India-Cremation on The Ganges, A Celebration of Fire

We traveled The Ganges at night in a wooden boat. The sun was setting and the white sky was diminishing into blackness. As usual, I can no expectations, I was just content happy to drift on the water and be able to take it all in.

Direct experience is wonderful but to a modern American it could be a bit uncomfortable. Back home it seems we have to be continuously stimulated and have our senses shocked. Watch a fast paced car commercial and count how many times they change the image or count how many 30 second ads there are during a TV program break. Is the length of our attention span decreasing?

To drift down a river in a foreign country like India, to be stranger in a very unfamiliar context , to be in a reality with no escape or off button is overwhelming. As a captive in a present moment, I tried to get my money’s worth, “I will not pass this way again”. I was on the famous Ganges River, Gandhi was here, people come to be absolved of their sins. It is sacred. I take in as much as I can with all my senses. Will it be enough?

We are told to look to our right, I see piles of wood, flames. and a lot of activity. This is the most sacred place of cremation in the India. If a person’s body is reduced to ashes here they are guaranteed eternal light after death.

The rituals practiced on this site never stop, they go on 24/7. A source fire has been maintained for hundreds of year and provides the flames for all burnings. Bodies wrapped in cloth and sometimes flowers are carried in by mourners, lower in to the The Ganges for purification, and then placed on the burning wood pyres. Later the deceased person’s ashes are returned to the Ganges.

Our journey in the darkness continues and we are told we are going to a ritual that is repeated every night by Hindu priests, The Celebration of Fire.

So much to take in, strange rituals, an unfamiliar religion. I shouldn’t judge. I have my own needs. Like all human beings since the beginning of time I, too, deal with the fear of the unknown. You would think with all our advancements we would have everything figured out and under control by now but it seems that the things that kept us up at night just keep multiplying. Everyone deals with this in their own way; materialism, power, drugs, alcohol, anything that offers escape.

I felt totally out of place in this dark Indian night until I was handed a diya, a floating votive candle surrounded by a ring of flowers. Our guide lit it and instructed me to put in the water to remember a loved one who has died. Tears came to my eyes. I placed the symbol in The Ganges and remembered my mom. More than anyone she is responsible for my trip to India. She prepared me in so many ways, giving me the skills and the strength to set out to unknown places.

Religion, let us live and let live. I will continue to learn and respect the beliefs of all people and hope others will do the same for me. My faith is how I deal with the puzzles of life. It’s so nice to know there are others who do the same.

India-Blown Away by The Ganges River,The World is Not Flat

Visiting The Ganges River in Varanasi, India was not at all what I expected. It is world famous and I have seen pictures of it but to be there, to have direct experience, is a whole other thing. I have had this disconnect between a pictorial presentation and an actual site before, namely The Great Wall of China. It was truly magnificent but somehow appeared different from what I imagined.

Once I talked to an acquaintance as he sat alone in this living room watching the travel channel. The high definition picture on a very large screen was breathtaking but the viewer’s reaction to the program really troubled me. He believed the TV way of seeing the world was adequate enough and made travel irrelevant. I’m afraid in this world of smartphones, his outlook is becoming common.

I am very visual, I look at everything. For me, a snapshot isn’t enough. I want to see the sky, hear the sounds, smell the smells, witness the movement of humans as I try to understand what they feel. I want see in all directions, be totally immersed in three dimensional awareness and feel the energy of all experiences. A flat screen or picture will never do this for me.

And with this attitude I took in the Ganges. It was so much more colorful and vibrant than I had imagined.

This area of The Ganges River is called The Ghat, the steps to the river.

Worshippers put diyas, floating candles, in the river to remember a loved one who has died.

Millions of Hindu pilgrims come to bathe in these waters. They believe it’s an act of purification, the wiping away of sins, and the the facilitation of Moksha, the liberation from the continuous cycle of of life and death.

Through traveling, I have become part of something bigger. I have become part of the sphere of humanity by reaching out with sincerity and accepting different landscapes and people. And I have come to realize that though each one of us is a small part of the whole, we are all significant.

I hope you enjoyed my pictures. You are a traveler on the journey of life. Slow down and take the time to really see what is around you. Start from where you are. And remember, the world is not flat.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com

Back off, Lady!!!

Spring is coming late to The North Country. I’m still waiting to take pictures of the shad bushes that, for about one week every year, break out in white blossoms. They seem to love to grow in rocky outcroppings and got their name for their coincidental appearance when the shad fish run. But this year the blossoms are late. Facebook tells me this since memory posts of the shad bushes from previous years have been appearing for weeks.

It’s been gray and rainy for the last few days. I haven’t accomplished much and this bothers me. Granted, I’ve been getting over a cold but I still feel guilty. But this morning was a new beginning, the sun was out, it wasn’t raining, and my cough was almost gone. My friend, Beth J., asks me every year to post pictures on Facebook of the spring trilliums that grow in my woods. Today was the day I would keep that promise and hike to the pond at the far end of my property to see if those lovely flowers were in bloom.

My woods was bear and sad looking. Old discarded leaves defeated by rain and snow had lost the crunching sound they had had in the fall.

I walked and walking taking note of the branches that had broken off in wind storms. It seemed winter was unwilling to let go. I followed the path across a field, through a stand of birches and, using familiar landmarks, found the trilium garden my woods always seems to gift to me each year.

Sheltered in a little rock crevice was the prized red trillium. Beth would be happy, it was particularly lovely this year.

I found the white trilliums. They seemed to be late.

But I found two flowers I had never noticed before, maybe because they only wished to show themselves after a hard winter or maybe they are the real early bloomers.

These little guys were hearty . They seemed to declare, “Back off, lady, we know what we are doing” They wanted me to know something. The last few days I had cursed the weather and wanted things on my terms, I wanted spring now. But nature doesn’t work that way. I once read a story in a book called The Zen of Gardening about a lady who planted a lilac bush where she wanted it without considering what was best for the plant. Of course, it died. David Thoreau once said, “Let us live life as deliberately as nature.” Everything in the natural world is where it is because it’s in the best place at the best time to live and grow. I need to realize that. And if we want to keep life going on this planet we better all respect that.

I went to the pond and was glad to see it filled again by all the rain we had gotten. But the beaver lodge was gone and I suspect the beavers had found better real estate in the new pond across the road from my house on my neighbor’s land.

I leaned on one of the rocks and in silence I enjoyed the beauty and peace of the moment. I was thrilled to be joined by a Canadian goose who drifted in the water in front of me.

I thought how some of my friends would laugh at my excitement in seeing such a common creature. Would it take a swan to give them as much joy? Maybe it’s true what they say, that its not the object but rather the attitude of the beholder that makes something beautiful.

I snapped pictures and at one point the goose spread out his wings. I missed the shot and tried everything to make him do it again. I whistled and tried to mimic his honk and even sang him the only goose song I knew, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody The Old Grey Goose is Dead”. I learned that song in the 1950’s in grade school. Between that kind of message and all the times we practiced hiding under our desks in case of nuclear attack, it’s no wonder I’m sometimes a little controlling!

Well, needless to say, none of it worked. And once again, nature was telling me to “Back off, Lady”. The goose was in control, not me.

I walked home satisfied with the pictures I had and the lesson I had learned.

Spring comes when it’s ready, nature’s time, not mine. I can accept that now. It will soon be here in all its glory and it will be magnificent!

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com

India-Buddha Didn’t Care What His Hair Looked Like

On my tour, we went to a place called Sarnath. As usual, I had no idea what to expect.

We went into museum and Rashid,our guide, explained that statues of Buddha all had three interesting features. The Buddha’s long ears signified the importance of being a good listener and his ever present smile represented joyful peace. What I didn’t know was that his seemly minimalist hairstyle set an example for the unimportance of outward appearances.

We passed through doors into a beautiful place of greens, sandstone and sunshine.

After Buddha meditated for forty-nine days under a Bodhi tree, he came to Sarnath to preach for the first time, speaking about the doctrine of suffering and the eightfold Middle Path to enlightenment.

  • Right understanding
  • Right thought
  • Right speech
  • Right action
  • Right livelihood
  • Right effort
  • Right mindfulness
  • Right concentration

Buddha had actually lived in this place and I was in awe. The sandstone was the remains of the Buddhist monasteries that once existed here. And the large domed building was a stupa, an ancient shrine used for meditation.

Rashid pointed out a Bodhi seedling growing out of a crevice in a tree.

I chose to immerse myself in the experience and I wander through the site alone.

I came upon a group of Buddhists who had come there as part of a pilgrimage.

I noticed the bits of gold leaf that worshipers had left on the stone to pay homage.

Later, Rashid took us a short distance away to the tallest statue of Buddha in world.

I am so glad to have had this experience concerning Buddhism. There is so much to learn about all the different ways of the world. I not only want to know them but also understand them. As Buddha said, I guess I am looking for a “right understanding”.

Copyright 2019@ theautonomoustraveler.com