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September 25, 2020 / catherinebwrites

FANTASIES ABOUT INDIA.

European family with servants in India c1880's

LANGUAGE

I blame those Sunday night t.v. dramas where Indian servants in immaculate turbans serve tiffin to snooty Memsahibs who believe themselves to be superior to “natives”. It’s led us to believe that every Indian speaks flawless English with a head wiggle!

Obviously many Indians do speak flawless English, but they’re mostly the educated classes. Indians who earn their a living from tourists will speak enough to perform the service they offer but possibly not much more. They are less likely to have high levels of education. They’ve learned English from watching T.V. and being around tourists. And they got where they are through native intelligence, persistence and very hard graft.

Most Indians do have a few words and phrases in English. But however limited their command, people all over India are happy to help a stranger so, keep it simple, use gestures, be inventive.

BEGGARS

“But the beggars!” They cry when you tell them you’re going to India.

Yes, of course, they have beggars but so does every country on earth. In India they are often children and yes, if you give them money, more will come. And yes, it is heartbreaking but…

You cannot save every poor person in India… unless you’re a squillionaire. Although they mostly like spending their money on private jets and telling themselves that the poor are only poor because they’re lazy! Or because it’s the Will of God. Or because of Fate, or Destiny, or Cast.

assuming you’re not a squillionaire, HERE ARE SOME WAYS YOU CAN HELP

Donate to a reputable charity

Give fruit or food to child beggars

Give unwanted clothes or other goods to people who help you

Most people in India want to be their own boss. This is why you see people selling stuff everywhere. Kids selling strings of beads, flowers, cardboard airplanes. Stalls selling food, toys, chewing gum, crockery, brass ornaments, dentistry, clothes, books, bags, shoe repairs. You’ll see families who living under the plastic sheet they pull over their stall at night. You’ll see tiny dark rooms where men make suits, or cheese, or throw pots or bake bread. Men will offer to guide you to the sights, a shop, a mall, find you a taxi, a tuk-tuk, a bicycle rickshaw. They are NOT beggars. They are NOT con-men – well maybe some are. Most are just poor men hoping to earn a few bob to feed their family.

Learn to say “NO

There is no way on earth you can take up the myriad offers you get in India. Just say “No.” You don’t have to be rude. Give the respect of looking at the person when you say a firm “No thank you.” Street hawkers are persistent but they know when they’re on to a loser. They know that women are easier targets so they ply us with tales to make us feel guilty. Stay firm. Stay polite. Unless of course you really do want to buy the bangles, the beads, the turbans or the other gee-gaws on offer.

Give generous tips

Tip drivers, guides, waiters, boatmen etc., anyone who provides a service for you. These workers rely heavily on tips for their income. Ask in your hotel for guidance about how much you should tip, you’ll be surprised at how little is considered a good tip.

Be generous. Be generous. Be generous.

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September 12, 2020 / catherinebwrites

THINGS TO BRING WHEN YOU TRAVEL IN INDIA.

Karrimor Womens Galaxy Sport Hiking Shoes Navy/Rose
COMFORTABLE. CLOSED. GREAT FOR WALKING

COMFORTABLE, CLOSED,WALKING SHOES

You’re thinking flip flops, sandals, India’s hot. Yeah, it can be. And you will wear them… some of the time.

In the streets monkeys peer at you from the tops of walls, cows amble about, dogs yawn, stretch and sleep, a camel pulling a cart will lumber by, you might see a couple of goats or a garlanded elephant sway through the traffic. You’ll go mad with your camera. The folks at home just have to see this! But…. animals are not toilet trained. You do the math!

Street in Varanasi
Karrimor Womens Galaxy Sport Hiking Shoes Navy/Rose
Bring shoes like this

Besides… when you visit the sights you will do a lot of walking. A lot. These lads thought big, seriously big. And these places are old. Pavements and steps are uneven and there’s endless courtyards and steps. And you do want to see them, I promise, you do. Get gel insoles. .

In older parts of the cities, pavements are crowded out by cobblers, stalls selling glittering bags, barbers, stone-masons street dentists selling new teeth. Wow! You’ll go mad with your camera. But the street may be unpaved, or pot-holed or under construction. A comfortable, supportive shoe really is your only man. And a balm for sore feet.

HAND SANITISER

hand sanitiser
Other brands available

India is a very crowded country, a place where you’re never alone. Every surface you touch has been touched by thousands before you. and, same as everywhere else, money is filthy. Germs and bacteria love the heat. You won’t always have access to soap and water… so, to be sure, to be sure…

Street in Old Delhi

SUN PROTECTION

Gardening Straw Hat with Bow

A hat with a brim that shades your face and the back of your neck.

PLUS.

Any lotion or potion you know will protect your skin. You don’t want lobster face or a body so luminously red that it makes people squint.

How to Relieve Sunburn - AquaViews
Lobster faced

If you want to visit a mosque or a temple – and you will – both women and men have to cover their heads.

Lotions & Potions-Arizona - Tempe, Arizona | Facebook
Lotions and potions

ANTI – DIARRHEA MEDICATION

Kirkland Anti-Diarrheal HCI 2mg 24 Caplets By Costco.

You may have the constitution of an ox, nerves of steel and the innards of a hyena, but Indian food is totally delicious and at some point you’ll be tempted. You’ll forget the rules and eat something uncooked or something unwashed and you’ll get Delhi Belly. This will be unpleasant. Take your tablets, DRINK LOADS OF WATER, and you’ll get over it.

Is 'Delhi Belly 2011' movie streaming on Netflix?

TRAVEL IN WINTER

India is in the top half of the world. If it’s winter in Europe and the U.S., it’s winter in India. And if it’s summer in the lower half of the world, it’s still winter in India.

India starts in the Himalayas where winter means snow, ice, wind and freakin’ cold. It gets slightly warmer the further south you go but it won’t be “lie-on-the-beach- with-a-coconut-frappe” warm until you go way down south.

Bring a jacket, a vest, a long sleeved t-shirt, a woolly gansey and socks. Layers are your friend. Peel them off about lunch time and replace them one by one as the sun drops and a night breeze sneaks up your sleeve.

It may also rain. And when God made rain, he invented a power-jet for India. Bring a rain jacket. If you’re going to the mountains, for crying out loud, bring proper mountain gear. They say frostbite is pretty unpleasant.

CARRYING STUFF

Bring a day rucksack so that both shoulders carry you needs for the day. It’s way more comfortable than a one-shoulder bag.

Wear a money belt for money, passport and essential documents

Tickets, passport, visa and money – obviously.

AND A BOTTLE OF WATER

Bottle of water (0,5L) – Sluggers Bonaire

It’s real easy to get dehydrated. You won’t even know till you start to feel awful. You might even need hospital and Indian hospitals have enough to be doing already.

At worst, dehydration can kill. Have you tried arranging for a coffin a body, and flying a body home? Have you ever broken that news to a family? If you’re the dead body, why would you care? But, if you’re the travelling companion…. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Always bring water with you.

DRINK PLENTY OF WATER

And have a great trip.

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September 8, 2020 / catherinebwrites

SWITCH ON YOUR BRAIN AND LISTEN

Me testing Maria’s hearing

I worked with E.N.T. Zambia, a voluntary group providing ear, nose and throat treatment in rural Zambia. I’m an audiologist. We worked in clinics, schools, churches, anywhere we could find electricity. A local nurse organised patients, the ENT surgeon treated them in a mobile clinic and I tested hearing.

The very first day I set up my audiometer in the sacristy of a mission church. My specialty is children and most of the kids I saw that suffered from conditions that we could treat. As the last patient left and I packed up, satisfied with a good day’s work. A young man put his head round the door.

Some women going home from the clinic

“May I speak with you madame?”

“Of course.”

He was tall, lithe and impossibly handsome. I’d seen him working in the church grounds and talking to the priest .

“I have a serious problem Madame,” he said, “Father Joseph said that perhaps you could help me.”

“Certainly if I can.”

“I have a problem with hearing.”

“What things can you not hear?”

“Outside I can hear everything but at home I cannot hear. It gives my wife great concern.”

Nothing about him suggested a hearing problem. No cock of the ear, no frown, no problem hearing me. But there many oddities in hearing problems. It needed a proper test to be sure. I unpacked my equipment again.

His hearing was normal. It was better than normal. I did a speech test. Standing six feet behind, I asked unexpected questions in the quietest voice possible. He heard, understood and answered everything perfectly. He even heard when a rackety car revved up outside the window.

“When you’re at home with your wife,” I asked, “can you hear the sound of your wife’s voice?”

“Oh yes I hear her voice.”

“When you hear her voice what are you thinking about?”

“I am thinking about my goats, about my work for the Father, about my friend who is sick, many things.”

“Ahhhh.”

Now I knew what the problem was.

There were two parts to hearing, I explained. The first part is when the sound goes into your ear and up to your brain. That first part is hearing.

The second part is when your brain understands the sound. That part is is called listening. It is like electricity. The wires bring the electricity to your home, but if you don’t turn on the switch the light won’t come on. So when your wife speaks you have to turn on your brain. This is how you do it.

1 You stop thinking about goats, and work, and friends

2. Look at your wife

3 Pay attention to what she is saying

If you do those three things you will hear, you will listen and you will know exactly what she is saying.

“That is most interesting.” he said “Thank you Madame, my wife will be very pleased to learn this information.”

And off he went with a smile and a wave. I packed up thinking , what a great I helped some children, and maybe I saved a marriage.

August 21, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 25. THE TAJ MAHAL AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20200210_091723.jpg

Delhi, Agra and Jaipur form the Golden triangle. Look on the map and you’ll see why it’s called a Triangle. And Golden because it includes the Taj Mahal and many of the forts and palaces built during the golden age of the Mughul Emprors. Indians say that if you have not seen the Taj Mahal you have not seen India. Despite the hordes of tourists, the Taj Mahal is spell-bindingly beautiful and alone is well worth the trip.

HOW WE DID IT

A friend who works in India suggested The Golden Triangle and advised us to take a tour as it cuts out hassle of buying train / bus tickets / booking hotels and getting to and from the sights. So we googled and googled and googled and kept coming across Noble Tours.

NOBLE HOUSE TOURS PVT LTD 197 FLYOVER MARKETNEW DELHI – 110024 tours@noblehouseindia.org info@noblehousetours.in Tel: +91 98100 26888

We found them efficient and reliable. They offer a range of tour options and hotels. Their charges cover transport and hotels but meals, entrance to sights and tips for guides and drivers you pay yourself.

If it’s your first trip to India and you want to be totally looked after ten this kind of tour is excellent. However, the more independent traveller will find it restrictive.

PLUSES

Your schedule is arranged by the agency

Your driver collects you from your hotel

You travel in a comfortable car

You choose the star rating, they arrange the hotel

You are driven to and from the sites you visit

Guides are arranged at each site you visit

You are brought directly to a shop approved by the agency

MINUSES

Your schedule is full, you can make changes but there is a time constraint on everything.  

You can’t decide to stay on in a place that you want to explore in more depth.

Shopping is very pressured. You only go to one shop. They pressure you to buy.

You get no chance to wander about, talk to local people, check out markets.

By the time you return to your hotel after a day’s visiting you’re too tired to do any more exploring

We chose 4 star hotels. They were generally excellent. Some were magnificent old palaces but the service was very formal.

GUIDES – PLUSES

They speak all the major languages.

They give you lots of information

They arrange entrance tickets so you do’t have to queue

They advise you about dealing with hawkers

MINUSES

They give you so much information that it’s impossible to absorb it  

They had problems answering questions. Perhaps due to a limited knowledge of the language. The answers we got were often irrelevant.

We had a sense of being urged to keep moving on whenever we wanted to linger.

Some guides seemed to have less information than our driver had.

Other tourists

IF I WERE DOING IT AGAIN

All the hotels have a travel desk with someone who can book tickers for you, give travel advice and help with everything from how much to pay for a tuk-tuk to sorting out your return air journey home. I’d arrange my travel through them.

I’d do it without a guide. A decent guide book will give you all the information you need .

I’d give myself the leeway to stay extra time in places I found interesting. Time to wander the town, the markets and shops. Time to talk to people. Indians are like us Irish, we both enjoy talking to strangers.

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August 10, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 24 – WILDLIFE TOURS

Village market

How you travel in India depends on time, funds and personal preference. It also depends on what you want to see. Top of our wish list was TIGERS.

India’s National parks have a huge range of wildlife, elephant, tiger, leopard, bear, plus a abundant deer, monkey, peacock and boar, not to mention the birds. Indians want to preserve their wildlife and they don’t need tourists clumping through their forests destroying rare plants, plucking the fruits locals need and disturbing the animals. Besides it is dangerous.

Tigers might cast a disdainful glance at a jeep full of tourists, but humans, gamboling on their patch, might look tasty. Wild elephant are dangerous too. When a new herd entered the park, the wardens closed the tour route that passed near them. Leopard sleep during the day. Still, I wouldn’t fancy my chances if I happened to disturb one. So, the only way to see wildlife is with an organised tour.

Any excuse at all to show off my tiger photo!

THIS IS HOW WE DID IT

Booking:

Googled “Tigers in India”. Talked to friends. Researched. Bandhavgarh National Forest was considered the best places to see tigers.

We tried contacting them through the Bandhavgarh website. That didn’t work. After much bumbling we found this. They sorted safari trips to the forest and accommodation.

The Holidays (Regd.)(Unit of Indus Excursion)

Head Off.: C-3, Ground Floor, Kachnar City, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India

Tel.: +91 8989007070, 0761 4006070

Whats App: +91 9425412741

Email: indusexcursion@gmail.comtheholidaysindia@gmail.com

Website: www.indus-excursion.comwww.theholidays.inwww.madhya-pradesh-tourism.com,

www.bandhavgarh.co.inwww.indore-tourism.comwww.khajuraho-india.orgwww.agra-tourism.net

Social Media: Twitter Facebook |Blogs | Twitter  

Travel:

Our first thought was, “We’re in India, it has to be train.” But there was no direct train from Delhi. We found a suitable flight from Delhi to Jabalpur with Bravofly.

The Holidays rep picked us up in a taxi and we drove another 3 hours to our hotel in the village of Tala, in the National Forest of Bandhavgarh.

The Hotel was charming. The Safris well organised and our wonderful driver Ramilan picked us up each morning and afternoon in his jeep. And we saw tigers… and not just tigers….

Fabulous creture

This was a brilliant few days. (See blogs India 5 and India 6 for more details.) Seeing tiger in the wild and close up is one of my greatest experiences. I know this sounds silly, but, afterwards, I felt that somehow it had made me a better person!

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July 28, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 23 OLD DELHI

Interesting electrical installations.

Tourists told us that Old Delhi with it’s market streets was difficult. Indians warned that it was full of pick-pockets, thieves and tricksters waiting to part you from your cash. That you have to be very careful. That best way is to hire a bicycle rickshaw and a guide.

But, unless you live in a hole in the ground, you know that every city and every market has pick-pockets, thieves and tricksters and that you need to be careful with money cards and documents. Besides, the great pleasure of markets is wandering around, seeing the goods close up, bargaining and buying. And you can’t truly enjoy a market from a moving vehicle. So we took a tuk-tuk and headed for the Spice Market. Within minutes we were stuck in a traffic jam.

Traffic jam
Traffic jam
Traffic jam

But by now we were traffic jam veterans. We knew that Delhi traffic jams are to be savoured, so we sat back and admired the infinite variety of vehicles and the range of passengers and goods that they carried. I’ve tried to describe them in earlier blogs but the pictures tell all.

The market was jam-packed with people, mostly men. Shop owners, assistants, customers, hangers-on, friends, tuk tuk drivers, porters, bicycle-taxi drivers. Tiny shops on either side of the street had displays of spices and nuts, loose, packaged, tinned and bottled. The smell was intoxicating. Unusually, the shopkeepers didn’t try to lure us in to buy their goods. I reckon they thought that westerners wouldn’t be interested. But we were, and this gave us the chance to look and smell and ask questions which is half the pleasure of being in a market.

I’ll have that… and that… and that…
Choices…choices…
All of these please….

By the time we’d explored one side of the street we were starting to flag so we went in to visit Fatehpuri Masjid. This is a mosque built in 1650 by Fatehpuri Begum, one of the wives of Emperor Shah Jahan. After the crowds and the noise it was a haven. You have to remove your shoes before you go in.

Fatehpuri Masjid.
Fatehpuri Masjid courtyard

There were several old men sitting by the pool chatting or just sitting. We had the impression that they met here every day. We too sat by the pool to enjoy the peace and quiet. Several families wandered in.

As part of the complex there was a boys school on the first floor. The pupils came out on a break to play football on a wide first floor terrace. Every so often, the ball bounced into the courtyard below. We retrieved it and threw it back. The boys were polite and grateful and highly amused to see tourists fetching their ball.

Then I noticed a man doing his washing -or perhaps someone else’s. In Hindu society launderers belong to the lowest cast. I could not discover how it is viewed among Muslim people. All I know is that it demands careful attention to remove all najaasah (impurity) and, depending on the cause of the impurity, may need several washes. It certainly looked like very hard work

man washing clothes

Back on the street we bought herbs and spices, nuts and jaggery (a sugar made from cane sugar and date palm used in sweet dishes in India). We wandered along absorbing the sights and the sounds and saw few other tourists.

Quite a load to carry on your head.
Waiting for work
Hoping to sell
All kinds of electrics
Blankets anybody?

The weather was just warming up but now it was time to leave India and return home. We were sorry that we hadn’t ventured into Old Delhi earlier. We felt we’d only experienced the tiniest sliver of India and now learned of so many wonderful places we wished we had seen. But that’s always what happens when you visit a country for the very first time. Especially India, which is more than a country, it’s a continent with an unimaginable variety of languages, cultures and peoples. We can’t wait to get back.

While we waited in our hotel for a taxi to the airport, there were news reports of a viral disease in Wuhan, China. A group of Chinese guests arrived. Two of them sat in the lobby. One took a bundle of face masks out of her bag and shared them with her friend. Little did we realise that, when we got home to Ireland, half a world away from Wuhan, we’d soon need face masks ourselves.

It may be quite some time before we can return to amazing extraordinary, beautiful, challenging India.

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July 13, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 22. HOMESTAY

Harish sits among his silks.

Homestay is in a quiet area of Varanasi but close enough to the main streets to ramble over there. It has a garden to sit in. Cold beer available to order and three meals a day on request. The rooms are immaculate, large, airy and with en suite shower and toilet. It is an oasis. The Varanasi experience is intense, so you do need an oasis.

Our room

It is run by Harish and his wife Malika. Their son does the admin and their daughter helps prepare and serve the food. They can arrange several different tours ( see previous blogs India 17-21) so they also employ a couple of guides and drivers. Take these tours if you only have a short stay in Varanasi and want to make the best use of your time.

Harish also has a shop on the premises which sells silks. O.M.G., the silks! They are luscious. You just want to dive into them and wrap them all round you. And the colours, dazling, rose and sunset, peacock, mandarin, peach, cherry, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, azure, midnight, dawn, lightening, thunder, starlight, there’s no end to them. I passionately wished that I was a millionaire and could buy up the lot. Failing that, if only I were a skilled thief with magical powers who could whisk them away in my baggage and escape. Being neither, I had to content myself with looking and longing and buying a simple scarf. However, now that I have the scarf home, it is causing considerable jealousy and many inquiries about where I got it.

But for me the best of all was mealtimes. It goes without saying that Indians know how to cook and Malika is up there with the best. But what mad meal times great is that, you share the table with the other guests. This meant that we met two lovely Austrian ladies. An English couple. A serious Indian called Siddhartha who was to come to Ireland with his wife in August. He and quizzed us up down and sideways about what they should see in Dublin. But I guess Covid 19 has put paid to that.

Best of all were the two Brazilian doctors, Wilton and Eduardo and the lovely south Indian couple who had come to buy silk and walked the Ghats every morning. The Brazilians joined us on trips and, after dinner, Harish would join us and we’d all sit around discussing, politics, religion, Life, the Universe and all that. Us non Indians were able to ask about aspects of Indian Culture and religion and the Indians asked about ours. It was a fabulous enriching exchange, the kind you wished you could have regularly. And, seeing what is going on in the word to-day, the kind of mind-opening discussion you wish everyone could have.

Dogs snoozing peacefully near Homestay.
Cows resting near Homestay
Homestay
D-61/16, Sidhgiri Bagh, Varanasi, 221010, India
Phone: +91 94154 49348

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July 6, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 21 VARANASI

The Burning Ghats

In the west we’re protected from the realities of death. Death is confined to hospitals and sanitized viewings of the corpse in a funeral parlor. In Varanasi they let it all hang out, so it’s no surprise that, we westerners view the Burning Ghats with horror and fascination. Indians view them as just part of life,

Hindus believe that cremation in Varanasi frees you from the cycle of rebirth and death caused by your karma. So, freed from karma, you are guaranteed entry to Paradise. For that reason, many Indians come to pass their last days here. But, even if you die elsewhere, you can have your body sent to Varanasi for cremation. We saw the rows of containers. It explains the sheer volume of cremations which continue day and night, every day of the year. Out of respect for the dead and their families Sunny, our guide, asked us not to take photographs.

He told us that some people cannot be cremated. Lepers, in case the smoke from their bodies might spread their disease. How scientific that is, I don’t know. Also children and pregnant women… why? Perhaps their karma is already cancelled?

The Dom light the funeral pyres and tend to the cremations. They are a subset of the Dalits, the lowest rank Hindu caste but, even within that lowest caste, the Dom hold the lowest rank.

The family of the deceased pay for the wood. The wealthy choose sandalwood, others something cheaper. Sunny insisted that the Burning Ghats were happy places because families know that their loved one is going to Paradise. But women are not allowed to attend because they will weep and wail and spoil the happy vibe. The vibe we experienced didn’t strike us as happy.

We saw a father bring the body of his dead son to the Ghat. The body was wrapped in a white sheet but the head and shoulders were visible. The son looked young, maybe nineteen or twenty. The attendant and the father brought the body to the river to wash it. The attendant then built the funeral pyre while the father sat by the body. He would wait till his son was reduced to ashes then he’d put the ashes into the Ganges. He looked broken and sad.

Meanwhile other funeral pyres were burning brightly. Then we heard a sound like an explosion. Sunny explained that this was the sound of the Dom breaking the skull of one of the bodies. The human skull is thick and difficult to burn so…

At that point we left the burning Ghats and headed back into the alleys of old Varanasi. It was an interesting, solemn and sobering experience.

“Dust to dust, ashes to ashes” as the priest says on Ash Wednesday.

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June 23, 2020 / catherinebwrites

India 20 VARANASI

Sunny at his friend’s sweet naan shop – delicious

Harish, our host in Varanasi Homestay, insisted that we would enjoy the walking tour of Varanasi old city. It lasted five hours. Five hours! Five hours walking through crowds, animals, broken pavements and uneven steps…yikes… Our hips were complaining at the mere thought of it. But Harish said we’d see aspects of Indian life that we’d otherwise miss and, if we got tired, we could always just stop. So off we went with two Brazilian guests Eduardo and Wilton and Sunny as our guide .

Our first stop, Sunny said, would be an Indian sweet shop. “Not like any sweet shop you know.” he promised. He was right.

They’ve been growing sugarcane in India for thousands of years and the English word ‘sugar’ comes from the Sanskrit sharkara. So Indians know about sweets. But, Holy guacamole, I’ve never seen anything like it. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the range and variety.

The shop was doing a roaring trade. The display cases were packed with sweets made from every fruit, nut, pulse, cereal and vegetable you can think of and many you’ve never heard of. Some sweets were baked, some fried, frozen, roasted, boiled and jellied. Many are made specifically to serve with a meal, or for weddings, certain festivals, for celebrations, as religious offerings, as gifts. The variety is endless.

We ate some in the shop and wow, they were so sweet you could feel your teeth cringing! But unlike the rather dull sweets you get here, you couldn’t scoff a whole box full. You could only manage one, maybe two. We bought a large box of mixed sweets. We intended to invite family around for a meal to hear of our travels and share the Indian sweets. Covid 19 put paid to that but, they sure sweetened our lockdown!

Then we headed into the ancient narrow alleys of Varanasi. We stopped to watch a baker slap dough into the sides of a tandoori style oven in his work counter ( see photo above) and minutes later he brought out sweet naan and gave us some to try – yum, double yum.

We wandered on. Sunny pointed out several factories. Not the big industrial buildings we associate with the word ‘factory,’. These were tiny dark workshops where people made things. Like this shop below. The owner made highly ornate badges with raised gold and silver wire embroidery, the kind you see on military uniforms and the blazers of expensive golf clubs.

Badge designer and embroiderer

We saw this woman going from house to house collecting old clothes and exchanging them for new saucepans. A man on a bicycle cycled by tooting a tin flute to rustle up business. We walked through the lanes where the “Untouchables” live. Many are laundry workers who wash clothes in the Ganges and iron them in the street using ancient irons filled with hot coals. Do you get extra blessings if your clothes have been washed in the sacred Ganges?

Any old clothes?

We passed by the building where the Sadhus hold their parliament. The place where they discuss and decide whatever it is that concerns the lives of Sadhus. It is also where stay when they come to Varanasi for religious festivals or when making a pilgrimage.

Sadhu’s Ashram
Entrance to Sadhu’s Ashram.

We saw where they make paneer, a printing press, several sari wholesalers, tailors and a Government bhang shop selling balls of dope the size of a tennis ball. I thought dope was illegal in India but I know Sadhus use it in their ceremonies.

Everyone In India, Sunny told us, wants to own their own business, no matter how tiny. Everyone wants to be their own boss. And that was clear to see in the alleys of Varanasi.

Printing press

Alley Varanasi

Some alleys are as wide as the one above. Others just wide enough for two people to pass. Some so narrow that, when two people meet one has to stand aside to let the other pass. Our way was blocked by a cow now and then. There were plenty of placid dogs, the occasional goat and when you looked up you might see a couple of monkeys scurrying about or watching you from a high niche.

Alley Varanasi

Then we came out on the ghats and sat on the steps and had tea while a goat ambled by and some children gathered to giggle at the strangers. By now we were fading rapidly but Sunny assured us that once we’d drunk tea flavoured with sugar and spice we’d be ready for more. We were… but not too much more. We visited the one of the burning ghats but I will write of this separately in my next blog

The Ghats
The Ghats and the goat.

We went back into the alleys and passed a dark gym where handsome young men with amazing physiques were training with indian clubs. Sunny pointed out the remains of several ancient temples. Then finally we came out into the main street, noisy and busy with tuk-tuks, motorcycles, bicycles and crowds of people. A bit of a shock after the quiet of the alleys.

Sunny led us through an entrance and into the flower market and we watched the long-winded haggling and the buying and selling of flowers. Eventually we got to sit down in a lassi shop where the owner served the most delicious lassi I have ever tasted. It came in unglazed earthenware cups. Behind us, hundreds of these cups were stacked high against the wall. These cups are broken immediately after use to ensure that no high caste person will ever drink from a cup previously used by someone of a lower caste.

FColourful alley
Entrance to a restaurant
Remains of temple with washing
Another corner
Haggling in the flower market

By the time we got back to our Homestay we were hanging in threads. We felt like our feet were bloody stumps- they weren’t- and that our knees were pushing up through our hips – they weren’t. But we had lasted the whole five hours and a bit more besides. Harish was right, we wouldn’t have missed it for worlds.

If you go to Varanasi do take this tour. You will see things you would otherwise miss and learn so much about the city and its people. Afterwards the you can always go back wander the alleys by yourself.

Contact Harish at Varanasi harishrijhwani@gmail.com

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June 12, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 19 – VARANASI

Sadhu on a Ghat

We got up at some ungodly hour and headed for Assi Ghat where morning Aarti starts at five. The ceremony is held every morning come rain or come shine. It was dark and cold, and I was grinchy for lack of coffee. Why hadn’t I just stayed in bed?

Morning Aarti is like a reverse of the Evening Fire ceremony. This time a group of young women sang the hymns with elegant gestures to emphasize phrases.

Singers at morning Aarti

The priests began with with fiery candelabras and continued with smaller fires and smaller fires. As the ceremony progressed darkness began to fade, the river began to glimmer, the sandbank and the sky melded into one pearly presence. Indians, it seemed, celebrate the natural rhythms of life much more than we do in the West.

Words are never enough to describe these ceremonies. For a better idea take a look at this video https://youtu.be/tYGKvRYGMvY

https://youtu.be/tYGKvRYGMvY

When Aarti was over, Sunny, our guide, led us down to a boat and we rowed along the ghats as the sun rose to tint the world pearly pink. Beyond the wide ripple of river, the sandbank was a violet stain. Birds marked the sky like a Japanese print. And all was quiet. Peace descended like a protective cloak.

Dawn on the Ganges

As we floated past the Ghats pilgrims bathed in the water. It was cold and I shivered at the thought of immersing myself in the river but Sunny insisted that the water was warm. I dipped my hand into the Ganges. He was right, the water was warm. Was it heat retained from Indian summers? Or from the uses the river is put to? Who knows?

Early morning bathing in the Ganges

I closed my eyes and listened to the lap of the water and the slap of the oars. I was glad I had not stayed in bed. This was worth getting up for. Now I understood why Indians say that the Ganges is it is sacred.

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