Varanasi and Orcha

Our trip into India began with a few days in the rather crazy city of Varanasi followed by a seemingly tranquil stay in Orcha.

Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world and is one of the most holy for Hindus with its location on the banks of the Ganges. It was described by our tour leader as a place where you could see real India because people don't put on a show here and I think that is certainly true. The ghats by the river see all sorts of activity from bathing, washing clothes and burning the dead – often more close to each than the western mind can comprehend. We saw an evening parayer ceremony which involved lots of bells and bright colours, and we went out on a boat to participate in a flower ceremony, where we floated 251 candles in petals on the water, making a wish with each one. The effect was simply stunning.

We had another boat trip which was slightly longer as we spent two days sailing/rowing down the Ganges and got to see Gangetic dolphins! I thought these were quite a rarity to the point of almost being mythical, but apparently their numbers have increased over the last 2 or 3 years and we saw several escape the water for air. Having seen the water, I'm not surprised they're blind.

A 15 hour train and 45 minute autorickshaw journey brought us to Orcha – a city with more 16th century palaces, temples and various ruins than you could imagine for such a tiny town. We explored several of these magnificent sights, enjoyed a cookery demostration and saw a factory where villagers were making paper from cotton. Orcha is definitely somewhere I'd recommend people visit, the history was incredible and the comparative peace and quiet wonderful. We stayed at a lovely place in air conditioned tents where we did have several visits from geckos who helped keep the mossies under control, and there was even a swimming pool! – a luxury much appreciated when its 35degrees. Photos will be put up at some point as I don't think I can describe the beauty of the buildings effectively.

Sadly the majority of the group didn't get to fully appreciate the area, since illness struck. The most likely candidate seems to be the hummus that they ate as part of a packed lunch on the train. However there was no way to keep it cold and several hours of hot weather have led to a couple of days of misery for some. Three of us haven't been affected and are hoping that this will remain the case! Since David and I ordered food from a different place, we're hoping it was the hummus.

We've arrived in Agra and will see the Taj Mahal soon, then head to Delhi tomoroow. Its not long now at all till we'll be approaching the chaos that is Heathrow and we will be home.

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