Monday, 19 January 2009

Day 1: Bangkok to Varanasi

Day 1 (8 January 2009): Bangkok to Varanasi

The Swarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok was surely different from the old Don Muang airport I visited more than 4 years ago in November 2004. Don Muang back then was dusty and gloomy, and rather hot and uncomfortable. Now, in Swarnabhumi I felt like arriving in the second version of Singapore Changi Airport, with duty free shops and inviting cafés with wireless internet everywhere. You can even have a few hours of spa if you transit for more than 2 hours!

Bangkok is always memorable. Back then in November 2004, I was there for the nth IUCN Conference, and with loads of memories too beautiful and personal to reveal here… Now, in January 2009, I only transited for 6 hours, but it was a nice and fun transit. The first cup of hot coco that I tried was terrible; it was not even in the same zip code with second class hot coco, let alone Max Brenner. But the next one that I had as I enjoyed the free wireless internet was better. Still Max Brenner is da man!

The trip to Varanasi was delayed for 30 minutes or so. No complains. I had a window seat, from which I could see the Irrawaddy River meandering below, the Gulf of Bengal, Myanmar, and parts of Southern India. We stopped for 30 minutes or so in Bodhgaya, Bihar, where a thick layer of fog covered most of the horizon. It was amazing that we were able to land at all. I also should rewind a bit and informed that I had also seen Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia) from above, before dawn where everything was still dark and sleeping, as I peeked from my Thai Air window. One day, I shall really visit other countries in Indochina as well. Godspeed, or rather, Goddess-speed.

I landed in Varanasi at about 3:30 pm local time, and went through a very short process of immigration, but a very annoying custom process, for the custom officers there asked me why I brought so many cameras; was I to sell them?! Well, I said, I am to visit His Holiness Dalai Lama for an Indonesia-made Buddha statue inauguration, and of course I need to bring many cameras! And it’s not really many, it’s just a standard pack. One SLR with standard lens, one 250mm zoom lens, one small digital camera, and one pocket digital camera (in case I want my pictures taken by friends or passer-by who are not familiar with SLR). Most definitely a standard pack for a semi-pro photography freak like myself. I should have carried a tripod and declared myself a real pro, and got more problems because of that. I knew that customs bloke wanted to make things difficult, but I persisted, and got away without having to pay anything. It was very annoying though. And porters. I did not ask for any porters, but a guy just persisted in helping me carrying my light-weighted stroll-luggage to the taxi. He glared at me when I didn’t give him tips. I glared back and gave him nothing. What a way to start my journey in India.

Entering Varanasi was like entering a small town in eastern Indonesia, or a less-developed suburbia of Jakarta. Rustic, with many worn-out billboards and signs of commercial and political ads. But by the Gods and the Goddesses, the worst part is… the DUST! I knew Varanasi, or Kashi as many people say, is dirty, but I never thought that it was THAT dirty and DUSTY. Well, I knew it was big, so I expected a metropolitan like Bangkok, or at least half of it. It might be 1/3 of Bangkok… but it definitely made Bangkok a much nicer and cleaner city in comparison to this beloved city of Lord Shiva.

I arrived at the Ideal Tower Hotel at almost 5 pm. Regrouping and mingling with my friends from Anand Ashram Indonesia, including my master Swami Anand Krishna, and then took a shower and had dinner. I exchanged news about the Buddha statue, and we received most relieving news that the statue would be inaugurated by His Holiness the day after, on 9 January. Praise Lord Buddha, Lord Shiva, and Mother Gangga! How lucky I was: one day later, and I
would have missed the precious inauguration completely!

Pic 1: Samudera Manthan (Churning of the Ocean) in Bangkok Swarnabhumi Airport
Pic 2: Me at the new Bangkok airport

Day 2: Sarnath, Varanasi

Day 2 (9 January 2009): Sarnath, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

I shall never forget that day when I walked to the empty field next to Dalai Lama’s house in Sarnath and saw the stone Buddha statue sitting in lotus position, covered with white clothes and adorned with many candles and flowers… it was like a dream. I never thought that it would come true, that I would be able to come to Sarnath and see the statue inaugurated by His Holiness, with my Guruji next to him.

But it did come true. The Existence is too kind… I was allowed to witness the historic moment that reaffirmed the ancient spiritual and cultural ties between Indonesia, Tibet and India. The Buddha statue inauguration, the main reason for my first pilgrimage to India, at least this life time. From the Anand Ashram Indonesia website, this is the bits of the press release:

The morning fog has not cleared away when at His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama inaugurated and blessed a 2.5m high Buddha statue humbly offered by Indonesian interfaith spiritualist Anand Krishna. Conducted at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (Deemed University), Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh), India, the inauguration was covered by several Indian media, e.g. K TV, Z News, DD News and Hindustan Times. The Buddha statue is made of the same source materials used to build the 9th CE Borobudur Temple in Muntilan, Central Java, Indonesia, and was offered to reaffirm the spiritual and cultural ties between the peoples of Indonesia and Tibet, also to support His Holiness’ non-violent struggle to protect the cultural heritage of Tibet.

And this is the full link.

I spent the rest of the day busily with press release and uploading pictures; other pictures can be found here. It was a very tiring but satisfying day… Geshe Ngawang Samten, the professor and director of Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath was very kind to bestow each of the Anand Ashram members with beautiful white khata (ceremonial scarf). It’s truly a blessing, and sometimes I wonder, what did I do to deserve such blessings… and will I live up to it. Godspeed, I will.

Pic 1: Bapak Anand Krishna and His Holiness Dalai Lama with the 2.5m tall Buddha statue
Pic 2: Bapak Anand Krishna, His Holiness Dalai Lama, and very blessed Ashram members, including me

Day 3: Bodhgaya

Day 3 (10 January 2009): Bodhgaya (Bihar)

More than three times, I had looked at the map of India before and saw where Bodhgaya was… and imagined what it would be like to go there. Well, suffice to say that my picturesque image of beautiful greeneries where Lord Buddha sat in deep meditation at the bank of a clear water body 2,500 years ago dissolved in a speed of light when our two cars entered the vicinity of dusty and smoggy Bodhgaya. A man sitting next to me en route Bangkok-Varanasi already said that Bodhgaya was very dusty; to the point that you must wear a mask if you want to keep your lungs healthy. I didn’t believe him until I found myself in the dusty town. It was worse than Varanasi.

The temples were great, though. Bodhgaya’s income seems to be mainly generated from tourism, Buddhist pilgrimage tourism to be exact. There are many temple compounds around the town, ranging from Tibetan, Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Nepali. We just have to add an Indonesian temple there, and it should complete the configuration. We went to see a Japanese temple with a giant Nara-style Buddha in sitting dhyana mudra and to a Tibetan Buddhist temple. We also went to an old relic called Sujata Temple. This relic is almost 2,500 years old, and was named after a milk maiden who gave Baghavan Buddha some milk when He was meditating. But the best experience was going to the main Bodhi Temple itself.

The Bodhi Temple was built around the Bodhi tree where Buddha obtained His Enlightenment 2,500 years ago. It was fully packed with people, of course, and you have to take your shoes off and paid INR 20 for one camera. Not bad. The best part of the compound is where the Bodhi tree is, or rather, was. I am certain they planted a new tree years ago, for there is no way a Bodhi tree can survive more than two millennia. We sat there meditating, next to Guruji Anand Krishna, and I felt that immense peace that everyone always looked for. For a rustic path walker like me, it would be only 20% at the most of the peacefulness and enlightenment that Lord Buddha experienced, but it was so beautiful already… I could stay there for another 1-2 hours for meditation, had time not dictated us.

After the meditation under the Bodhi tree (I’m not sure if I received any insights yet…but the enlightenment process for someone as rusty as myself might take years to take effect…), we resumed with a more ‘down-to-earth’ mission: Shopping. Strolling the dusty shopping lane of the main Bodhi Temple, we went inside a shop that sold various wooden, brass and bronze statues. Mbok Wayan immediately fell for a piece of Kali and Shiva (I have to say that any pose of Shiva resting peacefully underneath Ma Kali’s foot is incredibly sexy…). Myself, inexplicably my hand reached for a statue the same time as Wayan reached for her. It was a standing brass Tara statue, with her clothes flowing as if caressed by the wind, her left hand in Abhaya (fear not, and also blessing) mudra and her right hand in the Varada (giving) mudra. As if dancing while protecting us. She reminds me of my Dakini statue at home, and I immediately fell for her. My eyes met Mbok Wayan’s, and with resignation I said that the statue was hers. But she shook her head and said that she did not like this Tara’s face for some reasons. I frowned and checked that the Tara: her Tibetan countenance looked beautiful and serene to me. But I did not complain of course. First: I really wanted the statue. Second: every piece of statue, especially those hand-made, is special and personal. The statue finds the person, not the other way around. In this case, the Tara statue does not find mbok Wayan. She found me instead. The Tara was then ‘mine’.

We had to wait for more than 45 minutes for our lunch, for seemingly the cook in the Sujata Restaurant where we chose to eat later decided that cooking with slow mindfulness will satisfy the empty stomachs of his guests. It was a quick and good lunch, but I didn’t eat too much, lest I might get motion sickness on the way back to Kashi. And shortly afterwards, we found ourselves back in our cars, heading back to the Beloved City of Shiva-ji, fighting our way back amidst the falling smog and occasional bad road.

I didn’t regret going to Bodhgaya. I went there with my Guruji who risked his own health for us, I meditated under the Bodhi tree, and I found my Tara statue. But the next trip shall not happen again unless they make a radical change in the pollution management of that town. Meanwhile, I shall have to visit the Buddha within me instead.

Pic 1: The giant Japanese-style Buddha inside the Japanese Buddhist Temple in Bodhgaya
Pic 2: Interior of the Tibetan Temple in Bodhgaya
Pic 3: The Bodhi site, where Bhagavan Buddha obtain the enlightenment 2,500 years ago

Day 4: Back to Varanasi

Day 4 (11 January 2009): Sarnath, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

You’re not going to Varanasi if you have not gone to the Gangga River. So, I went there at 8ish in the morning with mbok Wayan and Sita, taking a very smelly thuk-thuk (auto-rickshaw) to Kedhar Ghat. After bargaining, we took off with a boat to the sand island across the river. Sita had wanted to step on the island since a few days ago when she went to the river for the first time, and I have to say it was not a bad idea. The scenery was picturesque, and it wasn’t as smelly as the main bank of Gangga.

Sita and I then tried to row the boat in Ma Gangga. We realised that it was not as easy as it seemed; we tried to row the boat, but it just went rotating at the same axis for 10-15 minutes. Surish-bhai the boatman laughed at us and took over the paddles again. Thanks to his professional rowing, we arrived at the other ghat in no time.

A trip to the Golden Shiva Temple was cancelled for we had to leave our shoes and – most importantly – camera (!) outside, so we went shopping instead. Just a piece of black kurta with beads and a yellow Shiva shawl, the latter came complete with the pungent odour of beetle nut. Oh, and a very nice sandstone statue of Buddha head with chubby face and friendly smile, and a pink Orissa stone small statue of Radha-Krishna with elaborate details. We also bought Bapak a very lovely pink stone Saraswati with her sitar.

After the shop-till-you-broke experience, we endeavoured to go to the Benares Hindu University with thuk-thuk, to no avail because as we arrived at the gate, we realised that it would be too late for us to go to Sarnath for His Holiness’ afternoon class. We hired another, a bigger, thuk-thuk and rerouted to Sarnath; a journey along the dusty roads of Varanasi that took almost an hour because that bloody driver took the opportunity to take other passengers too and went to various places. I think we were expensively robbed! Bastards!

Anyway… clear your mind, Padawan… After an exhausted journey, from which I learned that Varanasi was definitely worse than Jakarta in terms of traffic discipline, pollution and dust, we finally arrived at the dusty gate of Sarnath. Mbok Wayan and Sita opted to return to the hotel, but not before wandering around for a Tibetan skirt and a thangka. I chose to join the afternoon class, which was nice, but I honestly have to say that it would be much better for me to join Dalai Lama’s class in English next time, akin to the ones in Melbourne and Geelong in June 2008. I trust that His Holiness’ translators are excellent, but I prefer not to experience ‘lost in translation’ whatsoever. I think His Holiness is to visit Melbourne in December 2009. That’ll be another opportunity, eh? That is, if Dharamsala is too expensive for now.

After class, I strolled the dusty lane of Sarnath and bought a very lovely ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ thangka, black and red in colour, very beautiful. Plus a Bodhgaya style bag and a Tibetan praying flag. I found no available hotel or homestay in Sarnath, or if there was any, I couldn’t find it. I supposed the best course of action was to book another room in Ideal Tower for 14 January.

Despite my short visit to Sarnath, I learned one thing: I still respect His Holiness Dalai Lama’s decision for Tibetan autonomy, but I am also still 100% a supporter for a Free Tibet. There is no other way: Tibet has to be free, and the Existence better make it fast, or I shall launch my nth protest towards the Supreme Being for the utter injustice that has been happening in Tibet. Watching thousands of Tibetans in Sarnath faithfully attending His Holiness’ teaching (one man in front of me even did a series of praying in Tibetan way – looked very much like the combination of yoga and shalat – for more than 15 minutes!), I am proud of their persistence in maintaining their cultural identity despite the cruelty of Chinese government upon them. These people deserve to have their own land back; they have more right than any Chinese people (and any other people, including myself) to set foot in a Free Tibet, going in and out of the country as they wish, recreating and rebuilding their country as they believe in.

Tibet is a personal issue for me. More than once, people in Sarnath thought I was a Tibetan or someone from the Himalayan region. Perhaps…I was one of them in my previous life time. And now, my journey to Sarnath reaffirmed my belief in a Free Tibet, and I shall never tire of praying and helping them for that.

Pic 1: A boat and the seagulls hovering over Ma Gangga
Pic 2: Me and Sita trying to row the boat (to no avail)
Pic 3: People selling Tibetan crafts in Sarnath

Day 5: Varanasi to Khajuraho

Day 5 (12 January 2009): Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) to Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh)

No dust! I can breathe! Wow!

That was the first thing that came to mind as I stepped outside Jetair 0723 that took me from Varanasi to Khajuraho. Thank God, praise Lord Shiva, after 5 days of having to carry a breathing mask everywhere in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, I finally am able to breathe normally. And Khajuraho is much much cleaner than Varanasi. In fact, it is the cleanest place I’ve visited so far. The airport is small, about the same size as Varanasi’s, but much cleaner and tidier. Superb.

The evening air is cool and fresh now, and the moon just rises in the east, casting its golden yellow reflection. When I arrived this afternoon at 3pm-ish, it was 23C. Now it might be around 11C. Lovely.

My flight to Khajuraho was almost cancelled due to thick fog. Londoners beware; your beautiful foggy city is nothing compared to UP, Bihar and MP fogs. In fact, they did cancel my Indian Airlines flight to KHJ due to the fog, and thus I have to contact Travelocity to get the refund. Worse, I had to pay almost INR 7,400 (almost AUD 350) for the Jetair ticket, for it’s the last minute purchase. Cheating, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not my fault that the fog arrived and Indian Airlines got cancelled. What they (IA and Jetair) could do was at least giving me the same price as the IA ticket VNS-KHJ, which was INR 3,400. Two elderly Dutch ladies that were supposed to travel with me to KHJ cancelled their plan to this town and rerouted to New Delhi instead, albeit grudgingly, and with big complaints. I understand that. In fact, had I not really really wanted to go to Khajuraho, I would have cancelled the trip anyway. I mean, adding another AUD 175 for something that is not my fault… somebody should strangle the Indian airway system with their own hands. Heh, I might do that myself!

But what can you do? I don’t wish to visit New Delhi anyway… which would be my second choice if the flight was truly cancelled. Going back to the hotel and stay in Varanasi for the next 3 days is a big NEHI. Going by road is INR 9,000 and it takes at least 12 hours on a bad road. Non, merci. Nehi, memsahib. And honestly anyway, I don’t regret my decision in persisting to come to Khajuraho.

The first time I saw the greeneries amidst the clearing fogs from above, I knew that Khajuraho would be different from Varanasi. And what a great place it is! For a student like me, AUD 175 is very very expensive… but for the sundari, beauty, I found here, it might be worth it. Yes, I think is… And really, I am SO lucky. For the last three days, there was no flight going in and out of Khajuraho due to the fog. Today was the first day of flight back to operation, and I truly thank Shiva-ji for lending His trident to clear the fog away.

The entire township of Khajuraho is only 10km width, or so they say. Upon passing by the central town, it might be similar to Ubud… the way I saw the main Shivadev Temple that is situated in the middle of the town, surrounded by shops etc… their grids and configuration is similar to Ubud. I stay in Yogi Sharma Ashram, a bit at the outskirt of the town. So far, this guest house is excellent. INR 500 (AUD 17) per night for the room upstairs, garden view. My room is as beautiful as you can get with INR 500. Clean, inner bathroom with 24 hours hot shower, and very nice stone shelves upon which I placed my new Khata from Geshe Ngawang Samten in Sarnath, the new brass Tara statue, the sandstone Buddha head and the pink Orissa stone Radha-Krishna. I have my own altar now… alas, no agarbati. Oh well… perhaps tomorrow I shall buy some.

The moon is about 30 deg now above at the east. It was yellow half an hour ago, but now is silver white. Beautiful. It reminds me of the saffron sunset I saw a few hours ago as I explored the wilderness of Ken Gharial Sanctuary. The driver took me there to see a waterfall… a few waterfalls actually. Not much water in this season, but the combination of black, pink, and greenish stones cascading into various geological formations was amazing. I still have to cut back my expenses as I return to Australia (as if I haven’t done that anyway), and I have to be VERY careful with my expenses here, particularly for the souvenirs… but I did not regret the trip to the waterfall.

I went by car, but then at the gate my driver rent a motorbike, and thus I only had to pay INR 350 in total. Saved me loads of money, for I would have to pay INR 1,000 if we were to go by car! I saw a peacock, but failed to get the picture. Several antelopes, including a proud black male… a monkey with blackish face, just like a Javanese lutung… and several parakeets. It was a very short trip, only less than an hour… but hey, beggars can’t be choosers!

It’s getting rather cold now… Bummer. I wish I brought my gloves with me. Might it hit 8 C or below tonight? Hopefully this tropical specimen survives the night. I will go to the temples tomorrow morning, perhaps after the free yoga session in the morning. And hopefully will be able to get 1-2 good books, and some beads. No statue, except for something Khajuraho-ish, but it has to be small and light. And I really really have to cut on my expenses, for I am broke to the last cents, truthfully over-budget, and have no more space in my little baggage. Thank God it’s stipend payday tomorrow.

(Written on 12 January 2009, hence the present tense)

Pic 1: Cascading pink rocks at the Khajuraho waterfall
Pic 2: The serene upper balcony of the Yogi Sharma Ashram
Pic 3: The lakes formed by waterfalls (the waterfalls were nonexistent in the winter)

Day 6: Khajuraho

Day 6 (13 January 2009): Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

Khajuraho was definitely an exotic experience. According to the tourism guides of Khajuraho, there are three temple compounds in Khajuraho. In the morning of my sixth day in India, I went to the Western Temples first.

Western Group of Temples

Seemingly the foggy days in Khajuraho had ended; the sun was shining cheerfully as I entered the gate of the Western Temples after paying INR 250 for entrance and INR 25 for my video camera (still picture camera is free, and the locals only pay INR 10). There are five major temples here; Lakshmana Temple, the oldest one in the Western compound, was built ca 954 AD by King Yasovarman of the Chandella Dynasty and was dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Preserver of the Universe. Other temples are Kandariya-Mahadeva (for Lord Shiva, the Recycler of the Universe), Devi Jagadambi (for Mother Durga, the All Mother), Chitragupta Temple (for Lord Surya, the Sun), and Visvanatha Temple (for Lord Shiva). Usually people would circumambulate the compound clockwise, i.e. to the Lakshmana Temple first. Contrary to the common route, I took the quite right lane and arrived at Visvanatha Temple first.

Visvanatha was an amazing sight. The temple’s shikara (tower structure) was so ornate and elaborate that I wonder what kind of magic was needed to make this temple (and other temple as well). I spent almost an hour alone there, taking lots and lots of pictures and marveling over the gorgeous apsaras and dakinis decorating the walls. I also entered the meditation hall inside, where a single lingga was enshrined, and meditated there. It was… surreal and blissful, and I was so blessed that no one was there to intrude my union with Lord Shiva and Lady Parvati.

After one hour in Visvanath alone, I had to speed up my journey to other temples. I admit that it distracted me a bit, I wanted to enjoy the temples as long as I can be, but the light will be too bright for good photography, and no doubt my taxi will be in want of extra payment. I visited Lakshmana Temple and took lots and lots of photographs as well. A bit sorry that there were so many tourists there, so that I couldn’t enjoy it the way I enjoyed Visvanath, but it was still a great treat. Then I sped up to Kandariya-Mahadeva and was captured by the ornate shikara and the gates. What can I say… the sculptors who made the temples were truly non-Muggles! They were truly wizards and witches, shamans of the past!

I didn’t really go through Devi Jagadambi Temple, for it was under construction, and I kind of brush away Chitragupta. Good photographs, but definitely 2 hours in the Western Group alone is NOT enough for me. Next time (in 3-4 years), I will have to spend 3 hours here.

Southern Group of Temples

There are two temples in the Southern Group: Chaturbhuja and Duladeo. I went to Chaturbhuja first and was amazed by the 11ft tall statue of Lord Vishnu made from a single stone (!). I don’t think the picture here does justice, for the statue was truly magnificent. It was rather damp inside, but it was understandable, for that’s how most temples are anyway. Then I went to Duladeo, and took some more pictures of the ornate shikara.

Eastern Group of Temples

Basically the eastern temples consist of two compounds: the three Brahmanical temples (Brahma, Vamana, and Javari) and three Jain temples (Ghantai, Adinatha, and Parsvanatha). The Jain temples were particularly interesting, for one can find the ornate sculptures of Hindu deities alongside Lord Buddha. The shikaras were very elaborate as well, though not as detailed as the ones in Western Group. I didn’t go to the Brahmanical temples… not on purpose though. It was already noon; I was hungry and tired, and just wanted to wrap the tour immediately. Well… saves it for the next 5 years perhaps…

In the evening, I managed to go to the “Light and Sound” performance at the Western Temples compound. I was glad that I made it; the show was amazing. It had no actors or actresses, for it only contained light and sound, as the title suggested. The narration told the history of the temples, faceless names who built the magnificent structures, women and men who contributed to their greatness. I was amazed at their creativity, and immediately thought of Prambanan and Borobudur Temples… or Prambanan at least, where similar show could be made.

Pic 1: Lord Shiva and His Cosmic Consort, Lady Parvati, at the Visvanatha Temple
Pic 2: The ornate shikara at the Kandariya-Mahadeva Temple
Pic 3: Lord Ganesh, Visvanatha Temple
Pic 4: The 11ft tall Lord Vishnu and moi inside the Chaturbhuja Temple

Day 7-8 and conclusion

Day 7 (14 January 2009): Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh) to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh)

Thank the Force; my flight back to Varanasi was not cancelled, though it was one hour late for technical reasons. That’s okay! I still prefer to wait than having it cancelled! As much as I wish I could extend my stay in Khajuraho, I needed to return back to Australia, and Varanasi was my exit gate. However, I will definitely visit Khajuraho again in the future. Hopefully.

In the evening, I planned to go to Ma Gangga to watch the Makara Sankranti (winter solstice) ceremony, but I was a bit late. The plane from Khajuraho arrived late in Varanasi, hence I was tired and hungry, and to avoid gastritis attack, I had to abandon my evening visit to the Gangga. I changed course to the adjacent Canton Surya Restaurant and had one of the best fish curry ever. Yumm… And the chai… oh my God… delicious!

Day 8 (15 January 2009): Varanasi to Bangkok

Since I never made it to Gangga River during the sunrise, I made up my mind to wake up extremely early and go to see the sunrise aarti. I woke up before 5am, getting a bit disoriented, but then was soon ready to go to the river. I arrived by 6am, when the fog was still floating above the water, creating surreal images of devotees plunging and taking shower in the Great River.

I bought a small garland of flower for INR 5 and then did my own aarti: doing pooja (prayers) and singing bhajan (spiritual songs). Afterwards, I took some pictures of the surroundings, including of this priest, who did a rather long aarti for more than 20 minutes. Gotta love that cobra-shaped fire holder, or whatever that name was. All in all, a very satisfying trip to wrap up my visit to India.

My flight to Bangkok took off a bit late (again) that day, about 30 minutes later than the 16:35 ETD. The airplane was full, and almost 50% of the passengers got either flu or cough, which made my case worse. The flight from Bangkok to Sydney was even worse in terms of health; I woke up two hours en route Sydney with a sore throat and hardly could speak. What a gift from India! Oh well… I do feel rather enlightened from the short trip to the Bharat, so it should balance the sore throat.


I was rather pleased with my first visit in India, but I am also so glad to leave the dust and smokes of Varanasi behind me. Really, I had lots of laundry to do as I return to Australia… but I don’t really mind. And herewith are the bad, good, and best things I had or happened to me in India, in that order.

Bad things:
Dust, smoke, and unorganised tips. Tipping is very confusing here… seems every people want to have a tip from you, even just because they open the door for you. I have headache because of that. And the dust and smoke was nothing like I’ve experienced elsewhere… but since the pollution in Varanasi and Bodhgaya is considered the worst in India, at least I’ve gone through the worst. Next time when I visit Ma Gangga again, it will be upstream: Risikesh, Haridwar, or the like.

Good things:
Easy: shopping and food. Gotta love those silks… and that beautiful deep blue Kashmiris shawl embroidered with flowers of myriad colours. And the statues… oh… beautiful, gorgeous statues… many of which seem to have life of their own…And books… cheap great books… Also… Khajuraho and the unique life of Gangga River, despite her pollutions.

Best things:
Super easy. Spending time with my Guruji Anand Krishna, and also with His Holiness Dalai Lama. What else? I don’t think I will ever be this lucky in the future, hence that extremely expensive return ticket to India is paid off. Thank the Existence for that. And here’s to the hope that the little rays of enlightenment will remain in my heart and grows bigger and brighter as soon as possible, enveloping me with its golden light.

Pic 1: Khajuraho airport. Clean eh? I won't post the Varanasi airport here. It will shock you.
Pic 2: Sunrise aarti at the bank of Gangga River