Questions Answered

 

OK, I’ve amassed quite a good amount of unanswered questions in the last six months that I’ll try to take care of here, or at least take care of some of the more interesting ones, grouped by subject when possible. Honestly, this post is a good study on human thinking when read as a whole. Take a look, there are some good one’s, bad one’s, one’s that make you think and one’s that make you just say “huh” …and every single one was actually asked. Figured I had to take care of them at some point, so why not now, right?: Continue reading

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The Dreamer

Pushkar, India.

     I met Hank every morning down on the steps of the ghats that surround the sacred lake of Pushkar. He was a quiet fellow. Contemplative, laid back, gentle, almost rotund in a beer belly kind of way. You could tell he was smart, maybe not in his speech, but more in the way he studied things. You could see it in his eyes, his movements, and his overall demeanor. He didn’t get into all the chatter of his fellow ghat hanger-outers, almost like it was beneath him, knowing there were more important things in life. He had better ways to spend his time. Comtemplating life on the holy lake, trying to understand the theory of flight, just watching the people coming and going around the lake.

     Continue reading

Back Streets

Varanasi, India.

     Off the beaten path and well out-of-the-way of the tourist trail, the back streets of Old Varanasi are a maze of catacomb-like alleyways. I would highly recommend walking them as much as possible. There are sights back here that would be hard to find anywhere else, including museums. From thousand plus year old statues and architecture to people just living out their lives.

     You enter what looks like tunnel only to come out into a thin strip of lighted roadway, paved with ancient cobblestones, only to have to side-step a cow, look up to see an ancient statue over the archway of a newly appointed guesthouse, people working and washing in the street. A maze of wires above, turn the corner and there are none, turn another only to run into a temple, round another for another amazing view. It all sounds quite quaint and normal here, on the internet, but its anything but, almost anywhere else in the world but here that is. If you’re there, don’t miss the chance to walk these streets, it’s well worth the effort, the heat, the smell and everything else you can’t experience in a picture.

 

Panning for Gold

Varanasi, India.

     Another shot that goes well with my recently posted story on Varanasi. A shot of what I think has to be one of the worst jobs in the world, or at least that I have witnessed. The guys in the water, well, they’re panning for gold. No, that’s not bad really, until you realize they are in the Ganges, at the Manikarnika Ghat, and the fire in the foreground is not just a fire, it’s a funeral pyre. The Manikarnika Ghat is a cremation ghat along the Ganges River. There is a body in there. OK, so they’re panning for gold in front of a burning body, no biggie, right? Wrong. They are panning through the ashes of the dead and burned looking for any gold or precious stones or metals that may have gotten through. Gold teeth, jewelry, hair pins, etc, etc. They are panning peoples ashes. What makes it worst is that the occasional body part makes it through the fire, which they just toss further into the river, yikes.

     It’s a holy river, it’s a revered site, it’s considered very lucky to die and be burned here. I’m not arguing that, and I do have to say that it is fascinating (to me at least) but man, I wouldn’t want that job, no way. It’s a different world though, and I’m sure I would be happy just to have a job if I lived there as well.

Choice

Varanasi, India.

     One of the three men I met on the streets in Varanasi, just waiting there to die, from the story posted here. Maybe they couldn’t choose how rich or how poor they were in life, or how they were going to die, but they could, and did, choose where they would die. That’s a lot better than most in my opinion, and they were quite happy for the choice.

     When I was looking at the pictures of this particular man, after talking to him and sitting with him on the street, I couldn’t help but think …the body may be saying die, but those eyes, they say live. He is probably gone, for a while now really, but who knows. He may still be sitting there on a street, above a ghat, waiting, watching, smiling, still happy for the choice of where. Who knows…

Among the Dead

Varanasi, India

     It’s one of those places. The places that you see in pictures, on TV, on the internet, in books. One of those places that can’t really be fully understood until experienced. One of those places that you can spend all day, week, month or year researching and still never know what it is truly like. It can be imagined, but never really fully understood. You form expectations and conclusions based on your own mind and experiences, a picture that you can wrap your thinking around, but can never truly understand without going there, walking the streets, seeing and talking to the people, smelling the air, listening to the noise. It’s one of those places where all senses are needed, as well as assailed, at every twist, turn and corner. 

     Continue reading

Kan-Tucky Born

Udaipur, India.

     That’s right. Born in Kentucky, USA. Surprised the hell out of me.

     Me: Grunt (lift camera). Photo. (shake camera)
     Him: Nod of head
     Me: Snap, click, click, click
     Him: Nod of head
     Me: Cigarette (actually just lifting the pack)
     Him: Where you from?
     Me: (surprise, he speaks english) America
     Him: No, where at in America (in a deep southern draw)
     Me: Philadelphia
     Him: Born in Kentucky
     Me: No shit…

Damn. It is a small world. India, surprising to say the least.
Never did find out why. Just took it as India. Things happen.
People change. People stay.
I still wonder what he was thinking…

           

Book Review: The City of Djinns

The City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
by: William Dalrymple

     One man’s fascination and love of a city turns into a year, and honestly, most probably a lifetime, trying to understand that city. A year of “peeling back the layers” of Delhi. Right off the bat I have to say, William couldn’t have picked a better, more mysterious and historically more colorful city. Delhi could possibly have more history buried beneath it, surrounding it, held within its walls and still viewable in the streets than any other city on earth, not to mention that people still live there that were very much part of its recent turbulent history. William couldn’t have picked a harder task to record.

     This book is actually described as a travel memoir type book but it is much much more than that and much less a memoir but more a history of Delhi. I would actually say it is maybe 20% memoir, 80% history, which is usually a really really bad sign for me, as I’m just not interested in reading history, and yet, this book was absolutely fascinating to me. I also have to say that I have been to Delhi and honestly, never knew that three-quarters of the material in this book even existed or happened to, or in, Delhi. I just never knew and never really cared, or thought I didn’t, but I do. This is why I have to call William’s work here a literary masterpiece. This isn’t your average travel memoir. You can tell right from the get go that William did a lot of research and knows Delhi’s history very well, or as well as any one man can possibly  know of it. I would usually close a book like this at about page fifty, but this is truly a masterpiece of writing.

     William takes a travel memoir and weaves a tale spanning two-thousand years into it. He walks a fine line almost perfectly, keeping the “travel memoir” side very active while informing the reader of what exactly made Delhi into what it is today. I never wanted to go back to Delhi until I read this book. I want to go back now. I want to see William’s Delhi. I want to explore the city. I want to see what he saw.

     There are way to many topics to list, but William goes from spending time with the Eunuchs still there in the city today to something as mundane as trying to get a telephone line. He goes into detail about the architecture of the city, he goes to a wedding. He tells the tale of Skinner, a British soldier, goes to a pigeon fight. Explains the Partition, the “leftovers from Britain”. He befriends the Delhi-wallahs, he interviews the last living relative of Shah Jehan. William tells the story of Indira Gandhi, and the ramifications of her death, the festivals of Holi and Diwali. He weaves the tale of Fraser and Ibn Battuta. He tries to give all views on the Muslim, the Sikh and Hindu thoughts on the city. He looks for tales of Nizam-ud-Din, the hakim and the last remaining haveli’s in the city.

     William tells of, as well possibly finding, the catacombs and tunnels believed to be underneath the city. He peels back the layers of seven cities built and destroyed over the ages. Tells the tale of Tughluk, when Delhi was moved, on three days notice, the whole city, only to have ninety percent of the residents die en route to the new location, Daulatabad.

     This is a great one, and no matter how much money or how much fame William has received from this book, he has to be proud. A masterpiece in the thinking of Mark Twain almost (no, I’m not kidding) – it’s that good. He finds those Djinns, or the tale and legend of them, and holds the reader in awe all the way through. Almost insane how much information is in this book. I just never knew that I walked through this …and never knew. A book that gives you an authentic feel of Delhi throughout. It sucks you in and then spits you out, leaving the reader wanting more and asking the question “What the hell just happened?”. Three hundred and thirty nine pages of small text that you wish went on for twice that much, all the while thinking in the back of your mind that this is insane. It’s Delhi and that is what Delhi is. A history of a city that can truly be called the city of Djinns, because, well, that is insane, and that is Delhi. There is no reason for it being the way it is, but William gives you that reason. It’s insanity explained, and explained very well.

Bottom Line:
…If you are at all interested in the history of Delhi or India: The Highest Recommendation I can give

…If you have been to Delhi, or are interested in going: Highly Recommended
…If you are looking for a good travel memoir type read but not at all interested in history: Not Recommended

     This is a tough one, because it is more history than memoir, yet it is, truly, a masterpiece of writing on India. If your looking more for just a personal experience type book though, and haven’t been or really plan on going to Delhi, this may not be one for you. That said, William has probably written one of the most comprehensive and informative books on the “thinking” of why Delhi is what it is …ever. 

…so, if you’re a professor of Indian history: A MUST read for your class – never read better – read it yourself and see.

     Help me keep traveling, reviewing, and taking pictures. If you want to buy this book, or any other book through Amazon, than click and buy through the photo above. Thank you!!! John