Apr 30, 2012

Searching for God in Haridwar

Crowds of pilgrims and Indian tourists gather on the banks of Ganges in the holy city of Haridwar to perform water procedures in ice-cold water all day long 

Ganga is clean but freezing there, which is not an obstacle for washing off the sins

Haridwar is the place, where every second man coming on your way is the holy man a.k.a Sadhu Baba. Do not count those who wear orange but ask for money. The real ones have only metal boxes for food donations


Some of them are pretty stylish

When the Sun is dropping over the hills, we are moving with the crowd towards Ganga for the evening rituals. Crossing the bridge is always interesting

And the view is yours

Matching colors

Meanwhile on the streets of Haridwar


Popular public transport in the area - "Vikram", made from rubber and can take unlimited number of passengers

Weed is growing everywhere

Passing Temples of Haridwar for the first time, we thought it is an amusement park

And here comes huge Shiva

Few minutes walk away from the crowd shows calm and harmonious sights

People, who wanted to cross Ganga on their foot

and almost did it, since it is very shallow in that particular place

Private Aarti (fire) ceremony

In Haridwar it is difficult to miss the God. He is in Temple, on the streets and in the eyes of the devotees. He takes different forms, but his presence is obvious in the Holy city of Haridwar

Apr 26, 2012

Female Solo Traveler in India or How Helen Traveled Alone on a Night Train

Another morning in Varanasi started with a fresh breeze of burning smell from Manikarnika Ghat. Helen felt better and we headed towards railway station to meet this beauty on our way

Train was late for almost 2 hours and Val chased locals for authentic shots during that time

And when it arrived, Val went to explore sleeper class, which is the best place to hang out with locals

At frequent train stops Val liked to step outside the train to make shots of pilgrims and other passengers

He was told that at Lucknow train would stop for 30 min, which was more than enough to buy some rice and bananas. Val came back in 18 minutes and the train was already gone. Gone with passports, money, phone and his wife. All he had was a bag of rice, few bananas, 100 rupees ($2) and a train ticket. 

As the train started moving, Helen became nervous. Indian family encouraged her that "uncle" might have jumped into another car and soon would be back. Not only they supported Helen on a lonely trip, they also kindly served her dinner and were enthusiastic to learn some Latvian

Meanwhile in Lucknow Val was on a firefighting mode - rickshaw, horse or a safari jeep - which one is the best to catch the train? Train station manager, however, had a more down to earth plan. He called the train manager to let us coordinate actions - Helen travels until the end, while Val takes next available train and reaches Helen next morning one hour after her arrival. To do that Val's ticket got a special permission

And Mr.runaway got a written explanation, which trains to take

At night Val had to win a cash-less battle with a bribe-savy train conductor, who wouldn't accept the "golden" ticket, and Helen had to stay alert not to miss her stop. Nevertheless, next morning we were happily reunited in a holy town of Haridwar.

Apr 23, 2012

Facing Death in Varanasi, Part 2

It is believed that if you die in Varanasi, you will quit eternal circle of reborn (Samsara wheal). That day Helen was close, but probably few more lives are ahead...

Burning smell slowly kept flowing into our room from a nearby Manikarnika Ghat. Helen was awake and didn't feel well. After breakfast her stomach went on strike and never looked back. Probiotic medicine didn't make a difference by the late afternoon, moreover, headache and fever like symptoms would add up to already killing abdominal pain. We called a doctor, who spoke fluent English, made a thorough examination, prescribed a bunch of medicine and said it will be over by tomorrow afternoon. Val bought all the prescribed medicine, which included antibiotics, paracetamol, electrolytes, minerals and sth. for loose stomach.

It was all nicely packaged and annotated by a helpful pharmacist

Oldschool quicksilver thermometer was purchased as well to measure the temperature and, oh boy, it did! First measurements indicated +40C (104 F). Helen took prescribed medicine, but still would not take antibiotics to avoid potential sideeffects. Few hours later temperature wouldn't go. Pharmacist dropped by to bring the remaining medicine and insisted on taking antibiotics. After few more hours situation wouldn't change, we called a doctor again and he agreed it's better to take Helen to a hospital.

Val decided to call the insurance company to coordinate the actions. First trials to reach Latvian or Indian numbers failed - provided phone numbers in the agreement were outdated. Therefore Val googled uptodate list from "Coris", insurance provider, website and was able to reach their office in Mumbai. Mumbai operator first said they don't work with the agency we acquired our insurance from, but then doublechecked and said we have to call to "Coris Latvia" first. Val did just that and was told by a Latvian operator that help is on the way. Within 15 min there was no call from Latvia and Val called back to find out that Latvian representatives can't reach Indian representatives - phone number is outdated. Val provided correct number of Mumbai office to "Coris Latvia" representative. Coris Latvia called back in 15 min later to inform that "Coris Mumbai" demanded to receive email with insurance information we provided to "Coris Latvia" and will organize everything within the next 30 min.

At that moment Helen's condition started to improve, temperature fell down to +38C (100.4 F) and we kept waiting for call. Helen was feeling better and slowly fell asleep.

Coris never called back.

Apr 18, 2012

Facing Death in Varanasi, Part 1

At Manikarnika Ghat dead bodies are being cremated 24 hours a day every day

Piles of firewood await some of the most intimate rituals of life and death

Before being sold

Some of the scenes are not for faint-hearted

Especially at night during a power cut

At the same time few hundred meters down the river Ganga Aarti ritual gathers thousands of piligrims every evening

Some watch from boats

Some watch through telescopic lense (felt like every Korean in town had one)

But all equally enjoy the show

Finishing touches of the ceremony

And a group photo of ritual performers, who could well pass any Bollywood casting

And a beautiful baby girl