1. Taj Mahal in Agra, India
Nothing beats a first impression. Most buildings we encounter are just buildings. Sometimes, however, a building owns a soul and it’s mere sight can strike a chord with you. The Taj Mahal in Agra can be placed in that category. It’s a beautiful piece of history, a mausoleum in memory of the Emperor’s wife. It becomes even more special when you know an exact copy in black marble was planned to be built on the other side of the river, literally mirroring the original white version.
Imagine, we had been traveling from Jaipur to Agra for hours and now we were finally driving up to the Taj in a Tuk-Tuk. Agra city is like many other cities in India: crowded and noisy. Upon arrival we prepared ourselves for the Taj outside of the complex. We straightened our clothes, checked our luggage and paid the Tuk-Tuk driver. We stepped through the complex doors and there it was: the Taj Mahal. It’s the picture you know from magazines and TV but now it’s right in front of you. This was so much more than just the pictures as the scenery suddenly came to live. The magic white marble, the symmetry, the sensibility within a city’s chaos, the story of the Taj Mahal. Wow…
2. Statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
One of the most breathtaking views in the world: the bay of Rio de Janeiro (called the River of January because the bay was discovered in January 1502 and was thought to be the mouth of a river…wow, this really sounds like Mr. Wikipedia).
It’s not very difficult to get on top of the Corcovado mountain, but any effort will be fully rewarded. The way the statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks the bay, how it stands there with grace, offering hope with arms widespread. It’s always busy up the mountain, near to the statue, and you also have to be lucky with regard to the weather. But honestly, the view will take your breath away.
3. Burning ghats in Varanasi, India and Kathmandu, Nepal
A ghat refers to a series of steps that lead down to a holy river, for example the Ganges. Me and my wife were walking through narrow streets in Varanasi in search of the burning ghats. At burning (or: cremation) ghats bodies are cremated, allowing ashes to be washed away by the holy river. This stuff hits you right in the face.
While we were quietly walking through this Indian alley suddenly people started to scream, they wanted us to move. “Get out of the way”, they yelled! The street was very narrow and we saw a group of people approaching very fast. They were almost running, in a hurry. We pushed our backs against the dirty wall of the alley. Just in time. The group of men passed, carrying a stretcher with a dead body covered in white sheets. The body passed us, we could almost touch it.
We continued and arrived at the burning ghats. Bodies lay here waiting, side by side. We watched the whole process of burning a body and sometimes recognized an arm or leg. When fully burned, the ashes and other remains of the body were swept into the river. Horrible? Yes and no. It’s part of daily life in India and Nepal, but when we noticed people in the river sifting, searching for jewelry or a golden tooth, we got a bit sick.
If you don’t want to experience this, you can also visit the ‘regular’ ghats, for example in Varanasi. At the ghats people gather to pray, wash and socialize. You can rent a boat in the early morning and watch the light of the rising sun illuminate the hundreds of people that clean themselves in the water. Mind you, the water of the Ganges is not that clean at all. We even encountered a dead cow floating in the river. He was quite swollen, ready to explode almost. Yes, we love India!
4. Home town discoveries in Deventer, the Netherlands.
Yes, everywhere is illuminated. We discover new things in the far corners of the world, but even in our own home town. Really, we learn about Deventer every time we go on a city tour with friends or just walk through the historic center. We listen to the story of the canon ball that still sticks in the wall of the Berg Church, we watch the kettle were counterfeiters were boiled alive back in the (very) early days. Every time I’m getting more proud (not about the boiling stuff, but about the fabulous stories that my home town offers). The message gets stronger and stronger: you don’t have to travel to the other side of the globe to get surprised!
5. Himalaya (near Pokhara), Nepal
We doubted. After two cloudy days in Nepal we really doubted whether we should get up at 5am, hire a taxi and drive for an hour up into the mountains. Why? To see the majestic mountains of the Himalaya.
Would it be a morning with clear skies? Would it be cloudy higher up in the mountains? We had no idea when we got up at 5am, completely dark outside.
But we went. Luckily.
The rest of our group decided not to go. So it was just the two of us, hairpin turning, driving up into the mountains. We became extremely excited when the sun came up and a clear blue sky appeared. They told us earlier on the trip that we would be very lucky if we were able to see the top of the famous Himalaya mountains. Well, this was going to be our lucky day!
After an hour or so we arrived at a sightseeing spot and there they were…more than 8,000 meters up in the sky. You feel so tiny, an insignificant molecule. 30 years against 40 million years. If mountains could tell their stories…
Stay tuned for part II of this series where we will travel to various places in Japan, Vietnam, Peru and New York City!