Just Look at Ghat!

Ouch! Probably my worst title yet!

I can’t help it…I’ve not been well…

…well, only a cold, but you know what we men are like.

In another attempt to feel instantly better, I’ve nipped across to North India (only in my imagination, unfortunately), to picture Kedar Ghat, on the banks of the Ganges, in Varanasi.

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Ghats, a Hindi word, are sets of steps leading down to a river (and also mountain ranges or passes – The eastern and Western Ghats in Central India). It has also come to mean a level place at the edge of a river where Hindus cremate their dead.

In Varanasi, there are between 84 and 87 ghats, depending upon who you get this information from,. The Manikarnika Ghat, or Ghats (possibly this is the origin of the confusion over the number) is the ‘burning ghat’, where cremations are carried out 24 hours a day, all through the year. The source fire there has supposedly been burning for thousands of years, but photography is actively discouraged, hence my only shot is one taken from a distance.

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Of course, the ghats are also used for bathing. Hindus bathe en masse there, as a dip in the Ganges is meant to wash away sins. Important pujas (ceremonies) take place at sunrise and sunset. Boat trips to view the ghats are very popular, and finally much of the city’s laundry gets done at the dhobi ghats (dhobi meaning laundry).

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Namaste!

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Varanasi and Sarnath

The city of Varanasi is probably the most important place in India to Hindus, whilst the ruins of Sarnath, some 10km away, mark the remains of a site of great importance to Buddhists. I stayed there for three days, some 8 years ago.
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Dasaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi. Taken from the top of the steps (ghats). The River Ganges is the holiest river to Hindus, and Varanasi is the one of the holiest cities. Previously named Benares (and often so still called) and Kashi (City of Life), it is visited by Hindus in their millions who come to bathe in the Ganges to purify their souls. In a final journey, many are cremated here and their ashes cast into the river, believing that this will help to achieve liberation from rebirth.

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The river Ganges from Dasaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi.

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Stalls on the ghats at Varanasi. Varanasi never seems less than vibrant and colourful.

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And another stall near the ghats.

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Down at the ghats I was trailed by this cheerful young rogue demanding money to have his photo taken or to show me the sights or sell me souvenirs or lead me to stalls where I could purchase to my heart’s content or…whatever.

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Street scene in Varanasi. The church in the middle distance is Saint Thomas’. This was taken quite early in the morning when I was on my way to the ghats. Early afternoon as I was returning, it was packed solid, traffic completely unable to move.

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10km outside Varanasi lie the ruins of Sarnath. After the Buddha had achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya, he came to Sarnarth – a walk of some 250kms or so, through what would have been highly dangerous country then – to seek out his former companions and in the Deer Park there he gave his first sermon, on the turning of the wheel of law. This comprises the Buddha’s path to Enlightenment: the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold path and the Middle Way. In the 3rd century BC, the emperor Ashoka, a convert to Buddhism after witnessing the terrible carnage of a war he had unleashed, built stupas and monasteries here as well as an engraved pillar. These survived until the end of the 12th century when they were destroyed during the Muslim invasions and not rediscovered until 1834 by a British archaeological team.

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This altar stone in the ruins of Sarnath) is still being used by pilgrims for pujas.

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Dhamekh Stupa at Sarnath . This solid cylindrical tower, 33m in height, supposedly marks the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon. The base is stone, covered in delicate carvings, and the upper part brick.

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Carvings adorning the base of the Dhamekh Stupa.

A Shared Humanity

‘The world knows nothing of its greatest men’ goes the old saying. Or women, of course, since it is men who tend to write these things. I may have alluded to this before.

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I was reading a blog post by Rajiv earlier today, on the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and we swapped a couple of comments, the result of which decided me to write this short post. You can read Rajiv’s post here: Partition in the Punjab

Those of us who did not live through that time, cannot really imagine the full horror of it all. The figures alone are dreadful.

14 million people were displaced, forced to move from their homes to either what remained India or became East or West Pakistan, by any means of transport available, frequently on foot. Those that survived the journey, frequently one of tremendous hardship, carried memories that were often too dreadful to relate.

Most lost their possessions.

Families were split apart and separated, many of them never to meet again.

Millions of refugees.

Up to 1 million were killed in what were effectively religious killings – the actual figure is unknown. Trains were set on fire, men and women, adults and children, lost their lives in what became a frenzy of killing.

Much, of course, has been written of this over the years, and the blame placed on many shoulders. The British were extremely culpable in this case, mainly through neglect and thoughtlessness. Those that assumed power in India and Pakistan need to take their share of the blame, too.

But the world, as I remarked at the start of this post, knows nothing of its greatest men. Or, in this case, its greatest men and women, or at least very little of them.

On both sides of the new borders, whilst most people succumbed to fear and many to hatred, whilst innocent lives were taken and dreadful acts carried out, there were many, many people who sheltered and saved those of other religions who had been their friends and neighbours before, often at great personal risk.

They gained nothing from it, but simply displayed their common humanity.

I have read of a few examples of this, a few stories from both sides of that border, and I have seen it mentioned briefly in documentaries.

But now, before the last players in that tragedy finally pass away, it would be marvellous if there could be a concerted effort to collect these stories and record them, as an inspiring example of people reaching out to each other across what is, once again, becoming a depressingly familiar religious divide, and, most importantly, remembering and commemorating their bravery.

Bodhgaya (1)

I spent a total of 2 months in Bodhgaya, Bihar, but I seemed to end up with surprisingly few photographs of the town and surrounding countryside. Here are a selection of them, though, and I may put a few more up sometime soon. Hence the somewhat tentative ‘part one’ in the title.

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 Bodhgaya is a world heritage site, because the Mahabodhi Temple was built at the site where the Buddha is supposed to have achieved enlightenment, some 2500 years ago. The original temple was built by the emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. The current temple dates from the 11th century AD, and was restored in 1882 by the Burmese. Surrounded by the usual frenetic Northern Indian crowds, and visited by a huge number of pilgrims and visitors, the temple and grounds still manage to somehow achieve an unbelievably peaceful ambience.

 

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The Bhodi tree at the Mahabodhi Temple. It is a third generation descendant of the tree under which the Buddha is supposed to have achieved enlightenment.

 

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Thai temple, Bodhgaya. As well as the Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya also has temples built by virtually every country with a sizeable Buddhist population. As befits the place where the Buddha originally achieved enlightenment, it is an active Buddhist centre with many charitable projects set up and running.

 

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Dawn over Sujata Village, Bodhgaya. This was often the view that greeted me when I walked across the dry bed of the River Phalgu from Bodhgaya to the village of Sujata, in the cool of the morning. A rich reward for getting up early!


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Hindu temples on the edge of Sujata Village.

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Fields in Sujata Village. In the vast majority of Indian villages, fields are still worked by hand or with animal labour. here is no exception.

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Farms at the edge of Bodhgaya. Although Bihar is the most corrupt, poverty-ridden state in India, sitting at the bottom of the table in almost any set of statistics that you may care to consult, the land appears lush and fertile, supporting a strong agriculture.

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And whilst we’re on a rural theme…a street corner in Bodhgaya.

 

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Monks heading for morning puja (ceremony) in Sujata.

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Temple door in Bodhgaya.

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Dawn in Bodhgaya. The moslems are heading for the mosque, whilst most of the others are heading for work, for puja at Hindu or Buddhist temples, or to find breakfast.

I was after breakfast.

Another Creative Art Post

I’ve had a go at woodcarving, too. Would you like to see a few? You would? That’s marvellous.

As if I ever needed an excuse to blow my own trumpet!

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The first one is my version of a Sri Lankan carving. This piece consists of two panels; the first one depicting a garuda (a mythical bird who carried the god Vishnu) and the second depicting a lion. It is 10 in x 20 in, and carved in sycamore wood.

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The second one is also a copy of a Sri Lankan carving, this time an elephant attacked by an eagle. My version is in Ash, and measures roughly 6 in x 3 in.

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The third piece is a totally different subject; my interpretation of a painting by the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe of oak leaves. I have carved it in -appropriately enough – oak wood, and it measures 7 in by 3 in.

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Finally, this is my interpretation of a medieval piece from a church in England – I forget which one – depicting the crucifixion of Christ, with Christ flanked by Saint John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary. Again, it is carved in oak wood and measures approximately 8 ins x 13 ins.

Every now and again I think that I would like to work on another carving (possibly one of those two or three unfinished ones I still have hanging around the house!), but we are rather short on space. If I ever manage to get hold of a studio again, I promise myself that I will.

Himalayan Foothills

I am going offline for a few days, since I need a bit of a break, so I will leave you with a selection of photographs from the Himalayan Foothills, Northern India. When I log on again in a few days, I’ll catch up with everyone’s blogs and comments.

By ‘Foothills’ I mean the ranges of hills and smaller mountains that guard the approach to the Himalaya proper, where the big beasties rise up to heights of over 8000m with permanent ice and snow cover. The old Raj hill stations such as Nainital and Darjeeling were built at heights of around 2000m – high by UK standards, but certainly not by Himalayan ones.

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Naini Tal, Nainital Town, Northern India. Morning Light. Nainital lake, (‘naina’ is Sanskrit for eye and ‘tal’ means lake) in Hindu mythology, is one of the emerald green eyes of Sati, Shiva’s wife. This was my first view of it after getting off of the overnight bus from Delhi.

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Gadhar Kunkyop Ling Gompa, Nainital. Unlike many other Himalayan towns, Nainital has no sizeable Tibetan population, and this Monastery, perched high to the North East, overlooking the lake, is the only one in Nainital and home to just seven monks.

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Morning mist, Nainital.

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A sea of prayer flags on Observatory Hill, Darjeeling. Darjeeling, unlike Nainital, has a large Tibetan population and many Gompas both in the town and the surrounding hills. Observatory Hill is the site of the original temple of Dorje Ling, long destroyed, but after which the town was named, once the British had persuaded the then ruler of the area, the Chogyal of Sikkim, to lease them the land to build a hill station. The hill is now home to a Hindu shrine, with the British built church of Saint Andrew close-by.

But no Gompa.

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The ‘Toy Train’ stopped outside Samten Choling Gompa at Ghoom, near Darjeeling. This train runs for 51 miles from Siliguri to Darjeeling, rising a total of just over 7000 ft. It has numerous steep gradients and sharp curves, including the famous one at ‘Agony Point’ – originally the loop there was a diameter of only 59.5 ft and the train literally overhung the mountainside as it rounded the curve. All in all, quite a remarkable engineering feat and deservedly a World Heritage site.

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Druk Sangak Gompa, a large Buddhist monastery on the edge of Darjeeling, West Bengal. A fairly new gompa, it was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 1992.

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Not Chelmsford, UK, but Darjeeling, West Bengal). Many of the old British hill stations, such as Darjeeling, still retain much of their colonial character.

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A clash of cultures! And what a clash. East meets west, with brass band in the park meeting the Indian Himalaya, courtesy of the Darjeeling Police Band. The band played in a bandstand on the Chowrasta, the open square at the top of Darjeeling, close to Observatory Hill. In the days of the Raj, this would, no doubt, have been familiar to all who lived there. Close your eyes and think of England…

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Tea pickers, Darjeeling. Think of Darjeeling, think of tea. In the hills surrounding Darjeeling are numerous tea estates, where the job of tea picking, sorting, drying and packing goes on much as it has done for the last 150 years.

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Buddhist painting on rock wall, by open air shrine, Darjeeling. As well as the larger gompas, you come across small shrines and gompas unexpectedly around odd corners everywhere.

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Prayer Lags in Yumthang Valley, Northern Sikkim. This is as far north in Sikkim that you are allowed to travel, just a few miles south and west of Tibet. Everybody is still very touchy about borders.

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Crossing a bridge in the Yumthang valley. It should be safe, considering the number of prayer flags!

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Unnamed 6000m peaks overlooking the Yumthang Valley. We asked our guide the names of these peaks, only to be disparagingly told ‘They don’t have names. They’re less than 6000m tall.

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And more prayer flags…

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Young monks on a hillside, Phodong Gompa, Sikkim.

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Monastery wall painting, Lachung Gompa, Northern Sikkim. Lachung Gompa is about 2km above Lachung village, at a height of about 3000m. It is not a ‘working’ gompa, the monks living down in the village rather than at the gompa, so it is generally kept locked and only used on festivals and full moon days.

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Monastery door, Tharpa Choling Gompa, Kalimpong, W.B. Kalimpong, not far from Darjeeling, but 1000 metres lower, has also a large Tibetan population.

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Statue of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), Durpin Gompa, Kalimpong, West Bengal. Chenrezig (Tibetan) or Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva (a being who has partly or completely attained the state of enlightenment) of compassion. The well-known mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ is dedicated to him.

Kalimpong market:

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I watched this gentleman for some time before I approached and asked for a photo. he was rapidly serving a succession of customers at great speed, making up little paper screws of spices and powders at a tremendous rate…

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…whereas this gentleman served his customers at a more leisurely pace, as if he had all the time in the world.

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This gentleman was delighted to be photographed with his fine collection of Kukris. As I prepared to take the photo, he picked up a kukri and brandished it with a none too convincing snarl, to the obvious amusement of most of the people around him.

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This stall-holder seemed to find it hilarious that I should want to photograph her.

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This lady, on the other hand, was delighted to be photographed; volunteering eagerly when a lady on a nearby stall refused.

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The Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel, in the grounds of the Dr Graham School and home, Kalimpong. Built in 1925, it looks to have materialised straight out of the Scottish Highlands. Dr Graham was a Scottish missionary, and built the home and school originally to educate the children of local tea estate workers. It now has a far broader intake.

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Lake Dal, Srinagar, Kashmir. Unfortunately, it is still probably unwise to visit most of Kashmir, and things will probably remain this way for some considerable time to come. A pity, because this really is a most beautiful part of India and Pakistan. I took these photos in 1989, a very short while before the area became off-limits to tourists.

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Panorama – Lake Dal, Srinagar, Kashmir). In the distance is the Hazratbal Mosque, a comparatively modern mosque, enshrining a hair of the prophet.

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Hindu shrine. Near the shore of Lake Dal in Kashmir.

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Houseboats around the shore of Lake Dal, Shrinagar, Kashmir. In the nineteenth century, the British, who first developed Srinagar as a hill station to get away from the stifling heat of the Indian Plains in the summer, found that the then Maharajah refused to sell them land to build houses. The solution? They built boats to live on…great, elaborate, ornate carved and decorated houseboats. These same boats, with many more recent editions, now function as floating hotels to tourists. The majority are moored not on the actual shore, but a little way off, often on the edge of small islands. This gives the local shakira (a type of small boat unique to Lake Dal) owners a chance to clean up, as a taxi service.

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Shakira moored on Lake Dal.

Kathmandu, Nepal

How on earth have I managed to blog for almost a year, now, and still not put up a single post on Nepal? I think I’d better put that right immediately.
I’m going to start with a selection of pictures from Kathmandu, capital of Nepal.
All of these pictures were taken before the dreadful earthquakes of last year, and I do know that some of the buildings in these pictures (especially in Durbar Square) were sadly destroyed.

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The entrance to Swayambunath. Swayambunath is the main Tibetan Buddhist site of Kathmandu. Sitting on top of a hill overlooking Kathmandu, it comprises temples, stupas and various other buildings, including a couple of Hindu shrines. Here, a Hindu holy man lurks in ambush, ready to dab a tikka mark on the forehead of (especially) western tourists and demand rupees for the privilege.

 

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The sacred and the secular at Swayambunath. In Nepal, as in India, it is almost impossible to visit a religious site without Mammon getting a good look in. Here, in the main Buddhist site of Kathmandu, everything from yak bells to masks.

 

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‘One day, my boy, all this will be yours’ – just as long as you have enough money and all the time in the world to bargain hard. More shops – seriously colourful, seriously prepared to sell you anything. And having said that, the hard sell is a world removed from India. It almost feels as though there is no pressure at all. In Nepal, you feel you can relax again, especially if you have just travelled there from India.
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Nuns lighting butter lamps beneath a row of prayer wheels at Swayambunath.

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Hindu puja at Swayambunath. Probably a private ceremony at the request of the beneficiary, either for good luck in general or with a particular goal in mind (e.g. birth of a son, successful business venture.)

 

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Portrait of a Hindu lady.
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Tourist shop in the Swayambunath complex.
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Buildings in Durbar Square. Durbar (or ‘Palace’) Square is the heart of the old town and the area where the Kings used to live in the 18th and 19th centuries. In contrast to Swayambunath, this area is entirely Hindu, reflecting the vast majority of the lowland Nepali population.

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Side street in Thamel, Kathmandu. The lovely old buildings…beautiful wood carvings…collapsing brickwork…wiring all over the place…speed…calm…old and new…………the only things I can’t bring you are the sounds and smells…you must imagine them for yourselves. Coming soon, scratch and sniff websites!!!

 

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Bicycle rickshaws awaiting customers in Durbar Square.

 

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Balloon seller and hopeful customer, Durbar Square.

 

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Kala Bhairab – an image of Shiva in his most fearsome aspect. Wearing a garland of skulls, the six armed Kala Bhairab tramples a corpse, symbolic of ignorance. Carved originally from a single stone, it was set up by Pratap Malla, king in the 17th century. He was a pious Hindu, but interested in the arts and tolerant of other religions. He even restored much of Buddhist Swayambunath. It is said that telling a lie while standing before Kala Bhariab will bring instant death. It was once used as a form of trial by ordeal.

 

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Pashupatinath, on the Eastern side of Kathmandu, is the holiest of the Hindu sites in the city. It is the temple of Shiva, on the Bagmati river and hence it includes the ghats, the most widely used place of cremation for Hindus in Kathmandu, indeed, in Nepal.

My First Long Trip to India (5)

I picked up my bus ticket from the travel agent, and went for lunch. Whilst I was eating, I looked at the newspaper and noticed that the ‘People’s War’ (Naxalites) had blown up the railway line near Jehanabad again. It was a good job that I had decided to get the bus to Patna.

And so, the following morning, after packing, having breakfast and attending to a few final tasks that I had promised I would do, I went off to the Project to say goodbye. I knew it would be difficult! It seemed as though everyone came up for a hug, and then I went off with the manager back to my guest house to pick up my pack, and then off to meet the bus. One final, slightly teary, goodbye, and I was on the bus and off.

Four and half hours later in Patna, I was set down amidst total chaos. There were flashing lights, seas of red flags, loud music blaring through countless loudspeakers,millions of people, it seemed, singing – another Hindu festival. I found the station, with a little difficulty, and then the nearest restaurant and bar, for some sustenance.

I learned that the chaos had a name – Ram Naumi.

As I ate, it felt quite odd to know that outside was Patna, and that the Project and the open countryside weren’t just around the corner. It rather felt as though I had just left home.

My train left roughly on time, and I slept well until the morning. We then trundled along gently, getting in about one thirty (two hours late) to New Jalpaiguri. It was slightly cooler, and felt almost refreshing. I hadn’t expected a temperature drop then, I must admit. Presumably it was because we were that much closer to the mountains. Soon, I found myself and my rucksack jammed into a bicycle rickshaw heading north through the long streets of Siliguri, at the foot of the Himalaya, during what should have been lunchtime. There followed a three hour jeep ride in which we immediately began to climb up away from the plains as we left Siliguri, through farms, tea gardens and jungle that gradually began to look more typical of Nepal than of the India that I had lived in for the previous month and a half.

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I arrived in Darjeeling at dusk, found myself a room and settled in to enjoy a week’s rest. I then proceeded to explore the temples, markets and surrounding countryside, make plans to move on to Sikkim and dropped into Joey’s Bar for the odd beer.

Later, I decided to have afternoon tea at the Planter’s Club, a hangover from the tea planting days of the Raj. It’s something that I felt I ought to sample.

I wasn’t disappointed. Inside, I was the only customer and it was much as I had imagined that it would be; dark wood floor and ceiling, brick fireplace, piano in the corner, trophy heads high up all around the walls. I was served tea by a Nepali who wanted to talk politics. That morning there had been a strike that had closed the town down for several hours, over the irregularity of water supplies. We agreed that it was down to the government. And when that’s finally solved, he added, then there’s the electricity…

He asked if I wanted music and I said yes, almost immediately regretting it, but was surprised when it was classical music. Looking around, it really did look as though the Colonels and their ladies had gone home and everything was still waiting for them. Outside, it was raining gently and just above me a couple of lights glowed yellow in the afternoon gloom. The shade of Miss Haversham from Great Expectations seemed to hover at my shoulder. All that was needed was a thick layer of dust over everything and the image would have been complete.

Also, it was strange that there was nothing Indian in there, and if it was in the UK, then it would look really ordinary, yet it had a powerful atmosphere there. Only, I suppose, because I knew that I was in India. And then, as Fur Elise played softly in the background, I was suddenly, utterly and helplessly homesick. Nothing like the continual yes, it’ll be nice to get back and see everyone once I’ve finished here, but I could picture myself strongly, sitting in an old stone inn somewhere in Wales having a beer with friends, or perhaps sitting around a log fire with close family. Seeing my family! As the music continued, I sat at the table with my tea, unable to think of anything but home.

It finished, and another piece started. I forget now what it was, but I had to literally shake myself to break the spell. I sat a while longer, paid the bill, and left.

A couple of days later I went and had tea again at the Planters – this time there were several Indian families in there and some Hindi pop playing – a decidedly different ambience! Although the afternoon was again gloomy, the piano still in the corner and the threadbare heads staring balefully down, I was unable to conjure up anything like the same feelings. It seemed impossible that I should have felt so differently here a couple of days before. I felt that I had re-joined India.

Darjeeling still retains much of its old colonial character, in places.

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The Oxford Bookshop, on Chaurasta, where I spent far too much and had to have my purchases shipped home.

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A sea of prayer flags on Observatory Hill. Darjeeling has a large Tibetan population and many gompas (monasteries) both in the town and surrounding hills. Observatory Hill is the site of the original temple of Dorge Ling , long destroyed, but after which the town was named, once the British had persuaded the then ruler of the area, the Chogyal of Sikkim, to lease them the land to build a hill station. the hill is now home to a Hindu shrine, with the British-built church of Saint Andrew close-by.

But no gompa.

After a week in Darjeeling, I moved on to Sikkim. After a really cold night, I left Darjeeling in a share-jeep for Gangtok on a lovely sunny morning, with clouds ebbing and flowing across the horizon and in the valleys. I got there about two, and then got a room in the travel lodge. It was big and clean, with lots of hot water, and the rest of the day I spent looking around the town.

My First Long Trip to India (2)

And so, fifteen years after my first trip to India, I was back again in Delhi.

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Eventually I felt brave enough to leave the café and go off to do my tasks. First of all, I had to sort out my train ticket, so I headed off to the Tourist Bureau (The Official One!) at New Delhi Station. But as I headed up the steps towards the office, I was stopped by a friendly chap who told me it was closed. ‘But no bother’ he said. ‘You come with me and I take you to Tourist Office where they sell you ticket’.

Before I realized what I was doing, I turned to follow him. By the time that we were out of the station and threading our way through the taxis and crowds on the concourse I had remembered that this was a common ploy to get people to ‘Tourist Offices’. Nowadays I have no problem with using them – in fact I will often seek them out to buy me tickets, but more of that later. I glanced up at my new best friend, who was a few steps ahead of me, and peeled unobtrusively off and headed back into the station.

I went back up the steps towards the Tourist Bureau. The first thing that struck me was the silence. Downstairs, all was noise and smells, colour and chaos, but up here was a big, gloomy, echoing corridor, empty as far as I could see. After wandering up and down for a while, I found the Bureau which was, naturally enough, open, and fairly crowded. Inside, whilst I awaited my turn at the counter, I chatted to a fellow traveller from England who decided that it was his task to lecture me at length on how to approach getting a ticket out of Indian Railways. Foremost amongst this advice, he said, hectoring me sternly, was keeping your cool amidst all the provocation, bureaucracy and hassle.

Eventually, he was called to the counter. They went through his application form and documents with him, seemingly finding fault with something. He lost his cool with them, and left without a ticket.

I chortled quietly to myself.

When it was my turn, I found the process fairly straightforward, although long-winded. But I left with my ticket to Gaya stashed securely in my wallet.

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Why Gaya? Gaya is certainly not a tourist destination, but it is the nearest town of any size to Bodhgaya. When I had decided to come to India, instead of limping around Britain in pain, I had come to the conclusion that instead of just travelling around for three months or so, I should at least spend some time doing something worthwhile.

We all like to think that we’re having an existential crisis at times. Okay, that’s probably not true. But lots of us do. What is an existential crisis, though? Is it simply that we are going through a time in our history when more and more of us question our role, our place in our society? Or could there be more to it than that? It certainly would now seem to be a time when many people in the west have come to doubt whether the values that they are taught are actually of any importance, and indeed whether they really have any value at all.

On the other hand, there are just as many members of that society who feel that the whole subject is just bunkum, and that those who complain about these things are merely whinging, work-shy degenerates. Sod your existential issues, mate, I’ve got a family to feed.

Is it really, then, just so much nonsense? Maybe our situation is such that we can afford to have these crises now; that we now have the opportunity to address them. When life is simply a struggle to keep a roof over one’s head and to put food on the table, then one’s priorities are very different from those with the leisure to ponder ‘life’s imponderables’. In past times, we would have had to just carry on regardless, although there were writers then who recognised and explored them, such as Hermann Hesse and Somerset Maugham. The only other realistic option, other than becoming a vagrant, would have been to completely renounce the world and to join a monastery or become a hermit.

India, though, handles these things rather differently. Hindus have a duty to seek pleasure and success and to accumulate wealth, but also, eventually, to renounce the world and seek moksha; liberation, after the discovery that the other three paths give no lasting satisfaction. This is seen in the persons of the many ascetics who wander the land, or live alone or in ashrams, having given up all worldly possessions.

Bodhgaya is in Bihar, the poorest state in India. It is also the place where the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. For this reason, there are many Buddhist temples there, attracting a goodly number of Buddhist pilgrims, and, naturally, not a few tourists, and also a number of charitable projects.

And a few rogues.

I was attracted to the idea of spending time there, both to experience the temples and atmosphere, but also to work for a while on one of the projects. I did some research whilst in the UK, and arranged to help out at a project that comprised a school and orphanage in a village on the outskirts of Bodhgaya.

Smugly pleased with myself for obtaining my ticket to Gaya, I then went to find an Internet cafe and e-mailed everyone, then meandered back to a café for lunch.

Two days later, I was in Bodhgaya.

Kandy and Environs

A few pictures from Sri Lanka, today. I have only had the pleasure of one visit there so far, but it is another place that I should like an opportunity of returning to at some point. These ones are all from the time that we spent around Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second city up in the hills of the Central Province, and which enjoys a much cooler climate than that down in Colombo.

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On the bus to Lankatilake. Like most of the rest of the Indian subcontinent, the cabs and interiors of buses, taxis and lorries in Sri Lanka tend to be dedicated to placating whichever deities preside over traffic accidents and mishaps. The majority in Sri lanka, like this one, are Buddhist.

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Lankatilake Buddhist temple, some 10km SW of Kandy. The temple also has a Hindu shrine incorporated in it.

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Inside the Buddhist shrine.

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Bodhi tree at Lankatilake temple. Bodhi trees are to be found at all Buddhist temples, and are all descendants of the tree that the Buddha achieved enlightenment beneath, 2500 years ago at Bodhgaya, Northern India. Properly, they are Sal or Neem trees. Only the ones descended from the original Bodhi tree are called Bodhi trees.

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Lotus flower in the tank at Lankatilake. As in India, ‘tank’ refers to any artificially created body of water, from temple pools all the way up to reservoirs.This tank is a small, circular construction, and can be seen on the left in the photo of Lankatilake above. With its roots in the mud, its stem growing through the water and its beautiful flower in the air, The lotus has special significance to Buddhists – it represents the true nature of beings, who rise through samsara (the suffering of this world) into the beauty and clarity of enlightenment.

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Hindu temple entrance at Lankatilake.

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Dagoba at Lankatilake. ‘Dagoba’ is the name used in Sri Lanka for the structures known elsewhere as pagodas. They are usually built around a holy relic of some sort.

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Here in this shop in Kandy, you can get postcards and masks, false teeth and gramophone needles, shoes and Buddhas, elephants and exhortations to love Jesus. Something for everyone, really.

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The Departure Board at Kandy station. We were waiting for the 3pm train to Colombo, departing from platform 3.

 

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Beautifully carved and painted ceilings in the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy.

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Entrance to the shrine room, Temple of the Tooth.

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Moonstone, Temple of the Tooth. A moonstone is a richly carved stone, frequently placed at the bottom of a flight of steps. It is semi-circular in shape.

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Door, Temple of the Tooth.