Varanasi – Day 2

One of the strengths of this trip so far has been the extensive information given about the various religions in India – an understanding of which is essential to grasping the complexities of society here. There is so much information that it isn’t practical to put it in the blog – so a summary is all that is possible – if anyone wants to talk more about religion in India when I return – shoot me an email. The focus today was Budhism. A visit to  The Mulaganda Kuty Vihara temple complex in the cold foggy early hours began our day.

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the temple seemed very sparse after the opulence of the Sikh temple in Delhi. Gorgeous wall paintings adorned the inside of the temple chronicling the life of Buddha.

Sarnath was our  next stop. Buddha gave his first speech after his enlightenment and Sarnath was one of the four places that Buddhas devotes were told to visit by Buddha – it is associated with – you guessed enlightensment. Monks at worship completed the perfect picture of our visit which continued as the fog lifted and warming sunshine broke through to light up the buildings in the complex.

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Remains of monk housing – Stupas were plentiful in the surrounding areas.

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Following lunch, a small group of us took Tuk Tuks to the Baranasi Silk Mfg Co-op which covers city blocks and has been a Muslim family business for generations. Varanasi was on the ancient silk route which ended in China. Fabrics woven by the co-op weavers are exported all over the world and the company makes the majority of sari material used in India. We were shown how patterns are made, as well as both mechanized and hand weaving techniques,

 

educated on silk quality  and then shown into the storeroom to look at everything from tableclothes to bedspreads to scarves. The scarves were stunning and one spoke to me in a way I couldn’t ignore 🙂 The difference in price from Canada to India pays about 1/2 of my airfare – to make a very short story a lot shorter, the scarf is now hanging in my room awaiting the trip home :-)))

We have a dawn visit to the Ganges River planned in the morning before leaving Varanasi.

Varanasi – Day 1

Early morning smog and fog accompanied us to Delhi domestic airport and our flight to Varanasi on the holy Ganges River.

Smog followed us as we flew east and was there again to greet us on the Tarmac. A one hour bus ride through traffic, cows (lots and lots of cows), pigs, chickens, dogs and various other assorted flora and fauna brought us to our hotel (which is lovely and quiet) about a 30 min Tuk Tuk ride from the Ganges. The hotel is a majestic older building – with whispers of the Raj and another time. Rooms surround an open courtyard and a lovely breeze is moving through my third floor room.

Travelling by Tuk Tuk to the Ganges 30 minutes from the hotel was exhilarating – weaving and dodging cows, pigs, dogs, bikes,cars, pedestrians and some unidentifiable stuff – we didn’t look too hard….. The particulates in the air seem to get thicker as we approached the river – turned out there is a very good reason for this.

The banks of the Ganges at Varanasi are covered with Ghats and their stairs down to the river – the old residences of the Indian nobility, now abandoned and definitely NOT a place you want to go by yourself particularly at night. Hire a guide or go with a group – just sayin………..

We approached our boat through a herd of cows and bulls and set off without incident onto the Ganges.

Kites were everywhere flown by young men on shore and in boats.

As the sun disappeared behind the outline of the Ghats a lively conversation ensued re: religion, redemption from sin and Catholicism vs Hinduisim, karma, rebirth, salvation and a number of other issues. As our boat held a Hindustani, three Catholics and several agnostics – an interesting debate. Eventually we agreed to shelve the conversation for another day 😏. What is it they say about politics and religion…………

The Ganges is very low right now allowing cremation sites close by the river on the sandy shore. The photo below is of one of the Ghats along the river. During the monsoon season, the river has risen to the level of the sign Raja Ghat in the past – when the levels are that high, the river is closed to tourist boat traffic and cremation sites are located way up the bank.

Two cremation sites were active on the river, a smaller one and a much larger group of Pyres a few miles down river – the larger one a Dante Inferno like conflagration, funeral pyres, wandering cattle and dogs and people everywhere.

It is first come first served at the pyre sites. Once you arrive, the corpse you bring is lowered into the Ganges for a final purifying bath and then once a pyre becomes available the body is moved where it can be cremated. The source of all the particulate matter in the air became quickly apparent. Concurrent with the active pyres were two Hindu religious services (held 365 days a year ) being held on the shore – each watched by thousands of people on land and in small boats on the river. Our boat packed in with the rest to watch. The smell of incense, burning ghee, lights, the bells used to call the river gods, the chanting and music – all on loud speakers – was mesmerizing. The best chai tea I have ever had was purchased from a small boy with a portable primus stove who climbed from boat to boat during our time there – the warmth of the tea very welcome as the wind picked up and temperatures dropped. No mosquitos – too much smoke and wind for them.

There are several options available to people who pass away and cannot be cremated at the Ganges – the logistics of which are complicated because of the sheer size of the country and numbers of people. If the journey is possible ashes can be brought to the Ganges- if not, water representing the Ganges can be sprinkled on the ashes wherever they may be.

A magnificent evening completed by an outstanding kabob diner and a very nice Indian Cabernet Shiraz – who knew ????

Internet bouncing in and out so hope to get this off on an in bounce today. Stay tuned.

Delhi -Day 2

 

Today was spent in the rabbit warren like alleyways  and roof tops of the vegetable and fruit markets, cameras at the ready, the objective to capture street life and record some of the faces of Old Delhi. A photographers dream ….. . A perfect photo shoot was followed by an incredible lunch at the house of my guide, Drhuv Gupta. Drhuvs family has lived in Old Delhi for over 100 years. The respect for his family among the community is obvious and helped me get some photo opportunities which would have been impossible without his presence. If you are ever in Dehli I wholeheartedly recommend Dhruv as a resource, both for his knowledge and keen photographic eye. He can be contacted through Trip Advisor or at http://www.toursbylocals.com.

I shot over 300 photos this morning in a little over two hours and will let the photos tell the story.

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Delhi – Day 1

Wow!!! What a day….

Woke to a beautiful morning and view from my room

– fabulous Indian breakfast in the hotel and then we were off.

The scope of Delhi is easiest to describe in terms of population. 25 million people live here – the population of Canada is around 35 million – it is an interesting visual that most Canadians could fit into the sprawl of this place. Delhi is truly a melting pot of India. Immigrants over the centuries have contributed to the culture and cuisine, as well as leaving their buildings behind. Three UNESCO world heritage sites (gorgeous examples of Indo-Islamic architecture) are located in Delhi – the Red Fort, Qutab Minar and Humayuns Tomb. Some sort of civilization has been here since before the 6th century. Wars and familial strife over the centuries have resulted in Dehli being sacked multiple times and cities built over cities – at least 8 major cities have left their footprint here. The seventh city built by Shah Jahan (of the Taj Mahal fame) is now referred to as Old Delhi. New Delhi was the name given to the city which became the capital of the British held territories in India.

The first stop today was the Red Fort, a huge walled fort and palaces built in the reign of our old friend the builder Shah Jahan.

The second was the Mosque Jama Masjid – apparently the second largest mosque in the world after Mecca. And yes our friend SJ was also responsible for building it. He was a busy guy! Both buildings were built using the characteristic red sandstone and white marble so beloved by the Shah, sourced from Northern India and brought to Delhi by huge elephant caravans from the Northern quarries.

The actual prayer yard for this Mosque can accommodate 25,000 people. During services exquisite carpets are put out over the red sandstone.

To go in you have to remove your shoes and if you are female put on a very large over coat that essentially covers you from neck to toes – and no I did not get a selfie….. The British actually considered dynamiting the Mosque following the revolt of 1857 – thankfully cooler heads prevailed.

Old Delhi is a warren of narrow streets, shops, apartments and humanity. And have I mentioned the traffic??

Wall to wall vehicles of every description, all blowing horns incessantly and missing each other by inches (although in some cases not :-(((. ) Passing in lanes no more than 4 feet wide in some areas- My guide Pushprenda K. navigated it all seamlessly. I cannot say enough about his knowledge (MSc in Indian history) and professionalism during our day together – and recommend Pushprenda and his company http://www.toursbylocals.com unreservedly to anyone travelling to Delhi. Our route took us through the 300 year old Chandi Chowk market with its various sections devoted to jewelry, spices, wedding apparel, and just about anything else you can think of.

A seldom used back stair route took us up to the roof tops above the spice and flower market.

 

The pollution has been burnt off somewhat by a hot air sink above the city so the views were reasonable. It was laundry day and drying clothes were everywhere. Most water is pumped to cisterns on top of apartment buildings and then gravity fed to the households.

Marsala tea and an incredible street food lunch of parathas ( a flat bread made of wheat flour combined with peas, cauliflower and other vegetables mixed in with the dough – a mashed potato curry and dal accompanied the parathas – Lassi a sweetened yogurt drink was the icing on the cake.)

and rickshaw rides completed a memorable day. One tip if you go ladies, put a scarf over your head. I figured that out after the first 10 minutes – it makes the day go much easier if you aren’t getting stared at or bumped into on purpose. With a head scarf, sunglasses and loose clothing you are invisible and can explore at will.

This is an incredible country. I am amazed at the way it has grabbed me……. Tomorrow is a photography tour in the early am – stay tuned

In Transit – Vancouver to Delhi

 

Travelling karma is an interesting phenomenon. The ferry trip to the mainland was over calm seas under a moody winter sky in the company of Pacific White sided dolphins surfing on our wake.

The young Indo-Canadian man who piloted my taxi to the airport became incandescent (in a very positive way 🙂 )  when I told him where I was headed. He immigrated to Canada from the Punjab in Northern India and has whole heartedly embraced his new country – Canada rocks! I emerged from the taxi ride with a list of survival tips in Delhi, ranging from which brand of bottled water to buy to how to negotiate streets filled with cows, pigs and other interesting items. We discussed food and the food supply links in the city. Refrigeration is uncommon and many city dwellers grow produce in small areas around their dwellings for their own consumption and to sell at the many markets in Delhi. I was told that I would eat better than anywhere I have been. Once at the Fairmont, an upgrade to to the Gold floor with a member lounge, outstanding view of the runway and strait of Georgia was the icing on the cake 😀 to a very good day.

Next day. After a nominal departure delay caused by offloading the bags of a male passenger whose VISA wasn’t in order :-(.   , our heavily loaded 787 taxied and just got off the ground before the runway ended at Georgia Strait in the heavy rain. The passenger left behind turns out was in the seat next to me. The luxury of two premium economy seats to myself was a real pleasure for the 14 hour trip (sorry dude) . Time was spent enjoying excellent Indian meals and snacks, as well as a very nice Syrah, reading and catching up on movies. A couple of them were duds,  but Victoria and Abdul (starring Judi Dench) is a gem and highly recommended. The Indian subcontinent greeted us at dawn with a magnificent vista of the Himalayans bathed in a icy blue glow.

Shorty thereafter (in airplane time 🙂 )  – Delhi became apparent on the horizon as an orangey brown cloud, rapidly enlarging into a massive urban sprawl housing 25 million people.

Security was a breeze. Watching people ahead of me in line get fingerprinted and grilled had me ready for a lengthy stay at the customs and Visa check points. A Canadian passport works wonders here, no fingerprinting or grilling, immediate passage through other check points. Just lots of smiles and welcome to India. My minder greeted me at the Exit, along with another Canadian couple on the same G Adventures tour as me. We hit it off right away and spent the hour or so waiting for our transport chatting, exploring how the local payphone systems work

(you use one and the charges get spit out on a tape below which you then take to the attendant and pay him) and trying to stay awake after 24 hrs without sleep. Our ride to the hotel was provided by a group called Women with Wheels. An all girl taxi service catering specifically for female travellers.

The term “assault on the senses” categorizes the trip into Delhi to our hotel. A cacophony of horns, cars and scooters going all different directions at once, smells (good and bad :-))), yelling, music, cows placidly eating garbage in the middle of the road. Dust and fumes everywhere, open air stalls full of fruit, roasting peanuts, and some interesting looking mystery meat….  Love it!!!!

After an hour we arrived at the hotel which is perfect. I have a pool view room on the inside of the hotel, just had a fabulous mulligatawny soup and a glass of Cabernet – life is good.

Tomorrow on to street food and my first foray into the city!

Northwestern India

 

The sheer immensity of the Indian subcontinent coupled with the sprawl of its history  has always held a fascination for me.  Travellers who have walked where I will follow, have warned me to expect nothing like I have ever experienced before. For this first foray, I fly into Delhi – spend three days in the city and then depart with a small group to explore Northwestern India – Rajasthan. My first two days in Delhi will be spent sampling street food and joining a professional photographer guide on a walking photo safari through the city. Following another day spent exploring Old and New Delhi we fly as a group to Varanasi to continue on with the trip. I hope you enjoy following along with me on what should be quite a journey! For those of you interested in following my route, the itinerary is on the map below.

I will be blogging (Internet dependent) with post notifications appearing on my Facebook Page. The blog can also be accessed at http://www.travelswithanne.ca   Looking forward to sharing the journey!

Namaste!

India