From Varanasi we headed back west towards Delhi to a small town called Ayodhya, significant because it is the birthplace of Ram and one of the seven holy sites of Hinduism. We stayed in the adjacent town of Faizabad to get a better hotel. Like Allahabad, the other town we visited that gets almost no foreign tourists, this turned out to be a very hassle free and pretty relaxing stop on our journey. We decided to just take it easy, eat well and get some rest.
We did visit the temples in Ayodhya though, which was pretty cool to see. This is the only place in India where Ram, the original big God in Hinduism in my scratchy understanding, is worshipped. There is also an awesome temple to Hanuman, the monkey-soldier god that helped Rama defeat some enemies in the epic Rama story Ramayana and there were heaps of worshippers there making food offerings.
The security around the main Ram temple is amazing. It is so strict and time-consuming that we didn’t bother going in, especially as we had heard that the temple inside is simply a tent, a makeshift solution owing to the dispute that has raged over the spot between Hindus and Muslims for years. To get in, we would have had to check our belongings, show our passports and pass through several aggressive body searches and scans. There was a massive line to do so and it would have taken an hour to get in. We didn’t take any photos for fear of attracting the attention from all the extremely serious machine-gun toting guards.
In a nutshell, the dispute is this. In the Mughal period (when this part of India was ruled by Muslims that had invaded from Afghanistan and Iran), Hindus claim that one of the rulers destroyed an ancient temple dedicated to Ram and erected a mosque on the exact site. Amazingly, since then both religions had worshiped in the same building until 1992 when 150 000 rioting Hindus pulled down the mosque and stuck up their tent, all they have been allowed to do so far by the courts and government. There has since been a terrorist attack on the site too, hence the machine-gun guys. So there you go!
This was about the most interesting thing we had done in the last few days, up till the point when we semi-deliberately crashed a wedding, but Dana had written a post on that.
We spent the last twenty four hours getting from there to here, the beautiful and quiet hill station called Nainital, up towards Nepal a bit. We made a mistake when booking our tickets a few days ago and booked a ticket for just after midnight on the 19th, not realising that we needed top book the 20th. Biting the bullet, we got a wait list ticket ( not valid to hop on the train with) as the train was full and decided to have a go at bribing the ticket collector to find us a seat.
Our offer of 500 rupees was useless in the end, there simply wasn’t room in the air conditioned sleeper coaches. We instead managed to get two berths in the ordinary sleeper carriages, where the windows don’t fully shut and they don’t hand out blankets and sheets. We were heading into a much colder part of the world now and I had the coldest night of half-sleep I have ever had, bar none. We had a bedsheet each and put on all the clothes we could but it was useless against the breezes and the frequently open door.
It turned out to be a good preparation for Nainital though, which is very beautiful but very cold! Our quite expensive hotel room is not heated and we don’t think any of the ones in the town are. With the temperature already well below freezing we are in for a cuddly night!