By Rachael Ann Thomas-Jeremiah
India is a vast land which is rich in culture, history and tradition. Made up of several states, it is filled with busy streets and the hustle and bustle anyone may ordinarily expect.
Our visit, the first of many more to come presented us with many pleasant surprises. Many videos we have seen over the years have chosen to highlight India for its poverty and it has been placed in mainstream news because of the several tragic events that have occurred.
What we experienced was a balance of everything India has to offer. This being a pilgrimage for us we were ready to embrace all we were presented with and it was also for us an opportunity to learn and discover.
Our travels were to South India, specifically Mysore. Our journey via taxi was just over three hours long and both Bangalore and Mysore are within the state of Karnataka. One of the first things which captured our attention was the cleanliness and the maintenance of the main roads. We were also happy to see the wide variety of business places along the highway and eating places. Throughout the journey you could see commuters about their daily activities and one thing India has no shortage of is rickshaws, motorcycles, buses and cars. Also very noticeable was the serene and welcoming atmosphere of Mysore.
There were several sites that were inviting to us. Notable among them was Avadhoota Datta Peetham, home to Shuka Vana, the Sri Datta Venkateswara Temple, the Sri Karya Siddhi Hanuman, the Moolika Bonsai Garden, the Vishwam Museum, and several other significant places of worship. One of the key advantages of this visit was being able to enjoy Navratri celebrations and being able to witness Puja and the daily procession. Being able to feel and experience the energy and the generous outpouring of love for prayer and culture was truly a blessed occasion.
Photo 1 The Shri Chamundeshwari Temple at night / PHOTO 2 Buddhist Temple Complex, Coorg
Being an occasion that we could experience India as a family, we were grateful for an opportunity to visit Chamundi Hills at sunset when Aarti was being done for the Devi. On this said visit to Chamundi Hills we were also able to visit the Lord Shiva temple and the Lingam which is there.
Photo 3 Mysore Market- always busy with lots to offer
Many may not be aware too but a visit to the market in Mysore is certainly a treat. With every imaginable thing in sight it is not a place where you can easily be disappointed. There we found flowers, a wide range of vegetables and fruits, jaggery, scented oils, household wares, bangles and other accessories plus spices and other condiments. The streets to the market were also big shopping areas that provided lots of saris, footwear as well as Western wear.
Our travels on our Indian Pilgrimage took us to North East India to the state of Varanasi. Many who know India would agree that is no short journey and it can be done via train, bus or aeroplane. It can take approximately thirty six (36) hours via train and is no easy trek as it is not a direct journey and entails various stops. Considering that we were travelling with our infant daughter we opted to take a domestic flight which entailed a stop in Hyderabad. This took us a couple hours and having left Mysore to go to Bangalore the day before, we left Bangalore in the morning and arrived in Varanasi by evening.
Bangalore too made quite an impression on us. The persons we met were very friendly and helpful. Where we stayed in Ashrama was peaceful and serene. There were fruits in plentiful supply as well as flowers. The abundance of trees around were home to several monkeys who were swinging from tree to tree. Their peace and happiness were evident in this the home of Karya Siddhi Hanuman.
Varanasi was a clear contrast but it presented us with its rich historical background that allowed us valuable insight into its religious and cultural history. There we were able to take bath in the Ganges on the auspicious occasion of full moon day in the month of Kartik and we were able to witness Ati Rudra Yagna being held on the occasion of the inauguration pf the Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Ashrama (Varanasi Branch) by His Holiness Param Pujya Dr Sri Sri Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji.
There we discovered narrower streets, smaller shopping areas and the presence of numerous Ghats.
Indian food is another treat for tourists. Particular foods we enjoyed were the famous masala dosa and pani pouris. Being the vegetarians that we are one thing that stood out was the noticeable sign we saw on many food places- Vegetarian Food only. We were able to enjoy vegetarian pizza from Onesta and Spicy Chilli Mushrooms from Desi Bites.
Not as widespread as in Mysore we soon realized that vegetarianism is not as prevalent in the eating establishments of Varanasi. What it did provide though were busy alleyways that could be easily navigated on foot. On the night of the Kartik Full Moon with very little taxis and rickshaws in sight we were able to use our data on our phones to find Bikanervala in Bhelupur where we were able to get some vegetarian treats.
Similarly we were not able to find groceries as easily as we would have in Mysore. The invaluable insight into Varanasi’s history and traditions easily compensated for both.
With Varanasi being the home of the Kashi Vishwanath Jyotir Lingam and several Ghats, being able to witness the lighting of the lamps at sunset was truly a sight to behold. So too was the chance to see the Ghats being lit with deyas on the full moon night. This was done with a well laid out program that presented a range of bhajans and traditional singing.
This visit which lasted nearly two months long allowed us to experience quite a lot of India’s culture. It has also set the path for many more visits as there is without a doubt much more to discover and experience.