With foreign travel, sometimes you bump up against cultural differences that are starling. Today, at the cremation ghat was that time for me. Hauling bodies to the beach, dipping them in the river and then lighting them afire was a little shocking. There were at least seven bodies that I could see being burned, and this goes on 24/7. Cows and dogs were picking through the debris. I had to cover my face to avoid breathing in any more ash that I had already. The American process for dealing with the dead must be as shocked and abhorrent to Indians. But for me today... yikes. The evening Aarti ceremony helped to remove any negative vibes and I was happy to pray along for friends and family in need.
More photos from Varanasi
4 January 2017
Our adventure continued in Rishikesh which has become our favorite city so far. The Ganges flows directly from the Himalayas and the first city that sees those waters is Rishikesh so the water is as clean as you'll find it in India. Our hotel has a private bathing ghat, meditation garden and a mini Hindu Temple. And borders the walkway along the river. This is the first time I had to watch for monkeys on my morning walk!
We attended two more Aartis, none as dramatic as the one in Hardiwar, yet enjoyable. Randy was anxious to visit the former Ashram of the TM founder, simply referred to in Rishikesh as the Beatles' Ashram. (Probably to generate more tourist traffic). The Ashram is abandoned and the forest is doing its best to reclaim it. Locals have added graffiti to the walls.
Rishikesh has afforded some downtime. The day easily starts with meditation and yoga, and a blessing from the Hindu priests if you choose. A nice respite from the noise and pollution of the city.
2 January 2017
After several days in big cities, coming to Rishikesh is a blessed relief. The air is clean, crowds are smaller and there is a much stronger spiritual focus. Temples and Ashrams are everywhere. Rishikesh is a destination for yoga and meditation, both for Indians and foreigners.
At the Aarti ceremony on the backs of the Ganges, I could finally feel the spiritual vibration often associated with India. This morning, we arose and joined the Hindu monks for prayer and a blessing, and then bathed our feet in the Ganges. Since Rishikesh is the first city the Ganges flows through coming down from the Himalayas, here the river is clean and beautifully green. As the river flows through other cities and picks up cremated remains, trash, industrial pollution and the like, "Mother Ganga" is a mess.
Today we drove up through the foothills to a fantastic view of snow topped Himalayan mountains. We had to climb up 306 very steep stairs, rising into a higher elevation. Made it - barely!
1 January 2017
My number one bucket list item for India was to see the Taj Mahal and it did not disappoint. Being New Year's Day the crowds were massive and I was glad for the high dollar entrance tickets and a pushy guide who helped us avoid standing in a 1.5 hour long queue.
The artistry of this mausoleum is stunning. Art is all inlaid rock, no paint. The calligraphy is just beautiful. It's incredibly well maintained and one would never guess its age. I'm feeling so happy and bless to have seen this in person.
Agra Fort, also called the Red Fort was the former imperial residence of the Mughal Dynasty, built in 1565. It was apparent that many of the same artisans were used here as in Fatehpur Sikri visited yesterday. A cultural collision of symbols and art styles.
An odd observation today... I've never seen so many young men taking selfies. Dozens of them in a 15 minute span posed like the young girls in SoCal!
31 December 2016
Just getting from one destination to another is an adventure in India. The traffic is worst than I've seen in any other country. We've tried videotaping but still cannot capture the chaos. Today's trip from Jaipur to Agra by car was another traffic adventure with some respite in the countryside. Randy was happy to see the cows looking at eating healthier on the small farms. We stopped to tour Fatehpur Sikri, a 'ghost' city founded by a 16th-century Mughal emperor. Red sandstone buildings with beautifully carved artwork are still beautiful today, although long abandoned. Because the Muslim ruler had wives that followed Islam, Hinduism and Christianity respectively, there is a mix of artwork and design here that one generally does not see. While there, girls approached and asked to take their picture with me. I have no idea why!
30 December 2016
Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, has a dozen or more palaces and forts. English kings boosted employment, albeit temporarily, hiring locals and building huge complexes. We visited the Amber Palace and Fort complex to admire the architecture and wonder at the opulence that had Kings insisting on adding mirrors and jewels to adorn walls. Elephants trudge up the hill with tourists on their backs. We declined the elephants ride and joined the throng of traffic.
A public water well long out of use, was fascinating with its many staircase accesses. Musicians emulated the announcement music played when someone of stature entered the courtyard. Randy played the horn while I joined the drummer!
The Wind Palace or Hawa Mahal is nothing but a beautiful facade covering walkways where the women of the Royal court peered out screened windows at the street scenes. The Water Palace is built on a large lake, and was a cooler abode for royals in the hot months. Today, it's partially underwater.
29 December 2016
I love visiting new countries, learning about different cultures and food. I don't love the actual travel process. After 21 flying hours and a layover and we arrived in Delhi 2 days after we left LAX. A couple of hours of sleep and then 5.5 hours of driving and we finally made it to Jaipur. At least with a drive you can see the rural countryside which is quite different from the very crowded cities. Miles of fields of mustard, public (outdoor) baths, every conveyance possible -- including camels pulling carts.
In Jaipur, we walked the local markets and tried various local. foods. Traffic creates constant noise which includes incessant horn blowing! Even crossing the street can be dangerous and takes concentration. A lovely and filling evening!