Trimandir in Twilight

Trimandir backview from the ashram side

Trimandir on the outskirts of Ahmedabad has three major deities – Simandhar swami, Shiva and Vishnu. Yes, Simandhar swami is from the Jain religion. Along with him there are a number of other Jain idols too – Mahavira, Parshavanath, Rushabh, Ajitnath and Padmaprabhu. Not sure how these Jinas from the Jain 24 + 20 tirthankars have been chosen. Traditionally in Jain temples the idols are chosen on basis of some astrological calculations done by Pujaris, as far as I know. Not sure if same method has been used here.  Continue reading


Quick trip to Ujjain for the Simhasth Kumbh Mela happened in early May. I had traveled to Nashik for my first Kumbh Mela experience in 2015 and I deliberately went on the non-Shahi snan days. I was concerned about the crowds and overall facilities.

This time for Ujjain I went impromptu on the 7-8th May weekend. I left on Friday 6th May by an overnight Volvo – a company called Ashok travels. Surprisingly it actually started on time and was quite decent. I reached Ujjain the next day, before noon.  Continue reading


Lately my heart is turning to Varanasi – that crazy, crazy city! I am cooking up plans to visit it again, just to have my thoughts clash about all the various trips I plan to make. It is a common dilemma I think, of travelers who aren’t on the road indefinitely. Don’t get me wrong I am not sad or feeling tied up, I am just very passionate about work as well. And I am really enjoying my work currently.

Varanasi was a city that really shocked the daylights out of me. I wish I could say it was the spiritual power (maybe it was subconsciously), but it was all the other madness that drove me nuts – tiny alleys, dirt and litter, injured animals, heat, mangled beggars, dirt, non-veg on ghats, long lines, crowd, did I say dirt? …… you get the point.

So what is the charm? Why do I want to go back and explore more? What’s intriguing me?

Culture. 

Yes, just one word – Culture. The layers and layers of ancient culture.

Temples: I am fascinated by the sheer range of temples you can find there. Right in the chowk outside Dashashwamedh ghat you have a Brihaspati (Jupiter) temple for example. There are temples of every god, goddess and their associates in Varanasi. This includes all 7 planets, Surya dev, 8 forms of Kaal Bhairava, different ethnic temples like Nepali Shiva temple and what not. I really want to explore different temples. Then the rituals within the temples, some can really creep the hell out of me – really, I have researched and I don’t want to write about it right now.

I want to follow many temple trails: Like explore the 8 kaal bhairava idols which are scattered across the city. Did you know that kaal bhairava is the guardian deity of Kashi? This is the deity the Kashi police worship. And there are 8 main police offices. While they don’t correspond to each of the 8 Kaal Bhairava idols but there are some intriguing associations between the Kaal Bhairava setup and the police setup. And both are guardians of the city on different levels. If you want to know more about my Kaal Bhairava research and where you can find the 8 idols – you will have to email me. I won’t be writing a public blog post on the same.

Varanasi

The Nepali Temple at Lalit Ghat. It was practically a treasure hunt we went on to find this temple. Enroute to lalit ghat we came across snake charmers and some random stall selling porn CDs. One local guy even made lude passes at us in an abandoned tunnel. It was a bit bizarre. The Ganga level was high hence the Ghats were not interconnected. We had to go from the lesser used pathways. Usually when the river is low enough one can walk to all the various ghats by the river itself. This was an interesting temple with intricate carvings. Since not a tourist attraction, it had a lovely ambiance and quiet around it. Nice place to meditate.

Music: From a Varanasi local I have understood that a common layperson in Varanasi has deep music knowledge. He can identify all the various Hindustani Classical taals. He can immediately make out when some taal is out of place and so on. Many temples in Varanasi are a place for musicians to get into intense jugalbandi with very adept commoners who enjoy the duel.

History: There are ruins of deities people still worship. So you may randomly walk by a ruined pillar type structure but if you know the stories of the place, then you will realize that people come and worship that pillar because it is actually part of a long lost idol. There are lot of such stories rife in Varanasi. People stories, Temple stories, History… lots of history.

Varanasi

What is going on here? Depending on the time of year, there is always some or the other traditional ritual going on in Kashi.

Common People: From being musical maestros to knowing the most obscure global language – the Varanasi commoner will astound you. Being a tourist hub, here the common person may be a champ in languages like Japanese and Hebrew as it makes for a lucrative career. They are so comfortable that they can just have long conversations in that language.

Varanasi

The Ganga aarti that is really sought after can be a lovely experience but it is not ancient. It is in fact quite recent and from what I understand, it is a tourist attraction than anything else.

There are layers and layers of history, culture, stories that create a surreal ambiance in Varanasi. It is really the only place that gave me the feeling that in my 3 days there I had not even scratched the surface of things to explore in the city. This is a rare experience for me.


You may recall I had earlier written about how the hospitality and caring culture of Himachal Pradesh SHOCKED me. It was my first experience of random strangers going completely out of their way to help and make me – solo on the road – feel at home! I am remembering that experience as I write this article. So unusual and intriguing it is to find friendliness, awesomeness and helping hands when I am randomly traveling on my own. You would think that by now I would start getting used to it, but not really.

I went on a short 1 week trip in September, 2014 to Vrindavan – Agra – Varanasi. As I was planning for it, I decided to be extra cautious as this is Uttar Pradesh. Many of these north Indian states like Utter Pradesh and Bihar are quite infamous as an uncouth culture. e-Commerce sites like Flipkart don’t deliver high value products here because there have been cases where the courier delivery boy is kidnapped or his delivery is robbed at gun point! Yeah, this is true story.

So anyway I felt confident enough because I have been solo traveling for a while… and now I can travel even UP. I was in for a real surprise……. pleasantly,

The people turned out to be Sweet. Yea, that is the word I would use. From a conversation with a cycle rickshaw chachu (uncle) about how he should buy a motorcycle and stop cycling in Agra to the most helpful airport attendant at Varanasi airport – I met some amazingly helpful, friendly and sweet people in this land of red stained teeth and paan.

I spent half a day in Vrindavan, with a private car and driver. Generally I don’t take a private car – as I usually travel budget and because I think public transport is safer. But this transpired because,

I was traveling in train from Mumbai to Mathura. As usual the people around me started with ‘You are alone…where you are going and yadi yadi yada…..’. Most of the times unless I feel suspicious, I tell the truth. So I plunged into “Yes, I travel alone… I want to see the world and experience the culture and all so I just took off on my own… blah blah… I am really keen to see the ghats of Varanasi….. ” So once they got over the unusual-ness of the situation- they all pitched in with what all I should do in Mathura, once I get off this train. One of the uncles actually was getting down with me at Mathura so he insisted that I should take a private taxi… and he even picked out a ‘proper’ person for me and bargained a good rate.

Earlier I may have been very wary and not gone with this uncle. But I have experienced a lot of such cultures where the people will take charge and ensure I have a good time like I am their daughter. So I kept my eyes and ears open … saw the taxi guy was legit, took his card and all. Asked the driver for the car number which I sent out as SMS in front of him. So all the various formalities taken care off…. had a good time driving around Mathura and Vrindavan with this local chap.

The driver was decent. I went to couple of usual temples around this holy twin-towns – Mathura & Vrindavan. Nice experience. The Banke Bihari temple especially had a real charm – with a quaint little post office inside. Rows of sadhu-beggars kept begging with ‘Ram-Ram’ and priests from nearby temples asked for offerings. Calls of “Shanivaar, shani ka dhaar” – offer to Shani dev! Sweets shops were many, and I kept wondering whether to try out some delicacies. It was actually more like what I expected Varanasi to be.

I visited Prem Puri ashram because apparently it is a wonder to see. I found it so-so. Most disturbing is that they have included the idol of their leader as part of the Krishna- Radha-Hanuman team. I have major issues with this and especially considering their leader and disciples are accused (and some found guilty) of Rape I am not even inclined to research their path.

Vrindavan, Prem Puri

Made from marble imported all the way from Italy… whadever…

 

Krishna, Vrindavan

A big complex, lot of space and a picturesque white marble temple. If only the organization had a better rep. The leader has many rape cases on him.. while some of their followers are actually convicted for molestation.

The Iskcon temple on the other hand I thought was decent. Some old lady tried to sell me some books but that is common here. Always trying to convert people – most of these paths. But overall I trust this path… when I go to the temples I feel some good energy and like to do their chanting dance. Hare Rama- Hare Rama – Rama – Hare Hare…

Iskcon, Vrindavan

This is the samadhi structure of Prabhupada – the Iskcon leader. The main temple of Krishna / Rama n all is further inside.

This is the temple where their founder Prabhupada’s samadhi is. I sat there for a bit. Some bhajans were going on there too as in the main temple shrine. A monk tried talking to me here… which I would have enjoyed but I have a karmic response to monks trying to chat with me. I tend to ignore or simple not respond to them. Anyway… that is a whole different story.

Most of these temples have a very interesting canteen. Lot of sweetmeats and foods. So if you go there, do try out some of the foods, sweet-stuff and drinks.

I then went off the beaten path on a little search for a Shaktipeeth. Apparently there is a Mahadev Bhuteshwar Mandir which is a shaktipeeth but I was not able to find it. I searched around, finally made my way to an old looking, slightly dilapidated temple which was part of a chawl type housing complex. They however told me that this is the Bhudev mandir, but this was not the shaktipeeth. They also told me “Hold on to your spectacles otherwise the monkeys will flick them away” :p

Apparently another temple I had already passed was the Shaktipeeth. So much for that. But this search led me to some not so touristy areas and small lanes as well. I enjoyed getting a little inside view of this town.

Then we headed off to Agra. The people here were the biggest surprise for me and probably this is the craziest-somewhat-romantic encounter I have had here,

Solo in Uttar Pradesh

Agra Fort – Apparently you get the best view of Taj Mahal from this fort.

 

Solo in Uttar Pradesh

Welcome to the Taj Mahal…. 🙂

The car dropped me off outside Taj Mahal. Here a lot of rickshaw folks and other ‘guides’ were approaching me which I clearly shrugged off. But there was one good, authoritative chap who befriended me. This guy was the Thekedaar of one of the rickshaw stands. Not entirely clearly what that means but basically he has some kind of authority and clout in the area. His language showed some education and academic sense.

Not sure, maybe he just took a liking to me as I was a solo traveler but he started showing me around. I was little wary of this guy… but then his help was very useful. Usually all tourists & travelers are dropped off at the West Gate of Taj Mahal. Because of this, there is a VERY long line there….. I would have had to stand there for 45 mins or so… but thankfully due to this Thekedaar fellow I got to know about the East gate which is just 5 mins walk from the West Gate!

I bought my Taj Mahal audio guide (I love audio guides) from the West Gate ticket area – which he didn’t like. He wanted to give me a personal tour of the place. Then we went off to the East gate through a market like area. I asked this guy many questions to fathom the local culture and also to gauge whether he was a drug peddler or a kidnapper or some such nefarious sort. At East gate, as he had suggested there was absolutely no line. I was able to buy my entry ticket and enter in a few minutes. Apparently this Thekedaar fellow wouldn’t enter from here but he would catch up with me inside.

I never did meet him inside because I saw no reason to and I really wanted to explore Taj on my own. But this fellow – gave me almost a VIP entry into Taj Mahal. I had told him first thing itself that I am not interested in paying him or any such thing so not entirely sure what the guy wanted. Some traveler friends suggested that they are usually looking out for romantic adventures with the female travelers. First experience of such a kind… and it was not really unpleasant. As long as a decent, well spoken person genuinely helps and befriends me.. then it is a nice encounter… and maybe someone else may even have a nice, memorable romantic encounter with him. I anyway wasn’t enticed… but as you might imagine this was a whole different experience for me.

Solo in Uttar Pradesh

Taj Mahal… just the way it looks in the pictures :p

 

Taj Mahal

How do I take a shot with out the public? ^-^

 

Anyway I didn’t meet him after that. After exiting the Taj, the Rickshaw people kept asking me where I wanted to go. Finally asked one chap ‘How much will it be…’ and he said 15 Rupees. This was crazy, because 15 is so dirt cheap, I would not even bargain! Guess there is lot of poverty here, because all the rickshaw drivers I found in Agra would be more than happy to charge 15/- and would wait for 30 mins just for 5/-

Crazy. Sweet. Inexpensive

Yamuna, Taj Mahal

Serene Yamuna front behind the Taj… .

 

Taj Mahal

Standing at the Taj and clicking the entrance Gate

 

Later in the day I had to take a train from Agra to Varanasi. Stay warned this route is very unreliable for newbies. Many of the trains are very, very late by over 4 hours! So it is very important to research out the better trains like the Ajmer – Sealdah express. My train happened to be one which got delayed by 4 hours, so I was at Agra station at 8 pm without a train connection. I basically hung around the station masters office and kept requesting him… highlighting the fact that I just need one ticket – I am an abla naari (helpless lady) ;D

Finally at 9pm (yea hung around there for an hour or so…) he called me to the other platform and gave me a 2 AC ticket. I was so happy.. .and it was a nice train. Would reach Varanasi next day early in the morning. 🙂

I managed to do my yoga in the train and then even got a veg thali for dinner. 🙂

This was the first time I have managed to get a ticket last minute like this through the station master and pay ‘extra’ and all that. So quite happy with myself. You should know that the Agra – Varanasi railway line is notorious. Trains can be crazy late. Also they often have 100 waitlist which gets confirmed. So just take the best train – like Ajmer- Sealdah express – and book Waitlist. Usually it will get confirmed.

Outside Varanasi

Early morning. Just a bit from Mughal Serai town near Varanasi. Lovely fields and okay weather.

Varanasi gave me a whole different kind of shock… but the people there were also quite sweet.

Agra & Vrindavan both turned out to be really quaint towns, I would like to spend more time here. Vrindavan especially, as there would be many ancient temples to explore and possibly has a lot of stories.

More than that, my entire time in these towns (and Varanasi) really broke down stereotypes about Uttar Pradesh. Solo in Uttar Pradesh and it was completely fine – as good as any other place in India. Women can solo travel here – and pretty well at that. These towns Mathura-Agra-Varanasi are all touristy places so I would also like to go a bit internal to not so touristy places and experience the culture there… but I am hopeful that it would also be pleasant. 🙂

I will write more stories from here including people encounters in Varanasi soon, so stay tuned. 🙂


Had a great time roaming around in the Hawa Mahal of Jaipur. I spent practically the whole afternoon there (which explains why I have a whole bucketlist of places left to visit) .

I took the audio guide. When it is well made I really enjoy the audio guides in India. I listen to it slowly while meandering through the monument. It really helps give a feel of the place with the background music and historic stories.

Have tried to capture that feel with this presentation…. enjoy this visual tour of the Hawa Mahal…

I was trying to make it a 100 slides… but didn’t have that much patience. Did 29. 😉

Tip: Watch fullscreen & imagine yourself there in that era!


Having become Time itself, I destroy the world here, O Goddess! ~Shiva, Padma Purana 1.33.14

As I said Varanasi has been one of the most intriguing trips I have made. Never have I felt a city so full of going ons. Just inane, often crazy, some brilliant, other bizarre going ons. Just going on. Like Life. Just going on.

Manikarnika Ghat is a place you must visit, but it is not for the faint-hearted. It is probably the most ancient ‘chitta’ – fire to burn dead bodies and it has been going on non-stop at this Ghat for years & years….

Varanasi is a sacred and holy place to cremate your dead. Hindus from all over the country and maybe even the world are bringing their dead near and dear ones to Kashi, Manikarnika Ghat, to burn them here.

Piles of wood greet you at this ghat. The traditional Hindu burning methods here is to make a squarish pile of wood, logs stacked in a Jenga pattern. The dead body which is brought in by families and near ones is first dipped into the Ganga then put onto the fire for burning it to dust & ashes. There are certain sect of people who tend to these chittas and rituals at this ghat. From what I have read, the care-taking is passed on from generation to generation. Also these sects are considered to be lowly untouchables… I find it surprising though because after all this place is considered as epitome of spiritual energy….This never ending chitta (fire).

At a time there could be anywhere from 4 to 40 dead bodies being burned. Some covered partly, some fully covered and even adorned with ritualistic material.

Sometimes after the burning, some body parts are still left. They maybe swept into the river by the caretakers. Maybe to make space for the next chitta. These half burnt parts of the body don’t sink into the river, they just float around the river. You may be walking the surreal ghat, and might see this mutilated, half burnt body part floating nearby.

Yes, it is not for the faint-hearted.

As the body part floats and dwindles into the flow and ebb of the sacred river. Pious men and women are taking their holy dips in this river. Gentle boats and even noisy barges are making rounds of the river with tourists, devotees and people with other purposes.

Manikarnika Submerged Shiva Temple

Submerged Shiva Temple

Manikarnika or The Burning Ghat is just one of the many ghats of Varanasi. It is the main ghat where bodies are burnt. If you walk a little ways beyond the burning ghat area, you will come to the submerged temple. If you have perused photos of Varanasi then this submerged temple photo is conspicuous.

Manikarnika Submerged Temple

This temple sank into the river due to weight of the ghat… at least thats what I could find out…

Opposite this submerged temple is another section of construction which has sunk into the ground. No excavations and archaeology…. the city just grows on top of these over the years. Even now the city exudes a sense of ancient plans, purposes and mysticism. A lot of the original constructions are entirely changed, removed or crumbled and the city just grows over it.

Manikarnika Ghat

A sunken palace maybe?

Strictly speaking the submerged temple is on Scindia ghat, while the burning grounds is Jalasi ghat. So what is Manikarnika – any why is it synonymous with these other stuff? There is a small kund just close to the submerged temple. Dirty, filthy, green with moss and filled with garbage. When I saw it, it was so decrepit that I ignored it. This kund is called Manikarnika – apparently Shiva’s earrings fell into this kund when it was made. Hence it is called Mani(bead)Karni(ear)ka. The ghat is famous as Manikarnika. Since the burning grounds and submerged temples are totally adjacent to this kund… they are all referred often as Manikarnika.
Why is the kund so badly kept? I have no idea….

Manikarnika Ghat

Oh yea cows are every where in Banaras! You can see the Tarakeshwar Temple Shikhara rising up and in the distance you the smoke from a pyre on the burning ghat terrace.

I was very curious to find out the deity at Manikarnika/Jalasi. I saw a descrepit Tarakeshwara temple here. Tarakeshwar is a form of Shiva, relevant here at the cremation place as the dead cross from life into death. I couldn’t really see any other deity temples here at the ghat itself. There seemed to be a chamber if I went down to the burning ghat itself – maybe there is a deity there. I didn’t go to see, so can’t say.

In bold writing on one of these ancient structures with crude red were the words “Killer of Cows should be hanged”. Care and love for animals? Maybe, but mostly religious fervor and superstitions are rampant. I saw many of the animals including cows in deplorable conditions. Heard some very poignant and ghastly story of a cow who was injured in an accident, just left right there on the road, to die! Many days the cow suffered. Killing it would have been a mercy. The stink and unhygienic mess from the cows fluids and bleeding also just left out there…

A crazy, crazy place.

If you walk up towards the city through the various lanes from this ghat, there are many temples. Including one of Devi Manikarnika. The area around this ghat is the middle core of the city. It is also called Siddha Kshetra – a place where a lot of the popular temples are.

Perused a lot of literature on Kashi, some old books, even translated version of vernacular ones. The stories in this place are miraculous and deeply intriguing. In this tapestry of criss-crossing religious threads there are some really intriguing gems twinkling about. As a traveller it can be a soul stirring experience to traverse here.


He must be made of stone whose mind does not melt at the sigh of Kashi and its Lord! ~Swami Vivekananda

I wrote a lot in the last blog post on Varanasi… mostly my overall shock with the ambiance of the place hehe

So opting for a more wordless version this time….

A few photos from across the Varanasi…

Varanasi Rooftops

Early mornings from my residence’s rooftop. Quiet, serene river view… a soft sun rising in the East… chattering monkeys doing rounds…. swarms of birds circling …. and boats filled with travelers & tourists doing rounds of the Ganga.

 

Varanasi's Pesky Monkey

Apparently one has to take care of your belongings including specs… these monkeys can jump on you and run away with your specs 😀

Varanasi - Temple

Such a lovely, carved wooden door to a quaint Nepali temple… will write more on this in another blog.. 

Varanasi

Boats cluttered around on the ghatside…

Varanasi - Ghats

Boats, boats.. so many boats. Guess they are all free as it wasn’t still peak season!

One of the main purpose of these boats is to take tourists around the river to get a view of the town. It also serves as transport to certain areas… like a fort or the opposite bank if anyone wants to go. There are also not-so-fun reasons for boats – in case a small child dies then its body is not burnt. Instead a heavy rock/slab may be tied to it and the body is dropped into the river. So families of the baby may take the body this way to the usual spot and drop it in…. There may be other purposes of the boats as well… in Varanasi there is just too much to find out, as there is so much going on!

varanasi - Manikarnika Ghat

A very ethereal atmosphere to be walking around the ghat after visiting the burning place where constantly people are bringing in dead bodies….. cluttered with boats, locals and touts too. It is a place to truly spend some time in. I did not get much time there… but I would love to roam around here a bit more…

 

Varanasi - Manikarnika Ghat

At the fabled Manikarnika ghat. Had seen this sunken temple in many of the Varanasi pictures…. seeing it live, submerged like this was as intriguing.

I couldn’t find a presiding deity at the Manikarnika Ghat. I was very curious as to the diety in this place… From my research I believe the Kaal Bhairava main idol was at Manikarnika Ghat – the ghat where the chitta (fire to burn dead bodies) has been going on non-stop for years. Later on due to a natural calamity the Kaal Bhairava idol was moved to the current new temple….

Opposite this sunken temple, was this other section which was sunken. Quite intriguing.

Varanasi - Manikarnika Ghat

Opposite the sunken temple at Manikarnika.. another sunken section. The city has just grown around as so many older layers fell and were buried…

Varanasi - Ganga Aarti

Ganga Aarti – everyone wants to go here. It’s quite interesting… especially as a community gathering. Also not as crowded as I thought it would be. Probably cause it happens on all different ghats so the crowd gets bifurcated. I frequented the Shitla ghat – here it was quite an amiable setup

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

The Ganga Mata idol at the Ganga Aarti happening at Shitla Ghat

 


She Said: “You have been to Kashi, how was it?”

He Said: “It’s just like any other dusty Indian town”

I have been officially solo traveling since March 2009. There were other trips I made much earlier where I was predominantly solo exploring….but today, a week after returning from Varanasi I consider this trip a milestone. This most holy city of India is completely crazy.

In my last few travel trips I was feeling a lack of purpose. What are my travels achieving? What should I be doing in a new place? Are my travel experiences getting repetitive? So when I chose to travel to Kashi, it was a carefully thought out one. I really needed something that would not allow me to be the same old me.

So, the trip was very fascinating and yes, it did throw me out of my comfort zone and I had to adapt. The key however, in such places is to go out of the comfort zone to an extent and then return back to comfort. Otherwise it just gets plain freaky.

Here is what my first impressions of the place were and probably will be yours too, so go prepared 🙂

Filthy

Yes, any Indian city is filthy. Not like this though. It is really filthy. I remember not being too happy about Haridwar or Pushkar when I went there. Compared to Varanasi they are 5 star hotel clean! :p

Animal Madness

The cows! They are everywhere! And cows also includes big bulls with horns. Sometimes these cows/bulls are injured. I inquired about any animal NGO there and the response was not at all encouraging. In fact I heard a very freaky story about an injured cow that was hit by a scooter and it just sat on the road, in pain for days, before dying.

Obviously these animals just shit around and no one really cleans it up. Additionally the people want to feed the Gomata (Mother Cow, cows are considered holy in India). So they will just offer them a whole bunch of foods. A lot of which just falls onto the road as garbage. Sometimes they may actually throw the food down in a bid to feed the cow. So adds to the filth and craziness.

Monkeys: Quite rapscallion bunch of primates. One actually jumped on me when I was in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Yea, so quite aggressive bunch of monkeys. Ingeniously the authorities got some trained Langurs from somewhere. These guys are trained to shoo off the pesky monkeys away from the temple and other areas. An innovative way at dealing with the monkey problem!

Kashi Monkey Problem

Trained Langur was a center of curiosity with the local people. These have been deployed by the authorities to keep pesky monkeys away….

Stray Dogs: These are mostly docile in the day, but during the night they get pretty wild. Fighting each other, ganging up and growling at late night strollers and so on. It is interesting to know that one of the main deities of Kashi is Kaal Bhairava. The animal associated with him are stray & wild dogs. So these dogs are also sacred. God knows, there must be some people feeding/doing pooja of these dogs.

While these animals cause chaos and mess for people, the fact is that I think they are the ones that receive the most ill-treatment in the name of “religious rituals” and just general lack of any proper facilities for them.

Saffron Robed Beggars

Quite a difficult thing for me to see, but saffron clad men were just plain begging. Sure in Mumbai the usual beggars would say “I need to feed my kid, give me money”, “spare a few bucks for me” while over here these guys will stretch out their hands and say “Shiva, Shiva” or “Radhe Krishna” … whatever. It was very odd for me. I mean yes, I know a lot of babas and all are fake, just wanting money but I have not seen them Beg.

The religious racket is supposed to be more refined than this. You are supposed to play out your role of being Gods man and ask for money ‘Only for Gods work’. People give money out of faith and piety. Then the money can be used for any sort of debauchery. That is the game of the fake babas. But these guys were just sitting on the filthy roads and begging. So that was crap.

Often along with these beggars are lepers with oozing wounds, mutilated women and handicap people.

Narrow, Narrow Lanes

2 can walk abreast. That is the size of most of the lanes around the Ghats. Yes, that is tiny, closed and claustrophobic. All of it is dirty and often big cows/bulls roaming around. It is so crazy, I tell you!

Climate

Heat: I went there in September last week. That is a very hot time. Summer I guess will be hotter. I thought an AC room would be more than enough to deal with the heat, but not really. I have never sweated out so many buckets before. I think it led to a serious mineral/vitamin deficiency cause after returning I feel very fatigued! More over I had heat related rash type of things on my skin too. This is not at all normal for me, I am usually quite resilient to heat stuff. So I guess the heat is pretty bad!

So prepare for the heat! If you go in Winters then it would be really cold. So prepare for the cold.

Water Level:  This is another thing to consider while planning your trip. The water level of Ganga being high is not cool because then the ghats get very cramped up and small. Usually one can just walk from one ghat to another by the riverside! Either due to rains or randomly sometimes the water rises up. While I was there, the water level had just randomly risen very high. All the Ghats were isolated, so that was a bummer. I love walking around the ghats!

This also meant that I had to make my way to the various ghats from the inner claustrophobic alleyways, which can be tricky but fun too.

Vegetarian? Not Necessarily! 

Non-Veg food is easily available around the city. It is also available very close to the ghats! It is ridiculous in my opinion. Kashi is supposed to be THE religious, spiritual city in India & hence the World. Haridwar & Pushkar both are completely Veg cities then how can Kashi not be Veg!

A spanish traveller I met there told me that a few years back it was not so easily available but now it was common! I just point to plain bad maintenance.

Hey PM – what happened to your Clean Varanasi project huh?

Queue

This was the biggest bummer I found! One of the things I love doing is just finding some ancient temple and meditating there. I said “Meditate” not “Stand in a 45 min long Queue in a cramped alleyway”. Lot of the main temples – Kashi Vishwanath & Kaal Bhairava – that I planned to sit in had long queues. Apparently these queues are just increasing as more and more people pour into this city. These queues also mean that I can only spend a few seconds in the garbha griha i.e. where the main deity is. Overall there wasn’t much place to sit in. Anyway by the time I reached in I was not at all wanting to sit and meditate.

Heat. Crowd. Queue. Cramped. Religious Fervor.

So yeah, the first two days I was at Varanasi I freaked out! At the end of the two days I just had to catch some locals and grill them about all these various things to get idea of what the crap is what! After that anyway I realized a very simple thing was needed to enjoy this place – Screw the popular places, go for the other awesome ones. And in Varanasi there are many other such places! So that is when I had a really good time in Kashi! And I did find a few temples, away from the crazy crowds to sit and meditate in 🙂

The best part was that amidst all this maddening and insane shit, I lost myself somewhere. And that is exactly what I needed. I believe this is because even now, after a lot of degradation and ruin there is spiritual energy and ancient memories in that place. So I will writing more posts about a lot of things from quaint temples, people stories, rituals things, many other things I came across in the city. So stay tuned for that stuff.

Don’t get turned off from all this stuff, just prepare for a Wild Ride! 😉


Temples in Himachal were a surprise to me as they were not the usual Hindu temples of Shiva or Vishnu – Krishna/Rama or Hanuman I am used to. This where I first saw Shani Dev temples very common place. Dark black idols often women not allowed within the sanctum sanctorum – Shani dev.

In Manali we went to two temples which are in the city itself. Hadimba and Ghatochkach temples.

For those that are not aware of these two people – they are very well known characters of the Hindu scripture Mahabharata. Arjuna Bhima one of the five Pandavas, a renowned warrior married Hadimba. Hadimba was a Rakshasi or demon. Recent opinions suggest that Rakshasas might just have been a different sect of people. Arjuna Bhima married Hadimba and had a son Ghatochkach! This guy was a total cool dude, who really helped the Pandavas in Mahabharata war.

So I was already quite intrigued to see temples of these Rakshasas. 😉

Wooden temple with slate roofs

Wooden temple with slate roofs

Hadimba temple is a wooden structure in probably a traditional style in the area. Its also a bit odd, cause when I went inside the temple there is the idol and photos of gods and around it seems to be living quarter of the priest. I have seen such temples and they astonish me. An important Hanuman temple in Hampi was somewhat similar. The Priests room n temple are practically co-joined.

Anyway I visited this temple structure of Hadimba. Outside there were large horns of animals and even a skeleton face of an animal. Creepy? I thought the locals have a funny taste in ambiance of a temple.

Horns & animal bone skeletons outside on the temple walls

Horns & animal bone skeletons outside on the temple walls

Later when I went to Ghatochkach temple that is when I realised this was because of Animal Sacrifice being common practice in these temples! In fact Ghatochkach temple was basically just the base of a tree with a stone parapet around it. Open air – and hardly any yard around it. You could make out feathers and fur around it. A common place for animal sacrifices even today it seems. A big government board nearby said Animal Sacrifices can be done only in presence of committee members. Woooh…

Government boards stating animal sacrifice is illegal and punishable

Government boards stating animal scarifices can be done only in presence of committee members

Very recently a Himachal Pradesh court ruled to outlaw Animal Sacrifice in all Hindu temples in the state. Late in the coming considering it was so commonplace http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/02/india-court-bans-animal-sacrifice-hindu-temples

At the base of a tree... surrounded by conspicuous animal horns from previous sacrifices

At the base of a tree… surrounded by conspicuous animal horns from previous sacrifices

Yes might sound creepy especially to the faint hearted, but travellers would be intrigued. I know animal sacrifice is common ritual in Hinduism but always thought it would be done in some shady temples in remote locations. Not like this… open air temple in middle of village like Manali which is so popular. These two temples are common tourist attractions….

Intrigued!

Intrigued!

Animal sacrifices seem to be quite common at this temple!

Animal sacrifices seem to be quite common at this temple!

If you are interested in reading about interesting Temples, here Tarun Goel a traveller from Himachal writes about Brahma temples in Himachal.


Being one of the only Brahma temples around the world is very intriguing as it is, but that is not all that is unique to this temple! The whole story that led to Brahma – one of the three main deities of Hinduism, not being worshiped in the world also has its roots in Pushkar!

As the story goes, Brahma was doing a big pooja at the Pushkar lake to protect the world from all that is unrighteous and such…. At a crucial juncture of this pooja he needed his consort, but sadly Savitri could not be present there. So he married another Gurjar girl, Gayatri. Gurjars were the rulers of the Rajasthan & Gujarat areas in the ancient times. Gayatri played the role and the pooja was completed.
Savitri arrived on the scene and she let all hell lose…… She cursed Brahma that he would not be worshiped anywhere in the world and also some of the other Gods who were present there to help with the Pooja. Later she cooled off a bit as all us feminine deities do… and she said Brahma may be worshiped in a few places like Pushkar.

So as you visit the Brahma temple do notice the little idol of Gayatri besides Brahma the 4 faced!

This temple is an ancient one, maybe as old as 2,000 years! In terms of structure it does look like the older ones in many ways… but it was a bit too cluttered for me.

Firstly the biggest sacrilege to me was that every single marble in the sanctum sanctorium had the donors name inscribed on it. It is just so weird… everywhere you look names – many in capitals, addresses, obituaries and what not! I think this is a north Indian trend, as I saw many such temples in Himachal Pradesh as well… but I just thought that the ambiance of this rare Brahma Temple would have been better maintained.

Further marring the ambiance was just so much clutter around the temple – all around there was stuff. Small little lingas or idols of other deities. Despite there being structural space, there was just no space for me to just sit there for a while. This is surprising for me, because one of the things I have noticed in ancient temples is that they have huge verandahs where one can just sit and meditate.

Maybe I take the temple ambiance a bit more personally, because I have spent quite some time volunteering at another temple.

Secondly, since I went in complete off-season which is a topic for a whole another blog post, I expected the temple to be somewhat emptier and relaxed. It was not so. Hitherto, I had not realized how big a religious center Pushkar is. The influx of locals every day made me realize that it is a very eminent spot.

I also went to see the gaushalas or cow sheds, which are quite interestingly called “Brahmas cows”. Reminded me of “Apollos Horses” in Percy Jackson books…. So these Brahmas cow sheds were not that well maintained. I couldn’t see the cows themselves as they were out….

I did manage to sit and meditate for a while… the meditation had a very interesting flavour to it. So I felt the place was something different and maybe powerful.

Perspective

The Brahma temple had a profound effect on me. My normal psyche is naturally influenced by the Hindu culture, which gives all importance to Vishnu & Shiva. Brahma despite being the creator gets relegated to the side always… because there is no worshiping or temple culture or sects for him. Yet, Brahma is as much a part of the Trinity as the other two. Being at this temple, this ‘Brahma spot’ strengthened the presence of Brahma in my mind and psyche and that was profound.

Brahma Temple, Pushkar

kinda filled, busy all the time. Flickr Credit: guy_incognito