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India Part 2- Terrific photos! Experience the Taj Mahal and Ganges with Gerry Feehan

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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.)

“India? Are you nuts? Join Gerry for part 1 of his series on India.

 

What’s the scoop Anoop?

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.

Varanasi Pilgrims

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.

“India? Are you nuts?” Join Gerry for Part 1 of his series on India.

Thanks to Rod Kennedy and Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for helping to make this series possible.  Please support them.

 

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Turn off the relentless news and escape – India part 4: The Spices of Kerala

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Since this is the only way to travel right now, kick back enjoy this rollicking good tale from Gerry Feehan. 

This is the last in a four-part series on India

After three chaotic days in Mumbai we boarded a plane for the relative calm of Kerala on India’s extreme southwestern tip. The “land of coconuts” is a tropical paradise dense with rain forest, wild elephants, monkeys, tea plantations – and spices. Kerala is home to a wonder of zesty flavours: pepper, cinnamon, licorice, chili, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, coriander, cumin, turmeric. For centuries the colonial powers fought, won and lost wars over the exotic spice trade.

And from these amazing seeds and roots comes India’s great contribution to world cuisine: curry. We ate curry dishes breakfast, lunch and dinner for a month and never tired of the infinite variety and flavour. In north India meals were largely vegetarian, with the occasional chicken or mutton recipe thrown in. In Kerala, seafood is king and coconut accents every dish.

High in the hills of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary we were enjoying a birding and spice plantation tour when I heard a loud voice boom through a bamboo thicket: “What da ya call that? How many acres ya got here? What’s the name of that spice?”

It was Joe Tourist (see Part 3 in this series). Our serene ornithological outing was ruined.

We’ve all met Joe Tourist. He’s actually quite an affable, well-meaning fellow. JT maintains a permanent grin even when fumbling through his pack or staring incomprehensibly at a map. He’s overbearing and yet teddy-bear likeable. He is demanding – but tips generously. His impatience is legendary. Mr. Tourist is not a “stop and smell the flowers” kind of guy.

When the guide explains something Joe Tourist repeats it, in case you weren’t listening. And when he isn’t listening (which is most of the time) he insists the story be repeated in precise detail. His wife chides him for his foibles – but loves him dearly.

I suppose we all have a bit of Joe Tourist in us.

Nilgiri Langur

After a spicy few days in Periyar we abandoned the temperate dry hills, the monkeys – and J.T. – for the hot muggy coast.

Kerala’s shoreline is chock-full of brackish waterways and canals, used for transportation, fishing and, during the annual monsoon, to irrigate the endless fields of rice. These beautiful languid backwaters have also given rise to a robust tourist industry: houseboating on a kettuvallum. We boarded our quaint floating lodge at Alleppey for a gentle overnight cruise.

 

kettuvallums ply the Kerala backwaters

The European colonists left a curious legacy in Kerala: many Keralans have a Christian given name. Thus our captain Matthew guided us down the canal while mate Mark manned the lines and, in the galley, Luke prepared roti and fresh prawns. The fourth member of the crew was named, naturally… Ganesh.

Kettuvallum crew

Keralans are a warm, gentle people. In the morning, as we disembarked and walked the rickety gangplank onto shore, the four disciples bid us a polite adieu. We had arrived at the luxurious Kumarakom Lake Resort where we would spend our final two nights in India.

Safely parked in a sea of hyacinths

When you ask an Indian a question, the answer is often a non-verbal head-bobble. This gesture can have a number of meanings: yes, maybe, maybe not. To us Westerners, this cryptic side-to-side head movement can be confusing, frustrating – and also enormously entertaining.

After checking in at the Kumarakom I noticed we were short towels. I returned to the lobby and asked the chap at reception if he could remedy the problem. “I shall try my level best, sir,” he said with an assuring head-bobble. “Room service will fulfill your request, anon.”

Curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Indians have borrowed many quaint British niceties; the bobble is theirs alone. And the towels did indeed appear – quite a bit anon.

After a hectic four weeks, it was odd lounging around a quiet resort, removed from the overwhelming crush of humanity. We were soon bored with lazing in the infinity pool. Florence and I exited the guarded gate for one last dose of India. People nodded shyly as we strolled the narrow lanes. A storefront business advertised Ayurveda – Kerala’s ancient form of therapeutic massage. On a whim we pulled out our last rupees. Within minutes I was laying flat on a wooden-slatted table slathered in aromatic oil. When the session was done the masseur handed me a glass of water.

I quaffed the whole jar and then asked, “Is this water safe… bottled?”

Cruisin’ on a Sunday afternoon

“Oh no sir, good water, not bottled,” he assured me, pointing to an earthenware vessel in the corner. I detected a slight head bobble.

It was Monday. We’d be home Wednesday. I prayed that any intestinal distress would be deferred for at least 48 hours.

Now that’s an infinity pool

The journey home was a two-day endurance test. To avoid a nation-wide general strike and highway blockade brought on by the demonetization of the rupee, we left for Cochin airport at 5 a.m. for our flight back to India’s capital. We then had a half-day layover in Delhi before a 14-hour flight to Toronto.

So long Kerala!

As we searched for the Calgary departure gate at Pearson International, a hubbub emerged from the Air Canada first-class lounge. A guy was bellowing to his wife, “Okay, okay, we’ve done India. Where’da ya want go next. I say we see Belize.” It was Joe Tourist.

We hurried by.

It was tough navigating the icy road home from Calgary. On arrival in Red Deer, unable to keep eyes open, we collapsed into bed at noon. Before passing out I turned to Florence and said, “Oh my god, we’re going to Belize next year. Do you think we might run into that Joe Tourist guy again?”

“You never know,” she said. ”It’s a small world.”

Thanks to Rod Kennedy and Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for helping to make this series possible.  Please support them.

 

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.

 

 

Here’s are Parts 1-3 of Gerry’s series on India.

“India? Are you nuts?” Join Gerry for Part 1 of his series on India.

India Part 2- Terrific photos! Experience the Taj Mahal and Ganges with Gerry Feehan

Join Gerry for a wild ride through the Slums of Mumbai Pt. 3 of a 4 part series

We hope you enjoyed The spices of Kerala.  Click here are more travel stories.

 

 

 

 

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Monty Python and Medicine Hat

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In the midst of our coronavirus infested world, the search for distractions during mandatory 2-week quarantines reaches far.

While some hunker down and binge on Disney +, Fast and Furious, Little House on the Prairie, Game of Thrones, house hunting shows or the holiday themed film fests on various networks, others will sit down in front of their TV fireplace channel and catch up on their reading and handy men destroy, rebuild and re-imagine their environments, the truly bizarre among us turn to Monty Python…

It is true, while many of the above pursuits are admirable and give us warm fuzzies, Englands’ famed comedy troupe can be seen on Netflix in their off colour, politically incorrect humor.

But what appeal does Monty Python hold for those who still call Alberta home?

“I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay. I sleep at night and work all day,” brings to mind the lumberjack and his girl surrounded by the beloved RCMP singing their chorus. Nothing says British Columbia to Python fans more than this.

But how can fans of Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Jones and their amazing co-stars count Alberta as part of the mythos?

There is no need to fear, while Toronto barely ekes a mention, the great metropolitan centre of Medicine Hat can indeed claim comedy immortality!

During Cosmetic Surgery, a plastic surgeon is expecting a patient who sports a particular malady…a very large nose. The problem is that the very large proboscis is a rubber nose held on with elastic!

With that kind of set up, satire rules and well, let’s allow the script to tell the story.

(Cut to profile of Raymond Luxury Yacht from next sketch who has an enormous false polystyrene nose. Superimposed arrow pointing at nose.)

Voice Over: Number nineteen. The nose.

(A man sitting behind a desk in a Harley Street consulting room. Close-up of the name plate on desk in front of him. Although the camera does not reveal this for a moment, this name plate, about two inches high, continues all along the desk, off the side of it at the same height and halfway round the room. We start to track along this name plate on which is written:

‘Professor Sir Adrian Furrows F.R.S. F.R.C.S. F.R.C.P. M.D.M.S. (Oxon), Mall Ph.D., M. Se. (Cantab), Ph.D. (Syd), ER.G.S., F.R.C.O.G., F. FM.R.C.S., M.S. (Birm), M.S. (Liv), M.S. (Guadalahara), M.S. (Karach), M.S. (Edin), B.A. (Chic), B. Litt. (Phil), D. Litt (Phil), D. Litt (Arthur and Lucy), D. Litt (Ottawa), D. Litt (All other places in Canada except Medicine Hat, B. Sc. 9 Brussels, Liege, Antwerp, Asse, (and Grower) ‘.

There is a knock on the door.)

Specialist: Come in.

(The door opens and Raymond Luxury Yacht enters. He cannot walk straight to the desk as his passage is barred by the strip of wood carrying the degrees, but he discovers the special hinged part of it that opens like a door. Mr Luxury Yacht has his enormous polystyrene nose. It is a foot long.)

Specialist: Ah! Mr Luxury Yacht. Do sit down, please.

Mr Luxury Yacht: Ah, no, no. My name is spelt ‘Luxury Yacht’ but it’s pronounced ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove’.

Specialist: Well, do sit down then Mr Throatwobbler Mangrove.

Mr Luxury Yacht: Thank you.

Specialist: Now, what seems to be the trouble?

Mr Luxury Yacht: Um, I’d like you to perform some plastic surgery on me.

Specialist: I see. And which particular feature of your anatomy is causing you distress?

Mr Luxury Yacht: Well, well for a long time now, in fact, even when I was a child … I … you know, whenever I left home to … catch a bus, or… to catch a train… and even my tennis has suffered actually…

Specialist: Yes. To be absolutely blunt you’re worried about your enormous hooter.

Mr Luxury Yacht: No!

Specialist: No?

Mr Luxury Yacht: Yes.

Specialist: Yes, and you want me to hack a bit off.

Mr Luxury Yacht: Please.

Specialist: Fine. It is a startler, isn’t it? Er, do you mind if I… er.

Mr Luxury Yacht: What?

Specialist: Oh, no nothing, then, well, I’ll just examine your nose. (he does so; as he examines it the nose comes off in his hand) Mr Luxury Yacht, this nose of yours is false. It’s made of polystyrene and your own hooter’s a beaut. No pruning necessary.

Mr Luxury Yacht: I’d still like the operation.

Specialist: Well, you’ve had the operation, you strange person.

Mr Luxury Yacht: Please do an operation.

Specialist: Well, all right, all right, but only … if you come on a camping holiday with me.

Mr Luxury Yacht: He asked me! He asked me!

(Cut to lyrical film of Luxury Yacht and specialist, frolicking in countryside in slow motion.)

The skit, like many of Pythons short segments is brilliant for its elephant in the room symbolism and simply ludicrous conclusion- something very Alberta, camping!

But the real pay-off for Alberta tourism is the very large, over the top professional creditations that the expert claims…The phrase….except Medicine Hat jumps off the screen and clearly either means that inhabitants of Medicine Hat are above skit humor OR the inhabitants of Alberta’s natural gas city are safe from malpractising proboscis surgery!

Either way, inhabitants of Medicine Hat can indeed claim comedy glory and honor that Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer cannot even begin to comprehend!

Long live Python!

 

 

Not so fantastic: Thieves swipe three rare ‘Fantastic Four’ comic books

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