A rough start to a vacation

Leaving work to catch our flight to Sri Lanka, we got caught in a massive traffic jam. What should be a 34 minute trip to the airport took over three hours. There’s nothing quite like the sinking feeling of knowing your flight is boarding and you’re trapped only a few miles from the airport.

We ended up waiting at the airport for seven hours for the next flight because we didn’t want to risk going home and getting stuck in traffic again.

The only amusing element was this billboard. I had plenty of time to get a photo since we weren’t moving anywhere.

Wrestler in Varanasi

We wandered to the wrestling training ground, but arrived after practice had ended. One very friendly wrestler didn’t want us to walk away disappointed, so he showed off some of the training that they do.

I was impressed by the ease with which he controlled the giant cement weight at the end of the wooden pole, or the giant heavy wooden pins that he swung around.

It seemed that every exercise worked on not only brute strength, but also flexibility, and strength at the extreme ends of flexibility.

Traditional Indian wrestling, or kushti, is staying alive in places like Varanasi, although I’m not sure it has the following that it used to.

A Sadhu in Varanasi

Sadhu in Varanasi

A Sadhu is a hindu spiritual man who has given up all possessions and renounced the pleasures of life. In many cases, all the pleasures except for smoking ganja, but that’s about being on a higher plane, not pleasure, right?

Morning on the Ganges River

People come from across India to touch the water of the Ganges River at Varanasi, a ritual said to wash away 10 lifetimes of sin.

For many others the Ganges serves practical needs, like a place to do the laundry of the city’s many hotels.

By late morning, the worshiping crowds subside as they escape the heat. Men, as they’re known to do around the world gather to gamble with whatever cash they might have made during the morning’s endeavours.

At a nearby temple, the hair of a little girl is shaved while she chews on a 20 rupee note.

Morning offerings in Varanasi

The day in Varanasi starts, as it ended the evening before, with rituals performed as the sun rises over the Ganges.

Evening offerings in Varanasi

Varanasi is the spiritual capital of Hinduism. On certain evenings, crowds gather as the sun sets to join priests in performing an offering ceremony.

Before the ceremony begins, the priests assist families in making offerings at the water’s edge.

Meanwhile, helpful touts guide visitors to the assembled flotilla of boats that expand the seating and give people a front-row seat.

The ceremony, or Aarti, involves the waving of lighted flames, incense, and flowers before the deities in a spirit of humility and gratitude. The steps leading to the Ganges River bring followers a step closer to the gods.

In a stark contrast to the spirit of peace, I enjoyed watching this woman play a first-person shooter on her mobile phone crouched on the steps as the ceremony was performed.

Getting the news

Men were standing around reading the newspapers laid out by the vendor on the side of a busy roundabout in Varanasi. I’m not sure what the rules for payment are if you only read but don’t take the paper.

Dhamekh Stupa in Sarnath

Dhamekh Stupa marks the place where Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. While nearby Varanasi is flooded with Hindu tourists, mostly from within India, Sarnath receives a smaller but steady flow of pilgrims from around the rest of Asia.

Some walk around the stupa, while other groups pray in the shadow of the large unfinished brick monolith.

Mumbai’s auto recyclers

The street behind Chor Bazaar is one of many locations in Mumbai where automobiles are stripped for recycling. The process is both labour intensive and fast at the same time.

Every component of the car is simply chiseled away. The cutting is done so that all the metal comes off flat instead of curved.

Different sections are dragged to different stores, each specializing in rebuilding and retailing different components.

The steel components that can’t be reused are then loaded onto a truck to be taken for recycling.

What I didn’t see being recycled were all the plastic components that make up more and more of automobiles. I have no idea whether they’re recycled, or how it’s done.

Portraits from Chor Bazaar

Chor Bazaar is an old market in Mumbai where you can go to buy any form of recycled item, from refurbished electric motors to antique furniture.

These two men were repairing and reselling clothing. I was intrigued by the process for bleaching or dying a pair of pants. The water was brought to a boil, some powder added that turned the liquid a bright turquoise, and then the pants swirled around until they arrived at a light tan colour. I couldn’t figure out if the plan was to dye them a new colour.

Given that there are a billion mobile phones in India, the communal phone is a rare sight in Mumbai.

The Tough Guy

I was hugging a traffic pole in the middle of an intersection trying not to get run over while taking photos of the passing motorcycles when this guy came up and asked me to take his photo. He smiled, then put up his fists. His job is to carry things, sometimes helping another man who owns a cart, sometimes just hauling goods in and out of Chor Bazaar.

Lohagad Fort

I don’t understand the geology, but many hills outside of Mumbai are topped by tall vertical faces. These natural barriers made them ideal locations for forts and palaces for local rulers.

Lohagad Fort dates back centuries. It’s main gates are a twisting and turning layered fortress that must have been incredibly easy to defend. Legend has it that it served as a treasury in the 1600’s.

The gates now serve as a backdrop for photos.

The use of the fort must have extended into the not so distant past based on the British cannons that have been assembled together.

Kathak Meets Tap

One of the best dance performances I’ve seen in a long time was a show called “Rhythm Rewritten – Kathak Meets Tap.” Tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith collaborated with Seema Mehta, who performs a traditional Indian form of dance called Kathak. The two improvised with three very well known Indian musicians: Sabir Khan on tabla, Debashis Sarkar on vocals, and Jayanta Banerjee on sitar.

I snuck a photo during the opening moment.

Here’s a clip. I jumped to my feet cheering at the end, joining the crowd calling for an encore.

Haji Ali Mosque, Mumbai

We ventured out on a Saturday morning for a tour of the Haji Ali Mosque which sits out in the bay just off the coast of Mumbai. It’s a popular destination for sightseeing, and seemingly more popular for selfies on the rocks behind the mosque.

The buildings are under reconstruction. The manager was proud to point out that it’s being rebuilt with second grade marble, which is much better than the Taj Mahal, which was built with third grade marble.

It was a hot, hazy day looking back toward Mumbai. The guy standing on the rocks was hand-casting a fishing line into the bay. I’m not sure what he was using for bait, but he didn’t seem to be catching anything.