Tuesday, 16 February 2016


Rishikesh is a magnet for spiritual seekers, mainly Hindus. Today it styles itself as the "Yoga Capital of the World". The Ganges is fast flowing at this point, with two foot bridges to cross by. Forested hills surround the town, with a raw wind blowing down through the valley. Pilgrims and tourists mix easily. Orange clothing is the most predominant colour, being worn by sadhus, holy men and con artists. A regular here for over 30 years told me that about 1 in a 100 is genuine. Beggars obtain money from the pilgrims. Westerners have a choice of over 30 styles of yoga, teacher training and practice, including Hasya Yoga (laughing yoga), crystal healing, humming and many other new age things. The town has grown significantly since my last visit on that memorable day, "9/11". White water rafting, hiking and the gateway to treks in the Himalayas are now just someof the further attractions. Ashrams, restaurants, religious items and warm woollen clothes, made mainly by Nepalese, crowd the traffic free street to other temples. A procession of people pass by all day. I enjoy just sitting at a cafe, with a masala tea, people watching. There are so many slim, fit looking women striding to and fro to their yoga, with a sticky mat under their arm, dressed in baggy colourful clothes, a shawl over their shoulder and maybe some beads too. It is a place of smiles and "namaste" greetings. Most visitors buy a shawl to keep warm in the chilly evenings, the sun at altitude during the day is most penetrating. Thick hand knitted beanies and socks in yak wool, which help to maintain body temperature at sunset. Temples and ghats are where you see religion in operation. Colourful ganga aarti, the floating of little lights twinkling on the river at night. Here I had the most comfortable bed that I have slept in during my 3+ months in India.

A display of  Madhubani Art originals, which often use eye catching geometrical patterns, and  religious symbolism. Natural dyes and pigments are used, twigs, fingers, matchsticks are used to apply the paints. In 1934 a British colonial official "discovered" some paintings on mud walls after an earthquake. In fact the art form had been lay in the hands and skills of poor villagers for over 1,000 years. This art enthusiast recognised their similarity to the works of Picasso and Jean Miro. Traditionaly they are done by poor women in Bihar State and Nepal. I bought two. One of the reasons I visit India so frequently is its arts and crafts, which are so different to the highly "monetized" western art.

A line of beggars who obtain a living from pilgrims

One of the two footbridges over the Ganges

Beads for tourists

Some of the yoga trainings on offer at justone school

Street of shops, cafes, pilgrims and travellers

A "sizzler" of steamed and roast vegetables, £1.50!

Moneys look cute, but they are a pest at all religious places, snatching food and bags. I met a person who had their phone taken, but managed to recover it. No solar panels as they break them. They raid unexpectedly when relaxing on a roof top.

I cannot ignore a bookshop

A view across the footbridge to two temples.

Riverside buildings

A peaceful ashram courtyard

Monday, 15 February 2016


This is one of the most colourful, unrelenting and unapologetic religious spots on earth. Dating from about 1,200 BC. A place of pilgrimage and of dying for Hindus. They come to the ghats that line the sacred river Ganges they com to have their remains consumed by fire, thus enabling reincarnation for them, to do puja (pray) and wash in the sacred waters. this is a particularly auspicious place to die. The belief is that dying here offers the chance to avoid the cycle of birth and rebirth. A magical place, but not for the faint hearted. A series of narrow traffic free alleyways parallel the river (called galis). Disorienting, but the small, popular hostels, home stays, small shops and cafes line the busy narrow alleyways in this area. All day there are long lines of  devotees proceed along the dressed in finery and bare footed, moving along in single file along to the various temples temples and shrines. They carry offerings of flowers and other devotional objects. Old, young, lame; the procession is ceaseless. I have no religious attachment, but was stunned at the open demonstration of their beliefs. On the steps leading down to the river yogis, fakirs and beggars hang out. At some of the ghats burning of the bodies of recently deceased takes place.It is not a time of sorrow! We are strictly advised not to take pictures of bodies being consume by fire. I could not resist making an image to try to capture the scene, but not the detail. Many small rowing boats line the banks of the river to take visitors for a view of the scene. I particularly liked dawn, with the mellow light shimmering across the river, birds and fishing boats so peaceful. Men and women perform the ritual of ganga puja (water prayer), floating little boats with light onto the water at dusk.). Washing in the sacred water and offering up prayers as they do so. Over 40 years ago I first experienced a river view of the scene and it has stayed with me ever since. see  "India - Varanasi City of Gods - Special Edition" in YouTube for a better idea.

It has been difficult to make choices of images for the post, so I have uploaded a huge amount to try to illustrate the place.

A porter carrying my stuff to my home stay

The Brown Bread Bakery roof top cafe. The best place to meet and chat with other travellers

Display of beads and brass work

Food for sale by a posing holy man

The ghats

Genuine holy man

I had a lovely conversation with this man

Boats moored at the side of the ghats

Confused holy man

Varanisi is the world centre for the manufacture of chillum pipes, used to smoke hashish and other substances. It is easy to see a heavy user, they have really red eyes.

A sitar and tabla accompaniment to the evening meal

Flavoured lassi, a drink made from yogurt, or buttermilk and beaten to a froth

Lassi ready to consume. Delicious!

A burning ghat prior to a cremation. Mango and neem wood are used for poorer people, the very wealthy use sandal wood!

A scene at a cremation

Wood piles ready for cremations. A precise amount is used to completely consume the body, conducted by experts

A hindu version of happy clappy which I joined in on

Flower display for a votive offering

Dawn at the ghats

My boatman ready to take me for a paddle around at dawn

Boats moored at dawn

Early morning view of a ghat

Dawn time looking towards a ghat, of which there is a miles length

Morning wash and puja in the Ganges

A ghat

View of ghats

Dawn over the Ganges

Dawn time on the Ganges at Varanasi

The peace of dawn 

Birds swirling, swimming and swooping

A lone fisherman at dawn

Remains from a cremation


Flowers for offerings

A flower offering

Colourfully dressed ladies on a ghat

Looking upriver

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Palolem Beach. Yoga class and Indian Cookery Lessons, Cafe Life

The 1km long beach at Palolem is regarded as the best beach in India. It is curved and takes over 20 minutes to walk the length in one direction. I picked up a lovely golden tan without sweaty sunbathing, by just walking in both directions every day. Breeze on my back, or face. The shallow slope of the beach, with the sound of surf in one ear and the swaying palm trees on the other. Firm sand is not so hot to walk upon, the sea edge being the best. Children playing in the water, or building sandcastles. This beach is also a place that the hippies discovered years ago. Fortunately local legislation forbids the building of  modern buildings. Huts and home stays are the favourites for accommodation.

As I was staying in such a relaxing place I had time to do some Indian cookery lessons and to do yoga in a very basic setting. Meeting people who ran courses in laughing yoga, writers, people recovering from illness ans simply some very interesting people with uplifting back stories. There was lots of time to meet and talk with people in chai shops, cafes and restaurants. Palolem is a favourite place for older people and long stayers, owing to the cheapness and simplicity of it all. It is so non-commercial compared to other parts of India. Life is conducted in slow motion !  It is probably the happiest time that I have spent that I can remember with all the smiling and gracious people contributing towards that.  There is time for everything here. A siesta, read a book, a chat with interesting people in a chai shop, great restaurants to eat at in the evening and to consume a range of freshly caught fish. What more does one need? Sheer bliss.

Boats resting on the almost deserted beach


Wooden house nestling under the palms    

 My new yoga studio. Plywood boards set upon the sand 

      A panoramic view taken on a special setting on my Sony camera

         A colourful old Portuguese cottage

 This cottage was lovely and cool inside its dark interior

    My favourite chai shop

  Interior of the yoga studio

  A free yoga lesson in progress

 Spices for the cookery lessons

  Dishes of food ready to be consumed

  Food ready to be consumed

A plate of personally prepared and cooked Indian dish
(If anyone would like a copy of the recipes please contact me)