India/Nepal 2015 – Holy Cow is Right

Betsy and Randy take SmarTours to India seeking enlightenment and a good time. They are blessed at a Hindu temple, ride elephants to an ancient fortress, stroll the Taj Mahal, witness cremations on the Ganges, celebrate Betsy’s birthday with a Mt. Everest flight, and see the sacred cows of India.image

Packing pepto, cipro and immodium, extra toilet paper, hand wipes, hand sanitizers. Don’t drink the water. Don’t buy food from street vendors. Don’t ever let them see the bottoms of your feet and don’t shake with your left hand.

Actually, we did not get sick, but 3 in our group of 24 did. One spent thimagee night in a Khatmandu clinic, receiving excellent care, getting intravenous antibiotics that she could not keep down otherwise. Our guide said December tours have no one sick, 10% get sick in February, 40% in April and 60% in June, getting Delhi belly when it is the hottest.

Portland to Newark, February 14, 2014. Two nights in New York, Lexington Hotel. Metropolitan Museum of Art, with MuseumHack guide. Betsy wins toy blue hippo, museum icon, prize for best pic taken during tour.image

Air India, 13 hour flight to New Delhi on Monday.

Also happening: Record warm in Eugene, record cold in New York. SNL celebrates 40 years. Islamic terrorists target prophet cartoonists. Oregon governor resigns. President Obama goes to Delhi and pledges cooperation with India on global warming initiatives.  Delhi trys to move sacred cows and monkeys off streets before Obama arrives.  Can’t be done. PM Modi promises respect for all religions and government will not tolerate violence between religions, Modi plans 100,000 MW solar power, 50k MW wind power, Modi campaign pledge is to bring indoor plumbing to all of India where 620 million defecate outdoors.

Modi also hopes to pass reforms to curb persistent poverty and corruption, but his party lost badly in recent elections. He was bested by Christian/Muslim coalition that was pushing back against right wing hard liner Hindus that backed Modi.

Stark contrasts and rapid change.image

The most billionaires behind the US and China, yet half the population lives in poverty as subsistence farmers. It is the fastest growing major economy in the world. Street laborers have to be paid 800 rupees per day, about $13, to do manual labor. Starting teacher in Delhi makes $500/mth. Bank teller makes $600/$700. One room studio is lower middle class, $600/mth, and you drive a moped. 2 bedroom apartment is upper middle class, $1500 per month, and you drive a nice economy car.

Delhi (from Hindi delli meaning heart)

Delhi, with 16.7 million people, has worst air pollution in the world. One analyst estimated that Obama lost 6 hours of life expectancy on his recent 3 day trip to India.

Air index on 2/18 /15 from US Embassy in Delhi is 219, “very unhealthy”, and higher than any we experienced in China.

Hotel is Le Meridien, 4 or 5 star. All hotels we stayed in had security guards, gated entry, cow catcher grates. Have to go through metal detector to enter. Get orange dot on forehead in hotel lobby as greeting.image SmarTour guide is Amit. It is only mist, he says, as we ride the bus through smog from the airport. Much worse pollution at turn of century, he says, with more efficient cars now and buses mostly running on natural gas.

No beef at McDonalds, as cows are sacred. High end hotels have limited beef. Smorgas-board breakfast with fruit, pastry, eggs, meat. Recommended not to drink even filtered water from hotel, but do drink lassies, a yogurt like drink, and other pro-biotic drinks. Spices used in mostly vegetarian dishes include cumin, saffron, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric. We had never had much Indian food, but liked it better than Chinese.

Namiste is greeting. Kingfisher is Indian beer. 60 Rupes is dollar. 1000 rupee is highest denomination printed money. Ghandi on all. 17 official languages on all, Hindu/English front and 15 others listed in box on back. Auto rickshaw, Tuk Tuk motorcyle. Sadhu, wandering Hindu monks that have given up all worldly possessions to seek good karma and enlightenment while begging to survive. Two languages taught to every grade schooler in India, and one is English.
Cows, monkeys, and trash are everywhere. As India modernizes, Modi has pledged to start the clean up.image

Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. Built by same Mughal Emperor who built Taj Mahal and Red Fort.  Must take off shoes. Women are given wraps to wear. Canadians wearing shorts are given wraps to wear. Paid 300 rupees to take pictures in the mosque.image

80% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2% Sikh, 2% Christian, 1 % Jains (vegetarian Hindus). Only 1/2% Buddhists, even though Buddha was born in India and religion started here. Buddha not accepted in India because it is seen as simplified Hindu. India is second to Indonesia in number of Muslims. Buddhists split from Hindus in 520 BC opposed to caste system and plethora of Hindu gods. Jains split from Hindus about the same time, non-violent to the extreme, sweeping the path they walk to avoid killing insects. Sikhs split from Hindus in the 15th century, in fighting the Mughal rule in which Hindus were being converted to Islam through oppression and force.image

Toured Lakshmi Narayan Temple, built in 1930s of red sandstone, dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

The British united the 550 Maharajas, great kings, that ruled India by the mid-nineteenth century. Mahatma Gandhi led the pacifist revolution against British rule that lead to India’s independence in 1947. Born in India in 1869, Gandhi became a lawyer, and lived for awhile in South Africa. Discriminated against, he vowed to shed everything English and came back to fight against the English. He adopted principals of the Jain religion, non-violence and fasting, to lead the revolt. After India’s independence, Pakistan was split off as a Muslim religious state. India became a secular nation, mostly Hindu.

Hindu religion always cremates their dead. Earth, wind, fire, water and sky. All go back to nature at cremation except water. Oldest son collects chest bone and hip bone from ash and deposits in water. Gandhi was cremated near the Yamuna River in Delhi. Gandhi assassinated by Hindu upset with India split, even though Gandhi had nothing to do with it. Gandhi, like Mao in China, is on all currency. Gandhi called father of India, Bapu, affectionately. Could have been prime minister or president, but never wanted to get into politics.

Hindu has 330 million gods, infinite number. Amit is devout Hindu and gave detailed descriptions of many of the Hindu god idols on display in the temple. Ganesha, the elephant god, is a favorite, IMG_0877and one of the five prime Hindu deities, Brhama, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga the other four. The elephant rides on a rat, is a god of good luck, lord of success and knowledge and is the son of Shiva and his wife Parvati. Monkey god is Hanuman, another son of Shiva.

Buddha is 8th incarnate of highest Hindu priest, about 500 BC. Krishna, about 1500 BC was 7th incarnate, was a former cow herder, who started the worship of cows as sacred. Cows reflect Hinduism, docile, passive. Priest put red dots on fore heads as blessing. No pics allowed in Hindu temple. Important Hindu symbols from 5000 years ago are swastika and om. Swastika flows right, for the good and positive flow of life. Germans borrowed swastika, Amit suggests theirs flows left, representing negative in life. Om is 3 with tail. Is sound of earth turning on axis, and sound made with yoga, to get in tune with the earth. Over-laid triangles that look like Star of David are also important Hindu symbol.image

Qutub complex. Delhi’s first city. Built by Hindu kings around 400 AD. Taken over by Muslim Turks about 1200 AD. Largest stone building minaret in the world, built without mortar or steel.


Bus to Jaipur, 6 hours. Society in 4 classes long ago. Brahmins were learned. 2nd class were soldiers. 3rd class were business people, money handlers. 4th class were people who worked with tools. 4th class changed to untouchables, picking up garbage and dead animals and preparing cremation funeral pyres. Reformers in last couple of centuries. Greatest reformer was Mahatma Ghandi, from business class and stayed with lower classes. At independence in 1947, there were still classes. Ever since independence, with education, Amit says now, there are just 2 classes, educated and uneducated. There are becoming 3 classes, highly educated, educated, and uneducated. Maybe in very rural India they stick to the caste system, but it is fading away.

India does not import food. Very efficient agriculture, probably helped by having no cattle.

Southwest of Delhi on 8 lane freeway, with 12 lanes coming soon, enter commercial/industrial area. One of two around Delhi with world wide call centers, insurance, banking. Industrial area manufactures motorcyles and cars. All vehicles manufactured in India, often as collaboration with foreign companies like Honda, Suzuki, GM and others. TaTa trucks are India’s version of Freightliners, and are everywhere. Remind me of painted up circus trucks.

Cows stop producing milk and the farmer turns them lose. They wander the streets, belonging to everyone.

Native gypsies industrious and being blended into culture with free education. Bangladeshi gypsies beg and steal. They are illegal immigrants who pose big problem. Human rights concerns mean they will never be deported.

Hindu temple ceremony. Birla Mandir, modern Hindu temple built of marble with ornate carvings about 1986. Style is 1/3 Hindu, 1/3 Buddhist, 1/3 Islamic onion dome. imageFigures of Madonna, Christ, Confucius are on the temple. Ceremony starts as we gather inside the temple. Curtain opens, 10′ idols Shiva and wife Pravati, two priests gong the gongs, main priest waves candleabra in front of idols, then sprinkles water on crowd for blessings. Hands out candy on the way out as symbol of blessing. Hindu is as old as civilization. No one knows who started it.

Hotel is 3 star, Sheraton Four Points. After check-in, take 3 wheel tuk tuk taxi to downtown Copper Chimney Restaurant. Spicy chicken, steamed rice, anise and sugar bowls, Kingfisher beer. Driver waits, and back to the hotel. Stop at seedy bar to get 2 more bottles of Kingfisher. Breakfast buffet next morning at hotel and on the bus to elephant ride.

Ride through old city of Jaipur behind wall. Painted pink centuries ago for visit by British prince.

Amir fort, amber fort. Waited in line 1 hour for elephant ride up to fort where maharaja family ruled for 130 years starting in 1596. Pillars inside with carved Ganesha elephant, Hindu idol on top, and fern pattern for Islamic influence on bottom. To show respect between Muslims and Hindus, the Muslim ruler would have one of his wives as Hindu, and their wedding celebrated in the Hindu palace. imageSaw palace, snake charmer. $3 for elephant ride up, but elephant driver wanted another $5 to let us get off. Bought elephant blanket and parasol and two pics on elephant.

Jewelery factory and store. Process ruby, emerald, sapphire, topaz, jade and others. Jaipur is center of gemstones in India. Silver water vase, 300 years old, most expensive object, well over $500k.

Niros for dinner.image Indian chicken tikki masala with garlic naan. Crazy ride in tuk tuk taxi at night. Driver did not speak English, had to ask street beggars to interpret when we stopped. 2 lane roads driven as 4 or 5 vehicles across weaving in and out with horns constantly tooting. But for total 700 ruppes, about $11, driver takes you there, waits for an hour while you dine, and takes you back. We paid $100 to get a cab in NY from airport to hotel.

Marriage is 98% arranged. 18 legal age to marriage. Look to horoscope matching signs. Date and time of birth important. Priest advises remedies if match not good enough, like wearing certain colors or jewelry or rituals. If match is pathetically low priest will not bless it and marriages usually would not happen. Horoscope very important part of beliefs. Use to marry at 12 13. Dowries brought corruption when girls harassed. British brought anti dowry law. Now they are called gifts. Weddings very big. 1000 2000 usual. Full meals provided. We saw a dozen weddings around Jairpur on the Friday night we drove around. Fireworks in the sky. An important day for marriages, according to the stars, and because it was the week after anniversary celebration of Shiva’s marriage to Parvati.


Bus to Agra out of Rajisthan state to Uttar Pradesh. Away from the desert and into the northern state that produces most of the agricultural products of India. imageAkbar ruled India for 50 years. His favorite place was Agra. Ruled from red fort there. He was a Mughul who married into different religions to unite the people of India. Hindu, Christian, Muslim wives, had 300 wives and 5000 concubines. Built an enormous city palace, UNESCO site, has look of Chinese forbidden city. Lady who gave Akbar first son was Hindu wife, so she was built the largest bedroom palace in the complex. Islamic and Christian wives each gave him a son too. In thanks to sufi saint who he credited with the blessing that gave him a son, he moved the capital to the small town to the west of Agra. Hindu wife killed the other two sons, with overdose of opium. Akbar’s son became 4th Mughul king of India.

Stayed at Jaypee Palace, 5 stars.

Agra has 6 million people. Much more touristy than Jaipur. The attraction is the Taj Mahal, a white marble mausoleum built in 1632 to house the remains of Shah Jahan’s third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the most beautiful one of the palace, and the third wife of Shah, the fifth Mughul king. The mausoleum is known as the jewel of Muslim art in India.image

Shah was grandson of Akbar. Mumtaz died in child birth 1629. Her third son killed his 3 brothers, conspiring with Mumtaz’s sister. Taj Mahal construction took 22000 laborers working 22 years to complete. Shah entombed his beloved wife Mumtaz there. Soon after, Shah was deposed by his son, and was imprisoned at nearby Agra Fort. To save burial cost, the son buried Shah next to Mumtaz under the dome of the Taj Mahal.image

The third, fourth and fifth Moghul kings ruled from Agra. Agra Fort, another UNESCO site built in 1565, and in view of the Taj Mahal.

When builder of Taj was imprisoned by son, he had a balcony view of the Taj until he died, and was entombed in a smaller tomb in the Taj beside his wife.

Tuk tuk to marketplace to buy a sari.


Two and half hour train ride from Agra to Jhansi, image1 million, bus to countryside from train station. Kipling’s jungle book based on this area. Leopards, cobras, crocodiles, bamboo and teak wood growing wild. Active diamond mines. Rich with tribal life. Real India. Bus to Orccha. William is local guide for Jhansi and Orccha. Jhansi is rail station and military. Fought first war for independence from Britain in 1856. Hindu kings had ruled before British. Last king had no heir. Wife adopted son to be king. British said no heir, no kingdom and it became British. Teak is sold by inches, very expensive.


Hindu independent kingdom here. Now just 20k people, and was 50k in 16th century as capital. On cleanest river in India. Hindu kings built palaces and temples. Saw 4 temples on island. First was built by Hindu king for Mughul king, son of Akbar. Another glass palace built by Hindu, current hotel. Another return gift built by Mughul king for Hindu king. Hindu/Mughul architecture combined known as Indo Islamic. Hindu architecture has symbols for animals like elephants/peacocks and domes with ridges. Muslim architecture is all geometric design and domes are smooth surface. Raja Mahal is kings palace. Sheesha Mahal is glass palace. Lunch buffet at palace by the river.


Second only to Taj Mahal as tourist destination in India. Tuk tuk to Raja Cafe. Rattan the street vendor climbs on our tuk tuk to introduce himself and follow us around for next 2 days. Curry chicken, rice, naan. Annual Khajuraho Classic Dance festival. Art work sales, pics with locals. Beers at wine shop cost 20% more than normal because Rattan likely got a commission for being there and making introductions in Hindi before we purchased.

Raddisson 3-4 Star. Kama sutra is subject of temples. New international airport being built. 100+ mile 2 lane road from hell to get here on bus. Per guide, we saw real India on the way, complete with outdoor plumbing. imageRaj is local tour guide, aka eroticologist. UNESCO world heritage site, 33 in India. As a tourist you are a god/goddess in India. 15000 live in Khajuraho. Only 5% unemployment, cleanest village, meaning is descendant of moon.  Was religious capital. 85 temples built here. Only 25 temples remain. Each maharaja built a temple here, and there were 85 majaharaji in this region.  Surrounded by hills, guarded by hills all around town. Water with 2 rivers and 3 lakes for purification before going into temple. Chandel dynasty defeated  by Barjugar dynasty of Occhra in 15-16 century. Built 900 ad to 1100 AD. Nobody taking care of after about 1200 and got overgrown. Rediscovered by Englishman, TS Wood in 1838. image He came to area for hunting. he pulls out plants by roots on mounds and discovers carving.  Built temples tall like Himalayas where they thought the gods lived. Each temple dedicated to a Hindu god/goddess. In 1984 declared UNESCO heritage site.

Na mas te, common everyday greeting, ancient sanskrit, translated roughly as “I bow to the God within you”, or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you” spoken with head bowed and hands together. Left hand is symbol of female, right hand is male, holding hands together is symbol of creation.  With bowed head you are humble to the creator.

Hindu is a way of life, philosophy. Brhama/Vishnu/Shiva, 3 main gods, creator/preserver/destructor representing the cycle, g is generator, o means operator and d means destroyer.

Kama sutra, love art, art of love. Built temples with long ramps of mud/dirt to use elephants/camels/carts to pull very heavy rock blocks to upper layers of temple, like Egyptian pyramids. Kama sutra started 400 AD by writings of Indian artist giving 48 positions. Karma Diva, god of love, always with bow and arrow.  Even the elephant Ipad Pic Backup 031515 2000smiles.


Tuk tuk back to town for classic dance festival. Bought more art. Again followed by Rattan and half dozen other young men. Eager to help, to practice English, to get us to their shop. These are real people who are poor, explained Raj our guide earlier in the day. It is better they are busy selling to tourists than going hungry and stealing from tourists. Raj says our many friends will be waiting for us off the bus, a gauntlet of street vendors. Try to ignore, and then on the bus. Raj helps the vendors by selling a few of their better offerings at best but fair price to tourists on the bus just before we drive away.

Buffet breakfast then walk to post office. Two street vendors join us. Direct us to express delivery place, 4180 rps to send painting back to USA, about 20% more than price on phone undoubtedly because of street vendor’s commission. Then to post office, 850 rps and 3 weeks to USA. We decide to carry it on. Street vendors did not go inside the post office with us. imageMust not have had a kickback there. They tagged along as we walked back to the hotel though. They knew we were from Smartours, that we had purchased the painting at the dance festival, and that we had paid 10000 rps for it. Small town. It is what they do to the know the tourists. I gave them a business tip instead of rupees as we departed. Put the elephant god on coffee cups and sell to tourists.


Flight to Varansi on Air India about 45 mins. Get on bus at airport for 1 hour ride to town.

Most sacred Hindu city, like Jerusalem, Mecca, and Rome are to other religions. Moksha is salvation, liberation from the endless cycle of life and death. Basis is reincarnation. We come back by karma. How you come back depends on your karma. Even thinking negative about someone creates negative karma. We work our way up by doing good karma. A huge universal soul. Soul never dies. Joins universal soul at death and comes back. Help a person sick, in pain, and get good karma .

All Hindus dream of coming to Varanasi.image

Hindus have non-biological mothers. Cow is non bio mother. Ghanga, the river, is also non bio mother. It is a lifeline to the people of India. The land he stands on is also the mother. Four phases of life. First 25 years to learn, 25 to teach and raise family, 25 to fulfill all material desires, but not with bad karma, last 25 years is to detach and shed everything. Today nobody has will power to detach. Today life expectancy is 80 instead of 100. Old people use to come to Varanasi to meditate and die. Even Hindus in USA often put in wills to be cremated in Varanasi.image
Mother Teresa maybe gained liberation, giving up all to care for orphans in Calcutta. Ghandi may have been liberated. Dahli Lama was attracted to Varanasi, giving his first teachings here.image

In Varanasi they accept death easier than any place else. The city of Shiva, the city of death, that takes the soul away. Official records here are 10000 years old. It was here for longer. Guru, someone who takes you from darkness to light. Deepak Chopra comes every year. High concentration of universities, both high tech modern world and religious schools. Modi ran on a pledge to clean up the river and the town of Varanasi. River empties into the Bay of Bengal. Flows out of Himalayas with high concentration of sulpher, and other minerals, that our guide says cleans itself 16 times faster than any other river. Dolphins live in river. Turtles live in river.

4 million live here. Radisson is hotel, better than Khajuraho. Amit said if we went to Varanasi first, half the tour would want to go home. Cultural shock is dramatic between western religions and eastern Hindu religion, especially in Varanasi. Now we have been in India for awhile, Varanasi will be just another walk in the cow pies.

Danesh our local spiritual guide for Varanasi. Between Varuna and Assi small rivers, getting its name Varanasi. Rivers drain into Ganges at edge of city, where world famous cremations happen on the river banks, 24/7.  Varanasi is home of the Hindu god Shiva, and where he lives with wife Parvarti and Ganesh.  4 to 5k Hindus come here daily. image

Evening boat trip to funeral pyre viewing and thanksgiving to river ceremony. Can take pics anywhere except close to funeral pyre ceremony out of respect for dead. Piles of sandlewood on platforms around the temple for firewood. A dozen fires burn. Takes 3 hours to burn. Mourners first wash body in Ganges then sprinkle ghee on fire. Eldest son is chief mourner.

City of temples, 1500 big temples and more than 10000 small temples. Pilgrims rise early, go to temple or river, offer breakfast to diety. Flowers, coconut, sweets sold near temple or given with no money to offer to temple. Priest takes half of portion, and other half blessed by diety so it can be taken home to family. Brahmin priest marry and have  families. Ring bell before going in to temple. Ringing sound is om, eternal sound, sound of supreme energy. Prayer cannot start without om.

Touch steps as enter temple. Doubt by mind, faith is by heart. Touch ground to leave mind outside temple door. Open heart with faith, without mind, go in to temple.  Leaving temple, touch ground at same place to get mind back, ready for world.

Watch step for cow pies, street beggars, street hawkers. Raja is king and maharaja is great king

Cremation on banks of Ganges. Those over 5, non diseased, Hindu, can be cremated. Under 5 is not cremated but thrown in river. Others buried. Electric crematoriums too. Every city has crematorium of some sort, next to a body of water with wood fire funeral pyre is preferred, but gas/electric also possible.

Early morning Hindus go to river to bathe, purify their bodies just yards downstream from funeral pyres, then go home to families or work. Many more tourists in boats watching then actual bathers. Women were among the bathers, but fully clothed in saris. Mostly older men in briefs. Like finding the old fat bikers had taken over your favorite hot springs.


Lightning strikes near plane on flight in. Overcast and rainy when land. Heard local news report that one dead from lightning strike in Kat. I hope it was not because I had refused a dot on my forehead from the Brahmin priest that morning in Varanasi. Soalfee Crowne Hotel. I give it a 3 star because we asked to change rooms, view of dumpster and next to backup generator. New room’s toilet didn’t stop flushing, and dozen power outages daily.Ipad Pic Backup 031515 2339

Signup for Himalayan plane ride in 2 days. Malli is local guide. Went to casino by hotel. Looked nice outside, pathetic in. Slot machines very old, very stingy. 27 million in Nepal.  India to east, and west, south and north is Tibet. 83% covered by Himalayas. Only 17% lowland. 3 million in Khatmandu valley. Indo aryans live in lowland flat and are Hindu. Mongolians are mosty Buddhists and live in highland areas. 75% Hindus, 20% Buddhists. They have religious harmony.  Kat has 1.5 million. No monarchy since 2008. Now a republican state.  Former kings palace now a museum and admin offices. Have president and prime minister and have assembly to draft constitution. King is civilian. His mother still lives in palace. King lives 2 miles away is 66. Nepal has always been independent. In 18th century it had several kingdoms, but always an independent country. Trauma center given to Kat from India and Modi at opening ceremony last year.image

Stupa Buddhist temple. Means white solid dome. Biggest in country, 2250 years ago built. The current Dahli Lama was exiled to India in 1949. Many Tibetans moved with him when Chinese took over.Ipad Pic Backup 031515 2115

The mandala is the sacred circle in Tibetan Buddhism, which is the view from over the stupa temple. imagePrayer wheels surround that give the thousands of meditative mantras for the Buddhist. Wheel of life is karma of life. Mandala is circle of universe.

Ghat is the place where cremation take place. Going to holiest Hindu temple in Nepal.

Buddhist palace, Hindu palace, medievel town, bus ride out.

Amit gets off bus to go to Hindu temple to pray for us. People work 6 days a week. and Saturday is holiday. Mini Varanasi at Hindu temple. Place of Shiva. imageRiver by temple was cremation area, half dozen funeral pyres burned. Paid 50 rps each for pics of half naked ash covered sadhus. Smoke was sandlewood, smelled like bbq. 90% of people in Nepal do cremation, both Hindu and Buddhist.

Drive 1/2 hour east of Kat to historic town, city of devotees. 889 AD started. Newuar people are locals, artisans, beautiful wood carvings, and metal crafts. 100k people.
Highway there leads to Chinese Tibet, would have been 3.5 hr drive. Lot of tourist to Tibet come first to Khatmandu. 50% speak and understand Nepalese language, sanskrit based. Men life expectancy 69 for women 67. Common cause of death is water born disease and infection.

Go to square and mini square of mid-evil town.Ipad Pic Backup 031515 2328

Power out 11 hours a day, hotel has back up generators but still power is out a dozen times in a day as the backup switches on.

Ipad Pic Backup 031515 2201Yeti airlines, turbo prop, 6 am trip to Himalayas. 20 on plane, each with window, pilot calls each passenger up for view in copilot seat. Pics of Himalayas, Everest included. Summit is border with Tibet, Chinese airspace and so can’t fly over.image
Durbar square of Khatmandu, old palace, where king of Nepal use to be crowned. Many temples outside the palace. Living goddess lives there. Demonstrations in town, communists with red flag and blue flag red dot protesting to pressure government for adoption of new constitution.

Living goddess, Kumari, at about the age of 5, is selected by Buddhist priests, based on 32 astrological signs. Girl is goddess until puberty, then another younger living goddess selected. recognized by government, lives in house in old palace area. Goddess comes out 13 times per year for religious ceremonies. She is carried everywhere. If her feet touch the ground, the world will end. Saw goddess. No cameras allowed when she came to upper window. Looked like a miserable pre teen. 260 year old tradition. Current goddess is daughter of Buddhist priest. Worshipped by both Hindu and Buddhist.  Is considered the incarnate of the Hindu god Durga. After 5 years or so, goddess goes back to life as normal kid.

Going to Patan, 200k people, center of city, Durbar square, city of artists. Kingfishers, chicken and rice on roof top. Betsy gets happy bd cake at our hotel room when we return.

Bus to cultural center, last dinner. Classic Nepali song and dance. SmarTourists take to stage in line dance. Move to parking lot to finish line dance. On the bus and back to the room.

Travel by Numbers:
9 Plane Rides Portland/Ny, Ny/Delhi, Khajahuro/Varanasi, Var/Khatmandu, Kat/Himalyas and Everest, Kat/Delhi, Delhi/NY, NY/Chicago/Portland
3 Long Bus Rides Delhi/Jaipur, Jairpur/Agra, Occra/Khajahuro
1 Train Ride Agra/Occra
2 Boat Rides Varanasi Ganges night cremations and river celebration, Ganges morning locals purify bathing
20 +/- Short Bus Rides
2 PediCab Rides, Jaipur to temples, Varanasi center to Ganges
4 Tuk Tuk Rides, 2 Jaipur to Indian restaurants for dinner, 2 Khajahuro to dance festival
1 Elephant Ride in Jaipur
7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Qutub, Red Fort, Agra Fort, Taj Mahal, Khajuraho,   Fatepur Sikri, Durbar Square
15+/- Hindu Temples
2 Buddhist Temples, Stupa in Kathmandu, and Palace of Living Goddess                               1 Holiest City of the Hindu Religion, Varanasi                                                                                 1 of the Seven Wonders of the World, Taj Mahal

1 Enlightenment.  Religion evolved from an emotional bond to the tribe; to live for, die for, kill for, blind and crazy, we have evolved with both love and religion. Hindus worship Lord Shiva, his wife Parvati, Vishnu, Hanuman the Monkey God, Ganesha (my personal favorite the elephant god) and a few hundred million other deities.  Amit told us, though, that there are many ways to god, there is only one god, and however you get there is fine. He says there are no atheists in India. Will the Hindus be able to spread their religion, and bring their sacred cows to new believers everywhere? I doubt it, but I have to admit, this has got to be one of the most fascinating places on the planet.

Plane out of Kathmandu for 3 hour ride to Delhi, 7 hour layover at airport, 14 hour flight to NY, overnight at hotel by La Guardia, 8 hour flight back to Portland via Chicago, 3 hour drive to Roseburg.

It is good to be home.

Post Script:  A devastating 7.8 earthquake hit Katmandu on April 25th.  At least 5000 lives were lost in Nepal, including 18 lost on Mt. Everest as base camps were buried in avalanches.  Many of the World Heritage Site buildings, temples built of brick and timbers, were destroyed.


Pre Trip Notes.  Trips start with research.

NY Times, Albert Brooks article, 12/14/14 – Abundance without Attachment – New Delhi guru’s guide to happiness – collect experiences instead of things.

The Superbugs are here.  Indians have some of the highest rates of bacterial infection, highest rates of newborn deaths from it, and highest rates of antibiotic drug use.

10% Happier by Dan Harris, the ABC Nightline News anchor person, who wrote about how/why he learned to meditate. I’ll probably give it a try, but basically feel that my mind is pretty much empty and relaxed most of the time anyway.

Snakes and Ladders, a 1997 book by Gita Mehta. It is a collection of short essays all about Indian history, culture, religion and politics. She is proud of the largest democracy in the world where she came from, proud of the Indian voters although half are impoverished and illiterate, dealing with 17 languages, and 7 major religions. She seems disappointed in their list of corrupt leaders. Mentioned was Indira Gandhi’s program to sterilize the men, giving them transistor radios as a reward so she could broadcast government propaganda to them. Gita seemed to favor Buddhism, enlightenment came from contemplation under a tree. Hinduism, not so favored, but the largest religion of India. The caste system of discrimination by birth is supported by the government. Sharia law for muslim women is also supported by the government, she said, but our guide disputed.

Maybe the best book, Holy Cow, an Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald.  Hinduism says all paths to god are divine.  Buddhism says there is no god, no soul, and that life is full of suffering and is ultimately unsatisfying; the only way to be happy is to want less.  We’re all just streams of consciousness since the beginning of time in infinite bodies and six different realms.  Buddhist hell, as vicious as the Christian version with torture by molten iron and according to Buddhist scripture, hell is located on the other side of the earth on a spot directly opposite Bodhgaya, the town in India where Buddha became enlightened under the tree.  Maps nowadays show that place as America.

In Karen Armstrong’s book on Religion and Violence, the all important Rig Veda is explained.

In c. 1200 a group of learned Aryan families began the monumental task of collecting the hymns that had been revealed to the great seers ( rishis ) of old, adding new poems of their own. This anthology of more than a thousand poems, divided into ten books, would become the Rig Veda, the most sacred of four Sanskrit texts known collectively as Veda (“knowledge”). Some of these hymns were sung during the Aryans’ sacrificial rituals to the accompaniment of traditional mimes and gestures. Sound would always have sacred significance in India, and as the musical chant and the enigmatic words stole into their minds, Aryans felt in touch with the mysterious potency that held the disparate elements of the universe together in a cosmic coherence. The Rig Veda was rita, divine order, translated into human speech. But to a modern reader these texts do not seem at all “religious.” Instead of personal devotion, they celebrate the glory of battle, the joy of killing, the exhilaration of strong drink, and the nobility of stealing other people’s cattle.

Gandhi, best picture of 1982 starring Ben Kingsley

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India. British journalist William Dalrymple People “talk of Hinduism as if it’s a single faith,” Dalrymple tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep. In fact, “Hinduism is a vast network of different religious systems and different religious practices.”

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