We went swimming in the River Yamuna last month. Not only is the river worshipped as a goddess, it has recently been legally granted human status by Uttarakhand State. As the river flows south into Delhi National Capital Region, it is relatively clean. We swam at Burari, close to the border with Haryana. However, by the time the river passes the centre of Delhi at Okla, it becomes one of the most polluted rivers in the world. By this time, 60% of Delhi’s waste has been dumped in the river. It teems with coliforms and the lack of oxygen suffocates any fish which have survived the toxic effluent.


It was not always like this. A hundred years ago, the Yamuna was noted to have clear blue water, quite unlike the Ganges, which is browny yellow with silt.


The river is the daughter of Surya, the sun god. There is always a dark side; Surya is the sister of Yama, the god of death. Devotees scoop up water in their cupped hands and allow the sun to shine on it as an offering. The sacred water is a “get out of jail” card when it comes to the torments of dying.

Yamuna, the river goddess

We just went for a swim.

We left the apartment at 5:15 and reached the river just after sunrise. The water level was low, so there were limited places to swim. We joined the devotees on the sandy shore.


We saw no dead bodies floating by. Half the beach was a rubbish dump, but the sandy mud of the river bed was safe to walk on. Across the river, in Uttar Pradesh, there were some yellow billed storks and a heron. I didn’t have binoculars so I couldn’t make an accurate identification.

To the north I could see cumulonimbus, and there was sporadic grumbling thunder, but no lightning. The sun kept sneaking behind the clouds and splaying rays of light across the sky.

Our visit was too brief for us to eat breakfast on the shore. We had to get back to start work at the clinic by nine.



Ganga – River of Life and Eternity

The National Museum on Janpath in New Delhi unveiled a large exhibition this month exploring the beliefs, histories, traditions, arts and cultures of India emanating from the Ganges – a river and a Goddess.


See below: A bronze vessel inscribed with the 108 names of Ganga, a map of the Ganges and a bronze statuette of the goddess.

Forget the big bang theory. The Rig Veda describes how the Earth began with a cosmic egg (hiranyagarbha). In the Upanishads, the soul of the universe broke in half, gold and silver. All the parts of the cosmic egg metamorphosed into features of our planet – outer membranes of the egg became mountains, inner membranes became cloud and mist. The white of the egg became the oceans, whilst veins developed into rivers.

The exhibition explained how the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and (invisibly or underground) Saraswati rivers at Allahabad is the ajna-cakra, forming a cosmic knot. Yogis who regularly bathe in this area can be liberated from rebirth.

Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Krishna all have connections with Ganga, the Tri-devatya.


Vishnu had three consorts who were jealous of each other. To sort out the cosmic squabbling, Vishnu sent Ganga to Earth as a holy river, to wash away people’s sins.

Another story tells how Indra stole the horse of King Sagar, hiding it at the hut of the ascetic hermit, Kapila. The king sent his 60,000 sons (pretty prolific kind of king) to get the horse back, but they disturbed Kapila during his meditation, so he incinerated them all with an angry glance. It took Ganga water to purge them of their sins.


The Ganga is also the celestial river of the Milky Way, descended to Earth.

Krishna’s consort, Radha, was really angry when his relationship with Ganga intensified. Ganga turned to liquid and hid under his foot when she saw Radha coming.

Brahma glanced at the toe of Shiva’s wife, Parvati, at their wedding, thus committing celestial adultery. To wash away his sin, Shiva gave Brahma a pot of water from the Ganga.


When Vishnu crossed heaven, Brahma used the water in this pot to wash his feet. The run off fell onto Mount Meru, the centre of the universe, and from there it anointed Shiva’s head. As the angry Ganga descended from heaven, Shiva let down his matted, long hair so the river could form tributaries.

Tarakasura was a demon who fought the gods. Like Achilles at Troy, he had a weakness – he could only be slain by a son of Shiva. The problem was that Shiva was a celibate yogi, so the gods sent Kama (as in Sutra) the god of love, to hit him with a sacred arrow. Shiva fell in love with Parvati, but ejaculated prematurely (god knows how long he’d been celibate for). Agni, god of fire, caught the spilled seed and brought it to earth.

Shiva’s sperm fertilised the wives of six holy sages (krithikas). Their husbands threw them out on account of their “adultery”, so they travelled to the Himalayas. They gave birth to a child, Kartikeya, with six heads in the River Ganges. Ganga looked after Kartikeya until he was old enough to defeat Tarakasura after a universe-shaking battle.

During the rains, devotees of Shiva take water from the source of the Ganges into a clay pot and bring it back to their villages without setting the pot down. If they are successful at this task (Kanvad Yatra), their wishes come true. People devise amazing structures to carry the water.

All this mythology and religion was making my head spin, so I was delighted to come across a display of Bollywood film posts, featuring the Ganga.

At the end of the exhibition, there was a room dedicated to bringing people’s attention to pollution of the Ganga.P1290631

Fittingly the exhibition displayed some Jaina diagrams depicting torture in hell. Serves the polluters right, I thought.P1290637P1290639P1290640

Sunday Walk

The air pollution in Delhi remains appalling, so it was great to get out of the city on Sunday morning. We went with a walking group to visit some secret lakes. These are actually man-made, following quarrying for building stone, hundreds of years ago. Although the lakes collect rainwater, most of it rises up from the water table.

Some photographs. The featured image is our guide. Nice to see his patriotic woollen hat.


A man who likes to colour co-ordinate his pugree (turban) with his three-wheeler van.


We arrived early at the meeting point, so we had a cup of ginger masala chai. Even the cow was attracted to the smell.


There were some large buffaloes grazing in the scrub, too. Camels carry sand out of the quarry because there is no road for vehicles. Look how the man is controlling the camel by holding onto its tail.


This young lady spends her day collecting dung, mixing it with fibre and forming pancakes. Once these are dried, she stacks them ready for use as fuel.

Finally, a selfie with Lake Bhardwaj (the name of the man who owned the quarry last) in the background. I always look grim in selfies, so perhaps I should start practising my “blue steel” Zoolander look.


Lodi Gardens

Before the Second World War, Lady Willingdon*, wife of the Governor General, landscaped the area around several mausoleums housing the remains of rulers of Delhi from 1444 – 1526. This required evicting people living in settlements around the tombs. Lady Willingdon Park was renamed  Lodi Gardens after Independence. It is well worth a visit for a calm, pleasant walk.

It is a charming spot with beautiful lawns, stands of native trees with lots of birdlife, an ornamental lake traversed by a stone bridge. Each morning there are yoga classes on the grass and middle-aged Delhiites walk and jog around the paths in an attempt to keep fit.


The first tomb I visited was the oldest, built to house the remains of Mohammed Shah, last of the Sayyid rulers of Delhi. It is a mixture of Persian and Rajasthani architecture.

The gardens are popular places for newlyweds to have the photographs taken. A photographer had posed this couple under a palm tree whilst an assistant held up the bride’s orange scarf, flinging it up in the air to drift down while the camera snapped away at ten frames a second. I still managed to get his hand in the corner of the shot.

In the centre of the gardens there are two domed structures (gumbads), the Bara Gumbad (big dome) with an attached mosque and the Shisha Gumbad (glass dome), which retains a few blue glazed tiles on its roof. The latter is a tomb.

I took some photographs of young people walking through the gardens and the gumbads.

Two of the security guards were eating a late lunch inside the Bara Gumbad. They offered to share it with me, so I tore off a bit of roti and dipped it into the sauce. It tasted great. I passed on the unpickled onions.


In the northern part of the gardens stands the tomb of Sikander (Alexander) Lodi, the last Sultan of Delhi whose army was defeated at the Battle of Panipat by Babur, heralding the beginning of the Mughal era.

At the southern end, there is a miniature forest of bonsai trees. If you have walked the 90 acres of the gardens, reward yourself with a drink and a snack at the posh Lodi Garden Restaurant.

*Lady Willingdon also gave her name to a road in Lutyens New Delhi – now renamed Mother Theresa Crescent, an airfield – now renamed Safdarjang Airport, and a hospital – now renamed Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.Sic gloria transit mundi.

The Garden of Five Senses

Vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste.

Vision – Yes, it is a garden, with flowers and trees, some artwork and an amphitheatre.

Hearing – Not much apart from the irritating noise of regular overhead flights of planes coming in to land at Indira Gandhi International Airport

Smell – Well, there are lots of stray dogs, with the inevitable dogshit everywhere. There were no scented flowers, but there were some fragrant herbs.

Touch – At least there are no signs saying, “Don’t touch the plants.”

Taste – There is a cafeteria in the grounds of the garden.p1190890


I was disappointed. I thought that it would be much more innovative. Perhaps a part of the garden would be reserved for people who were visually impaired. Or there could be something about texture and touch.

There was a great deal of touching going on, of course, between the dozens of courting couples who were visiting the garden. I checked online at TripAdvisor:

Aastha said, “This place is only meant for couple seeking privacy and not for plant lovers .you can have a greet photoshoot and great food here. The aroma here is all about love.

Achingupta wrote: “Nice Scenic views in park, but generally not suitable for families with kids due to couples engaging in some private activities.”

And most damning of all, Rmanpang had this to say, “It’s no where as you have seen in the Internet, the place was literally a dating ground for all age group people, it’s not even garden any more, it was more like a open bedroom where people maintain a decency of keeping their clothes on. Sorry for my language BT I was really stunt when I found out that, I am not against dating or something like that but man people I have seen their should have their own room not an open ground. The art in the garden was totally overshadowed by those people, that was a shame because that place still had artifact which are really amazing. Hope govt changes the scenario.

I wandered around, taking a few photographs. There were several wedding photographers who had set up their gear and were waiting for the happy couple to come to the garden for a photo shoot after their wedding. I chatted a bit, hoping I could grab a few photographs myself, but none of the couples showed up.


This was post-Diwali so there were hundreds of spent firework casings, piled up behind a wall.


I liked the red sandstone elephants and the rows of children praying.


p1190893On my way out of the garden, I was accosted by a man selling trinkets which were spread out beneath a tree. “Where are you from?” he asked me. “UK,” I replied. “Oh, fish and chips! My favourite food,” he said. Really? He told me that although he had never visited England, he worked in a fish and chip restaurant in Dubai. And he was also a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. I looked him up on Facebook, and indeed he is. Check out Raju-Charlie.