Nov 082017
 

We spent the day and night at the Sri Aurobindo. It is an Ashram that was begun in Pondicherry with the Delhi campus built in the 1950s.

Sri Aroboundo Ashram Temple

Sri Aurobindo Ashram Temple

The ashram was our host for an all day chanting ceremony and a Dharma talk. We also ate our meals there and spent the night.

Wikipedia description: “The ashram grew out of a small community of disciples who had gathered around Sri Aurobindo after he retired from politics and settled in Pondicherry in 1910. In 1926, after a major spiritual realization, Sri Aurobindo withdrew from public view in order to continue his spiritual work. At this time he handed over the full responsibility for the inner and outer lives of the sadhaks (spiritual aspirants) and the ashram to his spiritual collaborator, “the Mother”, earlier known as Mirra Alfassa. This date is therefore generally known as the founding-day of the ashram, though, as Sri Aurobindo himself wrote, it had “less been created than grown around him as its center.”

The day ended with a stunning candlelight procession

The day ended with a stunning candlelight procession

Just on of the many educational buildings at GBU

Just on of the many educational buildings at GBU

Our next stop was Gautaum Buddha University for a conference, then chanting at the end of the conference.

GBU is a Research University established by Dr Rajesh Mishra located in Greater Noida, in Uttar Pradesh about one hour outside of Dehlhi. It is a state government University and opened in 2008. The campus has over 511 acres and offers Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees in Engineering, Business Administration, Computer Applications, Biotechnology and Buddhist Studies and is mainly focused on research.

Chanting in the temple at GBU

Chanting in the temple at GBU

We were here as part of a special all day seminar on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

We were joined by Chinese monks that use gongs and small drums in their chanting

We were joined by Chinese monks that use gongs and small drums in their chanting

The nuns at the chanting ceremonies don't get enough attention in my opinion. It is a very male dominated situation.

The nuns at the chanting ceremonies don’t get enough attention in my opinion. It is a very male dominated situation.

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I have found that at all the ceremonies the nuns are quick and generous with their smiles

So just as I am getting adjusted to Monks with cell phones and iPads, I see this coming down the street.

So just as I am getting adjusted to Monks with cell phones and iPads, I see this coming down the street at GBU

This lady was very special to me. She sought me out and explained that she had been a child, and her father a doctor, in Burma during WWII. She had fond memories of the Burmese and hoped I would introduce her to a Burmese monk. I did and they loved her as much as she was thrilled at speaking with her and we all listened as her Burmese came back, it was a very special moment

This lady was very special to me. She sought me out at Sri Aurobindo and explained that she had been a child, and her father a doctor, in Burma during WWII. She had fond memories of the Burmese and hoped I would introduce her to a Burmese monk. I did and they loved her as much as she was thrilled at speaking with her and we all listened as her Burmese came back, it was a very special moment.

 

Feb 262015
 

New Delhi

The Taj, Delhi India

A reminder of once again how brutal the flight is from California to New Delhi with an arrival at midnight, but a few hours sleep and a good cup of coffee and the day begins…

Rickshaw Drive in New Delhi

I think it should be de requeur to spend the first day in Delhi with a rickshaw ride in old Delhi.  The noise the insanity, the crowds and the color, all an introduction to what is to come.

rickshaw ride in Old Delhi

It is day one of my trip and on my own, so a short jaunt out to get acclimated before joining the tour group tomorrow,  550 rupees an hour for a rickshaw and a walk through the market.  I would have enjoyed a little bit more, but it was obvious that the rickshaw driver I hired really didn’t want to take the time to take me around if I wasn’t spending money is his “brothers” shops.  So alas, the streets were too crowded after the first stop.  It was okay, an hour and a half is more than enough to get the flavor and time to head back to the hotel.

Flower seller in Delhi

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Old Delhi

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Old Delhi

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A stop in the spice shop

A stop in the spice shop

DSC_8153I also made a stop at the Mahatma Ghandi Garden or Raj Ghat. This was always an historic ghat on the Yamuna river. Raj Ghat loosely translates to King’s Bank (where King alludes to the importance of the place and Bank, because it sits on the river Yamuna).

The memorial consists of a black marble platform and an eternal flame marking the spot of Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation, on January 31st, 1948, one day after his assassination.Mahatma Ghandi grave India

The words inscribed on the marble read “Hey Ram”, reportedly to be his last words. In the First Information Report (FIR) filed with the police, the last words uttered by Mahatma Gandhi are reported as ‘Ram… Ram!’ (Oh! God).

The flowers are changed daily, and you must remove your shoes in order to enter the lower section of the memorial.

It is a lovely and very peaceful spot, despite the many, many school children encountered today.

Beer in India

Today is the day they count the votes for an election in New Delhi, so why the photo of beer?

Republic Day,  Gandhi’s birthday, as well as a host of other days, including 48 hours before an election, as well as, the day that the votes are counted, are all dry days in India.

The Indian government has never been particularly favorable on the subject of alcohol, most likely due to Gandhi’s objection to it. In 1937, when the Indian National Congress came to power, they instituted prohibition. In 1939, the British abolished prohibition. When India gained independence in 1947, prohibition was encouraged but it was left to the discretion of individual states.

This is not a religious issue as Hinduism allows alcohol, while, of course, Islam and Sikhism do not.

While you can read about the problem of alcohol in India it appears that banning it outright doesn’t work and it has led to a real problem of illegal brews that often blind or kill the imbibers.

Apparently days before these holidays, handwritten signs will go up outside off-licences across the country warning patrons that they have fewer than 24 hours in which to stock up but that can easily be circumvented I hear with a wink and a tip to a cab driver for non-locals.

new delhi

The weather was a perfect 72 degrees F, but the smog, as always, leaves me with a headache, at least until I get used to the terrible air, and I am sneezing like crazy.

I am staying at the Taj Hotel, while lovely, I do not believe it to be as nice as the Oberoi.

Until tomorrow – Namaste.

One of several porcelain panels on the wall in the lobby

One of several porcelain panels on the wall in the lobby

Feb 252015
 

Delhi
February 2015

Pepper preparer Delhi IndiaIt was a long day today, packed with many places, all of which I have seen before.  We started at the Indian Gate, and you can see pictures of the gate here.  

Built in memory to the of the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died during World War I,  and those that died in the Second Anglo-Afghan War the Gate also serves as India’s memorial of the unknown soldier. The gate was designed by Edwin Lutyens as the final point of the Rajpath or Kings Way.

Chhatri (canopy) near the India Gate once held statues of the British Royalty

Chhatri (canopy) near the India Gate once held statues of the British Royalty

Jama Masjid

Our next stop was the Jama Masjid Mosque which I have described here from my last visit.  Above is a photo of the arches from one of the side walkways.  This mosque is considered the ultimate example of Indo-Islamic Architecture, and these arches are an excellent example of how Muslim architects changed the simple round Roman arch to a scalloped arch leaving their signature on the architecture.

Dec 172013
 

November/December 2013

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There are many books out there about India.  These are ones I highly recommend if you are planning traveling in the area.  These are not travel books, those are a dime a dozen, these books are about the history, the economy and the culture.
 

Maximum City by Suketu Mehta
City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann
India by Shashi Tharoor
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
M.S. Oberoi by Bachi J. Karkaria


Namaste
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Getting to India from California is brutal.  We went west so you have an eleven and ½  hour plane to Tokyo, a two hour layover and then a ten and ½ hour flight to Delhi.  It is the same difference going east, but with the winter storms we were grateful we had chosen the path we did.
 
We arrived at midnight, not really even quite sure what day it was, since you cross the International Date Line along the way.  The trip is about 45 minutes from the airport to our hotel, and I will admit I have absolutely no idea what time we finally got to bed.
 
The interesting thing is you would have thought we could breeze into town, but the roadways were as crowded at two in the morning as mid day.  The reason for this is that large trucks are not allowed into Delhi during the day so all the things that they would haul into a town of 16 million people is done during the night.

(16 Million is the official number of residents, the unofficial number is closer to 20 million).
 
We don’t join our tour group until Sunday, so we have today and tomorrow on our own.  I wanted to see Old Delhi, so off we went.  We hired a driver that took us to the edge of Old Delhi, then we hired a bicycle rickshaw to take us into town.  No cars are allowed in that section of town, called Shajahanabad. 
 
Shajahanabad was Delhi’s seventh city.  It was built between 1638 and 1649 by Shah Jaban. There were seven cities of Delhi.  Each was a fort erected by a powerful Sultan, and these cities were comprised of the settlements that grew around these forts.
 
The streets are narrow, and I was glad you couldn’t get a cab in.  It was nerve racking enough being in a rickshaw, with all the motorcycles, tuk-tuks and other rickshaws, both motor and bicycle.
A side note here; Traffic in India is as frightening as you read.  The lines on the roads I swear, are only painted there for the sake of giving line painters a job.  However, there is order.  Working vehicles have the right of way, and the larger the vehicle, the higher they are on the totem pole.  That being said, going down the street the wrong way is common, playing chicken at intersections is de rigueur and incessant honking is mandatory.  The drivers are the most nimble of people, the dodging and weaving is done with the skill of a fine dancer but that doesn’t mean my heart wasn’t in my throat and believe me, I closed my eyes several times.
 
So, back to Old Delhi.  We first visited Jami Masjid, India’s largest mosque. Built in 1656 it can accommodate up to 20,000 worshipers.
The mosque is made of red sandstone and white marble, making for a gorgeous structure.  The Red Fort, also made of this red sandstone was another stop today.  It is HUGE, with an impressive history, but what probably is most interesting is this is where the Peacock Throne (embedded with priceless stones) and the Koh-i-Nor both were from until they were looted in 1739.
We also visited a small area of the spice market.  I think both Mom and I would have liked to have spent considerable more time, our Rickshaw driver didn’t quite seem to understand.  I have a feeling that adventurous tourists are not that common, our driver really was completely confused when we wanted off the bike to explore. Our desire for wandering on your own would have been difficult, getting lost would be quite simple as the  streets are so crowded and there is no such thing as a street sign.  We even mentioned we might need to tie a string between us so we didn’t get lost from each other, that is how crowded it is.
 
In the market area we saw several Brahma bulls pulling carts, as well as, a shrouded corpse being taken for burial.  The shroud was covered in flowers and dusted with a pink powder, sadly they were going right as we were going left, and I had no time for a photo.
It is impossible to explain the overwhelming sea of humanity.  It is wall to wall people darting around animals, goods, carts, and general detritus that comes from a market that serves millions.  There literally was never a time when something wasn’t flashing in front of us, be it human, vehicle or a large stack of goods. I got some superb photos, but I do not know how, it seemed to me that every time I raised my camera something or someone stepped in front of it.  Having looked at my photos, you still don’t get the sense of what I am trying to convey.  I think that it needs the sound of constant blaring horns honking, the yelling of vendors and the sound of wall to wall muffler-less vehicles to give you even an inkling of the insanity.
Delhi is huge and sprawling.  There is no continuity to it at all, it is as if people just move in and occupy what is available.  I have read that since the great partition in 1947 the people have no sense of their history.  This feels very true.  In Old Delhi, the beautiful older buildings house shops that feel as though someone opened the front door and as many shopkeepers that could crowded into the space.  I saw goods stacked in every space available, inside of what were most likely fabulous mansions in their day.  Many buildings are falling down, and yet occupied at the same time. It is difficult to figure out where yesterday left off and today started, as everything is a mish mash, built catch as catch can with no thought to what the original intent was nor thought to what might be needed in the space tomorrow.
Dec 162013
 

This morning we once again hired a driver to take us around some sights.  We started with the India Gate, which, like all triumphal gates and arches is a memorial to the fallen of war.  The interesting thing was the men sitting under the gate making a flower mandala (about 50 X 50 feet), and the many, many children that had come on field trips.

This is a good point to make an observation from our arrival.  When we first started driving into Delhi I felt as though I was back in Saudi, the trees are plentiful but brown with dust and the bushes are scruffy and look to be struggling to survive.  The rains will come later this month and in January (not the monsoons, just the regular rains) and will wash away the dust, but for now it is a bit sad looking.  However, we have beautiful weather, with nice gentle breezes and cool evenings.

 

With the India Gate at our backs we drove up a gentle long slope flanked with a continuous length of grass to the Presidents Palace. The Palace originally the Rashtrapati Bhavan was designed by famed British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens as the British Viceroy’s Palace. You are unable to go onto the grounds, but you can go right up to the ornate gate designed by Lutyens.

 
I studied Lutyens in school and many of you may know the name by the famous benches he designed.  What we did not study was how much work he did in India.  He designed cottages throughout a section of Delhi in what is called Lutyens Delhi.  Lutyens was responsible for much of the civic and residential design of India when it was under British Rule during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Our driver was Sikh and we are pretty sure he wanted to pray, so he asked if we were interested in seeing the gurudwara (place of worship).  It was amazing.  He encouraged me to take photographs and the place was very welcoming.  

There was a giant pool with catfish and koi, I asked what the pool was for and he said if you had worries you came and washed your self of them.  We didn’t see anyone in the pool, but it was four times the size of an Olympic pool, and surrounded by an inlaid marble floor and a large colonnade. 

They also had a commercial kitchen with volunteers making food in some of the largest pots you can imagine.  They feed anyone that comes to the door.  Again, he encouraged me to take pictures, it was really an interesting experience.
 

Our next stop was going to be the Lotus Temple.  It is a Baha’i House of Worship designed by Persian architect Fariburz Sahba.  It is a giant unfurling 27-petaled white marble lotus.  It sits on 94 acres and is meant to be a place of reflection.  The Baha’i of Persia believe that all of humanity is one race.

While we did drive by it, the amount of people that were there made even me say, no thanks.  There were thousands upon thousands of people waiting to get in.  I do not know if it was a special day, or simply the way it always is, but there were hundreds and hundreds of school buses and tourist buses all around the 94 acres, so we decided it was going to have to be for another time.

We called it a day around 3:30.  While, that seems pretty darn early for me, it is exhausting being out and about in Delhi.  The constant traffic, the overwhelming noises just drain you.  It was nice to come back to the soothing calm and beauty of our hotel, which has large grounds and utter peace.

 
Dec 152013
 

Today we joined our tour group. We toured two sites today and had a lecture on the religion/history/architecture of India.  A nice overview, and a start to trying to understand 3000 years of intermixing of races, religion and customs all in one country.

 Humayun’s Tomb
National Museum of India
It is election time in the state of Delhi, so there was a note in our room that they, by law, must stop serving alcohol 2 days before the election.  Fortunately, that will not impact our welcome cocktail party tonight.
 

All over town for the last few days we have experienced the marches and bullhorns of the election.  I doubt that politics in Delhi are any more exciting to the general public than they are at home.  They have about a 50% vote rate in the cities but it drops to as little as 20% in the countryside.  They say that people are fed up, but that they expect better turn out because the candidates are promising a clean sweep…..yeah right. 

Today was Sunday, the mornings were very quiet as families tend to stay close to home, but as the day wears on they set out for family outings.  By the time we hit our last destination the place was packed.  Mom and I were approached by many Indian women asking us to join in their photographs.  We have absolutely no idea why.  They were sweet, friendly, and dressed so beautifully in their sari’s we really could not figure out why they wanted two old American women in their shots, but we happily obliged.

Today was a day where you could just sit and watch the parade of fashion.  The saris and their varying colors and ornamentation are something to behold.  Indians tend to dress really very nicely if they can afford to do so, and Sunday is the day to dress up and show off, so it was really a great day to people watch.  
 
I have not entirely figured out what each different outfit means.  Mostly, they are regional, but I haven’t developed an eye enough to completely understand.  
The males that wear the turbans in Delhi are primarily Punjabi and usually Sikh, the colors of their turbans are significant, but again, I haven’t completely got that one straight.  However, there are also turbans worn by other religions in other parts of India, they are simply tied differently.  The male muslims wear a small Topi, or woven hat.  I have only seen one man in what americans consider traditional Indian dress, the dhoti-kurta, most men are in jeans or suits.
 
The women, as I mentioned, wear sari’s, and they are really gorgeous, but they also wear what is called the Salwar-kameez or baggy pajama pants with a loose tunic.  These are worn by women in Punjab primarily, but apparently has been adopted by most Indian women of today.