North India

The Indian Subcontinent is a world apart. Some people enjoy it while for some others its a shock. One thing is for sure: with a population growing by a million per month, you will never feel alone there. Let’s go to Incredible India.

Sikhs

New-Delhi: Hell on Earth

Immediately after getting out of the airport, I knew India would be disturbing. It was an official three-lanes road, which in India means five-lanes road: white strips are also lanes you can drive. New-Delhi is full of people and … cows. The animal is sacred in India, so a cow can live her own life in the middle of the street. If you didn’t put your feet in cow dung it means you never went in India. That was all right for me, but the crowd was something else. If you don’t what overpopulation is, go to Delhi. India seems to be a mess, but what’s really incredible about this country is that everybody has something do to, everyone is part of the process, and it works. This overpopulation doesn’t go without some problem, which most obvious one is pollution. 50 years ago, Indian were used to throw their rubbish in the streets, which were organics and eaten by the cows, but now this rubbish is in plastic and just remains there. And what to say about the air? Just to give you an example, I didn’t put any makeup during that trip, and at the end of the day, I could pass a kleenex on my face and watch the brown color on it. India suffers also a lack of women. Women are still seen as a burden for their family who’ll have to provide them with a dowry when they’ll get married, which means a woman cost a lot. That’s why some families choose boys rather than girls at birth. This has created an imbalance demographic: India has more men than women. A fact that doesn’t female tourists to feel comfortable when every man is watching you in the streets (and it’s worst if you’re blond).

India arouses all your senses. Your sight is caught by the colorful saris wore by Indian women. Your hearing is contently alerted by the uninterrupted movement all around you. Your sense of smell is attracted by the spices you can find on the market. Your taste is inflamed by very spicy food. Your sense of touch suffers from the heat.

Taj Mahal

Impossible to go in India without visiting its gem, one the seven wonders of the world. This monument is not only beautiful because of its architecture but it’s also because of its story. In fact, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built on the request of Shâh Jânan for its beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal (who died while giving birth to their 14th child). The legend says Shâh Jânan planned to get a replica of this mausoleum, but in black, on the other side of the river. But his son didn’t allow it, jailed his father, who finally laid in a tomb, near his wife inside the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal

The white marble is truly beautiful, with its decoration made of inlays of semiprecious stones. Unlike a palace, the Taj Mahal has always been a big empty place, which gives it a strange atmosphere, unlively.

The journey by train to get from Delhi to Agra can be exhausting. In India, trains are overpopulated, with fans fixed on the roof, but not efficient enough to provide fresh air.

Dharamsala

Dharamsala, located in the State of Himachal Pradesh, on the foothills of the Himalaya, is the place where the Dalai Lama is living, since his exile from Tibet in China. It’s a great place if you just want to breathe a little bit, in the mountains, between pine trees and prayer flag. When I went there, going to Tibet was difficult, because of troubles in Lhassa, as the Tibetans wanted to show their situation to the world, using the Olympic Games in Pekin. Unfortunately, during my trip, the Dalai Lama wasn’t there, I could only visit his palace, and met the Karmapa (one of the important dignitary in Tibetan Buddhism). I have to recognize I felt something when he gave me the white silk scarf, like if he had a kind of aura. I really enjoyed staying with a Tibetan family, as they taught me a lot about their culture, their religion, the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama (watch the movie “Kundun” by Martin Scorsese), their situation. I asked them a lot of questions while we were cooking together. As exiled people, I was wondering how they can travel and if it was with a Chinese of an Indian passport. In fact, they can’t travel, some people don’t even know where Tibet is located. Only the Dalai Lama travels. And they asked me if I needed a passport to travel. I explained to them it depends on the country, like for example inside the European Union, I don’t need it and can travel in 27 countries freely. That really impressed them, and for the first time, I realized how lucky I was to be European.

Rishikesh

This place is worldwide known because the Beatles used to retreat there. A lot of people still do the same, in an Ashram (place to meditate with a Yogi master), which explains why there are so many hippies in the streets. The place is also very important for Indian people who come there for some pilgrimage. Indeed, the sacred river Gange cross the city, and I took a bath into it (as it’s close enough to the Himalaya, it was quite clean enough for that). I don’t know if I was purified, but at least the coldness of the water gave me that impression.

In conclusion, to visit India, you need to get a good stomach. Of course because of the spicy food, and all the gastric trouble you can easily get, but mostly because of what you will see. Don’t see what I mean? Watch “Slumdog Millionair” and you will understand.

April 2008 – Group tour by ZigoTours – 12 days