Archive for the ‘India’ Category

So, after witnessing my first outdoor human cremation on huge log funeral fires I have discovered another mode of disposing of the dead.

The Zoroastrians basically believe that the burning of bodies or burial of bodies into the ground undermines their belief that fire and the earth are ‘holy.’ Therefore when one of their kind passes on the leave the body in huge towers called TOWERS OF SILENCE, where they are left for soaring buzzards and vultures to shred the skeleton all flesh, muscle, sinew, etc. The bones are then exposed to natural decay and decomposition.

To preclude the pollution of earth or fire, the bodies of the dead are placed atop a tower—a tower of silence—and so exposed to the sun and to birds of prey. Thus, “purification with all its concomitant evils… is most effectually prevented.”

For health and religious reasons one can not just wonder round these towers, nor would one want to, although the birds make short work of the bodies so the smell is limited. There is also an abundance of spices, incence and perfumes in and around said area to avoid unwanted wiffs and pongs… although sites are generally on the outskirts and away from main populated areas.


The lonely planet describes the city by way of a rich and colourful set of cooking instructions,

Measure out: one part Hollywood; six parts traffic; a bunch of rich power-moguls; stir in half a dozen colonial relics (use big ones); pour in six heaped cups of poverty; add a smattering of swish bars and restaurants (don’t skimp on quality here for best results); equal parts of mayhem and order; as many ancient bazaars as you have lying around; a handful of Hinduism; a dash of Islam; fold in your mixture with equal parts India; throw it all in a blender on high (adding generous helpings of pollution to taste) and presto: Mumbai.

Or as a weiry backpacker put it,

I prefer Mumbai to Delhi, cleaner with less litter, more interesting and fewer people p**sing in the street, but it does smell of fish ALL the time you know…”

It is also describes as ‘London on acid’ which is my personal favourite and it isn’t hard to see why! Although set in a wonderful sub-tropical setting, it could be 1950’s London, with colonial banks, Art Deco facades to residential blocks, Victoria station (which is the spitting image of Paddington or St Pancras), offices, designer shops and red double decker buses.

My walking tour of the city took me to,

Gateway of India

A yellow basalt Gateway of India arch faces out to Mumbai Harbour, built to commemorate the 1911 royal visit of King George V. It was completed in 1924: ironically, the gateway’s British architects used it just 24 years later to parade off their last British regiment, as India marched towards independence. Giant-balloon sellers, photographers, beggars and touts rub shoulders with Indian and foreign tourists, creating a vibrant bazaar feel.

Colaba Causeway

he unofficial headquarters of Mumbai’s tourist scene, a bustling district packed with street stalls, markets, bars and budget to midrange lodgings.

Victoria Train Station

The train terminal building, designed by Frederick Stevens – completed in 1887, is a combination  of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles mixed together to form an imposing, Daliesque structure of buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained-glass windows.

Bombay University

Built to ape a  15th-century French-gothic masterpiece, was constructed by Gilbert Scott – whose other buildings include London’s St Pancras Station.

Prince of Waled Museum

This neo-Gothic building 1848, in the ‘boom years’ for construction, inspired by a German castle.

St Thomas’s Cathedral

Opened in 1923  it was also built George Wittet, who also did the Gateway of India, to commemorate the visit of King George V’s visit back in 1905 – while he was still Prince of Wales – is a fusion of Islamic, Hindu and British architecture displaying a mix of dusty exhibits from all over India.

Marine Drive

A pedestrian walkway built on land reclaimed from Back Bay in 1920, stretching from Nariman Point past Chowpatty Beach to the foot of Malabar Hill… a LONG walk in the sun!

Chowpatty Beach

A walk along the beach through the many beachside stalls you can part take in some bhelpuri or even get a head massage.

Malabar Hill

Mumbai’s most exclusive neighbourhood of sky-scratchers and private palaces for the city’s social and economic climbers. In the centre of the exclusivity is the,

Banganga Tank is a precinct of serene temples, bathing pilgrims, meandering, traffic-free streets and picturesque old dharamsalas (pilgrims rest houses). The wooden pole in the centre of the tank is the centre of the earth – according to legend Lord Ram created the tank by piercing the earth with his arrow. The classical music Banganga Festival is held here in January.

Omelette Man – Jodhur

Posted: February 10, 2012 in 2011 Winter - India, India

This man has been making and selling omelettes since the 1970’s. Same corner next to the clock tower, same wok frying pan and a couple of crappy plastic chairs… his omelettes are truly sensational!

Whist in Jaisalmer I happened across their annual desert festival, a mixture of camel racing, moustache competitions, turban spinning, Rajasthani singing, music and dancing… all out the the Sam sand dunes. It was quite funny really as I had no idea it was on while others had apparently flown across the world specifically to see it!

Jaisalmer is a giant sandcastle with a town attached, an emblem of honour in a land of rough and tumble

Travel about as far north west as you can go, before you get to the Pakistan border and the end of the line – so to speak on the train – you arrive at Jaisalmer, the town in the desert.

The medieval fort (built in 1156 A.D.) seems to grow up into the horizon out of the sand itself surrounded by 99 massive bastions enforced foundations! Within the walls a maze of narrow streets, wandering cows, street vendors selling pashminas and rugs in every colour, leather bags and shoes and sand stone havelis (houses) in various states of disrepair and construction…

First stop Salim Singh-ki-Haveli, the most famous house outside the fort, once inhabited by Salim Singh, the prime minister when Jaisalmer was the capital of a Royal state. Now 300 years old, despite rather tatty interiors and deterioration of sections of stone work, it still strikes a impressive pose (I think the expression used is curb appeal) on the main thoroughfare to the Fort’s main entrance.

Inside the fort an impressive Jain temples dating from the 12th to the 16th centuries.

Amber Palace – Jaipur

Posted: February 4, 2012 in 2011 Winter - India, India

Next stop is the Amber Fort, 6 miles north of Jaipur, perched on a hill top…

The aesthetic ambiance of this formidable fort is seen within its walls on a four level (each with a courtyard) layout plan in well turned out opulent palace complex built with red sandstone and marble consisting of the Diwan-e-Aam or the “Hall of Public Audience”, the Diwan-e-Khas or the “Hall of Private Audience”, the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over the water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Palace

 Sheesh Mahal/Mirror palace (left) and Zanani Deorhi/Womans’ courtyard (below)

The views of the valley below were truly stunning.


Day time 25°C

This superb fortified ghost city of  Fatehpur Sikri was the doomed capital of the Mughal empire between 1571 and 1585, during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Doomed to fail as it was constructed a long distance from the nearest river, so water shortages were an issue from day one… not the most intelligent of ideas you may think. So why was this splendid city built? Well the Mughal Emperor Akbar was childless and sort the services of the Sufi Saint Shaikh Salim Chisti – a wise main and prophet, who predicted he would have a son and subsequent heir to the thrown. The prophecy came true so Akbar built his new capital here as royal sign of gratitude to the Sufi who who lived in a cave on the ridge at Sikri.

Below a photo within the Jama Masjid

A white marble encased tomb of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478–1572) who had given Akbar the prophecy of an heir being born

The city was a melting pot of religions, philosophy and learning, Akhar himself enjoying long discussions in the Diwan-i-Khas (photo above) – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. He himself advocating that the true religion was a blend of the four. The building having the appearance of a two-storey pavilion, when in actual fact the building is a single space with an particularly clever central carved ornate column that opens out to four walkways to the corners of the structure (photo below.)

It’s architecture mirrors Akbar religious point of view and blends traditional Indian columns, Islamic cupolas and turquoise-blue Persian roof tiles….

Below Buland Darwaza a 54 metre high gate leading into Jama Masjid 1576-1577  ‘victory arch’, built to to commemorate the Akbar’s successful Gujarat campaign. Inscribed over the archway it says,

“Isa (Jesus) Son of Mary said: The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen”.

Darjeeling –  a Himalayan town – is in the Indian state of West Bengal, prior to the British ‘discovering’ the area it was known as Dhor-je Ling by Buddhists who had built many temples there and practiced the mystic system of Vajrayana (tantric) Buddhism. The British influence dates back to the mid-19th century established by the British and it was originally developed as a sanatorium and a military base.

Later, to challenge China’s dominance of tea production and trade, Darjeeling – with help from tea growers further east in Assam – soon became Indians centre of tea farming. Today Darjeeling tea is internationally recognised and ranks among the most popular of the black teas, many of which I have sampled. The record price paid for premium tea was $220 US dollars for 1kg!!

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was built between 1879 and 1881 and is about 53 miles long and takes climbs from 100 metres above sea level at New Jalpaiguri to about 2,200 metres at Darjeeling. I have wanted to ride the toy train for many years now and was really disappointed to find out that due to recent heavy rain and a subsequent massive landslide the track is currently closed along a section from Kurseong to New Jalpaiguri. However the train does still run from Darjeeling up to the final station at Ghum which i was fortunate enough to get a ticket for!


There are diesels that ply the windy, narrow track along the mountain route but I specifically wanted to ride the vintage British-built B Class steam locomotives which are now over a 100 years old.

In the news today…

Posted: January 30, 2012 in 2011 Winter - India, India

One headline that stood out for me,

BHOPAL: Tired of being sexually abused by her ex-lover, a 35-year-old woman chopped off the head of her tormentor with an axe at Amoga village near Katni in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday.

In a country where divorce is almost impossible is this justice or murder??

Sorry about the macabre nature of that story but I was astonished to find in the column next to the business news!

Sat reading the Indian Times over breakfast is rather fun as they tend to use words and sentences that have long since fallen out of use and are now left forgotten, languishing on the proverbial literary rubbish dump in England. The old fashioned syntax and perfectly polite queens English carry my mind back colonial times past; gentleman and ladies, home made lemonade, cucumber sandwiches and summer school.

I have recently re-discovered a love of Belinda Carlisle. Once a favourite for igniting hormonal teenage crushes and wildly over exaggerated the resulting expectations from girlfriend/boyfriend relationships, which inevitably led to broken heart and sleepless nights. I hope this time round being rather older and wiser I can subdue the raw angst and unbridled emotions that come flooding back!!

So, from reading about Varanasi it is the holiest places in India, city of the destroyer god Shiva is where Hindu pilgrims come to wash away a lifetime of sins in the Ganges or to cremate their loved ones (after death in general!)

It is a much nicer than Delhi which was just one big shabby, grubby, frantic and over run  effluent pit. Don’t get me wrong it is still pretty frantic and dirty but offering a more of a colourful, charismatic or ‘spiritual’ retreat for Hindu pilgrims who visit the ghats that line the shore of the Ganges.

The city represents,

…beating heart of the Hindu universe, a crossing place between the physical and spiritual worlds, and the Ganges is viewed as a river of salvation, an everlasting symbol of hope to past, present and future generations…

I must admit that watching my first human public cremation was both rather exciting and surreal, although the white English gentleman in me couldn’t help to find the whole experience rather pagan. Dancing, singing, music, wailing, flowers thrown, etc. Mind you, it definitely beats being put in a box, slowly lowered into the ground with lots of tears and somber words. Although the ceremony is done in public it is not polite or acceptable to take photos, each one taking about 3 hours and the ghat is in operation 24 hours a day.

I spent a good few hours wandering along the very busy side streets trying not to get run over by rick shaw or scooter drivers weaving around piles of cow dung. You may be surprised to know that Hindu’s think cows are sacred and not only do they not eat them, but traffic in general will actually give way to them crossing roads! They also think monkeys are the animal of the creator god Brahma and offer them food treats as they scamper around on telegraph wires and rooves, hoping that god will bless them in return.

By the way they have a third god called Vishnu who is the maintainer or preserver, thought I would complete the trio rather than leave the uneducated amongst you hanging.


So, a quick reminder for myself… eating beef or monkey is bad, where do I stand with chicken rice!? Hungry now you see, photos will be added tomorrow