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Jaipur, India

After a brief stay in Kolkata we headed to Varanasi, a tourist trap even by Indian standards. Our huge backpacks worked their usual magnetic attraction to the various touts, tuk-tuk drivers and rickshaw wallahs who are crowded outside the station, ready to pounce with offers of help, hotels and plastic crap for us to buy and providing useful information about England ("London is the capital of England!", "David Beckham is from England." - "Yeah, we know"). Luckily our hotel had agreed to provide transport from the station. We thought that this was just a nice gesture but in fact it is to stop innocent (gullible) travellors falling for the stories from commission earning drivers who often claim that the hotel you wish to go to is, in fact, infested with cockroaches, gangsters or, even worse, gangster cockroaches and has burnt down anyway so there is no point going. Luckily they always know a lovely place nearby which costs just a little bit more than your original choice and is instead filled with helpful staff and fairy cakes and candyfloss and magic beans.

Safe in the knowledge that we are in fact going to our hotel of choice we sit back in our auto-rickshaw ready to soak up the atmosphere of the Hinduism's holiest city. Our ears are ringing, luckily it's not tinitus - the roads are heaving with bicycles and cycle-rickshaws weaving between each other and any man, woman or beast daring enough to try to cross the roads. Of the three only beasts are safe, traffic stops for no man, cows and dogs are OK though. If you are planning to come to India forget the green cross code, but dig out that pantomime cow costume that you thought you'd never use again. Cows are sacred here, but apparently people are fair game.

The rickshaw couldn't take us right up to the hotel as the roads in Varanasi stop about 500m from the banks of the Ganges, becoming instead a maze of meandering alleyways between tightly packed and towering buildings looming up on either side. As we follow our guide, turning left at this alley and right the next we consider how this could be very complicated if drunk...however, Varanasi is predominantly a dry city so there's little risk of that. We arrive, with no idea of exactly where we are in this labirynth of a city, despite our best intentions to look out for landmarks as the alleys all seem to look the same, but no matter - we're here! We head up to the rooftop restaurant for some authentic Indian cuisine (Bec has a pizza and Will gets slightly closer with an om-elette - apologies for the pun, but you should expect nothing less) and we sit down to chill and drink in the panoramic views.

We spent the next day in full tourist mode, strolling alongside the ghats which line the banks of the Ganges. These are a series of steps leading into the river and are an integral part of Varanasi life. They are used for everything from washing clothes to cattle, as well as for swimming, bathing and drinking. It's hot and the waters look tempting, we'd go for a swim but the Bible (Lonely Planet) cheerfully informs us that the water is considered septic, with no oxygen content but with 10,000 times the safe level of faecal content. We've taken enough shit on this trip already so we decide against it.

The Ghats are also used for cremating the dead as the waters of the Ganges are supposed to allow those whose ashes are scattered here an escape from the cycle of death and rebirth. Our hotel is situated close to Manikarnika Ghat, the main burning ghat. This comes in handy as later that night when we get lost (not for the last time) we are able to follow the dead bodies as they are carried through the streets on stretchers wrapped in bright, multicoloured cloths.

The next morning we took a dawn boat ride along the river, which is a much calmer experience than walking the streets. There is still no escape from the push to purchase however. A boat draws alongside us and, in the middle of the river, we are practically boarded by someone trying to sell us a candle which we are then supposed to set alight and leave to drift, giving us good karma. We were calmer before he got there so we politely decline, unsure how adding further pollution to the septic waters is good for the soul.

On to Agra, the home of the most famous monument in India, the majestic Agra Fort. First though we decide on a dawn viewing of the lesser known Taj Mahal. The Taj is a work of art, sullied only by the gaggle of (mainly American) tour groups with name tags proudly displayed, looking blithely around asking inane questions to long-suffering guides. This does not take away from the beauty of the place though and we spend the next 2 hours watching the growing light changing the colour of the building as the sun rises. Our feet also change colour as you have to remove your shoes when approaching the Taj and with our souls brightened and soles blackened we left to get some breakfast.

The fort is a huge red fort. We fort it'd be different (apologies again). It's big, red and empty. It used to be fuller but the British, in their infinite wisdom demolished most of the historic structures inside back in the days of the Raj. The arctitecture is imposing and impressive and the monkeys think they are too. They certainly leave an impression, especially when we get the camera out to get a picture which we have attached...we'll leave you to make your own judgement.

The next stop on our cultural whirlwind tour was Jaipur, the pink city. The city was painted pink in the 19th century by the Maharaja Ramsing to welcome the Prince of Wales, many of the buildings are also constructed of the local pink stone, basically it's pink.

We wandered around the old city, visiting the palace (which was a bit uninspiring, lots of swords and textiles - yawn), the Janter Manter and the Hawa Mahal. The Janter Manter is a huge open air observatory housing a bizzarre collection of oversized astrological instruments. It looks like a half finished Flintstones-style theme park and is one several built around the country by the Mughal emperor Jai Singh, who the city is named after. After the Hawa Mahal, a tower built for the ladies of the court so that they could see the activity on the streets without actually having to go out (which seems a good idea the 30th time someone shouts at you to sell you a sari), we got back to the hotel as we had accepted an invitation from the owners for a tour of the city with his family. It was the day before Diwali, the festival of lights, and every year he takes the kids out to see the illuminations of the town. It's like Christmas in Blackpool but without the chavs and the blatent commercialism (and the cold) and it is touching to see lots of families out doing the same. A lovely end to the day and our time in Jaipur. We leave for Delhi tomorrow, up to our eyeballs in history.

Culture-vultures out.

permalink written by  BecnWill on November 7, 2007 from Jaipur, India
from the travel blog: The World By Knight
tagged TajMahal, Monkeys, AgraFort, Jaipur, JantarMantar, ManikarnikaGhat, DawnBoatRide, TourGroups and LeaveAnImpression

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Gibraltar: One of the smallest countries ever!

Gibraltar, Gibraltar

Two days ago we visited Gibraltar and it was awesome! Unfortunatley I had no time to upload as we were out with friends the following day! Packed days! And on Sunday we are going to be back in San Diego! :( So were going to hit the beach one last time, but first I had to write about Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is it's own country, but is still, for the most part, a part of Britain, and this flag is a good example of that. It's the Gibraltar flag on the UK flag.

Gibraltar is most famous for "The Rock" as they call it, a huge, well, rock that actually has roads on it and our tour bus could drive up.

Along the way to "The Rock" we went to a point where we could see Africa from! But vaguely because it was a little misty :(. At this point there was a lighthouse and a huge mosque shown in the picture.

Then we went to St. Michael's caves, in Greek mythology said to be the entrance to the underworld ruled by Hades. It was very nice, but nothing compared to the Caves of Nerja which we visited the next day and are the largest in Spain (sorry no pics :(.
Here is some of the inside of St. Michael's caves.

Then we left the caves for the highlight of the tour; MONKEYS! We got to be very up close with them and took lots of pictures.

Nobody is exactly sure how the monkeys originally got to Gibraltar, but one General thought that if the monkeys stayed the british would stay and brought tons of monkeys from Africa to Gibraltar and now there are more than 150.

Then we visited the American memorial for the collaboration between the American and British forces in World War 1 and 2.

Then we walked along Main Street for a dose of British culture and it was very fun. I liked the people's accents and we got some fish and chips. Tasty

After that it was time for the three hour bus ride back to Malaga. Gibraltar was our last travel spot and I enjoyed it a lot.

permalink written by  andres3009 on July 27, 2012 from Gibraltar, Gibraltar
from the travel blog: Spain Trip 2012
tagged Monkeys, Caves, Gibraltar and British

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