India – Darshan in Nathdwara

Nathdwara Krishna Temple

In the 17th century outside Nathdwara, a chariot carrying an image of Krishna became stuck in the mud 26km north of Eklingji. The idol was being carried from Krishna’s birthplace Mathura to Udaipur to hide it Aurangzeb’s destruction.  Its
bearers interpreted the event as a divine sign and established a new temple where it had stopped. [In Venice there’s a parallel story, illustrated by a painting in the Academia, about a religious procession being stopped by unknown forces, then released, and a miracle declared]

 From our base at Khumbalgarh Fort, we drove about 65 km to Nathdwara the site of a temple dedicated to Krishna. Nath is another name of Krishna, a favorite avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu, hence NATHDWARA means “Gateway to God” It’s the 2nd richest temple in India after Tirupati (in Andhra Pradesh). Nathdwara is a small town, and its narrow streets are filled with stalls and shops selling, beads, perfumes and small Krishna statues. In the centre of town the Shri Nathji temple awaits pilgrims. Each day, the image is awakened, dressed, washed, fed then later put to bed. The most elaborate session, aarti, takes place between 5pm and 6pm. .

There were only a few western tourists at this site. I had a guide for special darshan, which eliminates some of the queuing [500R inc guide, about $10]. He took me through a cluttered courtyard to a back entrance where I sat on some stairs, alone, in what looked to be a a warehouse as 2 men unloaded pumpkins from burlap sacks, some covered with mold, already in stored in a corner. After a short wait, my guide re-appears, from the inside and ushers me into a courtyard where a small crowd builds. The opposing doors open and everyone rushes ahead to get in line for next phase. Now we’re sitting in front of elaborate silver bas-relief doors. Again, the crowd builds. When doors open this time we run across yet another courtyard, where men & women gather in separate sections, divided by a large fence. The guide has me sit off to the side, at the back of the room, and then disappears for ½ hr (Remember – this is the express line!). When he returns he takes me to sit behind an elephant statue on the women’s side. When the next doors open and the women pass through, we become the head of the men’s line. The dividing barrier gate swings out and almost crushes my foot as the men surge forward into a small, narrow theatre, with terraces so everyone can see the sanctum at the end of the hall. A richly dressed statue of Krishna, served by 2 priests appears amid incense, candelabras, and other offerings as crowd chants. The darshan lasts much longer than our experience at Tirupati . Then we exit to halls where donations are collected; we get holy water, tikkal, Prasad, and charmed necklaces.

 

Maharana Pratap

Haldighati [turmeric valley] is a deep cut in red sandstone, just outside the town, with narrow 1 lane road about ¼ mile long; obviously long a strategic choke point for military operations.

Museum commemorates Maharana Pratap’s victory over Akbars’ General Man Singh at Haldigharti . When he attacked, Man Singh’s elephant wielded a sword which cut off one of Maharana Pratap’s horse’s legs, but the horse carried him another 20 km to get reinforcements and eventually win the battle. Small groups of tourists are ushered thru series of rooms – first with 3D map of the campaign; next with weapons and figures of various leaders, then a short movie recapping what we learned in first 2 rooms; then a dark passage, lit to reveal various dioramas – Maharana Pratap fighting tiger, Maharana Pratap’s consoling his dying horse, Maharana Pratap’s and army as guerrillas in forest camp.

Outside, several displays showed village life today with life sized dioramas showing water wheels, markets, etc that we had been seeing in real life on our trip. Indian tourists, probably urban, were fascinated by these displays.

A good lunch is served on site with several dals, gobi, chappatis, and rice, for a few rupees.

More India

India – Tips for Travel

After more than 2500 years, much of the indigenous culture of India remains same in temples and much of daily life outside the cities. You see it with the casual religiosity of the guides, ganesha on dashboards of rickshaws, drivers stopping in early morning to leave marigolds at a small shrine.

The age of statues and shrines are often hard to estimate; they may be centuries old, or installed last year. Personal the reactions are similar – people halt their 21st century lives and enter the religious stream that has coursed for millennia. Nowhere else on earth do you find this profound snse of an ancient heritage, and spiritual confidence, combined with daily patterns of life. It’s as if Socrates still wandered thru Athens asking awkward questions.

Exploring India in small groups gives us the flexibility larger groups are denied. Some differences are obvious – large buses can’t go to as many places, especially the narrow roads of the hill countries. With small groups we can quickly change the itinerary and changes to fit the group, or to take advantage of opportunities for photo ops and other interactions with local people.

A valid visa is required for India and can be obrained from Indian embassy or consulate in your home country. Easier is to also get your Indian visa online. With valid visa you can visit Darjeeling & Kalimpong; but for SIKKIM a SPECIAL INNER LINE PERMIT is required but is easily available at no extra cost.

On arrival, pick up your luggage and head for the green ‘nothing to declare’ exit.  One advantage of arranging at least the initial transfer is that someone will meet you as you come out, and they’ll take you to our hotel. This is a welcome treat after the long flight to India

 

Clothing

o The weather will likely be warm wherever you go, except for the hill stations in fall and winter. The monsoons will determine how much rain you should expect. A skirt or long pants are suggested, as shorts are still not a common sight.. Take swimsuits for the hotel pools or ocean. Bring a small towel.
If trekking, low, hiking or walking shoes are sufficient, no need for heavy boots.

o A small, flat rubber stopper is helpful for washing clothes in the hotel sinks.

 

Daily Activity

o As a rule,  drink bottled water; it’s cheap and easily available. Other drinks include soft drinks, beer, juices and lassi (a yogurt drink). Be careful on the latter two items if you’d can’t confirm their provenance.

o Hotels: Air conditioning is usually available where it’s needed and along the coast.  Hair dryers are usually present. Be sure to carry adapters for electrical items like battery chargers.  Modern equipment rarely needs transformers.

o A typical day will start with breakfast at the hotel between 7 and 8. We leave the hotel between 8 and 10, depending on the itinerary. There’ll be a break for lunch, usually at a local restaurant around noon; in more isolated areas this will be a dhaba or local truck stop with mud floors and oven, and usually very tasty, food and freshly baked breads. We’ll be back or arrive at the hotel between 3 and 6 on most days, and supper will be around 7-7:30.

Traffic in India is a unique experience. It can be nerve wracking, but it seems to work – our driver’s motto: “good horn, good brakes, good luck”. We generally used chauffeured cars or vans for distance travel, and local transport like taxis and auto rickshaws in cities. The new metro in Delhi is excellent and expanding rapidly.

Hindu Sadhu At any shrine or major tourist stop there will be sadhus or other holymen. Most of these are people who have entered the 4th stage of Hindu life and have renounced worldly possessions. Usually, you’re approached and the itinerant offers a blessing – he wraps a colored thread around your wrist, says the blessing and dabs some kumkum paste on your forehead. While always denying there is any expectation of money, a small baksheesh of 10-20R is usual. Hindu Sadhu


Money

o ATM are common and you can easily get Indian rupees with a debit or cash advance card. Changing money at the airport ATM is fine; we’ve found the rate there to be reasonable

o Credit Cards are commonly accepted for large items, such as carpets and jewelry, but be careful that a reasonable rate of exchange is listed, and be prepared  to bargain.

o Now that ATM are so common, we no longer carry Travelers Checks, but you may wish to have them for security. They can be more of a hassle to cash, but in some cases (again, carpet sellers) they are preferred since it becomes a cash transaction.

o Cash – US one dollar bills are easily accepted and often preferred because of inflation. Bazaars, markets, street vendors readily accept dollars, and dollars can be handy for a quick tip if you’re on your own, for taxi fare, etc.

I try to start each day with a pocketful of carefully hoarded 10 and 20R notes. During the day, I try never to pay the exact amount for anything, always trying to break a 100 [$2] or 500 rupee bill. Yet by day’s end, most of it’s gone – given to Sadhus, random guides, altar attendants or for puja.

 

Elephants miniature painting on silk

Food

Indian food is wonderfully varied, and tasty. It ranges across the spectrum of hotness and spiciness. The south is mostly vegetarian with a lot of seafood. The north, especially Rajasthan and Punjab are more meat oriented, due to the Moghul influences. In hotel restaurants, hotness is usually toned down for westerners, but you can still find authentic dishes. In urban restaurants the food can be spicier, but you can let the waiter know. If you like hot food, it’s a pleasure, for the many different varieties of heat and spice that can be created.

 

 

Planning your trip to India

I designed a 6 week itinerary that gave us time to explore, but also to relax. We hired a car and driver/guide for the tribal areas of Orissa, since there is little public transportation there. This gave us the freedom to visit local weekly markets and small isolated villages. We selected Puri as our base, since it is right on the coast, but Bubaneshwar is another reasonable starting point, with easy air connections from Delhi or Chennai. Email let me design precisely the itinerary we wanted, with a local agent based in Agra to make most of our hotel reservations, and thus we had the added security of a local contact for the unexpected.

Our costs ran about $250 per day for the 2 of us, including 5 domestic flights. A large portion of the cost was for a private car and English speaking driver, petrol [the Indian version of gasoline], & tourist travel permits.

You can spend less and travel rougher using all local transportation.  Local transportation is good between major cities, but can be infrequent off the main tourist routes, so you’ll spend much of your time waiting for buses and trains. Good quality hotels run from $30-100 / night, and it’s often difficult to spend $25 on dinner for 2. At roadside dhabas [truckstops] a filling lunch, with unlimited freshly made breads costs about $1. Entry fees for major landmarks are reasonable, and many temples are free. We hired local guides on the spot for $5-20 depending on the length of the tour.

 

Miscellaneous

o Check your health insurance plan so you will know what will be covered in case of need. Carry phone numbers and other information with you.

o Make a copy of your passport and keep it separate from your traveling papers. It’s also handy to have copies of your credit cards, airline tickets, etc.

o Theft isn’t a major problem; just be careful as you would in any major city. Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are the biggest problem, especially in the markets or on public transportation. Just be alert

 

The Glass Palace Amitav Ghosh Like his previous book, In an Antique Land, The Glass Palace is about Indians living in other countries. It starts with the British invasion of Burma in the 1880’s and follows a young Indian boy, Rajkumar…

The Calcutta Chromosome – Science Fiction with a Bite… When a patient has syphilis, cure them by infecting them with malaria. This amazing piece of medical trivia drives the plot of one of Ghosh’s
first books.

Iraq, Afghanistan & the Taliban – a Review of Recent Books America’s longest wars are being fought in faraway countries that until recently were little known to
most Americans. Here are a number of recent books that help fill these gaps
.

More India travel resources

 

Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution

 

How the Renaissance contributed to the Scientific Revolution

Unintended Consequences of the Renaissance

The re-birth of learning during the Renaissance had many unintended consequences. Historical fiction if well done can demonstrate this.  Dorothy Dunnett while re-telling the story of Macbeth in ‘King Hereafter’describes what Phillip Bobbitt calls the transition from Princely states to Kingly states where the ‘monarch’ might actually hold little land, and whose power relied on holding together an amalgam of territories that had no natural borders (Eg, the widespread and disjointed Hapsburg Empire). Her Nicolo and Lymond series are excellent portrayals of politics and economics in these times. These states were supported by concepts from Greek Philosophy such as Plato & Aristotle’s ideas of government, and especially Aristotle’s ideas that nature could be deduced from first principles. No need for experiment. This reliance on revealed truth rather than observation and experiment gave way first with the Protestant Reformation, then with the experiments of artists and proto-scientists like Leonardio da Vinci and Vesalius artists and proto-scientists like Leonardo da Vinci and Vesalius.

Ultimately, the Renaissance started a series of revolutions – First , Copernicus and Bruno rejected the received idea that the earth was the center of the universe. Later scientific exploration showed that even the sun was only a tiny star amid vast galaxies. Finally, Darwin, standing on the shoulders of early scientists like Hooke, Galton, Newton, and Leibniz, knocked human beings from their pedestal as god’s primary focus, by showing that we are but one species in the sprawling network resulting from evolution.

Teleology, if not theology was dead.

Science & Democracy evolve from the Renaissance

Another consequence of Renaissance ideas was the concept that man might make his own rules, not being ruled from above. Venice had a constitution that was more republican or oligarchical than democratic. Various smaller experiments in city-state communes of medieval Europe followed, including the long struggles against Medici domination in Florence described by Machiavelli in The Prince. The 17th century saw further concepts democracy in philosophy and practice, especially in England and the new Dutch Republic. But it was the enlightenment of the 18th century that gave violent birth to the major democratic revolutions in America and France. What had started with Kings employing painters to glorify their reigns ended by replacing those dynasties with modern democracies.

Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy

Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy is a magnificent journey through 17th century Europe. Politics, and especially economics, are major foci, as the characters learn and adapt to the evolving capitalist system of venture capital and stock markets, Kings and Princes take a back seat to merchant traders and entrepreneurs.

 

Fernand Braudel – Civilization and Capitalism
15th-18th Century.

Fernand Braudel’s epic 3 volume work is Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century. These are heavy lifting,
both physically and mentally, but well worth it, and you can see the influences he had on Dunnett and Stephenson when they prepared their fictional narratives. Braudel’s scope is phenomenal, touching details across centuries of history and different civilizations. Fantastic maps and charts illustrate the concepts, along with period pictures.

Starting with human life in the centuries before industrialization, he examines the machinery of exchange as a whole, from barter to the most sophisticated  capitalism. After a survey of the instruments of exchange, he then moves on to look at the effects of markets on the economy. Eventually, traders cease to be mere movers of goods from one place to another and start to build production facilities in far off places. Again echoed by  Dunnett & Stephenson

• Vol. I – The Structures of Everyday
• Vol. II – The Wheels of Commerce
• Vol. III – The Perspective of the World

World Religions

Christianity

Hinduism & Jainism

Buddhism

 

Islam