I and one other departed on Emirates flight EK776 out of Durban at 18:40 on 23 December 2009, with a “forced” and inconvenient stopover in Dubai.
Described by some as “the mirage in the desert”, it was reported by the Times Online UK that this enchanting country enjoyed a debt of 80 billion USD during around June 2009.
I personally find mirages and owing money a little frightening, so it was with much excitement that we eventually departed and later landed in Kolkata, India. This was on the morning of Christmas Eve, but there was nothing merry about going through a swine flu questionnaire and scan.
We stayed at Bodhi Tree, a small bed & breakfast establishment tastefully decorated with various Buddhist décor. Each morning we enjoyed breakfast in a Sakya Zen garden under the watchful eye of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Dakshineswar (the subject of this article) is a temple situated on the Eastern bank of the Ganges (Hooghly) river.
The main temple is over one hundred feet high and houses a statue of goddess Kali. As the myth goes, it is said that she became drunk on the blood of her victims on the battlefield, thereafter dancing destructively and in a crazy frenzy! Some recent devotional movements view her as a benevolent mother goddess.
During our stay in Kolkata we hired taxis (Tata’s or Hindustan Ambassadors) at ZAR250.00 for 7 hours and/or 80km – the latter being the same shape since 1958.
Kolkata was very busy – think of the worst JHB traffic multiplied by ten, non-stop hooting, smog and general mayhem caused by the opening of a new Makro store nearby where items are being sold at less 50%, the residing population (which exceeds fifteen million) making this all really exciting.
Our first “traumatic” outing was to Kalighat Temple where we were picked up by “scouts” about two hundred metres short of the temple. We were immediately ushered to their waiting room where we were instructed to leave our shoes and wash our hands before being marched off with a supplied offering. An eager “receiver” was only too obliged to hastily usher us around the temple, thereafter spending a lengthy period of time explaining that our impending financial offering would greatly benefit our own spiritual welfare. At this stage I involved myself, negotiated a fair payment for his services, and then us out leaving the “receiver” with a wry, painful smile on his face.
We returned to Kalighat Temple two days later and at our own leisure, walked around the perimeter. We briefly met one of the nuns at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Sick and Dying Destitutes situated alongside.
The photograph below taken at the aforesaid location shows an elderly lady in an orange sari, thin and grey, sitting in front of a number of pigeons. The lady in the white sari, lying curled up on the ground, was previously seen walking hunchbacked, slowly and in much pain toward Mother Teresa’s home.
It is quite possible that the lady in white had been doing what we saw for the past few years, although I had a strong suspicion that she was desperately trying to reach Mother Teresa’s Home for the Sick and Dying Destitutes.
I do not recall having ever seen poverty of this magnitude when walking the main and side roads of South Africa, or the various other countries I have visited.
On Christmas Eve we visited Saint Paul’s Cathedral and it was at that stage that I confirmed something that I had noticed and initially found unusual – Hindu devotees, amongst the Christian usual’s, were flocking to Saint Paul’s that evening to attend Mass. I have seen very few practicing Christians visiting Hindu Temples, although my experience is limited.
On Christmas morning we visited Mother Teresa’s tomb (or Mother House) where we could hear (but not see) abandoned, yet gleeful children in class. We also observed nuns scurrying around receiving visitors and preparing for the all-important day.
We remained inside the tomb for some time and witnessed persons of various religions entering to pay their respects, to pray, to light candles and offer incense.
The serene and calm of Mother House was replaced later that same morning by blocked off roads and the hustle & bustle of thousands of people thronging towards Dakshineswar Temple and the Ganges (Hooghly) river.
It was that same day that we took our last few steps along the road to finally reach Dakshineswar, a journey which started spiritually, emotionally and in earnest some six months previously with many toils and snares to overcome.
The massive temple illustrated in the photograph below contains a large courtyard with rooms along the boundary walls. There are also twelve shrines situated side by side and a few metres from the Ganges (Hooghly) river.
This is of significant religious importance to millions of people who, amongst other things, scatter the ashes of their loved ones therein.
The excitement and keen spiritual sense of the thousands flocking into and around the temple and river was once again something I have not previously witnessed.
Within at least a one kilometre radius of the temple there are numerous stalls selling food, prayer goods and other items. The energy of individuals and complete families (young and old) who were buzzing around or simply relaxing on or near the grounds (but together) with the many beggars, dogs, cows and crows was unbelievable. There was a hive of activity – clearly a photographer’s paradise!
After accompanying my friend to make an offering at Dakshineswar we headed diagonally across the river to nearby Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math. The main temple there is notable for its architecture that fuses Hindu, Christian and Islamic motifs as a symbol of unity of all religions.
Belur Math, which is forty acres in size, was a little more relaxed than Dakshineswar and once again it was heartening to see Ramakrishna followers and others offering their respects to a Nativity display set up in the main temple approximately ten metres away from the residing Guru.
Before leaving the banks of the Ganges (Hooghly) River we of course had to follow suit and (ever so slightly) wet ourselves, but avoiding the prospect of joining the thousands who were already swimming and doing washing.
It was probably on the same day that we caught a bicycle rickshaw to a main road in Kolkata. Here, we attempted to draw twenty thousand rupees from an antique ATM, but received no cash.
I did, however, manage to arrange a full “Gillette” beard shave for fifteen rupees (ZAR2.50).
I also took the photograph below on this main road. This photograph, I believe, gives a fair indication of just how the desperate lives of some seem to continue in Kolkata.
There are two crows perched on the old parked and overloaded rubbish truck (no doubt a Tata).
The driver is to its side using a shovel to load refuse and other junk onto the truck – at the same time under the watchful eye of the crows who are no doubt eagerly awaiting morsels of food.
A lady and her son are seen inside and on the outskirts on the pile of refuse. The lady was looking for food and other valuables whilst her son was seated with their personal belongings. A dog sits in the foreground, relaxed and eyeing the ever busy traffic where the drivers constantly hoot and manoeuvre around one other. Doing all of this and amazingly with minimal fuss, no road rage or the time consuming jams most of us have witnessed.
Our experience of Kolkata was very brief although it was obvious that there is a very keen sense of spirituality here. Small shrines are erected on the sides of most roads – sometimes seen every fifty metres or so. Every person we saw (other than the beggars at the temple), but including the crows, dogs and cows appeared to be busy doing something meaningful to survive.
Boys of approximately ten years of age were seen plastering a wall on a freeway whilst very old men were seen scurrying along the main road carrying machinery and moving heavy articles with the aid of improvised bicycle trolleys.
I shudder to think what the one young gentleman seen shaving a person on a tin can on the pavement would have charged me for a full shave if his “up-market” competition at a nearby shop only charged me ZAR2.50.
Thereafter, we travelled to Hyderabad in South central India, a major hub of the information technology industry. Muslims constitute about forty percent of the population and have substantial presence across the city, although we were very excited to discover a statue of the Buddha 17.5 metres high weighing approximately 350 tons watching over Hussain Sagar Lake.
The photograph above was taken at the super-peaceful Ramakrishna Math.
The statue of Lord Buddha was sculptured out of white granite rock and by approximately two hundred sculptors over a period of two years.
As with Kolkata, the food from vendors on the side of the road and in shops was very tasty, inexpensive and not drenched in oil like most curries back home.
The traffic and hooting was on a par with Kolkata and it was at this stage that we started getting headaches whilst dashing around town in a dodgy yellow tuc-tuc. One way signs, traffic lights and other rules usually obeyed in South Africa do not seem to apply in India. Strangely though, we witnessed no accidents! Once again it is a case of everybody just somehow getting on because it is the only and right thing to do.
Our next stop was Goa where we spent New Year’s Eve and approximately an additional week thereafter lazing around the beaches, eating cheap curries, drinking beers and watching cows (yes the real dairy type) suntan. They would later sneak up on unsuspecting persons asleep on the beach and dig through their bags for bananas, watermelons and other tasty food.
We also hired a scooter for a number of days and “helmet free” we drove up and down the coast seeking out different beaches and beach shacks before once again heading back to our temporary place of abode at sun set.
My friend sadly did not enjoy the backpacker accommodation I organized in Goa, although I did somehow convince her to spend one night in the accommodation after we had enjoyed a good meal and a few local beverages.
It is no doubt for this reason that “we” agreed to cancel the accommodation I arranged in Mumbai and very quickly booked an up-market hotel. Here, we received a bath robe, free slippers, a pen, writing pad, a supply of daily fruit, bottled water and a variety of other luxuries.
In hindsight, my friend made a good decision because by the time we arrived in Mumbai I was suffering from food poisoning, was totally exhausted and even drove past the “hotel” which I had booked (no comment required).
The hotel in Mumbai had three in-house restaurants and our first evening was spent on the roof overlooking Mumbai. Our second and last night was spent in a busy downstairs seafood restaurant where I “forced” my friend to eat an expensive lobster whilst the Bollywood patrons (who were very keenly dressed) probably wondered why on earth we were wearing shorts and tracksuit pants.
We flew out of Mumbai and once again were “forced” to stop over in Dubai, spend money at Duty Free and sleep inside the airport. I guess it would have been far worse had my friend not arranged for us to get inside the Diners Club lounge.
We found most of the locals in India to be friendly, humble, appreciative, hardworking and spiritual.
I have no doubt that I may once again return to India to mingle with the lovely people and their interesting culture.
7 March 2010
PS – I did in fact return to India in December 2011 – January 2012
The Best Tin Fish Curry Submitted by: Yadhana Jadoo, Kwazulu Natal courtesy of Lucky Star.
1 can Lucky Star Pilchards in Chilli 3 Tomatoes 1 Large onion Curry Leaves Dhania Green Chillies Garlic Mustard Seeds Chilli Powder Tumeric Powder Salt Sugar
Cut half the onion and braise with mustard seeds till brown. Add a tablespoon of Chilli Powder and a teaspoon of tumeric. Fry for a few seconds..do not Burn! Add chopped tomatoes, curry leaves, 2 green chillies, and a clove of garlic. Mix together and simmer on a low heat. Once all the tomatoes have melted to form a thick chutney…add in the pilchards, and a teaspoon of sugar. Simmer again for about fifteen minutes..make sure not to break up the fish! When you see that the oil has surfaced to the top..mix again, and turn off the heat. FINAL STEP! Add fresh Dhania to the top…serve with warm roti..and Enjoy! YUM!
Best enjoyed with: Warm roti
But who needs a recipe when Timol knows all of this and more like the back of her hand!
So guess what I had for dinner after a long day of slogging at the office…
Oh, and below is the pot lid and what Timol’s mom also cooked for us – a dried salted fish dish with calabash – suraikkaai (சுரைக்காய் colloquilly sorakkay) in Tamil
Timols’ 40th was coming up with a dash of speed in early July and I thought a handmade ring would suit the occasion.
A bit of reading revealed:
Birth Stones – July: Ruby “The gleaming ruby should adorn, All those who in July are born. For thus they’ll be exempt and free From lover’s doubts and anxiety.”
First stop was my mate Michael Finch Jewellery with “Timol in tow”.
But then it became “Andy in tow” when Timol’s mind got “expansive”.
I therefore abandoned Timol, with her consent of course, and set out on a solo mission to conquer the purchase of my 1st ring ever!
If I was going to pay Mike 1/2 my salary to make a unique once-off ring then I couldn’t possibly choose a synthetic stone.
I saw such a lovely Sky Topaz but then oops!!!
My eyes also missile-locked in on a shiny glistening pink red ruby.
No choice – I took both before Leaza could leave with her showcases of jewels.
I showed Mike who immediately blurted out “Sorry brother, you need another ruby to balance alongside the Topaz or it’s TWO rings”.
Leaza could not supply us with any firm guarantee in the short space of time before deadline.
One ring became two, which Mike so eloquently described in his surfer Buddhist drawl as follows:
1 x 14x12mm Sky Blue Topaz – long cushion cut
1 x 3.5mm round Select Ruby – 0.195ct
Approximately 17grams of Sterling silver was used in total.
These two stones were set in two separate rings.
The Sky Blue Topaz was tube set in a cupped setting and mounted on a 6mm wide court shaped silver band with a milled finish.
The Select Ruby was gypsy set (rub over) in a court shape silver band with poished rims and a milled finish.
I took the images below in true amateur Andy style, being my first attempt at close-ups of rings in terrible light and like always; refusing to try any manual settings – full auto for me!
An introduction by Andy Carr , who is incidentally and definitely not me.
“Have you ever been overwhelmed by the astounding beauty of vistas that you have come across in your travels? Have you been frustrated in that you never seem able to capture the feeling of the magnificent view of the vistas in front of you in a single photograph. For this reason I have experimented with the combining of multiple photos to achieve a better representation of what one sees in front of one at these special power spots in our world.
I started to play around with the combination of multiple photos to build up a 360° views as a project when I was at university. After capturing the vista in black & white with anything from 40 to 60 photos, then developing and printing them and sticking the photos down on a board, to build up the image. The results where promising, the process challenging and ultimately the results where ok, not fantastic.
After finishing army national service in 1989 as a photographer I left photography all together, only to be grabbed by photography again in 2008. Astounded by the versatility of digital photography and the ability to manipulate images, opened up the idea of once again trying the multiple photo approach, to 360° views.
The web site is a documentation of the results of this journey over the last few of years.”
What lovely and amazing pics by a cool artist!
Check them out right here.
Visit Potjiekosworld and read about our South African culture.
Here is a taster from them:
“When the first Dutch settlers arrived in the Cape, they brought with them their ways of cooking food in heavy cast iron pots, which hung from the kitchen hearth above the fire.
Long before the arrival of the early settlers in the Cape, the Bantu people who were migrating into South Africa, learned the use of the cast iron cooking pot from Arab traders and later the Portuguese colonists.
These cast iron pots were able to retain heat well and only a few coals were needed to keep the food simmering for hours. They were used to cook tender roasts and stews, allowing steam to circulate inside instead of escaping through the lid. The ingredients were relatively simple, a fatty piece of meat, a few potatoes and some vegetables were all that was needed to cook a delightful meal.”
Read more here.
Guided by expert cook Timol, I set about cooking a mutton curry potjie with beans.
The images below tell their own story.
7 April 2010
Bellair Road, Durban South Africa armed only with a Samsung G800 Camera Phone.
A very poor area; plagued by crime and other misfortunes, such as fire.
At 12h36 that afternoon the three delighted young chaps shown below were having a whale of a time.
The water was shooting up high into the sky and they were laughing, dancing, bopping, weaving and smiling from ear to ear.
Whilst I would have liked to have had my Canon handy; I do believe that the camera phone captured the essence of what transpired then and there.