Thursday, February 26, 2009

Aloo Baba

I awoke a bit late this morning so I neglected my morning walk up to the Savatri temple this morning. By 10 am it's almost 25 degrees, so I gotta get up at half six and be on my way by 7 am. I made my way down to this delicious cafe called the Honeydew Cafe and had a gorgeous muesli curd and fruit salad. I met a really lovely women from Germany and enjoyed a conversation with her while having my breakfast. At 11:30 am I headed off to the cafe to meet up with Sunny and go with him to the desert Shiva temple. The other guy never showed up, so me and Sunny went off on his motorbike. It was so nice being on a bike catching some fresh air as it is so hot and dusty in Pushkar and being on an open road felt very nice. We stopped in at a local animal hospital that is founded by a vet in the UK. I was given a tour of the facility and met really lovely Indian people who are working very hard tosave the lives of injured and abused dogs, as well as cows. The cows are really sick here in India...once they stop producing milk the owners just let them go free. They munch on anything they can get their mouths on, which is mostly plastic garbage, and they plastic gets stuck in their intestines and basically strangulates them to death. The hospital picks them up, operates on them, and then feeds them till they are healthy again. The sad thing though is that the cows just go back on the street and it all happens not really a solution. I really want to volunteer here when I come back next year, so I picked up the info and told the staff that I would be back! Sunny then took me to see Aloo Baba at the first Shiva temple - he's named as such as he LOVES potatoes! We had a quick chai with him before we set off into the desert to see the other Baby about 20 minutes away. We took the river way and came across a huge clan of peacocks resting in the sun. They flew away when we came across them. They are such regal birds, and seeing them against the barren drabness of the desert only illuminates their beauty. We finally came to the Shiva temple in the desert, which has been standing there for over 2000 years and is declared a Ragasthani protected site. We sat in the temple with a Shiva lingam and had a 10 minute meditation before retiring to the massive banyan tree to escape the heat. Sunny and I stopped in to see the Baba in his little house, he was resting with a sadhu and was surrounded by puppies. Three cows stood peacefully behind him, observing his every move. We sat with the Baba and the sadhu and I watched as they all pulled on a freshly packed chillum (which I didn't engage bhang for me please!!). Baba and I had a small conversation and then I played with all the puppies...31 to be exact. Baba will never be lonely in the desert!! Sunny and I headed back to the first temple to see Aloo Baba as we had promised to play a game with him. When we made it there, the gypsy women were there taking a break from the washing and relaxing in the temple. Their children played in the dust, and once they saw me got very shy. The ladies made me a cup of spicy chai and I saw with Aloo Baba. The children slowly gotover their shyness and came to sit around me, observing my differences. I gave them all Ganesha stickers and that was it...I was totally accepted. They climbed in my lap and fought over who was going to sit next to me. Baba pulled out some shells and we all started to play a game that was painted on his floor...I wasn't really sure how to play as the rules kept changing, but it was really fun. I got my Hindi numbers (1 - 6) down pat and enjoyed yelling my roll to the amusement of the kids. Finally we had to go, and I promised Babaji that I would be back before I left. Such sweet children.
Sunny dropped me back off at my hotel and I wandered across the street to eat at this tiny lady's food stall. She whipped me up some smoking hot parathas and dahl and I washed it all down with 2 cups of sweet chai. I worry about the state of my teeth...I'm drink waaay too much hot syrupy chai!
Sitting here at an internet cafe watching camels loaf on by, it's truly a surreal sight. I came across a huge clan of monkeys eating the left over vegetables from the market all sitting on a roof together. India is such a surreal country, you never know what awaits you on every corner you turn.
And with that namaste.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Pushkar...It's an amazing place, the buildings are all white and blue and very ornate. I spent some time today on the holy lake at one of the ghats and watched the life swirl around me. It was nice to sit and not be pestered for once! The people here though are really harrassing...if it's not the shopowners, it's the baba's and the sadhus, then the beautiful rajasthani women who are wearing clothing nicer than I will ever own, then the beggar children. It's a bit much, and again I'm left with the confusion of being a tourist and contributing to the degrade of culture. Ah well...I think I might have too much time on my hands to ponder such things! I rolled in yesterday and spent the day shopping and then shopping some more. The shopping is insane...but if not all same-y- and I dropped a good chunk of coin (or shall I say tattered Rs/!) topping up my gifts (and bagging some bling for myself). The night before was a very special festival day called Shivatri- a day dedicated to Shiva so there were still some remnants of the celebration left over. People were pulling huge trolleys with Shiva statues and boys with drums lead processions down the narrow streets. I got pulled away to the holy lake by a Brahmin "priest" to do a puja...suddenly I realizedthat I may be in a very expensive situation! The priest went and brought back a plate with kumkum, a coconut, rose petals and rice. He asked for a donation for the Brahma priests ("Madame 500 or 1000 Rs/ is ok maam...good donation" and looked very annoyed when I told him that all I can offer is 150 Rs/ (about $4). The thing is that when he starts to bless all your family members- dead and alive- suddenly the "donation rate" becomes the rate per blessed person. I was starting to sweat as he asked for names of my immediate family, my grandparents and uncle & aunts. I started to calculate the potential cost and lost track of what was actually happening in the puja. I blessed everyone in my life and offered my plate of flowers and rice to the water. A huge carp came up and devoured the sinking rice...hopefully he hasn't eaten my good wishes and prayers! In the end I forked over 250 Rs/ and quickly escaped with my "Pushkar passport" red and yellow string on my right wrist and was marked with a red kumkum and rice tikka on my forehead. The good thing is that now I have this bracelet, no one else will harass me! I met a really nice American couple (Shandy and Wes) in the evening and had a delicious thali with them in this hidden "palace" off the beaten track and listened to shanti tracks of women singing the Gayatri and Om Namah Shivaya. It was very peaceful indeed and nice to connect with such a friendly couple. Shandy and I made a plan to walk up one of the nearby mountains to visit one of the temples - Savatri which is on top. The walk takes about one hour and is straight up the mountain. I'm dying for some cardio action, and a chance to get out of the madness and have a few moments with Brahma's wife. There are 2 mountains facing each other here in Pushkar on opposite is the Savatri temple and the other is the Gayatri temple. The legend is that when Brahma came to Pushkar (his place) he wanted to have a huge puja to celebrate the arrival of his own city. He sent his son to fetch his wife Savatri to join in the blessing. His son was a bit mischevious and didn't get Savatri right away, so Brahma was waiting and waiting for a long time. He finally asked his consort Indra to go and fetch him a woman. When INdra returned, he brought back a milkmaid. Brahma put her head into the mouth of a cow (gaya) three times (thri) and she become a goddess. Gayatri then became Brahma's wife and stoodin the puja celebration. When Savatri arrived, she was furious that Brahma had taken another wife so she cursed Brahma and went to live on an adjoining mountain. There is only one Brahma temple in the world (here in Pushkar) and that was Savatri's -that he shall be only worshipped in one city and have one temple. Gayatri went to live on the other mountain and hence the two temples ontop of the mountains. Cheeky Brahma...what was he thinking??
After dinner I walked home in the darkened streets and realized that Pushkar closes early. I'll be at my hotel now before I walked I heard drums and shrill womens voices. I came across a wedding celebration and the beautiful women were all dancing. I was pushed into the party by an old man and I was swarmed by little children- all reaching for my hand and screaming "Hi! What's your name!" One little monkey literaly shimmied her way up my leg into my arms so her and I dancedto the beat of the drum. I was given a chair to sit on and suddenly I had 5 kids on my lap, all talking and exploring my face and arms. The women pulled the kids off me and got me to come and dance with them. I danced with them for about 15 minutes and then realized I had to get going. I bid them "Namaskar" and tried to escape but was attacked by all the children begging for chocolate! I tried to run but was quickly overtaken! They all pushed me to a nearby store to buy sweets until one of the elder women came out and scolded them...and they all turn and ran. It was quite amusing and fun, but I felt sad that this was all they saw me for.
The walk up the mountain today was really good. Shandy (the girl I met) had a really strong bhang lassi last night so was a bit fuzzy but we had a good walk. It is such hot here, and I'm glad we started early. The walk started off with stairs but then turned into a rocky climb. I was not looking up, just kept on focusing on the rocks in front of me and almost walked into a family of mean-ass monkeys!! Once I realized they were monkeys I panicked and jumped back. The biggest monkey of all bared it's teeth (vampire teeth eeeek!!) and we freaked out. We were both too scared to walk past the group until an indian guy came down to reassure us that it would be ok. So we rounded up our courage and walked past the group...they didn't even bat an eyelash. We carried up to the top and enjoyedthe cool breeze and the amazing view of the desert. The lake of Pushkar was shining in the morning sun, and we could see camel camps for miles and miles. It was very peaceful, and we were the only people aside from the sadhus in the temple. Shandy pulled out her sweets as an offering and a monkey came and grabbed them from her..they are really scary creatures!! We stayed up at the top for a bit and then made our way back down to the bottom, stopping in at a cafe at the foot of the mounatin that promised "The best herbal tea in Pushkar". I made sure it was not infused with bhang (it wasn't) and we drank one of the best cups of chai I have ever had. The man made it with mint and all the chai spices and the result was a syruppy nectar like drink. Yummmm. We chatted with the owner for a while, and I am going to join him and a french lad tomorrow to go to a Shiva temple in the desert to visit a Baba and hang in the cool temple. I'm quite excited!
Spent the rest of today just chilling and contemplating life on the lake. I'm at a cafe on the lake called "Sunset Cafe" and am going to see some live music tonight here before meeting up with Shandy and Wes for dinner. They are off to Jaisalmer tonight so I'm quite sad that I'm losing my new friends already!
I've extended my ticket to stay in India till the 20th of March, then I'll head to Thailand for 3 weeks before coming home. I'm really glad I'm staying...wasn't ready to leave India yet. I've also made a few emails to some Bollywood references that were given to me, so maybe I won't come home at all! You never know what can happen I'm constantly reminded "Everything is possible in India!"

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pushing Pushkar

I've just arrived in Pushkar this morning at 3:00 am after a lovely busride from Jaisalmer. I spent my last day in Jaisalmer checking out the Jain temples inside the fort and wandering around. I met up with Penny at the hotel who was reluctantly thinking about leaving to Pushkar. I was thinking about her all day while out on my own and decided that she needs to stay in Jaisalmer for a few extra days and explore this new ray of light in the form of Asharaf. I told her this and her face lit up. I still planned on going to Pushkar amd felt totally comfortable going on my own. I'll meet her in Jaipur as she is doing her Level 1 Reiki course (and my amazing father has secured us 4 nights at the Taj HOTEL!! EEE!!!) on the 28th. She helped me bring my bags up to SOCH and Ishaak soon followed. I was dyingof hunger so Ishaak piled me and Penny on his bike and we went to the Chowk to a little restaurant where I ate a delicious masala dosa (ahh memories of Benares). Ishaak disappeared for a bit, and came back with a beautiful gift of a carnelian beaded necklace I had spotted the night before at a shop in the market. It was a very generous gift, and I was utterly speechless. Ishaak is a very sweet, wise soul and I look forward to keeping in touch with him. He has given me some Bollywood contacts in Bombay and Jaipur that I am going to contact. The boys all swear that I am goingto become a famous Bollywood star, so I should at least try!! I made it back to SOCH and the boys ordered me a rickshaw so me, Ishaak, and this Italian man I met all piled in and met Penny and Asharaf at the bus stop. Because Penny and I had a booking together we had a double bed in the sleeper. Asharaf made sure that only I would be in the sleeper- sometimes the busdriver tries to sell offthe spot and I may have been snuggling with an unknown person! Yikes. BUt we were assured that only I would be in the sleeper so I piled my bags in the compartment and we wentoff to have a last minute chai. 4:30pm came quickly and I was ushered on the bus with hugs and warm wishes. Asharaf was dancing around and telling me to stay in touch, especially when I became a huge star. Ishaak slipped something in my hand, and Penny made sure I was set up safely on the bus. I was sent out of Jaisalmer with warm memories, new friends, a beautiful Carnelian necklace, a love letter, a teach yourself Hindi book (from Asharaf who said I need tolearn for Bollywood), and love and light from Penny's smile.
I started talking to a man across from me in a single bunker who was from Edmonton and had been travelling for 1 year now. He was really nice and we enjoyed a few hours of conversation. The bus made a stop about 2 hours in and then a mob of people got on the bus. Single seats below turned into a a triple seat, and people mashed together everywhere. Single bunkers fit 4 people, and a man opened my window to have a peek in (which Ifirmly shut with a "NO!"). I felt really indulgent as my double bunker could have easily fit 3 people Western style but 8 or 9 Indian style. The aisle way was crammed full of people and I heard people climbing on the roof! I have never seen so many people packed into such a small area. Justin made a comment that if the bus did one mistake then we would all be dead and I started to fret! There was at least 30 people packed into the aisle way. I shut my windows and watchedthe desert landscape roll by. The bus ride was 10 hours, and it was one ofthe smoothest journeys I have taken here in India. I was nestled in a dark coccoon with loads of room for me to stretch out, and the windows blocked out most of the noise. I didn't really sleep but was in and out of conciousness. Loud temple music would break my rest and the occasional twist of the bus would send my heart pounding but it was a really enjoyable ride.
We arrived at 3 am and I sleepily pulled all my bags off the bus into warm evening air. Immediately I was being hasstled by hotel touts, and I joined the Italian Jean-Claude in a serach for a hotel. We walked through Pushkar in the dead ofnight surrounded by sleeping cows and barking dogs, and made our way to a hotel at the edge of town. I got a lovely room that is surrounded by temple music and fell asleep listening to harmonium and tabla. Pushkar is known for its sacred lake and for being the site of the only Brahma temple in India. I'm off to explore the holy lake, have some lunch, and visit the Brahma temple. Namaskar!!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gypsy Soul

Penny and I have been kidnapped by two romantic Sufi-poet loving Indians and are still in Jaisalmer! We met them on the first night we landed here in Jaisalmer- one of them named Asharaf owns the internet cafe where I practically live and the other Ishaack owns the hotel where we have now moved to. Penny and Asharaf hit it off right away his cafe (SOCH- Spirit of Centre Harmony), and Ishaak was there also hanging out. Penny and I changed hotels immediately after our one night in the desert and ended up surprisingly at Ishaak's hotel "Hotel Haveli". So it has been a most curious arrangement.

Penny and I booked our tickets to Pushkar for the 22 and really planned on going. We want to get healthy (I still have a horrid cough that refuses to leave) and we are both really tired. We were at SOCH yesterday- I was doing some catch up emailing- Asharaf showed Penny a pamphlet called "Arabian Nights" that takes place out in the desert. His uncle runs the venue, and he was inviting us to go that evening. I was drawn to it immediately (obviously) as there was going to be a Rajasthani Band and dancers. Because I am not going to make it to Udaipur I'm itching to catch a traditional dance show so I was sold immediately. We changed our tickets to leave on the 23rd, did some shopping in the fort, had our palms read, went back to pack an overnight bag and we were off!

We were driven out to Sam - which is a huge sand dune area that is a very popular tourist spot out in the desert. Asharaf's uncle (Roger) owns a resort like complex with about 15 thatched huts around a bonfire area. There are 15 horses on site, and a really fun tractor for dune buggying in. It was scorching hot, so I retreated to my hut to have a rest and a shower to freshen up. Penny went on a horse ride through the dunes, and when I awoke Roger took me on a very insane tractor ride through the dunes, freaking out all the camel riders! I was bumping around like crazy, and it gave me a head ache afterwards...probably wasn't good for my whiplash ridden neck! Asharaf spirited Penny away on a beautiful Royal Enfield bike to watch the sunset, so I got really worried when I came back and she wasn't there...but she came back unscathed and bursting about the beautiful sunset they watched on top of the dunes.

The Rajastani band reminded me very much of the band from the movie "Latcho Drom". The lead singer (looked like Johnny Depp but gypsy style!) had a heartbreaking haunting voice, and the rest of the performers also played very well. They had a dohl drum, a harmonium, little wooden castanets sticks, a double wind flute, and a tabla in the band. I was sitting at the front on the ground and was held captive by the call and answer singing demonstrated by "Johnny Depp" and a young boy playing the castanets. There two dancers that performed, one was a transvestite dressed up in loads of makeup and a shiny golden costume (very common for gay men to dress up and perform as women here in the Rajasthan..apparently it brings good luck to the audience) and a very bored looking woman in sea foam green. The audience was a women's group from Delhi and they were having a very good time, shrieking, dancing, and laughing.

The sea foam green dancer piled on 7 metal pots on her head and danced around the fire, stood on 3 swords (edge up), and also stepped into a silver dish and hopped around with a heavy hip twist all with the pots on her head! It was pretty impressive, and was my favorite performance from her.

Asharaf told Roger that I was a bellydancer so Roger insisted that I get up and perform with the band. The band started off with a very funky dhol rhythm so that was easy to dance too, but then the band went wild! They were musically going all over the place so all I could do was choo-choo shimmy! So shimmied I did for about 5 minutes (basically till my legs fell off). It was fun dancing though, and it made me also realize how out of shape I have gotten here!

Penny also got up to dance to a little tune, and was exuberant after finishing- she hasn't belly danced in10 years and man is she a natural! It was at this point that a group of gypsies showed up- 3 women and a few other band members. One of the little girls got up to dance and she blew me away. She was also like the dancers out of Latcho Drom, she had a very cheeky style and moved with precision and grace. Dancing was so natural for her, and it oozed out of every pore. She demonstrated a crazy back bend, picking up a 100 Rs/ note with her teeth! Penny and I were enchanted and after she finished dancing, I went to sit with them and bowed at her feet!!
She is a tiny little thing, like the Rajasthani desert people, and wore beautiful seed bead jewellery around her neck. She had little puki shells on beaded strands on her chest, so when she shimmied they make a lovely deep twinkling noise. I was absolutely in love with her and even though we could not communicate, the feeling was definitely mutual. All of the guests left shortly after dinner, so we had the entire gypsy band and dancers to ourselves. There were 5 very drunk Indian men who showed up and dominated the group, requesting songs and dances and throwing money on the performers. It made me very angry to see these men with their huge bankrolls of notes tossing money on the ground for the gypsies to pick up. But the dancers ignored them mostly and Penny and I danced with them all night long, while the band played all sorts of ragas. My little gypsy girl was there with her mother (another tiny women wearing a beautiful magenta dress and was decorated with tribal jewellery) and her little cousin who was a saucy 13 yr old. I was en cloistered in their huddle of skirts, veils, all holding hands and was privy to their shy laughter and obvious annoyance at the drunk men. They would lean into me and rest their head in my shoulder or into my chest and laugh. It was so nice to be included in the gaggle of gypsy girls. We would get up and dance, swirling under the desert sky to the sad arpeggio of Johnny , the whining harmonium pitches and the thumping dohl drum. The girls seized me and marched me out the gate to the outside of the complex. I looked over my shoulder and waved goodbye to Penny and Asharaf...I was being kidnapped by the gypsies! We went outside and all started to dance, the girls doing some crude pelvic motions (imitating the drunk men) and us all collapsing in laughter. They then all spread out their skirts, gently sunk down into a squat and began to pee. I was only wearing a short dress and my leggings so I couldn't engage as gracefully as they did, and they all laughed when I tried! They looked so royal and I felt like an arse!
The drunk men requested some gypsy songs, so the girls broke into a fast but haunting song with lyrical voices with a strange range of notes. Tears sprung to my eyes, and my little gypsy girl grabbed my hand as she sang. They then burst into another one, and the little cousin kept laughing and moving her veil over her face so I assumed that it was a naughty song. The voices sailed over the still air, and I could feel the vibrations in the air from the tones they hit. It was very special, and I wish that I had a way of recording it.
They band and dancers stayed till after 1 and we danced and listened to the music till then. I had my own private Rajasthani band and dancers...what an experience! The band will be coming to Canada on tour in May, so hopefully they will make it to Vancouver. I'm dying to see them again! Johnny Dep wanted me to give me one of his Cd's in Jaisalmer the next day but sadly he didn't materialize. They are on YOUTUBE though, so when I locate the link then I'll post it so that you can see the band. Amazing.
Our driver ended up taking the gypsies back to their camp, and I was invited over and over again to come to the village in the morning to see them again. Ishaak promised them that we would come, so they left very happy. I gave the two girls my bangles, and my gypsy girl gave me one of hers, a red jewelled on. I went to sleep in my hut listening to the remnants of the band sing drunkenly with the drunk Indian men. The singing soon turned into loud snoring...and I was awake for the rest of the night coughing like crazy and trying to ignore the snoring!
Ishaak came to awake me at 6:30 am to watch the sunrise but I had just fallen asleep and was too tired to get out of bed. Penny woke me at 8:30 am saying that Roger was taking us back to Jaisalmer and that we had to go now. Roger had been on my case the whole night before about us staying there for the following night. He wanted to bring the best male bellydancer to the place and have him and I do a show together. Roger was very pushy and I was getting uncomfortable. I told Ishaak that Penny and I had a plan to leave to Pushkar the next day and that I wasn't going to stay for another night there. Ishaak told this to Roger, and Roger got very weird with us. But I didn't feel comfortable at all with Roger- he made quite a few comments to me on our tractor ride- and there was no way I was going to do a full bellydance show for free. So in the morning I had about 10 minutes to get ready and pack up my stuff and off we went. Roget told us that there was no way that we had time to stop in at the village to see the gypsy family, and I felt terrible. Penny and Asharaf followed our jeep back to Jaisalmer on the Enfield looking like a glamorous Bollywood couple. Penny had a light in her eyes that I have never seen before, and I felt that we should stay on another night in Jaisalmer. We got back to town and decided that we would stay on for 1 more night which made the boys very happy. Ishaak set us up in a room in his hotel for free and we all relaxed in the room for a couple of hours. Ishaak and I went to the market and hung out for a while. It was Asharaf's brother Sokat's 19th bday so we gathered him from the Internet cafe (where he spent all day working for Asharaf) and met up with Asharaf and Penny at this delicious pure veg restaurant. I quickly paid a visit to the Sai Baba temple that belts out tunes 24/7 on the way to the restaurant and had a little word with Durga- asking for a blessing as I was going to travel the next day. We enjoyed a lovely meal of chana, Kashmiri pilau, and saag paneer. Penny had picked up a colourful egg less birthday cake (the boys wanted to eat it before dinner!) and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Sokat who had never had a birthday cake before! We had to remind the boys of the was such a lovely evening. I was starting to feel a bit sick again though and had to go home shortly after dinner. Ishaak wanted to read me some poetry he had written but I was wanting to go to bed.
I had such a lovely adventure in the desert and again was reminded that I need to be open to spontaneity.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Desert Dreams

Ahh Jaisalmer....
I'm really overtired- just came back from a night in the desert dancing with gypsies all night long...more on that later so excuse me if I'm not making much sense!
Penny and I went on a 2 day 1 night desert adventure on camel back that was organised through our hotel. Our hotel was a complete disaster (did I mention this already)? so we were extremely skeptical about our "Non-tourist" camel tour, considering we paid really good money and didn't want to be sorely disappointed. Well the camel trip was really good- our guides Jamin and Hamir kept us thoroughly entertained (well Jamin did, his English was perfect and he did a really good version of the Bob Marley song "Jammin'"...even though he had never heard it before (Penny played it for him in the end and he loved it!!). We literally saw NO other tourists along the way as we well avoided the beaten track, and ended up being 45 km from the Pakistan border. The heat was really intense though, topping almost 40 degrees so we had a really nice lunch and a rest in a shaded area for about 3 hours to escape the heat. My camel was called Ji and was quite naughty. He kept walking into shrubs and trying to knock me off! Jamin told us that the camels we get are reflections of who we are inside, so for the rest of the trip I was referred to as the "Crazy Girl". Jamin was really informative and gave us so much history about the tribal villages and gypsy camps that we passed along the way. Jamin was only 30 yrs old with 3 kids, and hamir was 22..but they both seemed much, much older. Jaminlooked at least 40, and Hamir seemed in his late 30s. The life in the desert is so very hard, and the average life span is only 60 years old. We made it to the sand dunes in Thar desert were we set up camp and Penny and I went wild on the dunes, rolling down them like children and jumping around. We were camped at a spot only 15 km from the Pakistan border, and was told that at night we would see gunfire flashes (luckily I didn't see any!!). Penny and I sat atop a dune and talked at great length about life. I personally feel that I have grown so much on this trip, and my eyes have been opened to many things along the way. One of the things I have been struggling with here has been the chance of our birthright...why am I so lucky to be born into a wonderful family in a part of the world that allows so much freedom and personal exploration where my day to day worries are 'What I am going to do today?" and "How can I become a better person?". Compare this with the harsh reality of living nomad-style in a cow dung hut with 15 other people, living off dahl and walking 2 km everyday in scorching heat to fetch water. I am struggling with the indulgence of my existence, especially coming to these lands and being able to see what is happening but unable to help in any way other than giving a few rupees and a school pen to the children. And in doing this only perpetuates the notion that tourists are only good for giving. This was an issue that I struggled with when I was staying in the Berber villages in Morocco, but because I am more connected to this land and these people I am questioning so much more.
Penny and I had a wonderful dinner with the men who cook a mean spicy curry and we sat back to watch the galaxy unfold, slowly with Venus coming out and then the rest of the stars slowly emerging. The stars were the brightest that I have ever seen, and we felt quite insignificant compared lying on the heated desert sand. Wow.
I feel asleep with my turban on my face to keep off the mossies (and joked that I felt like I was off to the Mahikarnika Ghat!) and awoke a few hours later to find a perfect crescent moon rising above me. Beautiful.
We got up fairly early and had a yummy breakfast with gingery chai before mounting our camels. The men felt that we were comfortable enough to ride, so they started us off galloping through the sands. It was such an exhilarating experience, and we felt so free! Penny had a major laughing fit, and the boys got worried that she was going to fall off! We rode heavy over sand dunes, and scraggy plains till we reached Jamin's village. He doesn't take people there very often, but since we showed such an interest in his family and life, he thought we would enjoy it. We were swarmed by his beautiful little children first, then by the rest of the village. Adorned women with sparkling nose jewels and smiles came out to greet us and give us a thorough look over. Jamin's wife scrutinized us the most (oh how similar we women are!) but once she was satisified by our scraggly appearance she warmed up to us quickly. We went into Jamin's tiny hut and everyone surrounded us, staring at our strange faces and eyes. Little hands grabbed at my rings and at my watch, curious eyes met mine and shy smiles were exchanged. The children loved Penny's phone, which she played random rings tones ( the boys loved the techno ones the best!!). Jamin's wife brought out some embroidery that she was doing for a dress which I promptly bought (the handiwork is incredibly patient...took her 3 months). Penny also bought a dress from Jamin's mother (which neither one of us fit..these women are sooo tiny) and a piece of embroidery. We had a lovely glass of chai and then headed out. We were starting to get a bit stressed as all the village women were pulling out their crafts and the kids were pushing through our bags. Again my moral issue came out, and we sullenly left the village feeling a bit pillaged but understanding the desperation that was the intention. These people have nothing really, except for the love of family and the other members in the village, and they see us as walking money bags...which to a degree we are...we possess more than they will ever see in their lives. Penny was a bit upset and Jamin was really concerned. But once we got back on the camel, and I made a promise to myself that I will post Jamin some pens and paper when I get home, the feelings soon passed. Wes stopped for lunch and enjoyed a delicious cabbage curry and then was visited by a gypsy women and her 4 kids. She was absolutley gorgeous, wild and free with dark skin and radiant eyes. She wore an orange veil that covered long dreadlocks. Her children were very dirty and half naked, with huge empty eyes and impish grins. we gave them some sweets and a packof cards which they got really excited about. I gavethe woman some paper soap and a hair clip. They stood looking at us for a long time, and Ifelt so sad. Jamin told us that the gypsies have temporary work here in the desert chipping the rock and boulders that are lying about as there is a government plan to build a road here that will be taxed. Imagine chipping rock by hand with mallets in the middle of the day with 35+ degree weather? Life is just so hard for these people out there. They soon wandered away, and we all took a rest. When the heat died off a bit, we got back on our camels and galloped away. We rode throughthe gypsy camp and watched the beautiful women in their tribal gear chip rock and carry children on their hips...watching us as we were watching them. Silver flashing in the late afternoon sun, white smiles, dirty hands waving hello, long veils catching the wind as the women stood us to watch us sail by. Contrast against the burned sierra (thanks Crayola!!) desert.
We made it back to Jaisalmer sunburned, tired, and happy. Full of vision and memories. We walkedinto town and finally found the Jaisalmerthat everyone was raving about...beautiful Rajasthani stores selling mirror work, roadside cafes, wandering cows, and wedding processions. I fell in love right away and changed my view of Jaisalmer being a nuclear war zone! We ate at a restaurant overlooking the illuminated fort, and decided to order green salad as we are waaay too full of chappatis! The "green" salad was served by an adorable man with cokebottle glasses and no english. The salad comprised of a whole cut red onion, a little sprinkle of sliced cabbage, a few shreds of julienned carrots, and some cucumber. Apparently the kitchen ran out of tomatoes, so of course onions werethe next best substitute! Ohhhh India.
We were meant to leave to Pushkar on Saturday but we got persuaded to saty by the etheral internet shop owner and our hotel clerk. So we ended up on another amazing adventure...stay posted!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thik hai!!

Well Penny and I finally arrived in the mighty desertland of the Rajasthan after an epic 29 hourtrain ride from the Ganges city of Benaras. The train was 5.5 hrs delayed from Lucknow. Penny and I awoke at 2am to find ourselves completely surrounded in our bunker by Indianmen, and thus hid up on our top bunks in our "prison cell" for a good part of the morning until most men got off. We did meet a lovely gentleman who let me use his laptop, got us some food at a deserted station, andinvitedus to come round to his home for dinner. I also made friends with a lovely indian family who gifted bothPenny and I with beautiful clay bangles, and I got my hand hennaed. We also had nonstop entertainment from a very naughty but utterly adorable little boy who worked everyone over in the carriage. Quite entertaining and refreshing indeed. We arrived in the mighty blue city of Jodhpur at 10 pm and foundour way flawlesslyto our guesthouse- Yogi's. The guesthouse was levels painted in Krishna blue and had a gorgeously decorated interior with loads of Rajasthani antiques, paintings, andrelics. The staff were mostly friendly. but a bit too much so! The rooftop restaurant had an exquisite closeup view of the Meherangharh fort that towers over the city in silent domination. Reallyincredible. We went out shoppingin the main market thenext day and did some serious retail damage. I ended up also buying a second hand sari for $6 and we suffered a massive attack from the bangle selling women who were hawking their finest wares on us. We definitely got a bit ripped off, but at $2 for 10 that really being ripped off?? It is really hot here in the day time, so we decided to have a lassi and people watch. The Rajasthani people are so incredible to observe. The men have a royal presence and sport huge handlebar moustaches with multicoloured turbans. The women though are simply beautiful. Tiny but strong, loving but fierce, cultivated but still wild. They wear ankle length veils that hide their flashing eyes and sport bangles in silver, white, and red up to their shoulders. The women are decorated with jewelled headpieces that sit ontop of their foreheads, and wear huge nosepieces that link chains to their ears. Their feets are richly coloured with remnants of henna, and thier footsteps sing with the tinkle of bells. Absolutely gorgeous..Penny and I felt quite drab and plain next to these wild roses.
On Tuesday we headed up the slopinghill to the mighty palace and lost ourselves in the sands of time. The passage up into the fort had traditional desert musicians tucked into nooks and crannies. The haunting melodies greeted us as we proceeded closer, and we felt the urge to dance to the winding nay and thumping drum. We passed into the fortress through massive doors that held sharp spikes (for elephants) and paid hommage to the satvi markings on the wall. The fort was one of the most elaborate places I have ever rivals Topkapi Palace in Istanbul! The courtyards are cool expanses with white marble floors and cutout doors, the inner rooms (Palace of the Flowers, The Pearl Palace, The Hallway of Mirrors) were perfect examples of Indian excess but done tastefully...lit up by delicate cutglass and elaborate murals painted in gold. My mouth dropped when I hit the Flower room, and stood transfixed as I pictured meetings held there long ago, entertained with dancing girls and musicians. Incredible. The view from the top gave a 360 degree view of the blue city and the city palace gave a Taj Mahal impression through the haze.
Penny and I awoke this morning and decided to head off to Jaisalmer as we are running out of time here and have so much to see. We got on a bus and had a very relaxing albeit a bit cramped ride. We sailed through villages and fought goats and camels on the road, the driver using his singing horn to tell everyone in the next 35 km that we were on our way!! We were the only white people on the bus so it was quite a nice feeling. We ordered fresh pakoras through our window whenever the bus stopped, and drank deliciously spiced chai. Upon arrival though in Jaisalmer we were absolutely accosted by a sting of young men who were all fighting for us to go to their hotel. Some of the village women came out to observe the noise and even a long haired goat came trotting down the lane to have a look! Penny and I got very angry with the heavy hassling and ended up going with a quiet man who was hanging around the back. The hassling was the worst I have ever experienced, and I know that it is only because the people here are very desperate for money. But it was too much to deal with especially after a peaceful journey, and I couldn't help but lose my temper. The Indians here in the north have an fast, aggressive, and persuasive way of speaking ...perhaps to distract you from thinking for yourself and losing the ability mull over your different choices. It has tested my patience in the few days I have been here...and Iknow that they act like this out of sheer desperation. This the major difference thatI have seen between the south and northof the south things are very shanti and thepeople are extremely relaxed. Here in the north everything is done at a frenzied pace, whether it be greeting someone, buying some food, or trying to find something. Exhausting. Jaisalmer is the last city before the Pakistani border so there is a huge military presence here whichI find completely unnerving. The town itself is a rugged desert town, and Peny and I feellike we are actually somewhere else...perhaps in Pakistan or even out in a Middle Eastern town. The houses are square structures builtout of brick, and everything is squat and barren. We went on a chocolate mission and ended up feeling that we were actually in a Clint Eastwood movie! Hopefully the fort and the temples here will gain our respect for this town.
Wehave organized a 2 day camel ride into the Thar desert leaving tomorrow. I am excited to sleep under the stars, meet some gypsy dancers, and have the space to think. I have to say that I feel finally feel completely at home here in the Rajasthan, and the North of India is truly where it is at for me. From the gentle limp of camels in the fields, to the dreadlocked children playing in sand piles, the multicolouredflashes of sari clad women carrying bricks on their heads, burned eggplant roasting over a cowpatty fire and the hairy smiles of Rajasthani men this is India. Truly. Forever. Enveloped. In. Magic. And. Mystery.
Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Onward bound...heading west

February 15 – Onward Bound

Penny and I managed to finally drop our KashiVashi status and leave Varanasi. I was definitely ready to go as I was starting to feel that I was just spinning my wheels over the last few days. We all were sick with various ailments, and had spent many hours just relaxing in our hotel room. We had a lovely last evening in Varanasi 2 nights ago. Penny and I were lunching on our old hotel terrace watching the city and the Ganga when we heard vibrant Indian Music below us. Upon inspection we found that there was an impromptu concert happening on one of the Ghats and that there were also some cheeky men dancing. We high-tailed it downstairs after eating, and enjoyed the bhang-ed up performance. It was a beautiful sight set against the lapping waters of the Ganga with the sun beginning to set and turning that water a dusky rose colour. An ailing Martin managed to join Penny and I at the Ganga where we got accosted by cheeky jhotis (little girls) selling banana leaf boats that contained a crude diya (a candle like item) set upon roses and marigolds that would be laid on the Ganga at the evening Aarti. I found myself with piles of these in my lap as once I bought 1 from one jhoti another one would come forward with pleading eyes and sassy demeanor “Why madame you like this? You are my first customer of the day! Please madame!” So I ended up buying 3 and Penny got 4 (and a package of free matches). We set them alight with a wish and a prayer and watched them float up the river. Martin secured a last boat trip for us that reflected our first night in Benaras. I felt really sad about leaving but ready for a new adventure. Being in the holy city of Benaras has affected me in many ways, and opened my eyes to Indian culture in every aspect. I have so many vibrant memories from spending so much time there. In the end I was able to find a sense of calm and escape the frenetic dark energy of the city. I witnessed every state of human life in Benaras; from the heavily kajal eyed babies squirming in their mothers arms; being hustled by elementary school aged children; watching heavily decorated demure brides greet their husbands for the first time upon the banks of the Ganges; watching the wedding procession of nay- like flutes and tabla drums march the couple down Dasaswamedh Ghat Road followed by men wearing chandeliers and fluorescent lights on their heads; desperate lepers reaching out for baksheesh with cracked hands and melted fingers; elderly orange robed sadhus spending their days meditating on the ghats; to the final procession of life marching down the stairs of Manikarnika to be bathed in the holy waters of Ganga before being laid on a burning pyre that will fast track their journey to Nirvana.
Penny and I were planning on going straight to Agra and from there working our way around the Rajasthan but once we realized that the train we were booked on was going to Jodhpur, we decided to make the long journey and start this next leg of our trip in the West. We boarded our train at 5:20 pm on Saturday, and then sat at the station till half 6. Our journey to Jodhpur will take us about 24 hours as the train has been quite late along the way.
The change in scenery has been amazing to watch. The arid desert landscape started to appear after going through Agra. The railways stations are full of men in multicoloured turbans, beautiful women with large nose rings and veils over their faces, and impish children running up the carriage to have a look at the strange white woman observing the scene. Sadly Penny and I were not prepared for our journey- our last day in Benaras was filled of last minute things and a last look at the Ganges and Mahikarnika- so all we had in ways of provisions were 1 bottle of water and a package of biscuits each. I have been unwell for the last few days and have not been eating much, if at all, so I wasn’t really worried about getting hungry. I also thought that there would be an ample supply of food available on the train that we could buy when needed. We ate some veggie cutlets, and luckily ordered a veg thali at the last minute which was a saving grace as there was no other food available!! Today has been a long journey, mainly spent eating the nibbles we purchased in the morning and lying about on our top bunks. The food service stopped after breakfast as did the water service and unluckily for me I started to get hungry. So to date for today I have eaten nothing but endless biscuits, a hard candy, ½ a package of crisps with Penny, 2 cups of chai, and some apples which a nice man in our carriage gave to us of which I quickly devoured 3. We are going to get to Jodhpur sometime after 7pm…2 hours past schedule and more than 24 hours on the train. We are booked to stay at the foot of the fort in Jodhpur at a rest house called Yogi’s Rest House, which sounds nice. The owner is very friendly and is quite worried about us getting ripped off by the rickshaw men. Penny and I are going to have to be very tough and firm here in Rajasthan. We had Martin taking excellent care of us in Benaras so both us of got quite comfortable, but now that we are 2 ladies on our own we are going to have to be a bit thicker skinned for now.

Hope you are all well, and I’ll write more when I arrive in the majestic Blue City.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Day 9 in Varanasi...

There is a term here in Varanasi for sadhus who choose as part of their penance to stay in Varanasi till the end of their days. The term is "Kashivashi" and I believe that I have become one!! I am quite "stuck" at the moment here and don't really know when I plan to leave! I have gotten into the city and the hecticness of the city before has slowly ebbed away into a faint memory. Yes it still is as hectic as before but I understand how the city operates and have gotten to know many people here thanks to Martin. Penelope and I spend much time eating, drinking chai, and wandering the markets before retiring to bed for a lazy afternoon nap. I've gotten used to this slow day and have become much more relaxed as a result. We attempted a yoga class on Sunday morning which was a complete gong show...the woman who obviously had many years experience started us us with intense side balancing postures, a 8 minute sun salutation that included possibly every ashtanga asana (and expected us to memorize it after one trial...madness!!), and a really wierd 1 minute meditation where we joined the other class and laughed as hard as we could. The man leading it had horrible teeth that were all rotten and sticking out everywhere so that made me and P laugh more than anything. Wierd.

The night before, we got all dressed up and went to see a concert at the International Music Ashram. About 2 minutes in Martin starting laughing hysterically which then set me and Penny off. We spent 45 minutes in absolute hysterics shaking and sweating with uncontrollable laughter, and had to leave the second the intermission started. Ahh good times!!

Martin arranged for us to go to the Muslim quarter on Sunday to go visit a local family and see how silk saris are made. It was really humbling to see how hard they work to create these silk saris which are all done on hand looms. It takes 2 days to create, and then the sari is passed onto the women who then embroider intricate designs. This often takes 5 days, and then the sari is packaged off and sold to the market. Penny and I even got an opportunity to handstich some sequins onto the sari! We got treated like royalty at the house with a non-stop flow of deliciously sweetened chai, gooey balls of gulab jaman, biscuits, and little onlookers coming by to shyly have a peek at us white girls. It was a real experience, and I am so thankful to Martin for setting up this visit. Him and Penny each bought a sari, but I didn't as I had already bought one from Prem's shop. I still have to find an occasion to wear that new one plus all the others ones I have!!

I'm slwoly thinking about moving on by the end of the week to Agra. I only have 1 month left here and I have to hit a majority of the Rajastan so I need to start planning...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

days drifting away...

I'm on my 5th day here already!! In Benares and I'm having a blast. After having the initial blast of chaos for the first 2 days, we have settled into a fairly mellow routine of drink cup after cup of sweet chai (my dentist will be a millionaire when I get home sadly methinks...), sitting in Martin's friend Prem's amazing shop and having men pile scarf after silk sari after salwez kamis on me, and then having a delicious leisure snack somewhere then meandering down the Ghats to take in the action. Then having it all begin a few hours later. Jordi and his mother Gilly left on the 3rd, so it has been Martin, Penelope, and myself. Penelope has been feeling unwell so we've been taking it easy which has also been good for me. Her and I have done some serious damage though at Prem's shop, so I'm gonna have to ship it all home before I leave Varanasi. The whole gang spent the day at Sarnath on Monday which was the first place Buddha gave his sermon. Needless to say it was a very spiritual and holy place. We first visited an archeological museum and then hit the ruins. We also walked around the massive stupa (which used to house a bone of Buddha) 5X with a few Tibetan pilgrims....they walked around it 108 times and they were no spring chickens! That evening at the Mahikarnika Ghat we all sat with a sadhu at the adjoining temple who is on a starvation fast of going on 204 days now as a protest to clean up the Ganges. He is a very peaceful man with a wise face and gentle spirit, I hope that his wish is fulfilled in this lifetime.
Yesterday Martin and I walked for over 6 hours on a circular tour of Varanasi...we walked to the end of the city through villages over a wobbly bridge to the fort, then walked back along the silty shores of the Ganges to the other bridge across town. It was a really cool walk, I got a really good glimpse of the life here in Varanasi...including a disclaimer from Martin warning me that the last time he walked the silty shores he saw dogs ripping apart a body prepare myself. We didn't see anything too horrible aside from a cow skeleton in the water, and even found a little clay Ganesh sculpture.
Martin is taking excellent care of me and Penny so I feel really blessed. This is a full on city, and I wouldfeel really lost without him. We have eaten like royalty, and met really interesting people. We visited the Hanuman temple on Monday which was a realy treat. Penelope and I took a cycle rickshaw to the temple where we were helped by the ever-learned Martin on the procedure to how to worship at the temple. It was a very powerful experience, and we all felt quite calm afterwards.
I think we are going to hear some live Indian music tonight...Penny and I are itching to hear some music. We've been playing Arabic music non-stop in our room and it's time for us to get out and have a proper listen.
namaste xoxoxox

Sunday, February 1, 2009

City of Lights

I arrived this morning from Dehli into Benaras (Varanasi) and all I can say is wow. I'm quite speechless at the moment in this holy city. Bit of history about Benaras (thanks to Wikipedia): holy by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, and is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world (5000 years of inhabitants). The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river's religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in the north of India for several thousand years. 

Upon arrival in Varanasi, I was greeted at the airport by a man from my hotel who was  a kind looking grandfatherly type gentleman. I thought for sure that he would take his sweet time getting me into the thick of Varanasi safe and sound. Well appearances are dubious things and this "grandfatherly" type man was probably the most dangerous and risktaking drivers that I have had to date. Welcome to Varanasi Ashley!! Noteable images from coming to the city: single lane traffic in both directions becoming 4 lanes of traffic for donkeys pulling carts, loads of tandem riders on bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, tractors, cows galore, other cars, half semi's loaded high with thousands of pounds of potatoes; children defecating on the side of road; gorgeous dark skinned women in technicolour saris; roadside chai and pan wallahs serving up their delectable offerings; fruit sellers spreading out their wares on torn blankets; cows munching on piles of garbage; dogs fighting everywhere; goats jumping around; leprosy sufferers begging for handouts; men and children burning garbage on the roadside and the big sign welcoming me to the Holy City of Varanasi. Indeed.
I feel like I have stepped into Alice in Wonderland. This world is incredibly different from the south in EVERYWAY possible. I am surrounded by thousands and thousands of people who have come here to die and by those who dedicate much of their lives to existing in this chaos. I am in an orange technicolour world stunned with boats and beggars and scented with smoke from the ongoing buring pyres- reducing human flesh to ash. It is totally mindblowing and beautiful...I love it.
I checked into my hotel which has a beautiful terrace over looking the Holy Ganges river, and is a hop, skip, and a jump away from both the main ghat (Dasaswamedh Ghat) and the burning ghat (Manikarnika Ghat). I managed to meet up with Martin and Penelope (a wonderful friend of his) admist the chaos and we then met up with his friend Jordi and Jordi's fabulous and fiesty 71 yr old mother Gilly. We sat and had a chai at the main ghat and took in the scenery laid out in front of us. Today is a day dedicated to the Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Learning and of Music) so there were many little celebrations happening around us: young pre and pubescent boys busting a move to Hindi infused techno, groups of drum laded youths dancing in the streets, women chanting and carrying a Saraswati statue. Penelope and I were completely in awe and couldn't stop our heads from spinning around. The first stop we went to was the burning ghat.
Bit of history: Manikarnika Ghat is the main cremation Ghat of Varanasi. Manikarnika Ghat is one of the oldest and most sacred Ghats in Benaras. According to the Hindu mythology, being burned here provides an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and rebirths. Lying at the center of the five tirthas, Manikarnika Ghat symbolizes both creation and destruction. At Manikarnika Ghat, the mortal remains are consigned to flames with the prayers that the souls rest in eternal peace. There is a sacred well at the Manikarnika Ghat, called the Manikarnika Kund. Manikarnika Kund is said to be dug by Lord Vishnu at the time of creation while the hot ashes of the burnt bodies makes one remember the inevitable destruction of everything in the world. OK what was it like? It was surprisingly peaceful and beautiful. The pyres are going all day and all night 365 days a year. I have no idea how many bodies are burned there but in the 45 minutes we were there 9 bodies were brought in and placed onto a pile of wood after being dipped in the Ganges. The bodies are carried in on elaborately decorated stretchers covered in shiny tinsely blankets. The bodies are wrapped underneath in white cloth. The body is laid to rest on the bank of the Ganges where holy water from the river is poured over top, or else the body is totally immersed in the river. The bearers bring the body up to laid wood piles and the body is then placed ontop. More wood is piled up ontop of the body before being set alight. Some bodies are burned in huge piles of wood, others just a wee bit. Apparently the more money you have the more wood you get. People often ask for donations that go towards the families' cost of the cremation. Men mill about (no women are present except tourists) and you can tell who the mourners are as they have completely shaved heads and are wearing a white lungi style skirt. Old men tended to the fires, and many more brought down seemingly impossible loads of chopped wood upon their backs.  
  I have to say that the atmosphere was really calm and peaceful. The thing that touched me the most was the fact that this ghat was quite crowded and everyone was honouring those who were laid to rest upon the fire. Death and cremation is a tangible part of the life here.  For us in the west we fear and almost deny death- it is not openly discussed as it makes us all uncomfortable.  Death in our culture is almost ignored regardless of the fact that this will is the fate of us all.   
  After this, Martin and Jordie took us to something that I have not experienced too much of yet here in India...SHOPPING!! We were taken to Martin's friends Premu's shop where we had delicious chai in rough clay cups (later to be smashed on the dirtroad) and marvelled at the rainbow and textures of thousands of pashmina and silk shawls. Us three women made quite a pile for ourselves (we get to sleep on our decisions and go back to decide tomorrow!). Penelope and I are itching to shop...I have finally found the shopping mecca that I was missing entirely in the South! We then wandered through maze like backstreets- watching the ground constantly for cow dung and upturned stones. Martin and Jordi know this town like the back of their hand thankfully and took us to see many hidden gems in the tiny cavernous streets. Martin and Jordi then took us on a magnificent sunset boatride up and down the Ganges where we watched people bathe, children fly kites, listened to temple bells and chants and admired 13th century palaces and buildings. At sunset the boat rowed us over the the Main Ghat where 2 massive Aarati (Prayers of Light) Pujas for the Ganga goddess were being held. Boats were lined up straight to the shore and tiny chai and candlewallahs jumped from boat to boat peddling their wares. The candles were lit, wished or prayed upon, and then set to float in the water. The Aarati was a massive affair- thousands of people suurounded the stages which had men doing symbolic gestures in all 4 directions with incense, massive candelabras and open flames. It was stunningly beautiful and I was deeply touched by the displayed reverence.  After the Aarati we walked around the burning ghat a bit more before going to eat a delicious meal at a little hole in the wall (Hotel New Moon Star)  on the main street. The main street was in complete chaos due to the Saraswati festival, and it was hard to move in the heaving and excited crowd. After our yummy and ridiculously cheap meal Martin and Penelope walked me back to my hotel. The dance party that was happening earlier had now moved in doors and as we walked past many teenage boys were doing their best dance moves to disco. It was quite funny and I loved how excited they were.
Tomorrow we are going to Sarnath to see the Buddhist Stupa there. It should be a lovely little jaunt outta town.
more tomorrow...xoxoxox