My India: Varanasi

Let me begin by apologizing for not responding sooner to all your warm and encouraging comments on my India series.  For some inexplicable reason, WordPress did not show your comments. Then, I discovered that all your comments were pending! Sorry.

Now, on to Varanasi, which was the most fascinating of all the places I visited in India.

Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world, is situated along the sacred Gange River. It is here that the Hindus come to bathe in the holy water and to cleanse their sins.

Varanasi Gange

As one approaches the river, the streets are lined for blocks with men and women amidst roaming cows, motorbikes, cars, rickshaws, pilgrims and tourists. I cannot imagine how social distancing can ever occur here. People are crammed as they are, practically on top of each other. It is extreme chaos. And, yet, amidst all of this there is an intense spiritual mood as they make they their way to the banks of the river for the evening Aarti. Aarti is a Hindu spiritual fire ritual performed by Brahmin disciples to honor the holy river, Gods and deities.

Every evening, seven Brahmin disciples, using lamps, incense and chants face the river as they worship the goddess, Mother Gange.

aarti

Further down the river is where cremations take place. There can be as many as a hundred cremations a day. Mourners line up for their turn to dip the body shrouded in cloths and on stretchers into the Gange. The principle griever, dressed in white,   registers the body and picks up the wood necessary for the cremation. This dipping of the deceased in the Gange and then purified by fire and throwing the ashes into the river is meant to liberate the body from the cycle of life and death and thus move on to a higher plane of being.

Varanasi burials

Sunset on the Holy Ganges

Varanassi moon

What would India be without its sacred cow

sacred cow

Cows are considered sacred by Hindus in India. They were the favorite animal of Lord Krishna, and they serve as a symbol of wealth, strength, and abundance.

 

My India: Agra

The car ride from Rishikesh to Agra took us through some of the poorest parts of India. It was about a ten hour drive going through one village after another which looked pretty much the same.

towards agra

And then there was the magnificent Taj Mahal- one of the Wonders of the World – a Mughal architecture which combines elements from Islamic, Persian, Turkish and Indian styles of buildings.

This ivory-white marble mausoleum was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to her fourteenth child. It was built by the Shah after Mumtaz’ death in 1651 as an expression of eternal love for his favorite queen.

taj

When the Shah met Mumtaz Mahal it was love at first sight. The name Taj, meaning “crown” is of Hindi and Sanskrit origin. Mahal, meaning “love” is of Japanese origin. Thus, one can say that The Taj Mahal is the crowning symbol of love.

 

 

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My India: Rishikesh

Leaving South India and landing in the north is like being in a different country. While Southern India is much like a touristy-vacation spot, North India is what I have always imagined India to be and more, and why, as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to travel here.

Rishikesh

The first stop was Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world. There is a yoga studio almost every block offering different styles of practice. Although many offer teacher training courses and retreats most welcome drop in classes.

Yoga rishikesh

Rishikesh is along the Holy Ganges River at the bottom of the Great Himalayas mountain chain.

Hymalas with snow

The water in the Ganges here is sparkling clear. Certainly not at all like what I had heard and read about the Ganges.

Gange

It was here in Rishikesh that I had the fortunate experience of staying at the Yoga Nikitan Ashram (a stark room with only a cold shower, no heat – in February the temperature was still cold- a bed without sheets and a blanket under which I slept with my jacket on). The ashtanga yoga classes (based on Patanjali yoga philosophy), given by swamis or gurus (I’m not sure), were some of the toughest I’ve had, but also some of the most satisfying and spiritually nourishing.

While I was here Jivasu, the founder of the Naturality Movement was giving a workshop on A Natural Path of Awakening.

If you follow others, you will miss yourself.   

Although I was not registered for the Naturality workshop and was leaving Rishikesh the day after Dr. Jivasu had arrived I was privileged to be able to attend his opening session and only wished that I could have stayed for the entire workshop.

jivasu-pradeep-kumar

 

Naturality is a process of accepting life in its totality, which encompasses fear and stillness, sorrow and joy, turmoil and peace. It is an effort to know one’s own nature and the nature of the external world, two sides of the same reality, rather than following a system or a teacher.

 

 

“The most beautiful book to read is the book of our life”
– Jivasu  

My India: Pondicherry

This pretty French influenced city is located along the south-east coast of India on the Bay of Bengal. Its architecture is cheerful and colorful.

Pondi pretty house

Kolam art is very popular in Pondicherry. A kolam is drawn with white rice powder every morning in doorway entrances in honor of the Goddess Lakshmi (Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune) and to bring harmony and joy into the house.

Pondi Happiness

 

The black stones are a feature of the beach.

 

Pondicherry Beach

In the evenings people dress up to walk along the Seaside Promenade. It is a beautiful site to see the women in their colorful saris. In the afternoons it is deserted under a hot Greek-like blue sky.

Pondi boardwalk

Sri Aurobindo Ashram is in Pondicherry and it is here really where my spiritual quest took a leap forward. No photographs are permitted inside the Aurobindo Ashram. Having taken off my sandals I stepped into a beautiful garden overflowing with flowers.  People sat in a circle and meditated. I felt like I was touching the spiritual heart of India.

aurobindo ashram

 

My India: Kerala

Kerala is a state in the southern part of India. We stayed in, Cochin,  a pretty fishing town by the sea.

homestay

 

One of the nice parts of Kerala are the backwaters – a network of lagoons, lakes and rivers. As soon as I was on the water I felt a peacefulness come over me. It was absolutely delicious and delightful and appreciative to be in total silence. India is very noisy with its constant honking and motorbikes.

Backwaters

Kerala is also known for the iconic Chinese fishing nets along the Fort Kochi shoreline. In the evenings people gather by the shore where the fishermen sell their catch.

 

Cochin nets

It was at a yoga studio in Kerala that I had a wonderful yoga experience where the instructor had me do a head stand, something I hadn’t done in ages. That day I learned that yoga is also about physical memory and overcoming my fears.

 

Head stand

My India: Mumbai

One of the books which I read before coming to India was Behind The Beautiful Forevers : Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo – a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist recognized for documenting the lives of people in poverty.

“Here, in the thriving Western suburbs of the Indian financial capital, three thousand people had packed into, or on top of, 335 huts. It was a continuing coming-and-going of migrants from all over India – Hindus mainly, from all manner of castes and subcastes.”

Slums in Mombai

The Gateway of India taken from a sea view seat at the Sea Lounge Café in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

mumbai taj hotel

The University of Mumbai, The Supreme Court, and The Chhatrapati Shivaji train station.

University

mumbai university 2

 

train station

Mumbai is a city of extreme contrasts. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty are openly displayed throughout Mumbai.

The number of people living in the slums of Mumbai in 2020 is over 9 million. 

 

 

 

 

 

My India

Juhu Beach 2 Mombai

Since I’ve returned from my trip to India I have been feeling quite rusty about posting. First there was the jet lag and then the putting our clocks ahead an hour. I was grappling for all kinds of excuses to put off getting back to my blogging habits. After all, there was lots of washing to do, bills to settle, phone calls to friends and family, groceries, cooking and cleaning.

And then there was what to write about.

For years, I have had a romantic relationship with India.  There was that time the Beatles went to visit the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ashram in Rishikesh to learn transcendental meditation. That gave me a nudge. A place I’d like to go to someday.

Then, there were all the yoga classes and workshops I took: ashtanga yoga, hot yoga, hatha yoga. I got interested in Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion), Karma Yoga (the path of right action), Rāja Yoga (the path of inner illumination), Jñāna Yoga (the path of wisdom). Those all peaked my interest, especially Raja Yoga with its lure of inner illumination.

There was the literature written by Indians which drew me in. Anita Desai whom I mentioned in my novel Getting to Mr. Right and Bharati MukherjeeRohinton Mistry  and Yann Martel. The list of fine Indian writers with amazing talents is long. I have always loved reading a novel with India as its setting.

India also interested me because of their sacred cows, their holy cities, arranged marriages, Hinduism, Buddha, karma, reincarnation, meditation and Bollywood.

I travelled to India with a friend I met at a yoga class. Without going through a tour group we designed our own trip with yoga as theme.

Except for Mumbai and Agra we had the opportunity to practice yoga in Goa, Kerala, Pondicherry, Rishikesh and Varanasi with different yoga teachers both from abroad (mostly Europe and Australia) and from India.

Spending five weeks in India both in the south and the northern parts is hardly enough time to know a country so large and diverse as India. I was barely able to dip into its traditions and missed most of its day-to-day life.  At times, during the trip, when I was sick and tired of its constant honking of horns and trying to cross a street amongst tuc-tucs, automobiles, scoters (lots of them – practically touching you), whenever I was confronted with the dirt and poverty I vowed to myself that I will never return to India. India is too hard.

Yet, at the same time it is soft. That is part of its beauty. The photo in this post was taken at Juhu Beach in Mumbai. A typical Indian family out for a Sunday afternoon stroll along the beach.

Click for some spectacular photos of Juhu beach

I  hope that you will enjoy my series on My India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bau: Visiting My Family

This is my family. My mother, my father and my little brother. I love visiting them. They are always excited to see me as I am to see them. I am also very happy to see Lyne, their mistress and her husband. I spent the first three months of my life with them so they are very special to me.  Also, they have a yard where I can run around and not have to go on walks where I must put up with other dogs barking at me or jumping on me.

While my mistress goes traipsing around India, I will be spending 5 weeks with my family. Party time!

Bau's family

However, I kind of resent that mistress has to go all the way to India. Even if it is one of her dreams to practice yoga in ashrams and yoga resorts, why does she have to go so far when all she has to do is practice with me. After all, I am an expert at Downward Dog!

2-incredible-india

Source: https://webneel.com/incredible-india-beautiful-amazing-photography

Because of her and her foolish dreams I won’t be blogging for a while. Just wanted to let you know that I will be back as soon as I can.

ABOUT MY BOOKS

 

 

 

Daffodils

Daffodils are my favorite flower. Last fall I planted dozens of daffodil bulbs at my family grave. Today, when I went to check on the daffodils I was delighted to find a host of golden daffodils lighting up the aisle.

I picked enough for a bouquet and left the rest behind for joy and beauty.

daffodils-e1526863346678.jpg

 

Here’s William Wordsworth’s famous poem on daffodils: 

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Wishing you all a joyous weekend. 

 

HAVE BAGS WILL TRAVEL

Get your copy of Have Bags, Will Travel

D.G. Kaye’s recent memoir Have Bags, Will Travel reminded me how much I’d neglected the travel section of my blog.

Be prepared to have your heart chuckling and your lips smiling as you read through D.G. Kaye’s amusing travel adventures. Although the main theme of the book is on her affection for shopping it’s also a memoir like no other as she holds your hand and guides you  through her unforgettable trips to Paris, London, Greece, Venezuela and Vegas.  You meet her friends who are almost as zany as she is and she ponders on the good old days of travelling and her sadness to see the old charm of her beloved Vegas fade away.

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