a spicy sauce with raisins and cashew nuts), kachori (thin, salted fritters with a honey-syrup sauce).
We also took a cooking class on a Sunday afternoon with some friends of the ashram. On the menu: dahl (lentil soup), dosa (a kind of pancake/brick leaf with a mixture of cumin potato and curry leaves inside), tamarind chutney and chai masala. Yummy!
Four of us celebrated our birthdays during the training; on those evenings we ate cake, danced and sang outside under the full moon or around a fire. I like this way of celebrating: early (everyone in bed by 11pm maximum to be in shape for the sun salutations) and without alcohol! Mine was the first one, the surprise really moved me, it will be a memorable birthday... Prakash and Samadhi (the "bosses" of the ashram) offered me a book of poems by Rabindranath Tagore, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Saturdays were special days, as we gave our own classes! We were split into three groups of 5 and each of us taught the other students in their group. This was a lot of yoga in one day.
Sunday was a day of rest (yay!), and we slept in, then everyone did whatever they felt like: music, reading, shopping in Rishikesh, etc. Prakash and Samadhi organised a trip to a temple a little higher up the mountain once, to see the sunrise over the Himalayas... what a magical moment!
On the 24th of November we had our practical exam: everyone prepared and gave a 45min class. On the 25th, it was the written exam, followed by the closing ceremony. Everyone passed their certification, we chanted mantras around a fire and celebrated (again!) Then we exchanged hugs (and sometimes a few tears) with those who already left for their home. Several of us are staying in Rishikesh for a few days before travelling to the rest of India, so we will probably meet again.
We reached the city this morning with Carolin, Monja and Hanne in a tuktuk, with whom I will be travelling in Rajahstan next.
We will spend two days in Rishikesh, before leaving by nightbbus for Jaipur on Sunday evening!
Rishikesh, the "city of seekers" (rishi = wise person / seeker) is a quite touristy city, where it feels good to take some time for yourself, do yoga and meditate. Hippies from all over the world wander around in sarouels from vegan restaurants to lithotherapy shops.
It is funny because Indian tourists, who spend the weekend here with friends, come for different reasons than westerners on a "spiritual quest": in Rishikesh, the atmosphere is more relaxed than in the rest of India, so they can smoke, drink and party, which is forbidden in other states. Two rooms, two atmospheres. The Indians we met are generally very friendly, nice and curious (sometimes intrusive? I'm always a bit abrupt when they ask me if I'm married), and we have the opportunity to learn a bit more about the politics and culture of the country while chatting!
We spent 2 days in Rishikesh, the time to "digest" the yoga retreat before the rest of the trip, and to have the holes in my backpack fixed.
We attended the Ganga Aarti, the ceremony of lights on the Ganga, and visited the Maharishi ashram where the Beatles were introduced to transcendental meditation. I also tried a sound healing session, and an ayurveda consultation.
We took the overnight sleeper bus on Sunday evening. Indian night buses are: sooo fancy! They make Flixbus look bad... Our bus even arrived on time, and we are now in Jaipur with Hanne and Carolin since this morning (Monday).
Our first stop in Rajahstan, the "land of kings", was Jaipur, founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. It is the first planned city in India, organised in 9 squares, each of them corresponding to a planet in Indian astrology.
Jaipur is just like its inhabitants: aesthetic and elegant, with its old city made of pink sandstone (actually, most of it was white qt first, and painted in pink, the colour of hospitality, during the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1876), but also very lively and intense, with incessant horns and street vendors very motivated to sell us their puppets, jewels, paintings... Jaipur's buildings are a refined blend of Rajput (Hindu) and Mughal (Islamic) styles.
On the first day, we visited the Wind Palace (Hawa Mahal), that used to house the women of the court (or rather the maharaja's harem). We then walked through the Jantar Mantar, the maharaja's astronomical observatory, strolled through Tripoli bazaar, and finally climbed Ishwar Lat, a tower built by the son of the founder of Jaipur, from where we admired the beautiful view on the whole city at sunset.
On the second day, we enjoyed the quiet and sacred atmosphere at the Gaitore Ki Chhatriyan, "the last resting place of the souls of the departed", a garden hosting the cenotaphs of the maharajas, made of carved white marble. We made friends with our tuktuk driver, Asif, who drove us to the Amber Fort, very impressive and overlooking the old city. He then took us to Nahargarh Fort, where we had a sunset drink with Asif and Savi, an Indian we met at the hostel. On the way back, we marveled at the Jal Mahal, a palace on the water, and its reflexion on the Man Sagar lake.
On the last day, we visited the City Palace, then the girls went shopping, and I stayed to draw and write in the museum café. Finally, for our last evening, Savi took us to a very nice street food restaurant (street food not in the street is nice to avoid food poisoning..!)
Then we said goodbye to Hanne who flew back to Madeira, and Carolin and I left to catch our overnight bus to Agra. We will stay there for the day only, before heading to Pushkar.
We arrived in Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal, in the night from Dec 1 to Dec 2. The night was very short, we got up at 6 to visit the Taj Mahal as soon as it opened. We met Moonie (Monja) there, who had stayed in Rishikesh while we were in Jaipur!
My first idea was that the Taj Mahal was a tourist attraction, a must-see because it's a wonder of the world, but with nothing special; in the end, I was really impressed by the atmosphere that prevailed there. The surprise effect when you pass the red sandstone door that hides the Taj, the morning mists and the sunrise on the palace, and finally the mausoleum room where Mumtaz Mahal (the wife of maharaja Shah Jahan, for whom he built the monument) and Shah Jahan rest, almost made me cry.
Another emotional moment was the dinner at Sheroes hangout café, run by women survivors of acid attacks. It still happens in India: if a man wants to marry you and you refuse, or if you get pregnant out of wedlock, or some other event that 'dishonours' your family, they will buy over-the-counter vitriol and throw it in your face. At least 300 attacks are still reported yearly... the profit from the restaurant and shop goes to facial surgery for the victims and their professional rehabilitation. Here is their instagram page: https://instagram.com/sheroes_hangout?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
We then left, still by night bus, to Pushkar, where we arrived on Friday morning.
Pushkar is a holy city of Hinduism, where one can find the only temple of the country dedicated to Brahma (one of the 3 major Hindu gods, with Vishnu and Krishna). It is built on a lake surrounded by ghats: the steps from which one descends to perform the daily puja ritual (offerings to the gods and prayers) on the lake. I met Kuldeep, a future brahmin (hindu priests), with whom we exchanged a lot about the rituals that punctuate his daily life and the religions.
It is also a very quiet city, relatively unpolluted, with little traffic. Many hippie westerners spend several weeks or months there. We met a lady who grew up in Versailles and went to the same high school as I did (!), now a designer of silver jewellery and clothes; a girl from Québec who got lockdowned there and finally stayed there, and an English motorbike-lover and author who wrote a book about her own lockdown experience in Rishikesh.
We took some chill days, went on a hike to a temple on a hill overlooking the lake, and admired the view from the many restaurants and rooftop bars in the city.
We also saw a number of wedding processions, since we are now in the high season. According to the moon calendar, November and December are auspicious months to get married. It is also convenient because they are cooler and less rainy than the rest of the year. We watched women in colourful saris dancing with the bride-to-be in the streets up to the temple, while the groom arrives on the other side of the town on a richly decorated horse, surrounded by men in festive robes and turbans, playing music and stuffing money into all his pockets, for a prosperous marriage. It was very beautiful (and loud!)
Caro and I arrived in Udaipur on Saturday night, exactly at the same time as... the country delegations taking part in the G20 Sherpa Committee, from 4 to 7 December! The "real" G20 will be held in Delhi in September 2023, the first one in India. The main tourist attractions are therefore closed and guarded by the police; but we could still enjoy the atmosphere of this beautiful city.
Surrounded by seven lakes (artificial, which serve as water reserves), Udaipur has a Venice-like charm, and we wandered in the narrow streets, lined with art galleries, beautiful old-fashioned houses, jewelers and tailors. We also saw a beautiful show of traditional Rajahstan dances. So far, Udaipur is my favourite Indian city!
The surroundings also offer sublime landscapes, which we admired during a hike to the Monsoon palace. Its name comes from its strategic position which allowed at the time to see the clouds coming. On the way back, we took a different path, more in the nature, on which we learnt afterwards that there were man-eating panthers..! We have been lucky!!
Also, it was too good to be true: I finally got food poisoning yesterday... I spent a hectic night and a day in bed (during which I could write this little newsletter!). I'm now recovered, and Carolin left a few hours ago to go back to Germany.
I have a day to myself tomorrow, I'll probably visit the City Palace which has reopened. Then I'll go to Jaisalmer, in the west of India, where I'll meet Monja!
For the rest of the itinerary, we will stay a few days in Jaisalmer with Monja, then go together to Jodhpur. I'd also like to visit Khajuraho and Varanasi before the end of the trip, then spend a few days in Delhi from where I'm flying back!
Big hugs ❤
Jaisalmer was founded in 1156 by the Rajput prince Rawal Jaisal (who gave it his name!), on the entrance of the Thar Desert, very west of India. The heart of the city is a fortress surrounded by ramparts. The buildings are made of finely chiselled golden limestone, and the rooftops, often transformed into restaurants, allow one to admire the city in all its splendour, inside and outside the walls, the lake, and the desert in the distance.
We met up with Moonie and wandered between the Jain temples and the camel hair scarf sellers. At sunset, we took a ride on the lake in a beautiful (kitschy) pedal-hippo.
The next morning, I went to the hospital (!) with Ba, the gentleman from the hotel: his baby dog bit me, and I was afraid I might have a chance to get rabies... Finally the doctors confirmed that there was no risk (because no blood). And Ba, while we were there, went to see a dentist. I was surprised to learn that the medical consultation was 100% reimbursed by the Indian state!
In the afternoon, we left for an excursion in the desert. After a short camel ride, we admired the sunset over the dunes, then had dinner by the fire with a German couple and our two Indian guides. Between nightfall and moonrise, we were able to observe the stars, some planets and the Milky Way.
Then we slept under the stars, it was a bit cold despite the two blankets. We woke up at sunrise in a breathtaking silence, very appreciated after the incessant agitation and noise of Indian cities. Finally, we returned to the village for 11am.
We boarded our first train of the trip this afternoon, on our way to Jodhpur! We are in 3rd class, which is quite comfortable, with a pillow and sheets provided.
The conclusions of the bus/train comparative study are as follows:
- the night bus is quieter, and allows more "privacy" because you can close your cabin; which also means less risk of falling. It's good for sleeping, anyway it's the only thing you can do as there are usually no plugs, sometimes no lights and it's much more shaky;
- the train is more entertaining, you can admire the landscape through the open door between the cars (like in The Darjeeling Limited or in Steve McCurry's pictures!). You can also do activities such as reading or going to the toilet, both of which are not possible on the night bus;
- on the bus as on the train, choose the top bunks to avoid your upstairs neighbour spilling his chai on your head.
So much for the news. Xx ❤
Monja and I spent one day together in Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajahstan (after Jaipur), founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha.
We explored the Narhangarh fort, and the old town with its houses all painted blue, the colour of god Shiva; this used to mean that the families belonged to the Brahmin caste (the priests, the highest caste).
Then Monja went back to Udaipur, and I stayed another day in Jodhpur. I spent the afternoon in the workshop of Vijay, a miniature painter, who (tried to) introduce me to his technique!
On Wednesday 14th evening, I took the bus back to Agra, where I met Apo, my former roommate from Milan, and Greg, whom she was studying with in Ahmedabab. I was so happy to meet her again and to share our impressions and experiences of this incredible country!
We visited Fatehpur Sikri together. The city had been chosen by Mughal emperor Akbar to set up his court, and finally abandoned about fifteen years later. We wandered through an open-air red sandstone palace, and a large mosque which houses the tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisthi. CSC was the personal adviser of the emperor, who was afraid he would never have children, and predicted that he would soon have a son. When it happened, the emperor was so excited that he decided to build his capital wherr the oracle had taken place, as a thank you to CSC. Today, couples come on his grave to offer scarves and flowers and to ask heaven for a child. Carla Bruni herself (!) came here with Nicolas Sarkozy to pray for a son in 2010. The Time of India devoted an article to her pregnancy a few months later: https://m.timesofindia.com/india/carla-brunis-prayers-at-fatehpur-answered/articleshow/8431300.cms
Finally, I left the same evening by night train to Varanasi. I will now travel alone until my return to France, in 5 days already!
I arrived in Varanasi, located east of India, on the Ganga river, after a 14-hour journey. The train crossed the sublime landscapes of the Indian countryside, and its (very) slow pace allowed me to observe at length children on bicycles, women in coloured saris in the rice fields, cows strolling with their sacred nonchalance...
Varanasi is the holiest city in Hinduism. Sick come here on pilgrimage, believers purify themselves in the Ganga, and above all, Hindu families come here to cremate the bodies of their dead, because it is considered that finishing one's life here frees the soul from the cycle of reincarnation. The crowd is compact, the handicraft sellers are on the lookout, and there are many more crippled beggars and sadhus than elsewhere. Sadhus, or babas, are these men living almost naked, the little cloth they wear being orange, with a long beard and sometimes dreadlocks tied up in a bun, who have abandoned worldly desires and material comforts, in a spiritual process. They live by begging, sometimes inflicting suffering on themselves in order to get free from the carnal envelope; for instance, living with their arms raised permanently, or hanging upside down from a tree...
The first day, I woke up for the sunrise. I went on a boat full of Indian tourists that went along the ghats (those little steps that go down to the Ganga) and my neighbours explained me the particularities of each one: here, the puja ceremony, there the cremations, there again, the daily yoga classes...
A guy walked me through the fires to explain everything about the cremation ritual. It was an interesting moment, but quite uncomfortable for me, partly because of the suffocating smoke, and partly because the sight of the burning bodies made me feel nauseous...
Another thing that shocked me a bit was the live animals tied to the Shiva temple by the pilgrims and left there as offerings, notably a sheep with too long nails that could not stand up and a chicken that had died in the middle of the temple.
Finally, the guy took me to his silk shop, where the owner had met Catherine Deneuve, picture in hand; it didn't convince me to buy his scarves and I was relieved to leave and take refuge in a quiet café.
The waiter was nice and gave me some of the spice mix he makes for masala chai! Can't wait to make it again at home!
In the evening, I joined Nikita, a girl from my room at the hostel, and Ayush, her friend, at the puja, the fire ceremony. One takes place at sunrise and one at sunset on the ghats; four young brahmins (highest caste, priests) in orange or red robes perform a choreography with incense, flowers and fire. It was very similar to what we had seen in Rishikesh.
Then I went for dinner in a dosas restaurant, a kind of very thin crispy pancake, a speciality of South India, my favourite Indian dish of all times! I fell in love with this restaurant, the little man who ran it and his homemade rose drink. I went back there for lunch and dinner the next day.
The last day in Varanasi was quieter, I walked for a long time along the ghats, in the effervescence of the ablutions in the Ganga. If you were wondering, yes, in this sacred river, no problem to throw away the ashes of corpses, excrements, chemicals from factories, while also doing your toilet and dishes.
Finally, I took the night bus (the last one!) to Delhi, from where I will take my plane back to France!
I had a bad image of India's capital: often the first stop for travellers, I was told that it was even noisier and messier than the other Indian cities. A tuktuk driver had also told me that Delhi "has a very bad karma" (well, okay), and on the top of it, Delhi is the most polluted city in the world... I wasn't that excited. And finally, I was really surprised!
This city is huge, and in two days, I only saw a very small part of it; I spent the first day around Old Delhi, and the second day in New Delhi; I found a lot of charm in each of these two very different sides of the city.
The first day, I went for a walk in the markets: Khan market, with its shopping streets and its Christmas decorations, quite globalized; then Chandi Chowk, in the old city, rather old-fashioned. The market, close to the Red Fort (which I only admired from afar, in the long run I find that Mughal buildings look a bit alike), spreads out around a street hosting a mosque, a church, a Hindu temple and a Sikh temple, amidst the joyful traffic of tuktuks, scooters and cars, and the incessant honking of horns that goes with it. There are "quarters" in the market: counterfeit bags and shoes, silk or cashmere clothes, silver jewellery, spices... It was a nice visit, after which I went back to the metro, which is super modern and has nothing to envy to the one in Paris!
The next day, at the hotel breakfast, I met Obi, a belgian guy who spent the semester in Bangalore as an exchange student; we got on really well and finally said we would spend the day together. We wandered through Lodi art district, a neighbourhood designed during the British colonial era, repainted in 2015 by 50 Indian and international artists. It was a very nice area, residential and certainly rather affluent; there were large pavements (! very rare in India), beautiful trees, and the streets were surprisingly quiet.
Then we went for a walk in Lodi garden, a nice park in the area; and finally we went to get dosas for my last meal in India!
I left for the airport around 4pm. My first flight - I had a stopover in Mumbai, was delayed, and I barely caught the second flight to : Pariiiis youhou! I'm on the plane now, and I'll be there in a few hours!
It feels weird that the trip is ending already... but I can't wait to get back to Europe and the Christmas spirit that I've been missing a bit these last few weeks 🥰🌲
See you very soon ❤❤
À la prochaine heure pile (2h, heure de Paris), MyAtlas sera coupé pour une durée de 15 minutes pour une maintenance.
Toute l'équipe vous remercie pour votre patience.