The airport near Varanasi was very small. Our flight to Delhi was a little delayed and then we had to collect our luggage. We didn’t know that there was a whole separate terminal for domestic and international fights. We had to pay for a taxi to drive us to the international terminal that was about 45 minutes away, and we had about 55 minutes to check into our flight on time. Needless to say, I was very nervous in the taxi since there was a ton of traffic. We made it on time and were able to check in. I had some issues getting through security since I had some metal items in my carry on bag. They made me take everything metal out and put it on a dish to go through again. I eventually got through. We flew from Delhi to Dubai. We shopped around the Dubai airport and then took the long flight from Dubai to Atlanta. Once I got to Atlanta I had to wait for the next flight to Wilmington. After 36 hours of travel I was happy to be home.

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Outside the Dubai Airport

 
 
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People bathing in the Ganges River in the morning

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Men washing their laundry in the river

We hired the same guide to give us a sunrise boat ride. He said we would be able to see the sunrise, but it was too cloudy. We saw the morning ritual of people bathing in the Ganges River. Some people waved to us as we floated by in the boat. I think most of them were tourists, but some people were also washing their clothes in the river by banging them against the steps. There were also some kids doing yoga classes outside. After the boat ride we walked around Varanasi. There were some creepy guys dressed up in costumes and make up that were following us. Our guide told them to leave us alone. We saw some little temples and shops in the narrow streets. There were also monkeys around on the rooftops.

We met up with the American couple that we met at the Taj Mahal. They were volunteer nurses and were traveling to Nepal after India. We went out to eat with them and on the walk back to the hotel we saw a wedding procession in the street. There was a carriage and music blasting from a truck. It was very strange. I was very glad that we visited Varanasi. It was the craziest, but most interesting city of the whole trip. We prepared all of our belongings to leave for the airport the next day.

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Monkeys around Varanasi

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Wedding procession in the carriage

 
 
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Upper sleeper bunk

We went back to the train station to take a sleeper train to Varanasi. The train ride was longer than I expected, about 12 hours. Varanasi is a holy city in India and I wrote my final paper on the Ganges River, which flows by Varanasi.  We had a sleeper car but we were not all in the same curtained off area. We tried to talk to other people to switch seats, but some people wouldn’t. At one point I had to move to a different bunk, but it was better since I had a window view and more privacy. There were only Asian toilets on the train, which were basically holes in the floor with no seat. Those were not very fun to use. Our train also got delayed by a few hours, so our 12 hour journey turned into 15 or 16 hours.

When we arrived at Varanasi there were children who swarmed to us and tried to get food and money from us. We ignored them and got in the van. Usually those kids are part of a whole mafia and don’t get to keep the money themselves. We got to the hotel and it was right on one of the ghats with a river view. The ghats are steps that lead to the river. Varanasi was the most crowded place we had been to in all of the places we had visited.

We arranged for a boat ride sunset tour. Our guide spoke English with a strange accent, it was hard to understand some things he said. We got to see the cremation ghat where people burn their deceased family members. Most people in India want their ashes to be scattered in the Ganges River since it is believed to purify the ashes. There are whole ceremonies and certain steps to take for the cremation. It was really interesting and we saw actual cremations happening. Then we saw a nightly celebration that takes place at another ghat. There were tons of people watching from boats and on the ghat itself.

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People on the ghats in Varanasi

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Cremation Ghat

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Nightly celebration in Varanasi

 
 
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Agra Fort

Today we went to the other main tourist attraction in the area called the Agra Fort. It was built in the 1500’s and had a lot of interesting architecture. People were looking at us like we were celebrities and some people asked if they could take a picture with us. Some people don’t ask and just try and sneak pictures.

We also tried out the Indian version of McDonalds. They have vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. I liked their veggie burgers. They also had a container for unused condiment packages. I thought that was a good idea. No need to waste the packets, plus it saves them some money. The American fast food places and restaurants are nice restaurants in India. Even McDonalds is kind of expensive in India compared to other places.

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Save unused condiments at McDonalds

 
 
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Standard Taj pose

We got all ready to go to the Taj Mahal today. We wore our best Indian clothes and of course brought our cameras. At a certain point no autos were allowed near the Taj Mahal. We took a horse-drawn carriage to get closer. We still had to walk a little bit to get into the entrance. It still looked fake, even close up. We were given little booties to put over our shoes. We took some standard tourist poses in front of the Taj. There were a lot of people there and we got to walk inside the building. There was a river behind the Taj Mahal. We couldn’t stay for too long since it was so hot out. We did meet a nice American couple that was going to be staying at our next hotel in Varanasi. We made plans to meet up with them again there.

We were exhausted and went back to the hotel. We ordered room service and watched some movies on tv.

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Regular pose

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River at the back of the Taj Mahal

 
 
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Train from Delhi to Agra

We arranged for a driver to the train station through the hotel. The train station was pretty crowded. It was also the only spot that I wished I brought my backpack instead of a suitcase with wheels. We had to go up and down stairs over the tracks and there were no ramps. The train was really nice and they served a big breakfast. I think a lot of tourists take the train since the Taj Mahal is in Agra. We got to Agra and checked into our hotel. It had a view of the Taj from the rooftop. It was still so hot and dry there, though. We went to a local market and tried to find some henna shops. We found a small local henna shop.

The henna there is put into small tubes, like cake frosting tubes. The locals painted the henna on. It was a paste that you rub off once it dries. It stains your skin and can last for two weeks. I had my feet done and my classmates had their hands and forearms done.

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Getting henna done

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The locals were interested in us

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The final design after the henna dried and was rubbed off

 
 
It was insanely hot, about 110 degrees F. We went to a high end shopping mall for the air conditioning. We wanted to see a movie but they were all in Hindi with no English subtitles. We ate at Pizza Hut for lunch and an Italian restaurant for dinner. I liked Indian food, but also needed some variety! We took an auto rickshaw back to the hotel, but our driver couldn’t seem to find the place. He had to stop and ask multiple people where it was even though we had the address. We finally got back and prepared to leave for Agra.

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Today the official study abroad course ended. Two of my classmates and I decided to extend our trip for a week to travel up north. We flew from Cochin to Delhi. We arrived around 8pm and there was a driver from the hotel to pick us up. We all fit into one room and went to sleep.

 
 
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Boat ride on the backwaters of Kerala

We left Thekkady and drove down the mountain to Alleppey to the backwaters of Kerala. Our hotel was right on the water. The water was very calm and flat with lots of floating aquatic plants. The backwater boat ride was very relaxing. We had to pack up and get ready to head back to the Cochin airport the next morning.

 
 
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Elephants in the Reserve

We woke up early to do a Jeep tour in Periyar Tiger Reserve. Our driver got a call that there were elephants nearby. We drove over and saw a few elephants. The elephants had to cross the road to get water so they were waiting for us to leave. We moved on, and our guide told us about natural remedies and what plants can be used for. Even Sapna, other tour guides and shopkeepers could identify plants and tell you how to use them at home.

We ate breakfast at the reserve then put on “leech socks.” The leech socks went over our pants and into our shoes. They tied underneath our knees. We started walking in the reserve and there were tons of leeches! They were on leaves and would stick straight up trying to attach to something. We also sprinkled salt on the leeches to get them off the socks. We had to put salt in our shoes to get all the leeches off. We were so tired, we were nodding off on the drive back to the hotel.

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Taking a rest, notice the leech socks?