Yamuna

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

Indonesia in the Nehru Gardens

At the weekend I attended a celebration of Indonesia, with music, food, dancing and a quiz. It was intended to improve relations between India and Indonesia, encourage tourism and to showcase Indonesian culture. I wandered through Nehru Gardens looking for the event, but couldn’t find it. I had just about given up and was on my way home when I heard tinkling pop music from a corner of the park, behind a high fence.

I was glad that I had stumbled across the event because I was very thirsty. Indonesia is famous for coffee, especially for beans which have passed through the intestines of a civet before being roasted. Instead, I just had a damn fine cup of coffee.

There was a good selection of Indonesian dishes to choose from. Nasi goreng with a fried egg on top seemed to be the most popular although it was way past breakfast time. There were cakes and sweets on offer, too.

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A large band of performers started up on stage and people got up to do an Indonesian version of the macarena.  I have no co-ordination for this kind of dance, so I avoided embarrassment by not joining in. The next act was a fan dance, which didn’t inspire the audience, who drifted back to their seats in the shade.

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I was able to get a great view of the next show. Two beautiful ladies in traditional dress wearing golden crowns , doing synchronised dancing. The hand movements were Ehlers- Danlosian in their flexibility, but I was more impressed with their eye movements.

Next up resembled synchronised swimming in a seated position. For someone with a noticeable lack of co-ordination skills, this was beguiling.

When the concert was over, I wandered through the flower gardens on my way back to the Metro and took these photographs.

Raksha Bandhan

Did you fight like cat and dog with your siblings? If so, perhaps this Hindu festival might encourage you to bury the hatchet. Strictly speaking, it celebrates the bond of protection between brothers and sisters, but it can also apply to relationships outside the family.

A sister ties a sacred thread, or “rakshi”, onto her brother’s wrist and in return, he gives her a gift and promises to protect her in the future. She places a tilak on his forehead and feeds him sweets by hand. In today’s Times of India, there were advertisements for fancy raksha wrist watches, a more materialistic wrist binding than a coloured piece of cotton thread.

I was not required to go to the clinic today, but I’m still on call 24/7 by mobile phone, so I was able to handle questions and solve problems remotely. This morning, I decided to do a bit of exploring in Shalimar Bagh on foot.

The main street outside our apartment seems to have acquired a herd of sacred cows. They cause traffic jams; they defaecate everywhere. People place leftover food on the pavements for the cows, so they like to pick a shady part of the path to rest and chew the cud. This means that walking down the street can be tricky. Cars are often haphazardly parked, forcing pedestrians out in the road if they want to pass by. The pavements are usually broken up, so you need to watch your footing, avoiding poo and potholes. And it isn’t always animal poo. There is one long stretch of pavement which serves as an al fresco crapper. It reminds me of the descriptions of human faeces in V S Naipaul’s book “An Area of Darkness”.

Barbers, fast food stalls, potters, fruit and vegetable stalls, mattress makers, cycle and rickshaw mechanics, they all take over a patch of pavement to run their business.

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I like the Pasta Hub, with its Indian take on Italian food, advertising “Maggi” instant noodles along with nachos with chaat. Street 5 is a Chinese fast food outlet, advertising that it is a “real test of Chinese” food.

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I noticed a large park on Google Earth a few kilometres from our apartment, so I decided to explore the neighbourhood. I passed Club Road and entered a smaller park, which was shady and green. It was deserted, apart from chipmunks and birds – rose ringed parrots, babblers, mynahs, laughing doves and crows.

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It was getting hot and I was thirsty, so I bought a coconut from a handcart. The water was a bit sour and it smelled as though it was beginning to ferment. In compensation, the boy who sold it to me offered me half an apple, which he had picked up from the ground.

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I walked for another twenty minutes before reaching my objective, Shalimar Bagh Public Park. The gates for pedestrians form an “S” shape, presumably to keep out cows. And baby buggies – though I haven’t seen any of these yet. The park was less well manicured than the smaller one I had just visited. There were piles of rubbish close to the pathways, with pigs rooting for food. In one corner of the park there were some ramshackle huts where people were living.

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This park was busy. In this forest of casuarina pine trees, there were about six games of cricket going on. I think the fielders played multiple games simultaneously. When I took out my camera, the games all stopped and the lads ran over to get their pictures taken.

There were groups of old men squatting around a rug, playing cards. I watched them for a few minutes but could not make out what game they were playing. It didn’t look as though any money was changing hands.

I saw some ragamuffin children playing on a metal slide. This wasn’t just a strip of shiny metal. It was a set of rollers, such as you would use to push your hand luggage towards the conveyor belt to be X-rayed. More children gathered around for photographs and when I declined and broke away, several of them threw stones at me. They missed.

I had had enough. I needed to cool down, so I went to get my hair cut. I didn’t use the barber at the side of the road; I went for the stylist with an air conditioned shop. He did the honours for less than a pound and I walked out, refreshed, tidier and a bit lighter.

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There was a queue of men buying chole bhature – chole is a chick-pea curry, with potatoes and bhature is a pancake made with curd cheese and mint, deep fried so it becomes a balloon. Add some onions, green chillies and a mint sauce, and you’ve got a tasty meal for less than a haircut.

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It was delicious and I went back for seconds of chole and sauce.

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As I continued my walk home, I saw many families in their best clothes, visiting relations and my thoughts returned to the holiday. Today, Raksha Bandhan is a secular national holiday, celebrated by people from all faiths. But it has its origins in Hinduism – Yahoda tied a raksha around Krishna’s wrist while saying this prayer:

May the lord of all beings protect you,
May the one who creates, preserves and dissolves life protect thee,

May Govinda guard thy head; Kesava, thy neck; Vishnu, thy belly;
the eternal Narayana, thy face, thine arms, thy mind, and faculties of sense;

May all negativity and fears, spirits malignant and unfriendly, flee thee;
May Rishikesa keep you safe in the sky; and Mahidhara, upon earth.

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Excrement

Several months ago, I mentioned in a blog that an infusion of elephant dung is a traditional remedy to treat hypertension. About half of what elephants consume passes through its intestines without the nutrients being digested or absorbed, so it is just possible that vegetation could contain chemicals with an anti-hypertensive action. But I would rather take tablets.

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Even this elephant is spreading his ears in surprise at the use of his dung

A well-respected guide told me about the traditional treatment for crocodile bites. As soon as possible, smear the wound with human faeces. The (twisted) rationale for this is that the bite introduces pathogenic bacteria from the crocodile’s mouth, so by providing an alternative substrate (faeces), the bugs won’t attack human flesh. “Of course, the doctors wash it out when the patient gets to hospital, but it is the best initial treatment before antibiotics are given,” he said. “That is total crap,” I told him.

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This photograph of a boy wearing a baby’s woolly hat, covering the strap of a handbag has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog

He went on to tell me about the use of male hippopotamus dung for treating babies with colic and constipation. The dung should be mixed with water and left overnight. Then it is strained and the supernatant is given to the baby orally. I am not surprised that it treats constipation; the baby is likely to get diarrhoea from this potion.

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Hippo spraying its dung around using the propellor action of its tail

My next door neighbour burns dried elephant dung in an attempt to keep mosquitoes away. I am not sure it works very well, as I still get bitten when I visit the house. My other neighbours swear that the smoke from burning elephant dung deters mopani flies and wasps in remote rural areas.