Thursday, November 8, 2012

India - Part 3

India Gate
India is a 3 part blog. Last week in - Part 2 - I spoke of food, shopping and the Golden Triangle and the week before in - Part 1 - I spoke about north vs south, climate, the people

Holy cows roaming the streets
One of the things I found quite a head twister was going into temples and seeing carvings and pictures of karma sutra activities around me. My Western upbringing doesn't allow me to think of sex and religious space mixing together. Yet, despite graphic images of people in flagrante delicto in holy places, Indians are surprisingly conservative. We had to cover our shoulders and heads when we entered a temple. Woman are advised to cover up when out and about anyway. And flashing the soles of the feet is offensive as is using the left had to point or touch anything. Apparently the left hand is used for toilet functions and is considered unclean. It's quite hard to remember to keep one's feet flat and the left hand inactive.

These Sikhs let me take a pic and then got really angry
We also visited Karni Mata Temple where the devotees worship rats. The temple was full of rats and they have free reign of the place. Read more here. Most temples require that you remove your shoes. I just couldn't do it. The thought of stepping in rat droppings and having rats all over my feet was not for me. Apparently the group saw an albino rat which is supposed to be highly auspicious so sadly I missed out.

Here's another thing I wasn't expecting. I knew cows were considered holy in India but I somehow thought they would be in sanctuaries. Not so. They roam the streets eating grass on the side of the road or rummaging through garbage piles all the while leaving cow dung behind. Often the cows were in ill health as were dogs that roam the streets.

Going for a camel ride in the Thar Desert
I thoroughly enjoyed a visit to a Jain temple. We had a platter of delicious vegetarian food prepared by their devotees. Jain people only eat during daylight. They wear white clothes that have not been stitched. I found the sheer amount of religions and practices in India mind boggling. As we went from temple to temple, we were

Locals come to chat and make friends
Porters with traditonal turba
allowed to partake in some of the ceremonies. Usually for a fee. In fact even taking photos of most places involved a fee. There was a camera tax at most entrances.

People hang around when you're taking photos and actually ask you to take a picture of them, then promptly demand money. My pics were photo bombed all the time.

And then there are those who absolutely do not want you taking their photo. I very nearly got lynched by two Sikh blokes who looked fabulous complete with fancy swords. I had no idea they would take exception to a photo. I was saved by the swift intervention of our tour guide.

Another highlight for me was sleeping in a tented camp in the Thar Desert. The owner of this place was quite charismatic and regaled us with tales of his visitors and famous friends. Our group took an obligatory camel ride out into the desert. The staff and owners at some of the places we stayed were so much fun. Indian people are warm, friendly, proud of their country and love to interact. Men shared stories and anecdotes while the ladies ensured we were well fed. Gender roles are traditional.

Covering our heads to go into Golden Temple
There is so much to do and see that a list of absolute must-sees is impossible. Ideally you want to see both north and south India to get a full idea of what India is like. Trying out curries and taking in temples or ashrams should be high on anyone's list as they are unique to India. Visiting the markets and taking a rickshaw ride there and back are also easily done and add authenticity to your trip. For more ideas check out - Lonely Planet Guide.

The educated people and those from higher castes all spoke perfect English. The poorer people and lower castes could not. The caste system although abolished is still heavily entrenched in the minds of people. You see untouchables living on the streets. I found it so hard that these people accept this as their lot and see death as the only way out. Read more - here

Tented accommodation in the Thar Desert
India is a riot to the senses. Whether it's the people themselves in bright twisted turbans and rich beaded saris, or their spicy foods and sticky sweets, loud bustling cities filled buskers and traders or hypnotic dancers and prayer rituals. You can't help but be mesmerised by such a deep culture that binds it's people together in layers of abject poverty and regal opulence.

Go to - My Holidays and Trips - at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on - this link.