October 25, 2014

Riding elephants in India

We were the first (OK, the only...)
ones in our group to volunteer for
the elephant ride up to the Amber
Palace in Jaipur.  Asian elephants
are a little smaller than their
African cousins, but still strong!
Our tour group for India - colorful in more ways than one!

We tried on the traditional turban and
sari, to see what it felt like to be the
Maharaja and Maharani (king and queen).
In India, red is the color of weddings,
symbolizing purity, beauty and fertility.

October 23, 2014

Diwali, Hindu Festival of LIghts in India

A typically stunning display of hand arranged flowers
 for Diwali.  Celebrated in autumn each year, it was
 originally an agricultural festival, where people would
 finish up accounting for their annual crops and
 pray to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth for a successful year.
Wow - we're not used to seeing fireworks like this
anymore!  These were the ones that they let us set off for Diwali.

Roman candles ready to light up the night.
Diwali gets its name from the row (avali) of clay
lamps (deepa) that Indians light up outside their
homes to symbolize the inner light that protects
us from spiritual darkness.  This festival is as
important to Hindus as Christmas is to christians.

Sparklers!  They let us have sparklers!!!
This is what you call a BIG entrance to a Diwali party.

Nothing like fireworks to bring
out the boy inside the man. 
Yes, that is a real elephant walking
 by - better watch my step!

Launching a good fortune lantern.  Like a mini hot
air balloon, you have to light it and wait for about
5 minutes until it gets hot enough to create lift.
Which gives you time to think up a really good wish!

Indian Women and other delights

Isn't she wicked looking with that one tooth?
A common sight - her teeth are stained red from
chewing betel nuts, which are cheap, addictive
and cancer causing. 

Learning a lesson from a wise man.  The moral of
this story is don't be the one picked from the crowd
for the demonstration unless you want to be scared
spitless by a large plastic snake.
Gorgeous saris!  We felt so drab
by comparison to Indian women.

Jaipur is called the "Pink City" for the rose colored
wall, built in 1727, that surrounds the city.

Judging by the white scarves, these guys
have just returned from a religious
 ceremony, probably a cremation.
We loved our stays at the magnificent Oberoi hotels.
Especially after the rudimentary accommodations
 and pit toilets in Tibet! 

Oberoi Hotel in Udaipur, one of the most romantic
hotels in the world!
Ready to get our pedi cab on!

October 19, 2014

Taj Mahal

Grace, scale, power and beauty.
Walking through the entryway
to our first view of the Taj Mahal,
which means Crown Palace.
And you'll walk across any territory,
and any darkness, however fluid,
and however dangerous to take
the one hand, and the one life
you know belongs in yours.
(from True Love, by David Whyte)
Sunrise framed by the mosque on the side of Taj Mahal.
  According to Islam, all tombs need to have an adjoining
 place of prayer.  The Taj Mahal is closed every Friday,
 the traditional holy day for Muslims to pray.

It took 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants 22 years
to complete the Taj Mahal.  Built on a river bank,
without solid ground, the architect started with a series
 of wells, which he filled with rock and mortar.  The
foundation of the Taj Mahal and its grand expanse of
 white marble is built on top of those rock wells,

a method still used today.     

Buddies on our Tauck tour group.  From all corners
of the US, we became good friends by the end
of our 12 day journey.  This is a good view of the

symmetry of the minarets, the four towers surrounding
the main tomb.  They appear straight, but actually
lean slightly outward.  In case of an earthquake,
they would fall outward, instead of inward, to 
avoid damaging the tomb.

The polished sandstone floor of the
 adjoining mosque is elegantly
 designed in the shape of clearly
 defined prayer mats.  The walls
 have delicate calligraphy quoting
the holy book of Qur'an. 

Just part of the jewel encrusted exterior, which includes
jade, crystal, lapis, carnelian, amethyst and turquoise. 
Shah Jahan, emperor of India during the dominant
Mughal empire, suffered deeply when his wife died
during the birth of their 14th child in 1631.

 tomb (on the right) is exactly in the center of the
 Taj Mahal.  He died 35 years later.  After
 building the Taj Mahal, he was overthrown by
 one of his sons, and spent his last eight years in
 captivity, with a remote view of the Taj Mahal
 from his prison window, 4 miles away from his love.

Closeup of the exquisite marble lattice inside the Taj Mahal.
"The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time."
- Rabindranath Tagore (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913)

October 18, 2014

Good, Bad and Ugly in India

Ancient camel stables, extra tall
to accomodate camel and rider.
Marigolds, the new monkey snack!

Waiting at the train platform in Jhansi, India.  I think
this guy though I was taking his photo, but I was
actually trying to capture the rats running around
his feet. (Red finger pointing added for emphasis)
We waited here, standing for over an hour, which
was OK until Mike pointed out that the rats probably
weren't ONLY on the other side of the platform.
Really wished I hadn't worn sandals.... 

Beautiful fresh vegetables for sale.  Seems like the
 Indian diet, primarily vegetarian, would be quite healthy,
but the reality includes many fried foods and sweets.  

Bessie is looking for her calf, wandering around
the temple steps.  With very limited predators and
sacred status, the most dangerous thing a cow has
 to avoid is a collision with a car.
Indian street food, usually some kind of stuffed and/or
fried bread or potato with lentils and other vegetables.

Papadam is a thin, crisp frisbee of
dough.  Betcha can't eat just one.
Wait - did this vendor just wipe
his nose with his shirt?  Ewwww!
Coconut for sale.  This guy will sell you a slice or
two while you're waiting for the stoplight.

October 17, 2014

Sacred Ganges River in Varanasi, India

Sunrise on the Ganges River.  According to Hindu
tradition, Varanasi is the oldest city in the world.
She is selling neem sticks, which are used as
 toothbrushes.  The method is to nibble off the
 bark, then chew on the fibers until they separate
 and become something like a brush.  Neem has
 a natural antimicrobial property.

Pilgrims who comes to bathe and pray at sunrise enter
 from the west side of the river, so they can face
 the sun,  which they revere as a source of light
 and knowledge.
The local barber sits on the bank of the river,
shaving his customer, who is calmly watching

 the sunrise amidst the chaos.

This is a few miles upstream from the cremations,
 but the water is still very polluted.   Hindus believe
 that the River Ganges will cleanse sins,
and make the pure even more pure.
Grooming and praying by the river's edge. 

Future yoga teachers in training.  
Mike is walking tall.
The "dohbi wallah" washes clothes in the river.  
A rinse,  a few pounds on the rock, and a twist.
  Incredibly fast!  I don't think he has a delicate cycle.
Men wear a "upanayana" or sacred Hindu
threads twisted over their shoulder.  One

 thread is for reincarnation, one for marriage
 and one if the man has become a father. 
This man has three twisted together in a
thick rope of religion and family.

Rolling down the river...
The Ganges river starts as pure glacier runoff from
the Himalayas.   All Hindus have a small bottle of
sacred Ganges river water in their home.  If possible,

a sip is given to the dying to cure ills and to cleanse sins.