In the last week of March, Ian Georgeson (our CEO) flew to Delhi, India for the start of a phenomenal adventure. The trip had been a long time in the planning and is going to be the focus of our next couple of articles, starting with a high-level overview and then getting into the specifics of each spot. We do hope that you enjoy the journey with us!
The first city on the itinerary was Delhi. The earliest city in the Delhi region was on a knoll on the banks of the Yamuna River, sometime before 400 BCE. The 2023 metro population of Delhi (also known as the National Capital Territory or NCT of India) is currently close to 33 million, making it the second most populated city in the world (Tokyo, Japan is larger at around 37 million). The city of Delhi actually consists of two cities. “Old Delhi” is in the north and is the historic city. “New Delhi”, built in the first part of the 20th century as the capital of ‘British India’, is in the south, and has been the capital of India since 1947. Geographically, Delhi sits astride (but mainly on the west bank) the Yamuna River, which is a tributary of the famous Ganges River and is located about 160km south of the Himalayas. Many, many images of India depict people in / on / using this river – which segues into another interesting subject.
The Yamuna River is one of the most sacred rivers in India. According to Hindu scriptures, bathing in or drinking Yamuna’s waters removes sin. Ironically, it is also known as the “Dead River”. Its source is the Yamunotri glacier, which provides crystal-clear water from the Himalayas. But by the time it leaves Delhi, it the dirtiest river in the country – some would go as far as calling it lethal. Upstream from Delhi huge amounts of water are channelled off to irrigate farmlands. Just before entering Delhi, millions more litres are siphoned off for Delhi’s drinking water, drastically reducing the flow of the river. The white blocks of what appear to be icebergs which are often seen floating on the river, are in fact chemical waste. Sewage waste contaminate the river even further. The Central Pollution Board’s water quality data (from 2011) indicated that the water contained a concentration of 1.1 billion faecal coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres of water (whilst the standard for bathing is 500 coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres). Many say the pollution has more than doubled since then. A river’s “life” is measured by its capacity to carry dissolved oxygen. And the dissolved oxygen in the Yamuna as it passes through Delhi is zero. Which means it is scientifically dead…
Agra’s Taj Mahal made the modern Seven Wonders of the World list and has also been a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.
Agra, which is about 230km south of Delhi, also on the banks of the Yamuna River, was the second city visited. Like Delhi, Agra had two cities. The history of the ancient city on the east bank of the river (of which little now remains except a few traces of the foundations) goes back so far it is lost in the legends of Krishna and Mahabharata but was re-established by Sikandar Lodi in 1504/5. On the opposite bank is today’s city, founded by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1558, and known as the “City of Taj”.
The third significant city on the journey was Varanasi, a beautiful place in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh dating back to the 11th century B.C. Considered the spiritual capital of India, the city draws Hindu pilgrims who bathe in the Ganges River’s sacred waters and perform funeral rites. Within the city are over 2,000 temples, which is part of the appeal for westerners. It is also interesting to observe the various rites and rituals which have been taking place on over one hundred ghats (flights of steps leading down to a river) located on the Ganges River for centuries. Much like the Yamuna River, the Ganges River is severely polluted.
The group then winged their way to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. This city is known for its ancient architecture, and is dotted with many palaces, temples and monasteries. Kathmandu has a multi-ethnic population, most of whom are either Hindus or Buddhists. Often seen in Nepal are the prayer flags. They originated in India, as Buddhist sutras written on banners, and were incorporated into Tibetan Buddhist practice in the fourth century BC.
Prayer flags in Nepal.
They are traditionally placed outdoors to initiate peace and good tidings, and for their sacred texts to be carried on the wind. Blue represents the sky, white represents the air/wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. All five colours together signify balance. The five flags also represent directions – North, South, East, West and Centre. Considered to be holy, they should never be placed on the ground or thrown away. The best way to dispose of old prayer flags is to burn them, so that the smoke may carry their blessings to the heavens.
The final leg of their trip was accomplished on motorcycles, from Kathmandu to Pokhara, Nepal’s most popular tourist destination. Pokhara lies on what used to be an important trading route between China and India. Known for its Himalayan range and lakes, it is also one of the adventure capitals of Nepal – with boating, trekking, rafting, canoeing, and bungee jumping being freely available.
Well, that’s a VERY short overview of the trip. Now that you have a rough idea of where they went, we hope you will join us as armchair travellers for the upcoming weeks as we dig deeper into the treasures located in each of these spots…
Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team