A Return to India 1
A Return to India 1
Journal kept by Susan Hanes during a six!week trip to India by way of London" Qatar" and Dublin" from January # to February $#" %&$&' Photos by Susan Hanes and George Leonard" copyright %&$&'
A Return to India 1
A Return to India 1
A Return to India January 7 - February 17, 2010 It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes and multitudes of the old and the weak and the young and the frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination. --MarK Twain, after the Kumbh Mela of 1895
V. 1 1
A!er an absorbing month last year" we were excited to return to the colorful tangle of cultures" religions" races" and languages that is India# Our return itinerary took us to ten states# As a bonus" we were able to witness the Kumbh Mela" a celebration of Mother Ganges held every three years in one of four holy cities# The site in $%&% was Haridwar" located $%% km north of Delhi# With some careful planning" we were able to attend the 'rst two snans" or holy baths# While our trip last year took us to the north and west where we were enchanted by the Mogul in(uence on the art and architecture of the region" this time we visited the southern states where the architecture re(ects its vibrant Hindu roots# The religious practices seemed more vibrant as well" as we witnessed the vitality of personal faith in the varied rituals performed in the temples# We spent nights in &) Indian locations and our travels took us to many architectural marvels including eight UNESCO World Heritage sites# We journeyed along the peaceful backwaters of Kerala and through rustic rural villages of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka# Stopovers in London before arriving in India and in Dublin as we returned home gave us a chance for a change of scene and an opportunity to visit with good friends#
Thursday, January 7
Rick loaded us into a taxi at !:"# on a snowy$ cold a%ernoon& I'd been torturing myself with the weather reports in Chicago and Dublin all day$ but in spite of the Christmas Day bomb scare aboard a Northwest plane and dire predictions on the Weather Channel$ Aer Lingus (ight )!" took o* on time$ our only hitch being George's metal knees and my new underwire bra that had us standing next to each other in the screening booth at security& Once on board$ we found ourselves really cramped due to some kind of electrical box situated beneath the seats in front of us that took up much of our legroom& That$ and the fact that the two men in front of us in the entrance row +with a good )! feet of space in front of them, fully reclined their seats back into our laps&
Friday, January 8
A half!hour late arriving in Dublin; not bad at all" considering my weather fears# Waited another $% minutes for luggage and dealt with a problem getting our BMI boarding passes for the jump over to London# Departed an hour later for the &%!minute 'ight to Heathrow" arriving at (:%% in the a)ernoon# Snowy *elds as far as we could see as we descended# Piccadilly Line to Knightsbridge and a few chilly blocks to the Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street" where Em and I had enjoyed a cozy two weeks last April: a pleasant feeling of coming home# Immediately a)er checking in" walked to the V&A to see the Maharaja exhibit# Saw beautiful art and artifacts from places we will be visiting soon" and from places like Udaipur" Jodhpur" and Gwalior where we were last year# Milled around the South East Asia area until time to join the rush hour hoards on the tube to the Royal Opera House#
Had managed to get two of the last remaining seats to see the Royal Ballet perform Les Patineurs and The Tales of Beatrix Potter# Unfortunately" the seats were not together and I feared that the decision to attend the production a)er an overseas 'ight through six time zones might not have been wise# But" for my part" I enjoyed it so much that staying awake was not a problem# Can+t vouch for Jake" but he wasn+t admitting anything# He was certainly a good sport to go along with my fondness for all things Beatrix Potter# The ballet was charming and the costumes enchanting# I particularly loved Jeremy Fisher" whose leaps and jumps looked positively froggish# Dinner a)erwards at Tutton+s Brasserie across the street in Covent Garden# Tube back to Knightsbridge in a chilling cold# No time wasted today as we dropped into bed a)er midnight#
Saturday, January 9
Made up for the long preceding day by sleeping in; !nally got out at "":## and walked up to Sloane Square for an English breakfast at Caf$ Oriel% Jake and I split up at the Sloane Square tube station% He went to see &Turner and the Masters' at the Tate Britain and I had the opportunity to be o( on my own for an antiques show at Kensington Town Hall% It turned out to be a great little show% My special !nd was the sampler booth of Erna Hiscock where we talked samplers and I admired her beautiful collection% Learned she is writing a book about miniature samplers) particularly ones stitched by orphans% Fascinated to know that these were o*en signed with numbers rather than names% Decided to buy a small painting of a disgruntled little dunce boy) dating from around "+##% I loved the ABCs in the background and the fact that his shoelaces were untied% She will send it home for me% Erna also invited me to come and visit her at her cottage in Kent the next time I come to London% What a fun thing to look forward to% Also bought a
small curved brass snu( box from the Lennards) from whom I bought a folding map of the London environs about ten years ago% I do love my London antiquing excursions) for have met such delightful and interesting people over the years% Had agreed to meet Jake at the British Museum around ,:## but a*er tubing to Russell Street) could not resist stopping for a cup of tea at one of my favorite spots in the Great Russell Hotel% I knew that Jake would forgive me for savoring my own precious London moments% At -:##) we easily found each other in the museum.s Great Hall and toured &Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler' together) enjoying the art and our memories of our trip to Mexico and Guatemala in /##+% Back to the hotel by 0:## for a quick turn1around% Vicky and Michael Palau picked us up there and we met Charles McGregor for an excellent meal served family1style at Amaya) a well1reviewed Indian restaurant% A round table gave us the opportunity to catch up with some of our favorite friends and to let them get to know each other%
Sunday, January 10
Didn!t leave the hotel until almost "":## again but still managed to have a full day$ As we were leaving% Virginia at the front desk made a face when I asked her what it was like outside$ More of the same$ Tube to King!s Cross and a short walk to the British Library to see &Points of View: Capturing the "'th century in Photographs%( their )rst photography exhibition$ Ostensibly more to Jake!s taste% I enjoyed the Victorian connection as we saw a selection of early photographs from the Library!s unique collection and traced the development of photography over the space of its )rst *# years$ Had sandwiches and strange bubbly so+ drinks at the Library caf, before taking a look at the permanent exhibition collection% paying particular attention this time to ancient Hindu texts$ On to Leicester Square and a cold walk to the National Gallery for &The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture% "*##-".##$( What I admired about this small show was the way it demonstrated the close and o+en complex relationship between religious painting and sculpture and the speci)c nature of many religious commissions$ We both particularly love Zubaran!s paintings% with their eerie darkness and amazing light% and from this exhibit% it was easy to see how the art of painting polychrome sculptures taught the artist how light and darkness play against the muscles and veins of the human body and amongst the folds and layers of clothing$ I was pleased to note that the show was particularly crowded with young people$ Stopped at
the Salisbury% an authentic Victorian pub for a pint on this dark and damp evening% the warm lights through its ornate etched windows drawing us in$ Back to the Cadogan by *:## to freshen up before Faith and Bill Clarke picked us up with their driver$ We!d made reservations at Za/erano% a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant near Amaya$ Caught up over a pleasant three course meal and a couple of bottles of Calvarino$ Faith will be turning .# on February 0' 1if there was one this year2 and expressed her reservations about her forced retirement as a magistrate$ Bill was basking in the success of his recent book on the Romanov jewels but hesitant about undertaking any new project$ I encouraged him to consider writing about Charles Collins% W ilkie! s unfortunate brother who was surrounded by such genius his whole life that his own signi)cant accomplishments were underappreciated$ If Bill declines the project% perhaps I will pursue the subject myself$ The conversation also centered on the source of Wilkie!s inspiration for The Moonstone$ Faith and Bill had recently been invited to see a giant moonstone by a descendant of the person who had shown it to Wilkie% spurring his imagination to create his famous novel$ I learned that the Moonstone of the book actually started out as a moonstone and not a diamond$ Perhaps I will be able to )nd one in India$ Before we got back in the car to return to the Cadogan% the Clarke!s driver took our photo to add to my collection from all of our visits together since "''3$
Monday, January 11
We were early risers today but again did not leave the hotel much before !!:""# Walked to Barclays Bank near Harrods for what we assumed would be a minor errand$ to cash my pound denominated royalty check from Pickering & Chatto# No deal# They would not cash this check from an account at their own bank unless we opened a UK bank account# Wasted %& minutes at Barclays Wealth Management' only to be reminded that a GBP &'""" minimum is needed to open an account; begrudgingly went to a check(cashing place' where even they would not accept it# So my only recourse is to take the check back home and deposit it in my account there' paying charges of around )"* of the value of the check# A very disappointing morning# Tube to Piccadilly Square; walked to Sam Fogg+s gallery on Cli,ord Street where Gemma Allen showed us several manuscript leaves with Sanskrit and Arabic calligraphy# Later' Sam came in and we chatted about travelling to Ethiopia; he will be leaving in a couple of weeks for his ninth visit there# His descriptions of his trips whetted our appetites for a visit of our own# By the time we le- the gallery' it was time to get back to the hotel'
prepare for the evening' and do some packing for our early morning departure# At %:%&' le- for our pre(theater dinner reservations at L+Atelier de Joel Robuchon' down narrow West Street near Leicester Square# Arrived early and had a cocktail in the red and black upstairs lounge# My fresh raspberry and hot chili martini was a thrill# Dinner at the counter where we could watch the e.cient and attractive sta, work in a spotless open kitchen# The three course theater menu was excellent; I had hot corn volute and hake with parsley root and Jake chose boar and fois gras terrine and a con/t leg of lamb and beans# Cheese and tart for dessert and South African wines# Brisk walk to where we thought the New London Theater was located but found ourselves lost in Soho; it took a six(pound taxi ride to get us there on time# War Horse was amazing# The story of the relationship between a boy and his horse during WWI was told with life(sized horse puppets' each manned by three people# Although the play was a little too long' I had tears in my eyes when Albert and Joey were reunited# Back to the hotel at !!:"" and quickly to bed as our long day tomorrow starts early#
Tuesday, January 12
Wake up call at !:"#$ taxi to LHR at #:"# %the only way to get there at that hour as the tube is not yet running&' Smooth check(in and no problems at security' Departed on Qatar aboard an Airbus ))* that was not more than "#+ occupied$ allowing us to spread out' Superb service$ even in Economy Class; almost seemed to be more ,ight attendants than passengers' I was pleased we-d ordered vegetarian meals but Jake looked wistfully at the omelet being served as we were brought a plate of spinach$ potatoes$ and mushrooms' Smooth air enabled me to sleep a good four of the six and a half hour ,ight' Passed three time zones and arrived at Doha on schedule at .:)# PM' No time to leave the terminal so spent our three( hour layover looking at the opulent Duty Free Shop with its huge selection of liquor$ computers with both Arabic and Roman keys$ and even an expensive lottery for high( end automobiles' We wondered how a winner would be able take delivery in Qatar' The terminal o/ered a 0eld day for people(watchers with so many interesting
costumes$ but I found it hard to sneak photographs' Bought my grandchildren some Qatar ornaments' I made sure that I got interesting change in riyals$ as Wesley assured me before we le1 that he 2loves money'3 Waiting for our ,ight to Delhi$ noticed that the majority of Qatar ,ights are ,ying to somewhere in India' As our ,ight to Delhi was announced$ a long line formed with people from all over the world' A group of Russian Muslims behind us asked with hand motions where we were from' They obviously were of Asian descent and were wearing long wool coats and Muslim(styled skullcaps and were sporting long beards' One of them had a gleaming set of gold teeth and a wide smile' We were all stu/ed into a bus and taken out into the night for a half(hour ride around the airport$ apparently looking for our plane' A1er an initial stop at the wrong one %its doors were closed and all lights were o/& we 0nally arrived at our plane' However$ unlike our earlier ,ight$ this one was absolutely packed'
Wednesday, January 13
The three!hour "ight took us through two and a half time zones and we arrived in Delhi at #:#$ AM% Long line through passport control with many people &taking cuts%' Thought for sure we(d lost our luggage) but it *nally arrived at the end of the line% We exited at around +:#$ and were delighted that Kishor Kumar) who had assisted with our car and driver travel arrangements) was standing in the crowd to greet us with a sign% Kishor ushered us outside and introduced us to Ram Singh) who will also be our driver on our return to Delhi) but who was now waiting to drive us to the Delhi Train Station for the ,:#$ departure of our Shatabi Express% Once on the rail platform) we joined the crush surrounding our train to Haridwar% When we located our seats in the crowded executive class car) were amazed to *nd sitting in front of us our neighbor Larry Snider and his daughter Stephanie) who were on their way to Haridwar from Dharmsala% As all the overhead storage racks were taken) Jake and I piled our bags at our feet and I promptly went to sleep% Didn(t miss the view as my window was too dirty to see through anyway% Arrived in Haridwar at --:#$% Our hotel had said they would send someone to help us with our bags but no one showed up% Tried to get a taxi but learned that the Haveli Hari Ganga) a heritage hotel dating from the late -.$$s) is not accessible by car as it is in the middle of a crowded marketplace% The only solution was to pile our bags and ourselves on the back of a bicycle rickshaw and make our way tipsily through the alleys to the hotel% We felt for the poor driver who had to pull all of that weight through the muddy) potholed lanes% At one point) we had to dismount so that he could li/ the bike over a pile of rubble% We were delighted with the view from our room0 right on the rushing waters of Mother Ganga% The hotel even has its own swimming ghat) if one were so inclined% We immediately set out to see what was going on before the o1cial start of the Kumbh Mela) which is the largest gathering of humanity in the world) and occurs in one of four cities on the Ganges every three years% According to Hindu myth) the 14
Gods and the Demons once fought a great battle for the kumbh) a pitcher containing the nectar of immortality% For -2 days and nights they fought across the sky and during the struggle) four drops of the precious liquid fell in four places on earth: Prayag 3Allahbad4) Haridwar) Ujjain) and Nasik% Thus Kumbh Mela is held in each of these sites over a twelve!year period% As we started out walking toward the river) things were not particularly crowded% Most of the booths that lined the market were selling food0particularly a wide variety of sweets0and souvenirs) including religious icons) puja bowls 3used during the sacred baths4) distinctive yellow printed cloth worn by holy men) and strings of rudraksha) seeds that carry religious and intercessory aspects% Looked for a puja bowl to buy but did not *nd one I liked% When we reached the river) were amazed at the fast current% In spite of the freezing torrent gushing from its source high in the Himalayas) men and women) young and old) were washing themselves) pouring water over their heads from the small bowls we had seen in the market) and *lling plastic bottles with this &elixir of life%' Noticed that to many) the dip in the frigid water appeared to be more of a dare) but to others) it was a moment of supreme reverence) demonstrating love for the Higher Power% We crossed back and forth over the various bridges) taking it all in% At one point) a distinguished gentleman dressed in an o1cial military uniform with four stars on his epaulettes stopped and informed us that tomorrow we will not be able to take photos without a proper photography permit% We were told to get the permit at the Kumbh HQ located in a tall building at the edge of the river% Twice we went there) trying to obtain such a pass) and twice we were given the bureaucratic run!around% Never have I seen so many &busy' people striding importantly around) holding pieces of paper or mobile phones and doing nothing discernable% We *nally gave up) returning to the haveli at ,:#$ for a bu5et of Indian dishes 3with live music of tabla and organ in the background4 and) in Jake(s case) a warm bath% To bed at last at -$:$$%
Thursday, January 14
Makar Sankranti (First Bath) Indian!style breakfast bu"et at the hotel# At a little a$er %:&'( Anjeet Kumar( the guide we had arranged for the day( met us in the lobby# Young( attractive and enthusiastic( Anjeet soon characterized himself as my Indian son as he led us expertly through the narrow lanes and alleys of Haridwar# Asked him about various customs relating to Kumbh Mela: wonderful to have someone capable to answer our questions# Anjeet explained how Haridwar is regarded as one of the holiest places in India# Long a center of pilgrimage( it is a city engulfed in ancient myths( legends( and fables# The Ganges transverses the Himalayas to enter the plains of North India for the )rst time at Haridwar( giving it its ancient name( Gangadwara( or *Gateway to the Ganges#+ Stopped at a booth selling religious objects where I bought a length of the ubiquitous yellow cloth imprinted with images of Hanuman and Hindi sayings that cost less than a dollar# As we entered a narrow street next to the river( a band of Hari Krishnas came over the bridge toward us( jumping joyously to the beat of a drum and chanting( *Hari Krishna( Hari Krishna( Krishna Krishna( Hari Hari#+ The surrounding crowd chimed in# Anjeet pointed out a row of small porches leading to smaller rooms beyond# These belong to the keepers of ancient pothi( the giant books of dynastic names( some of which are more than
&,' years old# At the )rst porch( the *genealogist+ was giving a consultation to two clients( who were perhaps registering the name of a departed family member# He would not permit a photo( but the fellow in an adjacent porch agreeably untied one of the massive rolled volumes to show us page upon page( row upon row( of ancient Sanskrit notations# Across the way on a raised area called the Gau Ghat( groups of people were performing various religious rituals( making donations to the poor( and feeding themselves and a number of grazing cows# A circle of young men with shaved heads were involved in some sort of a commitment ceremony; a bowl of Ganges water sat before each# As we neared the Har!Ki!Pairi( the main ghat( we saw a number of naga sadhus or holy men# Would have been wary of photographing them -and rightfully so( from what I.d read/ but Anjeet negotiated on our behalf and we were able to get some stunning photos of these fearsome men( with their painted faces and long dreadlocks# Back through the market to Juna Akhara( the largest of the various sect camps( where more sadhus sat outside in the sunshine# Taking o" our shoes( we entered the temple and found rows and rows of people squatting on the 0oor( mostly men but interspersed with a few women and children( enjoying the free meal being served to all who wished to eat#
Nearby we stopped at the Maya Devi Temple! also part of Juna Akhara" As we walked along the river! stopped to watch a number of bathers taking their holy snan and thereby purging past sins and hopefully releasing themselves from the cycle of rebirth" Anjeet had hoped to take us to the nearby city of Saptrishi! or Seven Sadhus! but the tra#c leaving Haridwar had been rerouted to make room for the tra#c entering! and there was no way for us to get a tuc$tuc for the seven$ kilometer trip" Pilgrims were arriving in all manner of conveyance: scores of honking cars! whole families on motorcycles! groups packed onto busses" We joined the growing throngs entering the bathing area along a series of temporary bridges and chutes" As we walked! Anjeet showed us how areas were being set up to bring the millions upon millions of devout Hindus to the area during the coming weeks of the Mela" It was staggering to imagine how all this could possibly be managed! but when we saw the legions of police! para$military! and army troops out in force! we started to get an idea" Back to the market! we visited the shop of Om Prakash & Sons! a wholesale dealer of gems and rudraksha! a natural nut that is said to hold great power for the wearer" A%er a good deal of discussion! we chose &'
nuts having various numbers of faces from one to &&" The owner(s son strung them for me on a red thread! using his toes to help tie the knots between each bead" Later we returned to the Har$Ki$ Pairi! joining a huge crowd for the evening aarti ceremony! at which )res are lighted to honor Mother Ganga while special music is played and bells are sounded" Before the ceremony! the faithful set small leaf boats carrying *owers and lighted ghee into the current to carry the light down the river and out of sight" Anjeet found us an excellent vantage point where we could remain standing and have an unobstructed view over the sea of heads before us" The energy generated by the crowd was palpable and I found the proceedings quite moving" Waited a few minutes for the crowd to disburse before returning to the haveli and saying good$by to him" A%er we had returned to our room following this evening(s meal! Raj! one of the waiters! presented me with an old puja bowl+similar to the ones we(d seen the faithful use in their Ganges ablutions+that I had admired last evening" He gladly accepted a tip and I think we both le% feeling good about our transaction" Jake asked me what I plan to do with it and I told him it was a perfect souvenir of the Kumbh Mela"
O Holy Mother Ganges! O Yamuna! O Godavari! Saraswati! O Narmada! Sindhu! Kaveri! May you be pleased to be manifest in these waters with which I shall purify myself! 26
Friday, January 15
Mauni Amavasya Snan and Surya Grahan Awoke in anticipation of a partial solar eclipse at !:"# this morning$ However% at !:&&% the fog rolled in% totally obscuring not only any view of the sun% but even the other side of the river$ Returned to the room a'er breakfast to (nd several monkeys% some with babies% peering in at us from the balcony$ Just as glad that Jake did not heed my suggestion to leave the windows open$ As our travels had started catching up with us% took a morning nap% knowing that we will be getting up at ":&& AM tomorrow to leave for the Delhi airport$ Early a'ernoon% went down to the hotel ghat where% as I had been instructed% I ceremoniously dipped my rudraksha beads in the Ganges three times% thus releasing their power$ They are now to be worn next to the skin$ I admit that I washed them again in clean water before doing so% trusting that their powers would remain intact$ Jake and I walked down to the river again% crossing bridges that we had not crossed before and returning to the Hari)Ki)Pairi Ghat in order to digitally record the haunting music of the aarti$ Bought a *ower boat from a little boy for Rs$ "&; immediately two men professing to be Brahmin priests ushered us to the waterside and showed us the place for Ganesha aarti+where wishes would be granted for health and wealth with their blessings% for at least Rs$ "&& each$ We set our little boat a*oat in the river with the ,priests- hovering over us$ Not the peaceful experience one would have hoped for$ Before the aarti began% decided to cross back over the river in order to avoid the crowds a'er it was over$ We could still record on
the other bank where we stood in a crowd of the faithful% listening and watching$ As we le' the ghat area% saw that that the Juna Akhara sadhus had cooked giant pots of rice and dhal and were o.ering to feed anyone who was hungry$ Drums and a gong called all to come and eat$ Continued through the market to the hotel and our own dinner$ A'er packing% we received our nightly hot water bottles and slept for a few hours before Ram Singh picked us up for the drive back to Delhi$
Saturday, January 16
Predictably! ":"# came quickly and we dressed and went down to meet Ram Singh! who was to be there at $:%%& The night desk clerk told us he was waiting in the car at the head of the street; a bellboy escorted us out into the night& The market was strangely silent and the wheels of our luggage made the only sound as we made our way past shops closed with odd pieces of corrugated metal and scrap wood& Ram Singh loaded us into the Toyota Innova and we set o' for Delhi& The ride was harrowing& The fog was so thick that Ram had di(culty staying on the road& The windows kept fogging up as well! and Ram worked on them with wads of newspaper! occasionally stopping to wipe the headlights& In spite of the hour and the driving conditions! I was surprised by the amount of tra(c& I decided that the best way to cope was to close my eyes; fell into some kind of sleep but was very aware of the uneven pavement as we bumped through endless construction areas& The night receded as we entered the Delhi environs at about ):*%& It still took us another hour to get to the domestic airport& Jake was getting agitated that we would miss our "%:+% ,ight to Varanasi& On our arrival at the airport at -:+#! we were moved to the front of the line& Only a small glitch at security when they con.scated a roll of duct tape in Jake/s backpack alleging that it could be used to tape up people& Fortunately! the Jet Airways ,ight was delayed for a half hour and we took o' a little a0er "":%% with time to spare& Pleasant -%1minute ,ight with a tasty Indian snack served on real china with real utensils: have not seen a metal knife on a ,ight for years& Exiting the terminal! found Javed! our driver! waiting with a sign to take us to the Hotel Ganges View& Wild ride through this bustling city of two million; there must be three million vehicles on its streets& A real cacophony of horns; Jake 52
said he will have to make a recording of it& The Ganges View is an historic haveli with art on all the walls and a lot of stairs; our room is on the top ,oor o' a pleasant sunroom& A0er making arrangements for an evening boat ride and dinner at the hotel! set o' to walk along the ghats that skirt the Ganges& Saw children ,ying kites: Jake got quite tangled in discarded nylon kite string as we made our way along the steps and was concerned that it was a ploy to extract a tip for some child to release him& Lots of touts2children selling ,owers! young men o'ering boat rides! old men asking for money& A lively group of boys was playing cricket; bu'alo lazed as beautifully colored birds hopped along their backs& We passed families burning their dead at the water/s edge and paused to watch from a nearby platform& Boats lined the shore; some brightly painted and others le0 to decay! much as the ghats themselves& As we walked back toward the hotel! commented that the proliferation of painted signs was an unfortunate blight2Baba School of Music! Elvis Restaurant! German Bakery! the Pilgrim Bookstore! and plain old gra(ti& Too bad& At #:%%! a man came to the hotel to take us to the river for our sunset cruise& Shared the wooden boat with Peter and Jane Drury from Scotland! now living in Bangalore! who are staying at the haveli& Opted for the t w o 1 h o u r cr u i s e ! w h i ch t o o k u s u p t o t h e Dasashvamedha! Varanasi/s main ghat& By the time we reached it! the sun had set and the evening aarti was beginning& As we paused there! the burning candles and the holy chanting rippled toward us over the waters of Mother Ganges& Then it was time to head back& We joined Peter and Jane! and Katherine and Jose! a couple from Paris! for dinner and animated conversation& It is evenings like these that make travel special&
Sunday, January 17
Our morning began early! as we met Javed at the car at ":#$ so that he could take us to meet Ramis! the young man who would be our guide for a sunrise boat ride% Boarded another wooden boat and set out into the darkness% Sounds were ampli&ed in the pre'dawn atmosphere: the rumble of chanted prayers! the ringing of bells! the squeak of the boatman(s oars against the sides of our boat% As the light grew! the river came to life% Dhobis smacked wet clothes on the rocks with a loud! )thwack!* The unsettling sound of forced laughter came over a loud speaker: a laughing yoga lesson% Dogs barked% People were bathing! washing utensils! o+ering ,owers and incense to Mother Ganges% As we neared the Manikarnika Ghat! smoke rose from the cremations in progress; two orange'draped biers waited their turn%
Ramis spoke respectfully of the proceedings but it was hard not to be repulsed at the scene of children and dogs picking through the crematory remains! piles of partially burned wood and cloth! mud and <h! men milling around% We turned and headed back toward the main ghat% As we neared our drop'o+ point! I was surprised to see a small boat coming toward us with a TV playing-a ,oating DVD shop! o+ering digital memories of all we had seen! including the )burning ghat!* as the vendor assured us% Javed drove us back to the hotel where we showered and had breakfast! again sharing the table with our friends of the night before% Jake and Jane discovered that they had booked many of the same hotels as us during their trips and we all enjoyed comparing India travel notes%
Burning Ghat, 1858
At !":""# le$ with Javed for Sarnath# about !% kilometers from town& Visited the Sarnath Varanas Tibetan Buddhist Monastery where rows of colorful prayer wheels stood on each side of the entrance and an elaborate altar honoring the Dalai Lama 'lled the interior& Continued to the modern Mulagandha Vihara Isipatana Temple# decorated with Japanese wall murals& A Buddhist monk was prostrating himself before a large golden statue of Buddha& In the accompanying park# a Bodhi Tree# replanted from a branch of the original# was surrounded by a small modern temple structure& Colorful (ags had been pinned up around the area# some with hand)written inscriptions: *God help me always+ and *My all wish to complete my dreams+ and *I wish that all the people be happy&+ From here it was a short distance to the ruins of ancient monasteries where brick foundations marked former temple structures& In the sprawling complex are two stupas# one of which# the Dhamekh# still retains geometric remnants of its extensive carved decorative elements& Walked around this massive structure several times# following the footsteps of numerous monks# all dressed in rich plum)colored robes& Asked to photograph a monk whose beati'c smile had charmed us both& A$er divesting ourselves of cameras and bags at the museum complex gate# walked across the grounds to the entrance where we went through a metal detector and Jake was promptly sent back to leave the audio recorder that he,d le$ in a pocket& The 'rst thing one sees upon entering the museum is the Ashoka Capital# the ancient symbol of India that remains in
remarkable condition& We had seen the pillar that once served as its base amidst the ruins& The museum,s other treasure is a particularly beautiful statue of a supremely serene Buddha that I found mesmerizing& A quick stop for a photo of the Chaukhandi stupa before heading back to the city& Javed asked if we would like to visit a silk weaving studio to see Varanasi,s most famous cra$ and we half)heartedly agreed# being wary of the commission we would be paying& Soon we were slipping down a narrow street to a large white)washed building bearing the sign# *Tiwari International Silk Weaving Centre: The King of Brocade&+ A friendly man introduced himself as Keshav and ushered us into a large room with several looms& He told us that his family has owned the business for four generations and showed us the two styles of silk weaving they do# a jacquard and an older# more labor) intensive technique& He then took us to his showroom and he and his brother brought out examples from stacks and stacks of colorful cloth& A$er we told him we were interested in older pieces# they showed us some really stunning examples of their work: antique shawls# incredible Shahtoosh scarves woven of hair from the underbellies of antelopes# and a remarkable (owered sari that looked like a painting& In the end# we bought a black and silver feather)light shawl and a brocade evening stole& We had dinner at the hotel# seated with a woman from Australia who plans to stay in Varanasi for 've weeks; I can,t imagine what one would do here for that long& To bed early as it will be another up)before) daybreak morning&
Tibetan Buddhist Monastery Sarnath
Monday, January 18
Bliss…bliss…bliss! I am writing this from the desk of our "upgraded# premium room at the Oberoi Grand$ Kolkata! I have had a hot shower and a delectable Thai dinner and a King%sher beer brought by room service! Jake has fallen into bed and is already asleep! But to start from early this morning! The alarm went o& at ':'( so that we would be ready to meet Javed in front of the Ganges View at (:)*! Glad that Jake was able to rouse someone to help us get our bags down four +ights of steep stairs in the dimly lit hallways! Relieved that there was not much fog so early in the morning! We drove through town and across a bumpy strip of land that was the access to the sparkling new Highway ,! Sped through the darkness for about ten kilometers until we came upon rows of trucks lining both sides of the divided four-lane highway! What happened next is di.cult to describe! Trucks were stopped in both lanes on both sides of the road and were trying to maneuver back and forth across the median and on the shoulders$ regardless of direction! Thus we found ourselves completely surrounded by trucks/those overloaded ones I hate/going every which way as if they were a cluster of tuc-tucs in the center of a city market! I could not believe it! There were absolutely no road rules
that we could see! At last$ Javed was able to back up$ cross over the median$ back up some more$ and get on a dirt track that headed o& across the open %elds and past a brick-making facility! The road was almost impassable$ but we bumped and wove our way until we encountered a rail crossing with the gates down! Several other vehicles were caught there as well$ and a0er waiting as long as they decided was enough$ someone raised the gates and we all zipped through$ hoping that the train would not show up at that moment! A0er about ten kilometers$ we were able to get back on the highway and continue to Bodh Gaya! Fortunately$ Javed took a tea break$ for Jake$ who had been feeling queasy$ became ill as soon as we stopped! We pressed on$ arriving at Bodh Gaya$ one of the holiest sites for Buddhists$ around noon! Started by making brief visits to several of the various international Buddhist temples that have been built in recent years: Tibetan$ Japanese$ Bhutanese$ Chinese$ Burmese$ Thai$ Vietnamese! Saw the Great Statue of Buddha$ erected by the Japanese in 1223! Then to the main temple of Mahabodhi$ a UNESCO World Heritage Site$ where grows the Bodhi Tree$ under which Siddhartha Gautama meditated for '2 days before attaining enlightenment!
Buddhist monks! dressed in their plum robes! were everywhere: circling the temple while spinning prayer wheels! reading and meditating under its shadow! and prostrating themselves in the surrounding park! kneeling on special wooden platforms and assisted by two hand pads that easily slide the body into a prone position" Noticed one fellow who pushed a counter every time he prostrated himself" Scores of tour groups from Japan and other East Asian countries #ooded into the temple! many carrying large bowls of fruit or #owers as gi$s" The whole place was alive with reverence! spirituality! energy" Outside the temple area! it was a sea of hawkers! touts! and vendors selling beads! Bodhi Tree leaves! and various religious baubles" I bought a little packet of dried Bodhi leaves! which the vendor put in a plastic bag" Javed showed us to a restaurant across the street where he could park us while he went for lunch in a cheaper place" Jake suddenly felt ill again as we were seated in the restaurant and I #ipped out the bag for his use" Back on the road to Patna by %:&& or so; Jake reclined his seat and went to sleep while I watched village a$er village pass by my window" Each was so crowded! so dirty! so full of the business of life" Tra'c was an unbelievable cacophony of noise and exhaust! making me wonder how people living
along the road in these towns can stand it" The horns! Constantly blaring at all pitches! and above them all! the harsh tones of those big truck horns! some of them playing quite intricate tunes" In spite of it all! Javed managed to deliver us to the Patna airport by (:)&" Although we were about to say good*by to him! he insisted on making sure that our #ight was on schedule" Thank goodness he did! for he determined that our #ight was going to be cancelled" We were thus able to book the last two seats on the next #ight to Kolkata on an IndiGo Airline #ight and get a refund from Jet Lite" With no time to spare! we departed Patna at +:%& and landed ,( minutes later in Kolkata" A representative from the Oberoi Grand met us in the baggage claim area! retrieved our luggage! and ushered us into a waiting car" A pleasant ,(*minute drive to the hotel took us on modern roads! over new bridges! and past shiny shopping malls and tech call centers" This was not the Calcutta Jake remembered from ,& years ago" The Grand! established in -./& on the Chowringhee! is considered one of India0s most elegant hotels" Our room is lovely and luxurious and a real treat" We are both ready to relax a$er the past busy days"
Mahobodhi Temple Bodhgaya A Usesco Site
Tuesday, January 19
I woke up wonderfully renewed: Jake! unfortunately! did not" He put forth a gallant e#ort to carry on" A$er having breakfast at the hotel%s bountiful bu#et! we caught a Kolkata yellow taxi to Marquis Street in search of Bengal Silver Arts" The owner! Vashi Chandani! is the brother of jewelers on Devon Street in Chicago and I was hoping that he might be able to create a brooch for me to resemble a man in the moon face I had seen on a shield at the museum in Jodhpur last year" Was rather pleased that we found the place hidden on a side street â€Ś locked up tight" I had his number and when I called! Vashi told me that he was in Ahmadabad! visiting his mother&in&law" Very disappointing! but nothing could be done about it" Walked a short distance to the Indian Museum! a rambling! pillared warehouse of a place built by the British in '(')" Wandered through the archeological section on the *rst +oor,the only area that seemed to be open,and looked at sculptures from Bihar and Orissa" Could not help but notice that the ample round breasts of the female goddesses had been fondled to a shiny patina" Caught another yellow taxi to the beautiful '-.' Victoria Memorial! looking like a British Taj Mahal in its lovely park&like setting" Discovered the same V&A&sponsored exhibit! /Indian Life and Landscapes by Western Artists0 that we had seen in Delhi last year" I think it is such a gem of a show; the rather idealized watercolors by Thomas and William Daniell and others made me smile as I recognized so many of them" Hailed another taxi and asked to be taken to the BBD Bagh! rich with examples of Raj architecture" We soon realized that many of Kolkata%s roads were closed in preparation for processions honoring the memory of Jyoti Basu! the revered and long&time former Communist leader
of Bengal who had /expired0 1as the Indians put it2 the preceding day" Basu had done much to improve the lot of Bengali poor but it was his decision to drop the teaching of English in the schools that inhibited business investment and adversely a#ected middle class development for two generations" When we returned to the hotel! Jake took a hot bath and went to bed" I spent an interesting a$ernoon talking to Sunrita Mehta! long&time proprietor of the bookshop in the hotel! and Conrad! her assistant; we talked books and politics" Unlike our driver to the hotel last night! Conrad and Sunrita are not so whole&heartedly in favor of the Communist leadership in Bengal" I think we all came to the conclusion that neither communism nor capitalism is the answer for the world unless well administered" Bought a book recommended by Sunrita! Wicked Women of the Raj" Visited with Mr" Bharany! the jeweler in the hotel%s arcade! who showed me a beautiful cat%s eye moonstone! which I decided to buy" I realize that there is no way anyone is going to be able to fabricate the brooch I am thinking of with so little time" I may as well take the moonstone back to the US and possibly have something made there" I also bought two intriguing ethnic items: a glass bead and brass amulet necklace from Nagaland! the far north&eastern state of India! and an (3&-3 year old female *gure from the Kond tribe of Orissa" Spoke with the concierge and arranged for a /deluxe0 taxi tomorrow to take us to the places we were not able to visit today" A$er checking on the peacefully sleeping Jake! I came down to the hotel%s Chowringhee Bar where I enjoyed a two&martini cocktail hour! followed by a vegetarian dinner at the hotel%s Baan Thai restaurant" Started reading /Wicked Women0,it is fascinating"
Victoria Memorial Kolkata 84
Wednesday, January 20
Saraswati Puja Jake still felt a bit punk when we woke up! but we decided to go ahead with our plans to see the city by car" At #:$$! Amir from Blue Arrow A%C Taxi was waiting for us at the door" We began by heading north towards the Chilpat Road area" Amir sped along! able to take advantage of the light tra&c on this day celebrating the Hindu festival of Saraswati! the goddess of learning" Stopped 'rst at the Marble Palace! an opulent! though neglected! mansion built in ()*+ by a wealthy raja" However! a surly fellow at the gate said that it was locked and would not permit us to take a photograph from the street without a tip" Presumably a larger tip would have allowed greater access" Did not feel like playing along with him any further; snapped a shot through the gate and continued on our way" Looking up from the car windows! admired the grimy detailing on the buildings that lined the road: delicate ironwork on balconies alive with sprouting weeds! terra cotta detailing on crumbling lintels! and most iconic! Kolkata,s green shutters" Some open! some closed! almost all broken or missing slats! they nonetheless de'ne the look of the old city" Had hoped to visit the potters, colony of Kumartuli! a warren of lanes where they make clay statues that are destroyed in festivals" However! this being a festival day! no work was being done; the artisans were probably celebrating in the shadows of their own creations" Did see numerous statues set up on bamboo pandals -platforms. every block or so/the sitar0playing Saraswati and the ten0armed Durga! as well
as old favorites like Hanuman and Ganesha" Visited the 1ower market! located under the Howrah Bridge" While Amir waited! wove our way between piles of orange and yellow marigolds! red roses! gladiolas of all shades! small bananas and paan leaves" Passing the Babu Ghat! saw bathers in the sludgy water! washing themselves and their dishes and cleaning their teeth" Noted the profusion of gra&ti along the road! most punctuated with the hammer and sickle" Also saw countless banners honoring the late Mr" Basu; most illogically proclaiming! 2Long live Jyoti Basu"3 Were not planning to go to the Botanical Gardens! but Amir took us there anyway" We thought! why not just go in and have a quick look at the w o r ld , s la r g e s t b a n ya n t r e e / 4 5 $ m e t e r s i n circumference! Little did we know that the tree was located at the far end of the park! a three0kilometer round trip walk" Although the tree is remarkable! the park itself is unfortunately spoiled; paper blows about and benches are broken; many of the trees are weighted with dead branches" Several ponds are totally algae0 bound" There are waste bins around! but I saw two men picking up a 'lled one and then dumping it out nearby" Nonetheless numerous young people! free from school for the holiday and dressed in bright dress0up clothes! were strolling along the paths" Took a picture of four giggly young ladies who were delighted to pose for me" One remained on her cell phone the whole time while another proudly showed me the henna designs on her hands" It is such small encounters that I 'nd truly special"
Calcutta: A journey through the grimy layers of time
Heading south! we returned to the heart of the city and its administrative hub during the Raj! the area around BBD Bagh" Earlier known as Dalhousie Square! the area is ringed with British colonial buildings! dating to the mid #$th century and early #%th century" Wandered though St" John&s Church! designed in #'$' a(er London&s St" Martin)in)the)Fields" The attendant turned on the lights for us and we walked around! reading the memorials to East India Company administrators and British soldiers and their wives! most of whom died young" Other noted buildings were the #$*+s General Post O,ce with its impressive rotunda and the red Writer&s Building! the hub of colonial India a(er #'''" A short ride from the BBD Bagh is the South Park Street Cemetery! the evocative and overgrown resting place of the British men! women! and children who established Calcutta" The cemetery was opened in #'*' to receive the body of John Wood! an o,cial of the East India Company! and closed in #'%+" As we walked among the shady avenues! we passed cupolas! obelisks! and pyramids! and stopped to read the names! the dates! and the inscriptions: Mrs" Anne Jones! who -in Chastity! kept a husband&s Heart to all but him;.
Elizabeth Jane Barwell -the celebrated Miss Sanderson!. who married Richard Barwell on September #/! #''* and died on November %! #''$; Edward Dashwood! eldest son of Thomas Dashwood! who died! aged #+ years; -Beloved Child. Frances Sophia! -daughter of Lane & Margaret Magniac. who -died on the 0th June #$1+! aged ' months & 11 days;. Major General Charles Stuart! known as -Hindoo. Stuart; Captain Edward Cooke! who died at age 1* of wounds received during an engagement with a French frigate at the mouth of the Hooghly; Lt" Col" Charles Russell Deare! killed during the storming of Tippoo Sultan&s stronghold at Srirangapatnam" Crows 2ew over us as we walked! harshly voicing their annoyance at our intrusion" Returning to the car! we asked Amir to take us to Kalighat! the temple dedicated to the 3erce goddess! but when we got to the area! we found it so crowded and dirty that we decided to return to the hotel instead" Retreated to the attractive pool area and relaxed with a couple of Cokes! thinking how amazing it was to be sitting in the oasis of the Oberoi Grand while the chaotic world of Kolkata carried on just beyond its walls"
South Park Street Cemetery
Journal kept by Susan Hanes during a six!week trip to India by way of London" Qatar" and Dublin" from January # to February $#" %&$&' Photos by Susan Hanes and George Leonard" copyright %&$&' v' $