Buddhist Technophiles and Cross-Cultural Pollination

Bodhgaya’s a temple town. Pretty much every country with a significant Buddhist population has set up a shrine here, the reason being the nearby Mahabodhi temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and its celebrity Bodhi tree, underneath which Gautama Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.

The Mahabodhi Temple

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The Novelty of a White Chick in a Tiger-less Tiger Reserve

I can see FOREVER.

The GPS was being a cock again. During the past 2 and a half months, our ‘Map my India’ navigational system had displayed some fairly prize moments of creative route creation (attempting to convince us a railroad was a highway and leading us through twisting alleys to the dead-end of someone’s cow-and-trash-inhabited backyard spring to mind) but we had by then caught on to its wily tricks. This particular day it was trying to convince us that Betla National Park was 450 km away. . .when it should have been 21.

It was for some reason suggesting that, as opposed to making a perfectly legal U-turn, we should instead go 300 km out of our way to change direction, drive PAST the place to which we were trying to get, then enter from the opposite side. When Pete and I defiantly ignored the route and made the turn off through a set of arches towards Betla, the GPS begrudgingly changed its ‘distance to destination’ reading from 441 km to 12, as though muttering, “. . .oh, yeah, OR you could go that way. You know, whatever. My way was real scenic and stuff is all. . . “ Continue reading

A Vagabond’s Guide to Driving in India:

The short version of this guide is simply, ‘don’t’. But, for those of you not dissuaded by cautionary warnings and sound, informed advice for maintaining your personal safety/sanity, below are some helpful tips I learned from my time on Indian roads.

Firstly, I should point out that I am no expert; not on Indian traffic laws and certainly not on motorcycles. I earned my license the summer prior to leaving for India and had, in total, approximately 4 months of riding experience behind me, gleaned from well paved roads in a quiet corner of Atlantic Canada. My 1984 Honda Magna (aka ‘Michael‘) had been just temperamental enough that I was familiar with stalling in public, how to get a bike going off a rolling start, and what it felt like to find out your ‘fuel low’ light doesn’t work by running out of gas 30 km shy of the middle of nowhere.

My advice will be (as all advice is, really) specific to my experience, which was riding a 2010 Royal Enfield Bullet Electra (aka ‘Hrithik’), over the course of 2 1/2 months, from the Northern town of Uttarkashi to the Eastern hill station of Darjeeling. I’ll get some actual, practical advice up on things like ‘buying a bike in India’ and ‘repairs along the road’ later as a part of a larger Indian resource post. . . .but, for now, one dozen general pointers for touring India by bike: Continue reading

Wandering the Ghats of Varanasi III (of III)

Backdated from March 29 – April 03

Lassis are an Indian staple. They’re a drink made by blending yogurt with water, and can be served sweet or savory, mixed with sugar, spices or fruit. The best ones will be mixed with a bit of milk, and topped with a thin layer of clotted cream. And the best I’ve had in all of India are to be found in Varanasi, at the Blue Lassi in Kachauri Gali.

The Blue Lassi – best in all of India

One of the Blue Lassi’s few workers setting up for the day. As the shop is a 3rd generation family business, you’re likely to see the same faces milling around each day you drop by.

Here the drinks are piled high with fresh fruits, shaved coconut, coffee or cocoa powder, or combinations of all the above (Because we are living IN THE FUTURE, you can even pop over to youtube to watch a lassi being made here). A personal favorite of mine was the chocolate banana. For the adventurous, ‘special’ (wink wink) lassis are also available. Perhaps don’t ask for them too loudly, though.

This particular evening I went with a chocolate blackberry (which turned out to actually be dark grapes), while Pete chose chocolate banana coconut. Our bellies filled with yogurty goodness, we made our way down to the river to hire a boat. On the night’s agenda was to watch the Ganga Aarti ceremony at Dasaswamedh Ghat. Continue reading

Wandering the Ghats of Varanasi II (of III)

Backdated from March 29 – April 03

One day isn’t nearly enough to take in all of the myriad sights and sounds of Varanasi’s ghats. So I decide to take another.

When I reach the pyres of Manikarnika this time I instead bank left. My Lonely Planet map tells me there isn’t much to see North of the main burning ghat but I decide to test the truth of that claim for myself.

It’s certainly less bustling up this end, and I don’t run into any other tourists walking along the stairs. But there’s still a pretty rich collection of sights along the upper ghats and the walk towards the Northern bridge is far from dull.

Well, that’s just poor planning.

I walk past a man helping his friend to fold freshly laundered bedsheets, a pair of blue undies wrapped around his head like some bizarre, miniature turban. Laundry in the Ganges has been a constant source of wonder to me since arriving in Varanasi; I fail to understand how you can, in a river teeming with trash, waste and ash, somehow manage to get your clothes to become cleaner. And yet, from North to South, the area lining the Ganges is filled with sheets and saris drying on the ghat steps, or hanging to blow in the wind, their vibrant colors somehow magically unspoiled by the surrounding dust, dirt and floating river debris. Continue reading

Wandering the Ghats of Varanasi

Backdated from March 29 – April 03

Varanasi’s a great city to get lost in. Which is a good thing since, given the twisting labyrinth of narrow lane-ways that pass for streets in the blocks leading down to the Ganges, you’re bound to spend a lot of your time doing just that. Whether intentionally or no.

Inside the narrow, twisting alleys of Varanasi.

Actually, getting lost in the lane-ways was the very first thing we did upon arrival in this ancient city. After getting one of the bikes unstuck after a failed attempt at a U-turn (not recommended) we pulled them to the side of the ‘road’ as much as was possible so Pete could head off with a helpful local to locate our hostel. In the meantime, I attracted the usual number of odd looks being a woman riding an Enfield typically yields. Children find me fascinating. Women find me hilarious.

Much later, as I spotted Pete walking back up the dusty alley towards me, I had a moment. For a short instant I felt oddly displaced; the diverse bustle of people still exotic to me, the unfamiliar scents of unknown spices and something about the way the rare sunbeam filtered down to illuminate the scene brought to mind a scene out of a film shot in some far-off location. I began thinking about what I’d learned of Buddhism, particularly about objects not actually being anything static, but becoming whatever impressions we attach to them. In that moment, that scene had the flavor of travel and adventure as we view it in movies – something we walk through as opposed to become a part of. Continue reading

Murder Mysteries and Ancient Sexy Time

Backdated from March 24 − 29

Given that my last post somewhat slagged the backpacker tendency to tour ‘the sites, I’m forced to acknowledge the irony of admitting this: I really enjoyed the palaces and temples of Orchha and Khajuraho.

The decision to hit Orchha was a last minute one; upon hearing that we needed a via point to stop in on our way from Agra to Khajuraho, a man working at our hotel suggested Orchha. Said it was a nice town with a very impressive palace and, buddy, he was not telling lies.

In the courtyard of Orchha’s Jahangir Mahal.

Lacking any real knowledge of the origins of these places, they tend not to sway me with the weight of their history. I can, however, appreciate stunning architecture, and Orchha’s palace fort had that in spades. As an added bonus, being a little out of the way for most, Pete and I largely had the area to ourselves, particularly when we went wandering the grounds outside the palace walls. Providing background to it all, a single man sang from a small temple below, not bothering to move the microphone away from his mouth whenever he felt a cough coming on.

We also took one of the bikes for a run out to the local ‘nature reserve’ which was decidedly short on inhabitants. A sign at the entrance warned to be wary about swimming in any of the lakes as there were ‘crocodils’ and we may ‘become feed’ to them. We didn’t see any crocodils, but we DID find the scattered contents of someone’s pockets lain out across a stone near the edge of a lake – credit cards, driver’s license, several rupee notes and a busted phone.

Well, this doesn’t look sketchy at all.

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