A New Theme. A New Page

Actually, I have two themes, and two projects that I would like to talk about, but for now, I shall talk about one. During the course of my wanderings along the planet earth’s many highways and seaways, I have been to many touristy locations. In most of these locations, the sites are kept clean and they look really very good.

In many, we are faced with the sight of tourist wrappers lying across the ground, monuments defaced with cheap love messages, and on occasion, animals eating from the wrappers we carelessly leave behind.

I tend to take photographs of this callous indifference, and while they may not be classic photographs, they do, I hope, tell a story.

As a race, we think we rule the planet, and that we control nature. While I disagree with this belief, I also think that there is no need for us to abuse nature.

So, the page is just a page with photos, and it would be nice if people would stop by once in a while to have a look at how we degrade our world.

Another Old, Old, Old trip. Varanasi

Sunrise. Varanasi

Sunrise. Varanasi

I have been to Varanasi, or Benares, or Kashi, as it used to be called. This is one of the most ancient and dirty cities in the world, and it is one of the most fascinating cities of the world as well. This is a city that pulsates with life, and has religion weaving it’s way into the very fabric of everyday life. This is the city, situated on the banks of the Ganga (the River Ganges), where if you are cremated when you die, you are freed of the endless cycle of life and rebirth. You are then one with the cosmos.

I have been to Benares many, many times.More times than I care to remember, in fact.  I went there when I was in the sales line, and had to ward of the traders who wanted to stuff me with paan. Apart from being a religious city it is a thriving center of trade and arts. Some of India’s most famous saris are traded here.

The Buddhists lay a bit of claim to it, as the Buddha made his first sermon there, in nearby Sarnath, after his enlightenment. Yet, it is the city of the Hindus, and in many ways, is the city of Shiva, or he who is also called Mahadev. The most famous temple is called the Kashi-Vishwanath Temple, and the Muslims arrogated a part of this temple, and this has been a source of political tension through the decades.

It was at the Kashi-Vishwanath Temple, after the evening prayers, or Aarti, that I decided that God is dead, and started down the path of agnosticism. The Aarti was the best that I have ever witnessed, and it is hypnotic. The grubby hand of the greedy priest who clutched my shirt and demanded his pound of flesh, with a capitalist frenzy in his eyes, cured me that God is indeed dead.

The city gets blistering hot in summer, and a hot wind called the “loo” blows through North India during the summer. I remember one afternoon, I drank five liters of water in less than an hour to avoid being dehydrated.

The Bathing Ghats

The Bathing Ghats

On this particular trip, I had gone down to the ghats before the sunrise, to watch the sun go up, and to watch the people bathe and pray. The pictures on this post were taken from the boat, in fact. You walk down the narrow gullies, and find your way at the river side. Our friendly boatman took us on his boat, and when I saw the sun come up, I said to myself, if there is indeed a God, then this God lives in the spirit of nature.

I really have no idea how I made it to the ghats that morning, as I did drink some bhaang the previous night. This is great stuff to have, and is a bit psychedelic. Not to be had in great quantities! The Americans mispronounce it as “Bang”!

The morning sun greets the ghats with life all along the river front. These Ghats are built with 18th and 19th pavilions, and each Ghat has it’s own lingam. The Lingam is the sexual member of the God Shiva, and this is depicted as enclosed in the Yoni, which is the vulva of his consort, Parvati. Together, they constitute the creative force of the universe. This is indeed a powerful symbol, and is one that was frowned upon when we were ruled by the British.

The best known Ghat is the Manikarnika Ghat, as it is the city’s pre-eminent cremation ground. The entire city, it seems, is known as the Mahashamshana, the cremation ground of the universe. The Ghat predates civilization, as per legend, as it symbolizes both creation and destruction. And, as I have mentioned, it is believed that, being cremated here, relieves you of the cycle of life and re-birth.

As I floated along the Ganga on my little boat, I did see the skull of a person once living, bobbing along besides me. A dog was paddling along the skull, biting at the remaining bits of flesh on the skull. Yep, along with the spiritual, you do get to see sights that can turn your stomach if it is not strong enough.

Drinking The "pure" water

Drinking The “pure” water

Drinking the water of the Ganga is said to wash away your sins, as what happens, when you bathe in the holy waters. Nowadays, I cannot really say that the waters are really pure. They are, after all, polluted by effluents upstream. Industrialists don’t really care. All they want, is a place to dump their garbage, and this is sad indeed.

Yet, it does not take away the faith of the people. Neither does it take away from the beauty of the sunrise.

Finally, it does not take away from the sheer breath of spirituality that pervades the city, and breathes through it’s living pores. This is an ancient city, yet one that renews itself every day.

 

The Old Road Trip. Last Stop. Towards Udaipur

En Route To Udaipur

En Route To Udaipur

Our last stop was Udaipur. Udaipur is in the south western part of Rajasthan. So, we were driving from Jaisalmer, in the North Western-ish area to the south-western area. This was – is – a distance of about 500 kilometers, and there was no way that we were going to do this in one drive. A 500 km drive in the West, in one day, is indeed possible but, in India, it is not that much fun, so we stopped over at Jodhpur for the night and then carried on.

I remember we left Jodhpur fairly late, and as we drove along the highway, the sun started to set, and we were privileged to see the sun going down over the highway. The film has been damaged and scratched in the years that I took the pictures, and I decided to upload the scratched photos, without Photoshopping the scratches away. Having said that, I think that I should upgrade to CS6 or the Creative Cloud. I wonder which is better. This sort of stuff gets more and more expensive. Whoever said that digital was all that cheap?

We also passed by some Jain Temples like the one below. Nice architecture, I must say.

Udaipur is one of the newer towns in Rajasthan. It is quite a modern and young town, in way. It was founded in 1553 AD by Maharaja Udai Singh II. That makes it only about 560 years old. Quite a young town, I must say! The Maharaja founded it while in exile in Kumbalgarh, and was looking for a more secure location. His clan was implacably opposed to the Mughals, and this site, with lakes nestled in the center of a hilly area afforded him some decent level of protection against the horse armies of the Mughals. Apparently, he was advised to take this location by a fakir. Notice the trend – towns named after the founders, and locations chosen on the advice of fakirs. There has to be some sort of a divine plan at work here.

If you notice also, all the towns were independent kingdoms, which made it relatively easy for an invader to take over the country. Do so one by one, was the strategy, and play up one against the other. It is only in 1857, that the first glimmer of a National Sentiment truly started to form,

Jain Temple

Jain Temple

Udaipur has been referred to as the “Venice Of The East”. Personally, I think that this comparison is complete rot. The cities are completely different, with completely different structures and histories. Whoever started this line of thinking really was stoned out of his or her mind.
Anyway, it is also considered to be a very romantic city, and I don’t think it is romantic at all. Maybe because this was the last stop, and maybe because the booze was beginning to get the better of us. We stayed at the Lake Palace Hotel, which is a stunning hotel visually. Right plumb in the center of the lake – the Lake Picchola. However, the hotel staff was, in my opinion, rude and offensive. There was a group of European visitors arriving and they were keen to have us check out right after breakfast, and tried to pressurize us to leave early. Now, while I do enjoy the presence of tourists in the country, I do not like the attitude of Indian hoteliers, who behave like completely servile idiots (except to Indian tourists, to whom they can be rude) waiting on their lords and masters.

But yeah, do visit the city when you are in Rajasthan. It is worth the stop over!

 

The Old Road Trip. Fourth Stop. Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer Fort

Jaisalmer Fort

We were at almost the last stop of our trip. Before  I go on, I must point out that I am editing this post on my faithful IPad, and I have no idea of how this is going to turn out, with respect to the formatting. Inshahallah, it shall not look too bad.

I have not been to Jaisalmer very often. Just once or twice, I think, and as we entered, I noticed that it has quite a different character, as compared to Jodhpur and Jaipur. In my personal assessment, there is something more mysterious, something more timeless about the town. Maybe, it has to do with the fact that it is on the edge of the desert, and the desert air lends some of its own magic to the town. I don’t know, but there it is. Maybe, it has to do with the fact that the castle / fort, which is in the centre of the town is still inhabited, and this gives it much more life than exists in the life of the forts at Jaipur and Jodhpur, which are more traditionally touristy. If you look carefully at the old picture above, you will notice the stains from the red washing flowing down the walls. I have no idea if the stains have been washed away since then, but here, I do think that the present day residents should respect their own history and refrain from staining the walls of the fort.

Jaisalmer Fort is old. It was founded in 1156 by the Maharaja, Maharwal Jaisal. Of course, it should not come as a big surprise to notice that the town has been named after him! He constructed the fort in Jaisalmer, after he moved his capital here from nearby Ludharva. This location, based on the alleged advice of an old seer called Eesal, was deemed to be safer than the old location. I don’t know how successful this was, as many invaders through the centuries did come in from the Western frontiers. Many people believe that, in later times (during the Mughal & British rules) the kings of Rajasthan preserved their wealth and kingdoms by allying with the rulers. In 1818, for instance, a treaty between the then king, Raja Moolraj II and the British guaranteed the king and his descendants the state of Jaisalmer, as long as they acted in subordination to the British, and supported them. In 1938, during the Afghan Wars, they lived up to their promise, by ensuring superb arrangements for the transportation of the British troops. So, there you have it.

Much of the economy and culture, is dominated, or influenced by the desert. When I visited the place on this trip, I bought a three legged stool made of camel hide. I also bought a wide-brimmed hat made of camel hide. I thought that I looked like some sort of an Indian version of Indiana Jones, when an extended look in the mirror convinced me that I looked like a frog hiding under a hat, and that was the end of the hat!

Cenotaph at Jaisalmer

Cenotaph at Jaisalmer

For me, the sense of timelessness in Jaisalmer was enhanced by the Chhatris, or the centotaphs at Bara Bagh, the Big Garden. These cenotaphs are dedicated to the old Maharajas. However, I was told that the cenotaphs, or some of them, are for those princes who died in battle. There, they stand, in the desert, a silent testimony to the lives and deaths of the kings who came before us. The kings of Jaisalmer claim a deep ancestry. They ruling clan of Jaisalmer belongs to the clan of Yadu Rajputs, of the Chandrawanshi race that claims descent from Lord Krishna, the avtaar of Vishnu, he who narrated the Bhagwat Geet at Kurukshetra.  The Yadu clan, it seems, built forts at Kashi, Mathura, Pragval, Ghajni, Bhatner, Digam, Dirwal, Lodurwa and Jaisalmer. This is deep and noble ancestry indeed. I did not know of all this when I stood at the chhatris. All that I was conscious of, was the desert wind blowing in the noon day sun, and I watched the desert sand blowing over these cenotaphs. At some point in the distant future, these cenotaphs may be eroded away, and then our future generations will lose touch with this bit of history.

Till then, the chhatris stand and remind us of the past.

 

 

The Old Road Trip. Third Stop. En Route To Jaisalmer

Highway Restaurant

Highway Restaurant

 

We were off to Jaisalmer, and to the frontier of the Thar Desert. That was going to be my first ever trip to a desert. I had seen many beautiful pictures of deserts, and have seen many since. Sadly, I have never managed to take a good picture of a desert. We had stocked the car with beer, and we were off. We sat in the car, while the driver drove along the flat terrain. We were drinking beer and listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. For good measure, I am have inserted the shorter version of his qawwali, Haq Haq Ali Ali here.

There is something almost ethereal about his music. This is Sufi soul music at it’s very best, and we were sitting there, driving on the highway, drinking and listening to this marvelous music. The highway to Jaisalmer was bare, and there was nothing by the side of the highway. In those days, the highways in Rajasthan were quite deserted, and there was nothing but us, the highway, and the sky. The India Today group had released a series of albums dedicated to the seas, rivers, mountains and deserts, each composed by a master of Hindustani music. The album – Music of The Deserts was composed by  Ustad Zakir Hussain, and the tabla music captured the spirit of the desert perfectly. 

Truck And Clouds

Truck And Clouds

We stopped by at a small restaurant for lunch, and moved on. We sat in those little round buildings that you see in the picture on the top. Sometime after lunch, when I was wandering around, taking pictures, a tanker rumbled by, and I managed to capture  a shot of the tanker against the clouds. I think I was the only one in the group who was allowing the almost mystical atmosphere to sink into me. Maybe, I let the beer, the music and the clouds in the deep blue sky send me into some sort of a semi-mystical trance. Maybe so. 

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