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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Written by Joe Whitbread
“Can you tell me if there’s a good spot to fish around here?”
Fly Fishing Alberta
I remember the first time I played golf. It was a beautiful summer evening. That first shot flew out over the blue Edmonton sky and settled in the middle of the fairway. I was 12 years old and, from that moment on, addicted to golf. My appetite for fly fishing began many years later, but was also sparked by a single, memorable event – when, in a classic example of beginner’s luck, I landed a big brown trout on the Bow River.
Over the last decade I’ve wasted a glorious allotment of life’s brief flicker engaged in this new, perplexing pastime. Fly-fishing, like golf, is a pursuit that involves a litany of painful moments on the steep road toward competency. Unlike golf however, fishing does not entail the agony of a triple-bogey or the humiliation of a whiff. But, like the errant swing of a driver, casting a fly can result in plenty of frustration and some unintended consequences. There are missed fish, tangled lines – even an occasional need for the apologetic retrieval of a barbed hook from the derrière of a fellow fisherman.
There are a few different ways to wet a line. If you have a boat, you can drift a river or float a lake. If not, you can stand on a dock or cast from shore. But best of all is to walk and wade a shallow river. Nothing beats the solitary experience of crisscrossing a remote meandering creek, searching for elusive, rising fish. Plus I get to spend long peaceful hours alone with my favourite person. Haha.
Fly fishermen are notoriously secretive about their favourite fishing spots. One fall evening, at a secluded spot on the Oldman River in southern Alberta, I arrived late and, in the near-dark, set up camp. I wandered over to chat with a couple of well-fed fellows who were sitting contentedly by a campfire, cooking smokies and enjoying a few brews. A pair of hip-waders drying in the setting sun identified them as fly-fishermen.
‘Hi there,’ I said. ‘Can you tell me if there’s a good spot to fish around here?’ ‘
Yup,’ said the more portly of the two, taking a pull from his beer and looking downstream. ‘Just that way a bit. It’s called Zippermouth Creek.’
‘Where?’ I asked excitedly.
He looked at his buddy knowingly, then turning my way, pulled a thumb and index finger across his lips. Then he laughed, took another sip and returned his attention to the roaring fire. I slunk away – rebuffed but undeterred. And in the morning I did indeed hunt down a nice fishing hole. And since then I’ve discovered a few Zippermouth Creeks of my own.
Like every other endeavour, people who are skilled at fly-fishing make it look easy. A lot of time can be saved – and aggravation averted – by watching and imitating the pros. Turns out there are just three parts to the program. First, one must learn to operate a fly rod. Then, you need to figure out where the fish are hiding. Last is to determine what our pesce little friends are eating that day. My buddy Tony has patiently – and somewhat effectively – educated me in these three basic principles. But on occasion, even the master gets fish-schooled. We were drifting the Red Deer River on May 15th, opening day.
Tony was at the oars, scanning the surface, vigilant for signs of rising trout. Suddenly he pointed quietly toward a sunken log: ‘There, a big brown!’ He eased the boat toward shore and silently dropped anchor. Soon the telltale signs of a slurping snout re-emerged. Tony ambled onto the bank, tied on a green drake and, with precision, dropped the fly a few feet upstream of the log. The drift was textbook, directly over where the trout had been feeding. Nothing. Puzzled, he tied on a stonefly pattern and made another perfect cast. Nada. Finally he tried a caddis. Sure enough, the fish struck. But it was foul hooked and easily busted off. Tony, frustrated, gave up and, muttering about ‘dumb fish’, wandered up toward another hole.
I looked in my fly box, pulled out something that looked like a beetle, and tied it on. First cast the monster attacked. I set the hook and, to my utter amazement, the fly was firmly attached to the maw of an enormous brown. I reeled in the line but when the fish saw me – and I it – we both panicked. It set course for the middle of the river and the safety of strong current while I stumbled and fell on the slippery rocks. I regained my footing and after five minutes fighting the brute I called for help: ‘Tony, bring the net!’ But the cascading river drowned out my wails. I’d have to land the beast solo. Which, amazingly, I did, although the fish’s mouth and tail were spilling out the edges of my cheap net. Tony arrived in time to snap a picture, verifying what otherwise would have gone down in history as just another of Gerry’s fictional fish stories.
Do I tie my own flies? Certainly not. I get everything from my dealer, Tony. It starts with a phone call:
G: ‘Hey, Tony, I’m outa green drakes and I need some, real bad.’
T: ‘I ain’t got no green drakes, I can get ya some browns. Maybe.’
G: ‘No, Tony, please I really need the greens.’
T: ‘Ok, ok, calm down. I’ll leave a packet in the rear mailbox. Leave cash. Use the back gate and don’t let nobody see ya.’
G: ‘Thanks Tony, you’re a life saver.’
Then the conversation changes:
G: ‘Oh, Tony, did I mention the big cutthroat I landed at Prairie Creek last week.’
T: ‘No, Gerry. Tell me more. Was it male, female? Any colour?’
G: ‘Golden red. A fat male. 18 inches. Maybe more. With a huge kype.’
T: ‘Oh, Gerry, that is so-o-o exciting! Tell me more.’
I call this 1 (900) FISH TALK. It’s kinda weird. But then, fly fishermen really are fanatical.
These days I spend about as much time casting about as I do strolling fairways – and if I have the choice between fishing and golfing, more and more I’m leaning toward avoiding those nasty three-putts and instead trying to land that big one.
By the way, did I mention that, after hitting that first big drive all those years ago, I duffed three shots in a row?
contact Gerry at [email protected]
Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. We hope you enjoyed his Irish adventure. He and his wife Florence live in Red Deer, AB and Kimberley, BC.
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