India 🇮🇳: Holi Festival in Mathura 🌈 🙏 👳🏽‍♂️

Trains from Agra to Mathura were late and super busy. We had only general class tickets though managed to get an upgrade (for cash) on the ride. It was less than an hour and we had arrived – as usual some people demonstrating a complete lack of manners e.g. Let me on the train first before you can get off 🤬🤬🤬

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We stayed in Mathura the day prior to holi as there is afternoon procession here after the morning festivities in Vrindavan (see blog in blue box below for details).

Holi festival

Is the most an ancient hindi festival also referred to a festival of colours, spring festival or festival of love. It is celebrated in march though on varying dates depending on when full moon occurs. It is mostly celebrated in North India and Nepal with key locations being Mathura & Vrindavan (birth place & place of youth for Krishna) in Uttar Pradesh and Pushkar in Rajasthan. This blog provides excellent detail for Mathura.

This years holi was on the 21st March (2020: 9th March) with celebrations in the morning (start as early as 7am) where everyone gets smeared with colours though much of the party already happens the night before culminating in bon fires (holika bonfires). The latter signifies the burning of the devil.

 

We kicked off by a form of staged holi and we were invited to join a group of people filming for holi – colours galore, dance, laughter… All fun. Just we regretted not to have a good dust cover for the camera and ourselves 😉🤣🙏🌈 It was also the only place with a somewhat normal male / female mix. The holi in the streets seems to be an exclusive event for Indian men – probably due to the high level of harassment (see below). 🤔🤷‍♂️

We continued towards a holi place by the river – the Vishram Ghat – and from there. To holi gate. We were joined by a group of Swiss, Dutch and US fellow holi-goers. By holi gate we had finally caught up with the festivities (having wondered earlier where the heck it was).

 

Equipped with colours we headed back towards the river to see the main procession. Trucks and tractors came along with bumping beats and loads of people. Selfies with half india followed 🤳 🇮🇳 🙏.

 

Harassment pure

Amidst a lot of happiness, indian men showed their nasty side again. All girls got groped all over their body. No respect. Poor manners yet again. It is obvious that many use holi to explore some of their sexual fantasies and some even hatred towards the white race. They see it as a ‘legal’ way to vent emotions along the lines of “buran a maano, holi hai” (“its Holi, take no offense“). It doesn’t concerns westerners and locals alike.

I felt helpless

Holi dangerous for women

 

We skipped the bonfires (around 11pm) and headed home (after dinner embarrassingly dirty) completely drenched in colours. On top, we found our room flooded. Ultimately we got camera & rucksack clean. Laura’s former white t-shirt has been promoted to an official holi souvenir and my blue cloth might recover in a washing machine.

 

As we slept in next morning and our room was flooded again, i got going late. Laura had enough anyway and stayed in. So no Vrindavan today either, but a stroll through the streets.

 

The colours of Holi – toxic stuff?

The dry colours are also called Gulal. They used to be made from completely natural ingredients. Since the Holi has been commercialised, they now include loads of toxic elements. So thankfully this event is only annual.

Meaning of the colours 

  • Blue – water element & colour of Lord Krishna, signifies affection, faith, and spiritual growth
  • Red – energy, excitement, ambition and auspiciousness
  • Green – pride, positiveness, freshness, and coolness
  • Orange – new beginnings, spiritual path, and knowledge
  • Yellow – prosperity, health, and peace

 

There were still parties here or there, but the city was generally in cleanup mode. The ashes of the burnt bonfires and colourful streets a reminder of parties in the previous night. Some guys still sleeping off their night.

 

Time to go. Nothing holds us here anymore other than a very late departure of the overnight train 🚂 to Varanasi – another holi place. Thank god we have 2AC tickets confirmed – the station was absolutely packed.

A few snaps of Mathura

Mathura has some decent spots (by the river, especially on the other side it seemed), but is generally very dirty.

 

At the train station we met a few nice people – many of which apologised on behalf of their rogue fellow countrymen. Good vibes to say goodbye to Holi.

 

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India 🇮🇳: Jaipur, the pink city

We arrived already 6am in Jaipur after only a few hours rest on our journey from Chittorgarh and a packed day before. Thankfully our hotel (Krishna Palace) was close by the station and let us check in early – like 7am. So dream on 😴😂😉

First up was a visit to Amer Fort (read India 🇮🇳: The hill forts of Rajasthan 🏰 for details) before we did a little street shopping (shoes and a necklace for laura… Will it be used?) and a few glimpses at the lake and Jal Mahal. I got to sample some street snack – spicy, but nice and the stomach was even ok with it 😊.

There are loads of temples in Jaipur and Shri Gar Ganesh was close by. So off we went. To get to the temple there was a bit of a staircase to overcome. Laura got a henna tattoo done meanwhile. The temple wasn’t that impressive yet the views over Jaipur spectacular. And i got a little workout 🏃. On the way down we also encountered a few of the up and coming Bollywood stars 🤣😂🎦

Alcohol in India

Alcohol is neither hard nor illegal to obtain in India (except for a few states). Drinking age varies from 18 – 25y depending on region.

The bigger issue to me is more that most bars selling beer are either expensive hotels or dark places sort of hidden away (i am sure places like Goa are different in that respect).

As for the locals – they do drink and often heavily (they prefer spirits over beer). About 30% of indians drink, which is still less than in the developed world (eg Germany 80%, France close to 100%), but far from the abstinence the main hindu religion might suggest. Talking of which – it is actually not strictly prohibited to consume alcohol. Depends very much on the sect you follow.

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No more sightseeing today. Off to Pub2k2 for a drink (yep, one of those dark places). Mistake really. Only guys inside, service poor. One indian harassed Laura in front of my eyes (i am still shocked) and then the barman tried to cheat me. First with an inflated bill (didn’t work) and then by giving the wrong change… Caught again. No sign of embarrassment. India, india… What is wrong?!? 🤔

So time to upgrade to a foreigners place…. 100% Rock. Not bad. Decent be it old fashioned music. Champagne 🥂 with  fajitas🇲🇽. Tired.

On our last day before heading to Agra, we squeezed in a visit to the City Palace (Rp700) and Hawa Mahal (Rp200). The former is a waste of money and not worth seeing. If you go, do obey the no photography signs unless you also want to part with an extra Rp500 🤣😂. The latter is a nice building with great views as well.

India 🇮🇳: The hill forts of Rajasthan 🏰

Rajasthan is home to many hill forts of impressive size. Six of them have been declared Unesco world heritage in 2013. We visited three of them – Amber Fort (Jaipur), Kumbhalgarh & Chittorgarh Forts (Udaipur region).

Kumbhalgarh Fortress: Nano version of the great wall of China

The fortress is a 2h drive north of Udaipur on mainly single lane roads in poor condition. If you don’t get sick, you can enjoy the countryside and people on the way. Entry is Rp600 for foreigners (Rp40 for locals) and it is open from 8.30am to 6pm. In the evening there is a daily light show, which seems quite impressive.

The fortress was built-in one sequence in the 15th century and remains in good shape until today though it is no longer inhabited. The walls of the fort extend 38km and belong to the longest wall structures in the world (although any wall looks pale when compared with ita big brother in China). Wikipedia has a good overview the great walls – in the past and today.

 

Chittorgarh fort – even bigger

After Ranakour we returned to Udaipur (2h) to catch a train to Chittorgarh. We travelled 2nd class seated which was ok. Highlight of the journey was a massive dust cloud that polluted the wagon visibly. 😷🤧

Chittorgarh was the capital of the world’s longest ruling dynasty, the kingdom of Mewar, for eight centuries (before the capital was moved to Udaipur). Not only is it regarded as the greatest fort in Rajasthan, it is the most sizable fort in India (3sqkm total area). My home fortress – Festung Königstein – looks like a lego toy in comparison (Chittorgarh is 31x larger).

 

Some facts:

  • The fort is home to several palaces, temples and towers (most famously the victory tower)
  • Seen from above, it is shaped like a fish

  • Its history dates back to the 7th century, but construction was spread over many phases.
  • The siege of Chittorgarh in the 15th century saw the fort lost to emperor Akbar and Udaipur took over as capital of the Mewar kingdom.
  • It has a water reservoir holding 1bn gallons of water – enough to supply an army of 50,000 men for 4 years

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  • Every night 7/8pm a light show takes place

 

The city of Chittorgarh is rather unimpressive. Yet we did enjoy a very local curry dinner and a few beers at the Pratap Palace Hotel.

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Amber fort – towering over Jaipur

The fort was our first stop in Jaipur and in hindsight the one most worth visiting. Already from far away its reddish colour stands out (the fort was constructed using red sandstone & marble).

 

The current fort was built in the late 16th century yet its origins date back to the 11th. The palace complex features several courtyards and even tunnels for royal rescue missions. Bring cash to pay the entrance, as internet doesn’t work despite a large wifi sign chiselled int stone 🤣😂

 

We used the magnificent setting for a little photo shoot with laura’s new scarf in colombian colours. 📸 👧🏻 🇨🇴 SLIDESHOW BELOW.

 

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India 🇮🇳: Jainism religion basics🙏 & Ranakpur temple

While visiting the impressive temple of Ranakpur, i came across the religion of Jainism for the first time. It is one of the worlds oldest religions (and I hadn’t even heard of it 🙄🤷‍♂️). 

Ranakpur Jain Temple – Fine craftsmenship

About an hour from Kumbhalgarh fort lies Ranakpur – at least when you cut through the hills on windy roads as we did. About two hours drive will get you back to Udaipur.

The temple is dedicated to Tirthankara Rishabhanatha – the first of 24 teachers of Jainism believed to have lived millions of years ago (much further in the past than the last and 24th Tirthankara or teacher, Mahavira, who lived 500BC).

The temple was commissioned by a local Jain-businessman in the 15th century and took 50y to complete. 2,500 craftsmen were involved and used marble for construction. The symmetry and level of detail are truly outstanding.

As to symmetry, the temple design is based on chaumukha (the four faces). This follows the four cardinal directions and hence the cosmos.

Jainism religion basics

The Jain Flag in India

  • Meaning of the swastika: The four arms of the swastika represent the four states of existence in Jain believe – Heavenly beings, Human Benefits, Hellish being and Tiryancha (subhuman like flora or fauna)
  • 24 teachers or victorious saviours are the religions origin

The 24 teachers

  • Values: non-violence, truth, not to steal, celibacy /chastity, no greed (and no attachment to worldly possessions)
  • 4th oldest religion in the world, but only with c5m followers – mainly in India

Age of main religions

  • Some similarities to Buddhism

Note: Come in long trousers (can be rented at fhe ticket booth), entry is free 🤣 but mandatory audio guide (Rp200) and camera fee (Rp300 EACH – they check your pockets at the entrance) make for about Rp500 all in. Food/drinks also not allowed.

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India 🇮🇳: Udaipur & Holy Cows

Welcome to Rajasthan

The first part of our journey took us to the state of Rajasthan – one of five we will visit. It is the largest state with 342,000sqkm (10% of India or about the size of Germany) and situated in the North West bordering Pakistan. It goes without saying that a few days were not enough to see it all.

The official languages in Rajasthan are Hindi and English. Hindi is the language most widely spoken in India (44% primary, 57% all-in), but by far not the only.

A few Hindi words to get by

Udaipur – Venice of the East

Having been to Venice and St Petersburg (Venice of the North), it was just consequent to come to Udaipur as well 😉. We stayed in the old town, close to most sights of the former capital of the Mewar kingdom (succeeding Chittorgarh after it was taken by enemies).

Highlights of the city were the Hindu Jagdish temple with its lively prayers, the city palace and breakfast in the Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel with its beautiful architecture and overlooking lake Pichola, one of the two big artificial lakes in Udaipur.

There is a lot more to do and see like the daily cultural show at Bagore Ki Haveli (daily 7pm, come 6.30pm or before to secure tickets), but our need to catch up with sleep and a tight timetable set us certain limits 😉

Holy cow! 🐮 🐮 🐮

Noteworthy were all the cows in the streets of Udaipur. Eating, poo-ing, watching, walking in traffic. There are an estimated 5m+ cows roaming Indian streets. Cows are holi animals in Hinduism (practised by 80% of Indians) that forbids slaughtering cows. A good part of that status relates to Krishna. He also goes by the name of Govinda, which means ‘friend and protector of cows’.

Many farmers hence cut old, unproductive cows loose to save on feeding cost and avoid the risk of cows feeding on crops – a widespread problem in rural India. Cow rescue centers are overflowing despite heavy government investment into new sheds under PM Modi.