The last four days have been a whirlwind. Pat and I got married on Saturday (!) and we just packed all of our belongings and are headed out on a five day road trip. Our final destination is San Francisco, CA where I am starting my new job at a hospital there. It’s so exciting to know at the end of the drive we e are going to be building our new newlywed nest in one of the most amazing cities on the planet.
The wedding was incredible. I can honestly say it was one of the best days of my life. It was special and beautiful and it was the perfect ending to our time in Madison. I laughed and cried and spent the night surrounded by our friends and family and the man of my dreams. I feel so privileged to abe surrounded by the amazing people I come to love and to be joining Pat’s incredible family. It was truly magical.
Photo by my new sister-in-law, the original Kelly H.
More pictures and stories from the wedding and from the open road to come soon!
My last few days in India were fairly unremarkable. I traveled from Agra to New Delhi, where I did a bit of shopping and checked out some Delhi tourist attractions.
I stopped by the Sikh temple Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. Similar to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, this beautiful temple shimmers in the sunlight and is situated over a large water reservoir. People come to bathe in the holy waters and everyone has to walk through a shallow trough of water to clean their feet before entering.
The temple also serves meals to thousands of people every day, every one from rich businessmen to children living on the street with no other source of nutrition. Everything is run by volunteers and I was told that there is a huge state-of-the-art kitchen with AC (!).
Humayun’s Tomb is a UNESCO World Heritage Site is sometimes referred to as the “Little Taj Mahal”. It is also a Mughal tomb, and was built in 1569-70. Just like the Taj Mahal, the entrance fee to Humayun’s Tomb is very pricy for non-Indians! I paid $5 for my ticket, which doesn’t seem like much, but the cost for a local is $0.20!
Just like the Taj Mahal, seeing Humayun’s Tomb is worth the expensive entry fee. At first, I thought that the main attraction was one of the large secondary monuments:
Turns out, that was just a warm up for the main tomb, which houses Humayun, his wife, and several other Mughal royals.
One night, I celebrated my birthday a little late with an amazing dinner at Indian Accent at the Manor Hotel. It is rated in the top 5 restaurants in India and one of the top 50 in all of Asia! It was definitely a little chichi, but the food was beyond amazing – very thoughtfully prepared and flavorful. The menu was extensive, so I ordered the seven course tasting menu and left the decisions in the chef’s hands. This was an excellent choice! The staff was wonderful and when they found out it was my birthday they gave me a champagne toast and an extra serving of gelato. Obviously the best way to this girl’s heart!
Paharganj Market is one of the the best places in New Delhi to find everything that is on your India shopping list. For me, that included tiffin boxes for Pat, loose tea, and gauzy fabric to use as a shawl and headscarf in Morocco for our honeymoon.
I also found an amazing seamstress who was able to turn my Varanasi silk into a bridal robe for my upcoming wedding - in less than 24 hours! She charged me 500 rupees (about $10 USD) for the task. I was so happy with the results. She was able to create exactly the robe I had in mind with just a few photos from the internet and some hand waving from me.
The other market I shopped at was Chandigar Market in Old Delhi. Although it is extremely hectic to navigate, it is the place to find Indian exports – everything from textiles to camera parts to . I had a mission – to find edible silver leaf that is traditionally used on Indian sweets. I had the address of a wholesaler that I found online, but finding it was an adventure! It also turned out that the seller had wholesale gold and silver leaf as well, so I stocked up. The gold leaf has really come in handy for wedding preparations.
I also bought a little extra edible silver leaf as well as decorative gold and silver leaf. I created a little Etsy store for myself to try to sell it. I hope you’ll check it out!
What springs to mind when you think of Gran Canaria? Gorgeous golden sands and sizzling summer sunshine? Fun-filled boat trips and days spent splashing around in a waterpark? Excursions across mountain ranges and through stark volcanic landscapes? All inclusive holidays and family-friendly escapes? Gran Canaria is all this and much, much more.
Gran Canaria is king of diversity. There’s so much to see and do here, it’s difficult to know where to start. Of course as beaches go, there’s a fabulous selection of golden sands, sweeping bays and pebbly coves. Some beaches are full of energy, with kids playing happily in the surf and adrenalin-junkies taking on all manners of different watersports like jet-skiing and windsurfing. Other beaches are more laid-back, with a smattering of sunbeds lining up under the sun’s rays and a quiet appeal that’s perfect for snoozing to the sounds of your holiday playlist.
If you love lively days and energetic nights, you can’t beat a stay in Playa Del Ingles.
It’s got a buzzing beach which melts into the glorious, protected sand dunes of Maspalomas, and by night, the resort really comes alive with high-octane pubs, clubs, bars, karaoke venues, cheesy discos and just about everything in-between.
At the other end of the scale are the low-key towns of Playa de Amadores and Puerto Rico, where the emphasis is on the lovely beach and relaxing evenings out.
If you’ve got all inclusive holidays on the agenda, you’ll find plenty of choice across the island’s hotels, which cater to a huge variety of tastes. Whether you’re a party animal looking for a low-cost roof over your head, a family looking for affordable digs, or you’re after a no-holds-barred luxury escape with all the trimmings, Gran Canaria is happy to oblige.
Why not come and find out for yourself?
This is a sponsored post. Regardless of compensation, I only recommend products or services that I believe will be good for my readers. I turn down far more offers for sponsorship than I actually post.
I took a train from Delhi to Agra (about three hours) for the sole purpose of seeing the Taj Mahal. Although it seemed a bit cliche, I figured a tour of India wouldn’t be complete without seeing this Wonder of the World and what is possibly the most recognizable building on the planet.
While in Agra, I had the chance to explore some side streets, thanks to my prepaid Taxi driver depositing me at the hotel of his choice, despite my protests. Maurading children, shouting for rupees and photos kept me on my toes. I abandoned my explorations early when they started to get a little too crazy-eyed, making me feel slightly anxious and uncomfortable. It was the first and only time I felt unsafe in India. Regardless, it was interesting to meet some of Agra’s residents, who live within 100 meters of this fabled building. I was also amazed at how beautiful the streets were, all cobbled and lined with brightly colored buildings.
After scoping out a few places, I decided that Hotel Shahjahan was the place where I would lay my head for the night. The combination of the warm and welcoming staff, clean-ish room, the 200 rupee price tag ($4 USD) and free wifi throughout were just what the doctor ordered. The Indian toilet…eh, oh well. Thank goodness for wet wipes, as I there was no running water to be found.
I had dinner on the rooftop of Hotel Kamal, which boasts the best view of the Taj, according to the Lonely Planet. For once, the LP didn’t disappoint. During dinner, I would lose myself for a moment in my egg curry and book and then look up and there was the Taj all over again. The cycle repeated and the view was equally astonishing each time.
From my rooftop spot, I watched life continue as the sun dropped low in the sky. A girl learning to ride her bike, boys flying kites, two monkeys wrestling with a pink shopping bag.
I woke up early in the morning to visit the Taj Mahal. It officially opened at 6:30, but when I got there around 6:00, there were already people inside. I found out that laptops weren’t allowed so I was forced to go to the lockers to check it. Of course, when I got to the lockers they didn’t open until 8:30. Determined to not miss the entirety of sunrise, in an act of desperation, I left my precious Macbook Air in the hands of a souvenir shopkeeper who was a few feet from the entrance. Luckily it was safe and sound when I returned, a favor I happily paid 200 rupees ($4) for.
Seeing the Taj Mahal was definitely worth the trip. It was stunning.
It was the first time on my trip that I encountered hoards of tourists traveling in large groups. It was a little bit of a culture shock. However, even the rude Australian man shouting at people to move out of the way so he could get the perfect Taj photo with his point and shoot couldn’t mar the experience.
Early in the morning the light hits the domes from the East and viewing from each different direction gives a totally different experience. I took several minutes to catch the main building from each angle.
And I lied, the tourists did start to get to me after all. After about 90 minutes, I fled the scene to recover my laptop and have breakfast at the hotel.
And that was Agra. Not much to offer. Definitely worth spending a night to catch the Taj early, but in my opinion, not worth spending more than 24 hours there.
I had a couchsurfing stay lined up in Varanasi, so my first stop when I arrived was to meet Rahul Rai and his family. They live near Hydrabad Gate, which is on the southern end of Banaras Hindu University, the largest University in Asia. As the rickshaw driver entered the university gates, the cool air hit me like a wave. The campus is beautiful, with wide expanses of greenery and flowers and beautiful old buildings. The contrast between the dust and honking of Varanasi and the campus is astonishing.
Rahul and his family welcomed me whole-heartedly. They have a beautiful home that sits underneath Raj Paying Guesthouse, which they run. Because of their location, they mainly provide rooms for people visiting the campus.
My couchsurfing hosts quickly became like a new Indian family to me. We talked about weddings – Rahul’s sister had recently gotten married and had over 2,000 guests! – and my wedding, with a more modest 30 planned attendees. I also helped with dinner. Mrs. Rai gave me a chance to help with the chapatis, which I promptly failed miserably at. She taught me that the trick with the rolling pin is to use one hand as a pivot and the other to roll the dough into a circle. Due to my clumsy attempts, I was soon fired from chapati duty and put back at the vegetable peeling station.
I had several lengthy conversations with Rahul and his family about everything from arranged marriages to Rahul’s career aspirations. Rahul is a certified Varanasi travel agent and is starting his own travel agency. He also owns land and is building homes on it and selling them, and is considering becoming an air host (flight attendant)!
In the morning, I had to say goodbye. I was much sadder than I expected to feel after only two days in Varanasi. To my surprise, Mrs. Rai presented me with a sari, in honor of my upcoming wedding. As I mention before, I was constantly overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the Varanasi people. It was truly a memorable experience and will definitely be one of the highlights of my trip to India.
Need a place to stay while visiting Banaras Hindu University or Varanasi? I highly recommend Raj Paying Guesthouse and hiring Rahul for a tour guide. You can contact him at email@example.com.
One of the most memorable parts of my time in Varanasi was learning about Hindu views on death and dying. One thing we did was a Ganges boat ride to see the city from the Ganges river, which is considered holy water. Thanks to the local hook up from our guide, Sonu, we paid 300 rupees for the hour boat ride (about $6 USD). I’ve heard the going rate can be up to 1,000 rupees per hour.
People come from all over the world to bathe in its waters, despite the fact that the water is horribly polluted from garbage and nearby metal refining factories. There is some debate on whether purifying the water negatives the holiness. The current school of thought is that boiling the water is okay, but chemically treating or filtering it is a no-go.
The contrast between the water in Varanasi (first) and Rishikesh (second), which is further north is quite striking.
If you die in Varanasi, you are more likely to go to heaven, so the city is full of the elderly and infirm who often live at the temples, begging for food until they can pass to their next life. Most Hindus are cremated over an open wood-burning fire, as this is thought to be the most beneficial to the departed soul. A number of years ago, the government created electric crematoriums, in hopes to make the burial process more eco friendly. Unfortunately, this trend never caught on and now they are only used for unclaimed bodies and the destitute. We were able to see the funeral pyres on the beach of the ganges. The families stay with the bodies and mourn and celebrate until the fire is done burning, about three hours. It was quite startling to see the mounds of firewood with charred human limbs hang out of the sides.
Children under the age of 12 or 13, pregnant women, people with leprosy, and the very old are not cremated. Instead, the bodies are bound tightly and taken outside the city, and sunk in the Ganges. We took a boat ride on the Ganges and came across a body gently bobbing up and down near one of the boats. When we inquired of Sonu, he told us that either this was one of the exceptions to cremation that had mistakenly risen to the surface, or more likely, there was foul play afoot and the person had been murdered. As if this was not gruesome enough, about 10 yards away, a group of children was receiving a swimming lesson! Our response was much more horrified than Sonu’s. Hindus are much more accepting of death than we are. Perhaps part of it comes from the belief of reincarnation and the hope that the dead will come back as something even more fortunate in their next life.
The Ganges boat ride was also the best way to see the Ghats, or holy steps, that Varanasi is famous for. The Ghats are the center of city life and are always crowded with bathers, pilgrims, holy men, wallahs (sellers) and the homeless.
Two blonde haired, blue eyed girls in a boat on the Ganges were quite a novelty for others on the river. Our entire trip was punctuated by namaste’s and waves from pilgrims and bathers.
The water buffalo, however, were not impressed.