Monday, June 22, 2015

THE GOLDEN TEMPLE AND LOWERING THE FLAGS

AMRITSAR and THE GOLDEN TEMPLE

After being in the cooling breezes of Srinagar, Amritsar was a shock.  We were there for only three days but unfortunately not only was it suffocatingly hot it was crowded with weekenders.  People came into the city in droves, on buses, packed in large open-air trucks and private cars.  Summer weekends in Amritsar had become come another religious vacation spot.  The attractions are the Golden Temple, and the daily unison lowering of each country’s flag at the India/Pakistan border. 




The Golden Temple is the magnificent center of world Sikhism.  But for holiday weekenders, it has two other attractions; visitors can sleep on the vast tiled entrance area, so no need for a hotel, and the temple kitchens feed all visitors free. There is a luggage and shoe storage areas if a visitor wishes to go inside the temple interior to listen to the musicians or visit the inner room of the actual Golden Temple, which is surrounded by water and is entered by a long covered walkway. This intersantcum contains the holy book being read by a holy man and also the temple musicians who play traditional interments and sing religious songs. Thus a weekend holiday, other than very basic transportation is to totally free. 
Just awaking from a night on the tile terrace outside the temple

Resting on an interior walkway

the long crowded walk to the main Golden Temple


One of many little old ladies who wanted their
picture taken with Jane

musicians entertaining worshipers and visitors









Sikh volunteers supply all the meals and cooking.  Thousands of meals are produced twenty-four hours a day.  Metal plates and cups are washed by these volunteers twice, first with soap and water than with sand in outside meal areas.   While in the main kitchen the temple has converted to more modern methods.  Often a Sikh greeter stands outside the dinning room door and welcomes guests to come in and sit on the matted floors and be served their meals. Because of the size of the crowds and the length of the lines to see the sacred book, it was impossible to get inside, so we were content to enjoy the interior walkways and the Golden Temple exterior. 
 
A night view of the Golden Temple

Just a picture I liked


Sikhs are a kind and generous group of people with great fortitude, yet their museum (one of the most gruesome I have ever encountered) shows of Sikhs being tortured in ways beyond belief in the name of their religion.  However, during Indira Gandhi’s Prime Minister-ship, she ruled the country with an ‘iron hand.’  Finally in the early 1980s a number of Indian states made bids for more freedoms from Gandhi’s central government. The situation became so explosive in Punjab State; Sikh separatists raised the question of the Punjab becoming autonomous from the central Indian government. By 1984, the separatist had fortified the Golden temple and Indira Gandhi, in a ruthless move had the Indian Army attack.  Although the sacred books were saved, much of the temple was damaged and more than 450 Sikhs died. After the attack many Sikhs in the Indian Army resigned their posts and five months later Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh guards. 
An Indian high stepping guard
The other exiting event in the Amritsar area is to be one of the (I am told) twenty thousand observers attend the simultaneous lowering of their national flags every evening at 6:30 PM at the border between India and Pakistan.  With pomp and circumstance this ritual is in-acted every day to the delight of both country’s citizens.  Where as the Pakistani women are more sedate and stay in there seats until the final lowering the two flags, Indian girls, who live with much more freedom than their Pakistani counterparts, dance to wonderfully entertaining music entertaining themselves an the crowd until it is time for the aggressive yet tongue-in-cheek ceremony to begins.  I hope the pictures give you and idea of the event.  For two countries that can’t get along, this is a far cry from the negative behaviors that are the constant politically experiences between India and Pakistan. 



Just a few of the twenty thousand Indians who attended the ceremony

The red and white gates, India - the black and white gates Pakistan
Those in tan with red hats, Indian - those in black with black hats, Pakistan

the two countries' flags being lowered at the same time

Indian soldiers walking toward the gates

Friday, June 19, 2015

MAGICAL WATERS OF DAL LAKE

SRINAGAR

After the hot days of Delhi, it was time to leave for cooler climes.  It was time for the magic of Srinagar.  Srinagar is in the Kashmiri region.  In 1947, when Britain gave India its independence, one of the decisions made was THE PARTITION.  This was the division of the parts of the far northwestern and far northeastern parts of India to be ‘partitioned off’ into a new country for Moslem Indians named EAST and WEST PAKISTAN.  Eventually East Pakistan separated from its western counterpart and became BANGLADESH.  During the period of the partition in which many Moslems moved north to their new nation and many Hindus moved south to their new India, at least a million of people died/were killed during the migrations.  Although today in Bangladesh the few Hindus who still live there are harassed, it is in Pakistan where the real trouble lays. In separating the country into two, the Indian States of Punjab and Kashmir were both split; part of each went to India part to Pakistan.  Punjab’s state capital, Lahore became part of Pakistan, which meant that Indian Punjab needed a new capital.  Eventually Chandigarh, designed by La Corbusier, the Swiss/French designer, was built as the new Punjabi State capital. Problem solved.  Although Pakistan got beautiful Lahore, they also wanted the rest of the Kashmir particularly Srinagar and the magical Dal Lake area.  There in is the rub.  Even today, Pakistani terrorists still attack Northern Kashmir and so if one wishes to visit, safety even after 68 years can be an Issue. 
One view on of the lake
After reading about India and talking to friends, my traveling companion, Jane, decided Srinagar and Dal Lake was for her, a necessary place to visit during our Himalayan India trip.  I have visited the area twice in the past and have always found it lovely.  Instead of just traveling to the area, I called my friend Nazir, who with his family owns Sunflower Houseboats on Dal Lake and ask him about current safety issues.  
 
Shikaras on the lake
“It’s just fine right now,” he informed me,  “and the weather is great.  I’ll call my brother and a two bedroom two bath houseboat will be available to you and your friend as long as you’d like to visit.”  So off we flew.  A car with driver met us at the Airport, and took us to gate 8A on Dal Lake.  There a boat, called a Shikara awaited our luggage, and us, and we were rowed across to the Sunflower Houseboat that was to be our home for the next five days.  Our houseboat had a lovely porch, Living/dining room, a small pantry, two double bedrooms and two full (with tubs) baths. 
Our houseboat

The living/dining room

One bedroom


Although we did take evening walks along the shore, and a day trip around the area to Mughal gardens, and interesting mosques, we spent most of our days cruising about on Dal Lake.

Unfortunately the local museum, which I had found most interesting during my last visit, had been flooded in last fall’s rains, and was closed.  But the Mughal Gardens were worth the visit. 
A mountain view of Srinagar and Dal Lake

Standing at the overview

Jane with a Maughal fountain in the background


One garden view

Poppies by a pond


Srinagar’s mosques are also a must see.  There are four major mosques all of which are distinctly different.  Hazatbal Mosque can be seen across the lake, it’s tall white dome shining in the distance.  It has a waterfront location with a grassy tree covered area where many people visit and watch the water traffic as it passes by.  This mosque seems the most conservative of the four and because of a past experience, I ask our driver to accompany Jane and me during our visit.


Hazatbal Mosque

Our wonderful driver with me 

Hazatbal Mosque gate




















The Jamia Masjid is beautifully, unique.  In the large entry arcade there are 370 massive wooden pillars, which support the structure, and a wooden ceiling.  Beyond is a restful courtyard leading to separate areas for men and women to pray. Whereas Hazatbal (from what I could see), has a small outside balcony for women prayers, the Jamia has a vast indoor room equal in size for women as the pray room for men. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

DELHI

DELHI

My friend, Jane requested to go with me this season. As I knew she would be a great traveling companion off we went.  Our first flight was May 17th on Qatar Airlines with a stop in Doha – lovely airport – then on to Delhi.  The first leg of the trip was a grueling 15 hours, but the flight was made more than palatable by economy class’s generous leg room, the good food (that’s a change on an airline) but most of all by the excellent service by the flight staff, particularly by Ivona.  Her help and kindness toward us was invaluable on such a long flight.  Qatar Airlines has the top rating in airlines of five and it is employees like Ivona that make it so.  I have never thanked an airline before but thank you, Qatar Air.

Main street in Pahar Ganj
Delhi is a vastly interesting dichotomy of different venues. There is Pahar Ganj where I stay which a back packers heaven, with a mix of cheap and modestly priced restaurants and hotels, and the quintessential bazaar. Located near a the main train station and the Rama Krishna Metro station, the area is infested with street hawkers and hustlers, you might even find a wandering cow or a bit of garbage, so one must always watch where they walk.  It is the movie image most westerns have of this lovely city, which is really mainly full of large boulevards, grassy and gardened roundabouts, temples, gardens, museums, lovely homes and expensive hotels.  
In Lodi Gardens

 We landed in Delhi at 3 AM, got a taxi to our hotel and arrived about four.  The staff was waiting and we went directly to bed, but because of the topsy-turvy time change, I could not sleep.

The next day it was off to get Jane a metro travelers card –don’t buy a tourist card but rather a travelers card.  Put 150 rupees on the card, fifty of which is the cost and use up the hundred.  One can make many metro trips for 100 rupees, add to money to the card when you need to, and there is no standing in lines to buy tickets.  If your hotel does not supply a government metro map, ask for an English language one at the any information kiosk or where you got the card (information – watch the locals).   After getting our card off we went to Connaught circle a large pillared English built circular shopping area considered the center of Delhi based on the Bath, England’s lovely circular style.

At Connaught we went to THE SHOPPE, a wonderful store, which has lovely Indian cotton nightgowns, clothes and marvelous dining and bedroom items for a fraction of the cost in the USA. 

 Delhi’s temperatures were ranging from 100 to 106F during our whole visit.  The incredible heat and being victims of Jet leg, we headed back to our hotel to our air-conditioned rooms for a much-needed rest.   After a satisfying dinner across the street from our hotel at the Malhodta Restaurant (rated on Trip advisor somewhere around 200 something out of over 9000 restaurants in Delhi) back to bed we went.

THE BAHA'I TEMPLE
The next day it was off to Kahn Market for looking – at FABINDIA and ANOKIA – then lunch.  We ate at one of other favorite restaurants, MAMA TO GO; fabulous spicy fish and Spinach with a spicy sesame cream sauce – a culinary experience I never miss when I am in Delhi.  Then off to the beautiful Lotus shaped BAHA’I TEMPLE, known as the LOTUS TEMPLE.   It sits on 26 manicured acres, and was built on donations alone.  We were fortunate enough to be there for a brief BAHA’I service.  Visiting the BAHA’I TEMPLE in Delhi is comparable to visiting the Opera House in Sidney, a must do. 

It was after three PM, and wiped out by the extreme heat, it was back to the respite of our air-conditioned rooms.  We may sound like wimps but this heat wave that covered most of India from the Lahore, Pakistan/Amritsar, Indian border north of Delhi and down through the rest of the country for days, caused over 2000 Indian deaths during this period of penetrating heat. 

 Early on the third day, we exited Chandi Chowk Metro station around ten o’clock. Many shops were not opened on Silver Street, as their business is mainly later in the day and early evening.  But on my part, this was a labor of love.  I was taking Jane to the most beautiful JAIN TEMPLE, in Delhi, which most tourists don’t even know exists. Just getting there is an experience.  First one must go down the silver street until you find the fifth perpendicular street with a wooden curved arch over the entry.  
Shop in Old Delhi
Shop in Old Delhi



Jain Temple Priest

Outside Jain Temple



It is down this little street lined with shops full of wedding decorations, decorative artifacts and all sundry items to delight the eye until you reach a dead end street to your left which is lined with charming little pastel painted town houses that leads one down to the end, and the white marble JAIN TEMPLE. No pictures are allowed. Most often a Jain priest gives a guided tour, and requests a tip at the end.  Besides describing the history and all the artifacts within the temple, this priest also explained that there are two sects of Jainism; the pure vegetarians who maintain a strict diet and wear white for services and prior to breakfast, and the nudist Jains who wander the country with a begging bowl.   It was obvious he was trying to shock us with his revelation but we had both read William Dairymble’s NINE LIVES, which describes one such nudist Jain who was on the path to death.  We were not impressed.  His gleeful smile turned downward and disappointment was written about his face.  We ugly American missies were not to be so easily shocked.

In the same alley is a wonderful jeweler who sold us some charming little trinkets, and off we went to happily hire a bicycle rickshaw for a ride to the spice market and then back to the Metro. 

Finally we got smart and on our second to last day in Delhi, we hired an air-conditioned car and driver.  My plan was to show Jane Humayun’s Tomb but it is situated on an large open area with no trees and the heat was just too intense, so it was off to Lakshmi’s Temple, where we met some delightful Indian ladies and their children,
Jane with the Indian ladies and their children at Lakshmi's Temple
Me at Lakshmi's Temple


It's Jane again at the Gandhi Museum

the Gandhi museum, which was fascinating,
Lodi Garden to see an ancient tomb, India Gate, drive around Connaught Circle and the National Museum.  I have been to the National Museum at least three other times over the last eight years and each time most of the rooms were closed.  In fact, I had decided that the national gem and jewelry collection must be stolen.  Needless to say, I was entirely wrong and not only did I see the gems collection,
Mughal tomb in Lodi garden
Birds sitting on the Mughal Tomb


but also beautiful Mughal miniatures, an interesting painting collection a well as many other paintings.  
ancient wedding necklace

Wedding nose ring


All during my time in Delhi, I lamented the fact that I had not seen my favorite auto rickshaw driver A-gee.  Upon coming out of the Mahrodta after breakfast, there he was.  After a big hug, we planned our day.  First it was to mail a package to my grandson at the post office – A-gee is always helpful with that task.  Then it was off to a shop where Jane and I would behave like serious shoppers for fifteen minutes, so A-gee could get a free gas chit for bringing us to their shop.  The chit would pay for his gas for the whole day. As he is not the owner of the auto-rickshaw he drove and had to pay the owner 400 rupees (between $6 and 7 dollars) for the use of the vehicle for the day, it always seemed reasonable to help him out.  Both Jane and I each actually bought something, therefore A-gee would get a small commission for that too. 
A-gee



If you are an India traveler, (this is the case in many other countries as well), be aware that if a driver wants you to shop, there is often a cut in it for him if you purchase something.  This is not necessarily a bad thing because in developing countries the populations are so poor; success in touting a shop is an important part of their lively hood.  Now it was a visit to the Crafts Museum, my favorite of all Delhi.  But what?  Like the National Museum previously, most of the rooms were closed.  Renovations!  Does this mean that like it’s sister museum it would be closed not for months but for the next few years?  A question to ponder.
A beautiful ancient handmade wooden cart at the crafts museum

After the disappointment of the mostly closed museum, it was lunch at the Imperial Hotel, then browsing in the Tibet markets a block away then off on the Metro to our hotel.  A–gee had left us at the Imperial and after being overpaid, he probably rounded out his day with more customers, then home to share his good fortunate at spending his morning squiring Jane and me around. 


Jane at the BHALLA CAFE which serves the world's best CHAI!
Re: hotels in Delhi:  There are masses to choose from.  Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet are usually good guides.  The Hotel Cottage Yes Please is clean, has an elevator, -be sure to ask for a top sheet or you won’t get one.  Has a good staff - Located around the corner from the metro. It also has an ok, at least honest travel desk – I can’t say that for most travel desks or companies in Delhi (current cost about $18 a night single – but get a room with windows – best rooms 202 & 302) Directly across the street from the hotel is the Malhotra Restaurant - cheap, authentic and very good -, and join the taxi rickshaw drivers (A-gee included) at Bhalla Cafe tea stall and drink the best Chai I have ever tasted anywhere. 
Metropolis Hotel:  Around the counter from the above CYP and almost across from the Metro is the Metropolis Home Stay (proper name).  This truly lovely renovated hotel is a highly rated hotel by Trip Advisor.  The rooms are really nice, and the restaurant is also wonderful – Rooms were around $45 to 50 dollars a night the last time I checked.   It is far superior to CYP, but the draw back for me is no elevator. Lovely owners too.
The beautiful Imperial Hotel is the other hotel I like in Delhi.  It is a super upscale hotel, with great food (although I fine the food expensive – but if you can afford the hotel, I guess you can afford the food).  Other than enjoying this hotel for its amenities, the real plus is its location.  Not stuck out on one of the large boulevards, it is situated about three short blocks from Connaught Circle. On Janpath road it is next to the Tibetan market, always interesting if you are a careful shopper and passed the cheap but entertaining shops of Janpath road.  Then at Connaught you are near E block which has the United Coffee house, a restaurant in Delhi no visitor should miss, and around the corner from the big Cinema, the store THE SHOPPE which I mentioned earlier. (The latest on line special rate I saw is $168 US for the Imperial Hotel). Keep in mind that these are 2015 prices I am quoting.    




Thursday, June 4, 2015


FALL AND SPRING AT HOME IN FLORIDA



The rest of the winter and spring was spent at home with friends, and with a visit from my daughter a who has recently moved to Trinidad from New Zealand. She came with my new Grandson.

I also took two small trips; one to the Caribbean Island of Trinidad to visit again with my daughter, son-in-law and my grandson, (other than this photo for all of you to see,

My grandson -too cute


we as a family do not put personal pictures on Facebook or the web except on my blog), and of course I went to see the island.  







Joan and me in our Grant Wood American Gothic pose.
View from Joan's porch.
The other trip was to North Carolina to visit with my dear friend Joan. We have been friends since late girlhood and are more like family.
Lunch with Joan at one of my favorite restaurants, Stoney Knot. 



Yame and me - a selfie


Turtles at Beaver Dam, a lovely lake, which we hike around


The blossoms of a North Carolina spring
and my daughter’s Godmother, Hester.
Hester and me at lunch

NOW- ON TO  INDIA

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