Excerpts - Scroll down for photos

India Travel Journal

29 December 2005 – 12 January 2006
Peter Hulen

I  -  American 293 Chicago to New Delhi

Night has fallen. The flight is completely full and we are already late departing, but not by a lot. This is a direct flight from Chicago to New Delhi, and about fifteen hours, total.

There was a well-dressed couple in the check-in line going home to Mexico City. They had four huge suitcases and assorted carry-ons. The woman was very friendly, looked at our shoulder bags and asked, “Is that all you are taking to India?” When we said yes, she did a double take at our bags and asked, “So, are going to do some meditating?” I guess she thought if we had so few belongings we must be some kind of ascetics or something.

Jenny and I sat in the food court on our end of the concourse and watched people and ate panini. She got a better idea of how salwar kamiz, sweaters and dupatta are combined by looking at the way some Indian women were dressed.

II  -  Over the Aral Sea

It has been night all the way. We have about three hours to go, and everyone is looking pretty rough. I sure feel worse than I expected.

III  -  Room 201, Jukaso Inn, New Delhi

We landed in New Delhi sometime before midnight and went through customs very quickly. As we were all getting our carry-ons down from the overheads, one man
—a cheerful, turbaned Sikhsaid his bag was so heavy because he had thirty pounds of chocolate in it for his eight nieces and nephews.

The streets were very dimly lit, and with a few exceptions no business signs were lit. As far as I could tell, street signs are non-existent except on major thoroughfares.

We went down what we thought was the Main Bazaar in Paharganj looking for either our hotel or one of the others the book listed just to get our bearings. It was dark, the street was littered with trash, and there were lots of people just hanging around. This was around midnight, and it was impossible to see any of the unlit signs on the buildings. Turns out I was able to identify a hotel in the book, and found out we were on a completely different street than the one we wanted to be on.

We had seen a cow wandering around in a dark street around the corner where the street we were on ended, so that was fun. I ended up giving the taxi driver directions to the right street by following our guidebook, but no sooner had we identified the first couple of hotels than Jenny said, “I don’t want to stay here”.
IV  -  Back in Room 201 (continued)

Our second choice was in Connaught Place, but again, the streets and fronts of the buildings were dark and we could not find the hotel. Finally the taxi driver said he would take us to a hotel “in the Connaught Place area.” He quoted a reasonable price, but ended up driving us all the way over to Karol Bagh. The room was reasonable enough, and after a transcontinental flight and all the stimulus, we could barely stand up, so we tipped the driver extra for his trouble and checked in.

Midrange hotels and other places in
the industrializing world can be very photogenic, but the live experience often leaves many details to be desired. I would have taken a photo of the room—an un-booked suite that they gave us for the price of a regular double room—but its real, live funkiness would have been lost.

We both knew it would all look better in the morning, that we would rally, get the train tickets booked, find a hotel in the right area at the right price, fulfill our objectives for the day, and fill up with some good food. In the meantime we would have to suffer through the dark, strange, too-exhausted-to-sleep night that lay ahead of us.

I was so sleep-deprived and jetlagged by then that I could only alternate an hour of sleep with an hour of lying perfectly still and relaxed with my eyes closed and my mind racing. But we did settle in fairly comfortably and get through the night in that manner.

And yes, things did look better in the morning.

V  -  Room 201, waiting for room service

Room service! But still funky and cheap and cool. All Indian food.

We were rested some this morning. As it began to get light I stumbled to the bathroom to plug in the geyser—a kind of wall-mounted, electric, on-demand water heater found in many mid-priced hotels outside the U.S. None of its various indicator lights came on, but it started making little, reassuring “something is happening inside me” noises. I crawled back into bed.

After it got lighter we both got up. The hot water was hot as hell and it felt good to bathe and shave in it. That was refreshing and encouraging. The sun began to peep through the smog and it looked like a nice day. I turned on some Indian classical musicians on the television while we got ready and organized. The room did look better by the light of day. We did not have a plan for breakfast, so we just munched on a bag of beef jerky Jenny had bought and stored in her bag before we left. That is pretty pathetic, but we knew there were better things to come.

The buildings across the street had that faded whitewash, concrete-with-balconies, para-industrialized
adventure-land look. We could smell food cooking somewhere through the open window, and spotted a rooftop eatery across the way that started playing loud, thumping music as some young men gathered there. A flock of green parrots flew in and perched in a tall tree across the street. All in all, we felt refreshed and ready for the day.

The same guy who had checked us in the night before was as the desk, and he was friendly and cheerful. When we checked out, we were quoted the same tariff promised the night before, and he called for a car to take us wherever we were going next free of charge, also as promised. The driver was a young, tall, good-looking guy who said his wife was a cardiologist in Baltimore. We had to stop off at his office briefly so a colleague could come out to the car and try to sell us some tourist services and/or ticket booking help.

The throngs and crazy traffic choking the area around the entrance to the train station were as we might have expected, given our experience traveling in other parts of Asia and the world. The touts constantly approaching are especially notable in India. You finally have to  pretend they do not exist and continue walking and talking to your companion accordingly.

The booking office for internationals was an absolute breeze compared to Beijing. The process was characteristically bureaucratic, but the final results were superior by far. There were all varieties of foreign travelers up there, but stress levels were pretty low given that everyone was being served with a kind of tortoise-speed, but otherwise pleasant equanimity. The fifty-something, turbaned ticket agent took good care of us. Food is here. More later.

VI  -  Room 201

About five minutes free, so I will write. Happy New Year 2006! It is official. Jenny and I rang in the New Year sacked out in New Delhi. Given our schedule and circadian rhythms, this was essential.

I forgot something from yesterday on the way to the train station. It was a sunny morning and we were riding along a road with a brick wall set back about forty or fifty feet from the road. We came around a curve and there were a half dozen cows standing there beside the road. Around another curve and there was a group of monkeys—little Rhesus-looking guys that are ubiquitous across non-mountainous India. The cows and monkeys I knew about. It is the dogs wandering and sleeping in the streets that I did not anticipate. They are all medium-small and the same color as the monkeys and the dirt.

VII  -  Bhopal Shatabdi Express departing for Agra

We did not have to buy Indrail passes, and were able to book the entire itinerary in advance. We walked out of the office yesterday triumphant, tickets in hand. We only had to make one change in our planned itinerary, adding a day to our stay in Agra and using up an extra day in Bodhgaya. Not only were the individual tickets cheaper than the pass, but the availability on some was in sleeper class rather than the higher A/C class we had expected. We are very experienced traveling in that kind of lower class; and who needs A/C this time of year? It will be turned off, anyway. So that was a pretty big cash bonus for us. [We later learned there are benefits to a sealed car and the provision of bedclothes in the cold weather.]

I snagged a couple of liters of water inside the station—first water we had drunk since getting off the plane. I was feeling pretty dehydrated. (We are pulling out in the dark, now.) At the prepaid auto-rickshaw stand, Jenny could not hear the attendant through the hole in the glass for the tout standing beside her talking in her ear. She finally turned to him and said, “Be quiet!”

We hopped into an auto-rickshaw and headed to Connaught Place. We had picked the best-recommended midrange hotel on the list, and were there in just a few minutes. Its modern style and lesser funkiness made it very appealing. We ate breakfast. It was delicious—spicy potato-stuffed buttery flatbreads (aloo paratha) with hot and salty pickle relish (achar), and plain yogurt (dahi) to cool it off. I am loving hot chai every time you turn around—the national beverage. We were refreshed and greatly encouraged by those basics of food, water and comfort.

The streets in the daytime were also quite a contrast, with all the steel curtains raised, all he street vendors, all the traffic, all the people going about their days. Now it was really looking like the high adventure we anticipated.

We set out on foot for the Palika Bazaar so Jenny could buy some proper clothes and gain a little respect. My man clothes already work in India. On the way, walking around the colonnaded storefronts of Connaught Place, Jenny stopped to replace her broken sunglasses at a street vendor. The standard haggle in India seems to be half the quote and working your way to two-thirds.

While she did that, I took a picture of a kind of snack vendor we are seeing around. The snack (masala bhel) is both visually and culinarily interesting. Big sheet on the ground. Vendor seated behind with helpers hanging about. A prodigious heap of what I can only describe as yellow, curry-flavored rice krispies (murmura) on one side. (The train chai has arrived.) A pile of minced red onion in the middle. A smaller pile of minced cilantro, and even smaller piles of minced tomato, chili pepper, and some crisp chickpea-flour vermicelli (sev kurmura). The heap of curry krispies has a ring of small tomatoes and lemons, and green-bean-looking chili peppers decorating its perimeter. On the other side are a dozen or so rolled-down paper bags of variously flavored peanuts, perhaps soy nuts, and lentil krispies, and a big pile of corn flakes. I am not making this up.

A customer comes to buy some. The vendor grabs two big handfuls of the murmura krispies, tossing them into a pot, followed by a baseball-sized, all-you-can-grab handful of the onions. Big pinches of cilantro, tomatoes and peppers, some corn flakes, a couple of selections from the other nuts and krispies, squeeze in half a tiny lemon and add a pinch of salt.

(It is getting light and the trees passing near the train are just visible against a shroud of blue-gray pea soup fog. Oh, wait—the window is tinted purple. Breakfast has also arrived. A couple slices of unbleached white bread, a pat of butter, and some garish, syrupy-tasting jam on one side of the tray, and potato, peanut and coriander stuffed samosas with a packet of ketchup on the other.)

Anyway, the vendor tosses all this in a pot and stirs it round and round, spoons it into an envelope made of newspaper, garnishes it with the crisp chickpea-flour vermicelli, and serves it with a little wooden ice cream spoon stuck in it.

The snack (masala bhel) is both visually and culinarily interesting.

The Palika Bazaar is a couple of large, concentric, oval tracks of numbered merchant stalls, all indoor and underground. There are some crafts and electronics, jewelry, etc., but the main thing is clothes, pretty much aimed at locals.

I followed Jenny around as she cased all the shops (200-some in all), and then we went in one. They displayed the equivalent of party dresses, but Jenny explained that she wanted non-fancy, everyday clothes. The style of shop keeping was positively old-world. The merchant pulled considerations off the shelf one after another, immediately tossing aside any that were met with “nah” sounds. Jenny explained her color preferences and things began to narrow down. This was the best of that kind of sales-ship—no pressure. He liked what she liked. She picked a couple of beautifully colored and subtly decorated sets of salwar kamiz and dupatta. She looks beautiful in them, and she declares that despite their exotic beauty to us, they are extremely comfortable and practical and she feels good in them.

They come sleeveless and we followed an assistant to the loft of another stall so a tailor could measure Jenny for altering the waist on one, and adding the basted-on optional short sleeves to both. She bought a third set at another shop, and picked out some earrings, bangles, and a hippie bag.

Back at the hotel she tried on the clothes while I wrote about the outcome of our hotel woes, and then she put on one to wear, hiding the creases where it had been folded with the way she wore the dupatta. She will wear these for the rest of the trip.

We set out on foot again, this time to the Janpath market, which seems largely dedicated to Tibetan crafts. It was such a pleasant late-afternoon walk. We bought what are basically curry potato stuffed turnovers with chili sauce, and munched while we walked. I was noticing the way Jenny was regarded in her Indian clothes.

At the market I bought a small, heavy, lidded brass bowl for Dave’s (my late brother’s) ashes. A tout outside said “Hello! Chess set!” Jenny said, “Did he just say ‘Hello cheese pants?’” Around the corner on a perpendicular side of the market I photographed sellers of ornate, Tibetan throw pillow shams, table runners, bedspreads, etc.—all women. (It is getting light and we are nearing Agra.) More later.

VIII  -  Table in the garden, Hotel Sheela, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

After the Janpath market we strolled back toward the hotel. As we were making our way back around the inner circle of Connaught Place, I saw another masala bhel vendor and decided to sample some. I pointed, nodded and smiled. He smiled back with a hopeful look and made a stirring motion. I nodded again. In went the krispies, the astonishing wad of onion, and all the rest. My newspaper envelope was made of four-color ads. Its contents were delicious. The tomatoes (unpeeled) and fresh cilantro both broke a cardinal rule of street-vendor grazing, but they were in small amounts and I was just sampling. Jenny reminded me about this, and then sampled a bite herself.

We strolled and I munched. Vendors were hawking these large, foil-covered, conical cardboard horns that made a loud, low sound, sort of like a party horn on steroids. Of course! It was New Years Eve. It occurred to me that it was not going to be a quiet night on the street below. Jenny reminded me again not to eat too much of the bhel.

Once inside the hotel we bought thirty minutes of internet access and e-mailed home that we were fine, and with an explanation of our itinerary change. After that we went to the room, changed into pajamas, ordered the Indian room service mentioned above, ate it, got organized, and fell into bed. It was about 8:30. Happy New Year.

Well, I learned to distinguish between the party horns and car horns as I dropped off to sleep. The party horns had a slightly quieter, somewhat remote sound, and reminded me of continuously honking geese, but stationary geese, spread curiously throughout the city, both near and far. This was punctuated by the car horns, which were both closer and louder in their electrified power. With the roar of motor traffic in the background, it made for a fairly unified and interesting overall texture. Cage would have been pleased. So, too, any Dadaist worth his salt.

We managed to sleep fairly well, though. Better than the night before, anyway. The jetlag was actually a plus, given that we would have to rise at some ungodly hours, for the train to Agra, for the Taj Mahal at sunrise, and for boating on the Ganges at dawn.

Sellers of ornate, Tibetan throw pillow shams, table runners, bedspreads, etc.—all women.

We felt fairly alert at 4:30 when the travel alarm beeped. We checked out and the elder, turbaned, mustachioed Sikh taxi driver got us to the station in short order.

Nothing but foreigners in the
executive seat cars attached to the Bhopal Shatabdi Express, expressly for the tourists who board for its two-hour segment from Delhi to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located. Aussies, followed closely by Koreans, best represented this population. Everyone had a Lonely Planet guide in mother-tongue translation. Lots of backpackers as dumb as I was when I was eighteen, but a wide range of ages, all the same.

The chai and breakfast described above came and went. For some reason the two-hour trip took three. The train was very evocative of China for me. Only the Indian faces and Hindi words on the ad boards were indicative of India.

It was another bright, sunny morning. I got us a prepaid taxi at the outdoor booth. To cut acid rain damage to the Taj Mahal, no new industrial development has been allowed in Agra since 1994 and all three or four-wheeled IC motor traffic is banned in the vicinity of the Taj Mahal. The driver dropped us at the perimeter and we transferred to a pedal-rickshaw. There were also electric busses operating in the area.

The hotel is outstanding, even though it is a bottom-end place selected for location. A large, red sandstone paved plaza enclosed deep within a quiet, pleasant garden far from the noisy traffic. We sat with our backs to the morning sun sipping tea and waiting for checkout time so we could check in. Well-tended ficus, palms, cypress, bougainvillea. Later we watched parrots out in the garden.

Because the hotel falls well within the low-budget option for those hailing from industrialized nations, the funkiness factor is very high in the rooms; but this is more than compensated by the pleasantness outside where everyone hangs out, and the quiet day and night. More expensive options include the din of motors and motorcycle horns day and night. The elderly Sikh gardener gave Jenny a tiny, string-wound bouquet with a little piece of juniper and a single marigold blossom.

We ate a second breakfast alfresco after check-in, and then strolled the streets. I have seen and ridden both donkey carts and camels in various places, but this marks my first time seeing them combined in the form of camel carts. Cows milling about as expected, goats, etc. The gate of the hotel garden is fifty meters from the east gate of the Taj Mahal.

IX  -  Hotel garden (continued)

We stopped at a large state licensed emporium for marble inlay items that apply the same craft as the inlays decorating the Taj Mahal. There was a group of craftspeople working there, shaping inlays on grindstones and hand carving their shapes in marble. They were making tabletops.

There were several large showrooms, one of which held the most exquisite and precious examples of the work. It was like a museum. There were also several examples of innovative inlay work, based, we were told, on more Euro-American aesthetic concepts, but applying essentially the same ancient Persian techniques of craft. I was impressed with the interest in innovation and in broadening the scope of work to appeal to a variety of aesthetic sensibilities.

The taxi driver from the train station said four o’clock was a good time to go to the Taj Mahal for being there at sunset, so we set out about then.

After one enters from a side gate there is a plaza with a colonnade on the south side and the side gates east and west, all red sandstone. A wall runs along the north side of the plaza, and in the center of that is the great gate of the Taj Mahal. Walking along from the side gate where one enters, the dome and minarets of the Taj Mahal become visible over the red sandstone north wall. We both found ourselves unexpectedly moved when that much of it came into view. It really is magnificent.

After coming through the interior of the massive red sandstone gate (decorated with white marble), we stood on a porch at the top of steps going down to the garden and pools, looking across a seemingly great space at the massive monument sitting on its wide plinth. At that distance and perspective I had the sense it was enormous. Coming closer, it seemed to become more intimate. Have I written that it is magnificent? I was moved again to see it like that. It really is magnificent.

We walked down along the reflecting pool. There is a marble platform halfway along that affords another raised view, and on the north side one may squat down and get a view of the tomb with its reflection in the pool.

A large, red sandstone paved plaza in a quiet, pleasant garden far from the noisy traffic.

When we reached the plinth, we decided to stroll around it and save going up on it and inside for the next day. The plinth itself is a couple of stories high. Along the backside of the court below it is a very low balustrade where there is a drop-off three or four stories high along the foundation, down to the riverbank below. Dangerous and scary.

Though there were respectable crowds there, few people walked to the plazas on either side and around behind the plinth. It was a singular stroll, looking up at the Taj Mahal from there as we walked. It was also impossible to compose photos that could convey the experience. The human mind can compose any number of well-framed details and then compile them into the whole field of vision at once, while still maintaining singular comprehension of each detail. No photograph can do that. All we could do was try and capture a few details. Jenny and I have a saying about consciously creating a memory of something both compelling and passing: “Take a picture.”

There were people in a park across the river getting the identical rear view from there. It is the same from all four directions, minarets included. The only difference is in the Arabic scripts inlaid in black marble framing the large central entrances. Surely they are Quranic, though I do not know what they say. There is something to research.

After strolling around the backside, we walked back along the wide, red sandstone path on the east side of the central garden and pools. There are other well-tended gardens outside there to the east and west, with a variety of trees, all catalogued and labeled. Dark was falling and it was so pleasant.

All we could do was try and capture a few details.

The electricity in ordinary Agra (like, not the Sheraton) is undependable, as with many such parts of the world. The electricity at the hotel goes off every so often. If that lasts for more than a few minutes, they start a generator, but it seems to just stay off much of the afternoon. We sat at a table under a steel awning outside for dinner. It was dark, and the lights kept going off, but we had a candle. I was feeling a little travel bug coming on, so I tried to eat modestly.

As we were going to try getting up early to see the Taj Mahal at dawn, we switched off the extremely dim fluorescent light in the room (it is like moonlight, to put it in a positive way), and crawled into bed. We asked for extra woolen blankets, so we stayed warm enough in that dark, dank, thinly veneered little concrete box of a room. I am sure during the dry season having a room ten or fifteen degrees cooler than outside is a real plus. This is the only budget hotel on our trip. All the rest are midrange.
X  -  Hotel garden (continued)

I did not feel well when we turned in, but slept soundly. One of the two times I remember waking, I felt ill, so I knew I was fighting a bug. This morning I show signs of an effectively rallying immune response. I have had this exact thing abroad in Asia several times before, and this has been the shortest cycle of it.

It was still dark when we rose. I checked at the desk for breakfast at the time we had been told, but except for the lone, watching attendant, everything was dark and there were some workers sleeping on the floor of the reception room. The attendant named a time an hour later. Jenny always needs breakfast, and going back to the Taj Mahal without it would have made her ill. On the other hand, I wanted to be there at dawn.

After hanging out in the room for a while (in the “moonlight”), we decided I would go to the Taj Mahal then, while Jenny ate breakfast, then she would come in and meet me there later. I set off right away.

Going in, I was as moved as the day before. It was getting lighter, but it was a hazy morning, so the light was just a gray color turning slightly more golden as the minutes passed. I am convinced that Lonely Planet photographer used an orange and purple gradient filter for the picture on that plate in the book.

I could sit down on the top step of the gate porch and still get a perfectly unobstructed photo over the heads of all the people who were moving down to the middle tier of the porch to take pictures of the Taj Mahal, or have their pictures taken in front of it. I sat there for thirty or forty minutes watching it change. Every time I looked up from fiddling with the camera the Taj Mahal had changed appreciably with the approaching sunrise. Sitting there watching it change like that is an experience I hope not to forget.

Finally, a woman in bright blue salwar, lime green kamiz and matching two-color chiffon dupatta came and stood beside where I sat. Without looking up I knew it was Jenny. “Hi, there,” we said.

Halfway down the garden on the north side of the raised marble platform at midway, a friendly Dutch guy took our picture with our camera for us. He asked some Japanese tourists in Japanese to please move. He was composing the shot well, and we knew that he knew what he was doing. We saw him again later up on the plinth around on the backside taking photos of details. Later, on the way back, we asked this European woman to take our picture again. She actually cut off the dome in the picture. Jenny said, “Everyone has different gifts.”

When we saw the Dutch guy the second time we struck up a conversation. His Dad had been in a Japanese POW camp, and taught his son what Japanese he had learned. Later on, here came the guy walking into the garden of the hotel. After that, here came the woman who had taken the bad picture and the woman with her. Best place in town. (There is a bright blue kingfisher with an orange breast, black head, and yellow beak sitting in the tree.)

We walked on to the Taj Mahal. On the plaza below the plinth we were given blue surgical booties to put on over our shoes, to protect the solid white marble up on the plinth and inside. The sun had come up and it was beautiful up there.

I took macro shots of the floral design pietra dura inlays on the porch: carnelian (red-orange), malachite (green), lapis lazuli (blue), abalone (pearly), jasper (dull yellow), and black marble. Precious stones of the ancient world, and of St. John’s apocalypse.

Inside, the inlays on the styles and rails of the octagonal marble filigree screen were different from those on the outside, and I liked one of the patterns (little bunches of vase-shaped carnelian blossoms with tiny inlaid stamens), but photos were prohibited and I could not manage one without getting caught at it—made me think of Jenny at the terra cotta warriors in Xi’an; but her treachery was an unqualified success. No matter—it was dark in there, anyway.

Every time I looked up, the Taj Mahal had changed appreciably with the approaching sunrise.

The single marble filigree lamp (fitted with an electric bulb) hung from a very long chain attached to the ceiling in the base of the dome. It swayed slightly as such long pendulums do. Something to do with the Earth and Paschal’s observations.

Her white, inlaid sarcophagus is in the center on an inlaid platform. His—larger—is to one side on a slightly higher platform. The actual bones are supposed to be in the basement. A railing kept people away from the screen, but one could walk all the way around it and see the sarcophagi through the door of the screen. The reverberation was spectrally full and long. Someone was singing something loudly as we walked back out.

We walked around the building the opposite way we had walked round the plinth the day before and we saw the Dutch guy the second time. We came down and back through the front garden. I took photos and the woman took the bad picture of us. We walked backwards a little, looking at the whole thing. As we walked out, I remarked how lucky we were to have experienced it.

I took macro shots of the pietra dura inlays on the porch.

After a riot of Indian food, I am appreciating the merits of plain toast and plain tea in my delicate condition. That is what I had for breakfast back in the hotel garden. After a while, Jenny set off on foot to find a post office for stamps to send post cards, and other things we might need. I stayed in the sunshine of the garden and wrote. After a while she came back with two gray, army-like wool blankets for the rough-class overnight train trip. This on the way to find the post office.

She had walked alongside a bull in the narrow street, which had sort of lightly butted at her as she had passed. A man called to her from across another narrow street. “Where did you get your earrings?” Jenny ignored him, so he said, “What, you don’t talk to Indians?” Up went the dupatta. He said, “I see you are covering your hair, but I am still going to follow you.” That was the end of it.

She stopped at a place with a woman working at it and asked for bindhi (tiny, adhesive, jewel-like forehead decorations). The woman asked, “How many do you need?” “Oh, just one.” “One bindhi?” she asked flatly. “Oh, maybe five or six.” I suggested later that they must come packaged multiply, like matches in a box, and that if you replace “bindhi” with “matches,” you can see the woman’s perspective. “How many matches do you need?” “Oh, just one.” “One match?” “Oh, maybe five or six.” We have laughed about that several times today. The woman told Jenny to come back later.

I had coffee with my toast at lunch. After lunch we walked out again. We went back to the place Jenny had bought the blankets and she got a cardigan. Women wear them over their kamiz. It is cool at night, and we will be on the drafty train. I bought a fleece vest. We walked the narrow, open sewer lined streets. The shops were more like stalls, as seems typical.

The woman still did not have the bindhi, but she said to come back. At that point I was feeling kind of weak, so I headed back to the hotel and left Jenny to her “third-world, dusty-donkey adventure trip,” a phrase I had uttered at lunch and we had laughed about.

Back at the hotel, I lay down and thought about details of the committal of part of Dave’s ashes at Varanasi and Bodhgaya. As I thought about reading the scriptures and prayers we had prepared, I began to cry. I felt better after a while, both emotionally and physically, so I went out to the garden to sit and write.

Jenny came back with a bindhi stuck on her forehead, and mendhi on her left hand and wrist (intricate designs painted on with henna). I thought if left to her own devices something like this might happen. It is beautiful.

It is dusk now, and we have been sitting here at a table in the garden, Jenny reading and I writing. I think I will skip dinner. The gentle, friendly server/food manager Anil has brought us a candle.

XI  -  Hotel garden

I slept well and felt much better this morning. It was probably that masala bhel, after all. I have been meaning to write that we hear calls to prayer coming over a loudspeaker from the mosque inside the Taj Mahal. The day we arrived, there was also what sounded like Hindu chanting coming from a loudspeaker somewhere.

We had a leisurely breakfast. I am expanding on the theme of plain toast. This morning I had the Indian version of French toast with some honey. Also, a fruit lassi. That is a glass of small mixed fruit chunks (papaya, apple, sultanas) with sweetened drinkable yogurt poured over. Yum!

A mixed-nationality tour group came in last night, waking us briefly. They were all sitting in the garden this morning listening to a lecture about what they were about to see, having been adorned every one with a garland of marigolds. Their guide was a slick-looking, gregarious Indian fellow. Group tours. No, thanks, all the same.

We checked out. The bill for two nights’ stay, seven or eight meals, and laundry, was astonishing in its modestyabout forty-seven dollars, total. After paying up, we packed up. After having acquired a blanket and a sweater each, it was time for the hand-roll vacuum bags. Our clothes had come back from the laundry-wallahs, pressed boxer shorts and all, and we compressed them to make room for the other stuff.

We stowed our bags for the day and went to buy some gem-inlaid marble items. From a design standpoint, I can understand Vicki’s (my sister’s) interest in the Taj Mahal (she is a commercial interior designer). Apparently, the aesthetic and craft are Persian in origin. We are going to need an extra bag sooner or later if we keep buying loot.

We added the new purchases to our stowed luggage and caught an auto-rickshaw to the Agra fort. It is a massive red sandstone affair on the opposite side and up the river from the Taj Mahal. The grandfather of Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal) built the fort.

Shah Jahan began to turn it into a palace during his reign, planting gardens, installing palatial buildings made of his personally preferred white marble, and plastering over existing red sandstone structures to make them white. He also built a high-perched overlook from which he could gaze upon the monumental tomb of his dear departed down the river. The haze was way too thick to see it today. The whole thing became his gilded prison for the last thirteen years of his life, after his son deposed him. Junior was kind enough to inter Dad in the Taj Mahal, next to Mom.

Various invaders have occupied and/or plundered the fort over the years, the last being the British, who used it as a garrison. The hall for receiving dignitaries had contained the solid gold peacock throne. The Persians carted it off at some point, and it was last seen at the coronation of the Shah of Iran.

Jenny looked stunning in her pale blue salwar kamiz against the white marble. A group of Chinese tourists passed by, and a woman remarked of Jenny (in Chinese), “Very pretty.” Here is this blonde, blue-eyed woman in a strikingly blue Indian garment with her head covered in a dupatta and a sparkly thing on her forehead. Jenny then thanked the woman in Chinese. That slowed them all up a little bit, and then Jenny said in her perfect Mandarin, “So, you all are Chinese?” Talk about messing with someone’s head. They were perfectly gobsmacked. The woman sputtered, “Are you Chinese?” Then a man was saying, “So, this is a sa-li (sari)?” Jenny said, “It is salwar kamiz.” They all looked puzzled, then I said in my perfect Mandarin, “This kind has pants and a shirt.” That got them again. The man said, “You, too?” They were from Shanghai, and clearly having fun.

We had the auto-rickshaw driver drop us off short of the hotel, near some shops, and set off to find a bag for the extra stuff we are buying. Jenny bought a garland of roses to give to the owner of the hotel. He seemed genuinely pleased.

I had a toasted chicken sandwich for lunch. The chicken was chopped and fried with onions and curry. The French fries (“potato chips”) were tasty, too. I have been sitting here ever since, writing and chatting with Jenny. She went out once to get some tikka powder (for forehead dots) and these wooden tea boxes we had seen, but scored on neither. The sun is going down on this cool, hazy day, and it is getting cooler. We have about two and half hours to veg. out here, but part of that will be for dinner.

XII  -  Marudhar Express to Varanasi

We vegged out. I ate a light dinner of some naan (roasted flatbread) and the equivalent of egg-drop tomato soup. We gave Anil a big tip—hope that was okay. It got cool enough outside that we moved to one of the tables inside the reception area. There were goofy (to us) Indian music videos and commercials, the latter of which were as goofy as any, anywhere.

The train tickets indicated which station, but the same train stops at all four stations in Agra. We had lots of advice from hotel staff about which station to go to, but we decided to stick with the instructions. One staffer was really nervous and kept asking if we should not leave.

There was but one auto-rickshaw there in the dark street. The driver was a little wilder than some with his driving, so the commute bordered on harrowing. The departure station was tiny for a city the size of Agra, and few people were there. Included among them was an Australian hippie backpacker couple, and an old man with withered and twisted, but still useable legs, walking with a stick.

He built a high-perched overlook from which he could gaze upon the monumental tomb of his dear departed down the river.

The train arrived more or less on time, and is now approaching its final destination this morning, it is only about an hour and a half late. It is like a Chinese hard sleeper in every way, except that the people look and behave differently. I took the upper of the longwise, aisle-side berths we had been assigned. The turquoise-blue vinyl of my berth was encrusted with silty dust. I managed to wipe it fairly clean with some damp toilet paper.

I could not figure out how to turn off the glaring fluorescent light, so I just covered my head along with the rest of myself. That is how all the people around us were sleeping. After about an hour of sleep the conductor came around. After he checked the tickets, I heard the snap of a switch and the light went out. The berths are a little hard on hips and shoulders, but I managed to turn often enough to make it through the night without waking for very long.

The berth was too short to stretch out on my back, so my bent knees had to lean against the wall. The wall would shudder and rumble loudly with the sudden wind and noise of a passing train, and give me a rude awakening. The windows tended not stay all the way down, so the car was breezy and cold, but we stayed warm enough in layered clothes, covered over with blankets, under which the warmth of our breath stayed. At some point, the person on the lowest of the longer, crosswise berths adjacent to us got off, and I moved there so I could stretch out. Jenny noted that the man down there had a blanket just like ours, and that the top of his head looked like mine, before she realized it was I.

We are organized and ready to disembark. We are looking forward to a hot shower and some clean clothes, and then to striking out along the ghats. I bought two tiny, steaming cups of chai from the roving vendor, and we got into the beef jerky again. Jenny reads that the rooms at our midrange hotel have mini-bars.

XIII  -  Lobby restaurant, Hotel Pradeep, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

We snagged an auto-rickshaw to the hotel. The uniformed guard saluted us. They showed us a couple of rooms from which to choose—no windows, but nice enough. The bathroom is beautiful, though there are large frames of screen-wire ventilating the plumbing shaft between our shower and the one in the room next to us. This provides a picture-window view from one shower to another. Apparently one of our neighbors was aware of this, too. He stepped into the other bathroom once saying, “Hello? Hello?” to make sure it would be decent to use at that moment. I thought the mini-bars were too good to be true; I was right. It was still much more comfortable than in Agra.

We ate a hearty breakfast in the lobby restaurant and took hot showers (the neighbors were gone). I felt just squeaky afterwards. We unpacked some laundered clothes and put them on. We took an auto-rickshaw toward Dasaswamedh Ghat. No motor traffic is allowed in the old city, so he had to drop us at some distance. We strolled slowly and looked the all the interesting color. Jenny bought a couple packets of tikka powder (dry forehead-dot paint) from a vendor whose intensely colored piles of the stuff were laid out on a cart. She chose colors to match her outfits, which is typical, save the reds and oranges, which are more traditional and indicate religious devotion.

Back in Agra we had chatted with the people in the big, mixed tour group. One of them was a funny, young Australian woman. As she was walking out toward the gate of the hotel garden waving a twenty-rupee note, she said of the group, “I’ve turned them on to samosas, so now I have to make a samosa run.” Jenny had chatted with a young Irish man in the group (whose accent was almost American) about their travels, and found out they were also headed to Varanasi. That evening they were piling their packs up in the garden plaza for a trip to the train station around the time we were waiting to depart, but we found out they were going on a different train, from a different station in Agra.

XIV  -  Rooftop garden, Hotel Pradeep (continued)

The next day in Varanasi, while were getting Jenny’s tikka powder, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the young Irish guy. After Jenny and I walked toward Dasaswamedh Ghat for a while, we decided to get a cycle-rickshaw, not only for the conveyance itself, but also because we did not know exactly how to get there, and the cycle-rickshaw driver would. Even two American butts in as good shape as ours are a tight squeeze in one of those things. I had seen a fifty-something Indian couple in one. The man had shifted to a slight tilt so the woman could sit flat, so I adopted the same technique.

We alit at the end of a lane at the top of Dasaswamedh Ghat, and the last vendor in the lane was a woman selling beauty notions. Jenny bought a couple of cards of bindhi from her, and she adorned Jenny’s forehead and hairline with spots of deep red tikka powder. A spot at the hairline (a line in the part, if the hair is parted) indicates a married woman.

We strolled slowly and looked at all the interesting color.

We walked down the long, long steps of Dasaswamedh Ghat (it is perhaps thirty or forty yards wide). The first thing I noticed to the left was the huge, orange-painted sikhara (Hindu spire indicating a temple) at the adjoining ghat to the north. The ghat we were on opened out wider to the south, below the buildings facing the river. We strolled in that direction and saw a priest sitting beneath one of the round, reed-woven umbrellas where they sit. There were some musicians there, an older man playing a harmonium, and a younger woman playing tabla (drums) and singing for all she was worth. We sat down with the others who were hanging out there and listening.

As we sat, we noticed men going to the priest (a fairly young one) to be blessed and have marks painted on their foreheads, after which they made a small donation. Jenny encouraged me to participate (she was right—when would such a chance come again?), but I was resistant. As we sat there, I decided on my own to risk making a fool of myself in exchange for an experience I would not forget.

I ventured to the platform and under the umbrella. The priest was peaceful and welcoming with his smile, and the singing, drumming woman was clearly pleased. I had seen a couple of different types of applications, and when the priest gestured, asking if I wanted tilak (a kind of three-stripe pattern painted clear across the foreheads of devout Hindu men), I indicated “no” and made a gesture for “little.” He understood, and I squatted down. He dipped his finger in some deep orange liquid tikka, followed by some intense yellow. He touched my forehead with it and held it there while he chanted quietly. It certainly had a blessed feeling to it. He offered a mirror. The result on my forehead was a deep orange, finger-sized spot rimmed in yellow.

She adorned Jenny’s forehead and hairline with spots of deep red tikka powder.

I bid him namasté and gave him a few rupees baksheesh, and also the musicians. The woman laughed delightedly, made a beckoning motion with her fingers and teased, “More!” so I obliged. As we walked back the other way I remarked to Jenny, either it was a blessing or he sent me back as a dog, and we chuckled.

There are over eighty ghats along the river. Dasaswamedh is about the most central, and those around it, especially to the south, are brightly painted and stand out, as seen from the river. The plan, after consulting descriptions in the guidebook, was to start there and stroll north until we felt we had seen enough. Little did we know how that would culminate.

Boys have been flying small, paper kites all over Varanasi since we arrived. ‘Tis the season, and apparently that season ends in nine more days with some local festival. As I sit here in the rooftop garden of the hotel, I can see three or four every direction I turn my head. They are being flown from the rooftops around and below me.

So, there were also boys running along the ghats, flying them where we strolled. They could get the little things airborne rapidly, keep them there, and manipulate them. It seemed like they were impishly conducting them in our direction, by their behavior and the looks they were giving us.

The priest was peaceful and welcoming with his smile, and the singing, drumming woman was clearly pleased.

I bought a sack of glass beads from a woman selling them, and Jenny took a picture of her sitting with her layout. In areas where there was more foot traffic and things being sold, the ghats were being hosed off and swept down with water pumped up from the river, but in other areas the cow shit and urine and general slime were rather off-putting. Jenny remarked that to slip and fall in it was not a memory she would like to make.

Finally, we came to Manikarnika Ghat, not too far upriver from where we had started. We knew about it, but were not concentrating on the nature of the ghats we saw, or which ones we were at. We just rounded a structure and it was upon us.

It is the main cremation, or “burning” ghat. It is disrespectful to take photographs, and everyone we saw, both on the bank, and later in boats on the river, kept their cameras down. Wood was stacked everywhere, according to type, ten and twenty feet high, and the air was thick with smoke. A sense of sacredness, awe, reflection, and consternation came over me. Our own taboos were challenged by something I otherwise knew to be both deeply sacred and superlatively ordinary.

We sat down on the ghat for a moment, as others had done upon arriving. I was aware of the nature of the activity, but without an orienting perspective on it, just yet. The work was being carried out on large, stone or concrete platforms built across the lower portion of the ghat, and I was conscious that we would have to climb higher to circle past.

I bought a sack of glass beads from a woman, and Jenny took a picture of her with her layout.

XV  -  Platform 6, Varanasi Junction (continued)

After sitting for a moment, we rose and started up and around. I asked someone if I could take a picture of a stack of wood that was up the ghat in the opposite direction of the activities below. He said it was okay, but after I took it, an old man indicated there should be no more. Moving along behind some outbuildings above the ghat, among the stacks of wood, we came to the entrance of a cupola-topped, circular balcony overlooking the ghat. There were people inside the pavilion to which it was attached, but we had the little balcony to ourselves (except for one adolescent boy who tried for a while to insinuate himself as our guide), and we were concealed from the foot traffic behind.

(The train will be a couple of hours late. I chatted with a half-dozen grownup U.S.Americans traveling with Tenzing from Mongolia [a Tibetan monk], who had not heard the announcement. They are going to the same place we are.)

Looking down on the stacks of wood, they were distinguishable as having been sorted into different types by their contrasting shapes, sizes, colors and textures. They were not cut cord, rick, fireplace or stove length as is familiar to us, but in five or six-foot lengths, which were more naturally curved and twisted, as such.

In areas with more foot traffic and things being sold, the ghats were swept down with water.

Lonely Planet says this: “Huge piles of firewood are stacked along the top of the ghat, each log carefully weighed on giant scales so that the price of cremation can be calculated. Each type of wood has its own price, and sandalwood is the most expensive. There is an art to using just enough wood to completely incinerate a corpse.”

On the surface of the platform below us to the right were three active pyres, the fires and contents of which were being actively tended using long, thick, green bamboo poles. Observing the details closely would not be for the faint-hearted. Jenny, who has seen more than I, gravely and gently observed some.

Bodies were carried on stretchers, swathed in intensely colored, brightly glittering cloth and garlands. I understand colors indicate sex and relative age of the deceased. Bodies were carried right down to the water and doused in the Ganges, then placed on the platforms where pyres were assembled over each. (Bodies are handled by outcasts known as doms.) Groups of people stood by, presumably family members.

I read that only male members of the family stand vigil as the body is consumed. Females fulfill other ritual roles elsewhere during that time. It is also considered imperative that the family members present remain there until the process is completed in its entirety. Ashes are gathered into red earthen jars rounded into a spherical fishbowl shape. I saw these stacked up by one of the outbuildings we had passed. Ashes are then scattered out in the Ganges.

Wood was stacked everywhere, according to type, ten and twenty feet high.

(The train should be here in about fifteen. Bag of potato chips and a package of biscuits [cookies] on the platform for dinner. Jenny arranged for someone from the hotel in Bodhgaya to meet us at the station when she called from Agra to make a reservation.)

XVI  -  Same platform

The arrival time for the train has just been pushed back another hour. Jenny headed for the WC. A young, black bull just sauntered up the platform and sniffed at our bags. I casually shooed it away. Back to yesterday.

Being at the burning ghats was intense, and mentally and emotionally exhausting. We decided we had enough of the ghats for one day. We worked our way back down them, over the cow slick, and back toward where we had come in. As we moved away from Manikarnika Ghat, the air was thick with the aroma of sandalwood smoke.

Jenny properly discerned a shortcut, and we made our way up a backstreet to the road by which we had come. We caught a cycle-rickshaw to get back to where the auto-rickshaws waited. The cyclist wanted to take us all the way back to the hotel, but I felt pretty wasted and thought it might take forever.

Back at the hotel we slaked our thirst with a liter of water, retired to the hotel’s extremely pleasant rooftop garden, and dined on a very encouraging dinner of chicken tikka and rice, fresh lemon soda, and chai.

We regrouped and headed out to Assi Ghat (the southernmost), and to the hotel’s sister establishment for a tabla, sitar and flute concert. The other hotel was hot inside, hopping and noisy with Euro-American tourists. It turned out for some reason that the concerts were off for three nights, including that one.

The electricity in Varanasi was rather more dependable than in Agra. The two or three times it did go out, there was no more than a minute’s lag between either its return or the hotel’s generator kicking in. That was good, considering you could not see your hand in front of your face in the windowless room. On the way to the hotel where the concert was supposed to be, I noticed a portion of the city through which we passed was without power. A few shops/stalls had generators and a few lights, but most had kerosene lamps or candles going. The other hotel shone like a beacon.

We decided to try that hotel’s rooftop restaurant for a snack, but it was partially under construction, lit sparsely and garishly with bare bulbs, and would have been generally unpleasant. Back outside in the dark, the lone auto-rickshaw driver quoted us a fivefold price, so we laughed and walked off toward where there would be others. In another minute he caught up with us, quoting a customary price.

Back at the hotel, we saw through the big window between the lobby and restaurant that the large, mixed tour group from Agra had come there to eat dinner. The funny Australian woman hollered and jumped up and we stepped into the restaurant to their acclamation. The Irish guy said, “There’s the guy that’s been stalking me.” I said to the woman, “The samosas are just down the road, in case you were wondering.”

We came back down there to have dinner, ourselves. The group was going around the table hearing testimonies about what their trip had meant to each one of them. Some kind of saucy, spicy chicken biryani (seasoned rice) and more aloo paratha for me, and it was time to hit the hay.

That afternoon after the ghats, I asked at the hotel front desk about buying offering candles to float on the Ganges, and the best time to start a pre-dawn boat trip, explaining our intentions in addition to a tour of the ghats from the river. A tour guide with the hotel set it all up for us. It was a real load off my mind after the stress of the ghats.

We were retiring late and getting up early again, but after the chilly room in Agra and the hard berths on the train, that soft, warm, clean bed looked like heaven. We were not disappointed, and slept well.

During the precious snooze of the travel alarm, the phone rang with the wake-up call the guide had promised, even though we had told him not to bother. When we found him in the lobby wearing a down coat and furry hat, I thought my fleece vest might not be enough. Confirmation came when we stepped outside. Jenny waited while I ran up to get more layers. It was chilly, but we were okay. The guide slipped in next to the driver of the auto-rickshaw.

We put in at Shivala Ghat, quite away south of the ghats we had been at the day before. The boatman rowed northward three or four ghats until we were opposite Harischandra Ghat and a little way out from shore. We stopped there, as arranged.

When we had walked down Shivala Ghat toward the boat, we were met by a cheerful little boy in an open-faced ski mask with a basket of the candles we had asked about—about a dozen of them. We bought the lot from him and he accompanied us out onto the boat to assist, carrying the basket of votives with him. The guide had been sweetly affectionate with him, tweaking his cheeks and patting his head.

They were in your memory, Dave.

Harischandra is one of the oldest of all the ghats in this, one of the oldest cities in the world; Varanasi dates from two millennia BCE. Harischandra is also a cremation ghat, and the wood was stacked as at Manikarnika Ghat. It was also stacked high in boats moored at the ghat.

The votives each consisted of a small bowl shaped much as a small, paper picnic bowl would be, except molded of some kind of broad, brownish-green, dry leaves (betel leaves, I think). Each bowl served as a little boat. In the center was something like a tea candle, surrounded by a ring of marigold blossoms.

When we boarded the boat, the little boy began taking something soft and white from a small plastic container and forming it around each wick. I have no idea what it was (yak butter is a possibility), but perhaps it fueled the wicks in the breeze until the wax began to melt and wick to the flame. He began lighting them, until the guide explained that we would be putting them into the river elsewhere.

When we stopped opposite Harischandra Ghat, the boy began lighting the candles and handing them to Jenny and me, and we, in turn, laid them on the water. They floated away behind us and Jenny took photos. They were in your memory, Dave.

I took the cardstock with a scripture from the Upanishads and a blessing from the Book of Common Prayer printed on it out of the yarn bag I bought from Uighurs in China; and, I also brought out the lidded brass bowl from the Janpath market in Delhi, now containing half the portion of Dave’s ashes we had brought along. As we untied the piece of selvage holding on the lid, the guide commented admiringly on the bowl.

I set it on the seat board and read the Upanishad aloud, feeling like I did a brave job of it. I picked up the bowl, removed the lid, said, “This is for your memory, Dave,” held the bowl out over the water, and began gently sprinkling out the ashes. As the boat slowly drifted along, a beautiful line of sinking ashes stretched out beside it.

I set the bowl on the seat board and read the Upanishad, feeling like I did a brave job of it.

As I emptied the bowl and brought it back toward me, the guide kindly suggested that the vessel must go, too. I appreciated the wisdom in this. I dipped the bowl beneath the water and watched it tumble away, briefly reflecting the morning light, then did the same with the lid. They looked bright and pretty held beneath the clear surface, and then faded from view.

As the boat slowly drifted along, a beautiful line of sinking ashes stretched out beside it.

I took the card and read the committal blessing I had chosen from the Book of Common Prayer. Jenny had wept while I read the Upanishad and sprinkled the ashes. I choked up a little when I got to the part in the blessing, “The Lord bless him and keep him; the Lord make his face to shine upon him…”

When I finished, the guide explained that it would be appropriate for us to dip our hands in the water and fling some up so it would fall on us as a blessing, so we did, the guide included. It felt right. As we were being rowed back toward Shivala Ghat to drop off the boy, he asked about whose ashes, how I found the text, etc.

The moment the sun appeared above the horizon, the boatman let go of the oars and bid namasté to it. I thought he must be a devout Hindu; he had a streak of deep yellow tikka on his forehead, and seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing. He had a cropped, white beard and a gentle countenance. He worked hard rowing that boat, too.

No sooner had we gotten underway than he had shed the white shawl wrapped around his head and body against the chill. He was clearly poor, and the guide seemed pleased that at the end of the journey I had given him twenty rupees as baksheesh. He remarked on the man’s poverty and said that kind of direct remuneration was a good thing.

As we were rowed on back, what should appear but a larger boat with that familiar tour group aboard it! They laughed and the Irish guy called out, “Will you stop stalking me?” I said I could not help it, I was obsessed.

After the boy disembarked and the boatman had gone ashore for a moment, we set off again to see more of the ghats. We were rowed south, all the way to Assi Ghat, then turned about and headed back. Along the way, the guide told, among other things, the myth of the origin of the Ganges, involving water from Shiva twirling his untied hair round and round (if I understand correctly). We took pictures of the ghats along the way.

XVII  -  Doon Express en route to Gaya

The train to Gaya finally arrived over six hours late, departing with us aboard five minutes before it was originally scheduled to arrive at our destination. Now, instead of 10:25 p.m., it looks more like well after 4:00 a.m. Jenny says you cannot have an adventure trip without a really late train. The Mongolian monk from the U.S. happened by and suggested in superb American English that the train was just providing us with an exercise in patience.

While we languished on the platform, I got up the courage to try some sweet paan. The paan-wallah spread various pastes on the betel leaf, added a variety of unusual-looking ingredients to the chunks of betel nut, shaking in other mystery ingredients from little cylindrical tins before folding it all up. I think it is okay to swallow when you chew the stuff, but I was not courageous enough not to treat it like chewing tobacco. Indian men certainly spit a lot with it.

The pieces of betel nut were woody in texture until they began to soften and chew a little, and the whole thing had a kind of mild camphor-like taste without being fumy. I walked along the platform chewing it and spitting between train cars. I swallowed a little, but it did not seem to have much of any effect. It is supposed to be mildly narcotic. With hindsight I think all that spitting was probably unnecessary. I finally got bored with it and spat it all out. At least my curiosity is satisfied. I bought some bananas and we ate some on the platform.

Back to the ghats this morning. When we got back to where we had started, the guide got off and let us continue alone with the boatman to the northernmost ghats and back. It was a long trip.

He worked hard rowing that boat.

We passed Harischandra Ghat again, and I noted the modern crematorium the guide had indicated before. I told him traditional Indian cremation would be illegal in the U.S.; Jenny said we have fairly strict laws about handling of the dead. He said the electric crematorium was only for those too poor to afford a wood fire cremation.

Further north, we came toward Dasaswamedh Ghat where we had begun our walk the day before, with all the brightly painted structures around it. We also came to Manikarnika Ghat where we had watched the cremations. They did not appear to have started for the day.

The rest of the journey was long and taxing. There were groups of men having morning baths and socializing; there were men bathing and making repetitive chants; there were dobi-wallahs swinging wet laundry around and beating it on stone slabs; there were holy men sitting on the ghats meditating in the morning sun. At one spot there was a young holy man sitting in a balcony above the ghat chanting aloud. His lone song carried out over the water with no electric amplification.

Further north, we came toward Dasaswamedh Ghat, with the brightly painted structures around it.

During the trip back I was ready to be done and anticipating the return to shore well before we arrived. I kept thinking our stop was coming up soon. Back at Shivala Ghat, when the guide suggested a tour of the old city, I told him we were ready to go have breakfast.

The guide had us climb into cycle-rickshaws and we set off through where Jenny and I had gone the day before. I assumed we would be conveyed to where the auto-rickshaws were waiting at the edge of the old city. After we passed that spot I realized what was happening. Cycle-rickshaws all the way back to the hotel! At least sqeezed in with Jenny and raised up to the morning sun I was beginning to get warm.

At some point during the leisurely if bumpy poke-along, the cyclist got separated from his colleague ahead, who was carrying the guide. Then the chain came off the sprockets. It turned out upon successful return of chain to sprockets after multiple tries, we went up another street for a block or so and were at the hotel.

There were dobi-wallahs swinging wet laundry around and beating it on stone slabs.

XVIII  -  Room 205, Hotel Tathagat, Bodhgaya, Bihar (continued)

Back at the hotel we ate breakfast (mine was a good Indian one), packed, checked out, and stowed the bags with the hotel. We sat down in the lobby to decide what to do. I would go to the rooftop garden to write, while Jenny went to get some red tikka powder. She set off. The warm sun was coming through the front windows of the hotel and it felt good to sit there. I thumbed through a copy of the Hindustan Times and worked on the day’s Sudoku puzzle a bit before heading to the rooftop.

It was lovely sitting in the warm sun with that very pleasant roof garden café all to myself. The time flew by, and Jenny did not come up to meet me by the time we had agreed. We had to get to the train station. Little did we know the train would be six hours late.

It was lovely sitting in the warm sun with that very pleasant roof garden café all to myself.

Descending the stairs I met Jenny coming up. She had a woven string of saffron yarn tied around her neck in good Hindu fashion and a two-inch long smudge of yellow and orange tikka down the middle of her brow. She had bought her red tikka powder, four such neck strings for herself and the family, and had gone to see a guru to get them blessed. He had performed an elaborate ritual over her so she could be the bearer of the strings’ blessings for the rest of us.

The strings are associated with Shiva the Destroyer, so all the bad stuff that comes our way will sort of head for the strings, instead. That seems practical, talismanically speaking. She said it was fun, and the only time she felt uncomfortable was when he had to stick a bundle of peacock feathers in her navel. But she said he was otherwise a nice guy.

Not wearing her watch during this trip, Jenny did not know how late it had become, but we were still okay. We got the bags and took an auto-rickshaw to the train station.

We needed a snack to take along, but there was nothing being sold outside the station except paan, Ayurvedic medicine and shoeshines. I found a signboard painted in English with the platform numbers of all the trains through Varanasi, including the one we were taking. Along the platform there were urchins, disabled people and old women begging. We found some empty seats and sat down for what we thought would be a short afternoon wait, not knowing it would hold the experiences described above. I did manage to buy those bananas for us.

We were pretty beat when we finally boarded the train. There was a father with two grown sons who boarded with us and sat in the same berth across from us. There was a young blind man sitting there who was apparently in the wrong place, and the younger men spoke to him in an unkind manner and then laughed about it as he was leaving. They all took their time eating the meal they had brought along and rubbing herbal medicine in their palms, but we finally converted the seat backs to middle berths and turned in.

I wrote for a long while. The train was dark and dusty and cold, and the elder of the two sons, across from me on the lower berth, snored like a chain saw. The passenger in the very top berth got off at some point, so I moved up there, above Jenny and wrote some more, taking the camera bag with me. I finally set the alarm and managed to sleep for an hour or so. Jenny woke before I did, and was a little worried to find the camera bag and me missing from where we were supposed to be.

XIX  -  Outside table, Om Restaurant, Bodhgaya, Bihar

Well, we did finally arrive in Gaya, and slogged out of the darkened station about 4:30 a.m. We kept telling auto-rickshaw touts, “We have a car waiting.” They seemed to react with disbelief. I was sort of following Jenny, who seemed to know where she wanted to go.

The hotel was called Hotel Tathagat. Jenny walked right up to a large, white, enclosed jeep with “TATHAGAT” across the top of the windshield in block letters. Two young men jumped out and started taking the bags for us. I doubt they had waited the entire time, but they had been doing some serious smoking inside that car.

Now, we have gone dodging and careening about in all manner of motor transport in all kinds of places, but this tended toward the memorable end of the spectrum. Even though it was such an early hour, there were a lot of very large transport trucks with blazing headlamps on the narrow, shoulder-less highway. The road was barely wide enough for two of these to pass, and it was fairly uncomfortable passing one even in the jeep.

A tape of a female Indian singer blared in the cab. The driver would run right up on the back of a cycle-rickshaw or auto-rickshaw and then careen out to pass without slowing. As long as there was time enough to shoot the gap without going head-on with a speeding, glaring transport, our rather impressive speed was seldom reduced.

Jenny was nodding drowsily, and I thought how her torpor at such a time was something of a blessing. When your auto-rickshaw is the biggest chicken in the game, it is no big deal, but with these vehicles the stakes were higher.

The hotel staff alternately wished us good night and good morning, depending on their grasp of our situation. The room was as expected, and falling into the otherwise comparatively hard beds was a welcome experience. We slept from about 5:00 to 10:30 a.m.

After a hot shower (geysers are the best!) we went next door to the mostly outdoor Om Restaurant, sat in one of the long rows of umbrella tables in the paved plaza set back from the dusty, ditchy road, and had some lunch. It was the first decent food we had eaten in twenty-four hours, and we ate a lot. Tellingly, there were Chinese, Japanese, European, Indian and Tibetan selections on the menu.

In addition to various beggars, there were Buddhist monks and nuns in all combinations of skin and robe colors, passing by and sitting to relax or eat. There seemed to be a preponderance of Tibetan monks, and we would soon find out why.

There is a kind of paved court outside the Mahabodhi Temple with vendor stalls and spreads selling all manner of religious articles. The large gateway to that area is at one end, near the front corner of the complex. Vendors spilled around the gateway and along the road for fifty meters or so, back to the area of the hotel.

Inside the gateway are places to pay a camera tax and check one’s shoes. After we dispatched those items of business, we noticed that people were lining up along wide stripes of white marble in the pavement on either side of a path running to the gate of the temple proper. There was a red carpet rolled out the length of the path.

Many of the people lining up were Tibetan monks of all ages, but there were also laypeople and tourists from around the world. We got in line to see the parade. It was peaceful and orderly. A lot of people were holding a kata (a small silk prayer shawl that is held in the presence of, or presented to a lama when he arrives), so we knew it must be someone important.

We chatted with a friendly young woman from the Irish Republic who informed us that the one arriving was none other than the Karmapa, who heads a major sect of Tibetan Buddhism other than the one led by H.H. the XIV Dalai Lama, and enjoys the latter’s support and approval over a poorly received competitor put forward by the Chinese government. How lucky for us to be there just then! He is only twenty or so, but tall, lovely, in training since a small child, and already revered by Tibetan Buddhists everywhere. That explained the current breakdown of nationalities in town.

We did not have long to wait. Presently we saw a procession coming and heard the tenor drone of a pair of reed horns. Someone was carrying a dark red parasol for the Karmapa, and in front of him was a monk carrying a length of yellow cloth and a kind of mace similar to a large mala.

They proceeded into the temple proper, and down the terrace steps into the broad, sunken garden, and we all followed. The official delegation entered the temple structure and Karmapa’s voice, amplified into the garden, began chanting. That did not last long, and soon they all came out and passed by us again.

We went right inside and had a look at the large golden sitting Buddha, then went around the outside to the back where the bodhi tree is located. The building itself forms the base of a fifty-meter high (about twelve stories) pyramidal stone spire with a great number of niches built into it. It was covered in scaffolding, not having had a major restoration since 1882.

The tree out back is growing from a very large concrete or stone planter box a few feet from the building, which is surrounded on three sides by ventilated walls abutting the building and having gold-painted iron gates on either side. The gates were shut. Inside them, between the planter and the building, is a richly decorated golden platform and canopy—the Vajrayana, or Diamond Throne, marking the spot where Siddhartha supposedly sat when he attained enlightenment.

The walled area sits on a foot-high platform surrounding the building. Out around the platform is a walk perhaps another ten feet across, and then a ventilated wall surrounding the whole on three sides. The platform and walk are paved with gray marble.

Many of the people lining up were Tibetan monks.

XX  -  Sealdah Rajdhani Express en route to New Delhi (continued)

Atop the platform along the north side of the temple is another table-high stone platform with round, lotus-carved stone discs supposedly marking the footsteps of the Buddha where he walked in meditation. Each one was piled with marigold and rose blossoms, and all along was a row of new yak butter candles, each decorated with two large, pastel-colored yak-butter rosettes, along with rice and incense. We followed around that way to find the tree in back.

Looking in at a gate of the wall surrounding it, one can see that the trunk is about five or six feet in diameter. Its massive branches spread out over the wall around the planter, forming a canopy over the marble walk, and extending over and far beyond the outer wall of the walk.

There is a marble seat along the walk inside the wall, and sit we did. It was beautiful, peaceful, and very meaningful. There was a Tibetan woman sitting by one of the gates spinning a prayer wheel. Facing the other gate was a group of monks, nuns and laypeople sitting in meditation.

Indian tourists—clearly Hindu—were walking by, some with hands held in an attitude of prayerful respect. Some would touch the gate or wall around the tree and touch their forehead or over their heart in blessing. Fascinating. When will a majority of Christians and Muslims develop that kind of openness?

All along was a row of new yak butter candles, each decorated with two large, pastel-colored yak-butter rosettes, along with rice and incense.

The wall surrounding the tree was draped across with a long yellow piece of cloth and multi-colored prayer flags. At the back there is a window-like opening in the wall with something like brass balusters just inside it. One can peek between them and see the trunk and a bit of the earth out of which it grows. That made me think of what we might do with the rest of Dave’s ashes.

After we sat for a bit, some of the U.S.Americans we had met on the platform at Varanasi Junction came by. Jenny and I walked up the terrace steps, back up out of the garden, and strolled along the perimeter walk above the terrace. On the south side is a grassy area set aside as a meditation garden. Beyond it is a small lake with a large painted concrete sitting Buddha in the center, protected from the storm under the cobra-hood of the snake king. I will forbear writing the whole legend.

There was not a Buddhist in sight. The only people by the water were a large group of Hindus doing a Ganges thing—reaching down and flicking handfuls of water up into the air so it fell on them in blessing. How very interesting.

As we strolled along, an amplified public-address call to prayer came out of nowhere, “Allah wu akhbar…” I walked to the far side of the meditation garden, and there were the dome and minarets of a fairly large mosque kitty-corner from the temple! How do they feel about these idolatrous infidels?

Its massive branches spread out over the wall, forming a canopy over the marble walk.

XXI  -  Sealdah Rajdhani Express (continued)

Walking to the temple, I had scanned the vendors for singing bowls. I was in the market for one. I had only seen one vendor with them. I stood under his makeshift awning and rang several, but thought I would wait.

After we came out of the temple, we continued to look around. I saw another vendor selling them and rang every bell he had. I found one I really liked about eight inches in diameter. I bargained him down and bought it. I feel pretty good about it, given what they run in a Dharma Crafts catalog. I will get some brocade and sew a cushion for it myself.

I was also scanning for something that would work for the rest of Dave’s ashes, trying to be open-minded and creative about what to do. Among the wares spread out on her blanket, one woman had some thin jade rice bowls. I was thinking of something that might smash easily. I moved on so I could think about it some more.

We went back to Om Restaurant. What a great place to hang out! I can actually say I have met someone from Mauritius. He kept joking about how his country’s only claim to fame is the extinct dodo bird.

I went to an internet shop right by where we sat and e-mailed my sister Vicki with the time we would be remembering Dave. The young man working there said, “Connection not fast in Bodhgaya.” He was right.

After eating some dinner we poked around in shops looking at books and clothes. The power went out—only outdoor lights remained, so we moved out to the tent stalls along the road where they used generators. Jenny bought a painting on cloth of an elephant for her Mom. Great colors. I bought a sparkly brooch with a picture of the Dalai Lama on it.

It was dark, but we decided to walk around town over by the temples representing various Asian nations with significant Buddhist populations. These were built by Buddhist groups to represent the nations from which they came; so, there is the Thai temple, the Japanese temple, the Bhutanese temple, etc. It was dark, they were closed, but we could see the Thai temple—a great, ornate wat—glittering in the ambient light.

Chai from roadside vendors is sometimes served in what look to me like thin clay bowls. I was thinking something earthen and fragile like that would be good for what I had in mind for Dave’s ashes. We went so far as to buy some chai from a man selling food by the roadside, but he served it in disposable plastic cups.

We headed back over by the Mahabodhi Temple to look for something that would work. I was seeing little stone bowls, but I was not sure they would break easily. We went back to where the jade bowls had been, but the woman and her wares were gone.

At the court alongside the temple, I looked in a shop that had caught Jenny’s eye. The man asked what I wanted. I explained. He said to come back in the morning and he would have a small clay pot. We decided we could make time to check back and/or look around some more in the morning.

A few shops down, there was a photocopy and IDD place, so we decided to stop and call the kids. It was fun to talk to them. As we were paying for the call, the man from the other shop appeared, beaming, holding a small, hastily washed, round clay pot. Perfect! We bought it from him for what to us was a pittance, and to him was probably a steal on what might have otherwise been considered a piece of junk; but all concerned were happy.

We walked over by the hotel, the Om Restaurant, and other shops. The lights were back on so we looked back in a shop with clothes and tee shirts, me carrying the little pot along. We bought several items for the kids and ourselves, and Jenny bought a book by Chogyam Trungpa.

We headed back to the room and ordered a snack and some tea from room service. Jenny read her new book and I wrote, and we turned in after about an hour.

The next morning we had breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. Back in the room, we placed the rest of Dave’s ashes into the little pot. Jenny carried it discreetly under her shawl as we walked to the Mahabodhi Temple. Once inside, she handed it to me and I held it next to me as we began to carry Dave’s ashes above the garden terrace, clockwise around the entire temple.

What a surprise we had in store. It was more right than either of us could have made it. As we began to walk, I chanted over and over slowly and very softly, “Om mani padme hum.” But then we looked down into the garden below and saw that there were hundreds of monks and nuns—they had come to town from everywhere and filled every hotel to see the Karmapa and hear his teaching that evening. A riot of colors from maroon through orange and on to bright yellow. They were all sitting, facing the temple all around.

As we reached the first corner, about one-eighth of the way around, they all began to chant! Sometimes, sometimes, things work out in such an unexpected way. Jenny remarked that it was not our karma that brought all this together, but Dave’s.

We slowly walked all the way around carrying Dave’s ashes, and the monks and nuns chanted the entire time. They continued as we descended the terrace steps and went around again on the walk below the terrace at the perimeter of the garden. Finally, we went into the center and started on the walk around the great stone spire of the temple itself. At that point, all the monks and nuns were facing us and the sound was amazing.

I held the little pot next to me as we began to carry Dave’s ashes clockwise around the temple.

The second time around we stopped at the tree. Jenny took the pot, extended it through the window-like opening in the back wall, between the brass balusters, and flung the ashes at the base of the tree, the chanting continuing all the while.

We carried the empty pot to a spot I had chosen at the northeast corner of the garden. I raised it and smashed it on the base of an old stupa, then gently pounded the largest shards into smaller. We started around the garden one more time, and I flung the little potsherds into the garden as we slowly walked.

There were hundreds of monks and nuns.

It would not be right to omit the next part. About one-fourth of the way around again, I really, really needed to go to the bathroom. Jenny said she would wait. We both stepped out the gate and Jenny sat down. The monks finished chanting as we exited. Jenny took the handful of potsherds and I walked on out, grabbed my boots (they had been Dave’s boots), headed the block or so back to the hotel, and returned as quickly as I could. No sooner had we walked back into the temple than the chanting started again!

We walked on around with me flinging the little potsherds. Jenny took some and did the same. When we got back around to the stupa where I had smashed the little pot, I pulled out the card with the sutras and committal blessing I had prepared to read. For some reason, it just did not feel right to read them out loud, so we stood still and I read them silently as Jenny stood near. It felt good for everything to have worked out so well.

On the way back toward the hotel we bought some incense and prayer flags for ourselves and as gifts. We headed back to Om for something like brunch. It did not matter what time of day it was or what to call it. Finish doing what you are dong, then go eat some various things—whatever strikes your fancy from the rambling, creatively spelled menu.

Jenny extended the pot between the brass balusters, and flung the ashes at the base of the tree, the chanting continuing all the while.

You could get a plate of momo (Tibetan dumplings) with meat, but it was called “mution” rather than mutton. One dish featured “boonless chicken”. And if you were in an Italian mood, there was a variety of “Kilzone.” Hindi words were also rendered with some variation. “Parata,” “paratha,” “parantha,” “pratha,” all in the same menu.

I flung the little potsherds into the garden as we slowly walked.

The food was generally good, though, outrageously so by turns. We would order a whole list of a la carte items and they would just come as they came. Munch on what you have; see what comes next.

I decided to stay and write, but with so many interesting travelers in close proximity it was hard not to dip into others’ conversations. I chatted with a Hong Kong Chinese woman who grew up in L.A. and still lived there; she visited family in Hong Kong from time to time. Soon I found myself absorbed by a group of half a dozen New Zealanders sitting around me, chatting about trains and whatnot. I think we all had fun talking together about the similarities of our travel experiences.

I sat in the pleasantness and wrote. Jenny came back after her nap. We decided to go temple spotting again, this time by the light of day.

We started with a Tibetan monastery near the hotel. Jenny seemed especially interested in photographing its decorative design. And we peeked in at the Chinese (Taiwan) temple.

It was hazy, and the sun was at a bad angle for photographing the Thai temple from the central walk to which we were restricted; so, after walking around to the back wall trying to find a way to sneak into the garden, we came back and slipped into a corner gate at the front. We walked meditatively like we belonged there and made our way around the back of the temple where the sun would be behind us.

Jenny photographed decorative design at the Tibetan Monastery.

At Om, we had spoken with a young couple from California staying at that temple for a month-long meditation retreat. We took our photos of the Thai temple—now a great, ornate wat glittering in the sunlight—and sauntered out the gate at the other front corner.

Down a long dusty road lined with various temples and guesthouses is an eighty-foot-high, stone sitting Buddha built by a Japanese sect, its hands posed in the meditation mudra. It was quite impressive. The high-voltage power lines behind it were a bit of a minus, but they were easy to overlook.

After our walkabout, we ate yet again. The “boonless chicken chilli” Chinese dish was delicious. We had our clean laundry brought up to the room, and we packed up.

After we checked out, the taxi driver was waiting outside. There were no big trucks on the road, so the ride was less harrowing. We did pass a long line of them pulled over to the side of the road.

The one-hour wait at the station was a breeze compared with our experience on the platform at Varanasi. The trains were running on time. This higher-class sleeping compartment (that I occupy as I write) has been far more comfortable. We were provided bed linens, water, tea, and breakfast this morning, and we both slept fairly well, one loud snorer across from us notwithstanding. We are pulling into Delhi now.

We took photos of the Thai temple—a great, ornate wat glittering in the sunlight.

XXII  -  Second floor terrace, Jukaso Inn, New Delhi

We did nothing so much as rest and recuperate in Delhi. We went back to the same hotel in Connaught Place. We had asked for a quiet room, but with a window, so he gave us one in back with a window that opened onto a terrace full of potted plants. It was terribly pleasant with the small, white-painted, hinged sashes open and the afternoon sun and breeze coming in. We crashed for a good two or three hours. It was delicious.

The hot water in the bathroom was a lukewarm trickle, even after leaving the tap open for several minutes, as instructed. A young man came to “check it out” by turning it off, turning it back on, and leaving, not to be seen again. Well, so what. We each took a cool, bracing shower.

The unseasonably cool weather has been all over the papers and in small talk. It got down into the thirties f in Delhi one night, so the schools were closed for three days. Not healthy for children to be out in such cold, mind you. It has still been sunny and around seventy during the day.

An eighty-foot-high, stone sitting Buddha, its hands posed in the meditation mudra.

We bought a copy of First City, a monthly magazine with listings for cultural events in Delhi, hoping to find a music concert somewhere, but that turned out to be a wash.

We decided to try a Chinese restaurant in Connaught Place called “Zen,” instead, and it turned out to be a fancy one, with a very comfortable atmosphere. They put us in the front window. Connaught Place was full of strolling Sunday shoppers and was festive, brightly lit with strings of lights. The cavernous main dining room was maybe twenty feet high, with huge bronze wall sculptures and slick-looking halogen fixtures.

The food was plentiful and scrumptious, and we polished off most of it. A couple of large bottles of Kingfisher beer rounded it off, and I felt very content when we re-emerged. Jenny bought a picture and a map from a vendor while I strolled back and forth along the colonnade. We stopped at a sweet shop run by East Asians for a brownie and some chocolate.

The long night’s sleep was only interrupted by a phone call sometime early this morning to ask how the hot water was for us this morning. I suppose “service” can be as much about form as substance.

During breakfast we chatted with a woman—I presume an owner of the hotel. Her brother had studied business at Purdue and she had visited, so there was no question about “where is Indiana?” She named West Lafayette herself and seemed delighted to learn we live there.

We caught an auto-rickshaw over to see Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. It was Shah Jahan’s last act of architectural extravagance. After seeing the Agra Fort, we did not feel the need to see the Red Fort here in Delhi. It has many of the same features as the one at Agra. It would have been an “another bloody fort” kind of experience. We may catch the “sound and light” show there this evening before we head off for the late-night flight home.

The auto-rickshaw driver dropped us at the end of a long bazaar leading up to the central gate of the mosque. It was absolutely thronged with men and goats, the former buying and selling the latter, straw and filth underfoot. There were almost no women around, and even with her head covered Jenny got a number of catcalls as we pushed our way through the crowd and up the street.

Looking down on it from the steps of the mosque, one could see a veritable city of white tents to one side. A Muslim festival is coming up; I think Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice at the beginning of the Hajj.

The mosque itself was a sooty, red sandstone and white marble, vertically striped affair with two minarets. The great courtyard was paint-striped for rows of worshipers, and is purported to hold twenty-five thousand for prayer. There were not very many people there this morning. The building itself has no interior to speak of, just a deep colonnade with white marble floors having black inlays to delineate rows of individual prayer spots.

There were rows of dusty prayer rugs laid horizontally along the front-most rows. There were many long, stainless steel speaker horns pointing this way and that, but they did not come to life while we were there, perhaps mercifully.

We caught an auto-rickshaw back to the hotel, and Jenny hopped on another to go to a certain market nearby for a box of conical tubes of instant mendhi henna and a pattern book (the mendhi on her hand and wrist has faded almost completely away). In the meantime, I bought a small, conical paper packet of biri, and have been sitting at a table in the sun on this terrace, writing.

Jenny came back, and has been reading her Chogyam Trungpa book. We are going to walk back to the Janpath market nearby for some gifts for my colleagues in the Music Department.

XXIII  -  Indira Gandhi International Airport, Gate 4 (continued)

We went out for a fabulous Indian lunch at a swanky see-and-be-seen spot in Connaught Place. We hauled ourselves back to the hotel to get squared away for departure. I sat on the terrace and read today’s Hindustan Times. We took turns getting clean and fresh in the cold shower, and put on clean clothes to get us through the final ordeal of getting home.

We got everything packed up, checked out, booked a taxi and stowed the bags; then, we headed back to the Janpath market for more gifts. Jenny got some pillow covers for her Mom, for throw pillows, to add to the painting she had bought her. We bought a couple of glossy Kashmiri papier mâché pencil boxes for the kids and Jenny got some abalone inlaid bangles for our ten-year-old daughter.

Walking back around Connaught Circus, Jenny bought a beaded, embroidered purse. I noticed a vendor had toy auto-rickshaws—with yellow tops just like in Delhi. I went to buy one for my desk at work to remind me of the fun we had tooling around in them; and, thinking our seven-year-old boy might be jealous, I got him one, too, so we designated the hippie bag from Palika Bazaar for our daughter.

A sooty, red sandstone and white marble, vertically striped affair with two minarets.

We carried the little bagsful back to the hotel and I stuffed them in my bag in the storage room. For the final act of adventure, we headed to McDonald’s where I got a “McVeggie Burger” and a “McAloo Tikka Burger.” Vegetarian McDonalds. Imagine that.

The taxi ride to the airport was uneventful. We waited in the long check-in line by a nerdy but friendly electrical engineer from San Jose. She had been in Delhi for four solid days of meetings and had seen nothing of India outside her hotel. We first arrived in Delhi around midnight, and now we are waiting to depart at about the same time.

XXIV  -  O’Hare International Airport

Immigration and customs were easy, and we stopped for a bagel and some coffee with our malaria pills. The shuttle home does not leave for another two hours, so we are stuck here in a state of jetlag until then. My eyes and face hurt from being awake. Jenny went to wash her face. A good face washing and some ibuprofen sound like a good combination.

XXV  -  Home

I made it through my first day teaching with only minimal mental fatigue, gave my colleagues their gifts, and got partially caught up on work. The toy auto-rickshaw is already on my desk, and a soapstone Ganesh I bought in Agra is on the windowsill.

I am glad I got all this down. The writing is baddisorganized and shallow, but I want to be able to recall details later. This trip has exceeded expectations in so many ways, as has the twenty years of marriage it was meant to celebrate.

12 January 2006