Travel Guide For Life; M.A.C.

What I See From Mountain To Sea

My first overseas trip was so long ago that the airline does not exist anymore.

A few souvenirs from Kashmere, northwest India. I stayed on Spring Flower house boat on Dal Lake. The brochures were given to me by Kashmir Travel Agency.

Souvenirs from other places I stayed in hotter areas of India. Sri Nagar is much cooler than Mayapur or New Delhi.

I was about to lay myself down to sleep on the bank of the Ganga River, just north of Navadwip, Bengal. Soon after lying down on my back, wrapped in a mosquito net, two men came over to me and asked me if I was going to sleep there. "Yes", I said (they were speaking very good English) "I have been walking all day from Mayapur." They told me that I should not sleep there because there are many dangerous cobras. They invited me to eat and sleep at their house. They were father and son who owned a tea trading company. They were tea merchants and they hoped that I would make a contribution to their business. I did offer 50 rupees which is a small amount but they seemed happy to receive it.

We were still outside of the village and it took us about 20 minutes of walking along a foot path between the Ganga River and agricultural fields. We entered a yard where we all washed our hands then entered a room with very little furniture and mats covering a cement floor. We sat on the mats and talked with family members who were coming and going until, after a few moments, a good amount of food was brought to us. After all the platters of food were brought out, there formed a circle of 8 family members, all facing me. One of the cooks, probably the older man's wife, served me some dal, subji, and chapatis. They served me first and intently watched me eat. They fed me a lot of food but I was quite hungry so I did not take too long to finish eating which was their cue to start eating themselves. The food was excellent.  I loved the subji which was a curry dish with squash and potatoes. It was really delicious. There were no forks or spoons given so we ate with the chapatis like Mexicans eat with tortillas. 

As they were eating, I had tea and sweets set in front of me. The tea merchants then told me that they asked for the donation because all of the families and businesses were raising funds for the village temple. After I told them about my week stay at the ISKCON Vaisnava temple in Mayapur and how I had been walking along the Ganga River for a few days, they asked me about my present destination. I told them that I was on my way to Varanasi. The father told me that his son was going to Varanasi the next morning and that I should follow along with him. We would take the train and I would not have to pay for the ticket. Although I wanted to continue walking along the Ganga and I believe they arranged this train ride just so I would not keep walking further up the river, I did agree to accompany the son to Varanasi. After a couple of hours talking like this, they put me up in a room where I was alone on a wide cot with a mosquito net. I had a great sleep there. The cot was comfortable and the mosquito net had no holes in it so I had no trouble sleeping soundly. 

The next morning after breakfast,  I followed the son to the proper train station in Kolkata and he paid for both of our third class tickets to Varanasi. I never asked him if he really had business in Varanasi or was he just bringing me there safely. I just followed along with their plan. The train was comfortable although it was third class because my guide found us corner seats surrounded by very nice people including a tea merchant who kept giving us tea. I was wearing Vaisnava bramachari dhoti and kirta of saffron color so he thought I was a real monk. When I offered to pay for the tea he got very upset. My tea merchant guide told me to not worry about his angry reaction, and he took care of the situation for me. I will never forget that incident on the train to Varanasi. Although we were on the train for about 10 hours, I  did not see any more the man who I had upset so much.

 

"Hello. This is Michael Anthony Cicchi."

"Hello Mr. Cicchi, what can I do for you?"

"Yes, I purchased a ticket to fly from Denver, Colorado to Calcutta, India  on the 13th of March and I have not received the ticket yet although I made the purchase over a month ago."

"OK, give me a moment and I will find out what happened to your ticket. Do you have a booking number? Wait, your ticket is right here on my desk. I will send it to you right away. Is there any thing else I can do for you?"

"That is all I needed but someone told me that I will be accosted by many greedy, insistent touts and beggars who will make it more difficult to enjoy walking places. Will this be the case?"

"This is Kali Yuga and life is in a low quality condition through out the world. It may seem like it is worse in Baratam (India) but that is only because the population is immense there. You will never be alone there and I suggest that you stick to the ISKCON VAISNAVA temples. You can live in the temples and travel with the devotees. Since you will be arriving into Bengal during the festivities of Sri Chaitanyas' appearance day, you will easily find devotees with whom you can share a taxi from Howah Station to Mayapur."

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the first days I was traveling through India, it seemed to me that all business men were using falsehoods and exaggerations to make as much profit as possible. I even wrote that "Vedic civilization has come to an end. The vaisya (merchant class) often acts worse than the sudras (labor class)." In Kashmir (I visited Srinagar for 5 days), the search for money was pervasive but it is more patient because the merchant families will invite you into their home, feed you, befriend you, then wait one or two days before trying to sell you a rug or carpet. They would explain very clearly to you that they can ship anywhere in the world. 

It really was not as bad as that. Being in this country for the first time is occasionally conducive to culture shock. One cannot imagine how different India is from anywhere else except for India. I had not even been to any first world Asian country before (think Singapore or Brunei). When I first left the airport, walking from the airport to the streets, I was completely disoriented. I could not tell if it was dawn, dusk, or maybe even midday. There was an orange or beige dust in the air that seemed to reflect a sunlight that could have been intensifying or diminishing. I just stood there outside of the airport looking around at the dusty air and feeling the heaviness of the humidity. I continued to stand there until a Vaisnava bramachari, dressed in the signature saffron colored kirta and dhoti of the ISKCON devotee approached me. He asked me if I was going to Mayapur. I told him that I was going there. He then asked me if I would like to share the cost of a taxi there. The devotee negotiated a decent price for us to pay and I paid my half. I was fortunate enough to meet someone who had traveled extensively in this country. 

While we were in the taxi, it was hard to tell if it was fortunate to have gotten into the taxi with the devotee because it was one scary ride. It was as it we were running through a gauntlet of approximately 70 miles of pedestrians, bicyclists, donkey carts, goats, lone cows, noisy horn honking cars, and noisier horn honking trucks. We were rapidly passing through all these things which were all out in uncountable numbers while, at the same time, motorcycles were passing us and we were having to swerve out of the way of oncoming vehicles that were doing the same thing. 

If I was tired and sleepy from the overseas plane trip, there was still no way I was going to take a nap in this taxi. I intensely watched the road in front of us while looking around at everything and everyone we were dodging and passing with unnerving speed. Bengal is the fourth most populous state of India and this road between Calcutta and Mayapur made that quite evident. It started to get dark after we left Calcutta so it was dusk when I stepped out of the airport. Well,I would not have been able to do much sightseeing on the way to Mayapur anyway because the road itself and everything I saw on the road completely engaged my attention. 

Shoe store receipt from Varanasi, hotel receipt from Allahabad, bus receipt from New Delhi to Srinagar.

We arrived safely into the Navadwip-Mayapur area and the taxi pulled up to the entrance of the ISKCON property. I saw two large buildings that had already been completed and one more large building still under construction. The completed buildings were the temple (Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir) and one of the ashram/hotel buildings. The building under construction was another ashram/hotel building. When completed, one of the buildings will be specially used as an ashram for the devotees and the other will be for pilgrims. They were also building a samadhi here for Srila Prabhupad although there already was a very beautiful samadhi for him in Vrindavan. I think they were going to keep Srila Prabhupads' remains interred in Vrindavan and have some relics of his interred in the Mayapur samadhi. This will be one of the most recent temple complexes built in Mayapur among hundreds of more ancient temples, large and small, in the Navadwip area. 

Mayapur is located on a tributary of the Ganga River. It is in the region of Navadwip and the ISKCON temple here will be the headquarters of ISKCON. I came to visit here at this time because this is the birthplace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabu and his birthday, or appearance day, occurs this week when I arrived. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabu is considered to be an incarnation of Sri Krishna "in the mode of Radha" the number one gopi girl who Sri Krishna would secretly meet for His Rasa lila dancing. Of course, Sri Krishna met with at least 108 gopi girls but Radha is the main one. I believe she is actually an eternal consort of Sri Krishna. There is another beautiful white temple here that was commissioned to be built by Bhaktivinode Thakur in 1886. He was the leading Gaudiya Math Vaisnava who was in the same sisila (disclipic succession) that A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupad was in. The temple that he had built is located at Ballaldighi, Navadwip, within walking distance to the northeast of ISKCON. Oh, and there are 2 locations here that hold claim as being the birth place of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabu. One is in the town of Navadwip and the other is on the Mayapur side of the river. I consider the Mayapur location as authentic but that is not based on research, it is just a matter of who you believe. 

This catur I bought is Kashmiri but I bought it at the Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan. I continue to order the scented oils from the same temple till  this day. They have an online store called The Krishna Store and it is very easy to navigate the website and order products that are quickly sent and received. 

I decided not to rent a room or stay in the ashram the first nights. The weather was lovely and obviously would remain warm for a few nights. So I scouted out the grounds and found a corner in a verdant garden. I had an overcoat with me. This overcoat was a little worn out with a hole in one pocket which is the reason I brought it with me. I thought that it would be a good portable ground covering to protect myself from soil whenever I slept outside. It was now time to put it to use. I did not have any suitcases with me to worry about. I had only an old duffel bag with daily essentials in it. I was finally able to lie down once I had found my corner and I fell asleep quickly and soundly. After I woke up the next morning, I had to find out where to take a shower, shave, and meet Annutama Das. Annutama Das was the president of the Denver ISKCON TEMPLE and the one who told me how to contact the devotees who ran the travel agency through which I booked and purchased my tickets for India. After I showered and shaved, I did find Annutama Das sitting on the marble floor, next to a column, in the temples' main altar room. I sat down next to Annutama Das and we first talked about my arrival. He gave me information about where I could get my hair cut and obtain everything I needed to have the traditional Bramacharya sika and attire. The sika is the crop of hair on the back of an otherwise shaven head. To get the haircut, I had to walk to the back side of one of the ashram buildings to find a lone barber who was shaving the heads and faces of a few men who sat in the one chair he had placed there. When it was my turn, I sat in that one chair that was probably a dining room table chair, and he shaved my head and left a very nice sika in the back. After he finished, I paid him a couple of rupees and returned to the main temple room to wait for the next arati which is the altar worship that is performed by a pujari or two. Radha and Krishna as Radha-Madhava are installed on the altar as well as the Pancha-Tattva which are the five divine persons of Lord Chaitanya, Sri Nityananda, Sri Advaita Acharya, Sri Gadadhara Pandit, and Srivasa Pandit. The proper name of this temple is "Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir". Prasadam is the food that is blessed by its having been offered to the dieties on the altar during arati service. At this temple, and a couple of other temples I visited in Vrindavan, anybody can receive a laddu dessert from the Pujaris after the arati by following the line of people up to the altar and by holding our right hand up so the pujari can drop the laddu into the palm of our hand while we pass. Prasadam is also sold to anyone who wants to buy some from numerous stalls on the property.

It is also possible to see children going  to school here because there is a Bhaktivedanta Academy on the property to educate the children of the devotees who are living at the temple. Children from the surrounding communities also attend. The devotee families who live or visit here are also fed Prasadam at no charge as are their living quarters. They are all provided for in return for some kind of service that benefits the temple complex and community. The fact that there is a Pushpa Samadhi here surprised me because I knew about the Samadhi in the Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan. If they cremated Srila Prabhupads' body then maybe they intend to keep half of the ashes at the Vrindavan Samadhi and the other half of the ashes in the Mayapur Samadhi. There is a large memorial shrine for Srila Prabhupad that is being built and it will be one of the largest of its kind in the country. There will also be many more garden areas on the property besides the one where I was sleeping. I decided to not try and find a room because the hotel portion of the complex was very busy and I slept very soundly the first night and I would be here only one or two nights more. My corner of the garden was nicely secluded by bushes and trees so it was easy for me to get by with sleeping outside there.

I did not explore any other areas of Navadwip or Mayapur. I used these 3 days here to relax, explore the temple grounds, attend the arati services for Srila Prabhupad, and for Radha-Madhava. I ate mostly just the freely distributed temple Prasadam after the arati services although I would occasionally go to one of the snack stalls for a limeade or lassi. After these 3 days at the Mayapur ISKCON temple, I grabbed my duffel bag from the place where I had stashed it and then walked over to the Ganga River. There are some nice foot paths all along the river so I started following the path towards the north west, where Varanasi is located. I decided to spend a week or two walking along the Ganga River. I would have walked all the way to Varanasi (also known as Benares) but that would have taken too much time out of the 3 months I was spending in the country. 

A photo of a mantle or traveling altarpiece. The center shows the Panch-Tattva. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabu is in the center of the panch-Tattva. Srila Prabhupad is at the lower left corner position. His spiritual master is at his right side. To the right of Srila Prabhupads' spiritual master is HIS spiritual master and so on... This is the sisila parampara of the spiritual masters that descends from Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabu to Srila Prabhupad.

At the temple in Mayapur,  I was given a pamphlet about the proper way to eat. There is a common saying among the yogi communities of India that  states; "A yogi drinks a cup of water before eating, a man of passion drinks during the meal, and the man of ignorance drinks after the meal" (thus putting out the fire). The pamphlet stated that we should fill our stomachs as far as three quarters of the way full by eating Prasadam (eating only the food that is blessed on the altar by offering it first to the dieties.) The fourth quarter of the stomach would be left empty and no water would be consumed until after the digestion of the food was well underway. I followed the pronouncements of the pamphlet but I was eating very little during the three days I stayed in Mayapur. 

Before I started walking up the Ganga River towards Varanasi, I went to the temple shop and bought a catur (or dupatta) to wear at night when it might get chilly. A catur is like a cross between a scarf and a blanket woven with multifarious colors and motifs. The catur I bought was Kashmiri and woven with thick brown and tan wool. I also bought a couple large jars of honey so I could have some natural sweet to keep up my energy for the long walk. I never felt ill in any way during my stay in Mayapur nor at any time during my walk along the Ganga River. I did not have anything else to eat during the walk besides the honey I  had just bought and some nuts that I carried from home and still had not eaten. During the 3 months that I traveled around India, the only times I felt ill enough to vomit was when I over ate and drank in Vrindavan. One time I vomited on the roof of the Krishna Balaram Mandir because I was suffering from a very full stomach and also feeling the oppressive heat of the sun. During my walk along the Ganga River, I always felt like I was in optimal health and strength every day until my walk ended at the house of the tea merchant. 

I was probably walking too fast at times. I remember when a young man walked up to me and started to walk along side of me. No speaking or any kind of  communication was exchanged between us. He just  started  walking with me. He was wearing sandals and at one point he stubbed his foot on some kind of prickly plant which caused him pain and he started to limp but he continued to walk with me. In retrospect, I am sorry that I continued to walk at the same fast pace. I should have slowed down for his convenience or I should have stopped so he could tend to his foot but I did not do either. Eventually, he veered off into another direction and I continued along the Ganga. My feelings at the time were that he interrupted my solitary quest and he should not have been there but now I feel that this was wrong and should have helped him. 

Farmers plowing with oxen and people walking with cows or goats were always and everywhere to be seen. One group of men told me to sit with them for talking. They were sitting under a large lean-to. They spoke very little English but we were able to understand enough of each other for a short, simple conversation. Besides asking me the usual questions about where I was walking from and where I was walking to, they also asked me if I was a monk and if I was able to be with girls or not. They told me that they could bring me into the village and I could find a girl there if I want one. I told them that I was a Vaishnava Brahmachari monk on a pilgrimage so I could not go into the village with them. Once they knew the long distance that I was walking, they told me that I would have to cross to the south side of the river because the walking path on that side of the river is more conductive to long distance walking. The 4 or 5 men there were laborers who were just relaxing in the shade of the lean-to so they were happy to lead me to the location where I could board a small ferry to the other side of the river. I did not have to pay the ferry man so I do not know if they paid the fare or if they just talked to the ferry man and had the agreement that I could cross for free because I was a monk.

On the other side of the river, the path was a very good path and I soon entered a forest. The path was much used at this point. I saw a constant flow of people walking in both directions and coming from within the forest walking toward the path I was on. I had the idea that many were returning home from a day of labor. I came upon a stream that I would have to walk across. There were a few cow hearders at the stream where the path crossed it. They had a few cows with them which is why I figured them to be cowherd boys (just like Sri Govinda). I stood and watched them for about 10 minutes. Then they began to move on, and  I continued along the path, and we passed each other with out any words spoken to each other. It was only an hour longer before the forest thinned out and I came upon a small village where the grass grew tall along the Ganga River. I decided that this would be a good place to sleep so I laid down my make-shift bed and laid down until I was about to sleep. Much to my dismay, a dog started to bark and it would not stop barking. I was just lying there hoping that the darn dog would stop barking but it knew I was there and it made sure that its people also knew I was there. Soon, a couple of children approached me and gave me a sign that told me to follow them. At the home they led me to was one person who could speak some English. I figured him to be the householder and father of the children. He told me that it is not a good place to sleep along the river because there are many cobras. It would be safer for me to sleep on their patio. This was actually a raised platform of cement that was surely used for reclining on mats or for eating outside of the house. A lady who was probably the wife of the man who could speak some English was cleaning the platform with the mixture that infamously includes cow dung. She then set down a long, wide mat by unrolling it, placing a pillow at the head of the mat, and then she motioned me to lay down there.

The next morning, I tried to leave some change under the pillow as I got ready to leave the house. I wanted to slip away from the house so I would not create any inconvenience for the family. Before I could get away though, the lady of the house told her children to show me to the river's edge where I could take a bath. After taking a bath, I began to walk up the path away from the house. I did not get very far before the children ran up to me because they wanted to bring me the change that I had left under the pillow. They tried to hand it to me but I motioned to them that they should keep the change. They would not accept it. I had to take back the money and then I gave them a sign of thanks and blessing. I told them "Hari Krishna, Hari Boh!" and waved goodbye. We separated at that time and I was on my way up the river. 

I spent the next 3 days in this way, walking along the river, meeting different men who wanted to walk with me, either in silence or with conversation. I would lay down next to the river with dogs barking at my presence and people would invite me to sleep on their patios. 

One day I was walking between fields of crops on one of those raised paths that seem to always exist between two fields. The field on my left was being watered with large jets of water being sprayed by sprinklers. I stopped at one of the sprinklers to wash the sweat off of my face and neck. A man started to yell at me from the opposite side of that field. I ignored him because I figured that he thought I was going to drink water and the water is not potable water. He kept yelling at me as I washed the sweat off. A man who was walking up the path and who could speak English told me what the man was yelling. I told this man that I thought as much but I was just washing the sweat from the hot sun off of my face and neck. This man yelled out to the man who was yelling at me and I assumed that he told him that I was not drinking the water. I stood up and waved at the man on the other side of the field which was about three to four acres square. I continued to walk along the path and the man who could speak English walked with me explaining about the water.  After he finished asking me the usual questions about my life and about my presence on this path, I told him that I was interested in buying a new pair of sandals. He told me that he would lead me to a shop where I could buy a good pair. It did not take long, maybe 30-40 minutes to arrive into the next village. He helped me overcome  the language barrier to make the purchase that I wanted. We then walked together to the next major intersection (2 county or provincial routes) where we parted ways. I continued walking north towards Varanasi. 

At times, I would arrive at intersections where food or drink stalls are located. There would often be benches at these stalls so I could stop, buy a snack or drink, and sit to relax on a bench. I would eat snacks at such street stalls with no concern about illness or indigestion. Fruit juices would be made to order, peeled then juiced, so I never had any concern for my stomach. I especially loved watching the sugar cane juice being made because the long sugar canes would be placed between 2 rollers and fed through them resulting in a wonderfully sweet sugar cane juice that is perfectly natural. This reminded me of my grandmother Cicchi in Hibbing Minnesota when she washed clothes in her basement. She used a manually operated washing machine that was a metal tub with rollers above the tub. She would crank the washed clothes through the 2 rollers, the water falling back into the tub, and the clothes hung up on a cloths line after being run through the rollers. 😄😄. Anyway, here on the rural roads of India, I was waiting for sugar cane juice, not clean clothes. I would also pass by public wells that had hand pumps that bring water up from the ground. Many of the pumps were right on the side of the roads and some were faucets sticking out of the walls of buildings. The villagers arrive at the wells with one or two buckets. I never stopped at the wells I saw on the side of the roads. I never took any chances with the rural well water even though I saw children drinking water directly from such wells. They would be accustomed to it, I was not. The women and children would fill up their buckets and bring them to their homes. It is probable that the families had to boil the water before drinking it. They certainly cook with the water. I never took a chance drinking the water from the roadside pumps but I certainly did eat food cooked with it. 

          

                IN VARANASI 

In Varanasi, I walked around until I found a nice looking hotel with about 20 rooms. It was clean, with a white exterior and a few trees on the small property where it was located. The neighborhood was quiet with wide, clean, suburban streets that were not heavily used by commercial traffic. This neighborhood was almost completely residential. I knew this would be a good place to stay so I booked a room for a couple of nights. I planned to stay in Varanasi for only a short time because I had Vrindavan and Mathura in sight. In Varanasi, I mostly visited the Ganga River where so many bathing ghats exist. I was extremely entertained by watching the activities at the bathing ghats. I sat one morning and afternoon watching the treatment of bodies on the funeral pyres at Manikarnika Ghat. I watched as one body after another were placed on a pyre so prayer mantras could be chanted while the bodies were prepared to be cremated. I sat and watched as the pyres were set on fire then pushed off to float down river. I also sat at neighboring ghats like Jalasen Ghat to watch the ritual bathing and chanting that could be clearly heard from the top steps of the ghats. There is a lot of room for sitting because the steps are quite long, extending along the whole length of the ghats and there are often around ten steps. Besides visiting the ghats and the great temples that stand along the Ganga River, I spent a lot of time walking through the streets of Varanasi. During one walk, I was passing a narrow street with very tall buildings of apartments on both sides of it. All of a sudden, a great splash of water fell upon the street. Only a small amount of the water reached my legs. I looked up at the upper levels of the building I had just passed and there was a lady wearing a sari looking out of the window while holding a bucket. I glanced at her and continued on my walk. 

During another walk, between the ghats along the river and the temples that number in the thousands, I saw a monk in a red robe sitting at the doorway of a temple entrance. As I was walking by, he beckoned for me to join him but I just smiled and continued walking. I thought maybe he would just ask me for a donation after telling me about his life in the temple. That was my suspicion so I kept walking. I eventually found that most people who approached me to converse with me actually just wanted to met me. I have a careful and suspicious mind and it takes some time for me to open up to others but I do. 

Old Varanasi is a true maze of narrow streets and alleys. Many alleys are wide enough for only pedestrians and bicycles. Even so, there are food carts, flower carts, and small shops where colorful products like textiles, jewelry, and desserts are sold. There often are annoying obstacles that one must squeeze around like water puddles and cows. I saw many white cows with humps on the streets of India cities but I remember a big black cow or bull in one of those narrow alleys of Varanasi. When I first saw the big animal I had the impression that it was a bull because of its horns. I especially remember its large size because I had to stand next to the building on my left side and wait for the animal to meander past. That shows just how narrow many of the alleys are. I rather preferred walking through the narrow alleys because they were much quieter than the larger, overly crowded and extremely chaotic, noisy streets that have so much traffic that one can get headaches from the exhaust and extremely loud horns. On the larger streets, I constantly heard the extremely loud horns being used, often, for no apparent reason. There are temples everywhere in the vicinity of the river. Large, medium, and small temples everywhere you turn. The shrines are innumerable. They are on so many street corners that they were always catching my attention. 

The Ganga River is beautiful and wide with people bathing or washing utensils and clothes at every streach. There are rowboats tied to stakes all along the river and people rowing boats everywhere. Devotional music can be heard along with the chanting that comes from the innumerable temples that I was walking past. Music is often heard from loud speakers. Flower pedals of many colors, mostly red, orange, and yellow pedals, are strewn on the roads and steps of the ghats. Chopping sounds are often heard which many times proved to be coconuts being opened or children playing games. Chousatti Ghat - men washing in the river completely covered in soap, Darbha Ghat - a boat with at least 20 people in it, dogs eating scraps of food from the sidewalks and roads. The dogs usually looked sickly and scared. Cows and water buffalos are also quite common and some people will feed them fruits and vegetables. I often saw people throwing food scraps on the street and cows would meander over and eat them. Tables with fresh cut watermelon and tiny fruit flies hovering above them were very common. The colors of India are incredible. Colors of the temple architecture, colors of the flowers, fruits, and vegetables, colors of the desserts, colors of the shrines with flower wreaths hanging on them, and the colors of the saris that the women are wearing overwhelmed my senses. India is a feast for the senses; the sights, sounds, aromas can be overpowering at times so I did tend to walk through the more narrow alleys. I just had to make sure I did not get lost and I had to watch out for buckets of water falling from upper level windows above the roadways. I did get lost a few times in the cities of India but I stayed dry. 😀

After a few days in Varanasi, I wanted to travel to Madura and Vrindavan. To do that, I had to take a train or bus to New Delhi. I decided to take the bus because I wanted to go to a pilgrimage site in Allahabad which is about one third of the way to New Delhi from Varanasi. This site is the location where the Yamuna and Ganga Rivers meet. There is the belief that the invisible Saraswati River also meets the Yamuna and Ganga Rivers at this place. The massive Allahabad Fort looks down at this location from the banks of the river. I had to find the bus to Prayagraj, the official name of Allahabad. The bus ride was only about four hours because Allahabad is only around 80 miles from Varanasi. The pilgrimage site is called the Triveni Sangam because this location represents the confluence of three of the most sacred rivers in the country. The Saraswati River is mentioned in the Vedic scriptures but scholars can make only conjectures as to where the river actually flowed as it does not flow anymore, unless the belief that it flows invisibly underground is true. 

The Rigveda especially praises the Saraswati River as the most important purifying river which represents the Goddess Saraswati who is a goddess of knowledge, music, and fertility. She is often depicted playing a Veena instrument or holding a pen and book. The Ganga River is also a personification of a goddess. In this case, the goddess Ganga. Physically, the river is much polluted. Spirituality, the Ganga River is incorruptible and pilgrims go to the river to bath and pray in its water to demolish all their past sins. Here, in Allahabad, I paid a small amount to be brought out, in a rowboat, to the middle of the Triveni Sangam where I could relax, drink a coconut milk from a fresh coconut, and dip my japa beads in the water. I also bathed my head in the water of the legendary three sacred rivers. I had also bathed several times in the river during my walk along its banks and I never got ill as a result. 

The Yamuna River is the largest tributary river of the Ganga. This river represents the goddess Yamuna or Yami, who is the sister of the god of death, Yama, and the daughter of Surya. Vrindavan and Matura are located on this river, just north of Allahabad so it is very important in the stories of Sri Krishna (as Sri Govinda) and the gopi girls. In Agra, the Taj Mahal is located on the banks of the Yamuna River and that was my next destination after Allahabad. It is very nice in Allahabad. There were not a lot of boats at the Triveni Sangam when I was there. There were only two or three other rowboats while I spent approximately one hour there. My japa beads (108 stringed wood beads that are used by monks for their chanting each day) hopefully received some blessings from having been dipped into the waters of the Triveni Sangam.😃

The Allahabad Fort was majestically standing on the river bank near us. It was built around 1600 by the order of Mughal Emperor Akbar. The original name of the fort was Illahabas Fort which means the fort blessed by god. There is an annual pilgrimage that takes place here as well as a famous and massive Kumbh Mela that is attended by millions of pilgrims. I was happy to be here not at those times! 🙂 I enjoyed being there myself in a boat away from crowds. I stayed in the area of the fort until after sunset and then made my way back to the hotel because I wanted to travel to Agra early in the morning. Anand Bhawan is also in Allahabad. This is the estate of the Nehru Family (from which Jawaharlal Nehru descended) and it is now a museum. I did not visit this museum on this trip because this was still a pilgrimage for me.

Agra

The bus ride from Allahabad took about eight hours to arrive at the ISBT Agra bus depot which is on Bhagwan Talkies Road, located about nine miles west of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was the reason I wanted to visit Agra. I had no cameras for taking photos of the places I visited on this journey. Therefore, I have no photos of my visit to this gorgeous location. I have only what I remember in my mind. I remember being afraid to walk all the way up the walkways on both sides of the long reflecting pool leading towards the monument. There were touts and venders of postcards and trinkets standing on the walkways between the main road and the Taj Mahal. They were young boys standing in various places looking directly at ME! I looked at the beautiful Taj Mahal then I looked at the boy who was closest to me then I walked towards the left of the walkway into the Taj Mahal gardens. I sat on a bench in the gardens. I relaxed on the bench after walking through the gardens. I wanted to sit on the grass to have a picnic but there were no other personages on the grass. That told me that the grass may not be used as a picnic area. Eating snacks at the bench proved to be quite relaxing with one of the most magnificent and recognizable landmarks in the world looking down on me. I was sitting just beyond the Forecourt and the Great Gate. The predominant image that remains in my mind is eating the snacks while admiring the iconic architecture and idyllic landscaping surrounding me.