What a contrast! The extremely clean and structured Singapore and the streets of New Delhi. After I’ve been picked up at the airport by “Women on Wheels” (the first women taxi business in Delhi which provides a dignified livelihood for local women from a resource poor community) my first impressions were the most crazy traffic I’ve every seen and trash (mostly plastic) on the streets.
I booked a guided 15-days trip (a tour through Rajasthan) via G-adventures because it was my first India visit and I had big respect for this totally new experience. G-adventures supports fair, local businesses and follows ethical values what convinced me to travel with them. The journey of our lovely group with travelers from Scotland, England, Australia and Germany lead by our amazing guide Manu started with a visit at a local street children project called Salaam Baalak Trust. A former street child showed us around and told us about the life of street children in India (there are estimated 2 million street children in the country!!). It was a very interesting morning for me as I know many street children in Kenya and Uganda through Ring of Hope (www.ringofhopeuganda.com).
During the first days I had Manu’s introducing sentences quiet often in my head: “What goes around comes around in India” .. be chilled and go with the flow; don’t try fighting India when something doesn’t work out. Treat it well and you’ll be treated well in return ;) In Hinduism and Buddhism it’s called Karma. It refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual.
After the street children project we experienced what absolutely characterizes India. It is a country of great tolerance towards all religions including not having a religion at all. So we got to spend time at the Jama Masjid (the great Mosque of Delhi which can hold up to 25.000 worshippers) and the Gurdwara Sis Ganj which is a place of worship for the Sikh religion. Sikhism was something completely new for me. It is the 5th largest religion in the world and stands for equality of all human beings, selfless service to others and believing in ONE supreme being. The influence of ego, anger, greed, attachment and lust is seen as hurtful. Sikhism believes that the body takes birth because of Karma (or in other words “what goes around comes around”). The religion is very peaceful so eating meat is prohibited because it would harm animals. The atmosphere in the Gurdwara was very spiritual and we were provided with excellent vegetarian food there. Having a common meal at the Gurdwara is something typical in Sikhism.
Later on a guy called Amit Kumar provided us with a contrast event. We accidentally met him in the streets of Delhi and had a fun motor rickshaw ride with him. He might be the most famous rickshaw driver in India as he has his own You Tube channel with more than 4500 clicks. He is a very happy guy and his positivity was contagious :) You can find him and his life story on youtube -> “India New Delhi Welcome to my rickshaw”
In the evening we took a night train (the next new experience) from Delhi to Jodhpur which took round about 11 hours. The ride was surprisingly comfy. I woke up when we arrived at our next destination Jodhpur.
Jodhpur is famous for its breathtakingly beautiful red fort where you can enjoy stunning views on the “Blue City” and its huge and vibrant market with many local products. After having lunch in a rooftop restaurant, we explored the market and the city center.
On the way to the city of Udaipur we visited the Sheth Anandji Kalyanji Trust which is an old Jain temple. I had no idea who the Jains are and was surprised that the religion is approximately 5000 years old which means it was founded 3000 years before Christ. The main premises of Jainism is non-violence. One must abandon all violent activity - not only in action, but also in speech and in thought. The function of souls is to help one another. It states that instead of hate or violence against anyone, "all living creatures must help each other”. Another aspect I remember is “non-attachment” to material and psychological possessions, avoiding craving and greed.
In Udaipur we stayed in a hotel directly at Pichola Lake where we enjoyed a local dance and culture show in the evening. Everything was very colorful and Indian music combined with the dances and fire created a special vibe. The breakfast next morning in the hotel owned rooftop café with a marvelous view on the lake and the rising sun was breathtaking. Afterwards we left for the royal City Palace of Udaipur and later on for a cooking class in a private home. After dinner we sat together with the family who gave us the cooking class and got to see some wedding pictures and a view in the family album.
On the 8th of December we moved on to Jojawar, a rural charming village not too far away from the border to Pakistan. The locals there were very friendly and we got a good impression on how it is to live on the Indian countryside. People take their time in their daily lives and at work and the stressful society in the cities is far away for them.
The next city on the schedule was Pushkar - a “hippie town” which is known as the city of Brahma, the Hindu God of creation. Pushkar had a very laid back atmosphere and you could feel the hippie vibes. We walked to the sacred Pushkar lake where the evening aarti (a Hindu ceremony) took place during sunset. The view on the lake, the houses at the lake and the sunset colors were just magical. In the background you could hear mantras, prayers and the sound of drums. A liturgy par excellence was created. We walked around the river barefoot, accompanied by drum beats and the scent of incense sticks. We spent the rest of the evening in a Israeli hippie restaurant and I decided to spend some time at the Brahma temple.
The 10th of December brought me to Lake Pushkar again were I received blessings from a Guru which included blessings for my friends and family and moreover past and future generations of my family. It was a very contemplative morning on the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Later the day we had a two hour camel ride into the desert were we got to enjoy a cultural show by the “gypsy community” which spent some time in the Pushkar area before moving on to other parts of the country.
On the 11th we stayed in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. We got to see the Amber Fort there which is known for its mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture. I felt happy when we left the fort because people were really pushy trying to sell things. Elephant rides up to the fort were a very popular tourist thing to do. Unfortunately they do not treat the animals well. So you can summarize that the actions of the people there turned this actually beautiful place into a quiet negative one (at least for me).
It felt quiet good to leave the very busy Jaipur the next day to head to the Ranthambore National Park. We visited a factory (village women crafts) there which empowers women by providing them fair jobs and later on of course the National Park itself. We got to see many animals and the breathtaking nature there. Unfortunately we missed out on only one animal - the tiger. Nevertheless it was a very good Safari experience.
The last big stop of our group travel led us to the city of Agra. It's famous for the UNESCO world heritage Taj Mahal. I like the story behind this stunning palace. The Taj Mahal symbolizes eternal love between the Muslim Persian Prince Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. When she died under tragic circumstance the loss affected the Prince so deeply that he decided to build her a monument as a symbolic gesture of romance and eternal love. The Taj has been described as a “teardrop on the cheek of eternity“.
After the Taj we spend some time at the huge and stunning Agra Fort. Symbols from all major religions decorate the "entrance gate" as sign of our interconnectedness. From Agra we drove up to Delhi where we spent our last group evening together before saying good-bye to one another. For me the journey continued in an a city where you hardly find words for. Varanasi.
À la prochaine heure pile (2h, heure de Paris), MyAtlas sera coupé pour une durée de 15 minutes pour une maintenance.
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