First off, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been stopping by to check out this site. We haven't had much time over the past year to work on it, but there are plans to update it, add lots more information, and hopefully embark on another trip soon. So make sure to keep checking back every once in a while!
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And finally, I've been going through all the images from our India/South East Asia trip. I never had a chance to really sit down and look at them all, so I did, and wow, the memories that came flooding back! Here are a few that jumped out at me today:
A fish seller in Vietnam.
Making samosas in Calcutta.
Traffic in Calcutta. I love the look on his face, and I wonder what he was thinking about.
Our boatman in Varanasi.
The Ganges river.
Making cow pats in Varanasi.
The boats in the Ganges river.
Street scene, India.
Lovely girls in Jodhpur.
A welder in Jaisalmer.
A common sight on the roads of India.
I was looking through the archives for some shots for our new blog (coming soon!) and saw some photos I wanted to post here. I was thinking of going back through the whole trip and posting shots from each place. Who would be interested in that? Leave a comment if you want that!
For now here are those awesome photos:
A traveler on the streets of Jaisalmer.
And another local from the streets.
From the Qutab Minar in Delhi.
The Lotus Temple in Delhi.
Hanging jootis in Calcutta
Buddha sculpture from the temple at Krabhi, Thailand.
An awesome rhino from Kaziranga.
Our boatman from Varanasi.
Hope you enjoyed that little hodge-podge, but I'll keep things a bit more organized as I keep posting!
Also, I have gotten a couple emails regarding the Hindu Wedding article, and how it's not finished. Oops! I'll definitely try to get that finished up soon for you all!
indian one horned rhino,
So we’ve had a big store of photos all backing up waiting to be blogged. There’s so very very much to see in India and so much to shoot that we find ourselves completely overloading with photos. But we’re taking a nice and relaxing day here in Mumbai to work on getting some edited so that you guys can see some more of India. I hope you enjoy!
We’re going to go back in time here, and show you the last couple of places we’ve visited. Our time in India is rather short when you think about how much this country has to see, so our pace has been quite rapid. We’ve spent incredible numbers of hours on trains and as such haven’t had much time to work on the computer as we stop in a town for just a couple of days. Thus the backtracking!
I’m going to also preface these posts with a note. No amount of photos that we show you could really convey the intensity of India. And I’m not necessarily saying that in a good way. I think we show a very beautiful side of this country, and I’m so glad to see that so many of you are enjoying seeing that. But what we haven’t been showing are photos of urinals in the streets, garbage absolutely filling every crevice, cow droppings making every step a cautious one, and the incredible relentlessness of poverty.
I’ll give you a few statistics to try and give you some perspective on the issue of poverty in India. (These are all taken from the Lonely Planet: India, Published 2007). The last census of 2001 placed the population of India at 1.027 billion, which I believe was up 20% from the decade before. I would guess it’s over 1.1 billion now and is slated to overtake China as the most populous country by 2035 (India is much smaller in land mass than China!). The unemployment rate is 8.6%. Literacy rate is about 54% in women and 75% in men. Families living in one-room homes: 41%. India’s percentage of the world population 16.7%. The worlds highest number of HIV positive cases—greater than South Africa-- with a reported at 5.7 million cases, estimated to reach 12 million by 2010. About 30-40% of India’s population survive on less than 1 US dollar per day. In Mumbai where we are currently staying the population is 16.4 million (about half the population of Canada) and it’s estimated that up to 55% of the population live in slums and shantytowns. It is also home to the largest slum in Asia, known as Dharavi, incorporating 1.7 square kilometers with a population of more than 1 million people (the same population as our home city, Edmonton). But really none of these numbers mean anything until you actually visit this country and see things for yourself.
It’s a side of India that we did not expect. We had been told that India was “dirty, smelly and crowded”. Those words don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what we’ve seen and experienced. It’s been difficult to handle at times, and even more so when every moment outside is punctuated with touts trying to sell us something. We are both quite exhausted many days when we come back, and relish our quite evenings watching a movie on the laptop. It’s a bit of normalcy and stability in a country that seems anything but.
So if you are planning to visit India, I encourage you to do so. But with this warning that I wish we had been given. Prepare yourself for a very tough journey, that will be filled with incredible highs (you will see some in this post) and gut-wrenching lows. As I remarked one day to Rob, India tests your patience. It crosses the line of your limits, then it dances well beyond that line, then it punches you in the face, and goes even further. Harsh words I know, but I do pride myself on being a relatively patient person, and yet have on many occasions felt myself completely and utterly strained, and very ready to lash out. Of course, these are only momentary lapses, and in the very next moment something happens to make me fall in love with India all over again. It’s a rollercoaster ride every day, and I just can’t even begin to fathom what we will encounter with another full month here, but I’m sure it will be just as memorable, both in a good way and bad, as what has happened so far. This is not a holiday, but a life experience and a supreme test.
I thank you for indulging me in this little discussion. I know it’s a lot deeper than our usual style of writing. We do try our best to see some bit of beauty in many of these depressing scenes, and those photos are what we share with you. But we don’t want to paint a false picture, and hope that this little side note helps to prevent that. I promise I won’t launch into these intense essays too frequently. Emotions are much more powerful after traveling these sorts of places, and it is always good to share ☺
The first shot here is of our room in Jorhat. It was more than we ever expected, and likely more luxurious than anything else we will stay in while we’re here. Another huge thank you to Runa’s family for putting us up in such a wonderful place.
And now some shots from Varanasi. This is one of the holiest cities in India, situated on the Ganges River. It is the city of Shiva the destroyer, one of the Hindu gods. To die here is a very desirable fate, since it releases a Hindu from the cycle of birth and death. One of the gentlemen who worked at our hotel had been living in Varanasi for 25 years, as his mother had come to the city that long ago, and was still waiting to die there. It is a city that we both found to be incredibly intense and at times quite overwhelming.
On our first day in Varanasi we took a boat ride at dusk along the river. It was a very interesting experience, at once both calming and eerie.
Kite flying is a common past time here.
Our boat took us to the main ghat. A ghat is an area that slopes down to the river where people bathe, wash clothes, and pray, and there are many of them lining the banks of the river. This main ghat had a nightly aarti ceremony (prayer) to the Ganges. It was quite elaborate, and made for some great photos.
After the aarti was done everyone lit candles and put them into the river, as an offering to the Ganges.
The two candles that you can see in this picture were the ones Rob and I lit.
The next day we took a little walk around town. There are tons of movie posters around, especially for the latest blockbuster, Jodhaa Akbar. We attempted to see if anywhere in Mumbai had English subtitles but apparently not. It was quite disappointing, since this is apparently a fantastic movie! We’ll have to wait until we get home ☹
This intrepid young guy saw that we were going the wrong way to get to the Ganges, so he led us in the right direction (in exchange for a small tip, of course). But his English was excellent, so major props to him.
As I mentioned before, the Ganges is where many people bathe during the day. It’s considered a very holy river, and is capable of washing away bad karma. I love this shot of this young guy in a quiet moment looking over the river after his bath.
There are tons of what I believe to be water buffalo wandering around near the ghats. We thought they were pretty cute indeed.
Now, you recall me mentioning that we found Varanasi to be incredibly intense. This will give a glimpse into that. Two of the ghats along the river are dedicated specifically to cremation. It takes place in public, and you can stand and watch it. After we got back to our room that night I took a moment to try and describe what it felt like to see that, but honestly I could not find the right words. This photo is of some of the piles of wood nearby that are used for the cremations that take place all throughout the day. There are over 200 cremations every day, so you can imagine the amount of wood needed…
It wasn’t all just intensity like that though. It was really neat to see some goats just relaxing on the steps of a ghat.
And there were some very interesting characters along the way. This guy has dreadlocks so long you wouldn’t believe. They were all tied up in his turban, which is why it is so big. I found his face and colours to be just incredible.
Another interesting experience in Varanasi was when Rob got an authentic Indian shave. They whipped out a stool, sat him in an alley in front of a big metal door, and went to it. He said it felt really great, and was a nice close shave!
There were cows all over the streets, just watching the swarms of people go by
And one day we hired a rickshaw driver to take us around to see some of the temples in Varanasi. Many of them aren’t open to non-Hindus, so we only saw a few. This one is one of the many Shiva temples in Varanasi. It was small, but still so ornate that I found it amazing. There are so few things like this in Edmonton!
Then we stopped by the Monkey Temple. We weren’t allowed inside, but one of the guards let us walk a bit closer near a gate to see some of the monkeys eating. It looked like there were dozens of monkeys all around this temple! This little guy jumped up into a tree that jutted out over the fence, so that we were both kind of nervous because he looked ready to jump right on Rob! But he certainly was cute, nonetheless.
Here’s the view from our seat on the rickshaw. The road in this picture is so empty because we were taking a quiet ride around the local University. The rest of the time it was so incredibly busy and harrowing. It was quite interesting to see the shirt of our driver saying "Jesus, I trust in you". I'm not sure if he was actually Christian, or just liked the shirt. Neither is outside the realm of possibility in India.
At the local Benares Hindu University there is a large temple that is actually open to people of all faiths, so we took a look. There was a really fantastic sculpture on the outside, I believe of Shiva.
The temple itself
The next day we ventured out to Sarnath, which is 10km outside of Varanasi. It is where Buddha came to preach his message after he achieved enlightenment.
There is a small deer park in the area, and I just couldn’t believe the antlers on this deer.
There was also a small Jain temple nearby. Many people have probably never heard of the Jain religion, but a very good friend of mine is Jain, so I have a bit of familiarity with it. It started in the 6th century BC as an opposition to the Hindu caste system. Founded by Mahavira, the Jain religion teaches that through ahimsa (non-violence) and achieving complete purity of the soul one can achieve liberation. When we walked into the Jain temple and saw this small alter with a black marble statue, I can honestly tell you that I felt a tangible sense of intensity from it, more so than even the large buddhas that we’ve seen.
We walked along the road and came to another Jain site, with a much larger black marble statue. I felt such a sense of gentleness from the way the hands were carved.
And from the road we got a good glimpse of the Dhanekh Stupa, which was erected to mark the spot where Buddha gave his first sermon to his 5 followers.
It’s really funny how things that remind you of home can get you so excited when you’ve been gone for so long. Rob and I very very very rarely eat at McDonalds (maybe once a year) but when we saw one in Varanasi, we were pumped. Little did we realize that since this is India, and the 82% Hindu majority consider cows to be sacred, there would be absolutely no beef on the menu. Out the window went our dreams of a Big Mac. Instead we got a couple of Chicken Maharaja Macs….Honestly, I couldn’t make something like that up. They were good, but just not the same.
But the soft serve ice cream was just like back home, and so I was happy.
And that’s a slice of Varanasi. It was certainly a place to see, and to experience, but it was anything but relaxing. The city is notorious for touts, and even more so it can be quite scary at night time. They often turn all the power off, including the street lights, which makes carrying a flashlight at all times a necessity. And during the day time the percentage of people on the streets was about 90% male. At night time, it became about 98%, which definitely can make you a bit jumpy. Thus the lack of night time shots! But now here in Mumbai things are quite different, and we’ve had a couple great night time strolls. As usual, India is always a surprise.