Category Archives: religion

temples, holidays, festivals

A tale of two chuches–Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame

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On our second day in Paris, we set out to see the Notre Dame. But first we ended up at Sainte-Chapelle since our metro stop exit put us right in front of the chapel. Of course, we had a 40 minute wait, which we seemed to have for any attraction in Paris. The chapel is on the grounds of the Palais du Justice, which meant going through some serious security. The place jas been the site for determining justice in Paris in medieval times.  built on the site of the formal royal palace of Saint Louis which is why Sainte-Chapelle is still there.  Also, Marie Antoinette was imprisoned on these grounds before she was beheaded.  Below, a judge is talking on his cell phones in between court cases.

  

Above, waiting in the long line can be hard for kiddos! Below, the chapel itself is known for its beautiful stained glass windows. And in these photos, they are very impressive. I’m  not sure they were worth the 40 minute wait though. The chapel is surprisingly small, and with no pews, so it is hard to sit and appreciate the windows. I also thought that they could have done a much better job making the history of the building accessible to the visitors. An audio tour detailing the stories in the windows would have been great. As it was they had a handful of boards in various languages that you could borrow to read brief descriptions of the windows. But the English bin wsa empty, so no description for us! I don’t think I would recommend Saint-Chapelle for kids, and only for adults who really love stained glass and chapels.

    

   

After Saint-Chapelle, we took a crepe and ice cream break, served by a very cranky French woman!

Below, a nutella crepe and a row of electric cars!

   

As we walked past the boats on the Seine, we had thought of taking a boat ride later, but ran out of time and energy. Below we caught sight of Notre Dame.

Above, Kaden is annoyed by the smokers everywhere.

  

Getting into Notre Dame was quite easy since it was free. So the lines moved freely.

We observed a mass in session.

 

Kaden lit a candle for Pap Pap and Grandma.

Then it was time to exit and wait in the separate, and LONG, line to go up to the top to see the gargoyles. That line was about an hour. Long enough for the kids to discover “much needed” treasures in the nearby gift shop including key chains and pocket knives. Carson managed to cut his finger on his pocket knife within five minutes of the purchase. Nothing serious but enough for him to be more concerned about his finger than the gargoyles at times.

  

The walk up the turret to the top was not as far as the Eiffel Tower, but still a lot of steps!

From the top we had beautiful views of the city. And we all enjoyed the many faces of the gargoyles. Very cool indeed.

   

  

Above, Kaden makes her own gargoyle face.

  

   

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Lunch under a mango tree

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We got out of the hundred degree heat to head to the most famous restaurant in Hampi–The Mango Tree. It is the only restaurant in India that I have visited where my driver, the kids and I could all sit down and order exactly what we wanted at prices that we could all afford and with the peace of mind that the food was safe to eat.

You find the restaurant by walking through a banana plantation. On the way, the tour guide pointed out these little miniature ferns that would close up when you touched them (much like sea anenomes). They made Carson very happy. Below, right, the restaurant is located in the backyard of a family’s house.

    

The setting was to die for. Lovely lounge like seats under a shady mango tree.

I had a traditional thali veg lunch, hummus and veggies, and then I ended my meal with rice pudding garnished with fresh coconut. And I mean fresh!  The kids ordered french toast, fried rice, french fries, and watermelon slices. They loved the food!  Carson had a nutella crepe for dessert.

  

We gazed at this view as we ate. Or rather I did. The kids gobbled down their food and then happily scampered about the complex under the shady trees until I was ready to go.

After spending over an hour soaking up the ambiance of the Mango Tree restaurant, we had a renewed spirit and energy to see the ruins of Hampi. Our afternoon was much more cheerful than the morning!  To drive to our next destination, we headed past active archeological sites and recently excavated ruins. In the bottom left picture, they plan to excavate the banana fields all the way to the mountain in the distance.

  

Perhaps our favorite stop of the day was the Lakshmi Narasimha temple. There was so much to see, it was hard to focus on any one thing. The statue itself is the largest in Hampi and carved from one piece of granite. The tourguide enthusiastically started telling me the story of this god–half lion, half man–the fourth incarnation of Vishnu.  The story, as told on the official Hampi website. It is such a good story that it is worth repeating:

“Vishnu kills the demon Hiranyaksha during his Varaha avatar. Hiranyaksha’s brother Hiranyakashipu wants to take revenge by destroying Lord Vishnu and his followers. He performs penance to please Brahma, the god of creation. Impressed by this act, Brahma offers him any thing he wants.

Hiranyakashipu asks for a tricky boon. That he would not die either on earth or in space; nor in fire nor in water; neither during day nor at night; neither inside nor outside (of a home); nor by a human, animal or God; neither by inanimate nor by animate being.

Brahma grants the boon. With virtually no fear of death he unleashes terror. Declares himself as god and asks people to utter no god’s name except his. However his son Prahlada (who a devoted worshiper of Lord Vishnu!) refuses. Repeated pressurization on him yields no results for Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada declares the omnipresence of Lord Vishnu.

Narasimha (being a man-lion god form) kills Hiranyakashipu. He comes out to kill at the twilightt (neither day nor night);on the doorsteps of his palace (neither inside nor outside); uses his nails to kill (neither animate nor inanimate); puts him on his lap before killing (neither earth nor in space). Thus making power of the boon ineffective.”

As the tour guide was telling me the story, Carson starts reciting the story with him. He knew the story by heart. So did Kaden. Turns out it is the basis for the Holi holiday.

As fascinating as the statue and the story was, there were just so many other things to see at this site. Long tailed monkeys–a pack of mothers with little babies. The kids LOVED watching these monkeys and Kaden took some great shots of the mommas and babies.  

    

Below, right, one baby monkey kept trying to nurse from it’s mother, and you could tell the mother was just DONE. They were high up on the top of a ledge and she kept pushing the baby away. I was worried the little one would fall but he held on tight!

    

Also located on the same site was a very large example of a Shiva linga. The statue symbolized male and female components and is a place to come to pray for fertility.  The kids were equal parts fascinated and a bit grossed out by this statue.

     

The site was also teeming with local  people as it is an active site for religious worship.  And the kids were playing in the water, and the ladies were cooling off from the heat. And the goats were wandering by. India.

Another site that we almost skipped, and I’m glad we didn’t was the Queen’s Bath  (below). More like a spa retreat, the Queen would come to this structure to have a soak, sun bathe, get her hair and nails done, and more. Below, right, Carson clammored down to where the swimming pool used ot be.

  

The last large complex that we visited included the Lotus Mahal structure–part of a ladies only complex where the women would stay when the men were away. They kept the place cool by pumping water up to the second floor (what Indians call the first floor) and then streaming water over the sides of the structure to create natural air conditioning. 

   

Above, right, watch towers where Eunichs protected the ladies. Below, the gallant elephant stables!

Above, Carson and I pretend to be elephants.

  

We decided to cool off with a fresh coconut near the elephant stables. The electrolytes from the coconut really bolstered our energy! And heck, I paid Rs. 15 for this coconut. I hear Gwenyth Paltrow pays $20 for the same drink back in NYC!

Above is a modern temple near Hampi. The kids really loved the collection of gods and goddesses displayed. We had a long conversation about this temple with our tour guide. Even Srinivas our driver joined in the conversation helping us to identify the characters portrayed.

Enduring the heat while touring the forts and palaces

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On Easter afternoon, we headed to the Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort. The fort is a walled city from the 1500s.

   

The above right photo is of a bath tub! I remember this bathtub clearly from my visit 22 years ago.

     

Below, the fort was buttressed by not one, but two, moats. The first moat was filled with water and contained crocodiles. The second moat was dry and filled with lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)

  

The most famous part of the fort is the fated bedroom where Shah Jehan sat in house arrest for the last eight years of his life, imprisoned by his son, the current king. From his bedroom window, Shah coudl see the Taj Mahal that he had built for his wife.

  

  

The photo below, captures well the experience of both kiddos at the fort. Carson wrestled with Ducky the entire time and play acted various Shakespearean style fights complete with fake punches. Kaden and her camera kept on snapping.

 

And again, the highlight of the visit? A small, common animal. This time–feeding little striped chipmunks.

We were to stop at yet another location–the Baby Taj–but instead we thought the kids would be happier with a pit stop at McDonalds for french fries and chicken nuggets.

Then it was time to drive an hour to Fatehpur Sikri. During the drive in the car, the kids watched “It’s Easter, Charlie Brown!”

Our trip to Fatehpur Sikri was ill fated. First, a bus accident blocked the road. In the mid day heat, we had to walk past the accident, including this damaged sign, and then take tut tuts up the hill because our van could not get past the chaos.

We managed to fit 11 of us in the tut tut. Even during the drive, local kids would jump onto the back of the tut tut to try to sell things to us. The inside of this tut tut (what they call autorickshaws elsewhere in India), was very colorful.

  

Fatehpur Sikri reminds me of the story of the Three Little Pigs.  Sikriwal Rajput Rajas Last Emperor Maharana Sangram Singh (also known as Emperor Jahangir) had three wives. The first wife was Muslim and was  an arranged marriage. She had a little tiny house, shown through the arches below.  The second wife was Catholic. She was married for love and had a medium sized house. The third wife was Hindu and she was married to end a feud. She produced the son and thus had the biggest, fanciest house of all.

  

                    

  

  

     

From the seat where we are sitting (above), the king would play a game of parcheesi in which he use life women as as the pieces.

    

  

Above, right, is the parliament building where the king held court, high above the ground.

   

Above, one of my favorite shots. Indians area always asking to get their pictures taken with us white folk. Here is one of my favorite ones of my friend’s dad. Above, right, some earring decorations on the vegetarian kitchen of the fanciest wife.

As interesting as all of this was, it was hot. Very, very hot. The little kids and the grandparents were wilting. Plus, the vendors were very, very aggressive here. To get from this palace area to the Muslim mosque we were totally surrounded by people. Sadly, this is as much of the mosque as we saw. It was too hot that day and too oppressive, in terms of vendors as much as the temperature. We needed a place to get a cold drink and recharge. But nothing nearby. So it was time to move on to Jaipur.

Exploring Agra and Jaipur with friends!

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Fresh out of school, we joined the Varvarigos family on a trip to Agra and Jaipur!  My friend Kathryn’s parents were visiting from Seattle, and we were so grateful to join them on this journey. We couldn’t visit India and not go to the Taj Mahal, and it was so much more fun to go with friends.

We started our journey at the Dehli airport, where we boarded a van that felt like it had stepped out of the 1970s and started the five hour drive to Agra.

The kids took over the back seat and became fast friends. Carson and Ducky enjoyed playing motorcycle games on the I-Pad, and Kaden was very sweet with four year old Gogo. Here she is showing him the Wild Kratts show.

  

We arrived in Agra much later than we hoped due to the long drive. No swimming time that evening! The kids collapsed into bed and all too soon it was 5:30 Easter morning. Time to rise and shine and head to the Taj Mahal! We got to the Taj that early because of the heat and the crowds, plus we had a long ambitious schedule for our day that would end us in Jaipur by dinner time.

As we arrived at the Taj Mahal grounds at sunrise (6 a.m.), I was shocked to see that the local park was FILLED with local people enjoying the morning. There were hundreds of kids and adults playing cricket, relaxing under trees and visiting with one another. When the heat of the day gets to be over 100 degrees, I guess you take advantage of the one time in the day that you can be out and enjoying the weather!

Right at the Tajgate (above), we found some locals engaged in prayer.

Once we gained entrance to the Taj, our tourguide (in the white hat), gave us a brief history of the monument. This trip was my second visit to the Taj. The first was my visit to India as a teenager. That first visit I remember being bowled over by the Taj’s beauty. With two kiddos with me, I was a bit distracted this time, but the sheer beauty of the place is hard to describe.

We all stopped to pose at the entrance gate.

 

The entrance has scriptures of the Koran written around its edges. The architect designed the letters to be bigger on the bottom and smaller at the top so that from a distance they appear to be exactly the same size.

The white building, the one we think of as the Taj itself, is a mausoleum. It was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died during the birth of their 14th child. It is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, which is a blend of Persian, Turkish, and Indian styles.

Throughout the day the Taj Mahal seems to change colors, from pink in the morning, to yellow mid day. On a full moon, it looks pure white. Always it seems like it is floating above the earth.

Even at six in the morning, the crowds were quite heavy. I can’t imagine the crush of people mid day, and the heat!

  

Above, the Taj is flanked by mosques on both sides. This one here is an actual mosque. The other side hosts an identical looking mosque that is actually a shell of a building–placed to provide absolute symmetry. Amazing!

  

Behind the Taj is the Yamuna River, one of two holy rivers in India (the Ganges being the other one). Behind the Taj, the king had hoped to build a black Taj that was an exact replica of this one for his own body. But his son put a stop to that and instead the king is buried inside the white Taj Mahal next to his wife. His casket is the only part of the Taj that is not perfectly symmetrical since his burial was not a part of the original design.

Easter at school

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In addition to our own celebrations, it was fun to be able to celebrate Easter at school this year! The school seems to be a center for holidays and celebrations as a school community, thanks to the great parent organization.

Grades 2 -5 at the Canadian School, the moms organized elaborate Easter Egg Scavenger hunts throughout the school. The kids had to collect puzzle pieces from people including the Assistant Principal and Librarian (below)

When they assembled all the puzzle pieces together, it spelled out that they should return to their room to receive  chocolate treats.

Carson also was given a carrot and is eating it below. The moms in bunny ears, below, were some of the awesome coordinators of the event.

 

The wee little ones got to have an egg hunt. I think the second graders were a bit jealous! Here is a pre school class lined up to collect eggs!

  

And off they go!

Easter in India

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We celebrated Easter morning at a Muslim mosque and mausoleum–the Taj Mahal! Many more pics of this trip will be shared in future blogs.

We got an e-mail from Daddy while in Agra  that the Easter Bunny had arrived in State College even in our absence and brought much loved treats that cannot be found in India–Peeps, Jelly Belly beans, Bean Boozled beans (is it peach flavored or vomit flavored? You won’t know until you try. Oh what fun for a 7 and 10 year old!).

Many thanks to the Sheehan family who so thoughtfully offered to have Pat deliver our Easter Baskets during his business trip to Bangalore this week!  What a treat! Carson even received a much wished for Mark Henry wrestler doll and Kaden got a Tamagatchi, which she loves! The kids found the baskets waiting for them when we returned from our trip up north! During our travels, the kids kept studying the picture below to see what delights awaited them!

But BEFORE all that good news, last week the kids were wondering if we’d have Easter at all.

Christianity comprises only 2.3% of India’s population. Albeit that is still 24 million people. Most Christians are Catholic, and are located south in Kerala, as well as the Konkan Coast and pockets of the North East. Still, Bangalore has a big Basilica and many other churches scattered throughout town. My friend Kathryn even noted that the church near her house changes Mary’s sari and Baby Jesus’s sleeping clothes every week. They are a well-dressed family!

Despite all of that, we had great trouble finding Easter Candy. Because of this concern, we told the kids  that the Easter Bunny doesn’t come to Bangalore.This warning was important to explain since the expected treats of Easter in our family–Peeps and Jelly Beans don’t seem to exist in India (my kids are not big chocolate fans–especially Kaden). Easter is not Easter without marshmallow chicks!

After much searching and finding NOTHING, we also found one fancy hotel–the Lalit Ashok–that had chocolate Easter Bunnies and eggs. Plus hot cross buns and Easter breads, although we didn’t get those! Although we have learned that in the hot Bangalore summer time, all chocolate must be kept inside the refrigerator or it is a puddly mess–even inside the house! Temperatures these days average about 95 degrees and we don’t have air condition but in one bedroom.

 

Still, since Easter didn’t feel like Easter without  some baskets, Mom and I surprised the kids with Easter, Bangalore style. So on Good Friday morning ,the morning before we left for our trip, the kids awoke to treats that Mom and I had found around town.

The goodies included an Easter Egg dying kit that I had saved from Easter last year, gold coins and jelly candies for the grocery store, a blue Hanuman Statue, an Indian purse for Kaden, Ganesh coin banks, and little jellies and candies that we found at various stores.

So Good Friday morning we set about dying eggs in earnest! Easter isn’t Easter without some spirited egg dying, and at least one pot of color being spilled across the table!

    

So in the end, not being home, the kids got two sets of Easter baskets instead of one this year!

Hare krishna, hare, hare, rama, krishna, krishna

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For curiosity’s sake, Mom and I decided to visit the massive ISKON (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple–the Hare Krishna sect in Bangalore. My dad was worried they would kidnap us and he would never see us again. The event was rather underwhelming in many ways, surprisingly. I couldn’t take any photos at all inside the compound, so the photos below are all pulled off of the internet. I did get a really cool shot, though of a dhobi ghat, or a big open air laundry facility just outside the temple.

The images below I pulled off of the internet. I picked the images of what we saw.  It’s a massive place. The main impression at the entrance where we were allowed to enter was a lot of stairs and a LOT of turnstyles. This place is designed to host lots and lots and lots of people.

  

  

We wound our way around the metal gates, although the place was quite deserted midweek, at least compared to the amount of space there. You head up the steps and stop at two smaller temples en route to the massive one. We had to pay about 200 rupees entrance fee. This fee basically gave us a VIP pass, so the turnstiles that we were in lead us past the lines of people and right up to the front of the shrines. We felt a little silly since we didn’t even know exactly how to act at these shrines and we were blocking the view of people who were very awed by the shrines. But they were interesting to see. Here is one that we saw.

Finally we made our way into the big temple. It is massive. Too massive really. It felt rather impersonal. Big frescoes on the ceiling. Huge chandelier. Massive gold dieties in the front. And to the back three musicians playing a tabla, a sarod and a singer doing the Hari Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare song.

We were told to follow the path that led to the right of the gold shrine. There is a little desk there that you can see i this photo.  A priest was waiting there to give us a personal blessing over some flowers. And then again we were guided in front of the people sitting up to right in front of the shrine. Luckily a few Indian women were ahead of us through this whole process so we knew what to do.

The main shrine had images of Krishna and Rada, plus some other dieties that we did not recognize. This was the image in  the main shrine.

After sitting on the grass mats and watching the priest ring the bell (in Hindu temples the bell is not to summon the gods but to help the worshipers to get clarity to worship).  Then they had the plate with the smoke as in most Hindu temples and you could pull the smoke to your face.  We then were ushered out of the main area and to the back behind the shrine. Here there were people waiting at table and chairs to talk with you about the sect and to encourage you to make a donation. We walked past those tables. Then we were led back out into the main worship area.  To exit that area you walked through a bookstall where we were allowed to chose two pieces of literature for free. Mom choose a book called “Coming Back: The Science of Reincarnation” and I chose “Bhagavad Gita for Beginners”   As we left one of the priests said, “Hare Krishna! You say, too, say, “Hare Krishna!!”

The place wasn’t threatening really other than that table in the back of the shrine where they wanted you to sit down and talk. Also in one of the gift areas there was this interesting little box of a room that reminded me of a Catholic confessional where you could go in and ask any question for free. Sample questions on the wall included “What happens after we die? How do I link my life to God?” and so on.

Then we were led through a maze of gift shops that went on and on and on. But like the Shiva temple last week, we found some really interesting and low cost souvenirs. Then we followed the path outside. And that was it! I had expected to see more of the campus. From the website I can tell that they have a goshala (place for holy cows) and a fancy fountain and an ashram and such things. But the campus was not available to the public like it was at the Art of Living and at the Buddhist monastery in Bylakuppe.