We are in Rishikesh in the Northern state of Uttarakhand. We arrived around noon today and it was cold and rainy! Yey! A nice change from the hot and somewhat humid weather we have been enduring for the past month or so. The sun is peeking out of the clouds now and there is still a nice chill in the air. It is lovely.
I have to tell you about my henna experience.
Okay, so it is the worst henna I have ever had...now I know what it is like to have bad prison tattoos. BUT the experience was so memorable, I don't care what it looks like.
Riley and I went with Bharat (apparently, Bharat, is the original name for India...India is the British name) to his house so his niece could do the henna. We walked down a dusty road, in the dark (there are no street lamps) through a maze of allies until we reached his home. We walked in on his family (older brother, brother's wife, niece and nephew, and mom and dad) sitting in the brothers room watching Hindi TV. They all greeted us very warmly even though they mostly didn't speak English. The niece, 12, shook our hands, while the nephew, Bobby who is 7, gave me a thumbs up and Riley an OK sign....he was sooo cute.
We never learned the little girls name. They invited me to sit on the brothers bed and the little girl got started. Bharat brought a chair in for Riley to sit and the family all piled in the little room to watch. They offered us tea and Riley some sort of grilled veggies. We also got to try a cucumber, which we have seen around, but it looks so different from ours at home, we were wondering what it was...tastes like a cucumber.
Even though the henna was not great, I was impressed for the girls skill for her age and I was happy to let her practice on me, because with practice she can start making money for her family. She also did one of Riley's palms; a heart with our names in it. =) We spent over an hour with the family...not speaking much, but enjoying the atmosphere of an Indian family's home. They didn't ask for money, but we gave the girl 150 rupees (about $3), enough to help her family financially, and hopefully buy more henna so she can practice more.
The Taj Mahal was everything I hoped it would be (although, I think Riley found it a little overrated and was bored quickly). It brought joyous tears to my eyes. I think, mostly, because we have been through so much to finally see the most beautiful building in the world it was a milestone for the end of our trip.
It was amazing that once I was inside the gate and approaching the grand masterpiece, I still thought it looked like a painting on the horizon, even as we got very close. The detail in the white marble is unbelievable for the 1600's. I loved being inside the mausoleum. The acoustics are like nothing I have ever heard. I so badly wanted to sing in there!
We spent a couple of hours taking it in and then prepared for our next destination.
We arrived in Mathura on the 23rd as planned and took a rickshaw 11 km to Vridavan where we were going to spend a few days. This town was my pick, I had no real reason or need for going there (other than Holi, which as I said before, was earlier in the month), I just wanted to go, so we put it on the literary. We found out later, that Mathura is where Krishna was born, so (like many Indian cities) it is a very holy city...which is cool.
Well, as soon as we got to Vridavan, I got a very uncomfortable feeling. I didn't share this with Riley, but as it turns out he felt the same way. I can't say what it was...I just didn't see us spending the next 3 days in this crammed little village with nothing in English...this made it difficult to find our hotel.
We tried to check into one of the few hotels mentioned in our guide book, but the guy at the reception desk said that he didn't have any rooms and when we asked him if he recommended any place, he said, "Only for Indians". This didn't sit well with us and didn't make us too optimistic about finding a room. At this point we both voiced what we were thinking and headed back to the train station to try and get the hell out of Mathura.
Of course, it was late in the afternoon at this point, so our train options were limited. Because we hadn't eaten since 10am we decided to find a room in Mathura (it is a bigger town than Vrindavan) for the night and then head to North to Haridwar the next morning.
After some searching, we found a grubby little room at a decent price: 250 rupees (5 bucks).
We spent a while looking for a place to eat around our hotel and failed. So, we decided to give our hotel "restaurant" a try. It was less like a restaurant and more like the family dining room.
Well, we don't know exactly what it was but we assume it was the hotel food...about halfway through our 8 hour train ride to Haridwar, the next day, Riley became (as he describes it) violently ill. He said it was the worst experience of his life. Damn Mathura.
We finally got to Haridwar in the evening and I found us a hotel near the train station. Luckily, this one also had HBO...we spent 1 day and 2 nights in that hotel room. Today Riley felt well enough to make the 24 km journey North to Rishikesh. We will spend the next 5 days here before heading back down to Delhi for our departure. He is resting in the room now and we think he will be better by tomorrow.
We have agreed that as positive and wonderful as our India experience has been to us, we are both ready to be home. It is exhausting to be approached like a cash machine, by beggars and venders, every time we walk down the street. And I have had about as much as I can take of endless staring and butt pinching.
But we have vowed to still make the best of our remaining time here and not let the negative aspects out weigh the good.
Love you all.