Varanasi

Varanasi_river01

View of the burning ghats from a rowboat. 

       Varanasi, the place where people come to die. In the narrow streets bodies covered with colorful silk, lined with carnations and roses are carried past on the shoulders of their male relatives. I stopped walking outside the break in the wall, where men weigh the massive pieces of scented wood they use to build funeral pyres. Just past the gates, where photography is prohibited, are the cremation ghats, steps to the river laden with burning bodies. Varanasi is the Hindu capital of India. It is said that if you die on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, you are absolved of sin, and your soul is released from Maya, the painful cycle of death and rebirth. It was a very intense city, the air weighs down on your body in a different way. I avoid the subject of death. In Varanasi, death confronts you. It is natural, not something to be overlooked or dressed up, just the end of maya, the end of pain.

Varanasi_river02

Varanasi_river03

Varanasi_river04

Varanasi_river05

Varanasi_river06

Varanasi_river07

Varanasi_river08

Varanasi_river09

Varanasi_river10

Varanasi_river11

Varanasi_river12

Varanasi_river13

Varanasi_river14

Varanasi_river15

Varanasi_river16

Varanasi_river17

Varanasi_river18

Varanasi_river19

Varanasi_river20

Varanasi_river21

Varanasi_river22

Varanasi_river23

Varanasi_river24

The Tea Ladies

Tea_L_Post01

     In Darjeeling tea is as abundant as it is flavorful. The hills are lined with verdant tea bushes, and sparse fruit and coffee trees, planted to fix nitrogen. The Macaiberry Tea Estate was one of the first Organic tea plantations in India. I spent 3 days on the plantation in a quaint homestay with a Indian / Nepali family and a few friends I met traveling. The estate primarily employs women in the field and in the factory, partly because of their “nimble fingers” and partly because Kurseong is a comparatively progressive village. Kurseong is one of the only villages in North India that has recorded a negative birth rate in the last 5 years. The women’s counsel works to make birth control more readily available and morally accepted in the village, and it has been somewhat effective. The women I photographed this morning were pruning the tea bushes, the winter task that is done when the harvest has ended for the season. I tried to bridge our language gap as they flitted their scissors over the branches, and though I do not understand Nepali, I observed their closeness and their jocularity. The three women below managed to say in fragmented English that they particularly enjoy pruning because they don’t have to be careful or delicate, they just work away, talking and teasing till the sun sets.

Tea_L_Post02

Tea_L_Post03

Tea_L_Post04

Tea_L_Post05

Tea_L_Post06

Tea_L_Post07

Tea_L_Post08

Tea_L_Post10

Tea_L_Post11

Tea_L_Post12

Tea_L_Post13

Tea_L_Post14

Tea_L_Post15

 

Agra Fort

Fort_Post01

   Agra Fort was the first time in my travels that I have solicited the service of a guide. Our guide was technically retired, he said he still gives tours just to stay sharp. His hair was dyed with henna, and his glasses magnified his kind eyes by twice their size. My friends and I were grateful for him because there were countless details about the place that we would have been oblivious of, such as which room the Shah was imprisoned in by his own son when he was placed under house arrest. He told us of the King’s 260 concubines and I saw traces of them as we walked in the gardens below their quarters. In the marble bathing pool, I imagined the king surrounded by his ladies, one in each of the 36 curvy carved seats lining the ivory pool. The Fort was an impressive representation of the lavish life a king lived in early 17th century India. It took my mind back in it’s jeweled arches and time stained walls.

Fort_Post02

Fort_Post03

Fort_Post04

Fort_Post05

Fort_Post06

Fort_Post07

Fort_Post08

Fort_Post09

Fort_Post10

Fort_Post11

Fort_Post12

Fort_Post13

Fort_Post14

Fort_Post15

Fort_Post16

Fort_Post17

Fort_Post18

Fort_Post19

Fort_Post20

Fort_Post21

Fort_Post22

Fort_Post23

Fort_Post24

Fort_Post25

Fort_Post26

Fort_Post27

Train Songs

Train_01

         A few weeks ago I, and my wonderful travel partners Katie and Marina set forth on a 2 week adventure around Northern India. Our rambling began with a sunrise train from Rishikesh to Agra. We booked the sleeper class which is far more affordable than the AC trains, but is known to be somewhat uncomfortable. Luckily, we didn’t mind it and I’d say I preferred it thanks to Katie’s ukulele. We played it for a moment then an elderly man in our compartment asked to try the small instrument. He completely retuned the uke, which would take us about a week to reverse, but it was worth it. Our compartment became the life of the sleeper. Four older men sang and danced and the women below my bunk clapped to the tune of the Indianized ukulele. Even the busy chai carriers stopped beside our bunks to partake in the enjoyment.

Train_02

Train_03

Train_04

Train_05

Train_06

Train_07

Train_08

Train_09

Train_10

Train_11

Train_12

Train_13

Train_14

Train_15

Abandoned

B_Ashram_Post01

Sunday:

We walked past the Chai stands and waking Sadhus in the street, down a dirt path littered with discarded things and interrupted by tiny rivers, to the gate of the Mahesh Maharishi Ashram .  In 1968 The Beatles studied transcendental meditation at the ashram, bringing attention to Rishikesh from the West that would last well beyond the years of the ashram its self. It closed in 1997, and became a part of the National Park bordering Rishikesh. The many meditation pods and dormitories, as well as the personal home of Maharishi are now historical relics covered with art, vines, and lines from Beatles songs. It may be trespassing, and the threat of the guards was hot on our minds, but the place is alluring. We spent 2 early morning hours inside the overgrown walls. When I walked into the small temple with walls covered in stones from the Ganga, I felt a strange sensation travel down my spine. It wasn’t unpleasant, it just made me careful, Made me mindful amongst the splintered wood and broken glass.

B_Ashram_Post02

B_Ashram_Post03

B_Ashram_Post04

B_Ashram_Post05

B_Ashram_Post06

B_Ashram_Post07

B_Ashram_Post08

B_Ashram_Post09

B_Ashram_Post10

B_Ashram_Post11

B_Ashram_Post12

B_Ashram_Post13

B_Ashram_Post14

B_Ashram_Post15

B_Ashram_Post16

B_Ashram_Post17

B_Ashram_Post18

B_Ashram_Post19

B_Ashram_Post20

B_Ashram_Post21

B_Ashram_Post22

Aarti

flower_girl01

Around half past five, people walk to the sandy bends of the Ganga, India’s sacred river, to pray, and to offer a blessing to the water. I have watched Aarti a few times, but this time I participated and bought my own 10 rupee leaf-woven basket of flowers from a young girl. She lit the small candle for me and I stepped into the cool water and silently said a prayer and expressed my gratitude for recent experiences. The young girl stood with me, protecting the flame from the wind till it was out of reach, part of the river. Another experience to be grateful for.  flower_girl02

flower_girl03

flower_girl04

flower_girl05

 Another Sunday, I went to the very public weekly Aarti at an Ashram in Ram Jhula, with ghats to the Ganges. There were speakers from Organic India talking about the new laws protecting the riverside from development and the plans to plant organic fruit trees and other sustainable plants that will help prevent erosion and provide sustenance for those living nearby. A group of young boys, were enthusiastically chanting mantras and Hindi songs as the candles were lit and passed around the glowing crowd. After the speeches and songs people knelt and said their pujas at the waters edge, splashing themselves with the holly water and offering flowers and candles to carry their prayers downstream. An older woman showed me how to swing the candle properly and dripped the cool water on my forehead. It was an engaging ritual, very heartfelt.

Aart_post01

Aart_post02

Aart_post03

Aart_post04

Aart_post05

Aart_post06

Aart_post07

Aart_post08

Aart_post09

Aart_post10

Aart_post11

Aart_post12

Aart_post13

Aart_post14

Aart_post15

Aart_post16

Aart_post17