Not a very clear picture, but the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya nonetheless.

A Thai monastery that is built on a road adjoining the Mahabodhi
Temple. Monasteries with architecture from different parts of the world
have been built all around Bodhgaya.


A huge Buddha statue in Bodhgaya, look at the telephone tower on the
right for a sense of scale.

Varanasi, the city of Siva. Pictured here is the Dasaswamedh Ghat.



A view of the Ganges just oustide my guest house. Usually this area is
much more crowded but due to the monsoons the steps have been totally


This temple has been submerged near Scindia Ghat in Varanasi.

The monasteries of Sarnath have beautiful frescoes and paintings
detailing different facets of the Buddha's life and teachings.

The Lotus Temple of the Bahai faith. It was a wonderful oasis in
New Delhi.


Inside the Jama Masjid. I realy like this expansive courtyard that
dwarfs the people inside.

A view from the tower over the Jama Masjid and into Old Delhi.


After the pristine atmosphere of the mountains it can be hell coming back to the flatlands. New Delhi is a modern cosmopolitan city with a return to all the comforts that you may be used to. Cheap accommodations may be hard to find except in areas like Paharganj.

Paharganj has easy access to the train station, Connaught Place and Old Delhi but is known for its drug trafficking. For some reason if you look even the slightest bit Indian, some guest houses will deny you accommodation. Most travelers don't stay in Delhi too long as the weather can be atrocious in summertime.

Two of my favorite places in Delhi would have to be the Jama Masjid and the Lotus Temple simply for their openness and architecture. The Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in India and seems to be a small city in itself. The experience starts from a long strip in front where sellers hawk wares from toy dolls, lamps to clothing. It can be slow climbing up the wide staircase to the mosque as many people have planted themselves on the steps eating, talking or praying. The courtyard inside is wide and symmetrical with pleasing views of the parapets and shrine. Three large entrances open the mosque to visitors and provide an airy lived in feel. When I was there a huge flock of black birds circled the arches and minarets settling in the courtyard, lending magnificence to the whole scene. Be sure to climb the tower where you can get a bird's eye view of the domes and the city. While I was leaving an English tourist began to enter the mosque wearing shorts and a sports bra and the vendors began with cat calls that were shameless. Well, at the very least the Jama Masjid allows women to enter unlike some mosques in Kashmir.

A white obelisk sprouted in a green garden, the Lotus Temple has been designed and maintained with a professionalism and reverence to all faiths. But it is only when you approach closer does the remarkable flower design reveal itself. The external appearance is candy for the eyes, a mixture of cleanly sculpted white lines and a clear blue from the pools arranged around the temple. Inside, a service is held at scheduled times with soothing prayers and ambience. Many visitors miss the information center next door, but this is where knowledge about the Bahai faith, building projects and biopics of founding figures may be viewed.

Other than the numerous monuments, tombs and museums in Delhi you can hang around at hip areas like Hauz Kaus and Vasant Vihar. You can participate in a pale imitation of American life in the coffee shops, clubs and convenience stores. Overnight trains leave regularly for Varanasi, but be sure to check with the tourist office at the train station. Tickets have been reserved for foreign tourists and this can come in handy during the peak season or for last minute travels.

Sarnath is just a half hour rikshaw ride from Varanasi and is famous for being the place where the Buddha preached his first sermon of the middle way. The Damekh Stupa built by Asoka is in the middle of a beautiful park with archeological excavations all around.

In the state of Bihar and several hours train journey from Varanasi, Bodhgaya is where the Buddha gained enlightenment and contains numerous historical landmarks and monuments relating to the Buddha's life. In the Mahabhodhi temple, headstones mark places where the Buddha meditated. A sapling from the original Bodhi Tree, the actual spot where the Buddha gained enlightenment, grows under the temple. Gnarled and top heavy, the tree is only a subtle reminder of its inspirational role in history.

Bodhgaya is also home to monasteries from many countries of the world including Burma, Thailand, China and Japan. Many Japanese and Sri Lankan pilgrims wander the area and for the most part the area is clean and well maintained. You can visit the monasteries or simply stroll through the area observing people and international organizations involved in service activities.

After hearing and reading about Varanasi, I really wanted to visit this city. I was surprised that many travelers I met who loved Varanasi were foreign and female; two qualities Varanasi never seemed particularly favorable to. The Tourist office at the train station is a good place to get a map and recommendations for places to stay. They can also direct you to legitimate yoga, music and language instructors who are a dime a dozen in the city.

However, once you set foot outside the station the onslaught begins and will never let up. Rikshaw drivers will accost you left right and center even if you already have a driver, guest houses will rip you off, restaurants will serve openly adulterated food and the roads are some of the worst in India. Power outages last for nearly twelve hours of the day and there is no respite from the heat in summertime. Wander anywhere and sellers will try to talk to you in your local lingo. The more patient and polite your behavior, the harder they will pounce. Throw out all western manners of etiquette. The only place where I bought extensively from the local shops was in Varanasi, due to the persistent sales tactics.

In such an outwardly spiritual place, drawing thousands of pilgrims to the temples and ghats for prayer and purification, there is an animal nature to the lifestyle that makes the harassment seem highly impersonal. You either love it or hate it. The high crime rate makes it very unsafe for tourists traveling alone as witnessed in the newspapers and talk on the street.

The burning ghat has a certain underworld culture all to its own. Work is apportioned in a specific way to even the slightest aspects of the cremation process. Wander into the burning ghat and you will be accosted for a guide, donations to buy wood or simply for the opportunity to stand and watch. Meanwhile bereaved relatives wail at your feet.

Coming back home late at night is ill advised, as the rikshaw drivers will charge you triple and fight for it. One night it started to rain when I was returning from the internet café. The rikshaw driver took my hundred rupee note and did not give me my change. I began to argue with him while we stood in the rain, but he pretended not to understand and made motions to leave. I decided to hold on to him and luckily, a man from the silk shop where I had bought something was passing through. He rallied several people to “bully” the driver into returning my money.

On the other hand, the people and the police are not in denial about the high level of cheating going on in Varanasi. It was nice to see the open ambivalence that many have towards the city. A special brand of “tourist” police can be seen in places like the old city that watch out for the welfare of foreigners in particular.

The Benares Hindu University and the Krishnamurthi Foundation School are fantastic places to explore and soak in the knowledge. Benares Hindu University is one the largest universities in Asia and on any given day there are music concerts, conferences and student activities going on. I wandered into several classical music classes and appreciated the close proximity the students had to their gurus. The atmosphere in BHU is markedly more peaceful than the city, with progressive college students roaming around on bicycles through the foliage covered lanes and rikshaw drivers and sellers who actually keep their distance.

In Varanasi I began a routine of self improvement including yoga, Hindi lessons, home cooked meals and daily explorations into the outlying areas. I established a friendship with some of the locals. I began my day on the banks of the Ganges at Gai Ghat with my yoga instructor. Priests conducted morning chants and ablutions at the small shrines below, goats and monkeys wandered around us and huge trees bent low and rustled in the monsoon winds.

Basha Barathi offers Hindi and Sanskrit classes, and you can even stay at the school to absorb the language twenty four hours a day. But it is expensive, and I think they were charging a thousand dollars just for one month. Most people you meet will offer to teach you Hindi and this may be good for a few phrases or basic sentences. Luckily, I learned Hindi from the daughter of my yoga instructor and this proved to be convenient and fun.

I would have continued this routine for as long as I could if disaster did not strike. In quick succession I came down with typhoid, dengue fever and hepatitis. The viral diagnoses came much later. I remember having a high fever that rarely left, body pains, and jettisoning any food that I ate. This continued for almost a week before I realized that I was not getting better but worse. Varanasi is a miserable place to fall sick because medical facilities are just okay and transportation, standards of hygiene, and sincere help can be hard to find.

However, several diligent friends came to my aid as well as the guest house owner who called an experienced doctor. I was able to start the various tests and treatments for my recovery. Many tourists go to the BHU hospital when they are sick but for some reason the doctor assured me I could recover faster at home.

I would take my meals at the home of my yoga instructor, but after I fell ill the guest house owner arranged for food to be brought to me. I could barely keep anything down and the food containers would just sit there. I became thinner and weaker as the days passed. Even with the intravenous line to keep me nourished, I thought I was going to die in that fifty rupee a night guest house with the Ganges flowing outside my window.

Those few weeks in Varanasi where I was lying in my bed staring out my window, trying to sleep, and hoping for the pain to go away really drained me. I lost twenty pounds. The fever became so high and consistent at some point that I fell into a zombie state where I couldn't feel anything at all and began to appreciate the dissolved state of my senses.

The few times I managed to stumble outside to either to sip a bit of lemon tea or make a telephone call to my family, all passed in a haze. I wonder what kind of impression I cast when I walked outside. I was rail thin with a shaggy beard, dirty from not having bathed or washed my clothes for weeks and wearing a bloody bandage on my arm covering the intravenous plug. In most other cities I may have drawn a second look, but in Varanasi nobody even noticed. Walking beside me were purple painted pilgrims dressed like Siva, loin clothed sadhus carrying pots of Ganges water, bare chested foreigners dressed in rags and dread locks, pan wallahs with rotting teeth next to youthful yogis.

Negotiating the tangled lanes and corridors of Varanasi can sap all your energy. The walk from my guest house to the old city took upwards of an hour and a half even though the distance was less than a mile. You can hire a rickshaw but the roads are so potholed and broken that it will not save you much time. The narrow alleys are crowded with animals, sellers, bicycles, motorbikes and even the occasional rikshaw. Sweet and silk shops spread out their multicolored wares. Mothers bathe their children by the water pipes and herds of water buffalo push through at a steady pace. You find well groomed school children on their way to school mixed with emaciated priests who look like they are ready to keel over at any minute. The bells and drums from the cremations processes are never far away. It is always shock to be pushed to the side of the road by one of these brash parades. If you are in good health the experience can me mesmerizing at times.

Varanasi has some of the best pan and yoghurt in all of India and stopping for a thick cream lassi, freshly churned in front of your eyes, can be just one of the ways to make your journey more pleasurable. You can enjoy a decent array of food and numerous choices for the western palette in the old city. Near Assi Ghat, The Bread of Life Bakery makes excellent pastas, breakfasts and soups but you pay for the clean ambience. The Sona Rupa restaurant near Ghai Ghat is the only reasonably maintained restaurant in that area, but the food is fancy and not really recommended. The chai is good on the streets, made in those clay pots that you just smash to the floor when you are finished.

I suspect the reason for my illness was because I installed a water filter on the tap in my guest house, and started to fill my water bottles from there. I trusted this over the counter filter for screening out bacteria and contaminants but perhaps some managed to pass through. Throughout my stay in India I was feeling guilty for disposing of so many plastic drinking bottles. Also I never bothered to take the vaccinations against hepatitis and typhoid that may have helped, mostly because I never planned to travel for so long.

Monkeys regularly slept and crawled around my balcony. The mothers with their babies settled down on the walls, glancing around at the unrestricted view in all directions. I began to offer them bananas, apples and left over food. After I no longer had the strength to move outside, I appreciated the monkeys who began to look in through the window, placing their hands on the mesh and waiting for me to get well.

Some might call me foolish, but I never bathed in the Ganges. I would dip my feet up to the knees but that was all. Chemicals from washing, dead corpses and raw sewage are dumped into the river and a thick layer of white froth usually skirts the banks. The pollution levels in the river have been well documented, yet this was not the main reason I did not want to bathe.

Hundreds of thousands of people bathe in the contaminated waters of the Ganges everyday, including the locals who attribute the river to their good health. People believe that the Ganges can wash away all your sins and that dying in the eternal city is a direct ticket to moksha. Yet the river never called to me.

Varanasi is a magnet for people from all walks of life combined with families who have made it their home for hundreds of years. Progress and change exist everywhere but slowly fade into the background of reflections and echoes. As one the oldest cities in the world, layers from previous generations and territorial shifts offer the senses something new and puzzling at every turn.

After walking out of that city and boarding the train to Delhi, I spent many more months recovering. This travelogue is just an outline of some of the places I visited but perhaps it is better if you discover for yourself . . .