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Posts from the ‘Travel India’ Category

SPIRITUAL, SCARY, AND SACRED PLACES IN INDIA

We fly from Delhi to the town of Amritsar, in northwestern India. Time to jump into a hot van with seven others and hit the tour, baby. Remove shoes, and walk a half-block down the street, dodging cars, people, dogs, cows and tuk-tuks, and finally into the Mata Temple.

Yeah this is a good place to walk barefoot

Yeah this is a good place to walk barefoot

This labyrinth Hindu place of worship celebrates Lal Devi, a female Hindu saint. Women come here to pray for pregnancy, but not my woman. This ornate, mosaic and shiny temple is full of saints, many that look like monsters, in a deity way too complex for my simple mind. Mare and I keep waiting for something to jump out and scare us, like in a funhouse. (Meaning no disrespect)

Inside Mata Temple

Inside Mata Temple

Let’s go to Attari-Wagah, at the India/Pakistani border…and watch the border closing ceremony that has been a flamboyant military exercise since 1959. This is the only road border crossing between India and Pakistan. We go through numerous security checks along the way, including several metal detectors and pat downs.

Last security check at the border

Last security check at the border

After way too many groups of schoolchildren sing and dance in the humid heat, some dressed in fatigues and holding automatic weapons, the guards, obviously chosen because of their height, wail “Michael Buffer” style screams.

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They display exaggerated salutes and marches of bravado that include kicks as high as their head, while wearing red cockatoo hats, Pakistani in blue.

Indian soldiers doing a silly walk

Indian soldiers doing a silly walk

The enthusiasm of the crowd simulates the world cup. Chants of “Hindustan! I Love India!” are countered by the Pakistani version on the other side of the gate. We feel like we are at a football pep rally, only with political implications.

Indian soldiers

Indian soldiers

The Pakistani crowd has separate male/female sections, while the Indians mingle together. The Indian women dance on the street, while some of the men get their groove on in the grandstands.

Pakistani crowd

Pakistani crowd

The final act ends with India and Pakistan security forces engaging in a brisk handshake, and simultaneously lowering the flags. This happens every night, to a full audience of thousands.

The closing of the border

The closing of the border

Back to the town of Amristar, for the jewel of our entire trip to India. Remove shoes, and walk barefoot in the dark, through busy streets, for blocks and blocks. A fellow van tourist, from Italy, turns to me and says, “New mushrooms will be growing on our feet tomorrow.” Finally, we wade through foot cleansing water at the entrance to the Golden Temple.

The Golden Temple

The Golden Temple

Across a shiny, sacred lake, a large temple glows in gold. Through the speakers, a chant, accompanied by flute, drum and string music immediately fills us with peace. All religions are welcome in this holiest place of worship for Sikhs.

Buddha has a legacy here from 2,000 years ago, and then Geru Nanak (1469–1539) initiated this as the primary shrine of Sikhs. Peaceful chants have endured invasions and rebuilds since that time. The lotus flower alone is plated with 750 kilograms of gold.

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Some followers bathe in the holy water of the sacred lake. This pool, Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar) inspired the town’s name. Others simply lay on the marble and enjoy the peaceful trance brought on by the continuous chant. (60,000 to 80,000 people visit daily)

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Mare and I sit and stare. We do not want to leave, but our time is short here. The chant, though, stays with us for several days. What a perfect energy to take with us to Nepal!

“If we ever get out of here (India) that’s what we’re gonna do. KKKKKatmandu…”

Namaste.           Ron Mitchell

BAD BELLY IN DELHI

Landslides, floods, road and airport closures in southern India direct us away from the backwaters of Kerala, and the beaches of Goa. Instead we find ourselves on an island of luxury in a Hilton Hotel attached to a high end shopping mall in New Delhi.

This is a disturbing photo, but we felt it was important to accurately reflect the moment

This is a disturbing photo, but we felt it was important to accurately reflect the moment

The taxi drive, though, takes us through “real” Delhi, and opens our eyes to a hoard of poverty. Garbage lines the streets while women with infants, and handicapped humans tap on the car window, pleading for money. We stare straight ahead, while a window separates our worlds.

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I spend the next four days in bed and in the bathroom. It happens. (At least I’m sick in a clean room with private bath) Mare takes good care of me. She is trapped in luxury. Roads without sidewalks surround the “complex” and are filled with chaos. Poverty borders impossible traffic, and there is nowhere to walk…except into the mall, which is a sentence to Hell for Mare.

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She clears three metal detectors, a pat-down, and bag search before finding a food mart. There are more metal detectors and scanners in this mall and hotel than at the airport. Guards at every shop door pat down people who enter and exit. Mare spends half a day trying to find Gatorade, in a place where it is easier to find a three-thousand dollar purse. Ironic India.

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Of course, Pakistan just issued threats against Delhi and the warnings are for malls, transportation hubs, and tourist destinations. Great. Where do we go now?

Time to buck-up with a fake smile and head into the sweltering heat on a half-day tour. First stop, the Red Fort, which looks strangely just like a red fort. I don’t care that it dates to the 1600s and that the prime minister of India will give his Independence Day speech from there this week. Excuse my lack of enthusiasm…I’m just trying not to soil my only pair of clean pants.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

Onward, to the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque that can hold 25,000 people. Remove your shoes and walk barefoot with thousands of people on dirt gritty marble. It looks just like a Mosque! For a fee you can climb the minaret. Oh, now that sounds like fun. Obviously, I should have stayed in bed.

Gandhi Smriti

Gandhi Smriti

At the Gandhi Smiriti, a walk in the simulated footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi revitalizes my state of being. Gandhi spent 144 days here prior to being shot to death on the grounds by a Hindu zealot in 1948. His room remains as he left it and displays his meager possessions. Inspirational quotes scribed on the walls fill us with emotion and hope.

Where Gandhi took his last step...

Where Gandhi took his last step…

I make it through one tomb at the Humayun’s Tomb site. I think it was the tomb for either his architect or his barber. However, half-way through the garden towards Humayun’s Tomb, I must lay under a tree in the shade, soak in sweat, and watch humans sort through garbage. I realize how good I have it. Where do they go when they are sick? They are already there.

Barber's tomb??

Barber’s tomb??

Mare forges ahead to the magnificent tomb, where Persia meets India, inspiring portions of the Taj Mahal.

Humayun"s Tomb

Humayun”s Tomb

Back at the Hilton, I collapse into bed.

Mare takes off on a 12-hour tour to the Taj Mahal. I stay in bed and hope to get strong enough for our flight the next day.

She jumps into the car with two nice young men from Dubai, and a guide/driver. They drive to Agra, and visit a fort, which is also red, passing large agricultural areas along the drive.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

The magnificence of Taj Mahal emerges. Unlike most photos, the depth, size and dimensions of real life overwhelms the senses. Mare says, excuse the cliché, “It took my breath away.”

Shah Jahan's room / cell in the Agra Fort

Shah Jahan’s room / cell in the Agra Fort

The story of the Taj Mahal, is that Shah Jahan constructed this as a mausoleum for his third wife, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. In later years, one of his sons overthrew him, and imprisoned him in Agra Fort. He did however have a nice accommodation, with a room on the banks of the Yamuna River that has a view of the Taj Mahal.

Shah Jahan"s view

Shah Jahan”s view

Mare comes through my door. Although I am grateful for a day to be sick/alone, I am most grateful that she is safely home. Tomorrow, we head to the India/Pakistan border, and will experience the Golden Temple.   Ron Mitchell

MONSOON IN MULTI-CULTURAL MUMBAI, INDIA

Gateway of India

Gateway of India

Walking the streets of Mumbai during monsoon season is like swimming in sweat. Dodging cars, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, bikes and many, many people, the scent of incense blends with fecal and curry. Mothers holding infants paw at us for money, as do children roaming the streets, and we must pretend that they are invisible. Mare and I have a nice room with air conditioning and free buffet breakfast…strange feeling. Outside, a sign reads, “Poverty is a State of Mind.”  Not sure how to process that one.

Slums surround and separate the city

Slums surround and separate the city

On the other hand, the intrigue of this historical island city truly overpowers the senses. Multicultural and religious influences from the 2nd Century BC abound. Victorian, gothic, neo-gothic, art deco, and modern buildings mingle…as do the rich and poor people of this city of 16 million, 55% of them living in slums. Mumbai is home to the Dharavi Slum, the largest in not only India, but in all of Asia.

David Sassoon Library and Reading Room

David Sassoon Library and Reading Room

I donate a copy of my novel, “Broken Collar” to the David Sasson Library, which has been promoting knowledge and learning since 1847. This library houses a collection of very rare books. Okay, my book is rare, really, I mean certainly it is the only copy in India…and sales, they are extremely rare!

So happy to receive this rare book!

So happy to receive this rare book!

Hard to imagine how so many poor people survive, sort of like the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which sits along the Arabian Sea and thrives, after being restored from a terrorist bombing five years ago.

The Taj Mahal Palace

The Taj Mahal Palace

“I give you deal on a rug,” a “tout” says. I try to explain that I don’t need a rug. “No, no, come see my shop, good quality.”
“I travel with a backpack,” I respond. “I can’t strap a rug on my back.”
“Just come see, sir, just come see.”

Young lovers looking out over the Arabian Sea

Young lovers looking out over the Arabian Sea

He continues to follow me until some religious guy hands me a small mint. “It’s a blessing, I bless you.” He proceeds to tie a maroon and yellow string around my wrist, and then dots me between the eyes with red dye. “You make offering for blessing.” I explain that I have no money on me, and he eventually walks off, irritated. I laugh while watching Mare simply ignore everyone. She has a gift for that. I do not.

They look SO good!

They look SO good!

Mare and I celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary with dinner in Mumbai. It feels like we are sharing the same dream.

Trouble brewing....

Trouble brewing….

Yes, I eat street food and taste my way through the fruits of many cultures. Mare abstains from the street stuff. She is much wiser than I. It seems that one of those fruits includes a giant parasite that is traveling with me to Delhi.