Author Archives: 2gadabout

About 2gadabout

In past lives I've flown airplanes, was a competition skin diver, enjoyed basketball, hockey and golf. I wrote features for a newspaper, a novel, and once owned a small grocery store. But the best thing I ever did was marry and raise kids. I'm a widow now and entering a new phase of life. Ramblin' about the country with JimJ in his RV and writing and photographing everything and anything that catches my eye. The golden years are here and I'm having fun.

THE HOLY CITY VARANASI

From Khajuraho, we took a 40 minute plane ride to Varanasi and checked into our hotel. Because we leave before dawn to see the religious festival that attracts thousands of pilgrims to the sacred River Ganges, Ranvir asked to host our farewell dinner a night early. First a concert by two excellent musicians. The drum sounds like a deep throated bull frog between taps with hands and sticks.The stringed instrument emits high pitched notes our ear is not used too. Not easy to play, both men worked up a sweat while playing.

We dress up for dinner. Theo has a nice tie and a shirt with a collar.

Dinner is fast paced with food coming at you in waves of various smoked meats and vegetable dishes, sauces and exotic combinations.  Adam told this great story of his college days at Cambridge. He would enter a pub and have a drink, then challenge anyone to eat three boiled eggs, without liquid to wash them down, faster than he could drink a flagon of beer. The loser paid for his  beer for the evening. He always won. My son Doug would pull a similar trick. As a carpenter, his challenge was that he could pound 10 3-penny nails into the end of a piece of 2 x 4 in ten seconds. He always drank free.

Before dawn, the bus takes us where permitted and then we walk to the river. Everyone is bundled up and we take in the ever changing panoply of street people.

Beggars hoping for a handout.

This is our guide hailed by a holy man with white paint who anoints him with a red dot on his forehead. Our guide took us through a narrow alleyway shortcut.  Motors and walkers in tight quarters squeeze  past each other. He warned, stick together like glue. Theo wasn’t feeling well and stayed in.

We load into boats and view everything from the river. They cremate 150 to 200 bodies a day on the Ganges River.

We watch the sun come up and view the bank where the cremations take place, from the boat.

It takes 200 to 300  kilograms of wood for one traditional cremation. The body is placed in the middle,  covered in branches of sweet smelling herbs, then covered the rest of the way. It costs the equivalent of $6000 American for a traditional burial. Most people must use the electric, or in some communities, gas crematoriums, which are cheap.

In this picture, the man in white with a shaved head is the one who lights the fire for his father. (Or, brother, or wife, or son.) He walks around the funeral pyre three times clockwise, and three times counter clockwise before he torches. Notice the man, lower right corner, carrying a huge pan full of ashes on his head. The untouchables will go through the ashes and collect anything of value like gold fillings, or gold fibers before delivering the ashes to the river.

Here you see the body coming in under the red plastic. Under that is the body covered in a saffron robe with gold fibers. It is removed and along with the pallet thrown into a separate fire. Taking pictures of a cremation is forbidden, our guides tells us.

This body is getting a dip in the Sacred River before cremation. Pregnant women, infants, people who died of snake bite, people who have leprosy or anyone who renounces faith will not be cremated. Women are no longer allowed to attend cremations because they would often throw themselves into the fire to go to a better place with a loved one. The government forbids that now.

The festival is very spiritual. It isn’t only about cremation. On the riverside are ghats where people register their dead, and arrange for prayers and a proper entrance into the hereafter.

This man is performing his own ritual with the candles, flowers, fire and bells.

The participants sometimes get into a state of ecstasy or trance.

Each ghat has a priest who records the death for the government and performs the ritual for his customer. The government records births and deaths now. Ranvir tells us that at one time, a person could go to his village priest and he would have the records of your father, your grandfather and whoever died before them, handed down from a former priest. This city is 4,000 years old and death is a cause for celebration.

The Ganges is a mecca for pilgrims to come and take a ritual dip and cleansing in the sacred waters.

Some may travel across the country and make it once in a lifetime to the Ganges. Others come every year.

Bathers are everywhere. Some bring vessels to take the precious water home with them.

Bathing and lighting a ceremonial fire for a loved one departed.

The process is fascinating.

Men and women bath together.

These women sought a bit of privacy among the boats.

More tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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KHAJURAHO

It’s a chilly morning when we arrive at the Hindu temple complexes. They were unearthed by British archaeologists and British Victorian values were shocked by these intricate carvings.

The temples were built between the ninth and tenth century A.D. and the widespread culture that built them dominated central India at the time.

As we approach the building, carvings are everywhere. This repaired section shows a bit of what life was like. Elephants were trained to work. Horses too.

High on the walls, are multiple sections of beautiful carved figures. Without the ability to measure them, I’d estimate they stand 18 to 20 inches in height.

One of the Hindu God’s is an elephant headed deity with many arms. Everywhere on the wall,  the trunks and tusks of elephants, human arms and hands, the most fragile parts were broken over the years.

In this intimate scene, the elephant seems to be observing with enjoyment.

There were several evidences of bestiality. Here an aroused dog. Other more graphic carvings with horses and elephants and humans could be seen, if you could locate them.

 

I think many of the scenes are about being clean and ready for intimacy.

It appears as though this mother is showing her daughter how to comb and groom. Mother has a comb and looks into a mirror while daughter looks on.

 

In this intimate scene, the child chooses not to watch. But children were indoctrinated into sexual activities at a young age.

The faces of the lovers are very distinct as though modeled by living subjects.

This scene shows masturbation by both female and male while watching a sexual act.

Some figures are just seductive and you can’t help but admire the beauty and grace of this carving. This is two men. Nothing was censured.

From this site, the positions as a whole are known as Kama Sutra.  Books have been written that have analyzed this religion in an attempt to understand it and how it came to be.

This sweet face resembles no other. It is clear there are no cookie cutter images.

Again, a child is part of the scene.

She lovingly strokes his forehead, but the other two figures role is uncertain. Other carvings evidenced  group sex with four persons and much voyeurism.

Seductive and uninhibited.

Some of the carvings are in hard to reach little nooks and aren’t as clearly detailed as others. The marble seems course. Which makes me wonder if they were carved on the walls?  Or carved on a table and mounted on the walls?

The answer to that question was never made clear to us

No matter how they were carved, the intent is clear.

We are no longer in the Victorian age and sex is a more open topic of discussion today.

Note:  Theo was not feeling well and opted to stay in the hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TRAIN AND BUS TO KHAJURAHO

It’s hard to look at people with elephantiasis. Both feet are affected. This man lives by begging. His hangout is the train station and I suspect he does well. Another man here had swollen  thighs that looked as though his flesh was made of stacked rubber tires the size of a kids wagon wheels. The Jhansi station was very dirty.

I was glad to load into a bus for the five hour drive to Khajuraho to visit the Bundela civilization.

This is what we call “out in the boondocks” at home. People we pass seem to be poorer in these small towns and villages.

The little girl in the back is blind. She fends for herself. Probably attached to the family waiting on the edge of the street.

We are not accustomed to the idea that where you live is where you sleep and keep your belongings. All business is on the street. You eat, get your hair fixed, buy food, clothes, paper,  tools, whatever you need is on the street. This barber shop has a mirror. Most have only a hand mirror.

Fresh chickens for sale.

Or a ready made meal.  These dumplings in our hotel restaurants, are quite tasty. Some are rice, some lentil.

On the side of the road, we saw a young couple making bricks. Ranvir stopped the bus and we watched. It takes around five 5 seconds to make a brick. They said they each make about 300 bricks a day. At the end of the season they will sell them for three cents each.

If you need iron work done, you have to wait for the gypsies to come to town.

Ranvir gives a standard warning. Thieves. They steal everything and you have to be watchful until they leave.

Heavy loads are standard everywhere in India, it seems.

At first I thought this was a woman. He plays a homemade instrument for his rupees but he has a ring and leather shoes.

We stop for lunch at a local restaurant. Cobra handlers seem quite at ease with their snakes.

After watching a Youtube video called Cleaning The Cobra Pit some years back, my impression is they are not an aggressive snake. But they are still deadly.

My oldest son kept snakes and they don’t frighten me, but Ranvir didn’t want us to get close.

Lunch here was some of the best food I’ve tasted in India. Not overly salty. Really fresh tasting. After we praised it, Ranvir told us his two nieces,  run the restaurant.

Theo is still not feeling well. It seems to be a respiratory ailment that hangs on.

When we left the restaurant, one handler was educating the bus driver’s apprentice about his snake.

We arrive at our hotel. I’ve forgotten what hotel had monkey security guards. We were cautioned to lock our balcony doors because the monkeys have learned how to open them.

This hotel had live music and wonderful art work.

In the morning, we will visit the park of the Chandela civilization. There were many sects from the area that believed the act of sex was a God sent pleasure of all living creatures to be encouraged in all of its forms. Be warned that the next blog will contain erotic carvings from the Khajuraho monuments.

 

 

 

 

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AGRA MARBLE AND ELECTION DAY.

One of the wonderful things about travel with OAT, is the many off itinerary things we do. After leaving Agra Fort, we have an all day travel to another UNESCO site. But, first, we visit Agra Marble Company. The boss who is seated explains the process to us.

The workers are from Iran, he tells us. These jobs are handed down from father to son, or brother to brother. It is a dying art, he explains. People don’t want to do this hard work anymore.

Cutting a gouge in the marble by scraping it with a sharp tool over and over again. Then the glass or pearl inlay is set in and cemented with a mixture of lime, water and and finely ground marble.

The glass is cut.

It’s outlined and assembled on the table top. Then the artist makes the cuts.

Each worker has a different skill.

The men would glance up at him furtively then at us, as though they were frightened of their boss. It was very noticeable. The boss even commented on it, saying something on the order of …they look at me as though I was going to beat them or something.  I suspect he wasn’t a kind boss.

Cutters permanently damage their fingers from the work. The cutter was asked to show us his little finger which gets stiff and unmovable after years of cutting. His index finger is scarred by a permanent dent in it where the blade is held and pushed into the hard surface.

The end product is beautiful, as you can imagine. This is the small two foot table I bought.

It was shipped to me in this cloth covered box. The box had reams of tape and those hard plastic fasteners. Then rope that my housemate and I had to remove. It took the two of us 45 minutes to get it out of the box. The stand was boxed the same way. Once the cardboard boxes were removed, the pieces were  enclosed in a heavy, coated blue box. Whew! What a job.

 

Because it was election day, the hotel personnel removed all wine and beer from our in room refrigerators. Drinking is against the law on election day. Ranvir provided a small get-together in his room with snacks and some rum with cola.

Theo drank  sprite or  lemonade.

Bands, bill boards, groups of people with signs-all part of  electioneering going on in the streets. I got one blurry picture of a band.

Pictures from a fast moving bus or train, don’t turn out well.

And one good one at a temporary stop. They gave an impromptu little concert.

Smoking is banned in India. It is really nice not to deal with second hand smoke and what a benefit for people to spend their money on food instead of addictive nicotine.  I saw two people smoking, both times in small towns. The scofflaws.

Other pictures I missed, students taking a test in a large field so no one can copy from one another. Dead cows on the railroad tracks.  I also did a search today for population figures. As I’ve blogged I began to question Mamju Sharmi’s statement that India is 80% Muslim and 11% Hindu. I re-read my notes and her statements. I think it was just a slip on her part. It is just the opposite. About 80% Hindu and 11% Muslim.  Tomorrow a two hour train ride and a five hour drive to Khajuraho.

 

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LOVE AND DEATH AND FORT AGRA.

A shimmering Taj Mahal in the early morning. When we visited the Taj, our guide was a man named Bibi which means dear one. The brochure of our trip did not match what was being said to us by Bibi. He told us about the building of the Taj Mahal by Emperor Jangir who built it as a memorial to his beloved wife, Agumam Bimo. (Phonetic spelling.)  She married at 19 and gave birth to 14 babies. She accompanied him everywhere, even into battles.  She died in his tent from a hemorrhage giving birth to another child. She was 39 years old. She asked two things of him, build me something beautiful and take care of my parents. She was Hindu. Jangir locked himself in a room for a week, then searched for a place to build a monument to the wife he loved so much. He chose the spot on the Yamuna River and began the building. When his sons grew to manhood, his ambitious middle son killed his older brothers and seized control. He put his father in a separate palace across the river where he could always view the Taj Mahal, but he was not permitted to leave.

Today’s Taj Mahal is a tribute to the son,  Khurram, who  named him self Shah Jahan, which means King of The World. He finished the building. It is his wife Queen Mumtaz Mahal who is enshirined there. He aggressively protected his domain as head of the Mughal Empire. He forbade Muslim/Hindu marriages and encouraged destruction of Hindu monuments. He was a soldier but his real talent was in the palaces he built. He was responsible for the jewel encrusted Peacock Throne which was later stolen and moved to Iran.  He designed the Red Fort, and the Jama Masjid Mosque.  ShahJahanabad, one of the seven cities of Dehli, he named for himself. He could look down upon the city from his Red Fort and enjoy his endorsement as King of the World.

The Agra Fort is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is built on the Yamuna River, the seat of power of successive  Mughal Emperors. We crossed a bridge over a moat to enter this huge, sprawling place. It is located a couple of miles north of the Taj Mahal.

The moat no longer holds water except for rain it catches. A woman warrior died trying to make the jump from the fort to the wall you see. Her horse’s front hooves hit the wall and it fell back on top of her, its  back broken. She died trying to get out from under the horse.

Windows are decorated in different styles.

It is unclear to me if people can see through them like stained glass.

The fort presented several different architectural styles, most likely built in stages, or rebuilt for the satisfaction of the current ruler.

A tomb sits before this building of white marble arches. We bypassed it for the main, most decorated palace inside the fort. I’m curious and will try to find out who is buried there.

The four sided buildings face a square. The area now planted in British style formal gardens was once the playground of the concubines, their ladies in waiting, and their eunuchs. The last Emperor to live here was Mahadji Shinde.  He had 60 or more concubines, I’ve forgotten the number. He did not have relations with all of them, they were political alliances. Wealthy Emperors were glad to have their daughters under protection of a powerful Emperor. And the Emperor was guaranteed that his neighboring Emperor would not make war against him.

The queen lived in this building which had unique methods to stay cool in the searing Agra heat.

Open doors and windows facing the river provided some ventilation. The decorations are another incomparable feature of this palace.

The grates facing outside collect every little breeze and it cools as it passes over metal. At night, candles or a fire light up little mirrored pieces embedded in the walls and ceilings.

This ceiling had water pumped into four little nozzles in the ceiling creating a cooling mist as they spun around. Done without electricity.

A clever device, that looks like a shelf or storage place high on the wall. Notice how deep the adobe wall is which also helps keep things cool.

On the opposite side, it is actually an open vent from one room to the other. It lets in light from the lighter room as well. Everywhere, there was water from the river for multiple uses.

The Emperor’s quarters sat opposite the Queen’s Quarters.  The inside sandstone walls had a beauty of their own. Lavish carving, an art impossible to financially duplicate today.

A column foot.

A door with a drain at the bottom to shed water that ran through the  building in narrow canals.

The palace had entrances on all four sides of the building.

 

Such beauty with a closer look.

This is the entrance that we used, the main entrance across the moat.

Every little detail is there to please the senses.

Details like this are easier seen through the camera lens. If you walk in and out everyday, would you even notice something so high above your head?  I guess that is why they are wonders of the world.

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TRAIN TO BHARATPUR-DRIVE TO AGRA

We take an early train to Bharatpur. Distances across India are vast. From Bharatpur, another long bumpy ride by bus to our hotel. Tourists travel the distance to see Fort Agra and the Taj Mahal. Transportation is quite reasonable on these trains, but Ranvir tells us we are on an expensive train for upper middle class people.

It has a toilet and food service. That is, snacks and drinks to enjoy in your seat.

 

Sleeper cars cover longer distances with a dining room and other amenities. Economy cars, the general population uses, are bare bones. Mainly because patrons steal the light bulbs, cut off the padded seating, remove any piece of wood or metal they can pry loose, no curtains or shades remain, fixtures of any kind disappear. Even the floors have holes in them where boards have been removed.  While we laugh, Ranvir reminds us that poor people think it is their right to take from the government. He adds that they are beginning to crack down on such things and provide better cars for them. He describes families with a bunch of kids, sacks of food and maybe a live chicken.

A grand hotel with over 2,000 rooms is our reward after a long day of travel. It’s nice to have luxury hotels to stay in, but this one was my least favorite.

Shiny, clean and beautiful, but you walk miles to your room. The restaurants and lobby are sandwiched between the upper and lower residential floors. I have no sense of direction and have to memorize each left or right turn in an ordinary hotel. This one is a huge challenge.

The elevators are inconveniently located and using the marble steps the intuitive way to get to your destination. As new groups come in, hotel staffers position themselves in the hallways to give directions. Apparently, I am not the only one who has problems finding my way around.

But I got my art fix.

I knew I had to pass about 30 paintings and pieces of art before I turned left.

When I saw this painting it was my set of stairs.

And pass the drum, before I found our room.

When I passed the phone, I knew where to turn downstairs to the dining room.

The grounds around the building are just as vast as the hotel itself. Beautiful and green and spacious. I saw only workmen, never anyone from the hotel enjoying it. If I had a week to stay, I wouldn’t need the cues.  I changed money at this hotel and they wouldn’t take small bills like tens or fives. Twenties or a fifty, only. Their limit, $5o a day. Then they gave me mostly small denomination rupees and apologized.  I was a bit discombobulated here as I complain a bit tongue in cheek. And, as always the food is excellent.

We visited Fort Agra before the Taj Mahal, but I’m posting my pictures of the Taj Mahal taken by a professional photographer.

The Taj Mahal is now one of the seven wonders of the world since so many of the ancient wonders of the world are gone, such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus  all destroyed. If you click on the links, it will take you to Wikipedia where you can see and learn about these magnificent pieces.  The only ancient wonder of the world to survive is the Pyramid of Giza.

Look at the picture carefully and you can see just how huge this beautiful building is. The people are like little midgets. The Taj was abandoned and deteriorated for many years. Vandals chipped marble and removed tiles from areas. Some places inside have not, and never will be restored. The outside is being fully restored.

It was mobbed when we visited. Wall to wall people, crowding to get inside with lines waiting a turn to get in. It was a crush. The towers were engineered with a slight cant toward the outside of the domed center in case they were to fall and crash, they would not damage the main building. When you stand in front of one tower, it is so perfectly aligned, you cannot see the exact same tower behind it. Twenty thousand workers toiled 22 years to build it. The verses of Holy Koran are inscribed on it.

This  group is single women on the trip. Behind, Diane and myself. Front, Sandy, Ellen, Kathy and Trish. Notice the tiny figures on the Taj veranda. You get a better idea how huge this building is. It was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tribute to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal in 1648 A.D. Their remains are encased in flowery decorated Centotaphs hidden from our view by a mesh screen. We could  peek into the darkened room, but could see nothing with clarity. Better to buy the post card.

Our group from left to right: Standing, Hugo, Adam, Kris, Chuck, Pam, Otto, Paul Theo, Carol, Hazel. Seated: Diane, Sandy, Ellen, Kathy, and Me. On the outside of the building, are marble panels, tiles and inlay marble of great craftsmanship. The towers, too, have intricate patterns. And high above, the  inscriptions. A wonder of the world. How did their architects learn to build so well?

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