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.

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