Thursday, April 24, 2008


Hello from Varanasi!

Varanasi is chaotic, crazy, and I love it! I may be one of the only ones though. Most of my friends here feel spooked by the proximity of death. The burning ghats send out an ominous feeling to those of us who are detached from death. I did not see floating bodies in the Ganges which is not uncommon, but we did see bodies being cremated on the river's edge and urns with ashes floating down the river. While I was not completely comfortable what I saw I was not as affect as my friends. Varanasi also has a dark side which has been fatal to tourist over the years, I won't go into details but these events added to the eeriness of the city. While my friends felt on their guard more so than other places, I felt no different, I am always on my guard.
We found some fabulous restaurants in our explorations of the city ( limited as they were from heat and a need to avoid large parts of the city). The Brown Bread Bakery gets a nod from me! Freshly baked cheese croissant (gouda on the inside, cheddar on the outside!) was amazing, as was the hot chocolate! Indian food? Didn't really eat any in Varanasi, just Middle Eastern and bakery food.
So what were the highlights beside the food? The early morning (5am) boat trip and the sunset flower/candle ceremony. Each flower we dropped was to be accompanied with a wish. The flower/candle ceremony was on my niece Theo's birthday so of course she got the first in, and since I know she loves to share, I dropped a candle in on her behalf for each of her cousins, her aunts and uncles, her grandparents, and her parents. There were still candles to float so I sent some off with wishes of health for myself ( my list of aliments continues to grow) and for my travels. It was so beautiful to watch the candles flicker as they floated down the river. It reminded me of the days of "lanterns for peace" and my first steps as an anti nuclear proliferation activist.
Varanasi is a city that is older than history. There is no founding date, it has always been, and is perhaps the oldest city in the world. It is ancient, it has a dark side, it is chaotic, but it is intoxicating.

I am now in Rishikish, up in the hills where the Beatles went to meditate.
More from the hills later.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The day before I arrive in Varanasi

Hello all,
Well my ankle is healing very slowly. I have not been successful obtaining crutches, but then I have not seen one lame person in India with them so why should there be any for the white girl? I do have it bandaged as you can see in the photo. The swelling has been going down with the help of tiger balm.

A little story:
Once there was a young woman travelling in India. After a particularly hard day she finally arrives at her hotel. A few minutes after she settles into her room she is told by the hotel that her mother has been trying to get in touch with her and says to urgently call home. The young woman can't even respond to this news, she stumbles to her bed and breaks down in shock. Why would her mother leave such a message? something bad must have happened. The dream she had of her father the other night comes to mind, a dream she had not dared even tell her friends about. The tears flow. Her friends race to find phone credit for their cell phones, they are also very worried and upset. The young woman sit in her hotel room watching golf on tv and holding tight to her childhood doll while thinking of how fast she can arrange to get a fligth home. Her friends return and encourage her to call even though it si 4am back home. They are saying reassuring things but thinking the worst, it is written on their faces. She calls, no answer. Her friends leave to find food and give her space. She gets through to her sister in Ottawa and after hearing all is fine she breaks down again in sobs of relief. That was one of the worst moments of her life. Her mother was just trying to make contact. Their was no urgency. The hotel just assumed it was urgent. Why else would a mother be calling from overseas?

That was my day.
I am still recovering.

I think my parents and I are even on receiving scary messages from overseas.

More from Varanasi.


p.s. Theo, you turn 8 tomorrow!!! so excited!!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Will update ASAP

I am in Khajuraho.
I have so many stories for you all but I don't have time to write them at the moment.
I fell down the stairs at a temple here and sprained my ankle rather badly. My friends are doing a fabulously job taking care of me but as on yet I still can't walk.
I don't know when I will have access to a computer again, maybe Varanasi. I will update when I can.


Monday, April 14, 2008

speaking of mummy....


I love you!
I miss you!
I wish I could spend your birthday with you!
Have a great day in Florida!

I will try to call you tonight.



There are three things that when combined can comfort even those suffering from "delhi belly", they are: comfy over sized pjs, BBC's Pride and Prejudice, and one's Mum. I have none of these things, but I do have caring friends who have been through it and are compassionate.
This morning as I boarded my 6:30am train I almost burst into tears wanting my mum, but I am feeling better. My stomach has yet to decide which end it will direct my lunch. Sorry if that is crude, but such is a traveller's reality in India. I have been very fortunate so far.
I still want my mum.
The heat still climbs. It has to be at least 40 today.
I am dreaming of the Himalayas.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

bye bye Pushkar

The photos:
Pushkar bazaar
Traditional Rajastani meal on leaf plates and bowls (very environmentally sustainable)
Me after I have stuffed myself with this good home cooking. (We were invited to have a meal at a family's home.)

Desert heat and spirituality - Pushkar

I am here in Pushkar, one of the most holy cities in India. It is here in Pushkar that the only temple to Brahma stands on the holy lake Pushkar. Brahma was the creator of this world, but was cursed (who cursed him and why depends on the mythology you have been taught) and only allowed to have one temple at the place where he worshiped- Pushkar. He also created Pushkar with the drop of a lotus petal (this alone had made the place spiritually important. Pushkar is a jewel in the desert. Rocky hills and seas of sand surround this desert oasis.
The weather is hot here. It is probably around 40 degrees and the power has been out for most of the day which has given me a new respect and love for electricity as I mutter under my breath what I would give for a fan. There is little to no breeze here and the flies are everywhere.
There is so much more to Pushkar besides the heat and the flies. As I said before, it is one of the holiest cities in India and thousands of people make the piligramage here every year to pay their respects to Lord Brahma, to bath in the sacred lake, and to perform puja. Puja means worship, and performing puja means to be blessed by a brahmin.
The other things to do here in Pushkar is to go on a camel safari!
My camel safari was great fun. We left in the early evening just before sunset to try to avoid the heat (not possible) as our camels and guides lead us on a three hour walk through Pushkar and the surrounding desert. There was much laughter, and mirth despite the heat. Some of the camels were extremely funny. I (of course) choose the bad boy of the group. It wasn't until I got on him that I noticed the bit of hair and skull that was missing from the back of his head and was later informed this was from a fight with another camel. He took every opportunity to eat and tried to bite me when I went to pet his head. His name is Krishna, one of the most important gods of Hinduism, and the name seems to have gone to his head. Despite his attitude and the fact he had to walk at the back of the line so as to not get into trouble with the other camels, my guide handed the reins over to me and I was the only one in the grou that got to "drive" their own camel. Riding a camel is not that different than riding a horse and Krishna behaved tolerably well for me.
All in all, the camel safari was acceleratingly and the desert sunset was stunning.
Performing the Puja:
Yesterday morning I went down to the lake with Genish (my brahmin, not the god)and took part in the puja. The puja was much more involved than I had expected. We were given a plate with five things on it: sugar, red powder, yellow powder, flowers, and a coconut. Our hands were washed with holy water from the lake, then we repeated the mantra that Genish chanted. We asked for health, happiness, wealth, and for a sweet mother, sweet father, sweet sister, sweet brother, and sweet husband. We were told to make a wish and after more repeating of the mantra a red and yellow thread was tied around my wrist and I emptied the contents of my plate (not the coconut) into the lake. Once the puja was finished we were asked if we wanted to offer a prayer/blessing to someone who had expired. (His word not mine.) A decided to offer my prayers and my blessing that the next life be a good one to my Auntie Karen. I did not expect this to be so overwhelmingly emotional. I was given holy water from the lake, I repeated the mantra I was given over the holy water and I had to speak her name before releasing the water into the lake and repeating the process. It was on uttering my aunt's name that I broke down. I was in Japan when she passed away and as I performed this blessing and prayer for her I realized I had not yet done any ritual to honour her passing and her life. I barely managed to repeat the mantra, but I completed the process, sat down in the hot sun and let the steaming tears run down from my behind my dark glasses. I looked over the holy lake, at the hundreds of temples that dot the city, and at the many ghats that marked the places of prayer donated by kings, presidents, Queen Elizabeth, and Ghandi. Ghandi, Neru, and several gerus have some or all of their ashes sprinkled in this lake. I tried to think that she would like this, that she would feel honoured, but this could not comfort me and so I just let the tears come.
Pushkar is a place for families to come. Yesterday I honoured mine both living and past, I wished for health, and I wished I was here with them. Spiritually in India is as much connected to the family as it is to the individual. I may not be the most spiritual person in the world but my puja here in Pushkar was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
Pushkar is also known for three other things: hippies, cheap shopping, and Israeli food. The three go together. Some of the hippies here have gone... well... native, except scarier than the natives. Deadlocks, unwashed hair, tattered clothing, and a lack of shoes are all signs of those who have been here too long and drank one too many bang lassies. The Israeli food here, on the other hand, is AMAZING! Indian food has had to step back for the falafel and humus. I am going to have to get another one for the train ride to Delhi tonight.

My love to all.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Camel Safari and Pushkar

Bundi and Udaipur

Well life continues to be very full. Every day is yet another adventure.
I have added some more cities to my itinerary since my last post.
The last few have been my favorites.
Bundi was wonderful and my visit there was far too short. After a short tour of Bundi Palace and its magnificent views, I walked through the town with Puja looking for contact solution and nursed my slightly infected eye. (no worries, after a horrible night of hot compresses and washing it out I am all better). I would have loved to have spent more time in Bundi, the place just had a great feel. It was very relaxed and chill. It is slightly off the tourist tract but gets enough to have services for wandering westerners.
From Bundi my friends and I moved on to rural Rajasthan where we stayed in a beautiful castle of the old ruling family (that still lives there), and toured the near by villages. Everyone I met in the villages was warm and welcoming. The people are very poor but there life is so much better than life in a city slum.
Puja was amazing in helping us organize a day trip to Udaipur. Udaipur, "the most romantic city in Asia" also know as "Venus of the East". I feel in love with Udaipur as soon as we arrived.
Udaipur City Palace is by far the prettiest palace I have seen in India. There is a courtyard with trees on the 5th floor!! how cool is that?! Our guide for the Palace was also the best I have had yet. Udaipur is just the best of everything.
After the tour of the palace and a rather disappointing lunch at a German bakery, I was introduced to a friend of Puja's. Javed asked me if I was free that afternoon (of course I was) and then asked if I would like to spend it with him. I was game, he was nice and cute, and when he showed me his motor bike I was on it before he could finished asking me if I would be scared to ride. We whisked through the city streets, he gave me a wonderful tour, showed me the lakes and then took me up one of the mountains to the Monsoon Palace. The roads were windy, deserted, and I was having the time of my life. I teased him that he was kidnapping me, but he did not find this so amusing as he was trying to make a good impression. It took me a little while before I realized I was on a date, and the sweetest date ever! Javed lives in Udaipur but works as a tour guide all over India. We hung out at the palace basking in the winds, which cooled the otherwise soaring temperatures, until it was time to met up with Puja and my friends for an evening boat cruse. Javed is finished work for the summer (it is too hot to give tours) and asked if I would meet him again. I asked Puja to join us and maybe we will head up into the hills in a few weeks to get away from growing heat.
So Udaipur was very exciting. Very beautiful, and lived up to its slogans.
Enjoy the pictures.

Bundi and Udaipur pics

Well I am now in Pushkar. same old same old really - very much in love with India!

These pictures are of Bundi, rural Rajasthan, and Udaipur.
From the top:
-My drive by shooting of of a man in rural Rajasthan carrying water.
-Bundi Palace
-Bundi town (painted almost all blue)
-My bedroom in the castle. fit for a princess!
-The castle.
-My date, Javed
-Monsoon Palace, Udaipur
-following three are views from the Monsoon Palace
- Very colourful festival in Udaipur
- Pictures of Udaipur from the lake.
-Udaipur street

Monday, April 07, 2008


Here are pictures from Jaipur. I just relized that I didn't take any pictures of the city or the Amber fort. I do have pictures of Galta, the monkey temple which was amzing. The other pictures are from my visit to i-india, and NGO helping street children in Jaipur.

Madhogarth Fort