Whirlwind tour with mom :) (part 1)
After taking the fast train back to Delhi from Amritsar I arrived at the swanky Royal Palace hotel where I was to meet up with mom. I think the people working there had some reservations about letting me into the hotel (I don't think the bell boy wanted to carry my dirty backpack so he just dragged it on the ground instead of putting it on his back) but eventually I got into my room and settled in. It was really strange to have everyone calling me "Madam", holding doors for me, carrying my things, even checking into hotels for me! Took a while to get used to air conditioning and fluffy pillows too. ;)
Anyway, mom arrived and the 11 day whirlwind tour began with a quick trip around Delhi: Jama Masjid, Humayan's Tomb, Qutub Minar, a cycle rickshaw ride around some of the crazy alleys of Chandi Chowk and probably more that I don't remember. Then it was off to Varanasi by plane (much easier than the long train ride that I was planning on taking ;) and we even got bumped up to business class for some unknown reason! Varanasi was a scene for sure. It's supposedly the oldest city in the world (not sure how they determine that) as well as the holiest Indian city (Hindu). We took a sunrise boat ride along the Ganges watching pilgrims bathing, giving offerings, praying, meditating... at the various ghats (steps leading down to the river). We even had a body wrapped in plastic float by the boat. Probably a poor person who couldn't afford a cremation or perhaps one of the kinds of people that they don't burn: holy men, pregnant women, lepers and young children. We saw a few cremation ghats and later in the day witnessed a few funerals where bodies were wrapped in bright decorations and surrounded by wood for a big bonfire before the ashes were put into the river. Apparently women aren't allowed at the ceremonies because they're too emotional! The river is extremely dirty since all of the sewage from the city is also dumped in there along with the bodies so it's really hard to see all these people bathing and drinking the "holy" water knowing how disgusting it really is. We visited Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon (although there are very few Buddhists in the area). Then it was off to Khajuraho with all of its erotically sculpted temples. Children should probably not look at the photos I took. ;) Regardless of the details, the temples were pretty amazingly carved and preserved.