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Look Now Lucknow... and V for Varanasi

Chandigargh onwards.... the journey takes off!

sunny 34 °C

Now unimpressed as I am by the lack of emphasis that Andy gave the whole monkey stealing glasses episode (I would have preferred at least three blog entries on such a subject) I am required to pick up where the boy left off. Shame I am sure!

Now well on the well trodden footsteps of our mate Palin and his adventures in North India, we headed out for the Shimla railway ready to try the toy train ride through valley and mountains on a narrow track down to Kalka. Now those who have been to India, forums and travel guides might tell you to reserve seats, get tatikal tickets and make sure you have confirmation. Now that is not the Annie and Andy way to play. We maintain that as long as you turn up early enough at a train station and have sharp elbows it will all turn out ok. And it did! General class on this historic railway line provided us with window seats looking down over the aforementioned valleys and cliffs, Malaysian seat neighbours with a bottle of whiskey and a desire to share (for which Andy was very happy), a crowd of India kids who wanted to practise their English and ended with an invitation to our new friends homes in Malaysia! For the price of 50p each, you cant complain!

The ride was briliant! Viaduct style bridges over valleys, 103 tunnels through the hillside and a gang of Indian teenagers who found the need to whoop and cheer everytime we went over or through one... now that tradition they should definately take up at home! Good job as well that seeing as we had not worked out how to get from Kalka to Chandigargh (an hour away) it all worked out. There was a train, we again found general tickets (albeit this time we had to put up with a staring crowd of Indian men, but you get used to that), Andy could sleep off his hangover from the Whiskey and we arrived in Chandigargh in good time.

Chandigargh is a planned city by Le Cobusier. This gave Andy a fair amount of opportunity to use his knowledge on Town Planning which he enjoyed. In fact there were whole exhibitions and museums dedicated to Town Planning. Luckily for me, Andy reigned in his excitement and we only had to visit a few. The city was interesting but very non-Indian. In fact, it slightly resembled a combination of Stoke and Stafford town centre but with slightly more rickshaws and slightly less chavs. They are very proud of their Rose Garden in Chandigargh. But then again, the people of Armley are very proud of their Rose Garden. I will let you make your own conclusions on that!

We then headed by night train to Lucknow, home of the First War for Indian Independence and a really interesting and strangely appealing city. Our train plan seemd to initially fail us when our train tickets were RAC (apparently this means you have to share a seat) but by nightime the helpful conductor had found Andy a bed of his own and all slept well. All rested we landed in Lucknow and were back in real India! Now Lucknow is a city of history and wicked buildings, has sites and is vibrant and busy but is not really on the tourist track. In three days I saw one foreigner. On the one side this meant that we had no interfearence from apparent tour guides, crowds of other tourists or busses filled with our American friends clogging up ticket booths. This is all good. However, upon arriving our celebrity status that we had left behind in Amritsar reared its head and again we were the subject of Paparazzi and pointing. My personal favourity was when we walked through the Zoo. The zoo had two white tigers, the rarest of tigers that are born only once in a generation. Annie and Andy marvelled at the tigers. WE turned and found that no one else in the 50 strong crowd was looking at the tigers but were happily watching us and taking pictures. There was actually a spare enclosure in the zoo, me and Andy ran away for fear of people putting us in it!

And on we roll to Varanasi where I write this now. Sitting on the banks of the River Ganges, Varanasi is where you really see life! Hindus belive that to be dunked, burnt and sunk in the River Ganges is the purist thing to do when you die (I am sure in the religious texts it reads slightly more romantic than this). It frees you from all sin and spares you from the cycle of reincarnation and ensures you that all important trip to heaven. WINNER! Pilgrims come to drink and bathe in the waters of the river whilst children swim in it, bodies are burned at its banks and buffalo have their morning dip. All this in the most polluted river in the world. The place is colourful and congested, filthy and facinating, devout and disgusting. For all those people watchers out there I know and love, this is the place for you. When we have delved more into the city I will update you, but I am excited to be here! For now, beer and Paneer Masala awaits me!

Love to all,

Annie and Andy x

Posted by Annie Thornton 06:49 Archived in India Tagged varanasi lucknow

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