Monday, October 20, 2008

Under your skin

So the journey is at an end, we are back in Delhi and we leave tomorrow. I have a 14 hour plus direct flight to Newark NJ with connection to Chicago then North Carolina and Janette is off to Sydney, Australia via Singapore.

India… what can I say… it is all the wonder in the travel guides and the stereo typical imitations by Peter Sellers and much, much more. India has more of everything, from poverty to wealth, from simple village life to bustling metropolis, from Holy rivers and temples to the excesses of Bollywood. From pious ascetics detached from the world to those connected to the world via cell phones in tucked away places that still use the Ox and Buffalo to plow the fields. India is a living, breathing dichotomy of old and new, of fast and slow, of spiritual and material. Yet when you step onto those sandy paths, those paths that for millennium the holy and supernatural alike have traveled, when you take that trek off the tourist routes, you slowly start to feel, albeit only an iota of the rich history and the divine nature of this place that comes in an underlying feeling, a lure, that fascinates you even when all the sites and smells around you are foreign to the western mind set. If you are prepared to look closely, to remove the outer layers of what they call here the “Maya” (that which is not) you can start to realize, the true India. You will start to see the real India etched into the faces of the faithful who are hurrying to greet the deity or make an offering… you can see it incised in relief carvings on a temple facade… and no I wasn’t smoking anything in Hrishikesh, but you can even see it in the eyes of the children that gather round you. The divine nature is all around you, yet skillfully hidden in the Maya (pun intended) for those not ready to receive it.

India will get under your skin in one way or another if you allow it, both as frustration because nothing is straightforward or easy here, or as a spiritual and uplifting personal experience… it is up to you. For me it was both... but it was the later that will keep me coming back, if only in my mind to give sustenance to my soul.

This ends the “Breeze from India” blog, thanks for joining me on my little sojourn I trust you found your trip interesting and now when you look at the images here and at you will see more than just snapshots of a foreign exotic place... I hope if you look closely you may find like I did the mystique of Mother India.

Namaste (I honor the divine in you)

Comments welcomed below

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Go with the flow

It was an impulse decision to come to Hrishikesh, partly to get away from the heat of Vrindavan, but, mostly due to hearing for years about the beauty of the river and the cooler mountain breeze. Westerners gather here for the ashrams and yoga retreats, the water sports like white water rafting, kayaking, hiking and the gunja (dope).

We came for the river, the scenery and the chance to circumambulate and photograph another holy place… honestly! We are booked into a place that overlooks the Ganga right on a sweeping bend complete with rapids. This allows us to fall asleep to the sound of the river and conjure up echoes of the ancient past.

Sitting in the roof top restaurant a full moon appears over the mountains reflecting off the river and the Shiva temple next door. It is easy to see why this is a special place to rest and rejuvenate for the tired traveler. The next morning we are up at first light greeted by the sound of the river below our balcony and a milky mist that makes the mountains and water merge as one color. I play with my 70-300mm lens for some long shots across the Ganga and then a few shots of Jagat chanting below our balcony. See for more.

The town is waking now and bells from the ashrams across the river ring out to signal the faithful of a new day. We venture off to the big multi story Shiva temple next door and to our surprise fine scores of rooms with alters to every incarnation of God and all the demi gods. Then Jagat spies a crystal store so all bets are off for further exploring for now.

I find a CD store and the owner will open any CD and let you listen… its fun and I have them all looking for Indian fusion music and Jagat has them looking for mystic, mantra stuff… all in all a little fortune is dropped here (about a third of USA cost) but I do love some of the new sounds that fits the time place circumstances. Of course we reach the Ganga and I take a couple of my favorite images of the trip, a Sadu washing his cloth. It’s late now so tomorrow we will cross the river and look for a Hanuman monkey.

The Ganga is a milky green as the first rays of sun light come over the mountains and we are off for the far side of the river. We cross a suspension bridge and the warmth of the day is setting in along with the sellers of wares thinking I want to buy stuff even though you tell them NO! Over and over again… but soon we are out of the tourist zone and heading along a road with other pilgrims looking for that special something in life. For me on this day it is to find a Hanuman Monkey and worship the Ganga. We buy some bananas (for us not the Monkeys), this is a more peaceful side of the river with green gardens and stone walls with sitting benches every few feet.

Down the road I see them sitting in a tree and on a wall just waiting for me it seems. Hanuman Monkeys playing and eating, big and small, a whole family. My first wish out of the way we head for the second Foot Bridge and Jagat makes a flower and candle offering to Mother Ganga. The bathing gatts are full of worshippers and even cows join in as small boys dive in and fill bottles of the Holy water. We both dangle our weary feet into the cold water and sit in bliss as the sun starts it descend into the western sky.

This night we dine at a spot recommended by a young guy who said to food was great. Well we waited and waited for the food… but it was worth it… all freshly made by a kid from Nepal… what he did with mushrooms and eggplant was truly amazing and the atmosphere was nice to. The smell of gunja coming from the kids sitting and eating on the floor (traditional Indian style) brought back memories of being young. Their faces full of life, their eyes red and their appetites big. It turns out one of the young girls runs the internet café and rafting store that I meet the day before and she chatted with us for a while her sweet German accent (Swiss) and friendliness capping off a lovely two days in Hrisikesh.

Tomorrow we hit the road and hopefully nothing else!!!!!!! Fingers crossed…

Friday, October 17, 2008

Road Trip for the senses (Hrishikesh)

Its 4.45am and I’m lugging our bags down stairs to check out. Today we leave Vrindavan at 5am for Hrishikesa where the Ganga (Ganges) leaves the Himalaya Mountains and starts its journey onto and through the plains of India and into the Bay of Bengal. We have a taxi booked to drive us the 400 kilometers (another death ride and Rodeo show) then drive us back to Delhi in 3 days. Only in India could this happen… the driver has to sleep and stay in his car while we live in a hotel. But we need the driver to be tough for the drive back to Delhi so we don’t offer to let him stay with us…LOL. (Oh and the cost for this 650 k total trip with driver waiting 2 days, all up $158.06 and we will see if he gets a tip!)

It’s 5.19am and still no taxi… its India and nothing ever seems to go smoothly. Calls are made to the different taxi companies to find out what is up! But no one has a record of this trip… It’s looking bad and our room has already been let out to others.

5.23am and lights appear up the road and the compound guards are telling me this is him. Sure enough the taxi arrives (Nandu Taxi service) and Jagat is complaining to him about being late. He shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders dismissively and starts loading our bags. 5.37am we hit the road… but wait! The guards are telling him that he has a flat tire, so there is a 5 man staring conference at a flat tire on the car. I get out to even up the numbers to 6 and yes it looks flat. A kick from the driver and a nod of his head and he seems to think maybe we won’t go the 400k like this.

We still drive off and he makes a call… Just a short trip and there appearing out of the darkness on the side of the road is a little guy sitting on a wheel complete with tire. Tools come out and the car is being jacked up, all in the dark so I get my flash light and put a little light on the subject. They are amazed and get to work quickly (now that they can bloody see!). Another kick of the replacement tire and shake of the head and we are good to go.

The Sun comes up as we head north to Delhi. The sunrises are very colorful due to the pollution I guess. It seems to defuse the colors thus changing the hue so it always looks interesting. Another colorful seen is the people crapping and peeing on the side of the road, in the fields and yes I even saw one pooping off a building in a field. The three S’s apply here too just it’s all in public!

We hit Delhi the second largest city in India purported to be home to over 17 million, compare that with North Carolina with a total population if 8.75 million. The traffic is chaotic the people are everywhere and then add in the wondering cows and dogs as we and thousands of others jostle for a way through. The sound

alone is enough from the diesel cars and trucks and the putt putt of the 3 wheeled motorized rickshaws, motorbikes, scooters… and the HORNS blearing nonstop. It an amusement park ride with a combination dodgem, merry go round, roller coaster ride all rolled into one as you ride over the potholes.

It takes as long to get though Delhi going north as it does to drive the 150ks from Vrindavan. The heat of the day is upon us and the A/C is on (you pay extra for A/C car) and Jagat is asleep while I stand guard for the head-on collision that must happen or just hold her from flying across the back seat from the swerving and hard braking that never ends. But somehow it all seems normal as everyone is doing the same thing… so I just go with the flow and take in the scenery. I’m not sure but I think I have figured out the horn blowing etiquette if you can call it that! The horn is used in a number of ways… firstly it is a warning for those that can see you that you are coming through (sometimes combined with flashing headlights)… secondly it is used for those that are not facing you to let them know that you are there and that they need to keep their station and not make any sideways movement or (depending on length of horn blow) that they should move over and make way, I think!!!!!! The only time anyone gets upset is when someone violates the horn etiquette. Even the cows and buffalo seem to follow this horn etiquette, I tell you no lie, it is truly amazing to see this in action. It would never work in the west as our culture is completely different, but, everyone here knows it and follows it.

North of Delhi the farm fields spread out with mostly sugar cane growing. The roads however are still heavenly travelled by trucks which are frequently stopping in the middle of the road for major repairs. Camels and water buffalo are used to haul heavy loads also while the cows graze, walk and sleep as they please, I’m told they belong to people but you would never know it.

Eight and a half hours later and we arrive in Hrishikesa a place that is scared not only for the Ganga flowing through it, but, also it is said that Vishnu appeared here as Lord of the senses (Hrsikeśa), Lord Ramachandra did penance here after killing the demon Ravana and it is the abode of lord Shiva. As you approach you first notice the mountains rising up from the plains the color of which is like that attributed to Krishna as blackish blue like a rain cloud with the Ganga snaking its way into the heart of them. We made it!

Sunday, October 12, 2008


The Yamuna River is a focal point in the lives of the Vrindavan inhabitants, much as it was for those in Delhi and Agra in years past. I’m here just after the rainy season so the river is still flowing strongly. Boats cross it regularly carrying school children, pilgrims and those involved in commerce.

Its conne
ction with Krishna and his pastimes however link it to the hearts of the inhabitants and all the pilgrims who come to this holy land for spiritual substance and inspiration. The river is held in such reverence that daily worship is conducted both individually and collectively.

It is common to see individuals meditating and quietly worshiping on its banks. While in the evening hours groups gather on the steps of Keshi Gatt and worship while others upriver send little boat offerings of a burning candle nestled in flowers drifting down past those gathered.

As you sit here at dusk sharing a vantage point with the Monkeys you take in the panoram
a of ancient sandstone buildings, flicking lights drifting on the current, ladies below singing in their colorful saris and the priests twirling the big ghee lamps all in praise and thanks to Mother Yamuna… the river that flows not only though Vrindavan but more importantly through the hearts and minds of the faithful.
A when the day is done you lie down next to her as she gives off a cooling breeze and muffled whispers of a far off flute playing to sooth the soul…

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A day in Agra

The Sun is rising over the Yamuna River with its first rays caressing the tops of the tall temples in Vrindavan. Bells and gongs are ringing from all directions almost drowning out the singing of the Holy names as the faithful continue their worship.

We wait for a taxi to pick us up for our trip to Agra about 2 hours south of here. A cow walks past bowing her head for an instant as if to say good morning or more likely “Radhey Shyam” as the locals say here.

The taxi arrives and we jump in the driver confirms we are going the Agra and off we go complete with Hindi music blaring… but wait, we stop not far up the road and change drivers and when the first driver (the boss) ask me questions I pretend that I can’t hear him so the music is turned off and all is peaceful again with the bells and singing coming from all around. The traffic is light and the driver is quite and the sights and sounds fill us with lots to contemplate.

Arriving in Agra we stop for a light breakfast at an international hotel where westerners gather and eat. Then we head straight for the Taj Mahal. In the parking lot we meet a tour guide who we take with us for the day.

On arriving at the gate we are told it Taj is closed because some Head of State is taking a tour and that it will reopen at 1pm. So we head off for the Red Fort… this one is much larger than the one in Delhi, built of Red Sandstone and White Marble over the time span of 4 Mughal rulers. It is huge and was surrounded by two moats said to contain fierce Crocodiles and Tortoise to dissuade enemies.
There is so much to see and take in from the architecture, history and culture. I am most interested in the reign of Shahjahan (the builder of the Taj) his is the most interesting story. He was known as a good just ruler catering for all his subjects whether they be Muslim, Hindu Sikh or Christian. He had three wives, the first two being arranged marriages and the last to Mumtaz Mahal was a marriage of love. This love was so strong that after she died during the birth of their 14 child he built the Taj Mahal in honor of her.

Shahjahan was overthrown by his son Auranzeb and kept under house arrest in theses rooms looking out on his beloved Mumtaz tomb the Taj Mahal until his death.

After the tour we are off to the Taj and a fest for the senses.
Both the fort and the Taj are breathtaking in their size, design an d Royal grandeur. I can truly say the images do not and cannot do justice to these places.

It is said that discovering the secrets of the Taj is like discovering the different moods of a woman… enough said! I told you pictures couldn’t do it Justice.

Jaya Radhey! Until next time.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Arrived Vrindavan... just! The two very near he
ad on collisions really put a scare into my son. There are some very stupid people on the road and some very nice 
ones off the road. The first night was a feast for the senses and a feast on South Indian food (we are going back to North Indian from now on). 

The Krishna Balaram Temple was alive with energy and a rip roaring kirtan. It is so nice to see the temple and samadhi completed in white marble. The deities are so beautiful but it was the restaurant that held our attention for the longest time...LOL.

It is so hot here that any air conditioning is welcome along with a cold Limca drink. We did the Loi bazaar already and I bought some clothes so I can look that part. But, I was really funny and sad on the way back as our rick shaw walla could only have been 12 and with 3 on board ( two of which are large) it was amazing to see him do it. With the sweat pouring off him and out of breath he accepted payment of 30 rupees plus tip!

Next morning we go off on the Vrindavan parigram on Radheya's (Brad) insistence,
He takes the lead just as the sun is coming up.  A long walk but well worth the effort. Janette gave up about half way and followed us in a rickshaw. Very befitting a Gopi and a royal one at that. People here think she is from Manipor and treat her a little different. They are fascinated with Radheya being 6 foot 1 and very muscular so therefore stands out in any crowd. Me on the other hand is viewed as just a rich white guy and therefore needs constant harassment for money! If they only knew (the white guy part is true) maybe they would leave me the bloody well alone!

We got to see the monkeys, peacocks, cows, water Buffalo, stray dogs and trash everywhere. It seems so ironic that the houses
 and temples are keep clean but all the trash is swept outside and left there. The open sewers can get a little rough, they have a strong sulphur smell but the hogs seem to relish the stuff. You see them snout down into it with bum sticking up and the little squiggly tail wagging away in bliss.

We get to the Yamuna river and make an offering as is custom with a little bowl of flowers with a burning candle; see Janette (Jagat Karana) launching it on  its way. 

We sit for awhile to take in the soothing flow of the river and watch as the Monkeys play and eat and an early morning worshipper finishes his

Time for breakfast and a nap I think.
Jaya Radhey!!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


So here I am in Mother India again… now were to start regarding this place. The beginning I guess. I went through the normal stuff at airport security… I’m treated as a suspect, searched, patted down and made to stand and wait while the screener calls over a buddy to confer on my X-rayed computer… I think they were MAC fundamentalists and I only have a DELL, so I was worthy of an insurgent attack by airport security! Then of course there was the delay out of Charlotte putting us close to the edge of catching our flight to Delhi, which of course left from 2 terminals over. But being Newark New Jersey we knew not to say anything as this was Soprano country!

The flight to Delhi was about 14 hours straight but we did have the best airline food ever. Folks, fly with the Hindu’s if you are a vegetarian… they even had the Curd flowing but the farting was a bit much in a confined space of economy class.
We flew the northern route up past Iceland, across Norway and Sweden down through the Baltic States into southern Russia past the Caspian Sea and all the “Stans” the last being Pakistan. I waved to Bin Laden as we passed over the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan and in a moment of pure genius I noted that if we ever catch the bastard don’t shot him, don’t even water board him… put him thorough airport sec
urity over and over again… he will fess up and kill himself…
We landed in Delhi and all the Hindus on board clapped… Brad asked why and I said, “Well I guess we made it safely” he seemed surprised at that. In less than two hours I would be clapping after our trip to the hotel. I was so grateful like those on the plane “we made it”.

To say that nothing goes to plan in India is understating it a bit… it seems like lawlessness as in the old wild west days and you can’t help feeling like you are the Sheriff without a gun! I’m tired and sleep is calling so I won’t go into detail here but catching the taxi was confusing, disorientating and part mystery… riding in the taxi on the other hand at night in a city of over 40 million was sheer terror and the ride of our lives!!!! How we never hit anyone or anything is nothing short of amazing and how we were not hit is even more amazing. This is driving skill folks and if it is not, then it must be divine intervention!

After we arrived at the guest house in what must have been record time… I clapped folks, not because of the time but just like those on the flight who deal with the perils of travel in India regularly… WE MADE IT.

There are already a thousand stories to tell but space on this blog will not permit. We did however venture (or should I say adventure) out to the Red Fort in old Delhi today. The young beggars, the people trying to sell you something, the smells of the city including the body odor of the driver we rented for the day, the pedal power and motorized rickshaws,
the pony carts, the lady who took ALL her clothes off in front of us and rinsed herself under a tap were some of the flavorings that made for a tasty full day.

I did manage to take one photo at the Red Fort… yes I was taking in the historic sites and did not busy myself with forcing images as well. But this scene seemed to sum up a lot of what I was seeing here in India. The beautiful majestic past ruled by powerful warriors being ever vigilant to attack from within and without. And now hundreds of years later a soldier stands guard in these dark and gloomy times with his FN 308 rifle at the ready looking out from the once gold and jewel encrusted ceiling and walls of a Moghul's bed chamber. He stands to defend a land so rich in culture, in history and in spiritual tenants from the same enemy just across the Yamuna river that formed a natural moat much like all those years ago.

Off to Vrindavana tomorrow. A 150k wild ride coming up!!!! YES