Published: August 24th 2010
August 13th 2010
Boats on river Ganges
Lodky na rieke Ganges
You left us heading to Hampi with a coach load of pepped up Israeli's whizzing their proverbials off on some sort of combustible plant extract. Well when we arrived in Hampi the sky was a fluorescent mixture of colours and we were greeted by an Elephant with a clipboard. We took the flying carpet and went looking for accommodation made of ice cream.....! I think we were well and truly wasted!
We met a lovely couple from Germany, that were part of the crazy bus convoy.
I haven't mentioned it until now but the buses in India are really quite special. Decorated in the loudest of colours, usually of pink and purple with a plethora of idols in the drivers cabin. Also their horns are simply the best in the world with the most complicated of tunes. I think at one stage I heard Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture!
Well we teamed up with the Germans to look for accommodation. We found a pleasant little place on the opposite side of the river. The river without a bridge, anywhere, in Hampi. You needed to travel several miles to cross so the only alternative was a man in a boat, ferrying
Look there is Dumbo....
.... no, the elephant :-)
Pozrite aj Dumbo tam bol... nie, nemyslim Davida
20people at a time, who charged pretty much what he wanted depending on his mood and the time of day as it got outrageously expensive the later you left it. He was a miserable sod. The type of jerk that would drive you to buy your own boat and ferry people over for free!
Our accommodation comprised of little rendered huts with straw roofs and a chillout area being run by a Nepalese man named Chicken. He had a real name but this was apparently far too difficult to attempt so some bright spark came up with Chicken. The huts were overlooking the geologically prehistoric city of Hampi with it's impossibly placed boulder stacks and grand temples. The river that undulates through the rocky plains had carved a spectacular groove through the countryside depositing these boulders in a way that has made this place a spiritual honeypot. Millions pass through Hampi each year on various pilgrimages to visit the temples, take in the holy energies and get a blessing from an Elephant.. I'll come onto that shortly.
We spent the afternoon chatting to our new German pals, Ben and Miriam which was delightful. There are just some people
Our German friends Miriam and Ben
Nasi nemecki kamarati Miriam a Ben
you naturally have a bond with more than others. We shared lunch with them at our new location but sadly they needed to leave the same day to venture on to pastures new. We said our goodbyes and promised that we'd buy them a cotton throw that they'd be desperately trying to find as long as they'd take us in for a night when we next drive through Deutschland.
Hampi was great. We visited temples and were in and out of nooks and crannies while up and down mountainous rock faces that overlooked the city and when we visited the main temple and were blessed by an 8yr old elephant called Lakshmi. The idea was to give her money and receive a blessing courtesy of her trunk being, ever so delicately placed on your head. The clever thing was that Lakshmi could identify whether you were palming her off with a shickle or whether it was, indeed, paper money as the paper money would grant you a lengthier blessing and the chance to take a photograph or two. A cheeky trick taught to her by her Canadian Mahoot (mahoot: def: trainer of Eleplops)! In hindsight it was a pretty
PETA would have a field day
Akykolvek typ transportu je vzdy uzitocny
risky thing to do, one swipe of that trunk and you were out with the fairies. We were probably still a little away with the fairies at the time. Seeing an elephant rest it's trunk on people was a little out there in all honesty.
On one beautifully sunny day we hired a motorcycle and went visiting the temples that were a long way out of town. Personally I don't think that hiring a bike was to visit temples a long way away, I think we hired it because we really loved the sensation of riding a motorcycle. Plus I'd grown quite close to my leather chaps and tassels. One of our stops was at the Mango Tree Cafe across the river where we bumped into some friends from Pushkar, Colin and Sue, which turned out to be a god send as we'd not taken any cash with us to pay for our drinks.... I'm not sure what they though of us but we did make sure that we returned the 200rupees later that day. I'm not one for getting into debt and £1.40 was not going to get the better of me so we returned their loan in
Waterfalls near Hampi
Vodopady blizko Hampi
one lump sum later that day and went for dinner together.
We left Hampi and I think we were feeling pretty temple'd out by this stage. There are only so many temples you can see before you start thinking... “Hang on, this is like all the others..”
During our last night and this was the only time when we experienced any naughty goings on, but at about 2am I woke as somebody was giving the door to our room a little bit of a try by giving the knob a bit of a wiggle. I'm not quite sure what would have happened but it made us a little bit more aware to these opportunists. Had I have caught him I'm sure they'd have been a slap on the wrists for the wee scamp.
Our next stop was north and back to Mumbai for a weekend. We were glad it was only for a weekend as it was so expensive (comparatively to Goa and Hampi). It was a pleasant city and Zuzana had been reading The Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts which is based all over Mumbai and mentions many of the sights and sounds. It was nice
for her to piece the story together and visit the places mentioned in the book. One of the restaurants that had been frequented by the author was called Leopold's so we decided to take a look and a sample. It became a bit of a treat as the prices were astronomical. They were really milking their, now famous, reputation. During our stay we visited India Gate and the famous Taj Hotel that was still under repair from the atrocities that took place not long ago. We walked around the city and there was a bit of an art festival going on that week. Lots of local artists were selling there wares and we purchased a few little postcard sized pieces that will one day be worth millions! We strolled through the parks where we were privileged to watch some cricket and that would have pleased my uncle no end! It was very confusing though. People were all over the place, all involved in various matches. Players were fielding but they'd be stood right in the way of another wicket. I saw one guy that was taking part in three games.. and he was the batsman! It was more dangerous than
David getting it up... the lamp post that is
Ked je nejaka pomoc potrebna, nikdy nepovieme nie!
some of the bus journeys. We could have been hit by as many as 10different cricket balls at any one time!
One particularly memorable visit was to Mumbai Chowpatty Beach. There was a festival taking place and the sky, over the sea and the setting sun, was covered with kites. At one stage we did have a look for Bert, the Banks children, Jane and Michael and Mary Poppins, but they were away for the weekend apparently.
We wandered through the thousands of families all enjoying some serious kite flying with everyone having a go. It was quite poetic as the sunset in the distance, exaggerating the plethora of colours spinning and darting about the skies. Zuzana took some fantastic pictures and before long we'd generated a mass following of people all wanting to have their picture taken as was always the way.
I then got the opportunity to redeem myself from my flying failure in Pushkar and was handed a kite to fly. With sweat pouring from my brow, my hands trembling and what must have been a gathering crowd of 4, adding to the pressure, I had to perform. With 3 exquisitely timed flexes of the bicep
the kite was as high as... a kite, ironically! It went soaring through the air like an eagle. Diving and twisting, as if the God of kites was flying it himself. This spectacle lasted for what must have been 10.547seconds before it was cut by another kite string. It drifted, rather sadly, out to sea as if waving its last good bye before succumbing to the gentle waves of the ocean. Stupid kites!
It was a lovely setting and we spent a few hours watching India at it's best. Families spending time with each other. All walks of life gathered to be part of yet another tradition. Something we should do more of back home.
Come the end of our stay in Bombay and many coffee shops later, we decided to head to a town called Arangubad. We were going to see a large collection of unique temples. Unique because they had all been carved out of hill sides. They were called the Ellora Caves. They'd not been built in anyway, shape or form but chiseled piece by piece out of the rock by monks with nothing more than hammers, chisels and C4!
We arrived at Aurangabad in the
middle of the night but we'd pre-booked the hotel by phone from the train so they knew we were coming. I think that's why they'd lowered their security level that night, what with the door being wide open and all the staff asleep on the floor which we successfully climbed over not waking a soul. Still, we checked in, had a rare hot shower and in the morning we went straight to the caves... after getting dressed obviously.
The caves were phenomenal and still are assuming that they've not collapsed since we visited. They were based on Hindi, Buddhist and Jain dynasties and ranged from smaller spaces where monks would congregate after a days chiseling and monster temples with massive Buddha's carved from floor to ceiling. There were 34 temples/ chambers in all and didn't visit all of them as a lot were very similar. We'd spend time watching people on pilgrimages visit the temples and perform their rituals for their gods and idols. One particular cave (no. 10) had been intricately carved and seemed, for us, to appear like the inside of a whale with all of the ribs as the roof. A 3.3m Buddha had been crafted
Hampi from the hills
Vyhlad z kopca na Hampi
at the back of the temple and we sat and watched for about 40mins as people came in, bowed in front of Buddha while reciting various prayers and then walked circle after circle around the great figure. It was a very tranquil place, very peaceful, a place that you'd come to sit in the heavenly light that shone through the cracks and openings allowing you to briefly gain some clarity in your chock-a-block brain while the sound of water dripped through the cave.
They were very impressive when you thought about the work and skill that had gone into them and the fact that they were created between the 5th and 10th century... That's right... before the spirit level application on the iPhone!
After our temple tour we took the next train, heading very North East, to Varanasi and Mother Ganga.
Our lengthy journey needed a us to change trains in Jalgaon which meant that we arrived in Varanasi 26hrs after leaving Arangubad. As a bonus we had actually slept well as the sleeper carriages are really quite comfortable. Now let me tell you a little about Varanasi. It, as with many cities, holds a very very important
place within the Hindu religion. It is, for most of the Hindu's, the last place in life's journey, but the first part of the next step, death. Those that have passed and have family and money will be brought to Varanasi and will be publicly cremated before heading out into the Ganges to then pass into the next life. But yes, it's done publicly... We'll come onto that shortly. On a slightly less morbid note it's also world renowned for it's production of fine quality silk.
The streets of Varanasi were thin and tall. Turn after turn brought new smells of food, cows and the foreboding smell of burning. It was very very cold when we were there so a lot of the smoke in the little passageways came from logs smoldering on the floor keeping the police and their AK47's warm! We didn't have much room to maneuver and were constantly taking to steps of shops and houses as people, motorbikes, cows and families carrying a dead body went passing by.
Life is lived out on the streets. Family businesses are worked out in the open, selling what has been made that day to survive the next. Children
were everywhere playing and having fun not knowing that they would, one day, become part of of the very simple wheel that has survived centuries. Simple lives with simple needs. It's perfect.
We found our hotel and luckily enough the 'penthouse suite' had become available with Ganges views and a guaranteed hot shower between 6:00am and 6:01am so it seemed. We had the joy of sharing our 7th floor, leg pumping rooftop view with a bunch of city monkeys that took it upon themselves to copulate on the ventilation system outside our window. I think we woke to a fun-time couple every morning!
We dropped off our bags and decided to go and see the ceremonial proceedings down by the riverside. We were both fascinated by the prospect but having never seen a dead body before, I was a little apprehensive.
We didn't actually reach the riverside before the first corpse went bouncing by. Bodies of loved ones are carried on a stretcher through the windy streets as the pallbearers chant “God is strong” in Hindi. The corpses covered in a white shroud were male and those in red were female. The stretchers were decorated in gold
Oxen in the rice fields
Praca na ryzovych poliach
fabric, tinsel and flowers and were taken to the river side to be 'dunked' in the Ganges as a final blessing and part of the purification process. The crematoriums were on the river bank and they were called the Burning Ghats; Manikarnika and Harishchandra.
There were piles of wood, that had been purchased by the families, laid ready for the ceremonies to take place.
After the body is lowered into Ganges and washed it is then placed on top of the pyre, where it is doused in butter oil and sandalwood dust. The obligation to light the funeral fire falls on the closest male family member. This man goes first to a small nondescript fire that is in the entrance to a temple just behind the fire pits. It is said that this fire has been burning continuously for three thousand years. He makes a bundle of reeds taken from a recess, and he lights his bundle from the fire. Then he walks down to the body on the pyre, walks around it a number of times and then lights the fire. His last job is to take water in a clay pot from the Ganges, which he throws
over his shoulder back onto the body. He does this five times, and the final time he throws the pot itself. It breaks and that ends his relationship with the deceased. It takes 350kg (750lbs) of wood to burn a body properly and the cremation takes about three hours. The Ghats are burning 24hrs a day and the ceremonies taking place sometimes reach 200-300 people within that time frame.
Cremation purifies the sexual, so only married men and women are cremated. Holy men, children, those who are unmarried, those bitten by a snake, and those who are pregnant are weighted down with a stone and lowered directly into the Ganges.
Those that had no money waited in a building next to the Ghats, sadly, waiting to die without family or loved ones but, they too, would have their own cremations paid by those that had donated and the government.
We both had different opinions of what we saw every time we visited. My thoughts were that at one stage in history it would have been a very honorable way to go. Looking at how it was being run was more like a business. Families were being overcharged
Mali robotnici na ryzovych poliach
to buy the wood for the fires. People were taking pictures of the fires on their mobile phones. Admittedly it was only those of a Hindu religion as we tourist folk were not allowed. It didn't make sense.
Only men were allowed to be at the cremation. Women could attend but could only view from a boat as no tears could be shed by the body. Dogs and cows were in and out of the fires stealing parts of who knows what so I just thought that dignity didn't hold a place here anymore. I saw people of opportunity taking advantage of those that grieved. It was sad and it was smelly.
Zuzana, on the other hand, was fascinated by it and would take time watching what was going on... but she is from Central Europe and a Vampire! I could understand her point even though I found it difficult. She could accept it from the religious and ceremonial angle and she could see the good in it. I guess I'm just getting old and a little more cynical... at 29!
During the day we would take time to meander the streets and found ourselves a lovely
German Bakery (of all things), to frequent, for all our culinary needs.
We took a couple of lazy boat trips down Mother Ganga to take a river view of the Manikarnika Burning Ghat. Lazy because the oarsman that wanted to rip you off would only put in 40% effort once they had you in their boat. We had one fella complain that our request of an extra 200mtrs deserved some more cash despite the fact we'd paid for an hour. He then proceeded to do the bare minimum so that we didn't make the distance. In the end we got so fed up of his whinging and sighing that we ended the gentle river cruise 15mins early and walked the remainder of the way. It does make you laugh.. Some people!
Mother Ganga is the lifeline of the city though. Peoples businesses depend on it's flow; the Burning Ghats, the boat trips, the silk industry, everything. The locals wash their clothes, their cattle, themselves and their teeth in the water. One interesting fact about the river is that the Ganges River is so heavily polluted at Varanasi that the water is septic - no dissolved oxygen exists. The statistics
Women can spend all day doing washing
Zeny mozu stravit cely den pranim pradla
get worse. Samples from the river show the water has 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100mL of water. In water that is safe for bathing this figure should be less than 500! We decided not to partake in mid morning swims as I knew it wouldn't have helped this rather uncomfortable and inconvenient stomach bug I curiously still had. Instead we went shopping for silks to take home and found the most amazing samples of scarves and bed sheets. They were beautiful. One of the owners took us to the non tourist part of Varanasi where every building and every household had weaving machines. No matter where you walked the noise of these man made devices, clunking and crunching, was deafening. Open spaces and backyards were decorated with silk threads being delicately added to spindles and wheels. We'd gone back 500yrs it seemed.
Apart from the morbid side to it, Varanasi was a vibrant city. Mates were playing cricket all along the Ghats and amazing silks were being dried in the warming winter sunshine as dinners were cooked and spices were roasted. I can understand why people loved this city. There was a vibe, an air of fun
David on the Harley
David na Harley... (vo sne)
and enlightenment. Everyone wanted to take your money but people would try their luck as opposed to just outright stealing, metaphorically. It was colourful and peaceful, the winter sunshine walks along the Ghats, the little bakery that we'd enjoyed and of course the monkeys shagging outside our room!
You do get slightly sick of the same patter from every shop assistant in every shop, “Best shop, finest prices, I give you good deal my friend!”
One that did stick out though was during one of the usual walks along the promenade. Queue Indian accent, “Want to come to my shitty shop? Come and take look at the shit I have for sale. The worst shit in town. Really, my shop is full of shit.”
Well it was nice to meet an honest man for a change. He was one of the only traders to realise that every man, woman and child had the best shop in the land so he thought he'd greet tourists with a more humorous patter. Although he was off the wall and a breath of fresh air, his shop was indeed full of shit!
The time had come to leave as in a few
days we'd be flying to Singapore and then Thailand so we took a train, that arrived 12hrs late, into Delhi. Again we met some people at the station and on the train.
An Indian photographer, Dhiraj, who took us to a local chai stall where we found out that he'd been on several meditation courses that required complete silence and solitude for several months at a time. While sipping on chai we were gradually, as always, surrounded by onlookers and they were mostly men chewing tobbaco. Well we wanted to try this "heavy habit" for some people. Dhiraj asked one of them to give us a little bit and we both put the tobacco under our bottom lip. The sensation was very interesting. Withing seconds we felt drunk and we had dentists lips that didn't work in unison with each other. Powerful stuff!
Dhiraj was heavily into photography. So much so that he'd made a career out of it and was now internationally renowned as the 'yes/no' guy that chooses which photographs can be used for various magazines etc. Zuzana has stayed in touch with him as they share that photographic interest. She sometimes sends him pictures and he 'yes/no's'
them which makes her smile like a Cheshire cat! We also met 3 others from Hong Kong and the Philippines on the train who we had great conversations with and invited us over should we ever get there. We've now built up quite an impressive portfolio of places to stay and floors to crash on.
Delhi was short and sweet. We had dinner with the guys we met on the train and managed to get a great deal on some rooms as we checked in as a group. The next day we had time to kill so we took in Paharganj. We were now seasoned travelers in India and we felt like experts and we had loved it. Every turn, every city, every barter, every rip off and everyday. What a fantastic place!
In two months we'd traveled most of the length and most of the breadth of the country. We'd visited the Taj Mahal, we'd been to a traditional Indian Wedding, we'd ridden camels and spent a night under the stars, we'd learnt to fly kites (sort of), eaten some amazing food, been on a spiritual journey, we'd seen amazing temples, met fantastic people, had an amazing
Blessing from Lakshmi
Pozehnanie od slona Lakshmi
Christmas and New Year on the beach, and seen the dead go bouncing by through the streets but most importantly we had learned huge amounts about this amazingly diverse culture and an amazing new country, full of poverty and riches, colour, religion and history.
Early the next morning, with our bags on our backs and a unsettled now wobbly tummy that had been around since Christmas, we caught a jet plane and left Incredible India!!!!
There are more photos below