Living a city life again, Shanghai style

Shanghai – home to my friends from Iasi, the city of five-stars-hotel-Sunday-brunches and wide, long boulevards flanked by dazzling skyscrapers, the city of red communist flags and Starbucks coffee, the place where you are in China without really being in China, the city where I rubbed of the countryside spirit which had got imprinted in me during all that Indian part of my trip, the city to eat, relax, walk around, meet friends, and enjoy. And, then, to let yourself be taken away to the next stop of the journey.

Delhi, my gateway out of India

Delhi, last stop in India – a perfect mixture of what India has been for me. On the one side, experience of peacefulness, and quiet, and beauty – with one of the most beautiful parks I saw in a city, the Nehru Park, full of flowers, and bees, and freshness, and with large boulevards bordered by trees, and smaller parks, and embassy houses. And on the other side, a dusty metropolis, always full of voices and screaming horns, full of people, and people selling, and asking things from you, and noise, and dust, and heat, and everything all together, until it gets too much and too tiresome to take it all in.

As I was about to start my journey here, I was asking myself whether India was going to be for me a “love” or a “hate” experience. And now, as I am leaving it – this country that one cannot tell you about it, not even show it to you, but that you have to experience for your own – now, I look inside myself and I find both: both the love and the hate, both the falling in love and falling in peace, and the anxiousness, and the tiredness, and never-ending restlessness.

Maybe India is just a big, oversized picture of Life itself, full of flavors, and colors, and relentlessness, and all sorts of experiences; and good and bad, and life and death, and here and there… And all you have to do, in the mists of all this craziness around, is to be yourself.

Short journey into the Rishikesh of my heart

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The pace of this travel blog could not keep up with the pace of my travelling. In real life things happen sometimes much faster than they do in the virtual one.

And so, while I was writing about Taj Mahal and Rajastan, I was already walking the streets of Rishikesh, a town in the north of India, close to the Himalayas. A self-proclaimed international capital of yoga, with teachers’ training yoga courses and drop-in classes, advertised at every street corner. The place where people who feel they have something to share hold “satsangs”, open discussions where questions are asked or thoughts are just shared. Where Hindu pilgrims come every day, from all over India, to bathe in the saint Ganga river. The place where some of my friends from Bucharest came to participate at the satsangs held by Sri Mooji. And where I settled down for a couple of weeks and enjoyed the company of my friends and an easy life in India. The place where I said goodbye to my brother, who decided to go north, towards Nepal, to walk the white peaks of Annapurna. While I wanted to stay longer here, in Rishikesh, to go walking on the shores of the Ganga, listening to its sounds and stories, to stay in the afternoon sun, watching it slowly rolling over the hills on the other side of the river…

The place where I felt that things which are difficultly put into words were happening inside me. Sometimes even flowing outwards, as smiles, or tears, or silences. A place I will remember in my heart. For all the reasons one may need. And for no reason at all.

The story of the Taj Mahal

India-0585I would like to tell you today the story of the Taj Mahal, the Taj Mahal, as I saw it, and felt it.

It was raining that morning and the fog was floating in the air, omnipresent. Passing the second gate, the Taj Mahal appeared in front of my eyes as the silhouette of a white, gloomy ghost. We got closer, stepping forward to meet this mighty legend, the Taj Mahal that everyone speaks of, that every visitor builds up in praise. Slowly I approached, looking with curiosity at its white marble, at the great four towers surrounding it, at the subtle, everlasting flowers carved into the stone, at the clouds that seemed to be crowns on top of the towers, letting just a little bit of sun to come out, just enough to light up in fire details of the inlaid work of gold and precious stones.

In front of the Taj Mahal, one takes a step back. A step back into the very core of his being, into that place deep inside of us where grace and beauty dwells. Marvelous works of art, or stunning sights in nature, have the capacity to do that. Maybe it’s because we feel that, in that moment, grace is flowing in us. Maybe because we can feel then a glimpse of the beyond, of the ever-perfect, of the beautiful without effort, right there, in front of our eyes.

On one of the following days we visited Agra and its mighty fort – still in the company of the rain and the fog. But this time, we were also in the (much more enjoyable!) company of Julie and Olivier, a French couple we met in Rajastan, and with whom we shared stories of places, and people, and our home countries.

Jodhpur, my last stop in Rajastan

A fort and a marketplace – this was Jodhpur for me. In one, I saw the history of India, the old India, with stories of princes and princesses, with tales of wives throwing themselves into the fire at the death of their husband, with silver carriages and silk embroideries, and tall rooms with walls covered with paintings and gold. In the other, I dipped myself into the living India, the ever-present India, with stalls and shops cramped into each other and spilling into the sidewalk, or simply settled on a blanket in the street, with people getting a haircut in the middle of the road, in between parked motorbikes and cows moving lazily, with donkeys carrying stone and people selling food. And the beautiful and (still) surprisingly colorful saries!

Enjoy the India I came to know here, in Rajastan, the land of kings. Next stop, it will be the Taj Mahal…

Jaisalmer, the city in the desert

Jaisalmer – the second city we visited in Rajastan, India’s “land of kings”. A city built in the desert and, as it would seem, out of the desert. With buildings made out of stone having the gold-like color of sand, carved with intricate, never-ending designs. The streets, as everywhere in India, full of noise, color, people and… cows. Jaisalmer’s fort, full of history, seems to overlook the rest of the city – and the life of its people, which look as if it changed so little in the last hundreds of years.

And because we were in the desert, we just had to try a camel safari! We had it all: camel riding, passing through local villages, sunset on the dunes, dinner by the fire, cooked by our Indian guides (delicious, by the way), sharing stories and moments of silence while warming up by the camp fire, sleeping in the desert, under the stars and in the light of the (almost) full moon, waking up with the sunrise and welcoming the day with a hot cup of “chai”…

Last, but not least, I give you Hotel Helsinki House, our home for a few days and the best accommodation we found in India, so far! The owner was very helpful and friendly, so it felt natural to help them with a few photos for their website. Here you have some of the most “artistic” ones :)

Udaipur – the city where India becomes lovable

We arrived in Udaipur in the morning, after one long overnight journey with the train, coming from the south of India. And the first thing which stroke us was that everything seemed so much more quiet here… We crossed the Walking Bridge and, before even starting to look for accommodation, we stopped for a morning coffee, by the side of the lake. The sun was gently warming us, the air had a soft, spring-like note to it, the buildings were sending glittery reflections of themselves into the waters of the lake. While Indian women, sited by the edge of the water, undisturbed and apparently unaware of the people around, were doing their laundry.

There was more to discover of this “Indian Venice” – the streets, the people, the roof-top restaurants and handicraft shops, the wonderful lake that somehow manages to bring peace and serenity over Udaipur’s hundreds of years of life and history.

The city also reveals what the lives of the Maharajas used to be, these Indian princes who were governing rather small states, and who often retained some degree of autonomy even under the English domination. And we got to enter into the palaces which they build, and rebuild, over the centuries, for the court, for official business, for their own pleasure. Or for the exclusive use, and confinement, of their wives.

And, finally, I would like to show you the place where we stayed in Udaipur, one of the accommodations I liked best, so far, in India. Don’t miss the photos of its roof-top restaurant!

Into India’s past: the Ellora and Ajanta caves

They are not actually caves, but monasteries that were carved into the mountain rock by monks, as places of prayer. The first one we saw were the Ellora caves, a complex of caves built gradually by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks, from the 5th until the 10th century. The Ajanta caves are older than the Ellora ones, built at a time when Buddhism was actually the predominant religion in India. They are exclusively Buddhist and were caved between the 2nd and the 6th centuries. Their signature feature is represented by the paintings that once covered the walls of most of the caves. Unfortunately the site is not very picture-friendly, as the light is rather dim.

When we were lucky enough to be alone in one of the caves, we could almost listen to the silence, letting our eyes get used to the darkness, pierced only by the light passing through the entrance door, picturing in our minds the kind of life that the monks would have had in those secluded mountain-monasteries.