Sunday, 22 February 2015

Afloat on the Ganges - Varanasi

On a cold damp Sunday evening in February - time to revisit the warmth of autumn in India. Well I say warmth; it was actually pretty cold on the Ganges!

Varanasi is one of the most holy cities of India. It's where the devout come to be cremated and their ashes cast into the holy river. At all times there are bodies being cremated on the pyres along the riverside. Day and Night. Those who cannot afford to be cremated ( or can't be under Hindu doctrine) are wrapped and the bodies themselves cast into the water. Yes we did see them floating past and no I did not take pictures of them.

Having arrived by overnight sleeper in Varanasi ( an experience in itself....) we spent the evening on the river to witness the regular evening worshipping rituals for the holy river.

The side of the river is covered with "ghats" which are riverside steps leading down to the river. This one belongs to the Jain temple.  Jainism is an ancient religionthat teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. 

We were just waiting for it to get dark so that the ceremonies could begin.

 The locals are expert at extracting the tourist $$ and everywhere these little floating candles were available to be bought. Made of dried leaves and little pats of clarified butter and decorated with dried flowers these diya were for sale in their hundreds. 

We were far from the only boat on the water and the river was lit - if only for a few minutes at a time - by dozens of these little lights. 

The crowds were starting to gather on the ghats for the worship of the Ganges by the holy men. 

Lots of drumming and chanting and the raising and circling of lights. Whilst this was a big celebration, there were lots of smaller  versions happening along the riverside, some with just one or two participants.

The worship of the river is carried out at both dawn and dusk - so we were of course up at the crack of dawn to get back on our boats....

Sudden large flocks of birds descended from apparently nowhere - it took me a moment to realise that food was being flung overboard from some boats for them. Feeding birds brings good Karma and I guess feeding birds on a holy river brings very good Karma. 

It was pretty cold though - so much for India being hot. Still it was well worth it to have been able to see the sun rise over the Ganges.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha

This was one of the real highlights of the trip for me - if not the chief one of all.

Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 BCE in the famous gardens of Lumbini. This makes it one of the holiest places of one of the world's great religions - in fact one of the four most holy places for Buddhists.

The site is still being developed but there are remains Additionally there are the excavated remains of Buddhist  monasteries  of the 3rd century BCE to the 5th century CE and the remains of Buddhist stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BCE to the 15th century CE.  It has clearly been a place of pilgrimage for millennia.

And it still is . The actual birthplace has been protected within a new building and there are no concessions to the tourists. In fact we were lucky to get entry tickets.  You enter the courtyard barefoot and join the queue along the raised walkway over the remains of more buildings to pay your respects at the stone which marks the place of birth. No photos are allowed inside.

There is no restriction outside though.

The setting is beautiful. The gardens are well kept and a deep stillness and peace envelopes the land despite the visitors nearly all of whom are devout Buddhists.

 Maya Devi,the mother of the Buddha , was said to be  spellbound to by the beauty  of Lumbini and gave birth under the Sal tree.  The tree is still revered today and there is a shrine with offerings tended there.

It's encircled by a ring of holy men with their alms bowls. To give to them is to invite good karma.
The sacred bathing pool known as Puskarni. It is believed that Maya Devi took a bath in this pool before the delivery. 
This is an amazing place. Words just can't do it justice. Long may it remain so. Will UNESCO be able to balance the numbers of visitors which can only increase with keeping it an active place of holy pilgrimage. One  can only hope so . This is a very special place indeed.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Taj Mahal

Well so much for the resolution to update more often. It's not for the want of material - more the want of time I'm afraid. This working thing really does get in the way of the important stuff. However it is necessary if I want to do the important stuff I guess...

I haven't even got around to posting any pictures from the trip to India an Nepal just before Christmas so I think a few of the Taj Mahal would be a good place to start. I've been to Southern India before but only got as far as Delhi so this was a new experience.

As seems to happen far too often we were up before the dawn.  Well before the dawn. Before breakfast even....

We weren't even first in the queue.

   However it was worth it as we were near enough to the front to get some pictures of   the Taj Mahal just as dawn broke and before the crowds.

A little later! The sun is up, the crowds have arrived and the building has changed colour from a pale pink to a warm glow. Amazing

You are not allowed to take pictures inside the Mausoleum itself but we were able to walk around the platform and go inside.

The quality of the painted decoration is incredible

As are the views over the Ganges despite the early morning mist.

The locals weren't much disturbed by us either! It was then back to the hotel to see if any breakfast was left. A very early start but an opportunity to see an iconic building at its very best.

Worth it.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Walking with the Long Man of Wilmington

It's been a while - life is getting just too busy at the moment but the wanderings are still continuing. Maybe my resolution ( if I was the type to make them) should be to blog more regularly in 2015. It's not as though I don't have enough photographs.

OK - so as we were spending New Year with some friends in Chichester it seemed a good opportunity to shoot past them and go and see the Long Man first. I find these hill figures fascinating. So little is known about them, their age is a matter of hot debate and why were they considered so important?

He's about 72 mt tall and doesn't stand out that well at the moment. It didn't help that when we arrived the winter sun was low in the sky despite it being only just after lunch. I had to wait until it dipped below the hill in order to take any distant pictures of him and the colour has suffered as a result.

To me he looks very much like he has opened a door into the hillside to pass out into this world or of course to invite us in!

 He's been fenced off to stop him being walked on but the enclosure is huge and you really can't get anything like close unless you climb over the barbed wire which wouldn't be hard. Given though that you really can't see him from close up I chose to be "good".

I wanted to see the view from the top and it's a good pull up. The chalk is sculpted into some interesting features so it's an interesting climb visually when you stop to catch your breath.

He certainly has a lovely view to enjoy as he stands there on the hillside.

There are also a number of barrows around which give some credence to the neolithic theory but he could conceivably be as modern as the 17CE.

Somehow though I think he is far older

And of course the obligatory pub without which no trip is complete. The Giants Rest proudly displays a couple of certificates proclaiming it the "most druid friendly pub in Sussex". I wouldn't presume to argue ( nice food too!)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Coals to Nowhere

This wasn't intended to be my subject this week but never mind. Having being struck down by the prevailing office cold this week I didn't feel up to much so it seemed a good idea to take a walk down to the Basin to collect some hawthorn berries for brandy and some rosehips for syrup.

It's been a while since I was down there. It's the site of the old Somerset Coal Canal which went out of use over 100 years ago and has since been filled in.  Now it's a green corridor along the Cam. Or it was.

 The Somerset Coal Canal Society have decided the time is right to reopen the canal...

I must admit I had no idea what they were doing so this was a bit of a shock. They have excavated the old dry dock - they believe it to be the biggest in England with room for 3 boats side by side and are currently busy building a replica of the bridge.

The overgrown pathway of the Limestone Link has now been replaced by what looks like the footings for a new road!

Some of the old canal way was lined with stone which is being replaced.

They haven't got to this bit yet but it shows what the landscape looked like before the diggers went in.

Any ideas what this might have been. Obviously it was uncovered in the excavating.

I am really not sure what I think about this. The canal is a part of the local history but whether it should now be re-instated I don't know. I guess it will depend on how the towpath is finished off, If they use tarmac like in Bath and Bradford on Avon it will be a real shame.

And yes I did get my rosehips and hawthorn berries. There are 3 bottles of syrup ready to put away and a kilner jar of hawthorn which I will need to remember to shake daily for the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

An overactive imagination or.....

have I read too many murder mystery novels?

A nice weekend away in the Cotswolds with some friends for the last few days. The weather is quite unseasonal for almost October, far warmer than August was and a heavy sleepy haze hung over the village we parked in to start the walk.

The place was chocolate box pretty. Like going back 50 or 60 years in time and also sort of "creepy". Pretty as it was I really really wouldn't want to live there.

To add to the sense of unreality the church bell was tolling to call the villagers to the church. A steady one note dirge ringing out over the deserted village...

and an unusual church it was too.  12CE and Grade 1 listed, the tower has a "saddleback" roof. Preparations were going on around it for the Harvest Festival that was to be held in the churchyard after the service.

This really is a village of 2 churches. Barely a couple of hundred yards away is a second old church. This one has been decommissioned and stands forlornly just across the river from its more popular neighbour. It's a similar age and also Grade1 listed. The story goes that the twin churches were built by a pair of sisters who had fallen out and thus built their own place or worship. The truth is more prosaic, the river divides two separate medieval manors.

I as I said, despite its prettiness I didn't want to linger there although I couldn't really say why.

Leaving the village to start our planned walk, the walls of roadside were festooned with the berries of Woody Nightshade, Bittersweet.   It seemed appropriate somehow!

Moving out into the countryside the Bittersweet  berries gave way to ropes of berries from   Black Bryony, an equally poisonous fruit.

Miss Marple would have been quite at home here!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Dinefwr Castle

I do like castles - especially Welsh ones and this was one we hadn't visited before.

Although it is under the care of Cadw, the Welsh side of of English Heritage, the adjoining house and car park belong to the National Trust so there is a £6 parking charge unless you an NT member. Annoying. You don't even get into the house for that - another charge.

Still the castle itself is free, even to non Cadw visitors. And well worth a visit too. Originally there was a construction here built by Rhodri ap Merfyn (820–878)Given the fabulous defensive position it commands I would expect the original usage to date well back.

The current remains though are 12CE and later and have been quite heavily restored which improves the "visitor experience"

As usual with a site that doesn't have a car park 10 ft from the entrance it was very quiet.

Always fun looking down the middle of towers!

and working out where the original floors would have been

The restoration allows you to go right to the top of the towers and walk around a lot of the parapet. A chance to enjoy some really spectacular views even though it was a dull grey day.

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