Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Photos from Sarnath and Varanasi

Hello happy people. I'm writing from Sarnath, India, just 10 miles and, depending on traffic, two and a half hours away from Varanasi, where I would normally be at this time. The Sarnath retreat-but-not-really finished on the 20th, but a group of us decided to stay on in this sleepy little hamlet, rather than move to Varanasi, where the rest of the contingent mostly now resides. The Sarnath program, in its 12th year, isn't a retreat in that it's not in silence, and participation in any piece of it is at your discretion - a perfect excuse for a non-meditator such as myself to avoid putting butt to cushion. It's a delightful time, with maybe 80 or 100 people coming through at some point, joining discussion groups, listening to evening talks, sharing food and chai with old and new friends, and investigating what it means to live a connected and loving life. And they say in India, "Yes, why not!"

I came to India with a lingering cold and cough, and it turned into my annual HugeHackingCough, which I put off treating until my teeth are rattling from coughing so hard. I finished my usual dose of antibiotics two days ago, but my lung-schmutz seems to be ensconced. It's probably getting better. I've had lots of company - more people than usual were sick this year. My stomach bout doesn't even count because it only lasted for a day and a half. So I'm not going to mention it.

The next retreat that I'm going on, starting March 15, is a little more formal, though hardly arduous by my standards. It's in silence, and it's long-ish, 40 days, but it's in a beautiful pine-forested setting surrounded by lakes and rolling hills. It's like being on vacation, where everything you need is taken care of, and you can relax and go within. If you haven't done any retreats I'm sure it sounds extreme, but it's really quite pleasant, mostly. I'll try to post some photos or stories between now and then.

Enjoy the photos! The same photos are also available here, in larger size:

Love, love, love,

A very typical Indian scene. These men have two fires on the front porch and are cooking. They stay inside the Thai Monastery
grounds, where the retreat was held.

"Biri's" (usually spelled bidi's) are hand-rolled cigarettes. Check out the health warning. Doesn't sound so bad!

One of my bicycle rickshaw driver friends.

This guy only looks like he'd happily kick your ass. I don't think he actually would. He's a bicycle rickshaw driver.

Some old friends of mine sharing breakfast at "Namo Buddha," the guest house run by a German woman who lives in Sarnath.

Sometimes you just need a place where you can think. How perfect is this?!


Perhaps the only green lawn in Sarnath. The woman set these in the sun for some hours, but I don't know why.

This cutie wasn't going to get too close.

That sugar cane doesn't stand a chance with this kid.

It's common to put "kohl" on kid's eyes, for health and, so I've heard, to keep away evil spirits. It's the main ingredient in mascara.

They had just finished giving this baby a massage when I came across them. That's a very common practice here.

This lovely woman was making colored beadwork.

This young woman was SO shy and reluctant to have her photo taken, but her friends encouraged her.

I love this little girl. She just beams every time I see her.

When all my hair falls out I'm going to shave the head of one of these blonde buffaloes and wear it as a wig.

This is the nightly "Ganga Aarti" ritual in Varanasi, which offers prayers to the gods. It's a sacred ceremony and well attended by Indian tourists.

(The End)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Photos from Varanasi (and Delhi)

In San Francisco, I had pretty good cell phone reception except in two places - at home and at work. In my house I had to lean against the window, literally, so the call wouldn't get dropped. Three days ago I took the 15-hour overnight train ride from Delhi to Varanasi, and I was sending and receiving e-mails on my BlackBerry mobile phone. I'm amazed by that, especially comparing it to my first trip to India, where we sometimes had to make appointments to make an international call, and the primary method of communication was by fax or receiving letters at the post office.

So, another experiment - I've pasted 36 photos below, more than I usually do. Is it too many? The first photos are from Delhi, and starting with the colored yarn they are from Varanasi. The same photos are here:

Much love,

The Red Fort in Delhi:

Cricket on the ghats of Varanasi. One of the players is one of the kids I sponsored in school a few years ago.

The talented and drug-addled leper Tinggal, who I've known since 2001. It's amazing what a body survives.

The traditional wedding procession. Probably an inexpensive one - fancier ones look like chandeliers!

South Indian dosas being prepared on one of the narrow lanes of Varanasi.

The Ganges at sunrise, from my guest house.

I wondered why this dog was chewing on a boulder. I looked closer: it's not a boulder!

Henna coloring on a women's hand. This was doing using wood blocks, which is much simpler than the painted version.

The main ghat of Varanasi, typically bustling with Indian tourists from all over the country.

These women were preparing for their bath.

And here there just after bathing in their saris. An Indian man asked me: "Do you have anything like public bathing in America?" Short answer: no.

This kid was selling these toys on the ghats. 

You should have seen the gyrations this man went through when I asked to take his photo. He looked the same afterwards, but it was very cute.

Calling for his neighbor.

Water buffalo just next to my guest house. They are on what looks like prime, river-side real estate.

(The End)