In Belgrád, Emilia and I met up with Sonja, another friend made in India last year. The three of us became close during our six week training course and the trip to Agra that we made upon it’s completion. It had been a year and two months, and it was heart-warming to hear Sonja’s exuberant voice. Her friends were lovely people, and the city had an openness to it that made me I fall in love with Belgrád in the two days that I spent there.
March 15th celebrates the Hungarian revolution of 1848. Despite widespread discontent with the recent actions of the government, Budapest was filled with Hungarian flags held high and the voices of the exuberant masses. At one point during the march I was informed that the crowd was yelling “Fuck the Government!” If not for my friend’s translation I never would have known this, people appeared to be in high spirits and their voices did not sound aggressive at all. Some of the older revelers were dressed in the garb of the mid 19th century, when the revolution took place, while others of my generation sang American rock songs such as “We will Rock You!” It was a very amicable, and somewhat eclectic gathering of thousands of proud Budapest citizens.
I didn’t know there were 2 sides. Buda came thousands of years before Pest. Buda has History, Pest is Fashionable. While Buda was Roman, with Prestige and violence abound, Pest was Agrarian, still growing up. It is a separation of Young and Old, assigned existence on their respective sides of the Danube. I was told the older, more refined part of town was superior. I disagreed. The Young, wild side captured my heart by a mile. That wasn’t the first time. I doubt it’s the last.
My last post was about the ghats, and Varanasi’s dealings with death and life side by side. In these images I hoped to capture the vibrant people, the spirit of the nightly puja, and the candidness I saw in this dualistic, enduring, city.
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.
In Khajuraho we met a few boys around our age who, when they witnessed our love of Indian food, decided it was their responsibility to give us an authentic experience making chapati. On our last day Laki brought us to his grandfather’s house in a village a few kilometers outside of town. The house had the exceptionally clean feel that I have noticed in smooth mud and clay based structures in North India. A modest home with a simple, mostly outdoor kitchen, Laki’s grandfather’s home was the perfect place to spend the afternoon beneath the shady branches of Neem trees, peeling and chopping aubergine, peppers, potatoes, garlic, onion, and tomato and roasting them over the fire as the chapatis heated on the embers underneath. This simple fare tasted as fresh and delicious as the most elaborate spreads I’ve had in India.
The Temples in Khajuraho are known because of their sexual carvings, as the Kama Sutra Temples. The walls of the many edifices depict elaborate scenes of women engaging in sexual acts with men, dragons, and other erotic beings. The one I found most seductive I would not have seen on my own. Marina, Katie, and I rented bicycles and rode out with some new friends to the farther Eastern Temple where our friend Aashtosh showed me a massive wall of carvings. About half way up the wall was a 2ft carving of a woman in an upright sexual pose with a large, intricate scorpion crawling up her leg. She was remarkably preserved, and her body language spoke through barriers of time and spirituality that represent a past I am fascinated by. I don’t think our obsession with sex is modern, temples like this teach me again and again that the world has always been wild.
The blessing a construction site taking place in the bottom of one of the 5ft holes dug for the foundation.
Thinning the grass at Krishna Cottage in the early morning.
A Sadhu entering his temple home in Laxman Jhula.
Sunset from the banks of the Ganga.
Last week a I went on an excursion with friends to a small white temple in the Rishikesh hills. The ride was packed, and a few of us (myself included) who were sitting sideways in the way back became quite nauseous. The expanding valley outside our window was a viable distraction. We walked through a bit of brush then up 300 steep, narrow white steps to Temple. The view was peaceful, no urbanization, just quaint villages and lovely, verdant mountains. The priest was a slight, friendly man who shared mantras and gave us scrumptious, crumbly treats. The temple was dedicated to these four Hindu gods, Durga, Kali, Ganesh, and Shiva, and inside was a statue of each, bathed in color and covered with intricate patterns. They represent the value in prosperity, destruction, abundance, and rebirth.