Kirsten, Ryan, Tanner and I were thrown straight into our next tour, we missed the first couple of days because our last tour overlapped with this one. We met our guide Parik and he kindly informed us that we had a 6 30 am bus ride to Chitwan National Park all on our first day. It was a 5 hour bus ride heading back the same way we’d just come from, from Pokhara. The windy, bumpy roads were familiar and as usual I slept most of the way.
Chitwan National Park, Nepal
We arrived in Chitwan and our first activity planned was an afternoon bike ride to a nearby local village. The only time I ever ride a bike is usually when I’m on holidays in a foreign country so I’m always a bit wobbly to start with. We were about 45 mins into the bike ride when it started to pour down with rain. We cut the ride short and headed back to the hotel as quickly as we could. Kirsten was bringing up the rear of the group when she all of a sudden let out a yelp. I turned around to find her on the ground, I’m not sure what exactly caused her to fall (there didn’t seem to be any hazards nearby) but I’m going to blame it on the roads being slippery from the rain.
Chitwan is UNESCO world heritage site and home to a number of protected species. With over 600 rhinos believed to be residing in the park, I was itching to get out and find some. We took a 2 hour long boat ride down the river to where we would meet our jeeps and start our land safari. Along the river we saw an abundance on bird species and both Gharial and Marsh Mugger crocodiles. The further down the river we went the bigger the crocs seemed to get. I was very aware of how easily the boat could tip, throwing us into the river with these flesh eating predators! But we managed to survive the boat ride and make it to the safety of our jeep.
As with all national parks it pays to have low expectations and hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you get to see. Pleasantly surprised is definitely an understatement for our jeep safari, we saw 8 rhinos, a sloth bear, wild hogs, monkeys, deer and so many birds. The wild elephants, tigers and leopards did manage to illude us but you can’t really complain when you get to see 8 rhinos… 8!!! There was one point of the safari where we came around the corner to see a lake, I jokingly said “look, there’s another rhino” when in fact I thought it was a boat… turns out it was a rhino. We over nighted in a small village on the Ghumti river and then headed back to civilisation that morning. We managed to spot some more deer, crocs and birds on our way out. That evening we had dinner by the river and much to my delight we spotted our 9th rhino as it casually trotted by the restaurant.
Our next destination was Lumbini, most famous as the birthplace of Buddha and also conveniently located only about an hour from the Indian border. Aside from Maya Devi Temple, the actual spot where Buddha was born and a whole bunch of other temples dedicated to Buddha, there isn’t a lot to see in this town. An overnight stay was long enough.
Our next stop the incredibly overwhelming, magical and holy city of Varanasi. This was also our first stop in India, a 12 hour drive from Lumbini, including crossing the Indian border meant we were all pretty tired by the time we arrived. This didn’t mean we had any time to rest though, especially when you’re in Varanasi, there’s just to much to see and experience! We headed straight for the river Ganges where we had an evening boat ride and candle ceremony planned. We took our candles, made a wish and then watched them float away on the Ganges, it was a beautiful moment that will always be remembered. We then continued the boat ride to the Dashashwamedh ghat (steps) further down the river to experience Ganga aarti, a nightly fire ceremony performed by Brahmin disciples to honour the holy river Ganges. 1000’s of people flock here nightly and it was an incredible sight to witness.
No trip to India would be complete with out a boat ride and camping trip on the Ganges river. And that was exactly what would occupy our next 2 days. We drove to a spot on the river about 2 hours from Varanasi where we boarded our vessels for an exciting 2 day adventure along the Ganges. I think if anything the biggest thing I learnt is how much the local people rely on this holy river, this river symbolizes life for these people and it was incredible to experience it first hand. The camping was alright, I’m never the biggest fan of camping but it was pretty special camping of the banks for the river Ganges! On the second day we saw dolphins! Did you know there were dolphins in the Ganges? I sure didn’t! They were too quick to get a photo of but the species is the South Asian River Dolphin if you want to look them up. The boat ride took us back to Varanasi and dropped us off right near our hotel… now that’s service!
After arriving back from our boat ride we went on a walking tour in the old Bazaar. You can buy anything and everything is these wonderful alleyways. Varanasi is the city of silk so I felt compelled to buy myself a beautiful silk scarf. We also stopped for Lassi’s at Blue Lassi – the best Lassi shop in all of India, amazing! These alley ways are complete chaos and are nothing like anywhere I’ve ever been before, I thought China was crazy but the bazaars of Varanasi are like China on steroids!
A final sunrise boat ride on the Ganges before we departed for our next destination cemented Varanasi as one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. It’s crazy and overwhelming but so so beautiful it’s impossible not to fall in love with this city.
Oh and I almost forgot before we left Varanasi we had a half day free so we headed out of the chaos and visited the city of Sarnath. Located here is the giant Dhamek stupa, marking the location where Buddha conducted his first sermon. It had some impressive ruins that we had fun exploring too!
I experienced my first Indian sleeper train on the journey from Varanasi to Orchha, it probably took about 14 hours and the fact that we had to chain our bags together had me a little worried for my safety. The carriages consisted of three level bunk beds, so much room for activities… Not! There was barely enough room for me to climb to the top but by the time I got up there I managed to settle myself in quite comfortable. Clutching my small bag the whole way I actually slept quite well, nearly 10 hours in total! The best advice I can give is try to avoid the toilets at all costs, not a fun experience but if you have to go just hold your breath… and the hand railing, it gets pretty bumpy.
I was excited to arrive in small town of Orchha, located in the Indian central state of Madhya Pradesh. I was most excited because this is the city we would be celebrating the Holi festival in. We’d been warned that Holi can get quite out of hand in the big cities, it can actually be quite dangerous for foreigners to participate, so Orchha seemed like the perfect place for it. Orchha also boasts 7 palaces, cenotaphs and temples dating back to 1531. The best thing about these places is they were almost perfectly preserved and much to my delight we were given time to roam freely and explore where all the hidden staircases would lead us.
Now the most exciting part of Orchha – Holi festival! Parik managed to hook us up with a whole lot of colour and some local families to play with, mainly kids, the adults were to hard core for the tourists. A few hours later with my skin stained with colour and my hair matted with chalk, I was one very happy girl who’d gotten to experience first hand what Holi is like in India. We went back to our hotel and Parik hosed us down outside before we were allowed into our rooms. A long time in the shower and managed to get myself mostly clean apart from some blue skin here and there. Kirsten wasn’t so lucky, she came away with multi coloured hair and a pink face. I thought it looked really good!
We had a cooking class with a local family as our last activity in Orchha, it was probably more of a demonstration than a class but most of us did have a little go at helping out. Mainly we just watched and thoroughly enjoyed eating the food. The best part was a special sweet made for Holi called malpua, the main ingredients were dough and condensed milk, two of my favourite things!
It comes without saying that Agra is an essential stop on any Indian itinerary. If you didn’t know already Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal one of the 7 wonders of the world and for most people the reason why they visit India. Now I have visited India and the Taj Mahal previously so I’m not ticking anything new off my bucket list with this one but I was just as excited to see it as I was on my first visit. There’s something magical about the Taj Mahal, it’s absolutely beautiful and for me there’s nowhere else that compares to it.
Usually overshadowed by the Taj Mahal is the also impressive Agra fort but in saying that most people who visit the Taj will also visit the fort. It’s an impressive UNESCO world heritage site that covers 94 acres! It also if weather permits has an incredible view of the Taj Mahal, so incredible that the photo I took got reposted by Lonely Planet on Instagram! Sorry for the brag moment but I can’t help myself, this was pretty damn exciting for me!
From Agra we caught a train to Delhi where another tour was sadly coming to an end. After travelling together for the last month it was sad to say goodbye to Tanner and even sadder to see my sister heading home, lucky its only going to be a few months before Kirsten and I reunite again in Cambodia and even more exciting my brother Nick will be joining us too!
Ryan and I are bravely exploring India on our own for the next month and I’m sure we’re going to have many stories to tell. India can be very overwhelming and I think this tour was the perfect introduction for us.
heck out my latest youtube video for more of our adventures.