Videos from India 2022/2023

Cloth for Change - Menstrual Kits brought from Carthage to a Varanasi clinic

Side by Side in Rickshaws

Morning in Varanasi - in search of Yoga

Timelapse - walk through Sarnath

Sending a statue through the regular mail

The alleys of Varanasi

Masala Chai for 12

Walk into Humayan's Tomb with me

Walk along the Ghats and alleys in Varanasi

Creating Turbans at the Sikh Temple

Bathrooms in India

Apr 20/2022 Travel plans! It's slower going this time - I think this is at least partially to do with the pandemic. Then again, through the years I have gained resources and contacts and an understanding of how to get things done, so in some ways it's going better.

Today it is my pleasure to discuss some of the logistics of our visit to the holy city of Varanasi. We will spend one week here, seven nights! While at the Hotel Bachchan Palace, right in the center of things, we will have an ideal location to explore the ancient part of the city. Varanasi is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, founded in the 11th century BC, and it really looks like it.

Much of the ancient flavor is still there, including narrow streets and unusually situated shops. Hotel Bachchan Palace - I was thankfully able to get hold of the management of the same hotel from last time. (When I book hotels, I write directly to the management and secure a price - there is no way I would book eight rooms under a booking website. This needs to be more personal, it's more secure and you're more likely to get what you actually want and for a better price.) Really nice people, they call me "Miss Margaret". Great location, great price - 14400 INR (Indian Rupees) per room per night, about $23, good food for breakfast, coffee shop and currency exchange right across the way, a small snack kiosk next door, restaurants in every direction. Our group will be able to take up an entire floor and maybe two, and freely move between rooms, which is fun. Down sides to the hotel - no views at all, even though the Ganges river is a stone's throw away, and there is no common area to eat breakfast together - it's delivered to the rooms. There is free WiFi but it's spotty - they keep blaming it on monkeys on the roof tearing up the wiring (hmmmm).

We had looked for (and found) another hotel last time that offered many of the same amenities and fixed some of these issues, but it seems that hotel is under some kind of new management, can't find any information anymore and the contacts are not working. Nonetheless, though not perfect, I'm happy to return to the Hotel Bachchan Palace, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Apr 28/2022 More on Varanasi - the city is called Banares by Indian denizens: Most of your research for your project will probably be conducted in Varanasi. It is our last stop, and we'll be there for about one week total, seven nights. Students who are particularly interested in death culture and end-of-life care will easily find their niche here. Varanasi is the holiest city in India, herself being a quite religious country. It is thought that if one dies in Varanasi, or if their body is transported to Varanasi to be cremated after death, they will achieve moksha, thus ending the reincarnation cycle - no more re-birth.Settle in and get to know this extraordinary city. We can explore the yoga culture, death culture, open cremation on the ghats (ghats are wide concrete steps leading to the river), meditation, temple tours, a trip to Sarnath (the birth place of Buddhism), a wander around Banares University. We can observe specific healing/spiritual rituals, such as bathing in the Ganges, morning Hindu ceremonies, morning yoga, actually yoga any time of day, yoga studios/training, evening Aarti rituals, shops with "healing oils", spice markets. We have an energetic guide, Guddu - a local resident in Varanasi - who keeps in touch with me throughout the year. He is very happy to guide us anywhere and will answer any question - his English is excellent. Guddu has shown great creativity and flexibility in finding unique experiences to satisfy our curiosity. I'm going to see if we can arrange a cooking class this time. Our hotel is centrally located, so we'll spend one day walking to one end of the ghats and take a boat back, and then spend another day walking to the other end also. There are 80+ ghats along the Ganges, each unique, and the most distinctive are these three: Dashashwamedh Ghat, the closest to our hotel and the central ghat, where we can attend the evening Aarti ceremony, an incredibly beautiful spiritual tradition. Manikarnika Ghat is also called the "burning ghat" - one of two ghats (this is the main one) where recently deceased individuals are cremated in open pyres. Aasi Ghat has a unique morning yoga session, with poses I have never experienced before, for the whole community - we are welcome to join in but must arise early in the morning to get there on time. In the 2020 program, there were a few students who volunteered at a hospital that we found through Guddu. It seems to be more of a nursing home or hospice center though it is called a hospital. (Really, it's just a facility that would not exist in the US, and probably something that is specifically unique to Varanasi because of the culture around death.) If anyone wants the volunteer opportunity at the hospital, we will help you find the place, hopefully with the pandemic we will still be allowed access. The facility welcomes (at least pre-pandemic) help around breakfast time, I believe the idea is to serve food to the residents, and maybe help with morning rituals such as brushing hair or clipping nails. None of the residents seem to speak/understand much English, so I'll teach you a few words in Hindi and the rest of it will be enthusiasm and gestures. My experience is that older folks in assisted living type facilities are happy to have any kind of company, language barrier or no. There are also good touristy style things in Varanasi, like lots of dining options, unbelievable breadth of shopping, catching a row boat for a quick ride on the Ganges to watch the sunset or the sunrise or the religious ceremonies. Or row across to the sand bar that, at least in the past, has camel rides for ~$5. (these photos are all over the Carthage website, it seems everyone loves a camel) There is at least one super fancy restaurant that we know of, and depending on our finances we may take a meal there on one of our last evenings in town. Additionally, it is easy to make friends with the shopkeepers in Varanasi and their children, many of whom speak good English. It is also easy to pass a few hours simply sitting on the ghats and watching the world go by - folks bathing in the water, monkeys climbing ancient temple walls, folks doing yoga all day long and sometimes in unusual poses. Pick up a baby goat, frolic with some puppies, watch cows climb stairs.

Dave and I think Varanasi is a very special and unique city. We've never seen anything like it, and we greatly look forward to being there ourselves and showing you what we've discovered.

May 5/2022 Delhi is the city we are flying into, and spending the first five nights in India. So getting the hotel right is pivotal to ensuring a smooth comfortable transition to settling into the Indian culture. We were counting on staying in the same place as we stayed in our last two visits. However, our previous Delhi hotel is no longer under the same management, and I'm not sure how to get hold of anyone from there anymore. We loved this hotel - good location, great rooftop restaurant, great price, rooms are fine. Helpful front desk staff, we arranged day outings through them and even got good tips about what things should cost and etc. It is with a heavy heart that I move on from that hotel. After days and days of searching and many false starts, I did find another hotel in the same area, the Paharaganj neighborhood of Delhi. We will be staying at the Smyle Inn. Since we have not actually physically visited the hotel, it's a bit of a leap of faith. But it is a well researched leap, so we have high hopes that it is going to work out. Here's how I found the hotel, a cumbersome process. I watched many YouTube videos of folks traveling through Delhi, and sometimes they mentioned hotels by name, or I was able to find the hotel by sleuthing other clues in the video. If the hotel looked reasonably nice in the video, I would google the location and then check it out through a booking website, whether there were enough rooms and up to the par that we require (private baths attached to rooms are a must for example). I also researched neighborhood maps and looked up random hotels in the same way. Each time I found an acceptable accommodation that fit our criteria, I would find out whether I could write directly to the management. Remember that booking through a travel website does not work for larger groups - a specific agreement, in writing, with the management is the way to go. After many many false starts and dead ends, the Smyle Inn met all the requirements. Breakfast included, though the quality of the breakfast, hmmmmm I'm not sure about that, we may have to find our breakfast elsewhere .... The rooms look pretty nice, they all seem to have attached baths. The common areas look great - and there even seems to be a rooftop restaurant, though it looks a little small. The location is even better than the hotel we stayed at previously, one block from the main bazaar and just a few blocks from the New Delhi train station. Bonuses: The manager of the hotel wrote back very quickly, and even answered several followup questions within 30 minutes. A great sign, totally unexpected to have such immediate communication. They have offered to help us purchase train tickets, and that would be phenomenal, as using the train system is without a doubt THE MOST stressful part about planning India. More on that in an upcoming missive. They also offered to guide us on a food tour for $15 per person - the last time we were in Delhi, we purchased a food tour for $55 per person, which considering we are trying to be budgeted we probably weren't going to be able to do. So again, this is just amazing and such a bonus of this hotel. The Paharaganj neighborhood is full of noise and people and shops and rickshaws squeezing by within inches of your walking route. Some tourists and even locals advise avoiding Paharaganj, because they consider it to be filled with lower quality accommodations and experiences, too busy and too noisy. While it is true that there are neighborhoods with more "Western" style accommodations and restaurants and shops, these take you outside of the flavor of India. We choose to stay in an area that is representative of the culture in which we want to embed ourselves. More on Paharaganj and Delhi in the next planning missive.