North West India: The golden triangle and Himachal Pradesh
Mis à jour : 16 déc 2019
Since I had planned a trail run in Manali, I decided to spend most of my time in North West India. Originally, I was going to buy a bicycle in Delhi and cycle to Manali and Pakistan. Since I had gotten sick on the 50 hour train ride, I decided to change my plans. Luckily my CouchSurfing host in Delhi was amazing and let me stay longer to recover from the sickness. She cared for me just as a mother would care for a sick child.
Closing the golden triangle
Without the cycle plan, I had more time so when I got better I got some ideas. I had heard Varanasi showed a very authentic side of India and I wanted to combine it with a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra. The day I arrived in Varanasi, the city suffered from the biggest flood in 43 years. I waded through the streets to make it to the holy bathing in the Ganges as well as the cremations next to the famous river. Unfortunately I also witnessed a disgraceful scam during the cremation. I avoided the scam but still I was very uncomfortable.
As I left Varanasi to Agra, the train had several hours of delay because of the floods throughout the region. Luckily I met a nice German couple as well as a local Indian couple and we spent the thirteen hours of delay happily together. Eventually, I had made it to Agra, home of the majestic Taj Mahal. The place felt very touristy but with good reason. 22 years, 22.000 workers and an enormous attention to detail had given shape to a world wonder, dedicated out of love. For several hours, I admired the 'crown of palaces' from each possible perspective. When I went for a run around the area, I was disappointed to find rivers filled with rubbish. I had seen it everywhere else in India, but it shocked me to see it so close to one of the worlds most majestic buildings. When I went back to the hostel I started talking to someone who had seen his first sunrise in a long time. He could not stop talking about the beauty of the start of the day he had witnessed in Pushkar. His enthusiasm convinced me to head to Rajasthan to chase the sunrise.
One sleepless night in the notorious general class and I arrived in Ajmer, which is right next to Pushkar. As I walked passed wandering camels, cows and pigs, I got to witness how the city slowly woke up. The place felt like a 'mini-Varanasi', but calmer. I met some Israelis in my hostel and learned that Pushkar was one of the many places in India where young Israelis flocked to after three years of mandatory military service. The streets had almost as much Israeli food as Indian food. On the second day I went for a run to the highest point in town to witness another sunrise. The summit of the hill was full of monkeys and the view of both deserts and mountains was mesmerizing. I did not regret having chased the sunrise here. I spent the rest of the day in the city and left to Jaipur, the pink city of Rajasthan. Another morning run led me to a third sunrise at Jal Mahal. As I settled in for my third sunrise in a row, I noticed two architecture students I had met at the Taj Mahal as well. It's a small world. We shared the magical moment and after dawn, I moved on since I had to catch my train to Delhi. In Delhi I would travel on to Manali, to a running competition.
Himachal Pradesh: peaceful, mountainous India
Manali was a peaceful town among bold mountain ranges and full of easy-going people. It was exactly what I need after the hectic everyday hustle anywhere else in India. When I participated in the Hell race, I met many passionate athletes and trail runners. There was a nice atmosphere. After the race, I managed to find rest at a lovely hostel, Travelosic Junction. It felt more like a bunch of friends living together, than anything else. Everyone was included and felt part of the family. I immediately decided to stay longer. While I was there, I went for a hike on the nearby trails and rented a motorcycle for a one-day trip. I had never ridden a manual motorbike before, but bluffed to avoid possible trouble. Besides running, hiking and biking around, I enjoyed the calmer life at the hostel. I found some peace and loved the vibe among the people.
Some time later, I decided to hitchhike out of town, towards the border with Pakistan. I wanted to experience catching a ride in India and surprisingly it was not at all as I expected. It was the first time a driver asked me to watch porn on my phone while driving. Right before I crossed the famous Wagah border, I spent the night at the golden temple in Amritsar, the main pilgrimage for Sikhs all over the world. The temple looked just as magical by day as it did by night. Besides the beautiful architecture and the holy vibe, I was also impressed by the infrastructure created to serve more than 100.000 free meals every day. The visit and the stay at the temple perfectly concluded my three weeks in India.
India has so much more to discover. Many different cultures, beautiful food and lovely people throughout the huge country are waiting for me when I go back. I look forward to visiting this fascinating place once again!