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India Deaf Community

By Thomas | 22 April 2017 | India | Deaf Community

During our time in India, we had the opportunity to meet some lovely people from the Indian Deaf Community. It wasn’t as easy as we thought, because after arriving straight from Nepal, we had to plan the itinerary for the following months. Read our posts about Agra, Varanasi and our Camel Safari in Jaisalmer. But we managed to meet some people in Delhi, Varanasi, Jaipur and Mumbai.
Always on the lookout for charity work or Deaf businesses, this time round the Deaf Community in India wasn’t as responsive as previously during our travels. We couldn’t find any volunteering programs for free and struggled to find Deaf Businesses, overall.

Below is the people we did manage to meet.

India Deaf Community

Delhi

NDS – Noida Deaf Association

Ruma Roka’s mission was to start a school for the underprivileged, which eventually led to her interest in the Deaf Community in India. She established NDS – Noida Deaf Society in 2005 and through her dedication and perseverance, the organisation has so far changed the lives of over 4500 deaf youth, and continues to work towards mainstream deaf people into workforce through specialised vocational programs.

Some Noida Dead Society Vocational Training Programs:

  • Indian Sign Language
  • English Communication Skills
  • MS Office and Internet
  • Desktop Publishing and Graphic Design
  • Life Skills and Work Ethics

Website: http://www.noidadeafsociety.org/
Facebook: noidadeaf

meeting delhi deaf communityNoida Deaf Society’s Office – (left to right: Manoj Shaw, Inu Aggarwal, Ruma Roka, Telma Louro and Thomas Giddens)

deaf in indiaDelhi Deaf Community – Anupam Sinha and Amit Singh

Varanasi

meeting varanasi deaf Varanasi Deaf Community

Jaipur

meeting jaipur deafJaipur Deaf Community – (left to right: Telma Louro, Deepesh’s friend, Thomas Giddens, Deepesh Arora and Harsh Pareek)

meeting rajasthan deaf community Deepesh Arora’s family

Mumbai

meeting mumbai deaf communityMumbai Deaf Community – (left to right: Rajdeep Patheja, Telma Louro, Thomas Giddens and Rajdeep’s friend)

Thank-You for Readingfiji islands travel blog

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

Camel Safari in Jaisalmer

By Telma | 22 April 2017 | India | Adventure Travel 

While travelling in India, we knew we wanted to go on a Camel Safari Jaisalmer. Always up for adventure, we wondered what it would be like to ride a camel and spend the night in the desert. Overwhelmed with the offer, it wasn’t an easy decision. We knew we didn’t want to join a big tour group, having a camel each was pretty much an agreement and the welfare of the animals was our main concern.

In the end, we decided to go on a private tour so we would have the camels for ourselves and get to know our guide a little bit more. The people from the desert fascinate me, they seem so mysterious and always have endless tales to tell.
In the end, we were very happy with our guide, we got a recommendation from the guests that were staying at the same hostel. But not all tours are great and fantastic experiences, I think we were genuinely very lucky with our camel safari. The day after our return we met two girls who hated theirs because it wasn’t what they had imagined. They had to share the guide with another 8 people, there wasn’t as many breaks as they wished they had (riding a camel is sooo painful!), the food wasn’t great and everyone slept inside tents. Now, that to me isn’t an adventure. It’s simply riding a camel to the desert. But each to their own.

Although our experience was incredible, the start of our day wasn’t as great. I guess having travelled for over a year and always being very careful with scams and touts, which we did pretty well considering some circumstances, we ended up being persuaded to join a sightseeing tour before the safari; all “part of the package”. Yes, it was a mistake. But as we as were making a video we thought it would look great to add some more footage about Jaisalmer. Unfortunately, it was terrible and it was not worth it at all. So I would not recommend adding any sightseeing to a Camel Safari Jaisalmer.

a camel safari in india



Camel Safari Jaisalmer

Sightseeing Tour

At first we were really excited about the sightseeing tour. Adding more footage to our video of the famous sites in Jaisalmer seemed perfect. What we didn’t know is that our Guide spoke broken English, would spent half the time on the phone and whatever question asked, he would reply “Oh, yes, it’s a very old fort/temple/village”. I mean…really?! Obviously we weren’t happy at all. Maybe some people are happy to be driven around and that’s it. But we like to know the history, the secrets, the tales. We were in Rajasthan!! Surely there must be some story tales about princes, and princesses, forts, tombs, conquests, battles and invasions…. Nope! Our “guide” didn’t have anything to say.

Disappointed to the point we cut the “tour” short and asked to be taken to meet the camel safari guide. Obviously at this stage we both did not look happy at all. Beautiful sites and we left knowing as much as we knew before the tour, nothing! What a waste of a morning!

The Sightseeing Tour and Camel Safari had been organised by the Guesthouse where we were staying and we had to go back the next day to pick up our backpacks. So instead of trying to explain to this man, who could barely speak English, that he was indeed useless and should at least learn the basics of each site so the clients would be happy with his knowledge, we took a deep breath. Hoping the Camel Safari would at least make up for it.

things to see on a tour rajasthan Not impressed with our “Sightseeing Tour”

Riding a Camel in the Thar Desert

The night before our host sat with us and talked through about the Thar Desert. He said: “Please bear in mind 3 things: Thar Desert is not the Sahara Desert; it’s not isolated as you will see villages, animals and people; and it’s not all Sand Dunes”. I guess that gave us a hint: Do not compare it to Sahara Desert and it’s India, even in the Desert we will find people wandering around!
That surely didn’t matter or made us concerned, we were thrilled to be spending a night in the Desert, riding a camel and be the closest we will ever be (most probably) to Pakistan.

jaisalmer tourArriving at the Desert just before meeting our Camel Safari Guide, Salim.

Real Desert Man Camel Safari Jaisalmer

Salim, our Camel Safari Guide, was already packing up and getting the camels when we arrived. I had ridden a horse before when I was 7-8 years old, my brother used to ride quite a lot before, so I was not so nervous on coming face-to-face with Camels. Thomas, not so much. I could see he was very stiff, and once I told him that animals could smell our fear, he relaxed.

We had only male camels, amongst the three of us. Apparently, females are not suitable for riding, and during the mating season the males become quite aggressive. Interesting, right? I asked Salim: “So when is the mating season?”, Salim replied: “Now. You will see them trying to bite each other, because they are a little desperate”. We laughed nervously. The last thing we wanted was to fall from the camels and hurt ourselves! Luckily everything went well.

jaisalmer camel safariSalim and his three Camels: Johnny, Rock & Raj

Our Camel Safari in pictures:

desert man camel safariSalim is a Real Desert Man

the real desert manOur first meal and a special guest, Mister Goat! 

rajasthan camel safari tourCamels are HUGE!

couple private tour camel safariDesert Selfie!

best camel safari indiaThat time I stopped riding the camel because the pain was unbearable!

camel safari indiaStopping for dinner. Erm… Telma a little obsessed with that particular Camel hahaha

spending the night camel safariSalim preparing our dinner

Best Camel Safari in Jaisalmer

When looking out for a Camel Safari Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, people should consider these:

  • Don’t book the camel safari online, once in Jaisalmer ask the hostel where you are staying. If still not sure, approach tourists in town. Nothing better than word of mouth from fellow travellers.
  • We would strongly recommend people to go on a private tour, although it is a little pricier than a group tour, but you know the camels are well treated and fed. Also, you will get all the time for yourself with the camels and the guide. Salim, our Guide was a real desert man, it was incredible chatting to him for hours about his life in the desert and getting to know a little more about camels.
  • Best tours are the one where the guide cooks all your meals over an open fire. Always choose the vegetarian option and make sure the food is cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients and vegetables. Water bottles must be unlimited.
  • More likely, if you chose a private tour, the guide will provide plenty of blankets and a mattress. Appreciate the small things in life, this is no luxury. For us, it was all about the experience.
  • It’s more fun having a camel to yourself. Sharing not only is boring, but also because it more weight for the camel to carry.

watching sunset jaisalmerSunset in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan

Camel Safari Travel Tips

Price – Don’t pay more than Rs2000 for a Guided Tour and Rs4000 for a Private Tour
Be adventurous – Stay for the night, without a tent
Pack light – All you need to bring is a warm jacket and socks (we took the thermal top & bottoms we wore when trekking to Everest Base Camp), headlamp, baby wipes, toothpaste and toothbrush, power bank, spare batteries.
Don’t forget the desert sun is HOT – bring a hat/scarf to protect you from the sun and apply sunscreen often.
Master those photographic skills – We really wished we had a better camera or perhaps a better knowledge of photography. Sleeping in the desert without a tent, looking at the sky, the moon moving through the night, witnessing the night, the sunrise and the early dawn was such a magical moment.




Jaisalmer Accommodation

There are so many rooms available in Jaisalmer that sometimes is hard to make a decision. We strongly recommend the hostel we stayed at. The hosts are lovely and surely gave us an unforgettable, yet unique experience. Make sure you ask for Salim as the Camel Safari Guide. Our Camel Safari Jaisalmer was without doubt the highlight of our time in India.

When booking your room, before making the payment, there is a “coupon” tab (highlighted in green, above the total charge), use our discount code and get $25/£30 off your own booking. Our room was booked through Airbnb and the hostel can be found here.

With Thanks to India Someday for the sponsored train journeys during our time in Rajasthan.

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best camel safari rajasthan

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We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Fiji

By Telma | 08 April 2017 | Fiji | Travel Guides

Bula Vinaka!

With more than 300 islands distributed in the South Pacific, Fiji is perfectly located on the 180 degrees’ longitude line, also known as the 180th meridian where the beginning of each day occurs. And if you are wondering about it, yes it’s awesome! We visited Taveuni and ticked off “time travel” out of our bucket list!

But Fiji isn’t only about the turquoise water and palm fringed beaches, there is much more to it. More than you could even begin to think of. Its people, the local customs and culture is really what makes Fiji so special. Fiji is a place often dreamed of by many couples looking for the perfect Honeymoon holiday, or maybe travellers just wanting to have a taste of Fiji while backpacking Australia or New Zealand. Fiji is such an unexpected surprise. We were lucky to have been able to live on the main island, also known as Viti Levu, with the Deaf Community and get to know the ins and outs of this incredible island and most of all living with Fijians.

The opportunity to stay for 2.5 months in Fiji was amazing and we wish we could have stayed much, much longer. We volunteered at the Gospel Deaf School; stayed in a village; slid down a natural water slide carved into the rocks; witnessed Firewalking; watched Meke Dance; swam with sharks and manta rays; lived with the locals; visited Fji’s biggest waterfall; watched stunning sunrises and sunsets; enjoyed some “Fiji Time” and most of all, met wonderful people, whom welcomed us with open arms. These people, now friends, taught us their ways and made us feel part of their family.

Ultimately, we are so fond of the country that we really want to encourage other travellers to stay a little longer in the main island and explore it fully. So don’t be too hasty for the paradisiac islands and enjoy the Fijian hospitality.

fijian people accommdationAsenaca’s family, Taveuni



The Ultimate Travel Guide to Fiji

Fiji is one of the most multi-cultural countries in the Pacific; everywhere you turn you see East Indians, Melanesians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Chinese and European. With such a rich variety of cultures, no wonder Fiji is so welcoming to everyone who passes by.

Bula or Bula Vinaka (happiness and good health) used as a warm greeting meaning – you will hear at every turn, emphasizing the friendly outgoing nature of the Fijian people.

Fiji Islands Map

map of fijiPhoto Credit: Ezilon

Travel Guide Fiji

General information about Fiji

The Food: a variety of Indian and Chinese food can be found everywhere. Fiji’s famous dish, the lovo is cooked on special occasions, such as family gatherings or birthdays. This is an underground oven of heated rocks used for cooking meats and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves. It’s delicious!

Social Kava Drinking: clap once when accepting the bowl, then take it in both hands and say “Bula” just before drinking it. Then clap three times after handing the empty bowl. Out of respect you must accept the first bowl, and if you wish to decline the second, please do it respectfully. About the taste? Erm…not the best to be honest. And it leaves a numbing sensation in your mouth. The locals love it, some of them live on it. For tourists is just a bit of fun while socialising. Everyone should at least try it once.

The Dress Code: around Suva, Nadi and Lautoka there is more flexibility, as you will see girls wearing shorts, dresses and tank tops, although when in villages or remote islands women should wear a sulu wrapped around to cover their legs in respect of the culture. Thomas and I enjoyed wearing the traditional clothes, because not only did it ensure we were 100% part of the culture but everyone really appreciated our effort.

The Pronunciation: Fijian pronounce ‘mb’ as b, ‘nd’ as d and ‘ng’ as g. For example, Nadi is Nandi, Sigatoka is Singatoka, Samabula is Samambula.
It’s a lot of fun learning it, give it a go!

traditional food in fijiCooking Lovo at Nilesh’s house, Lautoka

social kava drinkingFiji Deaf Association, Social Night, Suva

fiji dress codeSunday Church, Suva

the people fijiLeona’s house, Suva

Fijian People

The locals    

If you can stay in a village as this is the most direct way to meet fellow Fijians and learn about their culture, customs and lifestyle. “Village Life” is wonderful and will make you appreciate what you have back home.

The Indo Fijians

It’s no exaggeration to say that in some parts of Fiji it looks like you have landed in India. The people that we met were descended from 5th & 6th generations of laboring Indians that arrived in Fiji more than a century ago.

village fijiTema’s Village, Suva

fiji deaf communityFijian Deaf Students, University of the South Pacific, Suva

Fiji Travel Tips

  • Plan ahead of time – Transport services do not run on time
  • Accept that everything you buy will be more expensive – Tourists are usually asked double the price
  • Unplug from Social Media – The internet is very slow and expensive
  • Be aware of touts – Make sure taxis have a meter
  • It’s hot and very humid! Expect cold showers when staying in budget accommodation.
  • If the A/C is on, it will be freezing – When getting on a Coach bring a jacket.
  • Don’t be a tourist, mingle with the locals – As expected, food is more expensive in touristic areas
  • Accept their culture – If you hear a “psst” or “kissing your teeth” noise, don’t be offended. The gesture is often used to tell the bus/taxi driver to stop or to call someone you know.







The Best Time to Visit Fiji

The Weather: it’s hot and humid, regardless the season. Around 31c (88F) during the Summer months, November to April, and 29c (84F) during the Winter months, May to October. We stayed from end of March to the beginning of May. As it was the beginning of the high season, there weren’t many tourists around.

Transportation in Fiji

Transportation prices in Fiji are a little dubious, as often people charge what they feel like. We found that buses are actually more accurate, taxis will depend on the distances and with coaches you have to be careful not be scammed.

Bus Fares – FJD$0.70/ USD$0.35/GBP£0.25
Taxi Fares – During the day start at FJD$1.50/ USD$0.70/GBP£0.55
At night taxi fares start at FJD$2/ USD$0.90/GBP£0.70

Coach
Suva to Pacific Harbour – FJD$4/USD$2/GBP£1.50
Pacific Harbour to Sigatoka – FJD$5/ USD$2.50/GBP£1.50
Suva to Nadi – It varies but people should never buy a ticket for more than FJD$17/ USD$8/GBP£6

*prices shown are according to our visit in 2015

Fiji Points of Interest

Nadi

  • See the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple
  • Visit Port Denarau Shopping Centre & Marina. Get the yellow “Dollar Bus” from Nadi for $1 and watch the Daily Performances. Kava ceremony at 6.00pm & Meke Dance at 6.30pm. On Saturdays there is a Firewalking show. Also, Port Denarau is the point of departure to Fiji’s Mamanuca & Yasawa Islands.

hindu nadi templeSri Siva Subramaniya Temple, Nadi

Lautoka

  • See the Vuda Point Marina
  • Visit the Saturday Market
  • Eat at the Blue Ginger Café

Sigatoka

  • Explore the Sand Dunes, where 300 years ago the Lapita People arrived in Fiji. Planting your own tree is also possible, but booking in advance is required.

fiji tourism sigatokaSand Dunes, Sigatoka

Pacific Harbour

  • Stay at the Arts Village. During Low Season rooms are at FJD$35/USD$16/GBP£13 per night/per person.
  • Watch Meke Dancing & Firewalk Show. Check for low season, sometimes the show does not go ahead if there isn’t enough people, 8 people minimum.

Note: It’s good entertainment. There is a brief story about Firewalking, Meke and Village Life. BUT don’t expect real firewalking, hot stones only.

fiji traditional meke danceMeke Dance, Pacific Harbour

Yasawa Islands

  • Explore the Yasawa Islands on a budget. The best way to travel around the islands is buying a “Bula Pass” from Awesome Adventures. But if like us you just want a sneak peak of the islands, just buy a return ticket.

Suva

  • Hike Colo-i-Suva Forest Park
  • Explore Suva like a local. Stay for a few nights, enjoy the Fijian hospitality and get to know the locals.

fiji tourismColo-i-suva, Suva

Taveuni

fiji garden islandWaiyevo, Taveuni

Accommodation in Fiji

We deliberately left “accommodation” out of the article because apart from the Yasawa Islands and one night at the Arts Village we didn’t pay for accommodation. During our stay we volunteered at the Gospel Deaf School in Suva, where accommodation and food was provided and were lucky to have met so many people from the Deaf Community whom were willing to let us stay with them.

When looking for accommodation in Fiji, we strongly recommend booking with Airbnb. It’s safe, affordable and clean. Use our discount code and get $25/£30 off your own booking.

fijian peopleNaqara, Taveuni

Before arriving in Fiji, we didn’t have expectations. We were delighted for the opportunity to volunteer with Deaf children but little did we know we would end up staying for two and half months.

This country touched our hearts; it’s just one of those places that sucks you in, that makes you forget about time. The relaxed pace of life is striking, and we really forgot about time, week days and weekends. It was all about friends, family, food and enjoying life. Here people think little of social media, tv, or going out. It’s all about happiness and living each day as it comes. These people live for their loved ones.

Our visit wasn’t about relaxing on a hammock (which there is nothing wrong with!) We actually had a few evenings enjoying the sunset and sunrise while in the Yasawa Islands and Taveuni but Fiji was more of an unexpected journey.
These people are real, beautiful, kind and the warm welcome full of smiles was enough to leave us enchanted by this little gem in the South Pacific.
Pack your bags and go! We can reassure you the hardest part is to leave.

Further reading: Lonely Planet Fiji (Travel Guide) is a complete and all-inclusive guide for those wanting to experience and explore Fiji. We strongly recommend reading this guide as it helped us planning our own trip.

Happy Travels!

Is there anything else you would like to know about Fiji?

fiji points of interest and travel tips

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fiji islands travel blogThank-You for Reading

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

The Spiritual Capital of India – Varanasi

By Telma | 24 January 2017 | India | Travel Guides

“Brace yourself. You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth.”

~ Lonely Planet

If there is a city that inspires love and hate at the same time, that will be Varanasi.

In India, where some of the most important religions were founded, Varanasi is one of the most sacred in the world. Known as “the spiritual capital of India” it is regarded as one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities. Hindu pilgrims believe that visiting this holy city and bathing in the Ganges River’s sacred waters will purify their souls. Everyday men in underpants, women in saris, children and the elderly go to these Ghats (stone-paved cremation platforms with steps leading down to the water) and bathe in the holy water to wash away their sins or to attend cremation ceremonies. From dawn to dusk spiritual practices take place in public, in devotion of their Goddess – Ganga. Thousands chanting Mantras, bathing into the icy-cold water, every day, every hour as they “free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth”. These rituals, the river, smells, cows, goats, dogs and people, all at once around the Ghats can be overwhelming, to say the least!

But Varanasi isn’t only one of the oldest and most religious cities in the world, it is without doubt a city that captivates you, that leaves you speechless. Varanasi is an experience.

things to do varanasi

varanasi everyday

ganges river varanasi

sadhu varanasi



About Varanasi

Arriving in Varanasi and looking around, our first impression wasn’t great, in all honesty. Is this a “Holy city” or a “Chaotic mess”? We have seen dirt, experienced crowded places and unpleasant smells lingering around but Varanasi it’s on another level. This is real!

From the first step outside the Guesthouse to returning back, it was a constant struggle with things, animals, people! Touts following us trying to sell anything and everything to the point they would grab our arms to get our attention. Sadhus (Holy Man) trying to shake our hands and touch our heads, shouting in the end because they were actually demanding money. Rickshaw and Tuk Tuk drivers wouldn’t leave us alone and literally followed us everywhere. Children begging for money, no I am not talking about one child at a time, I mean 8-10 children surrounding us at once. The stray dogs it’s heartbreaking! We lost count how many there are roaming around; broken legs or legless, covered in wounds, skinny, starving…So sad to a westerner’s thinking.

And last but not least…let’s talk about the cows. They are everywhere! Ok, it’s fine, they are cute and harmless. But there were roads that it was impossible NOT to step on cow’s dung. I mean seriously? No, I am not exaggerating. Perhaps I can show a few pictures…

holy cow varanasi

cows everywhere varanasi

india sacred cows

Besides all the madness Varanasi has its good points: interesting people, great vegetarian/vegan food, amazing history sites and a relaxed pace of life. No wonder there are so many westerners. After all, Varanasi might be the place to be.

Top Things To Do in Varanasi

Walking around the Old City

Ditch Google Maps. Get lost and enjoy the experience! Yummy street food, some of the coolest, trendiest cafés in town, vegetable markets, street vendors, hidden temples, thousands of people, rickshaws, cows, goats, chickens, dogs… the list goes on.

people streets of varanasi

what to do varanasi

travel guide varanasi

Visit the River Ganges Ghats

There are 80+ Ghats bordering the river and most were built 1700 AD. Yes Varanasi is an old city, dating back 3000 years ago. So how can anyone not feel the goose bumps while there?!
Anyway a good start would be from Assi Ghat all the way down to Manikarnika Ghat. Some are busier than others, due to its religious practices and number of attendees.

varanasi people at the river

Here are the most important Ghats in Varanasi:

Assi Ghat – A place of worshiping Lord Shiva, pilgrims bathe here before any rituals take place. As its location is at the far extreme south of the river, the area is less crowded.

Chet Singh Ghat – The old Fort represents more of a historical symbol than a cremation site itself. Maharaja Chet Singh built the fort during the 18th century battle with the British.

Darbhanga Ghat – The Royal family of Bihar built the palace early 1900s. The Ghat is amongst the favourites in Varanasi due to its architecture.

Scindhia Ghat – There is a partially submerged Shiva Temple at the water’s edge. Some cremations happen here during the day.

Dasaswamedh Ghat – This is the main Ghat and ultimately the oldest and holiest of all. It’s where the Ganga Aarti ceremony takes place every evening.

Manikarnika Ghat – Here is where it all happens! The busiest Ghat in Varanasi. According to one of the locals “up to 100 bodies are cremated here every day”.

assi ghat

chet singh ghat

ghat to visit varanasi

varanasi ceremony ghat

cremations varanasi

things to do varanasi

Boat Tour on the Ganges River

Hold your breath! You will be haggling a lot for this boat ride! Be smart, if you have time (and patience), ask around first and see what these men have on offer. Some might be knowledgeable of the Ghats, others not so much. And that is why time is needed here, so you can get a glimpse of what they know. Our boat ride, along with our friend Peter, was at Rs100/USD1.50/GBP1.20 each.

Now, were we 100% satisfied with the service? Not bad, but could have been better because we agreed one hour and only made it to Dasaswamedh Ghat within 45 minutes. Also, the man refused to carry on, saying he had to row back and it would take time. At the end he demanded a tip… me being me, I laughed and walked off. Obviously!

boat ganges river

Attend the Aarti Ceremony

Every day, regardless of the weather, the Aarti Ceremony takes place at sunset (7pm in the summer, 6pm in the winter) at Dasaswamedh Ghat. The flow of pilgrims, Sadhus, Priests, beggars, homeless and flower sellers, is enchanting. Oh, and the cows, of course!
It is a spectacular, must-see ceremony with a lot of meaning in a spiritual context and for non-Hindus it is still a fascinating ritual to be able to witness.

The ceremony is a devotion for the Goddess Ganges, Lord Shiva and symbolizes the five elements: Akash (Space); Vayu (Wind); Agni (Fire); Jal (Water); Prithvi (Earth). A group of young pandits (Hindu Priests) perform the highly-choreographed ceremony using fire, water, incense, and many other elements. During the ritual, there is music and dancing in circular movements that represent the presence of the Gods in everyone’s life.

The ceremony lasts for one hour and cannot be missed!

evening ceremony varanasi

evening ceremony varanasi







Travel Tips for Varanasi

  • Don’t be fooled, man will try and get you on a rickshaw for twice the money or will convince you to hire him as a Guide for the day. Always ask the host at the hostel/guesthouse for recommendations.
  • Don’t lose your appetite. For us, the street food in Varanasi wasn’t very appealing to say the least, but don’t worry there are some options. Check the list of Restaurants in Varanasi. Aum Café located in Assi Ghat was our favourite!
  • Say NO more often. People will grab your hands, arms and chase you. It’s exhausting. Be prepared for the odd man shouting back because you ignored him. Don’t be embarrassed ad walk away.
  • Observe the everyday life and immerse yourself in Varanasi!

varanasi cremation ghats

boat at varanasi

varanasi itinerary

varanasi ghats and people

holy man of varanasi

varanasi people

So after all, you must be thinking “I would have left straight away!” But you know, this is it, this is part of India. This is why there is no other place like Varanasi; its uniqueness makes it one of a kind. Thousands come for “soul searching”, for its spiritual practices, a “once in a lifetime experience”. Although we both don’t share the spiritual connection, we did “enjoy” the chaos.

There is a love-hate relationship towards Varanasi amongst travellers, and I don’t blame people for it. In all honesty isn’t the most pleasant place to be. And one massive piece of advice, for people that are planning a visit to India, DO NOT start in Varanasi. I feel not many will be able to cope with it.
After all, who said people come to India for a holiday? You don’t see India, you experience India.

Thanks to our friend Peter we had delicious meals in Varanasi! His recommendations were spot on! While in Varanasi we spent a lot of time together. And it was such a pleasure to be surrounded by good energy. We met him in Kathmandu, a few weeks after coming back from Everest Base Camp. And by the look of it, we will meet many times more in India. Cheers buddy!

Is Varanasi on your travel list? Let us know in the comments below.

india varanasi

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Thank-You for Readingfiji islands travel blog

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

Agra Travel Guide – Beyond the Taj Mahal

By Telma | 10 January 2017 | India | Travel Guides

Visiting Agra is like stepping down from a time machine. The city located on the banks of the river Yamuna has many splendid Mughal-era buildings, dating back the 15th and 16th century. Early morning, a very slow start: vendors setting up their shops, dogs and cows hunting for the first meal of the day, rickshaw drivers gather and the streets start filling up with people and cars. Just another day in Agra.

Understanding the lifestyle and the everyday life is not easy for a westerner; life here is different, but its people are proud of their roots. Even though for us, it is like living hundreds of years back in time. Once in Agra, the most visited city in India, we already knew that one of Agra’s points of interest was the Taj Mahal, but surely there was more to explore.

The city has amazing sites; a splendid fort, fascinating tombs, beautiful gardens, the bustling of the local vendors and its people, make it a very exciting city to explore and worth spending a few days wandering around.

Agra, as many other Indian tourist destinations, must be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s busy, loud, not so clean, too many rickshaws, everyone wants to take a picture with you and the constant pestering of children offering to be a guide for the day or insisting that you visit their uncle’ shop! All of this is a huge culture shock and can be tiring and stressful if you are not prepared for it. But not enough to forget the magical attractions of the city.

agra travel guide

The obsession of visiting the Taj Mahal draws people from all over the world and regardless of all the hype, the monument really does live it up to its fame. People often visit for the day, coming from Delhi on a tourist bus. After being here, we cannot believe that people chose a day-trip.

Not only is it a very rushed visit but also because by the time they arrive at the 
Taj Mahal it’s nearly impossible to take good pictures, appreciate it and make the most of it. As early at 10 am, there are already endless queues. If you can, extend your trip.

However, there is a world beyond the Taj Mahal. Let us convince you to to stay longer with our Agra Travel Guide.

agra points of interest

people of agra

everyday india



Agra Travel Guide: Why Agra is not only about the Taj Mahal

Things To Do in Agra

The history of Agra is complex, it’s easy to shut your eyes and imagine the emperors, the battles, the palaces, its princes and princesses; it’s a fairy-tale city. Not wanting to waste any time, we started exploring this little gem.

Beyond the Taj Mahal located in the city-center are Itimad-ud-Daulah and Agra Fort (UNESCO World Heritage site). To the west Akbar’s Mausoleum and a little further, on the other side of the river, Mehtab Bagh.

Itimad-ud-Daulah

baby taj mahal

agra baby taj mahal

day trip baby taj mahal

baby taj looks like

places to visit agra

what to visit agra

Also known as Baby Taj, is considered the first Mughal structure in India built out of white marble. Apparently, it was built as a draft for the construction of the Taj Mahal.
The mausoleum was commissioned by Nur Jahan for her father who was honored with the title of Itmau-ud-Daula (Pillar of the state). It’s quite a small site to visit, but worth it for its architecture.

Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

Agra Fort

places of interest agra

agra tourism

inside the red fort

Located on the banks of the river Yamuna was built in the 15th Century by Emperor Akbar and was the main residence of many emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. Also, known as the Red Fort, beyond its walls are palaces, both in red sandstone and white marble, all added by the Emperor’s grandson, Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal). Due to its structure the fort is described as a walled palatial city as it had later become a palace. It’s an impressive site to visit!

Entry Fee: Rs500/USD$7/£5

Inside the fort, these are a few places that caught our eye:

agra palaces

Khas Mahal – white marble palace

red fort palace

Diwan-i-Aam – used as communications ground between the public and the aristocracy

places to visit agra

Musamman Burj – octagonal tower with a balcony facing the Taj Mahal (where Shah Jahan spent his last 8 years imprisoned looking at the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife)

Akbar’s Mausoleum is the tomb of Akbar, The Great Emperor of the Mughal Dynasty. Built by himself while still alive, Akbar could not complete the entire work, leaving his son with the responsibility to make it the final resting place for the greatest emperor of the Mughal rule. The red sandstone mausoleum is a beautifully carved four-tiered building and its upper chamber is made of white marble. The three-storey minarets at each corner are also built of red sandstone with white-marble geometric patterns.
A curiosity regarding the tomb, is that contrary to other Muslim structures, the mausoleum is turned towards the rising sun and not towards Mecca.

Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

interesting places agra

visiting agra palaces

places to visit agra

interesting places to visit india

Mehtab Bagh or “moonlit garden” is situated to the north of the Taj Mahal across the river Yamuna. The garden was an integral part of the Taj Mahal complex comprising of the mausoleum (Taj Mahal) set in a charbagh (a Persian-style garden layout). The aim of the garden was to provide a tranquil and magical setting to view the Taj Mahal in moonlight across the river. We decided to go only because we had seen beautiful pictures of the Taj Mahal across the river, but this is just an ordinary garden. Worth it if you are into photography.

Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

beyond taj mahal

Last but not least…

Visiting the Taj Mahal

Of course, once in Agra, we could not ignore a visit to the famous Taj Mahal.

Built stone by stone with a story of eternal love, the Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. People from all the world visit the mausoleum of white-ivory-marble, built between 1631 and 1648. And the truth is, the monument simply captivates you. Taj Mahal, one of its kind in the world is a monumental labour of love from the Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, who died giving birth to their 14th child. This enchanting mausoleum took 22 years to complete with the help of an estimated 20,000 workers.

Taj Mahal is “the jewel of Muslim art in India’, as per UNESCO and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage. The details of the structure are enough to leave you speechless.

Entry Fee: RS1000/USD$14/£11

taj mahal agra







Best Time to Visit the Taj Mahal

We were intrigued by its beauty but the weather in Northern India in December is not at its best and at 8am the fog partially covered the monument. And by that time, the site was crowded. Not a good start! But there was nothing we could have done. Arriving at the opening time of 6am, would have been a waste of time because the fog is dense and sometimes impossible to see anything as far as 50 metres.

We walked around taking as many pictures as we could, filmed our Christmas Message video, appreciated the architecture and wondered around the mausoleum for a few hours. By 11am, it was “impossible” to walk around due to the number of people.
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