Sunday, November 2, 2008

Holy City to Holy Wow

It’s been over a week since we’ve posted so here goes a summary of the past eight days.


We discovered a McDonald’s next to our hotel in Varanasi and just had to check out the local menu. No beef, but Chicken Maharaja Mac headed the menu along with several other veg and non-veg (chicken) options including Mexican and Chinese. The smell of vegetable oil and the taste of the fries was 100% North American.


It would be a two day drive to Khajuraho (435 km) so we set sights on an overnight in Rewa. The Maharaja Hotel filled the bill with its one star shining brightly in the garish pink back lighted sign across the front of the building. We have a new hotel rating system based on Motel Six with that chain being perfect at a score of 6.0; according to RA the Maharaja was 1.3!

Part of the ride today was on a four lane road which normally would be easier than the one/two lane roads, but that is not always the case. The road surface is usually better on the divided carriageway, but the Indians use it quite differently. For one thing, it is not unusual to meet traffic going the opposite direction in the fast lane! Tractors, motorcycles, cars etc. Whenever the road passes through a town, the town spills out into the road and occupies most of the left lane with tuk-tuks, trucks, market stalls etc. So the top speed on the four lane is still only 80 km/h and sometimes that does not feel safe considering all the stuff on the road and that which may dart out suddenly from either side.


Khajuraho. A small village by Indian standards (pop 20000), but with more than enough temples to go around. Here we see the Kama Sutra in stone as most of the Indo-Aryan structures are loaded with two elements: women and sex. We get a sneak peak the first night we are there by attending the very well done sound and light show. The next morning we enter the grounds again to see the place in m more detail. After a couple of hours of craning our necks and taking lots of pictures we end up in a tree house for lunch at the Blue Sky Restaurant. What a great way to see the temples and eat at the same time. When we want more beer or soda we just pull on the rope that “rings” a wooden bell that beckons our waiter.

We have treated ourselves to a five star resort here in Khajuraho complete with large swimming pool and very attentive staff. Clean towels twice a day, an excellent restaurant, and internet access for 30 rupees/hour. RA has been educating us with her Word-A-Day calendar and one of the young waiters quickly scoops up the word of the day when we leave it at the breakfast table.

Diwali (Hindu festival of lights) is celebrated during our three night stay here. Lights are strung all over the buildings and it reminds us of a snowless Christmas. All the hotels guests are invited to see the fireworks in the garden behind the hotel one night and we oblige. Sweets and sparklers are handed out and we comment on all the butter and oil lamps lining the walls, pool edge, and on small rafts floating in the pool. Soon the fireworks start--what a show!
Glowing embers fall into the crowd, strings of fire crackers explode at our feet, and sometimes the fireworks take a horizontal trajectory instead of a vertical one. We slowly retreat to the other side of the pool feeling safer with a body of water between us and the colorful exploding display. One errant rocket starts a fire in the vegetable garden reminding us of Moses and the burning bush.


Today’s 290 km equals the longest on our Butt Buster adventure and we bed down at the Sun Beam Hotel in Gwalior for a little over US$30/room. We latch on to a wi-fi connection and watch Obama’s thirty minute commercial on You Tube.


The impressive hilltop Gwalior Fort (3 km long) and the Man Singh Palace inside its walls occupies most of the morning before we motored over to the Jai Vilas Palace, home to the Scindia line of maharajas. Tremendous opulence in a land of abject poverty. Incredible India (the current epithet of Indian tourism) never ceases to amaze us; this applies to the historical sites we have seen and to the things we see as we bounce along on our Bullets.

Next stop: Agra and the Taj Mahal.