Varanasi

Whilst  reading THE CULTUREUR this afternoon, I came across the post SPIRITUAL CHAOS ON THE HARIDWAR GHATS ALONG THE GANGES RIVER.

I immediately thought of Varansi (calm and chaos) and this inspired me to pull out some photos I recorded there during my last trip to India in 2011/2012.

I first went to India in 2009/10: see related blog here and some other photos here.

I have inserted my photos above, below and in between the comment by Wikipedia that enlightens us as follows “Varanasi (Hindustani pronunciation: [ʋaːˈraːɳəsi] (listen)), also commonly known as BenaresBanaras (Banāras [bəˈnaːrəs] (listen)) or Kashi (Kāśī [ˈkaːʃi] (listen)), is a city on the banks of the Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, 320 kilometres (200 mi) southeast of the state capital Lucknow.

It is regarded as a holy city by Hindus and Jains, and holiest of the seven most sacred Hindu cities (Sapta Puri), of its ancient historic, cultural and religious heritage. Hindus believe that death at Varanasi can bring salvation.

Body being transported to a ghat for cremation

It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India.

Unfortunately many of its temples were subject to plundering and destruction by Mohammad Ghauri in the 12th century. The temples and religious institutions seen now in the city are mostly of the 18th century vintage.

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations.

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 North India for several thousand years and is one of the world’s most important religious centres with a history which transcends and unites most of the major world religions.

The Benares Gharanaform of the Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi. Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi.

Varanasi is today considered to be the spiritual capital of India.Here scholarly books have been written.

Ramcharitmanas was composed by Tulsidas here while there is the temple Tulsi Manas Mandir that is famous here.

In addition to this, the largest residential University of Asia, Benares Hindu University is located here.

People often refer to Varanasi as “the city of temples”, “the holy city of India”, “the religious capital of India”, “the city of lights”, “the city of learning”, and “the oldest living city on earth.”

Ghats in Varanasi are an integral complimentary to the concept of divinity represented in physical, metaphysical and supernatural elements.

All the ghats are locations on “the divine cosmic road,” indicative of “its manifest transcendental dimension.” Varanasi has at least 84 ghats.

Steps in the ghats (ghats are embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions) lead to the banks of River Ganges, including the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat, the Panchganga Ghat and the Harishchandra Ghat (where Hindus cremate their dead).

Many ghats are associated with legends and several are now privately owned.Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control.

Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwas stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi.

Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites.

Flash not allowed at cremation ghat and my settings were off

Morning boat ride on the Ganges across the ghats is a popular visitors attraction. The miles and miles of ghats makes for the lovely river front with multitude of shrines, temples and palaces built “tier on tier above the water’s edge”.

The Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main and probably the oldest ghat of Varansi located on the Ganges, close to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

It is believed that the god Brahma created it to welcome Shiva and he also sacrificed ten horses during Dasa -Ashwamedha yajna performed here.

Above the ghat and close to it, there are also temples dedicated to Sulatankesvara, Brahmesvara, Varahesvara, Abhaya Vinayaka, Ganga (the Ganges), and Bandi Devi which are part of important pilgrimage journeys.

A group of priests perform “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire) daily in the evening at this ghat as a dedication to Shiva, Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.

Special aartis are held on Tuesdays and on religious festivals. The Manikarnika Ghat is the Mahasmasana (meaning: “great cremation ground”) and is the primary site for Hindu cremation in the city. Adjoining the ghat, there are raised platforms that are used for death anniversary rituals.

Flash not allowed at cremation ghat and my settings were off

It is said that an ear-ring (Manikarnika) of Shiva or his wife Sati fell here. According to a myth related to the Tarakesvara Temple, a Shiva temple at the ghat, Shiva whispers the Taraka mantra (“Prayer of the crossing”) in the ear of the dead.

Fourth-century Gupta period inscriptions mention this ghat. However, the current ghat as a permanent river side embankment was built in the 1302 and has been renovated at least thrice.”

I also found out that kite flying (or fighting) was important in Varanasi ; but even more so in Jaipur where the youngsters and adults ran around madly after fallen kites.

Emergency repairs

Fun in the afternoon

Rooftops were a hive of activity 

She “shared” her puppies with me (rooftop of Suraj Guest House; the owner’s daughter)

Suraj Guest House is a good bet when looking for somewhere to stay

The owner was very helpful and accommodating – visit Suraj website here

No post about Varanasi would be complete if Ganga Fuji Restaurant was not mentioned. The owner Kailash asks that you design a “country of origin” poster for his wall

Lovely non-oily food and great entertainment 

Some uninformed person called the food bland. The owner cooks exactly what you ask for i.e. freaking hot spicy or mild like a cucumber

Free entertainment 

Bhai on drums!

Ganga Fuji was recommended by the owner of Suraj: good contacts usually recommend good contacts

Impromptu hair appointment 

Roadside food stall

Outskirts of Varanasi – Chinese Buddhist temple at Sarnath

Sarnath is where Buddha gave his first sermon.

It was a lovely break from the hustle and bustle of Varanasi, but we will leave all of that for another day & post.

Some related posts you may be interested in:

Durga Puja, the Worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga, Returns to Calcutta, India (part 1) 

A World of Prayer

A must watch documentary filmed at Varanasi:

Beyond

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New Barns Farm & the trip into London

In the last post we were off to see the Queen.

After landing at Birmingham Airport, which we found to be really user-friendly, we went to the Avis kiosk to collect our car.

The sales person knew I wouldn’t be able to resist the upgrade he offered for a few more GBP.

After all it was a BMW 1-series red in colour. Lucky he told me how to start it otherwise I would still be looking for the keyhole; door and ignition.

 

We rented a Tom Tom GPS, inserted the post code of New Barns Farm and before you knew it, we were there.

Amazing stuff – no long address or getting lost. All one needs is the post code.

 

It was a little chilly when we arrived and getting dark so Mr Canon 550 stayed indoors in his bag most of the time.

 

The drive to the farm was very interesting and, had we stayed longer, we would have gone crazy taking pictures of cows, old buildings, churches, pubs, horses, the local inhabitants and dogs.

The underfloor heating and wireless inside New Barns was a bonus.

The company that evening was superb – we shared food, wines, laughter and tales with a couple that were due to get married, as well as other guests.

 

The next morning we drove from New Barns to Wimbledon where we left the car in a parking garage.

The pic above was part of another discovery called “services”, well signposted on the road. Garages for fuel, toilets, shops, restaurants, accommodation and so on.

We loved the free wireless and Upper Crust Baguettes. Their takeaway stores seemed to be all over the place.

Upon entering Wimbledon station we bought a 24 hour travel card for trains & buses.

I only managed one pic (shown above) on the train from Wimbledon to Waterloo station.

 

The trains were very clean and on time.

 

Mind the Gap!

 

 

 

It was not long before we reached Waterloo and I was soon reminded how snobbish and rude some Londoners can be.

We hadn’t even left the station before one information kiosk chap showed us “unfriendly”. This happened later in the day inside a famous store.

Maybe they were just having a bad day or decade.

Or it could be that us South Africans are just so friendly.

The Queen of England (off to see her)

On 3 November 2012 we were sure we could smell Turkey.

The plan was: a little stop in the UK on a farm, two weddings and then off to Istanbul.

On 16 November I disclosed that the visit to Turkey was “cold” and would just have to wait.

Despite this “setback”, Timol and I still had lots of fun in the few days on land and in air.

A little snack at Durban International Airport (King Shaka) was in order before we left.

I hadn’t been to Mugg & Bean in a while and was pleasantly surprised by what was served up and at a fair price.

 

I initially wasn’t going to eat but was soon tucking into everyone meals.

Didn’t have too much to eat as I was hoping to taste the yummy food on Emirates.

 

We were loaded up not too long after the air-hostesses who speak a multitude of languages.

I made sure that the meals were being loaded by Sky Chefs before I took my seat.

Up into the air we flew; bound for Dubai then the UK.

A good meal with some red wine helped settle us into the evening.

The selection of movies was vast and I had enough leg-room.

I watched three movies in a row before I got all “movied-out”.

Flying from Durban to India via Dubai on Emirates is OK, but the flight from Dubai to the UK (BHX) on this trip was a bit too long at 7 hours 50 min (Durban to Dubai is 8 hours 40 min). That’s over 16 hours of flying in a row.

I would rather fly direct next time thank you.

In the next post we will have a peep at the farm outside Birmingham where we stayed for one night.

And when I really get energetic, I will show some pics of London and the food inside Harrods.

Port St Johns & Other Legends

Wikipedia describes Port St Johns as follows: “Port St. Johns (or Port Saint Johns) is a town of about 5000 people on the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. It is situated at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River, 220 kilometres (140 mi) northeast of East London and 70 kilometres (40 mi) east of Mthatha.”

South Africa Info is way more descriptive: “Port St Johns is a swashbuckling village of legend on the Pondo side of the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape. It is also one of the highlights on any international backpacker’s world itinerary because of its natural setting, frontier atmosphere and appeal to more adventurous younger travellers.

The backpacker facilities in this African village are excellent. They cater for couples, solo travellers and small groups of young people. The backpacker lodges will help their guests set up activity itineraries every day, which include everything from jungle swings to unusual walking destinations.

Four backpacking establishments that come highly recommended in Port St Johns are:

The Island Backpackers Lodge
First Beach, Port St Johns, 5120
Tel/Fax: (047) 564 1958
Cell: 082 813 1611
E-mail:theisland@wildcoast.co.za
Web:www.theislandbackpackers.co.za

Amapondo Backpacker – HIGHLY RECOMENDED!!!
Second Beach Road, PO Box 190,
Port St Johns, 5120
Tel/: 081 257 4504
Cell: 083 315 3103
E-mail:info@amapondo.co.za
Web:www.amapondo.co.za

Ikaya ‘Le Intlabati (House On The Beach)
Second Beach, PO Box 32, Port St Johns, 5120
Tel/Fax: (047) 564 1266
Cell: 083 715 1421
E-mail:ikaya@telkomsa.net

Jungle Monkey
340 Berea Road, PO Box 130, Port St Johns, 5120
Tel/Fax: (047) 564 1517
E-mail:junglemonkey@iafrica.com

I stumbled upon PSJ (Port St Johns) for the second time in 2004. It has a special place in my heart.

Whilst I am no expert of the goings-on in PSJ, I do know a few things that work well for me when there:

  1. Jungle Monkey and Amapondo backpackers are great for a party; Spotted Grunter best if you want to sleep. Cremorne is on the North bank and neat
  2. The fishing is relaxing / laid-back if you want it to be; sometimes successful and sometimes not
  3. The food at Delicious Monster is “eat your fingers off your hand” stuff
  4. Cow pooh lines the airfield runway and the view from up there is refreshing / magnificent
  5. You can stay on the “cultured” side of the river  (North bank) or cultured side (South bank) – horses for courses
  6. Don’t swim in the sea as there are a lot of Sharks and attacks
  7. The drive to Poenskop is full of sights and it’s nice to fish there and have a picnic
  8. Crime is everywhere so be careful
  9. There is a gap in the mountain, which I have seen from a distance for good reason
  10. The sea is rough at times and the area has a history of shipwrecks
  11. There is an abandoned hotel (Cape Hermes) overlooking the sea
  12. The Sardines swim past in July / August
  13. Buy your food and drinks in the town – there area ample stores
  14. Visit PSJ at least once in your life if you are able to leave fussiness at home, drop any airs and graces, and “get down on the ground” with some of the locals – you will then have a laid-back rejuvenating holiday
  15. Read some more “facts” below

Early morning view from airfield

“Don’t land now as we are busy grazing”

The Gap

The birds are far & few but laid back 😉

Pic taken from Spotted Grunter side of river; Cremorne is in the rear

Buy your nuts, bananas and avocado pears on the roadside

The view from a table at DM (Delicious Monster) Restaurant at 2nd Beach

DM entrance

DM undercover & open eating / chill areas

DM specials

My no 1 dish Crayfish Thermidor

Timol’s choice of a meal

The other / alternative “facts”:

  1. During 2004 I met a chap by the name of Daryl. He stayed in PSJ on the side of a small river
  2. Whilst he may not have been an Angel and I’m sure wronged some people (like we all have), he was a gentleman
  3. He taught me few a few important things about life
  4. I did not take Daryl seriously when I first met him: he was dressed shabbily and did not have a few cents to rub together. However, looks can be very deceiving
  5. He made many claims about his “former” life. I thought him to be a storyteller of lies until he showed me some photographs that stunned me (shut my trap)
  6. He indirectly gave me relationship advice which turned out to be so true. I wish I had listened to him more carefully
  7. One day when chatting about load shedding (electrical supply cuts) for a few hours every week and how this “seriously” affected our lives, Daryl said “hey bru, that’s nothing. I never had electricity for 3 years”. This stumped us yet again.
  8. I caught a Salmon at Poenskop and gave it to Daryl. He was very appreciative.
  9. The next visit to PSJ I was gobsmacked to hear how Daryl stretched and shared that one fish with lots of people / neighbours
  10. Daryl was free diving one day when an octopus “attacked him”. His recount of this story every visit / every evening would have all and sunder in stitches / laughing our heads off
  11. One afternoon, when I first met Daryl, I needed salad dressing. I never thought to ask Daryl of all people. He offered to make me some and I hesitantly accepted; not knowing what on earth he would bring back. Daryl turned out to be a super talented cook – he came back with a fresh herb / creamy salad dressing that was so tasty. Again, Daryl proved that we should not judge a book by its cover
  12. In early April 2012 we again met up with Daryl and went on a fishing expedition to Poenskop
  13. Daryl was clearly suffering from a grave illness but made no fuss of it
  14. He slowly walked to and climbed onto the vehicle, and accompanied us – he made the effort albeit huge beyond what most would manage
  15. Daryl so unwell that he was not able to cast his line into the water – we had to help him
  16. Daryl still hasn’t told me why some call him “Double Barrel Daryl”
  17. He was an authority on many subjects

I have never telephoned Daryl although he gave me his mobile number years ago.

We called Daryl’s number last night; I’m not sure what made us do this. It might have been because we were sipping on a few beers, having fun, laughing and enjoying the company of family – the moment was good despite other heart-wrenching things going on in our lives at that time.

Alas, a feeling of sadness came over me when I heard that Daryl had passed away in April 2012 – no doubt shortly after that last fishing trip.

Below are some pics of the Legend.

Daryl in 2004 telling us the “octopus story”

The last fishing trip in early April 2012

Goodbye mate, until we meet again in person or spirit.

Cold Turkey (Everybody’s Free – To Wear Sunscreen)

It was all engines go and roaring for the UK and then Turkey in my last post. It was set in stone – tickets & accommodation were all booked. I explained in great detail to friends and colleagues how Timol and I would walk the markets and alleyways of Istanbul, and then sit down to rest with a Turkish coffee and hookah. Really now, what could go wrong?

We landed in the UK and had two days at New Barns farm outside Birmingham and exploring London CBD before I received the first SMS / text.

I am sure all of you know some of the Baz Luhrmann lyrics to “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”. The full lyrics appear at the end of this post, but for here & now I specifically highlight “Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good”. This was said for good reason.

The SMS suggested I return home immediately as my Mother was critically ill.

Within 5 hours of getting that message (only 48 hours after landing in the UK), Timol and I were boarding an Emirates flight to head back home. Turkey was out the door.

I didn’t know if Mother would make through the next 22 hours whilst we hurried back home. I sent messages asking that she just hold on a little while longer: that last smile, warm hand, touch, goodbye, word, bit of advice, smell seemed all so very important at that point but definitely not when I hurriedly left Mother about 3 days before, to look after things while I was away.

Long story short. I have been home 9 days, never saw Turkey but did see Mother tonight at the hospital. We watched a little television, shared some memories and how our days went today, got some fresh air outside, sampled the view over Durban CBD, held hands and made arrangements to see each other tomorrow.

Things are not at all well with Mother and the chances of improvement are ultra-slim to nil, but we have shared 9 glorious days that perhaps should not have been ours – I have told Mother that this is indeed our “bonus” time; like in pinball: we are scoring big and I for one love it!

Yes, our days together are surely numbered but I think that they have always been; from the moment I entered this world from her womb. It only now that we appreciate this a little or lot more.

A little advice from my Mother today “savour, enjoy and appreciate that simple cup of tea or plain apple, because you don’t know what it’s like (how terrible and torturing) when you can’t have them any longer”. Mother is no longer able to eat in the conventional manner and in all likelihood will not do so again in this lifetime.

I cannot even begin to describe Mother and the enormity of her heart, the unconditional love, care for all, warmth, courage of a Lion (she is a Leo) and many other talents.

Perhaps the pictures below of Mother and her son (me) taken about 40 years ago will provoke some thoughts.

It’s nearly bedtime for me so let me leave you with the promised lyrics:

“Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’99:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind sides you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen”

I can smell (that) Turkey

By the same time tonight, Timol and I will be cruising at an altitude of 35000 ft on an exciting trip. It will also be dinner time.

The menu on Emirates should be something like this:

Chicken breast

Grilled chicken breast with caramelised plums, served in a cranberry reduction, accompanied with mashed potatoes, baby spinach and carrot slices

Lamb brochette

Fillet of lamb marinated in Arabic spices, combined with assorted peppers, charcoal grilled and served with a cinnamon scented sauce, accompanied with broccoli, roasted baby corn and steamed rice

Dessert

Sticky date pudding – A delicious dessert served with caramel sauce

Red Wine

Cecilia Faugerres Oak Aged

Now what’s this about “I can smell (that) Turkey”..?

Well, it’s not that we will be eating turkey but that we will soon be seeing:-

And before I forget, if you have the time, please have a look at some of Marc Bega’s photos of his home cooking direct from Tamarin, Mauritius.

I have given him this exposure as I really hope that he will soon also get a WordPress blog up and running to showcase his lovely dishes and photos.

PS – maybe encourage him with a few messages if you like what you see!

These chaps can really snap

Last night Timol and I had one cracker of a party to celebrate going away (very soon) to yet another exciting travel destination.

Energy levels today do not allow me to pull out my PHD and search for some interesting photos.

Luckily, there are some really hot photographers on hand who publicly display their talents.

I have selected some of their photos to give you a taste, which will hopefully get you interested so that you click on their names below to link up to their sites, and view more of their great work (passion).

Sanjitpaal Singh

David Heath Williams

David Taylor

Stephanie Borcard

Andy Gray

 

Aaron Reed

Respectfully asked that his work be removed, but you can still click on his link to see some wonderful shots!