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Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Tidbits Seen From the Bus

Stray Dogsstray dogs

We noticed a lot of stray dogs that appeared to be calm and very quiet. Could be they were malnourished, but compared to stray dogs in the United States, the temperament was remarkably different. We wondered if living in a society where animals are treated with kindness (in other words, no one yelling or throwing rocks at strays there) there is no reason for the dogs to act aggressively.

BARBER SHOP

barber shop

I rode the bus with my camera open, finger on the shutter ready to press, aperture set to sports mode trying to freeze the frame in something close to a sharp focus. This shot of a barber shop as we passed on the highway from Jaipur to Delhi gave us a glimpse of real life.

LAND OWNERSHIP

DSCF6544aMany small parcels of land are lined with stone walls to identify private ownership. Many were fallow, appearing to be not have been used for farming or forage for quite some time.

CONSTRUCTION TIMBERS

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We use 2x4s; they use saplings with the bark removed, to provide support for construction projects.

ROADSIDE TEA SHOP

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I can imagine that many of these do not do huge business, but it is the kind of place where everyone knows your name.

DECORATED TRUCKS

DSCF6542Many trucks had a posy of flowers  affixed to the rear view mirror on the driver’s side.  This is only one small part of the decoration of most trucks, which are appreciated greatly as helping the family earn a living.

SWIMMING HOLE

DSCF6548The last day we were in India, driving from Jaipur to Delhi for 6 hours, was the hottest. I noticed first one and then another places were young boys were splashing water from the community cistern. I finally got one picture where a bucket splash was not enough!

BRICK WORKS

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Tall smokestacks belching black smoke indicate that the bricks are drying in the kiln.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hindu Temple Visit

An optional tour one evening in Jaipur, enjoyed by about half the SmarTours group, was to the Birla Hindu temple built a few years ago by a well-to-d0 family.nancyb Designed to show how Hinduism encompasses both Islam and Buddhism with their symbolic rooflines, the white marble structure is surrounded with a white plaza. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, Arvind told us the ceremony we would witness takes place after sundown.DSCF6463 It usually takes about 10 minutes and includes a chant that is repeated several times. Arvind did warn us that the chanting could go on for a half hour or even longer, but it was a short ceremony after all.

He told us that symbolically he leaves his troubles outside on the steps leading up to the entrance, to be picked up again upon exiting. He told us that the chanting makes him feel very calm.

Arvind made sure we were positioned at the very front of the open room. People filed in behind us and what happened next was interesting.  As soon as the curtains opened and the ceremony began, the crowd pushed forward, as if eager to be as close as possible.

source: Lisa Garmat after the ceremony and people left the temple, from outside

source: Lisa Garmat after the ceremony and people left the temple, from outside

The ceremony actually began when the curtains were still closed. The priests sounded a conch shell, and the tones reminded my of the shofar blown in a Jewish Temple at the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur. The curtains opened and before us were two statutes of Vishnu and Lakshmi, beautifully dressed in bright colors. The chanting began, one priest ringing some bells, as done in the Episcopal mass to draw attention to an important  prayer, and the other priest slowly making a circular motion with a candelabra. Candles are lit in Christianity and Judaism as well.

In a few minutes, the chanting ended, the curtains remained open. The crowd circled around behind the curtained area to receive a blessing from the priests in the form of a spicy sweet mixture to eat, one more symbolic similarity to Christianity.nancya

Once again, we are more alike than different. Love one another.


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Leadership Issues

He is running the treasury down, supporting a pet project, spending way too much money on that instead of running the government and taking care of the programs that will help the people.

Sound familiar?

Well, I think this proves it is a perennial issue with leaders because specifically, I am talking about the Emperor Akbar (1556-1605).   As for the Emperor, there was no room for discussion in that kind of government; what he decided was done, regardless of cost.  At least we have a voice, no matter how much it may seem to be muzzled at times.

Fatehpur Sikri, the “City of Victory”, sits 35 kilometers from Agra on a low hill of the Vindhya mountain range. Before Akbar, the site of the future city had already been the site of an important battle won by Akbar’s grandfather.  In gratitude he named the area Shukri, which means “thanks”. In Akbar’s time the site was occupied by a small village of stonecutters and was the home of Shaikh Salim Chishti, a Muslim astrologer and Sufi Saint.DSCF6236

In 1568 Akbar visited the Shaikh to ask for the birth of an heir which was promised soon. Sure enough, Akbar’s wife gave birth to a boy on August 30, 1569. In gratitude, Akbar named the boy Salim after the astrologer, and, two years later decided to move the capital there.DSCF6220

As a strategic location protecting inland routes, Fatehpur Sikri was completed in 1573 but served as the seat of government for only ten years.

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The first planned cities of the Moghuls,  the throne room has an intricate carved red stone platform.  DSCF6227

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although only the palace and mosque sections of the expansive city remain, the architectural details throughout the complex are eye catching.

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The city has a series of rain water channels and large pools to capture any precipitation.DSCF6224DSCF6235 pool NancyHowever, it turned out there was not enough water available in the area to support the court and all the services it needed there. The Emperor was soon distracted by an invasion of Afghans to the north and the Mughal capital was moved to Delhi in 1586.

Excavations of the ancient city started in 1892 and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. Today the buildings and grounds that are preserved are a small portion of the extensive city that existed in 1585.  


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Holy Cow! Well, Maybe Revered would Be a Better Word

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

With respect for all life a central theme in Hindusim, the cow has achieved a special status in Indian society.  The beginnings of this practice is not clear but generally, with cows providing milk that nurtures, they are known as “the mother of civilization.”  DSCF6296

Even in days when sacrifices to the gods included oxen and bulls, lactating cows were always protected. Now, the role of the cow providing, milk, butter and dung for fires continues to maintain the taboo of harming the animals. Arvind described how the cow patties are collected early each morning and combined with straw to be shaped for fuel.  We saw stacks drying as we drove from Agra to Jaipur.DSCF6300

Cows that wander in large cities are typically past the ability to give milk and have been abandoned.  They spread trash by foraging for food

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

and cause significant snarls with traffic.traffic

Efforts are being made to move stray cows from the streets of Delhi into more suburban or rural locations, but their presence was almost  everywhere on our trip.


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Desire for Change

The world’s largest democracy is in the middle of a huge election that is expected to make major changes in the nation. India, which became a republic in 1947, has over 500 million voters.  As the country is large and polling places are located within 2 kilometers of every registered voter even in rural areas, it takes a while for the process to be completed.  This map shows when the various states have held their election and since much of the voting is processed with paper ballots, it is expected we will hear the results in July.

source: Maps of India

source: Maps of India

With a population where only 25% of people can read, campaigning is beginning to increase with the use of television ads. The expected winner of the prime minister election, Nerendra Modi, started a couple of years ago so his name would be recognizable.  He has traveled the country more than any other candidate as well, with over 430 public meetings, 1400 telecasted rallies and  4000 ‘chai pe charcha’ (chat over tea) at small local tea stalls, making sure the voters got his message for change.

source: namomantra.org

source: namomantra.org

Modi’s campaign message has appealed to many people as he has argued that the current and prior governments have been corrupt and funds for improvements that would make life better for most have been squandered. His mass appeal to the working and middle classes has resulted in about a 60% voter turnout.

source: The Guardian

source: The Guardian

Because of the low literacy rate, all candidates are clearly identified with a symbol throughout the campaign process.

INdian votingVoters receive an indelible dye mark on the base of one fingernail. It takes several weeks to fade and thereby eliminates voting fraud.

We visited Delhi and Agra during voting days and noticed political rallies and parades. We passed one large rally location and also noticed the presence of a couple of television news trucks at one place we visited; Arvind opined that they were setting up early for a photogenic shot of a candidate.

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Once more, the people and process in India, while somewhat different in specifics, have dramatic similarities to our own desires and frustrations here in the States. No matter who the ruling party is, the mass of people generally feel left out of the process and the hope for improvement is a continuing desire.


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What’s Your Karma?

Over the eons that man has been on the earth, there always has been some craving for making sense of the wonderment that is the earth,  all it offers, and our own role on it.  There are so, so many interpretations of a Higher Power, by whatever name. My own sense of questioning came early but it probably developed more in the time I have been married to Graham, attending church with him.  In listening to the Christian interpretation of God, in participating in numerous book and study groups, I can see there is more in common than different. What fools we mortals be, fighting over the “right” way.religious-symbols_2

Visiting India brought me a closer view of several Eastern religions than ever before (and also learn not to react to the immediate gut reaction to the swastika.) Since Karma is a huge part of both Hindusim and Buddishm, I will try to give you a very very cursory explanation. I brought home books on Buddhism and Hinduism that were recommended by two of the guides and am learning a lot.  I’ll describe our visit to a Hindu Temple in another post and how I recognized some symbols in common with Christianity and Judaism.

Identified as one of the world’s oldest religions, Hinduism was developing in India about the same time as we estimate Abraham was knocking over the idols and developing the concept of monotheism that later developed into Judaism and off-shot Christianity and Islam.  So, it is similar in that it predates written records and the beliefs have only been codified thousands of years after development of an ethical system.

The main concept of Hindusim is that our beliefs determine our thoughts and attitudes about life, which in turn direct our actions. By our actions, we create our destiny.  

It is reasonable to enjoy life and all it offers. There is clear evidence in the development of the Kama Sutra that Hindus have no sexual hangups, but recognize that sex is part of life. Arvind shared that in the early adult years it is encouraged to build a good life, providing well for your family.

This phase changes once the children are married and then it is time to prepare for the spiritual part of life. All the actions done up to this point and through the remainder of this lifetime will determine how the soul will be reborn in the next lifetime.

Hinduism is not the only religion that believes in rebirth of the soul.  Although some religions do not adhere to this simple outlook, most faiths ask us to believe that we are more than mortal flesh and blood. If you are religious, you believe profoundly that your soul connects you to God.  You also have some concept that the struggle of the soul, whether it is cast down and troubled or joyous and raised in triumph, is the life of spirit. And it seems to me that in Christianity, there is hope that if your life here has been troubled, that there is a spiritual reward awaiting you.

I’ve always casually considered karma to simply be payback, what goes around comes around. A person who does bad things will eventually have bad things happen to them.  In Hinduism karma is a Sanskrit word that means “deeds”.  Your deeds in this lifetime may not have a result in this lifetime, but it may accrue and not be until the next lifetime that your karma plays out. You may, if you are truly bad, come back as a lower lifeform, and have little chance of ever evolving into a higher lifeform in future lives.4743690099_karma_xlarge

The purpose of life in Hinduism is to minimize bad karma in order to enjoy better fortune in this life and achieve a better rebirth in the next. The ultimate spiritual goal is to achieve release (moksha) from the cycle of samsara altogether. It may take hundreds or thousands of rebirths to get rid of all of one’s accumulated karma and achieve moksha. The person who has become liberated (attained moksha) creates no more new karma during the present lifetime and is not reborn after death.

There is no proof for karma and this cycle of rebirth. There is also no proof against it. Same can be said for any religious belief, even yours. We tend to go on faith, all of us. Be find….work on YOUR karma.


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Privacy? What’s That?

When I was young my family camped in a huge World War II surplus canvas tent for 6. My dad and mom were on one side and my sisters and I on the other. We traveled the country this way from 1957 to 1965 when we transitioned to the comfort of a Ford Econoline camper van conversion. our van on daytona beach fl

My dad would intone “close your eyes” and being dutiful daughters, we would comply. He would dress and exit the tent or camper, giving the rest of us privacy to then get up and going.  Years later, in a way too frank discussion with my mom, I also learned that adult activities went on a few feet away from my slumbering body.

That is the closest I can relate to what I realized is pretty normal in India. There is no privacy as we know it. In fact, it is beyond that. There is no CONCEPT of privacy as we know it.

The family we visited in the poor section of Agra sleep four or five to a small room. They share two small hole-in-the-floor toilets with water hose connections for bathing.  I suspect those children have a lot better concept of “adult activities” than I did at their age.

And this guy was not unique by any means. I’m just sort of glad I never noticed anyone defecating in public.DSCF6490a