India Part 2- Terrific photos help you experience the Taj Mahal and Ganges. This is the second in a four-part series on India
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal. Constructed of ivory marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, the Taj Mahal is described as the world’s most perfect building. The Taj does not disappoint.
the Taj Mahal is described as the world’s most perfect building
The grand mausoleum is best viewed in the early morning light, but some important foreign politico was in town so the grounds were closed to us plebeians. We had to view the edifice from Agra Fort, which lies across the Yamuna River.
sharing the Taj Mahal with friendly locals
Still, the ancient site in the hazy distance was stunning, with its four tall minarets framing the gigantic domed tomb. In 1658, after a succession battle, Shah Jahan’s son had his father imprisoned in the Fort. The elder Shah was forced to live out his existence with a distant, tantalizing, maddening view of his beloved wife’s final resting place.
cows come first in India
a boy selling funerary votives
The Taj Mahal grounds re-opened to the great unwashed later that afternoon – affording us the opportunity to avoid the morning crowd. As the sun set, we were able to quietly enjoy this architectural wonder with an intimate gathering of… about 10,000 souls. Did I mention India has a lot of people? (see Part 1 of the series.)
Every morning, before he could open his mouth to explain where we were going and what we’d see, eat and do that day, we’d greet our guide Anoop Singhal with a preemptive, “What’s the scoop, Anoop?” Then he’d regale us with the remarkable things we were to consume – visually and gastronomically – that day.
A family happily camped in the streets of Varanasi.
And throughout the adventure, with ceremonial kirpan rattling by his side, driver Devinder Singh navigated us safely through the byways of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, his horn a constant presence, firmly announcing our arrival in every hamlet, village and town.
When we flew to Varanasi to visit the sacred waters of the Ganges, Singh Ji drove through the night, met us at the airport and safely delivered us to our luxurious accommodation.
It was on the short drive into Varanasi that we saw our first corpse.
Supplicants bathe in the sacred GangesIt is the desire of every devout Hindu to be cremated along the banks of the Ganges River, ashes then spread into the sacred water. Such a fortuitous departure from life enhances the deceased’s opportunity to be transported to heaven and escape the cycle of reincarnation, rebirth.
What we had seen on the way into town was a body, brightly wrapped in funerary attire, drawn in an open cart and bound for a wooden funeral pyre.
Funeral Pyres on the banks of the Ganges
Late that afternoon, after navigating Varanasi’s warren-like alleyways and descending the stone steps of Manikarnika Ghat to the riverbank, we rowed quietly out into the soft Ganges current. Orange flames danced from a score of burning pyres, each mimicking the brilliant Indian sunset.
an offering for the river gods
Downstream, supplicants released floating offerings of lit candles set in yellow marigolds, while men and women – pilgrims from all over India – stepped into the water to cleanse themselves and sip the holy elixir.
garlands of marigolds
Despite encouragement from the locals we did not partake in the ritual of drinking directly from the blessed Ganges. A Canadian doctor I met on a scenic point overlooking the river warned that to do so was to invite, “the 30 day, 30 pound diet.”
As darkness descended we drifted silently, watching a growing multitude of funerary blazes illuminate the shore. The effect was ethereal, apocalyptic.
In the morning the mood at breakfast was somber. Our time with Mr. Singh and our wonderful guide Anoop was over. We were headed to Mumbai to begin the next leg of our journey. Before we left for the airport, Anoop Ji surprised us with a private yoga session in the garden of the Taj Gateway, our fabulous Varanasi hotel.
a colourful scene on the Ganges
end of along day
After a lot of “ohms”, some deep breathing and much stretching, the yogi insisted we finish the session with a laugh – literally. So, we all forced a grin that morphed to a chuckle and eventually became a contagious guffaw. Soon the whole group was howling with a genuine, fall on your yoga mat, belly laugh.
The mood had swung and we were all smiles as we boarded the plane for Mumbai.
Next time: the slums of Mumbai.
If you go: Explore India from Vancouver B.C., www.exploreindia.ca, capably and professionally handled all aspects of our private month-long tour – air and land travel, hotels, meals, guides, drivers, entrance fees and activities – for one all-inclusive price.
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We love stories from our community. Register here and publish your own stories. Thanks to local writer and communicator and former journalist Glenn Kubish for this delightful snapshot of a recent act of kindness that melted everyone around!
Fire rescue at Blue Plate
February 12, 2020
Sick with a cold, tired from the non-stop and just a bit weary from the sick and tired, I drove home down 104 Ave this afternoon in a rush hour that felt like a funeral procession.
And hungry. Right, no lunch. Add hunger to the list. No doubt, I was suffering. I’m not aware of anyone who suffers quite like I do. Shelagh, sitting next to me in the car, would likely agree.
And not on my bike. Let me keep counting the woes.
We turned off at 122 Street, parked the car and headed for Blue Plate. I ordered an Old Fashioned. A stabilizer, as my friend Al would say. I sipped it. Contemplated the maraschino cherry pinned between the glass and the ice cube die. Remembered how my parents said mar-a-SHEE-no, but Bogart said mar-a-SKEE-no. We talked about music. Shelagh remembered parties where she first heard Dire Straits and Talking Heads. We’ve been telling each other stories for 35 years. I hadn’t heard that one before. That was nice.
I looked out the window at a fire truck, its lights flashing, parked in front of the restaurant. The vehicle also captured the attention of a young boy walking into the restaurant with his parents. The little guy slowed his pace to keep looking at the light show. Who could blame him? The three eventually sat at a booth next to ours. A few minutes later, a firefighter came in and quietly asked the parents if their son would like a firefighter colouring book. The boy was so happy.
The restaurant melted.
“That is so nice,” a woman said from a table behind us.
Later, the boy’s father walked up to our table and said he had noticed I had captured the moment and would I be kind enough to share the pics? He was overwhelmed by the firefighter’s kindness. There were tears in his eyes. I texted him the pics. We talked a bit. His family is francophone de l’Alberta. We spoke a bit of French.
There is so much that I am not certain about anymore. So much that’s murky. But I know for sure that that father loved his son.
I felt in the world again. Maybe we don’t need to find rest as much as we need to see kindness.