Friday, October 28, 2011

Temples, and the important things in life

Leaving Puri we stopped at Konark temple which is a heritage site that honours the sun god. It is one of the important temples of India, built in an incredible style, made in the 12th century and built over 12 years. As we entered ,our guide pointed to the entrance statue depicting the lion crushing the elephant who in turn is stepping on man...a lesson in humility that we were finally able to understand after our guide repeated his explanation twice with us listening intently to him, pretending we understood. When he asked after the first time if we grasped the symbolism, we said we had not really understood his explanation but the image explained itself. Trying to understand the meaning of the many gods and their importance is hard enough in English but made harder with the explanations of guides who try very hard to speak a language that we can understand. By the end of the day and after about 6 temples, we were templed out....just wanting to relax and sip a glass of wine with our feet up...not an easy thing to do here in Hindu India.

Man needing to let go of some of his ego

The pleasures of the Kama Sutra

At Konark we learned that this magnificent temple has carvings all around it that praise the many facets of life: the cultural, religious, leisure and philosophical. We were amazed at the clarity of the carvings that survive to this day. And here we were told about the Kama Sutra in explicit terms. The beauty of this book whose purpose was to explain the pleaures of married life is incredible, as is the openness of the people of the time.

In Bhubaneswar(3 mil people) the roads were congested with cars, rickshaws, motocycles, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians with lots of honking and crazy driving. There are no sidewalks so walking is a feat  in itself. To get back to our hotel (budget as usual) we took our first tuk-tuk ride...also known as an autorickshaw. It was like an amusement park ride and we have learned that this is the best way to travel, and one of the most economical. It does take nerves of steel, and a good sense of humour ,as the motocycle that carries the rickshaw weaves in an out of traffic at an incredible pace.

Driving on the narrow roads here so far has been fun, but thank goodness we have a driver. They drive on the left and honk in order to pass or to warn approaching traffic in the curves. Women sit  riding side saddle, holding their babies in their arms...that they do not fall off is a miracle. Cars must stop for cows who wander everywhere even on main roads. Everything fascinates the first-time visitors that we are.

From Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa, we flew to Siliguri and then were driven up the steep maountain road to Darjeeling. It is a wonder that the people here make this drive to get takes about 3 hours over treacherous roads that have been washed away and rebuilt after the monsoons that come yearly. Scenery is beautiful, lush and colourful. The hairpin turns are the tightest you have have ever seen. Passing is out of the question so when two vehicles meet, one has to back up until there is a  wider section to allow a tight squeeze. But Darjeeling is everything we were looking for and more. Many Nepalese live here, brought to work in the teafields one hundred and fifty years age. They have settled here as have many Tibetans. There presence is felt everywhere. The people are gentle, friendly and speak quietly which is a delight.
Out of our room we see the Himalayas and wake to the sound of chants and gongs. A trip to the highest point here to see the sunrise today at 05:00 allowed great views of Mount Kanjungjonga. This mountain is considered holy by the Hindus. It seems that rising 03am is a popular activity which we experienced first hand as we were crushed by the throng of eager holiday-goers who all had the same idea and did not mind the early rise. Chai whallahs, coffee whallahs, souvenir hawkers and buddhist prayer flags flapping,in the cold morning air, all added to the scenery and the joyous cacophony  as we all watched the sun come from behind the clouds to the sound of cheering.
                                            View from our balcony at Seven Seventeen

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