Kushinagar: The Place of Buddha’s Ascension

While visiting Uttar Pradesh I had a chance to also visit the temple city of Kushinagar, 53 kms west of Gorakhpur. This city is a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists from around the globe.  Lord Buddha passed away or ascended in this place and his cremation site is also here. Many of the stupas and viharas here date to 230BC-413AD.

Almost all of the Buddhist nations are represented here.  There are stupas and temples here from Thailand, China, Japan, Nepal and others.  The site where Buddhas cremation urn was excavated is also here.  The cremation site is 1.5 kms from the city and is open to visitors.

A highlight in Kushinagar is the golden reclining Buddha statue, which was unearthed during an excavation in 1876. This can be found in the Mahaparinirvana Temple.  This temple was built on the site  where Lord Buddhas cremation urn was found. 

The Thai temple is a round temple that carries your voice. Try saying OMmmmmmm in the temple and see how long it lasts. The sound goes on and on.

Excavations are still under way to uncover the remaining buildings where Buddha once walked. This place is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world.



Animals In India

Stray dogs outside my friend's gate

These dogs are running in packs in a nice neighborhood.


Hindus believe in reincarnation.  According to their beliefs, a spirit can be on Earth in the form of a human or an animal.

Cows are especially revered and seen as mothers of the Earth. Their milk sustains us.  If you feed a cow it is considered a great blessing.  Many of the cows, i.e. buffalo, roam the streets and neighborhoods freely.  They forage for their food, but if you begin feeding a cow she will arrive everyday for her food.  Their milk must be boiled because they can harbor bacteria due to the way they have to scavenge for their food.

Dogs are also allowed to run free and there is no sterilization program and no euthanasia. When I was in Faridabad we were feeding the “neighborhood” dogs, a pack of about 12-15 dogs that roamed the streets of a nice residential area.

Pigs mostly gather around garbage dump areas to scavenge for food. This is one reason you probably won’t see pork on many dinner tables in India. A friend of mine is beginning a pig farm. He says that there is a market for pork in India. He tells me it is a hidden ingredient in many dishes already.

Goats also live on the streets, mostly in the villages. Non-vegetarian Indians do eat goats although the majority of the goats I see seem to be wild or kept like pets.

Monkeys, although they can sometimes be destructive, are also tolerated. A few years ago Punjab state opened its first Monkey Jail for the worst offenders. It now has more than 400 inmates. These are monkeys that habitually steal things and bite or harm humans.

The animals seem to know that no harm will come to them. They lounge and sleep in the medians of busy streets and even lay down in the middle of the roadway to take a nap. Once I saw a crowd form to kick and abuse a driver that accidentally hit a cow in the street.

Many Indians and some hotels keep peacocks and doves. The peacock is the national bird of India. It’s beautiful and loud!

Most Indians are vegetarians, primarily for religious reasons, which prohibit causing suffering to any living creature. Others stick to vegetables to keep the cost of food under control. Very few animals are killed here for food. Chicken is the meat of choice for most meat eaters, although in the Muslim areas you will see other meats being sold.

Land of Contrasts

India is a land of contrasts. You can find very wealthy people living in a country with extreme poverty. Never would I have believed that I would see my first Aston Martin yesterday, parked in front of my Mumbai hotel. Dealerships for Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, even Rolls Royce are in all the larger cities. Those that have it, flaunt it. They adorn themselves with fancy clothing, expensive jewelry, and high-priced watches. They only shop for brand name clothing. They carry the latest iphones. They have pedigree pets. Yet driving in from the Mumbai airport you pass Dharavi slum, the largest slum in the World which is the home to over 600,000 people

Dharavi  Squalor

Dharavi Squalor

Dharavi, a city slum within Mumbai

Dharavi, a city slum within Mumbai

India's New Prime Minister Narendra Modi

India’s New Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Aston Martin Vanquish

Aston Martin Vanquish

and everywhere you look you see people sleeping under dirty blankets on the sidewalks.
India is also a land full of corruption. Where the innocent sometimes get accused just to pad a policeman’s pocket. Where government employees hire their accountants to hide black money. Where family members steal from each other. These people consider the bribe money they receive as part of their salary!
India is also progressive in a lot of ways. Due to their limited supply of electricity they have developed smart ways to save energy. Street lights are florescent, as well as the interior lights in homes. Hotels require you to remove your key from the box on the wall, which cuts off all power to the room while you are away. India still has rolling blackouts and people and businesses must rely on generators.
Plastic shopping bags and plastic pill bottles have been banned to help reduce trash. Imagine the amount of trash 1.2 billion people could potentially produce!
Change is in the wind……
The new Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to get 24/7 power for India. He’s also launched a campaign to clean up India and I can already see the difference it is making in the streets, trains, etc. Another promise he has made is to provide a working toilet in every Indian home. There’s just so many issues that need resolutions here. The tap water is not drinkable, so people have to rely on expensive filtering systems or bottled mineral water. Villagers must drink well water, which causes many of them to get malaria and other bacterial diseases.
There’s a trend among mostly prosperous young people to have only one child. How will this affect India in the future? Only the government employees are given small retirement pensions. Children are expected to cover the old age expenses of their parents. India could sure use a reduction in population, but this could leave some senior citizens vulnerable.
Speaking of a reduction in population. Many women are undergoing sterilization, and losing their lives in the process, while vasectomies for men are so much simpler. It’s a shame this is still a male-dominated society and that women are not cared for properly.
The metro systems in Delhi and Mumbai have been developed to lower the number of cars on the road and to decrease pollution. New expressways which bar bicycles and other slower means of transport have made it faster to get around the cities. Inside the cities you still have massive chaos and few follow traffic rules. I’ve noticed my cabs driving right through red lights as if they aren’t even there.
Luxury retailers are sprouting up in all the major cities to cater to the new middle class which has resulted primarily from the boom in internet back office and call center employers. I was shopping for some gold shoes to wear to an upcoming wedding and I wound up paying close to the same thing that I would’ve paid back home in USA.
Divorces are on the rise, probably due to the newfound financial security of some women. No longer will they stay in a dysfunctional arranged marriage. Many men and women are choosing to divorce and find new loving partners.
More and more you see western clothing being worn by women in the streets, particularly by the younger set.
The TV channels you receive here have many English speaking choices. Some, like Romedy and AXN, even play all American programming. I’ve been able to watch my favorite show, The Voice, on every Monday and Tuesday evening!
India is in the midst of a housing bubble. Prices are going straight up for luxury flats and homes. People that can afford to are buying flats during construction and selling them for 130% or more when they are complete. The price of a new home in India is now 44 times the average worker’s pay. There is no way they will be able to sustain those prices and I predict that they’ll come tumbling down, like they did in the USA.
Rents in the larger cities, like Delhi and Mumbai, are also on the rise. Luxury flats and rental homes sometimes fetch close to $2000 USD, while it is very common to have $1000 USD rent.

My First Bad Day In India

It is bound to happen, particularly when you are traveling. Sometimes days start wrong and never get better. Thank goodness that doesn’t happen often.
I had a 6:30 AM flight this morning so I arranged a 4:30 am taxi. I was afraid I might oversleep so I didn’t fall asleep at all last night. The cab ride was 435 rupees. I had a 1000 rupee note. He got my change and handed it to me rolled up. I was sleepy, checked the amount and stuck it in my purse.
Problem 1: When I got to the airport to buy some coffee the snack bar wouldn’t take the 500 note because it had been torn and taped back together. Caution: always check the change people give you, particularly if it is rolled up. Stores will not take any note that is torn, with even a small tear, or taped. If you happen to get stuck with one of those bills, take it into a bank for exchange.
Problem 2: AVOID INDIGO AIRLINES!! When I got to the airport to leave Jaipur Indigo Airlines charged me for 12 kgs over the checked baggage weight. That totaled 3000 rupees ($50). These are the identical bags with the identical things that I came to Jaipur with. I was only 3 kgs over when I flew into Jaipur on a different airline. I had a connecting flight with Spice Jet and they only charged me for 3 kgs over. Same bags, both ziplocked and unopened.
Why did Indigo Airlines charge me so much? Their size restriction on carryon bags is tiny. It’s about the size of my purse. It’s much smaller than the new international size therefore they charged my carryon bag as checked baggage. UUUFFFF. I am carrying that bag on every other airline I’ve flown. Why not INDIGO? It’s surely a price gouging scheme. They don’t fly planes with smaller overhead bins. The bag fits in their bins.
I haven’t even been buying souvenirs or gifts because my bags are already over in weight. Important Note: The size restrictions for domestic travel within India are much smaller than the luggage you probably carried into India from your foreign locale. Totally silly rules! I am traveling with new luggage on this trip. I have the new 14 inch size carryon. The carryon bag size at INDIGO is smaller than even the new smaller internationally acceptable size. And they only allow you to check 17 kgs and carry 7 kgs onboard. I have been charged between $25 and $50 (that’s USD) every time I have taken a flight. I don’t know who calibrates these scales because none of them read the same.
Before I began taking the domestic flights I weighed my bags on a step on scale at my friend’s house and they were within the guidelines. That is after I left quite a few things with friends in Delhi. Not all tourists have friends in India to leave things with. And I can’t believe the craft shops could be happy with these restrictions, which prevents the average tourist from buying anything in India. My advice is to come with no clothes and only buy what you need here. If you come naked you might be able take a few gifts home….lol.
Problem 3: After arguing with Indigo Airlines, I made my way to Spice Jet in Delhi to pick up my boarding passes for Chandigarh and was told that the 4 hour wait I thought I was facing had now turned into a 9 hour wait. And the lounge area was “under construction.” They had been trying to send a schedule change text message to my US cell number, which wasn’t on. I turned it on later and found no pending text messages. In any event, Instead of sitting here from 7:30 to 1:00, I’ll be here until 6:10 pm. Spice Jet could’ve offered me a nearby room, but they refused. Can the day be any worse? I hope not!
Problem 4: During my 9 hour wait in the Delhi Domestic Airport they had very little food available. That terminal is under renovation so I didn’t have a proper lunch. Thank goodness I’m headed to Chandigarh to one of my favorite hotels, The Shivalik View. They include a great buffet breakfast and dinner in the room rate. I finally sat down to dinner at 8 pm, a full day since I’d eaten my last proper meal.
I collapsed in bed and woke up the next day with an eye infection, probably from rubbing my eyes so much the day before. Glad that day is over.

Thanksgiving In Mumbai

As Thanksgiving approached I was wondering if I could find a turkey dinner anywhere in Mumbai. I searched the newspaper and found several places offering the holiday meal.
Tonight I’ll be going out to Indigo Restaurant in the Colaba section of Mumbai for the evening treat. I’ll let you know how it goes. Hopefully the bird won’t be spiced like masala…hahaha.


GE Hours Later………………
I was pleasantly surprised tonight. I had an excellent meal, topped off with a glass of wine and a chocolate raspberry torte. The meal was baked turkey, dressing, small spiced potatoes, green beans and cranberries. There was a nice bread basket with assorted breads.
I was even more surprised to see large Indian families and friends coming together for Thanksgiving. Greeting each other with hugs and kisses they started the meal with a prayer of gratitude.
So many times we export the bad part of our culture. It’s lovely to see a good part of the American culture being honored in India too.

Varanasi: The Holy City Alongside The Holy Ganga River

The city of Varanasi is also sometimes called Benaras or Kashi. It is the Hindus holiest of cities, situated on the banks of the Ganga (Ganges) River. The name Varanasi comes from the convergence of the Varuna River (on the north) and the Assi River (on the south) with the Ganga.
Here you will find pilgrims from all over the world, coming together to pray, meditate, study and tour the city’s sights. Spend the afternoon wandering through the narrow lanes, passing the sounds of sitar music and saadhus (Hindu ascetics) of every variety. Stop at the market for offerings of fruit, flowers and tiny oil lamps to set afloat on the river.
This place is said to be the site where Lord Shiva appeared as a radiant column of light, splitting the Earth and extending into space. After a thousand years of trying to find the base and the source of the column, Shiva was acknowledged as preeminent here. Lord Shiva then shrank the column of light and it took the form of a small linga, which is still here to this day. The city has predominately Shiva temples, but all Hindus, Sikhs, and some Buddhists take pilgrimage here at least once in their lives.
Along the river are about 100 ghats, which are large stone stairs leading down to the water. These were constructed around 1700 AD.
images (1)

images (2)

images (3)

images (4)

imagesThe best way to view these ghats is from a boat. Many boatmen line the river offering rides to pilgrims and tourists.
Some of the ghats are used for common things like bathing, swimming and washing clothes. Others are for holy dips in the water and for meditation. Other prominent ghats are the Manikarika Ghat and the Harishchandra Ghat, where about 80 cremations are performed every day. It is considered extremely auspicious to be cremated on the banks of the Ganga River, India’s holiest of rivers.
Every evening a group of priests perform a fire pooja at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. This is a worship of the whole universe, including the sun, this river, fire and a special dedication to Lord Shiva. This is really something to see! You must plan to attend this nightly event.

Jallianwala Bagh: A Peaceful Park Dedicated to Lost Lives










Right in the midst of chaotic Amritsar is a peaceful enclave called Jallianwala Bagh. It wasn’t always peaceful. In April of 1919 Brigidier-General General Reginald Dyer of the British Army ordered his troops to open fire on thousands of unarmed and non-violent people, resulting in a massacre of up to 1000 people, most of them Sikhs.
Among the beautiful plants and paths of this park you will find areas that still have the bullet marks of the guns used to assassinate people as they were pinned against the brick walls and unable to escape. You’ll also see the well where 120 people jumped to their deaths in an attempt to avoid the bullets.
The park has a museum with photos of the people responsible for the massacre and pictures of the dead corpses strewn over the lawns, sometimes two or three deep. It makes me very sad to see such carnage. Each one of those people had a family. I am sure this massacre spread massive sorrow in Punjab.
It is said by many, that the massacre turned the general public against the British and was a catalyst for the end of British rule of India.
To see a reenactment, check this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE9_zB8k_lk