final steps of my journey – finishing Egypt, coming home

my route in egypt

my route in egypt

I had no time to write from the road, internet being spotty or expensive or nonexistent. Since Luxor, things have felt like a sprint: all at once I realized some stops on the tour had been skipped early on. Elephantine Island and Kom Ombo had somehow gone unmentioned, unvisited. A disappointment to me and something I found myself dealing with during the trip, to my annoyance.

view from the boat as we headed toward luxor

view from the boat as we headed toward luxor

Regardless, I got to visit the massive temple at Luxor, dedicated to the union of the goddess Mut and the god Amun or Amen, which contained many colonnades and beautiful holy of holies – painted and “refurbished” by Alexander the Great so that his name is written there as pharaoh.

the famous avenue of sphinxes which leads to the temple of karnak

the famous avenue of sphinxes which leads to the temple of karnak

columns at luxor - huge!

columns at luxor – huge!

fresco of the last supper done by coptic christians - over temple inscriptions at luxor

fresco of the last supper done by coptic christians – over temple inscriptions at luxor

the temple at luxor - minarets from two different periods visible from the mosque built on the site

the temple at luxor – minarets from two different periods visible from the mosque built on the site

One of my favorite temples of the trip was Medinet Habu – outside of the Valley of the Kings. It was made by Ramses III and depicted battles won against the “sea people”  – one of the traditional enemies of ancient Egypt, with gruesome piles of hands and other “members” taken to prove how many enemy combatants were slain in the fighting.

doorway with protective wings in medinet habu - all the temple was once painted like this!

doorway with protective wings in medinet habu – all the temple was once painted like this!

pillar at medinet habu

pillar at medinet habu

From there we took a fast desert road north toward Dendara where there was a famous Hathor temple that really knocked my socks off: it was the only one I visited with an upper level intact enough to climb up.

hathor gate

beautiful ceiling at Dendara

nice light in Hathor temple

hathor capitals at Dendara

We kept driving from there up to the next temple on our schedule at a place called Abydos where there was a famous Isis temple. It was well preserved and behind the main temple, built by Seti I and added to by his son Ramses II, there is a mysterious structure called the Osireion, which most Egyptologists claim was built at the same time as the rest of the temple, but which I find very doubtful, since it is significantly lower in the ground and built in the megalithic style. More likely, it is the elder site, as it is well know that subsequent pharaohs liked to “one-up” previous kings by marking special spots (a bit like dogs and fire hydrants).

Abydos temple paintings

osireion at Abydos

the Osireion – look at the size of those blocks!

Abydos Isis temple

Anyway, as I left the temple, men were selling their wares (though famous, this temple is off the beaten path for tourists, and since tourism is lagging in the country as a whole, these men were desperate). Among the items they were selling was a book called “In Search of Omm Sety” – which I had never heard of. However, it was cheap and available and I was out of reading material, minus a French crime novel I picked up on the cruise ship, which was not really my speed, so I bought it. It was a fascinating story of a woman who remembered a past life in Ancient Egypt and spent her life studying the temple that had been her home 3000 years ago!

We drove on toward El Miniah, dropping my guide to get a train back to Luxor along the way. The driver and I got to Miniah in the early evening, the Nile winding majestically through the small city as my guide stopped to ask anyone he saw how to get to the Cleopatra Hotel, since he was clearly out of his territory there. I arrived at last, exhausted by the day’s journey, and showered before heading up to dinner at the restaurant above, which was the first place I stayed with real Egyptian food on the menu – and Egyptian beer! I was in heaven! I even ordered an argileh after dinner (that’s a water pipe, or hookah).

what’s that last one?

perfect spicy Egyptian dinner

A Maltese fellow came over to speak with me and the group he was with (Egyptian Jesuits) took me out for a night walk along the corniche – the picturesque walkway along the Nile.

The next morning my guide from Cairo, Maged, met me at the hotel and we headed out, accompanied by another driver and a security guard (apparently the area is inclined to extremism, as demonstrated by the larger number of guns I observed there). We drove to the tombs of Beni Hassan outside of the city and I noticed the people looked different there: the style of their lives and their style of dress looked a lot more like some rural villages in India than anything else I saw in Egypt and they were all smiles. The tombs at Beni Hassan are well preserved noble tombs and the valley they overlook is a heavenly image of what all Egypt must have once looked like.

beni hassan valley

beni hassan valley

tomb at beni hassan

tomb at beni hassan

tombs carved into the limestone at beni hassan

tombs carved into the limestone at beni hassan

We drove into the desert from there, headed toward El Amarna, the erstwhile capital of Egypt under Akhenaten, Tutankhamun’s dad and the heretic pharaoh who rejected tradition in favor of his personal depiction of god as the Atun or sun disk. There aren’t many ruins to be seen there, since the city was demolished after the king’s death and many of the tombs there remain unfinished and partially destroyed as well.

akhenaten and nefertiti worshiping the aten

akhenaten and nefertiti worshiping the aten

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amarna

amarna

column in akhenaten's tomb

column in akhenaten’s tomb

the desert there has these egg-like boulders that emerge from the sand

the desert there has these egg-like boulders that emerge from the sand

We left the desert and took a ferry across the Nile to continue on to our next stop: some Roman ruins on the way out of Miniah. We meant to stop for lunch, but we ran into one of Egypt’s big issues: gasoline is limited and it is sometimes hard to find the right type. Massive lines form near petrol pumps and truck drivers wait for hours just to fill their tanks so they can do their jobs. We had to drive 55 kilometers out of the way to get gas and then made it to the last batch of tombs for the day. These were Greco/Roman so not as interesting for me, though there was a mummy in one!

ferry

ferry

there was a cow on the ferry, of course

there was a cow on the ferry, of course

the Nile looking enchanting outside of Amarna

the Nile looking enchanting outside of Amarna

Roman tomb painting

Roman tomb painting

Roman ruins

Roman ruins

Exhausted, we headed back to Cairo, dropping off our Security Guard as we left Miniah. We got back to the hotel there in the evening and I had to really negotiate in order to get tasty Egyptian vegetarian food (clearly that place catered to people who didn’t like Egyptian food and only wanted pizza!). The next morning Maged came to get me and we went to the Egyptian National Museum, where I could have spent hours and hours, days and days. I was full of questions – probably overwhelming poor Maged.

egyptian national museum list of kings

egyptian national museum list of kings

We left and got yummy lunch of Koshary – an odd sounding but delicious Egyptian specialty consisting of spaghetti and macaroni noodles mixed with rice, lentils, chickpeas, and caramelized onions to which one adds tasty tomato sauce and lime juice or spicy chilli sauce.

view from our lunch spot

view from our lunch spot

koshary!

koshary!

We went to Muhammed Ali’s mosque – not the boxer but the one-time ruler of Egypt who made massive improvements to the country and is most beloved there.

muhammed ali's mosque

maged at muhammed ali’s mosque

muhammed ali's mosque inside

muhammed ali’s mosque inside

Then we went to one of the Coptic churches, clearly Maged’s favorite place to talk about.

That evening I had plans to visit friends of friends for dinner and had a nice dinner with a Lebanese family, living in Cairo for the last 25 years. Their place was in a beautiful part of Cairo that reminded me a lot of Paris. After a lovely evening, I was exhausted and took a taxi back to my hotel.

The next morning we planned to go to Alexandria, about 2 hours distance from Cairo. I wanted to see the library designed by my old firm, Snohetta among other sites in the city.

It was a beautiful day and Alexandria a lovely place.

bibliotheca alexandrina

bibliotheca alexandrina

alexandria's harbor

alexandria’s harbor

the library

the library

We got lunch and ate in front of the citadel which was build on the site of one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

the citadel

the citadel

It was a long drive back to Cairo, but it wasn’t until we got to the city that we started to get nervous: my flight from Cairo was leaving at 10:55 that night and that seemed like plenty of time, since it was only 6 when we got to the city. Unfortunately, the traffic was terrible and each route we tried seemed more congested than the last. Poor Maged was sweating it as it got towards 8 pm and we were still en route. After pulling an important u-turn we got on the right path and made it to the airport in time for me to be rushed through security and check in for my flight.

My connection was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and most of the people taking that flight were on a tour to go to the Hajj. Everyone was smiling and happy, dressed in their finest and cleanest sets of clothes, ready for Mecca and Medina.

The flight was tough and I slept during the layover in Jeddah from 2 am to 5 am before we finally boarded the flight to New York.

I got back to the city around noon the following day after a harrowing flight on scantily padded seats. And suddenly, I’m home! Just in time for Spring! Nora and I enjoyed Washington Square park on Saturday, along with other New Yorkers emerging blinking into the sunlight.

nora in the park

nora in the park

playin my little guitar in the park

playin my little traveler guitar in the park

Yesterday Nora and I went to have Easter dinner with our friend Anna and her family in Westport. It was fun to take the train out of the city and meet her lovely parents, especially since Easter is a holiday which I typically spend with my folks in the Ozarks.

easter ladies!

easter ladies!

It’s been two months since I left the country, since I was last in New York City. But it had been EIGHT months, almost to the day, since I left New York to begin my journey to Burning Man and beyond.

New Yorkers, quick to want to jump to the heart of the matter, have been full of questions: how is it being back? Will you stay in the city? How are you thinking about your trip now? My answer is that it is too soon to say about anything, really. For the time being, I am trying to catch up on my sleep and straighten out the specifics of what comes next in my life.

I will be playing a concert in Brooklyn April 11 and music takes up much of my thoughts for now. Those in the New York area should try to come! www.aftonshows.com/KiraLyra

I’ll keep blogging – stay tuned to find out what life after my travels turns out to be!

Love and miss,

Kira

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mission: statement – the common thread in my travels

My flight left Mumbai in the morning and I had a taxi scheduled for 5:30 to get me there in time. I went out for a last dinner in the city at Cafe Universal, a happening place with foreigners and locals alike, all drinking beer and wine and eating from a menu that had only a few select indian dishes, the remainder being pastas and even some Thai food.

I had butter paneer masala and garlic naan with a glass of Indian bubbles, in honor of Erika, whom I’m sure would have wanted to try it. It was late, since I had spent the afternoon figuring out how to fit all my souvenirs into my bags – and succeeding! I went back to the hotel and slept for several hours before waking up to finish packing. I got 30 more minutes of shut-eye before my phone rang and it was time to go.

My flight connected through Saudi Arabia – Dammam – and it was interesting to see the small and very new-seeming airport: barely used and with only a couple of food and coffee kiosks and one large duty free shop. Otherwise there was an area with wifi and a smoking room, and that was about it! It was all pristine, and I was literally the only person going through security!

The airport in Cairo was also nice – fresh. We arrived on the tarmac and took buses to the terminal, where I bought my visa and went through customs to get my bag and find my driver/guide. It was getting towards 5pm when we left the airport and headed through rush hour traffic to my hotel.

I had agreed to pay the balance for my tour in dollars, but had been unable to get any from the airport – apparently Egypt is really jonesing for dollars and euros right now, with the pound a bit shaky since the revolution. My guide, Maged, was a very nice Coptic Christian – coptic just means Egyptian, apparently. He took me to my hotel and bid me goodnight till the morning when we would be visiting Giza and Saqqara before my night train south to Aswan.

The quality of the hotels is far beyond what I have been used to in India, reminding me that this part of my trip is, in a way, more vacation than pilgrimage.

view from my hotel - day 1 in egypt!

view from my hotel – day 1 in egypt!

There are, however, elements of pilgrimage to be sure. For one, I have always wanted to visit Egypt. Those that knew me around the age of 10-13 will recall my obsession with all things Egyptian. I wore scarab earrings and had a working (if elementary) knowledge of Hieroglyphics; I read everything the libraries in our county had on ancient Egypt and every copy of National Geographic that had an article on the subject. I took a class on Egyptian art and archaeology in college which no one else seemed to relish quite as nerdily as I – or even to enjoy very much. Meanwhile, I happily sketched Narmer’s Palette and various statues of seated kings and queens and memorized the whole mastaba to pyramid progression and the works of Imhotep, vizier and architect to the Pharaoh Djoser.

Yes, nerd.

But it is also part of what has become my mission statement for my travels, which have now taken up nearly 8 months, though two of those months were mostly spent in Florida, my home away from home.

So, what is this mission statement? This is my first attempt to put it into words.

In part, I have simply been giving myself the time and space to come to terms with my sister Erika’s death in 2011. Work and the pace of New York kept me from feeling like I was really able to grieve properly for her at the time. I had to put it on hold, hold myself together and continue with life as usual, though nothing felt the same anymore. So my primary mission: time and space. Time to reflect, write, play music, cry, listen to my sister’s ipod, revisit her apartment in Napa and her friends there – to retrace her steps, in some ways.

A secondary mission has been to do the things I have been meaning to do for years, but couldn’t because of other commitments: return to India (check), travel to France with my sister, Skye (check), go to Burning Man – where Erika died (check), visit the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and the Pueblo ruins, among other places and people in the western states (check 3x).

Losing someone suddenly makes you realize how silly it is to put things off, so I carpe’d the diem, as they say.

My tertiary mission is harder to pin down, but has been the thread connecting may of the places I have been over the last 8 months: I have been in search of the sacred. Though I love my church family from my home town, I must admit that I no longer find the kind of comfort in Christian ideals I once did. In fact, it has been some time since I considered myself a Christian, yet I have felt increasingly occupied with spiritual questions and thoughts. In Paris, I visited Notre Dame one morning and saw what heights Christian devotion can reach, at least architecturally (I will never forget the man I saw there, kneeling as if in prayer, slyly using his iphone all the while); I saw the Louvre with her halls stuffed with religious figures from ancient Egyptian goddesses all the way through to the thousands of Virgins with child and gruesome skinny Jesuses impaled on medieval illuminated pages. Catholicism – and especially Saint Therese de Lisieux, to whom a section in Notre Dame was dedicated when I was there – reminds me of Kathleen Donovan, an amazing woman and a devout Catholic who held strongly to her faith even as her health failed from the cancer overwhelming her defenses and outrunning the chemo.

I found myself in Morocco during Ramadan – the holy month of fasting – visiting ancient palaces and mosques, cemeteries and markets, speaking with Muslims about their faith and my ambivalence about claiming any major belief system as my own, which they found almost as incomprehensible as my vegetarianism. I learned something of the Bedouins – followers of their own indigenous religion, despite the dominance of Islam among non-Bedouins. Theirs is a religion of herbs and magic, mysterious and ritualistic.

On coming back to the states, I made a b-line for Burning Man – another sacred place for some, and especially so for me. This was where my sister spent her last days and breathed her last breaths, but more than that, it was a life-changing experience the first time she went in 2010. The temple there was more sacred to me than any traditional house of God could have been and the ritual of bringing her ashes and pictures, souvenirs, the handout from her memorial the year before, of talking about her and sharing memories with friends and strangers alike, of crying, of watching the whole thing burn, at the end of the week.

Some of the most sacred places I saw were natural ones: the Grand Canyon was said to be the place where the Hopi people emerged into this world and their Pueblos reflect that original opening in each of their ceremonial kivas. Yosemite is home to a “cathedral” of giant trees that filter the light through their branches with all the effect of sacredness to which modern day churches aspire with their skylights and stained glass.

I visited my friends in Crestone, Colorado, where they held a sweat lodge for me – a Native American ceremony that is about more than just a steam bath. We made prayer ties with our intentions and prayers for the ceremony; we passed the ceremonial pipe, sang and drummed and rattled and saw white sparks in the blackness of the inipi.

I went home to the Ozarks and had my own fire to inaugurate mom’s new firepit, a kind of memorial for Erika she has been designing and building for a few months now.

In Florida I spent time working for Elysian Fields – a sacred place in its own right, but also a place to learn about many things: I began to think about the pyramids and sacred places to visit in India. Though of course I was paid for my work, working there feels like doing a service: the people who come in sometimes have real needs and to help them feels like karma yoga, as we used to call it in the ashram.

In India, I went to an ashram – different than before, but with the same swami I studied with the last time I was in India. Each night we meditated and chanted, we did yoga and ate healthful food, we performed homa ceremonies, burning coconut husks and herbs, sesame seeds and flowers as offerings to the energy of Ganesha: the remover of obstacles. We went one early morning to a temple in Varkala and I was reminded how much I enjoy the feeling of being in a Hindu temple, the rituals familiar, the smells and sounds, the devotion of the people, sandal paste and ashes.

I went to many temples, many sacred rivers and trees in India: the Kumbh Mela, the Sangam, temples to Hanuman and the Trimurti, temples of the nine planets and Shiva. I went to the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon, I bathed and drank from the Ganga. In the holy city of Varanasi, I stayed near the burning ghats and daily witnessed the procession of life and death, easy as breathing, grey smoke rising into the sky, mingling with the air we inhaled.

And now, here I am in Egypt, on another holy river, visiting more sacred places: pyramids, tombs, mastabas, temples. Though the pagan religion is dead in Egypt, Christianity and Islam are daily observable in the Byzantine crosses carved into the ancient ruins and the defaced (literally) carvings on many of the temples. Even now a muezzin is praying somewhere along the river, audible from where we float lazily along in the dark of evening, underscored by frogs chirruping and the occasional honking of a far away horn.

This is a hard time for Egypt. The aftermath of the revolution that was so inspiring to watch unfold two years ago is painful for the Egyptian people now and I have heard more than a few remarks to the effect that things have changed for the worse here since the Moubarek was kicked out: more violence, less of the common morality that was the fabric holding things together.

For my part, the people here have been very friendly and it has been a pleasure to be a tourist in this land, so accustomed to tourists, despite the fact that lagging tourism since the revolution has meant hardship for those who depend on foreign visitors for their income. This is my plug for Egypt: it is a great country and the revolution hasn’t changed that. The people are nice, the sites are still awesome.

i’ve visited the pyramids and the sphinx and saqqara.

riding my camel, like a good tourist

riding my camel, like a good tourist

giza

giza

i took a train to aswan and since then i have been on a floating hotel on the nile. we visited several sites in aswan: the famous abu simbel and philae temples.

my sleeper train

my sleeper train

philae temple

philae temple

with my group - an indian family

with my group – an indian family

my two temple guard "husbands" - philae

my two temple guard “husbands” – philae

abu simbel - aswan

abu simbel – aswan

nefertari's temple at abu simbel - all reconstructed once aswan dam was built and the area was flooded

nefertari’s temple at abu simbel – all reconstructed once aswan dam was built and the area was flooded

abu simbel

abu simbel

ramses temple and nefertari temple - aswan

ramses temple and nefertari temple – aswan

 

yesterday we saw temples as edfu and esna. today it was the valley of the kings, karnak, and queen hatshepsut’s temple.

hatshepsut's tomb - egypt's only female pharaoh

hatshepsut’s tomb – egypt’s only female pharaoh

statues of hatshepsut

statues of hatshepsut

the colossi of memmnon

the colossi of memmnon

karnak avenue of rams

karnak avenue of rams

tonight we are in luxor and tomorrow i will visit the luxor temple! my friends from india continued on to hurghada today, and i already miss their warmth and the fun of having a family group to travel with – especially as they had four boisterous girls with them – tons of fun!

a few more stops, then my trip comes to an end! it is hard to believe i’ll be back in the states by the end of the month!

ok – all for now – love and miss!

kira

the last of south india

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jasmine and other flowers – south indian women’s favorite perfume and decoration

nighttime temple visit

nighttime temple visit

i have covered so much territory since leaving varanasi, it seems ages ago that i was there.

it turned out to be the last train i took this time - can you blame me? varanasi to chennai

it turned out to be the last train i took this time – can you blame me? varanasi to chennai

pondicherry, also, is thankfully far behind me. it was raining on my last day there and i couldn’t have the nice walking view of the the city during that day that i had planned, so i just sloshed about in drizzle looking into train and bus tickets. i decided to take an afternoon bus to kanchipuram, where another of the temples i was looking for is located.

this was a local bus, but i’ve been getting used to taking them in the south. i usually grab the front seat by the window behind the driver, which is usually full of ladies who don’t mind sitting next to me and my backpack fits perfectly beneath the seat, my smaller pack in between my feet and my guitar on the skinny rack above the seats. this is how i made my way to kanchipuram, the sun starting to emerge now that i was out of hateful pondicherry and back in the countryside. even if they speak no english, the ladies next to me frequently are curious about me and try to get some questions across to me.

i got off at kanchipuram and went walking in search of a guesthouse or rickshaw driver. unlike pudicherry (pondy’s official name), kanchipuram (kanchi for short) is a temple town. i wandered with my things through small dark streets – it was night by then – and finally looped back to the main street to look for an autorickshaw. a french couple on the bus with me had had a guidebook, which i scanned for guesthouse names and the first driver i spoke to mentioned a place i recognized from the book, so we went, he charged a fair price, and the place was perfect: 850 rupees with wifi and hot water, a balcony, and a south indian restaurant below. a bit expensive, but less than pondy and the staff was all friendly. not long after i arrived and was safely ensconced in my room, the rain began to pour down outside. at nearly ten it was wrapping up and i left to get food. i decided to walk further than the front door and went to another place down the street.

the next day i lazed around a bit then went in search of some electronic things: a new adapter, as i had left mine (a makeshift one, anyway) at the hotel in pondy. with some instructions from the front desk, i walked across to a small (muddy from the rain) street and at the first place bought a new adapter for 70 rupees and a new universal charger – which looks janky, but charges my camera battery for 90 rupees. problems solved. let’s hope they work in egypt!

i went back to the hotel to drop off my purchases and try them out: success! then i waited, as the temples were closed at noon and would reopen at 4 pm, so no need to hurry out now. i enjoyed the peaceful room until it was time to venture out to a late lunch and wander to locate the temples. i walked along the main street and ducked into a place called krishna bhavan (i think). a small local thali or “meals” place. i bought a 50 rupee ticket and went up to where the meals are served in their own section of the restaurant. the waiter beckoned me and chose a nice banana leaf since the one at my place had a spot: the banana leaf is your plate. it is splashed with water and the water dumped off and then the food arrives: first rice, and then several different kinds of vegetables, cooked in different spices. beetroot, green beans, spicy sambar (thin lentil soup with veggies to top the rice) and several others. waiters approach with pails full of different dishes, should you want more. bowls of salt and pickle are on the table to taste. there is always a bit of a spectacle in such places, because i am bound to be doing some things incorrectly. sure, i eat with my fingers, but i mix all the dishes, which may be uncouth, and i eat slower than the men, who gobble twice the rice at twice the speed.

one result is that the meal is over more quickly than it might otherwise be for me. no lingering over a coffee after you finish: you get up and wash your hands and another banana leaf is set out for the next customer. meals are all about variety in volume. the banana leaf is thought to have medicinal properties which get infused into the food as they sit on it, and transferred to you as you eat it!

i had over an hour to kill before the temples would open and it was steamy out in the mid day sun. i wandered and bought some jasmine for my hair and located all the temples i wanted to see, then stumbled across one i didn’t know about. the indian archaeological department is working to better preserve one of the older temples in town. while the others were closed, i could at least tour the small temple and admire it, though the lingam in the sanctum was closed behind doors till the appointed time for darshan.

after water and a chai, i went back to the shiva temple and it was open. i went in and was able to see the ancient mango tree – which looks suspiciously not so ancient – and the central lingam, one of the 5 i was visiting. the place wasn’t especially grand, but it had nice vibes.

shiva temple at kanchi

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dancing ganesha

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from smiles to indian gothic in an instant!

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tank and several vimanas in kanchi

next i went to the parvati temple – kammakshi amman – but there the feeling was not so peaceful. i spent some nice moments by the tank and a small altar in the back of the temple, but the line to go in was large and in the end i didn’t brave it. i fed bananas to an elephant and went on my way, no small change to give to the myriad beggar women there.

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temple elephant at kammakshi amman

i stopped by the bus stand to check times for the buses to tiruvannamalai the next day and a woman selling jasmine gave me some on my way back to the hotel. everyone was being so friendly, i took pictures of rickshaw drivers gathered together in their browns.

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i went back to my hotel to pack and prepare for an early morning. i had dinner at saravanna bhavan next door and next morning awoke to catch the bus to tiruvannamalai. i got there in just enough time to get the bus, though i found out too late that when i thought i had ten minutes, i had less, and i missed the bus as i bought provisions for the ride. it was nearly an hour till the next bus, so i pulled out my guitar and played a bit till the bus came. and i got on early!

another long winding rode to tiru, but you see the countryside and the people taking trains and buses. i got there just after 1 pm and found jacqueline and her friend esther near the sri ramana ashram – which is apparently famous. i was tired from the trip and showered off before we went to eat. the quiet place across the street turned out to be packed with westerners eating salad. it turns out tiru has a big european and foreign contingent, especially during the just ending season. jacqueline is a fan of sri ramana, a sage who spoke about and exemplified life’s unreality, among other things. but the real attraction is the mountain.

the mountain - arunachala

the mountain – arunachala

there is a large, attractive mountain plunked down right in the middle of tiruvannamalai. it is the mountain which makes it a sacred place, the temple something that came later. this mountain is said to be sacred to shiva, one of his abodes, and sages have come there over the centuries to meditate in its caves. as did sri ramana.

the temple from the mountain

the temple from the mountain

the temple from inside

the temple from inside

setting up ghee lamps for shivaratri

setting up ghee lamps for shivaratri

after lunch we did some shopping at the mostly kashmiri shops around the ashram. that night we had dinner in the ashram, eating from plates of leaves woven together with stems, piled with rice and veggies, a banana on the side.

the next couple of days were a bit of a blur with the beginnings of shivaratri. esther and i walked around the mountain and the three of us went up it a ways to visit some of the caves.

i had planned to visit one more temple, but realized my time was short. i visited the one in tiru and then decided i would forgo the last one and head instead to bangalore where i would visit my friend darshana and her family and then continue by bus to goa for a few days of sun before i leave india, my trip coming so swiftly to a close.

i took a long local bus to bangalore and had a shower and then dinner with darshana. bangalore is so western in places! i took a bus that night to goa and arrived after fitful sleep on a semi-sleeper (true to its name). i took a rickshaw to robert’s place, and like that, i was back, almost to where i started. drinking coffee with robert.

juicy girls - me n usha!

juicy girls – me n usha! skirts as capes 🙂

the last few days in goa were spent shopping and hanging out with usha and robert, drinking coffee, going to markets and beaches and finally a pool party on friday. we cooked a hasty repast at robert’s before i needed to get going. though the taxi couldn’t find our place, we found him and he got me to my bus in the nick of time.

the pool party the day i left goa

the pool party the day i left goa

i arrived in mumbai yesterday morning and went to elephanta caves, a ferry ride from colaba and the gateway of india.

view of the taj hotel and the gateway - mumbai

view of the taj hotel and the gateway – mumbai

the gateway

the gateway

looking like manhattan

looking like manhattan

the boat back to mumbai

the boat back to mumbai

caves 2

caves 2

awesome dancing shiva

awesome dancing shiva

three faces of shiva - this was huge!

three faces of shiva – this was huge!

cave 1 at elephanta island

cave 1 at elephanta island

and today: to egypt! i am not sure when i will write next.

love and miss,

kira

varanasi at last

on arriving in varanasi, one can only sense that the noise and activity there are somehow different that what you find in other indian cities. when we got there, though it was early morning, the streets were humming and there was a massive and growing line of people right down the street, on both sides! it appeared to be two lines and neither side seemed to end anywhere: just one large caterpillar of people looping like an infinity symbol, waiting to get to the temple. which one, i am not sure, as there are several there. varanasi is known to be the holiest city in india – the city of temples.

my three companions and i made our way to a guesthouse papaji was familiar with, though it wasn’t on the ghats but just off the busy street with the line of devotees in front. i had actually managed to sleep in the car on the way, unlike everyone else in the group, so i regrouped and headed out to the ghats, recalling that the french boys i had traveled with when i was last here had found a nice guest house with a rooftop restaurant when they were there. i made up my mind to try to find a similar place, with good views of the city and the ganges. the first couple of places were fully booked and too expensive anyway – 20-50 dollars a night, which is a fortune in india!

then i lucked onto a third place called mishra guest house. this one was further from the main ghat, just past one of the burning ghats where wood is stacked high for purchase by those with funerals to conduct in this, also the sacred city for the dead, for it is said that to die by the ganga – especially in varanasi – is to be removed from the wheel of rebirth. funny how all western society seems concerned with not dying and the eastern ones are busy thinking about how not to come back here once they do die.

mishra had a rooftop restaurant and a decent rate on a double room (which was all they had available). i took it and set confidently off to find the guesthouse where guru and his companions were staying, and promptly got very lost. it was only after 20 minutes, when i realized i had just gone in at least one circle, that i forced myself to choose against my natural choice and found myself back on the ghats, from which it is much easier to find one’s way through the city, by avoiding its twisting streets, sticking to the river. i had actually walked backwards somehow and had to go for several minutes before coming to the burning ghat again. at least i didn’t have my bags. sigh.

i got to guru’s place and the other two had gone off to see the city, but he was feeling exhausted by the journey etc. and was starting to get a fever. i grabbed my things and said a quick goodbye with promises to meet up again at some point. having learned my lesson, i took my bags directly to the ghats, which attracted the attention of hotel barkers asking if i needed a place to stay, little boys offering me hashish, the meditating babas facing the rising sun over the ganga. some funeral pyres were already aflame as i walked up the stairs that snake between the wood piles just before some more stairs leading up to my guesthouse, more of a challenge with my things on my back and my escort of “manali” selling boys.

in india one always has to register at the hotel with one’s passport and visa numbers as well as places recently visited and the port of arrival to india, the intended date of departure, etc. they make copies of things, and copies of copies, seeming to take comfort in red tape rituals. as i was writing in the log book a tall blonde woman came to the desk to ask about a room. when she was told that only doubles were available, i offered her to share my room, since i had a spare bed anyway, and splitting the cost of the room would make it a very good deal for varanasi at around $5 a piece. her name was freddy – short for frederika – and she was from germany. in the end, she agreed and moved in.

we went together to the rooftop restaurant, where a german couple awaited her and i intended to try out the cuisine. after some chatting about indian travels – freddy has been here before, too – they germans went out and i ordered black coffee and a veggie stuffed paratha, which is flat bread, kind of like naan, but with more ghee and not made in a tandoor oven. it is a traditional breakfast food in the north, with spicy pickle and curd.

everything was delicious and the view was supreme: the windows faced south, affording a full view of the city and the river. i intended to go back into the city, but all the travel was catching up with me by that point and i used the internet lounge in the lobby and just puttered around the hotel, going back to the rooftop for tea. hanging out is one of the things that india is about: you meet other travelers, strike up conversations, write, think, be.

 

i shared a table with a studious german fellow who was soon joined by his friends, also german. they began to play a board game that was a fixture in the restaurant. it is not a game i have ever seen before: a square board with wood bumpers all around and a light coating of sand covering the board, which has lines on it not unlike the ones you see on a basketball court, though more complex. the playing pieces are like checkers pieces and slide on the sand like mini shufflepucks and, if aimed correctly, into one of the pockets at the four corners of the board.

after some time we started to talk and they told me of their adventures thus far on their short trip – they had only a couple of weeks before they had to head back to university. most of them left for a lassi at blue lassi, which is mentioned in the lonely planet and therefore legendary, so i read tarot for jan-michel, the one with whom i’d first sat down. it is always nice to read for a stranger, as not having any foreknowledge of their situation makes the accuracy of a ready all the more impressive. i ended up reading for another of the group as well – they were all in their early 20’s and facing turning points, which is always a good time for a reading. we spent the evening talking, smoking, drinking beer, playing guitar. they were lovely company. the next day jan-michel and i planned to take the hotel’s boat on the river to watch the sunrise. it required meeting in the lobby at 5:30 in the morning, which was painful, but doable.

and totally worth it. the moon was still high and full above us as we set out. there was a large group in the boat, but the single rower didn’t have a problem taking us along the banks.

the dark before the dawn

the dark before the dawn, one of the burning ghats

moon fading

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lightening sky

red sun rising over the ganges

red sun rising over the ganges

mughal palace

mughal palace

main ghat crowded with morning worshipers

main ghat crowded with morning worshipers

ghat bathers

ghat bathers

we crossed to the far side of the river and got a beautiful look at the city in the golden morning light before crossing back to our ghat and going – where else? – to the rooftop for a chai. it was still early, but it seemed a crime to go back to bed. i wandered around the ghats and spent time in the internet lounge trying to figure out the next leg of my journey. freddy and i went out together to use the wifi at a place called lotus lounge, which was rather posh in its pricing. as we sat there, enjoying the day, she got an email from the guy she is seeing in germany, one of those emails that makes your heart flutter and palms sweat, even if you knew how they felt because you felt the same way. freddy and i had some things in common as far as our zest for life and our love of intensity in relationships, which can be misinterpreted rather easily, but which comes from feeling free to express oneself, from not wanting to play games for the sake of games.

we walked back to the hotel and saw one of the naga saddhus (that’s the naked spiritual men who smear themselves with ash) wrapping his penis (!) around a sword (!!) and kind of doing some tricks, stepping over the sword, twisting it. we were close enough to take pictures but there was a crowd around him and there is something a bit frightening about a naked man with a sword, even if he’s the one at risk. we walked on, gawping all the same, and came to the main ghats where the evening aarati for the ganges was the main event: five priests facing the river and performing a kind of ritual blessing in synchronization with a singer and musicians accompanying them from the stands behind, which were full of people. there were also people in boats on the river, watching it all from her point of view.

aarati on the ganga

aarati on the ganga

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did you know the ganga is considered a she? where the 100 million people bathed in her waters at the sangam for kumbh mela is said to be where three sisters: the ganga, the yammuna, and the saraswati come together.

we went back to the hotel for dinner and called it a night.

i intended to sleep in, but when i awoke to see 12:35 on my phone, i thought it must be a mistake. unfortunately, i was wrong. this was good, since i must have needed the sleep after so many early mornings recently. bad, however, because i had been meaning to book a train reservation for the next day and now my window to make the booking was closed: in india, tatkal or last minute bookings can be made from 10 to 11 a.m. and quickly fill up. i knew if i wanted to leave varanasi anytime soon, i would have to get to the station and hope they could help. as i rushed through the streets, my way was crossed 3 times with funeral processions, always chanting something about rama, the bodies of their loved ones draped in glittering orange and gold cloths and they carried them through the streets to be cremated in the burning ghats. it is just like varanasi to bedeck the dead in bright sparkling colors, like the revered cows wandering the small streets with broken horns or hooves, like the marigold chains for offering to deities trampled in the gutter, like the ganga herself, taking trash, flowers,  bodies, and bathers alike. i have read that there are dolphins living in the ganga, but i don’t blame them for not making an appearance at varanasi.

i hoofed it to the chowk, where rickshaws await and hopped in with one who took me swiftly, singing, through the increasing melee of the city. luckily, varanasi is equipped to help tourists book tickets and there was a wonderful man with all the train times and names memorized who wrote down my potential trains before sending me off to a special room where i could make my booking without the craziness of the regular lines. i got a train for the following night, heading south to chennai. it would take 36 hours, but at least i had a sleeper berth.

the streets of varanasi city - decked out

the streets of varanasi city – decked out

i happily headed back to my awaiting driver and back to the old city. he mentioned going to sarnath the next day and this was one of the things i had been hoping to do while in varanasi, so i told him i would meet him in the morning to go. sarnath is the deer park where the buddha gave his first post-enlightenment sermon, not far outside of varanasi.

i went back to the hotel and decided to try my luck with the wifi at lotus lounge again. i found it not working, but there was a friendly german man (they are everywhere) with whom i spoke for a while. he took me to another place with wifi that kind of worked and in the process, i met a czech fellow who had been to bodhgaya (where the buddha became enlightened) and wanted to see sarnath, too. we made plans to meet the next morning on the main ghats to share the rickshaw ride.

the river was already buzzing when i found jonas on the steps and we went to the chowk to find a rickshaw. the ride to the deer park was about 15 kilometers of bumpy road, but it was nice and peaceful when we got there. buddhist communities and countries from all over the world have build monuments to the buddha in this place and there is also a museum and the remains of a monastery and large stupa that are thought to have been built to commemorate the buddha’s lecture.

buddha being tempted, resisting

buddha being tempted, resisting

big stupa, blue sky

big stupa, blue sky

the whole place had a peaceful, pastoral feeling that was a godsend after the craziness of varanasi. the murals in the main temple were amazing, painted by a japanese man in the 30’s, so expressive and with nuanced muted colors depicting the whole of the buddah’s life.

there was a festival procession outside the chowk and our rickshaw man had to drop us off up the street a ways. saddhus rode in horse drawn carriages – one rode on an elephant!

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the band played on

the band played on

elephant saddhu!

elephant saddhu!

by the time we made it back to the city we were starving and i thought to take jonas to my lovely rooftop, but freddy said the kitchen was down, so we went elsewhere and had a nice lunch before i headed back to my place for some relaxing, packing, and preparing to go. jonas came by for dinner and it was nice to have a little group to say farewell to when my rickshaw driver came to take me to the station for my 11:30 train.

view from the rooftop

view from the rooftop

i had failed to realize that this train had been re-routed to run to allahabad, so it was extra full of pilgrims without seat reservations, including my upper berth, which was occupied by two women. i joined them, the three of us perched like owls for hours until they finally got down at allahabad around 3 that morning and i could stretch out and get some sleep.

i arrived to chennai central, which was crazy just out of habit as far as i could tell, and quickly did my best to leave it, heading for the other station, egmore. i planned to go to vaitheeshwaran kovil and see a naadi palm leaf reader. supposedly, everyone’s destiny is written in ancient tamil on these palm leaves, which are organized by the thumbprint into 108 different types. then you go through the stack and the reader reads of names and facts to narrow down your leaf.

there were no direct trains and the buses were long so i opted to go to pondicherry, a place i have never been. it sounded pleasant to be in a touristy place to recover from the two day train ride in comfort before continuing on to see the other temples on my list. plus pondy is only a couple of hours away from vaitheeshwaran kovil.

the bus took nearly 4 hours and arrived after dark, so i didn’t see the city by day. a rickshaw man took me to a few places before i found one with wifi, though not in the rooms, unfortunately. then i went out to find food and explore the french quarter a bit. the windswept boulevard along the shore reminded me of nice and many people were out at night, though i was surprised to see fewer europeans than i had imagined: pondy is famous as a former french colony and it is still popular with french people and other westerners.

i had to get up early to get to vaitheeswaran kovil by 9 a.m. to meet the nadi palm leaf readers. once we arrived, we found the place easily and i thought perhaps it was a good sign, since i had come rather a long way to meet with them, after my friend mira mentioned the phenomenon to me. they took my thumb print and then went to find the appropriate book of leaves to read from. the morning passed and we looked at the first book. i was so relaxed and happy to be there, i realized i was too easy giving information and needed to make him give more than i did. as the morning turned to afternoon, i was no longer hopeful that anything would come from the outing. we went through the last book of palm leaves and then left. i thought only to eat and see the temple the town is named for, but this was impossible since the temple was now closed until 4 that afternoon and it was only 2.

by the time we found a doable veg restaurant in chidamburam, i was never so happy to see an uthappam (savory pancake with yummy chutneys) on a menu in my life. the waiter must have seen my look when he told me that they weren’t available at they time in the afternoon, for he quickly went to the kitchen and promised me one. oh how quickly one’s mood sours after enduring a morning of fraudulent destiny finders on an empty stomach!

i was all smiles s we returned to the city. now i must make plans to get out of here, the niceness of the architecture not withstanding, i don’t care for pondy – puducherry as it is now officially known. i’ll take a look at it in the daylight tomorrow before heading north to tirupathi and more temples!

love and miss,

kira

confluence: Making it to the Mela

I took advantage of my pricey hotel in Trichy to shower and even watch a bit of an interesting movie with Tim Robbins set in a futuristic reality where languages were mixed and different feelings and abilities could be contracted intentionally through viruses. (As a side note, I once met Tim Robbins at a “Hootenanny” in Red Hook where he performed a song on the guitar while singing. After, I complimented him on his playing, so we’re old buddies 🙂

I woke early the next morning, in part because I had met a friendly Malaysian woman the night before while using the hotel’s wireless lounge and she had been full of horror stories about how difficult it had been for her to visit temples with her son without being hounded for money by corrupt priests and would-be temple guides. I had told her I’d had no such problem and invited her to join me in visiting one of the 5 Shiva Lingam (panchabhoota) temples dedicated to the 5 elements the next day after breakfast. I went to the hotel’s dining room, but the woman never showed, which didn’t really surprise me. Timidity in India is really not rewarded.

I took a rickshaw to the temple, which was really peaceful in the morning and crossed the river Cauvery on the way: one of the sacred rivers in India, of which there are several. This is one of the things I really like about Hinduism: the tendency to see the sacred in nature. It isn’t at all uncommon for a tree to be decorated as an altar, simply because it is a beautiful tree.

This temple was dedicated the water element and the lingam is enshrined in the center, in the midst of a pool of spring water from the Cauvery. I went back to the hotel and prepared to depart towards Vaitheeshwaran Koil where the Naadi Palm Leaf reader I’d read about is located. The bus stand was close by and there are buses every hour, so I walked over and caught a bus within 20 minutes.

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The ride was beautiful and the driver played some nice Tamil music through the bus’ loudspeakers. I was sad that I couldn’t burn the cd, since my laptop is a Macbook Air with no cd drive, but then I noticed he was playing it from a USB stick. He nicely let me copy the music to my computer.

It was getting late and I called the reader, who told me I should come in the morning by 9 a.m. to have a reading. It would have to wait till I returned from the North, since I was leaving the following morning from Chennai by plane. I continued instead to Chidaburam where the second of the 5 Shiva Lingam temples is located: this one dedicated to the ether or space element. The ride was easy and I got down by the bus station to reserve my bus for Chennai. Luckily, I found a sleeper bus leaving that night around 12:30 for only 250 rupees. It would get me there in perfect time to catch my flight.

Then I walked to the temple, leaving the bulk of my bags at the station. The temple complex was enormous, massive gopurams on all sides and a huge tank in the center. The interior of the main temple was full of life, this being a time of a special pooja or religious ceremony. It was getting late and the feeling of the sacred space was heightened by the darkness, lit with ghee (clarified butter) lamps. When I exited the temple sanctum a nice priest was there, eager to talk with me about my experience. He and another priest spent several hours with me talking about spiritual matters and then invited me to dinner with them.

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senthil – one of my priestly friends

After dinner we returned to the temple for a moment and Ganesha, one of the priests, took me to his parents’ house to use the toilet there, which was an experience in itself. He is a priest by heritage and his family all lives right around the temple complex. They told me the story of why there are so many priests in Chidaburam and why they are different than other temples: once Shiva was to dance for some devotees, but he needed more of an audience to make it worth his while, so he conjured priests from the stars and after the dance was finished they stayed on at Chidaburam. My new friends escorted me to the bus station in time to catch my bus and were very kind all around.

I slept well in the bus, the sleepers being equipped with full bed berths. The jasmine in my hair, bought for me by Ganesha in front of the temple, perfumed the journey – and my hair.

The bus got to Chennai in the early morning and I took a rickshaw to the airport and caught my plane with no problem. I flew to Lucknow via Bangalore and Delhi.

I already had my ticket for Allahabad from Lucknow, purchased from the train station in Madurai before I left that city. After a taxi, I got to the train station in time to have a late lunch at a nice restaurant there before the train came. It was only 4 hours to Allahabad, but the journey was made less comfortable by the presence of a large amount of Indian soldiers riding in the car, heading also to the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. In the end they were very nice, but they made the car even more crowded than usual.

When I arrived in Allahabad, the station was full of people, camped out on the platform. I haggled with the rickshaw drivers to take me to the mela where someone from the camp I had reserved space with would meet me. The city was buzzing with the energy of the festival.

It was night when I arrived and the Kumbh could be heard all around us, though the only way to guess how large it was was the bright lights illuminating the Kumbh Camp where all those devotees would have been staying for the last month or so since the festivities began.

I was greeted by Ambuj, Anuj, and Ashtosh – cousins all in their early 20’s, here with their families and running some camps as guest houses for visitors to the Kumbh. Though I had reserved a bed in a dormitory tent, Ambuj offered to let me stay in my own tent within his family’s camp, where my things might be safer and I could be more comfortable. I happily accepted this offer and it certainly benefited me in terms of setting me up with experienced bathers, should I decide to brave the Sangam, or confluence of the rivers: the sacred place that draws people to the mela by the millions.

on the way to the sangam

on the way to the sangam

my little tent

my little tent

the family camp

the family camp

I went to a nearby stand of restaurants catering to those staying at the Kumbh and had a nice Indian meal punctuated by the looks of curiosity and inquiry from the Indians at tables around me. Exhausted by my journey, I slept like a baby in my little tent, with nice thick blankets keeping me warm, since the night got decidedly colder there than it did in the south.

In the morning I walked over to the Sangam to evaluate the craziness quotient and decided perhaps bathing wouldn’t be so difficult after all. In the early hours, the traffic isn’t bad and though I drew many looks from people, everyone was very friendly. I went back to the camp and got lunch, engaging a nice Chinese man – also traveling alone – in conversation in English and then in French. It turns out he studied for three years in France and his French was better than his English!

As we parted ways, the grey skies started to release fat drops on us and I scampered back to my cozy tent and took a nice long nap, missing most of the storm, though I was disturbed from my slumber when a sudden gust of wind blew open my tent flaps, scattering glittering sand over the blankets.

I was playing guitar when Ambuj paid me a visit. He likes to sing and wanted to see a video of me performing, after which he and his cousins became my number 1 fans and stayed in my tent all afternoon, listening to me play and calling their friends so as to impress them with their foreign guest and her talents. Though I couldn’t oblige any of their requests for pop songs, they enjoyed my playing and I had fun performing for them. They invited me to join for dinner, which I did gladly. From then on, I was part of the family. Anuj’s parents invited me to come bathing with them in the morning around 5 a.m., and I happily accepted. There was a pooja for Hanuman, the monkey god, that evening and I joined in, clapping time with the chanting. After, I was asked to play some music and had the pleasure of performing for the whole camp!

The moon was nearly full, though it wouldn’t be completely so until the 25th, the following day. I set my alarm and woke up to wash and brush my teeth and to try to dress appropriately to bathe in a river on a rather chilly morning. I wore a long silk caftan I’d bought the last time I was in India and brought along a lunghee which I’d purchased in Kanyakumari to change into. Though the rain had continued into the night, it stopped by the morning and the air was surprisingly mild as I walked to the Sangam with my hosts, who spoke no English, and I unfortunately, speak no Hindi.

They helped my buy a paper boat full of flowers, offerings for the river. Then we made our way to the banks. First the husband, and then his wife and I removed any extra clothing and entered the water. We dunked ourselves completely three times before scrambling out to complete the ritual by offering our flowers and camphor. I lit my incense and set my boat a-sail on the river.

We walked back to the camp, stopping to have our foreheads marked with sandal by a brahmin on the way. They invited me back to their tent for chai, which I took them up on. Then I went and climbed into bed in my little tent.

I was awakened by that morning’s hostess coming to my tent around 11:30, taking my guitar and beckoning me to come and play. This time I played for just the women, who sat around me, clapping and smiling as I sleepily rose to the task.

That night a large number of people joined the camp in honor of the full moon: an auspicious day for bathing in the Sangam. They were cooking special food, including a kind of bread which might not appeal to the squeamish: it is made by heating up the dried dung of the omni-present water buffaloes and then placing the balls of dough directly into the resulting coals.

the three cousins

the three cousins

guru by the dung fire

guru by the dung fire

Around the fire, I struck up a conversation with a man from Bangalore who had joined our camp. His brother lives in Dallas and he had worked in Syracuse for some time, so we chatted about New York and south India and myriad other topics.

After dinner I went straight to bed, unsure whether I would join the groups going to bathe on the full moon morning the next day.

Though exhausted, I did end up getting up and joining Guru, the man from Bangalore, and his father and friend who were going with Ambuj’s father to bathe that morning. We walked to the river, the streets swollen with pilgrims buying flowers and coconuts as offerings along the way or plastic bottles to fill with the holy water from the Sangam.

We took turns getting into the water, watching the sun rise above the throngs of people there in various states of undress, making their offerings, dunking themselves in the cleansing confluence.

That morning the five of us went on a walking tour of mandirs or temples around the kumbh camp area. Guru’s father is a small man, only one year older than my own father, though he certainly looks older. Still, he was a stout walker and has traveled in many countries.

the ganga

the ganga

me by the river as we drank a chai

me by the river as we drank a chai

prasanth - guru's friend

prasanth – guru’s friend

guru smoking

guru smoking

our leader - ambuj's dad

our leader – ambuj’s dad aka mr. sangam

the confluence - sangam

the confluence – sangam

we walked into allahabad for lunch and took a nice boat tour on the yammuna, rowing up toward the sangam where the bathing was in full swing.

the kumbh near the camp

the kumbh near the camp

the kids of our camp

the kids of our camp

the fort in allahabad

the fort in allahabad

the bathers at the sangam

the bathers at the sangam

from the boat

from the boat

one of the temples near the river

one of the temples near the river

carnival near the kumbh

carnival near the kumbh

tiny car rally - carnival kumbh

tiny car rally – carnival kumbh

the story of the churning of the sea of milk - resulting in the amrita, the source of the sacred rivers when some drops of the elixer of life was spilled

the story of the churning of the sea of milk – resulting in the amrita, the source of the sacred rivers when some drops of the elixer of life was spilled

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my companions

my companions

me n mr. sangam

me n mr. sangam

saraswati ghat

saraswati ghat

we got back to the kumbh around nightfall and i took my first and only shower of the kumbh. the moon hung full and ripe over the confluence and i went with guru and prasanth to visit a baba – a saddhu who had a small tent near our camp. he was surrounded by many followers, all indian men but myself. he was cooking food and making a chillum as a man played the drums and another man sang.

that night i went to bed early as i planned to leave with guru et al the next day for chitrakoot and then on to varanasi.

chitrakoot

chitrakoot

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we bathed in the river here

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swamiji – guru’s dad looking serene

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monkey lounging in the shade

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above the river

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guru and prasanth

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monkey looking peaceful

though the bath in the river was refreshing, the town itself was full of cheap goods and indian pilgrims and really not appealing. we went to another pilgrimage spot not far away where the godavary river begins in a cave. we got food from nearby – some of the worst food of the trip and we were all feeling very disheartened by the crowd and the general feeling of the place. we went to one other place where there was a hanuman temple up the mountain, but the crowd was so strong and the stairs so daunting that prasanth and i opted to have a chai instead and wait for guru, swami (or papa-ji, as I called him) and mr. sangam to return from the climb.

that was our last stop and we were all out of sorts after the trying day. i had hoped we might find a nice restaurant, perhaps one with a toilet, but we ended up driving around chitrakoot town and ultimately resorting to a pay toilet and having a quick chai before getting in the car and heading back to allahabad.

as we drove i played some music from my iphone which led to everyone wanting to watch the video from my last concert. then mr. sangam asked if i could play the guitar as we drove, which i thought of as an interesting challenge, since it was too dark to see the strings and the road was not the smoothest.

in the end, it worked nicely and was good practice. perhaps i’ll take up playing in the dark!

i managed to catch some sleep before we got to allahabad for dinner around midnight. mr. sangam took us to a place he knew and the food was delicious and plentiful and made up for the watery tepid dal we’d grudgingly eaten that afternoon.

then it was time to hit the road again, this time, finally, for varanasi. i curled up on the back seat and was out in a moment.

next thing i knew, we were in varanasi and it was time to say goodbye to our driver and mr. sangam.

ok – i have more to tell about varanasi etc, but i think it is too much for one blog, so more to come!

love and miss,

kira